Villains of the Bible

Jezebel and Ahab: Greed, Lies and Violence

Greed. Lies. Violence. These evils seeds grow from the love of money and the love of power.

In this case, these evil seeds literally grew out of a vegetable garden! Israel’s Queen Jezebel and King Ahab wanted a vegetable garden near their palace so badly that their love of money and their love of power grew into greed, lies and violence.

Fresh vegetables are good for you. But please. Buy them in a store with money. Do not buy them with the blood of an innocent man such as Naboth who owned a vineyard near the palace—a vineyard that could be turned into a vegetable garden.

Before killing Naboth, King Ahab tried buying his vineyard. Naboth could exchange his vineyard near the palace for “a better vineyard” elsewhere. Or Naboth could accept Ahab’s offer to pay “whatever it is worth.” (1 Kings 21:2).

Ahab’s offers were reasonable. Nevertheless, Naboth refused to sell Ahab the vineyard. He told Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (1 Kings 21:3).

Naboth’s refusal to sell the vineyard because it was “the inheritance of my fathers” was based on far more than a sentimental attachment to the “family farm.” The Law of Moses gave Israelites “unalienable rights” to their “family farm.” This God-given right of Ancient Israelites to have a “family farm” is comparable to the God-given “unalienable rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” that Americans have held sacred since the days of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The word “alienate” is a fancy legal term meaning “sell.” Saying that something is “unalienable” is an old-fashioned way of saying that it cannot be sold. What God has given, let no man or woman take away—whether it’s the family farm in Ancient Israel or whether it’s Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness in America today.

In Ancient Israel, the land that the family inherited from generation to generation could not be sold. Even if it was “sold,” the net effect was that the family farm was merely leased until the next Year of Jubilee. Why? Because ownership of the family farm reverted back to the family in the Year of Jubilee that occurred once every fifty years.

This legal prohibition forbidding permanent sale of the family farm protected the “middle class” in Ancient Israel. How? No lower class of permanently impoverished families could develop. Families could always start over again when they came back into possession of their family farm once each fifty years.

This legal structure achieved two goals that are always in tension with each other in any civilization. Out of fairness, there need to be incentives to work hard so that you and the whole civilization prosper. Nevertheless, out of compassion, there also need to be “safety nets” to ensure that everyone’s basic needs for food, shelter and dignity are met.

In the United States—and throughout all Humanity—we still struggle to strike the wisest balance between providing incentives for people to work hard and providing safety nets of compassion for everyone.

This balance needs to be measured by the overall effects of our entire civilization on each person—not merely the effects of government programs, but also the effects of strong families, profitable businesses, compassionate faiths, and effective charities.

It takes a civilization!

Why must Americans help all hurting people? Because even the poorest, the weakest, the sickest, the most ignorant, the most unfortunate, the most despised, the most hated person is created in the image of God, remaining infinitely valued and infinitely cherished by any civilization that is good, that is very good.

The protection of the family farm in Ancient Israel ensured that Israel’s middle class enjoyed a number of benefits that we still struggle to ensure to people today (in vastly different ways due to our vastly different economy).

Education took place on the family farm. Everyone received a good education that empowered them to be gainfully employed.

Medical care was provided by family members. This “health care network” cared for everyone.

Aging family members stayed on the farm. They were not abandoned to linger in loneliness and poverty.

Instead, aging family members contributed proudly to the well-being of their families and communities for as long as their health permitted. Everyone aged with dignity—respected and honored by people who loved them until the day they died.

Naturally, these legal protections for the middle class in Ancient Israel strengthened families because you had to be a member of a family to share these benefits of the family’s farm.

The Liberty Bell links the Year of Jubilee in Ancient Israel (that protected their “unalienable right” to their “family farm”) and America’s Declaration of Independence (that proclaimed each person’s “unalienable rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”). How?

The Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia when the Declaration of Independence was signed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Famous words were inscribed on the Liberty Bell. They come from the Bible. They quote the Law of Moses that established the Year of Jubilee: “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10 KJV).

Therefore, when Naboth refused to sell his family inheritance—his family farm—to King Ahab, he was acting as a great patriot. Naboth was insisting that there are some things in life—in a civilization—that money can’t buy. Naboth was upholding the legal bedrock of an economic system that buttressed the fundamental human rights of all Israelites.

King Ahab was wrong to tempt Naboth to undermine these God-given rights of Israelites by asking him to sell his vineyard—his family’s farm. At most, Ahab should have asked Naboth to lease him the vineyard until the next Jubilee.

However, at least Ahab initially showed some respect for Israel’s laws and traditions. Right from the start, Jezebel showed nothing but contempt and disdain for Israel’s laws and traditions.

Queen Jezebel was not an Israelite. She was the daughter of “Ethbaal king of the Sidonians” (1 Kings 16:31).

Not only did Jezebel worship Baal instead of the LORD. She did not follow Israel’s laws. Indeed, she showed nothing but contempt and disdain for the righteous ways taught by the Law of Moses that restrained the government and protected the God-given rights of Israelites.

Energized by her love of money and her love of power, Jezebel abused her royal powers by killing Naboth!

One day, Queen Jezebel found King Ahab “sullen and angry.” He lay on his bed “sulking and refus[ing] to eat.” She asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?” (1 Kings 21:4-5).

Ahab whined that he couldn’t get the land he wanted for his vegetable garden. Jezebel berated Ahab for whining like a little boy instead of ruling like a powerful king. She said, “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” (1 Kings 21:7).

Queen Jezebel’s words and deeds reveal a tyrant—a tyrant who abused her status as queen by corrupting Israel. She did not follow the ways of Israel—the righteous ways taught by the Law of Moses. Instead, she followed the evil ways of Baal—the god of her native land.

Ahab foolishly empowered Jezebel to act in his name. He gave her the power to write letters in his name and to seal them with his seal. As a practical matter, this empowered her to be the king of Israel.

Jezebel abused this power by killing Naboth and confiscating his land. “She wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them” to the elders and nobles who lived near Naboth. She wrote:

“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

(1 Kings 21:8-10)

Clearly, character assassination, negative advertising, fake news, and false narratives are not inventions of the 21st Century. Jezebel deployed these tools of deception and tyranny almost 3,000 years ago!

Like Hitler, Jezebel knew that the bigger the lie, the more likely it is that people will believe the lie is the truth. People expect small “white lies.” But they have trouble believing that even a politician can be evil enough, arrogant enough, and brazen enough to tell big, outrageous lies.

Jezebel also knew the importance of cloaking her evil intentions—her love of money and her love of power—behind a false narrative of religious zeal (love of God) and patriotism (love of country).

Trumped up charges were brought. The false narrative? Naboth “cursed both God and the king” (1 Kings 21:10).

These were lies!

The truth was that Naboth was a true follower of God, following the righteous ways taught by the Law of Moses.

The truth was that Naboth was a true patriot, risking his life to preserve the God-given rights of Israelites.

The truth is that good patriotism grows out of the God-given rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, when we help others through our sacrificial love.

The truth is that bad patriotism grows out of greed, lies and violence, when we hurt others due to our selfish love of money and power.

Unfortunately—as still happens even today—the lies of rich, powerful, hypocrites prevailed over the unwelcome truths told by a sincere follower of God and a sincere patriot.

Greed led to lies. And lies led to violence.

The elders and nobles “took [Naboth] outside the city and stoned him to death” (1 Kings 21:13).

Queen Jezebel told King Ahab: “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell to you. He is no longer alive, but dead” (1 Kings 21:15).

Selfish love of money and power overcame sacrificial love of God and country.

Lies overcame truth.

Darkness overcame Light.

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This blog is based on pages 221-226 of my book, Healing The Promised Land.

A note related to this blog is found in my book, Healing the Promised Land.