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The Life and Times of Elijah the Prophet— Ahab “Buys the Farm” or “Payday Someday” (1 Kings 21:1-22:40)

Introduction

It was almost twenty-three years ago when our church first began to meet for worship and teaching. The first year, we met in a school, and then for the next six months, we rented space in a hotel. When we learned that our current church building was for sale, a meeting was arranged between the leaders of the church selling the building and some of our leadership. One of our elders is a real estate attorney, and naturally, he was planning to be present. Someone invited me—mainly out of courtesy—and I had indicated that I might try to make it to the meeting. When my elder/lawyer/friend heard this, he took me aside and said something like: “Bob, of all the things that you might contribute something to, this is not one of them—stay home!” He was right, and I wasn’t upset to miss that meeting.

This past year, we signed a contract to purchase a larger church building just a few blocks away. This involves the other church taking our smaller (and less expensive) building in trade. The end result is that it was necessary to have two sales contracts—one for the purchase of the new building, and one for the sale/trade of our present building. My elder/lawyer friend, Hugh, drafted the contracts. He sent each of the elders a copy of both contracts to look over. Some of my fellow-elders actually read those contracts, and one even had sticky notes attached to his copies. I confess, I never even looked at them. I remembered my lawyer friend’s advice from 20 years earlier. I knew I had nothing to contribute to this discussion either. To be honest, even if I had read those contracts, I would not have understood a word. And so when we met to discuss the contracts, my elder/lawyer friend asked if we had any questions. I was more than happy to remind him of his advice from years earlier. I told him I expected him to tell me what all those pages meant. Real estate transactions are not my area of expertise.

If I had any advice to give Ahab, the king of Israel, it would be this: “Avoid all real estate transactions!” Poor Ahab. His real estate dealings were the death of that man. In 1 Kings 21, Ahab seeks to purchase a plot of land beside his property for a garden. His offer is declined, and he is most unhappy about it. As a result, his wife orchestrates the murder of the property owner, so that Ahab can possess this piece of land. For this, Ahab is rebuked by Elijah, and his death is prophesied, along with that of Jezebel and any heirs to the throne. In the very next chapter (1 Kings 22), Ahab sets out to repossess a piece of property which had belonged to Israel, and in his efforts to do so, the king is killed, just as Elijah had said.

It is a fascinating story with many lessons for us to learn. Let us listen well to the words of Scripture, and ask the Holy Spirit to make their meaning and message clear to us.

An Offer No One Could Refuse—Or Could They?
(1 Kings 21:1-4)

1 After this the following episode took place. Naboth the Jezreelite owned a vineyard in Jezreel adjacent to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. 2 Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard so I can make a vegetable garden out of it, for it is adjacent to my palace. I will give you an even better vineyard in its place, or, if you prefer, I will pay you silver for it.” 3 But Naboth replied to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should sell you my ancestral inheritance.” 4 So Ahab went into his palace, bitter and angry that Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not sell to you my ancestral inheritance.”

Chapter 20 ends with Ahab bitter and angry (see verse 43). Ben Hadad, king of Syria, had attacked Israel. It was a battle that was humanly impossible for Israel to win, and yet God gave Ahab and the Israelites the victory. Ben Hadad had not yet learned his lesson, and so he staged a second battle, this time fighting Israel on the plain. The Syrians explained their first defeat as the result of fighting Israel (whose God, they said, was a “God of the mountain”) in the hills, rather than on the plain (they thought their “god” was the “god of the plain”). Because Ben Hadad made this a theological issue, God once again gave the Syrians into the hands of the Israelites. The only problem was that Ahab did not finish the battle by putting Ben Hadad to death, as he should have done. Instead, he entered into a treaty with him, thinking it was to his advantage to do so. For this, Ahab was rebuked and told, “Because you released a man I had determined should die, you will pay with your life and your people will suffer instead of his people” (1 Kings 20:42). No wonder Ahab went home depressed!

This is where our text takes up the story of Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah. Apparently Ahab felt that he needed a hobby, something to distract him from his troubles. What could be a better diversion than gardening? After all, how much trouble could a person get into in a garden (!!!).86 Ahab concluded that the perfect place for his “vegetable garden”87 was right next to his palace. There was only one problem—the property belonged to Naboth. Ahab did not see this as a problem. I think he must have believed that money and influence could solve any problem. And so he went to Naboth, offering to trade him for a better piece of property or to pay him a generous price for his property. Either way, I suspect that Ahab would have been willing to pay more than its market value (this seems clear, since he specifically indicated he would offer him a better piece of land in trade—verse 2).

Ahab was stunned when Naboth rejected his offer. Who wouldn’t take the deal he had offered? It was something Ahab could not understand, because he had so little regard for God’s law. Naboth’s actions were not prompted by monetary considerations, but by biblical principles. When God gave the land of Canaan to Israel, He divided it among the tribes of Israel. Given the nature of men, the land (like money) would have tended to accumulate into the hands of the few. And so the rich would get richer, and the poor would get poorer. God set down some very specific laws in Leviticus 25:8-17, 23-34 and Deuteronomy 25:5-10. These laws prevented the land from permanently changing hands, outside the family or tribe to which it was allotted. Because of these laws, Naboth knew that he could not sell or trade his land. That is why he responded, “The LORD forbid that I should sell you my ancestral inheritance” (verse 3). The words “the Lord forbid” express not only a strong resolve on Naboth’s part, but also a sense of revulsion at the thought of selling (or trading) his land.88 It was not just that Naboth was being unreasonable; this was something he could not do, according to the law, and thus it was something he would not do, even if the king made him a deal that was tempting. Such principles did not make sense to Ahab. The king was caught completely off guard by Naboth’s refusal. He went home, crawled into bed, refused to eat, and began to pout.

