I wonder what’s your attitude towards the Bible? Have you read all of it? Are some bits better than others? Old testament? New Testament? Is God the same God in each? Aren’t some bits in the Old testament a little extreme? The God of he Old testament. Is the God of the Bible really in charge of the world? No one believes that any more do they?
Well should they? That’s the first question we’re asking as we continue our series in the book of Kings. Who’s in charge?
Who’s in charge?
There are a number of characters and a series of dialogues in this historical episode and we begin with a noble citizen and a greedy King. Noble Naboth, Greedy Ahab.
Ahab, the King of Israel is enjoying life in his summer palace in Jezreel. the troubled years of drought and famine are a distant memory - 6 years ago. Ahab has been developing his home and wants to extend his gardens and he has approached this man, Naboth, with a request v2 Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace, and in exchange i will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth. It actually sounds a reasonable request and a pretty good deal: A better vineyard in exchange for your old one. Or- name your price. Come on!
But Naboth replied v3 The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my Fathers. 4 So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.5 His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?”6 He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”7 Jezebel his wife said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel?
It reminds me of visiting a preschool nursery when my kids were small. one toddler forces another off the trundle truck and then remains fixed to it screaming as the teacher tries to gently lift him off it. Ahab and Naboth look like a couple of squabbling pre-schoolers.
You’ve got Naboth the pious busybody - ‘the Lord forbid that you should have my land.’
I remember driving along the motorway and the carriageways divide and rise up and as you look down there in a sort of island is a farmhouse. the story goes that the owner simply refused to sell up and get out when the motorway was being built. He wouldn’t budge so they built it around him. Is that Naboth?
And then you’ve got Ahab - the grown up child. His heart gnawed an vexed with frustration at Naboth’s refusal. Throwing his infantile paddy. he wants something and he can't have it and like a spoilt child he goes into a sulk, lying on his bed facing the wall and refusing to come down for dinner.
Actually there’s much more going on here than first meets the eye. Remember who Naboth is standing up to/refusing - The King of Israel. The King of Israel! He asked nicely and Naboth is saying NO! What does he think he’s doing? Well.. what we have here is a clash of authorities. A clash of Kings. Who is in charge?
See Naboth read the Bible. (The Scriptures they had were the first 5 books of the Bible that we have. the Pentateuch or Torah - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers.) And Naboth had read there things like Numbers 36:7 where God said every Israelite shall keep the land inherited from his forefathers. Or in Deuteronomy where God said to Israel that the land he was providing wasn’t like the land of Egypt that had to be cultivated for food. It would be a land where God provided; a land flowing with milk and honey where you’d gather in the grain and the fruit of the vine. Land wasn’t to be sold. Land was to be a permanent inheritance. And vineyards were not to be turned into vegetable gardens! This was Ahab all over you see. He’d welcomed into Israel foreign powers and foreign gods. Taking Israel back to Egypt; back into slavery spiritually and physically.
And Naboth says, I will never do it King Ahab, because God says so.
Naboth is Mr Old School. He’s one of those funny chaps who still really believes in the God of the Bible to the extent that he does what God says. he could have made himself a pretty packet out of this deal. The rising price of land around the summer palace. You can imagine the estate agents hovering like vultures - you can name your price! But no. Naboth really believes that God has revealed himself to Israel; that the God of the Bible is King over all.. He is in charge.
Well, Ahab went home sullen and angry and not a little disturbed by Naboth’s old school faith. Oh people still worshipped the LORD in Ahab’s multi-faith Israel but the idea of doing everything that God said in the covenant documents - small print and all - that’s not something that Ahab had thought much about since that prophet Elijah had been around 6 years earlier making fireworks on Mount Carmel and calling people back to full covenant obedience. That kind of stuff was for fundamentalists.
Ahab sulks. He’d set his heart on that vineyard. But interestingly he’s not gonna do anything about it - just sulks on his bed like a teenager. It’s so unfair! Could it be that part of him thinks that the God of the Bible is in charge? That there is a higher lawer than ‘I do as I please’?
But then, in marches the vicious Queen - Jezebel, the God hater v7 “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up.
