Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 21

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-4

First Kings - Chapter 21

Naboth’s Vineyard, verses 1-4

Ahab appears to have gotten over his embarrassment at letting the Syrian king, Ben-hadad, escape and bringing God’s judgment on himself. It may be he felt that nothing would come of the young prophet’s pronouncement. Anyway he had turned to peaceful pursuits. He had survived the terrible drought and the Syrian invasion, and at some unknown time, had erected himself a second palace at Jezreel. This city lay in the rich agricultural valley of Jezreel, in the tribe of Issachar. It was some distance northeast of the capital at Samaria, not far up the Kishon Valley from the fortress city of Megiddo.

Here at Jezreel Lived Naboth, a good, upstanding citizen, whose ancestors had occupied the same land for generations before him. It contained a vineyard which happened to be just outside the palace wall of Ahab The king conceived the idea of putting in an herb garden and saw in Naboth’s vineyard a desirable plot for it. Therefore, he ap­proached Naboth with what might seem to a modern mind a reasonable offer for the land. Ahab would give Naboth a better vineyard for the land, or if it suited him better he would give money for it.

However, Naboth shunned to part with his ancestral possession, calling the Lord as his witness against such a deal. The law actually forbade the selling of the land divided to a certain family, on grounds that the land really belonged to the Lord (Leviticus 25:23). Naboth was correct on both legal and spiritual grounds, and Ahab knew it. The king was very displeased and upset about Naboth’s refusal to deal with him. He returned to his palace in a crestfallen and sombre mood. He felt so bad about it he took to his bed, refusing to talk to anyone, and not even arising to take food. Like many today he put his own feelings ahead of God’s will (2 Peter 2:10).

Verses 5-16

Murder of Naboth, Verses 5-16

Out of Ahab’s childish pouting occurred one of the most dastardly deeds recorded in the Old Testament. The wicked Jezebel came to the front to secure the vineyard for her husband by hook and crook, with no concern for honesty and righteousness. In her own country it was an unheard of thing that a king could not have whatever he wanted, even to the trampling on the rights of a subject. The king’s right was always supreme. To Jezebel’s mind one did not rule unless he bore absolute power over all others.

When Jezebel learned that Ahab was taken to his bed and refusing to eat she went to find out the reason. Ahab told her it was because Naboth had refused his vineyard to the king. She mocked Ahab by asking whether he was indeed the ruler of Israel. But she encouraged him, urging him to let it not dishearten him, but to arise, take food, and enjoy himself. She would get the vineyard of Naboth for him. Ahab does not seem to have concerned himself with Jezebel’s methods for getting the vineyard. That awful woman took the king’s parchment and pen, wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealing them with his seal, and sent them to the chief men of Jezreel.

Jezebel evidently did not divulge the intent of her instructions to the elders and nobles of Jezreel to destroy Naboth. She told them how it should be done. They should proclaim a fast, as though to mourn some terrible sin of the town, and to put Naboth in the high seat as the culprit. They were to secure the services of two men of Belial to make false accusations against the good man. A "son of Belial" was a worthless and wicked person, ne’er-do-well town bum. The word has been wrongly capitalized in the English versions. It is not a proper name.

Naboth was to be accused of uttering blasphemy against both God and the king, a crime sufficiently grave as to demand the extreme penalty under Israelite law, death by stoning. There is no evidence that the town fathers questioned their instructions, nor did they recoil from carrying them out. They may have felt-obligated to the king for his having made their little town notable by locating his palace there. Or they may have simply feared the king more than they feared the Lord. They surely must have known Naboth was a good, honest citizen innocent of the trumped-up charges against him.

So Naboth was made the villain of the fast, being set up on high before all the people. Then the false witnesses made their appearance and sat before Naboth to make their accusation. They comprised the two or three witnesses required by the law (De 17:6). So Naboth was suddenly brought down from his high seat to be stoned to death for high crimes, so a wicked seductress and her knave husband could steal his vineyard.

By blaspheming God Naboth would have forfeited his right to possess the land, putting himself outside the vale of Israel and con­sidered to be "cut off from his people." Since the king had supposedly also been blasphemed he could confiscate the possession of the offender. That there be no question of Ahab’s succeeding to possession of the vineyard Naboth’s sons were stoned to death along with him (see 2 Kings 9:26). Both Jezebel and Ahab treated the deed with cold indifference so far as the innocent Naboth was concerned. The ungodly queen sent gloating word to her toady husband to arise and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth, for he is now dead. Ahab promptly prepared to go down and finalize the confiscation.

