AHAB AND THE VINEYARD OF NABOTH
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1Ki . Naboth the Jezreelite—Naboth' נָבוֹת, fruits, according to Gesenius; but pre-eminence, according to Fürst. He was an Israelite resident in the town of Jezreel (the Alex. Sept. follows the Hebrew, and designates him an Israelite throughout the whole chapter) owning a plot of ground (2Ki 9:25-26) situate on the eastern slope of the hill of Jezreel, as well, also, as the vineyard, whose location is uncertain. Vineyard in Jezreel—a town in the tribe of Issachar (Jos 19:18), where the kings of Israel had a palace (1Ki 18:45). Hard by the palace of Ahab—The Sept. reads instead, "bard by the threshing floor of Ahab, king of Samaria." The dispute as to location of the vineyard turns upon the question whether "the palace" here referred to was the king's residence at Jezreel or at Samaria. Note, however, that the words in 1Ki 21:4—Ahab came into his house, &c.—are identical with those in chap. 1Ki 20:43, where the further explanation points to Samaria as his home. Further, in 1Ki 21:8, we find that Jezebel sends her letters to Jezreel, as if she were resident in some other place; and that the elders of Jezreel send her tidings (1Ki 21:14) of Naboth's death, which would certainly have been superfluous if she were at the time resident in Jezreel. So probably the vineyard was hard by the palace in Samaria, and the king came to Naboth at Jezreel to ask this possession of its owner.
1Ki . Naboth said, the Lord forbid it me—Lit., Be it to me far from Jehovah ( לִּי מֵיְהָוֹה) that I, &c., indicating both the personal loyalty of his faith in Jehovah, and his religious purpose not to sell God's heritage to an idolatrous king.
1Ki . Why is thy spirit sad?—See for סָרָה note on chap. 1Ki 20:43—resentful.
1Ki . Dost thou now govern Israel?—Either an ironical taunt. or a rallying call; for the words are usually translated imperatively: "Thou! exert thy royal sway over Israel!"
1Ki . She wrote letters—This is the solitary instance recorded in the Bible of a woman being able to write. Female education in the East then, as now, rendered it extremely exceptional for a woman to possess such a qualification. Sent the letters (lit. the letter) unto the elders and nobles that, in his city, dwelt with Naboth—a statement which affirms both that Jezreel was the native city of Naboth, and his usual abode. These elders and nobles were his fellow-townsmen.
1Ki . Proclaim a fast—An observance only proper on occasions of great distress and national calamities (Jud 20:26; 1Sa 7:6; Joe 1:14; Joe 2:12). This would impart an appearance of gravity to the frivolous but foul procedure.
1Ki . Thou didst blaspheme God and the king— בֵּרַכְתָּ אֱלֹהִים וָמֶלֶךְ. The word בָּרַךְ means to bless, reverence, adore. "Thou hast blessed Elohim [not using the name JEHOVAH] and the king." Keil accepts the words as meaning, Thou hast blessed—i.e., bid farewell to, taken thy leave of God and the king; because at departure one utters a benediction [cf. Deu 13:11; Lev 24:14 sq.; and 2Sa 16:9].
1Ki . Did as Jezebel had sent unto them—Shows their absolute moral degradation and slavish submission before the tyranny of this woman.
1Ki . Arise, take possession … for Naboth is not alive, but dead—His possessions became confiscated, falling into the king's hands (cf. 2Sa 16:4; Deu 13:16).
1Ki . Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard—From Samaria to Jezreel.
HOMILETICS OF 1Ki
THE OVERMASTERING POWER OF A COVETOUS SPIRIT
I. That a covetous spirit is unsatisfied with the most ample possessions (1Ki ). About twenty-five miles from Samaria Ahab had his summer palace, his vast park and favourite hunting seat at Jezreel—the Windsor of England, and Fontainebleau of France. After his successful wars with Syria, he gives himself to luxury and pleasure, and employs himself in enlarging and beautifying his summer residence. Not content with what he already possesses, he covets what belongs to his subjects, as the people who demanded a king were forewarned would be the case (1Sa 8:14). More particularly is he anxious to possess a vineyard owned by one Naboth, of an illustrious family, and to add it to the royal demesnes. But Naboth refuses to part with his property, and confirms his refusal in the name of Jehovah. It is the curse of covetousness to be never satisfied. As a ship may be overladen with gold and silver even unto sinking, and yet have compass and sides enough to hold ten times more, so covetous men, though they have enough to sink them, yet have they never enough to satisfy them. "This kyte-footed corruption, wherever it domineers, blasts and banishes all nobleness of spirit, natural affection, humanity, reason, discretion, manliness, mutual entertainment, intercourse of kindness and love; so that, for any fair dealing, a man had as good converse with a cannibal as with a truly covetous caitiff."
II. That a covetous spirit gives way to unmanly and helpless distress when it cannot have all it wishes (1Ki ). Like a spoilt child, because he cannot have his toy, Ahab punishes himself by yielding to a fit of fretfulness and sour temper that completely prostrated him. Avarice, like every other evil passion, leads to moral pauperism. "Had covetous men, as the fable goes of Briareus, each of them one hundred hands," writes Dryden, "they would all of them be employed in grasping and gathering, and hardly one of them in giving or laying out; a thing in itself so monstrous that no thing in nature besides it is like it, except it be death and the grave, the only things I know which are always carrying off the spoils of the world, and never making restitution." Covetousness has been well called "the great sepulchre of all other passions." The covetous monarch, surrounded with the luxuries and wealth of a kingdom, blubbers and frets because he does not own a paltry herb garden.
