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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 21

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-16

Ahab’s disregard for Yahweh’s authority 21:1-16

Even though Jezebel was behind the murder of Naboth, God held her husband Ahab responsible (1 Kings 21:19). Jezebel’s evil influence over her husband stands out in this story. [Note: Alexander Rofe, "The Vineyard of Naboth: The Origin and Message of the Story," Vetus Testamentum 38:1 (January 1988):102.] Ahab was willing to murder a godly Israelite to obtain a mere vegetable garden.

"A vineyard, like an olive-orchard, is not just land that may have been in the family for a long time: it represents a high investment in many years of unfruitful care before it reaches maturity." [Note: Auld, p. 137.]

Naboth sought to live by the Mosaic Law (1 Kings 21:3; cf. Leviticus 25:23-28; Numbers 36:7). Ahab’s "sullen and vexed" feelings (1 Kings 21:4; cf. 1 Kings 20:43) were the result of his perception that Naboth’s position was unassailable legally. Compare Saul’s moodiness following his disobedience and sentence.

Jezebel believed Ahab was the supreme authority in Israel (1 Kings 21:7), an opinion he shared (cf. 1 Kings 20:42). This was the root of many of Ahab and Jezebel’s difficulties (cf. Saul and his daughter Michal, and Ahab and his daughter Athaliah). They failed to acknowledge Yahweh’s sovereignty over Israel. Jezebel obviously knew the Mosaic Law (1 Kings 21:10). It required two witnesses in capital offense cases (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). Cursing God was a capital offense (Leviticus 24:16). Jezebel elevated cursing the king to a crime on the same level with cursing Yahweh (1 Kings 21:10). This was inappropriate but consistent with her concept of Israel’s king. She formed her plot in conscious disobedience to God’s revealed will.

The elders and nobles of Jezreel were under Jezebel’s thumb (1 Kings 21:11). They were not faithful to Yahweh. They probably could not have been to stay in office under Ahab. Jezebel also executed Naboth’s sons (2 Kings 9:26). When Ahab heard what his wife had done, he did not reprove her but took advantage of her actions and in doing so approved them (1 Kings 21:16). Naboth’s vineyard was in Jezreel, not Samaria. [Note: B. D. Napier, "The Omrides of Jezreel," Vetus Testamentum 9 (1959):366-78, clarifies the confusing references to Jezreel and Samaria in the Naboth story. ]

"The most heinous act of Ahab came in the matter of Naboth. A king’s primary responsibility was to render justice in the land. Ahab egregiously violated this requirement by stealing from a man he had murdered (through Jezebel)." [Note: Heater, p. 134.]

Compare Saul’s unjustified attempts to kill David.

Verses 17-29

Ahab’s judgment for his rebellion against Yahweh 21:17-29

Again God told Elijah to "go" (1 Kings 21:18; cf. 1 Kings 17:3; cf. 1 Kings 17:9; 1 Kings 18:1; 1 Kings 19:15). As a faithful servant, he went to confront the king again. Compare Samuel’s second announcement of God’s judgment on Saul (1 Samuel 15). Ahab was not in Samaria at this time (1 Kings 21:18), but in Jezreel (1 Kings 21:19). The mention of Samaria was evidently an ironical reference to Ahab’s capital. Murdering someone and taking possession of his property was a capital offense under the Law of Moses (cf. 2 Samuel 11; 2 Samuel 12:13). It would be a great shame for Ahab to have his blood flow in the streets of his winter capital. It would be an even greater disgrace to have it licked up by wild scavengers, as Naboth’s blood had been (1 Kings 21:19; cf. Galatians 6:7). God did not punish him exactly this way because Ahab repented later (1 Kings 21:27-29; cf. 2 Kings 9:25-26).

Elijah was Ahab’s enemy because the prophet was God’s representative whom the king had decided to oppose (1 Kings 21:20). Ahab had sold himself (1 Kings 21:20) in that he had sacrificed his own life and future to obtain what he wanted (cf. Saul). The wages God would pay him for this would be trouble and death (cf. Romans 6:23). God would remove all human support from Ahab and would sweep him away like so much filth (1 Kings 21:21). The Hebrew word translated "disaster" in 1 Kings 21:21 (d’h) is similar to the one translated "evil" in 1 Kings 21:20 (hd’). This wordplay emphasizes the correspondence between Ahab’s sins and their punishment. God would also cut off Ahab’s dynasty for the same reasons He terminated Jeroboam and Baasha’s houses (1 Kings 21:22). As for Jezebel, wild dogs, which normally lived off the garbage in cities, would eat her (1 Kings 21:23). Furthermore, all of Ahab’s descendants would experience ignoble deaths (1 Kings 21:24; cf. 1 Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4).

The writer’s assessment of Ahab was that he was the worst ruler in Israel yet (1 Kings 21:25; cf. 1 Kings 16:30). He was as bad as the Canaanites whom God drove out because of their wickedness (1 Kings 21:26; cf. Leviticus 18:25-30). Nevertheless he was a king over God’s chosen people, though not of the Davidic line. Samson was also very Canaanitish in his thoughts and ways, even though he was a judge in Israel.

Ahab’s genuine repentance when he heard his fate from Israel’s true King resulted in God relenting and lightening his sentence (1 Kings 21:27-29; cf. Exodus 32:14; Numbers 14:12; Numbers 14:20; Psalms 106:44-45; Jeremiah 18:6-12). Samson also repented (Judges 16:28). Not Ahab but his son Joram (i.e., Jehoram) would bleed on Naboth’s land in Jezreel (1 Kings 21:19; 2 Kings 9:25-26). There is no indication here or elsewhere that Jezebel ever repented.

"The story of Naboth warns against the use of piety and legality to cloak injustice. It teaches that those who support the plots of a Jezebel, whether by silent acquiescence or overt complicity, share her crime. It is a resounding affirmation that injustice touches God, that ’as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45), that in the cosmic order of things there is a power at work that makes for justice. And the story attests that there is awesome power in the conscience and protest of the individual servant of God." [Note: Rice, p. 181.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Kings 21". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-kings-21.html. 2012.
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