THE LORD’S JUSTICE CATCHES UP TO AHAB AND JEZEBEL FOR THEIR ABUSE OF POWER IN KILLING NABOTH IN ORDER TO SEIZE HIS VINEYARD
How many of the Ten Commandments can Ahab and Jezebel break in this short story? Here we have a case study regarding Covetousness – but other commands are violated as well. The depths of their depravity are exposed in this selfish land grab of poor Naboth’s family vineyard. Naboth stands on his biblical convictions but is quickly removed from the scene by a wicked abuse of power on the part of Jezebel who shows no remorse or even a conscience. Ahab is more than just complicit in this sordid affair as he salivates at the prospect of taking over this coveted vineyard just outside the palace grounds. Elijah is dispatched to courageously confront Ahab and pronounce judgment.
Rice: The story of Naboth warns against the use of piety and legality to cloak injustice. It teaches that those who support the plots of a Jezebel, whether by silent acquiescence or overt complicity, share her crime. It is a resounding affirmation that injustice touches God, that ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matt. 25:40, 45), that in the cosmic order of things there is a power at work that makes for justice. And the story attests that there is awesome power in the conscience and protest of the individual servant of God.
David Guzik: Alexander Maclaren noted three types of dangerous characters in this chapter:
– (1) Ahab, who was wicked and weak.
– (2) Jezebel, who was wicked and strong.
– (3) The Elders of Jezreel, who were wicked and subservient.
William Barnes: Villainy may take the guise of weak-willed petulance, wily maneuverings, or strong-armed brazenness; villains must and will meet their just deserts, but repentance is available to all, no matter how far from God they may happen to be. Our God is always and ever a most faithful God, and it is he who remains sovereign in all situations.
Wiersbe: Ben-hadad as the man Ahab should have killed, but he set him free; and Naboth was the man Ahab should have protected, but Ahab killed him! When you sell yourself to do evil, you call evil good and good evil, light darkness and darkness light (Isa. 5:20).
I. (:1-7) COVETOUS CRAVING OF AHAB FOR NABOTH’S VINEYARD
A. (:1-3) Coveters Pursue Their Selfish Cravings
1. (:1) Salivating – Dreaming of Acquiring
“Now it came about after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which was in Jezreel beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.”
Peter Wallace: Think of the symbolism here. Every day Ahab has to look out his window at this Israelite vineyard– this symbol of the permanence of the blessing of Yahweh upon his people. And he wants to turn it into a vegetable garden– a symbol of Egypt–of transience. I doubt that Ahab was thinking of this, but the author of Kings probably was. Ahab is the antichrist, who is leading an assault on the inheritance of Israel, turning the Promised Land into a waste land.
2. (:2) Scheming – Wheeling and Dealing
“And Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, ‘Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden because it is close beside my house, and I will give you a better vineyard than it in its place; if you like, I will give you the price of it in money.’”
David Guzik: This account begins as a simple attempted real estate transaction. Ahab wanted the vineyard near his royal house in Jezreel so that he might have it as a vegetable garden. He was willing to trade for the land or to pay for it.
Provan: When one realizes that Israel is sometimes portrayed in the OT as a vine under God’s special care (e.g., Isa. 3:13-15; cf. Mark 12:1-12 and parallels; John 15:1-17), then it becomes clear that Ahab’s desire to replace a vineyard with a vegetable garden is meant to be seen as symbolic of a deeper desire. This is a king who wants to make Israel like Egypt [see Deut. 11:10], as did that earlier king [i.e., Solomon] with his foreign wives (cf. … 3:1; 4:21-28; 9:10-14; 10:14-29).
3. (:3) Stymied – Frustrated by Insurmountable Biblical Conviction
“But Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The LORD forbid me that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.’”
MacArthur: Naboth’s words implied that trading or selling his property would be a disregard of the law and thus displeasing in God’s eyes (cf. 1Sa 24:6; 26:11; 2Sa 23:17). The reason was that the vineyard was his ancestral property. The Lord, the owner of all of the land of Israel, had forbidden Israelite families to surrender ownership of family lands permanently (Lv 25:23-28; Nu 36:7-9). Out of loyalty to God, Naboth declined Ahab’s offer.
