While in Israel traveling on the bus towards the ruins of King Ahab’s palace in Sebastia, we passed through the Jezreel Valley which is filled with farms, orchids and vineyards. Seeing all of these vineyards near Jezerel reminded me of one of the most poignant stories of envy of Naboth’s vineyard in I Kings 21.
We may or may not remember the story from our Sunday School days, but it’s a memorable one, full of a couple of really bad folks, whose envy of other’s people stuff, other people’s gardens, really drives them to do some evil acts. King Ahab offers to buy Naboth’s garden not because it is the best, simply because it is the most convenient. Naboth refuses to take the deal, because this is the family farm. Naboth is satisfied with what he has because he realizes the land is a gift to his family from God and that, in a very real sense, it still belongs to God. When King Ahab’s offer is refused, he goes off and sulks for what he cannot have. One of the hallmarks of envy is focusing on what you don’t have rather than thanking God for what you do have.
Enter Queen Jezebel, whose wickedness is still famous. She reminds Ahab that he is entitled to whatever he wants in life. Since Ahab is king she implores, he doesn’t have to take no for an answer. It’s interesting that even King Ahab recognized a boundary here… after all he didn’t just take it away, instead he sulked about not having it. But Jezebel doesn’t recognize any boundaries. In her wickedness she sets a plan into motion to have Naboth killed and thus the vineyard then becomes King Ahab’s. Another hallmark of envy is a sense of entitlement that we deserve to get what we want.
Finally there is Elijah who serves as God’s prophet. Time and time again in the Bible we see that when evil acts against the poor it triggers a response by God who despises injustice. Elijah, accuses Ahab of selling himself to do “what is evil in the sight of the LORD” and because of his envy of Naboth’s vineyard, he would face calamity. Elijah brings to light the darkness of selling out to envy. Elijah is the one who reminds us what happens when boundaries get crossed, and envy runs unchecked. Remember that envy has its roots not in love, but in hatred, deep hatred, that obsesses over other people’s gifts, that if I can’t wander in its paths, then no one else should be able to do the same.
Envy is something that we all struggle with in life as we look around and see the status of others and hunger for that ourselves. When we were finishing services, Avis Thrash came up to me after service and shared that when she was a child, her parents told her “it was fine to desire a bike like the one that her friend had received. However, it is never right to want your friend’s bike. That is envy, and this will poison your soul just as it did for Ahab and Jezebel.”