A Very Costly Piece of Real Estate
1 Kings 21
A warning familiar to most is: “Buyer beware!” However, when studying the story of King Ahab’s covetousness for Naboth’s vineyard a better warning would be: “Seller beware!”
Before looking into the story, a glance at the preceding events will give a clue as to why Ahab was not the best person to be involved with in a real estate deal. In 1 Kings 11 he had killed all the preachers in the country except for a hundred and fifty of them. Later, came the prophet Elijah’s tremendous victory over the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). Queen Jezebel vowed to even the score by killing Elijah. He ran off into the wilderness and longed for death. God had other plans for this dispirited prophet. At Mt. Horeb God revealed himself in a “still small voice” (1 Ki. 19:12). He ordered his prophet to anoint three men to task for the carrying out of God’s Will. Elijah anointed Hazael king over Syria; Jehu to be king over Israel, and Elisha as Elijah’s successor as God’s prophet.
Although Ahab’s capital was at Samaria, he had a palace in Jezreel twenty miles to the north. Next to the palace was a beautiful vineyard that caught his lustful eye. He found the owner, Naboth, and offered to buy it from him. Now, when a king like Ahab says he wants your vineyard to plant himself a veggie garden, it is not a request but a demand. Naboth, however, was a man of faith and courage. He rejected Ahab’s offer and confessed before this Baal serving king his faith in God. Perhaps, Naboth rejected the offer because the land was the property which had been allotted to his family (Lev. 24:23). No matter how profitable the business deal, Naboth was going to respect his God and his family and keep the land. Many greedy Christians are not of this hue. They are more apt to make decisions to make money and ignore God’s will.
Ahab was very disappointed at this rejection. He showed his childlike immaturity and began to pout like a spoiled child. While he was throwing himself a little pity party, his wife Jezebel comes along and inquires about his temperament. He whines to his wife about not being able to get his way with Naboth. Instead of encouraging her husband to grow up, she castigated him for his weakness and leaps into action to get him what he wants at any cost. Theirs was truly a dysfunctional relationship.
Jezebel had a plan. Her husband might of had some respect for the laws of God, but she worshiped Baal and had less restraints and scruples standing in her way (21:4-14). First, letters were sent in Ahab’s name to the rulers of Jezreel. They were to proclaim a fast and set Naboth in the chief seat among them. This was to make Naboth appear to be the source of the problem that led to the community fasting. Next, two false witnesses would be brought in to falsely charge Naboth with blasphemy. Blasphemy was a capital offense (Ex 22:8) punishable by being stoned to death (Lev. 24:10-16). Not only was he killed but his heirs were killed as well leaving his estate free for Ahab.
Now that the vineyard was available (21:15), Ahab was able to take possession at last (21:16). However, God sent his prophet Elijah to pronounce judgment against the greedy, thieving king (21:17-19). Not only was the king guilty of illegally ceasing this property, but he was compliant in his murder. Elijah appears just as the king is celebrating his triumph over Naboth.
Ahab and Elijah were not strangers to one another. Ahab knew this prophet was a source of trouble to him and often would blame Elijah for his troubles. It is always easier to blame the messenger than it is to accept the message. The warning has a profound effect upon the king (21:27). His repentance seems to be sincere, in fact, God does delay part of the announced punishment (21:28-29). His house would not fall in his days, but in the days of his son. Later Ahab was mortally wounded in battle. As his blood flowed from his chariot the dogs licked it up. Later, Jezebel is pushed out of an upper window and falls to her death. All this, because they envied another man’s land.
Concerning the value of the Old Testament for New Testament Christians, Paul wrote, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:3-4). What invaluable moral applications can be gleaned from this tragic event which can help God’s saints today?
No One Is Above the Law
Lord Acton once observed that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Men, like Ahab, who are in positions of authority should not use their power to corrupt justice but to uphold it. Fathers and mothers, elders and preachers, teachers and bosses, lawyers and judges, etc. should all realize that they are not above the law, especially the law of God. Just as God punished King David for the abuses of his power in the sins related to the coveting of another man’s wife, so all men are not above the law of God.
Don’t Sell Yourself into Sin
The Word of God includes a number of instances of persons who sustained their faith and character and who affirmed righteous integrity in the face of staunch trials to do otherwise. Ahab “sold [himself] to do evil in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Ki. 21:20). Many a man has sold his soul at a bargain basement price. They have sold themselves out of greed to become slaves to sin and Satan. Any price paid to gain a moment of gratification is a price that is above the cost of the whole world. “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). Thank God for Jesus, who paid the price of our redemption to buy us back from sin and Satan.
Coveting Costs Too Much
Ahab demonstrates that even the rich may be covetous. His crime did not pay! Nor did his coveting pay off. Adam and Eve had everything they could possibly want, except for one thing, they could not eat from one tree. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Gen. 2:16,17). Their covetousness cost them life and the garden of Eden. Esau sold his birthright for a mere morsel of food. Such is the problem with an appetite out of control. First, it ate Adam and Eve out of house and home and next it devoured Esau’s birthright. There is a story told about Abraham Lincoln walking down the street with his two boys, both of who were bawling over something. A friend happened along and asked Lincoln, “Abe, what’s wrong with your boys?” “What’s wrong with the boys?” he replied, “The same thing that is wrong with the world. I have three chestnuts and they both want two.” God warned the Israelites of the problem of covetousness in the Ten Commandments. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” ( Ex. 20:17). What ever gained through covetousness will in the end always be lost. Just ask Ahab and Jezebel, Adam and Eve, Esau and a myriad of others.
Ethics to Suit the Situation, Ends in Death
Jezebel was not hampered by the moral principles that seemed to hold Ahab back. This made him appear weak in her eyes. She had no problem corrupting the town officials or bribing some wicked men to perjure themselves. Sending an innocent man and his sons to death did not cause her to lose any sleep. The Phoenician princess worshiped a Baal whose name was Melkart. The Ugaritic Texts state that Baal is a god who covets the houses of his fellow gods. He also coveted mythological animals and fields. He was a perfect role model for the covetous hearts of Jezebel and her husband. Her idolatry promoted covetousness. No wonder Paul wrote, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth:… covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). Using the ethical standards of Baal, she could 1) trump up false accusations against Naboth, 10; 2) secure false witnesses, 10,13; 3) have Naboth murdered, 13; and 4) take by force another families’ property, 16.
However, in Israel the Law of Moses included the Ten Commandments which proclaimed that there should be no false witnessing, murder or stealing. The real test of any ethical system is the objective effect and the Divine response to those who abide by it.
Moses had warned the Israelites of the necessity to follow his commandments. “But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out. (Numbers 32:23). Ahab’s sin found him and robbed him of the vineyard of Naboth, his kingdom, and his life. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov 16:25).
– Daniel R. Vess