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Vignettes From A Vineyard

I Kings 21:1-10 - Now there was a man named Naboth, from Jezreel, who owned a vineyard in Jezreel beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. One day Ahab said to Naboth, “Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.” But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance that was passed down by my ancestors.” So Ahab went home angry and sullen because of Naboth’s answer. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!

“What’s the matter?” his wife Jezebel asked him. “What’s made you so upset that you’re not eating?" “I asked Naboth to sell me his vineyard or trade it, but he refused!” Ahab told her. “Are you the king of Israel or not?” Jezebel demanded. “Get up and eat something, and don’t worry about it. I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard!” So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent them to the elders and other leaders of the town where Naboth lived. 9 In her letters she commanded: “Call the citizens together for fasting and prayer, and give Naboth a place of honor. 10 And then seat two scoundrels across from him who will accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

Background Notes:

1 Kings 21 is the inspired account of the tragic events surrounding a vineyard. Emerging from this account are four “vignettes” -- four character sketches of the people in the story: Naboth, the owner of the vineyard; Ahab, the king of Israel; Jezebel, the wife of Ahab; and Elijah, the prophet of God. Wicked King Ahab led the nation of Israel into idolatry. Even after Elijah’s confrontation and defeat of the prophets of the pagan god Baal at Mount Carmel (chapter 18), Ahab did not turn back to the Lord. He continued in his wicked ways, in his personal life and as king. 1 Kings 21 gives us yet another episode in which Ahab and Jezebel’s evil ways were exhibited.

Ahab wanted to expand the royal properties for his winter palace at Jezreel. However, the property that Ahab wanted to buy was not for sale. Naboth, the owner, would not sell, no matter what price Ahab offered him--not even for the choice land that Ahab offered in exchange! Naboth was not “holding out” for a higher price. He had a very good reason for refusing to sell his vineyard. Under the Mosaic Law, the land belonged to the Lord, and the Lord had granted a “perpetual lease” of this land to Naboth’s family. This property was to remain in the family and was never to be sold outside the tribe. Naboth was a godly Jew, and he would not sell or exchange his family’s property for any price. It was his family’s inheritance in the Promised Land.

Unfortunately, Ahab couldn’t have cared less about Naboth’s godly principles and attitude. He went back to his palace and sulked because he couldn’t get Naboth’s vineyard! So Queen Jezebel arranged to have Naboth removed through a false trial, alleging that he had committed treason against the king and blasphemy against God. What hypocrisy! Jezebel, the Baal worshiper, used God’s Law that required the death penalty for blasphemy! What an evil and satanic set-up! It ended tragically with Naboth being convicted and stoned to death.

After Naboth was killed, Jezebel told Ahab to take possession of the property that had been obtained by theft and murder. But just as Ahab was beginning to enjoy his new vineyard, who should show up but Elijah?! God had directed His recommissioned prophet to confront Ahab once again. Notice God’s description of the location for the confrontation: Naboth’s vineyard--not Ahab’s vineyard! From God’s perspective, this property was still Naboth’s vineyard. Elijah was to pronounce God’s final judgment on Ahab, Jezebel, and their royal dynasty (v19-24).

As we look more closely at the vignettes of Naboth, Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah that God has sketched, we’ll see spiritual lessons about human nature--both in submission and obedience to God’s Word, and in rebellion against the authority of God’s Word. We’ll also see how God works in blessing and in judgment to accomplish His purposes.

Doctrinal /Teaching Points:

1.God allows innocent people to suffer.

Poor Naboth! What had he done to deserve such terrible treatment? He had obeyed God’s Law. He had done the right thing, and yet he was set up and framed by the evil queen. He was falsely convicted and stoned to death--a horrible fate! Why? What is the Bible teaching here? Among other lessons, it’s teaching us that sometimes innocent people suffer.

The Bible teaches that sometimes people suffer because of their own mistakes, or their own poor judgment, or their sin--but sometimes God uses suffering for His own sovereign purposes in an individual’s life. This account in 1 Kings 21 reveals that sometimes God allows innocent people to suffer. God allows this--and often we don’t know why. Sometimes we see the good that comes as a result of a time of suffering--but not always. However, as believers, we can be sure that if we suffer for the sake of righteousness, we will be rewarded in heaven. Romans 8:17 says that if “we suffer with Him, we will be glorified together with Him.” 

