1 Kings 21-22 & 2 Kings 9
March 8, 2006
Three years have passed since the showdown on Mount Carmel. During those three years, the people of Israel defeated the vastly superior Syrian army, which resulted in a period of peace and prosperity. And I think it is fair to say that along with that peace and prosperity, Baal worship apparently had taken its previous high place in the people’s affections. Despite the slaughter of the prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel, it is still true that Ahab was the king; it is still true that wicked Jezebel was his wife. And as long as Ahab was the king and Jezebel was his wife, Baal worship would still grip the nation. But we have moved now three years down the road.
Ahab has his summer palace in a place called Jezreel. He has come to that palace for a few days of rest. One day Ahab is out walking, looking and thinking. There next to the summer palace of Jezreel, nestled right up against it, was the vineyard of a man by the name of Naboth.
I. The Main Characters of the Story
Now the story I’m going to tell you has four main characters. I introduce to you first Naboth, a good and godly man, a man who worshiped the Lord and followed the law of his God. He was one of the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. It happened that he owned a vineyard next to the summer palace of wicked king Ahab. We may assume that up until this day there had never been any trouble between Naboth and Ahab. So far as we know Ahab had paid no attention to Naboth, and Naboth had done whatever he needed to do to stay out of the way of the wicked king. But one day Ahab saw Naboth’s vineyard and decided he wanted it. That covetous lust would set in motion a disastrous chain of events.
The second key player is Ahab. About him we need only to say what we have already said, that no more wicked king ever sat upon the throne of Israel. Holy Scripture declares that he more than any other man imported the worship of Baal into Israel. For that and that alone there is a black mark forever always and eternally over his name. He is the king, though I think it would be fair to say his life and his mind are really controlled by the third character in this story.
Her name is Jezebel. If Ahab was a wicked toad squatting on the throne of Israel, then Jezebel was an evil snake coiled around the throne. She was not Jewish. She was a pagan woman out and out. She came from a long line Baal worshipers in the Sidonian region of south Lebanon. When she married Ahab, she brought her wicked religion into Israel with her. And I suppose we should say this. Between Ahab and Jezebel if you had to say who was worse, you would say that he was weak and she was strong. Ahab was easily influenced, and she was already always ready to push her husband in the wrong direction.
So far we’ve got Naboth who owns the vineyard, a godly man, a common man, a workingman, a man who appears here and here only on the pages of the Bible. Then we have Ahab the king and Jezebel his wife.
And fourth, as we shall see eventually as the story unfolds, we have God’s mountain man, Elijah the Tishbite. Since his great victory on Mount Carmel and his humiliating running away and going down to the cave in Mount Horeb, Elijah has not been heard from for three years. To be truthful, we really don’t know what he’s been doing for those three years. But as far as we can tell, the man of God made his last public appearance on top of Mount Carmel. Soon he will return to the public stage.
II. The Unfolding of the Story
But the story begins on that day in Jezreel when king Ahab looks at the vineyard of Naboth and says to himself, “I’m the king of Israel. I need this vineyard and I want this vineyard for myself.” So Ahab went to Naboth and said, “Would you please sell your vineyard to me? If you will not sell your vineyard to me, would you please trade it? I am the king. If you will give me your vineyard I will give you another piece of land here in Israel that is worth much more.” I pause here to say the king was very much within his rights to do this. He had every right to go to Naboth. He did not sin by making that sort of offer. It was a perfectly legitimate thing for him to do. However, he didn’t count on the fact that Naboth was a man of God who followed the law of God. Here is his simple reply to the king: “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (v. 3). One simple sentence. Those are the only recorded words of Naboth, but they tell us all we need to know.
1) He was a man who respected the Lord.
2) He was a man who respected the Lord’s word.
3) He was a man who respected his own spiritual heritage.
He refused to sell the vineyard because Numbers 36:7 said that if a family had been given a plot of land, it was to be handed down from father to son from generation unto generation. It was not to be sold. It was to be in the hands of the family forever. That was God’s command. So Naboth says to the king, “The Lord forbid that I should do anything that should sully my family’s inheritance and break the law of my God.” In other words, “No deal, O King. I am sorry but I cannot do business with you today.”
Naturally the king was upset and humiliated and very angry. He went back to his palace in a big funk. “So Ahab went home sullen and angry because Naboth, the Jezreelite had said, ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.’ He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat” (v. 4). The king threw a fit. When the queen asks why he is so grouchy, he replies, “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’ “ (v. 6). He neglects to tell his wife the real reason–that Naboth would not sell because he would not violate the law of God. Jezebel has a plan. “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” (v. 7). So wicked Jezebel hatches a diabolical plot. She decides to write a letter in the name of the king. She forges his name, although I suppose you can’t really call it forgery because he acquiesced in what she did. She composed the letter and had it sent to the elders of the town. The text of the letter she wrote is actually in the Bible. “Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death” (vv. 9-11). We call this a kangaroo court, a set up from the get go. “So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed” (v. 11). The whole city had become so corrupt that the so-called spiritual leaders, instead of protesting this evil murderous plot, go along with Jezebel’s plan.
