Over the next few days, I’d like to share with you a narrative analysis of 1 Kings 21 which I wrote earlier this semester. The classic story of Naboth’s vineyard will be analyzed at 3 narrative levels — character, covenantal, and canonical.
Feel free to share any comments or corrections to my analysis, as God knows that I am hardly well-versed in Old Testament theology!
I. Character Level
King Ahab, King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (in the divided kingdom) was one of the nations most powerful kings. He was the son and successor of his father, King Omri of Judah (1 Kings 16:28-29). However, Ahab was also one of Israel’s most evil kings (1 Kings 16:28-31). It was even said that Ahab did more to provoke the LORD to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him (1 Kings 16:33). For example, in the previous chapter of this study (1 Kings 20), we find that that while was Ahab in battle with Syria has captured the enemy Syria’s King Ben-hadad and was obligated by his covenant with God to kill him. However, Ahab spares Ben-hadad’s life by making a covenant with the pagan king instead of upholding his covenant with God. King Ahab was a man who was continuously disobeyed God and his prophets, and thus, since Ahab had let go a man whom God had set aside for destruction, the LORD promised to take the life of King Ahab (1 Kings 20:42).
Here in 1 Kings 21, we find King Ahab coveting his neighbor Naboth’s vineyard – a choice piece of land for a vegetable garden. Ahab is willing to give Naboth a better vineyard for it, or its value in money (vv.1-2). However, Naboth would not sell it, and Ahab becomes vexed in his spirit that he would not eat any food (vv.4, 5). By example, this shows that Ahab is a man who is immature and childish, covetous and easily offended by others who would not give him what he wants. Elijah prophesized the LORD’s wrath against Ahab, but Ahab’s life was spared when he repented, with the prophesied destruction being visited instead on his son (vv.27-29).
Jezebel is King Ahab’s domineering wife. She is the “daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians” (1 Kings 16:31) – a Phoenician princess who pulls Ahab away from worshipping of the LORD and instead to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:31b-32). Who she was and where she came from should have been a big warning sign for Ahab and his likely consequent destruction. For was always able to acquire anything he wanted through the evil aid of Jezebel. Whenever Ahab could not get what he desires, Jezebel steps in to the aid of her husband – like here in the story of Naboth’s vineyard. In v.21, Jezebel rebukes Ahab for not exercising absolute royal power. She then procures Naboth to be stoned by way of paid false witnesses who accuse Naboth of cursing God – an offense that was punishable by death (Exodus 22:28). Jezebel planned such an elaborate scheme just so Ahab may thus acquire Naboth’s vineyard that he so coveted (1 Kings 16:5-14). For such crime and her initial influence of Ahab towards worshipping Baal, she is hence singled out for judgment in v.23.
Naboth is a new character in the historical narrative of 1 Kings. He is a Jezreelite and had a vineyard in Jezreel, right beside the palace of King Ahab in Samaria (1 Kings 21:1). Naboth refused to sell the land to the King because Naboth had inherited the land from his father. For according to Jewish law, he could not alienate the land from his family because God had forbidden Israelite families to surrender ownership of family lands (Lev. 25:23-28; Num. 36:7-9). Refusing to give up his ancestral property is in spirit of each family retaining its heritage in Israel. If Naboth sold the property, it could have prejudiced his status making his family a royal dependent. For Naboth, the heritage is worthy more than any monetary compensation. Naboth is thus seen as a man of conviction who was loyal to God and resolved to decline Ahab’s offer, even when much money is offered to him for the land.
Elijah the Tishbite is a prophet of the LORD. Elijah arrives on the scene (1 Kings 21:17) with the perfect timing of poetic justice – just as Ahab is about to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. Elijah meets Ahab in the vineyard and denounces the judgment of God on the king (vv.17-24); as the LORD’s mouthpiece he speaks with the authority of God (‘Thus says the LORD’, two times in v.19). The LORD gave Elijah specific words of prophecy to speak to Ahab.
Elijah’s first pronouncement of judgment applied personally to Ahab alone (v.19): that Ahab’s blood would be licked by dogs in the same place that Naboth died. This prophecy was not fully fulfilled because of Ahab’s repentance (vv.27-29), though it was partially fulfilled in when Ahab’s blood was licked by dogs at the pool in Samaria (22:37-38). Elijah’s second pronouncement of judgment (vv.21-24) was familially applied to Ahab and his house: just like what happened to the house of Jeroboam (14:10-11) and Baasha (16:3-4), “anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat” (vv.24).
Part 2, coming soon...