5. Naboth's Vineyard: Judgment and Grace (1 Kings 21)

Audio (36:06)

Thomas Matthews Rooke (1842-1942), 'Naboth Refuses King Ahab His Vineyard', watercolor
Thomas Matthews Rooke (1842-1942), 'Naboth Refuses King Ahab His Vineyard', watercolor, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth, England.

King Ahab has seen a lot over his rather long reign -- drought, famine, religious change, and wars. And in the midst of these Yahweh has revealed himself in various interventions by means of his prophets.

Unlike his wife Jezebel who is an unapologetic adherent of the Canaanite god Baal and his consort Asherah, Ahab seems to be a nominal believer in Yahweh. As we saw in Lesson 4, three of his sons have names that reflect Yahweh's name.158 When tough times come, he seems to believe and obey Yahweh's prophets -- at least sometimes.

On the other hand, he tries to hunt down Yahweh's messenger Elijah. He builds temples to Baal. And he doesn't restrain Jezebel as she slaughters whatever prophets of Yahweh that she can find. He is a nominal believer, sort of, but certainly not a follower. Like his people on Mount Carmel, he is still "limping between two opinions" without taking a decisive stand.

Ahab's Desire for Palace Gardens (1 Kings 21:1-3)

All this seems to come to a head in a vineyard near Ahab's summer palace in Jezreel. In 1987 bulldozers uncovered some ancient structures prompting archaeological digs at Tel Jezreel, a site on the south ridge overlooking the beautiful Jezreel Valley. They found a fortification and palace probably built by Ahab's father Omri. The fortress seems to have been destroyed in the late 9th century after Ahab's time.159 This seems to be the location for our story.

The narrator begins.

"1 Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.160 2 Ahab said to Naboth, 'Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.'

3 But Naboth replied, 'The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.'" (1 Kings 21:1-3)

Naboth is a native of Jezreel, farming on the land of his father before him, and his father before him. The rich loam of the Jezreel Valley provides great land in which to grow barley and wheat. But Naboth's ancestral land seems to be up on the hillside near the palace, better for vines that thrive on the rocky slopes.

Ahab would look out over his neighbor's thriving vineyard. That would be a great place to plant a royal garden, he would say to himself. Many translations render the two Hebrew words as "vegetable garden,"161 but it seems unlikely to me that Ahab gets so upset about a kitchen garden to be used by the palace cook. Rather, the words probably describe an enclosed garden shaded by trees and shrubs designed for the pleasure of the king and queen -- a common place of leisure for Ancient Near East monarchs.162

So Ahab goes to his neighbor Naboth and offers to purchase his vineyard for a good price or a land exchange for an even better vineyard. There is no sin in this. So far as Ahab is concerned, it is a fair business deal. He keeps trying to convince Naboth how this would be good for both of them.

But to Naboth, it is a betrayal of his family that had farmed this very land from time immemorial. He also sees this as a betrayal of his God who had allotted this land to his clan under Joshua centuries before. Rules in the Torah are intended to keep land within one's tribe and family (Numbers 36:9), though such rules were not always strictly observed.163

To Ahab's offer Naboth replies:

"The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers." (1 Kings 21:3)

He invokes the name of Yahweh in an oath that seems to invite a curse on the person who would give away his inheritance.164 It is a heated answer. A firm and steadfast, "No!"

Q16. (1 Kings 21:1-3) Why does Ahab want Naboth's vineyard? Is there anything wrong with his proposal to Naboth? Why does Naboth refuse his offer?

Ahab's Depression, Jezebel's Presumption (1 Kings 21:4-16)

Ahab doesn't do well with rejection.

"4 So Ahab went home, sullen and angry165 because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, 'I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.' He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat. 5 His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, 'Why are you so sullen? Why won't you eat?'" (1 Kings 21:4-5)

Several words in our passage describe Ahab's frustration, anger, and depression.

