Studies in the life of Elijah - Part 4
Graeme Hutchinson, Moneyreagh
‘Naboth’s Vineyard’, 1 Kgs. 21. 1-29.
It was during the middle and largest section of Luke’s Gospel, as the Saviour journeyed to His death at Jerusalem, that He ministered on the snare of riches.1 It is here, for example, that we read the parable of the rich man.2 An entire chapter is also devoted to riches,3 which culminates in the description of a rich man enduring the torments of hell. To those blessed with earthly possessions, the warning is clear, ‘a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth’, Luke 12. 15. Zacchaeus was one who learnt this vital lesson, 19. 1-10, but sadly King Ahab did not. Despite being already a rich man,4 Ahab’s encounter with Naboth revealed his insatiable appetite for material gain. Matthew Henry remarks that ‘as we find [the apostle] Paul contented in a prison, so Ahab discontented in a palace’.5 The believer today needs to learn and possess the ‘Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment’.6
The events of 1 Kings chapter 21 revolves around Naboth, a Jezreelite, who lived beside the King’s palace in Samaria, v. 1. Ahab sought to buy a vineyard from his neighbour, vv. 1-2, but Naboth rightfully refused, v. 3; his inheritance was not a piece of real estate that could be bought or sold for material gain.7 Then, under the guise of religion, Queen Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be murdered, vv. 8-14, which subsequently freed her husband to take possession of the vineyard. But it was Ahab’s encounter with Elijah that brought the divine message of judgement and condemnation, vv. 17-24. Prior to developing the practical lessons from the chapter, the narrative outlines some important principles of the Bible. Note, for example:
- Intrigue. The plot of Naboth’s vineyard is filled with suspense, particularly given the death of a martyr, vv. 13-14, and the anticipated judgement of the two perpetrators, vv. 19, 23. It is important that as we daily open the scriptures, we retain a sense of thrill and excitement in what we read and study. Our Bible readings should be the most fulfilling part of the day.
- Importance. The chapter reveals the power and influence of the sinful nature. It is only one of many passages that remind us of what man is capable of doing. But we also learn other important truths, such as the inevitable persecution of the godly,8 and the unfailing mercy of God, vv. 28-29. The only way to understand ourselves and God is to read His word daily and systematically.
- Inspiration. The words spoken to Ahab were conveyed by the prophet Elijah but they came directly from Jehovah, vv. 17, 28. This, of course, is true of scripture as a whole, for although men were used to write the scriptures they proceed from the very mouth of God.9 It is certainly evident that the word of the Lord, as spoken to Ahab, was clear and powerful.10
- Infallibility. It is a sad indictment of our world that very few consider the scriptures to be inerrant and infallible. Young people are derided in schools and universities for holding to a truth considered by many to be outdated and untenable. But this fundamental aspect of our faith is precisely what the Bible teaches! For example, regarding the promise of divine judgement for Ahab and Jezebel, this was fulfilled in minute detail.11 The inspired scriptures are infallible and we happily defend this truth which brings comfort and reassurance to our souls.
Regarding the principal characters of the chapter, they offer varied but important lessons. The starting point, however, must be a consideration of the chapter’s teaching on Jehovah. We learn, for example, that the actions of Ahab and Jezebel were committed under His all-seeing eye, vv. 20, 25. This was a truth that Abram’s Egyptian handmaid, Hagar, had to learn as she fled from Sarai in Genesis chapter 16, for ‘she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me’, Gen. 16. 13. We too need to serve God with a conscious knowledge that He observes all things, including motives and actions, Eph. 6. 5-6. As the chapter concludes, we also learn that the events, difficult as they were for Naboth, were all under the sovereign and perfect will of God.12 It is only by looking through the divine lens that we can begin to understand the events of this chapter.13 However, perhaps the highest commendation for Naboth is that he anticipates the Saviour in His own service. For example, Naboth’s temptation by Ahab, 1 Kgs. 21. 2, foreshadows the Lord’s own temptation in the wilderness – although as the Son of God He was unable to sin.14 Naboth’s refusal to sell his vineyard was a display of his faithfulness to scripture, v. 3, and the devil was also defeated by the power of the word.15 Naboth died as the result of the false witness of others, and the same was true of the Lord.16 The enemy of Naboth was eventually defeated, v. 19, and the Lord secured a complete victory over the devil at Calvary.17
