Summary: Elijah’s confrontation of Ahab over Naboth’s death

If you don’t think God has a sense of humor just look at the person beside you.

Naboth’s vineyard I Kings 21:1-20

The story of Ahab could probably be summed up in one verse. It’s found in I Kings 16:33, “And Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings that were before him.” So Ahab was without a doubt the worst king the nation of Israel had ever seen. And when we see what the nation had come to as far as their relationship with God was concerned we’re reminded of the saying, “People get the leadership they deserve.” And maybe that explains the quality of people we have in control of our country.

We’ve seen a small portion of Ahab’s life as we’ve watched him being confronted by Elijah. We know that he was a jew who had married not only outside of his race but also outside of his faith when he married Jezebel. She was the daughter of the king of the Sidonians and her father was the head of Baal worship. So Ahab not only married an idolater but then we also saw that he did everything he could to help her promote idolatry among the Jewish people. We are told he even planted a grove which was a place of idolatry and immorality. And then of course he persecuted the prophets of the Lord. He went as far as killing any he found. The only believers that existed in his kingdom were Obadiah and no one knew he was a believer and the seven thousand he kept hidden in a cave. From what the scripture teaches us Ahab seemed to have hated the prophets of God because their message hampered his lifestyle.

I think Ahab would like some of the preachers we have on television today. People like Robert Schueller who says things like, “Inch by inch, life is a cinch.” Ahab probably had a bumper sticker on his chariot that said, “You just can’t fail, if you worship Baal.” Like many today he had a comfortable religion that accommodated his sin and made no demands on his lifestyle. I Timothy 4 that describes the so-called believers of the last days who get taken in by teachers who tickle their ears. They’ll tickle your ears as long as you tickle their palms. We don’t have to wait for the last days because there are plenty of them around today.

So Ahab had quite a history. He turned the nation from the worship of God to idolatry and immorality. He persecuted the prophets and established a couple of cults. And then he witnessed great miracles such as the three and a half-year drought, the fire that came down from heaven and then the rain that followed, all of which came as a result of Elijah’s prophesying. But in spite of everything he saw he gave in to Jezebel who threatened to kill Elijah.

Not long after this Ahab found himself at war with the Syrians who were led by Ben-Hadad. The account is found in I Kings 20. There were two major battles. We read that God gave Ahab the victory in the hill country and the Syrians responded by saying, “God did a good job on the mountains but He can’t fight on the plains.” So they went to battle down on the plains and Israel got the victory again. So Syria was completely defeated and then we’re told that Ahab captured Ben-Hadad and rather than execute him as an enemy he treated him like he was some kind of celebrity and this was a man that God had slated for destruction.

In spite of all his sinful dealings with the nation we find him in this passage seemingly at peace in his winter palace. He may be safe and secure in his palace but he’s not content. He couldn’t just live and let live. And so he’s strolling around on his roof and he looks over at his neighbor’s vineyard and he comes to the conclusion that his vineyard would be a great place for a great vegetable garden. He makes these decisions without even thinking about the fact that the land isn’t available.

At this point it seems like God says, “Thus far and no farther.” As the scripture says, “He touched the apple of God’s eye,” which is another way of saying he poked his finger in God’s eye. Has anybody ever poked their finger in your eye? No one has to tell you how to react because no matter who does it or why, we always react in shock and anger. Our reaction isn’t selfish it’s just the most sensitive part of our body. So God says Ahab poked his finger God’s eye by touching the people who were trying to obey the word of God. Proverbs 29:1 says, “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” And so I think we can say that this is the place, where Ahab passes the point of no return.

I We’ll begin by looking at his request.

A In verse one it says that Nahab’s vineyard was ‘hard by’ or ‘close to’ Ahab’s palace. And this was Ahab’s winter palace in Jezreel. So basically Ahab said to Naboth, “Let’s make a deal. I want your vineyard to use for a herb garden and if you’ll give it to me I’ll give you a better vineyard or you can have the equivalent value in cash.” And if it were you or I this wouldn’t seem like a bad deal.

B But Naboth said no. Now we realize that he is talking to the king and naturally we would wonder why he would possibly say no. We might think he was arrogant. Maybe he could have been saying to himself I don’t care if you are the king, this is my land and you’re not getting it. Or maybe he had a rebellious attitude and thought, “I’ll turn this vineyard into a dump before I let you enjoy it.” Maybe he was a rich guy who was content with what he had and that fact that others wanted what he had made it all that more valuable to him. Or maybe he said no with the hopes of holding out for a better offer. I’m sure that many deals die because of people like this but this one was different.

