Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 21

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1



"Now it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the place of Ahab king of Samaria. And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house; and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it: or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money. And Naboth said to Ahab, Jehovah forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee. And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread."

"None of the crimes of Ahab left any deeper brand upon him than this judicial murder and robbery of Naboth."[1]

"A vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria" (1 Kings 21:1). The Septuagint (LXX) omits the words "which was in Jezreel," and, upon this, Barlow has based an interesting argument attempting to prove that the palace of Ahab which was joined by Naboth's vineyard was probably the palace in Samaria, not the one in Jezreel.[2] Such an opinion is apparently founded upon efforts to conform the fulfillment of the prophecy of the dogs licking the blood of Ahab with its fulfillment at the pool in Samaria, but, as we shall see, there is no necessity for such efforts. The Lord himself tells us why there were variations in the fulfillment.

"Because it is near my house" (1 Kings 21:2). Ahab did not covet the whole world, just that part of it which adjoined his estate! Of course, nothing less than the whole world would satisfy that kind of covetousness; and even then, as did Alexander the Great is said to have done, the nature of covetousness is such that one would sit down and cry that there is no more to take!

"Give me thy vineyard" (1 Kings 21:2). Samuel had prophesied that, when Israel got that king they all wanted, he would "take their fields and their vineyards" (1 Samuel 8:14). Ahab gave them a demonstration of what that prophecy meant!

"Jehovah forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to thee" (1 Kings 21:3). "Naboth was not actuated by any feelings of disloyalty or disrespect for King Ahab, but from a conscientious regard for Divine law."[3]; Leviticus 25:23 forbade the selling of one's inheritance, "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity." "No inheritance of the children of Israel shall move from tribe to tribe ... Everyone shall cleave to the inheritance of his fathers" (Numbers 36:7ff).

It should be observed that these prohibitions came not from the so-called Priestly Code (P) nor from some mythical Deuteronomist (D), but from the Books of Moses, being therefore a part of the Mosaic covenant. "Ahab's proposal to Naboth would have relegated him and his family to the status of royal dependents"[4] of the godless Ahab. "The property was not Naboth's to sell; the inheritance was his father's and his son's as well as his, and it was INALIENABLE under Israelite law."[5]

"The sin of discontent is its own punishment. It comes not from conditions, but from the mind. Paul was contented in a prison; Ahab was discontented in a palace. Discontent is heaviness of the heart and rottenness of the bones."[6]

"Ahab laid him down upon his bed, turned away his face, and would eat no bread" (1 Kings 21:4). What a royal pout was this! Ahab here demonstrated the selfish, peevish, and cry-baby attitude of this weak and incompetent king. God pity any people whose ruler behaves like a spoiled brat! Jezebel saw in this situation her opportunity for applying the principles of government, as she had learned them in Sidon where her father was king. So she took charge and promptly showed Ahab how the pagans did it.

Verse 5


"But Jezebel his wife came unto him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread? And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and said unto him, Give me thy vineyard for money; or else, if it please thee, I will give thee another vineyard for it: and he answered, I will not give thee my vineyard. And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let thy heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite. So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, and that dwelt with Naboth. And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people: and set two men, base fellows, before him, and let them bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst curse God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him to death."

"Naboth answered, I will not give thee my vineyard" (1 Kings 21:6). Ahab here lied against Naboth, because he omitted the reason why Naboth would not sell his vineyard. Ahab most certainly did know what Jezebel had in mind, because we have here a glimpse of her modus operandi when she murdered the priests of Jehovah. She did it in the king's name, and by using his signet, or seal. The use of royal seals is very old, and the king's seal was often engraved on a gold ring. And, in the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan, this writer has seen the gold ring of Alexander the Great, with which he sealed royal documents.

"Dost thou not govern the kingdom of Israel?" (1 Kings 21:7). There is obviously contempt on Jezebel's part in such words as these. She no doubt despised her weakling husband.

