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Syrian captains. The place of battle was before Aphek, believed to have been in the great plain of Jezreel, and here the Syrians filled the country, while the Israelites were only like two little flocks of kids in comparison : but again a signal victory was given to Ahab, and of the Syrians who fled twenty-seven thousand more were destroyed by the falling down of the city wall. Benhadad himself, who had taken refuge in Aphek, was surrounded by the Israelite army, and fled from chamber to chamber for shelter, till his servants proposed to go with tokens of submission and throw themselves on Ahab's mercy, so as to judge whether their master might trust to it. Ahab had thought Benhadad slain, and his observation was, “Is he yet alive ? he is my brother.” The suppliants were anxiously watching his words, and said, “Thy brother Benhadad ? ” meaning “ Do you acknowledge him as such?” Ahab sent for him, and took him into his chariot, and accepted the terms he offered, namely the restoration of the cities that had been taken from Israel, and the being allowed to build a quarter at Damascus where the Israelites might live and trade.

But it appears that this was like Saul's lenity to Agag. Benhadad had been an open enemy of the Lord, and therefore ought not to have been treated as a brother under misfortune. So a prophet was sent to rebuke Ahab by a figurative action, and force him to sentence himself. For this it was needful to come before him wounded; and here is a lesson that it is never a trifle to disobey a command of the Lord. The man who refused to believe and strike in the name of the Lord suffered the same punishment a: the disobedient prophet, and was killed by a lion ; and in the mean time the prophet announced to Ahab that his had been an act of disobedience and want of faith, instead of true mercy, and therefore that his life should be the forfeit for Benhadad's, which he had spared.

LESSON XIX.

NABOTH'S VINEYARD.

B.C. 899.-1 KINGS xxi. 1-16.

And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.

And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house : and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it ; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.

And Naboth said to Ahab, The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.

And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him : for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.

But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread ?

And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and said unto him, Give me thy vineyard for money; or else, if it please thee, I will give thee another vineyard for it : and he answered, I will not give thee my vineyard.

And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel ? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry : I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.

So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth.

And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people :

And set two men, sons of Belial, * before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.

And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who were the inhabitants in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them, and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them.

They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people.

And there came in two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died.

+ Worthless men.

Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead.

And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money : for Naboth is not alive, but dead.

And it came to pass, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

COMMENT.—That Ahab had spared Benhadad out of vanity and false policy instead of mercy was plain from his dealings with his own subject. Jezreel, on the slope of Mount Gilboa, looking out on the plain to which it gave its name, seems to have been the home of the house of Omri, while Samaria was their capital, and here it was that Ahab coveted the inheritance of Naboth to join to his own garden. But Naboth refused, citing the law: “So shall not the inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to tribe : for every one of the children of Israel shall keep himself to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.” (Numb. xxxvi. 7.) And Ahab showed himself childishly vexed and grieved. It is plain that, bad as the kingdom of Samaria was, still the framework of the old law was observed, and kept it above the nations around, so that the Syrians esteemed the kings of Israel as merciful kings; but to a fierce, proud princess like Jezebel, restraint seemed like an insult. “ Dost thou now govern the kingdom ?” she said, as though she thought a real king would never have been put off by a subject's refusal. She undertook the whole, and Ahab thought himself cleared by turning aside and pretending to know nothing about it. Meanwhile Jezebel took his signet and raised a plot, causing worthless men to be found to accuse Naboth of uttering blasphemy against God and the king. It was to be done with all solemnity. A fast was held to mark the horror of Naboth's supposed crime, and to turn aside the evils he was said to have called down. Then came two witnesses—two, because " at the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death” (Deut. xvii. 6)—and accused him before all the assembly of the town. He was dragged out to the open space beyond the wall and there stoned; and, as it afterwards appears (2 Kings ix. 26), his children were stoned with him, so that there might be none left to

claim the vineyard at the year of jubilee. And so Jezebel could tell her husband that Naboth was dead ; and Ahab never asked how or why, but made ready to take possession. When we read we can only think of the burning words of David in the roth Psalm:

He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den :
He lieth in wait to catch the poor :
He doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
He croucheth, and humbleth himself,
That the poor may fall by his strong ones.
He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten :
He hideth his face ; he will never see it.
Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand :
Forget not the humble.
Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God?
He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite

it with thy hand :
The poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the

fatherless. Did Naboth know them? Did he so commit himself and his children unto the Lord ?

[He probably did not know that he was tracing out beforehand the suffering of Him who, for the sake of His own vineyard, consented to be betrayed into the hands of wicked men, accused of blasphemy, and by two false witnesses, and put to death without the gate, with the consenting outcry of all His people.]

LESSON XX.

THE SENTENCE UPON AHAB.

B.C. 899. - 1 KINGS xxi. 17-29; 2 CHRON. xviii. 1, 2;

i KINGS xxii. 3, 4.

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.

And thou shalt 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 di gs lick thy blood, even thine.

And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the LORD.

Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity,

And will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and made Israel to sin.

And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall Jezreel.

Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat.

But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.

And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.

And it came to pass, when Ahab heard these words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.

And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,

Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me ? because he hum. bleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days : but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house.

Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity * with Ahab.

And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him.

And the king of Israel said unto his servants, Know ye that Ramoth in Gilead is ours, and we be still, and take it not out of the hand of the king of Syria ?

And he said unto Jehoshaphat, Wilt thou go with me to battle to RamothGilead? And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, I am as thou art, my people as thy people, my horses as thy horses.

COMMENT.-Ahab had been as one who knew nothing about his wife's cruel stratagem, and no doubt she supposed that the knowledge of it was confined to those who had carried out her scheme at Jezreel. But when Ahab went at the head of his guards in full state to take possession of the confiscated property of the blasphemer, a figure in a rough garment, not seen since that awful day on Mount Carmel, stood full before him with the stern question, “ Hast thou killed and also taken possession? In the place where

• Connected his family.

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