"Some, o'er enamoured of their bags, run mad,
Groan under gold, yet weep for want of bread."
III. That a covetous spirit is utterly unscrupulous as to the means by which its wishes are gratified (1Ki ).
1. It is at the mercy of the vilest agents. Jezebel knew how to take advantage of the weak moments of her weak husband, and, unhappily, had at her beck the agents who were ready to carry out any diabolical plot she might invent. "Big and black though the villany appear, the wicked queen resolved that Naboth should be executed for treason, and then his property, with the coveted vineyard included, would all revert to the crown as a criminal's possessions. While her poor fool of a husband, therefore, is sleeping off his wounded pride, she, never accustomed to stand upon trifles, commits the fourfold crimes of forgery, false-witness, perjury, and murder. We are shocked when we read of the massacre of Glencoe in the very midst of the open-handed hospitality of the children of the mountains. Our whole soul shudders at the story of that Russian soldier who, during the Crimean war, solicited in his dying agonies a cup of cold water from an English officer, and then pointed his pistol right at his benefactor's heart. And with kindred feelings we read of the horrible contradiction before us—an unoffending follower of God compelled to surrender his life, a victim to the machinations of a heathen queen, screening, but only in reality aggravating, her wickedness under the thin disguise of a new-born religious zeal."
2. It weakly sanctions deeds it has not itself the courage to do or prevent. Ahab must have known about the execution and its alleged cause; and he knew Jezebel well enough to know that she would not hesitate at any means by which her ends could be gained. Naboth stood between him and his avaricious purpose; and he cared not how the obstacle was removed. The sufferings of Naboth and his sons, who perished with their father (2Ki ), caused the king no uneasiness. A covetous spirit is essentially mean, cowardly, heartless.
IV. That a covetous spirit eagerly clutches its prize, little caring how it has been acquired, and little dreaming what a curse it may bring (1Ki ). Without wasting a pang of regret upon the cruel fate of his harmless victims, Ahab drives with all speed to Jezreel, and jauntily enters into possession of the confiscated estate. "He walks round and round; he admires trellis and cluster, and branches hanging over the wall. He plans improvement here and enlargement there, by way of preparing for the flower-garden he has in view. And now he turns to leave, when, just at the very moment, let us indulge the fancy, he is plucking a bunch of the dead man's grapes as a gift for Jezebel, there confronts him—like an apparition from the other world, like the ghost of Naboth, like Banquo in another scene—one he has not seen for more than seven years, never since they parted that night of the rushing storm at the gate of Jezreel—one he had thought Jezebel had either effectually frightened, or who had gone back to his mountains, or down to his grave; and yet there he is! still with the long shaggy locks, the sheep-skin mantle, the dark knitted brows, and the thunder peal about to issue from those awful lips." (Howat.) It is ELIJAH! and from his mouth the trembling Ahab receives his doom—the overthrow and ruin of his house. A covetous man may gain his unholy ends, but he gains also disappointment, misery, remorse. What is wealth, when peace of mind and the hope of the heavenly inheritance are gone?
1. The demands of covetousness are insatiable.
2. A covetous spirit is easily tempted to commit the worst crimes.
3. Covetousness prepares the instrument of its own torment.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1Ki . Naboth's vineyard. In this narrative we have an exhibition of the following topics:—I. Covetousness. Ahab saw Naboth's garden; its situation, and in all likelihood its condition, made it desirable in his eyes. He offered Naboth a price for it which he declined, because it was unlawful and dishonourable to sell it. This ought to have satisfied Ahab, but it did not; he was annoyed and vexed at being refused, and willingly allowed his unscrupulous wife to resort to any means to secure for him his coveted prize. How many are led away by covetousness; resorting to illegal means to gain the object of their desire. David conceived an inordinate desire for Uriah's wife, and planned the death of her husband that his desire might be gratified. II. Manly independence. Naboth said to Ahab: "The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my father unto thee." It was a great temptation to Naboth to yield to the expressed wish of the king; he might gain favour, and be remembered by the king in many ways to his temporal advantage. Many yield to temptations of this kind; they will do almost anything to gain the favour or the kindly notice of the wealthy or the influential in society. But Naboth was no sneak. He would not satisfy right to the pleasure even of the king, and told him so. It is well for men to cultivate kindliness and obliging manners, but not at the expense of their own self-respect and manly independence. III. Despotism. As soon as Jezebel made the proposal to murder Naboth, it was readily executed. It does not appear as if there was any protest against it, either on the ground of illegality or unrighteousness. There was no fear of any legal consequences. The will of the queen was supreme, and there would be no desire to resist it. Such deeds as the murder of Naboth fill the annals of despotism. IV. Divine retribution. The death of Naboth was duly announced to Ahab, and he arose to go to take possession of the coveted vineyard. He little thought that the whole proceedings were watched by another King—that the blood of Naboth had ascended into the ears of the Lord of Hosts, crying for vengeance. He thought not of these things; but God marked his sin, and sent Elijah to charge him with it, and to declare unto him God's vengeance. Even so the sinner may indulge in his sinful course, never thinking that there is an all-seeing eye resting upon him.—The Study and Pulpit.
