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I Kings 21: God’s Amazing (and Surprising) Grace

We're firmly into Prophet Elijah and King Ahab territory. Mostly recently, Israel was attacked by Syria and God took a very personal interest in King Ahab, assisting for His own name's Sake. While Ahab was partially obedient to his nation's benefit, he was also partially wrong.

The Best Laid Plans


Verse 1 introduces us to a man, Naboth, who had a vineyard adjacent to King Ahab's palace. I do not think this will end well for him.

Ahab tried negotiating with Naboth for it. He exaplined he wanted it as a vegetable garden near his home. He offered a better vineyard elsewhere or cash value.

Naboth explained that he was forbidden by the Lord from giving his inheritance to Ahab.

Ahab's response to this was described in the same way as the message from the prophet regarding his choice to let Ben-hadad live- sullen and vexed. Then it goes on to describe Ahab in an absolute childish pout- laying on his bed with his face turned away and refusing to eat.

His wicked wife inquired as to why he was sullen and not eating and he told her the partial truth. He told her about his offer to Naboth; but he only mentions that Naboth said no. He leaves out WHY Naboth said no. God forbade it. He appears as a sniveling, weak-willed man. He couldn't even bring himself to mention the Lord to this Baal worshipper. After everything God did for him; he knows the Lord is God and yet he doesn't seem to be able to help himself in the face of this woman.

She, of course, reminds him that he is King. Then she tells him to cheer up and eat something. She assures him that's she'll get the vineyard. Odd. "Hey, buddy, you're the king; I'll take care of this."

Her plan, which succeeded on its face, was to forge letters in Ahab's name and seal and had the elders and nobles of Naboth's city to frame him and have him stoned to death.

What's interesting to me in this portion of the story is that she felt the need to do this behind Ahab's back. She could have explained the plan and had him do it. She must have been confident that he would accept her doing it; but she must have though, maybe, that he wouldn't pull the trigger himself. It reflect on Ahab as, again being too weak-willed to prevent her from murder; but some miniscule amount of integrity that she thought he wouldn't do it himself.

It was the same character God found in him in the previous chapter. Willing to do right until he wasn't.

I have a similar revulsion to the elders and nobles in Naboth's city. They were willing to set up a fake trial, use false witnesses and murder a man, even going so far as to call a fast- drawing some god, if not the God, into this charade. Why? Fear? Corruption? Why the big act? Who was the show for?

A footnote in my Ryrie Study Bible seems to imply that Jezebel used the correct legal procedures in Deuteronomy 17:5-6 so that the king could take possession.

Elijah Returns

Here's where Jezebel's plan (and Ahab's passive acceptance of it) went awry...The Lord God in Heaven is real. And Ahab knew that it was God who told him that he could not have the inheritance of Naboth. When Jezebel said she was going to go get it for him...he surely knew he was poking the Lion.

Once Ahab heard that Naboth was dead and he took possession of the vineyard, the Lord spoke to Elijah.

He tells Elijah to meet Ahab at the vineyard and ask if he murdered and took possession. Then he gives him a message for Ahab. "Thus says the Lord..."

You know it's going to be powerful when it starts that way.

Where the dogs licked up Naboth's blood, they are going to lick up yours.

God's warning and proclamations to Ahab are getting more grim and visceral.

Ahab's answer is so telling. "Have you found me, oh my enemy?"

Um...yes. Elijah found you. On the property next to your palace. So, not that well hidden. And he's God's prophet. So he should be able to find you. And, more importantly...did you hear the thing about dogs licking up your blood? Any response to that part?

Elijah is less sarcastic, but I imagine the tone is pretty biting, Yes I have found you. "...because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord."

It gets very specific, very sad, and very final from there:

  • I will bring evil upon you
  • sweep you away
  • cut off every male both bond and free
  • make your house like Jeroboam and Baasha
  • because you have provoked my anger
  • because you have caused Israel to sin
  • And about that wicked bride of yours, Jezebel- the dogs will eat her in Jezreel
  • Your offspring will be left to be eaten by dogs and birds (not a proper burial)
  • There is no one like you, selling yourself to do evil because you were incited by your wife.
    • you acted abominably
    • you idols as done by those who were run out of Canaan ahead of the Hebrews

Sackcloth and Fasted

In a twist that is surprising for both it's happening and how long it took to happen, this message got through to Ahab.

He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. And of course, still being the shell of man he always was...he went about despondently.

He finally honored God by doing something that explicitly expressed his belief. By this time, his belief was expressed in fear and sadness for the end of his life; but he did finally "get it".

