1 Kings 21:2-16
Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs.
Ahab’s garden of herbs
Walking in the garden, what do we see?
1. Covetousness. God’s brand is upon covetousness. Contentment is a Christian duty. Not sinful is the desire for comfort, for sufficiency; it is the inordinate desire that is sinful. Does the prosperity of another pain us? Do we desire for ourselves that which belongs to another? Then we are breaking the commandment--“Thou shall not covet.”
2. Covetousness disappointed. Ahab has met with an unexpected master. The band of sycophancy had been wont to obey him--to hasten at his word, to answer to the silent solicitation of his eye. But here is a man that denies him, who has a denial from the word of the Lord. Let us beware. This sin is under the special reprobation of God. It was the sin in Eden, and by which Eden was lost. It was the sin of Achan. It was the sin of Gehazi. It was the sin which has branded out of use among names the name of Judas. Was Ahab disappointed? Alas, for him!
3. We see his covetousness successful. He gets what he desires. Jezebel finds her husband, and learning the cause of his depression sneers with imperious scorn upon him. “What is done by another for us is done by ourselves.” Are we willing to profit by the dishonesty or hard dealing of others? Then you are not clean of their sin. Adam plucked not the fruit of the tree, though “he did eat” (Genesis 3:6) of it; yet upon him as well as upon the woman came the curse of the Almighty. Jezebel’s sin was Ahab’s; he winked at its enactment, and took of its guilt-gotten spoil. If we wittingly profit by others’ sins, we must share in their condetonation too.
4. Covetousness detected and doomed. Ahab walking in that vineyard--his at last--meets “an hairy man, girt with a girdle of leather about his loins.” It is Elijah the Tishbite. If there was one man in the whole world he had rather not have met it was Elijah. But there he is! his unquailing eye troubling him--detected king--to the deepest depths of his weak, wicked soul. Elijah is the king! Ahab cowers before him. He is found out. And the prophet, the truest, though sternest friend that he has ever had, Ahab esteems an enemy. Is the lighthouse on its wave-washed, rocky ledge the mariner’s enemy, because it tells through the black and stormy night of the wrecking perils that lurk around the shore? Because it tells of danger, shall it be hated and assailed with angry epithets by those who sail the sea? (G. T. Coster.)
Naboth’s vineyard and Ahab’s covetousness
The visitor to Potsdam in Prussia, from the terrace of the palace of Sans-Souci sees near at hand a gigantic windmill, the most conspicuous object in the landscape. He wonders that the bold miller should have dared to build so near. But on inquiry he learns that the mill was there before the palace. In it several generations of the same family had ground their grist and gathered their wealth ere the attention of the Prussian kings was directed to the town as a place of residence. When palace after palace arose, and the king came to see, behold! here was this ugly windmill, beating the air almost on the very border of his splendid gardens. Then Frederic the Great did what Ahab did in this Bible story. He tried to buy the mill. And the miller answered almost exactly as Naboth answered. The king raised his offer again and again, and ended by getting angry. The miller met the royal threats by an appeal to the court judges in Berlin. The judges supported him against the king; the mill went on grinding its corn; and to this day its great fans are whirled by every passing breeze. The whole nation has come to regard the mill at Potsdam at a symbol of the peace and prosperity of the poor under Prussian institutions. It has recently come into the possession of the royal family, but only with the proud consent, at last, of the descendants of the original owners. The world has got ahead. So far as concerns men who bear public rule and are subjected to the judgment of society, Ahabs must now be sought in darkest Africa or in equally benighted regions. Would that the spirit of Ahab were equally remote from all of us in our private lives and characters! Many of us, perhaps all, are too covetous, grasping, childish, weak in yielding to sin, even as was Israel’s king.
I. The course of temptation. It may seem to the casual reader that there was nothing wrong in Ahab’s desire, or in the way in which he sought to gain it. So far as its terms were concerned, he proposed a strictly honourable bargain. The offer was even generous. Naboth might choose a better vineyard, or have cash. No hardship was involved except in respect to Naboth’s principles and sentiments. But it was just here that the bargain failed as it deserved to. That Naboth merely loved the place would have been enough. Objects of affection are often beyond price. He did not want either the money or a better vineyard. The reason for his declining the bargain was deeper. Such a sale was an offence against the religious and statute law of Israel. It was carefully prescribed that inherited land should remain in the tribe where it was first owned. On this account a daughter to whom an inheritance fell was forbidden to marry outside her tribe. The theory was that the land all belonged to God, and that Be had parcelled it out as He wished it to remain. Now the king must have known this law; it is a stretch of charity to suppose that he did not. His proposal, therefore, showed a thorough lack of principle, a wicked contempt for the Mosaic code. Jezebel was virtually ruler of the realm. She said, “Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? . . . I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth.” So Lady Macbeth drives her husband on to the murder of Duncan. She mocks his halting courage; she provides suggestion and plan; she does all except strike the murderous blow. She says to him at first--
“He that’s coming
Must be provided for; and you shall put
This night’s great business into my despatch.”
“If we should fail,” objects Macbeth.
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail,”
she answers. And after it is done, and he refuses to return to put the evidence of guilt upon the sleeping and drugged servants, she exclaims--
“Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers.”
Ahab is weaker than Macbeth, though not so wicked; but Jezebel and Lady Macbeth are not far apart. When woman goes into crime, she often plunges to the extreme quicker than man. Jezebel said, “I will give thee Naboth’s vineyard.” There are few events in a man’s life that stand alone. Every special sin has its long preparation. The avalanche in Switzerland rushes down at last; but what of the melting snows all through the spring and summer, until every waterdrop has done its work and washed away the last pebble that supported the hanging mass of earth and ice? The lightning-flash is sudden; but what of the hidden electric forces that have been gathering in the atmosphere all through the heated months, so that at last the bolt must leap from the cloud to meet the discharge from the earth? So morally. Ahab started wrong, as he knew. It was not a question of one sin, but of sin. He would have his Zidonian wife, though it meant Baal-worship. His good resolutions failed one by one. When at last he coveted the vineyard, his evil genius was at hand as ever, and he let her go on to the end of the transaction. Through years he had been laying the fatal train that was to shatter his kingdom and seal his doom. Who can tell just what moment of an evil course will bring the sinner to his abyss? After the first step every step is a peril. Even quiet consent, passive yielding, is fatal. The only safety is in prompt, manly, uncompromising conversion--turning away from sin for ever.
II. God’s patience. Ahab’s rebellion had been long and obstinate: an alien marriage; adopted idolatry; persecutions for conscience’ sake; open disobedience in war; and now covetousness, leading him to break the most sacred obligations, and add robbery and murder to the list of his crimes. He had had many warnings from God. This triple crime of impiety, robbery, and murder settled the matter. God’s word comes to Elijah, and Elijah comes to Ahab. The time had come for Ahab to receive a harder lesson than ever before. The prophet spoke Jehovah’s decree, as Ahab’s own signet had given authority to kill Naboth. As Naboth had died, so should Ahab die. As Naboth’s family had been cut off, so should Ahab’s race disappear. The awful curse brought him to his senses and to his knees. He rent his clothes, put sackcloth upon his flesh, fasted, lay in sackcloth, and went softly. God is always patient. We sin; He pleads and waits. We go on grasping after what is not our own: let my will, not Thine, be done, is the prayer offered by every deed. God warns, instructs, shows us in a thousand ways that His will is right, and that it is in the very nature of things our destruction if we oppose it. He tempts us with every promise, and shows us the fair destiny awaiting those who love truth and are obedient to Him. At last some evil comes to us from our wrongdoing, and we are unfeignedly sorry; but it is more the sorrow of a frightened than of a truly penitent soul. But the Divine heart is yet patient. The story of God’s patience with Ahab is wonderful, but it is the story of His patience with most of us. We, too, are covetous to the last degree. My comfort, my pleasure, my wealth, my home, my loves, my will,--all these will I have, though at the expense of every other man’s comfort, pleasure, wealth, home, loves, and will. And to this desperate covetousness of ours God matches His infinite self-sacrifice.
III. The curse upon Ahab fell at last. Sin must meet its doom. Brief and selfish repentance is not enough. If sin is not slain, it will slay. God’s patience after all has its conditions. Years pass by, Ahab still living. At last he undertakes a war, and is slain in battle. Whether soon or late, the soul that sinneth it shall die. It stands written that though the heavens pass away, the word of the Lord shall not pass away. It is the final verdict: “He that seeketh his life shall lose it.”
IV. What of Naboth and his sons? They were good men, so far as we are told, yet they died miserably. They were victims of injustice and cruelty, their very piety hastening their end and making them martyrs. Are we to conclude from this that what we have said concerning the doom of sin is untrue? Shall we draw the inference that the good and the bad are treated alike, so that there is no profit in godliness? It would be unfortunate to turn away from our lesson with this question unanswered. (G. E. Merrill.)
In Naboth’s vineyard
Ahab has received scant justice at the hands of the Biblical historians, and the popular estimate of his character is scarcely fair. We never think of him except as contrasted with Elijah, or as dominated by the fiendish Jezebel. Yet he had his good points. He was a courageous soldier, a capable rule, a far-seeing statesman. He never intended to renounce the worship of Jehovah--the names of his children are sufficient evidence of that. He thought it was possible to serve Jehovah and Baal, and perhaps those who denounce him most are not entirely guiltless of trying to serve two masters. If it had not been for the influence of his wife, he would have been a better man after what took place on Mount Carmel. But that was seven years ago, and in the meantime he had twice defeated a dangerous enemy and rolled back the tide of foreign invasion, tie had won for his kingdom peace and prosperity, and for himself considerable wealth. He was free now to establish his own house, to adorn his beautiful palace in Samaria, and his country house in Jezreel, eight miles away.