Naboth answers him by saying, “The Lord forbid me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.” He says, “I couldn’t do this even if I wanted to because the Lord forbids me from doing it. This land was given to me as an inheritance which I got from my fathers.” So he was saying this land is part of my social and spiritual heritage. He received the land as an inheritance which was part of the division that God gave to the Jews when they came into the promised land. And the law forbade him from ever selling the land so in essence he was just being obedient to God.

In Leviticus 25:23 we are told that the land shall not be sold forever. In essence the land belonged to God and the Jewish people were His tenants. They could rent the land or even sell or maybe lease it would be a better term but it had to be returned in the year of Jubilee. Numbers 36:7,7 tells us that the land was their spiritual heritage. So we understand it was more than just farm land. As I said when the jews entered the promised land God divided it according to families and so no matter what happened they were to always keep it in the family. In succeeding generations the children might ask how the family came to own such and such land and the parents would show them from the word of God how God had given it to them. How God had kept his promises and then how God had protected and provided for His people. So the possession of the land was not only part of their spiritual heritage but it was part and parcel of who they were. And basically Naboth said, according to the law it’s not that I wouldn’t but I can’t sell it to you. So he was not only doing the right thing, he was being the right kind of believer.

You have to keep in mind that Ahab was a Jew and none of this was new to him. He knew all about the law of God and the responsibility that the Jewish people had to keep the land in their family. Nevertheless Ahab thought Naboth had the same attitude about the word of God that he had. And so all he had to do was just make him a good deal and he’d sell the land and get himself a bigger piece of property or else he’ll be able to retire and live on the cash. When he said no, Ahab couldn’t comprehend what would make Naboth would refuse. The fact is, Naboth’s refusal was based on the very law that Ahab had spent his life in disobedience to and so now Ahab had a real problem. How was he going to explain to Jezebel that he wanted land but couldn’t buy it because the God he didn’t believe in had given it to Naboth? He couldn’t very well say, “He won’t sell me his land because he’s more righteous than I am.” And yet that was the very reason why he wouldn’t sell it.

C Rather than accepting Naboth’s explanation Ahab reacted in anger but rather than demonstrating his anger through his temper it says he sulked. He went to bed and put his face to the wall.

Did you ever know someone who reacted like that? It’s a childish act that some people never seem to grow out of. The first year I was in Bible College I went to Word of Life in New York. During the summer I volunteered to work in the kitchen. Since I had some experience in food service and managing people they put me in charge of the kitchen and dining room staff. We had about forty-two kids working there. They had very little experience but a lot of enthusiasm. Most of the people who came to Word of Life were Christians and for the most part they were a pleasure to serve. There were a few non-Christians and several of them were saved during the week as they attended the meetings. There were a few who were a problem but they were very few.

One lady I remember really had a bad attitude. We had a young girl who was her waitress and this girl really had a bad complexion. She went to take the order for her table and this lady said, “Ooh, what’s wrong with your face? It looks awful.” The young girl was very upset and when she came back into the kitchen she was crying. One of the other girl’s explained to me what had happened and I told the one who was upset to take a break and I’d handle the situation. I called one of the other girls over and explained the situation. I then told her to go out and take the order for this table and if this lady asks for anything that’s not on the menu she was to say, “The chef said, you can only have what’s available according to the menu.” She went out and sure enough this lady didn’t want anything that was on the menu. She said all she just wanted was a plain cheese sandwich. The waitress came back with the order and I said, “No, absolutely not.” She said, “This woman is going to go absolutely berserk.” I said, “Let her. She can either eat what’s on the menu or she can do without.” The waitress went back out and said, “The chef said, you can have what’s on the menu or you will have to do without.” Well the lady got ripping mad. She stood up and left the room. And do you know what the best part was. There was no where else to eat. She had to wait until supper to have something to eat and she already paid for her food. She was the victim of her own temper.

That’s what Ahab was like. Here he is, not just a grown man but a king laying with his face to the wall sulking because he couldn’t get his own way. It’s bad enough when you see a kid react like that but this is a king. And you know that there are times when we act just like that. The next time someone in your house is sulking because they didn’t get their own way, you just say, there, there now king Ahab. And I’m sure they’ll come right around.

