The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Pentecost IV...cautionary tale

Jezebel...hmmmmm….”toxic harridan” just can’t do her justice.[1a]  She’s an emotional terrorist- unrepentant, vicious, and a master practitioner of shaming manipulation.  Ahab, in his cowed acquiescence, is the chronic focal point of her overbearing machinations. Jezebel will get what she wants, even if she must employ murderous conspiracy to work her will. And she does.

And Ahab said to Naboth, "Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money." But Naboth said to Ahab, "The LORD  forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance." Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, "I will not give you my ancestral inheritance." He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat. 

Ahab wants to plant a garden close by the palace, and we understand that Naboth’s vineyard is closer to the palace than any other stretch of ground suitable for growing vegetables. Wanting the vineyard is a convenience to Ahab, nothing more. Naboth’s vineyard is an ancestral inheritance, and the ground means as much to Naboth for how it came to him as it does for what it produces. Mundane convenience for Ahab is sacred trust for Naboth. Naboth is respectful; he declines the King’s offer to purchase or trade another parcel for the vineyard. 

In a reign that already is not Israel’s finest hour[1], this is a low point. Ahab does not possess the emotional maturity to respect himself, so of course he hasn’t the emotional maturity to respect Naboth or anyone else, either. The closest Ahab can get to respect as a personal behavior is fear. Ahab hasn’t a clue about being king, probably because he hasn’t a clue about being Ahab. Naboth’s vineyard becomes an issue for Ahab because he’s been told “No” by a grown-up. Ahab has an opportunity to man-up and move on, finding another spot for the vegetable garden. Ahab misses that opportunity; he is a petulant child. He doesn’t get what he wants so he pouts. 

Ahab does not understand the value of the vineyard to Naboth. It has come to Naboth through his family. His is a stewardship received, not an ownership transferred. Stewardships of this kind are sacred. Ahab understands expediency in his own life, but he does not understand holiness in Naboth’s. Ahab probably is not insensitive, but he is uncaring…just smart enough to be a sociopath. 

Jezebel sees weakness and exploits it. She defines herself by her exertions of power for its own a mink that kills when it’s not hungry, Jezebel does what she desires simply because she can. She derives a thrill from being feared and deferred-to, being powerful, and she knows that she can bully Ahab. He is an especially easy target. The household staff are no fun; they can’t answer back. Ahab could, but he doesn’t. How delightful. The leverage she uses in this story is Ahab’s position; his weak, poorly formed self is utterly enmeshed with the crown, so the crown is where Jezebel approaches Ahab: 

His wife Jezebel said to him, "Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite." 

It is understatement to say that Jezebel’s personality is disordered[2], and Ahab’s is borderline. Aside from plumbing new depths of the phrase “dysfunctional marriage,” Jezebel undertakes a conspiracy. She uses Ahab’s seal without his knowledge[3] to legitimate the conspiracy, and she clothes the conspiracy in unassailable sacred language that will have Naboth falsely accused: 

`You have cursed God and the king.' 

The accusation is sufficient to get Naboth stoned to death. Jezebel has done this to exert her own power, not Ahab’s. Jezebel has done this to please herself, not Ahab. This is not Ahab overwhelming Naboth, it is Jezebel overwhelming Ahab. 

Jezebel said to Ahab, "Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." 

“There. You wanted the vineyard? I got it for you.” There is as much contempt as affection for Ahab in Jezebel’s actions. And Ahab hasn’t the character or strength to extricate himself. The contempt Jezebel displays is proven deserved when Ahab’s character is revealed: 

As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. 

What a mess. The features of this story are so outrageous that they seem almost like an overblown cartoon. There are moments in the Jezebel & Ahab stories so extreme that we dismiss them-  “No way that could ever happen.” It plays out like a low-budget psycho-thriller…or really really bad (is there any other kind?) reality television.  Perhaps some of us have not seen such extremes in the very worst of human behavior, but the chilling truth is that most do recognize the cautionary nature of this story precisely because we have glimpsed at least some features of these things in our own experiences. 

We know these people. Manipulators and their victims…they are male and female, prince and commoner, young and old. Both manipulators and their victims are far past being tiresome; they’re dangerous to our souls and psyches. Those who have been manipulated/bullied/abused often become manipulators/bullies/abusers themselves.[4]  Trying to reason with Jezebel is negotiating with a terrorist- it never works. Ahab is impervious to any urging toward maturity; he’s numb, and in being overborne, he is not accountable. Chronic involvement with manipulative bullies is corrosive to the human souls and psyche. Apparently Ahab likes it that way, even at such a terrible cost. 

We see Ahab and Jezebel and our skin crawls; we really do know people like this. Detach. Walk away. Doing so is neither cowardice nor unfaithfulness to God. It is, rather, the courage to save one’s own life. There is nothing sacrificially Christ-like in remaining present to people like Jezebel or Ahab; we are called by our baptisms to love them, but we are not called by our baptisms to let them abuse us or anyone else. In such moments we learn again the wisdom of +John Elbridge Hines: “God will permit us the folly of our own ways.” The faithful move is not becoming a part of the folly. 

Cautionary tale indeed. Love you. See you in Church.
FBC3+, Sunday, 12 June 2016, being The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

[1a] II Kings 9:30-37…but eventually Jehu will bring justice...justice finally reaches Jezebel when she’s defenestrated, her blood spattering horses that spook and trample her. Then her body is eaten by dogs. One might wag the head with sober mien and wonder if this is just another example of violence against women. Such concerns rightly stem from the systematic mistreatment of women in patriarchal society, and in almost all cases such concerns are legitimate, warranting our serious consideration. I have to say, however, that even those among us who are highly sensitized to such issues acknowledge in Jezebel’s case that so horrible a death could not have been more well-matched to so horrible a life- it has nothing to do with violence against women, it has to do with justice for a murderous brutal bully. In the patois of my Homeland, “She needed killin’.” 

[1] 1 Kings 16:33   Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.
   1 Kings 21:25-26   (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the LORD drove out before the Israelites.)
[2] Not a clinician, I had to do some research....World Health Organization. dissocial personality disorder, as described in International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, tenth edition (2010), pg 159ff. see also Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition (2000), pg 647ff
[3] Given the personalities involved, my guess is that Ahab knew more than he could acknowledge to himself or anyone else.

[4] Ahab is such a person. Ahab would love Flip Wilson’s “The Devil made me do it.” Funny the first couple of times we hear it, and then comes a point when blaming it on the past or an external influence no longer works....sooner or later, it’s no longer outside influence or the past, it’s a choice- “The Devil didn’t make me do it; I chose that for myself.” Even the most self-deluded among us know that sooner or later they must own their actions as theirs, and not excuse themselves by invoking hurtful influences or their past.