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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 21

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-29

B.—The proceedings of Ahab against Naboth

1 Kings 21:1-29

1And it came to pass after these things,1 that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And 2Ahab 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:2 and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or,3 if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money. 3And Naboth said to Ahab, The Lord [Jehovah] forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee. 4And 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.4 5But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread? 6And 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.5 7And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite. 8So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters6 unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his7 city, dwelling with Naboth. 9And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people: 10and set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die. 11And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who were the inhabitants in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them, and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them. 12They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people. 13And there came in two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died. 14Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead. 15And 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. 16And it came to pass, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead,8 that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

17And the word of the Lord [Jehovah] came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 18Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is [dwelleth9] in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it. 19And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the Lord [Jehovah], Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the Lord [Jehovah], In the place10 where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.11 20And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord 21[Jehovah]. Behold, I will bring12 evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, 22and will make thine 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 made Israel to sin. 23And of Jezebel also spake the Lord [Jehovah], saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. 24Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat.

25But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord [Jehovah], whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. 26And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the Lord [Jehovah] cast out before the children of Israel. 27And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. 28And the word of the Lord [Jehovah] came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest 29thou 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 days will I bring the evil upon his house.

Exegetical and Critical

1 Kings 21:1. And it came to pass after these things, &c. The Sept. places this whole chapter before the twentieth, and Thenius holds this to be its original place. Ewald says, rightly: “The transposition resulted simply to unite more closely the similar narrations in chaps. 20 and 22 and inversely chaps. 17–19, 21. The expression in 1 Kings 21:4, as a climax to 1 Kings 20:43, refers back rather palpably to the latter passage.” Naboth’s affair must have happened then after the two victories over the Syrians, because Elijah’s severe sentence proclaiming the fall of the house of Ahab, which was occasioned by them, could not have immediately preceded those victories. The connecting thought with chap. 20 is this: As Ahab, in consequence of victory twice won, found tranquillity and peace externally, he was contemplating the extension and the beautifying of the garden of his summer palace at Jezreel (vide on 1 Kings 18:46). Sanctius: post victos hostes ad delicias comparandas animum adjecit.

1 Kings 21:2-6. And Ahab spake unto Naboth, &c. 1 Kings 21:3, literally: Far is it for me from Jehovah that I, &c. This expression presupposes two things, viz.: that Naboth was a worshipper of Jehovah and did not bow his knee to Baal, and that he belonged to those who had remained faithful (Ahab does not mention the name “Jehovah”) and that also he held the alienation of his vineyard to be a sin against Jehovah, a transgression of a command of Jehovah. This command must have been that respecting the inalienability of the inheritance which was apportioned to each tribe and to each family, and could not, even by marriage, go into other hands, and which, even if it were sold on account of impoverishment or otherwise on account of distress, would revert to it again, without price, in the year of Jubilee (Numbers 36:1-13; Leviticus 25:10-28). According to Ezekiel 46:18, the prince himself could not force any one out of his property. This Mosaic law is connected most intimately with the stability of the Theocracy; it secured its material foundation (cf. Symb. des Mosais. Kult., II. s. 604); and if it were not always strictly observed and enforced, the main thought pervading it nevertheless struck out strong roots in the consciousness of the people, and the preservation of the נַחֲלָה was for every covenant-keeping Israelite a matter not merely of piety towards his family and his tribe, not merely a prudential, worldly affair, but a religious, sacred duty. No consideration would induce Naboth to violate this, neither greater gain (for Ahab offered him a better vineyard or wished to pay him well), nor the royal authority and the fear of the royal displeasure, especially when, as here, not need, but a royal whim only, was concerned. Hence it is almost laughable when with J. D. Michaelis Naboth’s answer is explained as “uncivil in the extreme,” or when others say that it was a piece of “obstinacy;” for in that case Joseph’s reply to Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:9) was uncivil and obstinate. For סַר (1 Kings 21:4), see on 1 Kings 20:43 : He turned away his face, the Vulg. adds ad parietem, which 2 Kings 20:2, has: Seb. Schmidt: more tristium, qui conversationem, colloquium et conspectum hominum fugiunt et declinant.

1 Kings 21:7-8. And Jezebel his wife said, &c. The words יִשְׂרָאֶל—אַתָּה are usually translated imperatively: “Thou! exert now the royal authority over Israel” (de Wette), i. e., act as king, use the power which belongs to thee as king of Israel, or, “Thou exercisest authority now over Israel” (Philippson), i. e., now must thou show thyself to be king over Israel. On the other hand, as Thenius properly remarks, the collocation of the words is to be observed (Thou comes first), and also the connection (Jezebel says: I will give thee). This antithesis compels us to understand the words as ironical, and with the Sept., the Vulg., and the Syriac, to regard them as a question: Dost thou now exercise authority over Israel? Dost thou as king permit thyself to ask such a thing of one of thy subjects? I will give thee the vineyard, since thou trustest not thyself to act as man and king.—The letters (1 Kings 21:8) Jezebel furnished with the royal seal, i. e., she affixed the seal to (not sealed up). “Probably the seal had on it the name of the king, which, instead of the signature, was by the seal stamped upon the document, as is the case now in Egypt and Persia, amongst Turks and Arabs; cf. Paulsen, die Regier. der Morgenland. s. 295” (Keil); Esther 8:12. Jezebel certainly received the seal (seal-ring, Daniel 6:18) from Ahab himself, who allowed her the free use of it. From 1 Kings 21:8, it is manifest that Ahab and Jezebel were then in Samaria, their residence, properly speaking. The elders and nobles constituted without doubt the city tribunal (Deuteronomy 16:18), “which must have had then, according to our chapter, in cases easily to be decided the jus vitœ” (Thenius); cf. on Matthew 5:21. The addition: dwelling with Naboth, shows that they were his fellow-townsmen.

1 Kings 21:9. Proclaim a fast, as was customary in the event of national calamities (Joel 1:14), after grievous defeats (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 31:13), after great sins(1 Samuel 7:6; Joel 2:12), or for the turning away of apprehended misfortune (2 Chronicles 20:2; 2 Chronicles 20:4); it is always the sign of penitence. Obviously it stands here in a definite relation to the offence charged, and it was not merely to furnish occasion for the procedure against Naboth (Thenius), but rather “to publish the fact that a grievous fault was resting upon the city, which must be expiated.” The stamp of truth would thus thereby be impressed, in the eyes of the entire city, upon the crime with which Naboth was charged (Keil). Naboth was to be set on high in the assemblage, “so that the public indignation might be the more vividly expressed, if one who was worthy of such distinction, on account of his God-fearing sentiment, should be convicted of being such a grievous sinner” (Thenius). This is certainly better than the view advanced by Grotius: ne odio damnasse crederentur, quern ipsi honoraverant, or the explanation of Seb. Schmidt: producite eum ante universum populum in judicium ad causam dicendam.

1 Kings 21:10-14. Two men… before him, &c. According to Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15, every crime punishable by death must be testified to by at least two witnesses, who also must at the stoning make the beginning. נֶגְדּוֹ not contra (Vulg.), but coram, in conspectu.—Thou didst blasphemeבָּרַךְ means properly to bless; then, because at a departure one utters a benediction, generally to say farewell, is to leave, so Job 1:5; Job 2:5 : to bless God, to give God a departure, to turn one’s self from Him. If now Naboth, by this expression, was guilty of a capital crime, it must of necessity be that which the law ordained in the death-punishment (cf. Leviticus 24:14sq.). Blasphemy against the king is placed beside blasphemy against God, because the king represents God and rules in His name; crime against majesty involves death (2 Samuel 16:9). Jezebel does not use the name יהוה but the more general indefinite אלהיה.

1 Kings 21:15-16. Take possession of the vineyard, &c. The immediate seizure of the property appears here as something which, in consequence of the execution of Naboth, is understood to be according to usage and right. The Rabbins remark, that which indeed the Mosaic law does not expressly ordain, the property of an offender against majesty falls to the king, who was, in so far, its inheritor (יָרַשׁ means also to inherit, Genesis 21:10; Jeremiah 49:1). According to 2 Kings 9:26, Naboth’s sons also were put to death, the heirs proper, besides, were no longer living.

1 Kings 21:17-19. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah, &c. From רֵר in 1 Kings 21:18 we are to conclude that Elijah was, at that time, in a mountain-district. Ahab’s crime is set before him in the form of a question, which was more fitted to awaken his conscience than a bare affirmation. When the guilt of the crime is charged upon Ahab, and not upon Jezebel who was the agent in the matter, it is like Genesis 3:9, where God brings Adam and not Eve to account.—According to 1 Kings 22:38, the dogs licked the blood of Ahab, not at Jezreel, the place where Naboth was put to death, but at Samaria. In order to reconcile both passages, either בְּמִקוֹם אֲשֶׁר have been translated by pro eo quod (Grotius, Maurer, De “Wette: “for that”), or it has been supposed that the prophecy, inasmuch as Ahab repented (1 Kings 21:27), was fulfilled but partially in him, and fully in his son (2 Kings 9:25) (Calmet, Keil, Gerlach and others). Thenius believes that there is a contradiction here which does not admit of any reconciliation, no matter what the explanation be. But how thoughtless the author of our books must have been, if in two chapters alongside of each other, on the same leaf as it were, he had admitted “direct” contradictions inadvertently. The place where Naboth’s and Ahab’s blood were licked up by dogs was “before or outside the city,” i. e., the place where supposed or real criminals were executed (cf. 1 Kings 21:13; Leviticus 24:14; Acts 7:56; Hebrews 13:12 sq.). The prophetic word means: As thou hast unrighteously put Naboth to death, as a criminal, without the city, so shalt thou, righteously, in the same place, outside thy city (residence), be put to death, i. e., as a criminal. In this the prophecy found its fulfilment, in the similarity of the disgraceful death, not in the similarity of the special locality. Consequently here the entirely general מָקוֹם stands, and not, as in 2 Kings 11:25 sq. the special חֶלְקַת שְׂדֵה נָבוֹת.