The four human characters in the chapter (Naboth, Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah) also present important lessons for the believer today. Naboth’s refusal to sell the vineyard, v. 3, was due to his respect and adherence to scripture.18 Sadly, he and his family paid a heavy price, v. 14,19 but that is often the way of the righteous.20 Nevertheless, Naboth will one day enjoy his inheritance when the Lord returns to reign on earth with millennial glory.21 For King Ahab, despite enjoying prestige and wealth, he displayed all that was wrong with Israel and mankind generally. For example, in the previous chapter he kept alive someone who should have died – Ben-hadad, King of Syria, 1 Kgs. 20. 42 – whereas with Naboth he put to death someone who should have lived. The same was true of the generation of Israelites who put to death the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Life, Acts 3. 15. As the epitome of evil, Jezebel hatched a devious and wicked plan to kill Naboth, 1 Kgs. 21. 8-10. The subsequent fast, vv. 9, 12, charge of blasphemy, vv. 10, 13, two witnesses, vv. 10, 13, and stoning, vv. 10, 13-14, were all attempts to give credence to a malicious crime. Scripture indicates that the Queen and her henchmen had some working knowledge of truth, but they lived in open rebellion against it.22 The final character, Elijah, remains the primary spokesman for Jehovah, despite the fact that he now had a companion and helper in Elisha, 19. 21. As with previous commissions, 17. 1 and 18. 1, the prophet showed no reluctance to stand against the wicked king and utter the judgement of Jehovah, vv. 17-19. Notice how different Ahab and the Lord considered the character of Elijah – to Ahab he was an ‘enemy’, v. 20, whereas to the Lord he was His ‘servant’, 2 Kgs. 9. 36. We too may face the hostility of a sinful world, but this was foretold by the Lord before His crucifixion, John 16. 33. In addition, we remain sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, and have therefore the capacity to overcome the world.23
Another important feature of this incident is how it is packed with practical and varied lessons for the believer. Below is a summary of some of the more important principles:
- Greed. The love of wealth represents a snare for the soul, and to covet is to sin.24 If the apostle Paul had to learn the virtue of contentment then we too need to follow his example.25
- Immaturity. Ahab displayed childish behaviour, v. 43; 1 Kgs. 21. 4. The believer, in contrast, should aim for spiritual growth and maturity.26
- Loyalty. Naboth was faithful to the teaching of scripture, despite the personal cost to himself and his family, vv. 3, 14, and the same attitude remains vital for the 21st Century. This is particularly important in a day when assembly principles are being either ignored or diluted.
- Order. Divine order is for males to exercise headship, and, when reversed, there will be chaos and sin, v. 25. The assembly remains a place where males and females can understand and function in their distinct but complementary roles.27
- Misrepresentation. In relaying the reaction to his proposal, Ahab failed to give a full and accurate account of Naboth’s reasoning, v. 7. In contrast, the believer’s words should be truthful and accurate.
- Hypocrisy. Jezebel masked her evil actions under the cloak of pseudo-religion, but God discerned the true motives of her heart, vv. 17-24. In contrast, the believer needs to avoid the pitfalls of hypocrisy, and develop a spirit of sincerity.28
- Accountability. Though Jezebel planned the death of Naboth, Jehovah held Ahab to account, v. 19. Each believer is personally accountable to God for their service in the assembly.29
- Sin. The passage reveals the wilful sin of Ahab and Jezebel, vv. 20, 25. It exercised a power which enslaved them and only the power of God can bring liberty.30
- Hatred. Naboth and Elijah were opposed by an evil tyranny and scripture presents a clear and honest assessment of the hatred faced by God’s people, but we are assured of a bright future.31
- Judgement. Ahab was judged not only for his own sin, but also because he led the nation astray, v. 22, and similar judgement was given to Jeroboam and Baasha, v. 22.32 Ahab humbled himself before God, v. 28, and the judgement was delayed until the next generation, 2 Kgs 10. 17. Remember that with privilege comes great responsibility.33
- Luke 9. 51 to 19. 28.
- Luke 12. 16-21.
- Luke 16. 1-31.
- Compare 1 Kgs. 22. 39.
- Henry M., Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, reprinted 1994, 2, pg. 540.
- Burroughs, J., The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1992.
- Compare Lev. 25. 23-28 and Num. 36. 7.
- Compare 2 Tim. 3. 12.
- Matt. 4. 4; 2 Tim. 3. 16; 2 Pet. 1. 21.
- Compare Heb. 4. 12.
- Compare 1 Kgs. 21. 19 with 22. 38 and 1 Kgs. 21. 23 with 2 Kgs. 9. 36.
- Ps. 18. 30; Rom. 12. 2.
- Compare Ps. 73. 17.
- Compare Heb. 4. 15.
- Matt. 4. 4, 7, 10.
- Matt. 26. 59-61.
- Rom. 16. 20; Heb. 2. 14.
- Lev. 25. 23-28; Num. 36. 7.
- 2 Kgs 9. 26.
- Eccles. 8. 14.
- Matt. 25. 21.
- Read, for example, Lev. 24. 16 and Deut. 17. 6-7.
- 2 Cor. 6. 18; , 1 John 4. 4; 5. 4-5.
- 1 Tim. 6. 9-10; Exod. 20. 17.
- Phil. 4. 11.
- 1 Cor. 14. 20; 2 Pet. 3. 18.
- 1 Cor. 11. 3.
- Luke 12. 1; Phil. 1. 10.
- 1 Cor. 3. 13.
- Luke 4. 18.
- Amos 5. 10; John 15. 18-20; 1 Cor. 4. 13; 2 Tim. 2. 12.
- See 1 Kgs. 15. 29; 16. 1-4.
- Luke 12. 48.