Monday, March 28, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 50, Naboth's Vineyard, Part 1

Prophets And Kings
Day 50
Naboth's Vineyard
Part 1

When we left off ours study in 1st Kings, King Ahab hads just been condemned by a prophet for not killing King Ben-Hadad of Aram when him hads the chance. Ahab got angry and pouted and went home. Today Ahab pouts like a baby because a godly man says no to him, leading to that mans death.

1 KINGS 21:1-16
"Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, 'Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.'" (1 Kings 21:1-2) There's nothing overtly sinful about Ahab spotting a piece of land he wants and making a good offer for it. Land transactions happen every day. The land is in a good spot because of its proximity to the palace, making it handy for Ahab's palace cooks to gather vegetables. But it's how Ahab reacts to being told "no" that's sinful. He isn't used to not getting what he wants. He's arrogant and prideful, a spoiled brat who can't handle being refused. 

"But Naboth replied, 'The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.'" (1 Kings 21:3) Naboth's reply is Scripture based. In Leviticus 25 we find regulations about real estate transactions. A man was not to sell the land of his ancestors, the land which God allotted to each tribe, unless great hardship forced him to do so. Even then, he was to sell to his nearest relative so the land would stay within the tribe. The seller retained the right of first refusal as well; if his circumstances improved and he wished to buy his land back, he got first chance at it. In the next Jubilee year, which we studied about when Solomon dedicated the temple, the land was to be returned to the original owner. In Numbers 36:7 we find this law, "No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors." When Naboth refuses King Ahab, he is being obedient to the word of the Lord. Naboth isn't in financial hardship that he should need to sell the land. If that were the case, he would sell it to his closest kinsman from his own tribe, not to the king.

But Ahab has no regard for the word of the Lord. "So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, 'I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.' He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat." (1 Kings 21:4) The pity party is in full swing at the palace. Ahab is immature and spoiled, believing he has the right to anything he desires. He doesn't care about Naboth's Scriptural reasons for denying him the land. He doesn't have any respect for Naboth, Naboth's ancestors who previously owned the land, or Naboth's descendants who will inherit the land. All he cares about is that someone has dared to say no to him, the king of Israel.

"His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, 'Why are you so sullen? Why won't you eat?'" (1 Kings 21:5) When Ahab doesn't join her at the dinner table, she comes to find out what is wrong. I tend to think Ahab's little temper tantrums are a common occurrence in the palace. When word comes to Jezebel at the table that her husband is pouting on his bed, she may have thought to herself, "What now?" Jezebel is a strong woman, the real power behind the throne, and I think it's likely she enjoyed having a weak man for a husband. Even so, his frequent childish tantrums must have been exasperating.

"He answered her, 'Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, 'Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.' But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'" (1 Kings 21:6) The whole problem is simply that Ahab asked for something and was refused. He doesn't explain to Jezebel why Naboth refused. Ahab knows the laws of Israel and he understands the reason behind Naboth's response but none of that matters to him. He is the king and feels his desires are greater than the laws of God. 

I picture Jezebel standing in the doorway to Ahab's room, now putting her hands on her hips and rolling her eyes at his words, "Jezebel his wife said, 'Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I'll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.'" (1 Kings 21:7) Jezebel says something like, "Does the king of Israel accept anyone's refusal? What kind of king lets somebody tell him no? What kind of man lets somebody refuse him? You know what? Never mind; I will take care of this problem. Get up and go to the dining room and eat your dinner like a good boy. Let someone who knows how to get things done take care of Naboth." 

Ahab is the type of man who doesn't want to lead his household. He's weak. He's immature. His marriage to Jezebel is a political alliance but I feel there's more to it than that. I think spineless Ahab sees something in her he admires: the ability to fearlessly take charge and get things done. This is lacking in his own character, which is why the nation has fallen even farther into idolatry. Unable or unwilling to stand up to his wife, Ahab has allowed Jezebel to institute a state religion of Baal worship. She is running the religious system of Israel and now, today, she is involving herself in political matters as well.

In any household, someone has to be the leader. Someone has to take charge. Everything will fall into disorder if nobody steps up to the plate. But God, in speaking to Adam in the garden, gave the command for the husband to set the spiritual example for the family to follow. He gave Adam, and all husbands, the responsibility of taking charge of the family and making decisions about what is best for them in a prayerful and godly way. This doesn't mean a man is to rule his home with an iron fist, or to make decisions based on his own personal desires and preferences. It doesn't give a man permission to mistreat his family or disrespect them in any way. The Bible instructs a man to love and care for his wife the way the Lord loves and cares for the church, which means he is to live in such a way that his wife can respect and honor him as the church respects and honors Christ. Christ is the leader of the church, setting the example for godly living, instructing the church in what is best for them. As a husband and a king, Ahab is commanded to set a good spiritual and moral example in his own home and as leader of the nation. He lacks the desire to do so. Because he refuses to be obedient to the Lord in this matter, and because he refused to obey the Lord by taking a wife of his own people, the ungodly pagan woman Jezebel steps up and takes control, leading both the household and the nation astray. 

"So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city with him. In those letters she wrote: 'Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.'" (1 Kings 21:8-10) This proves how much authority Jezebel has, that she can sign the king's name and seal letters with his seal. A king's seal was on the signet ring he wore on his hand all the time. We know by this that the king willingly takes the ring off and gives it to her and in so doing Ahab has handed over all his authority to Jezebel to do as she pleases. He has turned the problem over to her while he eats his dinner like a good little boy. 

"So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, 'Naboth has cursed both God and the king.' So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent word to Jezebel: 'Naboth has been stoned to death.'" (1 Kings 21:11-14) At first I thought perhaps the elders and nobles believed Naboth really had cursed God and the king, making him a rebel and a threat to the throne. I thought maybe they believed Ahab actually signed and sealed these letters himself. But verse 14 tells us something else: the people know who is the real power behind the throne. Jezebel had to use Ahab's name and seal on the death warrant to make it legal, but these men know who ordered Naboth's death. We can be certain of this because, after Naboth has been stoned, the men send word to Jezebel, not Ahab. 

"As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, 'Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.' When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth's vineyard." (1 Kings 21:15-16) An innocent man is dead, his blood spilled on the ground simply because he honored the word of God. The charge that he blasphemed God is ridiculous; in obeying the laws God gave according to land inheritance, Naboth respected God. The charge that he spoke against the king is also a lie, for his refusal to sell came along with a respectful reason as to why he could not. Naboth only wanted to farm his own land in peace. He had no plots against the king and certainly no disrespect for the God of Israel.

Following on the heels of Easter weekend, where another Man was sentenced to death on charges of blaspheming God and plotting against the king, we see the similarities between what Christ was accused of and what Naboth was accused of. Naboth lost his life for following the Lord. And we are reminded that the road we walk in the Lord's footsteps is not always an easy road. Jesus didn't promise us a life of comfort but said instead, "Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24) The road the Lord walked for us was not easy; it led Him straight up Calvary's hill to His own cross. We aren't His disciples because He promises us worldly pleasures and treasures but because He promises us spiritual comfort and power in this life and eternal fellowship with Him in the next life. The Lord didn't take up His cross because it was easy but because it was the right thing to do. Naboth didn't say no to King Ahab because it was easy but because it was the right thing to do. We don't take up our cross and deny ourselves because it's easy but because it's the right thing to do. 

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