Today we are going to sit in scripture for a while. Our text today comes from the Old Testament, it is a narrative. The genre narrative is something we are very familiar with, it is usually our first type of literature. We do not tell children linear rational math problems before they go to sleep, rather we tell them stories.
But, sometimes we have trouble understanding stories. Especially from the Bible, in which there are all kinds of weird stories. If the Bible was a movie it would need an R or 18A movie rating because there are graphic, violent, exploitive, and sexual stories within Scripture. Today we are going to deal with a somewhat violent story.
Last night on Facebook one of my friends who runs a children’s ministry in Ontario was bemoaning this week’s lectionary reading because she was unsure how to introduce a story that involves a violent murder to children.
In some ways this is not only her problem, it is also our challenge: To find a way into these problematic stories.
I want to suggest that a way of wading through this challenge of problematic stories is to interact with the story. To let the story live, to let it breath, to let the story remain as a story, without reducing it too quickly into some principle that we derive and apply. I contend that if God wanted to tell us not to kill. God would say, "Do not Kill." In fact, that is exactly what God did in other texts in the Bible.
Therefore, the purpose of this text must be something else. It must be a story for a reason. As such, we are going to attempt to interact with it as a story. We are going to go through the text multiple times today. Each time we go through it, we will focus on a different way of seeing the story. We are going to attempt to get into the story.
I want us to inhabit the story.
So to begin, I am going to tell you the story in brief. This is a fun little telling of the story, in order to get the plot, to hear it, to begin entering into the story.
There once was a king named Ahab,
he was a bit of a crab,
he coveted some land,
he did not get his hand,
there once was a king named Ahab.
There once was a man named Naboth,
he refused to be bought off,
he stuck to his guns,
he would not run,
so lived the man named Naboth.
There once was a Queen named Jezebel,
she thought her cunning was hella swell,
she schemed and planned,
her evil was at hand,
thus was the queen named Jezebel.
One day Ahab cried,
Jezebel planned a lie,
and Naboth died.
There came God's man named Elijah,
even the king's power would not hide ya,
he brought the truth,
he would not remain aloof,
he thereby judged the king called Ahab
So concludes the tale of Naboth,
Jezebel's evil was very wroth,
forever will be remembered the tale of Naboth.
Time for initial reflections
Have the Biblical Text read out-loud
READER 1: 1 Kings 21:1-16
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. 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 ancestors.’
4 So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.’ 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?’
6 He answered her, ‘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.”’
7 Jezebel his wife said, ‘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.’
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 give Naboth a prominent seat among the people. 10 But put two scoundrels opposite him and get them to bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.’
11 So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. 12 They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 13 Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, ‘Naboth has cursed both God and the king.’ So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. 14 Then they sent word to Jezebel: ‘Naboth has been stoned to death.’
15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, ‘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.
READER 2: 1 Kings 21:17-29
17 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. 19 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!”’
20 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. 21 He says, “I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel – slave or free.[a] 22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.”
23 ‘And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: “Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of[b] Jezreel.”
24 ‘Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.’
25 (There was never anyone 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 manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)
27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 ‘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.’
Upon hearing the story now for a second time,
What emotions do you feel as you hear the story?
To whom do you relate to in the story?
Now, I am going to tell the story for a third time. In which I am going to attempt to place it in a larger context, bringing to the surface some of the allusions and reference that are within the text. We will do this through multiple people reading verses throughout the story, as well as a music video placed in the midst of the story.
We find this text in 1 Kings. It is a part of what is sometimes referred to as the Deuteronomic history; that is the history that we find continuing from Deuteronomy, through Joshua and Judges, and continues through 1&2 Samuel, and concludes at the end of second Kings.
1&2 Kings alone covers 400 years of history. A story that begins with the death of David, and the rise of Solomon. As a whole, it is a story that deals with the failure of Israel to remain faithful to their God YHWH, as they as a people continue to choose the way of the world around them rather than the life envisioned for them by God. The text also shows how God gets into the midst of history to work for the good of humanity, always trying to draw the people back to faithful living with each other and with God.
Where we pick up the story is with Ahab. He is King of Israel, and as we heard in the text, he rules from Samaria, which is north of Jerusalem.
