The High Cost of Getting Your Own Way

1 Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and 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 the inheritance of my fathers.” And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.

But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money, or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” And Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart 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, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. 10 And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” 11 And the men of his city, the elders and the leaders who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast and set Naboth at the head of the people. 13 And the two worthless men came in and sat opposite him. And the worthless men 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 with stones. 14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. 1 Kings 21:1-16 ESV

Chapter 20 ended with the statement: And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria” (1 Kings 20:43 ESV). The author used two Hebrew words, sar and zāʿēp̄, to describe Ahab’s state of mind. And like most words in the Hebrew language, these two words carry a range of meanings. When we read that Ahab was “vexed and sullen,” it conjures up images of an unhappy child who is pouting because he didn’t get his way. But Ahab wasn’t just throwing himself a pity party; he was angry and resentful. And it’s easy to understand the intensity of his emotions when we consider the severity of God’s judgment. Ahab had chosen to spare the life of Ben-hadad so that he could sign a potentially lucrative treaty with him. But this decision was had not been God’s will, and Ahab would suffer greatly for it.

“Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.” – 1 Kings 20:42 ESV

With that bit of bad news still ringing in his ears, Ahab had left the Valley of Aphek and returned to his palace in Samaria. When he arrived, he was in a dark mental state. The New English Translation describes him as “bitter and angry.” He deeply resented the punishment meted out to him by God. The Hebrew word sar conveys the idea of a stubborn, almost rebellious resistance to this God-ordained fate. And the word zāʿēp̄ lets the reader know that Ahab was wearing his emotions on his sleeve. His anger was visible. Since he couldn’t take out his anger on God, it spilled over onto all those around him. Even his neighbor, Naboth.

At some point after the victory over the Syrians, Ahab visited his summer palace in Jezreel. One day, while surveying the grounds of his palace, he noticed Naboth’s vineyard, which was located nearby. Seeing that this was fertile land, Ahab determined that it would make a fine spot to plant a garden for his palace. So, he approached Naboth with an offer.

“Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.” – 1 Kings 21:2 NLT

But Naboth politely turned down the king’s generous offer, explaining that the land on which the vineyard was located was part of his inheritance. According to Mosaic Law, the Israelites were forbidden to sell the land that God had given to them as their inheritance. The book of Leviticus outlined this divine prohibition against property transactions involving land dedicated to the various tribes of Israel.

“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.” – Leviticus 25:23 NLT

The book of Numbers provides further clarification concerning God’s ban on the transfer or sale of any of the land He had allotted to the 12 tribes.

The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. – Numbers 36:7 NLT

Naboth was simply obeying the law as given by God to Moses. He was legally prohibited from accepting Ahab’s offer. But none of this mattered to Ahab. And Naboth’s firm but polite response produced in Ahab the same effect as God’s earlier warning of judgment.

And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him – 1 Kings 21:4 ESV

Ahab responded with bitterness and anger. But notice that his anger was not directed at Naboth but at what Naboth had said. When Naboth informed the king that he could not sell him the land, his justification had been based on the law of God. Once again, God had interfered with Ahab’s plans, and it left him a strong sense of resentment and frustration. His anger was with God and His constant intervention into his affairs. Ahab couldn’t even buy a vineyard without running into this ever-present God who seemed to stick His nose into everything. Denied his desire for a garden, Ahab allowed his anger to turn to depression and deep despondency, even refusing to eat.

Concerned about the deteriorating condition of her husband’s mental health, Jezebel asked Ahab for an explanation. But notice the brevity of his reply. Rather than give Jezebel the full context of his conversation with Naboth, he simply states that he made a fair offer that was summarily rebuffed. His recollection of what Naboth said is anything but accurate. He mentions nothing about God’s ban on the sale of tribal land. He simply states that Naboth refused his offer.

Frustrated by her husband’s sullen state and obvious lack of initiative, she accuses him of forgetting who he is and the kind of power he possesses. “Are you the king of Israel or not?” she asks him. From Jezebel’s perspective, Ahab had abdicated his divine rights as the king. He was the sovereign over all of Israel, and he had the power to do whatever he wanted to do. No one, including Naboth, had the right to stand in his way. And to prove it, she implemented a plan to put Naboth in his place and the vineyard in her husband’s possession.

This pagan queen, who had introduced the worship of Baal to the nation of Israel, hired false witnesses to accuse Naboth of cursing the God of Israel. These men were to show up at a fast, held in honor of Yahweh, and declare that Naboth had cursed both God and the king. And Jezebel had pre-arranged with the elders of Jezreel that they would immediately stone Naboth to death for this fictitious crime.

And everything went just as Jezebel had planned. Naboth was falsely accused and executed. When the elders of Jezreel informed Jezebel that Naboth was dead, she immediately shared the good news with Ahab.

“Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” – 1 Kings 21:15 ESV

Notice that Ahab asks for no explanations. He doesn’t ask his wife a single question concerning Naboth’s well-timed death. He simply got out of bed, put on his royal robes, and took possession of the land that would soon be his new garden. He got what he wanted and didn’t seem to care how it had happened. But Jezebel’s actions had only made things worse. She had falsely accused an innocent man and had orchestrated his unlawful execution. And she had still violated God’s law concerning the land inheritance. According to Mosaic Law, Naboth’s land would have passed on to his descendants. God had made it clear that the land He had given to the tribes as their inheritance was to remain within their possession.

“…give the following instructions to the people of Israel: If a man dies and has no son, then give his inheritance to his daughters. And if he has no daughter either, transfer his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. But if his father has no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan. This is a legal requirement for the people of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”  – Numbers 27:8-11 NLT

Jezebel’s murder of Naboth was wrong on every level. She had violated a range of divine decrees to get her husband what he wanted. Her blind ambition resulted in unconscionable behavior that would only exacerbate God’s judgment against her husband. Ahab had his vineyard. Jezebel had her husband back. But their joy would soon turn to sorrow. They had both gotten what they wanted, but their personal achievements would come with a high price. Ahab’s new garden, while free, would cost him dearly. And Jezebel’s plot to murder Naboth, while successful, would come with a hefty price tag for which she would pay dearly.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson