1 Kings 21 tells the story of ruthlessness in the pursuit of furthering our own goals. A lot of times when people who have power want something, they refuse to take no for an answer. This chapter is a perfect example of how situations can get out of hand. People often think that because they've made a reasonable request, the people around them are obliged to follow. A common arena for this today is in how men approach women. Often, I've seen men who believe that simply because they are a nice guy the girl didn't have a right to refuse a date with him. However, this misconception is not limited to men (or even people in power necessarily). In this chapter, we see that Jezebel devises a murderous plot to get her husband something he has been denied. Just because you want something and ask for it nicely does not mean you are entitled to it.
A man named Naboth owned a vineyard in Jezreel which was near the palace of king Ahab. This must have been a well kept and prosperous vineyard because king Ahab desired it for himself. Even though Ahab was considered a corrupt king, he took the proper steps in his attempt to acquire the land; he offered to give Naboth a better vineyard elsewhere or to pay money for the land. Both options seem fair, but, Naboth was unwilling to part with the land. Naboth informs Ahab that the vineyard is his inheritance from his fathers and he won't part with it.
I understand the sentiment of Naboth because like Naboth, I would never sell my family's "farm." My grandparents purchased a sizable amount of land during in the Jim Crow South, which is no small feat for a black couple—let alone a black couple with little to no formal education. My grandfather was a farmer and my grandmother was a cook, but they managed to buy more land than all of their children, somehow (probably from desire). They worked hard and I respect that. That land meant a lot to them; I saw it in my grandmother's eyes during the housing boom when companies were doing everything they could to find a way to take it. In circumstances like this, money and "better" become obsolete. You can't replace the memories or the sentiment of the land. I'm sure Naboth had a similar connection to his vineyard.
King Ahab didn't understand this; which is understandable for a king. If you've ever seen Disney's The Emperor's New Groove, you can easily see this unfolding. In the movie, the emperor was a spoiled brat who wanted to build a vacation spot where another family lived. He didn't care about the “peasants” who had sentimental and monetary ties to that land, he just wanted what he wanted. Ahab was a little better, but still quite similar.
From Ahab's point of view, he'd made a reasonable request. After all, he'd offered to pay or to find him a better vineyard. The sentiment that builds from hard work was probably lost on a king who had lived his entire life as royalty. Ahab resorts to sulking and refuses to eat. He also complains to his wife, Jezebel.
A lot of times when we see things we want, we jokingly use the phrase "I'd kill for it." Jezebel took that phrase to heart and orchestrates a plot to have Naboth killed so her husband could have the vineyard. Ahab was king of the land, it was definitely possible for them to find another plot of land or another vineyard. Ahab even stated in part of his offer that he would find a vineyard for Naboth. Her actions prove that she had a lot of malice in her heart and was selfish in nature, thought fiercely loyal to her husband.
Jezebel contacts the elders of the city and asks them to find people to bear false witness against Naboth. In the midst of exalting Naboth's righteousness these witnesses were to proclaim that Naboth was guilty of blasphemy. Not only does Jezebel have him framed for blasphemy, which bore the death penalty, Jezebel places the decree in the king's name and with his seal. To Israel's knowledge, it is Ahab who orders Naboth's death.
When the elders of the city notify the king's people that Naboth is dead, Jezebel urges Ahab to take advantage of the situation and take charge of the property. Ahab doesn't condemn his wife for this action. The fact that he goes to take possession of the property just as she suggests implies that he thought it was a great idea. It is also possible that he did not know of his wife's treachery. This is precisely why we are not follow people blindly.
God sends his judgment on the events to the prophet Elijah. His judgment comes with an ominous message foretelling of Ahab's untimely death. When Elijah shows up, Ahab already considers Elijah his enemy; what he doesn't seem to process is that by making himself an enemy of God's people, he has made himself an enemy of God. The only reason he and Elijah were enemies was because Ahab was an enemy of God in the first place. Elijah was simply delivering the messages he received.
This is something to remember as you look at who is against you in life. Is it the world who is against you or a representative of God? You should hope it is the world that is against you, that means you're probably on God's side.
When Elijah lays out Ahab's crimes and his coming punishment, Ahab humbles himself before God. He tears his clothes, fasts, and puts on sackcloth, to show his humility. Because of this, God postpones his judgment for the next generation. Sometimes it takes an external person telling us about ourselves to truly see how far from God we've drifted.
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