Above Jezreel today By Ori via Wikimedia Commons
18 “ Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession.’ (1 Kings 21:18 ESV) The plain of Jezreel is one of the most fertile places in the whole of the middle east. It is a great plain where in many places swamp land has been drained , and the reclaimed ground watered by sophisticated irrigation schemes from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river, bring abundant crops for food and export.The Hebrew name Yizre’el, meaning “God soweth” gives an indication of the sheer fertility of the place .Today it is known as the breadbasket of the state of Israel and along with the plain of Sharon further north is the main area of farmland in the country.
Centred in the valley is the old city of Jezreel itself where our story today is centred. This is undoubtedly one of the most unpleasant accounts in the whole of the story of Elijah, and shows human nature at its very worst. In this account we read of greed, avarice, malicious cunning , forgery, shameless lies, deceit, and murder . What is more this passage shows how cheap life was held to be by both Ahab and Jezebel. Naboth might not be the best known character in scripture, but it was his demise at the hands of the king and queen that was to seal the fate of an entire Royal household.
The story in 1 Kings 21: 1-16 is thoroughly unpleasant. I can try and summarise it as follows. Naboth had a vineyard in the city of Jezreel. it was close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab wanted it . Naboth said no you can’t have it -I am not going to sell my inheritance (verse 3). So Naboth sulked – he stuck out his bottom lip & sulked like a petulant child (verses 4-5) . But as Ahab sulked – his wife schemed. As Ahab sulked Jezebel plotted as to how she could get Naboth’s vineyard for her husband. She sent letters to town elders of Jezreel in her husband’s name to proclaim a a day of fasting and to have Naboth seated in prominent place (verse 9) . But also to seat two ‘scoundrels’ ( NIV translation) or ‘worthless men’ (ESV translation) opposite him & have them accuse him that he has cursed god and the king. then take him out & stone him ( verse 10).
We can only but imagine the oscillating emotions that poor Naboth would have experienced, one moment a guest of honour at a royal banquet, the next the accused in a ‘Kangaroo court’ that would lead to his death. The initial elation would have quickly given way to the confusion and then horror which such an occasion would have brought.
So that happened false witnesses brought their false accusations & an innocent man is stoned to death . As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth dead – she arranged for Ahab to take possession of the vineyard, which had ostensibly become crown property.
What does this passage show us? Well on one level it shows us the extent to which people are prepared to sell themselves to evil to get their way, even to the extent of lying, cheating, preparing false statements and having murder committed in their name. Before we get too hasty to condemn Ahab alone for this, we must remember the first and greatest of Israel’s kings David who committed a similar foul deed to Uriah the Hittite ( see 2 Samuel 11) . In both cases though it is clear that the wages of sin is death ( Roman’s 6:23) , David’s son born to Bathsheba dies (2 Samuel 12:15 ff) , and Ahab and Jezebel and everyone related to them were similarly going to die, because of Naboth’s vineyard.
The death sentence on the king and queen of Israel is proclaimed by no other than Elijah himself, in devastating terms. This was to bring a devastating response with Elijah prophesying that Ahab’s household would utterly annihilated and that dogs would lick up the blood of Ahab and that Jezebel herself would be eaten by dogs.
The comfort we can take from this is that revenge and justice are the Lord’s and He will repay , evil people will not get off with it, and they will all ultimately pay the price as Ahab did for selling themselves to do evil in the Lord’s sight. Nothing is hidden from our God, and although it might seem to some as if justice sleeps, that is not the case . The utter destruction that God was to visit upon the house of Ahab, may have as in other cases too taken years to transpire but as the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem “Retribution” puts it in his translation of an earlier work
- Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceeding small;
- Though with patience He stands waiting, With exactness grinds He all.