1 Kings 21:1-20: Ahab and Jezebel
How beautiful this world can be on a bright spring or summer day, with green fields and trees and bright flowers, and soft clouds in the sky. A bright spring day suggests to us the beauty of heaven, or an autumn day with sunshine and bright leaves and fruits in the gardens and orchards. If people are good, loving the Lord and one another, this world can be almost like heaven. But if people are selfish, if they forget the Lord and quarrel and treat each other meanly and unkindly, the beauty is gone and the lovely world is spoiled.
The Holy Land is a beautiful country, with mountains and hills and green fields and flowers and fine great springs. Here are lovely hills about Samaria. Here is the beautiful plain of Esdraelon, which we looked down upon from Mount Carmel, covered with grain and other crops. There were flowers on Mount Carmel, and flowering bushes fringed the Kishon River at its foot. Across the plain was Jezreel, to which Ahab drove when rain was coming, Elijah running before the chariot. From Jezreel one looked out upon the plain, and from the mountainside near by flowed the beautiful fountain where Gideon's men once drank, making a large brook to run down the green meadow to the Jordan. The Holy Land with these lovely hills and meadows, with grain in the fields and orchards on the hills, was a land to make one think of heaven. But this beauty could be spoiled when the people were not good, when they forgot the Lord and were selfish and cruel toward each other. This beautiful plain of Esdraelon has many times been a battlefield, where soldiers have fought with spears and chariots. Ahab and Jezebel, the evil king and queen who lived in Samaria and had a palace too in Jezreel, were out of tune with all the beauty; they were like a stain upon the picture. We learn of their selfishness in the story of Naboth's vineyard.
Who were Ahab and Jezebel? Over what kingdom did they rule? In what city did they live? From where had Jezebel come? What worship did Ahab, and especially Jezebel, encourage? What had they done to the prophets of the Lord? What had they tried to do to Elijah? What hardship had come upon all the land because of this evil? How long had it lasted? What sign had shown the people that the Lord was God, and not Baal? Where had Elijah fled and been strengthened by a new sense of the Lord's gentle but almighty power?
The city of Jezreel stood on the lower slopes of Mount Gilboa, looking out over the broad plain of Esdraelon, and down the green valley toward the Jordan. The home of Ahab and Jezebel was in the city of Samaria, but it seems that they had a palace also in Jezreel. Near by the palace was the vineyard of Naboth, which Ahab wanted, to make a garden for himself, but Naboth would not sell it nor take another in exchange. It was Jezebel who got the vineyard by ordering that wicked men (this is what "men of Belial" means) should speak falsely against him, and that Naboth should be killed.
We have learned before how Jezebel was the leader in encouraging the worship of Baal, and was the bitterest enemy of Elijah and the other prophets of the Lord. In our chapter also, where it speaks of Ahab's wickedness, it says that "Jezebel his wife stirred him up." She was the instigator of evil, and was bold in accomplishing it. As Ahab went to take possession of Naboth's vineyard, Elijah met him and told him from the Lord that both he and Jezebel would miserably die. In the place where dogs had licked the blood of Naboth they would lick Ahab's blood. Not all that was predicted came to pass in Elijahís day, for at the prophet's words the king humbled himself, and rent his clothes, put on sack-cloth, and fasted, as signs of grief. We shall soon learn about the death of Ahab and Jezebel, and how all that Elijah said came true; but today we read the story of Naboth's vineyard.
1. Show me Samaria on the map; and Jezreel.
2. Who were Ahab and Jezebel? What had they done?
3. Tell me about Naboth's vineyard: who wanted it, and how they took it.
4. What other lessons about vineyards do you remember?
5. Who met Ahab as he went to take possession of the vineyard? With what words?
Our lesson is about a vineyard; what does a vineyard represent? There is a beautiful parable of a vineyard in Isa. 5:1-7. There is a parable in Ps. 80 about a vine brought out of Egypt. The Lord spoke a parable about a vineyard let out to husbandmen, in Matt. 21:33-41; and another parable about laborers hired to work in a vineyard, in Matt. 20:1-16. The vine brought out of Egypt meant the children of Israel, and in Isaiah it is plainly said, "The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant." But Israel and Judah represent the Lord's church in the world and in every soul, and so does the vineyard.
