1 Kings 21:1-16
Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.” But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors” (21:2-3 NIV).
This is a well-known Bible story, or I ought to say it was when I was young, when parents took their children to Sunday School and read them Bible stories at home. Perhaps you can remember it from their childhood. Its purpose is to present an ongoing question in God’s story: Will people make choices about living for the glory of God and pleasing God rather than to please themselves? Both the main characters had to make this choice.
Life in this present time is filled with suffering (Romans 8:18-27). We do not like to hear this. It is much easier to play to the desire for pleasure that people have and tell people that God wants them to be happy and prosperous now. Such teaching destroys and perverts God’s message as much as teaching salvation by good works. God speaks to all in the setting of a fallen world, handed over to bondage. And in that situation, evil people do run over the righteous and harm them. God wants us to understand the world in which he works out his glory. Here it is King Ahab’s greed (21:1-2, 4) that will harm a godly man. A powerful and already rich man was about to oppress a common person. In the plan of salvation, God permits evil events. He allows people to commit sins, even monstrous sins. Our view of God and his world must be correct, so that we are not misled with false ideas like “God will bless me and make we happy, healthy, and prosperous, if I have enough faith.” How did this evil event happen? Ahab wanted something that was close to him but that did not belong to him. The desire to have a field was not wrong in itself (cf. Proverbs 31:16), but Ahab desired something that God’s law had forbidden him to have. There can be a very thin line between legitimate desire and greed. When we wrongly want something forbidden that is nearby, it can be very difficult to resist the temptation to covet, since the object constantly attracts us. Think of David and Bathsheba, Herod and Herodias, Judas and money.
Ahab continued to covet, even when his offer was refused (21:4). He plainly transgressed the tenth command of the law covenant. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s (Exodus 20:17). To paraphrase Matthew Henry, Paul was content in a prison, but Ahab was discontent in a palace. Contrary to popular opinion, comfortable circumstances cannot produce happiness and satisfaction. Think of Amnon’s illicit desire for his half-sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-4). In an affluent culture, such as the one in which I live, it is too easy to fall into greed. Everything around cries out, “Purchase me, indulge yourself, and you will enjoy comfort!” But the whole world cannot satisfy the human heart.
Grace and peace, David