—Voices from Naboth's vineyard I. One of these is—Beware of covetousness. That vineyard has its counterpart in the case and conduct of many still. Covetousness may assume a thousand chameleon hues and phases, but these all resolve themselves into a sinful craving after something other than what we have. Covetousness of means: a grasping after material wealth, the race for riches. Covetousness of place: aspiring after other positions in life than those which Providence has assigned to us, not because they are better, but because they are other than our God-appointed lot, invested with an imaginary superiority. And the singular and sad thing is, that such inordinate longings are most frequently manifested, as with Ahab, in the case of those who have least cause to indulge them. How many there are surrounded with all possible affluence and comfort, who put a life thorn in their side by some similar chase after a denied good, some similar fretting about a denied, trifle. Be assured that carping discontent will grow, if you feed it, till it comes to eat out the kernel of life's happiness; a discontented manhood or womanhood culminating in that saddest of conditions, a peevish old age. II. Another of the voices is, Keep out of the way of temptation. If Ahab, knowing his weakness and besetting sin, had put a restraint upon his covetous eye, and not allowed it to stray upon his neighbour's forbidden property, it would have saved a black page in his history, and the responsibility of a heinous crime. If Achan had not cast his eye on the goodly Babylonish garment, the shekels of silver and the wedge of gold, he would have saved Israel a bloody discomfiture and himself a fearful end. Each has his own strong temptation—his besetting sin. That sin should be specially watched, muzzled, curbed; that gate of temptation specially padlocked and sentinelled. III. Another voice is, Be sure your sin will find you out. Ahab and Jezebel, as we have seen, had managed to a wish their accursed plot. The wheels of crime had moved softly along without one rut or impediment in the way. The two murderers paced their blood-stained inheritance without fear of challenge or discovery. Their time for retribution did come at last, although years of gracious forbearance were suffered to intervene. And are the principles of God's moral government different now?—Macduff.
1Ki . An undisciplined nature. I. Fancies it may gain possession of whatever it covets. II. Cannot understand the motives of those who refuse to gratify its desires. III. Easily overwhelmed with disappointment and chagrin.
1Ki . Naboth had a fair vineyard; it had been better for him to have had none: his vineyard yielded him the bitter grapes of death. Why do we call those goods, which are many times the bane of the owner? Naboth's vineyard lay near to the court of Jezebel: it had been better for him had it been planted in the wilderness. It was now the perpetual object of an evil eye, and stirred those desires which could neither be well desired, nor satisfied: eminency is still joined with peril, obscurity with peace. There can be no worse annoyance to an inheritance, than the greatness of an evil neighbour.—Bp. Hall.
1Ki . 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 neighbour's goods, nor anything that is his." Let the needy be thy first care, not thine own pleasure. 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.—Lange.
1Ki . True courage the fruit of righteousness. 1 Regards worldly possessions as a sacred trust.
2. Witnesses for God in the midst of prevalent idolatry.
3. Dares to oppose the wishes of an unrighteous king.
—Naboth shows, by the very first words of his reply, that he is a worshipper of Jehovah, not of Baal; and that he does not fear to confess his faith before the idolatrous king. He also indicates by the form of his asseveration that he considers it would be wrong for him to comply with the king's request. It is plain, therefore, that we have not here a mere refusal arising out of a spirit of sturdy independence, or one based upon sentiment—the sentiment which attaches men to ancestral estates. Naboth objects to the king's proposal as wrong. This is best explained by those passages of the law which forbid the alienation of landed property, and especially the transfer, of estates from one tribe to another (Lev ; Num 36:7).—Speaker's Comm.
1Ki . Godless people regard the care taken by the pious to observe reverently the divine law as so much useless scrupulousness. 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. 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.—Lange.
—O the impotent passion and insatiable desires of covetousness! Ahab is lord and king of all the territories of Israel: Naboth is the owner of one poor vineyard. Ahab cannot enjoy Israel if Naboth enjoy his vineyard. Whether is the wealthier? I do not hear Naboth wish for anything of Ahab's; 1 hear Ahab wishing, not without indignation of a repulse, for somewhat from Naboth. Riches and poverty are no more in the heart than in the hand: he is wealthy that is contented; he is poor that wanteth more.—Bp. Hall.
1Ki . The apparently fortunate, but really unfortunate and accursed, marriage of Ahab and Jezebel. I. 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 things, she strengthens him in his grasping desire after others' property, and leads him on still further. II. 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. III. 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.—Lange.
1Ki . The terrible power of an impious queen. I. Knows how to take advantage of a weak and fretful husband (1Ki 21:5-7). II. Shrinks not from adopting the most diabolical means of accomplishing her designs (1Ki 21:8-10). III. Can command accomplices in carrying out any deed of villany (1Ki 21:11-12). IV. Is permitted to perpetrate the most horrible acts of cruelty and murder (1Ki 21:13-14).