1 Kings 21:20. Hast thou found me, &c. Luther follows the inaccurate translation of the Vulg.: num invenisti me inimicum tibi? Thenius: “מצא is here in its most proper signification: to overtake (seizing me), (1 Samuel 31:3; Job 11:7; Jeremiah 10:8), used especially of the punishing hand (1 Samuel 23:17; Isaiah 10:10; Psalms 21:9), consequently: Hast thou overtaken me, mine enemy? As a defiant question, and entirely suited to, mine enemy: thinkest thou that thou hast now got me down? To this the reply is wholy suited: Yes, I have got thee!” Von Gerlach justly remarks: “Struck at by the address of Elijah, Ahab seeks to justify himself by attributing personal enmity upon the prophet’s part towards himself.” Michaelis wholly wrong: Hast thou found me in an act which I cannot excuse? or Vatablus: Hast thou found something against me which thou canst censure, thou who art always against me?—הִתְמַכֵּר must be taken here in a wholly general sense, as in 1 Kings 21:25 (cf. 2 Kings 17:17; Romans 7:14); to abandon one’s self without will to evil; to make one’s self a slave of sin; “the feebleness is therein expressed also, by virtue of which he was the tool of others” (Gerlach). The Sept. add arbitrarily, μάτην, which Thenius holds to be original, and then translates: on account of thy pretended selling of thyself to do, &c. i.e., thou shalt become conscious that thou hast fully received the price of sin; very forced. The τοῦ παροργίσαι σὐτὸν of the Sept. after יהוה is also an arbitrary addition.

1 Kings 21:21-24. Behold, I will bring evil, &c. Upon 1 Kings 21:21-24, see above on 1 Kings 14:10, sq. and also 16:3sq. It is the standing avenging sentence for the dynasties of apostate kings, repeated also in 1 Kings 22:38 and 2 Kings 9:8 sq. 36. The divine punishment falls upon Ahab and his house not alone on account of the crime committed against Naboth, but also, and chiefly, on account of the idolatry existing and promoted during his reign, with which, indeed, that crime was closely connected. The בְּהֵל in 1 Kings 21:23 is translated in the Septuag, rightly here as in 2 Samuel 20:15, by ἐν τῷ κροτειχίσματι, by which a space immediately close to the walls, and belonging to the city-terrain, is. to be understood. Jezebel also was to be devoured by dogs before, i. e. outside the city. When for בְהֵלֶק יִזְרָעֱאל ,בְּחֵל יִוְּרְעֱאל occurs in 2 Kings 9:10; 2 Kings 9:36-37, not another but the same place is designated, viz. in the space, i. e., in the city-terrain of Jezreel. Thenius very unnecessarily would have the reading in our passage בְּהֵל. Jezebel, according to 2 Kings 9:33, was thrown out of a window and trodden by horses, but was not devoured by dogs in “the court of the palace.” This happened rather before the city-walls.

1 Kings 21:25-26. There was none like unto, &c. The 25th and 26th verses are a parenthesis by which the relator desires once more to bring out the reason for the miserable destruction of the house of Ahab, and why every effort to wash Ahab clean, and to make of him “a good man of the best disposition” (Michaelis) seemed useless. רַק does not mean here: yea, assuredly (De Wette); “it has here its usual meaning, but it does not stand, as is often the case, immediately before the word to which it is related; translate: besides how Ahab (Ahab excepted), there was none (as he), &c.” (Thenius).—The Amorites are mentioned instead of the Canaanites generally, as in Genesis 15:16; Joshua 24:15; Amos 2:9, because they were the most powerful tribe of Canaan. Ahab had abandoned himself entirely to the idolatry on account of which Jehovah had driven the Canaanites from their land, and had given it to the Israelites (1 Kings 16:33).

1 Kings 21:27-29. When Ahab heard those words, &c. The rending of the clothes, putting on sackcloth and fasting, are the usual signs of mourning and penitence (Winer, R.-W.-B., II. s. 631. Ahab slept in his sackcloth. אַט does not mean barefoot (Jarchi and others), not demisso capite, or slowly (Keil), but quietly, softly (Isaiah 8:6).—The complete ruin was not to overtake Ahab during his lifetime, but “he was referred back to the threatening of the law, according to which, the misdeeds of the fathers were not to be borne in the children, who did not cease from them longer than to the third or fourth generation” (Menken).

Historical and Ethical

1. The procedure against Naboth constitutes a turning-point in the history of Ahab, in so far as it called forth the prediction of the destruction of himself and of his house. Although it concerned but our contemporaneous people, it has nevertheless a general theocratico-historical significance in this, that a moral corruption was therein brought to light, which had seized the head and the members of the kingdom, and was the consequence of the apostasy from the God of Israel and from His law. It was a crying proof that all the evidence of divine power and grace and fidelity and long-suffering had produced no fruit. That too was the point of time when it was necessary for the prophet to appear again, of whom Sirach says (Sir 48:10), “who wast ordained for reproofs in their times to pacify the wrath of the Lord’s judgment before it break forth into fury.… and to restore the tribes of Jacob.” It devolved upon him whose destination and calling it was essentially to exercise the prophetic avenging office, to bear witness agajnst apostasy, and to proclaim the judgments of God—upon him it devolved, before all things, by virtue of his position in the history of the kingdom of God (see above), to announce to the king who, with his wife, had formally introduced the apostasy, and in his procedure against Naboth had shown himself incorrigible, the final sentence of God against him and his whole house. The word of Jehovah came hence also to him, and he issued forth again from his retirement “as a fire, and his word burned like a torch” (Sir 48:1). He first places before the king, his crime against Naboth, and proceeds then to the announcement of his punishment for his conduct generally. The whole narration culminates in this announcement. The new criticism does not question the historical reality of the affair with Naboth: “the dressing up,” however, belongs to the author of the history of Elijah (Thenius, Ewald). Under this clothing (drapery) nothing else can be meant than the paragraph from 1 Kings 21:17-24, which is, however, the main thing. If this be explained as unhistorical, for which no reason is at hand, the point of the whole narrative is taken away, and the high meaning disappears from the event which it has for the history of Ahab, and indirectly for the history of the kingdom of Israel generally. It becomes an isolated, ordinary, Oriental murder-tale, and ceases to be a turning-point in the history of the theocracy.

2. We are able to understand for the first time, rightly and completely, the royal couple from the present narrative. If Ahab has shown himself, thus far, to be a weak man, destitute of any religious and moral firmness, and subject to every evil influence, here this is the case so conspicuously that from feebleness and want of character he becomes a common criminal. He did not know how to devote the time of peace, after the severe pressure caused by the Syrians, to anything except to be thinking of the enlargement and beautifying of his pleasure-garden—a sign that all the great experiences of his life, even the last sharp threatening at the releasing of Ben-hadad, had made no permanent impression upon him. The refusal of Naboth to cede to him his vineyard makes him angry, and excites him; but he has not force enough to make use of his mettle, and so he be-takes himself to his bed, will not eat, nor see any person, and behaves like a spoiled, ill-mannered child, which has been refused a toy. It was necessary for his wife to supply him with spirit, and to remind him that he must be a man and king. He does not interfere himself, but allows her to arrange the matter, and gives her the insignia of his royal authority, unconcerned how she may use it, or, as it almost seems, he enters into her criminal designs. When the infamous transaction was done, and she told him of it, he was not shocked; he was rather visibly pleased and satisfied (Josephus has it: “he sprang up from his bed with delight”), and he made haste to take possession of the property stolen and stained with blood. This blood-guiltiness rested upon him, so that the prophet could, with all propriety, call him both a murderer and a thief. In respect of Queen Jezebel, who has hitherto been portrayed only on the side of her wild fanaticism for the unchaste Baal and Astarte worship, she shows herself here in her complete moral depravity. We discover in her no trace of the feebleness and want of energy which characterized her husband. Josephus well calls her a γύναιον δραστήριόν τε καὶ τολμηρόν. Her deepest traits were pride and a desire for dominion, to gratify which she shrank back from no instrumentality. Under the show and pretext of serving her husband and fulfilling his wishes, she knew how to govern him and to appropriate to herself the royal authority. She did not look at the monarchy according to the Israelitish sense, as the institution which was designed to carry out the law and will of Jehovah, but as the absolute authority over the property and lives (Gut und Blut) of the subjects. Every refusal to fulfil a royal wish, though it had been grounded in the divine law, was, in her eyes, lese-majesty, yes, as blasphemy against God, because she wished the king to be considered not as the servant, but as the representative of Deity. Right and justice, for the administering of which the monarchy exists, are to her mere forms, and she misapplies the legal organs of justice to carry out injustice. A religious solemnity must be the cloak of her lust of robbery and murder, and the people be deceived by perjured witnesses. Jezebel does all this in cold blood and with calm deliberation; yes, she congratulates herself upon it, and informs her husband of the fact with self-satisfaction, as if she had done something deserving praise and thanks. This was the royal couple at that time at the head of the people and of the kingdom. If ever at any time, certainly here, the Turkish proverb finds its application: “The fish stinks first at the head.”

