Today we read about the cities of refuge which were set up to protect someone who killed a person accidently. But if it was not an accident and wasmurder which was committed, the murderer would not be allowed in the city and be at the mercy of the avenger of blood to “purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel” (Deut. 19:13). The principal of the cities of refuge ironically really comes out in the life of Ahab. Our attention is first drawn to the cities of refuge when Ahab asks Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth gilead?” (1 Kings 22:4). The city of Ramoth-gilead had been taken by the Syrians and Ahab wanted it back. But Ramoth-gilead happened to be one of those cities of refuge.
We know a lesson is being drawn out of this incident based on what has just happened in the previous chapter of 1 Kings. It’s the story of Naboth’s vineyard, which resulted in one of the most calculated cold-blooded murders recorded in Scripture. There was no way that Ahab, party to his wife Jezebel’s schemes, had any right to Ramoth-gilead. The irony continues when we realize that one of the key words in Deuteronomy, love, is translated from the Hebrew word ahab. Verse 9 of Deuteronomy 19, for example, says that when the Israelites were in the land they could have cities of refuge “provided you are careful to keep all this commandment, which I command you today, by loving the LORD your God”, something which is the exact opposite of the actions and attitude of Ahab. Instead innocent blood was shed. And if that alone wasn’t enough since Naboth’s vineyard was “beside the palace of Ahab” (1 Kings 21:1) they were neighbors. Verse 11 of Deuteronomy 19 says, “if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities” he would not be allowed entrance. Perhaps Ahab was meant to learn the lesson, so therefore this particular city was taken from him.
But that’s not all Ahab did. The next section in Deuteronomy 19 concerns “your neighbor’s landmark” (v.14). That landmark was not to move “which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land”. Each tribe was apportioned an inheritance after entering the land and it was not to change. But Ahab, from the tribe of Manasseh, wanted to move his neighbor Naboth’s landmark from the tribe of Issachar. Despite Naboth telling the king “the LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (1 Kings 21:3), Ahab killed him in order to take it.
Jezebel when dealing with the situation knew exactly what needed to be done to fulfil the law. She follows the principle of the next section in Deuteronomy 19 – “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” (v.15). Jezebel obeyed that to the letter – “And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him” (1 Kings 21:10). True to form, though, these were false witnesses who lied about Naboth. The next section in Deuteronomy 19 covers that too – “if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” (v.18-19).
The final verse of Deuteronomy 19 is well-known – “Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (v.21) and Ahab and particularly his wife Jezebel fulfilled that too. Elijah confronted the king after the murder saying, “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.” (1 Kings 21:19) and then “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel” (v.23). A life had been taken and so their lives would be taken too. And as if to underline the point, when the dogs ate Jezebel all that was left was “the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands” (2 Kings 9:35) – a very physical and graphical outworking of the principle of eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand and foot for foot.
The lives of Ahab and Jezebel are the antithesis of godliness. The remarkable way they illustrate the biblical text of Deuteronomy 19, by turning it upside down, is just one example of their extreme iniquity. Maybe you scratch your head and wonder what possible lesson there is for us. Surely none of us ever go to the extremes of these wicked people. But then we read the warning, addressed to a New Testament ecclesia – “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (Rev. 2:20). The actions of Jezebel are abhorrent and yet her spirit was alive and well in an ecclesia. What follows in the book of Revelation is the development of the apostasy – the way Christianity fell away. The story of Ahab and Jezebel is not something for us to look at and just be appalled. It’s a testimony to the fact that when we ignore bible principles or twist them to get our own way, religion can go very, very wrong.
Simi Hills, CA