Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat. His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” 1 Kings 21:1-7
“For Israel and the Church as for much of the human race, property has been one of the thorniest problems of communal existence. Evidently, the distinction between “mine and thine” is as cold as the history of human beings. History attests that property is necessary to human existence, and just as clearly it shows that property has issued in misery and dehumanization. Human beings cannot live without property, and yet they can hardly live with it…
The household of God remembers Ahab’s attempt to annex the land of Naboth. Naboth will not give the inheritance of land to Ahab for money or exchange because the land belongs to God (1 Kings 21). The sulking Ahab is addressed by his wife, Jezebel, with one of the most telling questions in our memory: “Do you now govern Israel?” The implication is that the powerful should be able to determine property rights.
Jezebel arranges for the murder of Naboth by inciting the false charge that Naboth has cursed God and the king. The claims to and conflicts over property almost always entail God and patriotism, atheism and national betrayal…Once property has been authorized by divinity, it is something that can no longer be questioned. Property then becomes axiomatic, so foundational that everything else has to be thought of in relation to it…”
M. Douglas Meeks in God, the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989) 99-102.
Here we continue explore the theme of Jubilee related to generosity. This biblical text came into view for me in response to an email I received this week. A friend asked me about how followers of Christ should deal with the issue of ancient land claims of indigenous people. The inquiry pertains to property.
This question caused my mind to go to the story in 1 Kings 21 in which Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard which God owns and Jezebel basically says that “the powerful should be able to determine property rights.” Jezebel arranged for Naboth’s murder, Ahab gets the vineyard, then Elijah proclaims God’s judgment.
So what’s the lesson? It’s complicated. We must drill down to the bedrock of God’s Word to get solid footing on this one. All land belongs to God. It does not belong to you, the people who lived there before you, or any ancient people who dwelled there. I repeat, all land belongs to God.
Notice what God says in Leviticus 25:23. There, Meeks finds the key to the unlocking this question. “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” We (wrongly!) make property something that is “mine or thine” when we treat it as a commodity to own.
Meeks richly explains this at length in his book and anchors his views in the teachings of Jesus. He says “Jesus is not trying to do away with property…Rather, what is at stake is Jesus’ understanding of property as gift as opposed to property as commodity” (117). People cannot own what God owns and has given to humans as a gift!
Furthermore, it all starts to make sense when we realize that Jesus wants us to let go of any claim to any property and instead see it as a gift to be enjoyed and shared. Meeks points us to the early church, a multiethnic mix of people living together in harmony with no needy person among them. We see this picture in Acts 4:32-34.
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.”
So what does that have to do with you, me, first nations, indigenous land claims, and generosity?
We must all view land as owned by God. We must live openhandedly such that we do not claim private ownership of anything. The property or things we possess are not commodities that determine our worth or identity in relation to others (defining us as rich or poor), but gifts from God to be enjoyed and shared together.
In so doing, we echo the “Jubilee” that Jesus proclaimed on earth and that we will experience in eternity. Then generosity comes into view as treating our neighbors (regardless of their ethnicity) as equal to ourselves, fellow humans, brothers and sisters. They are not people to be dominated, and we must not covet their possessions.
The biblical label for property or things is mammon. Jesus said we cannot serve God and mammon, so servants of God must hold a different view of property than the world. In short, it means we value people over property and demonstrate this by being generous with it in community as we live under the reign of Jesus.Read more