The Neglected Opportunity
1 Kings 20:40
And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said to him, So shall your judgment be…

Ben-hadad II. was seeking his revenge for a defeat inflicted on him the preceding year by the Israelitish army, led by a band of 232 young noblemen. He had disciplined his army, and reofficered it, no longer allowing money or family influence to supersede military skill. Everything that organization could accomplish or superstition dictate (ver. 23) had been done, but all proved in vain; for the contest was not simply between Ben-hadad and Ahab, but between the heathen and the living God who had been blasphemously challenged. Describe Ben-hadad's successful appeal to Ahab after the defeat. Why was it not commendable (as it was, for example, after the siege of Calais) to spare the vanquished? Because the motive was not pity, but policy; and the criminal allowed to escape had avowedly fought as Jehovah's foe. It is sometimes "expedient that one man should die for the people." Ben-hadad's death would have been the salvation of Ahab, who in the next war fell mortally wounded; it would have ensured a lasting peace, as this was the campaign of the Syrian king, rather than of the Syrian people; and it would have seriously shaken the confidence of the heathen in their gods. The king let his prisoner go to his own undoing. It was this sin which was now rebuked. Picture Ahab returning from the field flushed with victory. He is accosted by a man who has been sitting wounded and dusty beside the road. He is a disguised prophet, probably Micaiah, acting a parable. Says he, in effect: "I have come from the battle. In the hour of victory, the captain, whom I acknowledge I was bound to obey, gave me in charge a prisoner of note, saying that if he escaped my life should answer for it. I admit that I failed, though not designedly; but while thy servant was busy here and there he was gone. Ought I to suffer for that slight negligence?" And when Ahab answered, "Yes," the disguise was flung off, and the daring prophet appeared, saying, "In pronouncing my doom, thou hast pronounced thine own." [Read vers. 42 and 43.] The prophet set before the king a picture of his neglect of opportunity which is worthy of our study. We observe -

I. THAT OPPORTUNITY IS GIVEN OF GOD. "There is a time forevery purpose under heaven." Examples:

(1) In the operations of nature. There is a suitable time for the gathering of fruit. It may not come when you wish it or expect it; but neglected then, the fruit is spoiled. A farmer may in the spring be "busy here and there" with other things, and so neglect to sow his seed. The opportunity does not recur.

(2) In the cultivation of mind. The indolent schoolboy never gets again the leisure and opportunity for study; and if he did, his capacity for acquiring knowledge has decreased. Contrast the flexibility of mind of the lad with that of the man in middle life.

(3) In the acquisition of material good. Energy, promptitude, and diligence displayed at a critical moment make a man a millionaire. "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune," etc.

(4) In the consecration of life. No father is content with the physical beauty of his child if mentally he is dead - an idiot; nor is our heavenly Father satisfied to see mental vigour accompanied by spiritual death. He looks for a change, which is a passing from death unto life, and for this He gives opportunity. Observe, secondly -

II. THAT OPPORTUNITY IS GRANTED TO ALL. If you would discover this,

(1) Consider your outward circumstances. The helpfulness of a Christian home; inherited tendencies; direct religious teaching; exemplars of holy life; recognition of God at the family altar; services frequented from childhood. If these leave you unblessed, they leave you under heavier condemnation. Soon the home may be broken up, and the encouragements to good may vanish, and with unavailing regret you will say, "As thy servant was busy here and there, they were gone."

(2) Consider your inward condition. There are seasons when it is easier to avail ourselves of religious advantages. Youth is such a season, for then impulses are generous, susceptibilities are tender, affections free. Under the influence of bereavement or personal illness religious convictions are experienced. In and through these the Holy Spirit works. Such a tame may be like the morning twilight which brightens into day, or like the evening twilight that deepens into night. Beware of letting convictions slip!

III. THAT OPPORTUNITY IS NEGLECTED BY MANY. TWO causes of this may be suggested:

(1) The pressure of business. The man on the battlefield was busy enough, but he failed to remember his special charge. Nothing he did was wrong in itself, but it became a wrong when it led to the neglect of obvious duty: and if his life was sacrificed because of that neglect, the advantage gained by other activity was of no value. Apply this, and show the difficulty in the way of meditation and prayer, created by the multitudinous claims upon our activity.

(2) The effect of frivolity. Some people are "busy here and there" in another sense. You never know where to find them. Their character is indeterminate; their information is incomplete; their work is wanting in persistence and thoroughness; and their whole life is frittered away, they scarcely know how. Each day comes to such an one, saying, "Here is something for you to do for God, something for you to think of for your spiritual good;" and, having delivered its message, the day falls back into the darkness of night. Again and again the message comes in vain, until the last day approaches, then vanishes, and eternity is at hand! The work is left undone; and over the lost opportunity he can only say, "While thy servant was busy here and there, it was gone." CONCLUSION. - 1. Apply to Christians who are neglecting work for God. 2. Apply to the careless who are neglecting decision for God. - A.R.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it.

WEB: As your servant was busy here and there, he was gone." The king of Israel said to him, "So your judgment shall be; yourself have decided it."

The Lost Opportunity
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