My Enemy the Prophet
1 Kings 21:1-20b
My Enemy the Prophet
June 12, 2016 Maple Grove UMC
This story has three main characters. We’ll look at them one by one. First, there’s the king, Ahab, who wants a vineyard belonging to a man named Naboth. You can see why the king would want that particular piece of property. It was right next to the king’s house, a convenient place for a garden; it would give him some room to breathe and expand. The king was willing to pay market price or make a fair trade for the property. He wasn’t trying rip Naboth off or anything. He just wanted that vineyard.
But here’s the thing: the king was not entitled to Naboth’s vineyard, not at any price. Under Old Testament law it was critically important for inherited land to remain within the family and within the tribe. So the king is asking Naboth to betray his family by selling that piece of property, and the king is trying to extend his influence into a tribe he didn’t belong to, which could upset the whole structure of Israel.1
So the story begins with the king assuming that at the right price, anything is for sale. The story begins with the king wanting something that simply isn’t his to have.
Here’s a question I invite you to reflect on: have you ever wanted something that wasn’t yours to have? Have you ever wanted something, got it, and found out it wasn’t good for you to have it? Find a person or two or three seated near you, and just turn in your seat and share about that question. If sharing with others isn’t your cup of tea, the ushers have pencils and paper, so you can spend a few moments jotting down your reflections. Either way, here’s the question: Have you ever wanted something that was not yours to have or wasn’t good for you to have?
So the first character in the story is King Ahab who wants something he shouldn’t have. The second character is the queen, Jezebel, who is all too happy to get what the king wants, no matter what it takes to get it. Jezebel, the foreigner, represents a non-Israelite, an unbiblical, understanding of power, in which kings are above the law, or perhaps better put, kings are the law. In Jezebel’s understanding the king can do whatever he wants, take whatever he wants, kill whomever he wants. And if the king won’t do it, she’ll do it for him.
Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, has suggested that Ahab may not have been an evil man. He knew what the Bible said, that is, he knew how God wants people to live. But he also heard this other voice, the queen’s voice, telling him something else, something attractive and flattering. And he was, as Brueggemann puts it, "double-minded, unwilling and unable to choose between a Torah tradition he is supposed to know and an acquisitive alternative that suits him better."2 He’s listening to more than one voice, and his inability to choose the right kvoice is his undoing.
So here’s your second question: How do you know which voice to listen to? How do you know who will lead you astray and who will keep you on the right path?
So one main character is the king who wants something that’s not his to have. The second character is the queen, who is all to willing to get what he wants, no matter what it takes. The third character is Elijah, the prophet, whose role is to remind people, even the king, how God wants us to live. Telling the king he’s done wrong is a courageous and dangerous thing to do. At the end of the story, Ahab says to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" And Elijah says, "I have found you," and proceeds to tell the king the consequences of his wrongdoing.
When the prophet, for that matter, when anyone, points out where my life has gone astray, how I am not living the way God wants, it feels like they’re my enemy. Anger and defensiveness rise up inside me. Who are you, I think, to talk to me like that?
Of course, the prophet is not really an enemy, but a very special kind of friend. Not everyone has the moral authority of the prophet to speak a hard word into another’s life. It’s not with everyone that I have the kind of relationship that allows me to listen to them when they speak a painful truth. But we all need someone who will be Elijah for us, our enemy the prophet, or rather, that special kind of friend who can remind us how God wants us to live.
So the final question is this: Who has been Elijah for you? Who has told you a hard truth, something that perhaps made you angry and defensive at first, but that you surely needed to hear? Who has been thR person for you?
Well, that’s it for today—My Enemy the Prophet. Next week we’ll be back in the sanctuary and Elijah will hear the still, small voice of God, and the Bible will correct itself.
1 Marvin A. Sweeney, I & II Kings, The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 249.
2 Walter Brueggemann, "The Preacher as Scribe," Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, ed. Anna Carter Florence (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 15.