  • "Sullen and angry"166 (which we saw in 1 Kings 20:42-43) indicate that he is resentful. He nurtures a sense of entitlement.
  • "Sulking" (NIV) in verse 4 is literally, "turned away his face" (ESV, NRSV, KJV). You can imagine him in his bedchamber in a fetal position with his face to the wall, a spoiled child who can't have his way.
  • Not eating (verse 5). This could be a sign of expressing his anger, like a child having a fit. But it also might be a sign of actual depression, in which a person can lose all interest in food.
  • "Depressed" is how the NRSV translates the phrase "your spirit is sullen" (Hebrew sar) in verse 5.

This doesn't seem to be just a passing phenomenon. It goes on long enough that Jezebel finally goes into his chamber and asks him what is wrong with him. He lays out his grievance.

"Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, 'Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.' But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'" (1 Kings 21:6)

Jezebel listens to his excuses. Then she berates him.

"Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I'll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite." (1 Kings 21:6)

She shames her husband. What kind of king are you? The New English Bible catches the idea: "Are you or are you not king in Israel?"167

Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, comes from a different culture that views the king as an absolute monarch with complete control over the land in his domain to do with as he wishes. Israel's view is that Yahweh owns all the land, not the king (Leviticus 25:23). The king is a servant under Yahweh responsible to enforce justice and law in the kingdom.

Jezebel has no love for Yahweh's law. And she wants to expand Ahab's authority, which will also expand her own. "I'll take care of it, honey. You just get up and eat. It'll be okay." She treats him as an indulgent mother might comfort and excuse a stubborn child who has gone to his room to have a screaming fit.

Then she gets to work.

"8 So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city with him. 9 In those letters she wrote:

'Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 10 But seat two scoundrels168 opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.'" (1 Kings 21:8-10)

Jezebel uses both Ahab's name and official seal on the document to make it official. She couldn't have done this without Ahab's consent.169 He knows what she is doing, but he can hold onto the fiction that he didn't do something so unrighteous himself.

Let's pause a minute. It's easy for us to blame Ahab, and rightly so. But we must also look to ourselves. Each of us is extremely good at justifying our actions to ourselves, even though our reasons may look pretty slim and self-serving in the light of day!

Jezebel instructs -- no, commands -- the town elders to find a couple of people who can be bribed to bear false witness, enabling the council to legally stone Naboth for blasphemy on the testimony of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). She clearly commands them to suborn perjury. But she doesn't make up the accusation from nothing -- exactly. Rather, she twists the truth. That Naboth "cursed both God and king" is Jezebel's falsification of Naboth's oath of refusal to the king in Yahweh's name.

The elders and nobles do what she demands. In doing so, they deliberately and knowingly subvert the Ninth Commandment: "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). Jezebel has corrupted the judicial system in her quest to gain power for herself and her husband. Naboth is stoned to death. As soon as Jezebel receives word of this, she goes to her husband.

"15b 'Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.' 16 When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth's vineyard." (1 Kings 21:15b-16)

Before the family can sort out which of them is to inherit the land in their kinsman's place, the king must get there first, she tells him. So he goes to take possession of the land170 that he will claim has been forfeited for blasphemy. In Western jurisprudence we have the saying, "Possession is 9/10ths of the law." In other words, when someone already possesses something, it's hard to legally dislodge them from it or to take it away.

Q17. (1 Kings 21:4-16) Do you think Ahab is actually depressed? How does Jezebel fix his depression? Why does she do so? Is Ahab responsible for Jezebel's corrupt actions to obtain Naboth's vineyard? Are the elders responsible for suborning perjury?

Elijah Meets Ahab at Naboth's Vineyard (1 Kings 21:17-22)

Thomas Matthew Rooke, Elijah Prophesies to Ahab and Jezebel Their End' (1879)
Thomas Matthew Rooke, Elijah Prophesies to Ahab and Jezebel Their End' (1879), oil on canvas, 34.5x43.5 cm, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth, England

Sometimes we are tempted to do something we know is wrong. We do it. God doesn't strike us down from heaven. And we think we've gotten away with it. But God is watching. There comes a time when we must have a reckoning, whether in this life (where God gives us a chance to repent) or on Judgment Day when all chances are past.

"Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 'Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth's vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it.'" (1 Kings 21:17)

God speaks to Elijah and gives him the exact place he will find Ahab. Sometimes God nudges us to these planned meetings, but occasionally he gives us precise instructions as to time and place. That's what Elijah receives here.

Now God relays to his spokesman Elijah the unwelcome message he must bring to Ahab:

"Say to him, 'This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?' Then say to him, 'This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, dogs will lick up your blood -- yes, yours!'" (1 Kings 21:19)

This is the kind of message that gets Ahab's intention. And it comes to pass exactly as Elijah says, as we'll see in Lesson 6.1 (1 Kings 22:37-38).

Ahab sees Elijah approaching. By Ahab's greeting, he doesn't sound surprised to see him. He has a guilty conscience.

"Ahab said to Elijah, 'So you have found me, my enemy!'"171 (1 Kings 21:20a)

There is no love lost between these antagonists.

Ahab's Sins (1 Kings 21:20-22)

Most recently, Ahab has allowed Jezebel to break three of the Ten Commandments: murder, false witness, and coveting (or forcibly appropriating) property.

"You shall not covet172 your neighbor's wife. You shall not set your desire on173 your neighbor's house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Deuteronomy 5:21)

These are part of a pattern of wickedness with which Elijah now confronts Ahab, speaking in the name of Yahweh.

  1. "You have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD." (verse 20b)
  2. "Because you ... have caused Israel to sin." (verse 22b)
  3. You have "behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols." (verse 26a)

Let's examine each of these carefully.

1. Sold yourself to do evil. "Sold yourself" to do something is a peculiar phrase that occurs only three times in the Old Testament in this form.174 It suggests act of selling oneself into slavery, which a poor person might voluntarily do to pay his debts (Leviticus 25:39).175 It means to completely give oneself over to something.176 For Ahab to sell himself means for him to be completely committed and sold out to accomplish wickedness.

In English we have idioms like "sold out," which means, "to abandon or betray one's espoused principles or cause, especially in the pursuit of profit or personal benefit." In German folklore, Dr. Faustus makes a pact with the devil, "selling his soul to the devil" meaning, "to gain wealth, success, power, etc., by doing something bad or dishonest." 177

In the New Testament we read:

"Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to[178] sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." (Ephesians 4:19)

Ahab is not innocent. He is not just a victim of Jezebel's zeal or his culture. To say, "you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD" (verse 20b), Elijah is talking about a deliberate choice to do evil.179 He has done this deliberately. He has chosen this course and is now enslaved180 to it with no way of escape, unless God somehow delivers him. Also observe that Elijah removes all cultural relativity when he specifies that Ahab has done "what is evil in the eyes of Yahweh." It is God's judgment of sin that counts, not our culture's.

My friend, have you sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord? True repentance and calling out to Jesus for mercy is your only hope.

Q18. (1 Kings 21:20) What is the danger of giving ourselves over to sin? How does that make us a slave to sin? What kind of opening does that give the devil?

2. "Caused Israel to sin," (verse 22b) is the second reason that Elijah pronounces judgment. It is one thing to sin ourselves. But when we are in places of influence or leadership -- in our families, in our workplace, in our church -- we can easily cause or lead others into sin.181 They see what we do and because they respect us, they feel it is okay to do the same. Or, our children experience us constantly provoking them (Ephesians 6:4) and because of that they give up or rebel. When presidents and prime ministers blatantly lie and do unconscionable things with impunity, what used to be seen as outrageous is now seen as acceptable. In the New Testament we read:

"If anyone causes182 one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6)

Jesus couldn't be stronger in the penalty for being the cause of a weaker believer sinning! Kings, presidents, leaders, and parents are held responsible for their actions.

