1 Kings 21
Jezebel and her husband, Ahab are probably the baddest of the bad in all of the Bible. The two of them are so self absorbed, and so self centered and so hateful of everyone around them that evil just pours out of them like sewer from a broken sewer main. Nothing good comes from them at all.
It turns out that Naboth had a vineyard right next door to the king’s palace. And Ahab wanted that vineyard in the worst way imaginable. He lusted for it. It must have tortured him to look out of his palace windows every day and see that vineyard staring back at him. And his lust began to consume him.
He had some grand plans for that vineyard; he was going to yank up the grapevines, dig it up, plow it under and plant vegetables. Standing in the way of Ahab’s plans, though, was the small matter of ownership. The land, even though it was right next door to the palace, did not belong to Ahab. It belonged to Naboth.
So at first, Ahab attempts to negotiate a purchase price, and the transfer of the land. Naboth, have I got a deal for you! I want your vineyard. I want to plant vegetables. I am not an unfair person at all. I will swap you for a better vineyard, or I will buy this one outright, and give you lots of money. How’s that for a deal? It ought to work. Ahab is the king, after all, and the offer is very good.
But Naboth is not interested. He’s not selling, not even to the king. The land is part of his inheritance. He seems to be offended, even with the generous offer. He says, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” It is quite probable that this land was also a sacred family burial grounds. If this is true, then the land could not have been sold for any price. In Hebrew culture, grave sites are holy places. Ahab should have known this, and I strongly suspect that he did know it, but he had so little regard for Naboth and his family that he went ahead and made the offer anyway. I suspect this, because Ahab intended to change the character of the land completely. He had no respect whatsoever for the land’s history, or even for its present use. It did not matter to him that the land may have contained sacred graves, nor did he even consider the value of a long-established vineyard.
Naboth’s “no” did not set comfortably with Ahab. The text says that “Ahab went home resentful and sullen”, and that “he lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.” That is certainly mature and grownup behavior for a king. Ahab’s lust has paralyzed him. He is not functioning. He’s angry, he’s sulking, he’s not eating. His covetousness is eating him alive. He can’t have what he wants and so he’s miserable because of it.
I meet many people who are not followers of Jesus, and they often have lots of stories to tell about the people who have wronged them, and the grudges that they hold against those people, and the vengeance that they one day intend to extract. People tell ministers this stuff, I think, because they are looking for sympathy. They want a “there, there”. and a “dear, dear”, but what they get instead is pity. Some people can become so consumed by their pursuit to have their own way, that little else seems to matter in their lives. It becomes a singular obsession.
This is nothing new with the human species. Our first parents were overcome with lust and greed. The temptation in the Garden of Eden can be summed up in one word. That word is “more”. The serpent said, you don’t have enough, you are incomplete, you shouldn’t be satisfied, satisfaction is complacency, think of yourselves, God is cheating you. You deserve more. Sadly, too many people today still believe that lie. It is a very good lie, and it has been believed for a very long time. In fact, as many lies do, it has become the truth. This was certainly the original intent, when it was spoken by the evil one. The evil one wins when lies become truth.
It was obvious that Ahab needed a change in his life; his problem, though, was that he was looking for it in all of the wrong places. He desperately needed renovation, but he wasn’t wise enough to realize that it was his soul that needed renovation, and not just the externals of his life. Ahab wasn’t bright enough to reflect on these things, and so we must do it for him. We know that a new vineyard, rooted up and plowed under, and transformed into a vegetable garden, was not going to transform Ahab’s life in any way, shape, form, or matter. But he did not know that.
It is ironic that Ahab was willing to utterly transform a vineyard, but completely unwilling to even take a peek at the state of his soul to see if there might even be a tiny bit of renovation that was in order there.
That is tragic, but it is not unheard of even in our own lives. We are often motivated to plow under everything around us, but rarely do we consider starting with ourselves.
Had Ahab been willing to start with himself, he might have gone home from his failed meeting with Naboth, a changed man. He would have had a greater level of respect for Naboth, and for Naboth’s heritage. He would have learned that Naboth’s “no” was also God’s “no”, but he might very well have learned that God had another, different “yes” in store for him.
Ahab might even have realized that it was pure selfishness and greed that had motivated him to want the land in the first place.
Instead, Ahab went home in a depressed funk, and curled himself up on his bed. And this is where Mrs. witch, also known as Jezebel, bursts into the picture. Jezebel is not a nice woman. I picture her as being somewhat attractive, but in a coarse sort of way. II Kings 9:30 might hint at that. Her voice is shrill and harsh, and unlike her husband, she has the chutzpah to get done what needs to be done. A wise person would be very careful to address her as “sir”. I am sure that her husband did. Jezebel has no regard for anyone, including her own husband. You fool, Ahab! You are the king! Did you forget that? You can have anything that you want! You are the most powerful man in all of Israel, use your authority and power!
Now, Jezebel is also a very intelligent woman, and she knows from experience, that her husband would rather mope than act. Wives know these things about their husbands. And so because she is the one who wears the Royal Robes in this family, she engineers a plan to have Naboth eliminated. And because she is the queen, and because she is Jezebel, no city official is even going to think of irritating her. It will all be, yes ma’am and yes ma’am and yes ma’am, no matter how crazy her plan is. Everyone knows better than to evoke a fresh exhibition of anger from this wicked witch.
So here’s her plan, and remember on whose stationery she wrote the plan and with whose seal she sealed it.
“Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king’. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
I love our pew Bibles, but sometimes they don’t tell the whole story. The charge against Naboth, in the original Hebrew, is not that Naboth “cursed” God, but rather that Naboth “blessed” God. Now how can this be? I’ll tell you. The writer of this account was so disgusted and so repulsed by Jezebel’s terrible evil intent, and so much in respect for the holiness of God’s name, that he could not bring himself to put the words, “curse” and “God” together in the same sentence. And so he wrote “blessed God”, knowing that his readers would well appreciate and truly understand the irony of it all.
The double irony here is that Naboth certainly did, in fact, bless God when he refused to sell his land to Ahab. And so Naboth really is guilty of blessing God, for to obey God, is to bless God. So not only has the writer of this account triumphed over Jezebel, but he has also told a very profound truth in the process. Unfortunately, though, the writer could not keep Naboth from dying. Naboth died because he blessed God. Naboth was found guilty of the crimes that Jezebel had created for him. And in obedience to Jezebel’s command, Naboth was stoned to death. In II Kings 9:26 we learn that Naboth’s sons were also killed that day. And now, with no heirs left to inherit the land, Ahab can legally take possession of it. Those vegetables certainly came at at huge moral price.
How do we respond when God says “no” to us? Do we still strive, like Ahab and Jezebel did to get our own way at whatever the cost? Are we, like them, the most important people that we know?
God never says “no” capriciously. God’s “no” is always a result of his love for us, and it is always for the best. This may seem counterintuitive, but God’s “no” can lead to blessings and joys in our lives that we might not ever have imagined. What a shame to be stuck with something that we wanted, when God , in fact, had something far more wonderful and far more lovely in store for us. Jezebel and Ahab could not have heard God’s voice if it had been blared at them from out of a loud speaker. God can often best be heard in the sound of sheer silence. We need to cultivate the gift of listening for God.
God can always redeem a perfectly awful situation. That’s what God does most, and and is how God is known by those who love him. Sometimes though, God can redeem us before we need redeeming; before we make a hash of things on our own.
Every human story ends with an obituary. This one ends with an obituary that also functions as a warning.
“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.”
Let us pray for ourselves that we will receive a better obituary from God than Ahab did.