King Ahab is possibly one of the most notorious kings of Israel. His wife, Jezebel is equally infamous. In reading about the life of King Ahab, I wonder how it could be that he acknowledged the power of God, yet only sometimes appealed to Him. Ahab directly and very clearly experienced the grace of God, the mercy of God, and saw how repentance brought God’s favour. Yet, he continuously set the interests of God aside, in favour of pursuing his own. He had knowledge and experience of God, but had no fear or respect of God. He did not love God and set his heart to serve him despite all this. Why?
“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.” – [1 King 16:29-30]
I’ve picked some passages summarising key parts of King Ahab’s life to look at here.
“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 worshipped him. Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” [1 Kings 16:31-33]
As a bit of background to the story, Jeroboam was given a word from the Lord during the reign of Solomon that he would be given ten tribes to rule over. This was because of King Solomon’s sin, yet God would spare one tribe to be continue under the rule of Solomon’s son for the sake of King David’s righteousness. Jeroboam was promised a lasting kingdom, an enduring house as God had built for David, if he would continue to walk in the way of the Lord. However, Jeroboam, worried that the kingdom of Israel would defect back to the house of David, listened to bad advice and set up two gold calves at Bethel and Dan, telling the people to worship in these places rather than to go up to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. As such, he caused the people of Israel to commit idolatry and sin. Subsequently, the kings of Israel continued to walk in idolatry and opposition to God. Ahab, not only allowed this idolatry to continue, but added to it. He married Jezebel, and built an altar to Baal, whom he then worshipped. This was active disobedience. Ahab would have known that God had commanded his people not to marry foreign wives who would turn their hearts to idols, and he would have known that this was a sin Solomon had committed, thus causing the kingdom to be split and taken from his lineage. Furthermore, he did nothing to prevent Jezebel ordering the execution of many prophets of the Lord. 1 Kings 21:25-26 reiterates Ahab’s sin:
“But 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, whim the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.”
Ahab allowed people to influence him more than God. It was idolatry, and this would continue to penetrate all aspects of his life until it blinded, and destroyed him.
Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, came to Ahab to declare a drought upon the land. Ahab’s response to this is to blame Elijah. Some years later, the Lord tells Elijah to present himself to Ahab again. When they meet, Ahab says, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” Elijah replies, “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.” [1 Kings 18:17-18] Ahab did not accept responsibility for leading Israel astray. He did not recognise the consequence of his actions, but blamed Elijah. Elijah then tells him to gather the priests of Baal, and Ahab does so. Mount Carmel is the location of the showdown between Elijah and the priests of Baal. To cut the story short, God shows Himself to be the true God of Israel, sending fire to consume the water-soaked altar of Elijah’s burnt offering while that of the priests of Baal remained untouched and dry. The people declare that God is the Lord, and Elijah executes the priests of Baal at the Brook Kishon. Elijah then tells Ahab to “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the abundance of rain.” There is no mention of Ahab praising God for relieving the drought, but he does tell his wife Jezebel all that has happened, and she is enraged, vowing to destroy Elijah.
Some time later, Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, comes against Israel. King Ahab finds himself in a tough situation, as the terms of surrender are ridiculous and it seems Ben-Hadad seems set of destroying Samaria, the city where Ahab resided. Ahab does not seek God in this situation, but God sends a prophet to him.
“Suddenly a prophet approached Ahab king of Israel, 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.’’” [1 Kings 20:13]
In this time of desperation, Ahab asks the prophet “By whom?”, and “Who will set the battle in order?” The prophet relays God’s command that the young leaders of the province who start the battle, Ahab obeys, and Israel is victorious. The prophet then gave Ahab this instruction – “Go, strengthen yourself; take note, and see what you should do, for in the spring of the year, the king of Syria will come up against you.” When the time came, a prophet came again to Ahab and told him, “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 am the Lord.’’” Israel was again victorious, and Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, went into hiding, sending messengers to Ahab to probe into whether he might spare his life. Ahab ends up making a treaty with Ben-Hadad, letting him go in return for cities and marketplaces. A prophet, disguised, meets him by the road and tells him a story, eventually revealing who he is as a man of God and telling Ahab that, “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.’” Ahab’s response to this rebuke is to return to his house sullen and displeased. Contrast this to David’s response to a similar rebuke in 2 Samuel 12. David pleads with God, spending all night on the ground. He fasts and asks that the consequence of his sin, the death of his first child by Bathsheeba, be reversed. Ahab, however, does not seem to turn to God despite his pronounced judgment.
Later on, Ahab asks Naboth to give him his vineyard, offering to reimburse him, or give him a better vineyard. Naboth refuses, saying, “The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!” Ahab goes away sullen and displeased. Perhaps it is because he was unable to get what he wanted, or perhaps Naboth’s answer reminded him of how he had not kept the command of God. In any case, Ahab is so upset that he refuses to eat. His wife, Jezebel asks what is bothering him and Ahab tells her abut Naboth. Jezebel tells him she will get him the vineyard, and organises for false charges to be brought against Naboth so he is stoned to death. She then tells Ahab, who gets up and goes down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. God then sends Elijah, whom Ahab still considers his enemy, to pronounce this judgment on Ahab and his household:
“Have you murdered and also taken possession? … In the place where the 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… The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. The dogs will eat whoever belongs to Ahab and dies in the city, and the birds of the air shall eat whoever dies in the field.” [1Kings 21:19-24]
It is finally this terrible message that causes Ahab to humble himself before God. He tears his clothes, puts on sackcloth and goes about mourning. Because of this, the Lord says, “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.” [1 Kings 21:29] So God acknowledges how Ahab humbles himself in this situation and shows mercy.
You would think that with all that has happened, Ahab would learn to trust in God. Yet, when the time for another battles comes, Ahab shows how he still values his own interests, above that of God. He recruits Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, to help fight against Syria, and summons 400 prophets who prophesy success in the battle. Jehoshaphat however, asks, “Is there not still a prophet of the Lord here, that we may enquire of him?” So, Ahab summons Micaiah to ask whether they might succeed in battled. When Micaiah says, “Go and prosper, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king!”, Ahab tells him to speak the truth in the name of the Lord. Micaiah then tells him that a lying spirit has been put into the mouths of his prophets, and that the Lord has declared disaster against you. Ahab, instead of repenting or seeking God, casts Micaiah into prison and goes to battle anyway, where he is killed. He recognises when Micaiah speaks a true word from God, but refuses to listen.
Ahab’s life is full of opportunity to change his way, yet he refuses to change. It is clear that his heart does not desire God, but desires success, wealth, and other earthly treasures. These are treasures that do not last, and in focusing on these things, Ahab comes to disaster. He is blinded to the ways of God, despite the fact that they are clearly spoken to him time and time again. Ahab’s contributes to his spiritual deafness and blindness in the following ways.
- Choosing to listen to people, rather than listening to God
- Choosing riches on earth, rather than seeking treasure in heaven
- Choosing stubbornness over repentance
He blames others, lets Jezebel do his dirty work for him, and throws little tantrums, being sullen and displeased. Yet, Ahab does not do the one thing that could transform his life, his circumstances and his heart. He does not turn to God. He is set in his selfishness, in his stubbornness and in his sin. His heart is hardened so that he cannot see the salvation offering by the God of Israel.
The life of Ahab is a solemn reminder that no amount of information, knowledge or experience can substitute for a humble and contrite spirit which seeks God. Mark 4:11 says,
“To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that ‘seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they turn, and their sins be forgiven them.”
May we humble ourselves, seek God and call out to Him, Him alone.