Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. DESIRE, IN THE ABSTRACT, IS NOT COVETOUSNESS.
1. It is the principle of exchanges.
(1) If persons had no desire to possess anything beyond what they have acquired, there would be no motive to trade. Of the virtuous woman it is said, "She considereth a field and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard" (Proverbs 31:16).
(2) All commerce is founded upon the desire to make exchanges.
2. But commerce is fruitful in blessings.
(1) There are evils connected with trading, viz., where dishonest practices come into it. But these are intrusions; and they are denounced as "illegitimate" and "uncommercial."
(2) Genuine commerce gives profitable employment to thought and labour.
(3) It brings the countries and peoples of the wide world into correspondence. Thereby it enlarges our knowledge of those countries, their peoples and products, and other. wise stimulates science.
(4) It encourages philanthropy. Relief is afforded for distresses through famines, floods, fires, earthquakes; and religious missions are organized.
3. Desire, well directed, should be encouraged.
(1) To be absolutely without desire for things evil would be a happy state. Therefore this state should be earnestly desired.
(2) There is also the positive desire to be Christ like. This can scarcely be too vehement.
(3) Ahab does not seem to have signalized himself in either of these directions.
II. ILLICIT DESIRE IS COVETOUSNESS.
1. We should not desire what God has forbidden.
(1) Herein Ahab was wrong in desiring the vineyard of Naboth. It was the "inheritance of his fathers," transmitted in the family of Naboth, from the days of Joshua, and it would have been unlawful for him to part with it (Leviticus 25:23; Numbers 36:7).
(2) Ahab was wrong in tempting Naboth to trangress the commandment of the Lord. He should never have encouraged a desire, the gratification of which would involve such a consequence.
(3) It was a pious act in Naboth, who, doubtless in things lawful would be pleased to gratify the king, to have indignantly refused to gratify him here. "The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee." He had his tenure from the Lord. He looked upon his earthly inheritance as a pledge of a heavenly.
2. This rule requires the study of God's word.
(1) It is of the utmost moment to us to be acquainted with the will of God. This he has revealed in the Scriptures.
(2) In cases of transgression we cannot plead ignorance when we have the Bible in our hands. Neither can we shift now our responsibility on to our teachers.
(3) Do we make proper use of our Bibles? Do we study them? Do we read them prayerfully? We must not sell the moral inheritance we have received from the past.
III. INORDINATE DESIRE IS COVETOUSNESS. Some things are lawful without limit. Such are the direct claims of God.
(1) The love of God. We may love Him with all our heart. We cannot love Him too much, or too much desire His love.
(3) The knowledge of God. To love and serve God perfectly we must have a perfect knowledge of Him according to our capacity. We cannot too ardently desire this knowledge.
(4) If Ahab had loved, served, and known God with perfect desire, he would have found such satisfaction as to have rendered it impossible for him to have sulked as he did because he could not obtain Naboth's vineyard. When God is absent there is a restless void; nothing can satisfy an unholy spirit.
2. Other things are lawful in measure.
(1) Otherwise they would interfere with the direct claims of God. The creature must not be put into competition with the Creator. "Thou shalt have none other gods beside me."
(2) Desire for sensible and temporal things must not displace the desire for things spiritual and eternal. To love the inferior preferably to the superior is to deprave the affections.
(3) It would have been lawful for Ahab to have purchased a lease of the vineyard of Naboth at a fair price, leaving it in the power of Naboth to have redeemed it; and for it to revert to Naboth or his heirs in the jubilee (Leviticus 25:23-28). But this desire to possess it, even under these conditions, could not be justified if a refusal should lead him to go home "heavy and displeased" and sicken with chagrin. Ahab's discontent brought its own punishment. He was a king, yet discontented. Discontent is a disease of the soul rather than of the circumstances. - J.A.M.
Leviticus 25:13-28). With Naboth it was not the dictate of churlishness, but of conscience, to refuse the proposal of the king. Nor was Ahab's guilt the less because the crime was suggested by Jezebel He might be deficient in nerve and inventiveness, but he was not in iniquity. Let us trace him in this his hideous downfall, that none of us may be "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Our subject is the PROGRESS OF SIN. We see here -
I. POSSESSIONS LEADING TO COVETOUSNESS. His stately palace and park at Jezreel did not content him. With greedy eye he looked on this tiny plot of freehold, and resolved to have it. It is not in the power of material possessions to satisfy man. The rich man must be richer still; the large kingdom must extend itself yet further; the great business must crush the small competitors, etc. How often this leads to wrongs wrought on the poorer and weaker! "The love of money is the root of all evil." "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things that he possesseth."
