© 2003, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
With this lesson we find ourselves at the end of the book of 1 Kings. This book gives us a history of the nation of Israel from the end of David's reign through that of Ahab. This history is characterized by a continually escalating apostasy of the nation. Each of the kings possessed an increasing disregard for the word of God until we come to King Ahab and his wife Jezebel who instituted the worship of Baal as the state religion and persecuted the prophets of the Lord. In previous chapters we find that Ahab, who is described as one who was more wicked than any before him, appeared to show repentance when Elijah led the duel with the 450 prophets of Baal. Following God's consumption of His sacrifice, Ahab acceded to Elijah's order to kill all of the prophets of Baal (and presumably the 400 prophets of Asherah who were also in attendance). Jezebel was furious over what Elijah had done and called for his execution. Elijah ran to the Sinai to escape Jezebel and had an encounter with the Lord that personalized his ministry.
It is evident that Ahab's apparent repentance at Mount Carmel was temporary. We find that Jezebel, with no motivation to repent, continued to influence Ahab.
And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. 2And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.
Here we see Ahab, the king of Israel (noted in the KJV as the king of Samaria, which identifies a geographical region rather than the tribes of Abraham), making an offer to purchase land from Naboth. It is interesting to note that, as the king, Ahab had the ability to simply seize the land without giving Naboth any consideration. Instead, Ahab offered to Naboth what appears to be a very fair, and even possibly a generous, offer. With the reputation that Ahab has developed for wickedness, we see the possibility of a changing heart. However, the request belies Ahab's apostasy, as he would clearly understand that the land was not available for sale. The sale of land between the Hebrews was rare, because they felt that the land was an inheritance from God. Much of the Mosaic and traditional laws were designed to keep that inheritance secure. One could loan land, but at the year of Jubilee it would always be legally returned to its owner. Therefore, this request places a tremendous burden on Naboth. If he refuses the offer from this king, he could likely die. If he accepts the offer, he will lose his inheritance and the inheritance of his progeny.
And Naboth said to Ahab, The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.
It is evident that Naboth held to his traditional beliefs, and risked persecution or even death at the hands of the king by refusing to sell. How would one expect Ahab to respond to this rejection? He was not accustomed to anyone challenging his lordship in the kingdom, at least not until Elijah came to his palace at the beginning of the three-year drought than ended with the death of the prophets of Baal. Ahab's response is revealing.
And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him: for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.
Apparently, Ahab does not take rejection well. He was so upset that upon returning to the palace he went to his bedroom, laid down with his face to the wall, and refused to eat. One may be reminded of the temper tantrum of an immature child and see such a self-centered attitude on the part of Ahab. Such childish behavior would not be expected from the king, revealing his true nature.
But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread? 6And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and said unto him, Give me thy vineyard for money; or else, if it please thee, I will give thee another vineyard for it: and he answered, I will not give thee my vineyard. 7And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.
If Jezebel had not intervened, Ahab would probably have gotten over his pity-party, and life would have continued unchanged. However, Ahab gave Jezebel complete freedom to do as she wished as the queen. It had been her influence that motivated Ahab to reject the Lord's commands for the nation, and it was at her behest that he persecuted the prophets. It was from Jezebel that Elijah fled for his life. If there was any wickedness in Ahab, it was empowered by the more wicked queen Jezebel, a name that has through the years come to be equated with treachery, betrayal, and treason. When Jezebel found Ahab laying in his bed of self-pity, she remained true to her own personality by taking the matter into her own hands. Ahab's willingness to allow Jezebel such freedom serves to show his true weakness. Her statement to Ahab is almost demeaning as she says, "Aren't you the king of Israel?" She is clearly disgusted that he did not simply seize the land as any other king would have done. Jezebel had no hesitation when it came to abusing others, so she put a plan in place.
So she wrote letters in Ahabís name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth. 9And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people: 10And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.
Jezebel's penchant for treachery is illustrated by her plan. First, in the name of the king, she wrote letters to the elders of the city to call for a fast. Such was done to recognize a great sin that had befallen the community (1 Sam. 7:6). They were then to bring Naboth forward for judgment. She also conscripted two men, "sons of Belial" to bring false witness against him. "Sons of Belial" is an idiom that describes ones who are "sons of the devil," people who are deceitful and treacherous. The NIV translates this phrase, "two scoundrels," removing the idiom and replacing it with its meaning. They were to bring the charge of blasphemy against God, and against the king. Blasphemy against God was punishable by stoning to death (Deut 13:10), and his blasphemy against the king would assure the carrying out of the punishment. He was to be condemned as guilty against both the Mosaic law and the traditional law.
And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who were the inhabitants in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them, and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them. 12They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people. 13And there came in two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died. 14Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead. 15And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money: for Naboth is not alive, but dead. 16And it came to pass, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
Jezebel's plan unfolded exactly as she had hoped. The combination of the fast, the judgment seat, and the false witnesses provided the community with a very convincing argument of Naboth's guilt. Under the law, the false witnesses would be the first to throw the stones, and it was the duty of the community to finish the task. In this manner, the entire community was brought into Jezebel's plan. Apparently, Naboth had no children to take the inheritance, legally leaving the property to the digression of the king. The taking of the land under these circumstances would be expected by the community and would raise no suspicion of foul play.
