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King Ahab – A Lesson in Grace

This morning we’re going to take a look at one of Israel’s most notorious kings. Just like King David was known for his goodness – King Ahab was known for his badness. In fact, let me just read for you how the Bible introduces him. This is 1 Kings 16:29-33.

“Ahab son of Omri began to rule over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of King Asa’s reign in Judah. He reigned in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. 31 And as though it were not enough to follow the example of Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he began to bow down in worship of Baal. 32 First Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. 33 Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him.” 1 Kings 16:29-33

So basically, what the Bible is telling us, is that Ahab was the most evil king Israel had ever seen. He was the Adolf Hitler, the Joseph Stalin, the Osama Bin Laden of his time.

So what lessons could we possible learn from this guy? Well, I think the answer might surprise you. 

Now the Bible has a lot to say about King Ahab. He’s actually the fourth most talked about king in the Bible. Most people know of him because of his dealings with the prophet Elijah – the most famous story being the big contest on Mount Carmel to see which God was the true God. If you don’t know that story, you can look it up in 1 Kings 18 later today. It’s a good one.

But the story that we’re going to look at this morning is found in 1 Kings chapter 21. If you have your Bibles with you, you can turn there with me. Starting at verse 1.

Now there was a man named Naboth, from Jezreel, who owned a vineyard in Jezreel beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2 One day Ahab said to Naboth, “Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.”
3 But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance that was passed down by my ancestors.”
1 Kings 21:1-3

Now let me just interrupt for a minute to explain why Naboth was so opposed to this deal.

At first glance, it seems like a pretty logical, fair proposal. After all, the vineyard was right beside the palace – it would certainly be convenient. And Ahab had offered to give him an even better vineyard in it’s place. And if he didn’t want that, Ahab was willing to flat out buy the vineyard – at a price which I’m sure would have been probably more than generous. So what’s the issue?

If you remember back when Joshua lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, God divided the land up among the 12 tribes, and then within each tribe, each family was given certain land. This was to be their permanent possession. They were never to sell their land to anyone else. God told them they could rent or lease their land out to others, but every 50 years, the land had to be given back to the original family. This would ensure that every family would always have an inheritance (from the Lord) to pass down to the next generations. It was their gift from God. It was their “Promised Land”.

So that’s why Naboth was so opposed to Ahab’s deal. If Naboth had sold this land to Ahab, that land would be permanently lost as a family inheritance to his sons and his grandsons and for all the generations beyond. They would no longer have their promised land from God.

It wasn’t that Ahab’s deal wasn’t financial sound, but it would disregard God’s instructions and God’s promise. So Naboth replied “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance that was passed down by my ancestors.” Let’s see how Ahab responds:

“So Ahab went home angry and sullen because of Naboth’s answer. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!” 1 Kings 21:4

It seems Ahab didn’t take rejection well. He’s a little bit of drama king, isn’t he? Well, before long, his wife, Jezebel shows up.

“What’s the matter?” his wife Jezebel asked him. “What’s made you so upset that you’re not eating?”
6 “I asked Naboth to sell me his vineyard or trade it, but he refused!” Ahab told her.
7 “Are you the king of Israel or not?” Jezebel demanded. “Get up and eat something, and don’t worry about it. I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard!” 1 Kings 21:5-7

Jezebel isn’t about to take “no” for an answer. While Ahab is sulking in bed with his face to the wall, Jezebel comes in and reminds him who’s king. And as king, she believes, he should get whatever he wants. And so, she sets out to get it for him. Verse 8

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent them to the elders and other leaders of the town where Naboth lived. 9 In her letters she commanded: “Call the citizens together for fasting and prayer, and give Naboth a place of honor. 10 And then seat two scoundrels across from him who will accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.” 1 Kings 21:8-10

Jezebel’s plan was simple: If Naboth wouldn’t sell his property, then she would have him killed. Of course, she didn’t want to appear to be the one responsible, so she decided to frame him. She ordered the leaders of Naboth’s town to have a big gathering (for prayer and fasting even – being very religious) – giving Naboth a place of honor. And then she would have two worthless scoundrels – who would say anything for money – to falsely accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king – which, of course, was a capital offense. Then they would drag Naboth out of town and stone him for his crime. And by the way, it wouldn’t have just been Naboth that they would have stoned. They would have stoned his entire family. Back then, the entire family paid for the crimes of the father. Which would work perfectly for Jezebel’s plan – If Naboth and his sons were all killed, there would be no one to inherit the vineyard.

And that’s exactly what happened.

So the elders and other town leaders followed the instructions Jezebel had written in the letters.12 They called for a fast and put Naboth at a prominent place before the people. 13 Then the two scoundrels came and sat down across from him. And they accused Naboth before all the people, saying, “He cursed God and the king.” So he was dragged outside the town and stoned to death.14 The town leaders then sent word to Jezebel, “Naboth has been stoned to death.”
15 When Jezebel heard the news, she said to Ahab, “You know the vineyard Naboth wouldn’t sell you? Well, you can have it now! He’s dead!” 16 So Ahab immediately went down to the vineyard of Naboth to claim it.
1 Kings 21:11-16

Jezebel’s plan had worked. Naboth was dead. His sons were dead. Ahab could rightfully claim the vineyard. And no one else was the wiser. Except of course, God.

