I Kings 21 – What a Stolen Vineyard Teaches Us About a Just and Merciful God

Reasons to study the Old Testament
The Old Testament points us to Christ.  It gives us the historical background to the coming of the Messiah, including His ancestral line and God working through historical events to bring His birth to pass.

The Old Testament also tells us about God.  We get to see how God works His plan through sinful men, and that everything man does – good or bad – is used to bring about God’s purpose.  Studying OT stories ultimately allows us to know our Heavenly Father better and see how the different aspect of His nature interact with real people (like us).

This text will teach us four truths about our Creator that will hopefully broaden our perspective and enable us to understand Him more.  If the chief end of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever, then the story from I Kings 21 has a valuable role to play in our lives.

Setup for passage

  • Takes place during the divided kingdom – 10 northern tribes = Israel; 2 southern tribes = Judah.
  • Ahab is king of Israel.  He is the most evil king in its history so far.  He and his Phoenician wife Jezebel have introduced Baal worship into the country.  He is the first king to bring Canaanite gods to Israel.
  • It is also the time of Elijah.  The magnitude of Ahab’s evil requires the most powerful prophet since Moses.
  • This story is one of three episodes that take place toward the end of Ahab’s reign.  The stories illustrate the extent of Ahab’s evil and why God eventually tore the kingdom away from him and judged his family so severely.

Main text
3          The land belonged to Yahweh per Mosaic Law.  It could not be permanently sold.  Only in times of financial desperation could it be sold temporarily to settle debts.  Even then it reverted to the original owner during the Year of Jubilee.  Naboth turns down Ahab because of the Law of Moses that Ahab doesn’t care about.

            As in Acts 5:29, Naboth decides to obey God rather than men.

4          Result of breaking the 10th commandment.  This is a vineyard next to Ahab’s SECOND palace.  Human nature – it’s not what I have, it’s what I CAN’T have. (Prov 27:20 – the eye of man is never satisfied).

            Note the mature response by the man who is king of Israel.

6          Naboth actually had said “…the inheritance of my fathers” not “…my vineyard.”  Ahab probably doesn’t care about the Law and so it didn’t register what Naboth actually said.  OR he knows Jezebel doesn’t care about the Law and so why even mention it?  He also could be spinning the story to make Naboth look bad and himself look the victim.

7          Jezebel effectively says to Ahab, “Aren’t you the king?  Why are you letting this nobody get in the way of what you want?  Get out of bed and stop your pouting – I’ll get the vineyard for you.”  To Jezebel, this is not a difficult problem to solve – not when you have the power of the throne.

8          The elders and nobles of Jezreel apparently know this letter is actually from Jezebel based on verse 14 – so this must be just to make it official or to cover her tracks if it’s found out.

9          The fast will signify that a great sin has been committed and they are having a day of praying and fasting to find out what it was.

            By putting him at the head, they will effectively put Naboth on trial as the defendant.

10        Mosaic Law requires the testimony of two witnesses.  Cursing God is punishable by death.  Jezebel obviously knows enough about Jewish law to make sure this looks legal.

11-12   Sign of the corruption of the time – they don’t question anything.  They probably also fear the queen.  They are in Ahab’s second capital and Jezebel is right there if they don’t follow her command.  Unlike Naboth, they fear man more than God – and they don’t appear to be punished for it (in this world) – Matt 10:28.

13        Per II Kings 9:26 they apparently kill his sons also so that no heirs are alive to claim the vineyard.  Stoning likely involves many people of the town – because of Jezebel’s sin many people unknowingly have blood on their hands.

14        All Naboth did was obey Yahweh.  His reward is death for himself and his sons and perhaps poverty for the survivors in his family.

16        Ahab has no problem with the means of acquiring the vineyard.  The only thing that matters is that he gets his VEGETABLE GARDEN!

            Breaking the 10th commandment leads to breaking the 9th, which leads to breaking the 6th, which leads to breaking the 8th.

17        The plan works perfectly except for Yahweh.

            …who is in Samaria = this is where Ahab lives, not where he is.

18        God wastes no time in sending Elijah.  Ahab is just taking control of the vineyard.  Perhaps Elijah lives close to Jezreel?

19        Ahab is always happy to see Elijah – see also 18:17.

            Elijah not much for small talk – see also 18:18.

20/25   Sold himself to do evil = sin’s slave instead of God’s servant.  He sold HIMSELF, but now is no longer in charge.  He’s in bondage to sin – Romans 1:28-32.

21        The punishment for violating the principle of exclusivity laid out in the first two commandments – Ex 20:5.

22        …have made Israel sin = through idolatry (his biggest sin).

23        No minced words when it comes to Jezebel – quick and to the point.

            She’ll be eaten by dogs in the same place that Naboth was killed (II Kings 9:30-37).

25        Jezebel identified as the largest source of Ahab’s sin both here and in 16:30-33 – she brought Baal worship from Sidon.

26        His biggest sin is Baal.

27        Apparently Ahab’s humiliation is sincere because of God’s reaction.  Yet ultimately he doesn’t change his ways and nothing is said about restoring the vineyard to Naboth’s family. 

            Note also that the punishment isn’t reversed, just delayed.

Application

God deals with His servants from the perspective of eternity

  • As a reward for his obedience Naboth lost his life, his sons’ lives, and the means of support for his wife.  If this life is all there is, Naboth was a fool.
  • God’s justice displayed through Ahab didn’t save Naboth or his family.  God’s people can’t expect full justice this side of eternity – II Thess 1:6-8.
  • God does not always protect his children from injustice and mistreatment in this world – and we should not be surprised when it happens – I Peter 4:12.
  • God is timeless and He knows that this life is a lunchtime compared to eternity.  We should pray every day that God would give us HIS perspective on our lives (to the extent humanly possible).

God does not wear our watch

  • As evil as Ahab was (see vs. 25-26), God allowed him to rule for 22 years.
  • As evil as Jezebel was, she actually outlived Ahab by 14 years and saw two of her sons rule in their father’s place.
  • Total of 36 YEARS before God wiped out Ahab’s dynasty.  36 years of events like Naboth’s vineyard, of Jezebel killing the prophets of Yahweh, and of Baal worship.  Can you imagine what it was like to live under Ahab’s rule if you were a follower of God?
  • We must constantly remind ourselves that God is not on our schedule.  His chosen people were enslaved for 400 YEARS.  His promise to return is over 2000 years old.  For God, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (II Pet 3:8).  With eternity always in mind, we cannot grow impatient when God does not act according to what we think His timeline should be.
  • Ever try to explain time to a little kid?  When I used to tell my kids when they were small that something would last two hours they would typically ask, “Is that a long time?”  I would answer “It is when you’re 6.”  The gap between kids and adults is large when it comes to perspectives on time.  Can you imagine what it is between an eternal God and us?

God’s judgment is sure

  • This goes along with the last point – God often does not act in the time we think He should, but justice delayed is not justice denied.
  • Ahab lives another three years after Naboth’s death, but he dies just as God said he would (I Kings 22:34-40).
  • Jezebel lives another 17 years after Naboth’s death, but she dies just as God said she would also (II Kings 9).
  • In both cases it is likely that both figured Elijah’s prophecy wasn’t accurate.  They were still alive YEARS after they acquired Naboth’s vineyard.  They won, Naboth lost, Elijah was proven wrong and the vegetables tasted great.  Yet eventually judgment came just as harshly as God promised it would.  The years made no difference.
  • God is not subject to time so His justice is not subject to time.  We must never let the patience of God cause us to be complacent about our own sin or to become discouraged about the ramification-free sin of others (Ps 73).
  • Two perspectives in the Bible on God’s slow judgment: The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (II Pet 3:9 – see also the remainder of the chapter for how to live in light of this).  Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete (Gen 15:16).  God is slow both to be merciful to those who will repent and severe to those who fill up the full measure of His wrath with their continuing wickedness (see Ps 10 for a picture of the attitude of the wicked toward the judgment of God).
  • Yes the judgments of God often have leaden heels and travel slowly.  But they always have iron hands and crush completely (RG Lee – Payday Someday).

God is wonderfully merciful

  • He jumps at the chance to be merciful to one of the most evil kings in Israel’s history.
  • He KNOWS Ahab’s heart (vs. 25-26).  He knows Ahab will ultimately not repent and will not remove Jezebel or restore the property to Naboth’s family or even remove Baal worship.  He even knows that Ahab will ultimately die a violent death because of his sin, and that God will eventually wipe out his entire house.  YET HE STILL TAKES THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXTEND MERCY TO HIM!!!
  • Do you see how much our creator WANTS to be merciful to us?
  • We serve a Heavenly Father who is just, holy, righteous; but who also is loving and MERCIFUL.  His message to Elijah in vs. 29 almost makes Him sound excited to have the opportunity to extend mercy to a man who many commentators say is a type of antichrist!
  • We should live every day basking in and thanking Him for His great mercy.  We must also extend this incredible mercy to others.

Are you encouraged by this?  Can we look at our lives differently because of a story that took place thousands of years ago?  The God of I Kings 21 is the same God we serve today.  He hasn’t changed.  He interacts with us always with our eternity in mind; He works in our lives from a perspective that isn’t bound by time; and He extends mercy to us every minute of every day.  Aren’t you glad you’re His?

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