Jezebel Acquires Ahab’s “Forbidden Fruit”
(1 Kings 21:5-16)

5 Then his wife Jezebel came in and said to him, “Why do you have a bitter attitude and refuse to eat?” 6 He answered her, “While I was talking to Naboth the Jezreelite, I said to him, ‘Sell me your vineyard for silver or, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not sell you my vineyard.’” 7 His wife Jezebel said to him, “You are the king of Israel! Get up, eat some food and have a good time. I will get the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite for you.” 8 She wrote out orders, signed Ahab’s name to them, and sealed them with his seal. She then sent the orders to the leaders and to the nobles who lived in Naboth’s city. 9 This is what she wrote: “Observe a time of fasting and seat Naboth in front of the people. 10 Also seat two villains opposite him and have them testify, ‘You cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” 11 The men of the city, the leaders and the nobles who lived there, followed the written orders Jezebel had sent them. 12 They observed a time of fasting and put Naboth in front of the people. 13 The two villains arrived and sat opposite. Then the villains testified against Naboth right before the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they led him outside the city and stoned him to death. 14 Then they reported to Jezebel, “Naboth has been stoned to death.” 15 When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up, take possession of the vineyard Naboth the Jezreelite refused to sell you for silver, for Naboth is no longer alive; he’s dead.” 16 When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.

Jezebel found Ahab sulking in his bed and began to question her husband about what was troubling him. Ahab told her about his visit to Naboth and his unsuccessful attempt to buy his land. He also told her Naboth’s response: “But he said, ‘I will not sell you my vineyard’” (verse 6). That wasn’t quite all of the story. Note how the explanation changes, from Naboth’s actual words to Ahab’s perception of these words, to his summation of them for Jezebel:

Naboth’s words: “The LORD forbid that I should sell you my ancestral inheritance” (21:3).

Ahab’s perception: “I will not sell you my ancestral inheritance” (21:4).

Ahab’s account to Jezebel: “But he said, ‘I will not sell you my vineyard” (21:6).

Naboth did refuse to sell or trade his land, but he also made it clear to Ahab why he refused to do so. The LORD had forbidden him to do so in the Law of Moses. It was contrary to the law Naboth purposed to obey. Ahab only heard Naboth say that he refused to sell his ancestral inheritance. And when Ahab explains his depression to Jezebel, he simply tells her that Naboth refused to sell him his vineyard. Ahab’s version of his meeting with Naboth makes Naboth sound unreasonable and completely avoids any mention of God.

Jezebel was used to getting her way. She was not about to let anyone get away with saying no to the king. She understood power all too well, and she certainly knew how to use it. She recognized that Ahab did not have what it took to do what had to be done, so she took charge. She wrote letters to the leaders of Jezreel. Her orders sound strangely similar to the order David sent to Joab, instructing him to put Uriah on the front lines and then to withdraw from him, guaranteeing his death (2 Samuel 11:14-15). These men were to call for a fast, and then at the right time, two worthless men (two “men of belial”) were to accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king. This was a capital offense (Exodus 22:28; Leviticus 24:13-23), and so Naboth was to be taken outside the city and stoned.

The hypocrisy of this incident is incredible. It is like a warm-up for the way the Jewish religious leaders will condemn and execute the Lord Jesus on the trumped-up charges of blasphemy (claiming to be God) and insurrection against the king (rebelling against Roman rule). Both travesties of justice were carried out in a way that gave the appearance of religious piety. How Jezebel must have relished making a mockery of God’s laws! A fast was called, not a feast. Fasts were called in times of national disaster, when God’s will and Word were sought:

1 Later the Moabites and Ammonites, along with some of the Meunites, attacked Jehoshaphat. 2 Messengers arrived and reported to Jehoshaphat, “A huge army is attacking you from the other side of the Sea, from the direction of Edom. Look, they are in Hazezon Tamar (that is, En Gedi).” 3 Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he decided to seek the LORD’s advice. He decreed that all Judah should observe a fast. 4 The people of Judah assembled to ask for the LORD’s help; they came from all the cities of Judah to ask for the LORD’s help (2 Chronicles 20:1-4).

This is the way it was supposed to work. When there was a time of national disaster, the nation would fast, and God’s will would be sought. The leaders of Jezreel pretended to be concerned about a most serious matter and then had two worthless men bear false testimony against Naboth, giving them a pretext for killing this innocent man, and thus making his property available to the king. Jezebel’s instructions make it appear that men are genuinely concerned about sin in the nation, and that there is a resolve to deal with that sin to rid the nation of it. Testimony is given by two men, charging that Naboth has committed a most grievous offense, an offense punishable by death. And so Naboth is executed, just the way the law prescribed (Exodus 22:28; Leviticus 24:15-16). The only problem is that this was an innocent man.

When it was certain that Naboth was dead,89 Jezebel sent word to Ahab, instructing him to come and to take possession of “his” land. Ahab almost seems to be on his way to possess “his” land when God instructs Elijah to intercept the king with a message of judgment.

The penalty for such false testimony was the same as the punishment which resulted from that false testimony:

16 If a false witness should take the stand against another to accuse him of rebellion, 17 then both parties to the controversy must stand before the LORD, that is, before the priests and judges who will be in office in those days. 18 The judges will seek the truth in the matter and if the witness should prove to be false and has given false testimony against the accused, 19 you must do to him what he had intended to do to the accused; thus you will purge evil from among you. 20 The survivors will hear and become afraid to keep doing such evil among you. 21 You must not react with pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:16-21).

It is clear, therefore, what the law required for the punishment of Ahab and Jezebel. And this sentence will soon be pronounced by Elijah.

Ahab’s Kingdom Is “Going to the Dogs”
(1 Kings 21:17-26)

17 The LORD told Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Get up, go down and meet Ahab king of Israel who lives in Samaria. He is at the vineyard of Naboth; he has gone down there to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says, “In the spot where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood they will also lick up your blood, yes yours!”’” 20 When Elijah arrived, Ahab said to him, “So, you have found me, my enemy!” Elijah replied, “I have found you, because you are committed to doing evil before the LORD.” 21 The LORD says, ‘Look, I am ready to bring disaster on you. I will destroy you and cut off every last male belonging to Ahab in Israel, including even the weak and incapacitated 22 I will make your dynasty like those of Jeroboam son of Nebat and Baasha son of Ahijah because you angered me and made Israel sin.’ 23 The LORD says this about Jezebel, ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the outer wall of Jezreel.’ 24 As for Ahab’s family, dogs will eat the ones who die in the city, and the birds of the sky will eat the ones who die in the country.” 25 (There had never been anyone like Ahab, who was committed to doing evil before the LORD, egged on by his wife Jezebel. 26 He was so wicked he worshiped the disgusting idols, just like the Amorites whom the LORD had driven out from before the Israelites.)