II Then we see Jezebel’s reaction to the situation

a She says, “Why is your spirit so sullen that you eat no food?” She says, “What’s your problem?” He explains the situation from his perspective and then she says, “Cheer up, eat some supper. I’ll give you the vineyard.”

b Then Jezebel uses the application of the law of God to take the land from Naboth. It’s interesting that she knew enough of the particular applications of the law to deal with the situation. We see non-Christians like this today. How often have you done something wrong or even appeared to have done something wrong and a non-Christian says to you, “Hey doesn’t the Bible say that you aren’t supposed to do that?” They always know what the Bible says as it applies to us but never how it applies to them.

It’s interesting that Naboth said he couldn’t sell his land because of what the word of God said but Jezebel would take the same word of God and twist it around to use it to kill Naboth and then steal his land.

Look how she does it. She sent a letter to the nobles. These were the elders or the spiritual leaders of Israel. These were the very ones who had been entrusted by God to care for the spiritual needs of the people. She told them to proclaim a fast. A day of humiliation was needed when someone sinned against God or even against the king. She said to give Naboth a seat of high honor at the fast. At a feast this would be a good thing but at a fast this could also be a seat of dishonor. One didn’t really know why they were there until they were either rewarded or punished. And then the scripture says two worthless fellows, now the word worthless means they were either rebellious, idolatrous or immoral drunkards. Any way you look at it these guys were the worst people in any society. They’re the kind of bums that hand around the street corner waiting for a way to make some easy money so they can go get drunk. It says there were two of them and this was the number that was needed by law to establish a legal charge according to Deuteronomy 17:6. It’s interesting as I said that these people knew enough of the word of God to do exactly according to what was written. By their testimony Naboth was charged with blasphemy and according to Leviticus 24:16 this was a crime deserving of death by stoning. It’s hard to imagine that anybody could take this whole thing seriously. I mean, a couple of drunks were testifying that the one who wouldn’t sell his property to the king based on what the scripture said didn’t believe in God. And then according to II Kings 9:26 we are told that Naboth’s sons would also die for the father’s sin and that means there would be no one left to inherit the land. According to the law the property of slain criminals was then forfeited to the crown. From Ahab’s perspective it was the perfect crime. Naboth and his family were dead, Ahab got his property and there was no blood on his hands.

So Naboth died and no one seemed to notice. His entire family was wiped out and no one seemed to care. But God did. And God in His time God would require payment for his life.

So Naboth’s death was the result of an unjust illegal trial that was carried seemingly out according to scripture. It’s just another example of non-believers who question the validity of scripture and then quote it freely whenever it’s to their benefit. Did you ever notice that when the homosexuals write their letters to the editor justifying their sin that they always quote scripture? They always quote verses about the love of God and point out how Christians who deny them the right to practice their perversion aren’t very loving.

Ahab thought he had committed the perfect crime. As I said there was no blood on his hands. After all Jezebel was the one who asked for the seal and then sent letters in his name. The leaders of Israel had cooperated. Two worthless men falsely accused Naboth. The people of Israel stoned him and his sons and then Ahab got the garden. As far as he was concerned, his hands were clean, he got the garden and he was in the clear.

We think of Ahab’s past sins like his marriage to Jezebel keeping in mind that he was a jew and she wasn’t. And then there was both the promotion and worship of idolatry, the immorality of the groves, killing the prophets of God, trying to kill Elijah, making a treaty with God’s enemies and now he kills Naboth. And at this point God says that’s far enough. I don’t think it was just that he killed an innocent man because he was probably responsible for killing a lot of innocent men but it was the overall accumulation of sins. So, we’ve seen Ahab’s request and then Jezebel’s reaction. Now let’s look at Elijah”s rebuke.

III Elijah’s rebuke.

A During the time he was away from public ministry I wonder if Elijah thought that part of his life was over. He had run away after the miracles on Mt. Carmel and in a sense he had brought shame to the work of God. During the last few years he had been spending time with Elisha and no doubt teaching and leading the school of the prophets. Some think he set this up to educate and discipline the very ones who were so quiet when he was preaching. And now he was sent back to deal with Ahab.

