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AHAB AND ELIJAH IN NABOTH’S VINEYARD
1 Kings 21:20. And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee.
THE office of a minister is doubtless the most honourable that can be sustained by man; but it is at the same time the most arduous. If indeed the people to whom we carry the glad tidings of salvation were willing to put away their sins and embrace the proffered mercy, there would be comparatively little difficulty in discharging our duty: but men are averse to receive our message: they “love darkness rather than light;” yea, “they hate the light,” and would even extinguish it, rather than be constrained to see the evil of their ways. Hence those ministers who are faithful, are universally accounted “the troublers of Israel,” and the “enemies” of those whom they labour to convert: and they must go with their lives in their hands, if they will approve themselves to God and to their own conscience. The justice of this observation is manifest from the address of Ahab to the Prophet Elijah: in which we see,
How greedily men commit sin—
Horrible beyond measure was the conduct of Ahab which is here recorded—
[We blame not his wish to be accommodated with Naboth’s vineyard, nor the equitable offers which he made to obtain it: but we blame the inordinate desire which he entertained for so worthless an object, and the vexation which the disappointment of it occasioned. What a striking proof have we here of the misery which unsubdued lusts create! A king possessed of large dominions, augmented lately by the acquisition of immense power, is dejected, and sick at heart, because he cannot obtain a little plot of ground adjoining to his palace, of ground which the owner could not alienate consistently with the commands of God.
Jezebel his wife, indignant that a potent monarch, like him, should be thwarted in his desires, undertakes that they shall not long be ungratified. She takes his seal, and gives orders in his name, that the elders of Israel shall proclaim a fast, as if some great iniquity which menaced the safety of the state had been committed; that then they shall arrest Naboth as the guilty person, and suborn false witnesses, who shall accuse him of blaspheming God and the king; and that they shall instantly proceed to stone him to death. Shocking as this injustice was, methinks its enormity was small in comparison of that impious mockery of religion with which it was cloked. But what must have been the state of that nation where such an order could be given so confidently, and be carried into execution with such facility! Truly we can never be sufficiently thankful for the equity with which our laws are administered in Britain, and the security which we enjoy, both of our lives and properly, under their protection.
The tidings of Naboth’s death being announced by Jezebel, Ahab instantly proceeded to take possession of his vineyard; manifesting thereby his perfect approbation of all that Jezebel had done. Conscious of his cordial participation in her crimes, he could make no reply to the prophet’s accusation, “Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?” He could only say, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” In truth, his own conscience testified against him, that “he had sold himself to work evil in the sight of the Lord.”]
Horrible as this was, and far surpassing any thing which is commonly found amongst us, it yet is in many respects imitated by the great mass of mankind—
[It is surely no uncommon thing for men at this day to covet what belongs not to them, and so inordinately to desire it as to use unlawful and dishonest means of obtaining it. Nor is it uncommon for men to feel a disappointment so acutely, as to lose the enjoyment of every thing they possess through vexation about something unpossessed. And so are the consciences of some men formed, that they will connive at wickedness which of themselves they would not perpetrate, and avail themselves of the advantages which the iniquity of others has procured for them. Let valuable articles be offered for sale as having been clandestinely imported without a payment of the accustomed due; how few will turn away from them on account of the unlawful way in which they have been procured! How few will say, “Perhaps a conflict has been maintained for these, and the blood of some revenue-officer has been shed to preserve them:” at all events such risks are incurred by this traffic, and the lives of multitudes are daily endangered by it; and shall I satisfy my appetite with that for which so many “have jeoparded their lives [Note: 2 Samuel 23:15-17.]?” No: the generality of persons, who yet pretend to be honest and humane, will be as pleased with the possession of what has been thus iniquitously gained, as ever Ahab was with the acquisition of Naboth’s vineyard.
Again, there are those who for lucre sake will aid in betraying or corrupting an innocent unsuspecting female: and how many are there who would readily enough avail themselves of an advantage so obtained; or at least conspire to rivet the chains once forged, and to derive pleasure to themselves from the misery of their fellow-creatures!
Alas! the world is full of characters, whose “hearts are exercised with covetous practices [Note: 2 Peter 2:14.],” and who “work all uncleanness with greediness [Note: Ephesians 4:19.],” or, as the prophet expresses it, “do evil with both hands earnestly [Note: Micah 7:2-3. This paints with great exactness the conduct of multitudes who tread in the steps of Ahab: and the last clause expresses their complacency in their sins.].”]
