AHAB king of Israel, greatly desired a vineyard adjoining his palace garden. Naboth, the owner, refused to sell it to him. (I Kings 21:1-4.) Jezebel, Ahab's wife, decided that she would obtain the property for her husband simply by doing away with the owner. (I Kings 21:5-7.)
A Rigged Trial
Leading men of the city gathered at a public meeting in Samaria because they thought that they had been summoned by the king. Jezebel had done the summoning. Ahab didn't know about it. The meeting was for the purpose of trying one who reportedly (by Jezebel) had spoken in an evil manner against God and the king. The leaders had already been informed (by Jezebel) that the man was Naboth. He was brought to the meeting and placed on a high platform where all could see him. (I Kings 21:8-12.) "But I have never said anything against God or the king!" Naboth remonstrated when he was accused. "Bring the witnesses!" someone in authority called out. Two men who were strangers to Naboth were summoned to the platform to stand in front of the indignant victim of Jezebel's scheming. "Is this the man you overheard shouting profane insults about our king?" the witnesses were asked. "This is the man," they nodded in accord. "We were passing by his vineyard at dusk when we heard him making some shocking statements to a servant. When he saw that we were very close, he stopped talking and hurried away." "Stone the blasphemer!" was the shout that welled up from the crowd, a great part of which included priests of Baal and their friends and followers. At a nod from a high official, city police climbed on the platform and seized Naboth. His loud protests and struggles were useless. He was dragged to a field outside the city and cruelly stoned to death before a thrill-seeking crowd. Not long afterward Jezebel received the news she awaited — that Naboth was dead and that members of his immediate family would be taken care of by various underhanded means so that there would be no one left in Samaria to claim Naboth's vineyard. (I Kings 21:13-14; II Kings 9:25-26.) Ahab was busy with other matters, and wasn't sure of what had happened, except that Jezebel's plans would be effective. That was as Jezebel had planned. Ahab knew that Jezebel was as thorough as she was ruthless. Later that day when she saw Ahab, she cheerfully informed him that Naboth's vineyard was his. (I Kings 21:15.) "You mean he has changed his mind and has decided to sell it?" Ahab asked eagerly. "Better than that," Jezebel answered gaily. "You won't have to buy it because Naboth is dead!" "How did he die?" the king queried, staring at his wife perplexedly. "Even if he is dead, the land will go to someone in his family." "Don't be concerned about details," Jezebel snapped impatiently. "I happen to know that there will be no one to inherit Naboth's vineyard, and that therefore it is the property of the crown. Could it be that in spite of the trouble I've taken to arrange matters for your benefit, you've lost your desire to expand your gardens?"
"Not at all," Ahab assured her. "I appreciate whatever you've done for me. Tomorrow I'll take possession of the vineyard." Next day Ahab was pleased as he strolled between the neat rows of grape vines. He planned to remove all but a section of the best of them and plant other things. First he would have a high wall built all around, and would have the wall removed that was between his garden and the vineyard. In Ahab's mind there was no concern for Naboth. He was certain that Jezebel had brought about his death. He didn't know how and he didn't want to know. "Don't you think that the price of this land is much too high?" a voice came from behind the king. Ahab wheeled to gaze with irritation at someone he at first didn't recognize. When he did, he was quite startled. Elijah the prophet stood staring at him accusingly! "Elijah!" Ahab exclaimed uncomfortably. "Where did you come from? Why do you speak of the price of this land as too high?" "Because I don't think you would want to pay for it with your life," Elijah replied. "That's the price you'll have to pay because the owner was murdered. Dogs licked up his blood after he was stoned yesterday. Because you allowed your wife to plan his death, and haven't cared about anything except gaining this vineyard, dogs shall also lick up your blood!" (I Kings 21:16-19.) The king's face turned ashen gray. He knew that this man of God didn't make false or futile pronouncements. "At one time you were my friend," Ahab stammered. "Now you are my enemy. Otherwise you wouldn't come here to seek me out just to make evil predictions against me." "I am doing what God told me to do," Elijah continued. "You have always been aware of God's laws. You've had plenty of opportunity to live by them. Because you have persisted in wrong and shameful ways, you and your family must go the awful way of Jeroboam and Baasha, who also led the people in the wrong ways. As for your idolatrous and murderous wife, dogs won't just lick up her blood. They'll EAT her! Others of your family will share the same fate. If dogs don't devour them, their flesh is going to be consumed by scavenger birds." (I Kings 21:20-26.) Ahab had nothing more to say. He walked slowly away, leaving the prophet standing in the vineyard shaking his head. The king returned to his private quarters in the palace and slumped dejectedly on a couch. He was beginning to realize how much he had allowed his wife to wrongfully influence him, and how low he had sunk. Groaning with misery of mind, Ahab rolled over and madly yanked his cloak, tearing it in two. Having vented his disgust of himself, in a limited manner, by ruining his costly clothes, he lay on the couch and sobbed. The king of Israel was starting to know the meaning of bitter regret.
Remorse Without Change
For the next several days Ahab was seen only by Jezebel and his servants. He ceased eating and drinking. His only apparel was rough sackcloth, a sign of sorrow. His servants wondered why he refused food, went about in his bare feet and dressed so shabbily, but they dared not ask him the reason. Ahab's state of mind was different than it had ever been in his life. He regretted the way that he had lived, and that was all that concerned him at the time. As for Jezebel, she laughed at her husband when he told her what Elijah had said and raved at him for being sorry and for fasting. "My people's gods were here long before the Israelites brought their God along," Jezebel told Ahab. "Now their strange religion is driving you crazy. Look at you, lying there in rags like a beggar! Have you forgotten that you're a king? If your subjects could see you now, they would lose all confidence in you as a ruler. If you don't come to your senses, it will be up to me to rule Israel." "You've already been doing too much of that," Ahab muttered. Jezebel gave her husband a long, searching stare. She wondered if it were possible that Ahab was seriously thinking about trying to curb her evil pursuits and activities. Finally she shook her head derisively and walked away, laughing shrilly. At that time Elijah received a message from God informing the prophet that although Ahab had not fully repented, he had become so humbled that God was willing to delay a part of the curse He had put on the king and his family. "I will not bring evil on Ahab's family while Ahab is alive," God told Elijah, "but it will surely come later in his son's days." (I Kings 21:27-29.)
Strength and Peace Through Law
While unpleasant events were taking place in the house of Israel, there was peace and prosperity in the house of Judah. Judah's king Jehoshaphat, son of Asa, was a king who followed God's laws and worked to put idolatry out of Judah. (II Chronicles 17:1-4.) He built strong fortifications in the land and manned them with many well-trained troops. His reliance was more on God than on his soldiers, but fortifications and troops were things most of Judah's enemies respected and feared more than they did the only true God. Even so, many of the people of surrounding nations were so conscious of the power of God that they brought gifts to Jehoshaphat, hoping that their offerings to one of God's royal followers would help insure their prosperity. Even the Philistines brought tributes of silver and valuable merchandise. Arabians from the deserts to the south and southeast brought flocks of thousands of male sheep and goats. It was most unusual for neighboring nations to furnish tributes of their own will, but almost any good thing could be expected for Judah. God was sending rewards for the obedience of the Jewish king and the people who followed his example. They knew what to do because Jehoshaphat had sent priests to all parts of the nation to instruct the inhabitants of Judah how to live according to God's laws, and be happy, healthy and prosperous as a result. (II Chronicles 17:5-11.) With an army of 1,160,000 soldiers around Jerusalem, besides those who guarded the cities, Jehoshaphat wasn't bothered with war or threats of war. Such a large army was possible only because the national economy was in good condition. Most everyone in Judah made a good living, and wasn't burdened by excessive taxes. (II Chronicles 17:12-19.) During this period of grief for Israel and good conditions for Judah, a marriage occurred that didn't have God's approval. It later resulted in trouble for all the twelve tribes. Omri's granddaughter and Ahab's daughter, Athalia, was married to Jehoram, Jehoshaphat's son. (II Kings 8:16-18, 26; II Chronicles 21:5-6; I Kings 16:29-31.) The wedding took place at Israel's capital, Samaria. Otherwise, Jehoshaphat probably never would have gone there. (II Chronicles 18:1; I Kings 22:1-2.) His presence provided an opportunity Ahab had hoped for since he had learned of the prosperity in Judah. After the wedding, he prepared a great feast in Jehoshaphat's honor, hoping to find special favor with the king of Judah. (II Chronicles 18:2.) "Probably you know that the Syrians still occupy some of the cities they promised to give back to me," Ahab mentioned to Jehoshaphat. (I Kings 20:34; I Kings 22:3.) "I've been anxious to repossess Ramoth-gilead east of the Jordan River, but it begins to appear that the only way I'll get it back is to drive the Syrians out." "You defeated the Syrians twice before," Jehoshaphat observed. "Surely you can do it a third time." "I'm afraid not," Ahab said with a gloomy sigh. "In the last three years the Syrians probably have built another great army that would dwarf mine. If I commanded a magnificent fighting force such as yours, I would have no fears. I would be confident even if I had the use of a mere part of your army. But I can't ask you to help me with