1. Notice the danger of undisciplined d sire. This chapter enforces, in concrete form, the exhortation of our Lord, “Take heed and beware of covetousness.” It was a subject on which He had a great deal to say, and His warning was never more needed than now. This passion for getting, this longing for a little more than we have, this worship of Mammon--it is not peculiar to millionaires. Poor men sometimes forget that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
2. Notice the peril of self-deception. There is many a man who lacks the pluck to do a wrong thing himself, but is willing to acquiesce if others do it. He is willing enough to reap the benefits of wrong-doing, and to shirk his share of the responsibility. It is notorious that a committee, or a limited company, will do what an individual would shrink from doing, and each member tries to thrust the responsibility for it on others. A professional man will sometimes do, according to professional etiquette, what he would scorn to do as an individual. A tradesman, otherwise honest, will stoop to the tricks of the trade. How easy it is to delude oneself by thinking that, because there is no actual personal wrong-doing, there is therefore no responsibility. Ahab thought this thing had been taken out of his hands. Yet he was responsible, and he knew it. The fiction by which he deceived himself was exposed in a moment by the short, sharp words of Elijah. But notice the amazing cleverness of Jezebel’s scheme. “When a wicked thing is cleverly done, half the world is disposed to condone its wickedness.” Many a sinner deceives his own soul by calling a wicked thing smart. But when conscience wakes, it calls our sins by their right names! In this case, all the legal proprieties were observed. A letter was written in Ahab’s name, sealed with the royal seal. Nobody suspected Jezebel’s part in the affair, except a few subservient nobles who could be trusted to keep their secret. It is not difficult to reconstruct the conversation: “That churl Naboth, who refused to sell his little vineyard, has been found guilty of treason. He and his sons are dead, and the vineyard is yours--legally and inalienably yours--and yours for nothing!” It was very clever! Ahab was willing to pay a fair price, but he saved money on that transaction, he got that vineyard cheap! But did he? It is possible to buy a thing at the lowest market price, and yet pay very dear for it! That which a man gets by tampering with his own conscience is dear, whatever the selling price. The money price one ]pays for a thing is not always the measure of what it costs. Here is a man who is congratulating himself on a particularly smart bargain; but what if he has paid down for it his own good name and his peace of mind and the welfare of his family! Is it worth the price? And whether a man gain a kitchen garden or the whole world, what does it profit him if he lose his own soul? So Ahab rose up to go down to his vineyard. He rode in state the journey of eight miles to Jezreel. Two young cavalry officers rode behind. One of them, Jehu, had good reason afterwards to remember all that happened that fateful day! All the way, Ahab was congratulating himself that he had such a clever wife, and thinking what a pleasure this would be to his children afterwards! He could not entirely silence his misgivings. He could not forget that to gain his ends he had wronged a true-hearted man, a neighbour and a subject. “Wronged” was the word which his lips formed. The word in his thoughts was “killed.” Conscience will call things by their right names! But he told himself, if he had done a shady thing, or allowed it to be done, it was really in the interests of his wife and family. Self-deceit will carry us great lengths! How many a rogue has silenced his conscience “in the interests of his family”! (A. Moorhouse, M. A.)
It has been pointed out many times that of all the Ten Commandments it is the last one which is the most searching because the most spiritual and the nearest to the new law of the Sermon on the Mount. I say this was a searching, spiritual commandment, for it dealt with the inward soul of a man, his private thoughts and feelings and desires. For these, says the Tenth Commandment--and not merely for your actual deeds--you are answerable to God. “Thou shalt not covet.”
1. God’s way is to strike sin in the germ: to kill, as it were, the very bacillus of the disease. Man loves to dally with evil suggestion, to play with unclean thoughts, to toy with unchaste or dishonourable desires; to entertain these while outwardly he is respectable and honoured by society. There is something to him fascinating in this bargain, by which he consents to outward respectability at the price of inward licence. But as verily as the uncleanness of the water bears evidence that the spring has been fouled, an evil life is born from an evil heart. That is the source of the mischief.
2. Ahab played with fire. He had wronged Naboth already in his heart; it was a little thing that he should go further and wrong him in fact. There are sinners and sinners. There is a covetousness that hides defeat in assumed smiles, with deadly malice and envy smouldering within. And there is a covetousness less formidable and more contemptible, that pouts and fumes and frets and sulks. The latter kind was Ahab’s.
3. I think it very likely that Ahab was not meditating any serious misconduct; but he was preparing his own heart, drying it of all true manly feeling, so that it was like prepared tinder for any spark of temptation. There” are hundreds of our fellowmen and women outwardly respectable and innocent as yet of gross sin who are in danger just because their heart is in a similar condition. A chance spark, a whispered suggestion, a rash impulse will suffice to precipitate a course of action which can only bring ruin and overwhelming shame. The heart is dry to the roots; no sap of honour, and manly feeling, and love of justice penetrates and invigorates them. They have allowed their hearts to wither.
4. Now while Ahab s heart lies there like so much prepared tinder, enter the temptress, with a due supply of sparks cunningly contrived for the purpose of an explosion. “And Jezebel his wife said unto him.” The most deadly weapons are made of the finest steel. Jezebel’s character was strong, firm, unmalleable; a diamond heart, cold, passionless, cruel, hard as steel, sharp as a dagger’s edge. The words had not left Ahab’s lips a moment before her plan was made. Treachery and murder came as natural to her as breathing Lady Macbeth only did the deed of death when her husband’s courage failed Jezebel did not dream of entrusting the task to her husband, for whom she had probably a very just contempt. She herself laid the train and fired it that was to send Naboth into eternity and give the vineyard to Ahab.
5. So the little sin of covetousness has found its reward. The coveted object is obtained--Ahab was in the hands of evil. He had placed himself there; and, like every man or woman who consents to sin, he was no longer his own master. If he had been a giant instead of the weak creature he was he could not have stayed the course of this crime. (C. S. Horne, M. A.)
1. We sometimes hear that Ahab was a covetous man: are we quite sure that the charge is just and that it can be substantiated? Do we not sometimes too narrowly interpret the word covetousness? It is generally at least limited to money. But the term “covetous” may apply to a much larger set of circumstances, and describe quite another set of impulses and desires. We may even be covetous of personal appearance; of popular fame, such as is enjoyed by other men; we may be covetous in every direction which implies the gratification of our own wishes; and yet with regard to the mere matter of money we may be almost liberal. Sometimes when covetousness takes this other turn we describe it by the narrower word envy; we say we envy the personal appearance of some, we envy the greatness and the public standing of others. But under all this envy is covetousness. Envy is in a sense but a symptom: covetousness is the vital and devouring disease. Under this interpretation of the term, therefore, it is not unfit or unjust to describe Ahab as a covetous man. Look at his dissatisfaction with circumstances. He wishes to have “a garden of herbs.” That is all! The great Alexander could not rest in his palace at Babylon because he could not get ivy to grow in his garden. What was Babylon, or all Assyria, in view of the fact that this childish king could not cause ivy to grow in the palace gardens? Ahab lived in the very narrowest kind of circumstances; as a little man, he lived in little things, and because those things were not all to his mind it was impossible for him to be restful or noble or really good. Once let the mind become dissatisfied with some trifling circumstance, and that fly spoils the whole pot of ointment. Once get the notion that the house is too small, and then morning, noon, and night you never see a picture that is in it, or acknowledge the comfort of one corner in all the little habitation: the one thing that is present in the mind throughout all the weary hours is that the house is too small. If we live in circumstances, we shall be the sport of events; we shall be without dignity, without calmness, without reality and solidity of character; let us, therefore, betake ourselves into inner thoughts, into spirituality of life, into the soul’s true character, into the very sanctuary of God: there we shall have truth and light and peace.
2. Then notice in Ahab a childish servility to circumstances (1 Kings 21:4). Yet he was the King of Israel in Samaria! He was in reality a man who could give law, whose very look was a commandment, and the uplifting of his hand could move an army. Now we see him surely at his least. So we do, but not at his worst. All this must have an explanation. We cannot imagine that the man is so simply childish and foolish as this incident alone would describe him. Behind all this childishness there is an explanation. What is it? We find it in 1 Kings 21:25 :--“But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.” That explains the whole mystery. But this is an affair which does not take place in the open market or in the open daylight. But the compact is made in darkness, in silence, in out-of-the-way places. Now we understand King Ahab better. We thought him but little, frivolous of mind, childish and petty, without a man s worthy ambition; but now we see that all this was but symptomatic, an outward sign, pointing, when rightly followed, to an inward and mortal corruption.
3. Now let us look at the case of Naboth and the position which he occupied in this matter. Naboth possessed the vineyard Ahab is said to have coveted. Naboth said, “The Lord forbid” (1 Kings 21:3). He made a religious question of it. Why did he invoke the Eternal Name, and stand back as if an offence had been offered to his faith? The terms were commercial, the terms were not unreasonable, the approach was courteous, the ground given for the approach was not an unnatural ground,--why did Naboth stand back as if his religion had been shocked? The answer is in Numbers 36:7. Ahab was taught that there was a man in Samaria who valued the inheritance which had been handed down to him. Have we no inheritance handed down to us--no book of revelation, no day of rest, no flag of liberty, no password of common trust? So Ahab lay down upon his bed, turned away his face, and would eat no bread. But there is a way of accomplishing mean desires. Take heart! there is a way of possessing oneself of almost whatever one desires. There is always some Merlin who will bring every Uther-Pendragon what he longs to have; there is always some Lady Macbeth who will show the thane how to become king. There is always a way to be bad! The gate of hell stands wide open, or if apparently half-closed a touch will make it fly back, and the road is broad that leadeth to destruction. Jezebel said she would find the,garden or vineyard for her husband. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The story of Naboth’s vineyard
1. There is a strange fascination in sin. This man looks at this thing; turns it over in his mind; says how nice it would be; and at last the thing gets entire hold of him. He ought at first to have said, “No, that is beyond my power; that is forbidden.” Instead, he plays with the thing, and nurses it, and it becomes his master. And just as a bird might be seen trying to escape, and yet is chained to the spot, the secret is discovered after a while in the approach of the serpent, sure and slow, with its eyes fixed on its prey, and held by its cruel glance; so it is with sin: there is a fascination in it. You look at it, you get your eyes fixed upon its eyes; you can break away if you have the will to do it, and the good sense, by God’s providence, to do it; if you have not felt the full force of its fascination. But if you loiter where its influence can be felt more and more on you, presently it becomes your master, and you go to the evil thing, and bring the stain on your soul. Is it not so? The doctor, though he may carry his life in his band, must go where the small-pox or deadly fevers are raging, but the man who has no work and no cure for the evil is a madman, and not a hero, if he goes needlessly into an atmosphere laden with infection. It is the old soldier who has been in many a battle, and carries the scars of many an engagement, who shelters himself till the moment comes for the decisive charge. He is not afraid of lying down. It is the raw recruit, who has never smelt powder, and who has never had a scratch on him, who dare not be suspected of being afraid. And believe me, young men, it is not a courageous thing to go needlessly into danger of a moral character.
