Nothing but mischief is to be expected when Jezebel enters into the story—that cursed woman, 2 Kgs. 9:34.
I. Under pretence of comforting her afflicted husband, she feeds his pride and passion, and blows the coals of his corruptions. It became her to take notice of his grief and to enquire into the cause of it, 1 Kgs. 21:5. Those have forgotten both the duty and affection of the conjugal relation that interest not themselves in each other’s troubles. He told her what troubled him (1 Kgs. 21:6), yet invidiously concealed Naboth’s reason for his refusal, representing it as peevish, when it was conscientious—I will not give it thee, whereas he said, I may not. What! says Jezebel (1 Kgs. 21:7), Dost thou govern Israel? Arise, and eat bread. She does well to persuade him to shake off his melancholy, and not to sink under his burden, to be easy and cheerful; whatever was his grief, grieving would not redress it, but pleasantness would alleviate it. Her plea is, Dost thou now govern Israel? This is capable of a good sense: “Does it become so great a prince as thou art to cast thyself down for so small a matter? Thou shamest thyself, and profanest thy crown; it is below thee to take notice of so inconsiderable a thing. Art thou fit to govern Israel, who hast no better a government of thy own passions? Or hast thou so rich a kingdom at command and canst not thou be without this one vineyard?” We should learn to quiet ourselves, under our crosses, with the thoughts of the mercies we enjoy, especially our hopes of the kingdom. But she meant it in a bad sense: “Dost thou govern Israel, and shall any subject thou hast deny thee any thing thou hast a mind to? Art thou a king? It is below thee to buy and pay, much more to beg and pray; use thy prerogative, and take by force what thou canst not compass by fair means; instead of resenting the affront thus, revenge it. If thou knowest not how to support the dignity of a king, let me alone to do it; give me but leave to make use of thy name, and I will soon give thee the vineyard of Naboth; right or wrong, it shall be thy own shortly, and cost thee nothing.” Unhappy princes those are, and hurried apace towards their ruin, who have those about them that stir them up to acts of tyranny and teach them how to abuse their power.
II. In order to gratify him, she projects and compasses the death of Naboth. No less than his blood will serve to atone for the affront he has given to Ahab, which she thirsts after the more greedily because of his adherence to the law of the God of Israel.
1. Had she aimed only at his land, her false witnesses might have sworn him out of that by a forged deed (she could not have set up so weak a title but the elders of Jezreel would have adjudged it good); but the adulteress will hunt for the precious life, Prov. 6:26. Revenge is sweet. Naboth must die, and die as a malefactor, to gratify it.
(1.) Never were more wicked orders given by any prince than those which Jezebel sent to the magistrates of Jezreel, 1 Kgs. 21:8-10. She borrows the privy-seal, but the king shall not know what she will do with it. It is probable this was not the first time he had lent it to her, but that with it she had signed warrants for the slaying of the prophets. She makes use of the king’s name, knowing the thing would please him when it was done, yet fearing he might scruple at the manner of doing it; in short, she commands them, upon their allegiance, to put Naboth to death, without giving them any reason for so doing. Had she sent witnesses to inform against him, the judges (who must go secundum allegata et probata—according to allegations and proofs) might have been imposed upon, and their sentence might have been rather their unhappiness than their crime; but to oblige them to find the witnesses, sons of Belial, to suborn them themselves, and then to give judgment upon a testimony which they knew to be false, was such an impudent defiance to every thing that is just and sacred as we hope cannot be paralleled in any story. She must have looked upon the elders of Jezreel as men perfectly lost to every thing that is honest and honourable when she expected these orders should be obeyed. But she will put them in a way how to do it, having as much of the serpent’s subtlety as she had of his poison. [1.] It must be done under colour of religion: “Proclaim a fast; signify to your city that you are apprehensive of some dreadful judgment coming upon you, which you must endeavour to avert, not only by prayer, but by finding out and by putting away the accursed thing; pretend to be afraid that there is some great offender among you undiscovered, for whose sake God is angry with your city; charge the people, if they know of any such, on that solemn occasion to inform against him, as they regard the welfare of the city; and at last let Naboth be fastened upon as the suspected person, probably because he does not join with his neighbours in their worship. This may serve for a pretence to set him on high among the people, to call him to the bar. Let proclamation be made that, if any one can inform the court against the prisoner, and prove him to be the Achan, they shall be heard; and then let the witnesses appear to give evidence against him.” Note, There is no wickedness so vile, so horrid, but religion has sometimes been made a cloak and cover for it. We must not think at all the worse of fasting and praying for their having been sometimes thus abused, but much the worse of those wicked designs that have at any time been carried on under the shelter of them. [2.] It must be done under colour of justice too, and with the formalities of a legal process. Had she sent to them to hire some of their banditti, some desperate ruffians, to assassinate him, to stab him as he went along the streets in the night, the deed would have been bad enough; but to destroy him by a course of law, to use that power for the murdering of the innocent which ought to be their protection, was such a violent perversion of justice and judgment as was truly monstrous, yet such as we are directed not to marvel at, Eccl. 5:8. The crime they must lay to his charge was blaspheming God and the king—a complicated blasphemy. Surely she could not think to put a blasphemous sense upon the answer he had given to Ahab, as if denying him his vineyard were blaspheming the king, and giving the divine law for the reason were blaspheming God. No, she pretends not any ground at all for the charge: though there was no colour of truth in it, the witnesses must swear it, and Naboth must not be permitted to speak for himself, or cross-examine the witnesses, but immediately, under pretence of a universal detestation of the crime, they must carry him out and stone him. His blaspheming God would be the forfeiture of his life, but not of his estate, and therefore he is also charged with treason, in blaspheming the king, for which his estate was to be confiscated, that so Ahab might have his vineyard.
(2.) Never were wicked orders more wickedly obeyed than these were by the magistrates of Jezreel. They did not so much as dispute the command nor make any objections against it, though so palpably unjust, but punctually observed all the particulars of it, either because they feared Jezebel’s cruelty or because they hated Naboth’s piety, or both: They did as it was written in the letters (1 Kgs. 21:11, 12), neither made any difficulty of it, nor met with any difficulty in it, but cleverly carried on the villany. They stoned Naboth to death (1 Kgs. 21:13), and, as it should seem, his sons with him, or after him; for, when God came to make inquisition for blood, we find this article in the account (2 Kgs. 9:26), I have seen the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons. Perhaps they were secretly murdered, that they might not claim their father’s estate nor complain of the wrong done him.
2. Let us take occasion from this sad story, (1.) To stand amazed at the wickedness of the wicked, and the power of Satan in the children of disobedience. What a holy indignation may we be filled with to see wickedness in the place of judgment! Eccl. 3:16. (2.) To lament the hard case of oppressed innocency, and to mingle our tears with the tears of the oppressed that have no comforter, while on the side of the oppressors there is power, Eccl. 4:1. (3.) To commit the keeping of our lives and comforts to God, for innocency itself will not always be our security. (4.) To rejoice in the belief of a judgment to come, in which such wrong judgments as these will be called over. Now we see that there are just men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked (Eccl. 8:14), but all will be set to rights in the great day.
III. Naboth being taken off, Ahab takes possession of his vineyard. 1. The elders of Jezreel sent notice to Jezebel very unconcernedly, sent it to her as a piece of agreeable news, Naboth is stoned and is dead, 1 Kgs. 21:14. Here let us observe that, as obsequious as the elders of Jezreel were to Jezebel’s orders which she sent from Samaria for the murder of Naboth, so obsequious were the elders of Samaria afterwards to Jehu’s orders which he sent from Jezreel for the murder of Ahab’s seventy sons, only that was not done by course of law, 2 Kgs. 10:6, 7. Those tyrants that by their wicked orders debauch the consciences of their inferior magistrates may perhaps find at last the wheel return upon them, and that those who will not stick to do one cruel thing for them will be as ready to do another cruel thing against them. 2. Jezebel, jocund enough that her plot succeeded so well, brings notice to Ahab that Naboth is not alive, but dead; therefore, says she, Arise, take possession of his vineyard, 1 Kgs. 21:15. He might have taken possession by one of his officers, but so pleased is he with this accession to his estate that he will make a journey to Jezreel himself to enter upon it; and it should seem he went in state too, as if he had obtained some mighty victory, for Jehu remembers long after that he and Bidkar attended him at this time, 2 Kgs. 9:25. If Naboth’s sons were all put to death, Ahab thought himself entitled to the estate, ob defectum sanguinis—in default of heirs (as our law expresses it); if not, yet, Naboth dying as a criminal, he claimed it ob delictum criminis—as forfeited by his crime. Or, if neither would make him a good title, the absolute power of Jezebel would give it to him, and who would dare to oppose her will? Might often prevails against right, and wonderful is the divine patience that suffers it to do so. God is certainly of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and yet for a time keeps silence when the wicked devours the man that is more righteous than he, Hab. 1:13.