for your steadfast love endures forever.
You alone do great wonders,
for your steadfast love endures forever.
(adapted from Psalm 136:2-4)
1 Kings 20:1-21:29
King Ahab wants the farm that belongs to Naboth. Naboth refuses to sell. Ahab's wife, Queen Jezebel, is determined to get the land for her husband.
The original distribution of land (see Numbers 34) was intended to make sure that each and every person got a fair share, a fair chance to prosper in the new land. Even if somebody had to give up the land because of financial problems, they would get it back (see Leviticus 25:23-34).
Jezebel doesn't get the fairness part. What's important to her is that her family gets what her family wants--after all, she is married to the king.
Following her instruction, the ruling authorities in the city accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king. Naboth is found guilty and is stoned to death.
Sad irony. Naboth is accused of cursing God. By finding him guilty of this false accusation, they themselves by their action have violated the wishes of God. They, rather than Naboth, have cursed God.
Ahab would have been familiar with the requirements about ancestral inheritance. Yet, he really wanted that particular piece of land. He really wanted it, and his wife made sure that he got it.
He would have known what he was supposed to do and what he was supposed not to do. But his knowing didn't stop what happened to Naboth.
The Lord acted to give Ahab a reminder of what he should have already known. The Lord sent the prophet Elijah to go to the king. Tell him "I will bring disaster on you."
God's commands had been directed to ensure fairness and well-being for everyone. By violating the rights of Naboth, they have violated the commands of God. In their Preaching the Old Testament, Allen & Williamson ask "Is there ever any limit to how much of the world's riches the wealthy can commandeer for themselves while others live on the street?"
Harming the weak is violating the commands of God, then and now.
In exile, all they can do when we think about their loss is sit and cry. They couldn't forget what they had lost, and they didn't want to.
We may not be facing a Babylonian army coming in and destroying city and temple and taking us away. But, many of us have faced severely disruptive losses in the last few years of economic turmoil. For several years, investment accounts were devastated and many home values dropped below the mortgage balance. The economy may be recovering, but many of us may be facing other kinds of losses, deaths of loved ones, divorces, physical dislocations.
And, in our losses, we may find it difficult to adapt to the new life required by our changing situation. I'm trying to imagine how much worse a bad situation would be if I had to face tormentors like the ones in Psalm 137.
Yet, this psalm although not ignoring pain, also expresses a refusal to forget that what is lost.
Here's how Walter Brueggemann, in Theology of the Old Testament/Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, describes the practice of grief:
In the meantime, Israel is not to grow silent about its deserved plight. Israel in exile is a community that grieves and protests. Indeed, in exile the ancient social practice of lament and complaint becomes a crucial theological activity for Israel. The practice of grief is an exercise in truth-telling. It is, as evidence in Psalm 137 and Lamentations, an exercise in massive sadness that acknowledges, with no denial or deception, where and how Israel is. But the grief is not resignation, for in the end, Israel is incapable of resignation.Proverbs 17:16
As in many laments, Psalm 137 includes a desire for vengeance. Yet, the psalmist is not swearing to repay the predator. Rather, he is trusting the Lord to take care of it. Or, I can accept the notes in the Jewish Study Bible that says the rocks in verses 8-9 should be read as a pun on Petra, the Rock, a fortress city--that is, the fortress protecting Edom becomes what will punish Edom.
Why should fools have a price in hand to buy wisdom, when they have no mind to learn?
Prayer for Today: God, as we listen to assertions and complaints, help us to discern the truth. Strengthen us against the fear of the powerful and the popular. O Lord, open our ears to hear your word for us today. Strengthen our courage to follow your will. Amen.