II. COVETOUSNESS LEADING TO DISCONTENT. "He laid himself down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread." Disappointed of that which he coveted he could find no pleasure in that which he already possessed. Show how easily a discontented habit of mind may be formed, and how it embitters everything. Thankfulness, gladness, and hope are strangled by this serpent sin. The necessity of watching against the rise of this in our children.
III. DISCONTENT LEADING TO EVIL COUNSEL (ver. 7). Ahab was just in the right condition to welcome anything bad. On an ordinary occasion he might have repelled this hideous suggestion. Satan watches his opportunity. His temptations are adapted to our age, our social position, our mood of mind. What would fail today may succeed tomorrow. What the youth would spurn the old man may welcome, etc. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." It is an evil thing to have a bad counsellor always near you. Let that thought guard us against unholy associates.
IV. EVIL COUNSEL LEADING TO LIES (ver. 10). The fast was a hypocritical device to prepare the minds of the people for the death of Naboth. Its appointment presupposed that there was a grievous offence committed by some one, which the community was to mourn. Their suspicions would be ready to fasten on any man who was suddenly and boldly accused by two independent witnesses. The scheme was as subtle as it was sinful. Give examples of the use of deceit and lies in modern life for the purpose of making money, advancing social interests, etc. Show the sinfulness of this.
V. LIES LEADING TO MURDER (ver. 18). Not only was Naboth killed, but his children also (2 Kings 9:26). Hence the property would revert to the king. It was a cold-blooded murder. Few worse are recorded in history. Seldom is this most heinous crime committed until the way has been paved for it, as here, by lesser sins. Exemplify this.
VI. MURDER LEADING TO RETRIBUTION. Read Elijah's bold and terrible denunciation of the crime on the very soil of the coveted vineyard (vers. 20-24). Retribution may linger long, but it comes at last. In the light of many a startling discovery we read the words, "Be sure your sin will find you out."
CONCLUSION. - "Cleanse thou me from secret faults: keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins," etc. - A.R.
I. UNBRIDLED DESIRE.
1. The spirit in which Ahab came. He came down to Jezreel not to present a thank offering to God for recent deliverance, nor to inquire what might be done to meet the wishes or improve the condition of the people. Had he come thus, paths of usefulness would have opened up before him, and, instead of the dark memory of guilt, he would have left behind him blessing and praise. God and man were alike shut out, and self was set up as that which alone was to be regarded and served. Such spirit not only stands open to temptation; it invites it. Right aims shut out is half Satan's victory.
2. How the temptation presented itself. He was about to make improvements upon the palace, and his eye fell on Naboth's vineyard. This made into a garden of herbs would secure greater privacy and allow other improvements to be carried out. As he looked only upon his own things the advantages of the acquisition were magnified, the fire of desire was kindled and fanned into even fiercer flame. A selfish spirit is ready to be set on fire by the slightest spark of evil suggestion. There was much in God's recent goodness, much also in the necessities of Israel, to raise Ahab above so small a care. The spirit of selfish discontent, which "never is, but always to be, blest," makes thankfulness and service alike impossible. If it rule us we are already set in the way of sin. From the spot on which we stand a hundred dark paths branch out - envies, jealousies, falsehood, dishonest dealing, mean lying artifices, thefts, murders. When tempted to set the heart on what we have not, let us come back into the midst of the good which God has given, and say that if He see it to be best for us, that will be given too.
3. How the object was pursued. All restraints were cast aside. Ahab's offer (ver. 2) seems at first sight most generous. But it shut out of sight
(1) the ties which bound Naboth to his inheritance, and
(2) the duty he owed to God.
The Israelite could not alienate his lot even when pressed by direst necessity. It might be parted with for a time, but it returned again to its rightful owners at the year of jubilee. Ahab's offer was a temptation to Naboth to think lightly of God's arrangements and to despise his birthright.
II. MISDIRECTED ANGER. "Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased," not with himself, but with Naboth. His anger was not against his sin, but against the man who had rebuked it. He might have stood and said, "I have sinned. I have abused my position. I have been caring for my own good, and not for theirs over whom God has set me." But he took the side of his sin against the truth. He that struck at that struck him. When God meets us as He then met Ahab, we must either return humbled and penitent into the right way, or withstand Him and pass into deeper darkness. - U.
