In this chapter we read of the garden of Naboth the Jezreelite. Jezreel means "God will sow", and Naboth means "fruits". How precious are the meanings of these names, for God not only sows but He also gives the increase, and fruit is produced in the lives of His people in the very place where He has planted them. In relation to this garden four characters are brought to our attention with Gods assessment of the unfolding circumstances.
The childishness of Ahab and his carnal estimation
First, we can consider Ahab to whom God spoke twice in the previous chapter, delivering him from the Syrians by helping him gain two great victories over them. Sadly this did not cause him to praise God but instead he disobeyed His command and, as a result, incurred the wrath of God. Then, rather than being contrite as he ought to have been, he was peeved and displeased with God, his attitude only emphasising the childish nature of the man. When we meet him again in ch.21, in what appears to be his summer palace, his state of mind has not changed.
Another character, Naboth by name, is now introduced to the narrative. He has a vineyard hard by the palace, and Ahab covets this piece of land. He was obviously used to getting what he wanted otherwise he made an exhibition of himself, and this case is no different. Piqued and angry with Naboth on this occasion he goes to bed and faces the wall just like a little child. How sad when such a man is a king and leader of Gods people - one who sulks if he does not get his own way. May God spare us from that kind of attitude.
The faithfulness of Naboth and his spiritual appreciation
The reason for Ahabs petulance was that Naboth would not part with his vineyard even though the king was offering a supposedly better vineyard for it, nor would he sell it to the king. We note that Ahabs desire was not a spiritual one, for his objective was to make it a garden of vegetables and, being near his palace, it would help satisfy his fleshly appetite. How convenient!
But Naboth would not sell it, for he was a faithful man who obeyed Gods command. This vineyard was his familys God-given inheritance; thus no amount of money could entice Naboth to part with it, and there was certainly no other vineyard better than it. He was not being disrespectful to the king nor was he being stubborn, as some might contend, but rather he had a deep appreciation of his inheritance and no doubt expended much labour in it to maintain its fruitfulness.
It is worth noting that the vine produces wine which is a symbol of communion and fellowship in the Word of God. Did not the bride in the Song of Songs say of her beloved, "He hath brought me to the house of wine, And his banner over me is love" (2.4, JND). To Naboth, maintaining a relationship with God would be of paramount importance. There is little recorded of what he does or says, but in this one action he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he feared God.
Perhaps his peers would have thought him stupid, as this seems to be the opportunity of a lifetime and he could have gained much by giving the king what he wished. Add to this the fact that he would ultimately lose his life because he held such deep convictions over a piece of land. A piece of land it may have been to some but to Naboth it was more, for it was the family heritage which God had given to them. Do we hold with such deep conviction the inheritance that God has so graciously given us, or are we motivated by sensual desire? Is it possible to be in assembly fellowship for instance, only for what we can get out of it?
If Naboth held his ground out of deep conviction then Ahab wanted to have it because it was convenient to him and for no other reason. No spiritual desire motivated him. I venture to say that if we are linked to Gods people and the things of God out of convenience and not conviction then we will hold them loosely and when the testing time comes, as it will, we will be easily swayed and all too ready to give up the ground to which God has led us.
The wickedness of Jezebel and her evil intention
Jezebels name is synonymous with evil and wickedness. She had a despicable disregard for God and His people and utterly hated the prophets of God, Elijah being the chief target of that hatred. She obviously did not believe in the sovereignty of God, and her arrogance and dismissive attitude of Him is simply breathtaking. I suggest her male counterpart must be Pharaoh who taunted Moses with the words, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go" (Ex 5.2). It is not that Jezebel was ignorant of God, for she had heard what He had done on Mount Carmel to Elijahs sacrifice, but, arrogantly, she puts that out of her mind and chooses only to remember that Elijah was the man who ordered the execution of Baals prophets. Therefore she sent a messenger to him with a chilling warning: "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time" (1 Kings 19.1-2). I note that she speaks of "gods" in the plural and it would appear that at best she rates Jehovah as only one of these many gods.
Even this woman notices something has upset her husband, and perhaps shows the concern one would expect from a good wife although she is anything but that. For whatever reason, she asks Ahab what is troubling him and he responds in typical fashion, whining that Naboth would not give him his vineyard, that on which he had set his heart. She seems unfazed with his childishness but cannot believe how meekly he has accepted Naboths refusal and taunts him. In essence she says, "You are the king, and what you want you get". She then goes on to state that if that is all that worries him then he could start enjoying life again for she would grant his request.
Jezebel is not only godless and wicked but she is also a lawless woman, for she now commits three acts that are condemned by God and would be by most courts even today.
In v.8 she commits an act of forgery, in v.9 she is marked by hypocrisy, and in v.10 she commits perjury. She is a picture of the world that hates God, for the Lord Jesus states in John 15.18, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you", and we do well to heed His warning. It seems that the elders at Jezreel have no conscience about blindly doing what the queen asks of them even though they know she is manipulating the circumstances. Often the same attitude marks our world today. We should not be amazed that when word of Naboths death reaches the palace no emotion is in evidence. Both king and queen seem to be insensitive. This characteristic is becoming more prevalent in present society.
The fearfulness of Elijah and his faithful condemnation
Naboth is now dead and Ahab has what he desired. Thus the story ends, one would think, but for the first time in this sorry episode Gods voice is heard speaking to His servant Elijah. God has taken account of all that happened, albeit He has remained silent throughout, and now He sends His courageous servant with a message of severe censure. We note Ahabs sarcastic greeting, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" (v.20). It is almost as if he is expecting God to condemn him and he is not disappointed. Elijah replied, "I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord".
Surely we learn two striking lessons from this incident.
The first is that it would seem that Elijah lived with God and visited men when God asked him so to do, whereas we often live with men and visit God when we feel the need. What a challenge this is!
Second, as Christians we are often caused to wonder why God should allow tragic circumstances to go unpunished, yet the plain fact of the matter is that He does not. He may not act as quickly as we think He should, for the wheels of Gods mill grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small as is the case with this evil family.
To be continued.