"And she wrote ... proclaim a fast" (1 Kings 21:9). "The purpose of this was to cast a religious mantle over the whole diabolical procedure."[7] The evil leaders of Jezreel, following Jezebel's orders to the letter were pretending that their city was under some great cloud of guilt, due to some citizen's having committed some capital crime. Their procedure mimicked the behavior of Joshua following the sin of Achan, in which event, the guilt of the people could not be lifted until Achan was identified and stoned to death, along with all the members of his family (Joshua 7).

"Set Naboth on high among the people" (1 Kings 21:9). This is somewhat misleading, because it sounds as if they were to honor Naboth, but that is not what was meant. "It was a command to bring him before a court, or general assembly, for a public trial."[8]

"Set two men before him, base fellows, and let them bear witness against him" (1 Kings 21:10). How remarkable it is that Jezebel here betrayed a rather thorough knowledge of the Law of Moses, which specifically required that at least two witnesses be required for the condemnation of anyone accused of crime (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6,19:15).

"Saying, that, Thou didst curse God and the king" (1 Kings 21:10). Oh yes, and Jezebel knew exactly what kind of a crime was punishable by death (See Leviticus 24:15).

"And take him out, and stone him to death?" (1 Kings 21:10). Furthermore Jezebel was thoroughly familiar with the Divinely-prescribed penalty for such a crime. Furthermore, she knew all about the instructions for such an execution, how it was to be by stoning and outside the camp or the city (Leviticus 24:14). It is hundreds of examples just like this (throughout the entire O.T., and which we have cited in our commentaries) which effectively refute the nonsense advocated by the critical community regarding a late date for the Pentateuch. Jezebel evidently was familiar with all five of the Books of Moses in the mid-ninth century before Christ.

We treasure the significant word of Hammond, who wrote, "Even Jezebel bears witness to the Pentateuch."[9]

"Thou didst curse God and the king" (1 Kings 21:10). The Hebrew text here has "bless God and the king," and Snaith explains why "The word BLESSED was deliberately substituted for CURSED, because Jewish writers considered it sinful even to write the word CURSE or BLASPHEME; and our English versions have properly changed the word back again to CURSED."[10]

Verse 11


"And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who dwelt in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them. They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people. And the two men, the base fellows, came in and sat before him: and the base fellows bare witness against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did curse God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him to death with stones. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead. And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead. And it came to pass that when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it."

Behold, what idolatry had done for Israel! The morals of a whole city such as Jezreel were shamefully corrupt. Note that all of the elders of the city and the nobles of Jezreel were all partners is this diabolical murder and robbery of one of their citizens. No man's honor, or his life, was safe in that kind of a city. Jezebel and that weak and worthless Ahab had done this to the kingdom of Israel, not merely to Jezreel, but to the whole nation.

What about Naboth's heirs? Jezebel's knowledge of the Books of Moses enabled her to take care of that also. The pretence of that false trial was modeled after the example of Joshua and the stoning of Achan (Joshua 7), and it will be remembered that not only Achan, but his wife and all of his sons and daughters were also stoned with him. Yes Jezebel took care of everything. They stoned all of Naboth's sons (2 Kings 9:26) at the same time as the stoning of Naboth so that there would not be any heirs!

Verse 17


"And the word of Jehovah came to Elijah the Tishbite saying, Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who dwelleth in Samaria: for he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to take possession of it. And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, In the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine. And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee, because thou hast sold thyself to do that which is evil in the sight of Jehovah. Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will utterly sweep thee away and will cut off from Ahab every man-child, and him that is shut up and him that is left at large in Israel: and I will make thy house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and hast made Israel to sin. And of Jezebel also spake Jehovah, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the rampart of Jezreel. Him that dieth of Ahab in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the birds of the heavens eat. (But there was none like unto Ahab, who did sell himself to do that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites did, whom Jehovah cast out before the children of Israel)."

