Ahab, son of Omri

“In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel; and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him.” (1Ki 16:29-31).

Ahab married the infamous Jezebel and proceeded to drag Israel even further into the idolatrous abyss by promoting worship of the Canaanite storm god Baal. His nefarious deeds are recorded in the seven chapters of 1 Kings 16 through 22. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. He erected a wooden Asherah idol, and Scripture tells us that he did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.

Interestingly, the Biblical narrative pauses to make special note of an event that occurs during the days of Ahab in fulfillment of a prophecy uttered over five centuries earlier by Joshua:

“Then Joshua charged them at that time, saying, 'Cursed be the man before the LORD who rises up and builds this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest he shall set up its gates.” (Jos 6:26)

“In his (Ahab's) days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and with his youngest son Segub he set up its gates, according to the word of the LORD, which He had spoken through Joshua the son of Nun.” (1Ki 16:34)

After it had been supernaturally destroyed, the re-fortification of Jericho was outlawed by God. Joshua predicted that a man and his sons would violate this divine restriction. The corrupt environment fostered by Ahab may have emboldened Hiel to attempt what was forbidden. Joshua's prophecy was fulfilled when two of Hiel's sons died when they sought to assist him in the rebuilding of Jericho.

1 Kings Chapter 17

The narrative returns to discuss God's judgment upon Ahab for his pollution of Israel:

“And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” (1Ki 17:1)

God had warned Israel (Lev 26:18-19; Deu 11:16-17, 28:23-24) that the life giving dew and rain would be withheld from the land if His people turned to serve other gods. Since they were now serving the non-existent storm god, the real God would send Elijah to proclaim a three and one half year long drought (James 5:17). Simultaneously, God sent Elijah to rescue the widow of Zarephath from this drought induced famine. The irony of this symbolic mission trip should not be missed. Zarephath was a town on the Mediterranean coast nearby Sidon. Elijah was sent there to live in a territory under the authority of Ahab's father-in-law, Ethbaal. His daughter, the rich Sidonian princess Jezebel came south to infect Israel with the deadly disease of Baalism and bring deprivation. God sent His prophet north to Sidon to bring provision and health to a poor widow, and resuscitation from death to her son. The news of these miraculous events likely traveled far and wide. The storm god Baal was exposed as impotent to provide rain for Israel, and the Canaanite belief that Baal could revive the dead was proven to be a myth, while the God of Elijah was shown to be all powerful.

1 Kings Chapter 18

“And it came to pass after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth. So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab; and there was a severe famine in Samaria.” (1Ki 18:1-2)

When Ahab saw Elijah, he said, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” Elijah responded, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals.” Elijah then challenged Ahab to “send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, along with the 450 false prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel's table.” All Israel stood atop the mountain to witness the four hundred fifty false versus the one true prophet supernatural showdown:

“And Elijah came to all the people, and said, 'How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' But the people answered him not a word.” (1Ki 18:21)

Israel had not totally rejected the Lord, but was mixing in and mutating the worship of the holy with the unholy. Elijah demanded that Israel choose who was God, the Lord or Baal, and then serve God wholeheartedly. Because thunder, lightning, and storms were supposedly controlled by Baal, the prescribed test of “the God who answers by fire” was a fair one. The false prophets laid their sacrificed bull upon the pile of wood sans fire and called out “O Baal, hear us!” They cavorted about the idol altar from morning till noon — and zip, nada, nothing. Elijah slashed at their hopes with sarcastic wit — “Where is he? Perhaps meditating? Or is he busy in the bathroom? On vacation? Or is he sound asleep?” The self styled prophets pulled out all stops. They shrieked and cut themselves with knives until the blood gushed out and prophesied until evening. Alas, old Baal was apparently deaf, dumb, and blind because he neither heard them, nor saw them, nor cared.

Elijah repaired the broken down altar of the Lord with twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Jacob, trenched it round about, laid his sacrificed bull on the wood and commanded that it be flooded with three big buckets of water. Elijah prayed: “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant... that this people may know that You are the LORD God.”

“Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!” (1Ki 18:37-39)

The false prophets of Baal were seized, transported to the Brook Kishon, and summarily executed. Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.” And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; bowed down on the ground and put his face between his knees. Repeatedly, he sent his servant to go up and look toward the sea, until the seventh trip when he reported that a cloud appeared “as small as a man's hand, rising out of the sea!”

