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Word Of God - Word of Earth by B. Davie Napier


B. Davie Napier, at the time of this writing was Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Intepretation at Yale Divinity School. He later became President of Pacific School of Religion. He is a minister of the United Church of Christ and an author of several books on the Old Testament. Word of God -- Word of Earth is copyrighted to United Church Press, 1976, and published by A Pilgrim Press, a division of United Church Press. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.


Section 4: The Question and the Question


Was it really Jezebel who did it? Ahab knew, Ahab knew. Ahab always knows. Jezebel wrote letters in Ahab's name, sealing them with his seal. We know, we know. And Ahab always receives the word that Naboth's inheritance is his for the taking with grotesquely mingled feelings of satisfaction and dread. Jezebel sold to Ahob, "Go ahead now; take possession of Naboth's vineyord which he refused to give you for cash. For Naboth no longer lives: he is dead !" Nahoth is dispossessed. His inheritance is yours.

What is the word of earth? This is the word of earth -- that Naboth is legion; that Naboth's essential inheritance, land, work, creativity, human dignity, is daily seized by the strong -- and that we are among the strongest of the strong!

But the Word of God occurred, and spoke to Elijah: "Be on your way now to confront Ahab king of Israel; you will find him in Naboth's vineyard where he has gone to take possession of it. You will give him this message: "Thus says Yahweh: Having murdered, do you even now take possession? In the place where the dogs licked Naboth's blood they shall lick your blood!"

Question: To whom are we, church people of the United States, to whom are we preponderantly more analogous, Elijah or Ahab?

Question: Which is the more influential altar among us, that of Yahweh or of Baal, God or mammon, Christ or possessions?

Question: Is it not true that as a people we have in our whole history repeatedly and down to this present day murdered, in body but also spirit and psyche, in order to possess?

Question: Is it not true that by and large we of the church have been in consent, if not always with our ballots, then by our silence.

Question: Whose inheritance now sustains the life of relative wealth and plenty that is ours, our own (which we've spent and overspent) or that of a plurality of Naboths?

Question: Can we yet turn back the judgment that we too will die in our own blood where and because we have shed the innocent blood and seized the cherished human heritage of myriad, uncoun- able, unsung, powerless, and dispossessed Naboths -- red, black, brown, yellow, and white?

Question: Can we revive and recreate Elijah among us; can the church, and we of the church, be prophet as well as priest to king and nation and world?

Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?"

Elijah replied, "I hove found you."

Georg Fohrer best returns the sense of it:

"Hast du mich gefunden?" -- hast du mich endlich bei einem Verbrechen ertappt?

Und Elia antwortet: "Ich habe dich ertappt!"

And as Fohrer adds, "Mit diesem Hohepunkt schloss die alte Erzah lung. "

The original narrative closed with this dramatic exchange. Ahab knew, he knew. He knew all along it wouldn't wash with Yahweh. We Ahabs always know; but there will be no confession, no turning, no cessation of the ways of Jezebel, no restitution, no redemption of the vast, total human inheritance except by the happening of the Word, its speaking again to Elijah, us, and Elijah's ministry, ours, to Ahab and Jezebel and the hordes of the always oncoming Naboths.

Have you (Fohrer's sense) at last caught me in the very act, O my enemy, my old enemy, my old friend, my old dreaded and cherished prophet; after all this, have you really uncovered me; after drought, after that contest of altars on Mount Carmel, after your flight from us in terror that took you all the way to your cave on Horeb -- after all this have you caught me, exposed me, apprehended me by the Word of Yahweh, judged me in that same Word -- and so, perhaps, in spite of judgment, opened the only possible way to my redemption? Have you found me, O my enemy -- O Word of God, O Word of God incarnate?

And so the literal reading is best after all: I have found you. I think Ahab knew. Question: Do we? For it is only in being fully found by the Word of God that we may be saved, that we may hear and understand and heed the anguished, bitter, raucous, critical word of earth, and that the inheritance of us all may be preserved and enhanced to the glory of God and to the service of God's children of the earth.

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