June 16, 2013

From Whom Do You Take Direction

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In a Northern Virginia Shopping Mall, an elderly grandmother, who’d recently been given a gun by her son to protect herself, noticed four white males sitting in her car in the parking lot.  She’d been shopping and had her arms full of parcels.  She quickly set them on the ground; and drew her gun as she approached the driver’s side of the car, screaming as she did, telling the men to get out of the car immediately.

Instantly the four men jumped out of the car and ran as fast as they could away from the woman.    The lady then proceed to load her shopping bags into the back seat and get into the driver’s seat herself.

Only when her keys failed to fit into the ignition, did she realize she was in the wrong car!   Glancing around the parking lot, she saw her car, (which was identical in colour and model to the one she was in),  parked 4 or 5 spaces away.  Sheepishly, she quickly loaded her bags into her own car and drove to the nearest police station.

The officer to whom she told her story nearly doubled over in laughter.  Then pointed to the other end of the counter, where four pale looking males were reporting a carjacking by a mad elderly white woman.

It wasn’t a mistaken identity that led King Ahab to covet Naboth’s vineyard.  Ahab knew full well to whom the vineyard belonged, but he simply wanted it because of it’s location.  It was right next to his summer palace in the town of Jezreel.    The problem for Ahab was that his desire to obtain the property became an obsession, so intense, that when Naboth refused to sell or exchange it, Ahab sank into a deep depression and sulked like a little child who can’t have its’ way.

So that’s the setting for a very interesting, all-be-it  tragic story of human greed.  Two men, one powerful, the other virtually powerless, because he was just an ordinary citizen trying to go about his own business.  But what really distinguishes these two characters, is not the difference in their rank or power; but rather from where they received their direction.  So this morning, we’re going to look at the details of this true story from ancient Israel, and see what we can learn from it.

I           KING AHAB

We’ll begin with King Ahab.  Ahab, the 7th King of Israel, began his reign by showing great promise as both a capable leader and an avid empire builder.  He refurbished the capital city of Samaria and was successful in defeating many of the enemies of the Israelites.

Years before this dispute with Naboth,  Ahab had sought to build friendly relations with his powerful neighbours to the north, the Phoenicians.  Having achieved some success in this mission, he sealed the friendship by means of a political marriage to Jezebel, the daughter of the King of the Sidonians.  Unfortunately, Jezebel was a notoriously wicked woman.  Consequently, while this marriage may have cemented good relationship with the Phoenicians, it had devastating consequences for Ahab.

Under the influence of Jezebel, Ahab was drawn into the worship of the pagan god, Baal.  Eventually he made the worship of this god equal with that of Yahweh, the God of Israelites.  Then, as if this was enough, he began attacking the worship sites of Yahweh,  destroying the people’s altars, and killing some of their prophets.

On the day Jezebel found Ahab moping in his bed, refusing to eat because he was so upset with Naboth’s refusal to give up his vineyard, Jezebel immediately took charge of the situation, first challenging the King to exercise his power, then devising a evil scheme to seize the vineyard from Naboth.

Jezebel begins by arranging to have two villains sit near Naboth in the Israelite Assembly, and then she instructs them to falsely accuse Naboth of cursing God and the King.    She did this, knowing full well that the penalty for such blasphemy was death by stoning.  So, poor Naboth is dragged out into the street without a fair trial, and stoned to death.

Ahab’s story is particularly tragic because in spite of his great potential, he allowed his evil wife to manipulate him into destroying the life of an innocent man.

Jezebel’s evil scheming continues throughout the remainder of Ahab’s 22 year reign, much to the frustration of the prophet Elijah who repeatedly confronts the King in a futile attempt to turn him from his idolatrous and sinful ways.

II          NABOTH

The second figure in this story is Naboth, an ordinary citizen of Jezreel who just happens to be a landowner.   We know very little about Naboth, other than that he was a hardworking and devote man, trying to go about his business in accordance with his faith.

Looking at this story from our 21st century prospective, we might wonder why Naboth  was so determined to hang onto his property. “Come on Naboth,” we’re apt to say, “what’s the big deal.  Why not accept the king’s offer for buy your land, or at least, trade it for the property he’s offering you in exchange.”

We might be more sympathetic to Naboth, however,  when we learn that this vineyard has been handed down to him over many generations.  I’m sure there are farmers today, living on heritage property, who would understand Naboth’s desire to keep his land.

But keeping land that has been in his family for  many generations, is only part of the reason Naboth refused to give it up.   You see, for Naboth, this parcel of land was part of the covenant which God had made with his ancestors when they entered their Promised Land, following their exile from Egypt.   And so for Naboth, the very thought of selling his land, was for him  a sin greater than that committed by Esau who sold his birthright to his brother Jacob, in exchange for a bowel of soup.

Naboth’s refusal to bargain with the King was his way of respecting God’s covenant and being faithful to his Lord.


So, what message can we take from this ancient story?

This is in reality, a story about decision making.  How to deal with frustrations and road blocks when they come our way.

King Ahab was faced with a dilemma.  His dream of owning the land adjacent to his summer palace was being frustrated.  So what should he do?

A mature ruler would have :

  • either accepted Naboth’s response and moved on with his life, or
  • searched for another parcel of land that would serve his purposes.

But Ahab was the kind of person who sulked when he can’t get his way.  He acted like a child whose told he can’t have a second piece of cake, or a certaom toy in the store.

I wonder how many of us are like that?  Rather than facing up to our road blocks and responding to them with maturity, we simply feel sorry for ourselves.

  • How many men hide behind their jobs, working long hours at the office far more than is necessary, rather than coming home and facing that rambunctious teenager who needs firm guidance; or a wife who wants to discuss a sensitive issues concerning their marriage; or
  • How many of women, simply clam up and refuse to discuss difficult issues, instead of facing them head on?

I knew a man years ago, who’d sit in a dark room for hours at a time, rather relate to his family and assume his leadership role.  Yes, he was suffering from depression.  But he wouldn’t admit it and seek help.    He’d rather sulk than find a solution.

Not addressing our problems head on, is almost as bad as turning to the wrong person for guidance.  That’s what King Ahab did.  Instead of working out his own solution, he let his wife do his dirty work.

Only fools refuse to seek guidance or counsel before making important decisions.  Presidents and Prime Ministers have their circle of advisors.  Judges consult the history of past judgments before making a ruling on complicated criminal matters.

Most of us consult with a financial advisor before we jump into a major investment.  Wise parents, confronted with a troubling issue with one of their children, often consult a family counselor, or at the very least, read a good book on parenting.  And in our private lives, when faced with tough decisions, most of us will talk it over with a family member, a friend or a colleague, before we act.  It only makes sense, that if we are confronted with a dilemma, which has serious consequences either for ourselves or our family, we should get some advice before acting.

But where we turn for advice, is critical.   What sensible person who’s having marital problems, would turn to a friend who has gone through his third divorce, especially if we’re hoping to get some good advice for saving his own marriage?

By abdicating his responsibility, Ahab let his wife be his mentor.  As the King,  it was his duty to solve his problems.  He had both the power, and influence to find a way around his dilemma.  But by pouting and going into depression, he handed over the leadership role to his evil minded wife.

Jezebel was the strong willed one in this story; the one who was willing to take charge.  But her views concerning leadership and power were motivated by idolatry and selfishness.  And so it was that the King of Israel;  the one who was supposed to be the defender of the people’s faith and a model of sound leadership, abdicated his duty.  And poor Naboth suffered the consequences.

Now, let’s take look at this story from Naboth’s point of view.  He was the underdog;  just an ordinary land owner up against the power of the monarchy.  He didn’t stand a chance.  But Naboth was a man with deep convictions and strong faith.  He knew that it would  be disrespectful to his ancestors to give up his vineyard, - but he also knew it would be a sin against God, because it was God who had given this land to his family.           It was part of the covenant God had established with His chosen people.  That’s the motivation which gave Naboth the courage to stands up against the king and refuse to part with his heritage.

So what can we learn from Naboth that might apply to our lives?

Every one of us is confronted with moral dilemmas from time to time:-

  • Our boss may expect us to lie to customers or clients, so that the company can make more profit;  or
  • We get a chance to make some easy money.  The only problem is the scheme isn’t all that honest; or perhaps
  • We have a opportunity to get ahead in our job by taking advantage of a colleague, and get the promotion he right deserves.

Recently, a young man appeared at my door trying to convince me that I needed a new furnace.  His initial approach was convincing.  He said he would do an energy audit of our home, to see how he could save us some money. When he learned that my present furnace was 16 years old, he claimed he could get me a substantial government rebate, if I’d upgrade to the high efficiency he was suggesting.  The problem was our furnace (although not as efficient as the one he was proposing) was already a high efficiency unit and so it didn’t qualify for the rebate.

The salesman knew he was deceiving me, but in order to get a sale he was willing to say anything. And this is but one of the deceptions he tried to deceive me with.  Fortunately, I sought a second opinion, and ended up with a better furnace with a price I could trust.

I’m sure that this young sales rep had been trained in ways to manipulate buyers.  He was simply following orders.  But how should a Christian respond when  a boss puts you in that kind of position?  The answer, of course, is obvious, but it’s not always easy to make the right decision.  It takes courage to remain true to your values.

Most of you know of my discontent with the United Church of Canada.  I’m convinced that the leaders of our denomination have abdicated their God-given role of providing guidance for society, and instead have allowed modern social norms to dictate their morality.  This is particularly true when it comes to the definition of marriage.   The New Testament is very clear in stating that  ‘marriage’ is a covenant between a man and woman, established for the purpose of raising a children and ensuring the stability of society.

The issue has nothing to do with protecting the legal rights and privileges of loving couples, be they the same sex or not.  Everyone should be treated equally before the law.   But the biblical definition of marriage was decreed by God as being the best model for stable and secure society.  But by not adhering to the Bible as its authority, the United Church has allowed secular society to dictate it’s values, and thus has abdicated its God-given role of leadership and role modeling.

It took courage for Naboth to stand up against the King.  Because he did,  he paid the supreme price and lost his life.  But by sticking to his principles,   Naboth remained true to his God, and upheld the values he’d gained from his faith.  As Christians living in this modern world, we ought to do no less.