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THE STORY OF NABOTH. THE DOOM OF AHAB'S HOUSE. HIS PENITENCE.—
1 Kings 21:1
And it came to pass after these things [These words are omitted in the Vat. LXX; which, as before remarked, transposes 1 Kings 20:1-43. and 21. See introductory note, 1 Kings 20:1-43.], that Naboth ["Fruit," "produce" (Gesen). Wordsworth sees in him a type of Christ, cast out of the vineyard (Matthew 21:39) and slain] the Jezreelite [The Alex. LXX. here, and throughout the chapter, reads ὁ Ἰσραηλίτης. Josephus (Ant. 8.13. 8) says that Naboth was of illustrious family] had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel [See note on 1 Kings 18:46], hard by the palace [LXX. threshing-floor. Stanley, arguing from this word, would reject the Hebrew text of this narrative, which places both the vineyard and the plot of ground (2 Kings 9:25, 2 Kings 9:26) in Jezreel, and would locate the vineyard on the hill of Samaria, in the "void place" of 1 Kings 22:10] of Ahab king of Samaria. [It is clear from these last words that Jezreel had not replaced Samaria as the capital. It was a "palace" only that Ahab had there. No doubt the beauty of the situation had led to its purchase or erection. As Jezreel is only twenty-five miles distant from Samaria, it is obvious that it might be readily visited by the court.]
1 Kings 21:2
And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard [The prediction of Samuel (1 Samuel 8:14) is being realized], that I may have it for a garden of herbs [as in Deuteronomy 11:10; Romans 15:17], because it is near unto [Heb. beside] my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it: or [Heb. omits or], if it seem good to thee [Heb. if good in thine eyes], I will give thee the worth of it in money. [Heb. I will give to thee silver the price of it. See note on 1 Kings 20:39. Whatever Ahab's moral weakness, he was certainly a prince of some enterprize. 1 Kings 22:39 speaks of the "cities "which he built. And the palace of Jezreel would seem to have been erected by him. This vineyard was to be one of his improvements.]
1 Kings 21:3
And Naboth said to Ahab, The Lord forbid it me [Heb. Far be it to me from Jehovah. These words reveal to us, first, that Naboth was a worshipper of the Lord—otherwise he would hardly have used the sacred name, and that to Ahab, with whom the servants of the true God had found but scant favour; and, secondly, that he looked upon the alienation of his patrimony as an act displeasing to the Lord, and as violating the law of Moses (Le 25:93 sqq.; Numbers 36:7 sqq.) We have instances of the sale of land to the king in 2 Samuel 24:24—but that was by a Jebusite—and in 1 Kings 16:24], that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee. ["The preservation of the נַחֲלָה was for every covenant keeping Israelite a matter not merely of piety towards his family and his tribe but a religious duty" (Bähr). It is clear, however, that the restraints of the old Mosaic law began to be irksome in that latitudinarian age. Many of its provisions were already regarded as obsolete.]
1 Kings 21:4
And Ahab came into his house [At Samaria, as we gather from 1 Kings 21:18, 1Ki 21:14, 1 Kings 21:16, etc.] heavy and displeased [Heb. sullen and angry; same words as in 1 Kings 20:43. Ewald thinks that we have here a clear reference to that passage] because of the word which Naboth the Jezreellte had spoken to him: for [Heb. and] he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed [Rawlinson understands this to mean the couch on which the Orientals recline at meals. And מִטָּה is used with this meaning in Esther 1:6 Ezekiel 23:41, and elsewhere. But "his bed" seems rather to point to his private chamber; see on Ezekiel 23:5], and turned away his face [The Vulgate adds ad parietem. Cf. 2 Kings 20:2; from which place it may have been unconsciously introduced here], and would eat no bread. [Keil contends that" this childish mode of giving expression to his displeasure shows very clearly that Ahab was a man sold under sin (2 Kings 20:20), who only wanted the requisite energy to display the wickedness of his heart in vigorous action;" but whether this is a just inference from these words may well be questioned. It rather shows that so little did he meditate evil that he accepted the refusal of Naboth as conclusive, and gave way to childish grief.
1 Kings 21:5
But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad [same word as in 1 Kings 21:4], that thou eatest no bread? [It would seem that the queen missed him from the banqueting hall—he can hardly, therefore, have lain down on one of the divans or couches therein—and went to his bedroom to inquire the reason.]
1 Kings 21:6
And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and said unto him; Give me thy vineyard for money [Heb. silver]; or else, if it please [Heb. delight] thee, I will give thee another vineyard for it: and he answered [Heb. said], I will not give thee my vineyard. [Ahab does not mention the reason which Naboth assigned for his refusal. But Naboth's reasons were nothing to him, and he had hardly given them a second thought.]
1 Kings 21:7
And Jezebel his wife said unto him. Dost thou now govern [Heb. make; LXX: ποιεῖς [βασιλέα] the kingdom of Israel? [There is no question expressed in the Hebrew which stands, "Thou now makest the kingdom over Israel." The commentators generally, however, understand the words—as the LXX. and the A.V.—as an ironical question, "Art thou ruler in aught but name?" though some take it as an imperative: "Do thou now exert authority over the kingdom of Israel," And on the whole, this latter interpretation appears to be preferable. "Do thou now play the king. Make thy power felt. Give me the requisite authority. I will," etc.] Arise, and eat bread [or food], and let thine heart be merry [Heb. good; same words 1 Samuel 25:36]: I [This word is emphatic. "If thou wilt do thy part, I will do mine."] will give thee [no need to buy it] the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.
1 Kings 21:8
So she wrote letters [Heb. writings] in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal [The use of the seal, for the purpose of authentication, is of great antiquity. Some of the Egyptian signets are more than 4,000 years old. Their use in the age of the patriarchs is attested by Genesis 38:15 and Genesis 41:42; their importance is proved by the text, by Esther 3:10; Esther 8:2, Esther 8:8, Esther 8:10 (cf. "Herod," 3:128); Daniel 6:17; Jeremiah 32:10, 54; Haggai 2:23, etc. Whether this seal—which does not necessarily prove that those who used it could not write—was impressed upon the writings themselves according to the modern practice of the East, or upon a piece of clay (Job 38:14), which was then attached to the letter by strings, we have no means of knowing. The use of Ahab's seal affords a strong presumption that he was privy to her designs (Bähr), but of this we cannot be absolutely certain], and sent the letters unto the elders [see Deuteronomy 16:18] and to the nobles [same word Nehemiah 2:16; Nehemiah 4:13; Ecclesiastes 10:17] that were in his city, dwelling [or inhabitants, as in Ecclesiastes 10:11] with Naboth.
1 Kings 21:9
And she wrote in the letters, saying Proclaim a fast [The object of this ordinance was to give the impression that the city was labouring under, or threatened with, a curse, because of some undiscovered sin (2 Samuel 21:1; Joshua 9:11; Deuteronomy 21:9), which must be removed or averted by public humiliation. Cf. Joel 1:14; Joel 2:12; 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Chronicles 20:3)], and set Naboth on high among the people. [Heb. at the head of the people. Keil, al. interpret, bring him into the court of justice, as defendant before all the people." And certainly הוֹשִׁיבוּ here, and in the next verse—where it is used of the witnesses (cf. verse 13)—means, make to sit; which looks as if judicial procedure were intended. But "at the head of the people "rather suggests that in the public assembly, which marked the fast (Joel 2:15), Naboth was assigned the most distinguished place. The reason for this is obvious, viz; to give a colour of impartiality to the proceedings. As Grotius, Ne odio damnasse crederentur, quem ipsi honoraverunt. It would also accord with the popular idea of retributive justice that Naboth should be denounced in the very hour of his triumph and exaltation. Josephus, however, says that it was because of his high birth that this position was assigned him.]
1 Kings 21:10
And set two men [according to the previsions of the law (Deuteronomy 17:6, Deuteronomy 17:7; Deuteronomy 19:5; Numbers 35:30). "Even Jezebel bears witness to the Pentateuch" (Wordsworth). Josephus speaks of three witnesses], sons of Belial [i.e; worthless men. This use of the word "son" (cf. Psalms 89:22, "son of wickedness"), which is one of the commonest idioms of the East, throws some light on the expression "sons of the prophets" (see 1 Kings 20:35, note; cf. Deuteronomy 13:13; Matthew 26:60)], before him [confronting him], to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme [Heb. bless; cf. Job 1:5, Job 1:11; Job 2:5; LXX. εὐλόγησε. The Lexicographers are not agreed as to how this word, the primary meaning of which is to kneel, hence to pray, to bless, came to signify curse or blaspheme. According to some, it is an euphemism, the idea of cursing God being altogether too horrible for the Jew to express in words; whilst others derive this signification from the fact that a curse is really a prayer addressed to God; and others, again, account for it by the consideration that a person who bids farewell to another sometimes does so in the sense of dismissing and cursing him. Anyhow, it is noticeable that the word "blessing" is sometimes used with a similar meaning amongst ourselves] God and the king [God and the representative of God in Israel are here coupled together, as in Exodus 22:28. To curse the king was practically to curse Him whose vicegerent he was (cf. Matthew 23:18-22). Hence such cursing is called blasphemy and was punishable with death (Deuteronomy 13:11; Deu 17:5; 2 Samuel 16:9; 2 Samuel 19:21; and see on 1 Kings 2:43, 1 Kings 2:44)]. And then carry him out [i.e; out of the city (cf. Le Exodus 24:14; Acts 7:58; Luke 4:29; Hebrews 13:12). "Locus lapidationis erat extra urbem, omnes enim civitates muris cinctae paritatem habent ad castra Israelis" (Babyl. Sanh.)], and stone him [the legal punishment for blasphemy (Le Exodus 24:16)], that he may die. [The terrible power accorded to "two or three witnesses," of denouncing a man to death, accounts for the prominence given to the sin of bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16; Exodus 23:1; Deuteronomy 19:16). It found a mention in the Decalogue.]
1 Kings 21:11
And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who were the inhabitants in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them [Their ready compliance shows not merely the "deep moral degradation of the Israelites" at that period, but also the terror which the name of Jezebel inspired], and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them. [That she did not hesitate to put her infamous command into writing shows the character of the woman.]
1 Kings 21:12
They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people.
1 Kings 21:13
And there came in [Heb. came. The assembly was probably held al fresco. From the word אֶמֶשׁ, A.V. yesterday, but strictly, yesternight, Stanley suggests that the trial took place by night. But the word is often used in the wider sense of "yesterday" (Gesenius)] two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people [The whole congregation was interested in a charge of blasphemy. If unpunished, the guilt rested on the congregation. Hence the provision of Deuteronomy 24:14. By the imposition of hands they testified that the guilt of the blasphemer thenceforth rested upon his own head], saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth [Heb. made him to go forth] out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died. [It appears from 2 Kings 9:26 that the children of Naboth, who otherwise might have laid claim to their patrimony, were put to death at the same time, and probably in the same way; cf. Joshua 7:24, Joshua 7:25; Numbers 16:27. This was the rule of the East (Daniel 6:24). The principle of visiting the sins of the parents upon the children seems to have been carried to an excess, as we find Joash (2 Kings 14:6) instituting a more merciful rule.]
