Naboth’s Vineyard

I Kings 21



I Kings 21 tells us about a man named Naboth from Jezreel. Jezreel was a town in Israel were the kings of Israel often resided. It was the ninth century B.C. and Ahab was king.

Naboth owned a vineyard next to Ahab’s palace. One day Ahab looked out of his palace window and saw Naboth’s vineyard and thought, “That would be a great place for a vegetable garden right next to the palace.”

So Ahab went down to Naboth’s house and made him an offer, “I will trade you for your vineyard. I will give you a better vineyard for it, or if you like I will pay you for it.” It seemed a very fair offer to Ahab. He was pleased with himself for being so gracious and fair.

But Naboth said, “No, I got that vineyard from my father, and his father owned it, and I do not want to sell it, or trade it.”

Now there were laws in Israel against the selling of inherited land, but the laws were not enforced. The Israelites were like us in that they had many laws that were not enforced. So, Naboth could have sold the vineyard, but apparently he was a believer in old ways, so he said, “No, I do not want to sell my ancestral land.”

Well, Ahab got all bent out of shape about this. He could not believe that this nobody Naboth had said, “No.” Nobody ever said, “No,” to Ahab. He had been born a prince of Israel and now he was king. He was accustomed to instant obedience to every whim. He was what we would call a spoiled brat.

We have plenty of spoiled brats in our time. They throw their temper tantrams right in the middle of Wal-Mart because they want that toy, or they turn sullen and resentful and whine and cry until they get their way. Now as bad as a spoiled kid may be, a spoiled adult is far worse, especially a spoiled adult in a position of power. Ahab was a spoiled adult. When Naboth refused him the vineyard, Ahab stormed back to his palace and raged and ranted, then he became resentful and sullen. Finally, he went to bed and turned his face to the wall and refused to eat. Now this is classical spoiled brat behavior. It would almost be funny, except that this spoiled brat is king of Israel. What Ahab desperately needs are some counselors who can say to him, “Get over it. Forget about it. Move on.” After all, it is no big deal. It was probably not even that much of a vineyard because Ahab was going to plow the vines under and use it for a garden.

But no counselor dared say that to the king, and in Ahab’s spoiled brat mind, it has become a very big deal. And so he lays in his bed and whines and cries like a two year old.

Finally, an adult shows up. Unfortunately, she is a very evil adult. Jezebel, Ahab’s queen, comes to him and says, “Why are you acting like this? Why are you lying there in bed whining and crying?”

And like a little kid confiding in his momma, Ahab explains how the world has become a mean bad place because mean old Naboth refused his offer for the vineyard.

We need to say a word about Jezebel. Jezebel has some good qualities. She is decisive, she is leader. Unfortunately, she is also totally immoral, and, in her own way, she is just as much of a spoiled brat as Ahab. She said to Ahab, “Who governs this country anyway? Who is in charge here?” Now it might seem that Jezebel is reminding Ahab that he is king and he can do anything he wants. But that is not quite it because she goes on to say, “Get up and clean yourself up. Have something to eat. Don’t worry. I will take care of everything.” This shows us who is really running the country. She does not say to Ahab, “Be a king, act like a king.” She says, “Momma will take care of this little problem with Naboth.”

Now Jezebel may be decisive, she is also devious. She developed a plot to accomplish her purpose. She wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with the king’s seal. She sent the letters to the elders and the nobles of Jezreel. She wrote, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth in a position of honor at the head table. Seat two good liars across the table from him and have them suddenly stand up and accuse him of blasphemy. Have them say, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then do not give Naboth any chance to make any kind of defense. Take him out and kill him. Stone him.”

In other words, Jezebel, in the name of the king, said, “I want him dead. Take care of this for me.” I wish I could tell you that the men of Jezreel rebelled against such an evil command. I wish I could say that they said they would not do murder at the king’s whim. But, in fact, they went along. They were afraid of what might happen to themselves, their families, and their city, so they carried out the orders of Jezebel to the letter. They proclaimed a fast. They set Naboth at the head table. To scoundrels falsely accused him, and they drug him outside the city walls and stoned him to death. Then they sent a message to Jezebel—not to the king, because they knew who was in charge—they sent a message to Jezebel saying that her command had been carried out.

Jezebel then went back to Ahab and said, “Go down to the vineyard of Naboth and take possession of it, because he is dead, and it is yours.”

Ahab instantly recovered from his, what shall we call it, spoiled brat fit, and happily went to his new vineyard.