The church and spiritual life are represented by many different things, sometimes by a vineyard, and sometimes by a flock of sheep. Why is this? Each represents a particular element of the church and of spiritual life: the sheep represent its innocent affection, and the vineyard represents its intelligence, its ability to learn from the Lord what is true and good, to perceive the blessedness of it, and to bring forth the good uses which the truth teaches. This is the fruit which the Lord expects us all as husbandmen to render to Him. The vine out of Egypt is a beautiful type of spiritual intelligence and charity, with roots in the Egypt of natural knowledge. The hedges of the vineyard you recognize as literal precepts of order and habits of right living which are not-in themselves spiritual life but are a needed protection for spiritual life. How surely the wild beasts of evil passion and self-indulgence break in if the hedges are neglected. In connection with this warning of the Psalm, read Eccles. 10:8, "Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him." (E. 518, 654; A. 5113)
Ahab desired Naboth's vineyard, and Jezebel got the vineyard by falsely accusing Naboth and causing his death. We see in general that this represents injury and destruction brought upon the church and spiritual life by falsity and evil. Ahab the king stands especially for what is false ruling in the thought, and Jezebel the wicked wife, for the delight in evil pleasures which stirs up the false thought and makes it bold to gain its ends. Ahab desired the vineyard, to make it a garden of herbs. Herbs, even in a good sense, represent more natural and external thoughts than are represented by the vine; suggesting a deterioration of intelligence; and the herbs of Ahab's garden would seem to represent what is even worse, false thoughts connected with evil life. A false principle ruling in the mind desires to take possession of the intelligence, and to pervert it to its own purposes. But the delight in evil pleasures is behind the false thinking. It is this which gives it strength and it is this delight in evil, which most quickly and most surely destroys the spiritual intelligence and makes one stupid in things of heavenly life. The wicked queen Jezebel stirred Ahab up to this wickedness, as the love of evil pleasures drives the mind to evil and makes it its slave. Compare Herod and Herodias in the killing of John the Baptist. (Matt. 14:1-12; E. 160; R. 132)
Read what is said of Jezebel, of her serving Baal, of her slaying the prophets of the Lord, and her trying to slay Elijah, also of her treachery in relation to Naboth's vineyard, in R. 132. The same number explains Elijah's prediction and the horrible death of Jezebel. It was predicted that dogs would lick the blood of Ahab, and eat the flesh of Jezebel. In a good sense (as in Matt. 15:27-28) dogs represent a simple but earnest desire for the good things of heaven. But in an evil sense, as here, they represent the enjoyment of evil and of defiling what is innocent and good. The soul will miserably perish if the love of selfish pleasure is allowed to have its way till conscience is destroyed. Compare the punishment of Jezebel in Rev. 2:20-23. (A.9231)
Lesson 62: 1 Kings 22:1-28
MICAIAH THE PROPHET
Show me on the map where the Assyrian kingdom was, with its center at Nineveh, and its provinces reaching far on every side. Show me the smaller and nearer neighbor of Israel, Syria, and Damascus its great city. At the time of our story, there were now leagues of friendship, and now wars, among the three kingdoms, Israel, Judah, and Syria. There was the war of Asa, king of Judah, with Israel, in which he had the help of Ben-hadad, king of Syria. (1 Kings 15:16-20) Then there was the war in which Ben-hadad, a son of the other king of the same name, in the days of Ahab, besieged Samaria but was driven away. And again the Syrians came the following year and were defeated, but Ahab spared the king's life. (1 Kings 20)
After this, as we learn in our new lesson, there were three years without war between Syria and Israel. It would seem, however, that Ben-hadad had not fully kept his promise to Ahab, to return to him the cities which his father had taken from Israel (1 Kings 20:34), for we learn that he still held the city of Ramoth, in the land of Gilead, beyond Jordan, which was one of the cities belonging to the tribe of Gad. (Joshua 20:8) What other city of Gilead did we learn of in the days when Saul was king? (1 Sam. 11) You will find Jabesh marked on the map, to the north, and Ramoth to the south of the brook Jabbok, but the position of Ramoth is not surely known.
Peace had lasted three years when Ahab proposed to take back Ramoth from the Syrians. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was with him at the time, and he agreed to go with him to the war, with men and horses. Jehoshaphat was a good king. You see this in his wish to have a prophet of the Lord consulted before going to war. It is also said, in verse 43, that he walked in all the ways of Asa his father, doing right in the eyes of the Lord. Look back to 1 Kings 15:9-24, to see what is said of Asa. It makes us feel sorry, to see Jehoshaphat in league with Ahab and going to war with him; it is a good king in league with one not good.