1 Kings 21:14
Then they sent to Jezebel [clearly she was not at Jezreel], saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead. [Stanley observes that it is significant that this announcement was made to her and not to Ahab. It appears from 1 Kings 21:19 that the corpses both of Naboth and his children were left to be devoured of dogs.]
1 Kings 21:15
And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession [or inherit, succeed to; same word Genesis 21:10; Deuteronomy 2:24; Jeremiah 49:1. The possessions of a person executed for treason were ipso facto forfeited to the crown. There was no law prescribing this, but it followed the principles of the Mosaic code. Just as the goods of the idolater were devoted as cherem to the Lord (Deut, Jeremiah 13:16), so those of the traitor reverted to the king. So Keil] of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give to thee for money [there is a proud malicious triumph in these words. "He refused, simple fool, to sell it. Now thou canst have it for nothing. I have discovered a better plan than buying it"]: for Naboth is not alive, but dead.
1 Kings 21:16
And it came to pass, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab arose up [According to the LXX; his first act was to rend his clothes and put on sackcloth. Afterwards "he rose up," etc.] to go down [The "Great Plain, on the margin of which Jezreel stands, is at a much lower level than Samaria, which is in the mountain district of Ephraim"] to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. ["Behind him—probably in the back part of his chariot—ride his two pages, Jehu and Bidkar (2 Kings 9:26)," Stanley. But the expression "riding in pairs after Ahab" (A.V. "rode together after") does not make it certain that they were in the same chariot. Indeed, they may have been on horseback. This was apparently (2 Kings 9:26) on the day after the murder.]
1 Kings 21:17
And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying [As in 1Ki 17:1, 1 Kings 17:8; 1 Kings 18:1],
1 Kings 21:18
Arise, go down [Bähr hence concludes that Elijah was at this time in a mountain district. But wherever he might be, this word would probably be used of journey to the plain of Esdraelon] to meet ["The word used 1 Samuel 17:48 of David going out to meet Goliath (Stanley). But the same word is used (1 Samuel 18:6) of the women going out to meet Saul, and indeed it is the usual word for all meetings. We cannot hence infer, consequently, that Elijah went forth as if to encounter a foe] Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria [i.e; whose seat is in Samaria; who rules there. There is no need to understand the word of the territory of Samaria]: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it. [The words imply that Elijah found Ahab—strode into his presence—in the vineyard; not that he was there already when the royal chariot entered it (Stanley).]
1 Kings 21:19
And thou shalt speak unto him;. saying, Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed [הֲרָצַחְתָּ, a rare and expressive word. We might render, slaughtered], and also [this word suggests that Jezebel's programme, which he had accepted, was fast being accomplished. But in the very hour of its completion it should be interrupted] taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the Lord [For the repetition, see on 1 Kings 20:13, 1 Kings 20:14], In the place where dogs [LXX. αἱ ὗες καὶ οἱ κύνες] licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood [according to the lex talionis, as in 1 Kings 20:42], even thine. [Heb. even thou. The LXX. adds, "And the harlots shall bathe in thy blood." For the construction see Gesen; Gram. § 119. 3; and cf. Genesis 27:34; Proverbs 23:15; Psalms 9:7. Thenius contends that there is a contradiction between this ver. and 1 Kings 22:38 (together with 2 Kings 9:25) which is absolutely insuperable. But as Bähr observes, "How thoughtless our author must have been if in two consecutive chapters—i.e; on the same leaf, as it were—he had inadvertently inserted direct contradictions." And the following considerations will show that the discrepancy is only apparent.
(1) The sentence here pronounced against Ahab was, on his repentance, stayed in its execution. God said distinctly, "I will not bring the evil in his days," and as distinctly added that He would "bring the evil in his son's days, upon his house" (1 Kings 22:29). And
(2) with the prophecy, as thus modified, the facts exactly record. The body of Jehoram was "cast into the portion of the field of Naboth the Jezreelite" (2 Kings l.c.). And if it be objected
(3) that our historian sees in the death of Ahab in Samaria (1 Kings 20:1-43. l.c.) a fulfilment of this prophecy, the answer is that that death was a partial fulfilment of Elijah's words. The repentance of Ahab, having secured him immunity from this sentence, his subsequent folly and sin (cf. 1 Kings 22:27) nevertheless brought down upon him a judgment of God strikingly similar, as we might expect it would be, to that originally denounced against him, which was now reserved for his son. In ether words, the prophecy was fulfilled to the letter in the person of his son, but it had a secondary fulfilment in its spirit on himself].
1 Kings 21:20
And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me [Not merely, "Hast thou found me out? hast thou surprised me in the very act?" though this meaning is not to be excluded, but also, "Has thy vengeance overtaken me?" מָאָץ is used in this sense 1 Samuel 23:17; Isaiah 10:10; Psalms 21:9. Ahab is so conscience stricken by the sudden apparition of Elijah, whom in all probability he had not seen or heard of since "the day of Carmel," and by his appearance on the scene at the very moment when he was entering on the fruit of his misdoing," in the very blossom of his sin," that he feels that judgment is already begun], O mine enemy? [No doubt the thought was present in Ahab's mind that Elijah had ever been opposed to him and thwarting him, but he does not dream (Von Gerlach, in Bähr) of justifying himself by ascribing Elijah's intervention to personal hatred towards himself. The sequel shows that he was thoroughly conscious of wrong-doing.] And he answered, I have found thee: because [not because I am thine enemy, but because] thou has sold thyself [or sellest thyself, i.e; surrenderest thyself wholly. The idea is clearly derived from the institutions of slavery, according to which the bondservant was wholly at his master's disposal and was bound to accomplish his will. Whether "the practice of men selling themselves into slavery" (Rawlinson) existed in that age may perhaps be doubted. We have the same thought in 2 Kings 17:17, and Romans 7:14] to work evil in the sight of the Lord. [We can readily gather from these words why the doom was denounced against Ahab, who had but a secondary share in the crime, rather than against Jezebel, its real perpetrator. It was because Ahab was the representative of God, God's minister of justice, etc. If he had not himself devised the death of Naboth; if he had, which is possible, remained in ignorance of the means by which Jezebel proposed to procure him the vineyard, he had nevertheless readily and gladly acquiesced in her infamous crime after its accomplishment, and was then reaping its fruits. And because he was the king, the judge, who, instead of punishing the evil doer, sanctioned and approved the deed, and who crowned a reign of idolatries and abominations with this shameful murder, the prophetic sentence is directed primarily against him.]
1 Kings 21:21
Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity [Heb. exterminate after thee. See note on 1 Kings 14:10. Ahab knew well the meaning of these words. He had before him the examples of Baasha and Zimri], and will cut off from Ahab [Heb. to Ahab] him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel [see on 1 Kings 14:10].
1 Kings 21:22
And will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat [cf. 1 Kings 15:29], and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah [1 Kings 16:3, 1 Kings 16:11], for—[אֶל used in the sense of עַל, as elsewhere] the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger [1 Kings 14:9; 1 Kings 16:7, etc.], and made Israel to sin.
1 Kings 21:23
And of Jezebel [Heb. to Jezebel. LXX. τῇ ̓Ιεζάβελ. But we cannot be sure that she also received a message of doom Elijah, as לְ: like אֶל after verbs of from speaking sometimes has the meaning of, concerning. Cf. Genesis 20:13; Psalms 3:3; Judges 9:54; 2 Kings 19:32. Moreover if the denunciation had been direct, it would have run, "The dogs shall eat thee," etc. See also 2 Kings 19:27] also spake the Lord [Probably at the same time. Certainly by the same prophet (2Ki 9:1-37 :86). Elijah's words to Ahab appear to he only partially recorded (ib; 2 Kings 19:26)], saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel [see on 1 Kings 14:11] by the wall [חֵל. same word as חַיל, is used of the strength and defences of a town, sc. its fortifications, and especially of the ditch or moat before them. Cf. 2 Samuel 20:15. The LXX. render by προτείχισμα or περίτειχος, the Vulgate by antemurale. "There is always in Oriental towns a space outside the walls which lies uncultivated and which is naturally used for the deposit of refuse of every kind. Here the dogs prowl, and the kites and vultures find many a feast" (Rawlinson). In 2 Samuel 21:12 we find the bodies of Saul and Jonathan impaled in the open space (A.V. "street") of Bethshean. This heap of refuse—for such the place soon be-comes—is called in the Arabian Nights "the mounds" (Stanley)] of Jezreel. [Retribution should overtake her near the scene of her latest crime (2 Kings 9:36). By this the just judgment of God would be made the more conspicuous.
1 Kings 21:24
Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the fields shall the fowls of the air eat. [See on 1 Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4. Stanley, forgetting that the phrase is almost a formula, thinks that "the large vultures which in Eastern climes are always wheeling aloft under the clear blue sky doubtless suggested the expression to the prophet." "The horizon was darkened with the visions of vultures glutting on the carcases of the dead, and the packs of savage dogs feeding on their remains, or lapping up their blood."]
1 Kings 21:25
But [Heb. Only] there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord [as in verse 20], whom Jezebel his wife stirred up [or as Marg; incited, instigated and urged to sin. Cf. Deuteronomy 13:7 Hebrews; Job 36:18].
1 Kings 21:26
And he did very abominably in following idols [Heb. to go after the idols. For the last word see on 1 Kings 15:12], according to an things as did the Amorites. [Heb. the Amorite—the word is always singular—here put as a nomen generale for the seven nations of Canaan. Cf. Genesis 15:16; 2 Kings 21:11; Ezekiel 16:8; Amos 2:9, Amos 2:10. Strictly the term Amorite, i.e; Highlander, is in contrast with Canaanite, i.e; dwellers in the lowlands; see Numbers 13:29; Joshua 5:1. But the word is used interchangeably with Canaanite (cf. Deuteronomy 1:44 with Numbers 14:45, and Judges 1:10 with Genesis 13:8), Hittites (Judges 1:10 with Genesis 23:2, Genesis 23:3, Genesis 23:10), Hivites (Genesis 48:22 with Genesis 34:2), and Jebusites (Joshua 10:5, Joshua 10:6, with Jos 17:1-18 :63, etc.) The ethnical and geographical ideas of the Jews were never very precise. The idolatries of the seven nations had lingered, as we might expect, amongst the Zidonians, whence they were reintroduced into the kingdom of Samaria—one fruit of disobedience to the command of Deuteronomy 7:1-5, etc.], whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel [Deuteronomy 2:34; Deuteronomy 3:8, Deuteronomy 3:8, etc.]
1 Kings 21:27
And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those [Heb. these] words [verses 21-24, and others not recorded], that he rent his clothes [cf. 2 Samuel 13:19; Job 1:20; Job 2:12; Jeremiah 36:24, etc.], and put sackcloth upon his flesh [1 Kings 20:31; 2Ki 6:1-33 :80; Joel 1:8; 2 Samuel 21:10, Heb.], and fasted, and lay [i.e; slept] in sackcloth, and went softly. [All these were signs of contrition and humiliation (verse 29). The "going softly"—Josephus says he went barefoot—is especially characteristic of the subdued and chastened mind.]