I suppose Ahab had consoled himself about the death of Naboth. After all, Naboth should have accepted his more than generous offer. He should have shown more respect for his king. Naboth was being unreasonable when he refused to sell his property. He was unwilling to negotiate or to discuss the matter. Ahab took the approach which men have used since the beginning of time: “What I don’t know can’t hurt me.” He didn’t tell his wife to kill Naboth. He wasn’t even told what she was going to do or how she planned to carry it out. He didn’t want to know. Somehow, this made him feel less guilty. I doubt that Ahab even questioned the charges against Naboth, for which he had been put to death.

I can see Ahab standing there in his newly-acquired vineyard, thinking about where he will put the tomato plants and the cabbages. His thoughts are interrupted by the appearance of Elijah. God had told Elijah what he was to say to Ahab: Just as the dogs had licked up Naboth’s blood, they would lick up his blood in the same place. There was nothing subtle about this message from God, nothing which Ahab could not understand. He was responsible for Naboth’s death, and for that he would die. His death, like Naboth’s, would not be a pretty sight.

Ahab’s response to Elijah’s appearance is just what we would have expected: “So, you have found me, my enemy!” (verse 20). The man whom Ahab should have trusted and valued most is the man he regards as his enemy. Ben Hadad can be his “brother” (1 Kings 20:32-33), but Elijah is his enemy. Elijah is not intimidated by the king. Instead, his hostile response prompts a graphic description of what the future holds for this king and his family. His dynasty will come to an end, with no heirs to the throne, just as it had happened to Jeroboam and Baasha before him (verse 22). The dogs will not only lick up Ahab’s blood, they will devour the body of Jezebel by the outer wall of Jezreel. And as for Ahab’s family, they will die as well. Those who die in the city will be eaten by the dogs, and those who die in the country will be consumed by the birds. This is not a royal death, but then Ahab and Jezebel have not been the kind of rulers that God required.90 It was a very fitting death because Ahab, goaded on by his wicked wife Jezebel, was the most evil king Israel had yet known (verses 25-26).

And Can it Be?
(1 Kings 21:27-29)

27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He slept in sackcloth and walked around dejected. 28 The LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab shows remorse before me? Because he shows remorse before me, I will not bring disaster on his dynasty during his lifetime, but during the reign of his son.”

Here is something that catches the reader completely off guard. We have gotten used to Ahab’s pouting and going to bed in despair, but his sorrow is very different here. Who would have ever thought that Ahab—this wicked man, the most wicked king Israel had ever seen—would ever repent? And just as surprising, who would have thought that God would have sought to bring him to repentance? Here is but another example of a prophecy of divine judgment that leaves the door open for repentance, in fact which encourages repentance:

1 The LORD said to Jeremiah: 2 “Go down at once to the potter’s house. I will speak to you further there.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house and found him working at his wheel. 4 Now and then there would be something wrong with the pot he was molding from the clay with his hands. Then he would rework the clay into another pot as he saw fit. 5 Then the LORD said to me, 6 “I, the LORD, say, ‘O nation of Israel, can I not deal with you as this potter deals with the clay? In my hands, you, O nation of Israel, are just like the clay in this potter’s hand.’ 7 There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or a kingdom. 8 But if that nation that I threatened stops doing wrong, I will forgo the destruction I intended to do to it. 9 And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or a kingdom. 10 But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me, then I will forgo the good I promised to do to it. 11 So now, tell the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem this: The LORD says, ‘I am preparing to bring disaster on you. I am making plans to punish you. So, every one of you, stop the evil things you have been doing. Correct the way you have been living and do what is right’” (Jeremiah 18:1-11).

In the Book of Jonah, the king of Nineveh seemed to know that God’s warnings of future judgment were sometimes intended to turn a person or a nation to God in repentance. And so the whole city of Nineveh repented when Jonah prophesied of that city’s destruction. That is what made Jonah angry with God. He understood that the message of coming judgment which he proclaimed throughout Nineveh was also an invitation to salvation, if men would repent. Jonah knew God well enough to know that He was gracious and compassionate, and eager to save:

1 This was an enormous disaster to Jonah and he was angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “Oh, LORD, isn’t this just what I said when I was in my own country? This is why I took the initiative to run off to Tarshish, because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to wrath and abounding in loyal love, and one who relents concerning disaster. 3 And now, LORD, take my soul from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3).

God’s mercy and compassion were what Jonah disliked about God and were the basis for his protest, rather than his praise.91

We are not that different from Jonah. We praise God for His grace and mercy in our lives, but we are distressed to see it manifested to those whom we consider unworthy. On February 3, 1998, Karla Faye Tucker was executed for murder in Texas. She publicly admitted her guilt and professed that she had come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ while in prison. Some folks refused to accept the possibility that this woman could go to heaven when she died. They did not want to believe that God would be gracious to a murderer. Likewise, we cannot imagine God delighting in the repentance of Ahab, a repentance that God had apparently been seeking. In Ahab’s case, all of the consequences of Ahab’s sin were not set aside, but God did indicate to Elijah that He would not destroy the dynasty of Omri (Ahab’s father) until after Ahab’s death.

Summit Meeting in Samaria
(1 Kings 22:1-28)

