And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” 1 Kings 21:2-3
1 Kings 21 tells the story of King Ahab and a man named Naboth who owned a vineyard adjacent to the king’s palace. Ahab wanted to buy Naboth’s vineyard but Naboth refused to sell it to him. If the king is to be believed, Naboth would not have suffered economically by doing business with Ahab. Ahab offered to give Naboth a better piece of land or to give him a fair price in cash. Doing business with the king might prove to be even more highly profitable in the long run. But Naboth would not sell.
Naboth is not just a stubborn homesteader. He is, rather, a faithful son of the covenant. The piece of dirt on which his vineyard sat was that apportioned to his family by God himself when Israel took possession of the land of promise. The land itself was a core component of God’s gift to Israel, and each family received its inheritance by divinely-guided lot. Families were not free to do with the land whatever they wanted. Under the covenant, the land was never to be permanently transferred to someone else. Israelites lived in covenant faithfulness as they remained married to the land God gave them, for better or for worse. The land and the people whom God had joined together, no one should put asunder. By resisting Ahab’s economic temptation, Naboth proved himself to be a faithful Israelite.
Ahab said that he wanted to build a “vegetable garden” on Naboth’s property, a phrase that doesn’t quite capture the grandeur of Ahab’s palatial aspirations. Deuteronomy 11:10 uses the same Hebrew phrase to describe the landscape of Egypt. At the urging of Ahab’s Phoenician, Baal-worshiping wife, the king was trying to make Israel over in the image of other ancient Near Eastern kingdoms. For Ahab to even suggest such a property swap reveals how far the king had fallen away from Israel’s covenant with its Lord.
Our inheritance in Christ is no longer a piece of land just east of the Mediterranean Sea. Our inheritance is the coming kingdom of God, a down payment on which we have received in the person of the Holy Spirit and the life of the Church.
And as in the days of Ahab the apostate, there are still those who want to appropriate the inheritance of the saints for their own purposes. In the United States, political interests and social causes on both the left and the right seek to legitimize their efforts by assuming a Christian appearance, adopting Christian language and wheedling the endorsement of Christians. In the process, the God of the Bible becomes unrecognizable and his gospel gravely distorted. Just as Israel could not adulterate its divinely-ordered life with the practices and values of Baalism, so the Church cannot merge Christianity with the idolatries of this age.
No less than Naboth’s vineyard, the faith delivered to the saints is our God-given inheritance. Never sell it out, no matter what the king might offer you.
Related: Why Naboth Rejected Ahab’s Good Deal