1 Kings 21:28
And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, [It is not clear that this mitigation of the sentence was announced to Ahab],
1 Kings 21:29
Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? [The repentance, if it was not profound, or enduring, was nevertheless, while it lasted, sincere. The Searcher of hearts saw in it a genuine self-abasement. And "He will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax;" Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20.] Because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil [There is a manifest reference to Matthew 12:21, where the same words are used] in his days; but in his son's days [There is no injustice here—no threat of punishment against the innocent instead of the guilty—as might at first sight appear. For in the first place, God knew well what the son would be, and in the second place, if the son had departed from his father's sins he would have been spared (Ezekiel 18:14 sqq.); the sentence would have been revoked. Judgment was deferred to give the house of Ahab another chance. When Ahab lapsed into sin, he suffered in his own person: when his sons persisted in sin, excision befell the family] will I bring the evil [Matthew 12:19] upon his house [Matthew 12:22],
1 Kings 21:1-15
The Martyrdom of Naboth.
History tells of few crimes of its kind more flagitious, more cruel and cold-blooded than this. Here we see that spectacle which one of the ancients said was dear to the gods—a just man suffering shameful wrongs with dignity and patience: we see a man because of his fidelity to God and His law judicially done to death by the representative of God, by the authority appointed to execute the Law.
And just as the crime has few parallels, so has the history few equals in point of graphic force and quiet pathos. It is like one of those sketches by the hand of a master, which set us wondering to see how much effect can be produced, and how much meaning conveyed, by a few broad lines and touches. We see in the first place the king, from his palace lattices, or from his garden slopes, casting hungry, envious eyes on the rich vineyard of his neighbour. He must have it at any cost. The residence is incomplete without it. We then hear him making overtures to the sturdy owner. There is a smile upon his face. His words are smoother than butter. Nothing could be fairer, as it seems at first, than his proposals. Surely Naboth will do well to sell or exchange on such liberal terms as these. But we find him straightway shrinking in pious horror from the idea. There is nothing to soften or modify his blunt and abrupt refusal. He cannot, he will not, do this thing and sin against God. We see a cloud of vexation gather on the king's brow. He is foiled. The project on which he has set his heart he cannot realize. With a mortified scowl, a look in which suppressed rage and bitter disappointment are equally blended, he terminates the interview and hurries to his palace, while Naboth, strong in the consciousness of right, but not without misgivings as to the issue, goes to tell his story to his wife and children at home.
And now the scene changes. We are admitted to a room, a bedroom of the palace of Samaria. We see on an ivory couch, in an ivory house (1 Kings 22:29), or in a chamber celled with cedar, and painted with vermilion (Jeremiah 22:14), a man whose soul is so vexed and troubled that he can eat no bread, that he has a word for no one, but turns his face sullenly to the wall. Can this be the king of Israel? can this be Ahab, whose recent victories over the Syrians have rung through many lands? It is Ahab indeed. The great conqueror is a slave to himself. By his side there stands his dark, malignant, Phoenician consort. We hear his pitiful, almost childish, complaint, that he cannot have the vineyard he so much covets, and we straightway see a look of something like scorn upon her face. We hear her almost contemptuous rejoinder, "Art thou, then, so helpless, so utterly without resources, as to lie here and grieve like a spoilt child? Is it for nothing that thou art a king, or art thou king in name only? If thou art baffled, I am not. Arise, and eat bread. Banish dull care and give thyself up to feasting. I will give thee the vineyard of this wretched peasant."
The next tableau introduces us to another chamber of this same royal residence. The king may keep his bed if he will, but the queen is up and doing. The scribes are now writing at her command. She it is who dictates the words, who stamps the writings with the king's seal. The scribe's hand may well tremble as he pens the infamous decree, for the letter consigns Naboth to death; but she knows no fear, has no scruples. The letters are despatched, the royal posts carry their sealed orders to Jezreel, and the murderess sits down to eat and drink, and rises up to play.
Again the scene changes. We find ourselves in s village convocation. The elders of Jezreel, the officers of the royal borough, have proclaimed a fast. Their town has incurred the wrath of God, and they must find out and expiate the sin. Naboth is there. He fears this meeting bodes him no good, but he is compelled to attend. He finds himself, to his great surprise, set "at the head of the people." But who shall picture the astonishment and pain in this man's face, when there rise up in that assembly, two miserable varlets who swear that he, Naboth, the humble servant of the Lord, the man who has honestly striven to keep the law, even against his king, has committed a horrible breach of law, has blasphemed God and the anointed of God. He thinks, perchance, at the first, that the charge is so utterly reckless and improbable, that none of these his neighbours, who know him so well, and have known him from his youth up, will entertain it for a moment. But he is speedily undeceived. He finds that he has not a chance with them, that all steel their faces and hearts against him. He perceives that there is a conspiracy against him. In vain he protests his innocence; in vain he appeals to his blameless life. His cries and those of his wife and children are alike unheeded. In a trice he is condemned to die the death of the blasphemer.
And now we find ourselves hurried along by a tumultuous crowd. We pass through the city gate, we reach the open space outside the walls. So far, Naboth has hardly realized that they are in earnest, so suddenly has the thing come upon him. Surely it is some grim jest that his neighbours play upon him. It cannot be that he is to die, to look for the last time on the faces of those he loves, on his native fields, on the blessed light of the sun. But if he has any lingering hopes of deliverance they are rapidly dispelled. He sees them making preparations for his execution. They are going to stone him on the spot. "O God in heaven!" he thinks, "is it for this I have kept Thy law? Is this agony and death the reward of mine integrity? Must I then die, when life is so sweet! Is there no power to rescue me out of the jaws of the lion? Has God forgotten me? or will He look on it and require it?" (2 Chronicles 24:22.) It is true the history says nothing of any such thoughts, of any prayers, appeals, entreaties, threatenings; but the history, it must be remembered, is but an outline, and that outline it is left for us to fill up. And we cannot doubt that Naboth had some such thoughts as these. But whatever they were, they were speedily brought to a close. "The king's business required haste." Time for reflection would mean time for repentance. The witnesses speedily divest themselves of their abbas; they lay them down at the feet of the elders; they take up stones and rush upon him. At the first blow he quivers from head to foot with a great throb of pain, but blow follows fast upon blow; he sinks senseless; the blood streams from his wounds; the dear life is crushed out of him, and Naboth's name and the names of his sons are added to those on the glory roll of the noble army of martyrs.
But it is now for us to ask what led to this shameful deed. There were five parties to this tragedy—Naboth, the king, the queen, the elders, the witnesses. Let us see how each of these contributed, though in very different ways, to diabolical result. We shall thus see how Naboth, who was murdered in the name of law and religion, was a martyr to law and religion. And let us consider—
1. The piety of Naboth. For it was his religion brought this doom upon his head. He had but to comply with the request of the king—and what loyal subject would not wish to gratify the Lord's anointed?—and all would have gone well. So far from being stoned, he would have been honoured and rewarded. And that request seemed so reasonable. There was no attempt at robbery or confiscation. The king offered an ample equivalent; a better vineyard than it, or bars of silver which could buy a better. Was he not perverse and wrong headed to let a scruple stand in the way? We should not have done so. No; but is not that precisely because we have not the steadfast piety of Naboth? There is no reason to think that he was not loyal. Doubtless he would have been glad to oblige his king. But there were two considerations stood in the way. First, his duty to God; secondly, his duty to his forefathers and to his posterity. His duty to God. For God's law said, "The land shall not be sold forever" (Leviticus 25:2-3); it laid down that every child of Israel should "cleave to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers" (Numbers 36:7). And Naboth knew this, and Ahab knew it. But to the latter the law was a dead letter; to the former it was a living reality. To him there was no God but one, no will to be considered in comparison with His. If Naboth could but have consented to do as others had done (1 Kings 16:24), he would have kept his life. But he could not. He "did not fear loss, but sin." It was a crime against Jehovah, and he would not consent. Moreover it was—though perhaps this thought had comparatively little influence with him—a wrong to his ancestors and to his posterity. For generations past, ever since it was allotted to his first father, had that vineyard been in his family. It had been transmitted through a long line to him. It was his duty to transmit it intact to those who came after him, and he would do it. It was for these reasons—sentimental reasons some would call them—that Naboth died, because of his belief in a living God, and because he kept His law, and especially the first and fifth commandments of the Decalogue.
2. The impiety of Ahab. Just as the action of Naboth arose out of his belief, so did that of Ahab spring out of his practical unbelief—an apt illustration of the close connexion between our faith and our practice. This crime had its beginning, its fons et origo, in idolatry. It was because Ahab worshipped gods many and lords many that his allegiance to the Divine law was shaken. The law of Baal, he argued, did not forbid the alienation of land—why should the law of Jehovah? The root of this sin, therefore, like the root of all sin, was unbelief. And its blossom was a direct violation of the Decalogue. Out of the breach of the first commandment sprang violations of the sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth. Just as Naboth, the believer in the one true God, stands out conspicuously as a keeper of the ten words, so do all the other parties in the tragedy stand convicted of violating them. It was primarily the tenth commandment that Ahab set at nought. He had no right to set his heart upon that vineyard, which the great King had given to another. And a breach of law was the less excusable in his ease, insomuch as he was the guardian of law and was acquainted with its provisions (Deuteronomy 17:18). Of all men, he should have been the last to defy or disregard it. But it is only when we consider that when his subject, to whom he should have been an example, set him an example, and refused to participate in his sin, that then, so far from repenting and praying that the thought of his heart might be forgiven him, he mourns and repines that he was not allowed to consummate it—it is only when we consider this that we realize its hue character. His was a sin against light and knowledge; a sin against his helper and benefactor (1 Kings 20:13, 1 Kings 20:28); a sin in spite of manifold warnings; a sin which led to blacker sin still. He coveted an evil covetousness to his house. That "love of money" was a root of false witness, of foul murder. And in this estimate of Ahab's sin it is assumed that he neither knew nor sanctioned Jezebel's designs. If he gave her the royal seal with the least idea of the malignant purpose to which she would apply it, he was virtually an accessory before the fact, and so was guilty of murder and robbery. And even if he was ignorant of her intentions, still the readiness with which he reaped the fruits of her crime makes him a partaker in her sin. It is a common saying that the "receiver is as bad as the thief." And he must have known that "Jezebel could not give this vineyard with dry hands."
3. The depravity of Jezebel. Great as Ahab's guilt was, it was altogether eclipsed by that of his wife. At her door lies the real sin of the murder. The hands that accomplished it were not so guilty as the heart that suggested it and the mind that planned it. Ahab broke the tenth, Jezebel the sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments. Covetousness, false witness, murder, confiscation, she stands convicted of them all. But what lends its most hideous feature to her sin is the consideration that she, the sworn foe of the law of Jehovah, availed herself of its forms to compass Naboth's death. Was ever such black-hearted ingenuity as hers? We can fancy her laughing in her sleeve at the crafty use she made of the hated system of the Jews. We can see her shaking her finger at Naboth and saying "Simple fool! thou hast stood out for the law; thou shalt have a surfeit of it this time." It is possible that she rejoiced at the base part to which she commits the elders of Jezreel. If they will cling to their austere and gloomy creed, she will make them carry out its provisions. To this shameful murderess it added zest to her sin that she scored a triumph against the followers and the law of the God of Israel. We must also observe the evident satisfaction, the malicious triumph, with which she hears of Naboth's death. So far from feeling the least compunction, she hurries with the good news to her husband. Her part, so far as we know, is absolutely without a parallel of all the daughters of our first mother. What name is there so deservedly infamous as hers?
