151 - The Day of Reckoning (1 Kings 20–21)
God is gracious and merciful, even toward people as wicked as King Ahab. But no one should take these blessings of God for granted or let them hide the truth that we are all accountable to God and will ultimately answer to Him.
Responsibility demands accountability. And this is not just for leaders of organizations; it’s a divine principle that governs every position of authority. The Bible tells us in Romans 13 that God appoints civil authorities to their positions. And He has reasons for choosing certain people that we may never understand as He guides the world toward His final purposes.
If I were living in Israel back in the days of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, I probably would have wondered what God was thinking. Ahab and Jezebel are about as wicked as you can imagine. But their day of reckoning is just around the corner.
The last chapters of 1 Kings give us the final years of Ahab’s rule. God graciously and repeatedly gives Ahab opportunities to repent along the way.
Now we saw back in chapter 15 that the king of Syria, Ben-hadad, had become an ally with Judah, and here in verse 1 of chapter 20, we read that Ben-hadad “went up and closed in on Samaria and fought against it.”
In other words, his army has surrounded the capital city of the northern kingdom. Now at first, Ahab agrees to Ben-Hadad’s demands for gold and silver because Ahab doesn’t stand a chance.
And by the way, Ahab does not go to the Lord for guidance—and that is no surprise—but the Lord speaks to Ahab through an anonymous prophet who shows up and says in verse 13:
“Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
Verse 16 tells us Ahab gathers a small army and goes out at noon, surprising Ben-hadad and his men, who are all drinking themselves drunk, they are so overconfident. They run for their lives, and Ben-hadad barely escapes on horseback.
Now this divine deliverance should have caused Ahab to repent and write God a big thank-you note, but Ahab doesn’t do that.
Later, the Syrian army returns. Verse 23 says they are convinced that the Lord is a god of the hills but not a god of the valleys. In other words, the Lord can handle enemy armies in the hill country because that is where He belongs; but He is not any good out in the plains or down in the valley. By the way, the world today thinks that God is a God for church; that’s where He belongs, not out here in the traffic patterns of life. Well, they could not be more mistaken.
Once again, God gives Israel a great victory, and Ahab even captures Ben-hadad. But then instead of bringing judgment upon him, Ahab makes a deal with him and lets this wicked enemy king leave town alive.
But more significantly, Ahab again refuses to repent and follow the Lord. Listen, God gives people numerous opportunities to believe in Him—through that external beauty and design in creation and through that internal sense of guilt and shame over sin—but many people just keep on refusing to recognize the obvious. And here is the frightening thing: nobody has any guarantee, God will grant another opportunity. If you haven’t already, you need to repent of your sin and make Jesus Christ your King today.
Now here in chapter 21 we are given an account of just how wicked Ahab and Jezebel have become. We read in verses 1-2:
Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And . . . Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house.”
Naboth responds in verse 3: “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” You see, Naboth is a godly Israelite who refuses to permanently sell his family land, which the law forbids in Leviticus 25:23-28.
Ahab is turned down flat! And how does he react? Verse 4 says he went home and “lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.” He is in bed pouting. He can’t have this new toy, so he stomps off to bed and has a big pity party and refuses to eat his supper.
Imagine having a kingdom but pouting because you can’t have a little garden. Let me tell you, the desires of selfish people are never satisfied.
Well, Jezebel comes home and asks Ahab, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” (verse 5). When Ahab explains why he’s pouting, she says in verse 7, “Do you now govern Israel?” In other words, “You’re the king! If you want something, then do whatever is necessary to get it.” He is not accountable to anybody as far as Jezebel is concerned!
But then she adds here in verse 7, “Let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth.” She is going to show him how it’s done when you are in power.
She hatches a plot, and here it is:
She wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” (verses 8-10)
These equally corrupt leaders of Jezreel do exactly as Jezebel commands, and the vineyard soon belongs to Ahab and Jezebel; and frankly, they seem to get away with it.
But let me say this, beloved: just because wickedness is not immediately punished does not mean God is blind. PQ He sees, and there is a day of reckoning coming, sooner or later.
It isn’t long before God sends Elijah to confront Ahab. Elijah finds Ahab in this stolen vineyard and says to him here in verse 19: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.” He adds that Ahab’s entire family line will come to an end. And as for Jezebel, Elijah prophesies, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel” (verse 23). This cruel murder of godly Naboth is the final straw.
Now something rather amazing happens next. Ahab tears his clothing, puts on sackcloth, and begins to fast. These are all outward symbols of repentance, and it seems to have been somewhat sincere because the Lord delays judgment against the dynasty of Ahab until after Ahab dies. But we will discover later that Ahab’s remorse does not last; it is not full and true repentance.
But don’t miss the message here: Ahab was accountable to God. He was in his position of authority by God’s design. God determines how long someone sits on the throne, or in any place of authority, and He graciously warns people to repent. And in the end, those who reject God face a day of reckoning that is just around the corner.
Before we point our fingers at Ahab, I believe there is a little bit of Ahab in all of us. Even Christians can struggle with selfishness, covetousness, greed, and pride, and abuse our power and authority. So, let’s listen to God’s word to us here; let’s confess our sin daily. And let’s walk with Him daily and live with the understanding that in the end we all are accountable to God.
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