1 Kings Chapter 19

“And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” (1Ki 19:1-2)

Elijah ran for his life a day's journey south past Beersheba into the wilderness and collapsed under a broom tree. Suicide was not an option because in Jewish thought it was an affront to the Lord, and so Elijah prayed for death. “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” This response by a man of God to a situation viewed as hopeless was not without parallel among his historical peers (cf. Num 11:10-15; Job 6:8-9; Jer 20:14-18; Jon 4:3, 8). Roused twice from his discouragement stupor by the angel, he was commanded to rise and eat the special baked cake and to rehydrate. He did so and set off on his journey through the wilderness to Horeb, the mountain of God. The children of Israel had wandered 40 years in the wilderness (Num 14:26-35). Moses had tarried 40 days on the mountain without bread and water, kept alive by God until he entered a new phase of service (Exo 34:28). Likewise, a journey that should have taken much less time stretched out to a symbolic 40 days as the prophet made his way some 200 miles south to the mountain. Elijah had to depend on God's enablement, and each step by agonizing step prepared him for the new commission awaiting him.

Elijah stood on the mountain before the Lord. Twice did the word of the Lord come to him and say, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Twice did Elijah respond, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Elijah next experienced a still small voice manifestation of God and received his charge:

“Then the LORD said to him: Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1Ki 19:15-18)

Before the quiet manifestation, God had sent three noisy wonders upon the mountain. Each of these natural phenomenons was prophetic illustrations of the impact that divine judgment would have upon Israel's future. First, just as the wind beat against the mountain, Syria's king Hazael would beat against Israel until he reduced her holdings considerably (2Ki 8:7-15; 10:32-33; 13:3, 22-25). Secondly, just as the earthquake split the mountain, Jehu, Captain of the Host of Israel, would be anointed king and cause a civil war totally destroying the dynasty and House of Ahab, as well as royal members of the House of Judah (2Ki 9:1; 10:36). And the third noisy thing was Elisha, who corresponds to the fire. Just as the fire burned against the mountain, Elijah's successor Elisha would burn against Israel, for often where Elisha went, death followed (2Ki 2:23-24).

Elijah needed to learn the lesson that Almighty God was quietly, sometimes imperceptibly, doing His work in Israel. God told Elijah that he was not the only one left who was faithful, for God had seven thousand others. These seven thousand were the Remnant of that day, quite small when compared to the nation as a whole. The Remnant corresponded to the still small voice. The Remnant, in contrast to Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha, is the quiet thing; so quiet, that Elijah did not know they even existed. God’s presence was in this Remnant. It was with this historical Remnant, the seven thousand of Elijah’s day, that the doctrine of the Remnant of Israel began (NOTE: For more theological insight on 1 Kings chapters 16-19 and this important doctrine, read Dr. Fruchtenbaum's Messianic Bible Study (MBS191) — The Remnant of Israel: Past, Present and Future).

Elijah departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. Elisha's yoke was the twelfth in the series of teams working the row. After eleven passed, Elijah threw his mantel around the last man, Elisha, thus choosing him as his successor. Elisha asked for temporary leave to go and say goodbye to his relatives. Elijah instructed him to go back, but not allow any earthly affection detain his obedience to the solemn of God upon his life. Elisha slaughtered his oxen and prepared a farewell feast for family and friends, showing he was making a decisive break. Then he arose and followed Elijah and became his servant.

1 Kings Chapter 20

“Now Ben-Hadad the king of Syria gathered all his forces together; thirty-two kings were with him, with horses and chariots. And he went up and besieged Samaria, and made war against it. Then he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, and said to him, Thus says Ben-Hadad: Your silver and your gold are mine; your loveliest wives and children are mine.” (1Ki 20:2-3)

At first Ahab acquiesced to Ben-Hadad's demands, but when the Syrian king further wanted to send his servants Samaria so they could search the palace and scour it of whatever was of value, Ahab and the elders of Israel decided enough is enough and said no. Ben-Hadad responded by boasting that his army would level the hill of Samaria to dust. Ahab replied that Syria should not predict the outcome of a war before it began. Suddenly a prophet approached Ahab saying:

“Thus says the LORD: Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD. So Ahab said, By whom? And he said, Thus says the LORD: By the young leaders of the provinces. Then he said, Who will set the battle in order? And he answered, You.” (1Ki 20:13-14)

Ahab marshaled a force led by the young leaders of the provinces of Israel and came against Ben-Hadad and the thirty-two kings of the city states of Syria who just happened to be getting drunk at their command post. Israel seized this divinely arranged opportunity to attack the horses and chariots, and they killed the Syrians with a great slaughter. Israel had won a glorious victory by catching the Syrians off-guard, but this easy win with such a small force was orchestrated by God so that Ahab would know that He was sovereign. Despite the fact that Israel had dishonored God, He would not utterly cast away His people. The prophet returned and warned Ahab not to rest on his laurels, but to bolster his forces because the Syrians would retaliate in the spring of the year.