3. The elders and nobles constituting the city tribunal at Jezreel are a worthy pendent to the royal couple. Without hesitation they carry out quickly and punctiliously the received order, and they hasten to give the queen the news of it, in order to show themselves loyal and obedient subjects. The fear and the pleasure of men are the motives for their way of acting; there is no trace of the fear of God and of conscientiousness amongst them. They knew the tyranny and the severity of the queen, and they did not dare to thwart her; they were afraid that by resistance they might lose the residence and suffer loss, or be punished in limb and body. It seems that they, as the presiding officers of the residence, gladly embraced the opportunity to please the powerful, dreaded queen, and to show their unconditional submission, in the hope of being praised and rewarded for it. Perhaps, owing to the sojourn of the court there, they had become habituated to unrighteous expectations of the sort, and that fawning and servility were no longer new to them. Certainly their whole course presupposes thorough corruption in public affairs, a natural consequence of the religious confusion which must have entered in during a reign when “the covenant of Jehovah” was forsaken, his law trodden under foot, and the infamous Baal and Astarte worship was introduced and patronized. For there is no more authentic sign of the decay of a kingdom than when law is deliberately debased, and murder, under the show of right, and with deference to the usual forms of law, is done by those to whom the duty of public justice is intrusted. Deliberate judicial murder is the most infamous of all, and can only take place where absolute ungodliness has broken all moral bonds, and a putrefaction has begun. Jezebel would never have dared to order such a process had she not known the people, and regarded them as capable of everything. The circumstances here were such as Micah, in 1 Kings 7:2 et sq., has portrayed. When we consider that the elders who composed the local tribunal were not royal officials, but inhabitants of the place, chosen by their fellow-townsmen, and that they, one and all, as one man, perpetrated the crime, we learn how deeply the people, who had freely placed such men at their head, were sunken, and had become devoid of all fear of God. The blindness with which the false verdict was accepted, and the brutality with which it was carried out, doubtless in a tumultuous fashion, is an additional proof of what we have stated.

4. The meeting of Elijah and of Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard is very characteristic of the personal qualities of each. Both reappear here, such as we find them in the earlier interview in 1 Kings 18:7 et sq. As there, so here, Elijah comes forth suddenly from his retirement. Like the lightning which descends from on high and strikes, he met the king, walking and enjoying himself in the stolen vineyard. Nothing was further from his thoughts than an encounter with the earnest, severe preacher of repentance, and of hearing from him the thunder-words of the Divine judgment. As there, Ahab at first blustered, and saluted the prophet with the words: “Art thou here, troubler of Israel?” so here he addresses him angrily: “Hast thou found me, mine enemy?—thou who art always in my way.” But as then, so also now, the prophet did not allow himself to be imposed upon and frightened in the least. With firm words he announces the destruction of him and of his house; then the high-going man breaks down and becomes so dejected that he is bowed down and creeps along, and even sleeps in sackcloth. But the meeting is also significant in respect of the relation between the prophetic and the monarchical element. This relation is now represented in a manifold way, as that of two “self-appointed powers” who were in perpetual struggle with each other to gain the upper hand in the kingdom. But Elijah especially, the head and representative of the prophetic order, from whom proceeded the strife against the covenant-breaking monarchy, the most energetic and powerful of all the prophets, resolutely and sharply as he met the king, who called him his enemy, was in the greatest degree possible free from all hierarchical efforts. No one in all Israel cared less than he about having anything to do with outward power and authority. He did not, like Jeroboam, in the time of Solomon and of Rehoboam, place himself at the head of the discontented; he did not intrigue against the secular power, and mingle in political affairs; he did not live at the residence or at court; but in retirement, from which he issued only from time to time, when it was needful to resist the base misuse of the royal authority, which did not fear to revolutionize even the foundations of the people of Israel. He was not “an enemy” of the monarchy, but an enemy of the idolatry which was destroying both the monarchy and the national being.

5. Ahab’s penitence was regarded by the older theologians as hypocritical, so that even yet all false penitence is called, proverbially, “Ahab’s penitence.” But, according to 1 Kings 21:29, it was not a sham, but an actual humiliation, which was graciously recognized by God as such. Vatablus justly says: “Hœc pœnitentia fuit vera, sed temporaria.” Owing to the feebleness of his character, which made him readily susceptible to every influence, and the rapid change of his purposes, it was very comprehensible that the word of the prophet, piercing bone and marrow, threatening him and his house with destruction, which had never yet deceived him, made an affecting impression upon him. Such a wholesome terror had never hitherto overtaken him, and might well have been able to lead him to a thorough change from his past ways. But he had no abiding conversion of heart to the living God, as the course of the history shows. As the threatened punishment did not follow immediately, he thought he had been able to ward it off by his penitential discipline, and, according to his constantly attested fickleness, he fell back again into his earlier way of life. The first thing which he should have done, had his repentance been true, to repair somehow a wrong done, he did not do, but, on the contrary, began war anew.

