Ahab covets Naboth's vineyard. (1-4) Naboth murdered by Jezebel. (5-16) Elijah denounces judgments against Ahab. (17-29)
Verses 1-4 Naboth, perhaps, had been pleased that he had a vineyard situated so near the palace, but the situation proved fatal to him; many a man's possessions have been his snare, and his neighbourhood to greatness, of bad consequence. Discontent is a sin that is its own punishment, and makes men torment themselves. It is a sin that is its own parent; it arises not from the condition, but from the mind: as we find Paul contented in a prison, so Ahab was discontented in a palace. He had all the delights of Canaan, that pleasant land, at command; the wealth of a kingdom, the pleasures of a court, and the honours and powers of a throne; yet all avails him nothing without Naboth's vineyard. Wrong desires expose men to continual vexations, and those that are disposed to fret, however well off, may always find something or other to fret at.
Verses 5-16 When, instead of a help meet, a man has an agent for Satan, in the form of an artful, unprincipled, yet beloved wife, fatal effects may be expected. Never were more wicked orders given by any prince, than those Jezebel sent to the rulers of Jezreel. Naboth must be murdered under colour of religion. There is no wickedness so vile, so horrid, but religion has sometimes been made a cover for it. Also, it must be done under colour of justice, and with the formalities of legal process. Let us, from this sad story, be amazed at the wickedness of the wicked, and the power of Satan in the children of disobedience. Let us commit the keeping of our lives and comforts to God, for innocence will not always be our security; and let us rejoice in the knowledge that all will be set to rights in the great day.
Verses 17-29 Blessed Paul complains that he was sold under sin, Ro. 7:14 , as a poor captive against his will; but Ahab was willing, he sold himself to sin; of choice, and as his own act and deed, he loved the dominion of sin. Jezebel his wife stirred him up to do wickedly. Ahab is reproved, and his sin set before his eyes, by Elijah. That man's condition is very miserable, who has made the word of God his enemy; and very desperate, who reckons the ministers of that word his enemies, because they tell him the truth. Ahab put on the garb and guise of a penitent, yet his heart was unhumbled and unchanged. Ahab's repentance was only what might be seen of men; it was outward only. Let this encourage all that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe the holy gospel, that if a pretending partial penitent shall go to his house reprieved, doubtless, a sincere believing penitent shall go to his house justified.
1 Kings 21:1-4 . NABOTH REFUSES AHAB HIS VINEYARD.
1-3. Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel--Ahab was desirous, from its contiguity to the palace, to possess it for a vegetable garden. He proposed to Naboth to give him a better in exchange, or to obtain it by purchase; but the owner declined to part with it. In persisting in his refusal, Naboth was not actuated by any feelings of disloyalty or disrespect to the king, but solely from a conscientious regard to the divine law, which, for important reasons, had prohibited the sale of a paternal inheritance [ Leviticus 25:23 , Numbers 36:7 ]; or if, through extreme poverty or debt, an assignation of it to another was unavoidable, the conveyance was made on the condition of its being redeemable at any time [ Leviticus 25:25-27 ]; at all events, of its reverting at the jubilee to the owner [ Leviticus 25:28 ]. In short, it could not be alienated from the family, and it was on this ground that Naboth ( 1 Kings 21:3 ) refused to comply with the king's demand. It was not, therefore, any rudeness or disrespect that made Ahab heavy and displeased, but his sulky and pettish demeanor betrays a spirit of selfishness that could not brook to be disappointed of a favorite object, and that would have pushed him into lawless tyranny had he possessed any natural force of character.
4. turned away his face--either to conceal from his attendants the vexation of spirit he felt, or, by the affectation of great sorrow, rouse them to devise some means of gratifying his wishes.
1 Kings 21:5-16 . JEZEBEL CAUSES NABOTH TO BE STONED.
7. Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel?--This is not so much a question as an exclamation--a sarcastic taunt; "A pretty king thou art! Canst thou not use thy power and take what thy heart is set upon?"
arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard--After upbraiding Ahab for his pusillanimity and bidding him act as a king, Jezebel tells him to trouble himself no more about such a trifle; she would guarantee the possession of the vineyard.