What did Ahab do when he heard of the plight of Naboth? He shows his lack of personal integrity when he fails to even ask Jezebel how Naboth came to such a demise. Naboth lived in a property adjacent to the palace, so Ahab would have known him well. Furthermore, Naboth had shown himself to follow the traditions when he defended them so bravely against Ahab's desire to take his land. Ahab seems to have dismissed this altogether, fully accepting the consequences of the events that had taken place, and by doing so, fully accepting the actions of Jezebel that initiated them. By doing this, Ahab's guilt was as Jezebel's. Together, they benefited by the conspiracy that ended with Naboth's murderous death.
And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 18Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it. 19And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.
Elijah had recently run from Israel, fearing Jezebel. He then had an encounter with God and came back to the region through Syria. He probably would have had no intention to return to Jezreel of Samaria where he would be subject to the whims of Ahab and Jezebel. However, God called Elijah to go back to the king with what would be worse than bad news. No longer was the message that God had for Ahab one of condition, "If you ... then ..." as was the case in Ahab's previous encounters with Elijah. This message is one of finality. The period of God's permissive will in the life of Ahab had come to an end. Elijah's message was simple ... the ground that held the shed blood of Naboth would also hold the shed blood of Ahab, and as with Naboth, his blood would be licked up by the dogs. The Hebrews held to a tradition that one's blood represented one's life. The embalming process was done with dignity and respect. For dogs to lick up the blood of the dead would be a great insult. Ahab certainly did not care that Naboth was subjected to this degradation, but would never consider the same for himself. Clearly, however, just as Nathan had exposed the sin and guilt of David in the death of Uriah the husband of Bathsheba, Elijah exposed the sin and guilt of Ahab in the death of Naboth. Did Ahab remember the sin of David and see himself in the same situation? After all, he did not personally command the death of Naboth. Yet, rather than act as King, the position that he was anointed within to serve, he let Jezebel do his bidding, and for that he is responsible.
And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the LORD. 21Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, 22And will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and made Israel to sin.
Previously, when Ahab was confronted by Elijah, he referred to Elijah as the "troubler of Israel," as the sin for which Elijah came to condemn was one from which the entire nation needed to repent. However, in this encounter, Ahab's recognition of his personal guilt is clear. Ahab was not ignorant of how Naboth died, and clearly knew that the conspiracy was executed with his own permission and for his personal gain. Consequently, he now refers to Elijah as "mine enemy," recognizing that this visit from Elijah is personal. Given an opportunity to repent and come back to God, it is clear that Ahab had no intention of doing so, and never would. Therefore, God's message for Ahab is clear and to the point. Just as Ahab had taken away the posterity of Naboth, God would also take away the posterity of Ahab. "Him that pisseth against the wall," is another Hebrew idiom that simply refers to males. The NIV again translates the meaning of the idiom rather than the idiom itself when it states, "every last male in Israel." Usually the KJV tones down the graphic nature of the Hebrew language, but in this case, such Elizabethan English was more acceptable. "Him that is shut up and left" refers to those who are either slave or free. God's judgment is that there will be no male left alive who is part of the house of Ahab, an event similar to that which happened to Jereboam and Baasha when they and their families were slaughtered. God made the reason for this judgment clear also, that Ahab's continued apostasy and wickedness continued to lead Israel away from God, and for this God's anger against him was kindled.
And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. 24Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat. 25But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. 26And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.
God's judgment also extended to Jezebel. Her treachery and wickedness was far greater than that of Ahab, and she used Ahab and his position as king to accomplish her own purposes. God's judgment upon her is similar to that of Ahab, yet even more degrading. The dogs would lick up the blood of Ahab, but would actually eat the flesh of Jezebel. There would be nobody to care for her body at her death. Finally, God's judgment upon this apostate regime extended out beyond Ahab, Jezebel, and their family to include all who claimed allegiance to them. Those in the city would be eaten by dogs, and those outside its walls would be eaten by the birds. God would annihilate the house of Ahab forever.
27And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. 28And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his sonís days will I bring the evil upon his house.
Ahab had responded to God's overt message when the 450 prophets of Baal were killed. However, his response was half-hearted and produced no real results. This time, Ahab got the message. Instead of going to his bed and facing the wall in self-pity, he followed the traditional ritual for mourning by tearing his clothes, fasting, and sitting in the dust wearing sackcloth. Ahab would, from this point forward, look to the Lord. Ahab made an alliance with the righteous Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and together they went up in battle against an arrogant king of Syria who saw the change in Ahab as weakness, and an opportunity to overwhelm and conquer Israel. Ahab and Jehoshaphat sought God's will in the battle, and though the Syrians were soundly defeated, Ahab fell in battle. The bloody chariot of Ahab was returned to Samaria, and was cleaned on the land where Naboth was killed, a cleansing that was assisted by the dogs.
Though God did not desire Israel to have a king, He allowed it, though stating through Samuel that this grave mistake would take the nation away from Him and place them into bondage. First, Solomon placed them into the bondage of servitude, and later kings would place them into bondage in sin. God's punishment for sin has never changed: eternal separation from Him. A life of sin carries consequences on both sides of the grave. As we look to our own lives, do we find areas of deceit and dishonesty? Are we tolerating continued sin in our lives? The experience of Israel could be the experience of our churches and its individuals when they do not follow God. As a church we should be open to inspect the righteousness of our actions, and as people we should be repenting of our sin so we are not considered by God as Ahab and Jezebel. God is faithful to forgive sin.