1And it came to pass after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which was in Jezreel, next to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. 2 So Ahab spoke to Naboth , saying, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near, next to my house; and for it I will give you a vineyard better than it. Or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its worth in money.” 3 But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!” (1 Kings 21:1-3).
The family inheritance
“Give me your vineyard!” What an unthinkable demand. Not only did the Torah forbid such a thing—to give away or sell one’s inheritance—this vineyard embodied Naboth’s life, as it had his father’s and distant generations before him.
More than two hundred years earlier, when the tribes of Israel ceased their wilderness wanderings and began to possess the Promised Land, his ancestors had chosen this spot within their tribal allotment. Undoubtedly they recognized its potential, its fertile soil and adequate subsoil water supply. It lay in the beautiful Jezreel Valley—a place later chosen by kings as a wintering place. In fact, the covetous King Ahab had a palace right next door.
The tending of a vineyard
It seems possible that Naboth’s ancestors became owners of a functioning vineyard, acquired from some who were conquered or driven from the land. But if not, there was much work to be done for those first settlers. The land had to be “digged” with a hoe or a plow to rid the soil of stones and debris in preparation for spring planting. Men and boys spent long hours of manual labor until the land was finally cleared, leveled and made ready.
The next item on the list was collecting choice stock (for green grapes, red grapes, or tiny black grapes to be dried as currants), and planting each cutting about three paces apart in orderly rows. By early Nissan (March-April) the first buds should appear, with blossoms soon to follow. With God’s blessing, a harvest could be expected beginning in Tishri and lasting through Heshvan (September through October) and possibly beyond, but not before the all-important steps of pruning and dunging were accomplished.
An experienced vine-dresser used his sharp pruning knife to cut away unproductive branches, driving the strength of the vine into a few main stocks. Sometimes very little of the original vine remained.
Afterwards the entire vineyard was spaded up, and fertilizer applied.
As his father before him
Naboth followed the same routine on the same land these many years later. He and his sons tended their precious vines, just as had the generations before them. By this time, his vineyard had become a valuable asset which could be mortgaged and the money invested, or it could be used as security for borrowing money to pay the mandatory tribute to King Ahab.
Guarding the assets
The original vineyard changed over time. Sometime during past decades a stone wall was added to surround, guard, and protect the precious vines. When Naboth gazed at his holdings, his eye would have noted the hedge that topped the wall—an added deterrent for robbers and varmints (foxes were particular spoilers for any vineyard)—and the occasional fig tree interspersed among the vines. Someone long ago had begun using them, along with olive trees and mulberry bushes, to train the vines off the ground and upward. He must have often enjoyed sitting under his own vines and fig trees, basking in the peace and satisfaction of it all.
Stationed in the middle of the vineyard was the multi-functioning watchtower, some forty feet high, with its commanding view of the neatly terraced hillsides. Watchmen lived in the tower between seasons, but during vintage time, it was an entirely different matter. Naboth and his family took up quarters in the tower in preparation for the harvest work that lay ahead. It was a time filled with anticipation, excitement, and promise.
Harvesting the bounty
How many times had they performed this ritual—his wife and daughters working alongside the grape-gatherers, cutting the fragrant clusters, and placing them in the traditional baskets? And he and his sons with the day laborers carrying them to the wine-press, chiseled out of solid rock ages ago? Was there any sweeter sound than the men trampling out the grapes, singing and rejoicing in the warmth of an autumn day? The musky fragrance of freshly- pressed juices wafting from the holding vat was forever etched in his memory, as was the image of newly-filled wine jugs, conspicuous in their abundance.
During these weeks of in-gathering the whole of the surrounding community joined in a harvest festival which added to the festivities of the annual Feast of Tabernacles. Naboth’s neighbors joined the celebration with singing and dancing, sampling the new wine, and eating to the full. Life had been good— until now.
Until the day he died
To be asked to sell his vineyard—his family’s inheritance, the place where his children were born, and where relatives had died—was simply too much to ask, even by a king. And to be offered a substitute in trade was ridiculous. There could be no substitute! No. Naboth would not comply. This vineyard was who he was. He would keep his vineyard until the day he died.—Karen Meeker
Henri Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (1961), p. 235.
Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller, Encyclopedia of Bible Life (1944), pp. 405-414.
For further Bible examples concerning vineyards, please see: