And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.
1 Kings 21:2-3
From this story we learn: (1) what a sacred thing property is; that a man's possessions (if they be justly come by) belong to him, in the sight of God as well as in the sight of man, and that God will uphold and avenge the man's right. Naboth loved his own land, and therefore he had a right to keep it. We may say that it was but a fancy of his, if he could have a better vineyard, or the worth of it in money. Remember, at least, that God respected that fancy of his, and justified it, and avenged it. When Elijah accused Ahab in God's name, he put two counts in the indictment, for Ahab had committed two sins. "Hast thou killed and also taken possession?" Killing was one sin; taking possession was another. And so Ahab learned that God's law stands for ever, though man's law be broken or be forgotten by disuse. (2) We learn further that if we give way to our passions, we give way to the devil. Whenever any man gives way to selfishness and self-seeking, to a proud, covetous, envious, peevish temper, the devil is sure to whisper in his ear thoughts which will make him worse than he ever dreamt of being. Ahab knew that he was wrong; he dare not openly rob Naboth of his property; and he went to his house heavy of heart, and refused to eat; and while he was in such a temper as that the devil lost no time in sending an evil spirit to him. It was a woman whom he sent, Jezebel, Ahab's own wife; she tempted him through his pride and self-conceit; she taunted him into sin. Ahab seems to have taken no part in the murder of Naboth, but by taking possession of his vineyard, and so profiting by the crime, he made himself a partaker in that crime, and had to hear the terrible sentence, "In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick thy blood, even thine."
C. Kingsley, Sermons for the Times, p. 164.
1 Kings 21:10Ahab is akin, both in his sin and his recovery, to the mass of mankind. He has neither sinned like Saul, nor will he mourn like David. He has been pusillanimous in his sin, and he will not be other than faint-hearted in his return to God. He moves, on the whole, in that middle sphere of moral life which is at best never heroic, and at worst something better than detestable, and which is, after all, the sphere of the mass of humankind.
I. Observe, first, that the repentance of Ahab, so far as it went, was a real repentance. (1) There is evidently in him a measure of that fear of God which is the beginning of true spiritual wisdom. (2) He does not attempt to palliate his sin. He is silent, not because he has nothing to acknowledge, but because he knows himself to be so simply and altogether wicked that he has nothing to say.
II. Wherein was Ahab's penitence deficient? At what point does he cease to be an example and become a terrible warning?
There is nothing in Ahab's subsequent conduct to show that he had attained to anything deeper than a fear of God's judgments and an acknowledgment of his own guilt. He feared the consequences of sin, but that by loving God he hated sin itself is more than we can venture to suppose. For: (1) A true hatred of past sins will at all cost put them away and cut off the occasions which led to them. (2) The contrite sinner is concerned for the glory of God, which he has obscured. But with Ahab self was the centre still. He trembled at judgments which would light upon himself; and, on the same principle, he was unequal to sacrifices which were painful to self, however necessary to his Master's honour.
III. The paramount influence upon Ahab's mind came from without, and not from within, him. Jezebel stands behind him as an incarnation of the evil one. If Ahab ever struggled to maintain his fear of God, he soon sank vanquished by the more than human energy of his foe, to await his final reprobation.
H. P. Liddon, Oxford Lent Sermons; 1858, No. 10.
References: 1 Kings 21:13.—J. M. Ashley, A Festival Year with Great Preachers, p. 30. 1 Kings 21:19, 1 Kings 21:20.—C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 317.
1 Kings 21:20In this story there are three things to be noticed:—
I. The cowardice of guilt. Ahab quailed before Elijah like a coward and a slave. A guilty conscience can make a coward even of a king.
II. Friends mistaken for enemies. Ahab called Elijah his enemy. He thought him his enemy because he did not encourage him in his sins, as others did, but reproved him and tried to turn him from them. There are people who take God for their Enemy, just as Ahab called Elijah by this name. Surely sin can never deceive us so completely as when it leads us to this horrible mistake.
III. Enemies disguised as friends. Ahab thought Jezebel his friend when she got him the vineyard he coveted. He thought the magistrates his friends who so basely put Naboth to death. He thought the prophets of Baal his friends who feasted at his table and flattered him with their smooth tongues. He thought them his friends, but they were his worst enemies. You may be sure he is a false friend who encourages you to act contrary to the wishes of your parents and to the wishes of your Father in heaven.
J. Stalker, The New Song, and Other Sermons for the Children's Hour, p. 181.
I. We see here, in the first place, this broad principle.: pleasure won by sin is peace lost. While sin is yet tempting us it is loved; when sin is done, it is loathed. Naboth's blood stains the leaves of Naboth's garden. Elijah is always waiting at the gate of the ill-gotten possession.
II. Sin is blind to its true friends and its real foes. Elijah was the best friend Ahab had in the kingdom. Jezebel was the worst tempter that hell could have sent him. This is one of the certainest workings of evil desires in our own spirits, that they pervert to us all the relations of things, that they make us blind to all the truths of God's universe. Sin, perverted and blinded, stumbles about in its darkness, and mistakes the friend for the foe and the foe for the friend. Sin makes us fancy that God Himself is our Enemy.
III. The sin that mistakes the friendly appeal for an enemy lays up for itself a terrible retribution. Elijah comes here and prophesies the fall of Ahab. The next peal, the next flash, fulfil the prediction. In Jezreel Ahab died; in Jezreel Jezebel died. If we will not listen to God's message and turn at its gentle rebuke, then we gather up for ourselves an awful futurity of judgment.
A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, 1861, p. 265 (see also 1st series, p. 222).
Here we see God's providential care even of such a person as Ahab, so utterly given up to all manner of wickedness. It is a very fearful picture, yet full of mercy and encouragement to true repentance.
I. In God's dealings with Ahab we see a great law of His universal providence: not usually to leave sinners at ease in their sins. This is His great and unspeakable mercy to those who least seem to deserve it. Left to themselves, they must surely perish, but God does not leave them to themselves.
II. Neither need we doubt what His meaning is in so doing. He wills them to repent; He would not have them die. The untoward accidents, the unexpected turns, the strange and sudden failures, which happen to them, are so many checks from His fatherly hand, so many calls to a better mind.
III. Even Ahab's small beginning of repentance is so far pleasing to Almighty God that in consideration of it He promises to bring the destruction of his house, not in Ahab's days, but in his son's days. Who knows how much greater mercy might have been shown him had his repentance continued and grown deeper? God finds us, as Elijah found Ahab, not as an Enemy, though His first sternness may well alarm such as we are, but as our true and only-sufficient Friend.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. viii., p. 158 (see also J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year: Sundays after Trinity, Part I., p. 383).
I. That which first of all blinded Ahab to the true character and extent of his responsibility for the death of Naboth was the force of desire. A single desire, long dwelt upon, cherished, and indulged, has a blinding power which cannot easily be exaggerated. Desire is not always wrong in its early stages, and so long as it is under control of principle it is a useful motive power in human life. But when it finds itself in conflict with the rights of other men and, above all, in conflict with the laws and with the rights of God, it must be suppressed, unless it is to lead to crime. When Naboth declined to sell or exchange his vineyard, Ahab should have ceased to desire it. Desire is to the human soul what gravitation is to the heavenly bodies. In St. Augustine's memorable words, "Quocumque feror amove feror."
II. A second cause which may have blinded Ahab to the true character of his responsibility for the murder of Naboth was the ascendant influence and prominent agency of his queen, Jezebel. Ahab was bad and weak; Jezebel was worse and strong. Ahab could not have enjoyed the results of Jezebel's achievement and decline the responsibility for it; yet no doubt he was more than willing to do this, more than willing to believe that matters had drifted somehow into other hands than his, and that the upshot, regrettable, no doubt, in one sense, but in another not altogether unwelcome, was beyond his control. False conscience constantly endeavours to divest itself of responsibility for what has been done through others, or for what others have been allowed by us to do.
III. The third screen which may have blinded Ahab to the real state of the case was the perfection of the legal form which had characterised the proceedings. The old religious forms had been respected; the constitutional authorities had put the law in motion. Nothing could have been so very far wrong when ancient rule and living administration combined to bring about a practical result, and Ahab might well let the matter rest and enjoy the vineyard of Naboth.
Law is a great and sacred thing; but when the machinery of law is tampered with, as was, no doubt, the case with Jezebel, its remaining force is the exact measure of its capacity for mischief and for wrong. Then, indeed, if ever, "summum jus summa injuria."
From this story let us carry away two lessons: (1) the first to keep all forms of desire well under control; (2) for us Christians, the event or the man who discovers us to ourselves should be held to be, not our enemy, but our friend.
H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 113.
It is thus that sinners regard God's messenger. He is their enemy. He may be discharging a solemn duty reluctantly, unwillingly, with great pain to himself and kindness in his heart; it matters not if he carries God's message, if he speaks the truth, if he loves righteousness, he is regarded as an enemy by one who will not be saved.
