Ruined by greed

May 16th, 2016

1 Kings 21:1-21a

Today’s story is one that, at least at first reading, makes us shake our heads. How could Ahab and Jezebel be so evil? What could possibly make them think that killing someone for a small piece of land (or even a large one) is ever a moral thing to do? Our hearts cry out at such evil, extreme actions. We cannot imagine what led Ahab to this place, and certainly we cannot imagine ever doing such a thing. The vast resources, power, and influence of a king can easily open the door to unabated greed. Although most of us do not have those resources, many of us experience the pressure to succeed, to acquire, and to accumulate. Greed is not limited to the wealthy.

On the surface, Ahab’s initial actions are not overtly greedy. After all, he did not start this process by killing Naboth or even stealing his land. He offered a good deal—money or an even better vineyard. We may, at this point in the story, be siding with Ahab. Why not take such a generous offer? However, if we understand the Israelite attachment to land, we know that this offer was indeed greedy. Land was not only a source of financial security but also a connection to family. It was so important for land to remain with the family to whom God had given it that God established the jubilee year. Every fifty years, land that had somehow passed from a family’s hands was restored to that family. Although we are not certain that the Israelites ever put the jubilee year into practice, its purpose is clear: land and the gifts of God are inviolate even if it is the king who wants the land. That is why Naboth invoked God’s name in his response to Ahab: “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance” (1 Kings 21:3). Naboth regarded the land as a gift from God. Family honor and devotion to God led him to refuse a better vineyard or a large price. What a contrast to Ahab’s greed!

Ahab seemingly accepted Naboth’s rejection of his offer, but we see that his true reaction was that of a young child. He sulked and pouted, even refusing to eat. Jezebel, on seeing her husband’s reaction, resolved to obtain the vineyard at any cost. She sent a message to the town leaders in Ahab’s name, asking them to call for a fast day and place Naboth at the head of the table. They then arranged for two people to declare Naboth guilty of harsh words against God and the king. Upon hearing these words, the townspeople dragged Naboth outside and stoned him to death.

Ahab gladly went along with Jezebel, allowing her to put whatever plan she had into action. She manipulated God’s Word by using what God had proclaimed as just (death for blasphemers) for an unjust purpose. Not only did Ahab and Jezebel’s greed condemn them, it corrupted those around them. Naboth’s accusers and murderers were led into terrible sins, all because of Ahab’s need to have that vineyard.

Once Naboth was stoned to death after being falsely accused of being unfaithful to God (exactly the opposite of what his actions had shown), Ahab lost no time in claiming what he wanted. However, the story does not end there. As the apostle Paul would write centuries later, we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Elijah is sent by God to tell Ahab that because of his greed and evil action, he would be destroyed. “You have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD” (21:20)—this was the indictment Elijah spoke.

“You have sold yourself ” is a damaging accusation, one that resonates with us. Our society spends much time and energy on “finding ourselves” or “being true to ourselves.” Despite this, how many times we sell ourselves! In our teenage years (or even as adults), we may desire popularity enough to sell our true personalities or true friendships in order to have it. Sometimes we “purchase” love, no matter the cost to our values. We pursue money and professional success, not heeding consequences. We may be shocked by Ahab’s actions, but we too have been guilty of “selling ourselves.”

We may even have been following in Ahab’s and Jezebel’s footsteps along the way. Have your actions ever led others onto a sinful path? Do your children or other people who model themselves after you see a life lived for others or one focused on personal gain? Have you ever used God’s Word to get what you need, disregarding its true intent?

Like Ahab, we reap what we sow. Our greed and our desire for more lead us down terrible paths. What do you “need” that leads you into sin? Greed is not always for material things. Anything, whether it is an emotional or material desire, that becomes the center of our focus can drive us away from God. We are called to be faithful stewards of all God has given us, and we are also called to be willing to give those things up for God when called to do so. Jesus Christ already bought your soul on Calvary’s cross; do not sell it so cheaply for things that can bring only temporary satisfaction.

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