Ahab wants what he isn’t entitled to and he is loath to take “No” for an answer. He throws a tantrum that stirs Jezebel to action. She takes what he wants by force and deceit.
This story reminds me of another story about a king who wanted something that belonged to someone else. That king was David and the ‘thing’ was another man’s wife. Both stories end with the king getting what he wanted in the end AND through deceit and force; murder to be exact.
David carried that stain on his rein forever. It still mars it today. Ahab’s rein was already a mess. He adds one more layer to it. And all his deeds, so far, are without repentance. David repented as soon as he was confronted. Ahab will repent but not for some time and only because of the sentence pronounced upon him. David was sorry for his sins and disappointing God. Ahab is sorry for being caught and afraid of his punishment. But that, again, is a story for another day. Let’s step into our story today and see where the Spirit takes us.
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Ahab loves to look out his special window. His palace is filled with windows offering appealing views but one in particular is his favorite. It looks out over a lush vineyard. It is set on a rolling hill right beside his palace. The aroma of the grapes, the soil, and even the rains drift up to him at this window. He could stand here all day and admire it. But one little thing puts a damper on his pleasure. It doesn’t belong to him.
This vineyard is owned by a man of Jezreel named Naboth. He is a man who is in every way ordinary. He is not a community leader nor is he a wealthy landowner. So why should he have this amazing vineyard? “He shouldn’t” decides Ahab. He sets his mind to acquiring this vineyard, no matter the price.
One morning Naboth comes to his vineyard to check on the progress of his grapes. Naboth loves walking among the ripening fruit and feeling the earth beneath his feet. It always reminds him of his past. The years he spent here as a boy helping his father and grandfather work the soil and tend the grapes. It has taken more than three generations to bring this vineyard to the state it is in now. One of abundant fruit that produces exquisite wine.
Ahab sees Naboth walking through the vineyard and he hurries out to greet him. Just before reaching Naboth, Ahab slows down so as to not appear too eager. This needs to look like a regular encounter.
“Greetings Naboth” Ahab calls out.
Naboth bows respectfully to his king and returns his greeting. “Greetings my king. Do what do I owe the honor of your presence?”
“I have come to speak with you about your vineyard.” Ahab maintains his calm demeanor as he begins ‘negotiations’ with Naboth. “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money” (verse 2b).
Naboth is shocked by the king’s offer. Surely he jests. This vineyard has been in Naboth’s family since being assigned as an inheritance by Joshua. It is not something he would ever consider selling, even if he had the right to. “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (verse 3b).
Ahab can see by the set of Naboth’s face that there will be no convincing him. He will think of something else. Still determined to keep the strength of his desire hidden from Naboth, Ahab nods then turns and leaves. He enters his personal chambers. He rips his cloak from his shoulders and throws himself upon his bed. He turns his face to the wall and fumes.
Ahab’s personal servant had observed the exchange from a distance and he watched as his master returned to the palace. Knowing Ahab as he did, he clearly read the rage simmering just beneath the surface. He follows his master to his chambers and watched as Ahab took to his bed. “My king, may I bring you anything?”
“Perhaps something to eat or drink my king?”
The servant quickly withdrew from the room. He let Ahab be for the morning. He figure he just needed time to calm down. At midday he again approached Ahab. “My king, may I bring you something to eat or drink? Perhaps some wine?”
“LEAVE ME” roared Ahab. He grabbed for the nearest item and threw it in the direction of his servant narrowly missing him.
The servant withdrew again. He went into the kitchen and began preparations for Ahab’s favorite meal. He would serve this to him in the evening and hopefully entice him from his bed.
While Ahab’s servant searched for ways to lift Ahab’s spirits, Ahab himself was struggling with that same task. The only thing that would lift his spirits was the acquisition of Naboth’s vineyard, but HOW? The man refused to sell it or even trade it for something better. What more could he do?
Evening arrived and Ahab’s servant tried again to entice him to eat or drink something. “My master, you have gone without food or drink all day. Surely you are hungry. I have brought your favorite meal.”
“I said LEAVE ME!”
The servant, being concerned for his master’s health approaches his mistress instead. “My lady, I have great concern for my lord. He is sullen and lies upon his bed. He refuses food or drink. I don’t know how to reach him.”
“I will see to it” says Jezebel.
Ahab’s servant bows low and backs out of Jezebel’s presence. Jezebel rises and goes to Ahab’s chambers. She lightly knocks then enters. She sees him lying on the bed with his face to the wall. She comes near to him before speaking. “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” (verse 5b).
Ahab’s voice is distraught as he turns to face Jezebel and shares his troubles with her. “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money, or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard’” (verse 6).
Jezebel rushed to his side to comfort him. “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (verse 7).
Ahab knew Jezebel could do anything she set her mind to. Surely she would find a way to keep her word to him and give him Naboth’s vineyard. He smiled at her and nodded his head. He then called for his servant to bring his meal.
As Ahab settled in to eat his favorite meal, Jezebel went to Ahab’s throne room. There she took parchment and pen. She wrote letters in Ahab’s name. They were penned to look as though Ahab himself had issued these commands. When she was satisfied with her work she sealed the letters with the king’s seal. None would refuse to comply with these letters with the king’s seal affixed to them. Jezebel then summoned a messenger to take the letters to the elders and leaders of Jezreel.
