1 Kings 16: 29-34
Dr. Chris White June 9, 2013
There were two eulogies delivered for an Old Testament king and his wife. We’ll never know who delivered the state eulogy for King Ahab and his wife Jezebel after their deaths, but we can presume he was careful with his words. He undoubtedly pointed out that Ahab was the son of a king, as was his wife Jezebel. He would have pointed out the political skill needed to reign 22 years as a king in the ancient world of wars and disasters. He might have noted the independent religious spirit of Ahab and the groundbreaking progress of the local religion. The speaker might have noted Ahab and Jezebel’s strong resistance to changes from protesters of another religion, and how the royal couple kept to their beliefs no matter the pressure.
That eulogy happened, but that is not the eulogy of Ahab and Jezebel before us today. Since the writing of 1 & 2 Kings happens long after the lives of the men and women in the stories, there is time for reflection and judgment on their decisions. So as we read these historical sketches we actually read their eulogies. As with all stories in Kings and Chronicles, we read life in light of their faithfulness to God. The only measure we find from the writer of Kings is the measure of faithfulness given to Yahweh.
This eulogy of Ahab and Jezebel reads like this: In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jereboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him. (1 Ki 16:29-33)
Let’s unpack this. In short order we’re told that Ahab was a king who in his twenty-two years did more evil in the eyes of God than any king that had preceded him. More evil than his father Omri, more than the kings Nadab and Zimri, who slaughtered whole family lines when they took power, and more than the king named Jereboam who set up golden calves for worship in order to keep the people away from Jerusalem and the temple. Ahab not only carried on pagan worship toward the local god Baal, but he married the daughter of a priest/king of Baal. The temple was for Baal worship and the Asherah pole stood for worship. All of this, of course, went against the historic call for Israel to shun idols and follow God. The chapters that follow reveal other details of Ahab and Jezebel: they will seek the death of Elijah, resist all prophets from God, and prove instrumental in the death of a man named Naboth who would not sell them a vineyard.
And so ends the second eulogy.
The books we call Kings and Chronicles remind us that whether great or anonymous, there is a eulogy that will fall in your favor. But the stories of the kings remind us that the room of people that judge us for our day among them is not the final room. God reserves the right to give the final eulogy. That eulogy comes later, when time has allowed full disclosure of our work and values and faith. Just as Jesus explains in the parable of the wheat and weeds, we’re still too close to the action to judge one another. We’re too close to judge ourselves. Time will tell what was wheat and what was tare. As with the kings of Israel, so with us.
This second eulogy is our concern this morning. We are a long way from the life of a king under God in Israel, but the ground of Ahab resembles our own ground. Specifically, he and we face two questions.
First, what are we doing with our privileges? Ahab and Jezebel’s privileges were obvious in the ancient world. They were the children of kings and were undoubtedly used to the opportunities others only dreamed of. What we find in their story is the use of privilege to define their boundaries. That is, they have none. Not only do they leave the God of Israel for Baal and take their nation that way, they think nothing of organizing the death of Naboth simply to own his vineyard. These are people accustomed to privilege, even to the point of living beyond laws of God and society. What were they doing with their privileges? Indulging themselves. They left nothing.
What about our own stories of privilege? Now, the last thing an American wants to confess is a privileged upbringing. And we work hard to point out what we did NOT have. But privilege takes lots of shapes. Privilege takes the shape of when you were born, where you grew up, and even who you were born to. Historically, privilege in this country clearly leaned toward white males. Minorities and females never sniffed decent jobs or college prospects until quite recently. More and more, privilege in our country today is a home with two parents and employment and health insurance. Privilege is often the mere fact of eating enough calories in a day to thrive. This week’s Western Recorder filed a story on ministry in Bangladesh where a nation half the population of the U.S. lives in a country the size of Arkansas. Eighty-four percent of the population lives on $2 a day, and a good job as a garment worker pays $.24 per hour. Eighty percent of garment workers are women and often support whole families on this income. Undoubtedly, nearly everyone in Bangladesh would consider Americans privileged in health, safety, and government. And where would we be if we were part of the .3 percent of Bangladesh that is Christian and faces some level of isolation and persecution? (Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” So, what are we doing with these privileges?
Second, who is our audience? Ahab and Jezebel clearly played to the local religion. The invisible God of Sinai was no match for the hands-on worship of statues, poles, and promises of good harvests when Baal was served. The invisible God and his handful of prophets was no match for the hundreds of Baal prophets and prostitutes of the temple. Or so Ahab and Jezebel figured. The audience they wanted to please was a pagan god and his many followers. They chose their audience, but the audience could not help them before God. In the end they were condemned by their audience and described as provoking God.
We, too, are playing to an audience. There are people whose favor we value. And we’re right in seeking it. But when Jesus says in Luke 6:26, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for that is how the false prophets were treated,” there is a warning here that we can be a pleaser of people and still live against God’s will. We have a greater Audience whose call and standards pull us away from the lesser eyes we want to please. The call to follow Christ means denying ourselves the favor of certain audiences. There is a greater Audience, God, whose favor most matters. Life is long, but a day comes when time ends and all life is judged. All of your judges one day face judgment, so they cannot be the final eye or favor in your eye. God is our Audience, an Audience of One.