I. AN INIQUITOUS PALACE.
1. The king is utterly unprincipled.
(1) See him "heavy and displeased," sick with rage and chagrin, lying in bed in a sulk, his face turned away, refusing to eat. And what for? What dreadful calamity has befallen him? Simply that he could not have the vineyard of Naboth for a garden of herbs!
(2) But, to make things worse, he could not have it without inducing Naboth to transgress God's law (see Leviticus 25:28). Naboth had too much respect for the law to yield. Ahab was really sulking against God I
(3) What model king is this I How could he expect his subjects to be law-abiding when he showed them this example? What a royal soul to take it thus to heart that in addition to his kingdom he cannot have this vineyard!
2. His queen is a "cursed woman."
(1) Such is the style in which she is described by Jehu (2 Kings 9:34). She seems never to have failed in any incident of her life to justify this description.
(2) Now she promises to give Ahab the vineyard of Naboth. Thus she encouraged his evil humour, instead of pointing out to him, as she should have done, his folly.
(3) She will accomplish this by an act of cruel and treacherous despotism scarcely to be paralleled in history (vers. 8-10). She makes her pliant husband her accomplice, using, with his consent, his seal of state, as probably she had done before when she destroyed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4), to give authority to the missive of death. She engaged in this business all the more readily because Naboth appears to have been one of the "seven thousand" who would not bend to Baal.
II. AN UNSCRUPULOUS MAGISTRACY.
1. Their servility is horrible.
(1) Not voice of any noble or elder in Jezreel is raised in protest against the order from the palace to have Naboth murdered. With eyes wide open - for the sons of Belial are not found for them; they have themselves to procure these wretches - they proceed to give effect to the dreadful tragedy.
(2) What motive can influence them? They are afraid of Jezebel. They knew her power over Ahab, and they knew the cruelty and vindictiveness of her nature was nerved by more than masculine resolution.
(3) But where was their fear of God?
2. It is aggravated by treachery.
(1) Naboth was one of their number. Is not this suggested in the words, "the elders and nobles that were in the city, dwelling with Naboth! Then is there no voice of neighbourly friendship to speak for Naboth? No voice is raised.
(2) If one voice found courage surely others would take courage, and it might be found in the sequel that the sense of justice would be represented by such numbers and influence that even Jezebel might hesitate to reek vengeance upon them. But not a voice was raised.
3. The treachery is aggravated by hypocrisy.
(1) The tragedy opens with a fast. This is proclaimed ostensibly to avert from the nation the judgments of God supposed to have been provoked by the crimes of Naboth. How much more fitting had it been proclaimed to avert the judgment provoked by the crimes of Naboth's murderers!
(2) The accusation is, Thou didst blaspheme God and the King", (ברכת אלהים ומלך), which by some is rendered, "Thou hast blessed the false gods and Molech." Parkhurst says, "The Lexicons have absurdly, and contrary to the authority of the ancient versions, given to this verb (בר) the sense of cursing in the six following passages: 1 Kings 21:10, 13; Job 1:5, 11; Job 2:5, 9. As to the two first, the LXX. render בר in both cases by ευλογεω, and so the Vulgate by bendico, to bless. And though Jezebel was herself an abominable idolatress, yet, as the law of Moses still continued in force, she seems to have been wicked enough to have destroyed Naboth upon the false accusation of blessing the heathen Aleim and Molech, which subjected him to death by Deuteronomy 13:6; Deuteronomy 17:2-7."
(3) What abominable cruelties have been perpetrated under the name of religion!
III. A DEMORALIZED PEOPLE.
1. Sons of Belial are at hand.
(1) There seems to have been no difficulty in procuring men so lost to truth and mercy that they will readily swear away the life of a good citizen. Nor is this to be wondered at when the whole magistracy are sons of Belial, no better than those they suborned. Jezebel saw no difficulty in procuring such. The nobles and elders of Jezreel found none.
(2) The sons of Belial no doubt were paid for their services. The "consideration" is not mentioned. What will not some men stoop to for gain! What will they hazard in eternity! And for what a trifle!
2. No voice is raised for justice.
(1) Naboth has no hearing in his defence. The sentence given, he is hurried away to be stoned to death.
(3) Unless the family of Naboth had perished with him, the vineyard would not have fallen to the crown. This would be an objection to Jezebel hiring sons of Belial to assassinate Naboth, for Naboth's heirs would still have to be disposed of. Melancholy is the condition of the nation in which right is sacrificed to might. "Sin is reproach to any people." - J.A.M.
