Today’s readings are 2 Kings 13 and Hosea 5-6.
This devotional is about 2 Kings 13.
Have you ever spoken to someone who was clearly not a Christian but who prayed to God–to our God–for something and he or she believes that God answered that prayer?
If so, then you know how difficult it is to reconcile that with our theology. Either God answered the prayer of the wicked or the person is mistaken. This chapter of scripture may provide some insight for us. In it, Israel’s new king, Jehoahaz “did evil in the eyes of the Lord by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them” (v. 2). As a result, he and the rest of Israel were oppressed by the Aramaeans (v. 3). This is all pretty standard stuff for unbelieving Israel in the divided kingdom age.
Until we get to verse 4, that is. Weary of the oppression of Hazael king of Aram, “Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and [amazingly] the Lord listened to him” (v. 4a). God provided a deliverer for Israel and they were relieved of their oppression. But this was not an act of genuine spiritual repentance. Verse 6 says, “But they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them. Also, the Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria.” Jehoahaz did not turn in repentance and faith to YHWH when oppressed by the Aramaeans; he simply cried out for relief and, when he got it, changed nothing about his worship or his life.
So why did God answer the prayer of this unbeliever? Because God is compassionate and gracious, that’s why. Verse 4b says that God did it “for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel.” Despite the unbelief and disobedience of Jehoahaz and most of the rest of Israel, God answered the king’s prayer because of who HE is not because of who was asking for help.
God certainly is not obligated to answer the prayer of unbelievers and I don’t think he regularly does so. See Proverbs 15:29 for a verse about that.
Also, it is important to see what the author of 2 Kings wrote in verse 23: “But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.” Note that phrase, “because of his covenant with Abraham….” God’s compassion was tied to his covenant with Abraham. That covenant may be the only reason that God answered Jehoahaz’s prayer. But I think this passage at least suggests that God, at times, will hear and answer the prayers of unbelievers just because he is loving, gracious, and compassionate.
Theologians call God’s kindness to humanity in general, that is, to both believers and unbelievers, “common grace.” If God ever answers the prayers of an unbeliever, it is an act of his common grace. No unbeliever should ever look to answered prayer as confirmation that God is pleased with him or her. All the answered prayers in the world do not neutralize the need of everyone for the gospel. But this passage is a good reminder of the loving, gracious nature of God. He answers prayer, not because we deserve it but because of who he is.
Are you regularly seeking the Lord’s favor in prayer as Jehoahaz did? If God was gracious to an unbelieving king of Israel, how much more will he listen and answer us, his children, who know him by faith?