1Ki . He that caused the disease sends him a physician. Satan knew of old how to make use of such helpers. Jezebel comes to Ahab's bedside, and casts cold water in his face, and puts into him spirits of her own extracting. Ahab wanted neither wit nor wickedness; yet is he in both a very novice to this Sidonian dame. There needs no other devil than Jezebel, whether to project evil or work it. She chides the pusillanimity of her dejected husband, and persuades him his rule cannot be free unless it be licentious; that there should be no bounds to sovereignty but will. Already hath she contrived to have by fraud and force what was denied to entreaty. Nothing needs but the name, but the seal of Ahab: let her alone with the rest. How present are the wits of the weaker sex for the devising of wickedness!—Bp. Hall.
1Ki . But what damnable dissimulation was it in this devilish creature to do her feats under pretext of a fast! This was like that Italian device of a pocket stone bow which, held under a cloak, shoots needles with violence to pierce a man's body, yet leaves a wound scarcely discernible; or, rather, that other, more detestable, of a pocket church-book with a pistol hid in the binding, which turning to such a page discharges—a plot to entrap him you hate, whilst you are at your devotions together, when there is less suspicion. If Jezebel proclaim a fast, let Naboth look to his life. The Jesuits enjoined a fast and set forth a sevenfold psalmody for the good success of the gunpowder plot; wherein, Rabshakeh-like, they would persuade the world that they come not up against us without the Lord!—Trapp.
1Ki . Evil masters can ever find evil servants, who do their will from ambition or covetousness. 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 favour 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!—Lange.
1Ki . Ill-gotten gains.
1. Will not bear examination as to the methods of their acquisition.
2. Are eagerly and gladly seized.
3. Never give the satisfaction expected.
4. Entail unspeakable anxiety and suffering.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1Ki . Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?—Crime traced back to the true criminal, for he, even more than Jezebel, actuated the deed. God is "swift to mark iniquity." See Note on chap. 1Ki 22:38.
1Ki . Hast thou found me?—The Vulgate errs, and Luther is thereby misled. "Hast thou ever found me thine enemy?" הַמְצָאתַנִי from מָצָא, to come at, overtake, acquire, arrest, seize.
1Ki . Will take away thy posterity—Lit. "Extinguish thee before me."
1Ki . Seest thou how Ahab humbleth, &c.—Even the external sign of Ahab's repentance God regards as occasion for reprieve, though Ahab was so notable and manifold a criminal (1Ki 21:25-26) He is "slow to anger and of great mercy" But the sentence would come upon his son, Jehoram, who, met by Jehu, was mortally wounded, and the house of Ahab thus ceased. Elijah's prophecy of Ahab's despicable death was literally fulfilled, as the following chapter shows.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 1Ki
THE MESSENGER OR APPROACHING DOOM
THE histories of the Old Testament were designed as standing lessons of edification to the church; by them, those who are dead may be considered as still speaking to us. They speak to us of the frailty of man, of the evil of sin and its certain punishment, of the spirituality of the law of God, of the need we have of a Saviour and a Sanctifler; they preach to us, as Paul did to Felix, of temperance, righteousness, and judgment to come, and they make us tremble. He who gives the dew, the sunbeam, the rain, and the snow to refresh and fertilize the world of nature, has given to us the promises, prophecies, doctrines, and histories of His Word to enrich and vivify the world of grace. In this paragraph we learn the effect of the message of God sent by Elijah in producing in Ahab a temporary humiliation; and the effect of Ahab's humiliation in securing a temporary reprieve.
I. That the messenger of approaching doom is divinely commissioned (1Ki ). "The word of the Lord came to Elijah." Daring and fierce as was Elijah, he would never have dared to pronounce this fearful doom on the house of Ahab if he had not been divinely authorized. It is a vast privilege to be the messenger of mercy to the erring, but it also involves the responsibility of sometimes being the messenger of wrath and judgment. Woe be to him who threatens more or less than God commands: in the one case he sins by presumption; in the other, by lack of fidelity. Some men are more fitted by temperament and training to be messengers of doom. The stern and faithful Elijah would not shrink from declaring all the counsel of God.
II. That the messenger of approaching doom comes to us when enjoying the fruits of the sin he denounces (1Ki ). Ahab got his vineyard, entered into possession, and was enjoying its produce and the prospect of what he intended it to be, when he is startled by the voice of vengeance sounding in his ears. The scene is changed, the very leaves of the vineyard seem dripping with the blood of the murdered Naboth, demanding instant retribution! Every sinner carries in his breast an Elijah—an accusing conscience, which in the worst is never wholly extinct. As the serpent in the fable which, while frozen with cold, was torpid and insensible, and seemed utterly bereft of all vitality, yet when brought before the fire quickly recovered its venom and its strength, so conscience may remain dull and lifeless for a season; but when once, through the Providence of God or the force of affliction or the sentence of the law, it is quickened into life, the sinner will assuredly find that it has not lost its energy, and will never lose its sting. The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear? By rendering our moral consciousness so acute and discriminating, God retains a powerful hold of the mind of man, and He has wonderfully adapted His holy Word to act upon our affections, to awaken our fears, and to exhibit before us the sad consequences of guilt.
