“But Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you” (1 Kings 21:3 NKJV).
Real estate is considered to be one of the safest and best investments one can make. This is true not only in developed nations but worldwide. As the earth’s population increases dramatically, its available space remains fixed. Until oceans are filled or space is colonized, the land we see is all that we will have. That makes usable land highly sought after. In Bangladesh for example, land prices in even rural settings are comparable to costs in significant cities of the U.S. There is just not enough to go around, so demand is great.
This is not a new phenomenon. Ancient Israel had received the land of Canaan (also called Palestine) as an inheritance (see Joshua 13 – 21). Each tribe was awarded a territory, which was then divided into personal possessions for every family within the tribe. These tracts were handed down perpetually with legal safeguards to keep them always within the same families.
Some 700 years after distribution of the land, a king of Israel named Ahab decided to build a garden next to his palace in the city of Jezreel. The only problem was that the land he intended to use belonged to someone else, a man named Naboth. And Naboth was a faithful Israelite who greatly valued his family inheritance. He simply would not sell the land. Not even to the King. Regardless of the price offered. In Naboth’s eyes, to sell his land would be to dishonor his ancestors, but, even worse, it would be to dishonor God who had provided the land to his family in the beginning.
Ahab, the frustrated would-be buyer of Naboth’s land, was married to a Canaanite princess named Jezebel. This woman, a worshipper of the idol Baal, cared nothing about Israel’s laws, traditions, or religion. She comforted Ahab, promising to obtain the land for him. Jezebel fulfilled her promise by having Naboth wrongly convicted of blasphemy and put to death. With the property’s rightful owner out of the way, Ahab was free to take possession. He was not able to enjoy his new possession, however, as God pronounced judgment upon the wicked couple and their deaths soon followed (see 1 Kings 21:17-22:40; 2 Kings 9:30-37).
In this story, the real lesson is not the high value of real estate. It is about family, tradition, and continuity of values. One’s land was a direct link to his ancestry, and also to God. Naboth presided over property that came into his possession through God’s providential shepherding of Israel, and then through many generations of his ancestor’s stewardship. He saw himself not so much as the owner of the land, but rather as its custodian.
This same principle or perspective may be applied to spiritual matters as well. Christians today are not the “owners” of the Gospel or of Christ’s Church. We do not have the authority or right to change them or to sell or give them away. Note Paul’s instructions to Timothy, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The Gospel was conveyed through a chain of trusted stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1), beginning with Paul, then Timothy, then those whom Timothy taught, on down to those whom they would in turn teach. This cycle has continued until today.
In another place, Paul describes the gospel as a “Treasure [which we have] in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). In New Testament times fragile materials like papyrus or parchment were often sealed in pottery jars to protect them from insects and moisture. Such treasures have been discovered after hundreds of years, still perfectly preserved (a famous example is the “Dead Sea Scrolls” discovered in the area of the Dead Sea in the middle of the twentieth century).
Today, there are those like Ahab and Jezebel who have no regard for traditions or laws of the past. They are willing to alter or destroy Scriptural truth to suit their own liking or ambitions. Fortunately, there are still some with the character of Naboth, recognizing our debt to those who came before us and the unalterable nature of God’s revealed will. These continue to declare, “The Lord forbid!” that we give up what has been handed down to us for so long. We have an inheritance from God that is worth far more than anything man could exchange it for. Let us cling to it and pass it on to the next generation as faithful stewards.