Ahab whose name means the Father
is my brother, i.e. God is my close relative
(Pfeiffer, 1988: 40), owed much of his success to his
father Ormis efforts to set the Northern Kingdom
on a firm political foundation. Omri founded Samaria,
the third capital of the Northern Kingdom in his 7th
year (c. 880 BC). Jeroboam had chosen Shechem,
a place of with ancient associations with the patriarchs Abraham (Gen. 12:6) and Jacob (Gen.
33:18). Later the capital had moved to Tirzah, about
7 miles to the north-east of Shechem. (Bruce,
1983: 43). Omri bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer
for 2 shekels of silver (1
Kings 16:24), and increased its natural advantages
by fortification. Samaria was built on an isolated hill,
90m [300 ft] in height, connected with the surrounding
hill country only by a saddle to the east and surrounded
by a fertile valley (Isa.
28:1, 4) (Van Selms, 1988: 296). The strength of
Samaria can be gauged by the number of sieges it withstood
against well-equipped armies during its 150 year history.
It took the Assyrians three years to capture it (725-722 BC). The city could
control the trade routes to the North, East and West
to the Valley of Esdraelon. Omri made Samaria the property
of the Kings of Israel;
technically not subject to the tribes and their popular
gatherings, but only to the King and local authorities
(Van Selms, 1988: 296) as David had done for Jerusalem.
The Moabite Stone records that Moab
was subjugated by Israel during the reign of Omri (something
that Scripture does not mention) (Prichard, 1955, 320-321).
Some measure of his success can be gained when reading
Shalmanesser IIIs account of the tribute he received
from Jehu (841-814 BC) (1
Kings 19:16-17). Shalmanesser refers to Jehu as
the son of Omri. Although not physically
descended from him by this time the Royal house of Israel
was known internationally by the name of its most famous
member. Omri was as far thinking politically as he was
strategically. By the time his son Ahab acceded to the
throne in 874 BC he had already cemented his fathers
alliance with Phoenicia by marrying Jezebel daughter
of Ethbaal, the priest-king of Tyre. In this he followed
the precedent for international marriages set by Solomon
(1 Kings 11:1-8),
with similarly disastrous results. He later arranged
the marriage of his daughter Athaliah to Joram, crowned
prince of Judah, sealing an alliance with their father
Jehoshaphat. This marriage was to have serious religious
consequences; for Athaliah had imbibed her mothers
Baalism, which later led to a crisis in Judah (see 2
Kings 11). Joint operations between Ahab and Jehoshaphat
were equally ill-fated. Their trading venture, again
reminiscent of Solomons (1 Kings 9:26-28),
was brought to an abrupt halt when the entire fleet
was wrecked before it had even set sail (2
Chron. 20:35-37; 1
Kings 22:48). Joint military operations also ended
in disaster (1 Kings
Ahab is said to have been worse than
all who preceded him. Jeroboam had set up the golden
calves and Bethel and Dan for political reasons, but
Ahab went further, setting Baal up on a par with
Yahweh (1 Kings 16:31-33).
It was common practice that a foreign princess
who married a ruler of a neighbouring state should have
facilities for practising her native religion in her
new home (Bruce, 1983: 43-44) - as Solomon did
for his wives on the west slope of a hill East of Jerusalem
(1 Kings 11:7).
In the case of Ahab this meant allowing the worship
of Baal-Melqart the chief god of Tyre, whose devotee
Jezebel was, and building a temple of Baal for
her in Samaria (16:32-33; 2
Kings 3:2). Ahab may have been happy to continue
to worship Yahweh, as he named his children Jehoram
(Yahweh is high), Ahaziah (Yahweh
has taken hold), and Athaliah (Yahweh is
exalted), but Jezebel was clearly not (Bruce,
1983: 44). It was she who organised the massacre of
Yahwehs prophets and gave the prophets of Baal
and Asherah all the privileges of pensioners and courtiers
(1 Kings 18:4, 19).