Ahab is kind of a big deal! You may not have heard of him, but if you go back and read 1&2 Kings you will find him referenced throughout, and specifically the story we just read. What makes Ahab important is that he is a pivotal character in the story. He is SO important to the story that the Narrator/Author of the book SLOWS DOWN THE ENTIRE NARRATIVE. What I mean by “slows down” is that in chapters 14-16, so 3 chapters, the stories of 9 kings are told. But then we meet King Ahab in Chapter 16 and he does not die until the end of Chapter 22, that is just over 6 chapters of Ahab reigning as King. We know that the scribes wrote these stories by hand on scrolls, so it must have been worthwhile to record the stories about Ahab. Not to mention, during Ahab’s reign God sends Elijah, who is followed by Elisha. The frequent reference and allusions to these characters in the Gospels illustrate that this period was important for the Israelite identity.
So join with me as we slow down the story:
For the third time, we begin our story in the Jezreelite Valley.
We arrive on location, Jezreel, it is a flat, broad valley, with a winding stream weaving through its bottom. When too much rain falls, the land becomes a little squishy. But for the most part the weather is temperate and pleasant. The flat bottom of the valley is planted with grains and on the hillsides surrounding its vast openness are vineyards. Lush thick vineyards. Across the valley perched near the top of a hill that rises into the Galilean highlands is a little town called Nazareth. But down here near the bottom of the valley the air is warm. The winters are mild, much milder than up in the hill country of Samaria, or Jerusalem for that matter. Sometimes in the winter, it even has the audacity to snow up in the hills! Inconceivable! But here, there is warmth. And for that warmth, Ahab has moved into the neighborhood. He has built a winter palace near the edge of the hills, so he can come down from his hilly summer hangout in Samaria to spend the winters where it is a little warmer, and where his wife can be a little bit closer to her people, who live over on the coast. (“And the sky train goes right through it!” – Matt. Thanks for the shout out mid-sermon Matt, you totally captured the essence!)
However, it is not all roses and unicorns living in Jezreel. It is a valley, flat and fertile. As such, it is prized territory and there have been frequent conflicts and conquests. Whenever a King gets it in his head to go conquer some new territory, he is likely to march down the highway that runs through the Jezreel Valley. And cross right over our driveways, sometimes burning the crops and stealing our sheep. But despite this Naboth's family has kept the land allotted to them by God. They have kept it, tilled it, and passed it from generation to generation. It is not a glamorous life, but it is a good life. Here in Jezreel one is surrounded by family, friends, and fertile land. Just look at how Naboth's vineyard has flourished.
But now there is a new guy in town. He happens to be both rich and powerful. What is more, he is King! Ahab, the new guy, comes tromping into town, and seems to be disregarding God's laws. He had acquired some property, in addition to the land he already has back in Samaria.
READER 3: ISAIAH 5:8
"Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land."
But Ahab seems to get away with it because he has a lot of power and no one is able to question him.
READER 3: Micah 2:1-2
"Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it."
Now Ahab and Naboth have become neighbours and Ahab has noticed Naboth's nice vineyard. Naboth’s vineyard is near to Ahab’s own palace and it looks like it is good land. So one day Ahab walks over to see his neighbour Naboth, and he makes him an offer:
READER 3: 1 Kings 21:2
"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."
It is not a bad offer, money or land. Better land at that! It seems like a reasonable proposal, and Ahab awaits a response from Naboth.
As Naboth considers this offer, he cannot help but realize that up front it appears to be a reasonable and fair proposition. But as he ponders his option Ahab's words reverberate around in his head. Vegetable garden, vegetable garden, Vegetable GARDEN! Wait he has heard that before:
READER 3: Deuteronomy 11:10-12
"The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven."
EGYPT! No, he is an Israelite. Egypt was the place of power from which his ancestors escaped! God had been faithful and given them the land. He was not about to give it up!
READER 3: Numbers 36:7
"No inheritance in Israel is to pass from tribe to tribe, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal land inherited from his forefathers.
Now Ahab was not happy about receiving this response from Naboth. So he went home to sulk. And that is where his wife found him.
Jezebel, Ahab's Phoenician wife, had a way of dealing with problems. She was used to power and authority. It was how things were done back home. So she mocked Ahab for not taking what he wanted. He was the King, for goodness sakes! He should take what he wants. And with that she slaps Ahab's nationality in the face. For God had told his people to be weary of power.