I. THE SINFUL FIND MANY HELPERS. Ahab seems to have done all that he was able or cared to do. He had tempted Naboth and failed, and the matter seemed to have come to an end. But where Ahab stops, Satan's servants meet him and carry on the work. Jezebel prevails on him to tell the story, and the elders of Jezreel and its sons of Belial are ready to do their part also, to give him his desire and steep his soul in crime. The man who is casting away means and character and health and eternal life will find friends to take the part of his worse against his better self, and agents enough to aid him in accomplishing his sinful will. It is vain to think of arresting a career of vice merely by change of place. Satan has his servants everywhere.
II. THE MISUSE OF INFLUENCE. There is much that may be admired in Jezebel's conduct. However false she was to others, she was true to her own. With tenderness, which lends a peculiar grace to a strong, regal nature like hers, she approaches the moody monarch. Under the warm sunshine of loving sympathy the bands which bind the burden to his soul melt away. It is laid down and exposed to view. But however good the impulses which incite the wicked to action, their feet take to the paths of sin.
1. Her sympathy becomes fierce championship of wrong. There is love for Ahab, but no consideration for Naboth, and no regard to the voice of justice and of God. How much human love today is after the pattern of Jezebel's - narrow, selfish, unjust! The home is everything; the world outside has no claims, sometimes not even rights! Others are regarded with pleasure as they favour those we love; with aversion and hatred so soon as they oppose them, or even stand in their way. Homes are meant to be training schools for God's sons and daughters, where they may learn to be patient, forbearing, less exacting, able to make allowances for difference of disposition and of judgment, and so pass out able to do a brother's, sister's part in the great world around them. But Jezebel's affection frustrates God's plan and arms the home against the world it was meant to serve.
2. She goads him on to greater sin. She blames him not for setting his heart so upon a trifle, but for letting the matter rest where it did. She reminds him of his might and Naboth's weakness: "Dost thou now govern?" etc. How often does the sympathy of the wicked daringly recommend what the heart had feared to think, and this too with reproaches of weakness, of wrongs and slights left unavenged! Instead of quenching the fire of hate, they fan it into fiercer flame.
3. She bears him onward into crime (vers. 7-10). Ahab's very weakness would have prevented him shedding Naboth's blood, but her subtle brain and indomitable will supply what is needful to steep his soul in guilt. How many dark stains have been in this very way fixed upon the page of history! How much genius and talent have thus served, and are serving now, the devil's purpose!
III. THE EVIL WROUGHT BY TIME SERVERS (vers. 11-15). There is nothing to relieve the baseness of the elders and nobles of Jezreel. They were not impelled by misguided affection to avenge a fancied wrong. They could not even plead ignorance. They were behind the scenes and arranged for the trial. It was murder of the deepest dye - murder done under the guise of zeal for the offended majesty of God. They had one of the grandest opportunities of shielding innocence and rebuking wickedness in high places. They had only to say they could not lend themselves to such a deed. But these do not stand alone. The greatest crimes in history have Been wrought in this very way. Is there no place today over which "Jezreel" might well be written? Are there no men and no causes frowned upon, not because that in themselves they deserve such treatment, but Because they are not in favour, and it will not pay to befriend them? Are there none who will use their influence in favour of a good cause when it is safe to do so, but who will be looked for in vain when it sorely needs to be befriended? There may be no crime wrought now in this land such as was then done in Israel; But should the time come, these are the men who will do as the elders and nobles did then. The spirit is the same, and in the like circumstances it will bear the same fruit. - U.
2 Kings 9:26). But in all this dark business there was an invisible Spectator, whose presence does not seem to have been sufficiently taken into the account,
I. GOD IS AN OMNISCIENT OBSERVER.
1. He inspects all human actions.
(1) He was present in the palace looking upon the king of Israel as he sulked and sickened upon his bed. His eye also was full upon Jezebel as she proposed her ready cure for the monarch's chagrin. "Thou God seest me."
(2) He was present in that court of justice when the honest Naboth was "set on high among the people." He witnessed the sons of Belial as they swore away the fives of a worthy family. He looked into the faces of the "nobles" and "eiders" of Jezreel who suborned these perjurers. "Thou God seest me."
(3) He was a spectator at the place of execution. He saw the steadiness of Naboth's step, and noted well the bearing of his sons as they came forth to suffer for righteousness. And the swelling of every muscle of those who hurled the stones was measured by His piercing vision. "Thou God seest me."
