17 June 2016

1 Kings 21:1-16

"The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance." (v. 3)

Psalm: Psalm 104:24-35


Being an upright citizen is no defence against a tyrant monarch. Naboth is introduced as being a citizen of some standing and influence or else he would not have an ancestral property adjacent to the royal palace. But King Ahab wants the vineyard for a vegetable garden and offers a price and better vineyard in return.

As king of Israel Ahab should be a paragon of faith and virtue - not seeking his own wealth and glory. The king of Israel is to be a reflection of God's 'king of all that is' (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). But the reader of 1 Kings already knows Ahab does not follow in the way of the Lord and does not desire the best for his people.

The plot of ground does seem very grand but, for Naboth, it had special significance as his ancestral land. The loss of the vineyard would have gone alongside a loss of position and income. Naboth and his family would have been reduced to the status of royal pensioners dependent on the king's whim. The initial approach by Ahab is reasonable - he proposes a transaction, not blackmail or threat, but Ahab's reaction suggests that he expected compliance. The response of "The Lord forbid..." suggests that Naboth understood the permanent sale of the land to be an offence against God who had originally given the land to his ancestors.

Autocratic as he is, Ahab does not move against Naboth. Rather he enters a self-induced sullen depressive state. Jezebel, the queen, is made of sterner stuff, being trained in the traditions of the Phoenician states, where the monarch was absolute ruler of everything. She, on his behalf, is to "perform majesty over Israel".

Letters from Jezebel ensure that "scoundrels" are employed to make false charges at a public fast. The conspiracy works and judgement against Naboth is immediate and final. The notion of 'possession' is only temporary.

To Ponder

  • One commentator suggests that Egypt is likened to a vegetable garden and Israel like a vineyard. To what extent might there be an underlying message of enslavement in this passage?
  • This story shows how the love of power can corrupt. How do we hold the responsibilities we have?
  • What is the inheritance for which you might say "Lord forbid I should give it up"?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Howard Mellor

Howard Mellor is a Methodist presbyter. Together with his wife Rosie they are currently serving as Mission Partners in Hong Kong.