The narrative of this chapter, clearly drawn once more from the prophetic record of Elijah’s life and mission, returns to the same vividness of style and lofty spiritual teaching perceptible in 1 Kings 18, 19. It describes the turning-point of Ahab’s probation, which, like the great crisis of David’s history, is an act of unrighteous tyranny, so common in Eastern despotism, that it would hardly be recorded by an ordinary historian. So in the prophetic writings moral evils, especially profligacy and bloodshed and oppression of the weak, are denounced at least not less severely, and even more frequently, than religious unfaithfulness. The whole description is strikingly illustrative of Ahab’s character, in its essential weakness and subservience, more fatal in high place of authority than resolute wickedness. It might be painted in the well-known description of Felix by Tacitus, as “swaying the power of a king with the temper of a slave” (jus regium, servili ingenio exercuit).
(2–4) And Ahab spake.—The whole history is singularly true to nature. At first, as the desire of Ahab was natural, so his offer was courteous and liberal. The refusal of Naboth—evidently grounded on the illegality, as well as the natural dislike, of alienation of “the inheritance of his fathers” (see Leviticus 25:13-28; Numbers 36:7), and therefore not only allowable, but right—has nevertheless about it a certain tone of harshness, perhaps of unnecessary discourtesy, implying condemnation, as well as rejection, of the offer of the king. It is characteristic of the weak and petulant nature of Ahab, that he neither recognises the legality and justice of Naboth’s action, nor dares to resent the curt defiance of his refusal. Like a spoilt child, he comes back sullen and angry, throws himself on his bed, and will eat no bread. All that he has is as nothing, while the little plot of ground is refused; as to Haman all was worthless, while Mordecai the Jew sat in the king’s gate (Esther 5:13). This temper of sullen, childish discontent is the natural seedplot of crime, under the instigation of more determined wickedness.
In his city.—This would be most naturally interpreted as Jezreel; but if Naboth dwelt or sojourned at Samaria, it may be Samaria. Jezebel naturally desires that neither Ahab nor she herself, though close at hand, should appear in the matter; but gives the necessary authority in writing, because without it the deed could not be done.
Sons of Belial.—See Judges 19:22; Judges 20:13; 1 Samuel 1:16; 1 Samuel 2:12; 1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Samuel 25:17; 1 Samuel 25:25; 1 Samuel 30:22; 2 Samuel 16:7; 2 Samuel 20:1, &c.; properly, “children of lawlessness, or worthlessness.”
Blaspheme.—The word is the same used in Job 1:5; Job 1:11; Job 2:5, there rendered “curse.” It properly signifies “to bless;” thence, to “part from with blessing;” finally to part from, or “disown.” It is, rather, therefore, “to renounce” than “to blaspheme.” The punishment, however, was stoning, as for positive blasphemy. (See Leviticus 24:16; Deuteronomy 13:9-10.)
This verse and the next are evidently the reflection of the compiler, catching its inspiration from the words of Elijah in 1 Kings 21:20. There is in them a tone not only of condemnation, but of contempt, for a king most unkingly—thus selling himself to a half-unwilling course of crime, against the warnings of conscience, not disbelieved but neglected, for the sake of a paltry desire—thus moreover, grovelling under the open dominion of a woman, which, to an Eastern mind, familiar enough with female intrigues, but not with female imperiousness, would seem especially monstrous.