Scripture Notes.

I.

1 Kings 21.

Nothing could more strikingly reveal the frightful moral corruption of Israel - of king and people - at this time than the details of this chapter. Naboth had a vineyard "hard by the palace of Ahab, king of Samaria." The king saw and coveted it for himself. It was near to his house, and he desired it for a garden of herbs. Accordingly he sought to obtain it from Naboth, either by exchange or by purchase. Outwardly this was fair and honest; but Ahab knew, or should have known, that he could not have it except by inducing Naboth to transgress the law of God. Naboth preferred obedience to the Word above the favour of the king and his own advantage, and thus he replied, "The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee." (See Num. 36:7.) Baulked in his project, "Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased . . . laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread." (v. 4.) In the previous chapter he likewise came to his house "heavy and displeased" (v. 43) because a prophet had pronounced judgment upon him for making an alliance with one whom God had appointed to destruction. Weakness and wickedness are often united, and in both cases the king was angry because the will of God was against his own, and interfered with his designs. But mark the lesson: whenever the heart is resolved upon evil, Satan is ever at hand to open the way for its commission. Covetousness had mastered the soul of Ahab, but he was lacking in courage; he feared to take what he longed to have. Jezebel was of another spirit; she had neither conscience nor fear. Daughter of a heathen king (1 Kings 16:31), she owned no law but that of her own wicked will. Like the unjust judge, she feared not God nor regarded man; and, determining that her husband should gratify the desire of his heart, she said, "I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite." Her measures were soon taken. "She wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal," commanding Naboth to be falsely accused and to be stoned. Surely there would be conscience, we might think, in some of Jezreel's elders! Alas! the men of Naboth's city, "the elders and the nobles," fellow-citizens of this faithful man, hastened to obey the queen's command, brought in false witnesses, as in the case of our blessed Lord (also of Stephen), procured his condemnation, "stoned him with stones, that he died;" and they sent immediately to Jezebel to say, "Naboth is stoned, and is dead." (vv. 11-14.) Let the reader pause, and mark the consequences of covetousness in Ahab's heart. A simple desire, at first, for a convenient garden - such was the root of this deadly tree, bearing such a crop of poisonful fruit; such the trickling stream that swelled into this blackening river of corruption. Ahab wanted a garden; Jezebel determined he should have it at all costs; and the elders of Jezreel, wishing to commend themselves to the queen, carried out her commands even at the cost of shedding innocent blood. What an unfolding of the heart of man!

So far all concerned, except Naboth, had left God out of their calculations, and it seemed as if sin had triumphed. Naboth had been stoned, and Ahab was now free to take possession. He went down, and his feet at last stood in the vineyard of Naboth; but, at the very moment he was about to lay his hand upon the coveted possession, be is confronted by Elijah the Tishbite, and has to learn from the awful words with which the prophet terrified his soul, that verily there is a God that judgeth the earth. "Halt thou [not Jezebel, but thou, hast thou] killed, and also taken possession? . . . Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." Miserable king! He could only utter - his vision is still bounded by the earth - "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" It was Jehovah who had found him, and who sent His servant to denounce judgment upon Ahab, his house, and upon the wicked Jezebel.

Verses 25 and 26, parenthetically added, reveal the full extent of the abominable wickedness of this guilty king "stirred up" by his wife Jezebel. But the words of the prophet rang in his soul as a death-knell, reached (at least) his natural conscience, and produced a transient repentance. (v. 27.) Who shall fathom the depths of the long-suffering and the mercy of the Lord! "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? with the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?" His word thus came to Elijah, "Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me?" And on this account, though it were but a passing humiliation (for we are here in the sphere of God's government on earth), the judgment on Ahab's house (though the personal judgment on himself and Jezebel was literally executed) was postponed until his son's days. There was thus a day of grace even for Ahab.

Leaving the reader to study the details of this chapter for himself, we may indicate some general lessons: first, that there are no limits to the evil of man's heart; secondly, that sin can neither escape the eye nor the judgment of God; and lastly, that the mercy and goodness of God are unfathomable.

II.

Isaiah 29:13, 14.

Three times this scripture, or part of it, is cited in the New Testament - twice by our blessed Lord, and once by the apostle Paul; and it is exceedingly instructive to note the connection in which the different quotations are found. In Matthew 11, after upbraiding the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done because they repented not, the Lord turned at this moment of rejection to His Father, and found rest in the sovereign counsels of Him who was Lord of heaven and earth, saying, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hasty revealed them unto babes," etc. (v. 25.) Turning back to our scripture, we learn that hiding these things from the wise and prudent was not the action of arbitrary power, but the judicial consequence of formality and hypocrisy in holy things, and of accepting the precepts of men in the place of the word of God. In Matthew 15 the Lord brings forward the first part of the scripture in condemnation of the ritualistic observances of the Jews, making, as they did, the commandment of God of none effect by their tradition. "Ye hypocrites," He says, "well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (vv. 7-9.) Let the reader observe that the chief sin of the Pharisees, in addition to their hypocrisy, was teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, and that worship so regulated was in vain. The apostle Paul quotes the latter part of the passage to show that the wisdom of this world is brought to nought by God. "The preaching of the cross," he says, "is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." (1 Cor. 1:18, 19.) The reader, if he pursue the study, will soon discover, if led of the Holy Spirit, how various the applications and lessons of the smallest portion of the sacred Word. But "the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God;" and this Spirit we, if believers, have received "that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." (1 Cor. 2:11, 12.)

III.

1 John 5:18.

It is essential for the understanding of John's epistles to remember that, in such statements as this, he confines himself to the positive character (excluding from his view all other considerations) of the new nature. "Whosoever is born of God, sinneth not." He does not for one moment forget that the believer has two natures (1 John 1:8), or that he may fall into sin (1 John  1:16); but he is stating in an abstract, and therefore absolute, way, because he is thinking alone of what is born of God, that such an one does not sin. (See 1 John 3:9.) This will explain what follows. First he says, "He that is begotten of God keepeth himself;" that is, he will act according to his nature, the new nature - not that he may not fail sometimes to be watchful, but that, having been born of God, it is a necessary consequence, considering alone what this new nature is, how it is necessarily antagonistic to sin, and that it will shun temptation as being averse from it, that he will "keep himself." Then he adds, "And that wicked one toucheth him not." Satan indeed is powerless in the presence of a child of God when he keepeth himself. He may come, as he did to our blessed Lord and Saviour, and seek, by his allurements, to find an entrance into the soul by every possible avenue; but he cannot succeed if he that is born of God is on the watch. He cannot penetrate inside the circle where the child of God is abiding in dependence and obedience. He may seek to entice the believer to come outside the circle; but he cannot touch the one who is "keeping himself" inside. And the reader is again reminded that, in the view of the apostle, he that is born of God does so keep himself; for in the nature received from God in the new birth there could be no response either to sin or to Satan, only the most positive detestation of both. (Compare John 14:30.) E. D.