Are you suffering? Has someone hurt you, or even framed you? Perhaps you’ve suffered the loss of a job or the loss of a promotion because of your Christian lifestyle and principles. You feel you’re innocent of any wrongdoing in the situation. You love the Lord and you were simply seeking to follow Him and do the right thing. You trusted the Lord, and you prayed fervently about it, but the situation didn’t change. Why did God allow this to happen?

We don’t know. We simply don’t always know the reasons why God allows His people to suffer. However, from this passage and from accounts like the life of Job, we know that at times God allows suffering to enter the lives of innocent, godly people.

Many factors may be involved. Only God knows the full picture. However, we do know one thing for sure: if suffering comes to us, we should strive to be faithful, just as Naboth was faithful! In Matthew 5:10-12 the Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven... Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven...” Don’t give up! Don’t become angry and bitter! Hang in there! Be faithful! You will be rewarded!

2. The pleasures of sin are short-lived.

How long did Ahab enjoy Naboth’s vineyard? One verse long--that’s all! Very soon the prophet Elijah arrived on the scene! After Ahab heard Elijah’s announcement of God’s judgment upon him and his dynasty, he was no longer able to enjoy his sinful pleasures.

Is it possible that you are involved in some kind of sin right how? Maybe a secret sin that no one else knows about? And you don’t want to give that sin up, even though you know it’s wrong? You enjoy it! It’s fun! It’s satisfying! It’s pleasant! God’s Word teaches us that there is fun and pleasure found in sin, but it will last for only a short time--and then the fleeting pleasure will come to an abrupt end. Moses knew this, and he chose to be “mistreated with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time” (Hebrews 11:25, emphasis added).

Why wait for God’s judgment to come upon you because of your sinful lifestyle? Decide right now to turn from your sin, because the Bible teaches that the “pleasures of sin” last only for a short time!

3. People are responsible for their sin.

The word of the Lord to Ahab through Elijah was, “This is what the LORD says: You have murdered a man and seized his property” (v19). Ahab couldn’t say, “I didn’t do it! Jezebel did it! I didn’t even know about it!” God held Ahab responsible for the murder of Naboth and the theft of the vineyard. Even though it was Jezebel who had arranged Naboth’s murder (vs 7-14), and Jezebel urged Ahab to sin (v25), God held Ahab responsible. As king, Ahab was responsible to see that justice was maintained in his kingdom, and he fell very far short of his responsibilities. He sinned himself, and he turned a blind eye to the sin of others--which in itself was a sin! Even though Jezebel urged him on, the Bible says that Ahab “sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord”(v25). People are responsible for their own sin.

These days it’s popular to blame everyone and everything but yourself for personal wrongdoing. “It’s the fault of my background!” or “I had an unhappy childhood,” or “I was raised in a dysfunctional family.” People often try to excuse their personal sin by blaming other people or a “psychological syndrome.” There may be some truth to these factors, but the Bible still teaches that everyone is responsible for his or her own sin.

The Jews of Ezekiel’s day tried to place the blame for their own personal sins on their forefathers (Ezekiel 18). Throughout the chapter, however, the Lord clearly placed the responsibility and blame on the person who committed the sin. “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (v4). People are responsible for their own sin.

4. It’s never too late to repent.

After Elijah pronounced the judgment of the Lord upon Ahab, Ahab repented! Amazing! Ahab actually repented and humbled himself before the Lord! Unfortunately, in the next chapter we learn that his repentance was only temporary.

Even though God, in His omniscience, knew that Ahab’s change of heart would not last long, the Lord honored Ahab’s repentance! The Lord told Elijah that He would delay His judgment on Ahab’s dynasty until after Ahab’s death (v28-29). All the prophecies of judgment mentioned in 1 Kings 21 came true, but the end of Ahab’s dynasty was delayed for about 12 years.

