1 Kings 21
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.
Ch. 1 Kings 21:1-16. Naboth the Jezreelite is stoned to death and Ahab takes possession of his vineyard (Not in Chronicles)

1. This chapter is placed by the LXX. before the preceding, and numbered 20. Josephus also adopts that order of the events. In consequence, the LXX. omits the words ‘after these things’ in 1 Kings 21:1.

The LXX. (Alex.) calls Naboth ‘an Israelite’. This of course he was. But Jezreel יזרעאל may easily, especially in ms., be mistaken for Israel ישׂראל. Both versions of the LXX. make the vineyard to be not near the palace, but near the threshingfloor of Ahab.

And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.
2. that I may have it for a garden of herds] These events must have taken place during a time of peace, when Ahab had leisure to think about the convenient arrangement of his grounds. And it is most probable they occurred after Ben-hadad’s utter defeat, otherwise the victory then granted to Ahab would have been like a condonation of his sin, and not in harmony with the doom pronounced in this chapter (1 Kings 21:19) by Elijah. The desire to have the ground ‘for a garden of herbs’ is twice repeated in this verse by the LXX.

And Naboth said to Ahab, The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.
3. The Lord forbid it me] This verse is very interesting, because (1) it makes clear that Naboth was a worshipper of Jehovah and, in spite of the persecution of the prophets, did not shrink from making it known to the king by his language. Here was an example of one who had not bowed the knee nor given a kiss to Baal. And (2) the reason which he alleges for clinging to his inheritance shews that the teaching of the law of Moses (Numbers 36:7-8; Leviticus 25:27-28) concerning the sacredness of a paternal inheritance had taken firm hold of the minds of the people, so that Ahab did not think of venturing on harsh measures against one who put forward this religious plea as a bar to the royal desire.

And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him: for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.
4. And Ahab came into his house] The last four words are omitted by the LXX., as also the clause ‘because of the word … the inheritance of my fathers.’ It is clear from the continuation of the story that it was to Samaria that Ahab came back after his interview with Naboth.

heavy and displeased] See above, on 1 Kings 20:43.

And he laid him down, &c.] This detail shews, like so much else in Ahab’s history, what a feeble character he was, and how thoroughly he would be dominated by the more powerful mind of Jezebel. While absent from her, some signs of improvement might appear, even such as might seem to Elijah to promise hopes of a change; but when she appears they are all gone. And the moodiness here described is rather that of a wayward child, than of a man of mature years and high position.

But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread?
And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and said unto him, Give me thy vineyard for money; or else, if it please thee, I will give thee another vineyard for it: and he answered, I will not give thee my vineyard.
6. I will not give thee my vineyard] For the last two words the LXX. has ‘the inheritance of my fathers.’ Of course it is to be understood that Ahab would lay before Jezebel the motive, from which Naboth had refused his king’s request. But the narrative is much more in character with the rest of Ahab’s behaviour, if he at first makes mention only of the blank refusal. The ground for holding firm to his inheritance would most likely have found an echo in many an Israelite’s heart. We see that Jezebel gives no hint to any one of the true cause for wishing to put Naboth out of the way. Had she done so, she must have mentioned the reason for his scruple, and the elders of Jezreel though they had forgotten the laws of Jehovah, would, for all that, not have cared to give publicity to Naboth’s answer.

And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.
7. Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel?] There is not expressed here any sign of a question in the original, but there can be no doubt that this is the force of the words. The Hebrew order is ‘Thou now governest, &c.’ the pronoun being emphatically expressed. So that the sense is ‘Thou art king, art thou not? why then let such a matter trouble thee or stand in the way of thy will.’ The proposal of some to take the words as imperative, ‘Thou, do thou use thy sovereignty, &c.’ is opposed to what follows. For Jezebel does not urge Ahab to act the despot’s part, but plays it for him.

I will give thee, &c.] The ‘I’ in this clause is emphatically expressed, just as ‘thou’ in the preceding one.

