I Kings 21. Naboth's Vineyard. The King and the Law.

Key Notes: Ahab folllowed Jzebel, sinned but repented. Laws on real estate. Fake legality. Examples of OT remission, forgiveness and salvation.

This chapter is an interlude in the story of Ahab that presumably occurred during the three year peace with Syria. It brings forward several examples of OT law.

21:1–4 A vineyard belonging to Naboth of Jezreel adjoined Ahab's summer palace. Ahab wanted the land to grow vegetables. Naboth refused to sell his ancestral property. Ahab sulked and would not eat.

21:5–16 Queen Jezebel thought the King could have whatever he wanted, and she could make it legal.
She ordered the elders and nobles to declare a fast, indicating that a serious issue was before the citizens of Jezreel. They were to set Naboth up, get two petty criminals to charge him with cursing God and the king, take him out and stone him.
The leaders obliged her without hesitation. They then announced to Jezebel that Naboth was dead, and she sent Ahab to claim the vineyard.

21:17–24 God directed Elijah to confront Ahab in the vineyard with specific words to say.
Ahab at once recognized Elijah as the enemy, his adversary. He had been found out.
Elijah said he had sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD. He had made Israel to sin and had provoked God to anger. He and his family would be destroyed, as the house of Jeroboam had been destroyed (by Baasha; IK.15:29), and as the house of Baasha had also been wiped out (by Zimri; IK.16:11). Their bodies and the bodies of his kin would be desecrated by the animals. Ahab had been in the same class as the Amorites that Israel had expelled from the Land centuries before.

21:27–29 Surprisingly, Ahab had an instant reaction of distress and sadness, and went about fasting, working and sleeping in burlap. It would be obvious to his court that he was repentant.
He sulked when he did not get the vineyard. Now he repents that he succeded.
More surprisingly, God acknowledged that Ahab had humbled himself and withdrew the slaughter of his family for another generation. (by Jehu; IIK.9:30–10:17)

We note at once that the king is not above the Law. Ahab was guilty of breaking the laws of God in general and specific ways.

•God through Moses told the future kings that they "should not be lifted up above their brothers." They were to make their own copy of the Law of Moses, read it all their life long and not turn away from it right or left. (Deut.17:14–20).

•They must respect the ancient divisions of the land.
"The law shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me."(Lev.25:23)
If land were sold and the person forced off it, "in the jubilee (the 49th year), it shall be released and he shall return to his property". (Lev.25:28)
This rule did not apply to a city dwelling, which could be redeemed for up to one year after the sale. Houses in cities were not considered a source of income, and therefore were not treated specially. Houses in unwalled villages were reckoned with the fields of the country-side (Lev.25:29–31) and could be redeemed or would be returned to their original owner at the Jubilee year.

In the special case where single women were inheriting property, they were restricted to spouses within their tribe, so that the inheritance would not be transferred out of the tribe. (Num.36:5-)

The intent of the Law was to prevent the formation of a landless class. In an agricultural society the landless would be relegated to perpetual servitude, essentially slavery. One of Karl Marx dicta was "You shall not separate the worker from the means of production." That was an indictment of’th European / Christian society which had not followed the spirit of the OT Law. For the modern manufacturing economy, the injustice could be remedied by worker-owned factories. or at least stock-options for employees. This principle is slowly being implemented. The exorbitant salaries of CEO's and board members in proportion to the workers' salaries is also being addressed.

In pursuit of Naboth's vineyard, a series of the Ten Commandments (Ex.20:3–17) were broken. In the order in which they were broken:
•"You shall not covet your neighbor's house...or anything that is your neighbor's. X.
•"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." IX
•"You shall not kill." VI.
•"You shall not steal." VIII.

They coveted, lied, killed and stole. The crimes were committed in such a way that the whole town was involved in the false witness and killing. Ahab and Jezebel had contributed to the gross corruption of Jezreel.

Why did Jezebel demand a show of legality? Was anyone deceived? The Soviets similarly went to great lengths to show that their politicians could be legally executed. It is as if even the crooked know that they are being watched and must maintain some  semblance of order and morality. The crimes committed were all the more serious because not only Naboth, but his sons had been killed, to prevent the heirs from claiming the property. IIK.9:26

Ahab had already been guilty of breaking other of the commandments
•"You shall have no other gods {Baal} before me." I.
•"You shall not make for yourself a graven image." II.
With six black marks against him, we are most surprised that God heard his plea and remitted the penalty. How much more guilty could a man be?

There are five other illustrations of God mitigating punishment in the OT. These are examples of forgiveness. Forgiveness is different from salvation.
•Cain was not killed for murdering Abel, but banished from the presence of the Lord.Gen.4:8–16
•David was truly repentant. God said "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die." (IISam.12:13–14)
•Rehoboam forsook the Law. God said the leaders were abandoned to the hand of Shishak (Pharaoh of Egypt). "Then the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said 'The Lord is righteous'. When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the lord came to Shemaiah, 'They have humbled themselves; I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance.... Nevertheless they shall be servants to him (Shishak).'" (IIChron.12:1–8)
•Hezekiah, after his victory over the Assyrians, "...did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem. But Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart...so that the wrath of God did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah." (IIChron.32:25–26)
•Manasseh "...seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that they did more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel." He was taken a prisoner to Babylon. "When he was in distress he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers....and God received his entreaty and brought him back to Jerusalem and into his kingdom." (IIChron.33:9–13).

Forgiveness in this setting is the delay, withdrawal or displacement of punishment. Contrition → forgiveness → release from penalty (death). In most cases the penalty was borne by another. Note that Ahab was forgiven for the murder of Naboth, but not for letting Benhadad go free, since he did not respond to the prophet other than to sulk.

Salvation is another matter.
Faith → Salvation is obtaining a right relationship with God and also in most cases finding physical safety.

Some examples of OT salvation:

Noah and his family were saved from the Flood by faith. Heb.11:7
Isaac was saved from sacrifice by the substitution of a ram. Gen.22:13
Joseph was saved by God from his brothers. Gen.45:4–8
Moses at Exodus saved the whole nation of Israel from slavery. Ex.14:30
Ruth was saved from destitution and poverty by faith. Ruth 1:16
The Widow of Zarepheth was saved from starvation by faith. IK.17:13
Naaman the leper was saved from leprosy by faith. IIK.5:15
Hosea's wife was redeemed from prostitution. Hos.3:1–3
Ninevah was saved from God's judgment by the witness of Jonah. Jon.3:10

Since the Cross, we are given a right relationship with God and are forgiven because the penalty has been displaced upon Christ. Are we aware that physical safety, prolonged useful life and health come to us also through our relationship with God? Matt.6:21–33