Through the Old Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – 1 Kings 21 – Naboth's vineyard

Christ calls us to follow him and to stand out from the culture of our age no matter the cost.

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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.

Peter Misselbrook