I. God's messengers to us are various. Sometimes He sends a man to us, addresses the sinner by a human voice, and confronts him face to face with the minister of righteousness. When the Christian pastor seeks to speak in God's behalf to persons sunk in sin and to warn them, as they would escape from the wrath to come, to cleanse themselves while they can from that which is provoking God's judgment every day, how often is he reminded in his own experience of Ahab's speech to Elijah! "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" may be the language of the manner, if not of the lips.
II. But God's messengers are not all men; and the chief power of the human messenger lies in his close connection with another, not of flesh and blood. The prophet was Ahab's enemy just because he was in concert with an enemy. The real enemy was not he, but conscience. Once let a man break loose from God, once let him give himself up to his self-will, lead him where it may, and forthwith increasingly, at last utterly, he will find his conscience his foe.
III. If it seems strange that any one should count his own conscience as an enemy, is it not yet more wonderful that the same feeling should ever be shown towards the very Gospel of grace, towards the Saviour of sinners Himself? Yet there are multitudes of persons who pass through life regarding our Lord Jesus Christ as an Enemy. They are afraid of Him, and therefore they keep Him at a distance; they know that one day they will want Him, but they almost deliberately defer seeking Him till the late hour of a deathbed repentance.
IV. Human nature, and each several part of it, has an enemy; but it is just that one which counterfeits the voice and professes the interest of a friend. That one enemy is sin. If Ahab had said to Jezebel when she came to tempt him, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" he would have had no cause to say it to Elijah when he came to judge.
C. J. Vaughan, Lessons of Life and Godliness, p. 186.
References: 1 Kings 21:20.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xi., p. 18; J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 326. 1 Kings 21:20-25,—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 101.
1 Kings 21:25If the reign of Ahab had been written in any book save the Bible, far less heavy would be the thunder-clouds which gather round his name. Even the Bible gives a hint of better things: "The ivory houses that he made and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?" But it is the history of religion in Ahab and under Ahab that the Bible would teach us; and so the fairer side, which is the world's side, only shows itself to render more oppressive the moral midnight which settles upon his name as one who sold himself, more than any other, to work evil in the sight of the Lord.
I. Ahab's general conduct as revealing the essential character of his mind. The clue to the career of Ahab is to be found in the counter-influences of Jezebel and Elijah. Ahab was a man weakly wicked. Alike to evil and to good, he was led on by stronger wills than his own. In his ivory palace Jezebel bowed him to her false worship, and to a participation in her enormous crimes; but no sooner did he meet Elijah than the great prophet asserted over the unstable king all the majestic might of holiness. Ahab's history demonstrates that there may be intense sinfulness before God without any deliberate design. From very weakness of character he sold his own soul.
II. Ahab's repentance. At Elijah's words of righteous wrath which accused him of the murder of Naboth, the king's heart was for a while broken; for a moment he seems to have caught a glimpse of the greatness of his sin. The incompleteness of his repentance suggests the two main causes of the frequent incompleteness of repentance among ourselves: (1) the infirmity of will which so often leaves a man at the mercy of whoever will take the trouble to lead him, and (2) his repentance was partial, not comprehensive; it had reference to a portion of his sins, not the whole. He seems to have endeavoured to couple humiliation to the true God with the tacit retention of idol-worship.
Bishop Woodford, Oxford Lent Sermons, 1858, No. 9.
References: 1 Kings 21:25.—R. Heber, Parish Sermons, vol. ii., p. 118; I. Williams, Characters of the Old Testament, p. 215; R. Twigg, Sermons, p. 117; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 417. 1 Kings 21:29.—J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 2nd series, p. 22; H. Thompson, Concionalia: Outlines of Sermons for Parochial Use, vol. i., p. 371; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xv., p. 164. 1Ki 21—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 91. 1Ki 21—W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 165; Parker, vol. viii., p. 51. 1 Kings 22:1-41.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 22.
And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.
And Naboth said to Ahab, The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.
And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him: for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.
But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread?
And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and said unto him, Give me thy vineyard for money; or else, if it please thee, I will give thee another vineyard for it: and he answered, I will not give thee my vineyard.
And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.
So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth.
And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people:
And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.
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, and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them.
They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people.
And there came in 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, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died.
Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead.
And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money: for Naboth is not alive, but dead.
And it came to pass, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,
Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it.
And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.
And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the LORD.
Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel,
And will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and made Israel to sin.
And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.
Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat.
But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.
And 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.
And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.
And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,
Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? 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.