2. He surveys all human motives.
(1) He clearly discerned the abominable hypocrisy of Jezebel's "fast." It was proclaimed ostensibly to avert from the nation Divine judgments provoked by the alleged blasphemy or idolatry of Naboth. The vineyard of Naboth had more to do with it than his crime. It is "a new thing in the earth" to see Jezebel jealous for the honour of Jehovah!
(2) He knew why the sons of Belial publicly perjured themselves, and accurately estimated the price for which they sold the lives of honourable citizens. He also estimated the cowardly fear of Jezebel's wrath, rather than encounter which the magistrates carried out her wicked instructions. "Nobles" and "elders" they were accounted by men; perjurers, murderers, and dastards they were accounted by God.
(3) He nicely weighed the motive which nerved the muscle of every man who lifted a stone against the life of Naboth. If any were misled by the hypocrisy of the authorities, and thought they "did God service" when they cast the stones, their sincerity was recognized; and those who were not deceived were also known.
3. Nothing is forgotten before Him.
(1) As He sees the end from the beginning so does He see the beginning from the end.
(2) Let us never forget that God never can forget. Every action of our lives is present with Him - so every word - so every thought and intent of the heart. Therefore -
II. GOD IS A SUPREME JUDGE.
1. He makes sin bitter to the sinner.
(1) The acquisition of the vineyard, the murders notwithstanding, was at first so pleasing to Ahab that it cured his sickness, and he "rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it." And this is often the first effect of the gratification of covetousness.
(2) But how transient is the unworthy satisfaction! It is soon succeeded by a season of reflection. The sudden apparition of Elijah upon the scene filled Ahab with alarm. His conscience now brought his guilt home, and before Elijah uttered a word, the king exclaimed, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" This was the language of mingled hatred and fear (see Galatians 4:16). The presence of the good is a silent and effective rebuke to the wicked.
(3) The enormity of Ahab's guilt was brought home to him by the questions, "Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?" He has killed, for by taking possession he sanctions the means by which his title is made out (see Job 31:39; Jeremiah 22:18, 14; Habakkuk 2:12).
(4) God's Holy Spirit still, by means of the word of prophecy, if not by the lips of living prophets, carries guilt to the consciences of sinners, and fills them with remorseful shame.
2. He conveys judgments in His providence. We read this principle in the denunciations uttered by Elijah.
(1) Upon Ahab. "In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." This was fulfilled (see 1 Kings 22:38). But how "in the place?" for Naboth suffered near Jezreel. Jezreel is, generally, called Samaria, being like Bethel, one of the "cities of Samaria" (see 1 Kings 13:32). So in verse 16, the vineyard of Naboth is said to be in Samaria. The passage is more clearly thus translated: "And the word of Jehovah came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Arise, go down to meet Ahab the king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, at the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to take possession of it."
(3) Upon Jezebel. The "cursed woman" is signally execrated (ver. 23). The retribution was as signally accomplished (see 2 Kings 9:36).
(4) This law of retribution in the judgments of Providence is not limited to sacred history. Orestes recognized it when he said to AEgisthus -
"Go where thou slew'st my father, 3. He will finally judge the world. (1) For Naboth and his family have yet to be vindicated. Providence has vindicated their reputation; but they have to be vindicated in person also. To this end all parties concerned in their murder will have to stand face to face, with their hearts exposed to the clear light and sensible presence of Omniscient Justice. What defence can the sons of Belial then set up? The magistrates? Jezebel? Ahab? (2) What a day of vindications will that be to all the righteous! What a day of confusion to all the wicked! Everything will be righteously adjusted in that final sentence (Matthew 25:34, 41, 46). - J.A.M.
3. He will finally judge the world.
(1) For Naboth and his family have yet to be vindicated. Providence has vindicated their reputation; but they have to be vindicated in person also. To this end all parties concerned in their murder will have to stand face to face, with their hearts exposed to the clear light and sensible presence of Omniscient Justice. What defence can the sons of Belial then set up? The magistrates? Jezebel? Ahab?
(2) What a day of vindications will that be to all the righteous! What a day of confusion to all the wicked! Everything will be righteously adjusted in that final sentence (Matthew 25:34, 41, 46). - J.A.M.