But it gets worse in verse 12: “They proclaimed a fast.” Can you imagine that? A fast which was to be unto the Lord. “They proclaimed a fast and they sat Naboth in a prominent place among the people.” That doesn’t mean they’re about to give him a prize. That means he’s about to be sentenced. “Then two scoundrels came and brought charges against him saying, ’Naboth has cursed both God and the king’” (v. 13). Complete lies. “So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death” (v. 13).
Jezebel sends word to the king that the vineyard is now his. We find out later in 2 Kings 9 that they also killed his two sons, thus leaving no living heirs, which meant the land now reverted to the crown. When Ahab saw that the land was his, he was pleased.
It appears that the king and his wife have gotten away with murder. Read the story. You say, “Where is God? Does he not know? Does he not care? Where is God when one of his own is put to death? Where is God when a man of God is killed for doing right? Where is God when the wicked rise to power? Where is God when a man like Ahab and a woman like Jezebel can get away with murder? Where is God when evil is let loose in the world?”
But that is not the end of the story. Recall the words of Proverbs 15:3, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” God had been watching the whole scene from heaven. Now he is about to act.
God came to his prophet, patted him on the shoulder, and told him to head for Jezreel. In the King James Version Jezebel tells Ahab to “arise” and take the vineyard, and God says the same thing to Elijah. “Arise, prophet of God, I have a job for you to do.” Three long years had passed since the last time the prophet had spoken publicly. I don’t know if Elijah had wondered if God had put him on the shelf. Perhaps Elijah feared that his running away had caused God to give up on him. Maybe he thought his days of prophesying were over. But God knew all along he had another job for his man. He was just waiting for the right time. When Jezebel says, “Arise,” God said to Elijah, “Arise, go find that wicked king. Deliver a message from me.”
Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. Say to him, “This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?” Then say to him, “This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!” (vv. 18-19).
When Elijah delivers his message, he adds an interesting phrase in verse 20: “I have found you because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD.” The Hebrew word translated “sold yourself” has a secondary meaning–”to marry.” Elijah says to Ahab, “You have married evil, and in marrying evil you have given yourself completely to it.” There will be disaster in Ahab’s family, his dynasty will come to an end, and dogs will consume Jezebel. The dogs will feed on those who die in the city, and the birds will eat the flesh of those who die in the country.
Elijah delivers the message, and then he disappears. This seems to be a pattern with him. He just shows up, delivers his message, and then Bam! He’s gone.
Ahab Gets the Point
Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Ahab doesn’t hear from Elijah again. Every time he heard a dog bark, he jumped. I think he never got it out of his mind. One day Ahab decided he wanted to go to war against Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria, the man he had defeated earlier whom he should have killed when he had the chance, but he didn’t. Now he’s going to go to war against him a second time, only this time it’s not going to work out so well. He asks Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to join him in his war against Ben-Hadad. Jehoshaphat agrees, and the day comes when they are ready to go to battle. Knowing that he is a marked man, Ahab tells Jehoshaphat to go to battle dressed as a king and he (Ahab) will go out dressed as a common soldier. When Ahab didn’t know was that Ben-Hadad had given a very unusual order to his army. He told his army to concentrate only on killing Ahab. When the battle started, the Syrians spotted Jehoshaphat and were about to kill him, thinking he was Ahab. Suddenly someone shouted, “We’ve got the wrong king.” In the confusion of battle, one of the Syrian archers shot an arrow at random. He wasn’t aiming at anything. He saw the army of Israel and shot an arrow toward them. Ahab was dressed in armor like a regular soldier. The arrow just “happened” to come down and hit Ahab. The Bible says it hit between the sections of his armor. You could never do that on purpose. It’s not even a million to one shot. That would be way too low. The soldier shot the arrow, and in the sovereign hand of God it went up, came down, and hit Ahab in the chink of his armor. He began to blood profusely until the blood covered the floor of his chariot. But he would not leave the battlefield. When he died that evening, the army began to scatter. They buried Ahab in Samaria.
Now they had a chariot covered with his blood. They took it to the Ajax Chariot Wash and washed out the chariot. We’re told it was where the prostitutes went to do their bathing. When they washed out the blood, there was so much of it that the dogs came and licked it up, just as Elijah had spoken.
Jezebel Goes to the Dogs
Shortly after this Elijah is taken to heaven in a fiery chariot. He’s gone. He’s off the scene. He’s in heaven with the Lord. Five years pass. Ten years pass. Elijah’s long gone. He’s been replaced by Elisha. Jezebel is an older woman now. She is still the power in the nation of Israel. It seems as if Elijah was right about Ahab and wrong about Jezebel. You know where you have to find the rest of the story? You’ve got to turn all the way over to 2 Kings 9–that’s about twenty years later–to find out the rest of the story.
