Devastating Selfishness (21:1-16)
There is a saying that is true in our day and it was true in ancient times. The three rules about real estate are location, location, and location. As 1 Kings 21 opens we see that there is a man named Naboth who has a vineyard in Jezreel that is next door to King Ahab’s palace. This was certainly a fine piece of property since kings did not build their palaces in terrible geographic locations. Ahab would like to expand his property because he would like to have a vegetable garden. Now Ahab makes a reasonable offer to Naboth. He offers Naboth a better vineyard than what he currently possesses or he will give him the monetary value of the property. But Naboth responds in verse 3, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” This is not simple situation. Naboth’s vineyard is not some random piece of property that he owned. The vineyard is part of his covenantal inheritance that had been distributed to the families back when the land was conquered under Joshua’s leadership. The Lord said that this inheritance was not be sold away to another but was to remain in the family throughout the generations (cf. Leviticus 25:23-28; Numbers 26:52-56). You could only sell permission to use the property if you were in debt but even then the land would revert back to the family in the fiftieth year. The very offer to purchase the property reveals that Ahab either does not know or does not care about God’s property laws that were given through Moses.
Of course, Ahab does not simply respond with, “Well, that’s a shame but I understand. Let me know if you ever change your mind.” No, Ahab responds by being angry and sullen. He is completely bent out of shape because Naboth would not give to him what he wanted. Verse 4 says that he law down on his bed, turned his face away, and would not eat. This is a temper tantrum. This is an adult acting like a two year old. Ahab is pouting. Ahab is throwing himself a little pity party in his bed because he could not have what he wanted. Jezebel sees that Ahab is not eating and is pouting. So she asks what is the problem. Ahab explains the problem which Jezebel finds audacious. She responds that Ahab is the king of Israel and you get what you want. So eat some food and cheer up and will get the vineyard for you.
Jezebel proclaims a fast in the city and put Naboth at the head of the people. Then have two worthless men charge him with cursing God and cursing the king. Then take Naboth out and stone him. So the men of the city, the elders, and the leaders did just as Jezebel said to do. When Jezebel hears that the plan has been carried out, she tells Ahab to go take the vineyard because Naboth is dead. So Ahab goes and takes possession of it. Ahab thinks all is well and good. He got what he wanted and who cares how he obtained it. But the Lord is going to say something about this.
Disastrous Condemnation (21:17-26)
The Lord sends a message to Elijah to go meet Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it (21:18). Notice that God says that this vineyard belongs to Naboth, not Ahab. Ahab has selfishness stolen this land. The message is simple. Where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth is where the dogs will lick up your blood. The dogs licking your blood is an indication of experiencing a violent death. So Elijah goes to see Ahab. Listen to what Ahab says to Elijah in verse 20. “Have you found me, O my enemy?” Remember in 1 Kings 18 that Ahab called Elijah the troubler of Israel. Now Ahab calls the prophet of the Lord his enemy. Elijah responds that the reason that he has come for Ahab is because he has sold himself to do what is evil in the Lord’s sight. Disaster is coming upon Ahab and his house, destroying his dynasty like God did to Jeroboam and Baasha (21:22). Further, dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. Anyone who belongs to Ahab who dies in the city, the dogs will eat. Anyone who belongs to Ahab who dies in the open country, the birds will eat.
I want us to note the severity of God’s wrath. God is absolutely going to bring justice for all the evil that Ahab and Jezebel have wielded against the people of Israel and against the Lord. Listen to the words of verse 25. There was no one who sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab. Further, his wife Jezebel was the one who encouraged this wickedness. Not only this, verse 26 tells us that he was so vile that he went after the idols of the Canaanites that God had driven out of the land and specifically commanded not to follow. I want us to just have a sense of the overwhelming selfish living that Ahab and Jezebel participated in. They truly did whatever they wanted to do. They did not care who got hurt. They did not care if they broke the law. They did not care if people died. They did not care if they were the reason why people died.
We seem to have such a hard time understanding in our culture why thinking about yourself is such a problem. Why is selfishness a sin? Why is doing what you want a sin? Here is why: selfishness always hurts someone. Doing what you want to do means someone else is going to get hurt. Do we not realize that everything that God declares to be a sin is something that will hurt you and will hurt someone else? We just cannot see that we are hurting ourselves. But worse, we are hurting other people and God is going to judge us for that. This is the reason why all the law can hang on loving the Lord and loving others. Sin is not loving God and it is not loving others. You are harming people, not loving people. Devastating selfishness leads to disastrous condemnation and judgment from the Lord. As the apostle Paul declares, “Those who practice such things deserve to die” (Romans 1:32). Friends, why are so many people getting hurt in our world today? The answer is clear though our culture will never admit this or believe this. The reason so many people are getting hurt in our world today is because everyone is doing what they want. Everyone is being selfish and selfishness destroys others. When you live for you, you are hurting those you love. When you live for you, you are going reap the consequences of disastrous judgment.
Surprising Response (21:25-29)
So listen to the words of verses 25-26. There was never anyone like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Let those words sink in. There was no one as bad as Ahab. There was no one who was like him. Ahab was fully committed to doing evil. Ahab is a terrible, wicked, awful, dreadful, horrible sinner. But when Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and fasted. He was dejected. He had been brought low and showed it.
Then the word of the Lord comes to Elijah in verse 29. “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” Now I want to address two things here. But first I need to ask you a question. When you read this, what are you surprised by? What surprises you from this ending?
Are you surprised by Ahab? God says that he humbled himself before him. Would you have ever thought that Ahab could ever do this? Did you think Ahab would ever humble himself before the Lord? Did you think he would ever tear his clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourn? Sometimes our problem is that we think that someone is too far gone and too evil to every be pricked by the power of God. We can so easily underestimate the power of God to hit the heart of people.
Are you surprised by God? God noticed Ahab humbling himself. God noticed and told Elijah about it. Not only did God notice, but God responded. God was moved by Ahab’s repentance. I want us to see something so important that God is showing us. God can still be moved if we humbled ourselves before him. Friends, God judges righteously. But we must understand that God loves mercy to those who repent. True repentance requires humbling ourselves. It means that we cannot be right in our own eyes. We cannot make excuses for our sinning. We cannot try to elevate ourselves or justify ourselves before others. But if we will humble ourselves, God will receive it, even if you think you have lived your life as bad as Ahab. Do you see that God postpones judgment in mercy, appealing to us to seek more mercy through humbling repentance! Humble yourself and find mercy. Judgment is delayed as we seek the mercy of the Lord. This is the essence of what the apostle Paul was trying to teach both the Jews and the Gentiles in the book of Romans.
Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (Romans 11:22–23 ESV)
This chapter in 1 Kings is the essence of this important truth. Please see the severity of God toward those who continue their unbelief, living selfishly as they destroy themselves and hurt others. God is severe toward those who have fallen. We see his severity toward Ahab because of what he had done. But please also see the kindness of God if you continue in his kindness. Humble yourself and seek the mercy of God and you will find his kindness and mercy. But notice the final words of Romans 11:23. God has the power to graft you in again. God had the power to put Ahab in relationship with him if he continued in God’s kindness and mercy. Judgment could be postponed and he could enjoy the blessings of God again. God has the power to graft you into his family so that you belong to him as well. Ahab chose to find the severity of God. In a moment, even he was able to find the kindness of God. Which will you choose to find?