Q19. (1 Kings 21:22) How responsible are kings, politicians, leaders, and parents for leading those under them into sin? Can you think of any examples? How serious is this? Is it appropriate for leaders to be held to a higher moral standard than others?

3. Going after idols (verse 26) is the third sin the narrator brings to our attention.

"He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel." (1 Kings 21:26)

Ahab had built to Baal and Asherah poles for public worship (1 Kings 16:31-33). Beyond this, Ahab continued to encourage Israel to worship before the golden calves that Jeroboam had placed at Bethel and Dan, in the north and south areas of the kingdom (1 Kings 16:30; 12:28-33).

Gentile believers in New Testament times were tempted with idol worship. Literal idolatry is the worship of a cult image or idol as though it were god. Is there a modern-day equivalent of idolatry? Yes. Paul teaches

"Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." (Colossians 3:5)

"No immoral, impure or greedy person -- such a man is an idolater -- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Ephesians 5:5)

Paul says that greed is idolatry. The Greek word for greed refers to "the state of desiring to have more than one's due, greediness, insatiableness, avarice, covetousness."183 Now, wanting to better ourselves, to have ambition for a better life for our families, is a God-given impulse built into us. But when these goals are twisted by the enemy so they become an end in themselves, they become sin.

Question: To what degree does keeping up your standard of living drive how much and how effectively you serve God? How freely do you give to his Kingdom? Americans and Europeans are perceived as "rich" by our brothers and sisters in developing countries. How much is enough? How has our relative wealth corrupted us so that it has become an idol, every much as dangerous as a graven image? And if we are poor, how much do we covet those who seem rich to us? Greed can infect both the rich, middle class, and poor alike. Jesus says we cannot serve God and Mammon. We have to choose between God and idolatry.

Yes, Ahab has sinned grievously! But, dear friends, we too have been tempted. We have sinned. We trust in the mercy and grace of Jesus to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Q20. (1 Kings 21:26; Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5) What is the modern-day equivalent of idolatry? In what ways is greed similar to worshipping a false god? How does greed keep us from being true disciples of Jesus?

Ahab's Doom (1 Kings 21:19-25)

Yahweh says to Ahab through Elijah:

"Because you have sold yourself to do evil (raʿ) in the eyes of the Lord. I am going to bring disaster (raʿ) on you." (1 Kings 21:20b--21a)

Notice the word play based on the Hebrew noun raʿ. The word can mean "unethical or immoral activity, evil" as it does in verse 20b. But the word can also refer to times of distress, as in verse 21a.184

Elijah declares three temporal judgments on Ahab and his family:

1. A violent death. The Lord tells Elijah to tell Ahab:

"In the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, dogs will lick up your blood -- yes, yours!'" (verse 19).

This was fulfilled when Ahab is slain in battle on his chariot. His epitaph reads:

"They washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria (where the prostitutes bathed), and the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared." (1 Kings 22:38)

More on this in Lesson 6.1.

2. No continuing descendants.

"21b I will consume185 your descendants and cut off186 from Ahab every last male187 in Israel--slave or free. 22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah...." (1 Kings 21:21b-22)

The dynasties of previous kings of Israel ended abruptly; so will Ahab's. His son, Ahaziah dies without any sons (1 Kings 22:51; 2 Kings 1:17). His second son Jehoram is assassinated by Jehu and dies violently (2 Kings 9:23-26). And later, Jehu slaughters any remaining of Ahab's children and grandchildren (2 Kings 10:17). Ahab's line is indeed "cut off." (See Lesson 7.2.)

3. Jezebel will die in violence and shame.

"23 And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: 'Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. 24 "Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country."(1 Kings 21:23--24)

Jehu now comes after Jezebel, the queen mother. But before he can kill her himself, Jezebel's eunuchs throw her out a second story window. She splatters on the ground and the dogs eat her body before her body can be collected for burial (2 Kings 9:30-37; Lesson 7.2).

All in all, it is a terrible and violent judgment that Elijah calls down on Ahab by the word of the Lord.

Ahab's Epitaph (1 Kings 21:25-26)

This section ends with a parenthetical comment on Ahab.

"25 (There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner188 by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)" (1 Kings 21:25-26)

I can hear Ahab offering a weak defense "Jezebel made me do it." Indeed, he was "urged on189 by Jezebel his wife." Certainly, Satan always offers enticements and excuses, but we are responsible for our own actions, since they are motivated by our own evil desires.

"14 Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:14--15)

Ahab's Repentance (1 Kings 21:27-29)

Ahab's reaction is immediate and seemingly sincere -- at least at the time.

"When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly." (1 Kings 21:27)

Tearing one's clothes in Hebrew culture was "an act of heartfelt and grievous affliction." Coppes says it involved "tearing one's upper and under garment in front of the breast baring the sorrow of the heart."190 Ahab wears sackcloth (Hebrew śaq), a thick coarse cloth, usually dark in color and made mostly from goat's hair. It was worn as a garment by mourners and those who wished to express contrition, worn in such a way as to leave the breast free for beating, another sign of sorrow and contrition.191

The king who once paraded himself with pomp and pride now goes about meekly.192 Yahweh notices!

"28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 'Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled193 himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.'" (1 Kings 21:28--29)

The justice that Yahweh decreed for Ahab, Jezebel, and his descendants does come to pass, but only after his death.

I find this passage fascinating. First, it teaches that God sees our sorrow for sin. Second, it teaches that God can change his mind based on our prayers, humility, and actions.


God sees us when we vaunt ourselves in pride and when we humble ourselves in shame. He knows if we have truly repented. Ezekiel the prophet tells us:

"If a wicked man turns away194 from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die." (Ezekiel 18:27--28)

Ezekiel is describing heart repentance that results in a changed life, righteous actions rather than wicked ones.

Under the New Covenant, repentance toward sin combined with faith in Christ brings complete forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with God that last through eternity (Acts 2:38-39). Hallelujah!

The question, of course, is whether Ahab truly repented. In 1 Kings 22 (Lesson 6.1) we read about Ahab and the Prophet Micaiah, the prophet who, in Ahab's words, "never prophesies anything good about me." At this point, right before Ahab's death, Ahab doesn't desire to hear the word of Yahweh, but prefers the sycophantic prophets who tell him what he wants to hear. Is his heart turned toward the Lord? No. I am guessing that Ahab's humbling is momentary and mostly external. I don't expect to meet him in heaven.

Prayer, Repentance, and Predestination

1 Kings 21:29 also teaches us that God can change his mind based on our prayers, humility, and actions. It is difficult, however, to harmonize this with the view that God has preordained and fixed everything before all time by his decree.

Ahab's humbling himself in response to Elijah's foretelling judgment reminds me of another king and another prophet -- Hezekiah and Isaiah. Hezekiah is a righteous king over the southern kingdom of Judah (716-687 BC) at a time when they are under attack by the Assyrians. Hezekiah is ill and at the point of death. Isaiah tells him:

"This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." (Isaiah 38:1; 2 Kings 20:1)

Hezekiah immediately prays and asks God to remember his devotion to Yahweh and his righteous obedience. By this time, Isaiah has left the king's chamber and is just departing the "middle court" of the palace. But God's word comes to Isaiah in mid-stride, so he turns around and reenters the palace to bring a new word from Yahweh.

"I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life." (2 Kings 20:5b-6a)

Then there is the lesson of Jonah who prophesies to Nineveh, capital of Israel's arch enemy, Assyria:

"Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." (Jonah 3:4)

The king of Nineveh, however, hears the preaching, believes it, and repents. He humbles himself with sackcloth and calls for a national fast. The text tells us:

"When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened." (Jonah 3:10)

We must keep this in mind as we develop our understanding of predestination, that is, God foreordaining events by his decree. We must leave room for God to change his mind in response to repentance and faith, and to believing prayer.