1 There was no war between Syria and Israel for three years. 2 In the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah came down to visit the king of Israel. 3 The king of Israel said to his servants, “Surely you recognize that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us, though we are hesitant to reclaim it from the king of Syria.” 4 Then he said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to attack Ramoth Gilead?” Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I will support you; my army and horses are at your disposal.” 5 Then Jehoshaphat added, “First seek an oracle from the LORD.” 6 So the king of Israel assembled about 400 prophets and asked them, “Should I attack Ramoth Gilead or not?” They said, “Attack! The sovereign one will hand it over to the king.” 7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not a prophet of the LORD still here, that we may ask him?” 8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one man through whom we can seek the LORD’s will. But I despise him because he does not prophesy prosperity for me, but disaster. His name is Micaiah son of Imlah. Jehoshaphat said, “The king should not say such things.” 9 The king of Israel summoned a eunuch and said, “Quickly bring Micaiah son of Imlah.” 10 Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their respective thrones, dressed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria. All the prophets were prophesying before them. 11 Zedekiah son of Kenaanah made iron horns and said, “This is what the LORD says, ‘With these you will gore Syria until they are destroyed.’” 12 All the prophets were prophesying the same, saying, “Attack Ramoth Gilead! You will succeed; the LORD will hand it over to the king.” 13 Now the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the prophets are in complete agreement that the king will succeed. Your words must agree with theirs; you must predict success.” 14 But Micaiah said, “As certainly as the LORD lives, I will say what the LORD tells me to say.” 15 He came before the king and the king asked him, “Micaiah, should we attack Ramoth Gilead or not?” He answered him, “Attack! You will succeed; the LORD will hand it over to the king.” 16 The king said to him, “How many times must I make you solemnly promise in the name of the LORD to tell me only the truth?” 17 Micaiah said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains like sheep that have no shepherd. Then the LORD said, ‘They have no master. They should go home in peace.’” 18 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you he does not prophesy prosperity for me, but disaster?” 19 Micaiah said, “That being the case, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, with all the heavenly assembly standing on his right and on his left. 20 The LORD said, ‘Who will deceive Ahab, so he will attack Ramoth Gilead and die there.’ One said this and another that. 21 Then a spirit stepped forward and stood before the LORD. He said, ‘I will deceive him.’ The LORD asked him, ‘How?’ 22 He replied, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets.’ The LORD said, ‘Deceive and overpower him. Go out and do as you have proposed.’ 23 So now, look, the LORD has placed a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours; but the LORD has decreed disaster for you.” 24 Zedekiah son of Kenaanah approached, hit Micaiah on the jaw, and said, “Which way did the LORD’s spirit go when he went from me to speak to you?” 25 Micaiah replied, “Look, you will see in the day when you go into an inner room to hide.” 26 Then the king of Israel said, “Take Micaiah and return him to Amon, the city official and Joash, the king’s son. 27 Say, ‘This is what the king says, “Put this man in prison. Give him only a little bread and water until I safely return.”’” 28 Micaiah said, “If you really do safely return, then the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Take note, all you people.”

For the next three years, after the defeat of Ben Hadad and Syria, Israel enjoyed a time of peace. During this time, there was no war between Israel and Syria, and some believe this was the time when the two nations jointly fought against Assyria at the battle of Karkar. Opinions differ as to how successful the Assyrians were, though they claimed a great victory over Syria and its allies. This was also a time of peace between Israel and Judah, due at least in part to the alliance Ahab and Jehoshaphat formed, sealed by the marriage of Ahab and Jezebel’s daughter, Athaliah, to Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram (2 Kings 8:18, 26-27; 2 Chronicles 18:1).

Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, came to visit Ahab at Samaria. Ahab was distressed that Ben Hadad had not returned the city of Ramoth Gilead as he had promised (see 1 Kings 20:34). Ahab believed he was justified in seeking to repossess Ramoth Gilead; after all, it was property that rightly belonged to Israel.92 Jehoshaphat offered to join forces with Ahab. I wonder whether Jehoshaphat really cared about Ramoth Gilead, or whether he simply seized the opportunity to finally crush Syria once and for all, and thus to eliminate this nation’s threat to Judah’s national security. For whatever reason, Jehoshaphat committed himself and Judah to the battle.

But the king of Judah seems to have some misgivings about this attack. Was this alliance with Ahab wise? Was it the will of God? It did not make sense to go into battle without consulting God. And so Jehoshaphat seems to place a last minute condition on his commitment: “Let God’s will first be discerned, as on other occasions in the past” (see 2 Samuel 5:19, 23-24). Ahab was glad to oblige. He assembled 400 prophets, and so Ahab asked them about the wisdom of his plan to attack Syria. Their response was unanimous and confident: Most certainly! Let the king attack. The “higher power” will be with them.

In the NET Bible, we find the term, “the sovereign one,” in verse 6. This nicely translates the Hebrew term Adoni, while distinguishing this reference to “god” from others. The term which specifically refers to the God of Israel is “Yahweh,” and is translated “LORD” in the NASB. The Hebrew term “Elohim” is more general, and although it is used of the God of Israel, it is also used of “gods” more generally. Adoni is the term used by Obadiah in 1 Kings 18:7, 10 to refer to Elijah. Ahab uses the term to refer to Ben Hadad when he surrenders to him in 1 Kings 20:4. It is clearly a “watered-down” term for God, the kind of term that could comfortably be used in reference to a “god” by false prophets. Speaking of false prophets, doesn’t the number (400) sound familiar to you? I must confess that it appears to me as though these “prophets” were “retreads.” I wonder if these are not the same 400 prophets of the Asherah, mentioned in 1 Kings 18:19. The 400 prophets of the Asherah did not seem to show up for the contest on Mount Carmel. And after the contest, they may have downplayed their former role, declaring themselves to be in “general practice.”

One thing is for sure—Jehoshaphat is not at all convinced by their performance, no matter how impressive it may have been. That is why he asks, “Is there not a prophet of the LORD93 still here, that we may ask him?” (verse 7). Ahab understands Jehoshaphat’s concerns exactly and responds that there is one prophet of the LORD available, but this fellow, Micaiah, always speaks contrary to the king’s plans. Ahab admits that he despises the fellow. Jehoshaphat cautions Ahab about speaking this way about the LORD’s prophet. And so Ahab reluctantly sends for Micaiah, certain that he will disapprove of his plan to attack Ramoth Gilead.

First Kings 22:10-14 seems to describe a kind of intermission. These verses inform the reader that two things happened prior to Micaiah’s appearance before Ahab and Jehoshaphat. First of all, the 400 prophets, under the direction of Zedekiah, put on a more dramatic presentation, seeking to convince Jehoshaphat that this attack was the will of God (since they know that Ahab has already determined to go to war with Syria). Zedekiah brings out the visual aids. He employs a pair of iron horns to show how Israel and Judah will “gore” the Syrians. Second, as Micaiah is being brought to where the two kings are waiting, he is told what the other prophets have already indicated to be “God’s will.” He is urged to agree with the majority position for once. Micaiah responds that he must speak as God directs him.

If I am reading the text correctly, it is not Jehoshaphat who is doing the speaking, but rather the king of Israel. This is his “show,” and he is determined to convince Jehoshaphat that God wants them to go to war with Syria. And so Ahab asks Micaiah whether or not they should attack Ramoth Gilead. Something about Micaiah’s response troubled Ahab. Was it his lack of enthusiasm, or perhaps a tone of voice which conveyed, “All right, go ahead if you must—it’s what you’re going to do anyway.”? Or was it the fact that Micaiah’s answer was favorable? Micaiah’s prophecies were never favorable—ever! (22:8). The amazing thing is that Ahab chose to press the matter. Why didn’t he simply accept Micaiah’s prophetic response as a “Yes” and go on? Perhaps he knew that Jehoshaphat was not convinced, that he sensed something was lacking in the prophet’s reply.

