A STUDY OF THE BOOK OF 1 KINGS: A Callous use of Evil in the Sight of the Lord 1 Kings 21

Dr. Jerry A. Collins


Making Plans to Compete with God’s Authority 1-16


Verse 1— Now it came about after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which 

was in Jezreel beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. This account begins as a simple attempted real estate transaction. Ahab wanted the vineyard near his royal house in Jezreel so that he might have it as a vegetable garden. He was willing to trade for the land or to pay for it.

Verses 2-3 Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, "Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden because it is close beside my house, and I will give you a better vineyard than it in its place; if you like, I will give you the price of it in money." But Naboth said to Ahab, "The Lord forbid me that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers."Naboth’s response was an emphatic “No.” His rejection of the otherwise reasonable offer was rooted in the ancient Israelite idea of the land. They believed that the land was an inheritance from God, parceled out to individual tribes and families according to His will. Therefore, land was never really sold, only leased – and that only under the direst circumstances. Real Estate offices in ancient Israel didn’t do very good business. Out of loyalty to God, Naboth declined Ahab’s offer. For God had forbidden the alienation of lands from the tribes and families to which they were allotted (Leviticus 25:15, 23, 25; Numbers 36:7; Ezekiel 46:18). Okay, so there’s lots going on here.

The people were to buy and sell property in view of the year of jubilee since in that year all property would revert to its original tribal leasees. This special year reminded the Israelites that they did not really own the land, but were tenants of God, the true owner. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its after growth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field. 'On this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his own property (Leviticus 25:10-13).

NBA vineyard, like an olive-orchard, is not just land that may have been in the family for a long time: it represents a high investment in many years of unfruitful care before it reaches maturity.

Verse 4— So Ahab came into his house sullen and vexed because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he said, "I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers." And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and ate no food. — This seemed entirely characteristic of Ahab. So the scene is a vivid picture of peevish Ahab turning his face to the wall and refusing to eat. He was like a sulking child who could not get his own way. Ahab’s sullen and vexed feelings were the result of his perception that Naboth’s position was unassailable legally. Naboth sought to live by the Mosaic Law (v. 3; cf. Lev. 25:23-28; Num. 36:7). Ahab’s “sullen and vexed” feelings were the result of his perception that Naboth’s position was unassailable legally. 

Verse 5— But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, "How is it that your spirit is so sullen that you are not eating food?" She perceived he was low spirited, and supposed he had met with something that had ruffled him, and made him so uneasy that he could not eat his food. She gets her information.

Verse 6— So he said to her, "Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, 'Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you a vineyard in its place.' But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'" So for the third time he beats a dead horse. “I will not give the vineyard (my inheritance) to you.” Jezebel flushes out the reason. Ahab seemed to have had some fear of the Lord, even though he did not live by the commandments. This is the same Ahab who had seen the fire come from heaven on Mount Carmel. He had also seen his handful of men drive off hundreds of thousands of the Syrians, because God helped them. He had a healthy fear of the Lord even though he could not be classified as living for the Lord.

PT— Ahab reminds me of Judas who both had been around long enough to have seen the great exploits of God, and yet having hung around, never believed. Its like hanging around the Bible or fellowship or church and never being persuaded about believing Jesus for the gift of eternal life. You are actually believing that hanging around those who do means your have.

Verse 7— Jezebel his wife said to him, "Do you now reign over Israel? Arise, eat bread, and let your heart be joyful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite." Jezebel’s manner of speech revealed who really exercised authority in the palace of Israel. Jezebel believed Ahab was the supreme authority in Israel (v. 7), an opinion he shared (cf. 20:42). This was the root of many of Ahab and Jezebel’s difficulties.

PT— We could possibly tease some marriage principles from this exchange and expression of their relationship here. What does this story tell us about the marriage of Ahab and Jezebel and their relationship? It tells us that Jezebel was strong-willed and evil. However, she did act to please her husband (or at least to preserve his authority as king over his subjects). It also tells us that Ahab was immature, weak-willed, and manipulated by his wife.

Application— When we are blocked from getting something we desire, something that is valuable to another, we need to be very careful as to the approach we take to resolve it. Those are moments of temptation to act in ways we may never justify otherwise. Ahab pouted. Jezebel schemed. Is either alterative acceptable for a follower of Jesus? 



Verse 8— So she (1) wrote letters in Ahab's name and (2) sealed them with his seal, and (3) sent letters to the elders and to the nobles who were living with Naboth in his city. She formed her plot in conscious disobedience to God’s revealed will. This shows that Ahab was in agreement with what Jezebel did and had to know something of her plot. She involved Ahab by the use of his seal on the directives to the local magistrates. The use of the king’s royal, dynastic, administrative or even personal seal to gain his authority would require Ahab’s collusion.

Verses 9-10 Now she wrote in the letters, saying, (1) "Proclaim a fast and (2) seat Naboth at the head of the people; and (3) seat two worthless men before him, and (4) let them testify against him, saying, 'You cursed God and the king.' (5) Then take him out and stone him to death."  Such an evil scheme concocted by her. The idea was that some evil or calamity came upon Israel, and a scapegoat had to be found for the evil. Jezebel intended that Naboth be revealed as the scapegoat. Jezebel obviously knew the Mosaic Law (v. 10). It required two witnesses in capital offense cases (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). Cursing God was a capital offense (Leviticus 24:16). Jezebel elevated cursing the king to a crime on the same level with cursing the Lord.

Verses 11-12 So the men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them, just as it was written in the letters which she had sent them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the people. The elders and nobles of Jezreel were under Jezebel’s thumb. Jezebel also executed Naboth’s sons (2 Kings 9:26) so no heirs were left to claim his property. This was a treacherous plan; first, to set Naboth in a high place of honor, and then to destroy him with lies from the mouths of scoundrels.

Verse 13 Then the two worthless men came in and sat before him; and the worthless men testified against him, even against Naboth, before the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. Naboth, just like Jesus, was completely innocent of such accusations and was murdered without cause. The stoning of Naboth over a piece of land for a vegetable garden shows the brutal and amoral character of Jezebel and Ahab.

Verses 14-15Then they sent word to Jezebel, saying, "Naboth has been stoned and is dead." When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, "Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth, the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." Three times repeated, Naboth has been stoned and is dead. And indeed he was. Naboth’s sons were apparently put to death at the same time (2 Kings 9:26). Since there was now no male heir for the property, and because “Naboth” supposedly had committed blasphemy, custom dictated that the king could lay a claim to the property for the crown.

Verse 16— When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. When Ahab heard what his wife had done, he did not reprove her, but took advantage of her actions and in doing so approved them. This added evil to evil. Even with Naboth dead, the land did not belong to Ahab or the royal house of Israel. It belonged to the heirs or family of Naboth.

ApplicationGod is not the author of moral evil; rather, it is His holiness that defines it. With the presence of goodness, we have an opposite by which evil can be revealed. As believers we are to abhor evil (Romans 12:9). We are to find it repugnant, smelly. If evil were eventually able to shove goodness (the character of God) into oblivion, then nothing would exist. Evil needs goodness in order to survive. If Jezebels evil intents were to prevail, then any potential for a godly kingdom to exist would be impossible. The same is true for anything wanting to survive in the presence of evil. Impossible. 


Competing with God’s Authority Jeopardizes your Life 17-29


Verses 17-18— Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, "Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth where he has gone down to take possession of it. Ahab ran out to get his new toy (the land gained by betrayal, lies, and murder—the VINEYARD), and instead he ran into the prophet of God. Jezebel had a death warrant out for Elijah. This would have been a dangerous thing for Elijah to do, had not God sent him. The Lord knew that Ahab would be in the vineyard, and sent Elijah ahead to wait for him. When Ahab is walking through the vineyard, Elijah confronts him.

Verse 19You shall speak to him, saying, 'Thus says the Lord, "Have you murdered and also taken possession?"' And you shall speak to him, saying, 'Thus says the Lord, "In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours."'" God knew what he had done. Elijah did what few other men had the courage to do – confront this wicked, brutal, and amoral king and queen of Israel. He pointedly charged them with the two crimes of both murder and theft of Naboth’s land. We notice that Elijah confronted Ahab over the sin of Jezebel and her wicked associates. God clearly held Ahab responsible for this sin as husband, as king, and as beneficiary of this crime. This was a strong and startling prophecy. It was not fulfilled, because Ahab died in Samaria and the dogs licked his blood there (1 Kings 22:38) instead of in Jezreel where Naboth was murdered.NB— This unfulfilled prophecy has needlessly troubled some. Various explanations have been made, including the ideas that Elijah meant a general area and not a specific place, or that there were pools or streams that carried the blood from Ahab’s chariot to the waters of Jezreel, or that this was fulfilled in the blood that ran in the veins of Ahab’s son Joram (2 Kings 9:25). A far better explanation is found in the fact that because of Ahab’s sorrow and repentance at the end of the chapter, God relented from this judgment and instead brought it upon Ahab’s son (in 2 Kings 9:24-26) as the Lord said He would in 1 Kings 21:29.

Verse 20— Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" And he answered, "I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Elijah was Ahab’s enemy because the prophet was God’s representative whom the king had decided to oppose. Ahab had sold himself in that he had sacrificed his own life and future to obtain what he wanted.

NB— What he did was based in evil. He was guilty of what Jezebel was allowed to do.

Verse 21 Behold, I will bring (1) evil upon you, and (2) will utterly sweep you away, and (3) will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond and free in Israel. God would remove all human support from Ahab and would sweep him away like so much filth. This was a severe judgment against anyone, in particular against a king. Notice the parallel between the crime and the punishment. God promises to cut off Ahab and his descendants just as Jezebel has cut off Naboth and his descendants. A king’s legacy was in his posterity succeeding him on the throne, and here God announced an end to the dynasty of Omri (Ahab’s father). His dynasty would come to a dead-end, just like the dynasties of Jeroboam

and Baasha—the two other evil kings.

Verse 22— And I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have (1) provoked Me to anger, and (2) because you have made Israel sin. God would also cut off Ahab’s dynasty for the same reasons He terminated Jeroboam and Baasha’s houses. This was the worse type of judgment Ahab could have received. He did two things we never want to do in our relationship with our Father.

1. He provoked God to anger. Apparently there is an anger than is not sinful. But we never want to act so that God gets angry.

2. It was sin that he performed which provoked God. Sin is anything contrary to the character of God. You violate Gods character, then you have become vulnerable to the judgment of God.

Verse 23 Of Jezebel also has the Lord spoken, saying, 'The dogs will eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.' As for Jezebel, wild dogs, which normally lived off the garbage in cities, would eat her. Though the prophecy of judgment was focused against Ahab, it did not forget Jezebel. Her end would be both horrible and disgraceful. Judgment requires accountability.

Verse 24 The one belonging to Ahab, who dies in the city, the dogs will eat, and the one who dies in the field the birds of heaven will eat." Furthermore, all of Ahab’s descendants would experience ignoble deaths. God makes it clear that his judgments would be severe and match the outcome.

Verse 25 Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife incited him. The writer’s assessment of Ahab was that he was the worst ruler in Israel yet. Ahab’s sin was multiplied not only because of the sin itself, but because by his permission

his wife stirred him up to do it. The assessment here is very sobering.

Verse 26 He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the sons of Israel. He was as bad as the Canaanites whom God drove out because of their wickedness. So, now we have the added evil of idolatry. This is why he was so open to such evil, As the Amorites were cast out of Canaan for their continued idolatry and rejection of God, so would the northern kingdom of Israel be cast out.

Application— There is no such thing as free sin. From Gods point of view all sin must be judged. This is one characteristic people wish to remove from the equation. The right to act as autonomous persons with no accountability or check and balances. So we are idolaters because we create gods of our own liking that free us to act with repercussions.



Verse 27 It came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently. For all his wickedness, Ahab received this prophecy of judgment exactly as he should have. He understood that the prophecy of judgment was in fact an invitation to repent, humble one’s self, and to seek God for mercy. But this humiliation or repentance of Ahab’s was only external and superficial, arising from the terror of God’s judgments; and not sincere and serious, proceeding from the love of God, or a true sense of his sin, because all the particulars of his repentance here, are external and ritual only; nor is there the least intimation of any one sign or fruit of his true repentance, as that he restored Naboth’s land, or reproved his infamous wife; but in the very next chapter you find him returning to his former vomit.

Verses 28-29— Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, "Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son's days." Ahab’s genuine repentance when he heard his fate from Israel’s true King resulted in God lightening his sentence. There is no indication here or elsewhere that Jezebel ever repented. God honored Ahab’s initiative. This shows the power of both prayer and humble repentance.

PTGod gave the prophecy of judgment as an invitation to repentance, and God opened the door of mercy when Ahab properly responded to that invitation. There is no record of Jezebel’s humility or repentance; therefore, we can expect that God’s judgment will come upon her exactly as He first announced.

ApplicationThe worst sinner should not disqualify himself from receiving God’s mercy, if that sinner should only approach God in humble repentance.


·      The story of Naboth warns against the use of piety and legality to cloak injustice.

·      It teaches that those who support the plots of a Jezebel, whether by silent acquiescence or overt complicity, share her crime.

·      It is a resounding affirmation that injustice touches God, that ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matt. 25:40, 45), that in the cosmic order of things there is a power at work that makes for justice.

·      And the story attests that there is awesome power in the conscience and protest of the individual servant of God?