Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (1 Kings 21: 1-19) transports me to an imperial land grab, orchestrated by none other than the painted lady herself, Jezebel. It’s interesting how in modern usage the term Jezebel refers to a sexually promiscuous woman, especially one whose mascara would lead people to make assumptions about that promiscuity. But there’s little if anything in the Bible to justify that connection. Jezebel’s desire seemed to flow more toward rolling in the dough than rolling in the hay. It all starts with her husband King Ahab’s greed, as he takes only half of the prayer of Jabez seriously (upon discovering just how difficult it is to expand his borders and avoid evil in the process). Ahab first offers to buy the vineyard of nearby farmer Naboth, hoping to plow the vines under and use the land to harvest some fresh produce for the palace vegetable plate. Naboth politely refuses, saying the LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers. Naboth isn’t just harvesting grape clusters each summer; he is harvesting a legacy, an inheritance. He is plowing the fields of his forefathers. He is working there among the ghosts of a glorious past, and another vineyard simply won’t do. This isn’t property to him, something to sell. It is family land. I understand his feeling.
If Margaret Mitchell had written this story, maybe Naboth would have pondered Ahab’s offer before turning him down. I can hear him talking to himself in a southern drawl, I must think about it. What is there to do? Falling forward onto the stairs, he asks the melodramatic question: What is there that matters? Then the ghost of his father begins speaking, Land, Naboth, it’s the only thing that matters, it’s the only thing that lasts. An old lover speaks, There’s something you love better than me, though you may not know it. The vineyard. And another voice: It’s from this you get your strength, the red earth of the vineyard. No matter what the King wants, Naboth knows he has to keep hold of the land; he has to be able to return to the land, to the vineyard, to soak up its strength.
Well, at the end of the day, having pondered the possibility or not, Naboth turns the King down, which sets a fierce wind in motion that will blow his life on the vineyard away in tragic fashion. Naboth’s plot of earth thickens as Jezebel taunts her spineless husband and asks if he doesn’t know the meaning of eminent domain – don’t you know, my royal pain in the bazooka, that it’s the inherent right of the state to seize private property without consent? She quickly figures a way, again a very southern gothic Margaret Mitchell-like way, to grab the grape vines via a murderous collaboration with a couple of neighborhood scoundrels. The scene ends with a prophetic foretelling of dogs licking up imperial blood. It will take several more chapters before Jezebel paints her eyes and then reaps what she has sown, a harvest of betrayal and death at the hands of her trusted eunuchs, leading to the mongrels sniffing for sovereign tidbits on the ground and lapping up royal blood. No matter how many times this story of mighty crush the weak and oh how the mighty have fallen repeats itself throughout history, I keep hearing the same haunting voices that Scarlett and Naboth heard, and I can only say with their same determination as I put my hands in the earth and harvest my own memory, Tomorrow is another day.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.