By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 21
The work of Elijah went on after the Lord had dealt so gently with him, restoring his courage. Elisha is found at the plow, and is called to go with Elijah as his disciple and friend. Elijah seems to have been deeply affected by the lessons learned at Horeb. He worked after that more quietly and patiently. He did not try any more to suppress Baalism by force--but sought to kindle zeal for the Lord, and then to wait for the slow working in men's hearts and lives.
In the incident of Naboth's vineyard we find again the old Elijah spirit in all its rugged energy. Naboth had a vineyard near Ahab's palace, and the king coveted it for himself. He was willing, however, to buy it and to pay Naboth a fair price for it, or exchange for it, another vineyard. But Naboth could not legally sell his ground. Now a very unkingly quality in Ahab showed itself. "So Ahab went home angry and sullen because of Naboth's answer. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!"
We see what a fool an undisciplined man, though a king, may make of himself. Instead of accepting Naboth's refusal in a manly way, Ahab acted like a baby. We would better look at the picture carefully, for sometime we may be tempted to act in the same way. Even in our modern Christian days, full-grown men sometimes sulk and get sullen over a little disappointment. One would think, to look at Ahab pouting on his bed, that some great calamity had befallen him. But really the trouble was only this--that he could not have his own way in everything. There are people who have luxury, wealth, and honor--but are made unhappy in the midst of all their splendor--because they cannot get some little thing which they want. A discontented heart is the trouble.
We may weave into this story Paul's words about contentment--that he had learned, in whatever state he was, therein to be content. He had learned to do without things which he would have been glad to have. Ahab had not learned this splendid lesson, and there are a good many other people who have not learned it.
Now Jezebel comes upon the scene with her sinister meddling. She wanted to know what was wrong with the king. She seems in a mood of wifely sympathy: "Why are you so sullen? Why won't you eat?" Ahab answered, "I asked Naboth to sell me his vineyard or to trade it, and he refused!" Naboth had a right to say no to the king--indeed he could not have done otherwise without doing wrong. The property was his--but not to sell. Naboth was conscientious in refusing Ahab's request, and this ought to have ended the matter for the king. But he had no respect for the poor man's scruples.
We learn here, that we have no right to interfere with the conscience of any other person. Even a king dare not command a subject to go against his conscience. No parent should ever compel a child to violate its conscience. We may urge reasons upon other people--but we can have no right to make a person go against his own conscience.
Jezebel lacked conscience. She was angry at Ahab's yielding to Naboth's refusal. "Are you the king of Israel or not? Get up and eat and don't worry about it. I'll get you Naboth's vineyard!" A wife's influence over her husband should always be toward right things. Usually this is the case--men owe more to their wives, than they ever can tell. But when a woman is bad, her influence over her husband is immeasurable in its evil. Jezebel was one of the worst women of history. What Ahab might have been if he had had a good wife--we cannot tell. But we know that the influence of Jezebel over him was malignant and bad to the very farthest degree.
Jezebel began here with a taunt, "You the king, and allow a poor subject to thwart you in any wish of your heart! You the king of Israel, and permit the scruples of a man to stand in the way of your own desire!" Scorn is a terrible weapon when used as Jezebel here used it. That is the way many boys and young men are sneered out of the right path. "You tied to your mother's apron-strings! You keep on reading that old Bible! You go to church among hypocrites! You are afraid to take a drink of wine!"
Ahab had not the courage to answer: "Yes, I am a king--but might does not make right. I must respect the conscience of my humblest subject. I must not sin against the Lord." Many boys and young men also lack courage, when sneered at and twitted with their weakness, to reply: "Yes, I am afraid to dishonor my mother or disregard her command. I am afraid to despise my Bible and throw away my religion, and go against my conscience. I am afraid to drink and enjoy forbidden pleasures." This is the only true and manly way to meet such taunts and scorn. It requires heroism; but when one's soul is at stake--it is an occasion for sublime heroism. To be laughed out of conscience--is to be laughed out of heaven in the end!
