Free Bible Study - Elijah and Naboth's Vineyard

Focus Passage: 1 Kings 21

We often think of God in the Old Testament as punishing. I prefer to think of Him warning people of consequences. Ahab and Jezebel kill a man to take his vineyard. There are consequences for that action just like there are consequences for politicians today who misuse the power of their office. Our God will not be mocked. God announces the consequences for evil life. The twist at the end of the story is what god says about Ahab.

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Ahab and Jezebel had a summer palace at Jezreel, but the king couldn't enjoy it fully without a vegetable garden. Powerful people acquire one thing after another, but in all their acquiring, there's never any real satisfaction. "Thou shalt not covet" is the last of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:17) but perhaps it's the most difficult one to obey. Even more, a covetous heart often leads us to disobey all the other commandments of God. The first eight Commandments focus on forbidden outward conduct making and worshiping idols, stealing, murdering, and so on—but the last two commandments deal primarily with the hidden desires of the heart.

1.      How do most people feel about a bully who takes what he wants by force?

Answers vary, but most people are repulsed by stories of the rich or powerful taking what they want at the hands of the ordinary people. Find such a story in the newspaper or have people recount stories like this that they know.

2.      What did Ahab want from Naboth? (21:1-2) On what grounds did Naboth feel that it was wrong to sell his vineyard at any price?

Ahab and Jezebel had a summer palace at Jezreel, but the king couldn't enjoy it fully without a vegetable garden. Powerful people acquire one thing after another, but in all their acquiring, there's never any real satisfaction. The king wanted Naboth's vineyard because he coveted a garden convenient to the palace. Ahab masked his covetousness by first offering to buy the vineyard or trade it for another piece of property. It was a reasonable offer, but Naboth was more concerned about obeying God's Word than pleasing the king or even making money. Naboth knew that the land belonged to the Lord and that He loaned it to the people of Israel to enjoy as long as they obeyed His covenant. All property had to be kept in the family (Lev. 25:23-28), which meant that Naboth was forbidden to sell his land to the king. Displaying his usual childishness, Ahab went home, went to bed, and pouted.

3.      What is Ahab’s mood when he doesn’t get what he wanted? (21:3-4) What does Ahab’s reaction reveal about him as a person?

After hearing God's judgment in the last chapter, (20:42), Ahab went home to pout. Driven by anger and rebellion against God, he had a fit of rage when Naboth refused to sell his vineyard. The same feelings that led him to a career of power grabbing drove him to resent Naboth. Rage turned to hatred and led to murder. Naboth, however, wanted to uphold God's laws: It was considered a duty to keep ancestral land in the family. This incident shows the cruel interplay between Ahab and Jezebel, two of the most wicked leaders in Israel's history.

4.      How do you react when you cannot have your way? How do those emotions affect your relationships with others? How do they affect your ability to have other things you want?

Answers will vary, but the class should be encouraged to talk about how anger, tantrums, and other reactions are viewed by family and friends. We can be honest that such displays of emotion may help us get what we want or may turn people away from us. Neither is usually very helpful in the long run.

5.      What did Ahab’s wife Jezebel do to end Ahab’s sulking? (21:5-10) Why was she so concerned about his behavior?

Jezebel devised a scheme that appeared legal to get the land for her husband. Jezebel was a resolute woman who never allowed the truth to stand in the way of what she wanted. Since she came from Phoenicia, she had the Gentile view of kingship, which included being important, getting what you want, and using your authority to take care of yourself. She thus fabricated an official lie, on official stationery, sealed with the official seal. She had two “scoundrels” testify against him since two witnesses were required to establish guilt. They testified that he had blasphemed and the punishment for blasphemy was death by stoning.

6.      To what extent should bosses, rulers and governments be able to take land or do what they want within the boundaries of their authority?

This may be a hot topic since government routinely takes land for building roadways and imposes taxes or rules without having to ask permission of those affected. We all know that this sometimes has to be done, but it might be helpful to discuss if there should be any transparency in such actions or consideration for those affected.

7.      What do the actions of the leaders in Naboth’s city say about them? (21:11) Who else was killed that this passage doesn’t tell us about (2 Kings 9:26) and why was it necessary for them to die as well?

The weak rulers in Naboth's city followed Jezebel's orders, conducted their illegal trial, took Naboth and his sons (2 Kings 9:26) outside the city, and stoned them. Nobody in the family was alive who could inherit the land, so Ahab felt he was free to take it. The officers notified Jezebel, not Ahab, of the execution, so it's obvious who had the power in the royal family. But the land didn't belong to Ahab, and the law says, "Thou shalt not steal" (Ex. 20:15, KJV). The vineyard hadn't even belonged to Naboth—it belonged to the Lord. Ahab was stealing property from God!

8.      Why is it impossible for an evil ruler not to taint those who he or she rules?

Jezebel had obviously influenced and perhaps threatened the leaders of the town. Her evil put anyone who wanted to stand up for good in a bind. Everyone saw what she was doing to Naboth and they seem to not have wanted to join him in death by standing up for truth. The class can probably give modern examples of how corruption in business and government spreads down from the top.

9.      What judgment does Elijah pronounce on Ahab and his house? (21:20-24)

God told Elijah just what to say to the evil king. Ahab had shed innocent blood and his guilty blood would be licked up by the dogs. What a way for the king of Israel to end his reign! Previously, Ahab called Elijah "the troubler of Israel" (18:17), but now he makes it more personal and calls the prophet "my enemy." Actually, by fighting against the Lord, Ahab was his own enemy and brought upon himself the sentence that Elijah pronounced. Ahab would die dishonorably and the dogs would lick his blood. Jezebel would die and be eaten by the dogs. All of their posterity would eventually be eradicated from the land. They had enjoyed their years of sinful pleasure and selfish pursuits, but it would all end in judgment.

10.  How does Ahab react to the news? (21:27) What surprising thing does God do now (21:28-29)

Instead of going home to pout, Ahab actually repented! What his wife thought about his actions isn't recorded, but the Lord who sees the heart accepted his humiliation and told it to His servant. The Lord didn't cancel the announced judgments but postponed them until the reign of Ahab's son Joram. See 2 Kings 9:14-37. Ahab was slain on the battlefield and the dogs licked his blood at the pool of Samaria (22:37-38). Because of the postponement of the judgment, the dogs licked his son Joram's blood on Naboth's property, just as Elijah predicted (2 Kings 9:14-37). Later events proved that Ahab's repentance was short-lived, but the Lord at least gave him another opportunity to turn from sin and obey the Word.

11.  How does this story show the power of coveting? What is the best defense for coveting?

This story of lies, murder, and stealing begins with a desire for someone else’s property. His emotions caused him to steal what was not rightfully his by murdering the owner. In some ways, it is much like the story of David and Bathsheba. The best defense against such coveting is to be thankful for what you have. Ahab had plenty of lands that belonged to him. He just wanted that land because it was convenient. Such greed and desire often cause our downfall.

Time Line

David dies 970

Ahab reigned 874-853

Elijah ministered 875-848

Ahaziah reigned 853-851

Elisha ministered 898-797

Israel destroyed 722