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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

1 Kings 21

Verses 1-29

1 Kings 21:3 . The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers. Moses forbids the sale of an inheritance. Leviticus 25:23. Naboth had sons, it is presumed, and the sale would have robbed them; another vineyard would not have been the inheritance of their fathers. As Naboth knew the character of the reigning family, this refusal was an act of high heroic fortitude.

1 Kings 21:8 . She wrote letters in Ahab’s name: a crime which would have forfeited the life of another.

1 Kings 21:9 . Proclaim a fast, because of the greatness of the sin in blaspheming God and the king. Moses directs that a man who curses his father shall die; and the king is the father of his country. Jezebel is now a saint of the first order; she makes no mention of Baal, but is zealous for the law of the Lord! Naboth and his sons were stoned and died. 2 Kings 9:26.

1 Kings 21:19 . Hast thou killed, and also taken possession. Ah, clergy, clergy, who roll in ecclesiastical affluence; how few among you ever ventured to lay the axe to the vices of a court!


The land of Israel, after five years, had somewhat recovered the effects of the famine; and Ahab having twice by the singular aid of heaven defeated Benhadad, now thought of aggrandizing his palace by gardens and pleasuregrounds. Naboth of Jezreel had a smiling vineyard contiguous to the king’s estate, and it was suggested that this vineyard would add a spacious and splendid appearance to his improvements. Ahab therefore offered Naboth an equivalent in money or in land. How cautious should mortals be of coveting what belongs to another. Why want the house, the shop, or the land of our neighbour, when he is not disposed to let it go? Perhaps, like Ahab, we have not long to live. Perhaps we shall get it with a curse; and then we shall wither, and droop, and die. If it be offered for sale, or offered to let, then every man is at liberty to bid. But the whole tenure of this world is so uncertain, that every earthly good, yea life itself purchased with sin, is bought too dear. In Naboth’s refusal of the overture, we see a fine example of paternal fidelity. The Lord had said, the land is mine: it shall not be sold for ever. Leviticus 25:23. This vineyard having been in Naboth’s family since the lot in Joshua’s time, he considered himself the trustee and guardian of the Lord’s inheritance. Let us learn of this upright man to hold fast the word of truth which has been entrusted to us by the Lord, for ourselves and for our children; and which is able to build us up to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. This is the Lord’s inheritance, and we must not surrender our little for the best vineyard which this world can possibly give.

The sorrow of this world worketh death. Ahab went home so depressed that he could not take his food; because he was denied one vineyard, he seemed not to have a single comfort in which he could rejoice. He was so afflicted that Jezebel came to see him; and what can be more dangerous than the consolations of the wicked? Ah alas, how many grieve like Ahab, because they are denied that share of fortune, of splendour and dress, which their foolishness and pride would prompt them to ask. Mercies are heaped upon them; and yet when denied one favourite object, they are gloomy and depressed, and angry with heaven and earth.

In this Jezebel we have a character consummately wicked, very instructive to mankind. She had been educated in the Zidonian school, and was fully initiated into every mystery of impiety and wickedness. She had been long accustomed to shed innocent blood; yea the blood of prophets with impunity. Now she scorned reproof, and mocked at vengeance. Haughty and indignant she would bear no restraint; and to accomplish her purpose she never made a scruple of the most atrocious crimes; for with her there was no crime so great as the obstruction of her pleasure. From nature she had derived a fine understanding, and her personal charms were almost without a rival; but now every vestige of sound wisdom and real humanity she had extinguished from her breast. She had passions at command, had vanquished conscience, and opened her bosom wide to every maxim of infernal policy. Naboth’s fall and Ahab’s grief were to her equal subjects of diversion. Habituated to intrigue she wantonly obtruded her services in the tragic and daring plot, which was entirely her own. Having forged the king’s name and applied his seal, she commanded the judges of Jezreel to select two men, well instructed for Naboth’s ruin; and to impress the public by proclaiming a fast, for the worst of men are ready to avail themselves of religion when it will serve their purpose; she joined them in expressing the deepest concern that the land might be purged of such daring and atrocious crimes. She commanded them in particular to accuse Naboth of blasphemy against God, which would forfeit his life; and of blasphemy against the king, which would forfeit his lands. How cautious, how guarded was this scheme; and to be sure, nobody would think of calling the king to an account, or of asking him for evidence; and of the queen, no one would think her worse, or ever dream that she was privy to the plot. Rejoice wicked woman; rejoice in the most successful of thy plans. Thou hast triumphed in the sight of heaven and earth; religion and law have favoured thy designs. Naboth is dead, and the vineyard is thine own: send now thy husband to take possession. But know a maxim, a thousand years more ancient than thou: know that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment. Know that thy plot, so complete in thy esteem, contained an important oversight. Thy letter was not against Naboth; he is taken from the evil to come, and out of thy power; it was a sentence against thyself, for in the place where the dogs licked up his blood, they shall lick up thy blood!

In Ahab we see that they who are partakers of other men’s sins, shall be partakers of other men’s punishments. Ahab complied with his wife; he went down to his vineyard, and tasted the forbidden fruit. He was surrounded with his flattering courtiers, and with a multitude of workmen. He was busy in executing the most approved plans. Unwilling to consult his title, he looked forward solely to improvements, and anxiously anticipated the extended beauties and retiring graces of his palace. Thus was Ahab employed when Elijah obtruded among the throng; when he thunder-struck and appalled the crowd by unravelling all the nefarious mystery, justifying the innocent Naboth, and denouncing against the guilty king the most terrific sentence of the Almighty. Hast thou killed and taken possession! Behold, in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall they lick up thy blood, even thine! Oh what silent but expressive looks would the poor now cast on Elijah, on Ahab, and on one another. And from this prophet, let christian ministers learn to strike at all reigning and recent vices in the places where they exercise their ministry, and let them not fear the rank and influence of those who offend, for God requires fidelity in his servants.

Wicked men generally resent the first and more poignant strokes of the rod. The king, with all the revoltings of an indignant pride, said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, oh mine enemy? Yet, on a moment’s reflection, vanquished by the weight of shame and guilt, he rent his splendid robe, put on sackcloth, fasted, and walked with a dejected countenance: and humbling his soul like the men of Nineveh, the Lord, after a while, graciously deferred, during his life, the evils denounced against his family. Yet after all, his repentance was defective: he still doted on his Jezebel, hated the prophets, and ultimately fell without leaving his country one ray of hope that he died in peace.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 21". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.