For whatever reason, Ahab rebukes Micaiah for his response and insists that he speak the truth. What irony! Micaiah grants Ahab’s request. Would this king like to know what God thinks of this conflict? Micaiah has “seen” the shepherd smitten and the flock scatter. Let the king know that this battle will cost him his life. He will perish in the battle, and the troops will scatter. This proposed battle will be a complete failure.

Jehoshaphat was right there the whole time taking this conversation in. If the king of Israel was going to perish, and all the troops were going to scatter, what did this say to the king of Judah? This was a war he should avoid like the plague. There was no better time to “get out” than now. Let him withdraw his offer to support Ahab in the battle. These thoughts may have been going through Jehoshaphat’s mind when he heard Ahab say, “I told you so, didn’t I?” “I told you that this is what Micaiah would say.” And so, rather than acknowledging that his plan was not the will of God, Ahab took the words of Micaiah as reinforcing what he had already said in verse 8—Micaiah always prophesies disaster. Micaiah had performed as he had predicted. And so Ahab’s “prophecy” (that Micaiah will speak against his planned attack) is given more weight than Micaiah’s prophecy that the plan will fail.

Micaiah has much more to say. He’s just beginning to warm up. Ahab has done a most impressive job through his 400 prophets, who have all indicated that the attack on Ramoth Gilead will be a success. Now, Micaiah gives his own interpretation—a divine interpretation—of the 400 prophets’ endorsement of Ahab’s plan. Do these prophets speak for God as they claim? No! And so Micaiah explains the role that they have played. They may not speak for God, but they are accomplishing God’s purposes. God’s intention is to bring Ahab down, to remove him as king of Israel. He has been rebuked often enough. Now it is time to remove him as Israel’s king. The 400 prophets are “spirit-filled,” but not by God’s Spirit. They are being used by God to deceive Ahab, so that he will precipitate the very battle in which he is destined to die.

These are strong words, and Zedekiah gets the point. Micaiah claims to speak for Yahweh, while Zedekiah and his ilk speak by means of another spirit—the spirit of deception, a lying spirit—and thus deceive Ahab. Zedekiah’s prophetic pride is offended. How dare Micaiah claim to have the Spirit of God, the “Spirit” which Zedekiah professes to possess. Zedekiah punctuates his words with a blow to the jaw of Micaiah, but God’s spokesman is not silenced. He responds that Zedekiah will know soon enough who possesses God’s Spirit, especially when he seeks to hide himself in an inner room (presumably after Israel’s devastating defeat).

Ahab has had enough of Micaiah. He instructs that Micaiah be placed on minimum rations and held in custody until his return (victorious, of course). Micaiah accepts the challenge that is implied. In effect he says, “Very well, let this be the test. If you return, the LORD has not spoken through me. But if you perish in the battle and don’t return, then let those listening take heed to what I say.” Micaiah wants this to be a public challenge, not just a private matter. After all, Ahab and apparently Zedekiah are not going to survive to learn their lesson.

Ahab Gets the Point
(1 Kings 22:29-40)

29 The king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah attacked Ramoth Gilead. 30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and then enter into the battle; but you wear your robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself and then entered into the battle. 31 Now the king of Syria had ordered his 32 chariot commanders, “Do not fight common soldiers or high ranking officers; fight only the king of Israel.” 32 When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “He must be the king of Israel.” So they turned and attacked him, but Jehoshaphat cried out. 33 When the chariot commanders realized he was not the king of Israel, they turned away from him. 34 Now an archer shot an arrow at random and it struck the king of Israel between the plates of his armor. The king ordered his charioteer, “Turn around and take me from the battle line, for I am wounded.” 35 While the battle raged throughout the day, the king stood propped up in his chariot opposite the Syrians. He died in the evening; the blood from the wound ran down into the bottom of the chariot. 36 As the sun was setting, a cry went through the camp, “Each one should return to his city and to his homeland.” 37 So the king died and was taken to Samaria, where they buried him. 38 They washed off the chariot at the pool of Samaria; dogs licked his blood (this was where the prostitutes bathed), just as the LORD had said would happen. 39 The rest of the events of Ahab’s reign, including a record of his accomplishments and how he built a luxurious palace and various cities, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Israel. 40 Ahab passed away. His son Ahaziah replaced him as king.

I wonder how confident Jehoshaphat was when he went into this battle. He heard Micaiah, the prophet of Yahweh, declare that “the king” was going to be killed, and that all the warriors would flee to their homes. There were only two kings attacking Ramoth Gilead, and he was one of them! And to make matters even worse, Ahab makes a request of Jehoshaphat just before they are to attack: “Let Ahab conceal his identity by putting on the armor of one of the troops, and let Jehoshaphat remain in his royal attire.” How foolish could Jehoshaphat be? It was like asking him to wear a sweatshirt with a bullseye on the back. This made the king of Judah the primary target, and seemingly put Ahab out of harm’s way. If Ahab was so confident that Micaiah was wrong, why was he working so hard to prevent what this prophet had warned of? To me, this moment is absolutely mind-bending. I can hardly believe Jehoshaphat could be so nave.

Once again the king of Syria issues a command which plays a crucial role in the outcome of the battle. Earlier, Ben Hadad had instructed his army to take the approaching Israelites alive (1 Kings 20:18). Now, he orders his men to seek and destroy but one man—the king of Israel—the man Ben Hadad had called “my brother” (1 Kings 20:33). How foolish Ahab had been to let this man live, and now it was Ben Hadad who was intent on killing Ahab. This time he would succeed, not because of Syrian superiority, but because it was the will of God.

Before we are told of Ahab’s death, we are given an account of the “near death experience” of Jehoshaphat, who foolishly allied himself with Ahab in this battle. Jehoshaphat went into the battle wearing his royal garb. He “stuck out like a sore thumb” we would say. It was easy to spot him, and the Syrian soldiers did. The soldiers (who had been told not to kill anyone but the king of Israel) all began to converge on Jehoshaphat. One can hardly imagine the panic which must have come upon Jehoshaphat when he saw the entire Syrian army thundering his way! He sought to flee, but that was not working. As the Syrian soldiers drew near, Jehoshaphat did the only thing left to do—he cried out to God. Our text simply says that he “cried out,” but in 2 Chronicles 18:31, we get a slightly different perspective of this same incident:

“When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they said, ‘He must be the king of Israel.’ So they turned and attacked him, but Jehoshaphat cried out. The LORD helped him; God lured them away from him.”