III. That the messenger of approaching doom delivers his message with fearlessness and fidelity (1Ki ).
1. The doom is pronounced with unmistakable explicitness and fulness. It is threefold in its application. The first had respect to Ahab himself (1Ki ). The second to Jezebel (1Ki 21:23). The third had respect to the posterity of both (1Ki 21:21-22; 1Ki 21:24). As the sin of one is extended to and shared by others, so is its punishment. The sinner will be made fully aware of the sins for which he suffers, and it is this that will add sharpness to his suffering.
2. The doom was justified by the excess of wickedness committed (1Ki ; 1Ki 21:25-26). These words intensify the thought of Ahab's extreme wickedness, and show the reason of the bitter judgments that were pronounced against him. He had become so utterly abandoned to sin and crime as to lose all moral principle and power to resist evil. He allowed himself to be completely governed by his wicked and imperious wife. Her influence caused him to introduce the worship of Baal (1Ki 16:31), to allow the slaughter of the prophets of Jehovah (1Ki 18:4), to let Elijah be driven into banishment (1Ki 19:2), and finally to murder Naboth and seize his land (1Ki 21:6; 1Ki 21:15). The justice of God provides that the punishment of the sinner shall be commensurate with the nature and extent of his sin.
IV. That the messenger of approaching doom may not always see the fulfilment of the prediction he is commanded to announce.
1. Threatened doom may produce a temporary repentance (1Ki ). Under the severe threatening of the prophet, seconded by the sure voice of conscience, Ahab bowed himself to the dust, oppressed by a burden too heavy for him. What could be more foreign to the habits of this proud, luxurious, and tyrannical prince than sackcloth and fasting—than torn garments and the slow footstep and dejected eye of penitential grief? What can be a greater proof of the power of God over the mind of sinners, when such a man is convinced, though he is not converted; is humbled, though he is not renewed. There may be a sorrow of the eyes, but not of the heart; sorrow for the threatened judgment, but not for the sin which provoked that judgment.
2. A temporary repentance may delay threatened doom (1Ki ). It is evident that Ahab's repentance, if repentance it may be called, was partial, transitory, and insincere, accompanied by no change of heart or life; but such as it was it illustrates God's readiness to notice the first symptoms of return. Ahab's humiliation shall prorogue the judgment: such as was the penitence, such shall be the reward—a temporary reward for a temporary penitence. If a partial penitent may be reprieved, surely a sincere believing penitent will be justified!
1. Sin cannot remain long without discovery.
2. God gives ample warning before He punishes the sinner.
3. God gives the utmost credit to the slightest symptoms of repentance: He is slow to wrath.
4. Repentance, if not genuine, though it may delay, will not finally avert, the deserved punishment.
AHAB AND ELIJAH (1Ki )
The keynote of Elijah's character is force—the force of righteousness. The whole of his career is marked by this one thing—the strength of a righteous man. And then, on the other hand, this Ahab—the keynote of his character is the weakness of wickedness, and the wickedness of weakness Think of him weakly longing—as idle and weak minds in lofty places always do—after something that belongs to somebody else; with all his gardens, coveting the one little herb-plot of the poor Naboth; weak and worse than womanly, turning his face to the wall and weeping when he cannot get it; weakly desiring to have it, and yet not knowing how to set about accomplishing his wish; and then—as is always the case, for there are always tempters everywhere for weak people—that beautiful fiend by his side, like the other queen in our great drama, ready to screw the feeble man that she is wedded to, to the sticking place, and to dare anything, to grasp that on which the heart was set. And so the deed is done: Naboth sale stoned out of the way; and Ahab goes down to take possession! The lesson of that is, my friend, weak dallying with forbidden desires is sure to end in wicked clutching at them. The king gets the crime done, shuffles it off himself on to the shoulders of his ready tools in the little village, goes down to get his toy and gets it, but he gets Elijah along with it, which was more than he reckoned on. When, all full of impatience and hot baste to solace himself with his new possession, he rushes down to seize the vineyard, he finds there, standing at the gate, waiting for him—black-browed, motionless, grim, an incarnate conscience—the prophet he had not seen for years, the prophet he had last seen on Carmel bearding alone the servants of Baal, and executing on them the solemn judgment of death; and there leaps at once to his lip, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?"
I. I find here, in the first place, this broad principle: Pleasure won by sin is peace lost. That is my first thought. Ah! my brother, it does not need that there should be a rebuking prophet standing by to work out that law. God commits the execution of it to the natural operations of our own consciences and our spirits.
1. Here is the fact in men's natures on which it partly depends: when sin is yet tempting us, it is loved; when sin is done, it is loathed. Action and reaction, as the mechanicians tell us, are equal and contrary. The more violent the blow with which we strike upon the forbidden pleasure, the further back the rebound after the stroke. When sin tempts—when there hangs glittering before a man the golden fruits that he knows he ought not to touch, then, amidst the noise of passion or the sophistry of desire, conscience is silenced for a little while. Like a mad bull, the man that is tempted lowers his head and shuts his eyes, and rushes right on. The moment that the sin is done, that moment the passion or desire which tempted to it is satiated, and ceases to exist for the time. Passion fulfils itself and expires. The desire is satisfied, and it turns into a loathing. The tempter draws us to him, and then unveils the horrid face that lies beneath the mask. When the deed is done and cannot be undone, then comes satiety; then comes the reaction of the fierce excitement, the hot blood begins to flow more slowly; then rises up in the heart, conscience; then rises up in majesty in the soul, reason; then flushes and flares before the eye the vivid picture of the consequences. His enemy has found the sinner. He has got the vineyard—Ay, but Elijah is there, and his dark and stern presence sucks all the brightness and the sunshine out of the landscape; and Naboth's blood stains the leaves of Naboth's garden! There is no sin which is not the purchase of pleasure at the price of peace.