4. The corruption of the elders. We may readily acquit them of liking the task entailed upon them. They could not embark on that course of crime without many qualms of conscience and secret self upbraidings. But the name of Jezebel inspired so much terror that they dared not resist her will. Their sin was, first, that they feared man more than God. It was unbelief at bottom; they had more faith in the finger of the queen than in the arm of the Almighty. They argued, as the Turkish peasant does, that the queen was near and God was a long way off. It was, secondly, that they abused their office. In defiance of law (Exodus 23:2, Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:19), they wrested judgment and condemned the innocent (Deuteronomy 27:19, Deuteronomy 27:25), and so they share with Jezebel the guilt of the murder. It is idle to plead the constraint put upon them, to say that they would have died had they resisted her; they should have died rather than slay the innocent. But for their complaisance, the queen might have been baffled. One might reasonably expect elders—the "judges and officers" of the land (Deuteronomy 16:18)—to answer, "We ought to obey God rather than man." History tells of many judges who have withstood the corrupt commands of their sovereign. During the Mohammedan rule in Spain one of the caliphs took forcible possession of a field belonging to one of his subjects. This man, as a forlorn hope, stated his grievance before the kadi, a man renowned for his integrity, and the kadi promised to bring his case before the king. Loading his mule with a sack of earth which he had taken from the stolen field, he strode into the presence of the prince, and asked him to be so good as to lift the sack of earth to his shoulders. The caliph tried to comply with his request, but the burden proved too heavy for him; he could not move, still less carry, it. "Wretched man!" cried the judge, "see what thou hast done. Thou canst not carry one mule's burden of the earth of this field of which thou hast deprived thy subject. How, then, canst thou hope to sustain the whole field on thy shoulders in the dreadful day of judgment?" The appeal was successful; the prince made immediate restitution and rewarded the judge. But nothing of this kind did the elders of Jezreel. They only feared for their skins. They argued that one or the other must die, and if so it must be Naboth. And so he died, and they bore the stain of blood upon their souls.
5. The perjury of the witnesses. It is hardly correct to describe their sin as perjury. It was much more than that. It was actual murder also. As witnesses, they had to cast the first stone—to take the principal part in the execution. Even without this they were guilty of murder, for it was upon their testimony that Naboth was condemned to die. They share with the elders, consequently, the guilt of violating the sixth and ninth commandments. But they were "sons of Belial" to begin with. They were not ministers of God; still less were they the "Lord's anointed." And they were but instruments in the hand of others. The elders were the hand; the queen was the head.
It is clear, then, that Naboth's death was a true martyrdom. He died a victim to his faith in God and his obedience to law. He was a witness (μάρτυς), consequently, for God no less than Elijah or Elisha. Like Elijah, he was a public vindicator of the law, and he sealed his witness with his blood. He died because he would not deny it; because others, its guardians and executors, violated and abused it.
But if any deny his right to be enrolled in the army of martyrs, it only needs to compare his end with that of the protomartyr Stephen, and indeed with that of our blessed Lord. The analogy could not well be closer.
1. The same passions and influences were at work in each case. It was unbelief and pride and covetousness occasioned the death of Naboth. These were the forces arrayed against our Lord and against Stephen. Was there a coveted vineyard in one case? so there was in the other (Luke 20:14, Luke 20:15).
2. The tribunals were equally corrupt. The Sanhedrim was the counterpart of the elders; the council of Jerusalem of that of Jezreel (Matthew 26:59; Acts 6:12).
3. The princes of this world occasioned the death of Naboth; the princes of this world took counsel against the Christ (Acts 4:26, Acts 4:27), and crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).
4. The charge was the same in every case, viz; blasphemy (Matthew 26:65; Acts 6:13). The variation is extremely slight: "God and the king" in one case; "against Moses and God" in another (Acts 6:11).
5. The charge was made in each instance by men who were conspicuously law-breakers (John 17:19; Acts 7:58), and it was made in the name of law (John 19:7; Acts 6:14).
6. The means used to compass the death were alike in every case, viz; false witness (Matthew 26:59, Matthew 26:60; Acts 6:11, 18).
7. Each of these three martyrs suffered without the gate (Acts 7:58 : Hebrews 13:12). Like Naboth, Stephen was stoned; like Naboth, our Lord would have been stoned if the Jews had had the power (John 18:31), and if the counsel of God had not willed otherwise (Acts 4:28).
8. There is indeed one difference, and that is suggestive. The martyrs of our religion prayed for their murderers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60); the martyrs of Judaism could only cry, "The Lord look on it and require it" (2 Chronicles 24:22). The blood of the covenant speaks better things than the blood of Naboth.
1 Kings 21:17-24
We have just seen Naboth martyred because of his fidelity to law; we have seen him murdered by men who in the name of law violated all the laws of God and man.
Now the dispensation under which these men lived promised a present recompense, a temporal reward, to obedience, and it denounced temporal punishment against "every transgression and disobedience." We may imagine, consequently, how this tragedy would strike the men of that age. They would see in it a direct failure of justice. They would ask whether there was a God that judgeth in the earth. They would look, and especially the God-fearing amongst them, in utter perplexity and distress on this conspicuous instance of the triumph of force and wrong. "What is the Almighty," they would be tempted to ask," that we should serve him? and what profit should we have if we pray unto him?" (Job 21:15.) They would be tempted to think that "in keeping of his commandments there was no reward; yes, even tempted to say in their hearts, "There is no God" (Psalms 53:1).
It would have been strange, therefore, if such a red-handed, cold-blooded murder had passed unnoticed and unavenged; if the dogs had been left to feast on the remains of Naboth, and Ahab had been suffered to enter on his vineyard without protest. But this was not to be. The men of Jezreel had not seen the last act in the tragedy. They must learn that "no reckoning is brought in the midst of the meal; the end pays for all;" they must be taught to count no man happy before his death. They must be reminded that there is a prophet in Israel, and a God of Israel who will by no means clear the guilty. And so Elijah, the great restorer of the law, stands forth to avenge the death of Naboth, the law-keeper, at the hands of law-breakers.
"Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth, which he refused to give thee for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead. Did the king stop. to ask how this death had been brought about? Did he know the shameful crime that had been committed in his name, and under his palace walls? He must have known something of it, if not all. Even if he thought it prudent to ask no questions, still he would remember the significant promise of 1 Kings 21:7; he would have some suspicions of the purpose for which the royal seal was required; and it would be clear to him, even if he did not know the exact circumstances, that somehow Jezebel had compassed Naboth's death. It was clear to him that this vineyard was bought at the price of blood.
But he will not let such considerations as these hinder his enjoyment of it. All he thinks of or cares for is this, that the vineyard is his and he can enter upon it at once. He will enter upon it at once. His chariot shall bear him to the spot. He will view his new property that day; he will begin his garden of herbs forthwith.
The citizens of Jezreel, the "elders," and "children of Belial" amongst them, see the royal chariot crossing the plain, breasting the hill, entering the city. They know full well what is its destination. There is hardly a child in the city but guesses the king's errand. It causes them no surprise when the chariot and its escort pass on to the vineyard of Naboth. But they shall learn, and through them all Israel shall learn, that there is a just God in heaven, and that even the king is responsible to a Higher Power; and they shall know that God Himself is against the evildoer, and shall render to every man according to his works (Proverbs 24:12; Matthew 16:27; 2 Timothy 4:14).
For who is this that strides up to the king as he stands in the coveted vineyard, and shapes his projects concerning it? It is a prophet—the dress proves that; a glance shows that it is the dreaded, mysterious prophet Elijah. "Behold Elijah" (1 Kings 18:8, 1 Kings 18:11) is on their lips. Whence has he come? Since the day of Carmel he has been hidden from their view. They had often wondered why he had so suddenly disappeared; whether he was still alive; whether the Spirit had cast him upon some mountain or into some valley (2 Kings 2:16); whether he was hiding among foreigners as he had done before. And now he is amongst them again. And Jehu and Bidkar at least (2 Kings 9:25), and probably others with them, presently understand the reason of his sudden reappearance. "Hast thou killed," he thunders forth, "and also taken possession?" They see the guilty look on Ahab's face; they note his ashy paleness; they observe how he trembles helplessly from head to foot. Then they hear the terrible doom—and their ears tingle, as Elijah's impassioned words fall upon them—"Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Jezebel shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." They hear, and Ahab hears, that for him a death as cruel and shameful as Naboth's is reserved; that, king though he is, he shall come to the dogs at the last. But more: they presently learn that for his children, born in the purple and delicately nurtured, there remains a reckoning; that their blood must be shed, their bodies torn of beasts, like those of Naboth's sons. Nor shall proud Jezebel, the prime mover in this murder, escape. In the open space before the city wall the dogs which devoured the flesh of Naboth shall feast upon her dead body. All this was spoken in the broad day, before king and retinue, by a prophet whose words had never fallen to the ground. The king is found out; he is taken red-handed in the blossoms of his sin, Yesterday the crime, today the sentence. We may compare the feelings of that group standing in the vineyard with those of that surging crowd who saw Robespierre standing under the guillotine to which he had consigned so many. hundreds of Frenchmen. "Aye, Robespierre, there is a God." We may imagine how they stood for a while transfixed to the spot; how, when Elijah had hurled his words at the king, he strode away and left them to rankle in his mind. But the thing was not done in a corner, and it could not be kept secret. As the chariot returns to Samaria the townsman in the street, the peasant in the field, perceive that something untoward has happened. The news of Elijah's reappearance spreads like wildfire; his scathing words are passed from lip to lip; every town and hamlet soon knows that Naboth is avenged; it knows that with what measure king and queen meted to him it shall be measured to them again.
The lessons which this public manifestation of the righteous judgment of God had for the men of that age, and some of which it has still, may be briefly stated in the words of Scripture. Among them are these:
1. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3); God doth know, and there is knowledge in the Most High (Psalms 73:11; cf. Psalms 11:4).
2. "Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth" (Psalms 58:11). "Thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand" (Psalms 10:14).
3. "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23).
4. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished" (Proverbs 11:21).
5. "I will come near to you in judgment, and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord" (Malachi 3:5).
6. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:6).
7. "Life for life, eye for eye, tooth, for tooth, hand or hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" (Exodus 21:23-25). "God loves to punish by retaliation" (Hall),
1 Kings 21:28, 1 Kings 21:29
If we were to seek the Scriptures through for a proof that God's "property is always to have mercy," and that judgment is His strange work, where should we find a more striking and eminent one than in this relenting towards Ahab? Consider -
I. AHAB'S SIN. In this respect" there was none like him." He "sold himself to work wickedness." It was not because of Naboth's murder alone that the sentence of 1 Kings 21:19-22 was pronounced against him; it was for the varied and accumulated sins of a reign of twenty years. Among these were -
1. The sin of schism. He continued the calf worship (1Ki 16:1-34 :81). He kept "the statutes of Omri." Despite the warnings of prophets and of history, he maintained the shrines, sacrifices, priests, of Bethel and Daniel
2. The sin of his marriage. "Was it a light thing to walk in the way of Jeroboam that he must take to wife Jezebel" (1 Kings 15:31 Hebrews), in direct violation of the law (Deuteronomy 7:1-3), in disregard of the example of Solomon? To place such a woman, daughter of such a house, on the throne of Israel was to insult the true religion, and to court its overthrow.
