Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 25 2019 - 1 Kings 21 – Naboth's vineyard

God had rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and enabled them to conquer and possess the land he had promised to give them. Under Joshua, the land was divided up between the various tribes and families. Each had its own allotted share in the inheritance of the land that God was giving to Israel. But the land remained God's land. He gifted his people the use and fruits of the land but the land itself always remained the property and possession of the Lord their God.

In Leviticus 25 we looked at the strange (to us) regulations regarding the seventh year Land Sabbath and the fiftieth year of jubilee. Those who had become impoverished could sell off the use of their family inheritance, for the years remaining until the jubilee when it would be restored to them free of charge. God tells his people "The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers" (Leviticus 25:23). Family land was the sacred inheritance of the people of God.

This is reflected in today's passage in which Ahab takes a fancy to Naboth's vineyard. Ahab makes Naboth a generous offer, "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" (v.2). With our western view of land as a transferable asset, we might think Naboth is well placed to cut himself a good deal. But this is not Naboth's view. He tells the king, "The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors" (v. 3).

This is not simply a dispute over land; it is a clash of cultures. Godly Naboth understands that his land represents his inheritance from the Lord. He holds it as a steward, seeking to enjoy God's gift to him and his family – his portion of the commonwealth of Israel. Ahab has very different views of the land and of his own rights as king. Encouraged no doubt by Jezebel his wife, he has adopted the views common among the kings of the nations. He believes he has a right to whatever part of the land he pleases. He felt, no doubt, that he had made a more than generous offer to Naboth.

Ahab returns sulking to his palace but is soon rebuked by his wife. She tells him that this is no way for a king over Israel to act. She encourages him to get back to his eating and drinking and enjoying the life of a king while she sorts out the little matter of getting Naboth's vineyard for him.

Jezebel has Naboth falsely accused of blasphemy and stoned to death. She then sends Ahab out to take possession of Naboth's vineyard. But what he meets in the vineyard is not the prospect of a vegetable garden but Elijah the prophet with a pronouncement of God's judgment: "This is what the Lord says: in the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood – yes, yours!" (v. 19). The Lord also declares that, "Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel" (v. 23).

What practical lessons can we take to ourselves from this passage?

There are still great differences between the practices that are taken as normal and acceptable in contemporary culture and the way God calls his redeemed people to live their lives. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul urges the Christians at Rome – and urges us:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Christ calls us to follow him and to stand out from the culture of our age. Our lives are to be shaped by his word and Spirit rather than the behaviour of the world around us. It will probably not demand the shedding of our blood, but it does demand a lifestyle that breathes the life of Christ's kingdom.

Lord may our lives and words bear witness to the fact that we belong to the upside-down kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. May others see the beauty of your kingdom and bow the knee to our king.

Jun 25 2013 - Acts 16:16-40 – The kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy

In Philippi, Paul healed a girl who had been possessed by a spirit that had enabled her to tell fortunes and to earn fortunes for her masters. Angered by their loss, the owners of this poor girl dragged Paul and Silas off to the public square where they accused them of troubling the city by teaching customs which it was unlawful for the Roman citizens of this proud colony to observe.

The good news about Jesus Christ is more than a promise of personal salvation; it is a declaration that in Christ, God is at work to establish his kingdom in this world. The gospel challenges the culture or cultures of this present world with their focus on money and power – the power which seeks to control and manipulate others to one’s own ends. It promises a radical freedom that threatens to strip the lords of this world of their power. It cannot but provoke conflict even as it offers a better vision for human flourishing.

It certainly provoked conflict in Philippi. The police soon stepped in and, to prevent a public riot. They had Paul and Silas beaten with rods and thrown into the darkest, most secure and most unpleasant part of the city prison. There, among the other prisoners, Paul and Silas were found praying and singing hymns to God in the middle of the night.

When Paul later encourages the Christians at Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord always” this is no shallow and naïve remark; Paul speaks out of the depths of his own experience. Even when covered in the swollen and bloody marks of a beating and sitting in the chains, dirt and darkness of a prison, Paul can praise God for his goodness.

Are we not much more fickle in our praise? I speak for myself: I find it easier to praise God when the sun is shining and all is going well. I forget that God may lead me into situations where I face difficulty and pain and that even there he is still with me and his hand is upon me. My changeable circumstances do not alter the unfailing goodness of God towards me in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no circumstance in which I do not have cause to praise him. And who knows what blessing may come to others through my testimony of praise in times of trial?

The witness of Paul and Silas had remarkable effects. That night a violent earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. Prison doors were sprung open and chains loosened from the walls, yet not one prisoner fled; all were content to remain with Paul and Silas. This remarkable testimony led to the conversion of the jailer and his family. They placed their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ whom Paul preached to them, and were baptised.

On the following morning, when the city magistrates sent a message that Paul and Silas might be released, Paul sent a message back to them, “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out” (Acts 16:37). And so they did!

The gospel challenges the powers of this world, but it does so without using the weapons of this world.  It demonstrates that it is not a threat to good order or to good government but only to disorder, injustice and proud, self-seeking government. 

Lord, help me to praise you today, no matter what the day may bring. Help us also to bear witness to the gracious power of the kingdom which says “No!” to the perverted values of this world, promotes human flourishing and displays the glory of the Servant King.

Peter Misselbrook