The Stolen Vineyard
- Realize that God hates evil and injustice.
- Feel sorry for our own sinful behavior.
- Tell what God wants us to do about our sinfulness.
- Take a stand against injustice in the world.
This is one of the most vivid stories in the two books of Kings. It stands out because of its description of the raw power exercised by Jezebel and the relative weakness of Ahab.
It begins very low-key, as Ahab begins to covet Naboth's lovely vineyard, just a stone's throw from the palace in Jezreel. Ahab makes what seems to be a reasonable offer to Naboth for the vineyard, but Naboth flat-out refuses. This seems strange to us today, but in that day the idea of maintaining the family land was deeply ingrained. Naboth also claims that God's law is on his side. And he's right. Numbers 36:7 and other passages tell us that land in Israel was to be regarded as a patrimony assigned by God and was not to be sold except under dire circumstances.
Ahab is deeply disappointed, and Jezebel, his wife, finds him sulking and depressed on his bed. Asked what's wrong, Ahab tells her all about the vineyard and Naboth's response. Interestingly, Ahab doesn't tell Jezebel Naboth's reason for refusing to sell---not that it would have made any more difference to her than it evidently did to him.
Jezebel upbraids her husband: "Is this any way for a king to act? Let me go after this, and I'll show you how to get things done." Jezebel has enough sense, at least, not to grab the vineyard outright. Instead she sets up an elaborate scheme to entrap Naboth. She arranges for two lackeys to falsely and publically accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king. And Naboth is taken out and stoned. As soon as Naboth is dead, Jezebel tells her husband to get out and take the vineyard.
Raw royal power squashes any opposition. Except that in Israel there was another power at work to hold the king in check. It had no basis in law; its power was that of God's Word. We have seen it before, with Nathan challenging David on his murder of Uriah the Hittite and his marriage to Bathsheba. And a few chapters before this Naboth story Elijah had confronted Ahab and proclaimed a famine. Ahab had called him "troubler of Israel."
Now, in the face of this power grab, the word of the Lord comes to Elijah, telling him to confront the king. Again, when Elijah shows up at the palace, Ahab responds with fear and a grudging respect. "So, you have found me, my enemy!" Elijah proceeds to tell Ahab that disaster will come on him and his house, as well as upon Jezebel, his wife: "The dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel." The author then throws in a parenthetical comment that "there never was anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife."
Yet the story ends on a surprising note of repentance and mercy. Upon hearing the Word of the Lord through Elijah, Ahab publicly humbles himself in sackcloth and ashes. And the Lord comments to Elijah, "Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me?" For that, Ahab gets a reprieve of sorts. The disaster will fall on his family after he is dead and gone. So God extends his mercy to the repentant, no matter how evil they have been.
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