3. The sin of idolatry. (1 Kings 16:32.) Samaria had its house of Baal, its altar for Baal. He did very abominably in following idols (1 Kings 21:26).
4. The sin of impurity. This was involved, as we have already remarked, in the idolatry of that age. "Ahab made an Asherah" (1 Kings 16:32). Indeed, it is to the impurities of Canaanitish worship that the words just cited (verse 26) refer. The abominations of the Amorites are not to be named amongst Christians.
5. The sin of persecuting the prophets. It is very possible that Ahab himself was no persecutor, but Jezebel was, and he should have restrained her (1 Samuel 3:18). He was directly responsible for her deeds. She owed her power, place, and influence to him.
6. The sin of releasing the persecutor of God's people. The pardon and favour he accorded to Ben-hadad are mentioned as a part of the provocation wherewith he provoked the Lord (1 Kings 20:42). It sprang out of his forgetting God. He ignored altogether God's will and pleasure in the matter. See p. 492.
7. The sin of slaying Naboth and his sons. For with this crime Ahab is charged. "Hast thou killed?" I have seen yesterday the blood of Naboth; and I will requite thee" (2 Kings 9:26). Perhaps he flattered himself that that sin lay at Jezebel's door. If so, he is soon undeceived.
Such was Ahab's sevenfold sin. Consider—
II. ITS AGGRAVATIONS. It enhanced his guilt that—
1. He was the Lord's anointed. He was the head of the Jewish Church. Fidei Defensor—this was the highest function of a true king of Israel. His very position reminded him of the gracious and marvellous history of his fathers. To him it was granted to be the representative of heaven to the chosen people. How great the sin when the champion of the faith became its oppressor, when the "nursing father" of the Church depraved and prostituted it.
2. He had witnessed miracles. The drought, the fire, the rain, all these signs and tokens had been wrought in his presence. Unto him they were showed that he might know that the Lord He was God (Deuteronomy 4:35, Deuteronomy 4:36; cf. 1 Kings 18:39). Did ever king hear the voice of God as he had done?
3. He had been miraculously helped and delivered. Cf. 2 Chronicles 26:15. If he gave no heed to the signs, he should have been moved by the victories God had granted him. These were plain proofs that the Lord alone was God (1 Kings 20:13, 1 Kings 20:28). But neither plagues, nor signs, nor victories moved that rebellious heart. He is scarce home from his Syrian compaigns, to enjoy the fruit of his success, than he lends himself to fresh sin, to murder and oppression, He, the executor and guardian of law, connives at the murder of a law-abiding subject. Let us now consider—
III. HIS REPENTANCE. Now that he is found out and denounced, like Felix, he trembles. As Elijah stands over him, and announces the doom of his house, he sees a horrible vision of blood and slaughter. The garden of herbs he has pictured dies away from his view. He sees in its stead his own mangled body cast into the plot of ground where he was then standing. He sees his hands, his feet, his face gnawed by the curs of the adjoining city. He sees his proud consort stripped of her silk attire, suffering a like indignity in the neighbouring ditch. He sees his children, the fruit of his body, stretched in the streets of the town, or in the open champaign, a feast for the jackal and the carrion crow. "Like the house of Jeroboam," "like the house of Baasha," he knew the horrors involved in these words. A horrible dread overwhelms him. He is smitten by sudden compunction. He must get away from this cursed spot at once. He might then have justly said to his charioteer, "Turn thine hand and carry me away, for I am wounded" (1 Kings 22:34). An arrow from Elijah's lips has pierced his harness through. He mounts his chariot, it bears him through the plain, bears him to his palace—no longer "heavy and displeased," but utterly crushed and terrified. Again he steals to his bedchamber, and turns his face to the wall and eats no bread. In vain the queen assays to laugh him out of his fears. No instruments of music can charm his melancholy, no physicians can minister to that mind diseased. He cannot banish that vision from his thoughts. It haunts him like a nightmare. Can he not avert the doom? Can he not make his peace with Heaven? He has but lately forgiven cruel and persistent enemy; is there no forgiveness for him? He will make the effort. He too will "gird sackcloth on his loins, and put a rope on his head," and go to the great king of Israel. He rises from his couch a sadder and a wiser man. He rends his kingly robes and casts them from him; he assumes the garment of humiliation, he fasts, he prays, he goes softly. It is true his penitence was neither profound nor enduring (1 Kings 22:8, 1 Kings 22:26), but it was undoubtedly—
1. Sincere while it lasted. It is a mistake to call it the "shadow of a repentance." There was real contrition—not only fear of punishment, but also sorrow for his sin. We may be sure that, like a former king of Israel, his cry was, "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13).
2. Open and public. His queen, his courtiers, saw the sackcloth, marked the hushed voice, the downcast eye, and knew what it meant (verse 29). "Seest thou how Ahab?" etc; implies that it was notorious. The crime was known of all men; the sorrow and humiliation must be the same.
3. Marked by restitution. The Scripture does not say so, but it does not need to say so. There could be no real repentance, certainly no relenting, on God's part so long as Ahab kept the vineyard. His prayers would have been unheeded so long as there was a lie in his right hand. A "penitent thief" has always restored the theft. Ahab could not recall Naboth to life. But he could surrender the vineyard to the widow, and we may be sure he did so.
But this repentance, this self abasement was observed, was carefully watched outside the palace. As day by day, with contrite heart and bowed head and soft footstep, the miserable king moved among his retainers, the merciful God and Father of the spirits of all flesh beheld his returning prodigal, yearned over him, ran to meet him. He who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking wick welcomed the first faint tokens of contrition. The sentence of doom shall be deferred. The same voice which just now thundered, "Hast thou killed?" etc; is now hushed into tenderness. "Seest thou," it says, "seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? Because," etc. (verse 29). Ahab receives—
IV. PARDON. And this pardon, it is to be observed, was—
1. Instant. The rebellion had lasted for years. The forgiveness follows on the heels of repentance. While he was speaking God heard. Cf. Daniel 10:12.
2. Free and full. If Ahab's repentance, that is to say, had been lasting, the sentence would have been reversed so far as he was concerned. It was not finally reversed because of his subsequent sin and that of his sons. The guilt of innocent blood, no doubt, could only be purged by the blood of him that shed it (Numbers 35:33), and it is to be remembered that Jezebel was never included in the pardon. But it is probable that God, to "show forth all long-suffering," would have spared the king and his sons, if they had turned from their evil way.
3. Conditional. "Dum se bere gesserit." This provision is always understood, if not expressed.
4. Forfeited. When Ahab turned like a dog to his vomit, then the sword which had been sheathed awhile leapt again from its scabbard, and he was suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
1 Kings 21:1-4
Amongst the arguments used by Samuel to discourage the people of Israel from desiring a king, he said, "He will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them." We have in the verses before us a notable example of the truth of this forecast, understanding covetousness in a bad sense.
I. DESIRE, IN THE ABSTRACT, IS NOT COVETOUSNESS.
1. It is the principle of exchanges.
(1) If persons had no desire to possess anything beyond what they have acquired, there would be no motive to trade. Of the virtuous woman it is said, "She considereth a field and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard" (Proverbs 31:16).
(2) All commerce is founded upon the desire to make exchanges.
2. But commerce is fruitful in blessings.
(1) There are evils connected with trading, viz; where dishonest practices come into it. But these are intrusions; and they are denounced as "illegitimate" and "uncommercial."
(2) Genuine commerce gives profitable employment to thought and labour.
(3) It brings the countries and peoples of the wide world into correspondence. Thereby it enlarges our knowledge of those countries, their peoples and products, and other. wise stimulates science.
(4) It encourages philanthropy. Relief is afforded for distresses through famines, floods, fires, earthquakes; and religious missions are organized.
3. Desire, well directed, should be encouraged.
(1) To be absolutely without desire for things evil would be a happy state. Therefore this state should be earnestly desired.
(2) There is also the positive desire to be Christ like. This can scarcely be too vehement.
(3) Ahab does not seem to have signalized himself in either of these directions.
II. ILLICIT DESIRE IS COVETOUSNESS.
1. We should not desire what God has forbidden.
(1) Herein Ahab was wrong in desiring the vineyard of Naboth. It was the "inheritance of his fathers," transmitted in the family of Naboth, from the days of Joshua, and it would have been unlawful for him to part with it (Leviticus 25:23; Numbers 36:7).
(2) Ahab was wrong in tempting Naboth to trangress the commandment of the Lord. He should never have encouraged a desire, the gratification of which would involve such a consequence.
(3) It was a pious act in Naboth, who, doubtless in things lawful would be pleased to gratify the king, to have indignantly refused to gratify him here. "The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee." He had his tenure from the Lord. He looked upon his earthly inheritance as a pledge of a heavenly.
2. This rule requires the study of God's word.
(1) It is of the utmost moment to us to be acquainted with the will of God. This he has revealed in the Scriptures.
(2) In cases of transgression we cannot plead ignorance when we have the Bible in our hands. Neither can we shift now our responsibility on to our teachers.
(3) Do we make proper use of our Bibles? Do we study them? Do we read them prayerfully? We must not sell the moral inheritance we have received from the past.
III. INORDINATE DESIRE IS COVETOUSNESS. Some things are lawful without limit. Such are the direct claims of God.
(1) The love of God. We may love Him with all our heart. We cannot love Him too much, or too much desire His love.
(2) The service of God. This, indeed, is another form of love; for love expresses itself in service (John 14:15, John 14:23; Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14; 1 John 5:3).
(3) The knowledge of God. To love and serve God perfectly we must have a perfect knowledge of Him according to our capacity. We cannot too ardently desire this knowledge.
(4) If Ahab had loved, served, and known God with perfect desire, he would have found such satisfaction as to have rendered it impossible for him to have sulked as he did because he could not obtain Naboth's vineyard. When God is absent there is a restless void; nothing can satisfy an unholy spirit.
2. Other things are lawful in measure.
(1) Otherwise they would interfere with the direct claims of God. The creature must not be put into competition with the Creator. "Thou shalt have none other gods beside me."
(2) Desire for sensible and temporal things must not displace the desire for things spiritual and eternal. To love the inferior preferably to the superior is to deprave the affections.
(3) It would have been lawful for Ahab to have purchased a lease of the vineyard of Naboth at a fair price, leaving it in the power of Naboth to have redeemed it; and for it to revert to Naboth or his heirs in the jubilee (Leviticus 25:23-28). But this desire to possess it, even under these conditions, could not be justified if a refusal should lead him to go home "heavy and displeased" and sicken with chagrin. Ahab's discontent brought its own punishment. He was a king, yet discontented. Discontent is a disease of the soul rather than of the circumstances.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 21:5-14
A Sinful Nation.
