Elijah Naboth and Ahab

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Sermon Notes of Rev.Dr.I.J.W.Oakley (3-9-1995 Guisborough Evangelical Church)

 

Elijah, Naboth and Ahab

1 Kings 21:1-29:22:34-38

 

Introduction

After a period of taking his eyes of God, and losing the will to live, Elijah is restored, and recommissioned, for God had more work for him to do. His old faith is revived and his old courage is returned, and this is clearly demonstrated in the story of Naboth’s murder, and Elijah’s condemnation of Ahab. Thank God that when we fail and are a disappointment to God and others, and temporarily lose our faith and commitment, do and say foolish and wrong things, that is not the end. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:7).

The story of Naboth’s vineyard not only shows Elijah back to his old form, strong in God and fearless in facing evil, it also has much to teach us about human sin and its grip on a life, and awful results. Sin is not a double flower; it blooms seven-fold. One sin brings a multitude in its train. What starts with desire in the heart leads to the vilest consequences.

The particular sin with which this story commences is so common. It ruins lives, spoils human relationships, it is rife in the world of business and commerce, and is the root cause of wars and international tension. And Christians are not immune from it. There are many believers who are content, happy in their home life, very active in Christian service, zealous for God, even though they have few possessions and little money. This changes dramatically once this sin overtakes their lives. The sin of covetousness and desire for more can wreck lives, home life and it is one of the most fruitful causes of backsliding. Social acceptance, material prosperity and personal ambition can drive people on till all else is shut out of their lives.

 

The beginnings of sin

Picture the scene in Ahab’s palace. Ahab is on a couch, his face to the wall, refusing to eat. Why? Has he been defeated by his enemies? Has there been a death in the family? Has his kingdom suffered a great blow? No. He has been surveying his property, and noticed that his neighbour Naboth had a vineyard and he wanted it. He wanted to turn it into a vegetable garden. He was prepared to pay for it and give a better vineyard in exchange. But Naboth had firmly but courteously said no. It would have been against the law anyway, for the law said that land must not be sold unless there was extreme necessity (Leviticus 25:23). No inheritance in Israel is to pass from tribe to tribe, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal land inherited from his forefathers (Numbers 36:7). Even if Naboth had wanted to please the king, he must obey the King of Kings.

But Naboth was soon to discover that though it is right to put God before man, it could cost very dearly. Ahab was in the palace sulking like a spoilt child. He had set his heart on getting that vineyard. He might own the whole kingdom, but he wanted that vineyard as well. Wealthy, but never satisfied. Never envy the rich and those in high office because of their wealth and worldly honours – these things do not bring contentment to the heart.

The vineyard was so near, so close within his grasp, there every time he looked out the window. The seed of sin was now sown in the heart. How would Ahab deal with it? This is always the crucial stage. The battle is going to be won or lost in the next few minutes. We can either encourage it, or deal with it at once, else there is no telling where it will lead. In this case, that desire led to murder and God’s severest condemnation. If Ahab had been wise, he would have changed his room in the palace, or even sold the palace, rather than sell his soul and feast his eyes on the forbidden thing till the flame of desire was fanned into white heat.

The tenth commandment warns us of the sin of covetousness (Exodus 20:17). Jesus also warned against it (Luke 12:15). Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). How sin can distort values and change priorities. The smallest coin close to the eye can blot out the sun.

One value of a life of communion with God is that it helps maintain a sense of perspective and proportion. When our minds are set on God’s purposes and eternal issues and we are living in God’s will, we keep as sense of proportion. We are restrained from the mad materialistic stampede. We need to be sensitive to the first stirrings of sin in the mind. Put it to death at once, else it will soon get a hold and we shall be its submissive slave. And who knows where that will end.

 

The progress of sin

Sin began with desire in the heart. But it did not stay there for long. It is never static. It grows with staggering speed. The desire leads to an act that becomes a habit that takes over and gets out of control. Ahab began by wanting something he knew he could not have, and too quickly it led to falsehood, deceit and murder. It was not the first mistake he made. He had made an earlier one, which was so serious that it overshadowed the rest of his life. He married the wrong woman. Jezebel was a heathen princess. She might have been beautiful, but she was a hater of God and true religion, and she was utterly unscrupulous.

Old Testament law forbade an Israelite marrying a Gentile, as the New Testament forbids a Christian to marry a non-Christian (2 Corinthians 6:14). When that law is violated, there are always disastrous spiritual consequences. In spiritual things there is always levelling down, and never levelling up. Jezebel was already responsible for flooding the land with false religion and corruption. Now in the hour of great moral crisis her influence is deadly. Instead of restraining and diverting her husband’s mind from evil, she gave him every encouragement to get what he wanted by any means. If there had been a brake of conscience on Ahab, there was no such brake on Jezebel.

She appeals to his pride – you are the king, and you should get what you want. If you are the ruler, then rule! He may have wavered, but she did not hesitate to get him what he wanted. Sins followed in rapid succession one after the other. Firstly, forgery – letters sent in Ahab’s name with his seal. Then hypocrisy – a fast to be proclaimed, as though a terrible evil had been done. Perjury followed – Naboth was accused of blasphemy against God and the king. Murder is the end product – Naboth is stoned and killed. And husband Ahab, elders, nobles and citizens of Jezreel meekly caved in and submitted to the unscrupulous ambitions of one evil woman.