Ben-Hadad's military advisors claimed the reason for Syrian defeat was because “Israel's gods are the gods of the hills, but if we fight against them in the plain, surely we will win the battle.” Ben-Hadad heeded this rationalization, reconstituted his army and as predicted went up to fight Israel at Aphek that spring.

“Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, Thus says the LORD: Because the Syrians have said, The LORD is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys, therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” (1Ki 20:28)

The opposing armies encamped across the valley from each other for seven days until the battle was joined. Once again, the Syrians suffered devastating defeat. A group of Syrians escaped the battle and fled to Aphek for refuge. Once inside the city, a wall miraculously fell and crushed many of them. Holed up in the city, Ben-Hadad and his servants had heard that the kings of Israel were merciful kings and decided to humble themselves. They donned sackcloth as a sign of penitence, put a rope around their necks as a symbol of surrender, and begged Ahab for their lives.

“So Ben-Hadad said to him, The cities which my father took from your father I will restore; and you may set up marketplaces for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria. Then Ahab said, I will send you away with this treaty. So he made a treaty with him and sent him away.” (1Ki 20:34)

Because the Lord had declared the conflict to be a holy war (vv. 13, 22, 28), the Syrians were under the ban, a reference to something belonging to the Lord and destined to be destroyed (Deu 7:2; 20:16). By freeing the idolatrous enemy of God, Ahab had disobeyed the law and would suffer the ban in place of Ben-Hadad. A prophet was sent by the Lord to act out a “judicial parable” starkly illustrating (vv. 35-40) Ahab's grievous error. The prophetic drama was designed to trap Ahab, and cause him to declare his own judgment which the prophet then pronounced:

“Thus says the LORD: Because you have let slip out of your hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people. So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and displeased, and came to Samaria.” (1Ki 20:42-43)

Ahab returned to home resentful and angry because of the Lord's reaction to his freeing of Ben-Hadad.

1 Kings Chapter 21

“And 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. 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. But Naboth said to Ahab, The LORD forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you! So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers. And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.” (1Ki 21:1-4)

Ahab's primary residence was his royal palace in Samaria, but he also maintained a vacation palace in Jezreel which was located adjacent the ancestral lands of Naboth. The Lord, the ultimate owner of all of the land of Israel, had forbidden Israelite family lands to ever be sold on a permanent basis (Lev 25:23-28; Num 36:7-9). When Naboth obeyed God's word and refused Ahab's offer, he went back to his house “sullen and displeased.” Interestingly, this was Ahab's same response to the outcome of chapter 20. Jezebel asked him “Why are you so sullen that you eat no food?” and said in effect “Don't worry, be happy. You are the authority in Israel, and I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” His wicked wife hatched her evil plan by sending official letters to the elders and the nobles who were dwelling in the city with Naboth saying:

“Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth with high honor among the people; and seat two men, scoundrels, before him to bear witness against him, saying, You have blasphemed God and the king. Then take him out, and stone him, that he may die.” (1Ki 21:9-10)

The proclamation of a fast meant that some imminent danger threatened the city which could only be averted if the people humbled themselves before God and removed the person whose sin had brought His judgment upon them (cf. Jud 20:26; 1 Sam 7:5,6; 2Ch 202:2-4). Naboth was seated in high honor among the people, and two scoundrels came in and sat before him. The Law of Moses required two witnesses in capital cases (Num 35:30; Deu 17:6; 19:5). The Hebrew words, translated as scoundrels, literally says “sons of Belial.” These liars for hire deceived the people who took Naboth outside the city and stoned him to death, along with his sons (2Ki 9:26), thus eliminating all possible heirs. The disgusting hypocrisy of this deplorable deed is that a righteous man loyal to God, innocent Naboth, was murdered “outside the city” — a place that was in accordance with the Law of Moses (Lev 24:14; Num 15:35,36).

“And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” (1Ki 21:15)

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone down to take possession of it. You shall speak to him, saying, Thus says the LORD:”

“Have you murdered and also taken possession? And you shall speak to him, saying, Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick your blood, even yours... Behold, I will bring calamity on you. I will take away your posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every male in Israel, both bond and free. I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked Me to anger, and made Israel sin. And concerning Jezebel the LORD also spoke, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. The dogs shall eat whoever belongs to Ahab and dies in the city, and the birds of the air shall eat whoever dies in the field.” (1Ki 21:19, 22-24)

These words shook Ahab to the core. He tore his clothes, fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning. And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying:

“See how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity on his house.” (1Ki 21:29)

There was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up. And he behaved very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. Yet, the Lord responded mercifully to Ahab's sincere contrition and the disaster forecast for him was postponed until the reign of his son, Jehoram.

