Melachim I Twenty-One: Ahab

“And it was after these happenings, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, next to the palace of Ahab, the king of Samaria (Kings I 21:1).” It’s nice when the text makes the segways itself. Anyway, Ahab asks Naboth for his vineyard, and promises him another one and money in its place. This seems like a reasonable trade, but Naboth says no, because this specific land is his inheritance. This is a conflict that probably plays out in the same spot until today – an ongoing battle over specific land that everyone wants, in a world where there’s plenty of open land just a short distance away. I don’t say that to trivialize conflicts over land though. I completely understand the visceral connection that we have to our ancestral spaces, even if it doesn’t make perfect fiscal sense.

Anyway, Ahab is upset. He’s too sad to eat, because he really wanted that vineyard. “And Jezebel his wife came to him, and spoke to him, ‘For what is this that your spirit has left you and you do not eat bread (Kings I 21:5)?'” Ahab tells her what’s going on. It seems like he’s trying to be a kind king, but Jezebel seems to have a more dictatorship model in mind. She promises him the vineyard, a promise she decides to deliver on by writing letters in Ahab’s name that lead to Naboth being stoned to death. I’m starting to see why posterity views this woman as pure evil. It’s terrible, because Ahab doesn’t seem like such a bad guy, but he’s completely weak and corruptible. Jezebel is strong and cunning, and calculatingly evil. Not a good match. But passive Ahab rolls with it. “And it was as Ahab heard that Naboth had died, that Ahab got up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite to take possession of it (Kings I 21:16).”

Elijah hears about these events, and God tells him to go to Ahab and curse him for his actions. Ahab is cursed in that his house will be like Jeroboam and Baasha, with every male descendant killed. “And also concerning Jezebel, the Lord spoke saying, ‘The dogs will eat Jezebel in the valley of Jezreel (Kings I 21:23).” Ahab is dominated by his wife, but he’s also easily swayed. He hears the curse and begins to fast and dress in rags. As a result of this penitence, Elijah gives him a small reprieve. The curse will still come to be, but not in the days of Ahab. God will wait for his son to reign in order to bring about the result of this prophecy. This shows that even when we repent, sometimes it isn’t enough to stave off the inevitable. Actions do have consequences, even if they aren’t for us.


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