Jezebel did not know, or had no appreciation of, God’s warning in the law of Moses, by which the kingdom was to be governed. Else she would have known that God said, "To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time. For the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste" (De 32:35).

Verses 17-29

Ahab’s Doom, Verses 17-29

Elijah is called back to confront Ahab with his evil deed. There is no account of their having met since the contest with the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel. It appears that the Syrian war and this wicked event transpired during that period of time. Perhaps Ahab thought he had got rid of Elijah, and well he might have had he not stooped so low in sin again. The news of Naboth’s murder and Ahab’s theft of the vineyard was given to the prophet by the Lord, with instructions of what the Lord would do as a consequence.

Elijah was to bring the Lord’s charges against King Ahab, charges of murder and theft. He was to be told that in the very place where the dogs licked up the blood of the slain Naboth they would also eat the blood of Ahab Elijah must have confronted the surprised king right inside the stolen vineyard, for the Lord told him Ahab had gone to the vineyard to take possession. Ahab’s conscience smote him at once, for he knew that Elijah always appeared to him at times when he had greatly displeased the Lord. Ahab had failed to change at three golden opportunities; 1) on Mount Carmel; 2) at the first Syrian engagement; 3) after the dramatic victory at Aphek. Proverbs 29:1 had been forgotten by the king.

Ahab exclaimed, "Have you found me, my enemy?" And Elijah answered that he had indeed found him, and Ahab had been the reason why he had found him again. "Because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord." What does this mean? That Ahab had stubbornly hardened his neck and refused to believe, though he had so many demonstrations of the power and reality of the Lord God of Israel. He refused to believe, even when he knew God was displeased with him. Ahab showed many evidences of remorse and even superficial faith in God’s word, but kept right on with his sinful way.

Elijah’s further revelation from the Lord to Ahab surely should have made the hair stand up on his head, for it was the horrendous curse of Israelite kings of the northern kingdom. Two dynasties had risen and been destroyed to a man, their bodies being carrion for the wild dogs and vultures. Omri’s dynasty, of which Ahab was the representative, was the third on Israel’s northern throne. Ahab was told that it would happen to him as it had to Jeroboam and Baasha. Every male of his family would suffer the same fate. Well did Ahab know why the Lord had allowed such awful destruction to befall his predecessors, and still he persisted in the same. Therefore he would suffer the same.

Ahab, under the spell of his witch-wife, had provoked the Lord more than any before him to anger. His sins had set a sinful example for the people, and they had readily followed it. For Jezebel the Lord had a worse prediction. The dogs would devour her sin-polluted flesh by the wall of Jezreel. The sin of Ahab and Jezebel against the innocent Naboth exposed their evil hearts openly, to God and men. The king had been willingly pliable in his wife’s hands. Not only had he permitted her Zidonian brand of Baal-worship, but he had also practiced the idolatry of the Canaanite Baals.

Once again Ahab’s dread and fear of Elijah’s God is apparent. It certainly seems he would have repented and begged for mercy. But his humility of heart was for his own selfish cravenness. He tore his clothing, wore sackcloth, slept in sackcloth, fasted, and kept a low profile before the people out of a show of sorrow for what he had done. It would not undo the deed he had allowed his wicked wife to do, nor restore the life of that good man he murdered. But the Lord did bless his remorse of conscience by allowing Elijah to announce to him that the evil things foretold would not occur in Ahab’s lifetime, but would come to pass in the time of his son. Once again is proved the truth of James 1:15.

Learn these lessons from chapter 21: 1) godly persons will not violate God’s law for personal gain; 2) good persons may suffer severe persecution, even unto death, but their persecutors will not escape God’s vengeance; 3) the Devil always has his agents to accuse the righteous; 4) the wicked are found out because they persist in their wickedness; 5) even outward piety will receive its measure of blessing.

(Author’s Note: The following study of Second Chronicles, chapter 17, comes here because of its chronological place in this commentary. Though it has no parallel in the Books of Kings, it belongs here chronologically. See the Introduction to the Books of Chronicles at the end of the commentary on the Books of Kings.)