2. The silence of a seared conscience is not peace. For peace, you want something more than that a conscience shall be dumb. For peace, you want something more than that you shall be able to live without the daily sense and sting of sin. You want not only the negative absence of pain, but the positive presence of a tranquillising guest in your heart—that conscience of yours, testifying with you, blessing you in its witness, and shedding abroad rest and comfort. It is easy to kill a conscience, after a fashion, at least. It is easy to stifle it. As the old historian says about the Roman armies that marched through a country, burning and destroying everything: "They make a solitude, and they call it peace;" and so men do with their living consciences: they stifle them, sear them, forcibly silence them somehow or other, and then, when there is a dead stillness in the heart, broken by no voice of either approbation or blame, but doleful, like the unnatural quiet of a deserted city, then they say it is peace, and the man's uncontrolled passions and unbridled desires dwell solitary in the fortress of his own spirit! You may almost attain to that. Do you think it is a goal to be set before you as an ideal of human nature? The loss of peace is certain, the presence of agony is most likely, from every act of sin.
3. And so it is not only a crime that men count it when they do wrong, but it is a blunder. Sin is not only guilt, but it is a mistake. "The game is not worth the candle," according to the French proverb. The thing that you buy is not worth the price you pay for it. Sin is like a great forest-tree that we may sometimes see standing up green in its leafy beauty, and spreading a broad shadow over half a field; but when we get round on the other side, there is a great dark hollow in the very heart of it, and corruption is at work there. It is like the poison tree in travellers' stories, tempting weary men to rest beneath its thick foliage, and insinuating death into the limbs that relax in the fatal coolness of its shade. It is like the apples of Sodom, fair to look upon, but turning to acrid ashes on the unwary lips. It is like the magician's rod that we read about in old books. There it lies; and if tempted by its glitter, or fascinated by the power it proffers you, you take it in your hand, the thing starts into a serpent with erected crest and sparkling eye, and plunges its quick barb into the hand that holds it, and sends poison through all its veins. Do not touch it. Every sin buys pleasure at the price of peace. Elijah is always waiting at the gate of the ill-gotten possession.
II. Sin is blind to its true friends and its real foes. "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" Elijah was the best friend he had in his kingdom. And that Jezebel there, the wife of his bosom, whom he loved and thanked for this thing, she was the worst foe that hell could have sent him. Ay, and so it is always. The faithful rebuker, the merciful inflictor of pain, is the truest friend of the wrong-doer. The worst enemy of the sinful heart is the voice that either tempts it into sin, or lulls it into self-complacency.
1. And this is one of the certainest workings of evil desires in our spirits, that they pervert for us all relations of things—that they make us blind to all the moral truths of God's universe. Sin is blind as to itself, blind as to its own consequences, blind as to who are its friends and who are its foes, blind as to earth, blind as to another world, blind as to God. The man that walks in the vain show of transgression, whose heart is set upon evil—he fancies that ashes are bread, and stones gold (as in the old fairy story); and, on the other hand, he thinks that the true sweet is the bitter, and turns away from God's angels and God's prophets with "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" That is the reason, my friend, of not a little of the infidelity that haunts this world—that sin perverted and blinded stumbles about in its darkness, and mistakes the face of the friend for the face of the foe.
2. And then, again, God sends us a Gospel full of dark words about evil. It deals with that fact of sin as no other system ever did. There is no book like the Bible for these two things—for the lofty notion that it has about what man may be and ought to be, and for the notion that it has of what man is. It does not degrade human nature because it tells us the truth about human nature as it is. The darkest and bitterest sayings about transgression, they are veiled promises. It does not make the consequences of sin which it writes down. You and I make them for ourselves, and it tells us of them. Did the lighthouse make the rock that it stands on? Is it to be blamed for the shipwreck? If a man will go full tilt against the thing which he knows will ruin him, what is the right name for him that hedges it up with a prickly fence of thorns, and puts a great light above it, and writes below, "If thou comest here, thou diest?" Is that the work of an enemy? And yet that is why people talk about the gloomy views of the Gospel, about the narrow spirit of Christianity, about the harsh things that are here! The Bible did not make hell. The Bible did not make sin the parent of sorrow. The Bible did not make it certain that "any transgression and disobedience should reap its just recompense of reward." We are the causes of their coming upon ourselves; and the Bible but proclaims the end to which the paths of sin must lead, and beseechingly calls to us all, "Turn ye, turn ye! why will ye die?" And yet, when it comes to you, how many of you turn away from it, and say, "It is mine enemy!"