All the sins that we think we hide so well, God knows. He sees it all. We can deceive all the people around us, but we can never deceive God.

We read in verse 17:

“But the Lord said to Elijah, 18 “Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He will be at Naboth’s vineyard in Jezreel, claiming it for himself. 19 Give him this message: ‘This is what the Lord says: Wasn’t it enough that you killed Naboth? Must you rob him, too? Because you have done this, dogs will lick your blood at the very place where they licked the blood of Naboth!’” 1 Kings 21:17-19

God knew all along. He knew exactly what Ahab & Jezebel had done. And he wasn’t going to let their sin go unnoticed or unpunished. So he sent the prophet Elijah to confront Ahab. And look what happens when Elijah appears on the scene… Verse 20.

“So, my enemy, you have found me!” Ahab exclaimed to Elijah. 1 Kings 21:20

Its apparent that Ahab had gotten messages from the Lord through Elijah before, and he wasn’t too fond of what Elijah had to say! But Elijah says it anyway.

“Yes,” Elijah answered, “I have come because you have sold yourself to what is evil in the Lord’s sight. 21 So now the Lord says, ‘I will bring disaster on you and consume you. I will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel! 22 I am going to destroy your family as I did the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the family of Baasha son of Ahijah, for you have made me very angry and have led Israel into sin.’
23 “And regarding Jezebel, the Lord says, ‘Dogs will eat Jezebel’s body at the plot of land in Jezreel.’
24 “The members of Ahab’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.”
1 Kings 21:20-24

As you can see, this is not a a very nice message. You can see why Ahab doesn’t like to get messages from Elijah. He tells him – “You have sold yourself to evil. God is going to destroy you. God is going to destroy your family. The members of your family will be eaten by dogs and vultures.” Not a very nice message at all. But, as the next couple verses remind us, God had good reason for such a condemning message.

(No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel. 26 His worst outrage was worshiping idols just as the Amorites had done—the people whom the Lord had driven out from the land ahead of the Israelites.) 1 Kings 21:25-26

You see it wasn’t just this incident that God was condemning him for. Perhaps this was kinda like the last straw, where God said “ENOUGH”. But it wasn’t just this incident. Ahab had completely sold himself to doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight – more than anyone else! That’s incredible. How sinful do you have to be for the Bible to describe you as the worst sinner?! He had lived his whole life in opposition to God. And as king, he led the entire country to do likewise.

And so God said “ENOUGH.” No more. God would completely destroy Ahab and his entire family.

But then, something incredible happened.

“But when Ahab heard this message, he tore his clothing, dressed in burlap, and fasted. He even slept in burlap and went about in deep mourning.”
1 Kings 21:27

What’s going on here? Ahab was repentant. He was humbling himself before the Lord. Tearing one’s clothes was a sign of deep sorrow. The burlap that he worn instead of his kingly robes was a sign of humility and submission and mourning. It seems that this sinful king – the worst of the worst – was truly sorry for what He had done and who he had become.

To put this in a more modern context, imagine that this was Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin, or Osama Bin Laden. How would you react if you had learned that they had repented of all their sins? What if, at the end of their lives, they truly had a change of heart and humbled themselves before God and asked Him for forgiveness… After all that they had done. Would God wipe away the record of their sins? Would they find mercy and forgiveness?

The Scriptures answer that quite clearly.

“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

It doesn’t matter how long their criminal record is. It doesn’t matter how many years they’ve fought against God. With genuine repentance comes genuine forgiveness.

And this is what we see when King Ahab humbles himself before the Lord. Verse 28.

Then another message from the Lord came to Elijah: 29 “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime. It will happen to his sons; I will destroy his dynasty.” 1 Kings 21:28-29

Because Ahab humbled himself before the Lord – God put off his promised destruction of Ahab’s family. His sons, who would not humble themselves before God, would be destroyed after Ahab’s lifetime.

And in this story we find many lessons that are very applicable to us.

Perhaps you don’t consider yourself to be the worst of the worst. Perhaps your list of sins is not as long as Ahab’s or Bin Laden’s or even the person sitting beside you. But the truth is – it doesn’t really matter.

The Bible is very clear that…

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

And that…

“The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23

Those are the wages for any and all sin. We all deserve the same destruction promised to Ahab and his family. None of us have earned any favor from God at all. The Bible even describes our “good deeds” as filthy rags in God’s sight.

But that’s exactly what makes grace so amazing! While we’ve certainly done nothing to earn God’s favor – God has lavishly poured out his favor and his grace on us.

He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay our debt – he paid the penalty of death that we deserved, so that all we must do receive mercy and forgiveness, is simply to humble ourselves before God.

As we read earlier, when we humble ourselves before God and we pray and seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways, God will hear from heaven and will forgive our sins.

If God has grace for Ahab – then God has grace for you too.

If you have never accepted God’s gift of grace and forgiveness, if you’ve never humbled yourself before God and repented of your sin, if you’ve never experienced the joy of knowing that your list of sins has been wiped clean, then I encourage you – why not do that today? God’s grace is available for you. After all, God made you and He loves you like crazy and He wants to be with you. Why not accept his grace today?


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