Ahab’s goal was always things. It was a me first philosophy! As someone said, “Earthly treasure is always a short term investment.” And when we pursue things people shrink in size. In spite of the victories he had won and the fact that he wanted for nothing Ahab was preoccupied with the land next door. I mean, just think about it. What would it have mattered if the garden was next door or even two miles down the road. It wasn’t like the king would be going out to pick vegetables for supper. He had servants to do that kind of work. I think he was more concerned with the appearance of a garden than anything else.

I’m sure they hadn’t even buried the bodies of Naboth and his family when Ahab came over to check out where he would put what in his garden. He was probably planning where he was going to plant the parsley and tomatoes when Elijah poked his head through the bushes. It must have been a shock to see Elijah. He had dropped out of public for about four to six years. Now he came back to confront Ahab. Elijah shows up with the same spirit he had before he ran away from Jezebels’ threat. And once again he’s a man without fear. He enters the vineyard no doubt conscious of the fact that Ahab’s chariot was always followed by two ruthless men Jehu and Bidhar. He didn’t even consider that Jezebel might be around. He came to confront Ahab and he didn’t care who heard him or how they reacted.

Elijah just asked him a simple question. “Hast thou killed and also taken possession?” And then we have the pronouncement of judgement. “In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.” Elijah said, “Someday the dogs will lick your blood.” Now normally when someone said something like that all you had to do was right it off but remember Elijah had a track record. Elijah prophesied about the drought, the rain and the fire. And everything happened exactly as he said it would. And we notice that Ahab doesn’t argue with him. As a matter of fact it almost seems like Ahab repented of his sin but if we took the time to read on we’d see that it didn’t last. Because before long he was right back to his old ways again.

It seems strange to say it but twenty years went by and nothing happened. For twenty years he probably thought he had gotten away with killing Naboth and stealing his land. Twenty years is a long time. Jezebel probably made fun of him during those twenty years. “Go ahead, eat your salad, God’s not going to bother you.” I think that for the next twenty years every time Ahab heard a dog bark the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He knew from what he had seen that the word of God was sure and surely it would come to pass. Twenty years is a long time to live with the guilt and penalty of sin hanging over your head. I’m sure there were times when he would forget all about it but deep in his heart he knew that someday the day would come because there’s always a payday, someday.

And we are told that Elijah’s words came to pass. Ahab’s end happened this way. As I said at the beginning God gave him victory over the Syrians and he let Ben-Hadad go free. He was the man he was supposed to kill. And twenty years later he was in a battle when one of Ben-Hadad’s men shot him in the back according to I Kings 22:34,35 and he died. They took his chariot back to the pool of Samaria to have it cleaned and there the dogs licked his blood. Jezebel was thrown out the upper window at the command of Jehu and her body was eaten by dogs. And then Jehu killed their son Joran and his body was cast onto Naboth’s vineyard. We don’t read about any great funeral services or burnings for Ahab or Jezebel or the rest of their family. I think the people of Israel were glad to see them go. They had reaped what they had sown.

They had every chance to be forgiven. They could have changed their ways when they heard the word of God and the story would have worked out quite different. Like many unbelievers they clung to their sin like it provided hope. And now they’re paying for it and they will be paying for it for the rest of eternity.

When we are forgiven, we are forgiven everything. All sin whether it’s past, present or even future. Keep in mind that all of our sin was future to the cross of Calvary. So over two thousand years before you sinned Jesus died for your sin. So, there’s nothing you or I could ever do that would either shock God or cause Him to refuse to forgive us. He knows about everything we do before it happens.

On the other hand if we are not forgiven then every sin we ever commit will be punished. Now let’s say there’s a man in the Drew Nursing home and he’s ninety-four years old. He’s a nice, easy-going old man who doesn’t remember much beyond breakfast this morning. One thing we know about him from what he has said in the past is that he is not saved. He may not remember much past this morning but the Bible says he will be held accountable for his sins. And that means even the sins he can no longer remember. God remembers. The fact is we are either totally forgiven or we’re totally accountable.

And we know that God knows everything. Jeremiah 23:24 says, “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? Saith the Lord.” Job 34:21,22, “For His eyes are upon the ways of man, and He sees all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadows of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.”

We can hide from man. There are people who have committed personal crimes like robbery or even murder and they may get away with their crimes as far as the world is concerned. There are even those who have committed great crimes in the second world war and some of them fled Germany and lived out their lives in comfort in places like South America. They got away with the worst crimes ever as far as man is concerned. We can hide from man but God knows. We can even forget but God remembers. Man may get away with murder on earth but he will be held accountable before God.

