1 Kings 20-21

Good morning! Today’s passage (1 Kings 20-21) gives us further examples of divine deliverance of Israel, King Ahab’s royal conduct displeasing to God, and the role of prophets like Elijah in holding kings accountable to God’s righteousness.

Arameans assault Samaria at the beginning of chapter 20, overtaking the capitol city like the British once ransacked Washington D.C. Ahab shares a feisty exchange with the Aramean king Ben-Hadad, who is drunk with wine and power. Ahab’s defeat of Arameans afterward is cast as further proof of God’s existence and dominance, like the fire from heaven which destroyed the prophets of Baal. At the springtime launch of the fighting season, a massive Aramean force organizes against little Israel, gathered “like a flock of goats”. Nevertheless, the little flock of goats inflicts massive losses on the Arameans in the plain, which was supposed to be good fighting ground for Aram. After a desperate attempt to save Ben-Hadad’s life, Ahab accepts Aramean surrender and spares the king’s life.

But this mercy does not reflect God’s will, according to the prophets of Israel. Chapter 20 ends with a prophetic “sign-act”, where the prophet embodies the judgment of God against a king or people (something we’ll see more of in later prophets like Hosea and Ezekiel). Here, an unnamed prophet (wounded by another prophet at his request) confronts Ahab with a story about losing a man he was supposed to watch in the time of battle. Ahab essentially says, you get the punishment you deserve for failing to follow orders. Then the prophet reveals himself and declares what Nathan said to King David after the affair with Bathsheba: You are the man! Ahab recognizes that he didn’t follow divine instructions to kill Ben-Hadad, which will later cost Ahab’s own life and that of his people.

1 Kings 21 seems to be disconnected to the former chapter, but it’s another story of Ahab’s rebuke from a prophet, this time Elijah. Ahab covets the land of a vineyard that is not his own, but its owner Naboth denies Ahab’s desire to purchase it. (There are some things money can’t buy, and an honorable man’s ancestral land is one of them.) Queen Jezebel then cooks up a scheme to kill Naboth and take the land without payment. Jezebel’s plan frames Naboth for disloyalty and he’s killed. After Ahab takes possession of the vineyard, Elijah confronts him and pronounces God’s judgment for this injustice. Ahab demonstrates penitence that apparently appeases God temporarily, so Elijah hears that the extermination of Ahab’s family will not come until after Ahab’s death. While this is something of a Robin Hood story about the ruthless and powerful meeting their match, it puzzles me that God could show mercy and forbearance in the face of this injustice, especially since righteous Naboth gets no such favorable treatment. Perhaps this is an effort to humanize Ahab, who after all does sometimes respond faithfully to the impressive displays of divine power. Happy reading!

Read 1 Kings 20-21.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Kings 22 and 2 Kings 1-2. Thanks for reading!

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