Homiletical and Practical

1 Kings 21:1-29. The proceeding against Naboth: (a) How it was done (1 Kings 21:1-16); (b) its consequences (1 Kings 21:17-29)

1 Kings 21:1-16).—Wirth: The unrighteous acquisition of Naboth’s vineyard, (a) King Ahab; (b) Queen Jezebel; (c) the elders of Jezreel; (d) Naboth.—Würt Summ.:. Here we see how the children of this world use their rank; how they ruin others for the sake of their possessions, and seize upon them; they try to make them sell against their will, and wrest their property from them; if this fail, they use every false device, accuse him as an evil-doer before the authorities, and, by means of false witnesses, lead him on to misfortune, until he is compelled to sacrifice his little property to save himself, or becomes so ill that he dies of grief, and thus they obtain his property. But the Spirit denounces woe to such men (Isaiah 5:8). Every man should guard against such sin, but especially those in power. Let them never seize upon the property of their subjects. V. 1.—Starke: It is not well to have godless neighbors, especially if they are powerful, for, loving injustice, they think nothing of over-reaching their neighbors. One should pray for industrious, pious and honest neighbors.

1 Kings 21:2-4. Naboth’s vineyard, (a) The greed of Ahab (1 Kings 21:2); (b) the denial of Naboth (1 Kings 21:3); (c) the consequence of the denial upon Ahab (1 Kings 21:4).

1 Kings 21:2. Great lords often have fancies, which cost them more time and money than do their chief and holiest duties. Thus Ahab thought more of the enlargement and adornment of his garden, than of the good of his subjects. The desire for things which serve for pleasure is often a temptation to grievous sin. Therefore says the Scripture: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods, nor anything that is his. Let the needy be thy first care, not thine own pleasures. It is a great gain to be godly and contented. Watch over thine heart, for desires apparently lawful, if not resisted and denied, may lead to ruin.

1 Kings 21:3. The men, are rare who, for God and conscience sake, will not yield to entreaties and offers, the granting of which would be advantageous to them, whilst the refusal would be accompanied with injury, and perhaps peril to themselves. Where fear of God and true devoutness exist, there also you will ever find that piety which holds in love and veneration everything which serves as a remembrance of parents and all other benefactors.

1 Kings 21:4. Richter: Godless people regard the care taken by the pious to observe reverently the divine law, as so much useless scrupulousness.—Calw. Bib: Even so, in our day, does the worldling look with an evil eye upon the Christian who, for the sake of the divine word, refuses to yield to his wishes; for either he recognizes no divine authority, or exalts his own above it. The children of this world, whose aims and designs are wholly material, will often fret and grieve for days when they are compelled to give up a temporal gain, or a promised enjoyment, whilst the condition of their souls never causes them the slightest grief.—Wirth: The high and mighty ones of this world often think that all other people are placed here, simply to yield obedience to their whims. They cannot comprehend that all men are not to be bought with gold, and woe to that inferior whose refusal destroys their darling plans. Every man not rooted and grounded in God, becomes ever more and more grasping; in his vain purse-pride he thinks all the world must yield to his will, and hates bitterly him who independently and resolutely upholds his rights against him.

1 Kings 21:5-16. The condemnation of Naboth. (a) Ordered by Jezebel; (b) carried out by the city ordinance; (c) joyfully received by Ahab.—The apparently fortunate but really unfortunate and accursed marriage of Ahab and Jezebel. (a) She seeks the sorrowful man, shares his grief, and seeks to comfort him, as is the province of a wife; but instead of pointing him to the true Comforter, and leading his heart to higher and better thing, she strengthens him in his grasping desire after others’ property, and leads him on still further, (b) She reminds him that he is the lord and master, and recognizes him as such, as a wife should; but, at the same moment, she assumes the dominion, and the weak man lets her manage and rule, as if she were the man and he the woman. (c) She rejoices to accomplish an ardent wish of her husband’s, and to make him a worthy present, as every faithful spouse should strive to do; but it is a blood-stained and stolen gift, obtained with deceit and falsehood, and Ahab delights in it. Thus both husband and wife, who together should be blest after God’s ordinance, together walk on to ruin and destruction.—Jo. Lange: As a righteous spouse in the court of a great lord is as a sun, giving light throughout the land and doing much good work by her example, in the same proportion is an unholy woman mischievous. The example of Naboth shows what is the event where such an one rules, and its evil influence in a country.—The quality (=being) of tyranny. (a) It regards sovereignty simply as unlimited might and power over the property and life of subjects; then the name of king means the power to do whatsoever a man wills, without regard to God or man; they reverse the divinely ordained “subjection” (Romans 13:1), and live in rebellion against God. (b) They upset justice, and convert the servants of the law, whose place it is to punish evil, into instruments of unrighteousness; they love darkness and hate the light, for they work the works of darkness (Psalms 64:7). It dissembles and plays its own game with religious solemnity, and converts an oath itself into a means for its worst designs. The proceeding against Naboth is a combination of the heaviest crimes, for by it are trodden under foot the three divine commands: Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. How thankful should we be that we dwell in a land where mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other, where righteousness looks down from heaven (Psalms 85:10-12).