my problems. You have no interest in a city east of the Jordan." "I have a great interest in any part of Israel." Jehoshaphat said. "Why shouldn't I? Your people and we Jews are all Israelites. If you need help against your enemies, my soldiers are available to you." (I Kings 22:4; II Chronicles 18:3.) "You mean you would be willing to send troops against the Syrians?" Ahab asked, struggling to mask his elation. "If it's God's will," Jehoshaphat replied. "Before any such undertaking, we should inquire of God to find out. If it's not His will, we could be defeated, no matter how many troops we use. We should ask a prophet of God to inquire." (I Kings 22:5; II Chronicles 18:4.) "Of course," Ahab agreed. "I'll see to it at once." Even though Ahab had gone through a miserable period of remorse, he did something he thought would insure help from Jehoshaphat. He called together Jezebel's four hundred prophets of the groves who had escaped the death penalty for idolatry earlier only because they had refused to answer Elijah's summons to Mt. Carmel, where the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal were executed. (I Kings 18:17-40; 22:6; II Chronicles 18:5.) "I want you to determine what God would have me do about sending an army to seize the city of Ramoth-gilead," Ahab told the prophets. "I wish to do this thing, but if God decrees otherwise, I'll not act on it. I'll return later to learn what I should do."
Prophets of Convenience
Knowing what the king's will was, the prophets knew better than to pass on a negative answer. When Ahab returned they told him what he wanted to hear — that he should act to take over Ramoth-gilead, and that he would be successful. On learning that four hundred prophets were required to obtain information from God, Jehoshaphat was quite disturbed. He knew that not one of them was close enough to the Creator to be used as a true servant. "I think it would be wiser to ask just one man who is a true prophet of God to contact God for us," Jehoshaphat suggested to Ahab. "That man should be one who has the reputation of living according to God's laws. I'll not be satisfied in this matter until I learn what God has to say through someone I'm convinced is completely dedicated to the Creator's service." (I Kings 22:7; II Chronicles 18:6.) Ahab knew what Jehoshaphat meant. He began to feel ridiculous for calling in four hundred men to do something the king of Judah knew could be done by only one right one. Elijah could be the man, but Ahab had no idea of where Elijah was. Then Ahab thought of Micaiah, the prophet who had warned him that he would lose his life because he had allowed the king of Syria to escape from Aphek three years previously. The king of Israel didn't want to have any more to do with this fellow, whom he strongly disliked because of the prediction. But he was so anxious to please Jehoshaphat that he gave his servants orders to bring Micaiah to his palace. "I have sent for a man who is reportedly a strong follower of God." Ahab told Jehoshaphat. "I don't like or trust the fellow because he came to me some time ago to tell me that I would soon die. In spite of what he said, I'm still alive and in good health. If he has anything to say to either of us, I wouldn't rely on it." (I Kings 22:8-9; II Chronicles 18:7-8.) "I'll know if he's the right man when I see him," the king of Judah remarked firmly. In an effort to impress Jehoshaphat, Ahab arranged for their two thrones to be placed in a spacious open area near the main gates of the city. There the two kings sat while the royal guards of Samaria displayed their skills and equipment. Other groups entertained with music and dancing. Then, to Jehoshaphat's surprise, the four hundred prophets, attired in robes that were alike, slowly marched up to a position before the kings and began to chant. "To Ramoth-gilead you should go To win against the Syrian foe. The city shall be yours again Because the Lord will help your men." While the prophets soberly chorused the lines over and over, one of them rushed about in a helmet with long iron horns attached to it. By charging about like a frenzied bull, he attempted to depict the victory the others were chanting about. Ahab hoped that his guest would be moved by the performance. He was, but not in the way the king of Israel had in mind. To Jehoshaphat it was a silly display at a time when the issue at hand was serious. His interest lagged until the four hundred prophets marched somberly away and a man walked up before the kings and was announced as the special prophet Micaiah. In a loud voice Ahab inquired of him if Israel should go against Ramoth-gilead. "You should go!" Micaiah proclaimed. "God will deliver the city to you!" (I Kings 22:10-15; II Chronicles 18:9-14.) Both kings stood up in surprise. They hadn't expected that kind of answer. Each had a different reason for expecting that Micaiah wouldn't agree with the many other prophets.