Weekly Sermon Illustration: Ahab, Naboth, and Jezebel
In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.
On June 16, 2013 we will celebrate the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week's reading from the book of 1 Kings:
1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
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 had 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 give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite." 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 had 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 they 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. 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.
Here is an excerpt about Ahab et al. originally published in A Room Called Remember and later in Beyond Words:
Whereas just about everybody has a cross to bear, King Ahab had two. One cross was the prophet Elijah. If, generally speaking, a prophet to a king was like ants at a picnic, Elijah was like a swarm of bees. The other cross was his foreign-born wife, Jezebel, who had gotten religion in a big way back in the old country and was forever trying to palm it off on the Israelites, who had a perfectly good one of their own. Unfortunately for Ahab, the two of them sometimes got to working on him at the same time, one from one side, the other from the other. A case in point was the Naboth affair.
To make a sordid story short, Naboth had a vineyard that Ahab wanted so much he could taste it, and when Naboth refused either to sell or to swap, Ahab went into a sulk. "He laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food" (1 Kings 21 :4). It was the kind of opening Jezebel was always on the look-out for. Was he a king or a cup custard? she asked, and proceeded to take charge. Found guilty of a trumped up charge, Naboth got stoned to death, and Ahab got the vineyard. He also, needless to say, got a visit from Elijah.
Down through the years they'd kept meeting like that, usually in secluded places, always at critical moments. Ahab arrived incognito-the dark glasses, the Panama hat, the business suit-and Elijah with a ten day growth of beard. Ahab addressed him in his usual informal way as a royal pain in the neck (1 Kings 21:20), and then Elijah let him have it with both barrels. When God got through with him, Elijah said, there wouldn't be enough left of Ahab to scrape off the sidewalk, and what there was the dogs would take care of. As for Jezebel, not only because of Naboth but because of all her imported witchdoctors and totem poles, she would end up the same way.
Ahab at least said he was sorry, and as a result was allowed to die honorably in battle, the part about the dogs coming true only in the sense that they got to lap the water up that his bloody chariot was hosed off with afterwards. Jezebel, on the other hand, continued unrepentant to the end. When the time finally came, they threw her out of the window, and when the dogs got finished, all that was left for the undertaker was "the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands" (II Kings 9:35).
God is merciful, and if she and Ahab and Elijah all eventually met up again in Paradise, you can only assume that Ahab said if it weren't for the honor of the thing, he'd as soon take his chances in a warmer climate, and immediately put in for a transfer.