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The coveted object (see v. 2) should now be seized. Its lawful owner was dead, brutally murdered by Ahab’s acquiescence, and being king, who was there to hinder him enjoying his ill-gotten gain? Picture him delighting himself in his new acquisition, planning how to use it to best advantage, promising himself much pleasure in this extension of the palace grounds.
To such lengths are men allowed to go in their wickedness that at times onlookers are made to wonder if there be such a thing as justice, if after all might be not right. Surely, if there were a God who loved righteousness and possessed the power to prevent flagrant unrighteousness, we should not witness such grievous wrongs inflicted upon the innocent, and such triumphing of the wicked. Ah, that is no new problem, but one which has recurred again and again in the history of this world, a world which lieth in the Wicked One. It is one of the mystery elements arising out of the conflict between good and evil. It supplies one of the severest tests of our faith in God and His government of this earth.
Ahab’s entering into possession of Naboth’s vineyard reminds us of a scene described in Daniel 5. There we behold another king, Belshazzar, surrounded by the nobility of his kingdom, engaged in a great feast. He gives orders that the golden and silver vessels which his father had taken out of the temple of Jerusalem should be brought to him. His command was obeyed and the vessels were filled with wine, his wives and concubines drinking from them. Think of it: the sacred utensils of Jehovah’s house being put to such a use! How passing strange that a worm of the dust should be suffered to go to such fearful lengths of presumption and impiety! But the Most High was neither ignorant of nor indifferent unto such conduct. Nor can a man’s rank exempt him from or provide him any protection against the Divine wrath when God is ready to exercise it. There was none in Samaria who could pre vent Ahab’s taking possession of Naboth’s vineyard, and there was none in Babylon who could hinder Belshazzar desecrating the sacred vessels of Israel’s temple, but there was One above who could and did bring each of them to judgment. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” ( Ecclesiastes 8:11).
Since retribution does not promptly overtake evil doers, they harden their hearts still further, becoming increasingly reckless, supposing that judgment will never fall upon them. Therein they err, for they are but treasuring up unto themselves “wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” ( Romans 2:5).
Note well that word, “revelation.” The “righteous judgment of God” is now more or less in abeyance, but there is a set time, an appointed “Day,” when it shall be made fully manifest . The Divine vengeance comes slowly, yet it comes none the less surely. Nor has God left Himself without plain witness of this. Throughout the course of this world’s history He has, every now and then, given a clear and public proof of His “righteous judgment,” by making an example of some notorious rebel and evidencing His abhorrence of him in the sight of men. He did so with Ahab, with Belshazzar, and with others since then, and though in the great majority of instances the heavens may be silent and apparently impervious, yet those exceptions are sufficient to show “the heavens do rule,” and should enable the wronged to possess their souls in patience. “And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it” (vv. 17, 18). A living, righteous and sin-hating God had observed the wickedness to which Ahab had been a willing party, and determined to pass sentence upon him, employing none other than the stern Tishbite as His mouthpiece. In connection with matters of less moment, junior prophets had been sent to the king a short time before ( 20:13, 22, 28), but on this occasion none less than the father of the prophets was deemed a suitable agent It called for a man of great courage and undaunted spirit to con front the king, charging him with his horrid crime and denouncing sentence of death upon him in God’s name. Who so well qualified as Elijah for this formidable and perilous undertaking? Herein we may perceive how the Lord reserves the hardest tasks for the most experienced and mature of His servants. Peculiar qualifications are required for special and important missions, and for the development of those qualifications, a rigid apprenticeship has to be served. Alas, that these principles are so little recognized by the churches today.
But let us not be misunderstood at this point. It is not natural endowments, intellectual powers, and educational polish we make reference to. It was vain for David to go forth against the Philistine giant clad in Saul’s armor: he knew that, and so discarded it. No, it is spiritual graces and ministerial gifts of which we speak. It was strong faith and the boldness it imparts which this severe ordeal called for: faith not in himself but in his Master.