Peter Wallace: Naboth believed God’s promises. And he was content with that inheritance. Content enough that he did not fear the power of the king. Therefore, Naboth died in faith–murdered by Jezebel’s henchmen. He deserves a place among the heroes of Hebrews 11:37, those who were stoned to death for their faith. Are you content in your inheritance? We don’t have a piece of real estate as the token of our inheritance today! We have something better! We have the Holy Spirit. Naboth had the glory of God dwelling in a temple of stone in the middle of the land. We have the glory of God dwelling in a temple of living stones, dwelling in our hearts by faith.
B. (:4) Denial of Covetous Cravings Results in Childish Pouting
“So Ahab came into his house sullen and vexed because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he said, ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.’ And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and ate no food.”
Peter Pett: Ahab is behaving like a petulant small boy, an indication that he is unworthy to be king. [Cf. 20:43]
C. (:5-7) Abusers of Power Have a Quick Fix to Covetous Cravings
1. (:5-6) Investigating the Problem
a. (:5) What’s Up?
“But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, ‘How is it that your spirit is so sullen that you are not eating food?’”
b. (:6) Rejection of Covetous Cravings
“So he said to her, ‘Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite, and said to him, Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you a vineyard in its place. But he said, I will not give you my vineyard.’”
Peter Pett: Note how bluntly he puts Naboth’s reply. It gives the impression that Naboth was just being awkward, when it has previously been emphasised that in fact he was being loyal to his family and to YHWH.
2. (:7) Eliminating the Problem
“And Jezebel his wife said to him, ‘Do you now reign over Israel? Arise, eat bread, and let your heart be joyful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.’”
II. (:8-16) CALCULATED CONNIVING OF JEZEBEL TO KILL NABOTH AND SEIZE HIS VINEYARD
A. (:8-14) Abusers of Power Use Unscrupulous Means to Achieve Their Goal
1. (:8) Deceptive Communication
“So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and sent letters to the elders and to the nobles who were living with Naboth in his city.”
Mordechai Cogan: Though he is depicted as a passive bystander to the plot against Naboth, Ahab was implicated by Jezebel’s use of his name and his authority in carrying out her design.
2. (:9-10) Detailed Unscrupulous Instructions
“Now she wrote in the letters, saying, ‘Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the people; 10 and seat two worthless men before him, and let them testify against him, saying, You cursed God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.’”
Provan: Every legal system can become the tool of politicians, if the values of those responsible for it have been sufficiently corrupted.
John Schultz: The suggestion that the council proclaim a day of fasting makes the whole deal a godless mockery. Fasting suggests invoking God’s Name and seeking His will. Jezebel had no qualms using God for the achievement of her own evil purposes. . . Jezebel orders them to employ ‘scoundrels” to give false testimonies. The fact that they obeyed made them scoundrels themselves. The word ‘scoundrel” is the translation of the Hebrew ‘sons of Belial,” meaning ‘sons of Satan.”
3. (:11-13) Docile Lackeys Who Will Carry Out Unscrupulous Instructions
“So the men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them, just as it was written in the letters which she had sent them. 12 They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the people. 13 Then the two worthless men came in and sat before him; and the worthless men testified against him, even against Naboth, before the people, saying, ‘Naboth cursed God and the king.’ So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones.”
William Barnes: Being executed “outside” the town would avoid contamination by contact with the dead (Lev 24:13–14, 23; Num 15:35–36). If the procedure detailed in Deut 17:2–7 was followed here, the accusers (here, the “two scoundrels” of 21:10) would have had to throw the first stones.
Christian Cheong: Injustice thrives because of two things – man’s WICKEDNESS and man’s WEAKNESS.
• The wickedness of Jezebel and the weaknesses of the elders and nobles.
