Navot’s Vinyard Ancestral Land – 6 – Elijah
The power struggle between God (or His representative) and the monarch seems to be a recurring theme in the Elijah narratives. This time there is a moral twist as well.
I Kings 21:1-16
Pay attention to the titles and epithets that are used in the story. What do they add to the story?
While the Tanakh is often careful not to spell out its preferences, it none the less persuades us in subtle ways, such as the titles and epithets it uses. You may notice that this story begins with a confrontation between Navot the Jezreelite who owns land in Jezreel and Ahab the king of Samaria. As the conflict takes place in Jezreel, the land owner who works his own land is preferred over the foreign king who merely desires a plot by the palace. Farmer vs. a king that takes advantage of the region: Ahab may have the power, but he will lose the battle of public opinion.
Lets compare what Navot told Ahab and how Ahab understood the response. Finally, we will compare those with Ahabs retelling of the event to his wife, Jezebel.
When the Tanakh takes the trouble to retell something said, there is often much to learn from the changes in the retelling. The texts below try to set up the 3 versions of Navots words:
1) The Actual Conversation
(ב) וידבר אחאב אל נבות לאמר: תנה לי את כרמך ויהי לי לגן ירק כי הוא קרוב אצל ביתי ואתנה לך תחתיו כרם טוב ממנו אם טוב בעיניך אתנה לך כסף מחיר זה:(ג) ויאמר נבות אל אחאב חלילה לי מה’ מתתי את נחלת אבתי לך.2 And Ahab spoke to Navot, saying:
‘Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house; and I will give you for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to you, I will give you the worth of it in money.’
3 But Navot said to Ahab: ‘The LORD forbids it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you.’
2) Ahab’s Perception of the Conversation
ויבא אחאב אל ביתו סר וזעף על הדבר אשר דבר אליו נבות היזרעאלי ויאמר: לא אתן לך את נחלת אבתי וישכב על מטתו ויסב את פניו ולא אכל לחם:
4 And Ahab came into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Navot the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said: ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.’
And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.
3) Ahab’s retelling of the Conversation to Jezebel
(ה) ותבא אליו איזבל אשתו ותדבר אליו מה זה רוחך סרה ואינך אכל לחם:
(ו) וידבר אליה כי אדבר אל נבות היזרעאלי ואמר לו תנה לי את כרמך בכסף או אם חפץ אתה אתנה לך כרם תחתיו ויאמר לא אתן לך את כרמי:
5 And Jezebel his wife came to him, and said to him: ‘Why is your spirit so sullen, that you do not eat bread?’
6 And he said to her: ‘Because I spoke to Navot the Jezreelite, and said to him: Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you wish, I will give you a vineyard for it; and he answered: I will not give you my vineyard.’
1) When Ahab speaks to Navot he is significantly more personable and humble than when he retells the story to Jezebel. Why?
2) Ahabs offer to Navot and his retelling of it to Jezebel do not match. What are the differences, and why does he present it to her in such a manner?
3) Notice how Navots response loses its main components: First God as the authority for the refusal is gone in Ahabs mind, and then the element of ancestral land is lost when the reply is repeated to Jezebel, a foreigner who is queen of the land.
What is Jezebels reaction to the story?
Do you share her criticism of Ahab? We see a conflict between different perceptions of the place and rights of the monarch. Does the monarch own the kingdom or is he merely a steward? The Israelites paid taxes (and complained ) but did they lose their right to their land?
How does Jezebel go about acquiring the vineyard?
Well, we know that people in positions of power may abuse it, but most are more subtle about it The Tanakh gives us the feeling that Jezebel thought nothing of bringing false accusations, false witnesses, and making a mockery of the court system. It is all done in Ahabs name, using his seal. But read the text closely, who do they report back to (v.14?)
In v.15 Jezebel tells Ahab to rise and inherit the vineyard. Note her version of Navots side of the story.
We have gone a very long way from the farmer that feels a God-proclaimed bond to his ancestral land. In Jezebels mind it was all money.
The root ירש (inherit) is used for Ahabs take over of the vineyard. What do you understand from this about the legal process involved here?
Since Jezebel went through the trouble of accusing and trying Navot, we can assume that there might have been a legal issue involved: Who inherits the property of the man put to death for blasphemy? Below is Rashi (bringing a rabbinic source from the Tosefta)
רש”י מלכים א פרק כא פסוק טו
קום רש – יש מחכמים אומרים הרוגי מלכות נכסיהם למלך.
Rashi I Kings 21:15
Get up and take possession: Some of our Sages say that the property of those executed by the king belongs to the king.
Navot’s Vinyard - Shall You Both Murder and Inherit?!
Compare the language in vv.15-16 with that of v.18. What are the similarities and why is similar language used?
Similar language draws our attention to the differences between the passages. The narrator tells us to compare the actions of Elijah, acting on the word of God, with those of Ahab, acting on the words of his murderous wife Jezebel. Pay attention to the roots of קום (rise), ירד (go down), ירש (inherit).
According to Elijah in v.19, who is held responsible for Navots murder?
The question is a variation of the classic moral dilemma of the responsibility of the one who did not kill with his own hands (the flip side of the argument I was only following orders.) Elijahs immortal words הרצחת וגם ירשת (shall you both murder and inherit?!) have echoed through the years and are still in use in Hebrew today.
What is the penalty that Ahab will receive for the murder of Navot?
A king pays with his dynasty. Ahab is not the first to do so (as Elijah reminds him, in case he was not sure that the threat was real.) The unusual part of the punishment is the personal part reserved for Jezebel. There has been no other wife of the king that exerted as much power in the kingdom as she did, while there was a functioning king. (At least in the kingdom of Judah it was the mother of the king who was the woman wielding power. That arrangement is quite logical in a situation of multiple wives.)
Why will Ahab be punished?
Navots murder was merely the last straw. Until the period of Ahab there was no state supported worship of a foreign god. Under the leadership of Ahab the people of Israel reached great prosperity (as we know from archeology and even the biblical narrator in 22:39) and the lowest point in its relationship with Hashem, the Lord.
Compare the reaction of Ahab (v.27) to Elijahs full verdict with his reaction (v.20) to Elijahs initial words.
Ahabs initial reaction brings back thoughts of his confrontation with Elijah in 18:17-18. But his final reaction makes him human again. Notice the fast. As oppose to the one in v.12, this is for true repentance. His laying down in the sack-cloth echoes his sullen behavior in v.4, but what are the emotions behind the behavior this time? What does all this tell us about Ahabs belief in Hashem (the Lord?)
Please read II Kings 9:21-26.
What is this section?
Here we have a different version of our story, told by Jehu, one of Ahabs military leaders and the one who will rise up against his son, Jehoram. As we now discover that there are 2 accounts, we do not know the facts of the event. But we can assume that the case raised the ire of the people to such level that they accepted this as a reason for an uprising, and the narrator felt a need to include both versions
Who else might have stood in the way of Ahab to obtaining the vineyard as his own?
This was not dealt with at all in the text in I Kings 21. Only the commentators try to fill the gap. But let us realize that the issue at hand is ancestral land. Should not Navots sons (who are not accused of anything) inherit this land?
What are the differences between the 2 accounts?
Gone is the trial with all its false accusations and witnesses. The vineyard of chapter 21 is now a plot of land. We have no idea about any conversation between Ahab and Navot regarding the land. It is Ahab, not Jezebel, who has Navot and his sons killed. Notice that the idea of pay-back by God for this crime is there in both versions.
Here We Part With Ahab
Please read 22:29-40
Ahab is the king we love to hate in the Elijah stories. But how bad was he?
It is very clear that he introduced, for the first time, state-sponsored worship of a foreign god. But as a monarch he did have concern for his people, to the point that he was willing to cave in before Elijah to get rain. He was weaker than his wife (that part was easy) but archeological finds point to a king that built up the country and developed the realms of economics and foreign relations.
How did he die?
One can be a bad king in the sphere of religion, but still admired. Notice that the narrator does give Ahab the full story of his heroic death for the sake of his country. How do you feel about this king?