READER 4: Deuteronomy 17:14-20
14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’ 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
Such a Critique! It is almost as if God is saying, No One Man should have all that power
Video: Kanye - Power
But Jezebel, deciding her husband was a pathetic attempt at a King, began to take the situation into her own hands. With the King's power behind her, she schemes and plans; she writes letters and creates a plan to trap Naboth.
A fast was called. A time of religious significance, whereby the community comes together to deal with a communal threat. It is in this time, that the scoundrels arise and bear false witness against Naboth, saying that he has cursed God and the King, thus he is the communities problem. The scoundrels are believed and Naboth is stoned.
Yet this is not the end of evil. One evil builds on the next, first is murder, then the looting. Jezebel encourages Ahab to take what is not rightfully his. It is a tale as old as time. Violence to acquire something that is not rightfully one’s own. King David had done it, he had Uriah killed to get his wife Bathsheba. Cain killed Abel, the agriculturalist killed the pastoralist - the farmer killing the shepherd. These are tales of the wealthy killing the more vulnerable.
Because of this, God cannot remain aloof and his word comes to the prophet Elijah. And Elijah proclaims judgement on Ahab. And the worst for of judgement, the most demeaning. Dogs, dirty, mangy, feral Mutts will lick the blood of Ahab. Where Ahab had wanted to be civilized through his vegetable Garden, God brings disorder because Ahab has decided to abuse the vulnerable.
Ahab, sees it, he knows it and immediately calling Elijah “My Enemy” - You have found me! For it is those who oppose our own interests that we so quickly demonize and turn into antagonist, even when they are in the right.
And as we finish our story, we see what should occur. Judgement is brought upon Ahab and for choosing evil, his life will be destroyed because evil actions have consequences. Jezebel too is judged for her guilty actions. It is those dogs, those mangy dogs.
READER 5: Deuteronomy 28:15, 25-26
15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:
25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. 26 Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away.
But, the story is not quite over, there is a little bit of a twist.
You see, Ahab repented. He humbled himself. He brought himself down from his power. He attempted to right the wrong through repentance. And, in turn, God relented.
God delayed the affects of the evil until the next generation.
And here the story draws to its conclusion. A humbled king, some evil actions, a person is dead. And time continues on. It is maybe a more realistic story then the one’s told by Hollywood. There are real life consequences to our actions, Naboth is not brought back to life, and the ramifications will be that Ahab’s descendants will not occupy the throne.
• What stood out in that Telling?
• Did you still identify with the same Characters?
• How do we deal with the power we have?
• How do we go about sacrificing others to achieve our ends?
But what does this story say to us who seemingly do not have Ahab’s power? Beyond our call to work for justice, how can we hear this story?
I want to suggest to you, for our final look at the story, that the author intentionally slows down the pace of the text and focuses on Ahab for so long, because we are not only to feel outrage at the injustice done to Naboth. BUT we are to self-identify with Ahab.
We all have some type of power. We often sacrifice others to get our own way. We maybe do not want to see it in ourselves but I think it is there.
But really, I think we live the story of Ahab within ourselves each day!
I think we are in a wrestling match with ourselves. Part of us, The Ahab part wants to sacrifice the Naboth. We want the goods, which a faithful Ahab will not let us take. Here we find that our inner Jezebel sometimes acts without our full knowledge. We end up with the goods we wanted, maybe that is money, maybe that is power, maybe that is a position in life, or maybe it is extra credibility or prestige in a group. Whatever it is, I think we often sacrifice part of ourselves to achieve it.
This is the internal rat race I know I experience daily, and I do not think I am alone in it.
But where it leads is an empty place. We have gained something, we have got our desire, only to find we are deader inside.
I think Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’s song Hurt can help us explore this self-destructive pattern of using power over ourselves; and in the process, we end up killing ourselves.
Video: Johnny Cash- Hurt
What are your reflections on Ahab, Jezebel, and Naboth?
Now we come to the Table. We meet each other here, we meet Christ here. As you come, reflect on the Empire of Dirt you leave behind. The Empire of self-destruction. The Empire that uses power to harm others. The Empire that kills to get its own way. Then join in the celebration of the Kingdom of peace you enter into. The Kingdom of relationships. The Kingdom of gentleness. Gentleness to yourself and to others.