ELIJAH: THE CONFRONTER

1 Kings 21:15—29

Naboth's Vineyard: King Ahab's Folly

If angels, who had never sinned, were kicked out of Heaven because of their ambition, how can a sinful human being hope to succeed by it?  Since Elijah’s arrival on the scene, Queen Jezebel’s religious ambitions had been cut short.  In this chapter of Elijah’s life and career, we see some startling contrasts.  We see Naboth, an honorable and honest man standing up to King Ahab and Jezebel.  We see Elijah confronting Ahab, boldly, in the power of the Lord.  And we see Ahab actually coming to his senses and turning 180 degrees!  This is a strange chapter, indeed.

1.  An nefarious plot, verses 1—16

Jezebel’s vile and godless religion was in trouble, and this sad plot against poor Naboth may be considered her last-ditch effort to restore it to national prominence in Israel.

(a)  Naboth’s refusal to sell, vs. 1—4

Naboth was an Israelite who lived in Jezreel.  Jezreel, as you recall, was Jezebel’s hometown.  Talk about living in the belly of the beast!  It seems as though Jezebel’s husband, King Ahab, had been coveting a piece of land owned by Naboth—

Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”  (verse 2)

Naboth was well within his rights in refusing to sell.  In fact, according to Mosaic Law, had he sold Ahab this tract of land he would have violated custom.

“The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”  (verse 3)

Ahab knew that Naboth was bound by his faith to maintain possession of this piece of land and that this familial obligation should not be challenged.  In trying get this land, Ahab was trying to do something that went against generations of religious and cultural practice.  It would have been repugnant and highly offensive to Naboth and his family to have been asked.

Verse 4 shows us just how emasculated this king was—

He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.

Judging by what was about to happen, it is clear that Jezebel was more of a man than her husband ever was!

(b)  The plot, verses 5—16

The real Jezebel of history was much more vile than the Hollywood version.

Eventually, the queen found her husband sulking, and we read this—

“Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”  (verse 7)

Ahab, frustrated with religious custom, thought he could never have this land.  Jezebel, on the other hand, was not an Israelite; she was a Tyrian.  She also had no conscience and no respect for other people’s rights, religious or otherwise.  She could not understand why her husband, the King after all, did not just grab the land outright!  This is what she would have done.  So she hatched a diabolical plot—

“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”  (verses 8—10, verses 9, 10 cited)

Given the nature of this plot, Naboth might have been a somewhat of a prominent man in his area and so this meeting apparently wouldn’t have aroused any kind of suspicion.  The charge against Naboth was two-fold:  he had blasphemed both God and the king; the penalty being death by stoning.   So while Jezebel had no thought whatsoever for the religion of her husband, she had no problem using his religion to further her agenda!

Sadly, for Naboth and his family, the plot was successful—

Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death.  (verse 13)

2.  Evil deeds are judged, verses 17—29

(a)  Seeming success, verse 16

Ahab apparently didn’t care how Naboth had died; all he wanted was his land and now that the pesky land owner was gone, Ahab could finally swoop in and take it.  By hook or by crook, some people always get what they lust after.

(b)  The forgotten factor, verses 17, 18

There is nothing anybody can do in secret that God does not see; no plot can be hatched that God does not know all about.  The forgotten factor in the schemes of worldly people is God.  They, like Ahab and especially Jezebel, may not believe in Him or may disregard Him, but God is who He is regardless of what they think about Him.

One more time, Elijah is summoned by God to go and confront Ahab.  The last time these two men had a face-to-face meeting, Ahab referred to the prophet as “the troubler of Israel,” but now Ahab calls Elijah “my enemy.”  A man of God will always be the enemy where a sinner is concerned.

For a time, it may have seemed as though Ahab and Jezebel had succeeded, but anything a mere man may do must first past muster with a righteous God to be a success.  Proverbs 19:21 is a classic observation we should never forget—

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

You can’t “kick against the goad” no matter how hard you may try!  If you are believer and you have respect for the will of God, it would do you well to remember this—

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.  (Proverbs 16:3)

Obviously, the plans of the royal family of Israel were as far from God as they could get.

(c)  A stern command, verses 17 and 19

Say to him, ‘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!’ ”  (verse 19)

This is a terrible “Word from God!”  Modern Christians love to talk about God as being a “God of love and compassion,” but we do Him a great disservice when we fail to respect His whole character.  While Jehovah does indeed offer mercy to all who call on Him, He is also a God of judgment and a God who is true to His word.  Jezebel had crossed a line and she had to be dealt with accordingly; for God to let this action pass would have been not only a violation of His divine character, it would have sent an horrendous message to the nation of Israel.

(d)  An uncomfortable meeting, verses 20—24

Ahab was wicked, but he seemed to have a clue about why Elijah was there.  In referring to him as his “enemy,” Ahab knew Elijah had not suddenly shown up to congratulate the king on acquiring a nice vineyard!  Ahab knew why Elijah was there!  Numbers 32:23 is one of the scariest verses in all Scripture—

You may be sure that your sin will find you out.

Way down deep in his heart of hearts, Ahab, rebellious Jew that he was, knew he had been caught.

A stray dog eating a corpse in Iraq. In the time of Jezebel, this was seen as a shocking desecration of the dead.

Elijah spoke what God wanted him to say plainly and succinctly.  His message to Ahab was startling and sobering.  Because Ahab had “sold himself” to do evil, God’s judgment would fall on the whole house of Ahab.  The wretched Jezebel would die a horrible death in the very city she perpetrated her vile crimes against God.

What is about to happen to the house of Ahab reminds us of the words of another prophet—

Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin!  (Habakkuk 2:9)

Verses 25 and 26 constitute an awful indictment against a human being—

There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.

3.  Merciful deliverance, verses 27—29

Elijah’s stern message brought fear and conviction to wayward king Ahab.   Repentance and humility before God are the only ways to assuage His wrath and judgment.  The king obviously took to heart the message from God and went around in sackcloth and fasted.  God noticed this—

“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.”  (verse 29)

Apparently, the king’s remorse and repentance was seen by God as being sincere.  Because Ahab humbled himself, the impending punishment would be put off until the days of his son.  Jezebel, however, had no redeeming qualities and her fate was sealed.

When we step back and look at Elijah and Ahab, most of us would like to think that we are more like Elijah; mostly faithful and daring in doing the work of the Lord.  But if we would take an honest assessment of our lives, we probably bear a closer resemblance to Ahab.  We may not be as wicked, but his character faults and flaws can be found in most Christians in abundance.  Ahab, we have seen, was a weak, wishy-washy man, easily influenced by his wife.  Here was a man who would rather make his wife happy than please God.  Paradoxically, Ahab could be moved by the Word of the Lord (see 1 Kings 17 for example) and actually do the right thing.  More often than not, however, Ahab live selfishly.

That could be anyone us!  How many Christians have made a career out of skillfully walking a fine line; trying to make everybody happy, and at the same, trying to save face with God?

We have no record that the king’s character actually changing.  We have no indication that he stopped his idolatrous practices.  We have no record that Ahab ever returned the property to Naboth’s family.  In God’s treatment of Ahab, we see just how gracious and patient our God really is.  He deals with sinful human beings and wishy-washy, thankless and thoughtless Christians in boundless grace and mercy.

Aren’t you thankful for that?

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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