If all is fixed and predetermined without any possibility of change, then prayer doesn't make much sense and a kind of fatalism will prevail. Yes, you could say, God foreknew that you would repent or pray with faith, but that seems like circular reasoning to me. God's character is immutable and his ultimate will never changes, but he can and does change the timing and the means of fulfilling his purposes.

In the case of Ahab, the absolute destruction of his descendants does occur, but is delayed until after Ahab's death by at least a decade (2 Kings 9-10). Hezekiah eventually dies, but not before seeing the Assyrians withdraw from their siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 20). Nineveh is eventually destroyed by the Babylonians, but not immediately.

Yes, I firmly believe in predestination, since the Scripture teaches it quite often. To God, of course, predestination is a living reality; to human theologians it is a philosophical model of the universe. Our problem is that we tend to make weighty pronouncements about something we really know very little about. Let us hold our understanding of predestination with a humility that befits us!

Q21. (1 Kings 21:27-29) How does Ahab's humbling himself affect God's response? Do you think Ahab truly repented? How does God relenting in his judgment trouble some people's view of predestination?

Lessons for Disciples

This relatively straight-forward passage contains several important lessons for believers.

  1. Amoral and immoral leaders, such as Ahab and Jezebel, can destroy the guard-rails of the laws designed to maintain justice in a nation. We must seek leaders of character (1 Kings 21:1-3).
  2. We are fully responsible for the actions of those who work on our behalf, if we have any knowledge of what they are doing. We are also responsible for breaking the law, even if someone in authority commands us to do so. Ahab can't blame his sins on Jezebel, nor can the elders of Jezreel (1 Kings 21:6-16).
  3. "Selling ourselves to do evil," giving ourselves over to sin, is a terrible betrayal of God and his law. Sin enslaves us. So can Satan (1 Kings 21:20; Ephesians 4:19; John 8:34).
  4. When we as kings, presidents, leaders, and parents cause those under us to sin, or lead them into sin, we bear heavy punishment from God (1 Kings 21:22; Matthew 18:6).
  5. Serving money (or anything else) as if it were a god is similar to idolatry and a dangerous sin (1 Kings 21:26; Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5).
  6. Repentance and humbling ourselves before God can cause God to delay or even remit the punishment we deserve (1 Kings 21:27-29).
  7. Our doctrine of predestination must be big enough to allow God to respond to repentance as well as prayers.

Elijah: Rebuilding Yahweh's Altar, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats.


Father, we can see our own weaknesses and temptations to sin in Ahab. Thank you for your mercy towards us by sending your son Jesus to die for our sins. In his holy name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

" Ahab said to Elijah, 'So you have found me, my enemy!'
'I have found you,' he answered, 'because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord.'" (1 Kings 21:20, NIV)

"There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel." (1 Kings 21:25--26, NIV)

"Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son." (1 Kings 21:29, NIV)


References and Abbreviations

[159] "Tel Jezreel," Wikipedia, accessed 8 Mar 2022.

[160] Jones (1&2 Kings, p. 353) notes that "the northern province was known as Samaria in Assyrian records" (citing Bohlen, Der Fall Nabot, p. 310).

[161] "Vegetable garden" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "garden of herbs" (KJV) is two words: gan, "enclosure, garden" (TWOT #367a), from gānan, "defend"; and yārāq, "greens, vegetables" (Holladay 145); "herbs, herbage" (TWOT #918b)

[162] Wiseman notes, "Royal gardens were always located close to the royal palace and water, and furnished with 'green growth,' trees and shrubs for color and shade (so yārāq, rather than 'vegetable garden') (Wiseman, 1&2 Kings, p. 181). See also Maureen Carroll, Earthly Paradises: Ancient Gardens in History and Archaeology (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003); Diana Edelman, "City Gardens and Parks in Biblical Social Memory," in Diana Edelman and Ehud Ben Zvi (eds.), The City in Biblical Memory (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013).

