Summary: The story of an honest man, Naboth, killed as a result of an abuse of power and perhaps, because of a king... Ahab ... telling half truths. It also warns of the potential of abuse of power/influence by Christians.
This is one story of several that trace the confrontation between the prophet Elijah and king Ahab. Ahab is usually a pretty bad guy. These stories have there origins in chapter 17. There, Elijah seems to burst on the scene from out of nowhere, and curses a drought into existence in the presence of Ahab.
So, these two don’t really like each other very much. We can see this in Ahab’s initial comment to Elijah in verse 20..., “So you have found me, my enemy!”
This story is about many things, but within the story are revealed the dangers of half truths and abuses of power and finally, devotion to God.
I’m not just talking about the obvious power held by a King who represents organized, and in this case, hierarchical, as well as centralized power of the state.
I’m am also speaking of the abuse of religious power, zealousness and allowing our personal feelings to interfere with God’s plans. Elijah is a charismatic, volatile and unpredictable voice of protest.
The author of this story seems who favors the voice of the prophetic protest. Prophets, after all, tend to be heroes throughout the bible… Yet the contrast between good and evil is not absolute. In reality, not all kings are evil, and not all prophets are good all the time as we will find out.
This story about Naboth’s vineyard has two parts, and different scenes within each.
Verses 1-16 involve three characters, Ahab, Naboth and Jezebel. Just before Chp 21, we read where Ahab has an encounter with a prophet. Without taking the time to get into that story, what we see in the last verse of Chp 20 is an indication of Ahab’s personality. “Sullen and angry, the king of Israel went to his palace in Samaria” He sounds kind of like a spoiled, pampered child doesn’t he? If you’re not going to play my way, I’m going to take my ball and bat and go home!”
Now, we seem to have changed locations. Ahab, you see, had more than one palace. I believe he had at least three.
It appears Naboth has a vineyard next to Ahab’s palace in Jezreel. For whatever reason, Ahab take a fancy to the vineyard and allegedly wants it for a vegetable garden??? Really? Well anyway, while Ahab is usually cast in an evil sort of role, in the beginning at least, he appears to make Naboth a fair offer. Now, this doesn’t make Ahab a hero, but it is very different from blatant exploitation of his power. The first scene opens with Ahab offering Naboth, another vineyard, or money for the vineyard.
But now the problems begin. Naboth refuses to sell the property. Perhaps Naboth could have used the money. Who knows what the economy was like at the time? However, Naboth remembers God’s covenant made with his ancestors and in vs. 3 he gives his answer based upon his love for and faith in God. Naboth remembers God gave this land of plenty with the covenant “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.”(Lev 25:23) God the Father gave Israel the land as a part of their salvation. The land wasn’t really Naboth’s to give. It ultimately belonged to God. An as we read in vs. 4, Naboth doesn’t argue, he seems not only to understand Naboth’s theologically based answer, he seems to be in agreement it. But once again, we see the personality of a man who is used to getting his way….”sullen and angry.” This guy… “king” no less … goes home and lies down in bed! In other words, Ahab is pouting because he didn’t get his way.
Now we come to scene two, enter Jezebel. Jezebel comes into the bedroom and say’s what’s up with you? Why such a sad face?? And so Ahab relates his encounter with Naboth, well, most of it. But Ahab conveniently leaves out Naboth’s reason for not selling the property. He simply says hey, I offered the guy a fair trade and he turned me down. … he might as well have added… with no good reason! But, Ahab knew that wasn’t the truth. And it is at least in part, this “half-truth” that Jezebel not interprets the conflict as between the “king” and subject, and when framed this way, hey, Ahab is the KING and he can darn well have any vineyard anywhere he chooses. Now had Ahab told all the truth would it have changed Jezebel’s attitude? Doubtful, Jezebel worshiped Ball, but we are left to wonder why Ahab conveniently left out this key part of the encounter.
Moving on to scene three. It’s all about Jezebel and how she orchestrates the murder of Naboth. Ironically, she uses theological arguments to kill him by arranging day of fasting, placing Naboth in a place of prominence. Elders and nobles would also attend the fast celebration and finally, two “scoundrels” who were probably paid thugs, to testify Naboth had cursed God, which carried a penalty of death by stoning. And she got away with it… and Naboth is killed.