Study 9 - The Trouble With Toleration
Ahab was a pathetic figure. A spineless individual who sat on the fence while Jezebel was steam-rollering the nation into Baal worship and all the wickedness that went with it.
The intrigue that led to the theft of Naboth’s vineyard was typical of their relationship. Ahab wanted it as a vegetable garden, but Naboth wasn’t prepared to let it go. He was quite within his rights to refuse, but Ahab couldn’t face being turned down. Sullen and angry, he went home, refused his food, lay on his bed and sulked (1 Kings 21:4). That’s how his wife found him – whimpering and whining. No wonder she retorted, ‘Is this how you act as king over Israel’ (1 Kings 21:7)?
Jezebel took over the situation. ‘Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard’ (1 Kings 21:7) and Ahab made no protest. Then Jezebel rushed off to plot against Naboth. She had him killed and returned to Ahab with the news that he could go and claim the vineyard. The king asked no questions, but simply took possession of his latest acquisition.
Ahab didn’t challenge Jezebel. His great sin was that he tolerated her. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were clearly instructed to destroy Baal worship.
‘When the Lord God brings you into the land … and drives out before you many nations … then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy’ (Deut. 7:1, 2). So when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they weren’t only gaining an inheritance, they were executing God’s judgement on the peoples and their evil religions.
The tragedy came when the Israelites disobeyed this clear-cut command. Psalm 106:34-37 outlines the terrible downward spiral:
1. They didn’t destroy the peoples.
2. They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs.
3. They worshipped their idols, which became a snare to them.
4. They sacrificed their children to demons.
The Israelites were meant to be God’s special people, those who reflected his holiness. Instead, they ended up doing the same foul things as the nations around them. No wonder the Lord was angry with them. No wonder he allowed their enemies to oppress them. He wanted to bless them, but they acted as if they didn’t belong to him. They tolerated and then adopted the standards they were meant to hate.
Ahab was typical of Israel’s failure in that he married and tolerated Jezebel. He totally compromised the nation’s unique calling. Elijah, in stark contrast to Ahab, stood in total opposition to the prophets of Baal and invited a showdown that would vindicate the true God of Israel. He hated the compromise that was crippling the nation. He couldn’t tolerate the woman Jezebel.
The Thyatirans tolerated
Strangely, we find Jesus echoing the same sentiments in the New Testament. When sending a letter to the church at Thyatira (Rev. 2:20), he first warmly encouraged them and then added, ‘I have something against you.’ How dreadful that the Saviour should have something against his church! What could it be? ‘You tolerate that woman Jezebel.’ There was sin in the church and it wasn’t being addressed. Under the New Covenant, then, Christians are called upon to display the same ruthlessness in their hatred of sin as did Elijah.
‘A new Decalogue has been adopted by some of our day, the first words of which reads, “Thou shalt not disagree,” and a new set of Beatitudes too, which begins, “Blessed are they that tolerate everything, for they shall not be made accountable for anything.” It is now the accepted thing to talk over religious differences in public with the understanding that no one will try to convert another or point out errors in his belief. Imagine Moses agreeing to take part in a panel discussion with Israel over the golden calf; or Elijah engaging in a gentlemanly dialogue with the prophets of Baal. Or try to picture Jesus seeking a meeting of minds with the Pharisees to iron out differences. The blessing of God is promised to the peacemaker, but the religious negotiator had better watch his step. Darkness and light can never be brought together by talk. Some things are not negotiable.’