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).
Ahab came to Naboth with a greedy demand. Naboth was immediately in a very uncomfortable position. Though the northern kingdom of Israel was nominally part of the people of God and Elijah had called them back to God, the reality was far different. Since the split between Israel and Judah after Solomon’s reign, Israel had worshiped two golden calves, and Ahab and Jezebel had led them into Baal worship. Therefore, Naboth was confronted by an evil demand from a wicked king, who cared nothing for God’s covenant with Israel. In other words, Naboth’s situation was like the one true Christians face from a world that cares nothing for Christ’s new and better covenant. How ought we to respond. Consider Naboth’s faithfulness (21:3).
What was the background for his refusal: the command of God. The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land (Leviticus 25:23-24 ESV). Ahab sought a permanent transfer, as Naboth’s immediate response indicates. In the whole scheme of things, this can seem like an insignificant command. It was not written on the stone tablets, and there is not much written on the subject in the law. “Why risk your life over something so small, Naboth? You’re refusing an evil tyrant!” People easily assume that they can decide what parts of God’s word are important on the basis of their social consequences. For example, sexual abuse is wrong, but sexual immorality is quite permissible; in fact, it is not considered terribly wrong, even in most churches in our time. Fornication is part of the path to marriage, as long as two consenting people “love” each other.
However, Naboth reasoned in a godly manner. The issue was not how significant he thought the command was; the issue was that God had ordered him not to sell the land. Naboth knew his responsibility. God was the owner of the land, and Naboth was merely a trustee, and not a permanent trustee at that, but a pilgrim on a journey to a better country. God had his rights as landowner, and neither Ahab or Naboth had any right to act contrary to the word of the Lord. It is this perspective that gets true Christians into problems with a post-postmodern culture. The great evil, in the opinion of the current culture, is to call anyone out on any moral issue. Everything is to be tolerated and accepted, except truth and the judgment to come. To warn people against eternal punishment is regarded as an act of hatred. To Ahab, Naboth had decided to hate him.
Naboth’s obedience. He chose to live his life according to the Scriptures. He stood for absolute truth when Ahab was trying to bend reality to fit the desires of the individual. The ultimate issue is authority. Who is the boss, the holy God or a sinful, twisted human? Here, faith in God is crucially important. Who will choose to follow God’s word in the scriptures, unless we are fully persuaded that God has ultimate, absolute authority and speaks to us with final authority through his word?
Sometimes in order to obey God, we must disobey people. And that choice to disobey a wicked person may be extremely expensive in this world. Compare Acts 4:18-20 with Acts 5:17-20, 40-41. We in the church have forgotten much of our history. Not many remember the cruel sufferings of the Anabaptists during the Reformation. Many Puritan ministers had to make this choice at the time of “the Great Ejection”, and they lost their positions and their means of making a living. During that time, John Bunyan was imprisoned for the better part of twelve years, leaving his family charity cases. He had only to sign a paper, acknowledging the authority of Britain’s king over the church. Through his sufferings, we received his greatest work, Pilgrim’s Progress.
Grace and peace, David