As we read of four hundred prophets, we remember how a hundred prophets had been saved from Jezebel, hidden by fifty in a cave (1 Kings 18:13); and presently we hear again of companies of prophets in Bethel and Jericho. (2 Kings 2:1-7) The prophets told Ahab to go, and that he would succeed; but they spoke from a lying spirit. At last one prophet was brought, Micaiah, whom Ahab hated. (Why?) Even he at first said to Ahab, "Go, and prosper." But this was not his real message. When he spoke from the Spirit of the Lord, he said, "I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd." You can imagine what this prophecy meant, and in our next lesson we shall learn how it was fulfilled. With this warning sounding in their ears the kings set out to do what Ahab had set his heart on doing.
1. Who was Ahab? Who was Jehoshaphat? What did they attempt together?
2. What advice did the prophets give? Why?
3. Who spoke the true message? What was it?
Israel and Judah still represent the heavenly understanding and will; though now they represent these not in their beauty and strength, but weakened and perverted. Here a good king of Judah is in league with a bad king of Israel. So a good intention, a kind feeling, may be led astray by false understanding. (A. 4292, 4750; E. 433)
The nations outside the Holy Land represent natural, worldly faculties and states. Syria is among those which represent natural intellectual powers, powers of thinking and knowing. There is Egypt, the memory of knowledge; Phoenicia and Philistia, the power of reaching out to impart and to gather knowledge, usually with no desire to make it useful; and Assyria, the rational power of arranging knowledge in its logical relations. Syria has its place with these, and represents knowledge of what is good and true, but according to worldly, and it may be perverted standards, and not according to the sure standard of the Lord's Word. The meaning of Syria is explained in A. 1232, 1234, 4112. Two other numbers are especially full and helpful: A. 4720, which explains the story of the Syrian army sent to take Elisha, and smitten with blindness; and E. 475, which explains the story of Naaman and his healing.
The heavenly understanding is strong and able to resist the false standards of the world, in proportion to its faithful reliance upon the Lord's Word. It is weak and unable to cope with worldly learning, when its attitude toward the Lord's Word is such as Ahab's was toward the prophets. There is no strength in consulting the Lord's Word just to hear what we like to hear, and to find confirmation of our own ideas and purposes. We ought with open hearts to desire to hear the message just as the Lord would give it. The lying spirit which it is said the Lord sent to speak through the prophets, reminds us of the wonderful way in which the Lord permits His Word to be turned to confirm whatever one pleases to confirm; for this is a part of His providence to preserve our freedom, not violently preventing our thinking and doing what we are determined to think and do. (T. 260)
Micaiah saw the Lord sitting upon His throne and all the host of heaven on His right and left. Compare the appearance of the Lord to Isaiah (Isa. 6) and to John (Rev. 4). We are not to think that the Lord sits on a throne in heaven, like an earthly king. But the throne which the prophets saw represented the Lord's rule in the power of His Divine truth, especially His rule in heaven, where His truth is perfectly obeyed. (Isa. 66:1; Ps. 103:19) The host of heaven on His right hand and left are the angels as they live in the strength of love and truth from Him. More abstractly, they are all the activities of the Lord's love and wisdom in His providence over angels and human beings. (A. 5313)
The horns which one of the prophets made remind us how often some representative action was joined with the prophets' message. Horns, we know, represent the power of truth from the good within it, or the power of falsity from the evil that prompts it, which seems to be the meaning in the present case. (A.2832) See L. 15.
Lesson 63: 1 Kings 22:29-53
MICAIAH'S PROPHECY FULFILLED
As we left the story last week, two kings were starting with an army against the city of Ramoth-gilead, in the country east of Jordan, to try to take the city back from the Syrians who had captured it and kept it. Who were the two kings? The prophets had been asked about this war on which the two kings were starting. What had they said? What had Micaiah said, speaking truly from the Lord?
Let us read the story of the battle: the command which the king of Syria had given to his men; how Jehoshaphat was in danger; how Ahab was wounded by a chance arrow, and though he was stayed up in his chariot, died at evening. The word was passed through the army, "Every man to his city, and every man to his own country." It was this which had been shown to Micaiah, when he said, "I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the Lord said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace." The prophecy which Elijah had spoken, that dogs should lick Ahab's blood (1 Kings 21:19), was in part fulfilled when the king's chariot and armor were washed in the pool of Samaria, where the dogs lapped. See also 2 Kings 9:24-26.
