In these verses we may observe,
I. The very bad character that is given of Ahab (1 Kgs. 21:25, 26), which comes in here to justify God in the heavy sentence passed upon him, and to show that though it was passed upon occasion of his sin in the matter of Naboth (which David’s sin in the matter of Uriah did too much resemble), yet God would not have punished him so severely if he had not been guilty of many other sins, especially idolatry; whereas David, except in that one matter, did that which was right. But, as to Ahab, there was none like him, so ingenious and industrious in sin, and that made a trade of it. He sold himself to work wickedness, that is, he made himself a perfect slave to his lusts, and was as much at their beck and command as ever any servant was at his master’s. He was wholly given up to sin, and, upon condition he might have the pleasures of it, he would take the wages of it, which is death, Rom. 6:23. Blessed Paul complained that he was sold under sin (Rom. 7:14), as a poor captive against his will; but Ahab was voluntary: he sold himself to sin; of choice, and as his own act and deed, he submitted to the dominion of sin. It was no excuse of his crimes that Jezebel his wife stirred him up to do wickedly, and made him, in many respects, worse than otherwise he would have been. To what a pitch of impiety did he arrive who had such tinder of corruption in his heart and such a temper in his bosom to strike fire into it! In many things he did ill, but he did most abominably in following idols, like the Canaanites; his immoralities were very provoking to God, but his idolatries were especially so. Israel’s case was sad when a prince of such a character as this reigned over them.
II. The message with which Elijah was sent to him, when he went to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard, 1 Kgs. 21:17-19.
1. Hitherto God kept silence, did not intercept Jezebel’s letters, nor stay the process of the elders of Jezreel; but now Ahab is reproved and his sin set in order before his eyes. (1.) The person sent is Elijah. A prophet of lower rank was sent with messages of kindness to him, 1 Kgs. 20:13. But the father of the prophets is sent to try him, and condemn him, for his murder. (2.) The place is Naboth’s vineyard and the time just when he is taking possession of it; then, and there, must his doom be read him. By taking possession, he avowed all that was done, and made himself guilty ex post facto—as an accessary after the fact. There he was taken in the commission of the errors, and therefore the conviction would come upon him with so much the more force. “What hast thou to do in this vineyard? What good canst thou expect from it when it is purchased with blood (Hab. 2:12) and thou hast caused the owner thereof to lose his life?” Job 31:39. Now that he is pleasing himself with his ill-gotten wealth, and giving direction for the turning of this vineyard into a flower-garden, his meat in his bowels is turned. He shall not feel quietness. When he is about to fill his belly, God shall cast the fury of his wrath upon him, Job 20:14, 20, 23.
2. Let us see what passed between him and the prophet.
(1.) Ahab vented his wrath against Elijah, fell into a passion at the sight of him, and, instead of humbling himself before the prophet, as he ought to have done (2 Chron. 36:12), was ready to fly in his face. Hast thou found me, O my enemy? 1 Kgs. 21:20. This shows, [1.] That he hated him. The last time we found them together they parted very good friends, 1 Kgs. 18:46. Then Ahab had countenanced the reformation, and therefore then all was well between him and the prophet; but now he had relapsed, and w 212d as worse than ever. His conscience told him he had made God his enemy, and therefore he could not expect Elijah should be his friend. Note, That man’s condition is very miserable that has made the word of God his enemy, and his condition is very desperate that reckons the ministers of that word his enemies because they tell him the truth, Gal. 4:16. Ahab, having sold himself to sin, was resolved to stand to his bargain, and could not endure him that would have helped him to recover himself, [2.] That he feared him: Hast thou found me? intimating that he shunned him all he could, and it was now a terror to him to see him. The sight of him was like that of the handwriting upon the wall to Belshazzar; it made his countenance change, the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. Never was poor debtor or criminal so confounded at the sight of the officer that came to arrest him. Men may thank themselves if they make God and his word a terror to them.
(2.) Elijah denounced God’s wrath against Ahab: I have found thee (says he, 1 Kgs. 21:20), because thou hast sold thyself to work evil. Note, Those that give up themselves to sin will certainly be found out, sooner or later, to their unspeakable horror and amazement. Ahab is now set to the bar, as Naboth was, and trembles more than he did. [1.] Elijah finds the indictment against him, and convicts him upon the notorious evidence of the fact (1 Kgs. 21:19): Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? He was thus charged with the murder of Naboth, and it would not serve him to say the law killed him (perverted justice is the highest injustice), nor that, if he was unjustly prosecuted, it was not his doing—he knew nothing of it; for it was to please him that it was done, and he had shown himself pleased with it, and so had made himself guilty of all that was done in the unjust prosecution of Naboth. He killed, for he took possession. If he takes the garden, he takes the guilt with it. Terra transit cum onere—The land with the incumbrance. [2.] He passes judgment upon him. He told him from God that his family should be ruined and rooted out (1 Kgs. 21:21) and all his posterity cut off,—that his house should be made like the houses of his wicked predecessors, Jeroboam and Baasha (1 Kgs. 21:22), particularly that those who died in the city should be meat for dogs and those who died in the field meat for birds (1 Kgs. 21:24), which had been foretold of Jeroboam’s house (1 Kgs. 14:11), and of Baasha’s (1 Kgs. 16:4),—that Jezebel, particularly, should be devoured by dogs (1 Kgs. 21:23), which was fulfilled (2 Kgs. 9:36),—and, as for Ahab himself, that the dogs should lick his blood in the very same place where they licked Naboth’s (1 Kgs. 21:19—“Thy blood, even thine, though it be royal blood, though it swell thy veins with pride and boil in thy heart with anger, shall ere long be an entertainment for the dogs”), which was fulfilled, 1 Kgs. 22:38. This intimates that he should die a violent death, should come to his grave with blood, and that disgrace should attend him, the foresight of which must needs be a great mortification to such a proud man. Punishments after death are here most insisted on, which, though such as affected the body only, were perhaps designed as figures of the soul’s misery after death.
III. Ahab’s humiliation under the sentence passed upon him, and the favourable message sent him thereupon. 1. Ahab was a kind of penitent. The message Elijah delivered to him in God’s name put him into a fright for the present, so that he rent his clothes and put on sackcloth, 1 Kgs. 21:27. He was still a proud hardened sinner, and yet thus reduced. Note, God can make the stoutest heart to tremble and the proudest to humble itself. His word is quick and powerful, and is, when the pleases to make it so, like a fire and a hammer, Jer. 23:29. It made Felix tremble. Ahab put on the garb and guise of a penitent, and yet his heart was unhumbled and unchanged. After this, we find, he hated a faithful prophet, 1 Kgs. 22:8. Note, It is no new thing to find the show and profession of repentance where yet the truth and substance of it are wanting. Ahab’s repentance was only what might be seen of men: Seest thou (says God to Elijah) how Ahab humbles himself; it was external only, the garments rent, but not the heart. A hypocrite may go very far in the outward performance of holy duties and yet come short. 2. He obtained hereby a reprieve, which I may call a kind of pardon. Though it was but an outside repentance (lamenting the judgment only, and not the sin), though he did not leave his idols, nor restore the vineyard to Naboth’s heirs, yet, because he did hereby give some glory to God, God took notice of it, and bade Elijah take notice of it: Seest thou how Ahab humbles himself? 1 Kgs. 21:29. In consideration of this the threatened ruin of his house, which had not been fixed to any time, should be adjourned to his son’s days. The sentence should not be revoked, but the execution suspended. Now, (1.) This discovers the great goodness of God, and his readiness to show mercy, which here rejoices against judgment. Favour was shown to this wicked man that God might magnify his goodness (says bishop Sanderson) even to the hazard of his other divine perfections; as if (says he) God would be thought unholy, or untrue, or unjust (though he be none of these), or any thing, rather than unmerciful. (2.) This teaches us to take notice of that which is good even in those who are not so good as they should be: let it be commended as far as it goes. (3.) This gives a reason why wicked people sometimes prosper long; God is rewarding their external services with external mercies. (4.) This encourages all those that truly repent and unfeignedly believe the holy gospel. If a pretending partial penitent shall go to his house reprieved, doubtless a sincere penitent shall go to his house justified.