The land as a gift from God
by Revd Dr Chris Wright.
In the Old Testament, Israel had land to live in because God, quite simply, had given it to them. This gift of land made Israel realise how dependent they were on God and how dependable God was in providing for their needs - even when they were unfaithful to him. The gift of land proved the relationship between God and Israel. Individuals had the right to their own individual piece of land - the land was intended to be equally shared out.
The story of Naboth has much to teach us about land and inheritance.
Read I Kings Chapter 21:1-3. King Ahab’s suggestion to Naboth that he should purchase or exchange other land for Naboth’s vineyard may seem quite reasonable to us. How did Naboth react? Naboth believed that the land was not his to give, sell or exchange. He held it on trust from the Lord for the benefit of his family.
Read the rest of I Kings Chapter 21. In verses 11-16 we learn that the only way Ahab could take possession of Naboth’s vineyard was by falsely convicting Naboth of blasphemy. This offence meant that he forfeited his right to belong to God’s people. He was stoned and his land confiscated. This incident shows how closely people’s relationship to God was linked with their right to share in God’s blessing of land.
Naboth’s fate was typical of what happened to large numbers of ordinary people as royalty and wealthy nobles increasingly ignored the traditional Israelite system of family land tenure. More and more people were deprived of their ancestral land and forced to work as poor labourers on land that was once theirs, but was now in the hands of the wealthy, powerful few.
The prophets came to the defence of the poor, exposing the corruption and exploitation of the rich. The prophet Elijah brought a blunt message to King Ahab: ‘God is angry at your crime and will punish you in the same manner.’
Do you or does your church speak out with the same authority when injustice is seen? Why was Elijah so confident in what he said to King Ahab? What can we learn from this story?