Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"It was just a piece of ground..."
King Ahab remembers

Message preached June 13, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon 1 Kings 21

Order of Worship


            "Oh, let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the ruler yet." So we just sang, affirming that "this is my Fatherís world." All of nature which "sings, and round me rings" belongs to the Lord. Do you believe that?

            This morning we have a visitor from long ago, someone who struggled to affirm that the land around him really belonged to God. This man was a king of Israel around 870 years before Jesus was born. Ahab, like his father before him, ruled the northern kingdom of Israel, which was centered in Samaria. Now according to the Bible, he was not exactly on Godís "A" list of rulers, to put it mildly. In the book of Kings it summarizes his reign by saying that "Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him" (1 Kings 16:30).

            Now, why would we allow such a man to speak to us today? Good question! The Bible itself allows even him to speak, so maybe we should listen, also. He was, after all, a fairly successful king - as the world defines success, that is. He was known for his building programs. Militarily, when a coalition of nations combined to stop the first advance of the growing power of Assyria, Ahabís forces were the largest, according archeological records. The Bible records many victories on the field of battle.

            On the home front, he connecting his country with his neighbor by marrying that kingís daughter. Itís always good to make friends with potential enemies, you know. Jezebel was the daughter of Ittobaal, king of Tyre and Sidon. She was a powerful woman. Some have said that she was more competent a leader than her husband. She got things done. Unfortunately, they just werenít the right things, according to the Bible.

            Queen Jezebel was a foreigner in more ways than one. Most significantly, she did not believe in the God of Israel. She worshiped Baíal, her hometown god. She brought with her ideas that were different. For instance, to her the land was just "property." Thatís all. It was a commodity to buy and sell. This was a problem, because - as we will hear - according to the law and the prophets, the land is much more. It belongs, ultimately, to God. A manís land is tied to his family, his ancestors and his descendants. There are things you canít exchange - like the sweat it took past generations to till the ground, and the hope of coming generations to live off it.

            Unlike his wife, King Ahab knew the old ways of his people, and his God - even though he may have struggled with those ways. We meet up with him this morning in the 21st chapter of the 1st book of Kings. He may have made peace with his father-in-law, but as we enter the Bible story we find that Ahab has a harder time making peace with his immediate next door neighbor, Naboth, whose vineyard he wants. But, weíre getting ahead of ourselves. Letís enter the scene through scripture. Read 1 Kings 21:1-4

King Ahab

            It was just a piece of ground, for Peteís sake! Thatís all. Why did he have to make such a stink about it? Naboth is so inflexible! I went to him in good faith. Good faith! I tell you. Told him his piece of ground would sure make a dandy vegetable garden for me. Not that we canít afford to buy our vegetables from the market, mind you. Every king needs a hobby. Itís a high stress job, you know - fighting battles, building cities. If it wasnít for me, Jericho would never have been rebuilt. I did that. Just signed the order and had it done. So what if some workers died in the process (1 Kings 16:34). Thatís the price of progress.

            I need a diversion to get my mind off my responsibilities. A garden is a good thing, isnít it, getting your hands in the soil? Didnít have the space on my property, but Naboth had plenty. His vineyard had been around for ages. Probably was on its last legs, anyway. I went to him in good faith. Itís just a piece of ground, after all. Offered him an even-stephen trade. Actually, it was better than that. Iíd give him another vineyard somewhere else, of equal or greater value. Or maybe he was ready to retire. I offered to pay him what it was worth. In todayís market, thatís nothing to sneeze at, wouldnít you say.

            But he wasnít interested. "This land belonged to my parents and their parents, to the entire family," he said. "It came to me as an inheritance, which I will pass on to others in my family. God entrusted this piece of ground to us. I canít just sell it to you." Why not? I ask you. He could have thought of it as his patriotic duty - providing land for the king to grow vegetables. Maybe there would be less war if more kings grew vegetables.

            Naboth was just inflexible. He wouldnít budge. Me? Thatís what I do for a living. Thatís how you get things done. You budge. A little here for a little there. Marry the daughter of a neighboring king, have peace on that border. Speaking of which, Jezebel happened by as I was stewing over Nabothís refusal. I was downright mad. I could hardly see straight. Iím the king, after all. I could have just seized the land. I bet Ben-hadad of Aram wouldnít have asked. He would have taken. Thatís what kings do. But I went to Naboth in good faith and he refused.

            When Jezebel asked what was wrong, however, I should have said my usual, "nothing." Instead, I opened my mouth and made matters worse. Spilled out my venom. She reminded me that I was king, as if I needed reminding. "Get up and," she said. "Iíll take care of it." Should have paid attention to the red flag waving right in front of me - but, you know, you only see what you want to see. You only hear what you want to hear. And I wanted to hear her say that sheíd get me that piece of ground.

            Better than that, I wanted to hear her say: "Go and take possession of that piece of ground. Itís yours." Which she did a while later. I gotta tell you, it felt soooo good to get my hands into the soil. Of course, I wasnít totally oblivious to how Jezebel had managed to arrange things. Naboth was dead. It wasnít because he had a weak heart. Still, itís easy to distance yourself from that kind of dirt.

            I couldnít, however, distance myself from God. The prophet Elijah paid me a visit as I was working away in my vegetable garden. Ruined the day, thatís for sure. Here I was feeling all peaceful, in tune with nature and everything. Then he showed up. He didnít take long to get to the bottom line. You see, Jezebel used the law of Moses to finagle Nabothís murder. Not that she respects Mosesí God. Her father, after all, is not only a king, heís a priest of Baíal. Like father, like daughter. But sheís smart. Arranged for two scoundrels to accuse Naboth of cursing God and me (the king!). Canít have that. All it takes is two witnesses. They stoned Naboth. His blood flowed and the dogs lapped it up. Such is life.

            In no uncertain terms, Elijah showed me that Nabothís blood was on my hands - these hands I was putting into the soil of Nabothís vineyard. My fate, he said, would be as Nabothís. Where he died, my blood would also be spilled, and the dogs would lap it up. Not a pretty picture. After he left, I stood there looking at that piece of ground. For the first time I saw the sweat that went into growing that vineyard. In my mindís eye, there was Nabothís great-great-great grandfather working the soil. There was a distant aunt bringing water to the roots. Some relative was stomping the grapes. Little ones were running all around, the next generation and the one after that. Past, present, and future all there. It wasnít just a piece of ground. It was holy ground. And I had taken it. Even-stephen? Hardly. Good faith? No way.

            I had paid attention in Sabbath school as a youngster, when they spoke of the commandments. Even though I didnít see them obeyed much in my home growing up, I knew in my heart the difference between right and wrong. Donít covet. Donít steal. Donít murder. This land is a trust from the God of Abraham. It belongs to Him. My sin was not just against Naboth and his family. It was against God.

            (Tear shirt, put on sackcloth) I have sinned. Lord, forgive me. (Lay down. After a few moments of silence, organist begins and congregation sings vs. 1-2 of "Dear Lord and Father of mankind," #523, followed by worship leader reading Psalm 32. During all this, Ahab leaves, egts dressed and returns as preacher).


            Even "Ahab son of Omri," who "did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him" is given a voice in the Bible. This wasnít because he was king, however. Ahab humbled himself before the Lord. He repented. And God noticed and changed his mind about the future. Thatís what it says (21:29). Repentance changed the man and it changed the outcome, at least for the time being (1 Kings 21:29). More than the "ivory house" and the cities he built (1 Kings 22:39), more than all his military exploits, this was the moment when Ahab came closest to the heart of God. Thatís why it is remembered. Not because he tore his clothes and wore sackcloth, but because he actually listened to that inner voice, and it changed him - at least for a little.

            Do we hear God speak? One of my children asked this week, in the middle of a blistering "question and answer" session in which I had no time to respond before the next barrage. What brought these faith questions on at that moment, I havenít a clue, but there it was. Do we hear God speak? My short answer might be - probably much more often than we realize. Take Ahab. He heard a direct word through Elijah. We, like him, hear the Lord speak through others. How often do we acknowledge that fact? "I heard God speak through something you said." It doesnít have to an Elijah knocking on our door, maybe just a Pam or a Wilbur.

            I wonder about Ahabís moment of truth. There needed to be an inner voice, I believe, to go along with the outer voice of Elijah. After all, as I said last week, we only hear what we want to hear. It was from Elijahís story in an earlier encounter with Ahab and Jezebel that we read of the "still, small voice" of God that this prophet encountered in the "sound of sheer silence" on the mountain (10:11-18). What Ahab heard on the inside may have been similar, or it have been what we might describe as an attack of conscience. Tell me, is there a big difference between the two? The point is, God speaks to us more than we realize or admit.

            Is God speaking to you today? I appreciate our time of sharing joys and concerns because there are often poignant moments within it when we move beyond a litany of troubles toward the One who is able to help us address those troubles, beyond our notes of celebration toward the One who is the source of our joy. God does speak to us. Whatís God been doing this week in our life together?

Sharing a joy, a concern, a word of testimony or praise

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Ephesians.

©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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