(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.
Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?
I. PLEASURE WON BY SIN IS PEACE LOST. Action and reaction, as the mechanicians tell us, are equal and contrary. The more violent the blow with which we strike upon the forbidden pleasure, the further back the rebound after the stroke. When sin tempts — when there hangs glittering before a man the golden fruit that he knows he ought not to touch-then, amidst the noise of passion or the sophistry of desire, conscience is silenced for a little while. Conscience and consequence are alike lost sight of. Like a mad bull, the man that is tempted lowers his head and shuts his eyes, and rushes right on. The moment that the sin is done, that moment the passion or desire which tempted to it is satiated, and ceases to exist for the time. It is gone as a motive. Like some savage beast, being fed full, it lies down to sleep. There is a vacuum left in the heart, the noise is stilled, and then — and then — conscience begins to speak. Now, you will say that all that is true in regard to the grossest forms of transgression, but that it is not true in regard to the less vulgar and sensual kinds of crime. Of course it is most markedly observable with regard to the coarsest kind of sins; but it is as true, though perhaps not in the same degree-not in the same prominent, manifest way at any rate — in regard to every sin that a man does. There is never an evil thing which — knowing it to be evil — we commit, which does not rise up to testify against us. As surely as to-night's debauch is followed by to-morrow's headache; so surely — each after its kind, and each in its own region — every sin lodges in the human heart the seed of a quickspringing punishment, yea, is its own punishment. When we come to grasp the sweet thing that we have been tempted to seize, there is a serpent that starts up amongst all the flowers. When the evil act is done — opposite of the prophet's roll — it is sweet in the lips, but oh! it is bitter afterwards. "At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder!" The silence of a seared conscience is not peace. For peace you want something more than that a conscience shall be dumb. For peace you want something more than that you shall be able to live without the daily sense and sting of sin. You want not only the negative absence of pain, but the positive presence of a tranquillising guest in your heart — that conscience of yours testifying with you, blessing you in its witness, and shedding abroad rest and comfort.
II. SIN IS BLIND TO ITS TRUE FRIENDS AND ITS REAL FOES. "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" Elijah was the best friend he had in his kingdom. And that Jezebel there, the wife of his bosom, whom he loved and thanked for this thing, she was the worst foe that hell could have sent him. Ay, and so it is always. The faithful rebuker, the merciful inflictor of pain, is the truest friend of the wrong doer. The worst enemy of the sinful heart is the voice that either tempts it into sin, or lulls it into self-complacency,
III. THE SIN WHICH MISTAKES THE FRIENDLY APPEAL FOR AN ENEMY, LAYS UP FOR ITSELF A TERRIBLE RETRIBUTION. Elijah comes here and prophesies the fall of Ahab. The next peal, the next flash, fulfil the prediction. There, where he did the wrong, he died. In Jezreel, Ahab died. In Jezreel, Jezebel died. That plain was the battlefield for the subsequent discomfiture of Israel.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
1. "Be sure," said Moses to the Reubenites, "Your sin will find you out." (Numbers 32:23). What an exemplification here! how literally was Elijah's denunciation fulfilled! Yes, and history and human experience are ever bearing witness to this, that sin finds out the sinner; and that, not simply in punishment following sin, but in the sin becoming its own means of detection and punishment — in a certain correlation of sin and its penalty. "Thine own wickedness" etc (Jeremiah 2:19). "Be not deceived, God is not mocked," etc. (Galatians 6:7). "Whoso breaketh a hedge," etc. (Ecclesiastes 10:8).
2. Success in wrongdoing the sinner's loss. Better indeed had it been for Ahab if Jezebel's scheme had failed. Men often fret and fume if thwarted in attaining some coveted object, yet may it have been their mercy to be so thwarted. It is Divine goodness which again and again hedges up our way, and providentially coerces us. To be given up to the devices and desires of our own hearts is the sorest of judgments.
