From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
Today’s passage is 1 Kings chapter 21, in which we continue the story of King Ahab of Israel. From this chapter, I want to us to think about 3 points:
1) God’s people will experience injustice,
2) God will judge the unjust and yet extend mercy to them, and
3) God’s people should be prepared to stand for justice. Let’s pray.
[Read 1 Kings 21]
God’s people will experience injustice
The passage doesn’t say much about who Naboth is. We only know from that Naboth cared more about treasuring God’s gift to him than pleasing King Ahab. He did nothing wrong, but he died because he stood in the way of Ahab’s desire. 2 Kings 9:26 tells us that not only Naboth died but Naboth’s sons were also killed.
Reflecting on Naboth’s innocent death, my first thought for us as Christians today is this: Being obedient to God does not protect you from suffering. The Bible tells us not to be surprised if we experience injustice, especially if we are faithful to God’s commands.
Jesus warned his disciples that those who follow him will often be opposed by others. In John 15, verse 8, Jesus says, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.” Verse 20: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”
Later, Jesus’s disciple Peter wrote to encourage churches in the world. In 1 Peter 4:12 he said, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” What he said next is profound and challenging. Verse 13: “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Verse 15: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or a thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
Just 3 months ago in China, Pastor Wang Li, his wife, and 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu were arrested by police. Until today, they have not been released. Before his arrest, Pastor Wang Li told the church that he might be killed for his faith. Now, don’t think this only happens in countries with a low Christian population.
In the U.S., for example, Christians are sometimes opposed for their beliefs, such as a traditional view of marriage. As this issue will only continue to grow, I feel it’s worth taking some time to comment on. In America the acceptance of LGBT identities has become so important and controversial, to the point that failure to show total support of same-sex relationships is immediately labeled as hatred and discrimination.
As a follower of Christ, I am convinced that hatred is wrong. As Christians, we are called to love even our enemies. But love doesn’t mean you have to agree with someone 100%. You don’t always agree with your spouse or your parents or your children. But you are still family. You learn to live together and understand each other’s different desires and different values.
I believe Christians who hold the biblical view of marriage will become less and less accepted in society. May God grant us his power to love and be faithful to his commands. We need his wisdom in difficult situations.
And Jesus promises to be with us in all our challenges and suffering.
He himself has experienced unfair suffering. Just as Naboth was killed by conspiracy, Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution were arranged by the Jewish leaders. Matthew 26:59-60 records concerning Jesus’ trial, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward.”
Before Jesus’ arrest, which he knew would happen in this way, he comforted his disciples. In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Paul, who often suffered physically for following Jesus, writes in 2 Corinthians 1:5, “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” We will never be alone; that is Christ’s promise to us.
God will judge the unjust and yet extend His mercy
Going back to our passage in 1 Kings 21, let’s move on from Naboth to King Ahab. For Ahab we see God’s judgment and mercy. Verses 17-19 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “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. 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!’”
That sounds gruesome, doesn’t it? Even though we may not like the word “judgment”, there is something in our hearts as human beings that recognizes the need for justice. And judgment is the result of God’s justice. We desire justice when we hear about children who are abused, or powerful people taking advantage of weak people.
Though Naboth’s murder was a conspiracy, God knew about it—no evil deed can be hidden from God. Here, we see God intervening to bring justice for Naboth and others. As 2 Thessalonians 1:6 says, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you.” This is not to encourage you to be happy when your enemies suffer. Rather, the point is to let God be the judge.
Romans 12:19 says, “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. On the contrary, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’” And that is because God calls us to be merciful, as he is merciful.
We see God’s mercy to Ahab when Ahab shows remorse. God postpones his judgment after the king showed signs of repentance. In verse 28 of 1 Kings 21, God says, “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.”
As I have often said, the justice and mercy of God are major themes throughout the Bible. The coming of Jesus was all about that. Through Jesus, God enacted his justice—on the cross, Jesus took the death penalty for all human sins. On the cross, God showed his mercy on us, to provide a way out from the mess of our world.
Now, as people of God, who have accepted the fact of our sins and our need for God, how should we live?
God’s people should be prepared to stand for justice
That leads me to my third point, which is also on the theme of justice. My third point is that God’s people should be prepared to stand for justice, and this can be costly to us.
Did you notice how Queen Jezebel’s plan went completely unopposed? The elders and nobles whom she ordered to destroy Naboth obediently carried out her plans. Is it because they, too, disliked Naboth? Not necessarily. Above everything, they were probably afraid of this evil queen. It was a classic case of fearing man more than God, or in this case, fearing woman.
Prophet Elijah, on the other hand, had the courage to confront Ahab. It’s not just because he was a brave man. Remember that in 1 Kings 19, he once ran away because Jezebel threatened to kill him. Rather, I believe, he was more concerned about obeying God than obeying man, even royalty.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Compared to God, our fellow humans only have a limited power to do us harm. In the same way, God has a far greater power to do us good—to save us, to strengthen us, and to change human hearts.
There are times when we, too, may have to speak up for others who are treated unfairly.
May God give us courage to do the right thing even if it may cost us.
In conclusion, 1 Kings 21 tells us to expect injustice and suffering for following the One and True God. At the same time, we can be comforted that God will one day judge all wrong. He cares for the oppressed today. Lastly, we should seek to obey God rather than man. Let’s pray for trust and courage from Him.