[163] The Torah indicates that Yahweh owns the land, so that it cannot be sold permanently, that even if a person has to sell his property to pay his bills, a kinsman can redeem it and it reverts to him on the day of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:23-28). Land was also considered a family inheritance or portion (Numbers 26:52). The importance of one's inheritance is illustrated in Numbers 27:1-11; 36:1-12 (F.E. Hirsch and D.K. McKim, "Inherit," ISBE 2:823-824).

[164] "The LORD forbid" uses the emphatic negative particle or interjection ḥālîlâ, "far be it (from me, etc.), God forbid that." It occurs 19 times and "introduces a strong negation or deprecation of an act." It may be calling down a curse on the person who would commit a prohibited action (Donald J. Wiseman, TWOT #661c); "Originally, 'to the profane', 'be it far from'" (Holladay 105).

[165] The same phrase is found at 1 Kings 20:43. See the footnote there.

[166] "Sullen" (NIV), "vexed" (ESV), "resentful" (NRSV), "heavy" is sar, "stubborn, rebellious" (TWOT #1549a); "dejected, discouraged" (Holladay 260); "stubborn, resentful, sullen, implacable" (BDB 711). "Angry" (NIV), "sullen" (ESV, NRSV), "displeased" (KJV) is zāʿēp, "out of humor, vexed," from zāʿap, "fret, be sad, be wroth," with the idea of storming within oneself (Gerard Von Gronnigin, TWOT #569b); "raging" (Holladay 91).

[167] "Although Jezebel's reply may be construed as a word of positive encouragement or as a sarcastic reply, it is best rendered as an interrogative" (Jones, 1&2 Kings, p. 354).

[168] The literal phrase "sons of Belial" (in both verses 10 and 13) is given in the KJV, but more recent versions give the meaning of the phrase: "scoundrels" (NIV), "worthless men" (ESV, NRSV), "base fellows" (RSV). Harrison says that, "In Jewish apocalyptic writing the name [Belial] was used to describe Satan or the antichrist. Paul used the word in this sense in 2 Corinthians 6:15: "What accord has Christ with Belial?" The "man of lawlessness" in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is probably an equivalent of the "man of Belial" (R.K. Harrison, "Belial," ISBE 1:454).

[169] "The use of the king's royal, dynastic, administrative or personal seal would require Ahab's collusion" (Wiseman, 1&2 Kings, p. 182).

[170] "Take possession of" is the Qal imperative of yāraš, "take possession of, dispossess, seize." The verb is often used in Joshua as the Israelites dispossessed the Canaanites and settled the land. "In civil matters, the verb means to become an heir. In military matters it means to gain control over a certain area and by conquering and expelling the current inhabitants of the area" (John E. Hartley, TWOT #920).

[171] "Enemy" is the verb ʾāyab used as a substantive. The verb means "to be hostile to," to be or treat as an enemy" (TWOT #78); "enemy" (Holladay 12).

[172] "Covet" is the Qal imperfect of ḥāmad, "desire, delight in" (TWOT #673), "inordinate, ungoverned, selfish desire" (BDB 326); "desire and try to acquire, crave, covet" (Holladay 107, 1).

[173] "Set your desire on" is the Hithpael imperfect of ʾāwâ, "crave, feel a craving" (Holladay 6, 1).

[174] 1 Kings 21:20, 25; and 2 Kings 17:17.

[175] "Sold yourself" (verses 20 and 25) is the Qal imperfect of mākar, "sell," here (and 2 Kings 17:17) (Walter C. Kaiser, TWOT #1194).

[176] "Hand over, give up, surrender" (Holladay 194, 2); "given himself over" (Wiseman, 1&2 Kings, p. 184).

[177] Merriam-Webster.com; "Faust," Wikipedia.