It is about time for Jehoshaphat to come to his senses. How gracious God was to spare his life. It was, indeed, a miracle that he lived. While the Syrians were seeking to kill “the king of Israel,” God kept them from mistakenly killing the king of Judah. God also orchestrated the events of this battle so that Ahab did die, just as He had purposed and as Micaiah had prophesied.

It is not hard for me to understand how a certain soldier happened to shoot a single arrow into the air, at random. That’s because I used to hunt deer when I was growing up. During most of the year, the deer would approach you almost fearlessly, and they would consume your vegetable garden, your flowers, and (with great pleasure), your apples. But during hunting season, they seemed to disappear. They would hide in the brush so well that you might never see them, even though they were only a few feet away. Many were the times I came home empty-handed. Many were the seasons that I never fired a single shot. (The truth is, I have never really killed a deer. One time I even let one that was in my sights walk away, even though it was close enough to hit with a stone.) But one particular season I was making my way home after a frustrating day of trying to bag a deer. As I was walking along the trail toward home, a very large bird swooped down over my head and landed on a nearby stump. It was not a good day for that bird! I was tired of carrying a gun around and never firing a shot. That was the only shot I ever fired during deer season. It may not have been a trophy buck, but it was something.

A certain Syrian soldier seems to have felt the same way. He was engaged in a battle in which he was forbidden to kill anyone but the king of Israel, and Ahab could not be seen anywhere. Finally, in his frustration, this soldier decided that he was not going to go home and tell his children that he never so much as shot one arrow at the enemy. And so he pulled back on his bow and let one solitary arrow fly in the general direction of the enemy army. He could not have known that the “soldier” he happened to hit was the king of Israel. In fact, I can almost hear the soldier muttering, “Oh, no. I hit someone. The captain will scream at me for violating orders!”

But that one arrow, fired haphazardly into the air, found the mark which God had intended. This soldier’s arrow would make our “smart bombs” seem primitive. It not only hit the king of Israel, it struck him at the one place in his armor which was vulnerable and would allow for a mortal wound. This was no accident. This was the fulfillment of Micaiah’s prophecy. The king was unwilling or unable to leave the scene of battle, and so he virtually bled to death in his chariot. The floor of his chariot was covered in blood, and so they took it to the “chariot wash” to clean it up. That was the very place where Naboth’s blood had been shed and licked up by the dogs. It was also the place where the harlots came to wash. And now, it was Ahab’s blood that spilled upon the ground, where the dogs would lick it up, just as Elijah had prophesied. God’s Word was precisely fulfilled!

Verses 39-40 are a kind of epitaph. From a secular point of view, Ahab’s reign was impressive. He had many military and economic successes. He, like David and Solomon, was known for building impressive structures. He founded cities. And yet when viewed from a spiritual perspective, his life was a disaster, a tragedy. Here was a man whom God had graciously spared and even prospered. Here was a man who had even repented at one time. But here was a man who could never be described as a “man after God’s own heart.” As we read of Ahab’s death, we are tempted to breathe a sigh of relief, and to say, “Good riddance.”

Conclusion

Our text is one from which we can learn many important lessons. As we conclude, let me suggest what some of these lessons might be. The way I will approach this is to consider the individuals involved in our story and to point out the lesson which we can learn from each.

ELIJAH. I think there is something to be learned from Elijah’s presence or absence in our text. Elijah is prominent in chapters 17 through 19 of 1 Kings. After his attempted resignation, he disappears in chapter 20, where an unnamed prophet assures Ahab of victory over Ben Hadad. Later, this same prophet rebukes Ahab for failing to put his enemy to death. In chapter 21, Elijah again appears, rebuking Ahab (and Jezebel, indirectly) for taking the life of Naboth. It is here that the death sentence is pronounced upon Ahab and Jezebel, and Ahab’s descendants. It is also here that Ahab repents, and God delays some aspects of the judgment He has announced. In chapter 22, Elijah is not mentioned, and Micaiah is the “lone prophet” who stands up to Ahab and his 400 false prophets.

I find it interesting to see how God seems to deliberately use other prophets, just to make it very clear to Elijah that he is wrong to think that “he alone was left” (see 19:10, 14). He most certainly was not left, alone, as a prophet. It is also noteworthy that while Elijah seems to have given up on Israel (see Romans 11:1-4), God had not. Elijah is the prophet whose ministry brings Ahab to repentance (21:27-29). I’m not certain that this is what Elijah really wanted, but it was the ministry God had ordained for him. God does not give Elijah the privilege or the pleasure (if he saw it that way—Jonah certainly did) of seeing the judgment come upon Ahab and Jezebel as a direct and immediate result of his ministry.

JEHOSHAPHAT. Jehoshaphat can teach us many lessons. The first is the folly of being unequally yoked with unbelievers:

1 When Jehoshaphat king of Judah returned home safely to Jerusalem, 2 the prophet Jehu son of Hanani confronted him and said to King Jehoshaphat: “Is it right to help the wicked and be an ally of the those who oppose the LORD? Because you have done this the LORD is angry with you. 3 Nevertheless you have done some good things; you removed the Asherah poles from the land and you were determined to follow the LORD” (2 Chronicles 19:1-3).

14 Do not become partners with those who do not believe; for what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 And what agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever? 16 And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 Therefore “come out from their midst, and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch no unclean thing, and I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” says the All-Powerful Lord (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Jehoshaphat’s alliance with Ahab is mystifying. Why would he ask for a prophet of the LORD, and then set aside his words of warning? Why would he allow Ahab to talk him into going into battle, conspicuously dressed as a king, knowing that Ahab was disguising himself, and that God had indicated “the king” would be killed in the battle? Jehoshaphat teaches us the danger of ungodly alliances.

On the other hand, Jehoshaphat is a wonderful example of the grace of God. In spite of Jehoshaphat’s folly in entering into an alliance with Ahab, God spared his life in a very unusual and miraculous way. In spite of Ahab’s conscious efforts to thwart God’s will, and of Jehoshaphat’s folly, God fulfilled His Word by bringing about Ahab’s death and Jehoshaphat’s deliverance, even when all appearances were just the opposite. It looked as though Ahab was sure to survive, and Jehoshaphat was destined to die.