Who was Jehoshaphat who was with Ahab in this battle at Ramoth-gilead? He was the king of Judah, and his home was in Jerusalem. For eighteen years these two kings were ruling in their two kingdoms side by side. (1 Kings 16:29; 22:41-42) Jehoshaphat was the son of Asa. Read about Asa in 1 Kings 15:9-24. He was faithful to the Lord; he destroyed the idols and put away evil doers; but worship still continued in high places, besides at the Lord's temple, and in other ways we see that though Asa was a good king he was weak.
Jehoshaphat was like his father and was a good king. We have already seen how he insisted that the Lord's message should be heard before they went to battle. But high places were still used for worship. It is also said that ships which he built as Solomon had done on the Red Sea, were broken and never went on their voyage for gold. Do you remember about Solomon's ships? Other things are told about Jehoshaphat in 2 Chron. 17-20, which add to the picture of his strength and riches; but while these are interesting as things that were remembered about the king, they are not a part of the Lord's Word, and do not contain a spiritual lesson.
Besides reviewing recent lessons, we must often during the year review the whole Old-Testament story. Draw a line on the blackboard, for the thread of the story. Divide it into sections for the general divisions of the story: 1 Abraham to Joseph; 2 bondage and journey to Canaan; 3 the conquest; 4 the judges; 5 the first three kings; 6 the divided kingdom. Name an incident here and there in the story, or a person, or read a striking verse, and let the children tell in which section of the line, and in what part of the section, to make a mark to represent it.
Crossing the Red Sea. Crossing the Jordan. Buying the cave in Hebron. Spying out the land. Building the tabernacle. Building the temple. Water from the rock. Gideon's soldiers drinking. David pursued by Saul. Golden calf at Sinai. Golden calves at Bethel and Dan. Lot. Goliath. Balaam. Samson. Caleb. Ben-hadad. Jonathan. Benjamin. Aaron. "Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth." "Thou shalt not kill." "There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few." "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward." "Be strong and of a good courage." "The God that answereth by fire, let Him be God." "She came to prove him with hard questions." "God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering." "A ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven." "But I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts." "Tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks." "The Lord our God be with us, as He was with our fathers."
The story of the battle in which Jehoshaphat was safe, but Ahab was not protected by his disguise, is interesting to consider. We may see in it the lesson that the Lord's protection attends a good and innocent purpose even when it is led astray by false thinking.
The washing of Ahab's chariot in the pool of Samaria represents the examination of the thought by the standard of the Lord's truth, to free it of all that belongs to the false, misleading spirit. The condemnation of that false spirit, as belonging to the vile love of evil pleasures, is represented by the licking of the blood of Ahab by the dogs; for dogs in a bad sense represent that love. On the meaning of washing, see A. 3147; chariot, A. 8215; Samaria, A. 4720; dogs, A. 7784, 9231.
We read of the ivory house which Ahab made. Solomon's throne of ivory and gold represents the truth and goodness of a perfect rule. The teeth, which open and examine the food, represent the fixed standards of right by which we test what is offered for our acceptance. The tusks of the elephant, from which ivory comes, represent a strong development of such principles of right, by which examination is made and fraud is exposed and condemned. A house represents a personís own mind, as in Matt. 12:44. The building of an ivory house represents the development of the rational mind. (E. 253, 1146)
There is something sad in this story of Jehoshaphat, a good king who represents a good motive in the heart, leagued with Ahab, a bad king who represents false understanding which gives its power to the excusing of evil pleasure. We may think of Asa and Jehoshaphat, good kings of Judah who made league with Ben-hadad and with Ahab, as representing a good motive, but weak because it lacks a strong, true understanding with which to join itself in a genuinely good and useful life. The weakness of a good purpose from this cause was represented by Ahab's being lame in his feet. It would seem to be represented in this chapter by there being no king in Edom in those days; for a king represents strong, guiding truth, and Edom in a good sense represents goodness on the plane of natural life. It is represented also by the breaking of Jehoshaphat's ships so that they never sail for gold; for ships represent an intellectual power, which here is too weak to lead to the highest power. (A. 8314; E. 514)