Time was when the Hebrew nation was great and respected, "a praise in the earth" for kings wise and honourable, for magistrates upright and noble, and for a people faithful and true. But how completely is all this changed! A more pitiable picture of national depravity could scarcely be drawn than that presented in the text. Here we have—
I. AN INIQUITOUS PALACE.
1. The king is utterly unprincipled.
(1) See him "heavy and displeased," sick with rage and chagrin, lying in bed in a sulk, his face turned away, refusing to eat. And what for? What dreadful calamity has befallen him? Simply that he could not have the vineyard of Naboth for a garden of herbs!
(2) But, to make things worse, he could not have it without inducing Naboth to transgress God's law (see Leviticus 25:28). Naboth had too much respect for the law to yield. Ahab was really sulking against God I
(3) What model king is this I How could he expect his subjects to be law-abiding when he showed them this example? What a royal soul to take it thus to heart that in addition to his kingdom he cannot have this vineyard!
2. His queen is a "cursed woman."
(1) Such is the style in which she is described by Jehu (2 Kings 9:34). She seems never to have failed in any incident of her life to justify this description.
(2) Now she promises to give Ahab the vineyard of Naboth. Thus she encouraged his evil humour, instead of pointing out to him, as she should have done, his folly.
(3) She will accomplish this by an act of cruel and treacherous despotism scarcely to be paralleled in history (1 Kings 21:8-10). She makes her pliant husband her accomplice, using, with his consent, his seal of state, as probably she had done before when she destroyed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4), to give authority to the missive of death. She engaged in this business all the more readily because Naboth appears to have been one of the "seven thousand" who would not bend to Baal.
II. AN UNSCRUPULOUS MAGISTRACY.
1. Their servility is horrible.
(1) Not voice of any noble or elder in Jezreel is raised in protest against the order from the palace to have Naboth murdered. With eyes wide open—for the sons of Belial are not found for them; they have themselves to procure these wretches—they proceed to give effect to the dreadful tragedy.
(2) What motive can influence them? They are afraid of Jezebel. They knew her power over Ahab, and they knew the cruelty and vindictiveness of her nature was nerved by more than masculine resolution.
(3) But where was their fear of God?
2. It is aggravated by treachery.
(1) Naboth was one of their number. Is not this suggested in the words, "the elders and nobles that were in the city, dwelling with Naboth"! Then is there no voice of neighbourly friendship to speak for Naboth? No voice is raised.
(2) If one voice found courage surely others would take courage, and it might be found in the sequel that the sense of justice would be represented by such numbers and influence that even Jezebel might hesitate to reek vengeance upon them. But not a voice was raised.
3. The treachery is aggravated by hypocrisy.
(1) The tragedy opens with a fast. This is proclaimed ostensibly to avert from the nation the judgments of God supposed to have been provoked by the crimes of Naboth. How much more fitting had it been proclaimed to avert the judgment provoked by the crimes of Naboth's murderers!
(2) The accusation is, "Thou didst blaspheme God and the King", (ברכת אלהים ומלךְ), which by some is rendered, "Thou hast blessed the false gods and Molech." Parkhurst says, "The Lexicons have absurdly, and contrary to the authority of the ancient versions, given to this verb (ברךְ) the sense of cursing in the six following passages: 1 Kings 21:10, 1 Kings 21:13; Job 1:5, Job 1:11; Job 2:5, Job 2:9. As to the two first, the LXX. render ברךְ in both cases by ευλογεω, and so the Vulgate by bendico, to bless. And though Jezebel was herself an abominable idolatress, yet, as the law of Moses still continued in force, she seems to have been wicked enough to have destroyed Naboth upon the false accusation of blessing the heathen Aleim and Molech, which subjected him to death by Deuteronomy 13:6; Deuteronomy 17:2-7."
(3) What abominable cruelties have been perpetrated under the name of religion!
III. A DEMORALIZED PEOPLE.
1. Sons of Belial are at hand.
(1) There seems to have been no difficulty in procuring men so lost to truth and mercy that they will readily swear away the life of a good citizen. Nor is this to be wondered at when the whole magistracy are sons of Belial, no better than those they suborned. Jezebel saw no difficulty in procuring such. The nobles and elders of Jezreel found none.
(2) The sons of Belial no doubt were paid for their services. The "consideration" is not mentioned. What will not some men stoop to for gain! What will they hazard in eternity! And for what a trifle!
2. No voice is raised for justice.
(1) Naboth has no hearing in his defence. The sentence given, he is hurried away to be stoned to death.
(2) His family are sacrificed along with him (see 2 Kings 9:26). This was on the principle that the family of Achan had to suffer with him (Joshua 7:24). But how different are the cases!
(3) Unless the family of Naboth had perished with him, the vineyard would not have fallen to the crown. This would be an objection to Jezebel hiring sons of Belial to assassinate Naboth, for Naboth's heirs would still have to be disposed of. Melancholy is the condition of the nation in which right is sacrificed to might. "Sin is reproach to any people."—J.A.M.
1 Kings 21:15-24
Ahab lost no time in reaping the fruit of Jezebel's wickedness. The next day, after the murder of Naboth and his family, we find him taking possession of the coveted vineyard (see 2 Kings 9:26). But in all this dark business there was an invisible Spectator, whose presence does not seem to have been sufficiently taken into the account,
I. GOD IS AN OMNISCIENT OBSERVER.
1. He inspects all human actions.
(1) He was present in the palace looking upon the king of Israel as he sulked and sickened upon his bed. His eye also was full upon Jezebel as she proposed her ready cure for the monarch's chagrin. "Thou God seest me."
(2) He was present in that court of justice when the honest Naboth was "set on high among the people." He witnessed the sons of Belial as they swore away the fives of a worthy family. He looked into the faces of the "nobles" and "eiders" of Jezreel who suborned these perjurers. "Thou God seest me."
(3) He was a spectator at the place of execution. He saw the steadiness of Naboth's step, and noted well the bearing of his sons as they came forth to suffer for righteousness. And the swelling of every muscle of those who hurled the stones was measured by His piercing vision. "Thou God seest me."
2. He surveys all human motives.
(1) He clearly discerned the abominable hypocrisy of Jezebel's "fast." It was proclaimed ostensibly to avert from the nation Divine judgments provoked by the alleged blasphemy or idolatry of Naboth. The vineyard of Naboth had more to do with it than his crime. It is "a new thing in the earth" to see Jezebel jealous for the honour of Jehovah!
(2) He knew why the sons of Belial publicly perjured themselves, and accurately estimated the price for which they sold the lives of honourable citizens. He also estimated the cowardly fear of Jezebel's wrath, rather than encounter which the magistrates carried out her wicked instructions. "Nobles" and "elders" they were accounted by men; perjurers, murderers, and dastards they were accounted by God.
(3) He nicely weighed the motive which nerved the muscle of every man who lifted a stone against the life of Naboth. If any were misled by the hypocrisy of the authorities, and thought they "did God service" when they cast the stones, their sincerity was recognized; and those who were not deceived were also known.
3. Nothing is forgotten before Him.
(1) As He sees the end from the beginning so does He see the beginning from the end.
(2) Let us never forget that God never can forget. Every action of our lives is present with Him—so every word—so every thought and intent of the heart. Therefore—
II. GOD IS A SUPREME JUDGE.
1. He makes sin bitter to the sinner.
(1) The acquisition of the vineyard, the murders notwithstanding, was at first so pleasing to Ahab that it cured his sickness, and he "rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it." And this is often the first effect of the gratification of covetousness.
(2) But how transient is the unworthy satisfaction! It is soon succeeded by a season of reflection. The sudden apparition of Elijah upon the scene filled Ahab with alarm. His conscience now brought his guilt home, and before Elijah uttered a word, the king exclaimed, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" This was the language of mingled hatred and fear (see Galatians 4:16). The presence of the good is a silent and effective rebuke to the wicked.
(3) The enormity of Ahab's guilt was brought home to him by the questions, "Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?" He has killed, for by taking possession he sanctions the means by which his title is made out (see Job 31:39; Jeremiah 22:18, Jeremiah 22:14; Habakkuk 2:12).
(4) God's Holy Spirit still, by means of the word of prophecy, if not by the lips of living prophets, carries guilt to the consciences of sinners, and fills them with remorseful shame.
2. He conveys judgments in His providence. We read this principle in the denunciations uttered by Elijah.
(1) Upon Ahab. "In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." This was fulfilled (see 1 Kings 22:38). But how "in the place?" for Naboth suffered near Jezreel. Jezreel is, generally, called Samaria, being like Bethel, one of the "cities of Samaria" (see 1 Kings 13:32). So in 1 Kings 21:16, the vineyard of Naboth is said to be in Samaria. The passage is more clearly thus translated: "And the word of Jehovah came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Arise, go down to meet Ahab the king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, at the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to take possession of it."
(2) Upon the family of Ahab (1 Kings 21:21, 1 Kings 21:22, 1 Kings 21:24). This was a reprisal for the family of Naboth sacrificed with him (see 2 Kings 9:26). All was to the letter accomplished (see 2 Kings 9:10.)
(3) Upon Jezebel. The "cursed woman" is signally execrated (1 Kings 21:23). The retribution was as signally accomplished (see 2 Kings 9:36).
(4) This law of retribution in the judgments of Providence is not limited to sacred history. Orestes recognized it when he said to AEgisthus—
"Go where thou slew'st my father,
That in the selfsame place thou too may'st die."
It may be read in every full and accurate history.
3. He will finally judge the world.
(1) For Naboth and his family have yet to be vindicated. Providence has vindicated their reputation; but they have to be vindicated in person also. To this end all parties concerned in their murder will have to stand face to face, with their hearts exposed to the clear light and sensible presence of Omniscient Justice. What defence can the sons of Belial then set up? The magistrates? Jezebel? Ahab?
(2) What a day of vindications will that be to all the righteous! What a day of confusion to all the wicked! Everything will be righteously adjusted in that final sentence (Matthew 25:34, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46).—J.A.M.
1 Kings 21:25-29
After the terrible sentence pronounced by Elijah upon Ahab for his enormities follows this account of his repentance. The record teaches—
I. THAT THERE IS REPENTANCE FOR THE VILEST.
1. Ahab answered this description.
(1) He "wrought wickedness." So have we all. But his was evil of no common order. "He did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel." (See Genesis 15:16; 2 Kings 21:11.)
(2) He wrought this wickedness "in the sight of the Lord," as the Amorites did not, for they had not the religious privileges of an Israelite. Ahab in particular had signal proofs of the presence of God. The shutting and opening of the heavens, to wit, together with the miracle on Carmel. Where much is given much is required.
(3) He had "sold himself" to work this wickedness. (See Romans 7:14.) He was slave to Jezebel—slave to Satan. He drudged hard in his serfdom.
(4) None of his predecessors had gone so far wrong. "There was none like unto Ahab" (see 1 Kings 16:33). Jeroboam had "made Israel to sin," and Omri, at the instigation of Ahab, made "statutes" to confirm that sin. (See Micah 6:16.) Ahab went further, and established the worship of Baal, with its attendant abominations of Ashere. (See 1 Kings 16:29-33.)
(5) He was in the worst company. He had married a "cursed woman," and submitted to be led by her into the extremes of wickedness. "Whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." Under her instigation he consented to a wholesale massacre of the sons of the prophets; and now she makes him her accomplice in the murder of Naboth, with its attendant atrocities.
2. Yet Ahab took God's message to heart.
(1) He believed the terrible sentence, as he had good reason to do, for it came by the hand of Elijah. In all his former experience he had found that the word of the Lord in Elijah's mouth was truth.
(2) Now, with his death vividly before him, and the fearful doom of his house—all the fruit of his crimes—these crimes live up again, and pass in formidable order before his eyes. (See Psa 1:1-6 :21.) Conspicuous amongst the spectres that would move before him would be those of the newly murdered Naboth with his children.
(3) This ghastly phantasmagoria would be to him a premonition of the solemnities of the final judgment in which the thousands injured, whether in body or soul, by his bad conduct and influence, would cry to God's justice for vengeance upon the royal culprit.
3. He humbled himself accordingly.
(1) Before Jehovah. He "rent his clothes" in token of deep grief. (See Genesis 37:34; Job 1:20; Ezra 9:8.) He put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. Here were all the signs of deep contrition before God. They were symbols of the prayer of the heart for mercy.
(2) Before men. To put on sackcloth he laid aside those robes of state in which he had prided himself. Instead of moving with his former kingly tramp he now "went softly." (Compare Isaiah 38:15.) He moved with the timid step of a culprit.
(3) Who will say his repentance was not genuine? God did not say so. He afterwards, indeed, professed to "hate" a faithful servant of God (1 Kings 22:8). But what does this prove? Simply that he afterwards relapsed into sin. And it admonishes us not to presume upon any dogma of infallible final perseverance, but, by the help of God, to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling."
II. THAT THERE IS MERCY FOR THE PENITENT.
1. God observed the repentance of Ahab.
(1) He observed it before man haft. He saw its first motions in the depths of his heart. He saw the prodigal "while yet a great way off" (Luke 15:20).
(2) Doubtless He graciously encouraged these motions so that they ripened into confession. And does not the goodness of God still lead men to repentance, even the vilest?
2. He called the attention of Elijah to it.
(1) To the prophet he said, "Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me." This was an encouragement to the man of God. His labour was not in vain. Ahab required some moral courage to humble himself before Jehovah in the presence of Jezebel.
(2) God in His goodness directs His servants to those who are penitent that they may minister words of encouragement to them. Ananias was sent to Saul (Acts 9:11).
3. He extended His mercy to the supplicant.
(1) "Because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house." The mercy is not a reversal of the mischief, neither was the repentance. The mischief is done, and cannot be reversed. Early piety is therefore earnestly to be desired that the mischief of an evil life may be avoided.
(2) It was a substantial benefit nevertheless.
(a) To Ahab personally. It was something to be spared the pain of witnessing the judgments of God upon his wicked house; but, what is still more considerable, this mercy contained a promise respecting the world to come; for, and especially in prophecy, things visible are signs or portents of things spiritual.
(b) It was also a benefit to his nation. For after this, probably, came the war with Ben-hadad, in which God interposed in a very remarkable manner on behalf of His people. In the Septuagint, which translation was made from much older copies of the Hebrew Bible than any now extant, this chapter and that here before it change places; and the order in the Septuagint is also followed by Josephus.
(3) This fact is very important, for it shows also where the backsliding of Ahab commenced. It was evidently in the false mercy which he showed to Ben-hadad. After this relapse God forsook him and handed him over to evil spirits and lying prophets, who wrought his ruin. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved."—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
1 Kings 21:1-24
The Progress of Sin.
This chapter describes one of the blackest crimes which ever blotted the page of history. The description is so graphic that we seem eyewitnesses of the tragedy, and so suggestive that we can understand the motives and feelings of the principal actors. Naboth has been blamed sometimes for refusing what appeared a reasonable request that he would sell a piece of land to his rightful king at a fair price. It is evident, however, that he was not only acting within his right, but that he could not have assented to the proposal without breaking the Divine law given by Moses. The paternal inheritance might only be sold in extreme poverty, and then on the condition that it might be redeemed at any time; and, if not previously redeemed by purchase, it reverted to the original owner at the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:13-28). With Naboth it was not the dictate of churlishness, but of conscience, to refuse the proposal of the king. Nor was Ahab's guilt the less because the crime was suggested by Jezebel He might be deficient in nerve and inventiveness, but he was not in iniquity. Let us trace him in this his hideous downfall, that none of us may be "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Our subject is the PROGRESS OF SIN. We see here—
I. POSSESSIONS LEADING TO COVETOUSNESS. His stately palace and park at Jezreel did not content him. With greedy eye he looked on this tiny plot of freehold, and resolved to have it. It is not in the power of material possessions to satisfy man. The rich man must be richer still; the large kingdom must extend itself yet further; the great business must crush the small competitors, etc. How often this leads to wrongs wrought on the poorer and weaker! "The love of money is the root of all evil." "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things that he possesseth."
II. COVETOUSNESS LEADING TO DISCONTENT. "He laid himself down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread." Disappointed of that which he coveted he could find no pleasure in that which he already possessed. Show how easily a discontented habit of mind may be formed, and how it embitters everything. Thankfulness, gladness, and hope are strangled by this serpent sin. The necessity of watching against the rise of this in our children.
III. DISCONTENT LEADING TO EVIL COUNSEL (1 Kings 21:7). Ahab was just in the right condition to welcome anything bad. On an ordinary occasion he might have repelled this hideous suggestion. Satan watches his opportunity. His temptations are adapted to our age, our social position, our mood of mind. What would fail today may succeed tomorrow. What the youth would spurn the old man may welcome, etc. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." It is an evil thing to have a bad counsellor always near you. Let that thought guard us against unholy associates.
IV. EVIL COUNSEL LEADING TO LIES (1 Kings 21:10). The fast was a hypocritical device to prepare the minds of the people for the death of Naboth. Its appointment presupposed that there was a grievous offence committed by some one, which the community was to mourn. Their suspicions would be ready to fasten on any man who was suddenly and boldly accused by two independent witnesses. The scheme was as subtle as it was sinful. Give examples of the use of deceit and lies in modern life for the purpose of making money, advancing social interests, etc. Show the sinfulness of this.
V. LIES LEADING TO MURDER (1 Kings 21:18). Not only was Naboth killed, but his children also (2 Kings 9:26). Hence the property would revert to the king. It was a cold-blooded murder. Few worse are recorded in history. Seldom is this most heinous crime committed until the way has been paved for it, as here, by lesser sins. Exemplify this.
VI. MURDER LEADING TO RETRIBUTION. Read Elijah's bold and terrible denunciation of the crime on the very soil of the coveted vineyard (1 Kings 21:20-24). Retribution may linger long, but it comes at last. In the light of many a startling discovery we read the words, "Be sure your sin will find you out."
CONCLUSION.—"Cleanse thou me from secret faults: keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins," etc.—A.R.
1 Kings 21:27-29
Such was the effect of Elijah's message delivered in the vineyard of Naboth. The fearless courage of the prophet had again asserted itself, and once more the king quailed before his terrible words of denunciation. The subject is the more worthy of study because the deceitfulness of the human heart is here laid bare by "the searcher of hearts." If we understand Ahab, we shall better understand ourselves.
I. THE DECEITFUL NATURE OF AHAB'S HUMILIATION. We shall show that there was a mixture of the good and evil, of the true and false.
1. It originated in a true message. No phantom of his own brain, no utterance of a false prophet misled Ahab; but the declaration of a man who, as he knew by experience, spoke truly, and spoke for God. He dared not refuse credence to the message, but that his heart was unchanged was shown in his continued hatred to the messenger (1 Kings 18:17; 1 Kings 21:20). In all ages the word of God has been "as a fire," and as a "hammer" (Jeremiah 23:29). Give examples. The Ninevites, the Jews at Pentecost, etc. It has "pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe."
2. It asserted itself in fasting and tears. These would be natural signs of distress. In themselves they were no evidence of sincerity. It is easier to put on the outward than to experience the inward. There is always danger of letting the visible supersede the invisible, though it is only of value as the honest expression of conviction, Leaves and blossoms may be tied around a dead branch, but that does not make it live. (The perils of Ritualism.) Even under the Old Dispensation this was understood. Samuel said, "To obey is better than sacrifice," etc. David exclaimed, "Thou desirest not sacrifice," etc. (Psalms 51:16, Psalms 51:17; see also Micah 6:8; Isaiah 1:11). Compare the words of our Lord, "Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast."
3. It consisted in terror, not in turning. Ahab was thoroughly alarmed, but imagination rather than conscience was at work within him. He did not forsake his idols, nor give up Naboth's vineyard, nor abandon his self confidence. See next chapter, which narrates his dealings with Micaiah. Evidently there was no change of heart or of life; nor had his present feeling any abiding influence. He was like those who are alarmed at the thought of hell, not at the thought of sin. They shrink from punishment, but not from guilt. Examples. The drunkard weeping maudlin tears over his poverty; the detected wrong doer thrown out of employment; the sinner who believes himself to be at the point of death, etc. True repentance makes us feel and act differently towards sin and towards God.
II. THE DIVINE NOTICE OF AHAB'S HUMILIATION.
1. It did not escape the Divine search. God looks down from heaven to see if there were any that do good. He rejoices to find not the evil that must be punished, but the feeble germs of good that may be encouraged. (Compare Psalms 14:2.) Even such a sinner as Ahab (1 Kings 21:25) was not disregarded when he showed the faintest signs of repentance. God would foster them lovingly, as He fosters the seed sown in the warm earth. The prodigal is seen "when yet a great way off." Even the first beginnings of righteousness were commended by our Lord: "Jesus, beholding him, loved him," etc.
2. It led to the mitigation of the Divine punishment. Ahab's feeling was real as far as it went. The postponement of punishment was to give opportunity for more genuine repentance. Had that revealed itself, the judgment would have been averted. Compare this with our Lord's washing the feet of Judas, though He knew he was about to betray Him. "The goodness of God leadeth to repentance." See how ready God is to meet those who may return to Him (Acts 2:38; Joel 2:12-14). [NOTE.—We ought to notice and encourage what is right even in those who are not what they should be, commending it whenever it is possible.]
3. It Jailed to win a reversal of the Divine judgment. A temporary repentance may be followed by a temporary reprieve; but final salvation must be preceded by true repentance. If the heart is not turned from sin, it cannot be turned from hell. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of; but the sorrow of this world worketh death." Not only must evil be expelled, but good must enter; for if the heart is left "empty, swept, and garnished" by self-reformation, the evil spirits will return. Good must supersede evil; Christ must supplant sin; the Holy Spirit must conquer the evil spirit. (Compare Acts 11:17, Acts 11:18.)
A partial penitence gained reprieve, and much more will a thorough repentance gain justification. As Trapp says, "If the leaves of repentance be so medicinal, much more the fruit."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
1 Kings 21:1-4
First Steps in the Path of Crime.
I. UNBRIDLED DESIRE.
1. The spirit in which Ahab came. He came down to Jezreel not to present a thank offering to God for recent deliverance, nor to inquire what might be done to meet the wishes or improve the condition of the people. Had he come thus, paths of usefulness would have opened up before him, and, instead of the dark memory of guilt, he would have left behind him blessing and praise. God and man were alike shut out, and self was set up as that which alone was to be regarded and served. Such spirit not only stands open to temptation; it invites it. Right aims shut out is half Satan's victory.
