Chapter 131 — Naboth’s Vineyard

(1 Kings chapter 21)

King Ahab wanted a vegetable garden, and he coveted a vineyard close to his palace in Jezreel for that purpose. However, the vineyard owner, Naboth, refused to sell or exchange it because it had been in his family for a long time.

Naboth’s obstinacy so depressed the king that he withdrew to himself and wouldn’t eat. When Jezebel, his wife, learned the cause of his melancholy, she promised to get the vineyard for him.

She sent letters to the leading men in Jezreel, in the king’s name and with the king’s seal, directing them to find two men willing to falsely accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king—in other words, blasphemy and treason—and then to have Naboth stoned to death for these offenses.[1] After Naboth was dead, Ahab took possession of the vineyard.

This injustice prompted the Lord to send Elijah to Ahab with a message of judgment—he and his family members would die, the bodies of his family members would remain unburied until the dogs and birds had consumed their bodies, and dogs would lick up Ahab’s blood.[2] Furthermore, Jezebel, who engineered Naboth’s murder, would be eaten by dogs.

Elijah’s prophecy so frightened the king that he fasted and put on sackcloth to demonstrate his repentance. This act of humility led the Lord to postpone the fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy until after Ahab had died and his son became king.

Questions to ponder or discuss: The Bible does not say that King Ahab knew of Jezebel’s plot to murder Naboth, but he should have been suspicious when she told him that she would obtain it for him. He should have asked how she planned to get it.

If Ahab didn’t know what his wife had in mind, it had to be because he didn’t really want to know. In the law this is called “deliberate ignorance,” and for many criminal offenses it is treated the same as knowledge. For example, a person who is paid a large sum of money to transport a package of unknown contents[3] will be treated by the law as if he knew that the package contained illegal drugs, because he should have been suspicious when someone offered to pay him a lot of money for such a simple task.

In view of this, do you think the Lord’s judgment upon King Ahab was fair? Why or why not?

Think of a time when someone did something that you knew was wrong in order to benefit you or someone else—for example, letting someone copy their homework, shoplifting something for someone else, or covering at work so someone could come in late or leave early. How do you think God felt about that?

If it was for your benefit, how do you feel about it now?

Endnotes for Chapter 131

[1]. Leviticus 24:15-16 prescribes the punishment of death for blasphemy. See also Exodus 22:28, which prohibits cursing either God or an Israelite ruler. At least two witnesses were required before the punishment of death could be inflicted. See Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 17:6, and Deuteronomy 19:15.

[2]. This was essentially the same judgment which the Lord had pronounced upon Jeroboam and Baasha.

[3]. Such a person is commonly referred to as a “mule.”