1 Kings 21:11-14. The elders and nobles of Jezreel. (a) Their conduct (they obey blindly, but God must be obeyed rather than man; power is not of man, but the minister of God, Romans 13:4, and before the commandment: “Honor the king,” stands that other, Fear God, 1 Peter 2:17). (b) Their motives (fear of and subserviency to man, time serving and sycophancy, fruit of their desertion of the living God and of his holy word.—Evil masters can ever find evil servants, who do their will from ambition or covetousness.—Calw. Bib: Woe, where such things befall! and shame! that in the fairest lands, as in the plains of Jezreel, are often the worst men to be found.—Godlessness and corruption in courts is a poison, which extends throughout the whole body politic, even to the lowest rank; no example is so powerful upon all classes of society. How many gross, how many refined sins are committed out of sheer complaisance to high personages, whose favor men wish to seek or preserve. Woe to those lords who find such ready tools in their servants, who will be accomplices in their misdoings, and palliate, or even laud and praise all their perverse dealings; they undermine the throne more than open enemies. The judgment and condemnation of Naboth, compared with that of our Lord. There, as in this instance, offended pride, followed by hatred, accusation of blasphemy and riot; false witnesses and vile judges; and a blind, infuriated populace crying out: Crucify, crucify!

1 Kings 21:17-29. Krummacher: The mission of Elijah. (a) Its intention; (b) its aim; (c) its immediate results.—Bender: Elijah and Ahab in the vineyard of Naboth. (a) The sin of the king; (b) the judgment of God.—Wirth: Ahab in the vineyard of Naboth. (a) The approach of Elijah; (b) the announcement of the sentence; (c) the repentance of Ahab.

1 Kings 21:17. Deceive not yourself, God is not mocked. What a man sows, that shall he reap (Galatians 6:7). Menken: But though much unrighteousness and wickedness goes apparently without further evil results, and without the chastisements of the just Judge in heaven, yet still all will be demanded; and at the Divine judgment-seat everything will be discovered, and everything to the uttermost farthing accounted for.—The blood of Naboth, which Ahab thought had been swallowed up by the earth, cried to heaven, and found there judgment and vengeance. Like a lightning-flash comes the word from heaven into the dark soul of Ahab, and made him feel that no net of human evil can be woven thickly enough to conceal the crime which it veils from the All-seeing Eye.

1 Kings 21:18-19. It is no easy matter to say to the face of a royal robber, “Thou hast stolen,” and to a royal adulterer, “It is not right that thou shouldst have thy brother’s wife.” Where to-day are the prophets who thus use the sword of the Spirit? Thou hast slain.—Menken: Observe, that evil which thou couldst hinder, and didst not, and from which thou shouldst have shrunk, and for which thou didst neither exhibit horror, nor didst punish—all shall, in future, be laid to thy account, as if thou hadst committed it in thine own person. Therefore warns the apostle: Neither be partaker of other men’s sins (2 Tim. 5:22).

1 Kings 21:20. Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? Calw. B: One can readily imagine that the hard impenitent, meeting the pious preacher and soul-director, regards the high-principled, soul-saving address of the prophet as evidence of personal enmity, and replies with personal enmity. He is not thine enemy who finds thee out, charging thee with thine unrecognized sins, with thy God-forgetting life, until thou dost think and tremble—not thine enemy, the disturber of thy peace and rest, but thy true friend, who leads thee through the narrow gates of repentance, to the way where alone true joy is to be found.—I have found thee. This word of sentence must be heard by all, even by those who have come before no human tribunal—often in this world, certainly at the last day, “for the Lord will bring to light,” &c. (1 Corinthians 4:5), and cause every man to find according to his ways (Job 34:11). But there is also a sentence of mercy, which pursues the sinner and seeks him until it finds him (Luke 15:0). Well for all who have thus been caught and found and can say: “Unter allen frohen Stunden, die im Leben ich empfunden.” &c. He who will not be sought out by mercy, will be found by justice.

1 Kings 21:20-29.—Krummacher: The penitence of Ahab. (a) What called it forth; (b) what was its nature; (c) what were its consequences.

1 Kings 21:21-26. The predicted judgments of God upon Ahab and his house. (a) Its cause; (b) its accomplishment (1 Kings 22:38; 2 Kings 9:10).“Buying for money” amongst sins. What is to be understood by this? How one can be made bought and made free (John 8:33 sq.; 1Co 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Romans 7:14). It is a great misfortune when one man can be bought by another as a chattel or merchandise, but a still greater one if he allows himself to be bought with a price to sin against the Lord. One may be, like Ahab, lord and king, and yet a purchased slave.

