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The Spread of Sin

1 Kings 21

One of the reasons the story of Elijah fascinates us is found in the characters opposite him – in this instance, Ahab.

(1 Ki 21 NIV) Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. {2} Ahab said to Naboth, "Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth." {3} But Naboth replied, "The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers." {4} So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, "I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers." He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat. {5} His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, "Why are you so sullen? Why won't you eat?" {6} He answered her, "Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, 'Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.' But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'" {7} Jezebel his wife said, "Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I'll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite." {8} So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city with him. {9} In those letters she wrote: "Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. {10} But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death." {11} So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. {12} They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. {13} Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, "Naboth has cursed both God and the king." So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. {14} Then they sent word to Jezebel: "Naboth has been stoned and is dead." {15} As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, "Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead." {16} When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth's vineyard. {17} Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: {18} "Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth's vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. {19} Say to him, 'This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?' Then say to him, 'This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, dogs will lick up your blood--yes, yours!'" {20} Ahab said to Elijah, "So you have found me, my enemy!" "I have found you," he answered, "because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD. {21} 'I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel--slave or free. {22} I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.' {23} "And also concerning Jezebel the LORD says: 'Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.' {24} "Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country." {25} (There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. {26} He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.) {27} When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. {28} Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: {29} "Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son."


We must understand who’s being reasonable and righteous here. The idea that Naboth could not sell his land – it being the inheritance of his fathers – is commanded in the Old Testament. God viewed the Israelites as tenants on his land, and they were not privileged to sell it permanently. Ahab certainly would have known this. So what appears to us as an unreasonable, stubborn reaction is actually righteous obedience to God’s law.

Times change. In my own lifetime I have been ridiculed – by people whom I thought knew me well enough – for refusing an offer of adultery. The blonde was cute; we were at a conference far from home; all were surprised at not only my refusal but my argument. Perhaps Ahab felt the same way.

Ahab – behaving like a King?

If there is any word which comes to mind about Ahab’s behavior in the early part of this story, it is “childish.” He sees something; he wants it. He makes what he thinks is a fair offer, and is refused. So he goes home to sulk. It is childish.

It is also a selfish attitude. The man is, after all, a king. We might expect some dignity, but he has been deprived of what he wants. He thinks of no one but himself. In this we see the root of the evil – selfishness.

Evil comes of it – in the person of Jezebel. She appeals to the one “push button” in Ahab’s character which is sure to work: pride. His pride has been injured, and that makes him easy to manipulate.


Ahab’s argument to the contrary is worth examining:

  • First, he made a reasonable financial offer. He’s not trying to steal the man’s vineyard; he’s offering him a good deal on it. This is true – but see how it sets Ahab’s expectations.
  • He’s the king, and entitled to a little respect – indeed, even some fear. The man should have had sense enough to know that a king’s suggestion – especially when so fair – is a subject’s command. Again, this is common – and sets Ahab’s expectations.

In both instances, Ahab has developed expectations – and we will see that handling our expectations is key to handling sin. Sometimes our expectations mutate into our “rights” – and then Satan is given a powerful grip upon us.

Our expectations – Satan’s handle

What do we do when our expectations are not met?

  • Do we sulk like Ahab, and expect other people to take care of the problem for us? Some of us are good at manipulating people this way.
  • Or do we become wrathful, rising up in “righteous anger?” Many a marriage comes apart when a husband expects something which his wife cannot deliver – and he strikes out at her.
  • Do we scheme for our expectations – after all, we have a right to happiness, right? Do we use our expectations as justification for our means?

None of these are acceptable. Perhaps we should consider the alternative: changing our expectations. Do you see how desire gives birth to sin? Is it any wonder our Lord commanded the Israelites, “Thou shalt not covet?”

The Spread of Sin

It is an important lesson – how sin creeps in. Let’s start with Jezebel:

  • She begins by using the king’s seal to send letters. It was probably a soft suggestion – “I’ll take care of it for you, honey, just let me borrow your seal ring.” He knew she was up to no good; but as long as he didn’t know exactly what evil – he’s off the hook, right?
  • It’s not sufficient for the town officials to stone Naboth; they have to be brought into the action. They have to find the false witnesses and arrange the whole thing. Why? No whistle blowers will come from that bunch!
  • To make the whole thing look even more whitewashed, she has them do it religiously. “Proclaim a fast!” Often used as a way of bringing the people to repentance, the people would assume that their elders had indeed found the hidden culprit.

Naboth’s death was marked with a simple epitaph; no incriminating documents will be found here. How quick we are to forget! They didn’t even know why she wanted Naboth dead, nor did they care. We often feel that “forget” is as good as “repent.”

Ahab confirms the crime, accepting his guilt therein. He had a chance to reject it; several, I suspect. Each time he “went along,” he got in deeper.

How we deceive ourselves! No doubt all was easy in the kingdom – the cover up complete, the crime undiscovered, the citizenry happy and the royal cook pleased with the new vegetable garden – until Elijah showed up.

Our ways, God’s ways.

It’s instructive to compare our ways and His:

  • We are temporary. We forget a sin, and think that the same as repentance. He is eternal; he does not forget the sin. We recognize the justice of this; Byron de la Beckwith would be a good example.
  • We consider the dead to be gone. Those who espouse their cause are “raking up old wounds. Let sleeping dogs lie.” But God is the God of the Living – and those who are alive in Him will be heard by Him.
  • Because we do not seek repentance, when the crime is found out, we seek vengeance. But God always seeks our repentance; in His love, He seeks our return to Him.

Accusation, Repentance – and Sentence Delayed

The Accusation

God brings charges against Ahab – as he will against us, as well:

  • First, that despite the spreading web of the sin, the fault is with Ahab. He gave birth to it; his guilt is not diminished by the participation of others.
  • Next, that he has “sold himself” to do evil. The word is interesting. It can mean sold in the usual market sense; it also is used of those who are sold into slavery – or marriage! It carries with it the sense that his honesty and integrity have been bartered away – for real estate.
  • Finally, God has punished this before – and he will do it again. You should have known that he would not be inactive forever. When the sin blossomed, God pruned it.
The nature of repentance

Ahab is a marvel. Just when you think him beyond all hope, he repents. We can learn from his repentance:

  • His repentance is rooted in humility – he has humbled himself before the Lord. This is just; for humility comes of comparing ourselves with Almighty God.
  • His repentance is neither private nor silent – but done in action. From his actions you may conclude that he means it.
  • Repentance, ultimately, is an overcoming of self. It cannot restore Naboth; it cannot undo the past – but it can remove the barrier of sin between us and God.
God’s reprieve

God then spares this man, bringing upon his son the disasters prophesied. As there is no atonement – either from the Cross or Ahab – there is no forgiveness. But consider: if God takes a man like this, and for his repentance spares him in his lifetime – how much more will he forgive the repentant sinner of our day who looks to the Cross for his atonement?


I leave you with three thoughts:

  • Consider your expectations well, for out of them comes frustrated desire and covetousness. Better to change your expectations than to scheme to get them.
  • Remember that the spread of sin is bit by bit. Ahab would have been better off to have cut this vine before it consumed him.
  • But in all things, remember that God is merciful – always desiring the true repentance of sinners.

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