8. So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal--The seal-ring contained the name of the king and gave validity to the documents to which it was affixed ( Esther 8:8 , Daniel 6:17 ). By allowing her the use of his signet-ring, Ahab passively consented to Jezebel's proceeding. Being written in the king's name, it had the character of a royal mandate.
sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city--They were the civic authorities of Jezreel, and would, in all likelihood, be the creatures and fit tools of Jezebel. It is evident that, though Ahab had recently been in Jezreel, when he made the offer to Naboth, both he and Jezebel were now in Samaria ( 1 Kings 20:43 ).
9. Proclaim a fast, &c.--Those obsequious and unprincipled magistrates did according to orders. Pretending that a heavy guilt lay on one, or some unknown party, who was charged with blaspheming God and the king and that Ahab was threatening vengeance on the whole city unless the culprit were discovered and punished, they assembled the people to observe a solemn fast. Fasts were commanded on extraordinary occasions affecting the public interests of the state ( 2 Chronicles 20:3 , Ezra 8:21 , Joel 1:14 , 2:15 , Jonah 3:5 ). The wicked authorities of Jezreel, by proclaiming the fast, wished to give an external appearance of justice to their proceedings and convey an impression among the people that Naboth's crime amounted to treason against the king's life.
set Naboth on high--During a trial the panel, or accused person, was placed on a high seat, in the presence of all the court; but as the guilty person was supposed to be unknown, the setting of Naboth on high among the people must have been owing to his being among the distinguished men of the place.
13. there came in two men--worthless fellows who had been bribed to swear a falsehood. The law required two witnesses in capital offenses ( Deuteronomy 17:6 , 19:15 , Numbers 35:30 , Matthew 26:60 ). Cursing God and cursing the king are mentioned in the law ( Exodus 22:28 ) as offenses closely connected, the king of Israel being the earthly representative of God in His kingdom.
they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him--The law, which forbade cursing the rulers of the people, does not specify the penalty for this offense but either usage had sanctioned or the authorities of Jezreel had originated stoning as the proper punishment. It was always inflicted out of the city ( Acts 7:58 ).
14-16. Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession--Naboth's execution having been announced, and his family being involved in the same fatal sentence ( 2 Kings 9:26 ), his property became forfeited to the crown, not by law, but traditionary usage (see 2 Samuel 16:4 ).
16. Ahab rose up to go down--from Samaria to Jezreel.
1 Kings 21:17-29 . ELIJAH DENOUNCES JUDGMENTS AGAINST AHAB AND JEZEBEL.
17-19. Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?--While Ahab was in the act of surveying his ill-gotten possession, Elijah, by divine commission, stood before him. The appearance of the prophet, at such a time, was ominous of evil, but his language was much more so (compare Ezekiel 45:8 , 46:16-18 ). Instead of shrinking with horror from the atrocious crime, Ahab eagerly hastened to his newly acquired property.
19. In the place where dogs licked, &c.--a righteous retribution of Providence. The prediction was accomplished, not in Jezreel, but in Samaria; and not on Ahab personally, in consequence of his repentance ( 1 Kings 21:29 ), but on his son ( 2 Kings 9:25 ). The words "in the place where" might be rendered "in like manner as."
20. thou hast sold thyself to work evil--that is, allowed sin to acquire the unchecked and habitual mastery over thee ( 2 Kings 17:17 , Romans 7:11 ).
21, 22. will make thine house, Jezebel, though included among the members of Ahab's house, has her ignominious fate expressly foretold (see 2 Kings 9:30 ).
27-29. Ahab . . . rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly--He was not obdurate, like Jezebel. This terrible announcement made a deep impression on the king's heart, and led, for a while, to sincere repentance. Going softly, that is, barefoot, and with a pensive manner, within doors. He manifested all the external signs, conventional and natural, of the deepest sorrow. He was wretched, and so great is the mercy of God, that, in consequence of his humiliation, the threatened punishment was deferred.