2. Yes, there is this fascination in man, but see what it brings us to, and the degradation it brings with it. “He, laid him down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.” Poor fellow! Yes, but that is what sin always does to men; it eats the heart out of their manliness. If a man wants to be strong to meet sorrow he must keep himself well in hand, and, by the grace of God, learn to control his appetites and desires, so that circumstances and possessions and pleasures shall always be his servants, never his master. I have seen in this city an old man beggared in a day, by no fault of his own, but through the wrong-doing and the misfortunes of others; a man who had maintained a stainless character, and a prominent position in all good works; and I saw him, not whining because he had lost his money, and asking all the world to come and see how sorely he had been dealt with, but bravely shaking off from himself the ruins of his fallen fortunes, and going out to win another fortune in his old age, if that were God’s will, or to do without one, if that were God’s will; but keeping a good conscience and a brave heart, and a face with the light of-God upon it, so that he could look any brother-man in the face with self-respect. And I tell you the man who is to be ready to do that sort of thing, and go through that sort of experience, is not the man who has always been wanting the softest bed and the warmest corner, the easiest path and the best dinner, whose one great thought is, how can I make myself as comfortable as possible in the world. No, the man who is to be brave to meet his own misfortunes when they come--and to all they will come, sooner or later--is the man who has not been continually thinking about himself, but who has let his heart go out to his fellow-men and towards the great Father, God, who tells us we ought to consider all men as our brothers. II you want to have the manliness taken out of your heart live for selfish aims and objects.
3. And then see, too, another way in which sin degrades a man; how it overturns all his mental conceptions, and even darkens and destroys the sensitiveness of his conscience. Ahab is lying there on his divan, and Jezebel comes to him. One can almost fancy one sees him and her together, and she is saying to him, What is the matter? And he tells her this doleful story, how he wanted the vineyard, and could not get it. Jezebel’s lip turns with scorn as she looks down at him, and says, “Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? Are you lying here because you cannot get that nice toy? What is the good of being king if you are going to take No for an answer, if you cannot have your own way. “Arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry; I will give thee the vineyard of:Naboth the Jezreelite.” When Jezebel said that Ahab knew she meant mischief. If he had been a true man and a true king, he would have said to her, “Though you are queen, it is at your peril if you touch a hair of his head; he is within the rights of this land. Dare not touch him, for every subject’s rights and safety are sacred in my eyes.” But the poor, mean-spirited wretch, degraded by his own follies, lies there, and lets his wife go and contrive the wickedness for which he has not the wit or courage. And all the time. I have no doubt, like other men in similar positions, Ahab was making to himself all kinds of excuses: “Well, I don’t know what she is going to do; perhaps she is only going to offer him a little more money, or appeal to his respect for the king. At all events, it is not my business; I have not asked her to interfere, and so I shall not trouble about it. I shall let her do just what she will.” Yes, that “let alone” policy which is so popular in many quarters, was admirably illustrated by Ahab on this occasion And I have no doubt that to a certain extent that kind of reasoning was sufficient to drug his conscience to sleep, at least for the time being. And there are constantly men who are acting on that principle. Men used to say, “Oh, certainly I never bribed any elector”; but when an election was coming on they would pay five hundred pounds to the credit of their agent, and ask no questions about it. There are men to-day in London who would say, “Of course I did not sell three penn’orth of gin over a counter to a poor, bloated, degraded woman.” No, but they take three times as much rent for a house because it has got a licorice than they could get if it hadn’t any. Men say, “I did not tell that lie, or set that slander in circulation.” No, but they suggested it quite delicately, and “hoping it would go no further,” and so the carrion scent was awakened, and all followed that they thought might be expected to follow. Many of these people fancy that God’s eyes are closed, or that God does not know what is going on in the world, and that in some way or other they have been able to cheat the Omniscient! They cannot feel, and are not aware of the true nature of the life they are living and the deeds they are doing. Just as the slaves when they were flogged, after the first few blows felt very little, because the nerves of the back had been lacerated; so the consciences of these men have been cut, lashed, and injured till their sensitiveness is gone out of them, and men have lost the faculty of quickly detecting wrong, and knowing what is right. Can there possibly be a deeper degradation for a man? She came back to Ahab and said, “Naboth is dead.” So the conscience of Ahab will let him at once rise with new eagerness to go and take possession of his treasure. Away he goes from the palace, promising himself many a pleasant hour in the cool shade of the vineyard. Yes, yes, there is disappointment in sin. God does not let men get the good out of it that they thought. God does not let them enjoy it as keenly as they expected. And this is one of the great proofs of God’s love, that He will not let men sin easily and comfortably. We sometimes say it is hard work to get to heaven. That is true enough. But we may almost say it is as hard work for many men to get to hell. If they will be lost they have to break through many a barrier which the love of God built in their way; and not till they have forced their way through these barriers can they be cast into the outer darkness, which they rush to encounter. How good it is that God will not let men sin easily Some Elijah will stand in the gateway of the vineyard. Here is a man who has gone away from home; perhaps he is a young man, and in the very midst of some sinful revelry, where the air is thick with curses, where the atmosphere is as the atmosphere of hell, suddenly, as though the heavens parted, and the breath of heaven’s own atmosphere were thrust into the midst of that vile scene, there comes to him a thought of his mother, of the pure blessed home that he left years ago. No law of association will account for that. There was nothing in the associations of the place to make him think that thought at that time, but the exact opposite. Surely the blessed Spirit of God sent that thought just there in order that that man might meet his Elijah at the gate of the vineyard. Another man is trying to get away from the impressions of his better days. As he passes hurriedly along, perhaps on a Sabbath day like this, some door opens, and some wave of sound comes out from the worshipping congregation. Memories are at once set at work to carry him back to his purer days. God has sent some Elijah to meet him at the gate of the vineyard. Oh, blessed be God, for the love that will not let us slip easily into hell! And then one cannot help seeing the doom of sin. There is a sort of awful dramatic propriety about this doom: “In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood.” (T. B. Stephenson, D. D., LL. D.)
Voices from Naboth’s vineyard
There are many voices addressed to us from:Naboth’s vineyard.
I. Beware of covetousness. That vineyard has its counterpart in the case and conduct of many still. Covetousness may assume a thousand camelon 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 more material wealth; the race for riches. Covetousness of place--aspiring after other positions in life than those which Providence has assigned us;--not because they are better--but because they are other than our present 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. The covetous eye cast on the neighbour’s vineyard is, strange to say, more the sin of the affluent than of the needy,--of the owner of the lordly mansion than of the humble cottage. The man with his clay floor, and thatched roof, and rude wooden rafters, though standing far more in need of increase to his comfort, is often (is generally) more contented and satisfied by far than he whose cup is full. The old story, which every schoolboy knows, is a faithful picture of human nature. It was Alexander, not defeated, but victorious--Alexander, not the lord of one kingdom, but the sovereign of the world, who wept unsatisfied tears. 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. They have abundance; the horn of plenty has poured its contents into their lap. But a neighbour possesses something which they fancy they might have also. Like Haman, though their history has been a golden dream of prosperity;--advancement and honour such as the brightest visions of youth could never have pictured,--yet all this avails them nothing, so long as they see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate! Seek to suppress these unworthy envious longings. “For which things’ sake,” says the apostle (and among “these things” is covetousness), “the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.” Covetousness, God makes a synonym for idolatry. He classes the covetous in the same category with the worshippers of stocks and stones. “Be content with such things as ye have.”
II. Keep out of the way of temptation. If Ahab, knowing his own weakness and besetting sin, had put a restraint on his covetous eye, and not allowed.it to stray on his neighbour’s forbidden property, it would have saved a black page in his history, and the responsibilities of a heinous crime. Let us beware of tampering with evil. “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee.” “Avoid it,” says the wise man, speaking of this path of temptation, “pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.” Each has his own strong temptation,--the fragile part of his nature,--his besetting sin.. That sin should be specially watched, muzzled, curbed;--that gate of temptation specially padlocked and sentinelled. One guilty dereliction of duty,--one unhappy abandonment of principle,--one inconsistent, thoughtless word or deed,--may be the progenitor of unnumbered evils. How many have bartered their peace of conscience for veriest trifles:--sold a richer inheritance than Esau’s birthright for a mess of earthly pottage! And once the first fatal step is taken, it cannot be so easily undone. Once the blot on fair character is made, the stain is not so easily erased.
