Deal or No Deal (1 Kings 21:1-21)
If you’re a game show buff, you’ll remember when hosts like Bob Barker, Wink Martindale and Monty Hall doled out cash and prizes to overexcited retirees, housewives and military men on leave. Winners pocketed a few hundred bucks or, if they were really lucky, won the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right (complete with a new car and a lifetime of Rice-a-Roni) or reached the top of Dick Clark’s $10,000 Pyramid. Losers at least went home with a “parting gift” of some household gadget.
But as everything in our culture has become bigger, faster, and overhyped, so has the game show. People flipping out over the possibility of winning a fast million have become a fixture on prime-time television. With the help of technology that enables people from around the country to apply as contestants, shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire hit the airwaves early in the 21st century with the promise of bigger payouts and national exposure.
While Regis Philbin and that show became overexposed and drifted back to a daytime slot, Millionaire did spawn a rabbit like multiplication of other big money shows like NBC’s widely popular Deal or No Deal. While the name evokes memories of Monty Hall’s Let’s Make a Deal, where contestants dressed up like Halloween rejects and agonized over whether to choose Door No. 1, or 2, or 3, Deal or No Deal is more serious business, at least in terms of how much cash is at stake.
Contestants can pocket a million bucks just by randomly choosing the right briefcase—no knowledge of trivia required. Premiering in the UK, Deal or No Deal has been adapted by countries on every continent, making it a worldwide sensation. All you need to do is pick the right briefcase, have faith that your case has the million dollars, and stand to the very end and you’re an instant millionaire.
Greed is really what Deal or No Deal is all about, and that alone accounts for the audience appeal. Sometimes you can’t believe the greedy choices a contestant will make, giving up tens of thousands of dollars hoping to score more. And that’s the game: No matter how much you have, the game is driven by the potential of having more.
And in life, the constant drive for more can cause us to lose perspective and can drive us into manic mode—at best screaming, crying, and stressing like a game show contestant or, at worst, going to the dark side where we’ll do absolutely anything to have what we want. Covetousness and greed are all about the pursuit of what’s in it for me. Well did Paul write, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim 6:10).
That brings us to the episode of Ahab and Naboth in 1 Kings 21. Ahab, King of Samaria, comes off looking like a jilted game show contestant here, but the stakes are much higher. This episode is a primetime reminder that when we open our lives to greed we not only deal away the rights and property of others; we also deny the reality that everything belongs to God in the first place. Tonight, let’s think about the Deal or No Deal.
No Deal, vv 1-4
Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard beside the palace of King Ahab. Ahab had two palaces—the one in Jezreel and one in Samaria. We know the king had a palace in Samaria, for that was the place from whence he reigned: “Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years” (1 Ki 16:29). Because Ahab is called the King of Samaria, there are some who believe that the palace at Jezreel was the summer palace of Ahab—hence his desire for a vegetable garden.
Ahab makes Naboth a deal, quite like the banker calling Howie Mandel on Deal or No Deal: “Let me have your vineyard for a vegetable garden, and I will give you either a better vineyard or money for it.” The term “vegetable garden” appears only one other time in the Old Testament: Moses tells the Israelites: “The land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven” (Deut 11:10-11). The phrase “irrigated it” is literally in Hebrew “watered it with your feet” and likely refers to foot pumps the Israelites had to use to help the Egyptians water the land. Moses contrasts that hard work of irrigation with the divine blessing in the Promised Land.
Whereas “vegetable garden” occurs only once in reference to Egyptian bondage, vineyards were a sign of divine blessing. “There I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt” (Hos 2:15). I believe it’s simply a coincidence that Ahab wants a vineyard for a vegetable garden, but I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the author of Kings made sure he uses these two different words—Ahab wants to take a divine blessing and turn it in to a symbol of captivity.
However, Naboth, in the name of the LORD, refuses to give the king the inheritance of his fathers. At first glance, we might be outraged—how dare a subject not do what the king asks? After all, we’re to honor those in authority. However, Naboth had no right to sell his vineyard to Ahab for the king’s purposes. Property could be sold if one became in need, but in the year of Jubilee, whoever owned the land was to return it to its original owner (Lev 25:23-28). It seems that Naboth understood that this was not to be a temporary deal but that Ahab wanted a permanent arrangement. Furthermore, inheritances were not to be transferred from one tribe to another (Num 36: 7-9).
Ahab went home and pouted.
What do we need to learn Naboth?
Obedience is more important than money.
We do not know how much money Ahab was willing to pay for this vineyard. The Heb here is literally “silver,” and it is certainly possible that coins were not yet used in Israel. Nonetheless, silver was an accepted currency, and Naboth could likely have made out like a bandit.
But, Naboth knows that his obligation to God outweighs any desire for wealth. Do we know that our obligation to God outweighs any desire for wealth? Do we dishonor what God says about teaching right and wrong because we work long hours to make an extra buck? Do we neglect to visit the hospital or nursing home because our good job—the one that provides nice vacations, a nice house, and a nice car—keeps us too busy?
Jesus would have us know that our obligation to God outweighs any desire for wealth. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21). “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (Jn 6:27).
Let us always remember that obedience is more important than money!
Government does not have all power.
The king of God’s people comes to Naboth to ask for his vineyard, but Naboth says, “No deal!”
Naboth understood that even though King Ahab had asked him to do something, the King of kings had spoken on the subject.