It may be claimed that “Behind every good man there is a good woman”, and often “Behind every bad man there is a bad woman” is also true. Though the husband may be the head of the house, the wife is the neck that turns the head. Once sin is in the driving seat, how quickly matters get out of control. The consequences reach far beyond our original intentions. It is no good saying, “But I didn’t think it would lead to that” once it has happened. Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.

Is anyone here today on a slippery slope? It may only be a desire or a thought at the moment, and not a soul knows about it. Or it may just be a little lie, or brief indulgence, just this once and never again. Don’t you believe it! It won’t stop there.

 

God’s judgement on sin

So Naboth was dead, and Ahab took possession of the vineyard, at Jezebel’s suggestion. What he coveted was his at last. But he never enjoyed it after all. God did not remain inactive. The day of reckoning came. Elijah was God’s mouthpiece. When Ahab went to possess his ill-gotten gains, there was Elijah to confront him. This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property? In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood (1 Kings 21:19). The voice of conscience will never be silenced.

Once an evening dinner party was attended by a judge. He posed the question to the guests, would they prefer to be found guilty of a charge of which they were innocent, or to be found innocent of a charge of which they were guilty. The guests were all certain they would rather be found innocent of a charge of which they were guilty. The judge said, “You are all wrong. There is one factor you have overlooked. You have forgotten the voice of conscience.” The disturbing voice within so often brings the word of conviction from the Holy Spirit. You may be sure that your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23).

Ahab said to Elijah, ‘So you have found me, my enemy!’ (1 Kings 21:20). When a man is faithful in speaking about sin in God’s name, he will be treated as the enemy, the troublemaker. The minister who simply flatters and entertains his people will always be popular. The man who is faithful to God and His people about hypocrisy, worldliness, sin and empty profession, will be regarded as the enemy in many places. This is why some preachers are hated. This is why the Bible is hated. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world (1 Corinthians 4:13). The would-be minister must be prepared for this.

Ahab saw Elijah as the enemy, but that was a good sign. It showed the preacher had hit the mark and the message had gone home to the conscience. Elijah, with new-found boldness and courage gained from confidence in God, replies, I have found you because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord (1 Kings 21:20). What a description of sin – sold himself to do evil. Abandoned self, yielded self, given self over voluntarily to the power of sin. Elijah announced that calamity would come on Ahab and his house and his kingdom, because he had provoked God to anger and Israel to sin. Jezebel would also die, and be eaten by dogs.

Ahab made a show of repentance later, but it was only superficial, because later he spoke of hating another servant of God, Micaiah (1 Kings 22:8). Clearly there was no real change of heart.

The whole story shows the reality of God’s righteousness and justice. He ensures that sooner or later sin pays its terrible wages. Righteousness is always asserted by God sooner or later. God is as good and faithful at carrying out threats as fulfilling promises. God’s holiness will be vindicated. The truth will be told, and wrongs will be righted. Justice will be done and will be seen to be done. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrew 4:13). He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed (Acts 17:31). For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), spiritual and eternal.

Are you saved? What is your hope, what is your refuge from the wrath of God? There is only one hope – Christ’s death and sacrifice for sins, when he died the death and bore the punishment of those who put their trust in Him. To those who are believers, who are saved, you have new life, you are forgiven, but you are still under pressure of temptation, because you are fallen. If there is sin in your life, unconfessed and unforsaken, deal with it now. Even the saved need to: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Remember the serious effect of sin if it is not repented of and forsaken.

Paul’s greatest fear was to be disqualified from the prize himself, having preached to others. He feared that his service might be unacceptable, that he might lose his usefulness to God before the end, and that his testimony to God’s grace and goodness might be silenced. His fellowship with other Christians might grow cold and hollow. His communion with God might become clouded. Our works need to be tested as by fire to see what they are made of. It is possible to be saved, but no more. We may yet lose our reward.

“I need Thee every hour.

Stay Thou nearby.

Temptations lose their power

When Thou art nigh.”

 

Conclusion

This story shows us not just the reality of Elijah’s restoration and recovery from weakness, so that he will still bear fruit in old age (Psalm 92:14), but it also teaches about the reality of sin. It has subtle beginnings, and needs to be dealt with at that stage. We are warned of how it progresses in the soul, and the certainly of terrible consequences. It points out to us our total weakness and treachery of heart. We need Christ, and we need Him desperately, for salvation and for victorious living.

Robert Murray McCheyne: “The seeds of all sins are in my heart and perhaps all the more dangerously that I do not see them. I ought to pray and labour for the deepest sense of my utter weakness and helplessness that ever a sinner was brought to feel… My only safety is to know, feel and confess my helplessness that I may hang upon the arm of omnipotence. My main defence is casting myself into the arms of Christ like a helpless child, beseeching Him to fill me with the Holy Spirit.”

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