III. 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.:Naboth was in that silent land where no voice of protest can be heard against high-handed inquity. But there was a God in heaven who maketh inquisition for blood, and who “remembered them.” 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? It is true, indeed, that the present economy deals not so exclusively as the old in temporal retribution. Sinners now have before them the surer and more terrible recompense and vengeance of a world to come. But not unfrequently here also, retribution still follows, and sooner or later overtakes, the defiant transgressor. Conscience, like another stern Elijah in the vineyard of Naboth, will confront the transgressor and utter a withering doom. How many such an Elijah stands a rebuker within the gates of modem vineyards, purchased by the reward of iniquity! How many such an Elijah stands a ghostly sentinel by the door of that house whose stones have been hewn and polished and piled by illicit gain! How many an Elijah mounts on the back of the modem chariot, horsed and harnessed, pillowed and cushioned and liveried with the amassings of successful roguery! How many an Elijah stands in the midst of banquet-hall and drawing-room scowling down on some murderer of domestic peace and innocence, who has intruded into vineyards more sacred than Naboth’s,--trampled virtue under foot, and left the broken, bleeding vine, to trail its shattered tendrils unpitied on the ground! And even should conscience itself, in this world be defied and overborne; at all events in the world to come, sin must be discovered; retribution (long evaded here) will at last exact its uttermost farthing. The most awful picture of a state of eternal punishment is that of sinners surrendered to the mastery of their own special transgression; these sins, like the fabled furies, following them, in unrelenting pursuit, from hall to hall and from cavern to cavern in the regions of unending woe;--and they, at last, hunted down, wearied, breathless, with the unavailing effort to escape the tormentors, crouching in wild despair, and exclaiming, like Ahab to Elijah, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
“Our desires may undo us”
1. There is no more striking illustration of this proverb than that supplied in the sacred story of King Ahab and Naboth of Jezreel. It is a curse of undisciplined desire that it never has enough. It has been asked, “When is a man rich enough?” and it has been answered, “When he has a little more than he has.” A little more just to make an even sum, to secure this profitable investment, to finish this building, to make a complete ring-fence around this property, to gratify this harmless fad or to please some friend’s taste--just a little more, and I shall be content, and then I will rest and be thankful. But undisciplined desire never comes to the resting-place, because such desire always increases with every new accession.
2. Undisciplined desire is never reasonable. All considerations of fairness and justice, of right and wrong, of doing “to others what we would they should do to us,” must give way to this masterful desire.
3. But a man with a great passion of desire seldom hesitates long to use any means, however unlawful, to gain his object. He either clears the path himself, or, is too weak and cowardly to work with his own hands, he finds some strong and unscrupulous instrument.
4. But when such a man as Ahab gains his heart’s desire, is he satisfied with his possessions? Said Jezebel, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” Did he find the vineyard as large as it had appeared through the halo of his glowing hopes? Would it really make a satisfactory garden of herbs? Most of us have learned that there are two ways of looking through a telescope. One removes a near object far away, but it hides the blemishes; the other brings the object near, but it reveals all the blemishes. Possession exposes everything. And if the desire has been unreasonable and passionate, and especially if the conscience of the possessor is aroused to condemn the means used, there is left only a miserable sense of disappointment. When men use unlawful means to gain their desires, they must face all the consequences. In what beautiful contrast appears the testimony of St. Paul! “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content . . . In all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me.” (Thomas Wilde.)
Mastery of self
Sir Richard Grenville said of Thomas Stukeley, “He was a knight who wanted but one step to greatness, and that was, that in his excessive hurry to rule other people, he forgot to rule himself.” The true victor is he who leads his own captivity captive, is master of his own heart by giving it over to the Master Himself. Until the kingdom that has been divided is united, how can it conquer its foes?
The discontented man
A contented man may have enough, but a discontented man never can; his heart is like the Slough of Despond into which thousands of waggon loads of the best material were cast, and yet the slough did swallow up all, and was none the better. Discontent is a bottomless bog into which if one world were cast it would quiver and heave for another. A discontented man dooms himself to the direst form of poverty, yea, he makes himself so great a pauper that the revenues of empires could not enrich him. Are you impatient in your present position? Believe me that, as George Herbert said of revenues in times gone by, “He that cannot live on twenty pounds a year cannot live on forty”; so may I say: he who is not contented in his present position will not be contented in another though it bring him double possessions. When the vulture of dissatisfaction has once fixed its talons in the breast it will not cease to tear at your vitals. (C H. Spurgeon.)
1 Kings 21:3
The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.
The reply of Naboth, and its lessons
I. The reply of Naboth.
1. It first assures us that he is a conscientious man, and a worshipper of Jehovah. No; but from a conviction of his duty to God as the Supreme Lawgiver: and, therefore, rather than offend Him, or violate His will, he would incur the anger and vengeful power of Ahab.
2. Hence the moral heroism of the reply--similar to that which distinguished the answer of the apostles, in after history, when forbidden by the magistrates to preach in the name of Jesus. These brave men recognised the Divine authority; and, basing their publication upon its evidence, they were ready to undergo any persecution, any torture, any death, rather than disobey God. And it was according to this spirit that Naboth uttered the words to Ahab.
3. In this reply of Naboth, there is also the recognition of an old fundamental law, unrepealed, among the Hebrews, respecting landed property: and this recognition stands out in direct opposition to the loose practices of Ahab, the priests, and all the followers of Baal.
II. Its lessons.
1. The great value which every professing Christian ought to set upon his inheritance, as purchased for him, and handed down to him by Christ, and that no man ought to part with it through the force of temptation.
2. We learn furthermore from the reply of Naboth the great importance of decision of character, or as it is directed towards a right purpose.
3. Naboth openly avowed his belief in God and His laws before Ahab, and a nation given up to idolatry. And thus we are taught not to be ashamed of confessing our faith in Christ. (W. D. Horwood.)
1 Kings 21:4
And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased.
Temper-a deadly sin
In other and less dignified words, Ahab, when he could not get his own way, went to bed in a sulk. I take it that all those who have tried even to be close students of human nature are agreed that life as a rule suffers most, not from the heroic sin or from the deep passion, but from little mean and contemptible sins. These sins are like the grit in the eye--they incense and inflame until it happens that a great and noble faculty can be used no more. And I am going to suggest to this audience that the harmony of life, whether it be of the family life or of the social life of any people, suffers most from two classes of people--the cross-grained man and the shrew. These people are ready, as you know, to take umbrage at the faintest slight, even of a fancied kind, to indulge ill-humour over something that was never intended to be even a contradiction of their views; and when not venting their venom and their spite publicly, they are commonly to be found grumbling in a corner; and if not openly growling, then they are secretly sulking and nourishing their temper. Now, will you bear with me while I say a word about the description itself, because there is a lesson which I think we might learn even from the word. The word “temper,” as you know, is one of the English words which have gradually come to have a bad sense. It meant in its original “to moderate or to modify what was unduly harsh or violent,” and in that sense, of course, the word has been frequently used. I found, for instance, a quotation out of one of the early English poets, in which he said that the function of the woman was to temper man--that is, not to put him into a temper, but to modify his naturally harsh, sour, and severe disposition--a function that everybody here will agree woman, as a rule, discharges. The word temper, indeed, is used very commonly for either of two purposes; either to describe a calm, serene, and gracious nature, or else to describe a hasty, fiery, and ill-conditioned nature. But when my dictionary was consulted it told me this: that the good use of the word has, in process of years, become obsolete, and that if the word temper is now used by itself, it can always be trusted to have the bad significance. So that I call you to witness it comes to this: that if you want to speak of good temper you must call it good; but if you want to speak of bad temper you can simply describe it as temper, and everybody will know what you mean. I want to ask you that you will distinguish it from what we call passion. Passion, it is quite true, is often guilty of great and terrible crimes, crimes which arise from the fact that a great quality has become the master instead of being the servant of man. But in bad temper there is nothing so great or dignified or strong as passion. Temper thrives on trivialities. There is no detail so silly; no pretext so trumpery, but it will give the reins to the man of temper. Passion is the sublime; temper is really ridiculous save only for this, that the things it does and the misery it causes would turn all our laughter into tears. To take--for I am anxious that you should continue your analysis--another distinction that will occur to you between the two. Passion is always occasional, it is volcanic, it is soon over. It is like the thunderstorm. It bursts and breaks; then the sky clears blue and genial and warm. But it is always the tendency of temper to be chronic and normal, and it corresponds to what we constantly describe as a certain cross-grained and ill-conditioned nature. Yes, passion is volcanic, but passion knows how to forgive and to forget. But temper is not like that. It keeps all its bitterness within. It nourishes its grudges, it cherishes its slights, it broods over its fancied wrongs. I was wondering how I could best illustrate this part of what I am trying to say, and a comparison occurred to me between two kings of your English history--the one whom I always think of as one of the greatest kings who ever wore the British crown, the first Edward, a man of passion, deeply beloved, and even adored by his people; the man of the passionate pilgrimage, which was to be the evidence of his grief for his wife, to whom Charing Cross is the monument even to-night--a man of volcanic humour, with floods of tears for the evil deeds his passion wrought, and of whom Mr. J. R. Green tells the thrilling and touching story, how he summoned his subjects to Westminster Hall, and when he faced them could not speak to them, but simply buried his face in his hands and burst into tears before them all, and then asked forgiveness for wrongs that he had done. That was the passionate man. I contrast with him the king of temper, John, who never rose to a single great thought or a single great deed, but who after all won the loathing and contempt of his subjects, because Dante’s hazy smoke was always in his heart--morbid, sullen, spiteful, malicious. And now that brings me very naturally to the discussion of the text which I have taken, and the narrative to which it refers, a quotation that is familiar to you all. You know that it introduces us to one of the most cold-blooded and gruesome crimes of which history contains any record. The real instigator of that crime, and the executor of the deed was Jezebel. But terrible as Jezebel’s temper is represented here, I venture to say that to every self-respecting mind the character of Ahab is more loathsome and more contemptible. Jezebel did the thing. Ahab was only the weak confederate of his unscrupulous and bold wife, with her heart of marble. And yet think of it, analyse the scene. Does it not remain, as I say, that Jezebel with all her crimes and her blood-stained hands could even extort the measure of admiration when you consider her spirit, her intrepidity, and her initiative, and realise that if these qualities had been devoted to something worthy of them, she would have been a great woman. But about Ahab there is nothing great; there is everything that is contemptible--nothing more heroic than a fit of temper. I have no doubt that his servants went away and said it was an attack of the liver, and that he would shortly be all right. But Jezebel knew him better. She knew that it was black venom, and spite, and malice, and that if he was to get better and recover these must have their vent. And so she did what he wanted to do, but hadn’t the courage to do. That is your whole story in a nutshell. “And what is its moral?” you say. “It is so horrible it has no moral for us.” I am not so sure of that. Its moral is this, I take it, that to a man thus evilly conditioned, the natural disposition is to every, sorry and cruel suggestion that may come to him from any quarter. For there he is naturally disposed to think the worst of people and to do them ill. Ah, yes; and if it had not ended except in evil word it had been bad enough, for if I may in an aside I would say this: temper has always found its readiest weapon in the tongue, and who in this building can estimate the evil and the injury that has been done when the tongue has lain at the disposition of temper. Ah, but is it not true to say that it is possible for you and me, while we analyse the temper and desire that God’s love will soften and sweeten the heart--is it not possible, for us to feel some genuine sorrow for them? For, after all, remember that nobody else is made quite so unhappy and so miserable as they make themselves. There they are; they are unwelcome guests at every festival, and I fancy that at last they come to know that people anticipate their advent with apprehension and look upon their backs with relief. They are the frost on every budding happiness, the skeleton that sits at every feast. The cross-grained man and the common scold or shrew isolate themselves from humanity, cut themselves off from the genial and generous debt of life. Their heart becomes like the North Pole--absolutely locked in impenetrable ice. “And is there no cure?” Oh yes, there is something. The mind that was in Christ Jesus, can it be communicated, or can it not? Is Christianity true when it says: “He will give you His Spirit, He will make you like Himself”? Is it true or is it not? Some of you here to-night, are you doomed and destined to bear to your grave this burden of which I have been speaking, or is there One whose hands can unloose the thongs and set you free? I know that I am right in what I say. Why, there are friends known to you, and to dwell in their company is gradually to feel dissolve and decay within you your bitter thoughts, and your heart come cordially into sympathy with their genial and generous spirit. That is a great thing; but, oh, men and women, to company with Jesus Christ, to live in His presence, beneath His redeeming touch and influence, that is, indeed, to say good-bye to the bitterness of the heart, that is to receive His sweetness into this bitter-thoughted mind and soul, that is to be mellowed for His harvesting, made ripe and gracious fruit for His hands to gather. That is my gospel Jesus Christ can cure. (C. S. Home, M. A.)
