Martha M. Shiverick
Sermon June 16, 2013

1 Kings 21: 1-21a
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Remember the Ancient Greek story about King Midas. Sometimes it is referred to as Midas and the Golden Touch. He was a king who loved gold. When King Midas was told that he could have anything he wanted he asked if everything he touched could turn to gold. If you recall, this delighted him totally in the beginning. He made a gold house for himself, gold furniture, golden garden and pool. The trees, the flowers… All he touched turned to gold. However, his joy was short lived and his greed destroyed him in the end. His beloved daughter was turned to gold as he embraced her and he starved as he could not eat or drink as all that touched his lips also turned to gold. In the end he begged for this great wish to be taken away. Greed, it seems, can be a very destructive power.

This morning’s scripture passage from 1 Kings is another type of ‘Midas Story’. Listen now for God’s word in the story of King Ahab and the vineyard he coveted and how his wife Jezebel connived to get him what he wanted only to have it destroy him in the end….

‘Later the following events took place; Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

His wife Jezebel came to him and said, ‘Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

OK – Let’s break here for a moment before we go on with the story. I just want to make sure we are all on the same page with this. Ahab is the King or ruler of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Bible tells how this one man did more evil than all the kings before him. Not only was he a supporter of the Canaanite god Baal, but he was an immature and selfish ruler. In this story, he covets the vineyard owned by Naboth which is next to his home. He wants it for his own to turn it into a garden.

However Naboth will not give it to him. His land was given to his ancestors and will be there for the generations of his family that come after him. By keeping the land he feels that he is honoring the ancient tribal divisions of land that are in the Book of Numbers and that this land division is part of God’s law. It is more than property to Naboth; it is also tied up with his faith and worship of Yahweh.

King Ahab cannot understand this. It is beyond his comprehension and he has no respect for Naboth’s position. He is literally made sick with envy for this vineyard he cannot have. He takes to his bed and won’t eat. This king, who has much more than he needs, would rather be die of starvation than not have the object of his desires. Yikes! What a brat! His response is so spoiled that it seems comical!

And in comes his enabler… Jezebel. She sees that the king has taken to his bed and her response is first one that I would identify as sarcasm. Do you govern Israel? This probably fueled the attitude that Ahab was down with. Then she tells Ahab to get over it. She wants him to get over the depression and to pull himself up by his bootstraps. This is not a woman who is attracted to weakness in others. Only if she can use it to her advantage! She tells him that she will get him the vineyard.

So, let’s continue with the story and see what this conniving woman does to get her husband his coveted land!

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she has sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then the sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.’ As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Jezebel’s schemes worked! She got the coveted vineyard for her husband! She plotted, she schemed, she had false charges brought up against an innocent man, and she is responsible for an innocent man’s death. Jezebel reports to her husband and tells him to go and get his vineyard. She might have used her husband’s name to get the power to carry off her plan, but there is no doubt that if she had been taken to court, she would have been found very, very guilty. Ahab was guilty, for sure, but Jezebel was the instigator while he was guilty of allowing her to carry it out.

However, we hear no more about Jezebel in this circumstance. God knew what happened, knew of Ahab’s destructive envy and that he allowed a man to die to get something that he coveted. So, listen now to the final few verses in this story, where Elijah voices God’s punishment on Ahab and his family.

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord; Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”

Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you.”

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Now we can take this story on several levels and there are lessons to be learned on all of them. The first in the King Midas level where the story teaches us that things that we covet and think we want might indeed bring destruction upon us. Ahab did not really need that vineyard that had been in Naboth’s family for generations. He just wanted it. Just as we teach our children the difference between wanting something and needing it, Ahab needed to be taught that lesson as well. We might think we need material possessions, accumulated wealth, great power, or other things we covet and envy in others, but the story reminds us that coveting and envy can lead to bad consequences!

At a little deeper lever, this is also a story about good and evil. God’s people are referred to as God’s vineyard at times so perhaps it is a metaphor for the Israelites who were controlled and stomped on by people of other nations and religions, that even when it seems as though evil will win out, it does not happen. Even when we feel stomped, burned, robbed, and are deep in despair, grace will win. Good conquers evil. Joy will come at the end. The words in a song that Bo’s group, The Forest City String Band, plays sometimes says the darkest hours are just before dawn.

This is a story about justice as well. The God of our Hebrew Scriptures is a just and righteous God. If Naboth’ s death had gone unpunished, we would have cried out for the injustice of it all! A man died for another’s selfishness! A life was casually thrown away to please another’s whim and passing fancy. The statement of dogs licking Ahab’s blood where they had licked up Naboth’s seems well… justified. And the fact that justice was carried out brings good news to us. Just as we know that good will win out, we also have hope because justice will prevail as well. We hope because of what we have experienced in the past, not because of our current situations. We hope because we remember that good overcomes evil and mercy has power over pain.

The third thing that I want to bring up is the one that does not give us hope and courage, but is the difficult one that we need to wrestle with in our lives. You see, there is a painful part of this story which we might not want to uncover as it also uncovers so much of the dark side of our own lives as well. Think about the sin that Ahab really committed. Sure we can say it was greed, it was selfishness, it was that he was a really spoiled brat who was enabled by a woman without a moral ounce in her body. BUT, when you really think about it….his really big sin was not those things. It was that he was compliant to Jezebel’s evil actions. He knew what she was going to do, that there was no action that was too immoral for her to carry out to get what she wanted, and he went along with it. All Ahab had to say to stop the evil from occurring was to tell his wife jezebel that her actions were not moral. And perhaps that is his real sin, the sin for which God called upon Elijah to dictate a punishment.

So, perhaps this story is also meant to have us look at our lives and think of the ways we have perpetuated the evil of the Jezebel’s of our world. Sometimes our inaction is a really powerful action too. We allow sins to be committed by complacency which equates to support and involvement in the sin itself. When we allow the bully at school to pick on the victimized child, this story tells us that we are as guilty as the bully. When we don’t stop a racist remark or allow someone to make a joke about someone being gay we are perpetuating the sin of inequality. When we see injustice and ignore it, we are as guilty as the unjust person. That is the painful message in the story and the one we who wish to be God’s faithful disciples need to wrestle. It is easy to see Jezebel as outside our reality, we are not as evil as that woman who has no scruples or moral fiber to her being…. But God was not pleased with Ahab as well, and well, his sin is one we all, when we are honest with ourselves, might relate to as our own. The story becomes a charge to us to be responcible. It is a charge to us to not turn from what is hurtful and hateful in the world and ignore it, but to fight for love, and God’s way in all that we do. Amen.