I. To ENJOY THE FRUITS OF SIN IS TO TAKE ITS GUILT. "Hast thou killed?" etc. It is not said that Ahab knew of the plot. The plain inference is that he did not. Jezebel wrote to the elders, and to her the tidings were sent that the deed was done. But if Ahab did not know before, he knew after. Knowing how it had been procured he nevertheless received it, and heard as he stood there the word of the Lord: "Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?" There are men, for example, who could not pass their days in the vile drink traffic. They could not sleep at night for thought of the wives and mothers and children whose misery had pleaded in God's sight against them and their work. The thought of the souls they had helped to lead down into the eternal darkness would terrify them. But they can pocket the gains of that very trade; they can receive the higher rent which their property secures because it is let to the sellers of drink, and live in quietness, and sit at the Lord's table, and die in good esteem, and go forth to meet - what? the same judgment as the publican! Your reputable merchant may not lie and cheat; but if the young men that serve behind his counters do so, and if he knowingly pockets the gains of such baseness, he is equally guilty in God's sight. To take the fruit of falsehood and oppression and wrong is to stain our souls with their guilt. "Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." "Behold I will bring evil upon thee," etc. (vers. 21-24).
II. WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FINDS THE TRUTH HATEFUL. Ahab's question, "Hast thou found me?" etc., was a self revelation. There were many to whom Elijah's presence would have been like that of an angel of God; but to Ahab it is as the shadow of death. And the explanation was, "Because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord." It is only to death that the truth is a savour of death. He was sin's bondman. For the gratification of evil desire he had sold himself to work Satan's will, and now in his attitude to God's servant he was owning Satan still as master. It is easy to listen with approval, and with pleasure even, when other men's sins are dealt with; but when our own are touched - when we are met with our feet standing in Naboth's vineyard, what is our attitude toward the truth? Is it anger or submission? Whom do we own as master, Satan or God?
III. THE RICHES OF GOD'S MERCY (vers. 25-29).
1. The greatness of Ahab's sin. He had outstripped all who had gone before him, great as their sins had been; "but there was none like unto Ahab," etc.
2. The inadequacy of his repentance. It was no doubt sincere, but it did not go far enough. It was fear of judgment, not loathing of sin.
3. The fulness of the Divine compassion. Verses 25 and 26 might well have been a prelude to the record of full and speedy vengeance, and especially so in view of the unsatisfactory nature of his sorrow. But it is the introduction to the story of mercy. All that sin - sin of deepest dye - will not prevent God running forth to meet Ahab so soon as he begins to turn to Him. That sorrow, shallow though it was, God had marked and accepted. "Seest thou how Ahab?" etc. God is not a stern, relentless Judge. Father's heart has never yearned over child as God's over us. - U.
(1) his sin,
(2) his punishment,
(3) his remorse.
I. His SIN. It had many elements of moral wrong in it, and is not to be characterized by any one particular designation.
1. Avarice. Large and rich as his royal domain was, he envied Naboth the possession of his little vineyard.
2. Oppression. It was a wicked abuse of power. "Might" to him was "right."
3. Impiety. Ahab must have known that he was tempting Naboth to the violation of an express Divine command (Numbers 36:7).
4. Abject moral weakness. This is seen in his childish petulance (ver. 4) and in his mean subserviency to the imperious will of Jezebel.
5. Base hypocrisy, in subjecting the injured man to the decision of a mock tribunal. Crimes like this generally present various phases of evil thought and feeling; and when they attempt to cover themselves with a false veil of rectitude, it only tends to deepen immeasurably our sense of their iniquity.
II. HIS PUNISHMENT. The prophet was assuming his true function in pronouncing this swift judgment on the cruel wrong that had been committed. His calling was to proclaim and enforce the laws of eternal righteousness, to vindicate the oppressed, to rebuke injustice, and that not least, but rather most of all, when it sat enthroned on the seats of authority and power. Note respecting this punishment.
1. Its certainty. Ahab could not really be surprised that his "enemy had found" him, for that "enemy" was but the instrument of a God to whom "all things are naked and opened." "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good," and the transgressor can never escape His righteous judgment. "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23).
2. Its correspondence with the crime. "In the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth," etc. (ver. 19). The principle involved in this has often been a marked feature of the Divine retributions. "Whatsoever a man soweth," etc. (Galatians 6:7, 8). "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7).
3. Its delay. The sentence was fully executed only in the person of his son Joram (2 Kings 9:25, 26); but this in no way alters the character or lessens the terribleness of it as a punishment upon him. Especially when we remember what an instalment of the full penalty was given in the violence of his own death (1 Kings 22:34-37). "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). But when, space being thus given them for repentance, they abuse it, they do but "treasure up wrath for themselves against the day of wrath," and, falling under the righteous vengeance of God, they do not escape "till they have paid the uttermost farthing." Thus did Ahab inherit the woe pronounced on him who thinks to secure any good for himself by iniquity and blood (Habakkuk 2:12). Ill-gotten gain always brings with it a curse.
