Of all the villains in the Star Wars movies, who is the most infamous? Darth Maul? Count Dooku? General Grievous? No. Darth Vader is the most notorious villain of them all. Even those who have never seen Star Wars before know that Darth Vader is a bad guy.
Who’s been the most recognizable villain in (our sermon series) Seer Wars? That would be King Ahab. The author of 1 Kings said of him: “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. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel” (1 Kings 21:25, 26). Just as many love to hate Darth Vader, it’s easy to hate King Ahab. Yet that’s not what God thought of Ahab. That’s good news because the way God treated the vile King Ahab in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is the way he treats all sinners, including us. Let’s find out what that treatment is.
In the movie version of Episode V, Darth Vader is busy seeking out and destroying rebel bases to consolidate the Empire’s evil hold on the galaxy. King Ahab too was interested in gaining more control of the land around him. He was especially interested in acquiring a vineyard next door to his summer palace in Jezreel and turning it into a vegetable garden. To his credit Ahab didn’t just take the vineyard but first asked its owner, Naboth, to sell the land or trade for it. Naboth, however, replied: “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (1 Kings 21:3). Naboth wasn’t exaggerating when he said, “The Lord forbid.” God had forbidden the Israelites from permanently selling their ancestral lands (Leviticus 25:23). There were no exceptions, not even for the king.
Ahab was not happy. The original language literally says that a storm raged in his heart for there was that name again, the LORD, making his life difficult. If it wasn’t that dreaded prophet Elijah telling him what the LORD said he could or could not do, then it was another one of his simpleton followers (Jeske).
Isn’t that what we think of God sometimes – as someone who gets in the way? If only we didn’t have God’s “arbitrary” rules to keep, like refraining from sex before marriage, then life would be so much more exciting! Although we may think that life without God’s rules would be more exciting, the opposite is true. Life without God’s laws is chaotic and painful. For example God knows that the excitement of illicit sex only leads to guilt and shame afterwards, not to mention the risk of some pretty serious diseases. Friends, be thankful when fellow Christians turn you away from a course of action that God tells us is wrong. If he says it’s wrong, he’s simply trying to protect us from harm.
Had King Ahab been more Darth Vader-like he would have personally strangled Naboth for his refusal to sell the vineyard. Instead Ahab went home and sulked. He probably would have eventually gotten over his anger but when his wife Jezebel found out why he was pouting, she chided him for not acting like a king - at least not like the kings where she came from. In Jezebel’s homeland of Sidon, kings took things they wanted and didn’t let anyone stand in their way. Jezebel would show Ahab how to act and promised to get him Naboth’s vineyard. She began by forging letters from Ahab directing the elders of Naboth’s city to call a fast signifying that someone in the city had done something wrong. When everyone was gathered at the fast, two scoundrels were to accuse Naboth of cursing God and king. They did this and immediately Naboth and his sons (cf. 2 Kings 9:26) were stoned to death with rocks. Naboth’s land was then deeded to the crown. The empire had struck back.
Let’s just take a minute to enumerate the sins committed in this story. Ahab began with the sin of coveting – wanting something God had not given to him, then he moved on to the sins of anger, nursing a grudge, failing to take the leadership role in his marriage with Jezebel and stopping her from slandering the good name of Naboth, murdering Naboth and his sons, and finally stealing his land. Would Ahab get away with these sins? No. God saw what Ahab had done so he sent Elijah to confront the king.
As Ahab triumphantly toured his new acquisition, he ran into the stern-faced prophet. It was obvious from Ahab’s reaction that not much had changed in his attitude since the showdown at Mt. Carmel. “So you have found me, my enemy” Ahab said to Elijah (1 Kings 21:20). Ahab just didn’t get it. Elijah was not the enemy. He had come to the pull the king back from the brink of hell. But since Ahab didn’t want any part of God’s salvation he would have to face God’s judgment. Through Elijah God announced: “I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. 22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat...because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin…Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. 24Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country” (1 Kings 21:21-24).
As Ahab listened to the pronouncement, color drained from his face. Then he did something amazing. He tore his expensive garments and called for sackcloth which he wore while he fasted to show his sorrow over his sins. Was Ahab really sorry for what he had done? Listen to what God said to Elijah about the change in Ahab. “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 21:29).
Ahab was truly sorry for his sins but what was even more astounding was how the God of absolute justice allowed himself to be swayed and promised to delay judgment. This demonstrates how God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked but truly wants them to turn from their sins and be saved. Make no mistake; justice would still be carried out. Ahab’s sins and the sin of his family would not be swept under the rug. They would be punished, just not yet.
Do you see the parallels between Ahab’s life and our own? No we may not be guilty of multiple homicide but we are guilty of coveting, anger, nursing grudges, bearing false witness, even theft. While God has said that we deserve death and eternal punishment in hell for these sins, he doesn’t want us to have to suffer that. The just judge allows himself to be swayed and he grants us mercy. No, that doesn’t mean God turns a blind eye to our sins. God must punish our sins and he’s done that by pushing our sins off on to Jesus who suffered hell on our behalf. Since he has pushed our sins off onto Jesus I can stand before you today and say with certainty that your sins are forgiven, not will be forgiven, or can be forgiven. They have been forgiven in Christ Jesus. Believe it! Reflect it!
So did Ahab remain a humble believer in the God who had forgiven his sins? No. He soon went back to his old ways of mocking God’s prophets and trusting idols instead of the Lord. Ahab eventually died in battle an unbeliever and lost to God.
Ahab’s unfortunate end reminds us to take seriously what Martin Luther said about the life of a Christian. Luther said that the life of a Christian is to be a life of repentance. A believer is someone who daily confesses that he is a sinner and is in need of God’s forgiveness. We won’t do that, however, if we’re not in the habit of listening to God’s prophets. Only when we hear about our sin daily will we crave the forgiveness our Savior Jesus has won for us. May God keep us devoted to hearing his Word so that we may remain true believers until God calls us home to heaven - something God will do to Elijah in our next, and last episode: The Return of the Jedi. Come back and learn what eternal blessings God has in store for those who continue to confess their sins and put their trust in Christ for forgiveness. Amen.