[178] "Given over to" (NIV, KJV), "given up to" (ESV), "abandoned to" (NRSV) is the Aorist active of paradidōmi, "hand over, turn over, give up" a person (BDAG 762, 1b).

[179] "Do" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "work" (KJV) is the Qal infinitive of ʿāśâ, "do, fashion, accomplish" (TWOT #1708). "Evil" in verse 20 is the same as "disaster" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "evil" (KJV) in verse 21. The noun ra' can refer to: 1. physical injury, 2. times of distress, and 3. (usually) unethical or immoral activity (G. Herbert Livingston, TWOT #2191a).

[180] Verses on slavery to sin: John 8:34; Romans 6:6, 12, 16, 19-20; 7:14; 25; ; Proverbs 5:22; Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:19.

[181] "Caused to sin" (NIV, NRSV), "made to sin" (ESV, KJV) is the Hiphil imperfect of ḥāṭāʾ, "lead off into sin" (Holladay 100, H2; TWOT #638).

[182] "Cause to sin" (NIV, ESV), "put a stumbling block before" (NRSV), "offend" (KJV) is the Aorist subjunctive of skandalizō, "to cause to be brought to a downfall, cause to sin" (BDAG 926, 1a). Also, "Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God" (1 Corinthians 10:32). "Cause to stumble" (NIV), "give no offense" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the adjective aposkopos, "without offence," here "pertaining to not causing offense, giving no offense" (BDAG 125, 2).

[183] Pleonexia, BDAG 824. "Greedy person" (NIV, cf. NRSV), "covetous" (ESV, cf. KJV) is pleonektēs, "one who desires to have more than is due, a greedy person" (BDAG 824).

[184] "Evil" (NIV) in Verse 20 is the same as "disaster" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "evil" (KJV) in verse 21. The noun raʿ can refer to: 1. physical injury, 2. times of distress, and 3. (usually) unethical or immoral activity (G. Herbert Livingston, TWOT #2191a).

[185] "Consume" (NIV, NRSV), "utterly burn up" (ESV), "take away thy posterity" (KJV) is the Piel perfect of bāʿar. The Hebrew lexicons show three verbs with the same spelling (homonyms) for this word: I. "burn, kindle, burn down," and II. "1. graze, 2. ruin, 3. sweep away" (as dung, 1 Kings 23:24; 4. (a) "get rid of," (b) "root out, extirpate (evil)"; and III. "be stupid" (like cattle) (Holladay 44; cf. TWOT #263, 264, and 264.1).

[186] "Cut off" is the Hiphil perfect of karat, "root out, eliminate" (by early death) people" (Holladay 165, H1a).

[187] "Male" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "him that pisseth against the wall" (KJV) uses the noun for wall and the verb šyn, "pass water, urinate" (Holladay 367).

[188] "In the vilest manner" (NIV), abominably" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is two words: the Hiphil imperfect of tāʿab, "commit abominable/detestable deeds" (TWOT #2530; Holladay 1073); and the adverb mĕʾōd, "exceedingly, much" (TWOT #1134a).

[189] "Urged on" (NIV, NRSV), "incited" (ESV), "stirred up" (KJV) is the Hiphil perfect of sût, "lead astray, seduce, incite" (Holladay, 255, 1).

[190] Leonard J. Coppes, qāraʿ, TWOT #2074, citing the Keil and Delitzsch commentary on Leviticus 10:6.

[191] Gary G. Cohen, śaq, TWOT #2282a).

[192] "Meekly" (NIV), "dejectedly" (ESV, NRSV), "softly" (KJV) is the noun ʾaṭ, "depressed mood, mildness," here "depressed (go about)" (Holladay 11, 3).

[193] "Humbled himself" is the Niphal perfect of kānaʿ, "be subdued, be humble," here, "humble oneself" (Holladay 160, 3).

[194] "Turns away" is the Qal infinitive of šûb, "turn, (re)turn" (TWOT #2340).

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