Saturday, 24 May 2014

CSI JEZREEL



 Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.  And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and 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 the inheritance of my fathers.” And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.
 But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?”  And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money, or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”  And Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

                                                                            (1 Kings 21:1-7)                          

A crime scene

Film & TV producers manipulate our emotions for their own ends.

 I recall how in the long-running CSI series franchise each episode would begin in essentially the same way.

A grisly crime scene. A mutilated body. A horrible death.

 We are shocked & disturbed. Something within us is stirring. It is a righteous anger over what we have just witnessed, a clamour for justice. We say to ourselves, "This is not acceptable, something must be done!"


But it’s OK.

Because now “H” (or Grissom, Mac, depending on taste) arrives.

 Pulling up in his SUV he climbs out & takes a long hard look around the bloody scene. Then just before the theme tune strikes up & the opening credits roll, he will push his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose & say (something like), “If these people want a war, I’ll give them a war!”

And you have been drawn in to the drama.

We know that it will be OK. Somehow, in the next 53 minutes or so, justice will be done. Our guy is on the case, our guy will put everything right.

I suggest that the Word of God is doing something a little like that to us in the chapter above.

We have been witness to a terrible crime (vv 8-14), the despicable murder of a righteous man. A crime that had dared to use even the very Law of God as a device to ensnare an innocent person (v13). 


Jezebel took a provision inserted in God’s Word as a precaution against injustice & used it to pervert the course of justice.
 whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Dt 17:6)
 It should not surprise us, by the way, that she knew the Word of God.

 History teaches us that persecutors have rarely been more vicious than when they have carried out their bloody work with a Bible in their hand! 

We have been shocked & disturbed by what we have read. Within us begins to rise that clamour for justice. “This is not acceptable, something must be done”

But it’s OK. Because God has seen everything.

Soon the man of God will roll up to the king’s palace, stride up to Ahab's throne, push his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose (OK, dramatic licence!) & announce that God is now on the case (vv17-24).   

Oh, and if Ahab wants a war, then he can have a war.


Honest Ahab Motors

But note that the enemy had been so very crafty. Note his way of appearing so completely reasonable.
And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” (v2)

Ahab’s offer might sound perfectly decent to our ears.

Naboth’s land adjoined the king’s residence, it was handy for the king to own, it so it seems to be a legitimate enquiry on his behalf. Ahab actually offers Naboth a better vineyard in return. Or failing that just a fair price.

Now what could be more reasonable than that?   

Surely today the king would be running “Honest Ahab Motors” and there would be many a Christian who would be more than happy to buy a second-hand car from him!

 There is something in us that reads those words & thinks: “You know Naboth, this sounds like a pretty fair deal. And he is the king after all. And have you seen his missus? Best not to mess with these two, Naboth”

 The danger is that we can actually begin to see Naboth as being the unreasonable one. The world has this uncanny knack of making us look like the Awkward Squad whilst it comes across as all sweetness and light. 

“How can you Christians say that Jesus is the only way? “How intolerant!”  “Surely all roads lead to God don’t they?”

“And what is it with you guys and this one-man one-woman marriage thing? What is so wrong with equality and diversity anyway? Why do you have to remain so bigoted when the rest of us are enlightened now?” 

It is then that the world begins to assert its reasonableness in some very unreasonable ways. And all the time reminding us that it is we who are being intolerant!


Selling your birthright

          The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you  (v3)

Here is the problem for Naboth.

 The land that the king has his eye on is his birthright, and the birthright of all his family who would follow him. It could only be sold in the event of extreme poverty. (Lev 25:23-25), and even then with a right of redemption.  

  Naboth had no right to sell the land & Ahab had no right to ask him to. What seemed on the surface  like sweet reasonableness was actually an attempt to rob an entire family line of its inheritance.

When the world in its reasonableness tells you not to be so narrow-minded about salvation, you need to understand that it is seeking to rob you of your birthright,

our salvation is found in no-one else. There is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)

When it preaches "alternative lifesyles" to us we need to remind ourselves that the alternatives it has in mind are actually alternatives to God’s Law.

Like Naboth we have no freedom to sell that particular vineyard. It does not belong to us. 


