A dramatised sermon, based on the account of King Ahab in 1 Kings 21-22
Act 1, Scene 1 – In Which Ahab Wants Naboth’s Vineyard, 1 King 21:1-7
Ahab gazes out of his palace window. He surveys his 11-acre estate with satisfaction. He likes the walls, the towers, the moat, everything. There’s just one thing missing. A vegetable garden. That vineyard just beyond the perimeter wall, Naboth’s vineyard, would do very nicely.
Ahab strolls across for a neighbourly chat. “Naboth, my friend. I’m looking to expand in the cucumber, garlic and leek department. And your vineyard would be the ideal spot for me. I’m prepared to offer you an even better one in exchange.”
“No can do,” replies Naboth.
“Oh,” says the king. “Well, perhaps you’d prefer ready cash. No problem. I’ll pay you whatever it’s worth. Can’t say fairer than that.”
“I’m afraid the answer’s still ‘No’. This vineyard has been passed down from father to son for generations. The law of the Lord says that it would be wrong to sell off an inheritance that I should be passing down to my children.
“So that’s your final answer?”
“That’s my final answer.”
Ahab trudges back to the palace and stomps up to his room.
“Ahab! Ahab!! Come down, your supper’s getting cold.”
“I’m not coming down. I don’t want any supper.”
“What are you in such a strop about?”
Ahab tells Jezebel about Naboth’s refusal to sell the vineyard.
“For goodness’ sake! Call yourself a king? What’s the point of being a king if you can’t have what you want? Oh, leave it to me. I have a cunning plan.”
Act 1, Scene 2 – In Which Ahab Gets Naboth’s Vineyard, 1 King 21:7-16
In Ahab’s name, Jezebel has proclaimed a day of fasting. Note: a great injustice is about to be done, but it will be a religious injustice. Naboth is given a prominent place in the gathering, and Jezebel has arranged for two scoundrels to sit opposite him.
Right on cue, the two scoundrels make their accusation against Naboth. Two witnesses, just like it says in the law. A great injustice is about to be done. But it will be legal injustice. “This man has cursed both God and the king.” Well, that’s clear enough: blasphemy and treason. Capital offences. Take him outside, and stone him to death.
It was the evil plan of one person – Jezebel. It could have been prevented by Ahab. Ahab might had said, “Jezebel, I don’t trust you and your cunning plans.” But he was desperate to get his hands on that vineyard. So he did nothing. It could have been prevented by the two false witnesses. They might have said, “We may be scoundrels, but this is going too far.” But no doubt there was enough by way of a stick or a carrot to make it worth their while. So they did what they were told to do. It could have been prevented by the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him, v8. They might have said to Jezebel, “Get lost. Do your own dirty work.” But they had jobs, and homes, and families, to think of. Best to follow orders, and not ask questions, with people like Jezebel around.
It looks like the perfect crime. Ahab has got his vineyard, and no-one is going to blab about the appalling injustice that led to him getting it.
Act 1, Scene 3 – In Which Ahab Learns What The Lord Intends to Do About It, 1 Kng 21:17-29
Unfortunately for Ahab and Jezebel, the Lord is not like their false gods, Baal and Asherah. Unlike them, Yahweh does not fall asleep on the job, or take comfort breaks, or slope off on holiday. The Lord has seen everything.
The Lord tells Elijah to pay a visit to Ahab, who this very moment is in his new vineyard (which the Lord still calls ‘Naboth’s vineyard’, v18).
The Lord’s sentence on Ahab and his descendents is shocking. His own death will be totally undignified, utterly dishonourable, v19, “In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood – yes, yours!”
Then comes a surprise. Having been told that Ahab was the most awful king ever to have ruled over Israel, v25f, we suddenly seen some signs of remorse, v27. And the Lord himself is elated by this response, v29. He digs Elijah in the ribs and says, “Did you see that?” It was not repentance, only remorse. And the punishment was not revoked, only delayed. But it was something.
Act 2, Scene 1 – In Which Ahab Wants Ramoth Gilead
What do you get if you put a wicked king, who is a twit, with a godly king, who is also a bit of a twit? Answer: you get 1 Kings 22:1-28.
It is some time later. The wicked king is, or course, Ahab, ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel. The godly king is Jehoshaphat, ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah. They’re good mates. Ahab proposes that they go to war together against the king of Aram in order to re-take the strategic city of Ramoth Gilead. Jehoshaphat says, “Don’t you think we ought to consult the Lord first?”
“Oh, I suppose so,” mutters Ahab, and summons a bunch of prophets, about four hundred in number, v4. Now, is it my imagination,.but don’t I recall from ch 18, that there was a group of prophets of the goddess Asherah, some 400 hundred in number, who took their meals at Jezebel’s table, and who never showed up at the god contest on Mt Carmel? Could these be the same rogues that Ahab now summons and who, of ocurse, tell the king exactly what he wants to hear – “Go to war, for God will give you victory.”
Jehoshaphat, however, is not such a complete twit that he doesn’t know a huge dirty rat when he smells one. “What I had in mind,” he says, v7, “was consulting a prophet of the Lord.”
“Well, Micaiah would be our man,” says Ahab. “Trouble is, I hate his guts. He’s a complete doom and gloom merchant when it comes to prophesying about me. Why does have to be so judgemental? Whatever happened to unconditional positive regard? Oh, wheel him in, but I know what he’s going to say.”
“Micaiah,” asks Ahab, v15 “should we go to war, or not?”
“Go ahead,” replies the prophet. “The Lord will give you victory.”
Ahab, too, is not such a complete twit that he can’t detect the sarcasm in Micaiah’s reply. “You always do this! You always tell me what you know I want to hear and then I have to drag to truth out of you. Now tell me the truth.”
Micaiah gives his prophecy of defeat in battle, and of a scattered, leaderless people. Enduring insults from the 400 prophets and from Ahab, he calmly responds, “You wait and see. Time will tell whether I have spoken the truth or not.”
Act 2, Scene 2 – In Which Ahab Gets A Stray Arrow, 1 King 22:29-38
Ignoring Micaiah’s words, Ahab and Jehoshaphat go to war in order to regain Ramoth Gilead. Ahab has a bright idea that he thinks will cheat Micaiah’s prophecy of doom. “I’ll go in disguise. They’ll only be interested in killing the King of Israel, so I’ll be safe, so long as I’m not wearing royal robes. However, I suggest that you, King of Judah, do wear your royal robes for the battle.”
Jehoshaphat thinks about it. “Nope, I can’t see any problem with that.”
And the plan nearly works. Jehoshaphat, of course, nearly cops it. But no-one recognises Ahab, king of Israel, and so on-one targets him. Except that ‘someone drew his bow at random and hit Ahab between the sections of his armour,’ v34. And he slowly bled to death. And ‘they washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria (where the prostitutes bathed), and the dogs licked up his blood, just as the word of the Lord had declared.’
It’s about justice. Once again, we reminded that the God of the Bible, the True and Living God, loves justice and detests injustice.
But did justice not come rather late for Naboth? Why the delay?
Well, the NT explains that any delay in God punishing the perpetrators of injustice is due to his patience with them. 2 Peter 3:9, in speaking of the promised day of judgement, adds, ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ Even in this OT narrative, we see clear signs that the Lord would much rather forgive than condemn. Why do you think he sent that 3-year drought in the first place? Surely, it was to bring Ahab and the nation to their senses. Why that ‘god contest’ in ch18? Obviously, to draw the king and his people away from idolatry and bring them back to the True and Living God. And do you remember how excited the Lord was when Ahab showed a few signs of remorse?
Yes, the Lord has an unswerving commitment to justice, and so should we. We can never be complacent while the weak are oppressed, the vulnerable exploited, and the innocent falsely accused and condemned.
But the Lord also has a heart of love towards the unjust, and so should we. May we be full, free, and unrestrained in our witness to the God who is both just and the justifier of all who have faith in.Jesus.