"In the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine" (1 Kings 21:19). How ridiculous is the comment of critics that, "These words were not exactly fulfilled in history."[11] While true enough that the fulfillment of this dreadful prophecy varied in some degree from what is said here, the variation was due to the repentance of Ahab which fully justified the slight changes (Jeremiah 18:7-10), because all of God's promises of judgment and punishment upon either nations or individuals are contingent, always, upon whether or not there is a significant change in the life of the condemned.

In Ahab's case, that change occurred. But even so, the fulfillment of these dreadful judgments against Ahab were so remarkably and circumstantially fulfilled that the witness of God's eternal power and Godhead is evident in every one of them!

God promised to remove Ahab? He did so. Some of the penalties God would defer from Ahab to his son, because of his repentance (1 Kings 21:29). This occurred. Jezebel would be eaten of dogs at the rampart of Jezreel. Did that happen? Yes. Ahab's household would become like that of Jeroboam or Baasha, his dynasty would terminate. Did that occur? Certainly. The dogs would lick Ahab's blood in the place where they licked the blood of Naboth. The dogs licked the blood of Ahab at the pool in Samaria where the harlots bathed, instead of doing so in the vineyard that belonged to Naboth at Jezreel (only seven miles away), but both were in one place (the kingdom of Samaria). Furthermore, Joram who carried the blood of Ahab was the last of Ahab's house, and he was thrown by Jehu upon the very plot of ground where the dogs licked Naboth's blood (at Jezreel) (2 Kings 9:26). In all the Bible there's hardly a more convincing group of prophecies and their marvelous fulfillment than we have here.

"Thou hast sold thyself to do that which is evil (1 Kings 21:20). Ahab did sell himself to do that which is evil in the sight of Jehovah" (1 Kings 21:25). The tragic thing about selling oneself to do evil is that it always ends up being selling oneself for nothing! Judas got no benefit for the thirty pieces of silver. Ahab received no blessing from the vineyard of Naboth. Achan found the rich mantle and the wedge of gold to him were worthless.

"And he did very abominably ... according to all that the Amorites did, whom Jehovah cast out before the children of Israel" (1 Kings 21:26). The Amorites here are used as a synecdoche for all of the seven nations of the Canaanites whom God drove out of Canaan before Israel. "The threat implied by this mention of the horrible wickedness of the Amorites is that Israel also must be cast out of Canaan for the same reason, their idolatry."[12] The eternal justice and impartiality of God made such a casting out of Israel mandatory.

Verse 27


"And it came to pass, when Ahab heard these words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. And the word of Jehovah came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son's day will I bring the evil upon his house."

"And went softly" (1 Kings 21:27). "This may well be translated, `He went about depressed.'"[13] However, Josephus' stated that it means, "He went barefoot."[14]

The passage in Jeremiah 18:7-10 is pertinent to this change in the life of Ahab; and it explains some changes in the plans for the punishment of Ahab; but the punishment was not removed, it was merely delayed. In this connection Canon Cook pointed out that, "The repentance of the Ninevites put off the destruction of Nineveh for about a century."[15]

One might have expected that Ahab's repentance was permanent; but the following chapter records the death of this wicked king and also reveals that Ahab simply did not believe the word of Jehovah as conveyed to him by the mouth of the prophet Micaiah. Alas, that is the failure of whole generations of the children of Adam. Nothing, in all the Bible, is any more important than a little line in Our Saviour's great prayer.

"I pray ... for them ... that believe on me through their word." (John 17:20).

"Their word" here is a reference to the word of the apostles.

In the very nature of God's dealings with mankind, he does not speak to men directly and individually, but through the word of the holy prophets and apostles of the O.T. and the N.T. Just as some today will not believe God's words though the apostles, Ahab of old would not believe God's word through the prophet. The result of that unbelief will be dramatically unfolded in the next chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Kings 21". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.