She is the Lady Macbeth of Hebrew history. Probably the most powerful female character in the Bible. In our minds she is the ultimate example of an evil woman. Shakespeare has Lady Macbeth praying, “Come, you spirits, that tend on mortal thoughts … fill me from the crown to the toe, full of direst cruelty.”
This could have been the prayer of Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, promoter of the worship of false gods, who harassed and killed God’s prophets, and arranged for an innocent businessman to be falsely charged and executed for economic gain.
She possessed an extraordinary force of character, intellect and will, unrestrained by conscience and employed her talents for the advancement of evil.
The tragedy of Naboth and his vineyard describes just how evil she was.
Naboth owned a vineyard in Jezreel, which had been in the family for years. It happened to be right next to the palace of King Ahab. Ahab wanted the vineyard to expand his palace with vegetable gardens. He made what seemed, on the face of it, to be a very reasonable proposal.
“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.” (1 Kings 21:2)
Wine production in Naboth’s days was important business. Wine was a major component of military supplies and in big demand. I cannot imagine that Ahab wanted to destroy the vines and plant vegetables instead. I think he wanted to profit from the wine trade, extend the vineyards, with the excuse of needing to grow veggies for the palace. Vineyards fell under the category of private property and required major investments in resources. The Swiss theologian Philippe Guillame, suggests that “Naboth would have been just as rich as the king, ‘nouveau riche,’ as it were and his refusal to sell would be an affrontery to the king.”
Naboth could sell his vineyard if he wanted to, but he realized that he was just a steward of the property, taking care of the land and protecting it for the next generation. He realized that he was merely a chain in the link of God’s blessing for his family. He refused the kings offer on the basis of the fact that, according to the Bible, the king was forbidden to buy the inheritance of the people. (Ezekiel 46:18, Numbers 36:7) He said, “No deal!” For Naboth, obedience to God’s word was more important than money!
“Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” (1 Kings 21:3)
Ahab went home, angered and depressed at Naboth’s rejection, and lay down in bed, sulking after not getting his own way. I wish that was the end of the story, but his wife Jezebel came into the bedroom and asked why he was so depressed. Naboth could have left it there, and if he was a mature man, believing the Scriptures, he should have moved on.
However, we read about Ahab, “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited.” (1 Kings 21:27)
Jezebel 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.” (1 Kings 21:7) She proceeded to write to all the leaders in Jezreel, with the king’s authority, inviting them to a banquet with Naboth as the guest of honour. She paid two corrupt guests to accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king, demanding that Naboth be stoned to death. They took the money, did what they were told and Ahab took over Naboth’s vineyard.
Elijah heard of the tragedy and God sent him to Ahab with a prophecy of a horrible death for himself, his children and his wife, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD.” (1 Kings 21:20)
We all too often sell ourselves on the altar of ambitions and materialism. I remember, that as a young CEO of a chemical company, aged 30, I was a success in business but a failure in life. My success came with a heavy price, of marriage tensions, health problems and a lack of any faith in God. A that time, a penetrating question from Jesus came to me. “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 24:16). This was a wake-up call to choose the right priorities, to focus on God and my family and re-evaluate my ambitions.
Ahab and Jezebel sold themselves and chose power and possessions above God.
Failing forward for Ahab would mean obeying Gods Word, even when we are offered what looks like a good financial deal, but which would lead us astray from His revealed will. It would mean respecting the property of others, even rejoicing in their success.
Failing forward for Ahab would mean leading his wife, encouraging her to follow God’s ways.
Failing forward for Ahab would mean to tame his selfish ambition. Wanting to expand and grow your business or advance your career of, of course, good. However, this must never be at the cost of people. To be ambitious, in the worldly sense, is essentially to be determined to have more than your neighbour.
Realise that promotion and advancement is from the Lord and not from our manipulative efforts. “Wealth and honour come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.” (1 Chronicles 29;12)
Ahab was cursed with an undisciplined desire for more. Failing forward would mean to answer the question, together with God, “How much is enough for my needs at this time for the responsibilities I have?” Answering the question brings contentment, rest and peace.
Failing forward would mean to recognize his covetousness, trusting the Lord for His provision.
Naboth was manipulated by Jezebel in a terrible way. Failing forward for her would mean to learn to means to put people over possessions. An application for the commandment “You shall not kill” means to respecting life - to seek the best for your neighbour, promote their welfare and to love him or her ‘as yourself.’
Jezebel dominated her husband, and Ahab was like a puppet in the hands of his overpowering wife.
Failing forward for Jezebel would mean to follow the Biblical roles for husbands and wives. Ephesians 5:33 says that “the wife must respect her husband,” meaning valuing their leadership role, encouraging him gently to follow God’s ways and helping him to be a man of God.
Their end was tragic, they would not follow the Lord, but chose to sell themselves to the power behind materialism and money.
Next time: The 'trouble maker'...