1 Kings 21:1-10

Deal… or Else

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1 Kings 21:1-10

Deal… or Else

Dr. Mickey Anders

Howie Mandel is the host for a popular television game show called “Deal or No Deal.” The game is played in many different ways around the world. The player begins the game by choosing at random a brief case that will contain prize money, but the player does not know until the end of the game how much money is in the briefcase.

The other briefcases are then opened one by one, narrowing down the odds concerning the prize in the players briefcase. At various points in the game the banker calls to Howie Mandel and makes an offer of a certain amount of money for the player to quit the game.

The player then answers the title question, choosing: Deal or No Deal? Deal means the offer is accepted and the game ends. No Deal means the offer is rejected and the game continues.

Like most game shows, it plays on our sense of greed. Are we satisfied with the money we are offered for sure, or are we willing to take the chance in order to get even more money?

I could not help but think of this game show when I read our text for today. Ahab was playing a similar game except his title would be, “Deal… Or Else!” In Ahab’s game, it was deal or die! And Naboth decided not to deal.

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As we discovered in the past two Sunday’s, King Ahab had become the leader of Israel. He was the son of Omri and the descendent of kings David and Solomon. However, Ahab had inherited none of David’s courage or leadership, nor did he have any of Solomon’s wisdom. He was stupid and weak, and married to the evil and conniving Jezebel a worshiper of the Canaanite storm god Baal. Though he was the king of Israel, he had gone through life choosing poorly, and one of his worst choices was to marry Jezebel.

Ahab and Jezebel had a second home in Jezreel, located about twenty miles northeast of Samaria, the capital city where their regular palace was located. Because it was situated closer to the Sea of Galilee, the breezes were more pleasant there, and served as a wonderful place to visit when the political pressures became intense. One day, as Ahab walked along the terrace of his vacation home, he came up with the idea that he would like to expand his estate.

The only problem was that the property next door belonged to a man named Naboth. Naboth had a vineyard adjacent to the king’s property, and Ahab began to eye Naboth’s vineyard. He wanted to replace Naboth’s vineyard with a vegetable garden. The king was used to getting what he wanted, and he assumed that things would be no different this time around.

To his credit, Ahab does not simply take the vineyard without offering to compensate Naboth. He was willing to strike a deal, and gave Naboth a rather generous offer for his property. He would trade him for another plot of land, or he would pay him a fair value in good currency. Whatever it took, Ahab was prepared to make a deal.

But Naboth said, “No deal.” He flatly refused, saying, “May Yahweh forbid me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!”

Walter Brueggemann says that, at its heart, this was “a dispute between conflicting theories of land ownership.” For Ahab, land was a commodity to be bought, sold or traded. For Naboth, it was a sacred trust.

King Ahab stated that he wanted Naboth’s land for a vegetable garden. It’s hard for me to imagine King Ahab really needing garden space, but that was his expressed purpose. For Ahab, the land was just another product for his greed, a toy to add to his collection.

But for Naboth the land was the family vineyard. There were three religious and family complications for him, all of which prevented him from selling the property as easily as King Ahab assumed.

First, unlike a vegetable garden, which can be planted in one place this year and another place next year, a vineyard is a long-term proposition. It takes time for vines to grow sturdy enough to produce grapes, and it takes careful nurture to get good grapes. A person who has planted and nurtured a vineyard to maturity is like an entrepreneur who has started a business and brought it to maturity. The vineyard is his “baby”—the fulfillment of his vision.

A person who inherits a vineyard receives not only land and vines but also the dreams and sweat and toil of his parents—and their parents—and so on back to the beginning. A vineyard is a heritage. It also represents the family’s future.

Second, according to the religious beliefs of that day, the land does not really belong to Naboth. It belongs to God. It is being held in trust by Naboth, has been handed down through the generations by his family, and is to continue to be held in trust by his descendants who follow after him.

If he sold the land to Ahab, he would have treated the land as a capital investment. To the ancient Hebrews, that was not what land was about. God owned the land, and they were merely stewards of it. The land was to be treated as a sacred trust, just the way God intended it.

Naboth was the caretaker of his family’s ancestral property. He was satisfied with what he had because he realized the land was a gift to his family from God and that, in a very real sense, it still belonged to God.

Third, according to the Levitical law, if Naboth were to make a deal with the king, when the year of Jubilee came along, Ahab would be required to return possession of the land back to Naboth or his family… something Ahab probably would not do since he has already proven an utter disregard for the laws of God.

Any way you look at it, from Naboth’s point of view, what Ahab offered him was a bad deal and he would have nothing to do with it. Naboth heared the offer, but responded, “No deal.”

So when he didn’t get his way, the stunned Ahab – who was used to getting everything he wanted because he was king – went to his bedroom, fell on his bed, turned his face to the wall, refused to eat, and pouted because he had not gotten what he wanted.

To be refused by a common man like Naboth was a slap in the face to Ahab. Despite the fact that he was king over Israel, this petty little incident illuminated his weakness. He thought, “Just wait until the leaders of the neighboring countries hear about this. They will laugh at me, realize just how powerless I is, and no doubt take political advantage of it.” So he fell on his bed and pouted like a sulky teenager.

The story could have ended there. The story should have ended there.

Naboth would go on about the business of tending to his vineyard, and Ahab would learn to be happy with what he had. But it didn’t work out that way because Ahab’s wife, Jezebel comes into the picture.

Jezebel did not know the God of Israel. She knew nothing of sacred trusts or ethics, of Levitical law or provisions of Jubilee. She was a princess, the daughter of a Phoenician king. She only knew how to operate according to the example set before her, and what she had witnessed in her royal household was that when a person of power wanted something, he just took it.

Ahab’s natural impulse was to sulk, but Jezebel’s natural impulse was to take the bull by the horns. She knew only one way to get what she wanted – do whatever it takes! She knew how to get things done in her world, and was willing to go to any measure to get the job accomplished.

“Do you now govern the kingdom of Israel?” she said to her husband. It’s as if she were saying, “Are you a man or a mouse?” Then she said, “Arise, and eat bread, and let your heart be merry. I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

Jezebel set up a frame job against Naboth, had him accused of being disloyal to God and his king, and saw that Naboth was stoned to death outside the gates of the city. Coveting led to greed, greed led to lying, and lying led to murder. 2 Kings 9:26 implies that Naboth’s sons were killed too, so there was no one to carry on the inheritance.

Jezebel’s philosophy was the same as Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street in which he says, “Greed… is good.”That was Jezebel’s philosophy, but greed also kills. Now, Ahab can have his little vegetable garden.

Once again, the story could have ended there. But God intervened in the person of his prophet Elijah. If Ahab and Jezebel wanted something so badly that they were willing to resort to violence in order to have it, they would discover that God’s vengeance could be violent too.

According to the prophet Elijah, the same dogs that licked the blood from the rocks that claimed Naboth’s life would lick their blood too. Ahab and Jezebel would meet a terrible fate.

As the text unfolds, we find that Ahab responded to the prophetic word of the prophet by repenting. Apparently, it was a genuine repentance. So God delays the most of the judgment until his children’s generation.

Stories like this in the Bible are told so that we might learn lessons for the living of our lives. Where do you find yourself in this story? Do you find yourself as the person who is motivated by greed? Are you the kind of person who never has enough? That constant drive for more can cause us to lose perspective. It may turn us into a game show participant, screaming, crying and stressing. Or it can take us to the dark side where we will do absolutely anything to have what we want. We call it covetousness, greed or avarice.

We can hope that we will find ourselves in the example of Naboth, one who has a sense of the sacred trust that God has given us. Our faith teaches us that material resources are a gift from God. All we have belongs ultimately to God, and we are merely stewards of it. Life is a test of our faith to see how we manage the resources God has provided for us. Let us pray that we will be found with a healthy sense of stewardship, faith and love.

In a culture where all the voices shout at us to play the greed game and deal up for more, we are reminded that the still, small voice of God still speaks a word of contentment.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2010, Mickey Anders. Used by permission.