Strong faith, for no ordinary had sufficed. And that faith had been tried and disciplined, strengthened and increased in the school of prayer and on the battlefield of experience. In the wilds of Gilead, in the loneliness of Cherith, in the exigencies of Zarephath, the prophet had dwelt much in the secret place of the Most High, had learned to know God experimentally, had proved His sufficiency. It was no untried novice that Jehovah called upon to act as His ambassador on this solemn occasion, but one who was “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
On the other hand, we must be careful to place the crown where it properly belongs and ascribe unto God the honour of furnishing and sustaining His servants. We have nothing but what we have received, ( 1 Corinthians 4:7), and the strongest are as weak as water when He withdraws His hand from them. He who calls us must also equip, and extraordinary commissions require extraordinary endowments, which the Lord alone can impart. Tarry ye in Jerusalem, said Christ to the apostles “until ye be endued with power from on high” ( Luke 24:49). Bold sinners need to be boldly reproved, but such firmness and courage must be sought from God. Said He to another of His prophets, “All the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted. Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks” ( Ezekiel 3:7-9).
Thus, if we behold Elijah complying promptly with this call, it was because he could say, “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob (Ahab) his transgression” ( Micah 3:8). “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it.”
Ahab was not in his palace, but God knew where he had gone and the business with which he would be engaged. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” ( Proverbs 15:3): nothing can be concealed from Him. Ahab might pride himself that none should ever reprove him for his diabolical conduct, and that now he could enjoy his spoils without hindrance. But sinners, whether of the lowest or the highest rank, are never secure. Their wickedness ascends before God, and He often sends after them when they least expect it. Let none flatter themselves with impunity because they have succeeded in their iniquitous schemes. The day of reckoning is not far distant, even though it should not overtake them in this life. If these lines should be read by one who is far from home, no longer under the eye of loved ones, let him know that he is still under the observation of the Most High. Let that consideration deter him from sinning against Him and against his neighbour. Stand in awe of God’s presence, lest some fearful sentence from Him be pronounced upon you, and be brought home to your conscience with such power that you will be a terror to yourself and to all around you. “And thou shat speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine” (v. 19). With no smooth and soothing message was the prophet now sent forth. It was enough to terrify himself: what then must it have meant to the guilty Ahab! It proceeded from Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords, the supreme and righteous Governor of the universe, whose omniscient eye is witness to all events and whose omnipotent arm shall arrest and punish all evil doers. It was the word of Him who declares, “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?” ( Jeremiah 23:24).
For “His eyes are upon the ways of man, and He seeth all his goings.
It was a word of denunciation, bringing to light the hidden things of darkness. It was a word of accusation, boldly charging Ahab with his crimes. It was a word of condemnation, making known the awful doom which should surely overtake the one who had blatantly trampled upon the Divine Law.
It is just such messages which our degenerate age calls for. It is the lack of them which has brought about the terrible condition which the world is now in. Mealy-mouthed preachers deceived the fathers, and now their children have turned their backs on the churches. “Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked” ( Jeremiah 23:19).
The figure is an awful one: a “whirlwind uproots trees, sweeps away houses, and leaves death and desolation in its wake. Who among God’s people can doubt that such a whirlwind is now going forth? “The anger of the Lord shall not return, until He have executed, and till He have performed the thoughts of His heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly” ( 23:20).
And why? What is the root cause thereof? This: “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (v. 21): false prophets, preachers never called of God, who uttered “lies” in His name (v. 25). Men who rejected the Divine Law, ignored the Divine holiness, remained silent about Divine wrath. Men who filled the churches with unregenerate members and then amused them with speculations upon prophecy.
It was false prophets who wrought such havoc in Israel, who had corrupted the throne and called down upon the land the sore judgment of God. And throughout the past century the false prophets have corrupted Christendom. As far back as fifty years ago Spurgeon lifted up his voice and used his pen in denouncing the “Downgrade movement” in the churches, and withdrew his tabernacle from the Baptist Union. After his death things went rapidly from bad to worse and now “a whirlwind of the Lord” is sweeping away the flimsy structures the religious world erected.
Everything is now in the melting pot and only the genuine gold will survive the fiery trial. And what can the true servants of God do? Lift up their voices, “Cry aloud, and spare not” ( Isaiah 58:1). Do as Elijah did: fearlessly denounce sin in high places.