III. HIS REMORSE (ver. 27). It can scarcely be called repentance. It may have been sincere enough so far as it went, and for this reason God delayed the threatened punishment; but it was wanting in the elements of a true repentance. It was the compunction of a guilty conscience, but not the sacred agony of a renewed heart. It sprang from sudden alarm at the inevitable consequences of his sin, but not from a true hatred of the sin itself. It soon passed away, and left him still more a slave to the evil to which he had "sold himself" than he was before. "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). - W.
I. THAT THERE IS REPENTANCE FOR THE VILEST. I. Ahab answered this description.
(1) He "wrought wickedness." So have we all. But his was evil of no common order. "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." (See Genesis 15:16; 2 Kings 21:11.)
(2) He wrought this wickedness "in the sight of the Lord," as the Amorites did not, for they had not the religious privileges of an Israelite. Ahab in particular had signal proofs of the presence of God. The shutting and opening of the heavens, to wit, together with the miracle on Carmel. Where much is given much is required.
(3) He had "sold himself" to work this wickedness. (See Romans 7:14.) He was slave to Jezebel - slave to Satan. He drudged hard in his serfdom.
(4) None of his predecessors had gone so far wrong. "There was none like unto Ahab" (see 1 Kings 16:33). Jeroboam had "made Israel to sin," and Omri, at the instigation of Ahab, made "statutes" to confirm that sin. (See Micah 6:16.) Ahab went further, and established the worship of Baal, with its attendant abominations of Ashere. (See 1 Kings 16:29-33.)
(5) He was in the worst company. He had married a "cursed woman," and submitted to be led by her into the extremes of wickedness. "Whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." Under her instigation he consented to a wholesale massacre of the sons of the prophets; and now she makes him her accomplice in the murder of Naboth, with its attendant atrocities.
2. Yet Ahab took God's message to heart.
(1) He believed the terrible sentence, as he had good reason to do, for it came by the hand of Elijah. In all his former experience he had found that the word of the Lord in Elijah's mouth was truth.
(2) Now, with his death vividly before him, and the fearful doom of his house - all the fruit of his crimes - these crimes live up again, and pass in formidable order before his eyes. (See Psalm 1:21.) Conspicuous amongst the spectres that would move before him would be those of the newly murdered Naboth with his children.
(3) This ghastly phantasmagoria would be to him a premonition of the solemnities of the final judgment in which the thousands injured, whether in body or soul, by his bad conduct and influence, would cry to God's justice for vengeance upon the royal culprit.
3. He humbled himself accordingly.
(1) Before Jehovah. He "rent his clothes" in token of deep grief. (See Genesis 37:34; Job 1:20; Ezra 9:8.) He put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. Here were all the signs of deep contrition before God. They were symbols of the prayer of the heart for mercy.
(2) Before men. To put on sackcloth he laid aside those robes of state in which he had prided himself. Instead of moving with his former kingly tramp he now "went softly." (Compare Isaiah 38:15.) He moved with the timid step of a culprit.
(3) Who will say his repentance was not genuine? God did not say so. He afterwards, indeed, professed to "hate" a faithful servant of God (1 Kings 22:8). But what does this prove? Simply that he afterwards relapsed into sin. And it admonishes us not to presume upon any dogma of infallible final perseverance, but, by the help of God, to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling."
II. THAT THERE IS MERCY FOR THE PENITENT.
1. God observed the repentance of Ahab.
(1) He observed it before man haft. He saw its first motions in the depths of his heart. He saw the prodigal "while yet a great way off" (Luke 15:20).
(2) Doubtless He graciously encouraged these motions so that they ripened into confession. And does not the goodness of God still lead men to repentance, even the vilest?
2. He called the attention of Elijah to it.
(1) To the prophet he said, "Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me." This was an encouragement to the man of God. His labour was not in vain. Ahab required some moral courage to humble himself before Jehovah in the presence of Jezebel.
(2) God in His goodness directs His servants to those who are penitent that they may minister words of encouragement to them. Ananias was sent to Saul (Acts 9:11).
3. He extended His mercy to the supplicant.
(1) "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." The mercy is not a reversal of the mischief, neither was the repentance. The mischief is done, and cannot be reversed. Early piety is therefore earnestly to be desired that the mischief of an evil life may be avoided.
(2) It was a substantial benefit nevertheless.