The messenger hurries off on his task and delivers all the letters within the hour. Before the end of that day the elders met together to discuss the ‘king’s’ command. This ‘command’ was to falsely accuse Naboth publicly of treason against the king and God and have him brought outside the city to be stoned to death.
“What are we to do? Can we really do as the king commands?”
“He is the king. Is it possible he has heard Naboth utter such things?”
“I doubt it, otherwise there would be no need of additional ‘witnesses’.”
“I don’t like the idea of using worthless men. If he were truly guilty of such a crime, there shouldn’t be need of hiring witnesses.”
“Do you want witnesses hired against you? If you fail to follow the king’s command, I can assure you that he would not hesitate to add you to the list of those speaking against him.”
“I still don’t like it but I suppose we have no choice in the matter.”
“We will proclaim a fast for the approaching Sabbath. This will give us two days to secure the witness and inform the people.”
A notice went out the next morning that there would be a special fast on the upcoming Sabbath. The night before would be a feast for the community to carry them through the fast.
Naboth heard the news along with the rest of his community. The fast was said to be called to seek the Lord’s favor for the king’s health. Naboth felt this was a worthy cause but he didn’t recall Ahab as appearing in ill health when he approached him the day before. Maybe it was something that fell on him quickly. He would certainly join his fellow Israelites in seeking God’s favor for the king.
As Naboth made his way to his vineyard he was approached by one of the leaders of the city.
“Naboth, I would have a word with you.”
“To what do I owe the honor of your presence my lord?”
“I would ask that you sit at the head of the people for the fast which was proclaimed.”
“That would be a great honor but one I do not deserve. Surely there is another more worthy than me.”
“None so humble my son. It is a request that we elders have all agreed upon.”
“I will do my best to serve my brothers, my king and my God.”
“That is all we ask.”
Naboth thought all day long about the words he might impart to the people. He would remind them of the times their fathers had entreated the Lord for His favor. He had proven Himself faithful time and again, surely He would listen to the pleas of His children for their king.
The next evening the people assembled for the feast before the fast. Naboth took his place at the head of the table. Two men, who had been found and contracted in secret, took seats on either side of him. They were dressed in their finest robes and their beards were neatly groomed. They looked to be respectable men from the community.
As soon as the guests were all seated, Naboth prepared to rise and share the words he had prepared with the people. But before he could make it to his feet the man on his left cried out, “Traitor!” as he pointed at Naboth. He acted as if he had just recognized who he was seated next to.
Naboth’s face took on a puzzled look as he stared back at the man. “What is this” asked Naboth.
“You! I heard you. ‘You cursed God and the king’” (verse 10b).
“I heard him too” said the man on his right. “He indeed cursed God AND the king.”
All the color drained from Naboth’s face as the requisite two witnesses pronounced him guilty of the most heinous crime. He had no defense that he could offer even though he knew the charges were false. By Israelite law, by the mouth of two witnesses is a matter established.
The elders of the city rush forward and grab Naboth’s arms. He is propelled out of the house and through the streets. A mob of people joined in as Naboth was ushered outside the city gates and taken to a low spot beside the road. Naboth was thrown to the ground as all those around him bent to pick up stones. Within seconds stones began to rain down upon Naboth. Within minutes his body lay broken and lifeless at the center of a heap of stones.
The stones stop after Naboth’s cries die out in the night air. One charged with seeing to the dead approaches his body to ensure he is dead. When his head nods in confirmation the crowd disperses. The elders lead the people back to the feast, least they realize the feast and fast were all a ruse for this very purpose. One of the elders sends a message to Jezebel. He doesn’t even pretend that the message came from Ahab. It may have come in his name and with his seal affixed to it, but it had her hand all over it. “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead” (verse 14b).
Jezebel is pleased with the message. She went immediately to Ahab to share the good news. “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead” (verse 15b).
Ahab doesn’t hesitate even for a second. He jumps up and rushes out to HIS new vineyard. It matters not that this vineyard should rightfully belong to Naboth’s heirs, it is his now and he intends to thoroughly enjoy it.
(to be continued)
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Did you notice that Ahab didn’t even ask how Naboth died? He also didn’t care about the laws of inheritance. There should have been no way he could claim the ‘spoils’ of this act for himself. Was Naboth without heirs? If so, it would have resorted back to his family for redistribution.
WHY didn’t the elders of the city say “No!” I have them arguing about it but we don’t see any pushback from them in the scriptures. Why not? Did he have that much power over the people or were they as corrupt as he was? Why did Jezebel have to come up with this idea? Is it something that wouldn’t have occurred to Ahab? He was always ready to follow her lead, wherever it took him. THAT was his biggest flaw which led to most of his sins.
I suppose one of the lessons we could learn from today’s story is to follow our own conscience instead of going wherever someone else leads. If you do follow someone, make CERTAIN they are walking the path that God approves. It’s isn’t bad to have leaders, just don’t follow the wrong leaders. You will NOT like where you end up.
Father God, help me be discerning with those whom I follow. I never want to walk a path that is contrary to Your word. I know I have done so in the past and I thank You for Your forgiveness. Help me NOT fall into that trap again. Also, help me be a good leader to those who would follow me. Let me walk in Your ways and be sensitive to Your Spirit at ALL times.