1 Kings 21:25. His wife stirred him up. Menken: Woe to the man who, through the power which love gives him over the heart of another, by means of which he might become a ministering angel, is to him as a misleading fiend. How many fires of ruinous passion, of anger, of discord, of unrighteousness and of hatred, might and should be quenched and extinguished by the power of love—the power of one heart over another—and especially by the mildness and gentleness peculiar to woman: and yet so often, by this means, they are kindled and fanned. This belongs to the catalogue of unconfessed sins of many men, and especially of many women.—What gave Ahab’s repentance its worth, and wherein it was defective. (a) It was not merely ostensible, feigned; it was a wholesome dread and fear of the judgment of God which came upon him, causing him to fear and tremble; he bowed beneath the mighty hand of God, and was not ashamed to confess this outwardly, but laid aside crown and purple, and put on sackcloth, unheeding if he thus exposed himself to the scorn of the courtiers and idol worshippers. Therefore the Lord looked in mercy upon his repentance. Would that, in our day, many would go even as far as Ahab did in this case. (b) It bore no further fruits. He retained the stolen vineyard, he desisted not from idol worship, he allowed full sway to Jezebel. Everything in his house, at his court, and in his kingdom, remained as of old. He did not hunger and thirst after righteousness. Fleeting impressions and emotions are not true repentance. The tree which brings forth no fruits, is and remains a corrupt tree (Matthew 3:8). How wholly different the repentance of David (Psalms 51:0).—How many go to confession before the communion, bow the knee, and confess their sins before God and man, without being inwardly bowed down and humiliated, to bring forth fruits meet for repentance (Joel 2:13; Isaiah 58:5).—Richter: Since God looks with pardoning mercy upon an outward humble abasement, how much more upon a righteous repentance. Therefore pray: Lord, grant true penitence and grief.—Krummacher: Ahab was, and is, an example to warn us how it is possible that notwithstanding the most remarkable visitations of God, the strong est incentives, the liveliest emotions, and in spite of a certain sort of repentance and wonderful granting of prayer, a man may still, at the very last, be lost.


1 Kings 21:1; 1 Kings 21:1.—[The Vat. Sept., which, as before noted, transposes chaps, 20. and 21., omits in consequence the mark of time at the beginning of 1 Kings 21:1. The Alex. Sept., which follows the Heb. in that matter, designates Naboth as an Israelite instead of a Jezreelite, throughout the chapter.

1 Kings 21:2; 1 Kings 21:2.—[The Sept. omits the reason for Ahab’s coveting the vineyard.

1 Kings 21:2; 1 Kings 21:2.—[Several MSS., followed by most of the VV., supply the word or and read ואם.

1 Kings 21:4; 1 Kings 21:4.—[The Vat. Sept. gives a mere epitome of this ver.; the Alex, follows the Heb.

1 Kings 21:6; 1 Kings 21:6.—[The Sept. instead of vineyard here introduce from 1 Kings 21:4 “the inheritance of my fathers.” As this phrase explains Naboth’s reason (see Exeg. Com.) for refusing Ahab, the addition is not likely to be right.

1 Kings 21:8; 1 Kings 21:8.—The k’tib הַסְּפָרִים is to be unhesitatingly preferred to the k’ri ספרים. [The k’ri is the reading of many MSS., but the k’tib reappears in the next ver. and 1 Kings 21:11 unquestioned.

1 Kings 21:8; 1 Kings 21:8.—[The Chald. and Syr. omit this pronoun, which certainly does not seem necessary in itself; but, from its repetition in 1 Kings 21:11, doubtless belongs here also.

1 Kings 21:16; 1 Kings 21:16.—[The Sept. here curiously interpolates the statement, “he rent his clothes and put on sackcloth. And it came to pass after this that Ahab,” &c. Ahab seems to have felt no need of such decent hypocrisy.

1 Kings 21:18; 1 Kings 21:18.—[Our author in his translation supplies the ellipsis by the verb dwelleth rather than is, since the reference must be to his dwelling-place, and at this moment he was in Jezreel.

1 Kings 21:19; 1 Kings 21:19.—[The Sept. considerably modifies this prophetic denunciation: “In everyplace where the sows and the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, there shall the dogs lick thy blood, and harlots wash in thy blood.”

1 Kings 21:19; 1 Kings 21:19.—[ גַּס־אַתָּה an emphatic repetition of the pron. suff, literally and well expressed in the A.V.

1 Kings 21:21; 1 Kings 21:21.—[The k’ri gives the full form מֵבִיא here, and אָבִיא ver.29, of this verb, in which there appears to be a peculiar tendency of the א to fall away.—F. G.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 21". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/1-kings-21.html. 1857-84.
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