If we presume to remonstrate with such persons, we shall soon see,
How indignantly they take reproof—
Great was the indignation which Ahab expressed against Elijah—
[Possibly there might be some surprise expressed in that question, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” Certain it is that Ahab little expected to find Elijah there; nor would he have gone down to the vineyard of Naboth, if he had at all conceived that he should have met there such an unwelcome monitor. But there was also much wrath contained in this address: “What business hast thou here? What dost thou mean by presuming to interfere with me? Art thou privy to what has been done? and art thou come to gratify thy spleen as in past times by denouncing judgments against me?” Never was a human being so odious in Ahab’s eyes, as Elijah was at this moment.]
This however only shews what is in the heart of all against the faithful servants of the Lord—
[Ministers are sent by God as monitors, to “shew the house of Jacob their sins [Note: Isaiah 58:1.]:” but who welcomes them in that character? Let them go to any company, or even to an individual, that is violating the laws of God, and let them testify against the evil that is committed; will their admonitions be received with thankfulness? Will not their interposition be deemed rather an impertinent intrusion? Yes; such is the light in which it will be viewed, however gross and unjustifiable the sin it that has been committed. When Amaziah had conquered the Edomites, he took their gods to be his gods in preference to Jehovah: and when Jehovah sent him a prophet to remonstrate with him on the folly and impiety of his conduct, instead of yielding to the reproof, he threatened the prophet with death, if he did not instantly “forbear [Note: 2 Chronicles 25:16.].” In the same light it is viewed, however gentle and kind the expostulation may be. When the inhabitants of Sodom required of Lot to deliver up to them the men whom he had received under his roof, nothing could exceed the tenderness of his reproof; “I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.” Nay, he even adopted the unjustifiable expedient of offering them his two daughters in their stead: yet, notwithstanding this astonishing condescension, they were full of wrath against him, and threatened to “deal worse with him than with them [Note: Genesis 19:5-9.].” We must further say, that it was viewed in this light, when God himself became the monitor. When Cain had murdered his brother Abel, God came to him and asked, “Where is Abel thy brother?” to which this impious reply was made, “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper [Note: Genesis 4:9.]?” The truth is, that men think themselves at liberty to do what they please against God; but no one is to presume to espouse the cause of God against them [Note: Amos 5:10.]. The plain language of their hearts is, “Our lips are our own: Who is Lord over us [Note: Psalms 12:4.]?”
It would be well too if this presumptuous spirit were confined to those who are the open enemies of God: but it is not unfrequently found even amongst the professed followers of Christ; for it was to such that the Apostle addressed himself, when he said, “Am I become your enemy because I tell you the truth [Note: Galatians 4:16.]?” Let religious professors be on their guard against this great evil; for, in proportion as it prevails, it gives reason to fear that they are deceiving their own souls, and that their religion is vain.]
But how boldly soever they reply against God, we may see in the answer of Elijah,
How certainly they ruin their own souls—
The fearless prophet soon taught the murderous monarch what he was to expect—
[“I have found thee;” and God has found thee, and his judgments ere long will find thee too. Agreeably to the prediction of Elijah, though the judgments were deferred in consequence of Ahab’s forced humiliation, the blood of Ahab, like Naboth’s, was licked by dogs, and the body of Jezebel was devoured by them in the very place where Naboth had been destroyed by her command. And, not long after, the elders of that very city Jezreel, who at the command of Ahab had slain Naboth, slew all the seventy sons of Ahab in one single night at the command of Jehu [Note: 2 Kings 9:26.]: so exactly were the threatened judgments of Elijah executed upon him and upon his whole family.]
In like manner shall the judgments of God overtake all who continue obstinate in their sins—
[“He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, saith the Lord, and that without remedy.” Men hope that “they shall escape for their wickedness:” but God beholds it, and will call them to account for it in due season. It is in vain to think that any thing shall be hid from him: for “there is no darkness nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves [Note: Job 34:21-22.].” Adam, after the commission of his sin, hoped to hide himself from God; but God sought him out; “Adam, where art thou?” Achan thought he had altogether escaped notice; but God appointed the lot to fall upon him, when, according to human calculations, the chance was two millions to one in favour of his escape. On many occasions too the punishment has instantly followed the detection, as in Gehazi’s leprosy, and the sudden death of Ananias. But where the sins of men remain concealed or unpunished in this world, they shall not escape notice in the world to come; for “God will bring every secret thing into judgment;” and fulfil in its utmost extent that awful declaration of the Psalmist, “making them like a fiery oven in his anger, and swallowing them up in his wrath [Note: Psalms 21:8-9.].”]
