Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sick With Desire

Why is the King of Israel pouting in this picture? It is because he wanted to buy a vineyard from his neighbor, a man named Naboth (see 1 Kings 21:1-16). King Ahab wanted to own Naboth’s vineyard because it was next door to his palace, and would have made a nice vegetable garden. But Naboth refused to give his inheritance to the king.

Ahab was so disappointed that he made himself physically ill. “So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased…and he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food” (1 Kings 21:4).

But Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel, cheered Ahab up. Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be falsely accused of saying wicked things. Naboth was stoned to death, and then Jezebel told Ahab to take Naboth’s vineyard as his own.

This is an example of the sin God condemns in the Ninth Commandment. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” means that even to desire what belongs to someone else – or to scheme to get it in a dishonest way – is as sinful as stealing or murdering to get it. In his Small Catechism, Luther explains that this commandment forbids us to “craftily seek to get” our neighbor’s property.

Who sinned against the Ninth Commandment in 1 Kings 21? Was it Ahab, who made himself sick with envy, and could not be satisfied with what he had? Or was it Jezebel, who arranged to get the vineyard at the cost of an innocent man’s life? God condemns them both through his prophet Elijah (1 Kings 21:17ff). Even for a sin of the heart, an unlawful desire, God cursed both Ahab and Jezebel!

The results of Elijah’s “preaching of the Law” differed from husband to wife. Jezebel refused to repent, and the curse of God led to her gruesome death. But Ahab humbled himself before God and repented with deep sorrow for his sins. So God relented from punishing Ahab as he punished Jezebel (1 Kings 21:17ff). "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance...leading to salvation" (2 Corinthians 7:10).

God’s Ninth Commandment condemns our sins of the heart. We often wish for things that are not right for us to have. We think about getting those things in a way that is not right. God judges not only what we do and say, but even what we think and feel – when those thoughts and feelings are not motivated by neighborly love. We have all built up a load of guilt by our sinful thoughts – a load that would be fatal without God’s “unconditional pardon.”

You have that “unconditional pardon” because of Jesus Christ. Setting aside His rightful power and glory as God’s Son, Jesus became a humble man without even “a place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). He had everything taken away from Him, even His clothes (John 19:23-24) and His very life, though He was innocent. He desired nothing for Himself, but willingly gave up everything so that we might have an inheritance in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4).

And now, as Jesus’ word of forgiving love does its work in you, God is powerfully re-shaping your heart and mind, so that you can desire the things that God wants for you. As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:20-24, as you learn the truth in Christ, you also begin to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22), and you are “renewed in the spirit of your mind, [putting on] the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24).

IMAGE: Sorry, I don't have a credit for this cartoon. I don't remember where it came from.

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