Summary: Dealing with life's injustices in a broken world...yet trusting the One who will make things right, because in Christ He has experienced injustice.
Life is frequently unfair. Bad things happen to good people. Brutality and injustice are all around us. And we scratch our heads and wonder “Why?” God’s purpose is beyond us; His ways are above our ways. He causes all things to work together for good, but not all things are good. Especially in the case of Naboth, things didn’t work out so well for this honorable man.
Elijah’s triumph at Mount Carmel didn’t have much of an impact on King Ahab. He continued to display a lack of regal character. He was a greedy, covetous king, and when he didn’t get what he wanted, he sulked; then was easily manipulated by his conniving Queen. So he added conspiracy and murder to his resume…and all for a parcel of land.
Here’s the background: Naboth had property close to the king’s winter palace, land that Ahab desired; a vineyard fit for a king. We might think Ahab’s offer reasonable and consider Naboth’s refusal poor manners. Yet in Biblical times, one’s land was a sacred trust, tied to one’s honor and ancestors. What was a luxury to the king was life itself to Naboth. It would be shameful to sell, and the Law of Moses forbade the selling of one’s land except in times of dire emergency; and then it could only be leased, not sold outright. Naboth was one of the few faithful in Israel who had not bowed down to Baal; he remained true to his spiritual heritage and his lineage. He had a moral right to refuse the king. His reasoning was covenantal--tied to the tradition of his people. Ahab merely wanted some land and didn’t care how that affected others.
So Ahab went home and pouted, like a spoiled child who didn’t get his way. Wallowing in self-pity he refused to eat. But ruthless Jezebel was all about power…and power corrupts. She had no scruples, no respect for God or His law, and was unsympathetic to her husband’s whining. One translation of verse 7 has her sneering sarcastically: “Some king of Israel you make!” (NJB); her pagan worldview said that it was OK for kings to take whatever they wanted, by any means. A godly queen would have encouraged Ahab to be content. But Jezebel showed contempt for what she regarded as weakness.
And so she hatched an ungodly conspiracy to dishonor Naboth and have him killed, along with his heirs. This would clear the way for Ahab to take possession of the coveted vineyard. Jezebel had her minions claim that Naboth cursed God—which was blasphemy; and that he cursed the king—which was treason. The KJV calls these accusers “sons of beliel,” using the Hebrew term, which translates to “worthless, wicked, destructive” men. So by these vile men, a noble, innocent man was dragged outside the city walls and stoned to death! Spineless Ahab did nothing but watch. He went along with it. “Injustice flourishes not only by wickedness, but by weakness” (Dale Davis).
To show where our culture is headed these days, Jezebel is now a largely admired figure….There’s Jezebel magazine, filled with articles about sex and celebrities; a Jezebel feminist blog; the Jezebels, an alternative rock band, and revisionist histories that attempt to ennoble this contemptible woman.
Naboth was a victim. Injustice is what we can expect from people who do not respect God. In fact, it is heretical thinking to expect godly treatment from ungodly people. Yet when we’re treated unfairly, we have another Naboth who understands, One who is sympathetic to our plight, One who has Himself received abuse at the hands of wicked men…
Matthew 26: “Now the religious leaders sought false testimony against Jesus so that they might put Him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward.” Jesus shared in Naboth’s suffering, and He fully understands when we’re treated unfairly. He’s been there.
How does the cross of Jesus speak to a world full of pain, poverty and injustice? We have to learn to climb Mount Calvary, and from that vantage point survey all of life's inequities. John Stott says that, “The cross does not solve the problem of suffering, but it supplies the essential perspective from which to look at it. Sometimes we picture God lounging, perhaps dozing, in some celestial deck-chair, while hungry millions starve to death. It is this terrible caricature of God which the cross smashes to smithereens.”
King Ahab got his vineyard. He had the judicial right to take possession of private property when there was no heir. He acted legally, but just because something is legal doesn’t make it moral. There are many legal practices today that are abhorrent to God, and He is the final authority. We’re outraged when guilty people evade justice on legal technicalities. But there is no such thing as a perfect crime. No one evades divine justice. Ahab stood in his vineyard with a heavy weight of guilt upon his shoulders. “The joy of the godless is but for a moment,” warned Job. And Plato observed: “He who commits injustice is ever made more wretched than he who suffers it.”