A message pleasant to deliver? No, far from it. A message likely to be popular with the hearers? No, the very reverse. But a message sorely needed and criminally neglected. Did the Lord Jesus preach a sermon in the temple on the love of God while its sacred precincts were being made a den of thieves? Yet this is what thousands of those who pose as His servants have been doing for the last two or three generations. With flaming eye and scourge in hand, the Redeemer drove out from His Father’s House the traffickers who deified it. Those who were the true servants of Christ refused to use carnal methods for adding numbers of nominal professors to their membership. Those who were the true servants of Christ proclaimed the unchanging demands of a holy God, insisted on the enforcing of a Scriptural discipline, and resigned their pastorates when their flocks rebelled. The religious powers-that-be were glad to see the back of them, while their ministerial brethren, so far from seeking to strengthen their hands, did all they could to injure them and cared not if they starved to death.
But those servants of Christ were few in number, a negligible minority. The great bulk of “pastors” were hirelings, time-servers, holders of an easy and lucrative job at any price. They carefully trimmed their sails, and deliberately omitted from their preaching anything which would be distasteful unto their ungodly hearers. The people of God in their congregations were famished, though few of them dared to take their pastors to task, following the line of least resistance. And the very passage from which we have quoted above declares, “but if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings” ( Jeremiah 23:22).
But they did not, and therefore “a whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind.” Can we wonder at it? God will not be mocked. It is the churches who are responsible for it, and there is no denomination, no party, no circle of fellowship that can plead innocence. “And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” (v. 20).
With what consternation must the king have beheld him! The prophet would be the last man he wished or expected to see, believing that Jezebel’s threat had frightened him away so that he would be troubled by him no more. Perhaps Ahab thought that he had fled to some distant country or was in his grave by this time: but here he stood before him. The king was evidently startled and dismayed by the sight of Elijah. His conscience would smite him for his base wickedness, and the very place of their present meeting would add to his discomfort. He therefore could not look on the Tishbite without terror and fearful foreboding that some dire threat of vengeance was at hand from Jehovah. In his fright and annoyance he cried, “Hast thou found me?” Am I now tracked down? A guilty heart can never be at peace. Had he not been conscious of how ill he deserved at the hands of God, he would not have greeted His servant as “O mine enemy.” It was because his heart condemned him as an enemy of God that he was so disconcerted at being confronted by His ambassador. “And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” Such a reception is all that the faithful servant of God must expect at the hands of the wicked, especially from unregenerate religious professors. They will regard him as a disturber of the peace, a troubler of those who wish to be comfortable in their sins. They who are engaged in evil-doing are annoyed at him who detects them, whether he be a minister of Christ or a policeman. The Scriptures are detested because they denounce sin in every form. Romanism hates the Bible because it exposes her hypocrisies. The impenitent look upon those as their friends who speak smooth things to them and help them to deceive themselves. “They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly” ( Amos 5:10).
Hence it was that the apostle declared, “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” ( Galatians 1:10) — how few servants of Christ are left! The minister’s duty is to be faithful to his Master, and if he pleases Him , what matter it though he be despised and detested by the whole religious world? Blessed are they whom men shall revile for Christ’s sake.
At this point we would say to any young man who is seriously contemplating entering the ministry, Abandon such a prospect at once if you are not prepared to be treated with contempt and made “as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things” ( 1 Corinthians 4:13). The public service of Christ is the last place for those who wish to be popular with their fellows. A young minister once complained to an older one, “My church is making a regular door-mat of me,” to which he received the reply, “If the Son of God condescended to become the Door surely it is not beneath you to be made a door mat.” If you are not prepared for elders and deacons to wipe their feet on you, shun the ministry. And to those already in it we would say, Unless your preaching stirs up strife and brings down persecution and contumacy upon you, there is something seriously lacking in it. If your preaching is the enemy of hypocrisy, of carnality, of worldliness, of empty profession, of all that is contrary to vital godliness, then you must be regarded as the enemy of those you oppose. “And he answered, I have found thee.” Elijah was not a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. It took a good deal more than a frown to deter, or an angry word to peeve him. So far from being “hurt” and turning away to sulk, he replied like a man. He took up Ahab on his own terms and said, “Yes, I have found thee.” I have found thee as a thief and murderer in another’s vineyard. It is a good sign when the self-convicted one denounces God’s servant as his “enemy,” for it shows the preacher has hit the mark, his message has gone home to the conscience; “Be sure your sin will find you out” ( Numbers 32:23), says God, and so Adam, Cain, Achan, Ahab, Gehazi, Ananias proved. Let none think they shall escape Divine retribution: if punishment be not inflicted in this life, it most certainly will be in the next, unless we cease fighting against God and flee to Christ for refuge. “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” ( Jude 14, 15).