Who’s in charge around here. God? You’re the King Ahab. Want to know if God’s the boss? I’ll show you who’s boss. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
And so she did. It was a masterpiece of a frame up. She organises a false accusation against Naboth. Letters in Ahab’s name bearing Ahab’s royal seal to the elders and nobles. “Proclaim a day of fasting that will communicate to the people that God is seriously displeased with Israel for something gather the people and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Have Naboth accused of cursing God and the King with a witness to back up the accusations. Yes Naboth.. Noble Naboth would you beleive it - he is the bad apple that’s poisoning the city. Take him out and stone him to death.
2 Kings 9 tells us that in his own vineyard Naboth and all his sons perished - the victims of this horrific abuse of power.
As soon as he is dead, this 6th Century BC Lady Macbeth is inciting her husband to take advantage of the situation. v15. And finally, the child gets up from his bed from where he has watched the whole sordid plot unfold and he gets up to go and get his new toy.
It’s a grimy tale. they really are a despicable pair. And yet, they are closer to you and me than we would probably care to admit. They are presented to us here in the bible as illustrations of the human heart expressing it’s independence from God.
The notion that someone else has rights over my life. Someone other than me. That doesn’t sit well with us does it? We say other peoples lives might not be my business. But my life is mine to do with as i please. I’m in charge of my life. Do you see that’s why the idea of a God who is in charge if the world and who’s words must be obeyed is very unpopular. I’ll keeo that at arms length. It’s my life. I choose how to live it. Some people might choose theft with murder. others might choose voluntary work - and both can equally be acts of defiance against God.
Because he does exist - the story tells us. there is a God who rules with justice. They thought they’d got away with it. Where’s your God now Naboth?
But God sees
God sees everything
Elijah - the prophet has not been seen in Israel for 6 long years - bursts in on Ahab. Ahab chokes on his grapes v20, “So you have found me, my enemy”
God has seen it all, says Elijah. The way you’ve sold yourself to sin. This is what the Lord says: v19 In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. 22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.’
It is both sobering and chilling to read on into the book of 2 Kings to see each part of God’s judgement unavoidably come to pass. Ahab is killed in battle. Dogs lick up his blood.
Ahab’s corrupt son Joram takes the throne. But God has chosen a new King for Israel - Jehu, the commander of the army. he’s a nutter, who drives his chariot like a madman. Jehu kills Joram and dumps his body on the ground of Naboth’s vineyard.
Jezebel is thrown from a window her body trampled by horses and eaten by dogs to deny her a burial. Then Jehu wipes out the whole royal house of Ahab and the entire priesthood of Baal. Tearing down Baal’s temple and the people, the author of 2 Kings 10 tells us, have used it to this day as a latrine.
God is just. God sees
I don’t know what you think of God’s judgement? Often people say, i hate the idea. And yet we do cry for justice don’t we?
I have a friend who was in Bosnia shorthly after the long war there and she met many people in agony after the atrocities done against them - they’d watched loved ones raped and murdered. One woman spoke to my friend after discovering she was a Christian. the woman wanted to know one thing: was God Just? will he deal with the men who had killed her family? And my friend was able to assure. Yes, there is Justice, God will judge with righteousness. But my friend also had to warn her. None of us have lived up to god’s standards of perfection - we’ve all hated, betrayed, caused hurt and waht’s more we have said to the God who is in charge of the world - I refuse to have you as God in charge of me. An act more serious than we can possibly imagine. God is just. He will judge … me
But there’s something more we know from this story. This God who rules with justice is also loving, is also kind. Look at v27 27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”
It seems a bit harsh on Ahab’s son - until you see what his life is like. But from this story we see God’s longing is to show compassion, kindness - to find away to justly forgive. Ahab, this horror of a man humbles himself and God is right there at his side. It almost doesn’t seem fair - Ahab deserves all he gets. But God is a God of grace. he loves people. He cares about sin and he must judge it. He will not sweep it under the carpet, judgement must happen. But in love, he diverts some of the judgement from a humbled Ahab.
In the story there are strong glimmers of what God will do through his son Jesus by his willingly dying on the cross. God diverst his judgement for human sin onto Jesus so that people who humble themselves before God can be freely forgiven.
Did you see the glimmers of Jesus in the life of Naboth?
A man who lives faithfully by God’s word alone, who is pulled up in front of the elders and nobles of the city, falsely accused by scoundrels for a crime he did not commit, and led like a lamb to the slaughter.