• Jezebel’s scheme went on like clockwork. We read nothing of any protest or any attempted defense of Naboth from the ELDERS AND NOBLES from his town.
• Everyone played right along. No one took a stand. They feared the consequences.
4. (:14) Diabolical Results
“Then they sent word to Jezebel, saying,
‘Naboth has been stoned, and is dead.’”
Dale Ralph Davis: Did you notice a certain heartlessness about the way verses 8–14 read? I don’t mean the writer himself was so, but that the way he writes up the account conveys a sense of the heartlessness of the deed. Look over verses 8–14 again. See how matter-of-fact it all is. Here is what the queen wrote; here is what her toadies did. Just the hard facts, that’s all. All that mattered was that Naboth was dead (a fact mentioned five times in vv. 13–16). God’s people must expect to suffer injustice in this world.
Mordechai Cogan: Though the letter of instructions had borne the seal of the king, the elders reported back to the queen; obviously, they knew who had penned the letters.
B. (:15-16) Abusers of Power Revel in Their Spoils
1. (:15) Excitement of Jezebel in Reporting the News to Ahab
“And it came about when Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, ‘Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth, the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.’”
Carl Greene: The final scene of this first section which encompasses vs. 15, 16 has Ahab walking down to Naboth’s vineyard in order to lay claim on it. Upon this closer examination, we see this is a complex story. One that presents varying degrees of evil whose net effect is murder of a human being, and theft from God. It is these degrees of evil that trace how the organized and bureaucratic power of a king, and yes, government can be dangerous. What began with a pouting king, led to the telling of half-truths, to the manipulation of others lower in the hierarchical structure… the elders and scoundrels in this case … to the perversion of religion and holiness for political gain, and finally to the plotting and execution of murder and theft from God. In Naboth’s story, we see how a certain kind of power has been let loose with the resulting effect of polluting an entire community. Guilt in this case is universal, for it incorporates the whole.
2. (:16) Excitement of Ahab in Taking Possession of the Vineyard
“And it came about when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead,
that Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite,
to take possession of it.”
Thomas Constable: The elders and nobles of Jezreel were under Jezebel’s thumb (v. 11). They were not faithful to Yahweh. They probably could not have been to stay in office under Ahab. Jezebel also executed Naboth’s sons (2 Kings 9:26). When Ahab heard what his wife had done, he did not reprove her but took advantage of her actions and in doing so approved them (v. 16).
III. (:17-29) COURAGEOUS CONDEMNING OF AHAB AND JEZEBEL FOR THEIR ABUSE OF POWER AS ELIJAH PROCLAIMS THE LORD’S JUSTICE
A. (:17-19) Responsibility of Confronting Ahab Assigned to Elijah
1. (:17-18) Commissioning of Elijah to Confront Ahab in the Vineyard
“Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 18 ‘Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth where he has gone down to take possession of it.’”
Thomas Constable: Verse 18 contains a problem. Elijah was told to go “to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth where he [Ahab] has gone down to take possession of it.” However, Naboth was a “Jezreelite,” and his vineyard was in “Jezreel” (v. 1). The NIV translators got around this problem by translating verse 18: “Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Israel.” They evidently took the mention of Samaria as a reference to Ahab’s capital and assumed that Elijah went to Jezreel, not Samaria.
2. (:19) Condemnation of Ahab for His Culpability
a. Exposing Ahab’s Culpability
“And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD,
Have you murdered, and also taken possession?’”
b. Picturing the Lord’s Condemnation
“And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD,
In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth
the dogs shall lick up your blood, even yours.’”
David Guzik: because of Ahab’s sorrow and repentance at the end of the chapter, God relented from this judgment and instead brought it upon Ahab’s son (in 2 Kings 9:24-26) as the LORD said He would in 1 Kings 21:29.
Dale Ralph Davis: We mustn’t allow our quandary over the timing of Yahweh’s justice to eclipse our comfort over the fact of it; indeed, the way Yahweh takes up the cudgels here for his wronged people is what, in part, makes him such an attractive God.
