In I Kings 20, we find a fascinating story. Ben-hadad, king of Aram, goes out with a huge army against Israel. Ahab was king over Israel at that time. Yep, Ahab – the big, the bad, the ugly.
Ben says to Abe (we’ll just shorten their names for convenience), “I’ve got you beat. Your money is mine. Your family is mine. Everything you have is mine.” And Abe agreed – at least until Ben tried to collect. Then Abe counterpunched with the help of the Lord, and sent Ben and his army packing.
Ben nursed his wounded ego for a while, then decided to go after Abe in round two. He pulled together a whopping big army. Abe’s army was downright pitiful in comparison. But the Lord was annoyed with Ben and decided to teach him a lesson (again) – so he empowered Abe’s men to trounce Ben’s multitudes. It was a rout – Abe’s army killed 100,000 of Ben’s guys in a single day. The rest fled into a fortified city where God evidently did a Jericho reprise, because the wall of that city fell and killed 27,000 more.
Ben, however, escaped the slaughter and hid in the remains of the city. With his army in tatters, he decided to throw himself on Abe’s mercy.
Now, before we go further, bear the following facts in mind:
The Arameans were, and always had been, enemies of Israel.
They were idol worshippers.
Ben had previously tried to take all of Abe’s money, goods, wives, and children.
Ben wanted to control and rule Israel.
God was really ticked off at the Arameans: so much so that he empowered Israel’s much smaller army to trounce them – not once, but twice.
Okay, back to our story. Ben comes out to Abe to beg for his life. Abe’s response? “Yo, bro! Let’s be friends!”
I’m not kidding. Abe actually called Ben his brother, made a covenant with him, and let him go.
Understandably, God was NOT pleased. A prophet came to Abe and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people’” (I Kings 20:42).
God wanted Ben dead and the power of the Arameans broken. Abe’s failure to complete the job meant that Israel would be plagued by Aram for generations to come.
What was Abe’s response to this? He went home and sulked.
Now, let’s bring this home. Suppose you have a big, fat sin dominating your life. (We all have or have had them – it’s part of being a fallen human being.) This sin is stronger than you. Your resources are pitiful in comparison. You try to beat it and you fail, time and again. When temptation comes, you cave. As the sin gets stronger and stronger, it threatens your money, your family, your job, and your life.
Any sin can do this. Materialism drives people into crushing debt. Workaholism destroys families. Pride devastates relationships. Addictions can literally kill. The list is endless. Your sin is on the list, and so is mine.
In our desperation, we call upon God and he willingly comes to our aid. He steps in and adds his power to ours. He routs the enemy in an unbelievable way: we are empowered to say “No” to temptation; we form relationships with people who can help us; we have hope where we were hopeless. We are literally on the edge of beating this sin once and for all, of triumphing over it so that it never again threatens us or dominates our lives.
But sometimes, like Abe, we stop at that crucial point and don’t raise our sword for the final kill. We make a deal with our sin. Worse, we befriend it:
The alcoholic says, “I’ll just have one drink at the party.”
The wife in debt says, “I’ll just go window shopping – I won’t buy anything.”
The man attracted to his co-worker says, “I’ll just take her to lunch to discuss the upcoming project.”
We fool ourselves into thinking that we are in control. We can handle this. We can keep this part of the sin to ourselves and enjoy it. We’re in charge.
God says that it doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to destroy sin utterly – otherwise, sin will destroy us. Those are the only two alternatives. There is no middle ground.