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29. Land grabbing, old and new

My life alongside God's word volume 3. 21st century issues section.

by Alex Bolek Abuk

I had wanted the title of this article to be “A powerful politician in confrontation with the all powerful God”. As you will see this clear ‘confrontation’ between an earthly king (Ahab), and the heavenly king (God) is the background story upon which the article is based. But to make it more relevant to us and to our context, especially in Juba, I decided to go for the title of “Land Grabbing”. It was the main issue then, the real cause of the crisis between God and King Ahab. It is a big issue for us in the here and now. From time immemorial, human beings have aroused God’s anger and gone into crises of some kind with their Creator. Let me give you a little sample. In the Garden of Eden, Adam the head of creation fell into crisis with God when he and his wife Eve ate from the forbidden tree, Genesis 3. Cain, the first child of the human race, was in trouble with God when he murdered his brother Abel, Genesis 4. King David was in crisis with God when he took Uriah’s wife and killed him to deepen the sin, 2 Samuel 12. King Saul was at loggerheads with God when he disobeyed Him and did not carry out His orders precisely, 1 Samuel 15. The great prophet Moses, who led the people of Israel out of Egypt, was in trouble with God when he hit the rock to produce water instead of speaking to it as God told him to, Numbers 20. We could go on; the list is endless. All of us have got into problems with God, our loving Creator, from time to time in one way or another. The prophet Isaiah has his popular saying: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way”, Isaiah 53:6. The “all” who have moved away from the correct path include ordinary citizens, kings and prophets! All have messed up their lives with wrong decisions and choices that have angered God. For example, king Ahab of Israel angered God when he grabbed Naboth’s piece of land and had him killed. Ahab is described as someone who had, “sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord”, 1 Kings 21:20.

Before we delve into the story, let us start with this small background to bring the picture of what happened closer to our minds. Imagine that you are neighbour to a powerful king. The divine providence has brought you to live close to the royal family. Your piece of land and humble house are situated adjacent to the king’s palace in the heart of the city! Would it be a curse on you and your family or a privilege and a blessing? The answer to this question depends on both you and the king. What type of person are you and what type of person is the king? Neighbourhood relationship depends on the two neighbours and not on one of them. It also doesn’t matter whether one is a king and the other is an ordinary citizen. The Bible mentions only ‘a neighbour’ without mentioning things like his/her socio-economic status, educational level or personality trait. These are not important when it comes to neighbourhood relationships. “Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you — better a neighbour nearby than a brother far away”, Proverbs 27:10. According to this scripture, a close neighbour is better than a distant brother when you are in trouble. The best example of who a true neighbour is is the popular story of the Good Samaritan, told by the Lord Jesus in the gospel of Luke chapter 10. Anyone who comes close to help you out of trouble is your neighbour, not necessarily one that has his house next to yours.

This author is blessed with good and kind-hearted neighbours and can testify that this scripture is true. My near neighbours have stood with me in tough times of trials more than my brothers who were far away. I can testify that my neighbours, because they are nearby, have always arrived first at the scene of my trouble. They help me before my brothers arrive. My neighbours in many instances became my brothers. King Solomon is right when he said that some friends or neighbours never abandon you when you are in crisis but stick to you closer than brothers. “There is a friend (neighbour) who sticks closer than a brother, Proverbs 18:24. The Lord Jesus is the true friend who loves us eternally and never leaves or forsakes us in times of hardship, see John 10: 11,12. If God and the Bible place such a great importance on neighbours, how should we relate to our neighbours? I see people quarrelling and fighting neighbours. To me that is like committing suicide! Please don’t do that! That neighbour is your brother who will help you in your time of need. Be also a good neighbour yourself. Be readily available to help your neighbours in their needs. “A friend in need is a friend indeed” the English saying goes. Many times we want our neighbours first to be good neighbours to us, but are we ourselves being good neighbours to them? The principle we need to understand is that we reap what we sow, Galatians 6:7. If we want to be treated well by our neighbours, we must first appreciate them and treat them well. Knowing the value and importance of neighbours, the Arabs say “Al jar qabul al dar”, which is literally translated as “a good neighbour before a house”. This means before you occupy and live in a house, first find out who your neighbour(s) will be. Do a little research. If the neighbours to that house you want to rent are said to be ‘good people’ go ahead and occupy that house and enjoy your neighbours! But this is not always practical, especially in urban settings. Many times circumstances compel us to live in any house we find regardless of who our neighbours will be. For instance, when you are looking for a house to rent, and you happen to find one after a long time of searching, the priority at such a time is to have a roof over your children. The type of your neighbours becomes a secondary consideration. Plots allotment by the Ministry of Housing and Public Utilities also happens at random. The Ministry of Housing will not ask you who you want to be your neighbours. You get a piece of land without knowing whom your neighbours will be. In this case the choice of neighbours is not in your hand. In any case, as already said, we must first decide to be good neighbours for others to the best of our ability, Romans 12:18, and then leave the rest to God.

Let us come back to the point and let me start with you in the neighbourhood relationship if you were neighbour to a king. The Bible says if you were a decent and respectful citizen, therefore a good neighbour, the king would love you and be your friend! “He who loves purity of heart and has grace on his lips, the king will be his friend”, Proverbs 22:11.[1] Likewise, if the king and the royal family are good people, you and your family are blessed! It would therefore be a big privilege and blessing to you if the king and his family members (queen, princes and princesses) were good people. You would even be able to boast and say: “Who is like me, a king’s neighbour?”. King’s neighbours enjoy a lot of privileges. Even if the king and his family do not directly give you services, your humble family would reap other general indirect services and privileges from being neighbours of a royal family. If I speak from our Juba perspective, services like security (that residential area is a restricted security area, inaccessible by robbers and criminals), constant city power and water supply, clean, quiet and well-maintained section of the city etc., would all be enjoyed by you and your family. In terms of security again as we are in Juba, one citizen some time back told me, “Our residential area is relatively calm and peaceful, no armed robberies and no murders at night because we have a lot of high ranking military officers in the area and the criminals are afraid of them!”. Have you seen that? If your family are indirectly protected when you are a neighbour to military officers, how much more would they be protected if you were neighbour to a president or king? You would enjoy that indirect security service offered to the president or the king. You become under the wings of his protection. It would be a real blessing having one’s house next to the royal palace! But all in all, true protection and security come from God and not from military commanders and kings, see Psalms 46 and 91. We do not have to depend on human beings for protection. Trust in God.

On the other hand, what if the king and his family are not good people? What if the king is one who brutalises and bulldozes his citizens like King Asa, of whom the Bible says he, “brutally oppressed some of his people”, 2 Chronicles 16:10? You would not enjoy any privileges by being his neighbour. You would be terrified and in trouble all the time! You would want to move away with your family from that neighbourhood because you or any of your family members could be at risk of dying any time! Who would love to be a neighbour to leaders like Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Hitler of Germany, Saddam of Iraq and the long list of dangerous dictators in this world? This is exactly what happened to Naboth in the story of this article when he was a neighbour to the wicked King Ahab of Israel, 1 Kings 21.

A decent and law abiding citizen called Naboth was neighbour to the wicked King Ahab of Israel. It was not a blessing or privilege but a disaster for his life and family! In fact it cost Naboth his head! Next to King Ahab’s palace in the city of Jezreel was Naboth’s piece of land, which he inherited from his parents or grandparents. But the king coveted it! The king decided to break the tenth commandment that says, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour”, Exodus 20:17. It is deadly to break God’s laws. We will go through Naboth’s story from the Bible in this article, 1 Kings 21:1-29, quoting whole passages when commented upon.

In this story we see a lot of negative acts from the king’s family exercised against Naboth and his family. Covetousness, greed, false accusation, abuse of power, murder and the grabbing of Naboth’s piece of land! It is self explanatory that Ahab and his wife Jezebel were selfish leaders who only thought of themselves, not leaders who worked to promote the welfare of their citizens. Instead of grabbing Naboth’s piece of land, Ahab and Jezebel could have given Naboth additional pieces of land to be able to support his family. They had all the power to do so. Unfortunately the opposite happened. They tried to take the only family land Naboth had! I know of political leaders who have helped promote their neighbours, or have brought services like power and water supply to the whole residential areas where they and other citizens live, and their neighbours enjoyed the privileges. Such leaders win the hearts and confidence of citizens and are re-elected when they campaign to go back into those ministerial positions or seats in the parliament because they serve the people around them. In spite of the fact that the king already had enough lands and palaces, he coveted Naboth’s family land. One time the king had an appointment to meet up with Naboth, but not to have a cup of tea and share a time of brotherly fellowship as neighbours. They were to talk about Naboth’s piece of land that was adjacent to his palace!

“Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth”. But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers”,

1 Kings 21:1-3.

King Ahab offers and Naboth refuses

King Ahab offered Naboth two choices. Either he sells the piece of land to Ahab or he exchanges the land with another piece in a different part of town. Both choices were attractive but deceptive! Naboth turned both the king’s offers down. He refused to give up his family land. Why? Naboth had a strong and genuine reason to turn down the king’s request and offers. In Israeli tradition, an inherited piece of land is not to be sold or exchanged: “No inheritance in Israel is to pass from tribe to tribe, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal land inherited from his forefathers, Numbers 36:7”. It equally follows that a king who comes to power should respectfully observe this law and not drive somebody from his inherited property. “The prince must not take any of the inheritance of the people, driving them off their property. He is to give his sons their inheritance out of his own property, so that none of my people will be separated from his property”, Ezekiel 46:18. Naboth was a citizen who understood these two of God’s principles and precepts. Therefore he stood his ground not to give in to any allurements from the king! Naboth is a citizen I really admire and respect! How many of us today would stand before a king and say ‘no’ to anything against God’s law the king suggests to us? After all, those two suggestions (if not orders) were coming with great benefits to Naboth and his family. If the king were to buy that piece of land in the heart of the city of Jezereel, the amount would be a ‘lump sum’ amount and if it were to be exchanged with another piece of land in another part of the town, it would be a much bigger piece of land, probably a size that could be a farm! Not only that, the king would be Naboth’s friend for life and that friendship would come with lots of other privileges for Naboth to glean from the king’s hands! In today’s terms, Naboth was not wise to say no. People would say things like ‘He wants to die poor’, ‘Opportunity knocks only once and he missed it’, ‘Opportunity once lost never comes back’, etc. But God’s principles and laws should not be broken to please kings or to benefit ourselves. God must be allowed to be God and His word must be obeyed and respected. The apostle Paul wrote, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ”, Galatians 1:10. But saying ‘no’ to kings has consequences! The Bible says “A king’s wrath is like the roar of a lion; he who angers him forfeits his life”, Proverbs 20:2. Now if saying ‘no’ to the king will arouse his hostile anger, what are the expected scenarios and consequences? They vary from ‘mild to extreme’. Imagine:

· The land is not taken from you, nothing bad is done to you since it is ‘your right’ to refuse, but you would be under indirect pressures, harassment and mistreatment everywhere you go in the kingdom. You are free but black-listed because you were ‘stubborn’ to the king! Life would not be easy for you anywhere in his kingdom! This is if the king has some fear of God and mercy in his heart and allows you to live!

· You are kicked out from that piece of land and the land is taken from you by force. Who are you anyway to say ‘no’ to the king who is the owner of the whole land in the nation including your piece of land; (especially if this were in Africa!).

· You would be sentenced to weeks, months, or years of imprisonment for being disobedient and blasphemous to the king.

· You would be beheaded or otherwise killed for despising the king!

The last point in the short list above is what came upon Naboth for saying ‘no’ to the king. He was killed, “stoned to death”, 1 Kings 21:13-14. So if you are considering doing like Naboth, include death in your list of expectations. Your head might even be removed from your body! That is the extreme punishment for saying ‘no’ to the king. Naboth was killed in cold blood! Lets see how it happened.

Queen Jezebel orchestrated Naboth’s murder

King Ahab was a wicked king but his conscience would not allow him to take the land by force from Naboth nor do anything wicked to him after he said ‘no’ to his request. However, his wife Jezebel, who did not have any fear of God in her heart probably because of her pagan background, 1 Kings 16:31, was more wicked than he was and she planned to murder Naboth. After that meeting with Naboth and his refusal to give up the land, King Ahab returned home sullen, lay in bed all day, and refused to eat! Greed is ugly indeed. When his wife Jezebel found out that it was all because Naboth refused to give up the piece of land, she was enraged and told her husband to eat, drink and be merry because she would work out a way to get the land. Then she orchestrated Naboth’s murder.

“So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat. His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?” He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, `Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, `I will not give you my vineyard.’“ Jezebel his wife said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”, 1 Kings 21:4-7.

Jezebel did not want King Ahab to appear ‘weak’ as the king of the country. She wanted the king to be the kind of king who had the final word and who no ordinary citizen could stand up to or reject his request. Wives always want their husbands to be seen as powerful and strong, especially when they are in those high government positions. This is seen from her question, “Is this how you act as king over Israel?” Jezebel put Ahab aside and went ahead with her wicked plan to kill Naboth and annex his land to the royal palace. Jezebel didn’t entertain the fact that a mere citizen like Naboth could refuse her husband, King Ahab. So she worked out how to murder Naboth and prove that her husband was still strong, powerful and in control of Israel. But her decision to murder took Ahab and his kingdom into an abyss! Jezebel’s plan was 100% successful. How did she do it? The Bible tells us:

“She (Jezebel) wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote: “Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.” So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death”, 1 Kings 21:8-13.

Jezebel was wicked by all standards. She abused Ahab’s name and seal, mobilised the elders and nobles of the city to use false witnesses against Naboth, and involved a religious element in the matter. She included blasphemy against God to speed up Naboth’s execution. All these worked out perfectly well and led to Naboth’s murderous execution. Politicians’ wives are always behind the political scene and often from the background are deeply involved in many of the decisions their husbands make. The queens and the first ladies at home might ‘cook the royal or presidential decrees’ before they come to public eyes and ears, as is evident in Naboth’s history. Jezebel planned the whole process on Ahab’s behalf to get her husband the land! Women are a blessing as men’s helpers, Genesis 2:18, but sometimes they may come to their husbands with illogical decisions or advice. For instance, Eve gave Adam the forbidden fruit and caused the fall of mankind, Genesis 3:1-7; Sarah asked Abraham to take her maidservant Hagar for a wife and that disturbed their family peace and harmony (which continues nationally today), Genesis 16:1-16; and here, Jezebel used Ahab’s name, the royal stamp, and worked-out Naboth’s killing, and that ultimately brought Ahab’s doom, 1 Kings 21:19! There are times when women come to us with the right advice. We do not ignore their ‘helper’ role as God has created woman to be man’s helper. Not all advice that comes from women is wicked! There are times we need to listen to our wives. The lesson is that we need to know when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’ to our life partners, be they wives or husbands. Nor is this generalising that ‘all’ of the decrees ‘always’ come from queens and first ladies! Kings and presidents are people who have their own competency and sense of judgment to make their own decisions. They also have competent advisors to help them in decision-making. But it is evident in Naboth’s murder that Queen Jezebel planned the whole process and poor King Ahab became a victim of sorts. Naboth was sentenced to death in the royal court of King Ahab. His crime? “He was an enemy of God and the state.” He was sentenced to death and killed in cold blood upon his own piece of land. The reason? Blasphemy against God and the king. The issue of the piece of land was not even brought up in the court hearing! Naboth did not even have a chance to defend himself before the court. Poor Naboth! Who can stand before the king and his well-trained false witnesses? Nobody!

God’s judgment on Ahab and his family

Actions have consequences. Naboth is dead, his file closed. Jezebel and Ahab are now ready to inherit his land. Life is good for them! As far as King Ahab and his wife Jezebel are concerned, the case was over. It was a 100% successful plan. But remember, any evil plan can be successful and considered as a gone case in human eyes, but in God’s eyes, the file of that unjust case is not closed. God is coming to act. As already said, the case was over and the files closed in Ahab’s high court, but it was still pending in heaven! Look at that! The case was over in the earthly royal court but not over with the heavenly royal court. Court files can be turned over, closed and even burned here on earth, but as far as heaven is concerned, some cases are still waiting for God’s final judgment. “If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still”, Ecclesiastes 5:8. God is the ‘highest’ official to declare whether a case is over or still pending! God was silent but not late. He surely, reliably, comes to reward or to avenge. It depends on us how we want Him to come. When there is evil, He comes to avenge! King David said, “Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages”, Psalm 50:3. Here in our case God showed up and declared His judgement on Ahab and Jezebel! The Bible tells us:

“Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned and is dead.” As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. Say to him, `This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, `This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood — yes, yours!’” Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!” “I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. `I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel — slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.’ “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: `Dogs will devour Jezebel by the plot of ground at Jezreel.’ “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.”, 1 Kings 21:15-24.

Judgment was pronounced against Ahab and his family! The most terrible thing on earth is to fall into the hands of the almighty and angry God! The Bible says, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”, Hebrews 10:31. God sent men of God (prophets) to confront all the Bible kings who messed up. Judgement was passed on them or at least they were informed of their sin and reprimanded! There are many cases in the Bible where religious leaders sent by God confronted political figures and passed judgement on them when they messed up:

· The prophet Samuel confronted King Saul when Saul did not execute God’s orders precisely as God wanted, 1 Samuel 15.

· The prophet Nathan met King David when he messed up with Uriah’s wife and killed Uriah. Nathan announced God’s judgement on him, 2 Samuel 12.

· Gad the prophet confronted King David when David was moved by pride to conduct an unlawful census in Israel, 2 Samuel 24.

· When King Ahaziah fell from his upper room and decided to inquire of the pagan god Baal-Zebub instead of God, whether he would recover from his injury or not, God sent the prophet Elijah and passed judgement on him because he had sought a pagan god, 2 Kings 1.

· The prophet Hanani was sent to rebuke King Asa when the king hired a heathen king, Ben-Hadad of Aram, to defend him while he was at war with Baasha King of Israel. He was depending on a human being for protection, instead of trusting God, 2 Chronicles 16.

· Hanani’s son, the prophet Jehu was sent to pronounce God’s judgement on King Baasha who committed evil in God’s eyes and led Israel astray, 1 Kings 15:33-34, 16:1-3.

· The prophet Jehu was sent to reprimand King Jehoshaphat because he allied himself in marriage with the wicked King Ahab and helped him in battles, 2 Chronicles 19.

· When King Jehoram slaughtered all of his brothers and some of the princes in Israel, he received a letter from the prophet Elijah saying God was going to judge him, 2 Chronicles 21.

· When King Uzziah’s pride moved him to enter the Lord’s temple and burn incense on the altar which was the priest’s responsibility not his, Azariah the high priest at the time, together with eighty courageous priests confronted him, 2 Chronicles 26.

· When King Hezekiah showed the royal treasury and armoury to a Babylonian delegation that visited him while he was sick, something he clearly should have not done, the prophet Isaiah confronted him and uttered God’s judgement on him, Isaiah 39.

· When King Herod took his brother Philip’s wife as his own wife, John the Baptist bravely met him and told him, ‘it is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’, Mark 6.

We can see that God has no exceptions when it comes to judgement against sin in political leaders. If all these kings were rebuked, with judgement passed on them when they messed up, why should King Ahab be spared? If God spared him after grabbing Naboth’s piece of land and killing him, God would not be fair and just! If God dealt with nine kings in the same manner why should He spare the tenth? No, God must be just. He deals with all equally. He does not have a ‘special favourite king’. He treats all kings equally. God summoned his man, the prophet Elijah, to go and meet King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and tell them God’s judgement was coming upon the family! Thank you God!

My brother, you will not be exempt from God’s judgement if you have taken somebody’s property by force, or committed any property crime, unless you repent and make the wrong(s) right. It is just a matter of time and God will deal with you. It is better you give all property back before God shows up. If you do, it may go well with you. I must also ask: “Are the Elijahs, Nathans, Gads, Samuels, Isaiahs, etc. still out there in the churches today? Who of the church leaders of our time will go and tell the king/president today, ‘you have done an evil thing in God’s eyes and God is going to judge you’?

This is not instigating our church leadership to be against our political rulers. Elijah or any of the prophets did not just get up one morning and walk into the king’s palace to start rebuking the king without any clear reason, or seeing sin committed, or, most importantly, without clearly hearing first from the Lord and being sent by Him! All of the prophets mentioned above went to kings and reprimanded them when there was a clear sin in the king’s life. God sent them. In 1 Kings 22:17-19 Elijah was clearly sent by God to pronounce heavens’ judgment on Ahab. Men of God should walk closely with God and be able to discern His voice and to receive boldness from Him in time of special service. It equally follows that men of God should be as independent and as neutral as possible from politicians. The prophet Samuel enthroned King Saul over Israel. It was the same prophet Samuel who was sent by God to tell him that God had rejected him after he messed up. If the prophet Samuel were not independent from King Saul, he probably would not have had the boldness to tell him, ‘God has rejected you.’ It is said that, ‘If the Church goes to bed with the State, the two together oppress the people’. The Church and the State, though dependent on each other, must be like the two parallel rails that guide all of our trains. Both support each other to serve the people, but also stay at ‘arms length’ from each other, so they can keep a critical eye on everything at the same time.

Now let us look at God’s judgement pronounced by the ‘independent and neutral’ man of God, Elijah, on Ahab’s house. Look or listen to this again with open eyes and ears:

“This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood — yes, yours!’…because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel — slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.’ “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: `Dogs will devour Jezebel by (see also 2 Kings 9:26) the plot of ground at Jezreel.’ “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.”, 1 Kings 21: 16-24.

In this Bible passage, God pronounced on Ahab and Jezebel five bitter sentences that I call ‘curses’. If you were to open their file in the heavenly court, you would find these five inside:

· Dogs will lick Ahab’s blood in the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood

· Ahab’s descendants will be consumed and every last male in Israel will be cut off – slave or free

· Ahab’s house will be made like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah (cursed kings – see 1 Kings 16:3) because he provoked the Lord to anger and caused Israel to sin

· For Jezebel, dogs will devour Jezebel by the plot of ground at Jezereel (at the very piece of land they grabbed from Naboth!)

· Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.

The death sentence passed on Naboth by Ahab’s earthly royal court was a short phrase: “Stone Naboth to death for blaspheming God and the king”, full stop. If we compare the two death sentences, which one is more severe? It is surely the one on Ahab and his house! What was Ahab’s reaction to this sentence from the heavenly royal court? What did he do when he heard that judgement and disaster were coming upon him and his family? The Bible tells us:

“When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly”, 1 Kings 21:27.

How we react to God’s judgement determines the way He will deal with us. If we react with pride and an unrepentant heart, painful judgement will be our lot. But if we respond with humility, confessing that we have sinned and been mistaken, God is compassionate, gracious and forgiving and He will forgive and pardon us. Because Ahab humbled himself, God pardoned him and postponed the discipline until the time his son would come to power after him.

“Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son” 1 Kings 21:28-29.

Ahab like anyone of us would say a big ‘Hallelujah’ and praise God! God has pardoned. But remember, disaster was stored up and awaiting when his son comes to power. As a father I would not enjoy seeing my children reaping the consequences of my sins after I am gone from this world. Any judgement postponed that will affect my children and nation after I am gone from this world should not make me rejoice. I would rejoice if I am forgiven and my sin would not affect my children’s and nation’s future. I don’t want to leave people behind me to reap the bad fruits of my actions. The prophet Jeremiah in his lamentations said, “Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment”, Lamentations 5:7. This is an important lesson to take to heart. Your children will reap the consequences of your sinful mistakes. Therefore avoid sinful actions by all means. Repent, and leave your children with a blessing not a curse. Ahab was pardoned and the judgement was postponed because he humbled himself before God and (perhaps) because he was not directly involved in Naboth’s murder. However for his wife, Queen Jezebel, who abused the power they had and plotted Naboth’s killing, she faced an immediate and literal judgement that came upon her. She was executed. As God said, “Dogs will devour Jezebel at the plot of ground at Jezreel” and it literally happened. God anointed and ordained another powerful king called Jehu to come and execute God’s judgement on her. Another lesson to take home here is that if you think you are all powerful, and you abuse your power to kill, God will ordain another powerful king, more powerful than you are, to execute His judgement on you. Lets see how this took place as narrated to us by the Bible:

“The prophet Elisha summoned a man from the company of the prophets (the senior prophet sends a junior prophet like a bishop sending a pastor under him – my note) and said to him, “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take this flask of oil with you and go to Ramoth Gilead. When you get there, look for Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi. Go to him, get him away from his companions and take him into an inner room. Then take the flask and pour the oil on his head and declare, `This is what the LORD says: I anoint you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and run; don’t delay!” So the young man, the prophet, went to Ramoth Gilead. When he arrived, he found the army officers sitting together. “I have a message for you, commander,” he said. “For which of us?” asked Jehu. “For you, commander,” he replied. Jehu got up and went into the house. Then the prophet poured the oil on Jehu’s head and declared, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: `I anoint you king over the Lord’s people Israel. You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel. The whole house of Ahab will perish. I will cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel — slave or free. I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah. As for Jezebel, dogs will devour her on the plot of ground at Jezreel, and no-one will bury her.’ “Then he opened the door and ran”. Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, “Have you come in peace, Zimri, you murderer of your master?” He looked up at the window and called out, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot. Jehu went in and ate and drank. “Take care of that cursed woman,” he said, “and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.” But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went back and told Jehu, who said, “This is the word of the Lord that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh. Jezebel’s body will be like refuse on the ground in the plot at Jezreel, so that no-one will be able to say, `This is Jezebel’”, 2 Kings 9:1-10, 31-37.

According to this Bible text, Jehu’s calling and mission was to destroy Ahab’s house completely and specifically Jezebel! In our daily life, ‘Jehu’ can be anything God ordains against somebody like a Jezebel who has taken somebody’s life or greedily grabbed other people’s properties – it can be an illness, an accident, even a physical murder, etc. God can ordain anything against you. I am not saying that all these problems are always ordained by God against people, for God does not tempt with evil, James 1:13. But I am saying that God, as the Sovereign Creator, can ordain and use anything or anyone He chooses as a tool for executing His judgement. For instance, the ‘Jehu’ that God used to destroy arrogantly proud King Herod was a worm, Acts 12:23. Yes, God used a worm to destroy him! God created everything in this world so He is free, and has the right, to use them the way He wants. As the prophet Samuel was called to enthrone David as king over Israel, so Jehu was called to dethrone Ahab from kingship! God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men; He sets up kings and deposes them, Daniel 4:17, 2:21. He is able to ordain a ‘Jehu’ to come and destroy or depose any king who is wicked or who exploits and oppresses the poor. People, let me repeat this, God will ordain a ‘Jehu’ to dethrone you if you do not repent and give back whatever you grabbed by force from the poor of the land. God is the defender of the powerless as the Bible says. “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them”, Proverbs 22:22-23. This is one thing people in power do not normally think of. But to their surprise, in a few hours or weeks they are dethroned! Think even of recent contemporary powerful presidents and kings who were disposed from their thrones in a few hours or days! I don’t have to mention their names to you–you know them! God has the power to enthrone and dethrone! After Ahab and Jezebel finished with their wickedness, God began executing His righteous judgement on Ahab’s family. The prophet Isaiah wrote that when the wicked has finished with his destruction, God causes the same thing he did to others to be done on him, by a ‘Jehu’ He sends! “Woe to you, O destroyer, you who have not been destroyed! Woe to you, O traitor, you who have not been betrayed! When you stop destroying, you will be destroyed; when you stop betraying, you will be betrayed”, Isaiah 33:1. In many instances God is silent and visibly only comes in at the end of the story, after the wicked have finished executing their wicked plans. For instance, God showed up after Cain had finished murdering his brother Abel, and after King David had done with planning and executing Uriah’s murder. Likewise, Ahab was met after killing Naboth. In human terms, God was too late, but He is never late. He is patient and sovereign and He allowed Cain, David and Ahab to carry out those murderous acts. God recorded them in our Bible to serve as examples and warnings for the coming generations. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us. For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us”, 1 Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:4. God knows what He is doing. Those stories today are important integral parts of the Bible for us to learn to know the extent of evil in human hearts. God’s silence should not be interpreted as His being non-existent, inattentive, nor is He ever ignorant of what is happening. People take advantage of God’s silence. The wise King Solomon’s observation is right, “Because the sentence (punishment - clarification mine) against evil is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil”, Ecclesiastes 8:11.[2] God is patient and gracious. Why is God patient and silent on evil? It is to give evildoers time and opportunity to repent and turn from their wicked ways. God takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner. Rather He is pleased when they turn from their sinful ways and evil lives, Ezekiel 18:23. If God were to react immediately and violently to every evil act committed, none of us would be alive today! We would all have been banished from this world to eternal doom. God gives us time to repent. The apostle Paul tells us, “Do you show contempt for the riches of His (God’s) kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?”, Romans 2:4. The Psalmist agrees with Paul, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love”, Psalm 103:8. Only those who persist in their evil and refuse to repent will reap the fruits of their unrepentant hearts in the end. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed”, Romans 2:5.

The significance of this story to South Sudan 5/6/2015

The background story in the Bible (Ahab and Naboth - 1 Kings 21) upon which this article is based fits perfectly well and is comparable to what is happening in Juba these days. Juba is a city infested with a ‘land grabbing’ disease that needs to be eradicated. This is attributed, probably among other reasons, to the fact it is the converging point of all our people as the nation’s capital. Secondly, it is perhaps because people are returning home from the diaspora after two decades of civil war and everyone is in a hurry to get for themselves a place to live in. Although there are countless stories of land grabbing in Juba, I want to mention just a sample of three that I am sure of.

About two years ago I was attending a church service in one of our main Juba churches. One of our Bishops (I will not mention his name or the church without permission) mentioned while preaching and talking about some of the problems in Juba, that his land in the Tongping area was grabbed by a high ranking military officer who threatened to shoot him to death if he continued coming back for that piece of land. Immediately Naboth and Ahab’s story came into my mind and I said in my heart “Will that man and his family enjoy living in that piece of land?” I remember very clearly what the Bishop said that morning: “As a Bishop and God’s servant, I will not fight that man or go to court with him, but one day he will know that he has grabbed a piece of land belonging to a man of God!”. That military officer is a South Sudanese ‘Ahab’ who is inviting God’s discipline on himself and his house! Will he, his children, or descendants enjoy living on that plot? My brother the military officer, I pray today that you come across this article, and if you read and understand it well, please go ahead and give that piece of land back to the rightful owner, the Bishop, if you have not yet given it back. Otherwise you are standing on wrong and dangerous ground. Look at what happened to Ahab and his family! Don’t invite disaster to come upon your family. Don’t misuse those stars on your shoulders and the power entrusted to you for protecting the sovereignty of this land and its people.

Another similar story I came across was Professor Taban Lo Liong’s Open Letter to the SPLM leadership on the issue of land grabbing (Juba Monitor Newspaper, July 11th 2014 – page 6) that one ‘king’ in the same Tongping area in Juba grabbed his family a piece of land and started building on it! People should not joke and play with senior citizens’ properties like the Bishop’s and Prof. Taban Lo Liong’s! It is a completely wrong game. When will this end? When the Bishop mentioned that story that Sunday morning, some of our government ministers were in the service. I hope they did something about it. Did they help the Bishop to get his land back? It would be an easy thing for them in their capacity as government ministers and top officials of this country to call the Ministry of Defence or Bilpam (Military HQ in Juba) to find out who that military officer is and get the land back to the Bishop, if he has his genuine papers in his possession, which I am sure he has. In the same manner, what happened to Prof. Taban Lo Liong’s piece of land after writing that open letter? I hope and pray these issues have been dealt with properly for they are not reflecting a good image of this city and nation. What will happen if these practices spill to other cities in South Sudan? I am afraid there will be citizens who will take the law in their hands when their lands are grabbed by the powerful and they feel powerless to get them back.

The last story I want to cite is a case of my colleague’s piece of land that was grabbed by another ‘king’ in town. A high-ranking government official, whose name should not come close to being mentioned in such matters, decided to grab that piece of land! My colleague fortunately went to court challenging that personality and won the case. Thank God for the just court and judges who did not judge in favour of the ‘king’ but in favour of truth. My friend got his land back! Bravo Judges! Here is what the Bible is telling you: “Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the Lord, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery”, 2 Chronicles 19:4-7.

How do we deal with and overcome the problem of land grabbing in Juba?

My opinion is that both citizens and the government have roles to play to curb this epidemic. Let me start with citizens. What is our role as ordinary citizens in fighting this problem? The first thing that citizens need to do is to know the laws when dealing with ‘Ahab’ and land issues. The example of Naboth is clear. Naboth was a citizen who knew what the laws were saying about land ownership in Israel. We must know the laws, both the Bible and national laws! Know what God is saying about the subject of your discussion with the ‘king’ in front of you. It is the truth that sets free, John 8:32. It is the knowledge of God’s truth that also makes you stronger and bolder than the king in front of you. The Bible says people are taken captive and destroyed for lack of knowledge, Isaiah 5:13 and Hosea 4:6. As already mentioned, Naboth did not say “no” to the king out of ignorance. Naboth knew very clearly what God was saying about the issues of land inheritance in Israel; that ‘inherited lands should not be sold’ and that ‘any prince/king who comes to power should not drive away citizens from their inherited lands, Numbers 36:7; Ezekiel 47:13-23; 48:1-29. This is why the Bible recorded the very simple but bold response from Naboth when the king approached and asked him to give up that piece of land, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers”, full stop! Look at that reply! The Lord forbid! Simple and straight forward! Naboth did not go to fasting and prayer to know God’s will in the matter. He did not even go home to consult with his family members if it was okay to hand-over the land to the king! When we ‘consult’ others, including our family members, on issues that are already clear in the Bible and in the law, we are opening the door for disaster to come in. There will be 101 contradictory opinions on the matter to confuse you, when God’s opinion is as crystal clear as the sun. It is just a short sentence, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers”. Know also what the national laws are saying about the problem at hand. What is the law saying about land possession in South Sudan? Lawyers have a popular saying that, “The law does not protect the foolish and the ignorant”. One cannot go to the court and say ‘sorry I was ignorant about this matter’ and expect the law to stand with him/her. Whether you know it or not the law will execute what is right, either in your favour or against you.

Secondly, for the citizens, one of the things when dealing with a king who wants to grab your piece of land is to make sure you have all the legal land documents in your custody! This is power on your side. People who talk without papers are powerless even if they are kings. In my colleague’s case of land mentioned above, he won the case because he had all the ‘original’ land papers at hand. I said ‘original’ meaning the ‘first’ documents because in this particular case of my friend, the ‘king’ also had ‘recent’ documents. I am glad that lawyers and judges are well trained on these issues. If I come with land papers I processed in 2011 and somebody has papers of the same piece of land from 1982, then it will not be a big deal with ‘upright’ judges to tell me that the land does not belong to me but to the other fellow, with older papers, unless there are other documents that transfer ownership. People today forge land documents to give themselves grounds to grab other people’s lands. Have all the original documents in your hand. Faithful witnesses will stand with you, but the most important witnesses are the clear documents in your hands.

Thirdly, stand by your rights until the end, like Naboth, even if it means your head will be removed from your body! The most important question in this issue is: ‘How do I die on the side of truth like Naboth, so that God has the right to defend me even after I am dead?’ The answer is simple. Stick to the truth and to your rights. If it means going to court with ‘Ahab’, do like my colleague did. Go, and God will give you victory. If all citizens stand up for their rights to the end, ‘Ahabs’ will be afraid to grab more lands. I believe that when it became known to all, Naboth’s story prevented more land grabbings in Israel at that time. It served as a warning to wrongdoers.

For the government, I am of the opinion that they can fight this problem in at least three ways. The first is having a clear and strong land policy in place that organises issues of land acquisition and land transfer. I believe this is already there but needs to be strengthened and disseminated to all citizens at grassroots level, for all people to know and understand. In addition to this, there must be a clear citizens’ housing and settlement plan. This will solve the problem to some extent as each citizen is given a place to own and to live in. King Solomon had such a plan. The Bible says, “Solomon rebuilt the villages that Hiram had given him, and settled Israelites in them”, 2 Chronicles 8:2-6. Such a plan will avoid unnecessary land grabbing because all citizens in their respective cities will be settled. Having a place to live in is one of the basic necessities of life. People perhaps grab lands that do not belong to them because they do not already have their own home. They have no place to live. If the government makes sure that each and every citizen in this nation has a piece of land in a legal way, I believe it will reduce this disgrace called ‘land grabbing’ in our cities. But remember, the human heart is greedy and seldom satisfied with what it has. From the few examples I gave, we know that those grabbing other people’s lands do so, not because they do not have but because they want more. ‘Oliver Twists’ who ask for more are always there, but proper planning and an organisation of land policy with citizens settlement will help to solve and curb these problems.

Secondly, a strong and unbiased judiciary system that does not favour the strong over the weak is needed. This is crucial to giving justice for those who are weak and powerless to defend their lands. The only place to give them their right is ‘The Law House’. Without a strong judiciary system, those whose lands are grabbed and taken by powerful kings will not be able to get their lands back. As mentioned above, one of the factors that led to my colleague’s victory in his case was a good, strong, unbiased and uncorrupt court of law. Having God-fearing judges in place is the need of the nation, especially at this time when the nation is still in its ‘forming’ stage. Let me repeat this scripture again, to all today’s judges, “Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the Lord, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery”, 2 Chronicles 19:6-7.

Thirdly, the government needs to have a massive awareness programme to educate our citizens on various day-to-day issues including land grabbing, financial fraud, cheating, etc. Mostly this can be done by engaging the media. Bring these issues to the media. Discuss them on Radio, TV, in the newspapers, and using the Internet. Bring wrong cases to light. Expose them. Listen to the apostle Paul’s wisdom, “Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible”, Ephesians 5:13-14. In our situation we need the media to bring these issues to light. We are a relatively new and immature nation that has not encountered issues like land grabbing before. A lot of cheating is also going on in South Sudan because our citizens are still vulnerable, like any newborn child. If you compare South Sudanese citizens to the people of nations in our region, like Kenya or Uganda, you will see that citizens in those nations are alert and mature enough to discern any sort of cheating because they have been exposed enough. We are not there yet. Our people need to be sensitised on these issues. Media is an important tool in building peoples’ awareness. Whenever there is an issue of land grabbing, or any sort of financial fraud or cheating no matter how small it is, let it come on TV, Radio and in the newspapers. Bringing those issues and discussing them openly and frankly on air will inform and enlighten citizens, while at the same time making any ‘Ahab’ aware that if they do wrong they will be exposed!

May God bring healing to our city and nation.

[1] New King James Version [2] New King James Version

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