Donald Wiseman: The fulfilment of prophecy is sometimes by stages. Here it was partially fulfilled by the dead body of Ahab being exposed at Samaria (22:38) and then, due to the deferment promised by God (v. 29), when the body of his son Joram was left on Naboth’s ground (2 Kgs 9:25–26).
B. (:20-26) Revelation of Divine Condemnation Proclaimed to Ahab
1. (:20) Condemnation Brought by Elijah against Ahab
a. Elijah Viewed as Ahab’s Personal Enemy
“And Ahab said to Elijah, ‘Have you found me, O my enemy?’”
Wiersbe: Previously, Ahab called Elijah “the troubler of Israel” (18:17), but now he makes it more personal and calls the prophet “my enemy.” Actually, by fighting against the Lord, Ahab was his own enemy and brought upon himself the sentence that Elijah pronounced.
b. Elijah Acting as the Designated Judicial Representative of the Lord
“And he answered, ‘I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the LORD.’”
August Konkel: Ahab’s response to Elijah betrays knowledge of his own guilt: “So you have found me, my enemy!” (21:20). Elijah is Ahab’s enemy because the latter has violated his responsibility as a king under the covenant. Elijah describes Ahab’s guilt for what it is: “You have sold yourself to do evil” (v. 20). Greed has led Ahab into the sin of murder and theft, so there is none who can be compared to him (v. 25). Though Jezebel is an accomplice in his crime, Ahab is still culpable as the instigator of her actions. Murder and theft are the results of desecrating the covenant (v. 26), a manifestation of his disrespect for God and the relationships that are divinely ordained.
2. (:21-22) Condemnation of Calamitous Death against Ahab and His Family
“Behold, I will bring evil upon you, and will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond and free in Israel; 22 and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked Me to anger, and because you have made Israel sin.”
David Guzik: This was a severe judgment against anyone, in particular against a king. A king’s legacy was in his posterity succeeding him on the throne, and here God announced an end to the dynasty of Omri (Ahab’s father). His dynasty would come to a dead-end, just like the dynasties of Jeroboam and Baasha.
3. (:23-24) Condemnation of Humiliating Death against Jezebel and the Royal Family
a. (:23) Humiliation of Jezebel in Death
“And of Jezebel also has the LORD spoken, saying,
‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.’”
b. (:24) Humiliation of the Royal Family in Death
“The one belonging to Ahab, who dies in the city,
the dogs shall eat, and the one who dies in the field
the birds of heaven shall eat.”
4. (:25-26) Condemnation Due to Extreme Wickedness
a. (:25) Evil of Yielding to the Influence of Jezebel
“Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him.”
John Schultz: In spite of this repentance, Ahab went down in Israel’s history as the king “who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord.” His repentance did not wipe clean his past slate.
b. (:26) Evil of Idolatry after the Pattern of the Pagan Amorites
“And he acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel.”
C. (:27-29) Respite in Judgment Due to Repentance of Ahab
1. (:27) Repentance of Ahab
“And it came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently.”
Peter Pett: When Ahab heard these words he was genuinely moved. His heart was torn, something which he symbolised by tearing his clothes. And he divested himself of his royal robes and dressed in sackcloth, and went without food, and lay down before YHWH in sackcloth, and began to reform himself. Sackcloth was the clothing of the very poor, and was rough on the skin, especially sensitive royal skin. It was seen as a way of humbling oneself. Fasting (going without food in order to denote repentance) was another way of demonstrating sorrow. ‘Going tenderly’ probably represents a temporary change of attitude and a willingness to consider YHWH’s Laws and walk in them (being careful how he walked).
2. (:28-29) Respite in Judgment
“Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29 ‘Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.’”
Wiersbe: Later events proved that Ahab’s repentance was short-lived, but the Lord at least gave him another opportunity to turn from sin and obey the Word. How much more evidence did Ahab need? But the influence of his wife couldn’t easily be broken, for when Ahab married her, he sold himself into sin.