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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 21



Verse 10


‘And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.’

1 Kings 21:10

Ahab is akin, both in his sin and his recovery, to the mass of mankind. He has neither sinned like Saul, nor will he mourn like David. He has been pusillanimous in his sin, and he will not be other than faint-hearted in his return to God. He moves, on the whole, in that middle sphere of moral life which is at best never heroic, and at worst something better than detestable, and which is, after all, the sphere of the mass of humankind.

I. Observe, first, that the repentance of Ahab, so far as it went, was a real repentance.—(1) There is evidently in him a measure of that fear of God which is the beginning of true spiritual wisdom. (2) He does not attempt to palliate his sin. He is silent, not because he has nothing to acknowledge, but because he knows himself to be so simply and altogether wicked that he has nothing to say.

II. Wherein was Ahab’s penitence deficient?—At what point does he cease to be an example and become a terrible warning?

There is nothing in Ahab’s subsequent conduct to show that he had attained to anything deeper than a fear of God’s judgments and an acknowledgment of his own guilt. He feared the consequences of sin, but that by loving God he hated sin itself is more than we can venture to suppose. For: (1) A true hatred of past sins will at all cost put them away and cut off the occasions which led to them. (2) The contrite sinner is concerned for the glory of God, which he has obscured. But with Ahab self was the centre still. He trembled at judgments which would light upon himself; and, on the same principle, he was unequal to sacrifices which were painful to self, however necessary to his Master’s honour.

III. The paramount influence upon Ahab’s mind came from without, and not from within him.—Jezebel stands behind him as an incarnation of the evil one. If Ahab ever struggled to maintain his fear of God, he soon sank vanquished by the more than human energy of his foe, to await his final reprobation.

Canon Liddon.


‘Compared with Ahab’s palace gardens the property of Naboth’s was a quite insignificant detail. Yet that little piece of land was Ahab’s ruin. It was small, yet it was large enough to wreck him. He set his heart on it with such desire that everything else seemed valueless without it. And it was not the great possessions which he owned, nor the great dreams of conquest which he cherished—it was not these, but a few roods of land, that brought Ahab in dishonour to his grave. It does not need a blow to destroy eyesight. A grain will do it, or the prick of a fine needle. You may silence the lute by breaking it in twain, but a little rift “makes all the music mute.” Whenever Christ is crucified afresh, great sins are like the spear that wounds His side, but little sins—what we call little sins—are like the nails that pierce His hands and feet.’

Verse 20


‘And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord.’

1 Kings 21:20

We are like Ahab: we hate to be reproved—it is so troublesome, it is so annoying. When the Church, or her ministers, or the voices of individual consciences rebuke some fault which has grown old among men, they look on the messengers of God very much as Ahab did on Elijah, and they know not that, all the while, it is God of Whom they are complaining.

I. God’s Providence permits no soul to do wrong without warning, nor, having sinned, to be at peace without rebuke. However depraved, however steeped in vice, however abandoned, or however innocent hitherto, at each step downward God meets the individual soul. It may be by circumstances, by personal loss, by bereavement, by the voice of conscience, by a thousand other ways, God stands in the way, willing rather that men shall be turned from their sin and be saved. All through the history of God’s revelation, as it is recorded in Holy Scripture, this principle is apparent; in the sight of the people Noah was building the Ark of Salvation, the sign of wrath to come. The people of Sodom were first rebuked by the presence of Lot. In Egypt, Moses warned Pharaoh after almost every plague. On the night of Belshazzar’s overthrow there appeared the mysterious hand on the wall writing his doom. King Herod had no rest in his adultery with his brother Philip’s wife.

II. The way of God is to withstand wilful sin.—Daily we pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,’ and most surely He does so, if men would only see and take advantage of His warnings. He makes no difference between the hardened sinner and the honest though weak disciple. Whenever you hear of a determined Ahab, you hear of a fearless Elijah. Or, if it be a David who has forgotten himself, there is always at hand a Nathan to warn him by a parallel case, and to say, ‘Thou art the man.’ Or, if there be no man to speak, God will speak in other ways: trouble, sorrow, sickness, loss, are all the silent messengers of the Almighty, and in the silence of the night, or the solitude of despair, when the heart cries out, ‘O God! wherefore is all this come upon me?’ the still small voice of conscience strives within you, ‘Hast thou not forsaken God and broken His commandments?’

III. Every obstacle which confronts the deliberate sinner is surely the sign of the Lord’s Presence. It is like the angel of the Lord standing before Balaam, with his sword in his hand, whom Balaam could not see until his eyes were opened. And so, when a man sets about a deliberate sin, he may expect obstacles put in his way, because we know while God hates the sin He loves the sinner, and would warn him and save him. Or suppose that he has committed the sin that, like Ahab, he has killed and taken possession, or like David when he caused Uriah to be killed, or like Herod who was living in his sin—still God leaves him not alone, and an Elijah, or a Nathan, or a Baptist appears when least expected, and his pleasure becomes bitterness.

Rev. S. J. Childs Clarke.


‘God deals with us in many ways. Our experience, open and secret, is full of circumstances of His providential warning and correction; but do men always profit by these warnings? How do they look upon them? Some are angry, as Cain, who we read was “very wroth, and his countenance fell.” Some scoff as the men of Sodom did, who said, “This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge.” And some are defiant, as Pharaoh—“Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die.” And some, while complaining of their lot, are submissive for a time, but after awhile harden their hearts, as in the case of Ahab, who for a time was penitent. And some repent with tears, as St. Peter did. When the Master turned and looked upon him he saw in that look not the rebuke of an enemy, but the love of the true Friend and Saviour. God grant that in sickness or bereavement, loss or sorrow, or when the Church, her minister, or the voice of conscience speaks to rebuke some sin, we may perceive not the visitation of an enemy, but the guiding Hand of our Heavenly Father.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Kings 21:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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