1 Kings 21


Naboth’s Vineyard

      • Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to a man from Jezreel named Neboth. The vineyard was located in Jezreel, right next to the house of Ahab, the king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard so that I can make a vegetable garden out of it, since it’s right next to my house. I’ll give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I’ll pay you its value in silver.” But Naboth replied to Ahab, “By Yahweh, far be it from me that I should sell you my ancestral inheritance.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “In addition to his palace in the capital city, Ahab had a second palace in Jezreel. Excavations at Jezreel have unearthed a sizable palace there. Samaria, which sometimes refers to the capital city, here indicates the whole northern kingdom.”

        • ESV Study Bible notes, “The land of Israel belonged not to the families who technically ‘owned’ it but to God, who had brought the Israelites into the land in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise and had, through Joshua, allocated its various parts to the tribes as their inheritance (e.g., Gen 17:8; Lev 25:23; Josh 13:1-7). Individual Israelites could not sell land in perpetuity, and a complex set of laws kept land in the family and prevented its accumulation in the hands of a few (e.g., Deut 25:5-10). Ahab’s offer is therefore evidence of his disregard for Israelite law.”

      • So Ahab went into his house, angry and sullen, because Naboth had said, “I will not sell you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned his face away, and refused to eat. His wife Jezebel came to him and asked, “Why are you so sullen that you refuse to eat?” He answered, “Because I spoke to Naboth from Jezreel and asked him, ‘Sell me your vineyard for silver, or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ But he answered, ‘I will not sell you my vineyard.’” His wife Jezebel replied, “You are king over Israel! Get up, eat, and be cheerful. I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “This passage demonstrates the differences in the social structure of Israelite and Phoenician monarchies. In Phoenicia, though still accountable to the gods, the king was above the law, and the land was considered to be the ultimate property of the crown, given out through grants. In Israel, the king is bound by the same covenant laws as the people, and the land is ultimately Yahweh’s to distribute.”

        • ESV Study Bible says, “…As this narrative shows, the real driving force in the kingdom of Israel is Jezebel…not the passive Ahab, and she is contemptuous of her husband’s unwillingness to behave as a despotic king.”

      • So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, then sent them to the elders and leaders who lived in Naboth’s city. In her letters she wrote, “Proclaim a fast and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then seat two worthless men across from him, and have them bring these charges against him: ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “In ancient Israel, papyrus or leather documents were tied with a cord and sealed with a small, damp blob of clay to hold the cord in place. The sender’s official seal, functioning like a signature, was then impressed on the clay. Thousands of seals and seal impressions (bullae) have been found in the ancient Near East, although only about 10 percent of them were found in situ, that is, in a secure context at a professional excavation. A seal of unknown origin, inscribed with the name ‘Jezebel,’ was donated in the 1960s to the Israel Department of Antiquities. Its paleography (the form of its letters) dates the seal to the ninth century BC, when the Jezebel of 1-2 Kings lived as queen of Israel in Samaria…Seal impressions of other biblical figures have been discovered , including a bulla of Ahaz and six bullae from seals belonging to his son, Hezekiah, king of Judah…”

Image via Biblical Archaeology Society, Fit for a Queen: Jezebel’s Royal Seal

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “This kind of assembly would normally address sin that could bring divine judgment against the people (see Deut 21:1-9; Josh 7:10-12; 1 Sam 7:1-6). Jezebel convened it to bring false charges against an innocent person.”

        • On the “worthless” men mentioned, the same source adds, “(literally sons of Belial): the Hebrew term refers to totally evil reprobates (Deut 13:13; Judg 19:22; 1 Sam 10:27; Prov 6:12). Later Jewish writings attributed the name Belial to Satan, a use reflected by Paul in the NT (2 Cor 6:15). Legally, two witnesses were needed to establish a charge against a person (Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16). The twofold charge of Naboth’s blasphemy against God and against the king carried a penalty of death by stoning outside the city (Deut 17:5-6; 22:24)…”

        • Guzik remarks, “Jesus was charged with similar crimes, accused of offending both God and Caesar. Naboth, just like Jesus, was completely innocent of such accusations and was murdered without cause. The stoning of Naboth over a piece of land for a vegetable garden shows the brutal and amoral character of Jezebel and Ahab.” He continues, “2 Kings 9:26 indicates that the crime was even worse than this, connecting the murder of Naboth with the blood of his sons. It is likely that the entire family of Naboth was murdered, so no heirs were left to claim his property.”

      • The men of his city, the elders and leaders who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then the two worthless men came in, sat across from him, and brought charges against Naboth in front of all the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king!” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they reported to Jezebel, “Naboth has been stoned. He is dead.”

Copper engraving of the death of Naboth by Caspar Luiken, 1712

      • When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she told Ahab, “Get up and take possession of Naboth’s vineyard that he refused to sell you, because he is no longer living; he is dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “The implication appears to be that the king may confiscate the property of an executed criminal, a custom that is known from non-Israelite texts but for which there is no provision in Israelite law. This serves to emphasize the extent to which Ahab and Jezebel are moving outside the sphere of Israelite law and custom and introducing foreign ideas.”

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes point out that there is some additional text present in the Old Greek translation after the phrase “When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead…”, “The Old Greek translation includes the following words here: ‘he tore his garments and put on sackcloth. After these things.’”

Yahweh Condemns Ahab

      • Then the word of Yahweh came to Elijah the Tishbite, “Get up and go down to meet, Ahab, the king of Israel, in Samaria. He has gone to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard, and he is there now. Tell him: ‘This is what Yahweh says, “Have you murdered a man and taken possession of his property?” Then say to him, ‘This is what Yahweh says, “In the place where the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your own blood.”’”

      • When Elijah arrived, Ahab said to him, “So, my enemy, you have found me.” Elijah replied, “I have found you because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in Yahweh’s eyes. This is what Yahweh says: ‘Look, I will bring disaster on you and utterly burn you up. I will destroy every one of your male descendants, even including the weak and incapacitated. I will make your house like the house of Nebat’s son Jeroboam, and like the house of Ahijah’s son Baasha, because you have provoked My anger and caused Israel to sin.’ Moreover, concerning Jezebel, Yahweh has said: ‘Dogs will eat Jezebel at the plot of land in Jezreel.’ As for Ahab’s family, dogs will eat the ones who die in the city, and the birds of the sky will eat the ones who die in the countryside.”

        • In verse 23, some versions say that Jezebel will be eaten by dogs “by the outer wall of Jezreel,” or something similar. I have opted to side with the alternative rendering based on the explanation in NET Bible’s text critical notes, “A few Hebrew mss and some ancient versions agree with 2 Kgs 9:10, 36, which reads, ‘the plot [of ground] at Jezreel.’ The Hebrew words translated ‘outer wall’ (…khel, defectively written here!) and ‘plot [of ground]’ (…kheleq) are spelled similarly.”

Ahab’s Repentance

      • There was no one else who so completely sold himself to what was evil in Yahweh’s eyes as Ahab did, being incited by his wife Jezebel. He behaved abominably by going after idols, just as the Amorites had done, whom Yahweh had driven out before the Israelites.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The author interrupts this account to reemphasize (see 16:30-34) Ahab’s evil character, to denounce the king’s commitment to idolatry, and to condemn his weakness in allowing himself to be under the influence of his wife Jezebel…”

      • When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and fasted. He even slept in sackcloth and walked around dejected. Then the word of Yahweh came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring disaster on his house during his lifetime, but during his son’s lifetime.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “Ahab was a complex character. Although justly condemned for his evil character, here he repented when the Lord’s prophet brought a message of rebuke… Because of Ahab’s repentance, the Lord sent Elijah to postpone the awful sentence against Ahab and instead impose it on his equally wicked sons (2 Kgs 1:17; 9:24-26; 10:1-11).”

      • Pulpit Commentary adds, “[The repentance, if it was not profound, or enduring, was nevertheless, while it lasted, sincere. The Searcher of hearts saw in it a genuine self-abasement. And ‘He will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax;’ Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20.] Because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil [There is a manifest reference to ver. 21, where the same words are used] in his days; but in his son’s days [There is no injustice here – no threat of punishment against the innocent instead of the guilty – as might at first sight appear. For in the first place, God knew well what the son would be, and in the second place, if the son had departed from his father’s sins he would have been spared (Ezekiel 18:14 sqq.); the sentence would have been revoked. Judgment was deferred to give the house of Ahab another chance. When Ahab lapsed into sin, he suffered in his own person: when his sons persisted in sin, excision befell the family] will I bring the evil [ver. 19] upon his house [ver. 22].”

        • Guzik makes the following remarks:

        • In likening the sin of Ahab to the sin of the Amorites, God prepared the ground for the future eviction of Israel from the Promised Land. As the Amorites were cast out of Canaan for their continued idolatry and rejection of God, so would the northern kingdom of Israel be cast out.”

        • God honored Ahab’s initiative. This shows the power of both prayer and humble repentance. If Ahab did not humble himself in this way, then the judgment would have come in his own day. This shows that God gave the prophecy of judgment as an invitation to repentance, and God opened the door of mercy when Ahab properly responded to that invitation…This shows us the character of God’s mercy: it is given to the undeserving. By nature, the innocent does not need mercy. Ahab was a great sinner, but he won great mercy (in this life) through humble repentance. The worst sinner should not disqualify himself from receiving God’s mercy, if that sinner should only approach God in humble repentance.”

        • Then, citing Trapp, “Three years later, Ahab was dead under God’s judgment. ‘I will recompense his temporary repentance with a temporary deliverance.’”

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