1 Kings 21:1-29
In the summary statement re-capping the kingship of Ahab, nothing is said about him that is good. He was most likely the most rotten, most evil, most hateful and conniving king ever to rule over the people of God. The writer of First Kings says, “Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.”
Rarely, however, in the re-capping the life of a king over Israel, does the Scripture also implicate the king’s wife as being complicit in the evil doing. Jezebel was a powerful, miserable woman who delighted in evil doing. Her soul was as black as the eyes of the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve. Jezebel was a messenger of hell, who had the uncanny ability to perpetrate evil under the guise of righteousness. In thinking through the character traits of this wicked twosome, I believe that it would be fair and appropriate to call them the “wimp” and the “witch”.
Let us speak first of the wimp. In describing Ahab as a wimp, I am in no way attempting to ameliorate the terrible evil nature of his character. He is slime. It is quite possible to be a wimp and an extraordinary doer of evil simultaneously.
The trouble in our passage this morning begins when Ahab begins to covet a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. Naboth has a wonderfully valuable piece of real estate. It is right next door to Ahab’s summer palace. And Ahab wants it so that he can plow it under and plant a vegetable garden. And so he comes to Naboth with a deal that can’t be refused. It’s actually a pretty good deal. It seems to cover all the bases. Ahab will either give Naboth a better vineyard than he has now, or he will pay him a decent amount of money for it. And the implication is that Ahab is willing to pay much more than fair market value for it. Such a deal. Offer me a deal like that for my house, and its yours. There’s only one problem. The land is an ancestral inheritance, and by Hebrew law, Naboth cannot sell it. The vineyard has been in Naboth’s family for generations, and Hebrew law says that it has to stay that way. If Naboth sold it, he would be guilty not only of violating the law but also of sin. And, Naboth explains all of this to Ahab. And Ahab should have understood Naboth’s position and he should have been satisfied with it. Maybe even respected it.
But he wasn’t. He went home and sulked. Like a baby. Instead of accepting and facing the reality of his situation like any normal righteous person would have, Ahab went into a funk. And that’s because Ahab wasn’t overly afflicted with righteousness. So there he is, on his bed, with his face turned toward the wall, refusing even to eat. What we’ve got is a spoiled brat.
Ahab probably wanted to be left alone so that he could stew in his misery, but when you’re married to a witch like Jezebel, that’s not likely to happen. She comes storming into his room shouting, what ails you? “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” And Ahab tells her his sad story, and immediately she’s got a wicked plan in mind. And she’s ready to put it into action, but not before she takes an insulting pot-shot at him. What’s the matter with you? Aren’t you the king of Israel? Why do I have to do everything for you? If you don’t have the courage to act on this on your own, you wimp, I’ll do it for you. I’ll get that vineyard for you! Mrs Goodwife has spoken! And she did. She wrote letters in the king’s name on the king’s stationery and she sealed them up with the king’s seal. Now I don’t know if she had the rightful authority to do this or not. I suspect not. I would guess that Ahab should have had exclusive rights to his name, his stationery and his seal, and that Jezebel was usurping his authority. But in the end it doesn’t really much matter. Jezebel was filled with evil, sinful intent, and when one is filled with evil, sinful intent, the means used to accomplish that intended evil sort of become irrelevant. Evil people like Jezebel are rarely interested in using legitimate means to accomplish their goals.
And this was the plan, all very carefully and demonically choreographed: first of all, Naboth, the unsuspecting owner of the vineyard, needs to be arrested. And he needs to be charged with a very serious crime. Blaspheming both God and the king will fit that bill. And because a great evil has been foisted upon the city, we must declare a city-wide fast to seek the forgiveness of God and to atone for Naboth’s great sins, for they have negatively affected us all. And then, for Naboth’s trial, we must secure two of the biggest paid liars that we can find. They will act as witnesses against Naboth. It is interesting to me that Jezebel is very specific about the kinds of witnesses that she wants. In Hebrew, she calls them “Sons of Belial.” Translated into English, that literally means “Sons of worthlessness.” Our pew Bibles translate it as “scoundrels,” which I suppose is okay, but it’s not quite strong enough. Even more interesting, when we come to the New Testament, we discover that the Apostle Paul uses “Belial” as another name for the devil. I think that Paul must have had some sort of an affinity for this story about Ahab and Jezebel, perhaps implying that Ahab and Jezebel were the son and daughter of the devil. They were certainly children of worthlessness, and scoundrels to boot.
