We return to the life of Ahab, king of Israel. We noted in our last study that he was the worst king in the history of the nation of Israel. Not only is Ahab the worst king, he is married to Jezebel, who is arguable even worse than him. 1 Kings 21:25 tells us that Jezebel incited Ahab to do evil in the sight of the Lord. In this lesson we are going to read of these two in a great act of wickedness. In particular, we are going to look at the selfishness of these two people that leads to the wickedness that they commit. Our study of Ahab will cause us to see some hidden areas of selfishness, actions that we may not realize come from our self-centeredness.
Lack of Contentment (21:1-7)
Ahab is king and his living in his palace. Next door to the palace is a man named Naboth who apparently has a very nice vineyard. Ahab sees how nice this garden is and the convenience of having a garden next to the palace and approaches Naboth to purchase his vineyard. Ahab offers a pretty good deal: Ahab will give Naboth a better vineyard or just pay him money for it, whichever Naboth liked. The problem is that this vineyard was part of Naboth’s inheritance. Leviticus 25:23 declared that they were not allowed to sell their inheritance land, even if they were impoverished. Even if in poverty a redeemer kinsman was to come in and purchase the land so the land remained with the family. Naboth cannot sell this vineyard.
The sin of selfishness rears its ugly head in the response that Ahab has. He is not merely disappointed. He is “vexed and sullen.” He is bitter and angry. So he laid down in his bed, turned his face away, and wouldn’t eat. Ahab pouts and whines. His day is completely ruined because he could not have what he wanted. This is the reason that we train our children not to pitch a fit. It is a horrible thing to see adults pitch fits when they do not get what they want or get their way. This is why you must discipline your child when they pout. They are exhibiting selfishness. They will not be happy unless you give them what they want. People do not grow out of that way of thinking. Here is Ahab, as king over Israel, acting like a two year old.
Do we act like Ahab? Are we vexed and sullen, angry and bitter when we do not get our way? Is our day ruined when we do not get what we want? Are we crushed when we cannot have what we want? The problem is our lack of contentment. Someone needs to slap Ahab and tell him that he has everything. He is the king of the nation. So what if you cannot have that vineyard. You are ruler over all the people. Build your own vineyard. Buy another vineyard. Move the palace to another location near your vineyards. Build another palace. Ahab could not see all that he had. He could not see the alternatives. He just wanted this one thing and would not be happy unless he got it. Our lack of contentment comes from our selfishness. “I want, I want, I want” and will not be happy unless I get what I want. We live in a time that tells us that we should get what we want when we want it. However, we must identify our desire to have things immediately as selfishness. Look at what we have and stop focusing on what we do not have.
“Whatever It Takes” (21:8-16)
Jezebel takes care of the situation in the most wicked way possible. Jezebel sets up Naboth to be killed and the plan is perfectly executed. What is Ahab’s reaction to this? “Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.” (21:16). Ahab does not care how he got the vineyard. He is just happy to have his piece of property.
Will you do whatever it takes to get what you want or to get your way? I suppose we would not murder to get what we want (at least I hope). But how far will we go to get what we want? Will we lie to get our way? Will we cheat to get what we want? What will we sacrifice? Will we sacrifice time with our family to accumulate more wealth? We do these things under the guise of everything but what it really is. We claim that we have to take care of our family. We justify ourselves because we have to keep our job. The real reason is selfishness. We want to get what we want and we don’t care who gets hurt in the process. We just want our stuff. The injustice of this text is overwhelming and we get angry to read of such an awful events. We are as unjust when we put ourselves ahead of others.
Judgment Inevitable (21:17-24)
We are not getting away with our sins. We read of this horrible injustice and we are mortified at what has transpired. No one is getting away with their sins. God sees what we do. The Lord tells Elijah to tell Ahab what is going to happen to him because of this injustice against Naboth. Disaster will be brought against Ahab, his house will endure slaughter and carnage, and Jezebel will be eaten by dogs. Why do we think we can get away with our sins? Why do we think that God does not know? Why do we think that God does not see? He does know what we are doing. Somehow we think we can get away with our sins. Do we think we can get away with our sexual sins? We won’t. Do we think we can get away with how we treat others? We won’t.
But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out. (Numbers 32:23 ESV)
Let us think about the other side of the event. Naboth is innocent. He had done anything deserving of death. In fact, he died because he was trying to obey the Lord. He did not sell his property because the command in Leviticus forbid him to do so. He died for keeping this command. The innocent perish in this life. This is not a new phenomenon. The people of God will experience injustice. They will suffer for the will of the Lord. The people of God can even die as they obey God’s command. We cry out to God when these injustices occur. We want to know where is God when these things happen. Where is God when we suffer for the sake of the Lord? Where is God we are harmed for the Lord’s cause? God is watching and judgment is inevitable. They are not getting away with their sins. The people of God have hope and confidence that God is a God of justice and vengeance is the Lord’s. He will repay (Romans 12:19).
Repentance Still Available (21:25-29)
Are we shocked that repentance was allowed to Ahab, the worst king in the history of the nation? Are we surprised that God noticed Ahab humbling himself before the Lord? Are we angered by God relenting from immediate judgment and offering mercy? It is easy to read about Ahab’s repentance and be outraged that God would relent. How can God do this? Look at all the evil Ahab has committed. He’s killing the prophets of God. Look at the torment he caused Elijah! He has shown selfishness throughout his life. He even allowed a man to be killed so that he could have a vineyard!
This shows us the loving, compassionate God we serve. God’s great grace is revealed here. God will accept us back. Even though we make a mess of our lives, God will take us back. God allows us to start again with him. We see in Ahab the truth of God’s word, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” If we are surprised at how we read God treating Ahab, I hope it is a joyful surprise and not an angry surprise. I hope it is an excitement that God will take us back when we make mistakes.
Unfortunately, it appears from reading more of the narrative that Ahab’s repentance did not last. He humbled himself before the Lord, but some time went by and he returned to his old ways. It is so sad to see people whose flame in their heart ignites for a moment, only to be doused as they return to their old way of living. You had grace and you had compassion and victory. But it is quickly exchanged for the empty ways of this world. God decrees disaster upon Ahab as he returns to his old ways. Ahab had mercy in his hands, but he threw it away. He gave the free gift of God’s grace back. Wrath and judgment could have been avoided, but Ahab chose his own pleasures instead. He returned to his selfish way of living. Don’t follow in the footsteps of Ahab. Don’t throw away the greatest gift you ever can receive. You can avoid the wrath and judgment that is due to you, wrath that is due to each one of us because of our mistakes and failures against God. God wants to pardon you through the blood of Jesus who has died for you. But a lasting repentance is required. We must devote ourselves each day to God because of his love and compassion toward us. Every day is a day of repentance, a turning away from the selfish life and living the godly life. Our selfishness devastates our own lives, the lives of those near to us, those we care about, and devastates God. Stop living for self and start living for God.