Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 14, 1958
NUMBER 15, PAGE 12-13a

Studies From Elijah (VII.)

Connie W. Adams, Bergen, Norway

When Elijah cast his mantle upon Elisha, his public work officially ended. That work had been relatively short, but thorough and faithfully discharged. Yet there remained an occasion for adapting the justice of God to private life in the affair over Naboth's vineyard. Ahab owned a palace in Jezreel which was his pride and joy. He had surrounded it with beautiful terraces and gardens. Adjoining this palatial estate was a lovely vineyard possessed by Naboth, a citizen of Jezreel. Ahab saw in this plot of land an attractive herb garden, and set about the business of obtaining the vineyard.

1. Ahab's proposal is most surprising for its apparent fairness. He did not approach Naboth as a ruthless monarch, but as a business man interested in an equitable exchange. He stated his case quite reasonably. "Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money." 1 Kgs. 21:2. From one who had dragged Israel down to such sin and shame, this offer seems almost refreshing and causes at first the thought that perhaps there was a "good streak" in Ahab in spite of his moral weakness. But all was not as it seemed surface-wise; for while the bargain would be considered most honorable in the trading marts of other places and times, this particular case involved an open disobedience to a command of God. Jehovah was the proprietor of Canaan and he had divided the land among the various tribes and families of Israel. They were not to sell it or exchange it. "The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me." Lev. 25:23. That same passage taught that they could sell it in the event of poverty, but that it could be redeemed at any time either by the man who sold it, or one of his kin. It could be possessed by the purchaser no longer than the next jubilee year when it automatically reverted to the family to whom it had been assigned by Jehovah. Lev. 25:13-28. If Ahab did not know this, he should have. If he did know it, he was guilty of willful perversion of divine mandate. The language seems to indicate that he merely intended to enhance his estate and expected no difficulty.

2. Naboth's refusal to sell or exchange serves as an index to his uprighteousness. It is only natural for men to cleave to the holdings of their forebears and to attach great sentiment to the ground upon which their fathers have walked. Yet Naboth's answer centered around the command of God previously cited. "The Lord forbid it me," he said. Was this one of the 7,000 who had not bowed to Baal?

3. Ahab's mood after this refusal was most pathetic. Had he been a strong willed and vicious type of monarch he would have resolved there and then to obtain it in one way or another. Instead he returned home, flung himself upon his bed, turned his face to the wall, and in the spirit of an angry child refused to eat. One who has ever dealt with a kicking or sulking child can see the humor of the occasion, and yet there is more than humor here — there is the sense of disgust that comes from witnessing such action from any man, and especially a king. Such immaturity is often characteristic of men. Paul wrote and urged the Corinthians to "quit you like men." Inspiration rebuked those who should have been mature enough to digest meat and yet supped on milk. Many church members of our time reflect Ahab's mood. They set their minds on some objective and then pout like children when they fail to obtain it. How many problems in the local church center around such childishness as this. Have there not been many elders and preachers who have behaved as Ahab?

4. Jezebel's plan was not long in forming once she learned the cause of her husband's pouting. In the same manner as a whimpering child who reports to his sympathetic mother that "I wanted to ride in Jim's wagon but he wouldn't let me," so Ahab said, "And he answered, I will not give thee my vineyard." Jezebel then asked, "Dost thou now rule the kingdom of Israel?" The one who raised that question was really the "power behind the throne." She assured her "little-boy" husband that she would get this vineyard for him. The plan she then set in motion justifies the fact that her name has ever since been synonymous with the most extreme treachery and deceit. In the name of her husband she wrote letters to the elders and nobles of Jezreel proclaiming a fast. Naboth was to be given an honorary position on this occasion. It was arranged that two witnesses, suborned for the purpose, should arise and testify that Naboth had blasphemed God and the king. This was to be followed by the execution of this good man, the victim of a vicious woman's cunning. The plan was carried out in all its malicious details. We learn from 2 Kgs. 9:26 that his sons also shared his fate. By that, the matter of inheritance was prevented and the way was left clear for Ahab to possess the vineyard. This horrible deed resembles the false charges against the son of God and his cruel death outside the city of Jerusalem. If Ahab knew personally the details of this nefarious business, the record is not given. She simply informed him that Naboth was dead and for him to take possession of the vineyard.

5. God sent Elijah down to deliver a most dreadful message to Ahab. As a child surveying his new toy, so Ahab was looking over his new vineyard when Elijah came to him. The prophet was clear and sharp. "Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? . . . In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." Ahab reacted to this meeting the prophet by asking, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" How strange it is that men despise those who tell them truth. It was true of Ahab, of the hypocrites of Jesus' time, and it is true of men now who live in sin. One should be counted a dear friend who tells the truth regardless of what adjustments it may call forth in the life of him who hears. The prophecy of Ahab was extended to the cutting off of the seed of Ahab, and to the terrible utterance "The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel." Notice that Ahab was charged with leading Israel to sin, even though Jezebel had plotted much of the course. Ahab violated God's law by marrying her in the first place. In the next place, he should have been man enough to control his own house and certainly his own throne. Although God did not pass by the guilt of Jezebel, he did lay the blame for Israel's woes at the feet of Ahab. We have a sad commentary on Ahab in these words: "But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel." (1 Kgs. 21:26-26.)

6. Ahab's repentance was genuine. "And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly." God recognized this and informed his servant Elijah saying, "Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house." (I Kgs. 21:27-29.)

7. The fulfillment of the prophet's words came. Upon the death of Ahab, Ahaziah reigned in his room. His conduct was patterned after his father and provoked the Lord to anger. Alter an injury, Ahaziah besought false prophets concerning his welfare and was told by Elijah that he would surely die. "So he died according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken." (2 Kgs. 1:17.) His brother Jehoram took the rein and "wrought evil in the sight of the Lord, but not like his father, and like his mother: for he put away the image of Baal that his father had made." (2 Kgs. 3:2.) Jehu became the instrument by which these prophecies were fulfilled, and killed Jehoram. Jehu recalled the prophecy and ordered the body deposited in Naboth's vineyard. We give here the full account of the fulfillment in the death of Jezebel. "And when Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window. And as Jehu entered in at the gate, she said, Had Zimri peace who slew his master? And he lifted up his face to the window and said, who is on my side? Who? And there looked out to him two or three eunuchs. And he said, Throw her down: and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and on the horses: and he trod her under foot. And when he was come in, he did eat and drink, and said, Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her: for she is a king's daughter. And they went to bury her: but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands. Wherefore they came again and told him. And he said, this is the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel: And the carcass of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the fact of the field in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is Jezebel." (2 Kgs. 9:30-37.) Thus Elijah was again upheld as a true prophet, the fulfillment benefitted Israel and just punishment came to some of the most unsavory characters ever recorded in any history, sacred or profane.

No prophet ever labored under more perverse circumstances and amid such gross wickedness as did Elijah. Yet none was more faithful to his task than he. Although the element of direct inspiration is no longer present, may all today who proclaim God's truth to the peoples of the world be moved by that singleness of purpose which ever characterized Elijah the Tishbite.

The next article will parallel and contrast Elijah and Elisha, and the concluding article will concern the second Elijah.