Whether you are hearing this for the first time or the five thousandth time. Please do not fail to see the extraordinary love of our just and holy God for you. Who is this who gives himself to suffer your judgement for you so that you might go free.
Who is this God??
Don’t you want him in charge of your life?
Humble yourself again, and he is right there at your side. Seek his forgiveness and you are clean. Give him back his proper place who’s service is perfect freedom.
Who’s in charge?
Just as we end I want to take a brief closer look at Naboth and Ahab and their attitude to the word of God, the Bible
If Naboth is Mr Old School. The Ahab is Mr Cut and paste
Remember, Ahab is not just anyone. He is part of the people of God - Israel - and more than that he is the King of Israel! The people of God today is the church of Jesus Christ - Christians. So the examples of Ahab and Naboth are in turn a warning and encouragement.
One of the ways we bring God under our control - sometimes even while we say we are obeying him - is ..we do an Ahab. Mr Cut and Paste.
Reading the Bible... 'I like that about God, but I don’t like that. I’ll do that but I won’t do that.' Cutting and Pasting Ahab had wandered away from God’s word. Does it matter? It does. Was God just wasting his breath when he poured out his heart to Israel about how he wanted them to live? Time and again in the Torah God says fix these words in your mind, write them on your doorposts, teach them to your children. Be careful to obey everything i have said. But instead, Ahab was selective. Mr Cut and Paste.
God said, do not marry outside of my people (he still does say that actually) but in a political move Ahab married a pagan princess and look at the pain that followed. God said don’t have other gods alongside me. But Ahab promoted the worship of other gods alongside the LORD throughout Israel. God said do not covet your neighbours property, do not give false testimony, do not murder.. and Ahab said technically if i’m lying on my bed while it all happens i’m not responsible..
Mr Old school, Noble Naboth says this: If God is in charge of the world obey him in everything. Be careful to do everything God has said. If you’re selective about what you want to obey then ultimately you are putting yourself in charge of God. If you’re selective about what you want to believe then actually the God you are serving is not the God of the Bible but a false god. A God of your own making.
Jesus believed in the whole Bible as the word of God. 'I haven’t come to abolish the OT' he said. It all applies. Not one word of it is going to disappear. 'Man does not live in bread alone buton every word that comes from the mouth of God.'
What’s your attitude to the bible? The Old Testament? Every word. Are you allowing every word from God to shape your knowledge of God? Or are you Mr Cut and Paste? Because we in the church, just like Ahab are under tremendous pressure from the pagan world around us to take scissors to the truth.
You cannot say Jesus is the only way to God
You cannot say that God will judge people
You cannot say that homosexual practice is- like all sex outside marriage -always wrong
Our bishops of the Anglican communion continue to state lovingly and clearly that homosexual practice is incompatible with what God has said in the Bible. That’s the position of the church. But there are many dissenting voices among those Bishops and others.
Now it’s a personal and painful issue. Gay people feel utterly rejected by the church!
We as a church have said recently that in a culture that idolises sex and romantic relationships, unless the church which idolises marriage and the nuclear family changes to uphold biblical priorities of friendship and christian community - then our call for unmarried people, whether gay or straight, to remain celibate just feels unliveable.
We need to change as we obey God who says clearly in his word that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is always wrong.
Bishops and others who, under the prevailing pressure, revise God’s word to say something else .. we have to say that they are the Ahab’s of today. Cutting and pasting God’s word.
Ahab’s wandering away from the covenant had a disastrous effect on his own life and in the moral life of the nation. From the King down to the elders and nobles who arrange Naboth’s death down to the layabouts who lie in court. Israel has been corrupted by greed. They are a nation of thieves and murderers because the god they worship is not the True God.
In the same way where the church historically has taken the scissors and prit stick to the Bible - moral corruption follows. It’s the same in our day and age. A church that supports extra marital sex which God says causes pain. A church that accepts all religions as equally valid. It’s just lying to people.
If in our church and nation, in our generation.. if we’re going to hand on to the next generation the worship of the true God. Then we need to be Naboths. People of faith in an unbelieving world. People of the book. The whole book. Of course we will increasingly look old school. Out of place. People will call us intolerant, narrow minded. We might suffer for the truth. Naboth did. But we mustn’t be moved. Just like Naboth, we serve a higher King. Lovingly and clearly we must keep speaking the truth to one another and where appropriate to the wider church and culture. Like Naboth - we have no other choice.