1 Kings 21:5
Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread?
A cure for the dumps
The witty Sydney Smith once said, “Never give way to melancholy, for if you do, it will encroach upon you like an overflowing river and overwhelm you.” He added he had given twenty-four precautions to a lady of melancholy disposition to keep her from being sad. One of the things he recommended was to keep a bright fire in her room. Another of Sydney Smith’s remedies for low spirits was to think over all the pleasant things you can remember. A third receipt was, always to keep a box of sugar-plums on the mantelpiece. Some of you would object to a sugar-plum when you go to a friend’s house, but at any rate, it would please the giver for you to accept it, and for myself I may say that it would give me pleasure to receive it. Another remedy for despondency prescribed by the humorous Canon was, to always have the kettle simmering on the hob. These of course are little things, but they have their influence. These fits of sadness and melancholy make good things appear bad, and they so disturb the balance of our reason as to cause us to imagine that even loving friends dislike us. Shakespeare puts into the mouth of the masterpiece of his creative genius, Hamlet, this excellent description of the feelings of people, who are in the dumps:--“This goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a barren promontory; while that most excellent canopy, the air, look you; that great overhanging sky, that majestic roof, fretted with golden fire,--why! it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.” When the “lumbermen” are floating great logs of wood down the river St. Lawrence, past the city of Quebec, from the interior of Canada--those great logs which are brought to Liverpool and along our canals and railways to be cut up in the saw-mills--it sometimes happens that one of these great logs from being in the river for more than one season, gets its millions of pores filled with water, when it becomes what is called “water-logged.” The log then sinks, through the water having got into its heart. Likewise, there are men and women who, while they are being carried along the stream of life, get so saturated with its cares and troubles that they sink; they are “trouble-logged,” and sometimes they die of what is called a broken heart. I think it is in our power to prevent people getting “trouble-logged “ and sinking helplessly in the Slough of Despond. Cervantes, the finest writer of humour that Spain has produced, whose works raised a smile on people’s faces when they read or heard about them, was one of the saddest of men, his features having the marks of perpetual gloom upon them. Moliere, the greatest master of humorous writing in France, looked as if his face had been made ugly with disappointment and grief; while Foote, one of our most comic English writers and actors died of a broken heart. We all get at times into this hypochondriac way--We all get into the dumps at times, feeling as if there were no God. The victims of this mental disease of “low spirits” go through the world as if they were forsaken orphans, without a penny or a friend. There is the instance of Ahab, who had everything that a despotic king could desire, but he was not satisfied. In many cases our troubles and disappointments arise from our own fault. This seems to have been the case with Jacob. Few Scripture characters had more trouble or were oftener sad than Jacob, who said that all the days of his life had been evil, and that his children would bring down his grey hairs in sorrow to the grave. In modern times, few men have excited more morbid and undeserved sympathy than the poet, Lord Byron, who was often in the dumps. He inherited a passionate and proud nature, but his greatest trouble seems to have been his unfortunate club.foot, which he could neither hide nor put out of remembrance. This and his dissipation made his nature gloomy. Hear his words--
Sits on me as a cloud along the sky,
Which will not let the sunbeams through, nor yet
Descend in rain and end; but spreads itself
‘Twixt heaven and earth, like envy between man
And man--and is an everlasting mist.
Why should we punish ourselves because we cannot have what others have, and which instead of being a blessing might prove a curse? Why should we torment ourselves because somebody else has obtained what we wanted? Addison has beautifully described in an allegory the foolish way in which people are disappointed because their life is one of obscurity. He says, “There was one day a drop of rain fell from a cloud into the ocean, and the drop of water bitterly complained and was sad of heart because it thought it was annihilated in the mighty expanse of the sea. But it dropped down into the open mouth of an oyster, where, in process of time, it was transformed and became a pearl, which at the present day is the ornament of the crown of the Persian monarch.” This little fable teaches us not to repine at our lot. Though you may be feeble and humble as compared with other people, though you may not be beautiful or wealthy, and think yours is a disappointed lot, yet, like that drop of water, our God is preparing you to be an adornment of heaven. Do not therefore be cast down, or let your heart be grieved by any discouragement of birth or fortune in this life. (W. Birch.)
Nemesis of a selfish life-
A man who lives entirely for himself becomes at last obnoxious to himself. I believe it is the very law of God that self-centeredness ends in self-nauseousness. There is no weariness like the weariness of a man who is wearied of himself, and that is the awful Nemesis which follows the selfish life. (J. H. Jowett.)
The tyranny of self
There can be no real happiness in the heart, where self is enthroned. If you would have peace, you must seize, bind, and never again let loose, for self is the cruellest tyrant, the deepest shadow, and the blackest blot that darkens life. To be rid of the despot, you must begin by placing others first in all your thoughts and actions; at this the coward drops his head; he hates another to be first. Next, give him no thought or consideration at all, and though at this neglect he cry out piteously, heed him not, for now is the time to bind him hard and fast with the cords of forgetfulness; then cast him far behind, and be careful to allow neither the call of pain nor pleasure to entice you into loosening one jot or tittle of his bonds, or, once set free, the monster will rise again, hydra-headed, and, towering above all else, enfold and crush you within his clutches, until you are no more free, but a slave, bound hand and foot, in the deadly meshes of over-mastering self. (Great Thoughts.)
1 Kings 21:7
I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth.
Wifely ambition, good and bad
How important that every wife have her ambition an elevated, righteous, and divinely approved ambition! And here let me say that what I am most anxious for is that woman, not waiting for the rights denied her or postponed, should promptly and decisively employ the rights she already has in possession. Some say she will be in a fair way to get all her rights when she gets the right to the ballot-box. I do not know that it would change anything for the better. But let every wife, not waiting for the vote she may never get, or, getting it, find it outbalanced by some other vote not fit to be cast, arise now in the might of the Eternal God and wield the power of a sanctified wifely ambition for a good approximating the infinite. No one can so inspire a man to noble purposes as a noble woman, and no one so thoroughly degrade a man as a wife of unworthy tendencies. While in my text we have illustration of wifely ambition employed in the wrong direction, in society and history are instances of wifely ambition triumphant in right directions. All that was worth admiration in the character of Henry VI. was a reflection of the heroics of his wife Margaret. William, Prince of Orange, was restored to the right path by the grand qualities of his wife Mary. Justinian, the Roman Emperor confesses that his wise laws were the suggestion of his wife Theodora. Andrew Jackson, the warrior and President, had his mightiest reinforcement in his plain wife, whose inartistic attire was the amusement of the elegant circles in which she was invited. Washington, who broke the chain that held America in foreign vassalage, wore for forty years a chain around his own neck, that chain holding the miniature likeness of her who had been his greatest inspiration, whether among the snows at Valley Forge or the honours of the Presidential chair. Pliny’s pen was driven through all its poetic and historical dominions by his wife, Calpurnia, who sang his stanzas to the sound of flute, and sat among audiences enraptured at her husband’s genius, herself the most enraptured. Pericles said he got all his eloquence and statesmanship from his wife. When the wife of Grotius rescued him from long imprisonment at Lovestein by means of a bookcase that went in and out, carrying his books to and fro, in which he was one day transported, hidden amid the folios; and the women of besieged Wurzburg, getting permission from the victorious army to take with them so much of their valuables as they could carry, under cover of the promise shouldered and took with them, as the most important valuables, their husbands--both achievements in a literal way illustrated what thousands of times has been done in a figurative way, namely, that wifely ambition has been the salvation of men. De Tocqueville, whose writings will be potential and quoted while the world lasts, ascribes his successes to his wife, and says: “Of all the blessings which God has given to me, the greatest of all in my eyes is to have lighted on Maria Motley.” Martin Luther says of his wife, “I would not exchange my poverty with her for all the riches of Croesus without her.” Isabella of Spain, by her superior faith in Columbus, put into the hand of Ferdinand, her husband, America. John Adams, President of the United States, said of his wife: “She never by word or look discouraged me from running all hazards for the salvation of my country’s liberties.” A whole cemetery of monumental inscriptions will not do a wife so much good after she has quit the world as one plain sentence like that which Tom Hood wrote to his living wife when he said: “I never was anything till I knew you.” O woman, what is your wifely ambition, noble or ignoble? Is it high social position? That will then probably direct your husband, and he will climb and scramble and slip and fall and rise and tumble, and on what level, or in what depth, or on what height he will, after a while, be found, I cannot even guess. The contest for social position is the most unsatisfactory contest in all the world, because it is so uncertain about your getting it, and so insecure a possession after you have obtained it, and so unsatisfactory even if you keep it. The whisk of a lady’s fan may blow it out. The growl of one “bear,” or the bellowing of one “bull” on Wall Street, may scatter it. Some of us could tell of what influence upon us has been a wifely ambition consecrated to righteousness. A man is no better than his wife will let him be. O wives, swing your sceptres of wifely influence for God and good homes! Do not urge your husbands to annex Naboth’s vineyard to your palace of success, whether right or wrong, lest the dogs that come out to destroy Naboth come out also to devour you. Righteousness will pay best in life, will pay best in death, will pay best in judgment, will pay best through all eternity. In our effort to have the mother of every household appreciate her influence over her children, we are apt to forget the wife’s influence over the husband. In many households the influence upon the husband is the only home influence. In a great multitude of the best and most important and most talented families of the earth there have been no descendants. Multitudes of the finest families of the earth are extinct. As though they had done enough for the world by their genius or wit or patriotism or invention or consecration, God withdrew them. In multitudes of cases all woman’s opportunity for usefulness is with her contemporaries. How important that it be an improved opportunity! While the French warriors on their way to Rheims had about concluded to give up attacking the castle at Troyes, because it was so heavily garrisoned, Joan of Are entered the room and told them they would be inside the castle in three days. “We would willingly wait six days,” said one of the leaders. “Six!” she cried out, “you shall be in it to-morrow,” and, under her leadership, on the morrow they entered. On a smaller scale, every man has garrisons to subdue and obstacles to level, and every wife may be an inspired Joan of Are to her husband. What a noble, wifely ambition, the determination, God helping, to accompany her companion across the stormy sea of this life and together gain the wharf of the Celestial City! Coax him along with you! You cannot drive him there You cannot nag him there; but you can coax him there. That is God’s plan. He coaxes us all the way--coaxes us out of our sins, coaxes us to accept pardon, coaxes us to heaven. If we reach that blessed place, it will be through a prolonged and Divine coaxing. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Wives who mar their husbands
By the fate of Ahab, whose wife induced him to steal; by the fate of Macbeth, whose wife pushed him into massacre; by the fate of James Ferguson, the philosopher, whose wife entered the room while he was lecturing and wilfully upset his astronomical apparatus, so that he turned to the audience and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have the misfortune to be married to this woman”; by the fate of Bulwer, the novelist, whose wife’s temper was so incompatible that he furnished her a beautiful house near London, and withdrew from her company; by the fate of John Milton, who married a termagant after he was blind, and when somebody called her a rose, the poet said, “I am no judge of colours, but I may be so, for I feel the thorns daily”--by all these scenes of disquietude and domestic calamity, we implore you to be cautious and prayerful before you enter upon the connubial state, which decides whether a man shall have two heavens or two hells, a heaven here and a heaven there, or a hell now and a hell hereafter. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
1 Kings 21:17-19
And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite.
Elijah’s mission of judgment
We bend our attention exclusively on the part played by Elijah amid these terrible transactions.
I. He was called back to service. How many years had elapsed since last the word of the Lord had come to Elijah, we do not know. Perhaps five or six. All this while he must have waited wistfully for the well-known accents of that voice, longing to hear it once again. Hours, and even years, of silence are full of golden opportunities for the servants of God. In such cases, our conscience does not condemn us or accuse us with any sufficient reason arising from ourselves. Our simple duty, then, is to keep clean, and filled, and ready; standing on the shelf, meet for the Master’s use; sure that we serve if we only stand and wait; and knowing that He will accept, and reward, the willingness for the deed. “Nevertheless, thou didst well, in that it was in thine heart.”
II. Elijah was not disobedient. Once before, when his presence was urgently required, he had arisen to flee for his life. But there was no vacillation, no cowardice now. His old heroic faith had revived in him again. His spirit had regained its wonted posture in the presence of Jehovah. His nature had returned to its equipose in the will of God.
III. He was acting as an incarnate conscience. Naboth was out of the way; and Ahab may have solaced himself, as weak people do still, with the idea that he was not his murderer. How could he be? He had been perfectly quiescent. He had simply put his face to the wall and done nothing. Often a man, who dares not do a disgraceful act himself, calls a subordinate to his side, and says: “Such a thing needs doing; I wish you would see to it. Use any of my appliances you will; only do not trouble me further about it--and of course you had better not do anything wrong.” In God’s sight that man is held responsible for whatever evil is done by his tool in the execution of his commission. The blame is laid on the shoulders of the Principal; and it will be more tolerable for the subordinate than for him in the day of judgment. Further than that, but on the line of the same principle, if an employer of labour, by paying an inadequate and unjust wage, tempts his employes to supplement their scanty pittance by dishonest or unholy methods, he is held responsible, in the sight of Heaven, for the evil which he might have prevented, if he had not been wilfully and criminally indifferent. It is sometimes the duty of a servant of God fearlessly to rebuke sinners who think their high position a licence to evil-doing, and a screen from rebuke. And let all such remember that acts of high-handed sin often seem at first to prosper.
IV. He was hated for the truth’s sake. “And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” Though the king knew it not, Elijah was his best friend; Jezebel his direst foe. But sin distorts everything. It is like the grey dawn which so obscures the most familiar objects that men mistake friends for foes, and foes for friends: as in the old story, the frenzied King of Wales slew the faithful hound that had saved his child from death. Many a time have men repeated the error of the disciples, who mistook Jesus for an evil spirit, and cried out for fear.
V. He was a true prophet. Each of the woes which Elijah foretold came true. Ahab postponed their fulfilment, by a partial repentance, for some three years but, at the end of that time, he went back to his evil ways, and every item was literally fulfilled. But as we close this tragic episode in his career, we rejoice to learn that he was reinstated in the favour of God; and stamped again with the Divine imprimatur of trustworthiness and truth. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
1 Kings 21:20
Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?
Ahab and Elijah
The keynote of Elijah’s character is force--the force of righteousness. The New Testament, you remember, talks about the “power of Elias.” The outward appearance of the man corresponds to his function and his character. 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. And so the deed is done: Naboth safe 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: But my business now is rather with the consequences of this apparently successful sin, than with what went before it. 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.
I. Pleasure won by sin is peace lost. 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 fruit 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. Conscience and consequence are alike lost sight of. 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. It is gone as a motive. Like some savage beast, being fed full, it lies down to sleep. There is a vacuum left in the heart, the noise is stilled, and then--and then--conscience begins to speak. Now, you will say that all that is true in regard to the grossest forms of transgression, but that it is not true in regard to the less vulgar and sensual kinds of crime. Of course it is most markedly observable with regard to the coarsest kind of sins; but it is as true, though perhaps not in the same degree-not in the same prominent, manifest way at any rate--in regard to every sin that a man does. There is never an evil thing which--knowing it to be evil--we commit, which does not rise up to testify against us. As surely as to-night’s debauch is followed by to-morrow’s headache; so surely--each after its kind, and each in its own region--every sin lodges in the human heart the seed of a quickspringing punishment, yea, is its own punishment. When we come to grasp the sweet thing that we have been tempted to seize, there is a serpent that starts up amongst all the flowers. When the evil act is done--opposite of the prophet’s roll--it is sweet in the lips, but oh! it is bitter afterwards. “At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder!” 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.
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,
III. The sin which mistakes the friendly appeal for an enemy, lays up for itself a terrible retribution. 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. That plain was the battlefield for the subsequent discomfiture of Israel. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Success that fails
Ahab went out to take possession of a garden of herbs, and there he stands face to face with righteousness, face to face with honour, face to face with judgment. Now take the vineyard! He cannot! An hour since the sun shone upon it, and now it is black as if it were part of the midnight which has gathered in judgment. There is a success which is failure. We cannot take some prizes. Elijah will not allow us! When we see him we would that a way might open under our feet that we might flee and escape the judgment of his silent look. If any man is about to take unholy prizes, let him remember that he will be met on the road by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of righteousness. If any man is attempting to scheme for some little addition to his position or fortune, in the heart of which scheme there is injustice, untruthfulness, covetousness, or a wrong spirit, let him know that he may even kill Naboth, but cannot enter into Naboth’s vineyard. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The tragedy of Jezreel
When a man gives way to lust and coveting, does not struggle against them, a tempter is sure to be at hand to put him on gratifying them one way or another.