This subject speaks powerfully to different characters;
To wilful and impenitent transgressors—
[What Moses said to all Israel, we must say to you, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” You may glory in your success, and “roll your iniquity under your tongue as a sweet morsel, as Ahab did, but your sin shall ere long meet you to your sorrow and confusion; yea, every sin that you have ever committed shall meet you at the bar of judgment; and, when addressed by you as Elijah was, shall return you the same answer as he did to Ahab; “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? I have found thee.” The long-suffering of God may bear with you for a season; but “your judgment lingereth not, and your damnation slumbereth not [Note: 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 3:9.].”]
To those who have repented of their sin—
[Your sins, purged away by the precious blood of Christ, shall be sought for, but not be found [Note: Jeremiah 50:20.]: God has “blotted them out as a morning cloud,” and “cast them all behind him into the very depths of the sea [Note: Micah 7:18-19.].” It is an express engagement of his covenant, that “your sins and iniquities he will remember no more [Note: Hebrews 10:17.].” Think, my Brethren, what an unspeakable mercy this is, and let it be your daily and hourly employment to abase yourselves before God, and to wash in the fountain of your Redeemer’s blood.]
To those who are God’s messengers to a guilty world—
[It is at the peril of the watchman’s soul, if through sloth or cowardice he neglect to warn men of their approaching danger. Brethren, we must, like Elijah, put ourselves in the way of sinners, and bear testimony for God against them. This is a painful, but necessary duty. You admire the discharge of it in Elijah; do not then disapprove of it in us. But we must “speak, whether ye will hear, or whether ye will forbear.” God’s command is plain, “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully [Note: Jeremiah 23:28-29.].” O that every servant of the Lord might resemble this man of God! and that instead of having to appear as witnesses against you at the bar of judgment, we might now find you obedient to the word, and have you in that day as “our joy and crown of rejoicing” for evermore!]
THE FEIGNED REPENTANCE OF AHAB
1 Kings 21:27-29. And 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. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou 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.
MUCH there is which bears the semblance of religion, and which brings with it a present reward, whilst in the sight of God it is of no avail for the salvation of the soul. The hopes of the presumptuous, the fears of the desponding, the joys of the hypocrite, and the sorrows of the worldly, are of this kind. An instance of the last occurs in the passage which we have just read; wherein Ahab’s repentance was honoured with the notice and approbation of Heaven to a certain degree, though we have no reason to think that it ever availed for his final acceptance before God.
In speaking of Ahab’s repentance, we propose to shew,
What there was in it that was good—
If there had not been something good in it, God would never have called the attention of Elijah to it, or have honoured it with a reward. The two principal things in it that were good, were,
A fear of God’s judgments—
[Many, when God’s judgments are denounced against them, only “puff at them [Note: Psalms 10:4-5.]” as unworthy of any serious regard. They do not believe that God will execute them: the language of their hearts is, “God will not do good, neither will he do evil [Note: Amos 9:10; Zephaniah 1:12; Malachi 2:17.]” — — — But Ahab credited the predictions of the prophet, and sought deliverance from the judgments he foretold. This it was that prevailed in behalf of the Ninevites, when “they repented at the preaching of Jonah [Note: John 3:5; John 3:10.];” and God on the present occasion was so pleased with it, that he pointed it out with special approbation to the Prophet Elijah.]
An acknowledgment of God’s justice in inflicting them—
[Had Ahab thought himself unjustly dealt with, he would have complained of the severity of the sentence that was passed against him: but he complained only of his own sins, which had so justly brought on him the divine displeasure. This was a public testimony that God was worthy to be served, and that the most exalted monarchs are bound, as much as others, to be obedient to his laws. Such an acknowledgment, from so abandoned a character, was honourable to the Lord: it “gave glory to him [Note: Joshua 7:19; Jeremiah 13:16; Jeremiah 13:18.]” as a God of holiness and power, and consequently was so far good and acceptable in his sight.]
Still, as it availed not for his salvation, it will be proper to shew,
Wherein it was defective— The terms wherein it is set forth are doubtless strong; but yet it was altogether defective;
In its principle—
[If there had been no punishment denounced against him, Ahab would have felt little concern about his iniquities: he had no real hatred of sin, no ingenuous shame on account of his having transgressed against so good a God. It was fear, and fear only, that called forth his penitential acknowledgments. But, if his repentance had been genuine, he would have mourned for his sins even though there had been no punishment annexed to them [Note: Ezekiel 20:43; Ezekiel 36:31.]; he would have seen an hatefulness in them, as transgressions of the holy law of God; and would have hated and abhorred himself on account of them, even though God should have blotted them from the book of his remembrance [Note: Ezekiel 16:63.]. Hatred of sin, and not fear of punishment, is the true source of penitential sorrow.]