And finally, after all of this is accomplished, and Naboth is found guilty of his blasphemous crimes, he is to be taken outside of the city and he is to be stoned to death. The ultimate irony in this whole wicked plan cooked up by Jezebel, is that she couches the whole thing in righteous language. There’s not a soul in the whole city who will even suspect that the whole thing is just one big lie. Everyone’s going to believe that righteous justice has been served, and that the city has been rid of a horrendously evil person. Sadly, much of the evil in this world today is still conducted under the guise of righteousness. We have not yet fully learned from the lesson of Ahab and Jezebel. Hiding our evil intents in acts of righteousness is abominable behavior and is always subject to the judgment of God.
And that’s exactly what happened in our passage this morning. With Naboth’s dead body reposing under a massive pile of stones, Ahab had every legal right to the vineyard that he so coveted. The law specified that the property of blasphemers and traitors was automatically forfeited to the king. And so Ahab went down to Jezreel to take possession of his prize. I’m sure that Ahab had visions of vegetables dancing in his head. The lie had prevailed, and it had prevailed well.
But there’s still this tiny matter of genuine justice that must be resolved. With Ahab, all is well. With God nothing is well, and so God will intervene. And when God intervenes the truth is always made known. And so the word of the Lord comes to Elijah the prophet: “Go down to meet king Ahab who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession.” Please note, that in God’s mind, Jezebel’s plan was ultimately and completely failed. Even though Jezebel has successfully killed Naboth, and even though Ahab has every legal right to the vineyard, God still refers to it as the “vineyard of Naboth”. Evil plans, however craftily accomplished, do not in any way alter the truth, nor do they adversely affect the sovereignty of God. The vineyard will always be Naboth’s whether he is alive or dead. Neither Ahab nor Jezebel has the power to change that, and Ahab will never take possession of the vineyard.
The accusation against Ahab is ultimately that of theft. Elijah says to Ahab, “Have you killed and also taken possession?” On the surface, Ahab is guilty of the murder of Naboth and the theft of his vineyard. But on a deeper level, on the pondering level, I’m beginning to think that all sin,
every variety of it, is theft. It is the taking of something that does not belong to us. Jezebel took authority that did not belong to her. Ahab was complicit in taking a life that did not belong to him, and now he has taken possession of land that does not belong to him. God is the joyful giver and provider of all good things. Sin of every variety delights in snatching those good things away. I invite you to ponder this on your own. Consider a list of sinful behaviors. Do they not all involve the taking away of that which God has so graciously provided?
When he is caught, Ahab is initially defiant. “Have you found me, O my enemy?” Ahab and Elijah have a long history of animosity. It seems that every time that Ahab persisted in doing evil, that Elijah was there to confront him and call him out on it. I’m sure that this sort of relationship was quite exasperating for Ahab. Elijah was Ahab’s thorn in the flesh. The more Ahab persisted in doing evil, the more Elijah showed up to pester him about it.
But something different happens this time. When Elijah pronounces God’s judgment on Ahab and Jezebel, (and that judgment is not pretty), Ahab repents. He tears his clothes, he puts on sackcloth, he fasts, and he goes about dejectedly. All of these are acts of genuine repentance. There’s no mention of Jezebel repenting, though. It seems to me that she maintained her defiant witchiness right to the bitter end. And her end was bitter indeed. It was a fitting end for a bitter woman.
But what of Ahab? What about his change of heart? God certainly took notice of it, and God had compassion on him. How great is our God! But sadly, it didn’t stick. Eventually Ahab went back to the evil ways that he knew so well. And ultimately, his end was as bitter as his wife’s.
It turns out that our acts of repentance and the gifts of mercy that we receive as the result of our repentance need to be honored. And we do that by maintaining our faithfulness.