The following message is based on 1 Kings 21:1-25, and was given on Reformation Sunday, October 27, 2013.
Have you ever felt that justice needed to be served? There’s something in us that desires fairness. And our thirst for the right comes to the forefront when we read of stories like Colleen Ritzer, the 24 year old high school math teacher in Danvers, MA who was recently tragically killed by one of her students. The news reports stated that she was “beautiful inside and out,” a ray of light, someone who always wanted to be a teacher and took great pride in her craft. On August 11, almost as an eerie forecast of her life, Ritzer posted on Twitter: “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.” Now, a family is mourning, a community is mourning, and a school has been robbed of one of their best educators. We read such things and wonder where the justice is.
“What comes around…goes around” is a phrase that we’ve used for a long time. According to the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms, the proverb essentially teaches that “The results of things that one has done will someday have an effect on the person who started the events.” A person’s actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person. When those consequences occur, we say: “He got what’s coming to him!”
Maybe you have been the victim of injustice. Have you had your home broken into? Something stolen that was precious to you? Maybe someone has hurt you and you’d love to see them repaid. Or for the right to be settled. For many of us we mutter beneath our breath: “What comes around, goes around.”
In our story, King Ahab, one of, if not the worst king in Israel’s history wants Naboth’s vineyard. We don’t know much about Naboth. We don’t know about his socio-economic status, whether he is a slave, or a business owner. But he is a Hebrew. It’s safe to say that he’s a regular guy. And he has a vineyard that King Ahab desperately wants. So the king offers compensation. But Naboth denies him. Why did he deny him? He could have been given a nicer and larger vineyard? After the Exodus, when Joshua led the people of God in the conquest of the land of Canaan. That land was a permanent gift from God to the children of Israel. And it stayed in certain families of the different tribes forever. Vineyards were sign of permanence. They did not grow over night, but after a long time. A well established vineyard is one that spoke of stability. Levitical law stated that although the land could be leased, it was not to be sold outright. As Ray Dillard points out: “The land had been provided by God as part of His grace toward Israel; therefore, no one was to take the land of another away from him.” Even if there was a sale, the land returned to the owner in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:13-17, 25-28). So Ahab was out of line with his request. This is why Naboth responds in verse three: “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”
This passage reveals a lot of flaws in the characters. And if we’re honest, we might see a little of ourselves in them. One is that Ahab was incredibly selfish. So what happens next? Ahab then comes home only to sulk and mope around the palace. He lusted after this plot of land that belonged to Naboth and it showed in his countenance. His wife, Jezebel notices. She inquires as to his sullen appearance: “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
The solution is simple to the manipulator Jezebel: kill Naboth. But there would need to be a scheme. In order to cover their tracks, they will plot a way to frame Naboth and have him stoned. What she proceeds to do is call for a fast, a time when people would come together for a solemn observance. During that time, two trouble-makers would be placed near Naboth and raise a ruckus, accusing him of things he did not do. Verse 13 tells us: “Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death.” Do you see where selfishness and manipulation led Ahab and Jezebel? Murder. If we were honest, such things as covetousness and the manufacturing of circumstances for our benefit have gotten us into trouble too.
Where’s the justice? How unfair! Someone has to pay! Yes. Maybe you’ve been the victim of similar circumstances. Maybe not so extreme, but you’ve been wronged, accused, treated unfairly. Mistreatment has been around for a long time. It is a characteristic to this sinful world. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The sooner we come to the realization that not everything in this life is based on fairness, the better off we’ll be.
But our mistreatments ought to drive us to a deeper trust in the Lord Jesus. Every injustice is an opportunity to trust God. Christ spoke of the possibility of personal peace, even when your life is falling down around you. He said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In this world, where evil abounds, we must remember that…
GOD IS THE AVENGER OF EVIL.
What happens to Ahab? His sin is found out and God speaks
through the prophet Elijah concerning it. Verse 17: “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood– yes, yours!'” Up to this point, the real situation is unknown to everyone except Ahab, Jezebel and God. But the Lord informs His spokesperson that judgment was about to come to the king and his household. The prophet would also pronounce judgment on Jezebel in verse 23: “Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’ “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.”
What can we learn from this incident? God is the avenger of evil. He will not let injustice take place without returning it on the heads of those who perpetrate it. Incidentally, 2 Kings 9:30-37 tells us of Jezebel’s fate. She was thrown out a palace window and trampled on by horses, then eaten by dogs. When they buried her, the only thing remaining was her skull, her feet and parts of her hands. Ouch!
God’s justice also comes by way of what people sow and reap. Take for instance, Proverbs 22:8: “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed.” Notice what Paul says in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” In other words, there are consequences to one’s actions, and God is the determiner of the consequences.
There might be times that we wonder if God is paying attention to the world around us. But He is! He is the avenger of every wrong committed. The Apostle Paul writes to those being persecuted and facing various trials because of their faith in Christ in Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. And God knows our days. There is a day of reckoning and we must be prepared for it. Jesus will one day return to judge the earth. We believe that He now resides: “…at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” And we must trust Him, no matter what.
But God is also patient and willing to forgive the person who repents. Notice an ironic twist occurs. Ahab repents. Verse 27 states: “When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 28 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”
Lastly, God is merciful. He does not delight in the death of the wicked, but desires repentance. Ezekiel 33:11 states: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” What’s more is that this should remind us that we must be walking with the Lord. We cannot take matters into our own hands, and live like we want, without it coming to haunt us. I was recently watching the drama miniseries the Hatfield and McCoys. Kevin Costner plays Hatfield, who is responsible for the loss of many lives during and after the Civil War in Kentucky and West Virginia. He eventually died of pneumonia at age 81, not before he repented and turned to the Lord. They were two men that took matters into their own hands. Jesus said in Luke 15:7: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Until Jesus returns, you will always live in a world of injustice. At the root of what we label unjust, is the sense that our will has been violated. Pastor Mark Driscoll recently stated: “Don’t ask “What’s best for me?” Ask “What will honor God?” That’s what’s best for you. God’s will is holistic. Ours is pretty self-centered.” You will also be a participant in various degrees of injustice. But we must see ourselves in Ahab and repent before it is too late. When we do, God is able to restore us and make us into what He wants us to be. So there’s more at stake than just the injustice that you and I live in!
In the laboratory of the great chemist Faraday a workman accidentally dropped a very valuable silver cup into a tank of strong acid. He and the other workmen stood over the tank mournfully watching the quick disintegration of the cup. But Faraday, seeing what had happened, poured a chemical into the tank. The silver was precipitated to the bottom and recovered, and the shapeless mass was sent off again to the silversmith to be refashioned into its former likeness. So the grace of repentance and of faith can recover what has been lost and restore it to its former usefulness and beauty. That’s what happens when a sinner repents. God is able once again to mold us into who He wants us to be.