A father was walking down the street with his two small sons, both of whom were crying loudly. A neighbor passing by inquired, “What’s the matter? Why all the fuss?” The father responded, “The trouble with these lads is what’s wrong with the world. One has a piece of candy and the other wants it!”
This is the kind of situation we in 1 Kings 21. The King, Ahab, saw a beautiful vineyard next to his summer castle and wanted it. His desire for what someone else had led him to engage in despicable actions. An entire community was compromised, a man was murdered, and Ahab came face to face once again with the prophet Elijah.
We are going to divide our study of the passage by looking at the three main characters: Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah. I will follow this with some practical lessons.
Ahab and Naboth Our text sets the scene; Ahab was visiting his castle in Jezreel (his main palace was in Samaria). While looking around the city he noticed a vineyard close to the palace and he thought it would make a great vegetable garden. As King, he was used to getting what he wanted.
Ahab went to Naboth and offered to buy or trade the land (today he might have simply taken the property claiming eminent domain!). Ahab was suggesting a valid business deal. He was approaching things the right way. However, Naboth responded, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”
This sounds harsh (and considering that he is dealing with Ahab, it also sounds stupid) but it really is not as harsh at it seems. There were two factors to consider. First, Naboth owned a “vineyard”. A vineyard was a piece of land that took many years to cultivate. It’s possible that there were years when Naboth would have been putting money into the vineyard but it would have been unfruitful. The vineyard was now finally paying off. The idea that Ahab would turn it into a vegetable garden would have been very difficult.
Suppose you had put in a substantial amount of time and money building a successful business and clientele. Suppose, someone walked into your office and offered to buy your business. At first, you are attracted by the offer. You begin explaining what a good business you have and how wonderful your employees and customers are. The buyer responds, “That’s really not important to us. We want to make this property into a parking lot!” There is a good chance that you might re-think your initial enthusiasm.
There is a second and more significant reason why Naboth didn’t want to sell. When the Lord initially gave the land of Canaan to Israel it was divided according to families. The ownership of these family plots could not be changed because it was understood that the land really belonged to God and He had given the plots to the various families. In other words, you could not sell the land permanently (because you really didn’t “own” it). By refusing Ahab, Naboth was being faithful to what God had declared.
Ahab may have realized that Naboth was correct but that didn’t stop him from being angry and depressed.
Jezebel was not from Israel. She did not feel constrained to pay attention to God’s ways. She came from a land where the King could do whatever he wanted to do.
When Jezebel learned why her hubby the King was moping around she rebuked him. (I’m betting it wasn’t the first time. I get the feeling she ruled the roost at home.) She implied that he was a weakling as a King and she would take care of things. Ahab allowed her to do just that.
Jezebel’s plan was simple: Eliminate Naboth and take the land. So, she set about to frame Naboth. She sent a proclamation (in the Kings name) to the city leaders and told them to proclaim a fast. During this fast they were to have two people (because the law required two witnesses) make charges of blasphemy and treason against Naboth (similar to what happened to Jesus when he was being tried). The leaders in Jezreel apparently were not men of particular character and so they embraced the plan. Consequently, Naboth was framed, convicted, and executed. In 2 Kings 9:26 we are told that Naboth’s sons were also murdered (assumingly to eliminate any claim the land by an heir).
Jezebel was guilty of forgery, injustice, deception, religious perversion (in charging him with blasphemy), murder, and theft. And all of this to get Ahab a piece of land he wanted.
Elijah As soon as Jezebel heard the news about Naboth she told her husband the land was his. Like a child on Christmas morning, Ahab went to the vineyard to begin the process of putting in his vegetable garden. What he found was not what he was expecting. His nemesis, Elijah was there with a message from the Lord.
‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”
Elijah rebuked Ahab for his actions and predicted the brutal death of Ahab, the dishonoring death of Jezebel and that all of Ahab’s descendents would die dishonoring deaths.
Remember that Naboth and Ahab had a history together. Each time Ahab had seen Elijah what Elijah told Ahab came true. Ahab would not easily dismiss this prophet from God.
Don’t miss the surprise ending of the story,
27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”
Ahab, the proud and wicked King, actually adopted a posture of repentance. He believed Elijah, and we suspect, on some level, really was sorry for what had taken place. I think it is a mistake to conclude that Ahab became a believer but he did respond to the Lord’s declaration. As a result, God extended a measure of mercy to Ahab and said the punishment would be postponed until Ahab’s son was on the throne.
These facts lead us to some simple conclusion: First, obedience is sometimes costly. We don’t really know the whole story about Naboth but it does seem that he was a man that tried to do what is right. I suppose he could have found a way to justify selling the family vineyard to Ahab. He might have even found a way to capitalize on Ahab’s lust for more and made a nice little profit for himself. But that is not what he did. He stood firm on the Word of God.
We would have thought that Naboth should have been rewarded with something other than death. It doesn’t seem fair that the guy who did what was right was the guy who was killed. Yet we have seen this story again and again in history. There are thousands and thousands of stories of martyrs who did what was right and paid with their lives. It’s not always easy to be faithful.
At the same time we must remember that this life is not all there is. Just because Naboth was not rewarded in this life does not mean he was not rewarded at all. Just because someone dies “before their time” does not mean that they have been punished . . . for the believer it is never a punishment to die; it is the final victory. If we had the chance to talk with Naboth, I think he would have an entirely different perspective. We must not judge things only by what happens here on earth.
Second, Riches do not satisfy; faithfulness brings satisfaction. Have you ever noticed that some of the happiest people are the ones who have little or nothing? I have. There are missionaries, group home parents, volunteer laborers, special needs children and their parents, and many others who the world would say have nothing yet are some of the happiest people in the world.
Contrast this with the fact that just this last week people lined up to purchase a lottery ticket for a chance at a big payoff. Every one of the people in line imagined how much happier they would be if they won.
Let’s be candid. Every one of us would like to have enough money to be able to do what we want without having to worry about the money. Deep down we all believe we would be happier if we had more. We all have a measure of that lust for more.
The Bible talks frequently about contentment. The 10th Commandment warns us of covetousness (the passionate desire for what another has). When we believe riches and stuff will make us happy two things happen,
- We dishonor God. The lust for stuff begins to control us. We start to view everything as a means to an end. Sometimes we even view our faith, our giving and our service not as a way to show love to God but as a way to get God to give us the payoff we desire. Possessions become our God.
- We find happiness illusive. Happiness is always just out of reach because we will never have “enough”. The person who is imprisoned by the lust for more will always require something more before they can find happiness.
A good way to check your heart is to fill in the blank of this sentence, “I would be happy if_________________________.” If you are pinning your hopes on that which is material, you are actually drifting from the Lord.
Third, There is a warning that there is no end to the sin that people can justify. Once our desires dictate our behavior rather than the Word of God, we are in trouble. We will be shocked at how calloused a heart can become.
David, a man after God’s own heart, lost all sensibility because he desired the woman who lived next door. He committed adultery, deception and murder all because his lusts directed his life. The lust for power has caused leaders to steal, lie, and even kill. Think about Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Hitler and many others who have abused their power in order to gain power over the people.
I wonder how many times we have compromised a confidence so we could experience the power of being “in the know?” How many business (or church!) people have we have slandered in the desire to make ourselves look superior? How many times have we have falsified our tax or financial aid forms in order to be able to have a little more money? How many times have we have compromised our purity for quick satisfaction? How many times have we purchased what we couldn’t afford because we wanted to look prosperous or didn’t want to wait for something? These are all things that come from our “lust for more.” The only difference from Ahab is one of degree.
We have an amazing capacity to justify anything! I am sure that Ahab and Jezebel had all kinds of excuses for their behavior. I suspect they somehow made Naboth the bad guy when it was their own hearts that were corrupt.
The only way to combat this justification of our sin is to daily measure ourselves by the Word of God. Instead of making excuses for our lack of obedience we must be willing to admit our sin and repent. The more we attempt to justify our sin, the more sin we will attempt to justify. If we do it long enough our conscience will become calloused until we find ourselves doing things we thought “could never happen to us.”
Fourth, people around us influence us more than we realize (v. 26) Our text tells us that Ahab was wicked and he was urged on by his wife Jezebel. God told the Jews that they should not marry those from pagan lands. Ahab didn’t listen. Perhaps he thought God didn’t mean him. Maybe he thought it was an old-fashioned law that no longer applied. Perhaps he thought Jezebel would change.
In the New Testament believers are told they should not be unequally yoked together with an unbeliever. The message is the same: if you marry a non-believer, there is a much greater likelihood that the non-believer will pull the believer down rather than the other way around. But this command is not just about marriage; it is about business relationships, close friendships and any other influential relationships with another. We are to be very careful because even the strongest person can be pulled down.
We all like to think that we are independent. We are influenced much more than we realize. Have you ever gone down to the south and found yourself speaking with a drawl before long? We tend to absorb the values and habits of the people around us. We need to choose the people who will influence us carefully.
Fifth. Sin will be dealt with. We see examples of God’s judgment throughout the Bible. God may not always judge immediately but he sends us these examples of notorious people so that we will know that He does indeed deal with wickedness.
We make a serious mistake when we conclude that because there are no immediate repercussions there will not be any repercussions. God’s restraint is an act of mercy, not indifference or weakness. We must not confuse these things!
A student who cheats in school may believe that he/she has “gotten away with it” but in truth he/she has not. There will be a final reckoning but there are also hidden repercussions: there is that constant memory of being a cheater; there is the loss of the satisfaction from completing a task and from doing what is right; there may come a time when you will actually need to know the knowledge that you only pretended to know; there is the loss of respect and honor from those who know the truth. The same is true for any sin.
Some of the consequences of sin are subtle; some are delayed for a long time. However, no sin will be left unpunished! Either we will must put our trust in Christ to pay for our sin or we will have to pay ourselves.
Finally, The mercy and grace of God is extended to any who will receive it. Even the superficial repentance of Ahab was met with the mercy of God. We see a similar situation with King Nebuchadnezzar. He became arrogant but when he finally humbled himself before the Lord, he was forgiven and restored.
You may feel like you are more like Jezebel and Ahab than you are like Elijah. Perhaps this morning you have seen a glimpse of your own rationalizations and justifications. Maybe you have recognized that you are being driven more by the “lust for more” than you are by your love for and trust in the Lord. If so, don’t despair; be encouraged.
As God extended grace and mercy to Ahab, He will also extend grace and mercy to you. There is a prerequisite. You must humble yourself before the Lord. You must admit what you have done and show sorrow for your sin. You must want Him to work in you. If you put your confidence in the work of Christ rather than your own meager efforts, you too will find God’s mercy to be available.
C.S. Lewis writes, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. No soul that serious and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock, it is opened.” [Great Divorce, chapter 9].
I hope you will look at the story of Naboth’s Vineyard and then look at your own life. Who’s will are you seeking? Are you pursuing your own will, which is tainted by all kinds of godless passions, justifications, and excuses that leave you empty? Are you listening to the empty voices of friends who are drawing you away from the Lord? Or are you seeking God’s will in your life? Are you willing to trust Christ alone for your salvation? Are you willing to run to Him for forgiveness and trust Him for new life? Will you put your confidence in God’s Word rather than the desires that rage within you?
These are important questions. The answer to them will determine where you will spend eternity and whether or not you will ever be satisfied in this life.