As I read the Old Testament text from 1 Kings today, I am struck by the absurd sequence of events that unfolds. The scene opens with King Ahab looking out past his property and noticing Naboth’s vineyard next door. Thinking it would make a nice vegetable garden, he asks Naboth to exchange his land for a different vineyard—an even better vineyard—or for the vineyard’s value in money. When Naboth refuses, Ahab is upset, but more than upset, the passage describes him as so distraught that he throws himself on his bed and refuses to eat.
Over a vegetable garden? Seriously? This story would be silly, if it wasn’t about to take such a horrifying turn.
Enter Jezebel, Ahab’s wife and the wicked queen of Israel, because of whom Ahab is considered the most unfaithful king of Israel to date. If the rest of 1 Kings is any indication, we can expect Jezebel’s presence in the story to make matters worse. Not surprisingly, Jezebel hatches a horrible plan that leads to the death of Naboth and frees up his property for confiscation by the king.
That’s it. That’s all we hear of Naboth. Our passage ends with verse 16: “When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.” Ahab and Jezebel win. Though the passage goes on to pronounce judgment on Ahab’s descendants because of this heinous act, the story is over for Naboth.
I’m struck by the absurdity, by the senseless violence, in this text, and I wonder, where is the good news in this story? Where is the gospel hope of salvation? Where was God for Naboth?
It’s the same wondering I have when I hear about the horrible, senseless acts of violence that occur in our world today. When an armed gunman invades an elementary school, killing innocent children; when bombs go off in concert halls and subway stations; when people—officer and civilian alike—fear dying in a routine traffic stop. Events like these would sound absurd if they weren’t so terribly real.
We believe—at least, we try to—that God’s justice will reign in the end, but what does that mean for the innocent victims now? What comfort does that bring to their families? Where does that leave us in this moment? This text raises all these questions for us, but it leaves us with few answers. We don’t understand why Naboth had to die. We don’t know if he had family, or what happened to them. It seems senseless, and we can’t figure out why God would let that happen.
However, what we do know is that God didn’t leave. Yes, God has been silent in this story so far. He did not intervene to save Naboth or to teach silly Ahab or wicked Jezebel a lesson. But after our passage ends, just when Ahab thinks he’s won, verse 17 tells us, “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite.”
In this story, it seems that evil wins the day. But, even in the midst of the darkest moments, God isn’t truly absent. We don’t know why bad things happen. But The Story, the great story of God’s work in this world, is not over.