1. “Be sure,” said Moses to the Reubenites, “Your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23). What an exemplification here! how literally was Elijah’s denunciation fulfilled! Yes, and history and human experience are ever bearing witness to this, that sin finds out the sinner; and that, not simply in punishment following sin, but in the sin becoming its own means of detection and punishment--in a certain correlation of sin and its penalty. “Thine own wickedness” etc (Jeremiah 2:19). “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” etc. (Galatians 6:7). “Whoso breaketh a hedge,” etc. (Ecclesiastes 10:8).
2. Success in wrongdoing the sinner’s loss. Better indeed had it been for Ahab if Jezebel’s scheme had failed. Men often fret and fume if thwarted in attaining some coveted object, yet may it have been their mercy to be so thwarted. It is Divine goodness which again and again hedges up our way, and providentially coerces us. To be given up to the devices and desires of our own hearts is the sorest of judgments.
3. The fatal mistake of resenting righteous rebuke. Terrible was Ahab’s mistake in calling Elijah his enemy. That uncompromising rebuker, his truest friend, would he only have listened to him instead of yielding to the siren seductions of Jezebel. (A. R. Symonds, M. A.)
Blind to one’s own guilt
1. That which first of all blinded Ahab more or less to the true character and extent of his responsibility for the death of Naboth was the force of desire. A single desire long dwelt upon, cherished, and indulged, has a blinding power which cannot easily be exaggerated. Ahab had long looked wistfully from his villa across the moat of Jezreel at the vineyard of Naboth. There it lay, beautiful in itself, most desirable as an appendage to the royal property. Without it the summer villa was obviously incomplete, and each visit to Jezreel would have strengthened the king’s wish to possess it. It was not that he enjoyed to baulk a great man’s wishes in the spirit of that rough and surly independence which is sometimes fostered by the near neighbourhood of a Court; it was not that he was governed by a natural sentiment common in all ages and civilisations against parting with an old family property; it was that the sacred law did not permit the exchange or the sale. With a view to maintaining the original distribution of landed property among the tribes, and of preventing the accumulation of large landed estates in a few hands, the Mosaic law forbade the alienation of lands or families holding them; and especially it forbade the transfer from one tribe to another. And this is the meaning of Naboth’s exclamation, “The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.” Desire is not always wrong in its early stages, and so long as it is under control of principle it is a motive, a useful motive power in human life. But when it finds itself in conflict with the rights of other men, and, above all, in conflict with the laws and with the rights of God, it must be suppressed unless it is to lead to crime. When Naboth declined to sell or to exchange his vineyard, Ahab ought to have ceased to desire it. Ahab went back to his palace baulked of his desire by the conscientious resistance of Naboth. The impulsive force in life is not thought, nor will, but desire. Thought sees its object; will gives orders with a view to attain it; but without desire thought is powerless, and will, in the operative sense, does not exist. Desire is to the human soul what gravitation is to the heavenly bodies. Ascertain the object of a man’s desire, and you know the direction in which his soul is moving; ascertain the strength of a man’s desire, and you know the rapidity of the soul’s movement. In St. Augustine’s memorable words, “Whithersoever I am carried forward it is desire that carries me.” Quocumque feror amore feror. If the supreme object of desire is God, then desire becomes the grace of charity, and carries the soul onwards and upwards to the true source of its existence. If the supreme object of desire be something earthly, some person, some possession, then desire becomes what Scripture calls concupiscence, and carries the soul downwards--downwards to those regions in which the soul is buried and stifled by matter and sense. Concupiscence is desire diverted from its true object--God--and centred upon some created object which perverts and degrades it; and concupiscence grows by self-indulgence; it may very easily pass a point at which it can be no longer controlled, it may absorb as into a practically resistless current all the other interests and movements of the soul; it may concentrate with an all-increasing importunity the whole body and stock of feeling and passion upon some trifling object upon which, for the moment, it is bent, and which, by absorbing it, blinds it--blinds it utterly to the true proportions and value of things into the true meaning and import of action. So it was with Pharaoh when he set out in the pursuit of Israel; so it was with the vain and miserable Haman when he set his heart on exterminating the Jews; so it was with Ahab.
2. And a second cause, which could have blinded Ahab to the true character of his responsibility for the murder of Naboth, was the ascendant influence and prominent agency of his queen, Jezebel. Ahab could not have enjoyed the results of Jezebel’s achievement, and decline to accept responsibility for it; yet, no doubt, he was more than willing to do this, more than willing to believe that matters had drifted somehow into other hands than his, and that the upshot, regrettable, no doubt, in one sense, but in another not altogether unwelcome, was beyond his control. It is to-day, as of old, that false conscience constantly endeavours to divest itself of responsibility for what has been done through others, or for what others had been allowed by us to do. This is the origin of that saying, “Corporations have no conscience.” The fact is that every individual member of a corporation gets too easily into the habit of thinking that all, or some of the other members are really answerable for the acts of tim whole, and that each merely acquiesces in what the others decide or do. But then, if everybody thinks this, where, meanwhile, does the real responsibility reside?--it must be somewhere, it cannot evaporate altogether. In very large bodies of men acting together, the responsibility is divided into very small portions of unequal magnitude; this is the case with nations and with churches, but responsibility is not destroyed by being thus distributed; while, on the other hand- the smaller the corporation the greater the responsibility of each one of its members. Thus the responsibility of each member of the British legislature for the well-being of the country is vastly greater than that of each Englishman who possesses a vote, and that of each member of the Cabinet is vastly greater than that of each member of Parliament. Ahab and Jezebel were at this time, practically speaking, the governing corporation in Israel, but Ahab could not shift his responsibility on Jezebel.
3. And the third screen which would have blinded Ahab to the real state of the case was the perfection of the legal form which had characterised the proceedings. When Jezebel wrote to the magistrates of Jezreel she had been very careful indeed about legal propriety. She wrote in the “king’s name;” she signed the letter with the king’s seal, which would have borne the king’s signature, and this, when stamped on the writing, made the actual signature unnecessary. Thus the letter had nothing less than the character of a royal command, and was addressed to the persons at Jezreel with whom the administration of justice properly lay--the elders and notables, the local magistracy. Law is a great and sacred thing. It is nothing less than a shadow upon earth of the justice of God. The forms which surround it, the rules which give it the dignity and honour which belong to its representatives, are the outworks of a thing itself entitled to our reverence. But when the machinery of law is tampered with, as was, no doubt, the case by Jezebel, when a false witness or a biased judge contributes to a result which, if legal, is not also moral, then law is like an engine off the rails--its remaining force is the exact measure of its capacity for mischief and for wrong, then, indeed, if ever, Summum jus, summa injuria. Naboth’s trial and execution was, in truth, one of the earliest recorded samples in the world’s history of that dreadful outrage against God and man--a judicial murder. When the sword of justice smites down innocence and becomes the instrument of crime, the whole spirit and drift of law is abandoned, its language and its usages survive, and, as in Ahab’s case, they form a screen between a guilty conscience and the stern reality. Of the authors and abettors of such deeds as this, it was said in an earlier age, “They will not be learned nor understand, but walk on still in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.” The foundations are out of course! Yes, that is the effect bad law makes in many a case where consciences, the deepest and most precious things in the moral and social life of man, are ruined. Propriety of outward form in the condemnation of Naboth is the measure of the miserable self-deceit of Ahab.
1. Let us carry away two lessons, if no more. The first to keep all forms of desire well under control--under the control of conscience illuminated by principle, illuminated by faith. Some measure of desire is necessary for exertion; but the fewer wants we have the freer men we are, and the freer we are the happier we are. The one direction in which desire may be safely unchecked is heavenward. Safety lies in taking and keeping it well in hand, and in doing this betimes.
2. And, secondly, for us Christians the event or the man who discovers us to ourselves should be held to be not our enemy, but our friend. (Canon Liddon, D. D.)
1 Kings 21:25
But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord.
I. An illustration of the depths of human depravity.
1. Ahab’s pre-eminence in sin (1 Kings 16:30). There had been many instances of wickedness decked with the robes of royalty; but there was none like Ahab.
2. Ahab’s bargain with hell. He stands before us as a self-sold slave of the devil. Ahab sold himself! What a bargain!
3. The daring character of Ahab’s wickedness. “In the sight of the Lord.” Most strive to work wickedness under the covert of darkness--under the shades of night, or wearing the hypocrite’s mask. Not so Ahab.
II. An evidence of the unmanly servility of evil. “Whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.” This Syrian princess, whom Ahab had married, was a woman of the most consummate subtlety, duplicity, and cruelty.
III. A proof of the magnitude of the divine mercy. Great was the long-suffering of God in permitting Ahab to reign so long (2 Peter 3:9). Great, too, was His mercy in regarding the humiliation of this guilty man (1 Kings 21:29), i.e. the destruction of his posterity (Psalms 86:15). “God gives no repulse” (says Bengel), “when He gives good things: He neither upbraids us with our past folly and unworthiness, nor with future abuse of His goodness.”
IV. The evanescent nature of merely selfish penitence. Ahab appeared by his fasting and humiliation to return to God; but his goodness proved “like the morning cloud.” He soon cast off the yoke of the Divine authority, and “returned to his wallowing in the mire.” In this he is the type of multitudes, who in their affliction say, “Come, and let us return unto the Lord”; but bring forth no “fruits meet for repentance.” (Patrick Morrison.)
1 Kings 21:27
And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes.
I. How Ahab’s repentance was called forth. A threefold crime is here laid to the charge of the King of Israel: that he had provoked God to anger--that he had made Israel to sin--and that he had sold himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord. It was for this cause that the sword of the Almighty had been whetted for the destruction of himself and his house. It is a common proverb that “Every man has his price”; that there is something for which every one will be found willing to sell himself. These are words of very awful import, and yet they are but too true concerning every natural man. The children of this world, proud as they are of themselves, may always be bought with one temptation or another: honours, profits, pleasures of one class or another, will induce them to debase themselves more and more. The idol to which Ahab sacrificed was his affection for Jezebel. His own will, his honour, his peace of conscience, the salvation of his soul, the favour of God--all that he had or hoped for, was laid at this idol’s feet. Would that he were singular in such infatuation; or only one of a few! But alas, it is common in every age. Let any one ask himself, why he is an unbeliever; why he despises the people of God; why he serves the world and the devil, and endeavours to stifle every good conviction. What an accursed alliance, though it be under the sacred name of friendship itself, must that be, which is connected with enmity against God!
II. What kind of repentance it was. This mourning of the King of Samaria was real as far as it went. The wretched outward dress in which he appeared was a true expression of his inward temper and state of mind. Still, much was wanting in his repentance to render it a repentance unto life and salvation. It was not a mourning like that of the woman that was a sinner at the feet of Jesus, like that of the thief on the cross, or that of the poor publican. Ahab’s repentance was utterly destitute of love; and it is love which hallows all our acts and deeds, and give them a real value. Now, when a sinner has, with heartfelt seriousness, pronounced sentence against himself before the throne of God, he has begun to die to the law. For here is an end of his supposed self-righteousness, and of his own supposed ability. But that true repentance, which the Scripture calls a godly sorrow, and a repentance which needeth not to be repented of, does not, as yet necessarily exist. This is but, as it were, dying before the Divine holiness; as we see was the case of St. Paul, in Romans 7:1-25,: “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” Now, this glorious and happy death comes by “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2). And this law is no other than the Gospel; whereby alone it is that true, divine, and saving repentance is called forth.
III. What were its consequences. Here was a delay of execution; but no revocation of the sentence. The curse still rested upon Ahab and his house. Yet even this respect shown to a repentance which had so little intrinsic worth, this exemption of Ahab from personally experiencing those storms which impended over his house, was an instance of great condescension and favour. But why, it may be asked, if Ahab’s humiliation was so little worth, was any Divine regard shown towards it? This, we answer, was to show by a living example that self-condemnation and abasement before God is the way to escape His anger, and obtain His favour. Just as a novice in any art or trade may be cheered by words of encouragement at the first favourable attempt which he makes, however important it may be; so the exemption which the Lord made in Ahab’s favour on repenting, was calculated to encourage him to aim at something better. Self-condemnation, self-abasement, and giving God the glory, are the first steps from spiritual death to spiritual life. (F. W. Krummacher, D. D.)
Repentance of Ahab
I. A person whose heart is unchanged, and who is totally destitute of real piety, may perform many outward religious duties, and have inward sentiments and affections, somewhat resembling the Christian graces.
II. How powerful is the word of God, which can humble the haughtiest oppressors, and make the most hardened of mortals tremble.
III. Sin is always succeeded by sorrow and remorse. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
In the context we have three subjects worthy of attention.
1. A fiendishly greedy soul,
2. A truly heroic soul.
3. A morally alarmed soul. In this incident we discover three things.
I. The worthlessness of a partial reformation.
II. The mighty force of Divine truth.
III. The self-frustrating power of sin. (Homilist.)
Ahab’s sin and repentance
There is much in this old chronicle of sin and doom which it may profit us to ponder. Let me try to bring out of it some present-day lessons of warning and admonition.
I. Happiness consists, not in having, but in being. How many even to-day are letting their lives be darkened because some Naboth denies them a vineyard, or some Mordecai will not salute them! They forget that, even if they had the things which they so long for, happiness would be as far from them as ever, and some new object would take the place of their old grievance. They do lack one thing. But that one thing is not external to them, but within them. They lack a new heart, and until they get that they can have no abiding satisfaction. “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.”
II. The evil of unhallowed alliances. Dazzled with the glitter of a fortune, or the glare of an exalted position, a young person enters into the sacred alliance of matrimony with one who has no moral stability or Christian excellence, and the issue is certain misery, with the probable addition of crime and disaster.
III. The perversion which an evil heart makes of religious knowledge. The Spaniards have a proverb somewhat to this effect, “When the serpent straightens himself, it is that he may go into his hole.” So when the unscrupulous suddenly manifest some punctilious regard for legal forms or for religious observances, you may be sure that they are after mischief. Some of the blackest crimes that have ever been committed have been perpetrated through the forms of law, or under the colour of religion. Is it not true that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”? and are we forcibly impressed with the fact that no one is so daringly defiant in wickedness as he who knows the truth and disregards it? Mere knowledge never yet saved any one from ruin; for, if the heart be perverted, everything that enters the head is only made subservient to its iniquity. Your educated villains are all the more dangerous because of their education; and among godless men they are the most to be dreaded who have an intelligent acquaintance with the Word of God.
IV. The price which we have to pay for sin. What weighty words are these of Elijah to Ahab, “Thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord”! The great German poet has elaborated this thought into that weird production wherein he represents his hero as selling his soul to the mocking Mephistopheles. And it were well that every evil-doer laid to heart the moral of his tragic tale. That which the sinner gives for his unhallowed pleasure or dishonest gain is himself. Consider it well.
V. The curse which attends ill-gotten gains. The gains of ungodliness are weighted with the curse of God; and, sooner or later, that will be made apparent. For the moral government of God to-day is administered on the same principles as those which we find underlying this narrative. True, the dishonest man now pursuing his purposes in secret may have no Elijah sent to him, with the special mission to declare to him the sort of punishment which shall overtake him; but Elijah’s God is living yet, and one has only to open his eyes, and mark the progress of events from year to year, to be convinced that “sorrow tracketh wrong, as echo follows song--on, on, on.”
VI. The tenderness of God toward the penitent. Ahab was filled with bitter regret at what had been done, and God, who will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax, said that the evil should not come in his day. If God were so considerate of Ahab, the idolater, the murderer, the thief, will He not regard thee, O thou tearful one! who art bemoaning the number and aggravation of thy sins? Go, then, to Him; and let this be thine encouragement. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Ahab’s repentance, and punishment deferred
I. The repentance of Ahab was awakened by the fearful prediction of coming vengeance, which Elijah delivered at the moment when he had taken possession of Naboth’s vineyard. Mark the power of the Divine word. Is it not “like as a fire, saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces”? In the moment of Ahab’s humiliation, his remorse was sincere; i.e., his conscience was roused, his fears excited, his sense of God’s justice real, and his desire for pardon unfeigned.
II. Ahab’s punishment was suspended in his own days. “Because he humbleth himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days.” How can this be? It is possible that the God of mercy should show mercy; and that His mercy should rejoice against judgment. The history of our own lives, still spared and still prolonged, notwithstanding our manifold transgressions, is an evidence of this certain truth. And what is the practical result, arising from this combined view of God’s mercy and truth? Assuredly, it will cause the contrite to hope, and the careless to fear. The one will recognise, in the sorest visitations that befall him, the hand of a gracious Father who chastens that He may bless; and whose afflictions are strewed upon the path of life, like the arrows of Jonathan before David, not for destruction, but for warning. The other will as surely perceive, that God’s word shall not return unto him void; and, that, if it work not his conversion, it must be his condemnation. The threatenings which are revealed, that the sinner may repent, will remain, if he do not repent, to proclaim his fall.
III. The threatened evil, which was suspended in the days of Ahab, should, in his son’s days, be brought upon his house. And here we cannot but call to mind the fact, that, whatever be the difficulties, connected with the view which is here presented to us, of God’s moral government, or however weakly we may succeed in explaining them; it is, still, the government of God, of Him who is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works. The matter of fact, in the history before us, came to pass, as it is here predicted. Evil was brought upon Ahab’s house, in his son’s days Ahaziah, his first successor, soon perished. The next, Jehoram, fell by the arm of Jehu, in the very portion of Naboth’s field. The seventy sons in Jezreel, were also slain, in obedience to the commands of Jehu, which he sent to the elders of that city; and, last of all, the same anointed captain, “slew all that remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men, and all his kinsfolk, and his priests, until he left him none remaining.” Now, if we examine the sacred narrative which relates these events, we shall find that all these descendants of Ahab walked in his evil ways, and wrought evil in the sight of the Lord. It was not the innocent, then, suffering for the guilty; but the guilty reaping the harvest of his own guilt. And since “known unto God are all his works before the beginning of the world,” the whole of this train of wickedness was known likewise,--itself, its causes, and its consequences,--that long process stretching out, from year to year, and from generation to generation,--whose separate and disjointed portions, only, can be discerned by moral intellect,--but the whole of which was, alike, and at the same moment, present to the Eternal Mind. It is difficult for us, in forming our estimate of actions, to preserve this distinction between the occasion which leads to an event, and its immediate effective cause; but a distinction there is, and must be remembered. When a criminal is convicted at the tribunal of an earthly judge, the law, and they who administer it, are the instrumental causes of inflicting the sentence; but the crime committed is the immediate cause which deserves it. We do not confound these things, in our estimate of the dealings between man and man: let us not confound them, therefore, when we are contemplating the revealed dispensations of God to man. But may we not be permitted, in some degree, to trace the course of the Divine counsels, in the present instance? The punishment of Ahab’s descendants, we know to have been inflicted under a theocracy, which employed temporal rewards, and temporal punishments, as the instruments of its government. Now, what instrument could be more powerful, in such a case, than the prospect of misery, about to fall upon the children of the sinner, as well as upon himself? His own licentious and hardened passions might make a man insensible to the fear of temporal evil befalling himself; but, when he was assured, as he could not fail to be, by the moral law of Moses, that Divine wrath would visit his iniquity, upon his “children, unto the third and fourth generation,” every instinctive feeling of parental kindness and affection would be enlisted on the side of duty, and act as a restraint upon the unruly will. (J. S. M. Anderson, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Kings 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany