Thursday 28th November
1 Kings 21:15-29
As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab,
‘Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.’
As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying:
“Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?’ You shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”
Ahab said to Elijah,
‘Have you found me, O my enemy?’
‘I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. Also concerning Jezebel the Lord said, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.” Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.’ (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.)”
When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite:
‘Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.’
This passage concludes the story of how Jezebel brought about the death of Naboth, a righteous Israelite, in order to satisfy Ahab’s desire for a new vegetable garden beside the palace. Ahab had reluctantly accepted Naboth’s right to retain his family’s inheritance – the king had no authority to insist on compulsory purchase – but Jezebel thought this made Ahab look weak. She displayed a total abuse of power, persuaded others to carry out her corrupt scheming and Ahab’s true weakness is demonstrated as he goes to take possession of the vineyard with no questions asked.
Elijah is commissioned again as the conveyor of God’s judgment on Ahab, making clear that he is equally guilty of killing Naboth by association, and because he has done nothing as king to prevent such corrupt practices.
Ahab describes Elijah as an enemy. In response Elijah prophesies the downfall of Ahab, his dynasty and a particularly gruesome end for Jezebel, because Ahab has sinned and caused Israel to sin. Ethics have been cast aside and evil at the top level of Israel’s society has poisoned the whole. The severity of the punishment reflects the need to remove all the corrupting forces and make a fresh start.
Ahab’s repentance brings a stay of execution until the next generation; but he makes no attempt to eradicate the insidious evil or restore justice. He is presented as dejected and powerless while Israel drifts further from the ways of God.
As Christians we believe that God is able to redeem the worst imaginable situation and forgives anyone who is truly repentant; but this story challenges us to realise that societal corruption and acts of blatant injustice are an affront to God. We become complicit if we fail to name as evil oppressive structures and corrupt practices that undermine a just society.
Gracious God, you demand high standards of righteousness and justice and we confess that often we fail to live up to your expectations. We are sorry for trying to lay the blame elsewhere for societal sin. Draw us back to the example of Jesus, who has shown us how to live as your children, that with renewed zeal we might work with Christ for the coming of your kingdom. Amen.