2. How the temptation presented itself. He was about to make improvements upon the palace, and his eye fell on Naboth's vineyard. This made into a garden of herbs would secure greater privacy and allow other improvements to be carried out. As he looked only upon his own things the advantages of the acquisition were magnified, the fire of desire was kindled and fanned into even fiercer flame. A selfish spirit is ready to be set on fire by the slightest spark of evil suggestion. There was much in God's recent goodness, much also in the necessities of Israel, to raise Ahab above so small a care. The spirit of selfish discontent, which "never is, but always to be, blest," makes thankfulness and service alike impossible. If it rule us we are already set in the way of sin. From the spot on which we stand a hundred dark paths branch out—envies, jealousies, falsehood, dishonest dealing, mean lying artifices, thefts, murders. When tempted to set the heart on what we have not, let us come back into the midst of the good which God has given, and say that if He see it to be best for us, that will be given too.
3. How the object was pursued. All restraints were cast aside. Ahab's offer (1 Kings 21:2) seems at first sight most generous. But it shut out of sight
(1) the ties which bound Naboth to his inheritance, and
(2) the duty he owed to God.
The Israelite could not alienate his lot even when pressed by direst necessity. It might be parted with for a time, but it returned again to its rightful owners at the year of jubilee. Ahab's offer was a temptation to Naboth to think lightly of God's arrangements and to despise his birthright.
II. MISDIRECTED ANGER. "Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased," not with himself, but with Naboth. His anger was not against his sin, but against the man who had rebuked it. He might have stood and said, "I have sinned. I have abused my position. I have been caring for my own good, and not for theirs over whom God has set me." But he took the side of his sin against the truth. He that struck at that struck him. When God meets us as He then met Ahab, we must either return humbled and penitent into the right way, or withstand Him and pass into deeper darkness.—U.
1 Kings 21:5-14
Sin's friendships, and what they lead to.
I. THE SINFUL FIND MANY HELPERS. Ahab seems to have done all that he was able or cared to do. He had tempted Naboth and failed, and the matter seemed to have come to an end. But where Ahab stops, Satan's servants meet him and carry on the work. Jezebel prevails on him to tell the story, and the elders of Jezreel and its sons of Belial are ready to do their part also, to give him his desire and steep his soul in crime. The man who is casting away means and character and health and eternal life will find friends to take the part of his worse against his better self, and agents enough to aid him in accomplishing his sinful will. It is vain to think of arresting a career of vice merely by change of place. Satan has his servants everywhere.
II. THE MISUSE OF INFLUENCE. There is much that may be admired in Jezebel's conduct. However false she was to others, she was true to her own. With tenderness, which lends a peculiar grace to a strong, regal nature like hers, she approaches the moody monarch. Under the warm sunshine of loving sympathy the bands which bind the burden to his soul melt away. It is laid down and exposed to view. But however good the impulses which incite the wicked to action, their feet take to the paths of sin.
1. Her sympathy becomes fierce championship of wrong. There is love for Ahab, but no consideration for Naboth, and no regard to the voice of justice and of God. How much human love today is after the pattern of Jezebel's—narrow, selfish, unjust! The home is everything; the world outside has no claims, sometimes not even rights! Others are regarded with pleasure as they favour those we love; with aversion and hatred so soon as they oppose them, or even stand in their way. Homes are meant to be training schools for God's sons and daughters, where they may learn to be patient, forbearing, less exacting, able to make allowances for difference of disposition and of judgment, and so pass out able to do a brother's, sister's part in the great world around them. But Jezebel's affection frustrates God's plan and arms the home against the world it was meant to serve.
2. She goads him on to greater sin. She blames him not for setting his heart so upon a trifle, but for letting the matter rest where it did. She reminds him of his might and Naboth's weakness: "Dost thou now govern?" etc. How often does the sympathy of the wicked daringly recommend what the heart had feared to think, and this too with reproaches of weakness, of wrongs and slights left unavenged! Instead of quenching the fire of hate, they fan it into fiercer flame.
3. She bears him onward into crime (1 Kings 21:7-10). Ahab's very weakness would have prevented him shedding Naboth's blood, but her subtle brain and indomitable will supply what is needful to steep his soul in guilt. How many dark stains have been in this very way fixed upon the page of history! How much genius and talent have thus served, and are serving now, the devil's purpose!
III. THE EVIL WROUGHT BY TIME SERVERS (1 Kings 21:11-15). There is nothing to relieve the baseness of the elders and nobles of Jezreel. They were not impelled by misguided affection to avenge a fancied wrong. They could not even plead ignorance. They were behind the scenes and arranged for the trial. It was murder of the deepest dye—murder done under the guise of zeal for the offended majesty of God. They had one of the grandest opportunities of shielding innocence and rebuking wickedness in high places. They had only to say they could not lend themselves to such a deed. But these do not stand alone. The greatest crimes in history have Been wrought in this very way. Is there no place today over which "Jezreel" might well be written? Are there no men and no causes frowned upon, not because that in themselves they deserve such treatment, but Because they are not in favour, and it will not pay to befriend them? Are there none who will use their influence in favour of a good cause when it is safe to do so, but who will be looked for in vain when it sorely needs to be befriended? There may be no crime wrought now in this land such as was then done in Israel; But should the time come, these are the men who will do as the elders and nobles did then. The spirit is the same, and in the like circumstances it will bear the same fruit.—U.
1 Kings 21:15-29
Guilt and Mercy.
I. To ENJOY THE FRUITS OF SIN IS TO TAKE ITS GUILT. "Hast thou killed?" etc. It is not said that Ahab knew of the plot. The plain inference is that he did not. Jezebel wrote to the elders, and to her the tidings were sent that the deed was done. But if Ahab did not know before, he knew after. Knowing how it had been procured he nevertheless received it, and heard as he stood there the word of the Lord: "Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?" There are men, for example, who could not pass their days in the vile drink traffic. They could not sleep at night for thought of the wives and mothers and children whose misery had pleaded in God's sight against them and their work. The thought of the souls they had helped to lead down into the eternal darkness would terrify them. But they can pocket the gains of that very trade; they can receive the higher rent which their property secures because it is let to the sellers of drink, and live in quietness, and sit at the Lord's table, and die in good esteem, and go forth to meet—what? the same judgment as the publican! Your reputable merchant may not lie and cheat; but if the young men that serve behind his counters do so, and if he knowingly pockets the gains of such baseness, he is equally guilty in God's sight. To take the fruit of falsehood and oppression and wrong is to stain our souls with their guilt. "Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." "Behold I will bring evil upon thee," etc. (1 Kings 21:21-24).
II. WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FINDS THE TRUTH HATEFUL. Ahab's question, "Hast thou found me?" etc; was a self revelation. There were many to whom Elijah's presence would have been like that of an angel of God; but to Ahab it is as the shadow of death. And the explanation was, "Because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord." It is only to death that the truth is a savour of death. He was sin's bondman. For the gratification of evil desire he had sold himself to work Satan's will, and now in his attitude to God's servant he was owning Satan still as master. It is easy to listen with approval, and with pleasure even, when other men's sins are dealt with; but when our own are touched—when we are met with our feet standing in Naboth's vineyard, what is our attitude toward the truth? Is it anger or submission? Whom do we own as master, Satan or God?
III. THE RICHES OF GOD'S MERCY (1 Kings 21:25-29).
1. The greatness of Ahab's sin. He had outstripped all who had gone before him, great as their sins had been; "but there was none like unto Ahab," etc.
2. The inadequacy of his repentance. It was no doubt sincere, but it did not go far enough. It was fear of judgment, not loathing of sin.
3. The fulness of the Divine compassion. 1 Kings 21:25 and 1 Kings 21:26 might well have been a prelude to the record of full and speedy vengeance, and especially so in view of the unsatisfactory nature of his sorrow. But it is the introduction to the story of mercy. All that sin—sin of deepest dye—will not prevent God running forth to meet Ahab so soon as he begins to turn to Him. That sorrow, shallow though it was, God had marked and accepted. "Seest thou how Ahab?" etc. God is not a stern, relentless Judge. Father's heart has never yearned over child as God's over us.—U.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
1 Kings 21:20
The robbery and murder of Naboth form one of the darkest episodes in the story of Ahab's life. We see that idolatry and persecution were not the only crimes into which Jezebel seduced him. Indeed, such iniquities never stand alone. They would naturally be the parents of many more. He was probably guilty of many such acts of cruel wrong during his wicked career. This is related to show how completely he had "sold himself to work evil in the sight of the Lord." Let us think of
(1) his sin,
(2) his punishment,
(3) his remorse.
I. His SIN. It had many elements of moral wrong in it, and is not to be characterized by any one particular designation.
1. Avarice. Large and rich as his royal domain was, he envied Naboth the possession of his little vineyard.
2. Oppression. It was a wicked abuse of power. "Might" to him was "right."
3. Impiety. Ahab must have known that he was tempting Naboth to the violation of an express Divine command (Numbers 36:7).
4. Abject moral weakness. This is seen in his childish petulance (1 Kings 21:4) and in his mean subserviency to the imperious will of Jezebel.
5. Base hypocrisy, in subjecting the injured man to the decision of a mock tribunal. Crimes like this generally present various phases of evil thought and feeling; and when they attempt to cover themselves with a false veil of rectitude, it only tends to deepen immeasurably our sense of their iniquity.
II. HIS PUNISHMENT. The prophet was assuming his true function in pronouncing this swift judgment on the cruel wrong that had been committed. His calling was to proclaim and enforce the laws of eternal righteousness, to vindicate the oppressed, to rebuke injustice, and that not least, but rather most of all, when it sat enthroned on the seats of authority and power. Note respecting this punishment.
1. Its certainty. Ahab could not really be surprised that his "enemy had found" him, for that "enemy" was but the instrument of a God to whom "all things are naked and opened." "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good," and the transgressor can never escape His righteous judgment. "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23).
2. Its correspondence with the crime. "In the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth," etc. (1 Kings 21:19). The principle involved in this has often been a marked feature of the Divine retributions. "Whatsoever a man soweth," etc. (Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8). "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7).
3. Its delay. The sentence was fully executed only in the person of his son Joram (2 Kings 9:25, 2 Kings 9:26); but this in no way alters the character or lessens the terribleness of it as a punishment upon him. Especially when we remember what an instalment of the full penalty was given in the violence of his own death (1 Kings 22:34-37). "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). But when, space being thus given them for repentance, they abuse it, they do but "treasure up wrath for themselves against the day of wrath," and, falling under the righteous vengeance of God, they do not escape "till they have paid the uttermost farthing." Thus did Ahab inherit the woe pronounced on him who thinks to secure any good for himself by iniquity and blood (Habakkuk 2:12). Ill-gotten gain always brings with it a curse.
III. HIS REMORSE (1 Kings 21:27). It can scarcely be called repentance. It may have been sincere enough so far as it went, and for this reason God delayed the threatened punishment; but it was wanting in the elements of a true repentance. It was the compunction of a guilty conscience, but not the sacred agony of a renewed heart. It sprang from sudden alarm at the inevitable consequences of his sin, but not from a true hatred of the sin itself. It soon passed away, and left him still more a slave to the evil to which he had "sold himself" than he was before. "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death" (2 Corinthians 7:10).—W.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Kings 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30