We must always remember that our allegiance to God outweighs by far our allegiance to our government. Fortunately, I live in a nation where I can safely say that—but whether those words can be spoken safely or not, they are the truth of God. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). The obvious implication is: Since God gives government authority, if government institutes laws which violate Scripture, government is in error and we don’t obey. That is spelled out clearly in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.” While none of us has ever faced that challenging dilemma of Christ or Caesar, may we always be those who pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ regardless of the consequences!
Deal, vv 5-16
Ahab and Jezebel make a deal. No, it wasn’t with Naboth, for he refused to deal with the evil king and his vile wife. They make a deal with one another, with the elders of the city, and in reality, they make a deal with the devil.
When Jezebel saw that Ahab was pouting and not eating, she came and asked what the problem was. Ahab responded that he had spoken to Naboth about the vineyard but that the Jezreelite had refused to sell it to him.
Jezebel said, “Look you’re the king. Get up, eat, and I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard.” It’s almost as if Jezebel is one of the friends a contestant on Deal or No Deal is allowed to bring with him, Ahab has just wiped out the million, the banker has lowered his offer, but Jezebel says, “There’s still big money on the board. Let’s go for it!” And, go for it they do!
Jezebel writes letters in Ahab’s name to the elders of Jezreel instructing them to proclaim a fast, place Naboth had the head of the table, set worthless man on either side of Naboth and accuse him of cursing God and the king and then stone him to death. The elders do as they’ve been instructed. When Jezebel hears that Naboth is dead, she informs Ahab who goes and takes possession of the vineyard.
What do we need to learn from Ahab and Jezebel’s deal?
Sin leads to sin.
Ahab, you understand, had no right to covet Naboth’s vineyard: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex 20:17). Because Ahab allows his covetousness to fester, he asks Naboth for his vineyard, contrary to the will of God, and he conspires with Jezebel to kill Naboth, contrary to the will of God.
It’s certain that Ahab was involved in the plot to kill Naboth, for God told Elijah to say to Ahab, “Have you killed and also taken possession?” (v 19). As you read through the text, it becomes clear that it was because of Naboth’s death that Ahab himself died. Thus, if Ahab had stopped coveting that which was not his, he would not have killed Naboth and died when and how he did.
In Romans 1, we see that many sins stemmed from idolatry—e.g., homosexuality, murder, deceit, gossiping, and disobedience to parents. We know this principle—if we lie, for example, we know that we must keep lying to cover up the original sin.
Let us be ever so careful that we do not fall deeper and deeper into sin!
We also learn that coveting comes from pride.
When Jezebel enters this episode, she strokes Ahab’s pride. She says at verse 7: “Do you now govern Israel?” Do you catch what she’s saying? She’s saying, “What just a minute Ahab: Naboth is not the King of Israel—you are! If you want that vineyard, let’s get it. We’re too important not to have what we want.” Jezebel then concocts a devious plan to get the vineyard.
We often see covetousness and pride—selfishness—going hand in hand. When Achan confessed his sin at Jericho, he says to Joshua, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them” (Josh 7:21). Achan was too important to devote all the spoil of Jericho to destruction as God had said—he saw what he wanted, and he was going to take it. Because of Achan’s sin, “the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Josh 7:5). Thirty-six people died because Achan thought he was more important than God.
Simon the magician faced similar pride. Prior to his conversion, Simon was a man who had amazed the Samaritans with his tricks, and he claimed to be someone great (Acts 8:9). “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 8:18-19). Simon is important! He has wowed the Samaritans with his great tricks. He sees true power, and he has to have a part of it!
Anytime we covet, does it not come from pride? If I see you in your nice, new, big SUV and I have to have one too, aren’t I saying, that I’m more important than you and that I deserve a big SUV as much, if not more, than you do? If you get a promotion and I covet your new position, aren’t I in essence saying that I work hard too and I deserve that promotion? Coveting is never about you—it’s always about me!
We also learn that we need to be careful whom we marry.
It was Jezebel who came up with this scheme; it was Jezebel who sent the letters instructing the elders on how to carry out this scheme.
Ahab made a very poor choice when he married Jezebel. About Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel, we read, “And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him” (1 Ki 16:31). God had previously commanded his children not to make such marriages: “You shall not intermarry with them [pagans], giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly” (Deut 7:3-4).
Ahab could have avoided much heartache and rebellion in life if he had simply chosen his wife more carefully. He likely would not have served Baal, he likely would not have killed Naboth, and he may have even been a good king. But all those possibilities were shot when he married Jezebel.
We need to be careful in choosing a mate. Jesus says, “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt 7:24). Obviously, in context, Jesus speaks of the love of money versus the love of God. Yet, the principle is applicable in the context of marriage—if I’m trying to please both God and my spouse, my loyalties are often going to be called into question. Serving God is going to be that much more difficult. Much heartache in life could be avoided if people chose spouses more carefully!
We also learn that judgment is certain.
Because Ahab participated in his wife’s scheme, God sent Elijah to say, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Have you killed and also taken possession?’ And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood”’” (v 19). In the next chapter, we read of that judgment: “They washed the chariot [in which Ahab died] by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the word of the LORD that he had spoken” (22:38).
We know that God still judges sin. “He will render to each one according to his works . . . for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rom 2:6, 8). “We know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:30-31).
Do you need to come tonight and make a deal with God that you may avoid God’s wrath?