I Kings – Chapter 21

Ahab and the Vineyard of Naboth

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Despite the victories that G-d permitted him, Ahab didn’t improve. His neighbor Naboth (Navos) had a vineyard next to the palace. Ahab wanted to purchase the vineyard and make a vegetable garden out of it. He offered Naboth a better vineyard or cash for it, but Naboth replied, “G-d forbid that I should sell my ancestral property!” Ahab had a temper tantrum and pouted. He lay down and faced the fall, refusing to eat. His wife Jezebel asked what the problem was. He replied, “Naboth won’t sell me his vineyard.” (Ahab conveniently left out the part about the land being Naboth’s ancestral property.) Jezebel said, “Don’t worry – I’ll get it for you.” (A king had the authority to seize land for eminent domain in the case of the public’s good, but not for his personal use, otherwise Ahab no doubt would have done so. And don’t kid yourself – Ahab knew exactly what Jezebel was planning to do, if not the details of how.)

Jezebel had a fast day proclaimed and seated Naboth at the head, next to two false witnesses who lied and said that Naboth cursed G-d and the king. Naboth was stoned to death on the strength of their testimony. (When someone is executed for rebellion against the king, the king inherits his property.)

So, Ahab had his vineyard, but when he went to enjoy it, he was met by Elijah. Elijah had a message from G-d: “Just like the dogs licked Naboth’s blood, so shall they lick yours. Since you’ve dedicated your life to doing evil, I will eradicate your household, as I did to Yaravam and Baasa – those who die in town will be eaten by dogs and those who die in the field will be eaten by birds. And Jezebel will be eaten by dogs.”

Even though Ahab was the worst, most sinful king so far, he did something his predecessors hadn’t: he showed remorse. When he heard the prophecy, he tore his clothes, fasted and put on sackcloth. G-d said to Elijah that since Ahab humbled himself, the prophecy would not be fulfilled during his lifetime. Instead, it was suspended until his son’s reign.

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