Now let us think for a few moments about this judicial murder, this atrocity against justice. We wonder, first of all, why Naboth did not see this coming? Perhaps he thought, as I have said that it was no big deal. Maybe the vineyard was small. He thought that this was just a passing whim with Ahab. He did not want to sell, and he was willing to take the risk of angering the king a little. He treats the king the way he would treat any responsible adult. A responsible adult would just laugh about it and go on to something else. But Ahab is not a responsible adult, and Naboth pays for his miscalculation with his life.

Let us use our imagination some and say that we could bring Jezebel and Ahab into a 21st century American court, and try them for the murder of Naboth. How would they plead? They might argue that given the way their society was organized, they were justified to do what they did. The institution of monarchy was founded on murder. That was the way you got to be king. You murdered anyone who stood in your way.

Ahab’s father was Omri. Omri murdered the previous king, Zimri, and then murdered all his rivals. That was how he got be be king. Incidentally that was also how Zimri got to be king for a very brief period of seven days. Zimri murdered the previous king, Elah. I could go on to recite the bloody history of the kings of Israel. The King’s authority was based on the sword. ”Do what I say or I will kill you.” So Jezebel and Ahab could argue that what they did to Naboth was just a result of their society and their history. And apparently the people of Jezreel agreed with them. Perhaps they would have said in their own defense, “The king commands we obey.” Our society. our history. made us do it, and no one is responsible.

But God does not accept that excuse. A question we might ask about this whole incident is where was God? You might be tempted to say that God did not have anything todo with anything that happened in I Kings 21, but we need to be theologically consistent even when it is a tough case. As Christians, we say God is love and God is omnipresent, that is Glod is present in every event. A loving God is at work in every event to move that event toward a loving result.

Ahab and Jezebel and all the people of Israel were raised and exist in an atmosphere of violence. They do not believe in the value of human life. They do not believe that people have rights. Those are alien concepts to them. Are they then responsible for their situation? To the extent that they contribute to that situation, they arel. Society and history did not murder Nabotdh. The people of Jezreel murdered Naboth at the command of Jezebel, who acted for Ahab. You might say, “Well, they had a violent history, and it was a violent time, and that is true, but they are responsible for their own sins.

Even in that violent time, they did not have to kill Naboth. God was ministering to Ahab when he had that first encounter with Nathoth, when Naboth refused his offer to buy the vineyard. God’s ministry to Ahab, the loving result for Ahab may have just been for Ahab to learn a little from the experience, to grow up a little bit, to mature a little bit. That would have been the best and most loving solution for Ahab in that encounter, but Ahab rejected God’s solution, and locked himself into a selfish spoiled brat tantrum.

God also ministered to Jezebel. She did not have to murder anybody. She was the one person who could have said to Ahab, “Get over it, grow up.” That may have been God’s loving solution for her. But she rejected God and instigated the murder of Naboth.

What about the people of Jezreel? They had other choices. They could have warned Naboth, given him a chance to get out of town, and then said to Jezebel, “He is gone. Go ahead and take his vineyard.” Perhaps she would have been content with that. Perhaps that was the best solution they had. God’s loving solution, by the way, is always the best solution. But they rejected God and carried out Jezebel’s plan.

The point is that no one had to murder Naboth, but everyone went along and poor Naboth wound up dead. And everyone was responsible for their part in the murder. God was there, but human beings used their free will to sin against God.

Human beings used their free will to crucify God. God knows everything we do in every situation. God knows what we know and feels what we feel. God experiences every situation, every event, as we experience it. God felt Naboth’s pain when he was stoned to death. God felt every rock when it struck the man. And God felt also what the people felt that threw those rocks. Can you imagine God’s sadness, God’s tears, because they had rejected him, they had crucified him, by the evil they were doing.

God was in Jesus Christ and, through Christ, God reveals that every sin is felt by God and is, therefore, a sin against God. Every pain is felt by God, and is, therefore, God’s pain. The dreadful truth revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is that the world crucifies God. We crucify God. Each pain we inflict if felt by a God who loves us.

The incredible reality revealed on the cross is that God’s love does not cease even in pain and sin. It is easy and comforting to say that God loves us in our pain, and that is certainly true, but the cross goes much further than that. The cross says that God loves us even in God’s pain. On the cross, God took all the pain and suffering and sin of the world, and God still loved us, loved you and loved me. And God still ministers to us. In every situation we face, God still offers us the best solution, a loving solution.

Do not be Jezebel, Ahab, the people of Jezreel. Do not crucify God with your sins. Accept God’s love, live in God’s love, walk in God’s love. Amen.


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Last Modified: 01/14/12