Jezebel took the matter into her own hands: I'll get you Naboth's vineyard!" "So she wrote letters in Ahab's name." "Find two scoundrels who will accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death!" And Ahab said nothing. He let the wicked woman do as she wished. He let her take his seal and affix his name to letters, ordering a conspiracy against a good man's life.
For one thing, we see the terrible danger of allowing ourselves to fall under the influence of wicked people. Ahab was not the last man--whom a bad woman has destroyed. Bad women are many times the devil's angels, to put chains about the necks of men and lead them away from all that is sacred and holy, straight down to hell! We learn also how unkingly, how unmanly it is to be led by another person into sin. If only Ahab had had the courage to rise up and assert his power and refuse to do the wrong thing that Jezebel suggested, how differently the story would have read today! The lesson is for us. We should allow no one ever to induce us to turn aside from the right way. There is one thing we must not give away--our conscience.
Most foul was the conspiracy against Naboth. He had not done anything that was dishonorable. He had only obeyed the law of the kingdom which forbade the alienation of any portion of an ancestral estate. He had not defied the king; he had only claimed that which was his by divine right. Yet this evil woman, assuming the authority of the king, plotted to have Naboth arraigned by his own people--and by false witnessing, condemned him to death. "Then two scoundrels accused Naboth before all the people of cursing God and the king. So he was dragged outside the city and stoned to death!"
When Jezebel learned that her conspiracy had succeeded and that Naboth was stoned and was dead, she went to Ahab and said, "Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead." So Jezebel had saved the king's money and got him the vineyard for nothing. Having died, as was supposed, for blasphemy, his estate was confiscated to the crown. Jezebel seemed to be a good agent. It seemed an excellent bargain. It is good to have a prudent wife, provided she is honest and true at the same time.
But stop and count the actual cost to Ahab. Elijah said to the king, "You have sold yourself to do that which is evil. " So Ahab paid more for the vineyard than it seemed he was paying. He thought he had got it without cost--but really he had given his soul for that patch of ground. Many people get even less for their soul than that. A young man sells his conscience, his scruples, his convictions, his hope of heaven, to get a place, to make money, or to have "a good time." A politician gets a high office--but he has sold himself--it has cost him his soul. Is not the price too great? A man gets rich by fraud. He lives in splendor, enjoying his wealth--but the price he has given is his soul. Does it pay?
Ahab eagerly hastened to claim his garden. "Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of the Jezreelite, to take possession of it." Ahab had not killed Naboth--possibly he did not know all that Jezebel had done. But now he is quite willing to accept the prize, without asking any questions as to the way it had been acquired.
There are many people too weak to do base or wrong things themselves, who would yet allow others to do these things, while they reap the benefits. Does anyone expect to get clear of the guilt of wrong-doing, by allowing an unscrupulous wife or partner to do the wrong things for him? Does anyone suppose that a merchant escapes the sin and penalty of dishonesty when he silently allows his clerks to do the cheating and lying, while he pockets the results? Does anybody suppose that because the money is put under the legislator's pillow, and he does not know who put it there, he is not guilty of taking a bribe if he retains it and votes as the big corporation wants him to vote?
There is no use shamming in God's presence. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked." Letting others do the wicked thing for us--does not free us from the responsibility. Ahab stood in that vineyard a conspirator, a murderer, a robber, a false swearer, a blasphemer, though he had not lifted a finger nor said a word in the whole transaction. It was fitting that when Ahab came down to take possession of the murdered man's vineyard, that the shaggy old prophet should meet him, waiting to confront him and tear off the shroud which hid the ghastly skeleton of crime, and tell him what God thought about it and about him. Sin may be successful--but when we come to get the gains--the Judge confronts us. Scathing indeed is the prophet's condemnation of the king and the pronunciation of his doom. His house shall fall. Dogs shall eat the carcass of Jezebel. The king's whole posterity shall perish, and their bodies shall be given to the dogs of the city and the fowls of the air!