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…
The parables of the New Testament are so speakingly real, so beautiful in their conception, and so manifestly the touches of a Master-hand, that we are liable to overlook — if not, indeed, to neglect — the minor parables of the Old Testament. And yet these minor parables, like the minor prophets and poets, possess — especially for the student of literature — a charm and fascination peculiarly their own. They are not wanting either in colour or finish, but are, in fact, bits of beautiful workmanship well worth framing and hanging up in honoured places of the mind and memory. Amusingly quaint, touchingly tender, they belong in a conspicuous degree to the hoary past, more so even than do the allegories of the Great Teacher Himself. In one particular, however, they closely resemble His, they never fail to hit the target of their aim. Now, our text is taken from one of these minor parables and in its aim it resembles Nathan's. The teaching here is that Ahab had a fine opportunity of serving God and his country, but he threw it away and it did not return. Let us discuss together this subject of opportunities — more especially lost opportunities.
1. And, first, this word opportunity springs from an old root signifying "at port," or "in the harbour," suggestive of the welt-known and oft-repeated lines: —
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Thus we think of the trader watching the market, ready to pounce upon every opportunity that presents itself, so that he may turn it to gold; ready to snatch every chance of striking a good bargain, and thereby winning success. Indeed, it would appear — as a suggestive writer has remarked — "as though it were a part of the Divine discipline to put large opportunities in men's way, and leave it with themselves whether they will use or neglect them. There is no coercion to compel us to turn them to account, and the wheels of time shall not be reversed to bring them back once they are gone. If we neglect them we shall be permanent losers in this life; how much more in the next we cannot say." True it is, however, that thousands fail in life through neglect of such chances, and through want of energy and enterprise, so that when the Blucher of opportunity presents itself, they have not "pluck" enough to arise and charge, and so win their Waterloo. There are great national opportunities which present themselves once or twice in the lifetime of a country or community and never come again. Such an opportunity the Church of Rome had when some of her most noble and faithful sons and servants pointed out, before it was too late, the sins and excesses which led to the Reformation. Such an opportunity old Jerusalem had nineteen centuries ago; but she spurned it, rejected it, and finally quenched it in the blood of the innocent. "And when He drew nigh, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace, but now they are hid from thine eyes."
2. But, in the second place, there are opportunities which belong to certain periods of life. Saith Seneca: "Time is the only thing in which it is a virtue to be covetous, and for this reason, that it is the only thing that can never be recovered. Lost riches may be regained by patience and industry; forgotten knowledge may by hard work be conjured back again into the brain; departed health may return through the skill of the healer; the consistency of many years may blanch again the sullied snow of character; but time once gone is gone for ever." Now if this be true with regard to the physical and mental — how much more with regard to the moral and the spiritual? Says the poet: "Heaven lies near us in our infancy." The heart has not become stained and soiled; the conscience has not become seared and hardened through the deceitfulness of sin; the moral faculties have not become blunted and atrophied through bad habits, but on the contrary, the whole being is fresh and hopeful and buoyant.
3. Let us consider next our opportunities of usefulness. Take the home, for example; what a splendid chance it presents to Christian parents of influencing their children goodwards at the very gateway of life! If you have neglected to do this, then you have missed a great opportunity, and one that will never again present itself under the same favourable conditions. So, again, with regard to servants. Now, as a Christian master or mistress, God has placed within your reach a fine opportunity of doing real home mission work, and so cause your servants for ever to bless the day when they came to reside under your roof. And to a certain extent the same thing holds good with regard to visitors. When Lord Peterborough lodged with Fenelon for a season, he said, on leaving, "After this I shall be a Christian in spite of myself." Oh, there is a day coming when these lost opportunities will appear in a clearer light, and with more terrible and startling distinctness; when the opportunity of years ago — calling us to the service of others, and to the service of our Master, Christ, will again reappear, and, like the Hebrew seer, take up its parable against us. "Because I have called, and ye refused," etc. "Consequences are unpitying." So, then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.