Monday, June 17, 2013

The Parable of Naboth

Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, "Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money." But Naboth said to Ahab, "The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance." Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, "I will not give you my ancestral inheritance." He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat. His wife Jezebel came to him and said, "Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?" He said to her, "Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, 'Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it'; but he answered, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'" His wife Jezebel said to him, "Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite." So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, "Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, 'You have cursed God and the king.' Then take him out, and stone him to death." The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, "Naboth has been stoned; he is dead." As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, "Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, "Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?" You shall say to him, "Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood." Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" He answered, "I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, I will bring disaster on you. (1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a)

The Old Testament, although it is actual history, is also a source of parables.  As we see from the gospels, Jesus spoke in parables, and even things he said that don't seem to be parables can be converted into parables, by putting "the kingdom of God is like" in front of them.  So, whereas, Jesus will speak an actual parable--the kingdom of God is like a man who found a treasure in a field; he went and sold everything he owned to purchase that field, and so he gained the treasure--we can also infer parables from his discourses and actions.  So, for example, the kingdom of God is like a man who feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish; the worldly people who are fed want to make him a king genie, so he can feed them magically for the rest of their lives, but he tells them about the bread of life, his own flesh, which, when eaten, will provide everlasting life; they reject him.

The Old Testament stories are like the latter type of parable.  The kingdom of God is like a man who was sold into slavery by his brothers, lied about by everyone he met, but through all his trials, the Lord put him in the right place and right time, so that he could save the region from famine.  Let's look at the above passage from first Kings, and let's see if we can find the parable.

I'm not looking at Jezebel or Ahab or even Elijah.  Look at what Naboth says to Ahab.  Here is where the parable can be found.  Three things are apparent in this exchange.  First, to our modern, American sensibilities, we ask ourselves, "Why didn't he take the deal?!?!"

How many here would have taken the deal for a better vineyard or the monetary equivalent?  No raised hands?  You are all liars!  Everyone in this room would have taken the deal, because we are trained from birth to take such deals.  The world offers us sweet deals and we are told to take them.  We buy properties to flip them, the fix them up and make a profit.  Do you think I'm going to take my family and live in my parents' house when they pass?  No.  My brother and I are probably going to sell it and pocket the money (after the government takes most of it).  That's what my parents did with their parents' properties.  Ancestral property means nothing to us today.  Our parents don't mean anything to us, either.  This is just another way in which we break the 5th commandment.

The second thing I notice is that Naboth uses the phrase, "The LORD forbid."  He invokes the name of Yahweh.  Now, remember, Ahab is the WORST king of Israel, more evil than the others combined.  Whereas the previous kings may have syncretized Israel's religion with pagan ones, Ahab rejects the Lord outright and erects a temple exclusively to Baal.  He erects an Asherah pole, too. God is rejected for false gods.  Now, here is Naboth invoking the name of the Lord, the God Ahab rejected, to his face.  What happens?  Ahab backs down, because the name of the Lord is more powerful than any king.

Now, Jezebel is a different matter.  She doesn't back down but coldly and callously destroys Naboth, living up to her name.  Has Naboth lost?  Has the name of the Lord failed to protect him?  No.  Naboth has only gained his inheritance early. Think of Stephen before he is stoned at the end of Acts 7.  What does he see?  He sees the heavens opened up to accept him and Jesus sitting at his father's side.  Martyrs are not failures.  They are only called home early.

This leads me to my third point: take land out of the equation.  What is the inheritance of Naboth's?  Jesus!  The kingdom of God. Now, we can apply this as a parable to our lives. When we know that our inheritance is the kingdom of God, our eyes are opened to the Ahabs in the world who try to take it from us, and the Jezebels who will kill us for it, and we realize that Naboth was right to not sell it!  When we think of the inheritance as Jesus instead of Land, we will invoke the name of the Lord to protect it ourselves. We may die doing so, but it will be the right decision.

The world will try to give us wealth.  It will try to give us false alternatives.  You don't want to go to that church.  It's stuffy and boring.  The sermons are gloomy.  Come to our exciting, fun church.  Why are you a Christian?  Christians are lame.  Join our prosperity cult!  Find nirvana.  Worship the earth.  Why are you following Jesus?  Tune into American Idol.  Find a celebrity to worship.  The government will protect us and take care of us.  We don't NEED Jesus.  Make the trade!

The kingdom of God is like a man with a beautiful inheritance who was asked to sell it away.  He invoked the name of the Lord and refused.  He was killed and received his inheritance early.