God responded to Ahab’s repentance, and He will respond to us as well when we acknowledge our wrongdoing and turn away from our sin. Maybe you think it’s too late--you think you’re “too far gone,” and the Lord would never listen to you. God listened even to evil Ahab--when he turned from his sin. If you’re not yet a believer, realize that the Lord Jesus died for you. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It’s not too late to repent! Trust in the Lord Jesus and His redeeming death on the cross, and He will take away your sins.

If you’re a believer, and you’re harboring sin in your life, don’t make excuses! Recognize and acknowledge and confess the sin, and turn from your sinful lifestyle. 1 John 1:9 tells believers, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and will purify us from all unrighteousness.” What a wonderful promise! It’s never too late to repent!

Practical Applications:

1. How much money would it take?

How much money would it take to get you to compromise? Just imagine how much money Naboth could have made from selling his vineyard to the king! Ahab was willing to pay big bucks! But Naboth wouldn’t sell, because it was wrong.

Suppose someone asked you to cheat or compromise your standards in some way--on your job or on your IRS tax return form, for example. “I’d never do that!” you would say. But suppose you were offered a promotion or a big bonus, or you could save a lot of tax money if you compromised--then what would your position be? How much money would it take?

As Christians, do we have a price -- or do we stand firm and hold to our principles and convictions? Let’s be like Naboth, and be obedient to the Lord and His Word--no matter what it costs us!

2. Don’t be a wife like Jezebel!

Here’s a question for the wives who are reading this essay: Are you a wife like Jezebel? I’m sure you would immediately say, “Of course not! I’m a Christian!” But just as Jezebel had a lot of influence with Ahab, so wives today can greatly influence their husbands. Wives can have a positive, encouraging influence for good on their husbands--or they can be a negative influence, urging their husbands to compromise or make wrong decisions, gradually turning them away from following the Lord. Jezebel could have said, “Ahab, we don’t need Naboth’s vineyard--we have plenty of property.” But no! She told Ahab he should be ashamed of himself for being such a coward, and for not simply annexing the property illegally!

Think it over. As a Christian wife, are you sometimes a negative influence? Or do you influence your husband to live righteously and become more and more a man of God? Don’t be a wife like Jezebel!

3. You can regain your courage.

Remember how bold Elijah was when he confronted the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel? Unfortunately, Elijah ran away after that great victory. He feared for his life because Jezebel threatened to kill him. That threat was made at Jezreel. But Elijah came back to Jezreel--back to the place where Jezebel wielded her power. He had not only been recommissioned by God, but he had regained his confidence and courage in the Lord.

Are you afraid to admit that you’re a Christian? When you first became a believer you told everyone about it, but now you’ve lost your courage and confidence? Perhaps someone made fun of you or threatened you. Perhaps you’re afraid you won’t be able to adequately defend your faith. You’ve lost your courage to speak up.

Like Elijah, you can regain your courage. James 5:17 says that Elijah was “a man just like us.” He didn’t have some kind of special advantage, and he wasn’t a super-hero! He was just an ordinary man. He ran away scared when he wasn’t depending totally on the Lord for protection and strength. But when, once again, he depended on the Lord, his courage returned!

2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” When we’re fearful about mentioning our faith to a neighbor, or to the person sitting beside us on a plane, or to the person in the next cubicle at work, we’re not depending 100% on the Lord. Depend on the Lord for strength, and you can regain your courage!

4. Don’t be surprised if you’re hated.

1 John 3:13 says, “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” We see the truth of that New Testament Scripture in Elijah’s life. Throughout Ahab’s reign, Elijah tried to help Ahab turn to the Lord, but Ahab called Elijah “you troubler” (18:17) and “my enemy” (21:20). Ahab and Jezebel hated Elijah!

The Lord Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.. you do not belong to this world...I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19). We’re different from people who oppose God. We’re irritating to people who reject the Lord. We don’t belong to that crowd!

Of course we should be careful not to give people a reason to dislike us by being obnoxious and “holier-than-thou” in the way we live out our faith! But even when we’re friendly and try to help them out, many unbelievers will dislike us. As the world hated our Lord, it will hate us as well. Don’t be surprised if you’re hated!
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