1 Kings 21:20
And Ahab said to Elijah, Have you found me, O my enemy? And he answered, I have found you…
1. That which first of all blinded Ahab more or less to the true character and extent of his responsibility for the death of Naboth was the force of desire. A single desire long dwelt upon, cherished, and indulged, has a blinding power which cannot easily be exaggerated. Ahab had long looked wistfully from his villa across the moat of Jezreel at the vineyard of Naboth. There it lay, beautiful in itself, most desirable as an appendage to the royal property. Without it the summer villa was obviously incomplete, and each visit to Jezreel would have strengthened the king's wish to possess it. It was not that he enjoyed to baulk a great man's wishes in the spirit of that rough and surly independence which is sometimes fostered by the near neighbourhood of a Court; it was not that he was governed by a natural sentiment common in all ages and civilisations against parting with an old family property; it was that the sacred law did not permit the exchange or the sale. With a view to maintaining the original distribution of landed property among the tribes, and of preventing the accumulation of large landed estates in a few hands, the Mosaic law forbade the alienation of lands or families holding them; and especially it forbade the transfer from one tribe to another. And this is the meaning of Naboth's exclamation, "The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee." Desire is not always wrong in its early stages, and so long as it is under control of principle it is a motive, a useful motive power in human life. But when it finds itself in conflict with the rights of other men, and, above all, in conflict with the laws and with the rights of God, it must be suppressed unless it is to lead to crime. When Naboth declined to sell or to exchange his vineyard, Ahab ought to have ceased to desire it. Ahab went back to his palace baulked of his desire by the conscientious resistance of Naboth. The impulsive force in life is not thought, nor will, but desire. Thought sees its object; will gives orders with a view to attain it; but without desire thought is powerless, and will, in the operative sense, does not exist. Desire is to the human soul what gravitation is to the heavenly bodies. Ascertain the object of a man's desire, and you know the direction in which his soul is moving; ascertain the strength of a man's desire, and you know the rapidity of the soul's movement. In St. s memorable words, "Whithersoever I am carried forward it is desire that carries me." Quocumque feror amore feror. If the supreme object of desire is God, then desire becomes the grace of charity, and carries the soul onwards and upwards to the true source of its existence. If the supreme object of desire be something earthly, some person, some possession, then desire becomes what Scripture calls concupiscence, and carries the soul downwards — downwards to those regions in which the soul is buried and stifled by matter and sense. Concupiscence is desire diverted from its true object — God — and centred upon some created object which perverts and degrades it; and concupiscence grows by self-indulgence; it may very easily pass a point at which it can be no longer controlled, it may absorb as into a practically resistless current all the other interests and movements of the soul; it may concentrate with an all-increasing importunity the whole body and stock of feeling and passion upon some trifling object upon which, for the moment, it is bent, and which, by absorbing it, blinds it — blinds it utterly to the true proportions and value of things into the true meaning and import of action. So it was with Pharaoh when he set out in the pursuit of Israel; so it was with the vain and miserable Haman when he set his heart on exterminating the Jews; so it was with Ahab.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.