3. The fatal mistake of resenting righteous rebuke. Terrible was Ahab's mistake in calling Elijah his enemy. That uncompromising rebuker, his truest friend, would he only have listened to him instead of yielding to the siren seductions of Jezebel.
(A. R. Symonds, M. A.)
2. And a second cause, which could have blinded Ahab to the true character of his responsibility for the murder of Naboth, was the ascendant influence and prominent agency of his queen, Jezebel. Ahab could not have enjoyed the results of Jezebel's achievement, and decline to accept responsibility for it; yet, no doubt, he was more than willing to do this, more than willing to believe that matters had drifted somehow into other hands than his, and that the upshot, regrettable, no doubt, in one sense, but in another not altogether unwelcome, was beyond his control. It is to-day, as of old, that false conscience constantly endeavours to divest itself of responsibility for what has been done through others, or for what others had been allowed by us to do. This is the origin of that saying, "Corporations have no conscience." The fact is that every individual member of a corporation gets too easily into the habit of thinking that all, or some of the other members are really answerable for the acts of tim whole, and that each merely acquiesces in what the others decide or do. But then, if everybody thinks this, where, meanwhile, does the real responsibility reside? — it must be somewhere, it cannot evaporate altogether. In very large bodies of men acting together, the responsibility is divided into very small portions of unequal magnitude; this is the case with nations and with churches, but responsibility is not destroyed by being thus distributed; while, on the other hand- the smaller the corporation the greater the responsibility of each one of its members. Thus the responsibility of each member of the British legislature for the well-being of the country is vastly greater than that of each Englishman who possesses a vote, and that of each member of the Cabinet is vastly greater than that of each member of Parliament. Ahab and Jezebel were at this time, practically speaking, the governing corporation in Israel, but Ahab could not shift his responsibility on Jezebel.
3. And the third screen which would have blinded Ahab to the real state of the case was the perfection of the legal form which had characterised the proceedings. When Jezebel wrote to the magistrates of Jezreel she had been very careful indeed about legal propriety. She wrote in the "king's name;" she signed the letter with the king's seal, which would have borne the king's signature, and this, when stamped on the writing, made the actual signature unnecessary. Thus the letter had nothing less than the character of a royal command, and was addressed to the persons at Jezreel with whom the administration of justice properly lay — the elders and notables, the local magistracy. Law is a great and sacred thing. It is nothing less than a shadow upon earth of the justice of God. The forms which surround it, the rules which give it the dignity and honour which belong to its representatives, are the outworks of a thing itself entitled to our reverence. But when the machinery of law is tampered with, as was, no doubt, the case by Jezebel, when a false witness or a biased judge contributes to a result which, if legal, is not also moral, then law is like an engine of[ the rails — its remaining force is the exact measure of its capacity for mischief and for wrong, then, indeed, if ever, Summum jus, summa injuria. Naboth's trial and execution was, in truth, one of the earliest recorded samples in the world's history of that dreadful outrage against God and man — a judicial murder. When the sword of justice smites down innocence and becomes the instrument of crime, the whole spirit and drift of law is abandoned, its language and its usages survive, and, as in Ahab's case, they form a screen between a guilty conscience and the stern reality. Of the authors and abettors of such deeds as this, it was said in an earlier age, "They will not be learned nor understand, but walk on still in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course." The foundations are out of course! Yes, that is the effect bad law makes in many a case where consciences, the deepest and most precious things in the moral and social life of man, are ruined. Propriety of outward form in the condemnation of Naboth is the measure of the miserable self-deceit of Ahab.
1. Let us carry away two lessons, if no more. The first to keep all forms of desire well under control — under the control of conscience illuminated by principle, illuminated by faith. Some measure of desire is necessary for exertion; but the fewer wants we have the freer men we are, and the freer we are the happier we are. The one direction in which desire may be safely unchecked is heavenward. Safety lies in taking and keeping it well in hand, and in doing this betimes.
2. And, secondly, for us Christians the event or the man who discovers us to ourselves should be held to be not our enemy, but our friend.
(Canon Liddon, D. D.)
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