So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth.
8. she wrote letters in Ahab’s name] She was the real ruler, he only king in name. The letters would be prepared for her by the royal secretaries. Jezebel’s part was to take the signet ring of her husband, and therewith affix the royal seal that the document might go forth with authority. Apparently Ahab asked no question about the means which his wife meant to employ.

the elders and to the nobles] The law ordered (Deuteronomy 16:18) that there should be judges appointed in every city, and we cannot doubt the existence of such a tribunal in a place so important as Jezreel, where the elders and nobles would form the bench of magistrates. The sequel shews that for such an offence as that charged against Naboth they had the power of life and death. But the whole proceeding is very Oriental. The royal letter dictates the sentence, and how it is to be obtained, and the persons to whom it is addressed make no scruple about obeying, although the last words of this verse increase the enormity of their proceeding by telling that they ‘were in his city, dwelling with Naboth’, and so it would seem well acquainted with his character.

The words ‘in his city’ are omitted in the LXX.

And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people:
9. Proclaim a fast] Let a day of humiliation be appointed, for it must be represented that a great wrong has been committed both against God and the king. Cf. 1 Samuel 7:6 where the people gathered at Mizpeh fasted, saying, ‘We have sinned against the Lord’. The command of God (Joel 2:12) by His prophet is, ‘Turn ye to me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping’. Hence the action is to express the popular sorrow for some wrong done, by which the whole city is contaminated.

and set Naboth on high among the people] Lit. ‘at the head of the people’. The LXX. has ἐν ἀρχῇ τοῦ λαοῦ. He was to be put in a prominent place, as one who had hitherto held an honourable position. Josephus speaks of him as γένους ἐπιφανοῦς ‘of a family of note’. By thus, at the beginning of the process, treating Naboth with honour they would seem to make it plain that, but for the evidence against him, they would have been glad to think him innocent.

And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.
10. sons of Belial] In Deuteronomy 13:13, the R.V. has translated this expression ‘base fellows’, putting in the margin ‘sons of worthlessness’. This is the sense everywhere in the O.T. and should have been in the text. In N.T. times ‘Belial’ was personified (see 2 Corinthians 6:15), but there is no trace of this idea in the earlier Scriptures. The LXX. has υἱοὶ παρανόμων. The men were good-for-noughts, who would swear to anything for which they were paid. Josephus makes them three in number.

Thou didst blaspheme [R.V. curse] God and the king] The verb in the original ברך is very frequently used of blessing, but it had the opposite sense also. The root idea appears to be ‘to say adieu to’. This might be and most frequently was with a parting benediction; but it also might be a renunciation, a declaration of hostility. Hence the R.V. has put ‘renounce’ in the margin, to indicate how the sense of ‘curse’ is obtained. The verb is used in the bad sense also in Job 1:5; Job 2:9. It is remarkable that an accusation of this nature should have been set afoot by Jezebel. We need not however assume that she had any care about the cursing of God; only that she found this the first convenient mode of getting rid of Naboth. But amongst the people, who were to suppose Naboth justly executed, there must have still been some regard for the divine name and the divine law. The death stoning was appointed by the Mosaic code (Leviticus 24:16), and so was the necessity for two witnesses at least (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15) before the accused could be put to death.

that he may die] The R.V. omits ‘may’.

And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who were the inhabitants in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them, and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them.
11. who were the inhabitants] R.V. who dwelt. The word is the same as in 1 Kings 21:8.

They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people.
And there came in two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died.
13. And there came in two men, children of Belial] R.V. And the two men, sons of Belial, came in. The Hebrew noun is definite and the sense requires that it should be indicated.

witnessed] R.V. bare witness. As in 1 Kings 21:10.

even against Naboth, in the presence of the people] These words are omitted by the LXX. As much publicity as possible was given to the accusation, that thus it might have the colour of being legally carried out.

did blaspheme] R.V. did curse. The word is the same as in 1 Kings 21:10. But a different word is used for ‘blaspheme’ in Leviticus 24:16.

they carried him forth out of the city] This explains what is meant by ‘carry him out’ in 1 Kings 21:10. The place of execution was to be outside the walls, according to the legal ordinance (Leviticus 24:14), ‘Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp … and let all the congregation stone him.’ From this we see that this enactment was before the Exile.

that he died] Not only was Naboth put to death, but, according to another passage (2 Kings 9:26), his sons were included in the destruction.

Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead.
And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money: for Naboth is not alive, but dead.
15. that Naboth was stoned, and was dead] These words are omitted by the LXX. The repetition is alien to Greek style, but exactly after the fashion of Hebrew.

take possession of the vineyard] Some have thought that the king could do this, because it is supposed that the property of one so executed would become confiscated. Others have suggested that there was some relationship between Ahab and the family of Naboth. It seems unnecessary to seek for reasons in such a case. Where so much had been done unlawfully, and a life, or perhaps several, taken by false accusation, it would be a small matter to seize on the ground without any plea of law or kinship.

And it came to pass, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
16. when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead] Here the LXX. adds ‘he rent his garments and covered himself with sackcloth’. This clause must be entirely out of place. Josephus gives us a detail far more in harmony with Ahab’s character. He says (Ant. viii. 13, 8) ‘And Ahab was pleased with what had been done, and sprang up from his bed, and went to see Naboth’s vineyard’. There was certainly no time lost by him. His entry on the possession seems to have been made the very next day after Naboth’s death. We learn afterwards (2 Kings 9:26) that Jehu and Bidkar rode with Ahab at the time, and so appalling was the curse which Elijah pronounced on the wretched king that it was imprinted on Jehu’s memory and he could quote it many years afterwards, apparently in its very words.

And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,
Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it.
17–29. Elijah meets Ahab and tells him God’s sentence. Ahab repents and the punishment is deferred (Not in Chronicles)

18. which is [R.V. dwelleth] in Samaria] This change is necessary for consistency in the narrative. There is no verb in the original, as will be seen from the italics of A. V. The verbs describing the action first of Ahab and then of Elijah, shew that both had gone down, the one from Samaria, and the other, perhaps, from Carmel, to the city of Jezreel, which lay on lower ground than either.

to possess it] R.V. to take possession of it. Thus it is shewn that the expression is the same as in 1 Kings 21:15-16; 1 Kings 21:19.

And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.
19. Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?] The guilt of all that had been done is at once laid at Ahab’s door. He had neither known nor cared to know (as it seems) what Jezebel’s plans were and only thought of the end which they accomplished. He was willing by taking possession to reap the advantage, as he thought it; God lays on him the first penalty.

and thou shalt speak unto him, saying] The LXX. omits these words. See above on 1 Kings 21:15.

In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth] From the history of Ahab’s death, in 1 Kings 22:38, it appears that his blood was thus licked by the dogs, not at Jezreel, but near Samaria. The best explanation of this is that the word ‘place’ does not here mean ‘precise locality’. Naboth’s blood was shed outside the gate of Jezreel, and the pool of Samaria, from the description in the next chapter, and from what we know of the conduits and reservoirs of Eastern cities, was apparently outside the gate of that city. Thus there was a similarity between the two cases. We must also bear in mind that the sentence on Ahab was modified and its exact fulfilment deferred. When Jehoram was killed (2 Kings 9:25) a much more definite phrase is used for the place where his body was cast out. There it is, ‘in the portion of the field of Naboth the Jezreelite’.

Instead of ‘dogs’ simply, the LXX. (Vat.) has ‘the swine and the dogs’ and (Alex.) ‘the dogs and the swine’. It is not easy to decide how the swine came to be mentioned in the Greek Versions, but as neither text makes any mention of them in the second part of this clause, the words must be taken as the insertion of some one who desired to give a touch of greater horror to the picture.

The Vat. LXX. adds to the close of this verse ‘and the harlots shall wash in thy blood’, and in 1 Kings 22:38 both Alex. and Vat. have the statement that this was done. Moreover the true rendering in that place, of the words which in A.V. read, ‘and they washed his armour’, is ‘Now the harlots washed themselves there’. See notes on 1 Kings 22:38.

And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the LORD.
20. Hast thou found me, O mine enemy] Ahab had not thought of a penalty to overtake him, but the sight of Elijah makes him feel not penitent, but indignant that the avenger of wrong is so soon at hand. Therefore he calls Elijah his enemy.

because thou hast sold thyself] Here the LXX. adds μάτην=in vain. This appears to be an attempt at interpretation, indicating that Ahab had thought to take the price for his bargain, and to escape all consequences, and that in this he was to be disappointed. The complete surrender of the king into the hands of others is well expressed by ‘thou hast sold thyself’.

to work evil] R.V. to do that which is evil. As in all other places where this expression occurs.

in the sight of the Lord] Here the LXX. adds ‘to provoke him to anger’.

Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel,
21. and will take away thy posterity] R.V. and will utterly sweep thee away. See above on 1 Kings 14:10, where this verse occurs in substance.

and left in Israel] R.V. and him that is left at large. The expression is a proverbial one, meant to indicate all men of every kind. Perhaps its origin is in the idea of ‘bondmen and free’ or it may have been ‘the young, who were not their own masters, and the old who were at liberty to choose their own way.’ The expression recalls Deuteronomy 32:36.

And will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and made Israel to sin.
22. and made [R.V. hast made] Israel to sin] Cf. 1 Kings 16:2.

And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.
23. the dogs shall eat Jezebel] For the fulfilment, see 2 Kings 9:35-37.

by the wall [R.V. rampart] of Jezreel] The Hebrew word which stands here in the text is found again 2 Samuel 20:15, where it is translated ‘trench’, with a margin in A.V. ‘outmost wall’. The R.V. gives there also ‘rampart’. In 2 Kings 9:10; 2 Kings 9:36-37, the body is said to have been devoured ‘in the portion of Jezreel’, and as the words ‘by the rampart’ בחל, want only an additional letter to turn them into ‘in the portion’ בחלק, it has been suggested that the latter ought to be the reading here. But there is no need for any change. Both expressions mean the same thing. The ‘portion’ is the land close to the walls outside. Jezebel must have looked forth from a window of some building that formed part of the city wall. Thus she would be able to shew herself to Jehu as soon as he drew near.

Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat.
24. Him that dieth &c.] See above, 1 Kings 14:11.

But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.
25. to work wickedness] R.V. to do that which was evil. See above, 1 Kings 21:20.

Ahab exceeded the wickedness of all the other kings in that he introduced Baal-worship, and allowed his wife to proceed to all lengths in her attempts to destroy any recognition of Jehovah, even such as remained in the corrupted worship of the northern kingdom.

And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.
26. he did very abominably] Ahab himself cast aside the worship which his predecessors had inaugurated and followed, and followed Jezebel in her idolatry.

according to all things as did the Amorites] Better, with R.V., according to all that the Amorites did. The Amorites are mentioned probably because, being widely spread, the name had become representative of all the nations cast out before the children of Israel. They were the dwellers on the hills, like the Hittite and the Jebusite. It may therefore be that the Amorite worship and customs had lingered in the hill country of Samaria, and been revived during the idolatrous reign of Ahab.

whom the Lord cast out] The R.V. has usually changed ‘cast’ into ‘drave’ in these passages. See 1 Kings 14:24. There seems no reason why it should not be done here.

And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.
27. The LXX. gives for this verse ‘And when Ahab was pricked (in his heart) on account of this word (coming) from the presence of the Lord, he went and wept, and rent his robe, and girded sackcloth upon his body, and fasted. And he put on sackcloth in the day on which he slew Naboth the Jezreelite, and went [softly]’. There is nothing to represent the last word, which is in brackets, and thus the sentence is incomplete. Josephus explains that the king went barefoot. On the mention of the day of Naboth’s murder, see above on 1 Kings 21:16.

And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,
Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house.
29. because he humbleth himself before me] These words are left out by the LXX., as are also ‘upon his house’ at the close of the verse.

I will not bring the evil in his days] That is, the whole penalty shall not be inflicted on him. A portion of it was, as we are told in 1 Kings 22:37-38. The Jews explain the word נשׂא which is rendered ‘forgiving’ iniquity (Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; &c.) by reference to its original meaning which is ‘to lift up’. God, say they, raises the load, so that it does not press all at once, or men would perish under it, but the lifted burden is divided into parts, and men feel it in consequence for a long time to come. In every punishment of Israel, there is mixed up an ounce of the golden calf.

but in his son’s days] Fulfilled in the death of Jehoram, Ahab’s son. 2 Kings 9:25.

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