3. Ay, and more than that: sin makes us fancy that God Himself is our enemy; and sin makes that thought of God that ought to be most blessed and most sweet to us, the terror of our souls. God will not let us alone when we transgress. God in His love hath appointed that sin shall breed sorrow. But we—we do wrong; and then, for God's Providence, and God's Gospel, and God's Son, and God Himself, there rises up in our hearts the hostile feeling, and we think that He is turned our enemy, and fights against us! But oh! He only fights against us that we may submit, and love Him. If He comes to you with rebuke, and meets you when you are at the very door of your sin, and busy with your transgression, usher Him in, and thank Him, and bless Him for words of threatening, for merciful severity, for conviction of sin; because conviction of sin is the work of the Comforter; and all the threatenings and all the pains that follow and track like swift hounds the committer of evil, are sent by Him who loves too wisely not to punish transgression, and loves too well to punish without warning, and desires only, when He punishes, that we should turn from our evil way, and escape the condemnation. An enemy, or a friend—which is God in His truth to you?
III. The sin which mistakes the friendly appeal for an enemy lays up for itself a terrible retribution.
1. Elijah comes here and prophesies the fall of Ahab. The next peal, the next flash, fulfil the prediction. There, where he did the wrong, he died. In Jezreel, Ahab died. In Jezreel, Jezebel died. The threatened evil was foretold that it might lead the king to repentance, and that thus it might never need to be more than a threat; but, though Ahab was partially penitent, and partially listened to the prophet's voice, yet, for all that, he went on in his evil way. Therefore the merciful threatening becomes a stern prophecy, and is fulfilled to the very letter. And so when God's message comes to us, if we listen not to it, and turn not to its gentle rebuke, Oh! then we gather up for ourselves an awful futurity of judgment, when threatening darkens into punishment, and the voice that rebuked swells into the voice of final condemnation.
2. When a man fancies that God's prophet is his enemy, and dreams that his finding him out is a calamity and a loss, that man may be certain that something worse will find him out some day. His sins will find him out, and that is worse than the prophet's coming! Picture to yourself this—a human spirit shut up with the companionship of its forgotten and dead transgressions! There is a resurrection of acts, as well as of bodies. Think what it will be for a man to sit surrounded by that ghastly company, the ghosts of his own sins!—and as each forgotten fault and buried badness comes, silent and sheeted, into that awful society, and sits itself down there, think of him greeting each with the question, "Thou too? What! are you all here? Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" And from each bloodless spectral lip there tells out the answer, the knell of his life: "I have found thee, because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord."
3. Ah! my friend, if that were all we had to say, it might well stiffen us into stony despair. Thank God—thank God! such an issue is not inevitable. Christ speaks to you. Christ is your friend. He loves you, and He speaks to you now—speaks to you of your danger, but in order that you may never rush into it and be engulphed by it; speaks to you of your sin, but in order that you may say to him, "Take thou it away, O merciful Lord;" speaks to you of justice, but in order that you may never sink beneath the weight of His stroke; speaks to you of love, in order that you may know, and fully know, the depth of His graciousness. When he says to you, "I love thee; love thou Me; I have died for thee; trust Me, live by Me, and live for Me," will you not say to Him, "My Friend, My Brother, My Lord, and My God"?—(Condensed from A. Maclaren).
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1Ki . The inevitable doom of a wicked life. I. Does not come without sufficient warning. II. Will be commensurate with the sins committed. III. May be averted by timely repentance.
1Ki . Though much wickedness goes apparently without further evil results and without the chastisement 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.—Menken.
1Ki . "Hast thou killed?" Individual responsibility for wrong doings.
1. Not transferable.
2. Not to be evaded, though others commit the wrong to which we consent.
3. Unalterably recognised in punishment.
—"In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth," &c. So Aristobulus, king of Jewry, vomited abundance of blood, and soon after breathed his last, in the very place where he had slain his brother Antigonus, and acknowledged it to be the just hand of God upon himself. So Selymus, the great Turk, struck with a loathsome and incurable disease, ended his days at Chiurlus with an untimely and tormenting death, where he had disloyally joined battle against his aged father Bajazet, A.D. 1511. So Henry III., king of France, was stabbed to death by a Jacobin friar in that very chamber where he and his bloody brother Charles IX. had, some few years before, plotted the Parisian massacre.—Trapp.
1Ki . Great wickedness and terrible retribution. I. Idolatry is a great abomination in the sight of God. II. There is no possible sin an idolater may not be instigated to commit. III. The consequences of sin and its punishment extend to others.
1Ki . An unwelcome visitor.
1. The question of Ahub. "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?"
1. This question indicates past association. "Thou!" Ahab had frequently met with Elijah before: in the previous chapters we find the prophet and the king in most intimate relationships.
2. The question indicates disquietude on the part of Ahab. Directly the stately form of Elijah appeared to him, the greed, passion, and murder of the last few days crowded in upon his memory. How happy that Christian man whose very presence strikes terror into the sinful heart!
3. This question shows that criminal offenders often pass an incorrect judgment upon men who administer rebuke to them. Ahab designates Elijah his enemy. What a mistake! Had not the prophet been the instrument of benefit to the king and his country? Had he not prayed on Mount Carmel that the drought might cease, and had he not worked at the same time for the extermination of idolatry? What more could he have done, either for the temporal or spiritual welfare of his compeers? And yet Ahab calls such a man an enemy, when he was in reality his truest friend! See the blinding power of covetousness!