2 Chronicles 17:1-9

Second Chronicles - Chapter 17

Good Jehoshaphat, Verses 1-9

While Ahab was doing wickedly in the northern kingdom of Israel. Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa, was reigning in the southern kingdom of Judah. In contrast to Ahab, Jehoshaphat was accomplishing good things which gained him favor with the Lord. There is in Jehoshaphat, however, somewhat of a paradox. While he evidences faith in some deeds, he seems anxious in others. Though he lived for the Lord and usually served Him he often joined company in evil enterprises which got him into trouble. All in all, though, he was the best king the southern kingdom had had to that time.

Jehoshaphat seems to have started out by relying on physical strength. He feared Israel and Ahab and prepared to defend his kingdom against them by refortifying the the walled cities of Judah and garrisoning troops in them. These defensive measures included the occupied cities of Ephraim which had been in the possession of the kings of Judah since Asa took them from Baasha, when he hired the king of Syria to attack the northern kingdom, instead of calling on the Lord (2 Chronicles 16:1 ff).

But the Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he put Him first in his life, as David his great forefather had done. He rejected the Baal gods so prominently worshipped in the northern kingdom, and followed the commandments of the Lord. For this the Lord established him as the revered king of Judah, and the people brought rich presents to him, making him wealthy and honorable. All this lifted up his heart in the Lord. In this Jehoshaphat illustrates how the Lord’s people may display proper pride. It must be in the Lord and not in self (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).

King Jehoshaphat destroyed the altars of the high places and cut down the groves of prostitution throughout Judah. When he was in his third year as king he instituted a unique project. It was a missionary and evangelistic endeavor, a kind of traveling Bible school. It was composed of sixteen men; five princes, nine Levites, and two priests. They were to travel throughout Judah and teach the people the law of the Lord as found in the books of Moses. These teachers went into all the cities of Judah carrying out the king’s instructions. The princes were doubtless pious elders of the land, concerned for its spiritual condition. In them would be vested the civil authority of the king in the venture. The nine Levites were the teachers of the word. This was to have been a large part of their responsibility under the law, and is what all -of them should have been doing in their cities. The two priests must have represented the authority of the law, as mediators for the people toward the Lord. The zeal of Jehoshaphat toward his own people should have grown until such missionary work reached into all the world (Psalms 48:10).

2 Chronicles 17:10

Jehoshaphat’s Power, Verses 10-19

The Lord continued to reward Jehoshaphat with peace. He gained the respect of all the nations around Judah, because the Lord put His fear in their hearts. The Philistines and the Arabians were tributary to him. The Philistines’ tribute included silver, but the Arabians’ tribute consisted chiefly of animals, since their wealth was chiefly in herds and flocks. They were mainly nomadic people of the desert oases. They paid the tribute with seventy-seven hundred rams and seventy-seven hundred male goats. These animals would have furnished a great deal of meat for the people of Judah, or may perhaps have been used in com­merce with other nations. Jehoshaphat grew ever more prestigious and great. He constructed castles and store cities to contain his wealth. He carried on commercial enterprises with all the cities of Judah.

Jehoshaphat used his wealth to build a great army, with well-trained captains at their heads. It consisted of five companies, three composed of men of Judah and two composed of men of Benjamin. The contin­gents of Judah numbered 300,000 under Adnah; 280,000 under Jeho­hanan; 200,000 under Amasiah. The Benjamite contingents numbered 200,000 under Eliada, and 180,000 under Jehozabad. Altogether the armed forces numbered 1,160,000 men, said to be in addition to those already garrisoned in the fenced cities. It would have required a lot of rams and goats to feed this many men.

Nothing more is known of any of these captains of the army except what is recorded here. It is said that Amasiah, who commanded the third Judahite contingent, willingly offered himself to the Lord. This means he willingly supported King Jehoshaphat in his religious reformation. God desires willing service (Psalms 110:3). Eliada’s command was over the famed bowmen of the tribe of Benjamin. All of them stood ready, prepared for war (1 Peter 3:15).

There are lessons to be found in this brief chapter: 1) the Lord will heap His blessings on those who walk in His way; 2) those who have the truth should use their means to let others know it also; 3) willingness and readiness should characterize every disciple of Christ.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Kings 21". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. 1985.