Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
3 Kings (1 Kings) 21:1
After these events Ahab was seized with such a desire for a vineyard which was situated near his palace at Jezreel, that when Naboth, the owner of the vineyard, refused to part with his paternal inheritance, he became thoroughly dejected, until his wife Jezebel paved the way for the forcible seizure of the desired possession by the shameful execution of Naboth (Kg1 21:1-15). But when Ahab was preparing to take possession of the vineyard, Elijah came to meet him with the announcement, that both he and his wife would be visited by the Lord with a bloody death for this murder and robbery, and that his idolatry would be punished with the extermination of all his house (Kg1 21:16-26). Ahab was so affected by this, that he humbled himself before God; whereupon the Lord told Elijah, that the threatened judgment should not burst upon his house till after Ahab's death (Kg1 21:27-29).
Ahab wanted to obtain possession of the vineyard of Naboth, which was in Jezreel (אשׁר refers to כּרם), near the palace of the king, either in exchange for another vineyard or for money, that he might make a vegetable garden of it. From the fact that Ahab is called the king of Samaria we may infer that Jezreel, the present Zerin (see at Jos 19:18), was only a summer residence of the king.
Naboth refused to part with the vineyard, because it was the inheritance of his fathers, that is to say, on religious grounds (חלילה כּי מיהוה), because the sale of a paternal inheritance was forbidden in the law (Lev 25:23-28; Num 36:7.). He was therefore not merely at liberty as a personal right to refuse the king's proposal, but bound by the commandment of God.
Instead of respecting this tender feeling of shrinking from the transgression of the law and desisting from his coveting, Ahab went home, i.e., to Samaria (cf. Kg1 21:8), sullen and morose (סר וזעף as in Kg1 20:43), lay down upon his bed, turned his face (viz., to the wall; cf. Kg2 20:2) - "after the manner of sorrowful persons, who shrink from and refuse all conversation, and even the sight of others" (Seb. Schmidt) - and did not eat. This childish mode of giving expression to his displeasure at Naboth's refusal to comply with his wish, shows very clearly that Ahab was a man sold under sin (Kg1 21:20), who only wanted the requisite energy to display the wickedness of his heart in vigorous action.
When Jezebel learned the cause of Ahab's ill-humour, she said to him, "Thou, dost thou now exercise royal authority over Israel." אתּה is placed first for the sake of emphasis, and the sentence is to be taken as an ironical question, as it has been by the lxx. "I (if thou hast not courage enough to act) will procure thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."
The shameless woman then wrote a letter in the name of Ahab, sealed it below with the royal seal, which probably bore the king's signature and was stamped upon the writing instead of signing the name, as is done at the present day among Arabs, Turks, and Persians (vid., Paulsen, Reg. der Morgenl. p. 295ff.), to give it the character of a royal command (cf. Est 8:13; Dan 6:17), and sent this letter (the Chethb הסּפרים is correct, and the Keri has arisen from a misunderstanding) to the elders and nobles of his town (i.e., the members of the magistracy, Deu 16:18), who lived near Naboth, and therefore had an opportunity to watch his mode of life, and appeared to be the most suitable persons to institute the charge that was to be brought against him. The letter ran thus: "Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people, and set two worthless men opposite to him, that they may give evidence against him: Thou hast blasphemed God and king; and lead him out and stone him, that he may die." Jezebel ordered the fasting for a sign, as though some public crime or heavy load of guilt rested upon the city, for which it was necessary that it should humble itself before God (Sa1 7:6). The intention was, that at the very outset the appearance of justice should be given to the legal process about to be instituted in the eyes of all the citizens, and the stamp of veracity impressed upon the crime of which Naboth was to be accused. העם בראשׁ...הושׁיבוּ, "seat him at the head of the people," i.e., bring him to the court of justice as a defendant before all the people. The expression may be explained from the fact, that a sitting of the elders was appointed for judicial business, in which Naboth and the witnesses who were to accuse him of blasphemy took part seated. To preserve the appearance of justice, two witnesses were appointed, according to the law in Deu 17:6-7; Deu 19:15; Num 35:30; but worthless men, as at the trial of Jesus (Mat 26:60). אלהים בּרך, to bless God, i.e., to bid Him farewell, to dismiss Him, as in Job 2:9, equivalent to blaspheming God. God and king are mentioned together, like God and prince in Exo 22:27, to make it possible to accuse Naboth of transgressing this law, and to put him to death as a blasphemer of God, according to Deu 13:11 and Deu 17:5, where the punishment of stoning is awarded to idolatry as a practical denial of God. Blaspheming the king is not to be taken as a second crime to be added to the blasphemy of God; but blaspheming the king, as the visible representative of God, was eo ipso also blaspheming God.
The elders of Jezreel executed this command without delay; a striking proof both of deep moral corruption and of slavish fear of the tyranny of the ruthless queen.
When the report of Naboth's execution was brought to her, she called upon Ahab to take possession of his vineyard (רשׁ = רשׁ, Deu 2:24). As Naboth's sons were put to death at the same time, according to Kg2 9:26, the king was able to confiscate his property; not, indeed, on any rule laid down in the Mosaic law, but according to a principle involved in the very idea of high treason. Since, for example, in the case of blasphemy the property of the criminal was forfeited to the Lord as cherem (Deu 13:16), the property of traitors was regarded as forfeited to the king.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 21:16
But when Ahab went down to Jezreel to take possession of the vineyard of Naboth, Elijah came to meet him by the command of God, with the word of the Lord, "Hast thou murdered and also taken possession?" The question served to sharpen his conscience, since Ahab was obliged to admit the fact. בּשׁמרון אשׁר means "who lives at Samaria," for when Elijah came to meet him, Ahab was in Jezreel, Elijah then said to him still further: "Thus saith the Lord: In the place where the dogs have licked the blood of Naboth, will they also lick thine, yea, thy blood." אתּה גּם serves as an emphatic repetition of the suffix (cf. Ges. 121, 3). This threat was only so far fulfilled upon Ahab, from the compassion of God, and in consequence of his humbling himself under the divine judgment (Kg1 21:27-29), that dogs licked his blood at Samaria when the carriage was washed in which he had died (Kg1 22:38); but it was literally fulfilled in the case of his son Joram, whose corpse was cast into Naboth's piece of ground (Kg2 9:25-26).
3 Kings (1 Kings) 21:20
Ahab answered, "Hast thou found me (met with me), O mine enemy?" (not, hast thou ever found me thine enemy? - Vulg., Luth.) i.e., dost thou come to meet me again, mine enemy? He calls Elijah his enemy, to take the sting from the prophet's threat as an utterance caused by personal enmity. But Elijah fearlessly replied, "I have found (thee), because thou sellest thyself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord." He then announced to him, in Kg1 21:21, Kg1 21:22, the extermination of his house, and to Jezebel, as the principal sinner, the most ignominious end (Kg1 21:23). הרע לעשׂות חתמכּר to sell one's self to do evil, i.e., to give one's self to evil so as to have no will of one's own, to make one's self the slave of evil (cf. Kg1 21:25, Kg2 17:17). The consequence of this is πεπρᾶσθαι ὑπὸ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν (Rom 7:14), sin exercising unlimited power over the man who gives himself up to it as a slave. For Kg1 21:21, Kg1 21:22, see Kg1 14:10-11; Kg1 15:29-30; Kg1 16:3, Kg1 16:12-13. The threat concerning Jezebel (Kg1 21:23) was literally fulfilled, according to Kg2 9:30. חל, written defectively for חיל, as in Sa2 20:15, is properly the open space by the town-wall, pomoerium. Instead of בּחל we have בּחלק in the repetition of this threat in Kg2 9:10, Kg2 9:36-37, and consequently Thenius and others propose to alter the חל here. But there is no necessity for this, as בּחלק, on the portion, i.e., the town-land, of Jezreel (not, in the field at Jezreel), is only a more general epithet denoting the locality, and חל is proved to be the original word by the lxx.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 21:25
Kg1 21:25, Kg1 21:26 contain a reflection on the part of the historian concerning Ahab's ungodly conduct, whereby he brought such an ignominious end upon himself and his house. וגו היה לא רק, "only there has not been (one) like Ahab," i.e., there was no one else like Ahab, "who sold himself," etc. הסתּה for הסיתה, from סוּת, to entice, to seduce or lead astray (cf. Ewald, 114, a., and Ges. 72, Anm. 6). ויּתעב, and he acted abominably. Amorites: for Canaanites, as in Gen 15:16, etc.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 21:27
This terrible threat made such an impression upon Ahab, that he felt deep remorse, and for a time at least was sincerely penitent. Rending the clothes, putting on the mourning garment of hair (שׂק), and fasting, are frequently mentioned as external signs of humiliation before God or of deep mourning on account of sin. יהלּך אט, he walked about lightly (slowly), like one in deep trouble. This repentance was neither hypocritical, nor purely external; but it was sincere even if it was not lasting and produced no real conversion. For the Lord Himself acknowledge it to be humiliation before Him (Kg1 21:29), and said to Elijah, that because of it He would not bring the threatened calamity upon Ahab's house in his own lifetime, but only in the days of his son. אבי for אביא, as in Kg1 21:21.