Bad Actors in the Bible and 3 Things We Learn from Them

The life of Ahab is both a cautionary tale and an encouraging reminder that it’s never too late to turn things around
3 min read

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

James 4:6

When you open your Bible, you will find that the left side of it (Genesis through Malachi), also known as the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible, is rich with intriguing narrative and insightful history. The chronicles of the various kings of Israel is especially fun, full of cautionary tales and “Don’t try this at home” sort of reading.

As you read along and make your way through the book of 1 Kings, for example, you will meet a notoriously bad couple – King Ahab and Jezebel. They were united by their high levels of ego-mania and corruption.

Suffice it to say, Jesus wasn’t the center of their marriage.

One of Ahab and Jezebel’s dirtiest deeds is described in 1 Kings 21, when they abused their power by taking the life and property of a common man by the name of Naboth. This man had cultivated a vineyard that was lush and beautiful . When King Ahab saw it, he wanted it for himself. To his credit, he offered to buy it but Naboth respectfully declined to sell.

That’s when it got ugly.

Briefly, here are a few important take-aways from the story of Naboth’s vineyard:

1. GOD DOES NOT OVERLOOK WRONGDOING. The greed and brutality of Ahab and and his wife (Jezebel) in murdering Naboth and then taking his vineyard did not go unnoticed by God. Through Elijah, God confronted Ahab, saying to him “…Wasn’t it enough that you killed Naboth? Must you rob him, too? Because you have done this, dogs will lick your blood at the very place where they licked the blood of Naboth!” (1 Kings 21:19, NLT).

One commentator described this scene as a “…resounding affirmation that injustice touches God.” God gives us the space to make our decisions and to live our lives as we choose, but this does not mean that He is indifferent about what we decide. He notices injustice. It grieves Him as it grieves us.

How is this relevant today? For one, it offers a helpful wake-up call. Have you noticed how it is increasingly common for people to shake off any sense of moral and ethical responsibility these days? As our culture continues to defy restraints and disregard moral lines that have been clearly defined for millenia, this leaves the rest of us having to decide: Will we will mindlessly follow the herd, or if we will respect our God-given boundaries? What we choose has consequences now and in the future.

2. GOD HOLDS THE PEOPLE WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE RESPONSIBLE. This is an interesting detail in the story. When Ahab had gone home in a sullen state and whined to Jezebel that Naboth would not agree to sell him his vineyard, wicked Jezebel took the matter into her own hands. She immediately put her mafia to work in order to get Naboth out of the way. And while Ahab was home sulking, it all went down. Jezebel acquired Naboth’s vineyard for her husband. She took it by force.

But it is important to notice who God held responsible. Even though it was actually Jezebel that ordered the hit on Naboth, God held Ahab responsible for it. He did not send Elijah to Jezebel when it was time to pronounce judgment. Rather, he sent Elijah to Ahab.

In God’s view, it was the actions of Ahab that led to the tragic death of Naboth. Just like in the Garden, God held Adam accountable for Adam’s decision – not Eve. This, too, should sober those of us with whom God has entrusted leadership. Leaders of homes, leaders of churches, leaders of governments, it is we who will ultimately be held accountable – not the people to whom we defer, delegate, or hide behind.

3. IF YOU’RE BREATHING, IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO REPENT. Ahab was the worst of the worst. He was so far from God you would have thought there was no chance that God would ever have mercy on him. In fact, here’s how he is described in 1 Kings 21:25 “No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the LORD’S sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel.”

Yet, even with this ugly record, it wasn’t too late for Ahab to repent. When he heard that God’s judgment was coming and that he would lose his life and his kingdom as a consequence, he did not hesitate to humble himself and repent. He adopted the customary manner in his day for showing brokenness and humility before God:

“…he tore his clothing, dressed in burlap, and fasted. He even slept in burlap and went about in deep mourning.”

1 Kings 21:27, NLT

And what happened? In a nutshell, God had mercy on him. Because Ahab humbled himself before God, it changed the impending outcome. It literally extended his life and kingdom. Even with Ahab’s incredibly bad history, when he chose to humble himself before God, he was given grace. He might of said, “Oh well, it’s too late for me,” but he did not. Instead, he expressed sorrow and concern by wearing itchy burlap and by skipping his usual meals. God noticed and responded.

He still does. When we find ourselves in dior straights due to decisions we have made, there is always the humble-ourselves-before-God option. Though tearing our clothes and wearing itchy burlap might be taking it too far, the fasting and prayer piece…that still applies. Though we don’t hear a lot about it, fasting and prayer is a practice that continues in the New Testament church. It is not something we do every day, but it still has its place.

I share this on a Friday, which I have come to know as Fast Fridays. This is because I am in league with a few others, who for many years have set aside lunch on Fridays as a time to abstain from our normal meal and pray instead. So as soon as I click “publish” I’m heading to my favorite place to pray.

Like Ahab, I’m going to humble myself and ask God for a big favor.

It’s a new day with God. Run with it.

*Rice, Gene. Nations under God. International Theological Commentary series. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Edinburgh: The Handsel Press Ltd., 1990 (p. 181).

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