In its measure—
[His repentance was expressed only by external signs, such as fasting and clothing himself with sackcloth: but it should have proceeded to operate in the renovation of his heart and life. He should have instantly begun to put away his sins. But we read not of any such effects produced upon him. He turned not from his idolatry, nor did he, as far as we know, restore the vineyard to Naboth’s family. But true repentance would have led him to mortify his besetting sins [Note: Hosea 14:1-3; Hosea 14:8.]: that alone is the repentance which is not to be repented of.]
In its end—
[Could Ahab have escaped the miseries he had brought upon himself, he would have been contented though God had still been as much dishonoured as ever. He had no view to God’s glory, but only to his own safety. But if his sorrow had been of a godly sort, he would have inquired, how he might best counteract all the evil he had done, and cause his subjects to honour Jehovah as much as they had before slighted and despised him [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:10-11.].]
Nevertheless God was pleased to reward it: and it is of importance to inquire,
What the honour which God put upon it was
designed to teach us—
It was designed to shew,
That God will not overlook the smallest things that are done for him—
[We have many instances in Scripture of actions rewarded, even where there was little, if any, reference to him in the minds of the actors. Ebed-melech had some regard to God in the services he rendered to Jeremiah the prophet: Jehu was more actuated by pride than any feeling of true piety: and Nebuchadnezzar, in his siege of Tyre, had not the least idea that he was doing Jehovah’s work: yet were they all rewarded for the services they performed [Note: 2 Kings 10:30; Jer 38:7-10 with 39:15–18; Ezekiel 29:17-20.]: and if those of us who have done the least for God would consult the records of their lives, they would find that he has in some way or other recompensed to them whatever they have done, and never long continued in their debt.]
That he will surely receive every true penitent—
[St. Paul, in reference to the rites of the ceremonial law, argues thus: “If the blood of bulls and of goats availed for the least things, how much more shall the blood of Christ avail for the greatest [Note: Hebrews 9:13-14.].” In like manner we may justly say in reference to the history before us, if the feigned repentance of Ahab availed for the deferring of temporal judgments, how much more shall true repentance avail for the removal of all sins, and for the everlasting salvation of the soul! Let any one only see how God longs to behold his people returning to him [Note: Luke 15:5; Luke 15:9; Luke 15:23-24.], — — — and how he rejoices over them when they do return [Note: Jeremiah 13:27; Hosea 8:5; Hosea 11:7-8.], — — — and we shall not doubt, but that instead of “willing the death of any sinner, he desires that all should turn from their wickedness and live [Note: Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9.].” “He will not despise the day of small things [Note: Hosea 4:10.];” but will hear the groans, and regard the sighs, and treasure up the tears, of all who truly turn unto him. He never has said, nor ever will, “Seek ye my face in vain.”]
We cannot conclude without a few words,
[Many there are who conceive that they have repented, because they can look back upon some time when they were humbled before God, either in an hour of sickness, or after some awakening discourse. But those temporary affections of the mind are a very small part of true repentance: they have been experienced by thousands, who yet have “turned back with the dog to his vomit, or the sow to her wallowing in the mire [Note: Psalms 78:34-37; Hosea 5:15.]!” Let it be remembered therefore, that if we dissemble with our God, his sword shall certainly overtake us [Note: Jeremiah 42:20-22.] — — — You have been long and faithfully warned of your danger; and if you despise the admonitions of the weakest of God’s servants, it will ensure and aggravate your eternal condemnation [Note: 2 Chronicles 36:12; 2 Chronicles 36:17.].]
[It is not said of him in vain, that “with him there is mercy and plenteous redemption.” Do but bear this in mind, and you will frequently put yourselves in the posture of Ahab, and “walk softly” before him all the days of your life. Were it only temporal deliverance that you were authorized to expect, it would be right to mourn as Ahab did: but when God promises to multiply his pardons beyond the utmost reach of your sins [Note: Isaiah 55:7; Romans 5:20.], you maybe sure that nothing shall ever be wanting to those who seek him with their whole hearts. O that God might now see in us occasion to address the angels as he did Elijah; See how those people humble themselves before me! Because they so humble themselves, and “wash in the fountain” of their Redeemer’s blood, “their iniquities shall all be blotted out,” and “cast behind me into the depths of the sea!”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Kings 21". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany