Biblical Economics

5. Baal -- The God of Landlords

he concept of "heritage' is important: it means that the land is God's property. The "possessor" is given the use of the land by God on the understanding that he must pass it on to his descendants. Naboth's reply to Ahab, "The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors!" is, indeed, under the laws of Omri, blasphemy against God (Baal), and king. Naboth and his heirs were executed and the land reverted to the crown, but not without an immediate condemnation by the fierce prophet Elijah, who was sent to meet the king as the latter was in the act of taking possession of Naboth's land. Elijah pronounced God's sentence of death on Ahab, Jezebel, and every male descendant of his line. The episode is referred to again in I Kg 22.38, with the account of Ahab's death, again in 2 Kg 9.7-10 when God's commission to wipe out the house of Ahab is given, and again in 9.26 when Jehu killed Ahab's son, Joram, and threw his body into Naboth's field.

The prophet's word on Ahab, in I Kg 2.1, given at the end of the account of the Naboth episode, was "Indeed there never was anyone like Ahab for double dealing and for doing what is displeasing to the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the most abominable way, adhering to idols, just as the Amorites used to do whom the Lord had dispossessed for the children of Israel." Here the idolatry (Baal-worship) of the Amorites is clearly put in the context of the land issue.

The prophet Elijah had received a commission from the Lord to anoint Jehu king and this commission was passed on to his successor, Elisha (2 Kg 9). Not only did Jehu make a clean sweep of Ahab's dynasty, but he also, by pretending that he was going to go along with the Baal thing, wiped out all the devotees of Baal, not just the prophets and priests, but all the worshippers. This effectively broke the back of any landlord opposition to the enforcement of the laws of the Lord.

There was one woman of Omri's line, his daughter, Athaliah , who was not killed in Jehu's revolution. She continued to support the landlord movement in Judah. The taste for power and luxury living which had been introduced into both kingdoms by this family did not die easily.

Elijah the prophet dealt only with Ahab and his son, Ahaziah. but his successor, Elisha, headed the opposition to the Baal movement during the reigns of Ahab's second son, Joram (who succeeded Ahaziah), the reformer, Jehu, and Jelin's son Jehoahaz and grandson Joash. During the time of Elisha, one land case is recorded, but the king's name is not given. Presumably it was Jehu or one of his successors. The account is given in 2 Kg 8.6. The account is of a Shunamite woman whose son had been raised from the dead and who had been warned by Elisha of a famine and advised to leave the country. She was gone seven years, and when she returned she found that her land had been confiscated. We are not told by whom or on what pretext. It may be that the influence of the laws of Omri made it impossible for her to receive justice in the lower courts. She appealed to the king and the king, influenced by the prophet Elisha, ordered her land to be restored to her together with the revenues for the time she was away. This would indicate that she had not, as Naomi and Elimelich had done, leased her land, but had intended that it should lie fallow. The king's order that she should be given the revenue from the land indicates that this was not a case of someone refusing the right of redemption (a right unique to he laws of the Lord). Had this been a case of redemption, the revenues up to the time of redemption would have belonged to the lease-holder The land had been seized illegally.