He said that he hated prophets of Yahweh, such as Micaiah
son of Imlah, and was considered to be a troubler
of Israel by Elijah (18:17).
Jezebels patronage of the cults
of Baal and Asherah led Ahab into direct confrontation
with one of the greatest of the prophets, Elijah.
He appeared suddenly before the king and defied Baal
by declaring that by his word alone would there be either
rain or dew in the land (1
Kings 17:1). Before Ahab could detain him Elijah was gone and despite an international search Elijah remained hidden (18:9). After three years Elijah sought out the king, who was now searching for grass
for his horses (18:5-6). Obadiah, who was in charge
of Ahabs palace, brought him word of where Elijah was to be found and when they met Ahab accused him of
being a troubler of Israel. The prophets
response left him stunned as he found himself accused
of being the cause of Israels hardships. Without
another word he accepted the challenge that Elijah issued to the prophets of Baal and Asherah on
Mt. Carmel (18:16-20). Throughout the famous contest
on Carmel Ahab was little more than a silent spectator,
but when it was over Elijah told the king to go and eat and drink while he went
away and prayed for the end of the drought. Coming back
from the mountain Elijah warned Ahab that heavy rain was on the way and that
he should make haste and ride in his chariot to Jezreel.
Before him all the way, in the manner of a loyal servant, Elijah ran ahead of the kings chariot (18:46; cf. 1:5; 2 Sam. 15:1).
Receiving a letter Elijah from Jezebel the prophet fled
and it was some time before their paths crossed once
Ben Hadad, King of Aram aided by 32
of his vassals attempted to capture Samaria. Initially
it appears that Ahab was prepared to surrender to him
and accept the lose of his wives and possessions (20:1-7).
Ben Hadad, however, appears to have wanted a fight and
so made his demands so unreasonable that Ahab had no
choice but to refuse them and prepare for a siege (20:9-12).
Encouraged by an unnamed prophet Ahab sent out a sortie
led by the young provincial officers which routed the
Aramean army while it was engaged in a drinking bout
(1 Kings 20:13-21).
Ben-Hadad was finally captured by Ahabs inferior
forces after being defeated at Aphek in the plain of
Jezreel the following year. Ahab spared his life using
language reminiscent of that that would be used by equal
partners in a covenant; an action that brought prophetic
condemnation and in the long term was ill-advised. In
the short term it had advantages as it led to a military
alliance and the return of captured Israelite cities
which his father, Tabrimmon, had captured, as well as
the establishment of Israelite Bazaars and extraterritorial
rights in Damascus. The peace thus established lasted
for three years (20:23-43).
During these three years the states
of Israel, Aram, Hamath and nine other smaller powers
were forced to unite against the growing power of Assyria,
which had been impotent for almost two centuries due
to the attacks of Aramean nomads. From 900 BC onwards
the power of Assyria swept westwards and in 853 Shalmaneser
III faced the coalition of Syrian and Cilician states
at Qarqar on the Orontes river. According to Shalmanesers
own records Ben-Hadad fielded 20 000 soldiers, and Ahab
10 000 soldiers and 2 000 chariots.
Shalmaneser claims a sweeping victory; the corpses of his foes, he
says, covered the plain of the Orontes and dammed the stream itself [Pritchard,
1955: 277-281]. But the fact that he did not pursue his alleged advantage and
returned home and did not return for 12 years suggests that the confederates
gave a good account of themselves. (Bruce, 1983: 47, brackets mine).
The size of the force that Ahab fielded
is ample proof that he was the most powerful king in
the history of the Northern kingdom (Hoerth, 1998: 313).