A man named Jehu is now king of Israel. Like many others before him had done, he came to power by killing the reigning king. When one of Elisha’s prophets anoints Jehu some twenty years later, he gives Ahab a message from God to wipe out the house of Ahab once and for all (2 Kings 9:4-10). Jezebel still lives in the palace at Jezreel. There is one tiny fact that she doesn’t know. Twenty years earlier, Jehu had been there the day that Ahab had gone to take over Naboth’s vineyard. He knew it was wrong because he knew the Word of the Lord. And if you read the story of Jehu, you know he’s not what we would call a Sunday school type person. He was a pretty tough customer. You didn’t want to get on his bad side. But he was a far sight better than wicked Ahab. Though Jehu was kind of rough and wild and uncouth, he knew the difference between right and wrong. On one level at least, he wanted to do right in the eyes of the Lord. And he had never forgotten what Ahab had done to Naboth. So the Bible says he got in his chariot and he made a little trip.
“Then Jehu went to Jezreel” (v.30). That’s the summer palace. This is where it all started. The former vineyard of Naboth is now a royal vegetable garden. “When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes and arranged her hair and looked out the window” (v. 30). She thinks she’s going to seduce Jehu. Wrong. He’s not in the mood. As Jehu entered the gate, she calls out, “Have you come in peace?” (v. 30). It’s the last thing she’s ever going to say, except for “Oh no!” Jehu looked up and called out, “Who is on my side?” (v. 32). There were two or three eunuchs standing near Jezebel. We won’t go into that except to say they served Jezebel, they knew her for what she was, and they didn’t like her. So Jehu said, “Boys, I got a job for you. Grab that woman and throw her out.” With pleasure, one imagines, they grab Jezebel, give her the old a one, a two, a three, out the window she went, bouncing all the way down. Bam! She hit the ground hard. “They threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot” (v. 33). You know what this means? It means when they threw her body down, Jehu took his chariot and ran over her again and again and again until she was absolutely, completely, totally dead. She had hoof prints on her chest. She had chariot wheel marks on her legs. She was completely done for.
A little while later Jehu says, “We can’t leave that mess out there. Somebody go get her and bury her.” So he sends his servants out and they come back and say, well, we’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is she is still dead. The bad news is there’s not much left. The dogs have come licked up the blood. They have destroyed her body. Nothing left except her skull, her feet and her hands. We’ll let Jehu have the final word:
This is the word of the LORD that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh (v. 36).
III. The Moral of the Story
What a story. Elijah had been in heaven for ten years, but the word of the Lord came true. Let’s focus on two important truths from this story.
First, God’s patience will not last forever. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way: “The arm of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Though the wheels of God grind slowly, they grind exceeding small. Be sure your sin will find you out.
There is a part of the gospel message that is a message of judgment. The lord is not slack as some people count slackness. He’s not slow in the way some people count slowness. He is longsuffering and patient, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). But there is a day of judgment coming for all of us. No one knows when that day will be, but there is a day for every man and woman and boy and girl. There’s a day for every family, and there’s a day for every nation. There is a day when God will finally say this far and no farther. God’s patience will not last forever.
Do you remember when that guy with multi-colored hair showed up at football games holding up John 3:16? We haven’t seen him for a few years. He had rainbow-colored hair and somehow he would get a seat right behind the goal posts. And just when they were about to kick an extra point, he would hold up a sign that read John 3:16? I had never given the matter any thought but recently I read a comment along these lines. Why hold up John 3:16, which is a verse the world likes because it speaks of God’s love? Why not hold up John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” That’s also in the Bible. Our God is patient, but his patience does run out. You don’t believe it? Just ask Ahab and Jezebel.
Second, God still looks for Elijahs who will stand up for him. We live in strange times. Morally confused times, days of religious and spiritual compromise. How we need a generation of men and women who will have the courage of their convictions and won’t just deliver the good news but will have the courage to deliver the bad news too. We need someone to say to this dying generation, “Except you repent, you too will perish.”
During the days of the English Reformation, there was a man by the name of Hugh Latimer who was a marvelous preacher of the gospel. He was so bold and outspoken that he ended up being burned at the stake. One day he was preaching before the king and the king was nervous because everyone knew that Latimer was a loose cannon. He was an Elijah. He would say anything. And Latimer knew the king was nervous. People had said to him, “Now, Latimer, when you go speak before the king, be careful. Don’t say anything that will make him upset.” Latimer knew everybody was saying that and thinking that. And so in his sermon, he started talking out loud to himself. “Latimer, Latimer, be careful what you say. King Henry is listening.” And then he paused and said, “Latimer, Latimer, be careful what you say. The King of kings is listening.”
Oh for some Elijahs who will care more for the King of Kings than for the kings and queens of this dying world.
In all the world there are two groups and only two. You have Ahab and Jezebel, and you have Naboth and Elijah, and there’s nothing in between. Everyone who reads my words is in one of those two groups. There’s nobody in between. Ultimately you’re either with Ahab and Jezebel or you’re with Naboth and Elijah. I want to ask you a question. Who got the better deal? For a long time it looked like Ahab and Jezebel got the better deal. Today it often looks like the bad guys are winning. It often looks like those who flout the Word of the Lord prosper. And it does appear in many places around the world–in China, Sudan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan–it looks like God’s people are taking it on the chin. Everybody gets to decide which team you want to be on. If you join Ahab and Jezebel, you can have worldly success and the dogs will lick up your blood. Or you can stand with Naboth and Elijah. The body they may kill. God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever. Amen.