III. Canonical Level
1 Kings 21 speaks to the themes of worship and idolatry, for Ahab and Jezebel are not seen to be true worshippers of the LORD but rather of Baal (cf. 16:31-32).
We find that the importance of worship is very significant: Solomon worshipped at the temple in Jerusalem, Elijah on Mount Carmel. However, the idolatry of Jeroboam and Ahab show us what befalls those who do not worship the living God according to his standards; serving and worshipping Baal and paying homage to it by building an altar in Samaria has dire consequences. In the narrative of Naboth???s vineyard, we thus see the folly of sinful idolaters who do evil in the sight of God who are worshipping the wrong god at the wrong place. Nevertheless, we find Jesus words in John 4 very appropriate in the inauguration of his new covenant ??? it no longer matters where you worship, as long as you worship the true God in the right manner of the spirit. ???true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him??? (John 4:23).
In terms of judgment for sin, this infamous incident of Ahab and Jezebel???s theft of Naboth???s vineyard is a clear sign that the fruit of their deeds were nothing but grapes of wrath. There are only two choices in life, either obedience or disobedience. For obedience, God rewards kings and nations; but for disobedience, there is judgment and punishment. In the perspective of the New Testament, we may wonder whether or not this punishment lasts for subsequent generations after the disobedient generation. Regardless, for those who have put their faith in Christ alone for salvation, it is certain that there is no longer condemnation nor a fear of judgment, ???for the death he died he died to sin, once for all??? (Rom.6:10, cf. Heb.7:27).
Discontentment and covetousness are sins that are its own punishment ??? sins that caused Ahab to be vexed in his spirit and unwilling to eat, making him torment himself to frustration and anger. Covetousness (Exodus 20:17) instills continual vexations in the inner man that will always find something or someone to be jealous of. Especially in terms of earthly, material things, Christ commands us not to lay up treasures on earth for ourselves, but rather treasures in heaven. ???For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also??? (Matt.6:21). The treasure of Ahab was in Naboth???s vineyard, so that is where his heart was also.
While Ahab???s humiliation did not last long (see 22:8),
it was genuine and thus was pleasing to God. It is a reminder of the immense goodness of God, his readiness to show mercy towards those who would repent of their sins, and teaches us to notice the good people ??? even in the worst of all men. If ever one wonders why the wicked often seem to prosper, 1 Kings 21 should inform us that it is only because God rewards what little good is in those who do evil in his sight. God???s showed favor to such a wicked man as Ahab so that God might magnify his loving kindness even to the vulnerability of his other divine attributes. Even in his perfect holiness, God is seen to be wholly gracious and merciful. Sinners should never presume on the riches of God???s kindness and forbearance, but instead, the kindness and patience of God should lead us to repentance (Rom.2:4). For this reason, it should encourage us to be true penitents ??? being, feeling, and showing true sorrow and regret for having wronged the LORD. As the apostle John wrote, ???If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness??? (1 John 1:9). Such is only fitting for his covenant people who live in a fallen world.
Whether or not Ahab???s repentance was merely external is a question that remains unanswered, for it may be that he tore his garments but not his heart. It may be that he was hypocritical and just may have gone far in the outward performance of repentance and yet come short of true repentance. What was truly in Ahab???s heart at the time of vv.27-29, God only knows. We need only to worry about ourselves, and whether or not our hearts are genuinely repentant, whether or not there is a true 180-degree turn of heart, mind, and will. We need to ensure that what comes out of our hearts is godly grief, the kind that produces ???repentance that leads to salvation without regret??? and not worldly grief that produces death (2 Cor. 7:10).
In redemptive-historical terms, we see both the glory of a kingdom and the inevitable failure of all human forms of government in 1 Kings 21. We see the fallen sinfulness of human kings in the character of Ahab and his wife Jezebel, and thus from this point in history, Israel yearns and looks forward to the coming kingdom of God. It is a coming kingdom that would reign eternally, a kingdom where the perfect King is Jesus Christ our Lord himself, the Son of God ??? the one who is greater than Solomon (Matt.12:42). In the recording of the line of David, 1 Kings brings us back to the background story of the birth of Jesus as the true king of Israel. 1 Kings 21 reminds us that the Old Testament progressively reveals the redemptive plans of God which are fulfilled by Jesus, as the Old Testament is God???s very Word about Christ. Even as his kingdom at the time of 1 Kings 21 was divided and was led by the evil king Ahab, the Scriptures cry out in eager expectation of the kingdom that is united and led by a good and holy king. In Mark 1:15, we find the words of fulfillment: ???The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.???
If only the house of Israel would know for certain ???that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified??? (Acts 2:36).