After the Assyrian threat had been vanquished, for a time at least, the
alliance soon broke up and war resumed between Israel
The affair of Naboths vineyard
gives a fair insight into his character. Ahab had a
right to offer to buy the vineyard from its lawful owner,
and under the laws of Israel Naboth had a right to refuse
him (cf. Lev. 25:23-28; Num. 36:7-12),
which he did. Ahab went home and sulked. Jezebel, who
cared nothing for the laws of Yahweh, organised the
slaughter of Naboth. It is likely that her Phoenician
upbringing taught her that the desires of the king were
not to be denied (Hoerth, 1998: 310). However, when
Ahab arrived to claim his property he faced once more
the wrath of Elijah the Tishbite (1
Kings 21:18) who pronounced his doom, together with
that of his wife. His house was to be brought to an
abrupt end and the bodies of his children would lie
unburied in the streets and fields. The encounter led
Ahab to repentance which appears to have been genuine,
if temporary, and resulted in a deferral of the Lords
judgement on his house (21:15-29).
Following the Battle of Qarqar Ahab
called upon his ally Jehoshaphat to aid him in his struggle
with Ben Hadad. It is thought that Jehoshaphat had become
the weaker party in the alliance between Judah and Israel
and readily accepted Ahabs invitation to join
him. Gathering their forces together before the action
Ahab had his prophets prophecy concerning the battle,
but Jeshoshaphat was disturbed that no prophet of the
Lord was present. Ahab dissembled that there was one,
but that he never cared to hear what that man had to
say. Nonetheless Micaiah son of Imlah was summoned and
declared that Ahab would die. It is perhaps some measure
of Jehoshaphats subservience to Ahab that he agreed
to act as a decoy for him. Despite entering battle in
disguise Ahab was finally slain by a stray arrow (22:1-34).
At the last he appears to have shown real courage in
remaining propped up in his chariot until he died from
lose of blood, to delay the dispersal of his troops
when they saw that he was dead (22:34-36). Ahab was
succeeded by his son Ahaziah (1
Kings 22:40). He had ruled Israel for 22 years.
in Israels History
The writers of Kings present Omri
and Ahab as the antitheses of David and Solomon.
Omri initiated international treatises and Ahab continued
them. Under Ahab Israel reached the zenith of the power
it was to enjoy as a an independent state, and plumbed
the depth of its corruption. Its riches are demonstrated
by the mentioned of ivory in the construction of Ahabs
palace (1 Kings 22:39).
Elsewhere in kings ivory is only mentioned in connection
with Solomon (10:18, 22; 2 Chron.
9:17, 21). Both Ahab and Solomon were led into sin by their foreign wives (1
Kings 11:1-8; 16:30-33).
As a result he received the same punishment as Solomon
- his son would bear the consequences of his actions
(21:29; cf. 11:11-12). His reign without doubt made
more certain the Lords punishment on Israel and
its dispersion at the hands of the Assyrians. Perhaps
more significantly for Christians his policy of intermarriage
with royal the house of Judah almost brought the line
of David to an abrupt end (1
Kings 11:1-1-3). If Athaliah his daughter had succeeded
in her attempts to wipe out Davids descendants
them the Davidic covenant and the blood line of the
promised Messiah would have come to nothing.
Ahab as an Example
The verdict of Scripture on Ahab is
damning He did more evil in the eyes of the Lord
than any of those before him. (1
Kings 16:30). For that reason it is not surprising
that most of the lessons he has for modern Christians
are negative: Whatever he did; you do the opposite.
The account demonstrates him to have been careless of
the covenant, to have treated human life lightly, to
have openly opposed and despised the Lords prophets
and to have allowed his wife to usurp his authority
and lead further into sin (18:4; 21:8-10; 22:25). He
was selfish and sullen (20:43; 21:4-5), cruel
(22:27), morally weak (21:1-16), and concerned with
luxuries of this world (22:39) (Patterson, 1988:
136). On the positive side, however, that at times he
was capable of genuine obedience (18:16-46; 20:13-17,
22, 28-30; 22:30), repentance (22:27-28) and great courage
in the face of his enemies. At the last he died courageously
leading his army in battle.
and the Early Church. © 1998 Robert I. Bradshaw.
Reprinted by permission.
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Ahab, G.W. Bromiley, gen. ed. International
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Rapids: Eerdmans: 75-76.
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