Summary: One man's brave stand against those who would rob him of his inheritance.
THE THEFT OF A VINEYARD
Some of us have had the privilege of living in a land where, on paper at least, there was no trespass law. Whether this was because ‘the land belongs to the LORD’ is doubtful - surely no land can share today in the special status of ancient Israel? Yet there is the acknowledgement that ‘the earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof’ (Psalm 24:1; 1 Corinthians 10:26), implicit in Naboth’s defence of his inheritance (1 Kings 21:3).
King Ahab had a summer palace right next to Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21:1), and he desired to purchase the man’s land to make a vegetable garden (1 Kings 21:2). Nothing wrong in that - or so it would seem - and ample compensation was being offered. Yet the vineyard was not Naboth’s to sell (1 Kings 21:3): it had been given as his inheritance in keeping with the laws of the division of the LORD’s land (Joshua 13:6-7).
Ahab was a sulky character, petulant in the extreme when he did not get what he wanted (cf. 1 Kings 20:43). True to character, Ahab took to his bed, turned his face to wall, and refused to eat (1 Kings 21:4). Then his wife Jezebel came into the room (1 Kings 21:5), upbraided him for not asserting his kingly authority (1 Kings 21:7), and announced that SHE would get him the vineyard.
Her sinister scheme made a travesty of the law, and hid its face under the cloak of religion. In the name of the king she had the elders of Naboth’s city proclaim a solemn fast (1 Kings 21:8-9). There she had them place false witnesses to accuse the good man of blasphemy (1 Kings 21:10). Naboth was taken out and stoned to death (1 Kings 21:13).
Ahab had not been directly involved in this ghastly transaction, but the minute he heeded his wife in rising up to “take possession” (1 Kings 21:16) he became an accessory after the fact. Hence Elijah’s accusation: “Have you killed, and also taken possession?” (1 Kings 21:19). Who was king Ahab to ‘take possession’ of another man’s inheritance anyway? [One is put in mind of Nathan’s parable to David (2 Samuel 12:4) - which also involved the murder of an innocent man to please the acquisitiveness of a king (2 Samuel 12:9).]
Elijah’s pronouncement against Ahab was, in the words of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, ‘punishment to fit the crime’ (1 Kings 21:19). In 1 Kings 18:17-18, Ahab had accused Elijah of being ‘the one who troubles Israel’, to which Elijah replied that it was Ahab who was troubling Israel. Now Ahab addresses Elijah as “my enemy” (1 Kings 21:20), at which Elijah accused Ahab of having “sold himself to work evil in the sight of the LORD.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ said that ‘those who (habitually) commit sin are slaves to sin’ (John 8:34). The Apostle Paul indicated that ‘those who are set free from sin (paradoxically) become slaves to righteousness’ (Romans 6:18). Which kind of so-called ‘slavery’ do we prefer?