(a) To Ahab personally. It was something to be spared the pain of witnessing the judgments of God upon his wicked house; but, what is still more considerable, this mercy contained a promise respecting the world to come; for, and especially in prophecy, things visible are signs or portents of things spiritual.
(b) It was also a benefit to his nation. For after this, probably, came the war with Ben-hadad, in which God interposed in a very remarkable manner on behalf of His people. In the Septuagint, which translation was made from much older copies of the Hebrew Bible than any now extant, this chapter and that here before it change places; and the order in the Septuagint is also followed by Josephus.
(3) This fact is very important, for it shows also where the backsliding of Ahab commenced. It was evidently in the false mercy which he showed to Ben-hadad. After this relapse God forsook him and handed him over to evil spirits and lying prophets, who wrought his ruin. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved." - J.A.M.
I. THE DECEITFUL NATURE OF AHAB'S HUMILIATION. We shall show that there was a mixture of the good and evil, of the true and false.
1. It originated in a true message. No phantom of his own brain, no utterance of a false prophet misled Ahab; but the declaration of a man who, as he knew by experience, spoke truly, and spoke for God. He dared not refuse credence to the message, but that his heart was unchanged was shown in his continued hatred to the messenger (1 Kings 18:17; 1 Kings 21:20). In all ages the word of God has been "as a fire," and as a "hammer" (Jeremiah 23:29). Give examples. The Ninevites, the Jews at Pentecost, etc. It has "pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe."
2. It asserted itself in fasting and tears. These would be natural signs of distress. In themselves they were no evidence of sincerity. It is easier to put on the outward than to experience the inward. There is always danger of letting the visible supersede the invisible, though it is only of value as the honest expression of conviction, Leaves and blossoms may be tied around a dead branch, but that does not make it live. (The perils of Ritualism.) Even under the Old Dispensation this was understood. Samuel said, "To obey is better than sacrifice," etc. David exclaimed, "Thou desirest not sacrifice," etc. (Psalm 51:16, 17; see also Micah 6:8; Isaiah 1:11). Compare the words of our Lord, "Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast."
3. It consisted in terror, not in turning. Ahab was thoroughly alarmed, but imagination rather than conscience was at work within him. He did not forsake his idols, nor give up Naboth's vineyard, nor abandon his self confidence. See next chapter, which narrates his dealings with Micaiah. Evidently there was no change of heart or of life; nor had his present feeling any abiding influence. He was like those who are alarmed at the thought of hell, not at the thought of sin. They shrink from punishment, but not from guilt. Examples. The drunkard weeping maudlin tears over his poverty; the detected wrong doer thrown out of employment; the sinner who believes himself to be at the point of death, etc. True repentance makes us feel and act differently towards sin and towards God.
II. THE DIVINE NOTICE OF AHAB'S HUMILIATION.
1. It did not escape the Divine search. God looks down from heaven to see if there were any that do good. He rejoices to find not the evil that must be punished, but the feeble germs of good that may be encouraged. (Compare Psalm 14:2.) Even such a sinner as Ahab (ver. 25) was not disregarded when he showed the faintest signs of repentance. God would foster them lovingly, as He fosters the seed sown in the warm earth. The prodigal is seen "when yet a great way off." Even the first beginnings of righteousness were commended by our Lord: "Jesus, beholding him, loved him," etc.
2. It led to the mitigation of the Divine punishment. Ahab's feeling was real as far as it went. The postponement of punishment was to give opportunity for more genuine repentance. Had that revealed itself, the judgment would have been averted. Compare this with our Lord's washing the feet of Judas, though He knew he was about to betray Him. "The goodness of God leadeth to repentance." See how ready God is to meet those who may return to Him (Acts 2:38; Joel 2:12-14). [NOTE. - We ought to notice and encourage what is right even in those who are not what they should be, commending it whenever it is possible.]
3. It Jailed to win a reversal of the Divine judgment. A temporary repentance may be followed by a temporary reprieve; but final salvation must be preceded by true repentance. If the heart is not turned from sin, it cannot be turned from hell. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of; but the sorrow of this world worketh death." Not only must evil be expelled, but good must enter; for if the heart is left "empty, swept, and garnished" by self-reformation, the evil spirits will return. Good must supersede evil; Christ must supplant sin; the Holy Spirit must conquer the evil spirit. (Compare Acts 11:17, 18.) A partial penitence gained reprieve, and much more will a thorough repentance gain justification. As Trapp says, "If the leaves of repentance be so medicinal, much more the fruit." - A.R.