By Stephen Green. (First Published in Christian Voice June 2007)
1 Ki. 21:1 And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.
2 And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.
3 And Naboth said to Ahab, The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.
4 And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him: for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.
5 But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread?
6 And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and said unto him, Give me thy vineyard for money; or else, if it please thee, I will give thee another vineyard for it: and he answered, I will not give thee my vineyard.
7 And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the
? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.
8 So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth.
9 And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people:
10 And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.
11 And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who were the inhabitants in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them, and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them.
12 They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people.
13 And there came in two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died.
14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead.
15 And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money: for Naboth is not alive, but dead.
16 And it came to pass, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
We know what happens next. The stirring account in the succeeding verses of how Elijah stood up to king Ahab and pronounced judgment on him sends a tingle down the spine. But the account of the vineyard itself has some lessons for us.
NO COMPULSORY PURCHASE IN
ISRAEL Firstly, let us look at the legal background. Numbers 26:7 says that the inheritance of the children of
must stay within their tribes. Added to that, the Jubilee rules of Leviticus 25 state that in the fiftieth year every man shall return to his possession. Those rules were based on the principle that the Lord owned all the land, for all time. Man is transient but the Lord is eternal. Out of that principle, the land could not be sold forever, and that was what Ahab was demanding. Only if a man was poor would he sell his land, and even then, he or his closest relative could always redeem it. There was no such thing as compulsory purchase in
. Ahab could not force Naboth to sell his land, and he knew it, as did his scheming wife.
Even then, and even though Naboth was evidently a man of some standing, it must have taken a degree of courage from him to stand up to king Ahab and say, 'The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee'. Ahab had offered him other land, or the money for his land, and no doubt he would have paid over the normal asking price. Naboth could have asked for some preferment as well, and there can be little doubt that Ahab would willingly have granted it.
But for Naboth, the inheritance of his fathers, the traditions of
and the law of God were more important than money or personal advancement. This was a man of principle who could neither be bought nor threatened. He must have known of Ahab's despotic streak and yet he still said, 'The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee'.
A KING AND A QUEEN - ABOVE THE LAW
had wanted a king so as to be like all the other nations, and in Ahab they had one. In Deuteronomy 17 God laid down the rules within which the king should operate. He would not exalt himself, he would be humble before God and he would be subject to the law of God. One law was to be for all (Ex
). But Ahab thought himself to be above the law, or even if he didn't, he did nothing to restrain his ambitious wife who regarded herself as beyond reproach.
Ahab had evidently embarked upon a building programme, and Naboth's possession was uncomfortably in the path of it. No doubt in a similar situation our government would pass a law and the courts would enforce it, compelling Naboth to sell his vineyard whilst Jezebel spoke of the jobs which would be created in expanding the new palace. And of course it could not go ahead without the all-important garden to lessen its carbon footprint. But Ahab and Jezebel did not have that legislative ability. Instead Jezebel hired some other worthless individuals ('Belial' meaning 'worthlessness') to do her dirty work.
CHRISTIAN MORALITY IS IN THE WAY Now let us take a sideways look at the story of Naboth's Vineyard. Ahab and Jezebel stand for all modernisers everywhere, who show contempt for law and virtue and the wisdom of the past and will let nothing stand in their way. Naboth stands for those who value tradition and inheritance, both physical and spiritual.
For it is not just property which the modernisers want to take and destroy. They have their eyes on everything that impedes them. To Tony Blair, the twice-weekly grilling he received in the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Questions was inconvenient. So he halved it. The House of Lords was in the way of his programme and it was old-fashioned. So he modernised it and wrecked it. The old law 'thou shalt not bear false witness' was a nuisance to him. So when he wanted to go to war against
, he ignored it. In the 'War against terror' basic legal freedoms and human rights are irritating. So he has pretended they don't exist. For the gays, family planners, casino owners and other sons of Belial amongst his friends, Christian morality is in the way. So he has simply legislated against it.
MODERNISERS WILL PERVERT THE COURSE OF JUSTICE But there still remain those like Naboth who say, 'The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee'. There is a precious Christian heritage in this
, and all which keeps us from sliding into lawlessness depends upon it. Those who follow in the spirit of Naboth understand that. They see the righteous laws of God as a necessary safeguard, a bulwark against evil which longs to be unrestrained.
The greedy, acquisitive spirit of Ahab and Jezebel wants Naboth out of the way. Modernisers like them will lie and they will bribe others to lie for them to pervert the course of justice and silence him. They won't care about the good they are undoing. It could well be that some things need changing, but a constructive dialogue about moving forward carefully whilst respecting historic freedoms and safeguards is not in their nature. They see no good in what is and what has stood the test of time, let alone that which is eternal. They know best and woe betide those which stand in their way. They want us to give up and allow them to take over. If we don't and be sure we won’t - they will get their sons of Belial to pass laws against us. They are doing it now.
THE JUDGMENT WILL FALL ON THEM The judgment will fall on them and on the hapless society they govern. It did on Ahab and on Jezebel and on
itself. I don't know in the natural how we convince Ahab and Jezebel of that. I don't know we even can. Perhaps all we can do is prophesy against them, as did the courageous Elijah the Tishbite.
Just like Elijah, we must defend Naboth and all he stands for: eternal truth, objective morality, the tradition handed down, the deposit of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness, the
expressed on earth. And just like Naboth, whatever the cost, we have to keep saying to the Ahabs and Jezebels of our day: ''The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee'.
There is a principle, that of the precious and holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ, at stake.