7 Surprised People in the Bible, Part 3

 

Our third person in the Bible who got the surprise of his life is a fellow by the name of Ahab.  Long before a certain Captain Ahab became obsessed with Moby Dick, King Ahab was doing his best to ruin the kingdom of Israel.  His surprise, although it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all, came from the prophet Elijah.  Ahab and Elijah weren’t exactly friends.  In 1 Kings 18, they meet up and here’s how that went down:

So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah.  When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”  “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals.  (1 Kings 18:16 – 18 | TNIV)

If you recall, Elijah the prophet issued a lopsided challenge:

Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”  Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets.  Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it.  Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.” (1 Kings 18:19, 22 – 24 | TNIV)

And the fire fell and it ended very badly for the prophets of Baal.  To say they and all the people were surprised would be an understatement!

Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.  When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”  (1 Kings 18:38, 39 | TNIV)

I’d say a lot of people underestimated the God of Elijah, including King Ahab.  But the root of sin and idolatry run deep, and Ahab remained a godless leader of God’s people.  This wasn’t his last run-in with the “troubler of Israel.”  In chapter 21, the hapless king has his eyes on a vineyard.  It seems like vineyards caused a lot of problems for some Israelites back in Old Testament times.  You’ll recall Elisha’s assistant, Gehazi, wanted a vineyard and in pursuit of his dream of owning one, was surprised when he caught a terminal case of leprosy.  Let’s take a look at how wanting a vineyard resulted in some unintended consequences for evil King Ahab.

Naboth says no.

You have to hand it to Naboth.  It took some nerve to stand up to King Ahab like he did!

But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”  (1 Kings 21:3 | TNIV)

Naboth wasn’t being difficult.  Ahab had offered him a fair price for his vineyard; it’s not like he was going to steal it.  Naboth was well within his rights to turn the king down. The concept of “private property rights” didn’t originate with Americans!  This concept was enshrined in Jewish religious and civil law.  And the king knew it.  He knew that Naboth was right; that he was legally and religiously obligated to hold onto this piece of land.  Still, the king wanted what he wanted.  As one scholar rightly observed,

The only thing worse than a spoiled, pouting child is a spoiled, pouting adult.

Ahab the man-child pouted and pouted until his wife noticed.

Jezebel’s plot.

Jezebel his wife said, “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.”  (2 Kings 21:7 | TNIV)

Jezebel was a real piece of work.  Thoroughly evil, her name has become synonymous with wanton and scheming women.  There’s a good reason why nobody names their baby girl “Jezebel!”  Throughout our culture, even, songs have been written about wicked Jezebel by such notables as, Frankie Lane, Sade, 10,000 Maniacs, Chely Wright, and Iron and Wine (?!).  She wasn’t a Jew and was just one of many wives of the gormless King Ahab.  But she definitely wore the pants in the family.  She had no use for the customs, traditions and laws of Israel.  When Ahab didn’t simply seize Naboth’s land outright, she just couldn’t understand why not, so she hatched a truly diabolical plot involving the Sons of Belial (KJV).

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him.  In those letters she wrote: “Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people.  But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”  (1 Kings 21:8 – 10 | TNIV)

Sadly, the plan worked to perfection and poor Naboth was stoned to death according to the Law and Ahab got his vineyard.

When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.  (1 Kings 21:16 | TNIV)

Ahab will soon learn what a lot of us have learned the hard way: The wanting is often better than the having.

Evil deeds are judged.

Ahab and Jezebel lived a lifetime of wickedness, idolatry and sin.  They were a thoroughly nasty couple.  It took a long time, but they are about to learn the truthfulness of a verse back in Numbers.

“But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”  (Numbers 32:23 | TNIV)

“Be sure your sin will find you out.”  Interestingly enough, the context of Numbers 32:23 is surprising.  The “sin” would be the men of Israel not arming themselves for battle to protect their families.

Then Moses said to them, “If you will do this—if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle…”  (Numbers 32:20 | TNIV)

I throw that in for the benefit of the pacifists reading this study.  It’s surprising that not fighting on behalf of your family is such a dreadful sin against God.  At any rate, thanks to Jezebel’s trickery, Ahab finally got Naboth’s vineyard.  But what this couple failed to realize was that Naboth had invoked Yahweh’s Name and His Law when he declined Ahab in the first place.  So, when Jezebel and Ahab snookered Naboth and killed him, they were picking a fight with God Himself.  That never ends well for anybody.

Meanwhile, back Elijah’s place, the Lord called His prophet back into action.

“Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it.  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!’ ”  (1 Kings 21:18, 19 | TNIV)

The Lord had accused Ahab of two sins: Murder and theft of private property.  Both were awful crimes in Israelite society.  And typical of God’s justice, the punishment would fit the crime(s).  The prophet of the Lord caught up with Ahab at the vineyard.

Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!” “I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord.”  (1 Kings 21:20 | TNIV)

Poor old Ahab couldn’t get anything right.  He had previously accused Elijah of being the “troubler of Israel” when, in reality, he himself was the one causing all the problems among God’s people.  Here he accuses Elijah of being his enemy, but in truth Ahab was his own worst enemy.  Judgment was about to fall hard on this strange king of Israel, but his coming trouble would be the result of his actions, not Elijah’s.  The one who sells himself out to sin, as Ahab did, brings awful consequences crashing down on himself and often times others associated with him.

I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.’  (1 Kings 21:22 | TNIV)

The evil of Ahab went way beyond the murder of Naboth, but something far more nefarious – his promotion of apostasy in the Israel.  For that crime of crimes, his punishment would be like that of the two losers in verse 22, Nebat and Baasha.  God would literally erase the house of Ahab from the face of the earth.  Every single male descendant of Ahab would be die.

As for Jezebel, her fate would be horrible indeed.

 “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’”  (1 Kings 21:23 | TNIV)

Ahab’s change of heart

Elijah wasn’t the first prophet in the land to warn Ahab about his sinful ways.  Back in chapter 20, an unnamed prophet confronted the king.

He said to the king, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’ ”  (1 Kings 20:42 | TNIV)

And with Elijah’s much more detailed pronouncement of judgment, the Lord finally got the king’s attention.  Today’s society has become a very secular one, with religious monuments, like crosses and nativity scenes, falling out of favor because of one or two disgruntled atheists or the like, and inexplicably the secularism that has swept across the land has crept into the church and found a home behind the pulpit.  It’s not that preachers don’t preach about God, but they don’t preach a whole lot about Hell and damnation anymore. Preachers are afraid to offend members of their church and people are much too sophisticated to hear such things these days.  However, one of the major themes found across the Testaments is that God is a God of judgment and that He has judged people in the past and He will judge all people; all people who have ever lived will eventually stand before the Lord to give account of the lives they lived.  God’s judgment of man’s sins seems slow in coming, but it is coming, make no mistake about it.  That reality was brought home to King Ahab when Elijah preached the whole, unvarnished truth of judgment to him.  

What followed was a surprising turn-of-events.  

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.  (1 Kings 21:27 | TNIV)

Who’d have thought this would ever happen?  You and I might be tempted to think that old King Ahab was trying to pull a fast one here.  It would certainly be more consistent with his personality.  And yet, the Lord saw that Ahab was earnest.  That’s surprising!  Because of the king’s change of heart, the Lord got in contact with Elijah:

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “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.”  (1 Kings 21:28, 29 | TNIV)

Because he had genuinely humbled himself, the promised judgment would be delayed.  However, Jezebel would receive no such “stay of execution.”  Her end comes in 2 Kings 8, a watershed chapter in which the dynasty of Omri, including his descendant Ahab, would be brought to an end and a new dynasty is seen rising under Jehu.  What Elisha prophesied in 1 Kings 21 is finally fulfilled completely in 2 Kings 8.

Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes, arranged her hair and looked out of a window.  As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, “Have you come in peace, you Zimri, you murderer of your master?”  He looked up at the window and called out, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him.  “Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.  Jehu went in and ate and drank. “Take care of that cursed woman,” he said, “and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.”  But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands.  (2 Kings 9:30 – 35 | TNIV)

As for Ahab, we’ll cover what happened to him in the next study.  For now, though, the story of Ahab is surprising on so many levels.  He was surprised that Elijah had tracked him down yet again!  How that “troubler of Israel” must have gotten under his skin!  And yet, thanks to the his straight forward, non-sugarcoated preaching, Ahab was given break, at least for a while.  The Lord in His patience would put up with Ahab a little longer.  However, it’s obvious from “the rest of the story” that Ahab’s character didn’t change a bit.  Like another ruler in the New Testament, Ahab was “almost persuaded” to change, but a genuine conversion didn’t take place.  This incident shows us a surprising side of God’s grace: He deals in boundless mercy even with a thankless, thoughtless generation.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  (2 Peter 3:9 | TNIV)

Ahab, through his entire life, proved that he was completely loyal to Baal, not Yahweh.  He was, as one scholar noted, the King Solomon of the Northern Kingdom, whose own marriage to a foreign wife led Israel into idolatry, which would be the cause of the kingdom’s destruction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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