We can be sure our sin will find us out. After Adam sinned he thought he could hide from God but God came looking for him and of course He found him. When Cain killed Abel his blood cried out from the ground. How do we know this? Because God told him. When Achan stole the treasures of his enemies he thought he got away with it but God exposed his sin. Gehazi the servant of Elisha thought he could manipulate others to enrich himself but he was caught and afflicted with leprosy by God. Anninias and Sapphira thought they could impress others with their giving and lie to God but both of them died for their sin. God dealt with all of them and in the end He did the same with Ahab, Jezebel and the rest of their family. The fact is that God either knows everything or He knows nothing.

C God’s wrath is a fact. We see many examples of it in scripture.

1 There are the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were so immoral, so set in their sin, that there was no hope of them ever changing. They had simply learned to live with their sin. There’s no sign of Sodom and Gomorrah today because God judged them. He always judges sin.

I’ve noticed in the past week CBC radio has been talking about homosexual behavior as though it was perfectly normal. You almost get the impression we were the ones who were wrong and now somehow our conscience had been reawakened. They’ve had homosexuals, both men and women on the radio sharing about the problems they’ve experienced as they were waiting for the day when everyone would just accept them as normal. That a public broadcasting corporation that’s supported by our tax dollars and they are promoting something that’s condemned by God over and over again and this tells me that we are reaching the point where God will either have to do something with our country or He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. And get this, the Christians haven’t moved. We stand where the church has stood for the past two thousand years. And yet we are very much in a minority position.

I was listening to a homosexual on the news the other night and he said, “None of us wants to be married in an evangelical church, we just want the right to be married.” As far as we’re concerned he’s wrong about marriage because it’s not right to be a homosexual let alone joining two of them together. One thing we know about sin is that it never stands still. And the next fight we’ll see will be when a few of them will want to join the very church that wouldn’t marry them. Sin never stands still. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for sin and according to His word He hasn’t changed His mind. God never turns a blind eye to sin.

2 And then we have Samson who had taken the Nazarite vows. He was to have no haircut, never drink wine and he was never to touch a dead body. He knew this and then he ate honey from a dead lion. And then we are told he was at a wedding feast where he was having a few drinks and Delilah cut his hair. He violated all three of the things he was forbidden to do and God dealt with him. God doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin.

3 And then we have the account of Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12. The people were trying to butter him up so they said he spoke like a god. He bowed his head and accepted the compliment. And God killed him. God judged him. Why? Because God doesn’t turn an blind eye to sin.

As the poet Longfellow said,

Though the mills of God grind slowly,

Yet they grind exceedingly small;

Though with patience he stands waiting

With exactness grinds he all.

Whether it happens immediately or takes twenty years like it did with Ahab nothing escapes the all-seeing eye of God.

I guess the one person who seems to be forgotten in this story is Naboth. Ahab’s sin seems to make better reading than Naboth’s faithfulness. As I said, Ahab and his lot have been suffering ever since the day they died while Naboth has been enjoying the kingdom of heaven and all the rewards that go with it since the day he died for being faithful. The fact is, if we’ve rejected God’s forgiveness then we always get what’s coming to us.

I read a story somewhere about some Americans who had been stationed in Korea during the war. While they were there they hired a local boy to cook and clean for them. These guys thought they were really funny, so to pass the time they often took advantage of the Korean kid. They’d smear Vaseline on the stove handles so that when he’d turn the stove on in the morning he’s get grease all over his fingers. They’d put little water buckets over the door so that he’d get soaked when he opened the door. They even nailed his shoes to the floor when he was asleep. Day after day the little guy took the abuse but never said a word. No blame, no self-pity and no temper tantrums.

Finally, the men felt guilty for what they had done and sat down with the young Korean and said, “Look, we know these pranks aren’t funny anymore, and we’re sorry. We’re never going to take advantage of you again.” It seemed too good to be true to the houseboy. “No more sticky on stove?” he asked. “Nope.” “No more water on door?” “Nope.” “No more nail shoes to the floor?” “Nope, never again.” “Okay,” the boy said with a smile...”No more spit in soup.”

I guess that teaches us the same lesson Ahab learned, that there is a payday someday. And eother Jesus pays the price for our sin or we end up paying for it ourselves.