1 Kings Chapter 22

Israel enjoyed three years of peace after the two years of war with Syria described in chapter 20. Ramoth was a Levitical city east of the Jordan River in Gilead, on the northern border of Gad. It was the home of Jephthah (Jud 11:34) and a key administrative center during Solomon's reign (1Ki 4:13). After his defeat, Ben-Hadad had promised to return to Israel all of the cities he had taken, but Ramoth had not been returned:

“And the king of Israel said to his servants, Do you know that Ramoth in Gilead is ours, but we hesitate to take it out of the hand of the king of Syria? So he said to Jehoshaphat, Will you go with me to fight at Ramoth Gilead? Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” (1Ki 22:3-4)

Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, had come down to visit Ahab in Samaria. Ahab asked him if he would join him in battle against the Syrians, and Jehoshaphat agreed in solidarity. Ahab, still shackled in idolatry, sought counsel from his 400 prophets who worshiped at the Bethel golden-calf cult center and whose religious policy also permitted Baal worship. Ahab's phony prophets were paid staff who told him what he wanted to hear and prophesied victory. They did not begin their utterances with the authoritative “thus says the LORD”, and they were smart enough to not use this covenant name of Israel's God. Jehoshaphat was a good king and knew the importance of seeking God's will before going war. He therefore reminded Ahab that they should consult with at least one true prophet:

“And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not still a prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of Him? So the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the LORD; but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say such things!” (1Ki 22:6-7)

Ahab reluctantly agreed and sent for Micaiah the prophet. The servant sent to fetch him tried to convince him to go with the flow and speak encouraging words to the king in harmony with the charlatan prophets. Micaiah protested this coercion saying, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak!” Because it was what he wanted to hear, at first Micaiah told Ahab “go ahead and go to war, you'll win!” Recognizing Micaiah's retort was laced with biting sarcasm, Ahab said, “Tell me the truth.”

“Then he said, I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, These have no master. Let each return to his house in peace.” (1Ki 22:17)

Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, “did I not tell you he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” The image of the king as a shepherd and his people as the sheep was a familiar one (Num 27:16, 17; Zec 13:7). Micaiah's prediction was that Israel's shepherd, king Ahab, would be killed and his army scattered.

“Then Micaiah said, Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left. And the LORD said, 'Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?' So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, 'I will persuade him.' The LORD said to him, 'In what way?' So he said, 'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And the LORD said, 'You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.' Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you.” (1Ki 22:19-23)

Ahab's 400 prophets spoke words of demonic origin. Upon hearing Micaiah's true prophecy, one of the lying prophets slapped him on the face and mocked him. Then Ahab said, “Throw him in prison and feed him with the bread and water of affliction until I return from the battle in peace.” But Micaiah said, “If you ever return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Take heed, all you people!”

So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead. And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle; but you put on your robes.” Ahab rejected the prophecy by going to war, but it also scared him. So to hedge his bet he donned the attire of an ordinary soldier to reduce the odds that the Syrians might spy him out and target him for death. This is precisely what Ben-Hadad had instructed his men to do — they were sent out on a “seek and destroy” mission and were under orders to fight with no one other than the king of Israel. Ahab had spared Ben-Hadad's life, but now the Syrian king ungratefully singled out Israel's king for death. Dressed in his official robe, the Syrians at first mistook Jehoshaphat for Ahab and surrounded him with their chariots. Jehoshaphat cried out in prayer for deliverance (2Ch 18:31) and the LORD diverted them from him. The Syrians recognized that he was not Ahab, and turned back from pursuing him.

One of the Syrian archers drew his bow random and sent an arrow flying. It struck Ahab between the joints of his armor and seriously wounded him. He commanded his driver to take him a safe distance out of the battle, where he propped himself up to watch the battle rage on while the blood dripped down onto the floor of his chariot. As the sun was setting Ahab's life subsided, and a shout went throughout the army saying, “Every man to his city, and every man to his own country!”

“So the king died, and was brought to Samaria. And they buried the king in Samaria. Then someone washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood while the harlots bathed, according to the word of the LORD which He had spoken.” (1Ki 22:37-38)

Ahab's death fulfilled the prophecies spoken by Elijah (1Ki 21:19) and Micaiah (22:17). So Ahab rested with his fathers. Then Ahaziah his son reigned in his place.