I was just finishing my seminary education at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas in 1994 when I heard the news that one of my fellows students, an older woman who was attending seminary also, had suffered a great tragedy. She and her husband were returning home from dinner out, and as they pulled into their driveway, suddenly they were ambushed by three young men who surrounded their car and demanded the keys. One of the young men shot this woman's husband and he fell to the ground. She crawled under the car in hopes of saving her own life as he husband lay dying a few feet from her. The bandits drove off in their Mercedes without harming the woman who had crouched under the car, and as they sped away, they ran off a curb and damaged the car so that it was soon not drive-able.
The police began looking for those who had committed the crime and soon the evidence led them to a small town in Texas not too far away from where the crime had happened. The three young men who had committed the crime were arrested and soon two of them named the other as the trigger man in exchange for two less severe sentences. The young man who had pulled the trigger and killed the owner of the car he wanted was only 17 years old. He had been president of his senior class and was from a well respected family in his small town.
What would cause such a fine young man from an upstanding family in a small town, an athlete that many looked up to, to want to steal an expensive car and in the process murder the man who owned the car? No one can really answer that question but even the man who committed the crime could not give an adequate answer. He was interviewed by Texas Monthly prior to this execution in 2002 and all he could say was that it not only a heinous act, but a senseless one, a realization that came too late to save his own life or that of the man he had murdered.
The reading from I Kings 21 for this next Sunday is an ancient story that has a similar theme. The story involves the current king of Israel, Ahab, and his wife Jezebel. It also involves a man who is a neighbor to the king, and who owns a vineyard. The man's name was Naboth. Ahab wanted the land that Naboth owned upon which sat his vineyard. Ahab talked with Naboth and offered to buy the land from him but Naboth did not want to sell his land for any price. In fact, he claimed the land was an ancestral inheritance and he could not sell it because it had been given to him by his ancestors and they had received it from the Lord.
Ahab became resentful and sullen and went home and turned his face toward the wall as he lay on his bed. His wife, Jezebel, asked him why he was depressed and he told her that he wanted Naboth's land and he would not sell it to him. Jezebel had an answer to his dilemma. "Get up, eat some food, and be cheeful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite." (I Kings 21:7)
Jezebel went about a plan to falsely accuse Naboth of cursing God and the King with false witnessed to make the case. She carried out her plan and soon Naboth was stoned to death and Jezebel delivered the news to Ahab that the land and the vineyard now belonged to him. Case closed.
But if you read a bit farther in the story, the case is not entirely closed. It may have been a cold case until God got involved but soon God spoke to the prophet Elijah and told him the story that had happened and Elijah delivered the news to Ahab that God would soon judge and punish Ahab and Jezebel for the despicable thing they had done.
Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" (v.20)
He answered, "I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord."
Then Elijah told Ahab the fate that would befall him and Jezebel because of their wicked deeds.
Ahab repented after hearing Elijah's stern warning and immediately put on sackcloth and fasted. Because he humbled himself before God, God forgave him and did not bring disaster on him but did judge his house and bring disaster upon his son's reign. Jezebel lived a while longer but she did not escape judgment. In II Kings 9, her violent death is explained.
Ahab and Jezebel broke at least three of the Commandments given by God to the People of Israel. Ahab coveted what Naboth owned and when Naboth refused to sell it to him, he and Jezebel brought false witness against him and had him murdered in order to take the land from him. Ahab was involved in idol worship before and during his reign as king of Israel. His reign is described as one of the most evil and wicked in the history of Israel.
This ancient story is contained in sacred scripture, I think, to continue to teach the lessons that we all need to continue to remember even in our modern age. Ahab wanted what Naboth possessed and would stop at nothing to have it for himself. The young man that I described in the opening story, only 17 years old, wanted a luxury car of his own. He stopped at nothing to have it, either, resulting in the murder of another person. Too many times, people become fixed upon an object or a person or a goal that they want to have as their own and they will not stop until they obtain it. Their vision and sensibility are clouded by their desire to have as their own the thing they covet. They see no need to stop at anything until they have achieved the goal they have set before them. The news stations report such incidents on a daily basis in our country.
Ahab began his killing spree by dabbling in idolatry with his new wife Jezebel. He was influenced by her to begin straying from the path of righteousness laid out in the Commandments given by Moses to his people. Then, when he began to desire what his neighbor had, he again listened to what his wife would have him do and his common sense seemed obsolete.
We can all be swayed by what others say we should do, either as individuals or as part of a group. We can listen to their arguments or advice and decide for ourselves whether or not it will be good for us as part of our lives. Even someone close to us can send us in a wrong direction if their advice is not good advice, as Ahab learned. Our need for prayerful consideration of what we do in life is made real as we consider both ancient and modern stories that serve as illustrations of what can go wrong in life when we make decisions that take us places where we do not need to go, either literally or in our thinking. Perhaps Ahab's story is provided as a story of warning, helping us who live in this modern world with so many choices confronting us daily, that we need to involve God in our lives and in our decisions so that the choices we make will be good ones both for us as individuals and for the land in which we live.