AHAB. I must confess, Ahab is the kind of fellow I love to hate. It would be easy to find a kind of smug satisfaction in his demise. God has some words for us about such an attitude:

17 Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and when he stumbles let not your heart be glad, 18 lest the LORD sees, and it displeases Him, and He turns His wrath from him (Proverbs 24:17-18).

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you (Proverbs 25:21-22).

Ahab was, without question, the most wicked king Israel had ever seen. He certainly deserved divine judgment. But then all sinners deserve God’s eternal wrath (Romans 3:23; 6:23). I am amazed at how longsuffering God is with Ahab. I am amazed that this fellow actually repents, at least to some degree. And I should not be surprised to find that God delights in his repentance. Here is the heart of God. This should be our way of viewing sinners as well.

Having said this, Ahab also illustrates that for all sinners, there is a “Payday Someday.”94 Ahab was given a number of opportunities to repent, over a significant period of time. It may even have seemed that he was getting away with his sin. But God has appointed a day of judgment for all men, and no one will escape that day.

As I stopped and reflected on this, I remembered that from the very beginning Satan has been tempting men to sin, while at the same time assuring them that they will not suffer the consequences of their sin:

1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the animals of the field which the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it indeed true that God said, ‘You must not eat from every tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden God said, ‘You must not eat from it, nor must you touch it, lest you die’.” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die, 5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5, emphasis mine).

And so, from that moment of the fall of man onward, men have arrogantly persisted in their sin, supposing that God would do nothing about it:

6 Arrogance is their necklace, and violence their clothing. 7 Their prosperity causes them to do wrong, their thoughts are sinful. 8 They mock and say evil things, they proudly threaten violence. 9 They speak as if they rule in heaven, and lay claim to the earth. 10 Therefore they have more than enough food to eat, and even suck up the water of the sea. 11 They say, “How does God know what we do? Is the sovereign one aware of what goes on?” (Psalm 73:6-11).

1 Dear friends, this is already the second letter I have written you, in which I am trying to stir up your pure mind by way of reminder: 2 I want you to recall both the predictions foretold by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles. 3 Above all, understand this: in the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges 4 and saying, “Where is his promised coming? For ever since our ancestors fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:1-4).

The arrogant self-confidence of the wicked will in no way keep them from the judgement of God:

5 For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed from water and by water. 6 Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:5-7).

It may appear for a time that the wicked are getting away with it, but they are not!

16 When I tried to make sense of this, it was troubling to me. 17 Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple, and understood the destiny of the wicked. 18 Surely you put them in slippery places, you bring them down to ruin. 19 How desolate they become in a mere moment! Terrifying judgments make their demise complete! 20 They are like a dream after one wakes up. O sovereign Master, when you awake you will despise them (Psalm 73:16-20).

4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell and locked them up in chains in utter darkness, to be kept until the judgment, 5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, a herald of righteousness, along with seven others, when God brought a flood on an ungodly world, 6 and if he turned to ashes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he condemned them to destruction, having appointed them to serve as an example to future generations of the ungodly, 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men, 8 (for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) 9 —if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment, 10 especially those who indulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority (2 Peter 2:4-10).95

There is one way to escape God’s judgment, and only one way. That “way” is to accept the one and only provision God has made for the forgiveness of our sins. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth as the sinless Son of God. He voluntarily took our sins upon Himself, and bore the penalty for our sins on the cross of Calvary. Having died to sin and its guilt, He was raised from the dead and has ascended back into heaven. All who accept God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ need not fear the coming wrath of God, for our Lord suffered that wrath on the cross of Calvary. To escape the wrath of God, you must acknowledge your sin and guilt, and place your trust in Jesus Christ as the payment for your sins. In so doing, you receive the forgiveness of your sins, and in place of certain judgment, you now have a sure hope of eternal life in the presence of God forever. Here is an offer you should not refuse.

BEN HADAD. Ben Hadad is a lesson to us concerning the sovereignty of God. When I read of this king, I am reminded of the proverb which reads: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD as channels of water; He turns it wherever He wants” (Proverbs 21:1).

Ben Hadad was a king who arrogantly and foolishly opposed God’s people. He failed to keep his “covenant” with Ahab, but then Ahab wasn’t that big on covenants, either. He made his fight with Ahab and Israel a “battle of the gods,” which got him into a lot of trouble. In the end, according to God’s Word, Ben Hadad lived, while Ahab died. But this king who actively opposed God and His people was not as “in charge” as he supposed. In the final analysis, God used Ben Hadad and his opposition to bring glory to Himself. I am reminded of God’s words concerning Pharaoh: “For the scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may demonstrate my power in you, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth’” (Romans 9:17).

Contrary to popular belief, God does not need “willing volunteers” in order to achieve His purposes. It is easy to see how God can use a willing volunteer; it is amazing to see how God can use an arrogant and powerful adversary. All through history God has orchestrated human events, using belligerent rebels. God used Pharaoh, as he used Ahab and Ben Hadad. God even uses Satan (see Job 1 and 2). Let us never worry about who is “in charge.” It is God, and he often brings about His glory and our good by means of those who oppose Him.

NABOTH. As I was considering the way God works to accomplish His will in our text, I turned to this passage in Psalm 37, which instructs saints not to agonize about the success of the wicked:

By David 1 Do not fret when wicked men seem to succeed! Do not envy evildoers! 2 For they will quickly dry up like grass, and wither away like plants. 3 Trust in the LORD and do what is right! Settle in the land and maintain your integrity! 4 Then you will take delight in the LORD, and he will answer your prayers. 5 Commit your future to the LORD! Trust in him, and he will act on your behalf. 6 He will vindicate you in broad daylight, and publicly defend your just cause. 7 Wait patiently for the LORD! Wait confidently for him! Do not fret over the apparent success of a sinner, a man who carries out wicked schemes! 8 Do not be angry and frustrated! Do not fret! That only leads to trouble! 9 Wicked men will be wiped out, but those who rely on the LORD are the ones who will possess the land.

10 Evil men will soon disappear; you will stare at the spot where they once were, but they will be gone. 11 But the oppressed will possess the land, and enjoy great prosperity. 12 Evil men plot against the godly, and viciously attack them. 13 The sovereign master laughs in disgust at them, for he knows that their day is coming. 14 Evil men draw their swords, and prepare their bows, to bring down the oppressed and needy, and slaughter those who are godly. 15 Their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken. 16 The little bit that a godly man owns is better than the wealth of many evil men, 17 for evil men will lose their power, but the LORD sustains the godly.

18 The LORD watches over the innocent day by day, and they possess a permanent inheritance. 19 They will not be ashamed when hard times come, when famine comes they will have enough to eat. 20 But evil men will die; the LORD’s enemies will be incinerated, they will go up in smoke. 21 Evil men borrow, but do not repay their debt; but the godly show compassion and are generous. 22 Surely those favored by the LORD will possess the land, but those rejected by him will be wiped out. 23 The LORD grants success to the one whose behavior he finds commendable. 24 Even if he trips, he will not fall headlong, for the LORD holds his hand.

25 I was once young, now I am old. I have never seen a godly man abandoned, or his offspring forced to search for food. 26 All day long he shows compassion and lends to others, and his offspring are blessed.27 Turn away from evil! Do what is right! Then you will enjoy lasting security. 28 For the LORD promotes justice,and never abandons his faithful followers. They are permanently secure, but the offspring of evil men are wiped out.

29 The godly will possess the land, and will dwell in it permanently. 30 The godly speak wise words, and promote justice. 31 The law of their God controls their thinking, their feet do not slip.

32 Evil men set an ambush for the godly, and try to kill them. 33 But the LORD does not surrender the godly, or allow them to be condemned in a court of law.

34 Rely on the LORD! Obey his commands! Then he will permit you to possess the land; you will see the demise of evil men. 35 I have seen ruthless evil men growing in influence, like a green tree grows in its native soil. 36 But then one passes by, and all of a sudden they have disappeared! I looked for them, but they could not be found.

37 Take note of the one who has integrity! Observe the godly! For the one who promotes peace has a future.

38 Sinful rebels are totally destroyed, evil men have no future. 39 But the LORD delivers the godly, he protects them in times of trouble. 40 The LORD helps them and rescues them, he rescues them from evil men and delivers them, for they seek his protection (Psalm 37:1-40, emphasis mine).

I was particularly interested in the repeated promise, “they will possess the land.” If this is true, how do we explain the plight of Naboth? His life was taken and his property was stolen by a wicked king. And this man, who was intent on keeping the law of God, died. How can the promises of Psalm 37 be true for him? The answer can be found in Psalm 37, but it is also very clearly stated in the New Testament:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith—the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

The “inheritance” and “land” which God promised in Psalm 37 (and elsewhere in the Old Testament) was not earthly, but heavenly. That is why it is said to be a permanent inheritance. That is why death does not prevent one from possessing this inheritance. The writer to the Hebrews makes it very clear that these Old Testament saints all died without inheriting the promises. This is because their promised inheritance was a heavenly one. In the same way, New Testament saints now look forward to the promised blessings of God. Death does not keep us from our blessings; it takes us to them!

In an earlier lesson, I mentioned the terrible slaughter of seven saints in a Fort Worth, Texas, church this past week. It was a terrible crime. And I can understand how family and friends grieve the loss of those who died. I know there will be those who think it a tragedy that those so young could be deprived of a long and fruitful life, and there is certainly a sense in which this is true. But let us remember that those who died professed faith in Jesus Christ. Their “inheritance,” like that of Naboth, is in heaven—not on earth. They have not been kept from God’s promised blessings; indeed, they have already begun to enjoy them. Let us keep that fact in mind as we mourn their murders. God uses even the wicked deeds of sinful men to bring about His glory and our good (Romans 8:28).

As I conclude this lesson, I am obliged to ask you a simple question, my friend: Do you know the security and confidence of being a child of God? Do you know for certain that your sins are forgiven and that your eternal inheritance is sure? If you confess your sin, and trust in the sacrifice which Jesus Christ made at Calvary on your behalf, you can know the blessed assurance of His salvation.


86 Of course there was the Garden of Eden, where man fell (Genesis 3).

87 Iain Provan makes a very interesting observation at this point. He points out that the expression “vegetable garden” occurs only one other time in the Bible, in Deuteronomy 11:10. Here, God contrasts the land of Israel with Egypt, which was like a “vegetable garden.” There, you merely had to dig a little trench with your foot to water your “vegetable garden” by means of irrigation. But the land of Israel was dependent upon God to send the rains which were required to grow any crops. Naboth’s property was a vineyard. Israel was likened to God’s vineyard (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7). One does get the impression that Ahab, once again, was out of step with God. God wanted to take Israel from dwelling in a “vegetable garden” and to “plant” them where they would be His “vineyard.” Ahab wanted to acquire a “vineyard,” and turn it into a “vegetable garden.” I think Provan has something here. Iain W. Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), pp. 157-158.

88 Naboth employs the same expression that David used in 1 Samuel 24:6 and 26:11, when he was repulsed by his men’s suggestion that he should kill Saul, the Lord’s anointed.

89 Actually, word was sent to Jezebel that Naboth had been put to death. The leaders certainly knew who was behind all this.

90 Contrast the deaths of Ahab and Jezebel with the “departure” of Elijah in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2).

91 I have dealt with the matter more fully in my series on the Book of Jonah. I intend to do even more extensive work in Jonah 2, for although Jonah’s “psalm” employs the terminology of praise found in the Psalms, it does not employ the theology of praise found in the Psalms or the rest of the Bible. Jonah’s words may sound pious, but true piety praises God for His mercy and grace. True piety does not protest these things, as we see Jonah doing in Jonah 4.

92 The hypocrisy of this can hardly be overlooked. Ahab had no qualms about taking property that did not belong to him (i.e., Naboth’s vineyard – chapter 21), and yet he was incensed that his property (Ramoth Gilead) was not returned to him, as promised.

93 Note how the NET Bible, like the NASB, indicates the Hebrew term “Yahweh” by translating “LORD” in all caps. These prophets may claim to speak in the name of Adoni1, or even Elohim, but they do not claim to speak for “Yahweh” here – yet. They finally get the point, and thus in 22:11, 15 and later, they use the exact term Jehoshaphat is looking for, but surely we are meant to see through this.

94 This was the title of a sermon by Robert G. Lee (I believe). I heard it years ago while I was a seminary student.

95 See also Isaiah 2:12; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:2-3; Joel 2:1-2; Zephaniah 1:14-18; Acts 17:30-31.

Related Topics: Character Study