I always tell the story of when my nieces and nephew would come to stay with us and do something naughty, we would correct them. And often, in return we got a smile. That didn't sit well with us. We were looking for a sign that they recognized what they had done wrong and made a mental note to not do it again. So we would have to stop what we were doing and address the situation until we saw a sign that we had "gotten through". I have jokingly referred to it as "making them cry." As that was often how they expressed that they had recognized what they did was wrong.

Ahab finally cried.

He finally showed the formal expression of grief and repentance in the Jewish culture.

And God, who is faithful, who is patient, who had worked one-on-one with Ahab to bring out his best...saw and had a measure of mercy.

He told Elijah that he would spare Ahab everything on the list of judgements. But just for Ahab. Got stated that Ahab humbling himself spared him the evil on his days; but God promised the same sentence would be carried out in his son's days.

That's amazing.

Ahab was described in the beginning of his story as having been the most wicked king to date. And that was really saying something. But God kept intervening with him in a person, albeit often brutal, way.

It brings to mind Sampson. And Saul. There were others that God had a "Plan A" plan for them that was epic and redemptive, if only they would turn away from their sin. Either way, He would accomplish what He set out to; and they got to decide how blessed they wanted to be.

Elijah could have easily been on the same list. Blessed to an amazing degree and tempted to sin, as we saw when he rebelled by fleeing. But he turned away from his sin and back to God's plan.

I'm sure it didn't exactly feel like grace, and some may not see it as grace, since the bulk of the judgement stood; but it was amazing grace. Truly one of the most wicked men to live up until that time and God gave him personal forgiveness. If his son's changed their ways; I imagine God would forgive again.

That kind of grace and mercy is too much to comprehend. Why? We might be tempted to question God. Why would you spare him after everything he did?

But I'd be careful about poking around that territory too much. It's a pretty short leap to asking why He forgave us. But we aren't that wicked, you might be tempted to counter.

If that's your reply, you've forgotten. You've forgotten that we were all wicked and dead in our sin. The king decides which debts He will forgive and we didn't earn it. We don't deserve it. We need to remember our own time when we put on sackcloth and begged the King for mercy.

Not only did He give us mercy by forgiving all of our wickedness, but He gave us Grace and adopted us as His children.

This is Amazing Grace. None too wicked if they humble themselves before the King Jesus.


Ryrie Study Bible

The Ryrie Study Bible made a good point for verse 21:27. As I pointed out, Ahab only partially repented. He put on the sackcloth and he fasted. But as I also pointed out, Ahab's next act was to "go around despondently".

He was humbled and received a measure of mercy; but not a full measure. Why did God leave the judgement in place?

Although I do not speak for the mind of God, there might be a hint in what Ahab did not do. Ryrie points out that Ahab, as far as is described, did nothing to make right his wrongs- as full repentance would require. He did not restore the vineyard to Noboth's family and make things right for his murder and his reputation. He did not tear down the altar to Baal and lead his nation in repentance.

That's how the curse continues to the next generation. He didn't make anything right; therefore...the next generation will continue what they had modeled for them.

Ahab kept one foot in his life as a believer in the God of the Universe and one foot in the world of his wife's Baal. Even though he personally ended up humbling himself; he would have needed to lead his nation out of the worship of idols to save them as well.


Wiersbe points out that Ahab should have killed Ben-hadad. God was angry and promised future judgement for that failure.

But then...Ahab does murder (contract hit via Jezebel) Noboth.

The enemy wants us to think of evil as good and good as evil.

Ahab knew that property was under the protection of the Lord and still he turned Jezebel loose to go get it for him.

Wiersbe explained that this palace in Jezreel was just a summer home. But Ahab couldn't live without a vegetable garden for his summer home. That just makes the whole thing even worse to me.

A couple of other interesting facts from Wiersbe:

  • We'll find out in II King 9 that Naboth's son's were stoned as well, so there was no one to inherit.
  • The reason Naboth couldn't sell to Ahab wasn't a singular word from God to Naboth, it was God's law. It was never suppose to leave the family. The land didn't really belong to any Jew. It all belonged to God and was leased to each tribe as their inheritance. Maybe Ahab had forgotten that they were in the Promise Land, but the rules never changed just because the men tried to change national boundaries.
  • The crooked officials notified Jezebel of the outcome of the scam, not Ahab, under whose forged name the orders were sent. So there wasn't even a veiled pretense that this was legal.
  • Jezebel threw in just enough religion to give people cover. Beware when people try to mix in some religion to make the poison go down easier. "Jesus loves me just the way I am. Love is love. Jesus was a socialist." Even my NIV sidebars are prone to it. I read a long sidebar about Elijah and it repeatedly said his primary message was social justice. God was mad at Israel for not caring enough for the people. And while it is true that Elijah was bringing judgment for leading the people astray...It was the people's souls Elijah was referring to. Not social justice as it means today, which is socialism and redistribution of wealth.

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