4. We gather from this question that the gratification of unholy desire never brings tranquillity. Humanly speaking, Ahab was in the very height of success. He was a king, the long-desired vineyard had come into his possession. What is there to prevent enjoyment? Surely nothing. Yes; God vindicates the oppressed; and though Naboth is dead, he is not forgotten. Heaven will not permit so foul a deed to go unpunished. Hence the monarch's unrest. II. The response of Elijah. "I have found thee."
1. Elijah was divinely commissioned to seek Ahab. "And the Word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Arise, go down to meet Ahab, king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it" (1Ki ). How God pursues evil men with mercy! Even punishment is but love speaking with more emphatic voice. Elijah was obedient to the expressed wish of God; he did not plead timidity at standing to rebuke a monarch; but went boldly and faithfully to perform his duty. What a happy pattern of a Christian minister!
2. The reason assigned for the search. "I have found thee because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord." The prophet, no doubt, came to rebuke Ahab, and also to be instrumental in his reformation. The king must not be left without some effort for his restoration to purity of character. When ministers know that men have fallen into deep sin, they should at once visit them, to prevent further apostacy, and, if possible, to repair the past. In doing this the prophet may meet with an unkindly greeting, but the ultimate issue will be good.
3. How high social position is frequently degraded. We find here that a king had sold himself to sin. Kings, of all men, should be righteous in their conduct, as their example must necessarily exercise a great influence upon the nation to which they belong. How fearful their responsibility! What a terrible bargain had Ahab made: "Sold thyself to work evil!"
1. It was a voluntary bargain—"Thyself."
2. It was a mad bargain—"To work evil." For how many lives would this be a fitting inscription! To work evil seems to be the life-purpose of many around us. Think of the destiny to which this will lead them! Let the time past of our lives suffice in which we have wrought evil.—J. S. Exell.
—Great is the power of conscience. Upon the last meeting, for aught we know, Ahab and Elijah parted friends. The prophet had lackeyed his coach and took a peaceful leave at this town's end: now, Ahab's heart told him, neither needed he any other messenger that God and His prophet were fallen out with him. His continuing idolatry, now seconded with blood, bids him look for nothing but frowns from heaven. A guilty heart can never be at peace. Had not Ahab known how ill he had deserved of God, he had never saluted his prophet by the name of an enemy: he had never been troubled to be found by Elijah, if his own breast had not found him out for an enemy to God. Much good may thy vineyard do thee, O thou king of Israel! Many fair flowers and savoury herbs may thy new garden yield thee! Please thyself with thy Jezebel in the triumph over the carcass of a scrupulous subject. Let me rather die with Naboth than rejoice with thee: his turn is over, thine is to come. The stones that overwhelmed innocent Naboth were nothing to those that smite thee.—Bp. Hall.
—It is Ahab's guilty conscience which forces these words from him the moment he sees Elijah. He has no object in uttering them. He feels that the last man whom he would have wished to see has come suddenly upon him, and found him—i.e., caught him—in the act of doing a great wrong. "O mine enemy," may refer partly to the old antagonism (1Ki ; 1Ki 18:17-18; 1Ki 19:2-3); but the feeling which it expresses is rather that of present opposition—the opposition between good and evil, light and darkness, through which "everyone that, doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" (Joh 3:20).—Speaker's Com.
1Ki . Woe to the man who, through the power that 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.—Menken.
1Ki . A royal penitent.
1. Humbled by the terror of threatened wrath.
2. Did not seek to repair the wrong he had done.
3. Had the outward signs of sincerity.
4. Was granted a temporary reprieve.
1Ki . What gave Ahab's re pentance its worth, and wherein it was defective.
1. 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.
2. 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 (Mat ). How wholly different the repentance of David (Psalms 51).—Lange.
—The very devils howl to be tormented. Grief is not ever a sign of grace. Ahab rends his clothes, he did not rend his heart; he puts on sackcloth, not amendment; he lies in sackcloth, but he lies in his idolatry; he walks softly, he walks not sincerely. Worldly sorrow causeth death. Happy is that grief for which the soul is the holier.—Bp. Hall.
—The repentance of Ahab resembles that of the Ninevites (Jon ). It has the same outward signs—fasting and sackcloth—and it has much the same in ward character. It springs not from love, nor from hatred of sin, but from fear of the consequences of sin. It is thus, although sincere and real while it lasts, shallow and exceedingly short-lived. God, however, to mark His readiness to receive the sinner who turns to Him, accepts the imperfect offering, as He likewise accepted the penitence of the Ninevites, and allows it to delay the execution of the sentence. Because Ahab humbled himself, the evil was deferred from his own to his son's days (1Ki 21:29). So the penitence of the Ninevites put off the fall of Nineveh for a century.—Speaker's Comm.
1Ki . Jehovah makes this announcement, not because He will punish the son for the sins of his father, but because He foresees that the son will also do evil in the sight of the Lord, and will, therefore, like his father, deserve punishment.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Kings 21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany