Navot's Vineyard and Achav's Punishment


Who's to Blame?

The judicial farce set up by Izevel to frame and execute Navot is one of the starkest examples of abuse of power described in Tanakh. Melakhim I 21 shares how Achav covets Navot's vineyard and attempts to buy it but is met with refusal.  When the sullen king returns home, at a loss of how to achieve his desire, his wife takes matters into her own hands, orchestrating a mock trial in which Navot is accused of blaspheming both God and king, leading to his death and the appropriation of his land.  Hashem then rebukes Achav, "Have you murdered and also inherited!" promising both personal punishment and an end to his dynasty. 

Though the crime is undoubtedly a heinous one and deserving of severe retribution, the reader wonders why the punishment is aimed at Achav rather than his wife.  After all, it was Izevel who plotted the murder, while Achav apparently played no role at all in the proceedings.  Why, then, is he too punished so severely?

The Failed Transaction: Two Accounts

The interaction between Navot and Achav is recounted twice in the chapter, once in the narrative voice and once by Achav as he relays the matter to Izevel. There are several differences between the accounts:

  • Achav's reasons for desiring the vineyard – When speaking to Navot, Achav explains that he desires to make Navot's vineyard into a vegetable garden as it is near to his palace.  When speaking to his wife, however, Achav does not mention that he had given any reasoning for his request at all.
  • Achav's offer – In the initial account, Achav first offers Navot an alternative vineyard and then money, while in Achav's retelling, he switches the order.
  • Navot's refusal – When approached by Achav, Navot explains that he cannot sell his land because "חָלִילָה לִּי מֵי"י מִתִּתִּי אֶת נַחֲלַת אֲבֹתַי לָךְ".  Achav omits this explanation when talking to Izevel, sharing only that Navot said, "לֹא אֶתֵּן לְךָ אֶת כַּרְמִי", as if he had given no reason for his refusal.

How are these differences to be understood?  Are they insignificant changes, made almost subconsciously, as often happens when retelling a story, or did Achav intentionally omit and reorder certain details? If the latter, what was Achav's goal in doing this?

Prophet and King: The Punishment

Eliyahu's rebuke of Achav at the end of the chapter raises several additional questions:

  • "הַמְצָאתַנִי אֹיְבִי וַיֹּאמֶר מָצָאתִי" – Upon greeting Eliyahu, Achav asks "הַמְצָאתַנִי אֹיְבִי", and Eliyahu responds, "מָצָאתִי". What is this exchange about?  When Achav speaks of "being found," to what is he referring?  Finally, what tone do his words take; are they a rhetorical question, an angry taunt, or an admission of defeat?
  • "יַעַן הִתְמַכֶּרְךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי י"י" – About what is Eliyahu rebuking Achav in these words?  What does it mean that Achav is guilty "for having sold himself to do evil"?1
  • Emphasis on idolatry – While Hashem's rebuke to Achav focuses on the murder,2 Eliyahu himself makes no mention of it, speaking instead of Achav's idolatry and Izevel's influence over him.3  Why does he change the focus of Hashem's message by adding these points?  What goal is served by bringing up Achav's worship of foreign gods specifically now?