What Price, Ahab?

By John David Clark, Sr. - August, 1993

"But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up."

I stood upon the hill of rubble which used to be Jezreel, the city in which King Ahab, with Jezebel his heathen wife, chose to build his winter palace. A westerly breeze along the beautiful Jezreel Valley occasionally lifted the sour aroma of a nearby cattle farm across the scrubby bushes surrounding the mound, and into our faces. I walked around the newly begun archaeological dig and saw the uncovered remains of an ancient gateway to the royal city. Rows of stone were beginning to emerge from the huge mound of sediment and debris - stones which once served as the lower parts of walls of houses and shops, long since torn down by foreign invaders and time, and then for many centuries lay forgotten by man and eventually covered by dirt, debris and the useless plants which spring up in places like this. It appeared that men had used this place as a dumping ground for old building material and trash, and the labor required to uncover the entire city, in my unskilled opinion, would be enormous.

I spoke briefly with an archaeologist that afternoon on the hill as he sat in the shade, sketching out with much care and precision the parts of the city which had just been exposed. He told me they already could tell that at some point in the ruined city's history, it had been thoroughly plundered by treasure hunters in centuries past. That is always a disappointment to archaeologists, but there is still hope that in addition to the great value of knowledge of the city itself, there may yet be found some artifact overlooked by those ancient treasure hunters, covered by a collapsed wall or buried and hidden from their searching eyes by the dirt and debris.

My heart cried out as I stood on the rubble, "Oh, Ahab, my brother! Is this what you sold your soul for? Is this what you clung to, what you hid behind, what you boasted of? Look at your royal palace now, my brother! Look at this place that you cherished more than you loved God! Oh, Ahab, my dear brother, what a fool, what a fool, you were!"

We are told in 1 Kings 21, that a righteous man lived in Jezreel named, Naboth, and that Naboth owned property there, passed down through the generations, in which he had a vineyard. We are also told that Naboth's property adjoined the king's winter palace. His property line went right up to the wall of Ahab's palace. In time, King Ahab approached Naboth with an offer to purchase the land from him, so that the king could have a garden of herbs next to his house, but Naboth refused, saying "The Lord forbid me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee." Now, Ahab had made an offer to Naboth that was fair enough. He offered to purchase the land for money or, if Naboth chose, to give him a better vineyard than this one next to the king's house. But Naboth, being an upright man, could not even consider relinquishing his portion in the land of promise, given to his forefathers by God during the days of Joshua. That was a holy gift which no man of integrity would despise.

Now, Ahab did some very evil deeds in his life, but the careful reader will notice that Ahab did not have a vicious, cruel spirit like some other evil kings possessed. His weakness was not so much that he intended to do the evil that he did, but that he was so easily led into evil deeds by others, especially his altogether worthless, though physically ravishing wife, Jezebel. He was putty in her hands.

Jezebel was a heathen, idolatrous woman whom Ahab had married for unknown reasons. The marriage may have been part of an alliance agreement with her father, Ethbaal (that is, "man of Baal"), who was king of Zidon, a city to the north. Jezebel was coolly methodical in her wickedness. She probably prided herself in being a woman who "got what she wanted". She held absolutely no respect for Jehovah, the God of Ahab's ancestors. In fact, she had nothing in her heart for Him but utter contempt and disgust. She ordered every servant of Jehovah in Israel to be found and put to death and caused the blood of many a righteous soul to stain the ground which Jehovah gave to Ahab and his people. She even put a price on the head of Elijah, and uttered a curse upon herself if she didn't kill him (1Kgs.19:2), causing the humble prophet of God to flee the country. Still, Ahab clung to her, enamored by her charms, bewitched by lust for her favors and fear of her disapproval.

When Naboth rejected Ahab's offer to purchase his vineyard next to the king's palace, the sulking king went home, "and laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread." Ahab was disappointed and hurt, but his lack of maliciousness is revealed in the fact that instead of murdering Naboth and seizing his vineyard, Ahab merely went home and pouted. That is, he went home and pouted until Jezebel came to find out why he refused to eat.

"But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, `Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread?' 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.'"

Jezebel was outraged. "Who is king around here?" she demanded. If he didn't know how to rule over people, well, she would show him. Then, in a sweet, pampering voice, she coddled the wimp who was huddled in a fetal position on his bed. "Arise and eat bread," she cajoled him, "and let thine heart be merry. I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth." One can imagine the soft tone of this beast, as she stoked Ahab's weary, tear-stained face, as an over-indulgent mother would pamper a whining, tantrum-throwing child. Whether Jezebel allowed Ahab to know what her scheme was before she committed the crime, we do not know, but it seems doubtful that she did. But when the gruesome tale is told, we find that Naboth has been tried by the ungodly judges of Jezreel and convicted (by the testimony of hired liars) of blasphemy against God, and his lifeless body, along with that of his sons, lay outside the city in the place of execution, broken and bleeding beneath a pile of red-stained stones. And, inasmuch as Naboth was dead, and there were no descendants remaining to possess the property, the land went, of course, to the state. That is, to King Ahab. Jezebel was a woman who got what she wanted.

How joyfully Jezebel entered into the king's chamber that day! "Arise!" she called out cheerfully, "Take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money. For Naboth is not alive, but dead." So far as we are told, Ahab never questioned his darling, generous wife about the event. He probably didn't want to know all the details. The important thing was that, by what ever means, the vineyard was without an owner now and it was his responsibility as king to possess the property. When he went out to officially take possession of Naboth's vineyard, he was excited about his plans for it. But as he stood there, trying to envision how he would arrange his long-desired herb garden, his plans and his joy were interrupted by an unwelcome intruder - the prophet Elijah!

God has a wonderful way of cutting through red tape and philosophical meandering to get to the real issues. It made not one iota of difference to God if Ahab knew the details of Jezebel's plot to murder Naboth or not. Ahab was the head of his house, and he knew she was up to no good, and he knew she would murder, lie, steal, or anything else in order to get what she wanted.

When King David had ordered the murder of righteous Uriah so that he could have Uriah's wife, God ignored the fact that David was miles away from the crime when it happened, and went to the heart of the matter, saying to David, "Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife" (2Sam.12:9). Forget the legal wrangling to which we are accustomed, the twisted logic of lawyers in modern courtrooms, the straining at legal gnats which make the truth concerning a person's guilt or innocence secondary to a lawyer's ability to use the law. When God judges, there is no escape for the guilty and no condemnation for the innocent. We have never lived under a just form of government, never known what it is like to live without fear of being wrongly accused and punished. How we long for Jesus to come! His judgment is just, and he can neither be bought nor confused.

Here, in Naboth's vineyard, Ahab got a taste of the perfect judgment of God, a foretaste of the eternal judgment which both he and Jezebel have yet to face at the judgment seat of Christ Jesus. "Have you killed", bellowed the prophet, "And taken possession? Thus saith the Lord, `In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.' And of Jezebel also spoke the Lord, saying, `The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.'" This place, where years later a well-dressed Jezebel landed when she was thrown out a palace window to be eaten by dogs was the portion of ground which had belonged to Naboth! Oh, the wonderful, perfect justice of God!

When Elijah stood in the vineyard with Ahab, rebuking him for his sin and prophesying of the unsavory results it would bring, Ahab was frightened, as a child would fear punishment for a misdeed. But there was nothing Jezebel could do to comfort him now. She had as much control over the living God as she had understanding of Him, and that left her completely helpless, cunning and beautiful as she may have been. Ahab put on sackcloth, and fasted, and "walked softly" before the Lord. And God, whose mercy is as incomprehensible as is His wisdom, sent Elijah again to the trembling king, whose wife had provoked him to do so much evil, and told him that because he had humbled himself in fear before the Lord, that God would not bring about the things He would do to Ahab's family in his lifetime "but in his sons' days will I bring the evil upon his house."

As I stood on the hill of rubble where these events happened so long ago, I tried to ignore the odor of the place and forget the ugliness of the hill in its present state. I tried to imagine Jezreel as it appeared to Ahab and his heathen wife, Jezebel. Beautifully situated in the valley, it has Mt. Gilboa not far away to the southeast. The hill of Moreh rises from the valley floor nearby to the north, and beyond that, Mt. Tabor. Westward, the picturesque valley of Jezreel stretches like a brilliantly woven blanket toward the famed city of Megiddo, and from there to the Mt. Carmel range, where Elijah had called down fire from heaven.

How majestic it must have appeared at the time! What an appealing situation! And how blessed was King Ahab, descendant of Abraham, and inheritor with the nation of the promises of God! And all was traded for the body of a woman he could not control. Oh, the tragedy of it all! What a waste! I mourned in my heart for Ahab, who valued his part in God's family so little, and sold his soul for what has amounted to a pile of trash behind a smelly cattle barn.

Oh, Ahab, my brother! My brother, Ahab, how I wish that you could have seen Jezreel then as I can see it now! Would doing that have helped give you the strength to say "no" to your evil-hearted wife? Would to God you could have seen the end of it all in your time! How I grieve for you, my brother, Ahab! You who had every good thing by birth, and traded it for nothing! Where is the finery of your flowered palaces, the stuccoed and brightly painted chambers filled with ornate, polished furniture? Where are your gifts to Jezebel, and hers to you? Where are her rings and her gilded mirror (a prized possession for the vain woman), and the gold and the silver of her idols - the idols to whom you bowed to keep her favor? Oh, Ahab, your precious possessions have been taken away and your palace plundered by scavengers, men you would not have allowed in your presence. You feared God, but feared Jezebel more, and what has come of both her and her charms? Oh, my brother, how I wish you could have believed! How God's people could have been blessed if you had only humbled yourself to the God who had given you so much!

I have often wondered, if God would give to young people a glimpse of themselves in old age, battered and beaten by time, would more of them consider eternal things? I have looked at the aged faces of the elderly and wondered if they would have lived better lives and sought god, if they could have seen themselves then as they later would be? If, instead of aging one day at a time, they could have seen the end from the beginning, would that have persuaded them to repent and believe the gospel? If the rich and proud of the 1920's could have been given a vision of their homes 50 years later, disdained as outmoded by the proud and rich of our time, could it have cut short their pride and inspired them to seek after an eternal home with God? But in a sense, we do see ourselves at a later age when we see the elderly around us. We do see the end of the grand houses, if God will open our eyes to see the houses considered grand in the past. When the rich man in hell begged for someone from paradise to go to warn his brothers not come where he was, he was told that they had the Scriptures to read, if they would read them. But the rich man persisted, "Nay, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." Still, God refused, saying that if his brothers did not believe what Moses and the prophets wrote, they would not believe, even if one rose from the dead (Lk.16:27-31). So, I suppose that if men will not believe even if one rises from the dead, neither will they believe if one came from the future, revealing things to come. They have the Scriptures. Let them hear them.

As I picked my way through the prickly brush surrounding Jezreel's dusty hill to return to the van, I pondered these things. The summer sun beat relentless upon both the plain and our heads; nevertheless, the valley, irrigated in this typically dry season, was bursting with the greenery of orchards and vineyards. Another generation to receive the gifts of God. Another to be given the opportunity to believe. Do they ever look up from their labor in the fields to contemplate the hill which used to be the royal city of Jezreel, and learn anything at all from the lessons which its dust can teach?

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