Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
I KINGS CHAPTER 21
The sorry story of the murderous expropriation of Naboth's vineyard by King Ahab put the final seal on his fate and that of his dynasty. Many people permit themselves to believe in what they please while claiming themselves to be quite as moral, if not more so, than those who seek to uphold the law of God's Torah. Ahab first allowed himself to go after the gods of the other nations. Now we see how his willingness to violate what may seem to be the least serious of all of the Ten Commandments - coveting the property of others (Exodus 20:14) - drew him into a spiral of sin that led him to violate at least half of them.
What could be wrong with gazing at something belonging to somebody else and merely wishing it was mine?
In the words of Rambam: "The appetite for wealth brings one to desire the property of others, and this brings a person to robbery. If the owners refuse to sell their property even after being offered much money and put under heavy pressure, if they seek to prevent the covetous person from robbing them, it can bring him to actual bloodshed. Go out and learn from the story of Ahab and Naboth" (Laws of Robbery 1:11).
The Torah law of kings does permit the king to expropriate the private property of his subjects for certain purposes (I Samuel 8:14), but most rabbinic opinions hold that Ahab had no legal right to take Naboth's vineyard, which is why he had to resort to framing Naboth in order to grab it.
The text makes it seem that Ahab himself only sulked when Naboth refused to give over his ancestral portion to the king, while it was really the wicked Jezebel who egged Ahab into taking action to have Naboth killed in order to get the vineyard. Nevertheless, kings are not allowed to let their wives rule over them - that had been the cause of Solomon's undoing - and they certainly cannot be forgiven when they carry out crimes at their wives' behest. As a result of his covetousness (contrary to the Tenth Commandment), Ahab allowed false witnesses to stand up and accuse a righteous man of blasphemy and high treason (contrary to the Ninth Commandment). Through this false testimony, Naboth was murdered (contrary to the Sixth Commandment) and Ahab stole his vineyard (contrary to the Eighth Commandment. And by also killing Naboth's children (II Kings 9:26, cf. Likutey Moharan I, 69) it was as if Ahab had stolen his very wife (contrary to the Seventh Commandment). In this way Ahab violated all of the five commandments between man and man on the second of the Two Tablets.
It is noteworthy how as Jezebel sets up the framing of Naboth she does so with the utmost piety, calling on the elders of Naboth's city to call a public fast (v 9) as an opportunity for soul-searching and the investigation of the sins of the people. She takes care to have Naboth framed not only for high treason against the king (for which, most conveniently, his property is by Torah law confiscated by the crown) but also for blasphemy!
What is clear from this chapter is that the Ten Tribes had not merely fled the Torah in some simple sense so as to sink totally into some completely alien idolatry. With all their dalliance with the gods of the nations, they still saw themselves as following the Torah path: Torah observance and Torah violation were most subtly intermingled. Only through the clear vision and judgment of the true prophet is it possible to try to disentangle them and see things the way they really are.
"Have you murdered and also inherited" Elijah asked Ahab (v 19) in words that could with justice be repeated to numerous "kings" and leaders of our own times. Elijah prophesies the bloody destruction of the house of Ahab and Jezebel - after which, in yet another twist to the story of this very complex, subtle character, we see that Ahab is truly chastised and repents, putting on sackcloth, fasting and going barefoot!
"And they stopped for three years: there was no war between Aram and Israel " (v 1). It was symptomatic of the times that there was no longer such a thing as peace, but only a temporary cessation of war - very similar to the way things are today.
Another of the surprises in our story is that Yehoshaphat king of Judah was actually in alliance with the idolatrous Ahab. Yehoshaphat was indeed married to Ahab's sister in an alliance forged by their respective parents, Asa king of Judah and Omri king of Israel . Whereas the earlier kings of Judah had tried to regain their hegemony over the rebellious Ten Tribes through force, the policy of Asa and Yehoshaphat was to stretch out the arm of friendship - what in modern terms is called "outreach". In certain respects the alliance of the Kingdom of Judah and that of Israel in the times of Ahab and Yehoshaphat bears comparison with the alliance between the secular Zionists who established the State of Israel and the mainstream of Torah observant Jews without whose support it would probably have collapsed long ago.
Another factor that has a contemporary ring is that the bone of contention between Israel and Aram (= Syria ) was "Ramoth Gilead" (v 4) - none other than the Golan Heights !
In the tradition of David his father, Yehoshaphat wanted to consult prophets before going out to war. When Ahab assembled four hundred of his own prophets, all of whom foretold victory using exactly the same words, Yehoshaphat felt extremely uneasy, but he was too polite to tell Ahab directly that he thought they were a bunch of false prophets: he merely asked if there was no true prophet present. Ahab's prophets remind one of the kinds of present day think tank experts and news commentators who act as soothsayers to the general public while the world falls apart all around us.
The true prophet Michayahu son of Yimlah who was now called upon to prophesy has already appeared without being named in Chapter 20 vv 13, 28 and 35ff, where he previously prophesied to Ahab. In Ch 20 vv 42 he had prophesied that Ahab's soul would be taken in payment for his having freed Ben-Haddad king of Aram , and this was why Ahab hated him.
In a prophecy of Ahab's coming death, Michayahu told of his vision of Israel "scattered on the mountains like a flock that has no shepherd" (v 17) - a vision that seems to apply until today!!! Michayah depicts the heavenly court in judgment over Ahab. The "spirit" that steps forward in v 21 offering to trick Ahab into going to war is said to have been the spirit of Naboth. The rabbis say that despite Ahab's idolatry, his fate was hanging in the balance because he was generous with his money and gave support to Torah scholars. What tipped the balance was his sin of taking Naboth's vineyard, which sealed Ahab's fate.
Through the spirit of falsehood that spoke on the lips of his soothsaying prophets, Ahab was drawn out to war against Aram , in which an innocent archer (said to be Naaman, the king of Aram 's commander-in-chief, II Kings ch 5) shot the arrow that killed him. Despite being mortally wounded Ahab ordered his chariot driver to prop his body up in the chariot so that the Israelites should not see that he was dying and loose heart, and Ahab was praised for this final act of heroism.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved