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Weekly Word

Entries in Coveting (1)

Tuesday
Jan302018

The Abuse of Power

1 Kings 21:1-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 28, 2018.

Abuse of power is often in the news these days, whether we think of politics with the FBI probes into Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, or we think about Hollywood and the cascading revelations of sexual harassment within the business.  Such abuse of power can be found in any environment that is ran by people: businesses, churches, sports, schools, and the police.  However, it can also be found in a mob of people who claim to be standing against the abuse of power.  If we as Americans do not repent of wickedness and turn towards the way of Jesus, we will find this country continuing its rapid decline.  It is not enough to join the cries of those pointing out wickedness and abuse of power.  We must also repent of our own wickedness and abuse of power.  Only then can true healing and change happen in this country. 

Regardless of how the country goes, you are responsible for your own decisions.  If you are not abusing power then be a voice of truth in the midst of people lying to cover themselves.  If you are guilty of abusing your power then deliver yourself from the judgment of God because it will come as sure as the day you were born.

Today’s passage highlights the abuse of power in Northern Israel of the 9th century B.C.  But it could be written about many different cities all across these United States of America.  Let’s hear God’s Word.

Ahab covets his neighbor’s vineyard

In verses 1-4 we see Ahab’s desire for a plot of land that is next to his palace.  Yet, he clearly becomes overly attached to having it, and herein lies the problem.  Let’s look at how he gets there.

Notice that Ahab makes a very reasonable offer to Naboth in order to obtain his vineyard.  He will buy the property for money or swap a better vineyard elsewhere for his.  At this point everything is on the up and up.  Yet, we are told that Naboth declines the offer.  Now, Naboth’s words might seem insolent to us, but we should recognize that property was viewed differently in ancient Israel.  They land was not really sold but actually leased, until the year of Jubilee (which came ever 50 years).  In that year all debts, including land leased to others, would have the debt on it cancelled and return to the original owner.  This was to protect the inheritance that God had given to each tribe and the clans within them.  Typically people did not lease their inheritance unless they were desperate or so rich that they are paying others to tend it.  Naboth will not even entertain the idea.

Now Ahab’s response to the rejection shows us that something is wrong in his heart.  Though his offer is reasonable, his response to rejection is unreasonable.  Just because I make a reasonable offer, it does not follow that the person “owes it to me” to accept.  Naboth does not want another property, or to lose what he has.  He is well within his rights to refuse and, if Ahab’s heart were in the right place, he would understand.  Ahab becomes sullen and depressed.  He goes home and proceeds to lay in bed with his back to the door, refusing to eat.  His desire for a the property has gotten out of bounds and has become coveting.

This leads us to the 10th commandment found in Exodus 20:17.  When we look at this commandment, several things stick out.  It always has an object that doesn’t belong to you: your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to him.  Coveting begins with a desire for something that does not belong to you.  I could be innocent and proper, but there is a boundary past which our desire becomes inordinate or improper.  I should have restrained the desire to stay in the proper boundaries, but instead I have let it go beyond into the area of coveting it.  It is one thing to admire your neighbor’s house, or to recognize that their spouse is very good looking.  But if the desire is unrestrained it can cross the line into improper desire and eventually improper actions. 

There is a virtue that helps lead us away from coveting, like a kind of antidote, and that virtue is thankfulness.  When we are thankful to God for the things we already have, then our desires to have something we do not are far more restrained.  Too many people fall into the habit of looking down upon what they have because it doesn’t seem to be as much or nice as what another has.  This is a trap that sets us up for losing restraint upon our desires.  May God help us to be more thankful for the things that we do have.  If we can obtain other things, then praise God.  But, if not, then praise Him still because what we do have is a blessing.

Jezebel has a wicked plan to get the vineyard

In verses 5-10 Jezebel enters the scene.  She is clearly a take charge kind of person.  When she sees the depression of Ahab, she is determined to fix the problem.  However, in her mind the problem isn’t Ahab’s covetous, unrestrained heart, but rather, Naboth’s refusal to sell.  Our inability to recognize the true problems in our life will lead to poor decisions.  It is easy to think that all my problems are the fault of others around me, but this kind of thinking will hamper our ability to change.

Notice how Jezebel views position and power.  When Ahab tells her why he is depressed, she retorts,  “Do you not reign over Israel?”  In her view Ahab’s problem is that he has forgotten he is king.  To her, position and power are for the benefit of the person who has them.  But God’s Word reveals a different view.  Position and power are not to be used for the benefit of the person who has them, but rather for those over whom you have authority.

Think about parents and their authority over their children.  Parents can fall into the mistake of thinking that the children should benefit them somehow.  If parents want to please God, they must learn to exercise their authority for the benefit of the children.  That doesn’t mean the kids get to tell parents what to do.  Rather, we look to God to help us understand what is best for our kids.  The same should be true for politics.  It is an abuse of power to exercise your authority for your own benefit, and at the expense of those beneath you.

We see Jezebel promise Ahab that she will get him the vineyard.  How does she plan to do so?  She plans to use the power of the king to have Naboth killed.  She sends letters bearing Ahab’s royal seal to the leaders of Jezreel, the city in which this occurs.  They are to proclaim a fast, which would only be done in extreme circumstances in which something was wrong in the city.  They were to seat Naboth in a prominent place.  Then two men were to publicly accuse him of cursing God and the king.  Lastly, the leaders were to take Naboth out and stone him to death.  This is a classic example of the abuse of power.  We can’t put all the blame on Jezebel because she couldn’t have used Ahab’s seal without his approval, whether presently or in the past.  Jezebel couldn’t care less about this vineyard.  But she is willing to kill an innocent man in order to get her husband out of a bad attitude.  It is sad to see a person’s life chewed up in the grinder because someone of power is having a bad hair day.  But they don’t care.  They have the power and you don’t.  God deliver us from such thinking and such people.

When we look closer at the abuse of power, we will see that the order is unlawful.  The laws of most countries stand against such abuse of power.  However, even if a nation made it lawful to do what Jezebel does, there is still the problem that it would be against God’s law.  An unlawful order should never be obeyed, even if it is made lawful by the crooked courts/king of the land.  All laws of mankind are under the authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords, and they carry only as much weight as they are in accordance with the laws of God.

The second thing is that Jezebel goes out of her way to use the “color of law.”  She does not care about what the law says, but she goes through the trouble of making it look like Naboth is a horrible man in front of the citizens of Jezreel.  Of course the leaders know the truth, but they will not say anything if they know what is good for them.  Ahab is enabled to have a fake cloak of righteousness when he takes Naboth’s vineyard.  People will say that wicked Naboth got what he deserved and that God was rewarding Ahab with the vineyard of the one who cursed him.  That is truly justice, right?  But the opposite is the truth.  Many a wicked leader has used trickery to convince the populace that they are following the law, when they are doing everything but that.  We must be careful of knee-jerk responses to spoon-fed information. 

The leaders of Jezreel carry out the plan

In verses 11-16 we see that the leaders carry out the plan.  They do exactly what Jezebel said to do, and have Naboth publicly executed.  When Jezebel is told that the deed is done, she goes in and announces to Ahab that he can take possession of Naboth’s vineyard because he is now dead.  This kind of wicked, civil asset forfeiture is a house of wickedness that uses the law to take that which belongs to people simply because they don’t have the power to stop it.

Ahab suddenly feels good enough to get out of bed.  Who knows, he might have even stuffed his face before he left the palace.  Perhaps he skipped like a little girl to the candy store.  Regardless, Ahab feels better, but he ought to be sickened to his stomach.  His actions testify against him.  He is a wicked man.

This brings up something that can be seen in this passage.  Ahab and Jezebel are both wicked, but Ahab is a weak wicked person and Jezebel is a strong wicked person.  Even in his wickedness Ahab seems to have some boundaries.  But Jezebel is a person who has a very perverted sense of right and wrong that centers on her and what she wants.  However, such people would get little done if it weren’t for the third class of wicked people in this passage.

The leaders of the city become the enablers of Jezebel’s wicked plan.  They are willing and compliant to her wicked plan.  By doing so, the leaders of Jezreel sell out one of their own that they were supposed to protect for the good graces of Ahab and Jezebel.  Their position and power are for the purpose of benefiting the people of Jezreel, but here they are throwing Naboth like a lamb to the wolf. 

Naboth is the true victim in this story, but the public is convinced that Ahab is the victim.  In this life the true victims are rarely noticed.  And, if they are, it is often to be used as public leverage to obtain wicked and selfish ends.  We must not be willing and compliant with those who would do wickedly through us.  We must learn to stand up and hold our ground.  The whole reason for a city mayor is to have people of power to protect the citizens, whether from each other or from outside attack.

Ultimately the Christian’s hope is not in justice from the government of man, but rather justice from the government of God.  God help us to be an ever brighter light of what is true and just.  May He help us not to aid the wicked but rather stand up and bring their evil deeds to light.

Abuse of Power audio