Are we paying attention?

It seems that the world's sweet reasonableness is going to to make life in the UK a tad uncomfortable for believers in the years to come. Ahab wants his vineyard and so we have a fight on our hands to hold onto our inheritance.
 
But, of course,  the pressures on Christians here are as nothing compared to those being exerted elsewhere. Our light and momentary troubles pale into insignificance besides the atrocities being committed against our brothers and sisters around the world this very day.

As I write a heavily pregnant Christian woman is chained up awaiting the birth of her child. When it comes, she is slated to be immediately executed on a spurious charge of adultery. 

As I write hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing, abducted in order that they may spend the rest of their lives as sex slaves.

As I write the Middle East is seeing its ancient Christian population systematically erased as though it had never existed.

If what is going on in the world at present doesn’t shock us, then I would suggest that we haven’t been paying attention.

This whole world is a crime scene.  

And although unbelievers are certainly not exempted from its brutality, the world will always reserve its worst for God’s people. We see this today as ever.


Three Requirements

In the light of what the suffering Church is enduring there are three requirements incumbent upon us all. 

Firstly we must pray for the victims (and yes, also for the persecutors).

Secondly we must help in any practical way we can perhaps through the offices of such excellent organisations as Barnabas Fund.

Thirdly we must not fret.

Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass...” (Ps 37 v1)
But this is something that we are always tempted to do when we see Ahab strutting his stuff and seeming to get away with it.

 For all those prone to undue anxiety over the  state of the world, Dr Waller’s prescription is always the same: take two verses of Psalm 37 three times daily. If symptoms persist consult the Great Physician
 “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree, yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more. Indeed I sought him but he could not be found” (v35)

 “The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day is coming” (v12-13)
There is a day of reckoning for the persecutors of God’s people. It may come in this world, but if not in this world then it will most certainly come in the next.

Sowing & Reaping

One of the most important of scriptural principles is that men reap what they sow. 

This principle can be slow in working itself out but that is only because it is always worked out most surely.

  Witness how in the book of Exodus we read that a full eighty years after Egypt drowned Israel’s boys in the Nile, one of the very boys who survived that massacre would come back & drown Egypt’s boys in the Red Sea.

That sort of thing can only happen because we reap what we sow.

And so it was for Ahab also. The penalty would fit the crime in a most precise way.  
I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat...because of the provocation with which you have provoked me” (v22)
 Ahab was warned that he would suffer the same fate as Jeroboam before him (1 Kin 14:11). 

 In the next chapter (1 Kin 22) Ahab is in dispute with neighbouring Syria over stolen land.Now remember that Israel is often pictured in Scripture as a vineyard. 

 Ramoth-Gilead was part of Israel but had been seized by the Syrians. Note the righteous indignation of the king after someone has stolen his land (1 Kin 22:3). He has forgotten his prior crime and thinks that God has too.

But there is a harvest that is about to be reaped.  

The man who had allowed the murder of a neighbour in order that he might steal his land will die trying to retrieve land stolen from him by his neighbour.

We reap what we sow.

And so it was with Jezebel also, 

    "...the Lord also spoke. Saying “The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel””  (v 23)


Now Naboth had been a Jezreelite. His vineyard was in Jezreel. He was murdered in Jezreel, apparently hard by that very wall. 

In short Jezebel will die at the crime scene.

All of this teaches us that we are not to get angry when the Ahabs and Jezebels of this world get their way. Rather we ought to pity them.

Everything that they have done has been taken down and will one day be used in evidence against them. Nobody is getting away with anything.

This planet is indeed a crime scene.

The scene of unspeakable atrocities most especially against God’s people.

But one day Jesus will turn up, take a long hard look over the bloody scene, and at the mutilated body before Him  -which is His Body - and He will say of the world,  

                                “If these people want a war, I’ll give them a war!”

The Ahabs and the Jezebels will enjoy their brief day of power. The Naboths will suffer and often the Naboths will die.

But our Guy has seen everything.

In the real world it takes longer than 53 minutes to resolve. But our Guy is on the case and our Guy is going to put everything right.

“...it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God
                                                                                                            (2 Thess 1:6-8)

And if the world wants a war then it will get a war.