King Ahab - Biography

Chart of the Kings King Ahab - Biography God's Judgment Regarding King Ahab
Previous King: Omri   Next King: Ahaziah


Ahab's Early Commitment to Evil
The Contest at Mount Carmel
God Twice Defends Ahab from Benhadad
The Scandal of Naboth's Vineyard
Micaiah's Prophecy and Ahab's Death
For Discussion


Ahab is perhaps the most famous of the kings of the separate kingdom of Israel. The son and successor of the evil King Omri, Ahab became a pioneer and champion of evil. Not content with Jeroboam's golden calf cult, Ahab sponsored Baal and Asherah worship, introduced by his evil wife, Jezebel. Rituals of the Baal and Asherah cults involved detestable practices, including prostitution, homosexual prostitution1, and human sacrifice of children.2

Ahab's evil was contested by the prophet Elijah in a struggle that lasted all through Ahab's career, and Elijah's biography is intermingled with Ahab's. Through Elijah's work, God repeatedly displayed his power, graciously giving Ahab many opportunities to change his ways.

Ahab's 22-year reign was also marked by three wars with neighboring Syria. God again graciously aided Ahab, twice giving him victory, clear evidence of God's power, and opportunity to repent. Though Ahab did eventually repent, it was too little too late to make any lasting change in his kingdom. In the third war, Ahab was ignominiously killed.

Where to read Ahab's story: 1 Kings 16:28 - 22:40; 2 Chronicles 18

  1 2 Kings 23:5-7, for example.
  2 Psalm 106:28 & 37-38, for example.

Ahab's Early Commitment to Evil

Ahab married Jezebel, a princess from Zidon, where paganism and its associated evil were rampant. Marriage to foreigners was, of course, forbidden by the LORD because of the pagan connection.1 Jezebel was devious and wholly devoted to the evil of her upbringing. At her prompting, Ahab introduced the idol Baal, and built groves for the worship of Asherah. Worship of the LORD was outlawed, although pockets of the faithful survived throughout Ahab's reign.

Ahab's evil practices spread and increased throughout the land. Knowing that people are likelier to repent in bad times than good, the prophet Elijah had been praying for a famine.2 In order to warn Ahab and give opportunities for repentance, God sent Elijah to announce the famine he had prayed for: there would be no rain or dew in Israel until Elijah said otherwise. After making his announcement, Elijah fled for his life and lived in exile under God's care for three and a half years.

Source: 1 Kings 16:29 - 17:1

  1 Deuteronomy 7:3-4
  2 James 5:17

The Contest at Mount Carmel

At God's prompting, Elijah came out of exile and again confronted Ahab, who was busy trying to cope with the famine. At this point Ahab would probably have liked to lop off Elijah's head, blaming him for the famine — but he feared that if he did that, it might never rain again, since God had said the famine would last until Elijah said otherwise. This advantage allowed Elijah to dictate terms to the king. Elijah proposed a test to find out whether Baal or the LORD was the true God. Ahab's 450 prophets of Baal were to face Elijah in a contest. Each party was to build an altar and prepare a sacrifice, but no one was to light the customary fire on their altar. Each party would pray, the prophets of Baal to Baal, and Elijah to the LORD. Whichever god responded by setting his sacrifice afire would be judged the true God, and the god losing the contest would be abandoned. Ahab agreed to host the event.

The contest began early in the morning, and the prophets of Baal went first. They stacked wood on the altar and slaughtered their sacrifice, then called out to Baal to light the fire. Their frantic shouting, dancing, and self-mutilation continued from morning to evening, when Elijah declared their efforts a failure and prepared his own sacrifice.

Elijah rebuilt the simple altar to the LORD, which had deteriorated from decades of neglect. Then he slaughtered his animal and prepared the sacrifice. To make God's fire-starting even more impressive, Elijah drenched his wood, no doubt very dry because of the famine, with so much now-precious water that it ran over his altar and filled a ditch prepared for that purpose.

Elijah then prayed a simple prayer, asking the LORD to demonstrate for all to see that he was the true God, and that the purpose of this famine was to turn their hearts back again to the LORD. At that moment something like a bolt of lightning struck Elijah's altar with such violence that the sacrifice, the wood, the stones of which the altar was made, and the water in the ditch were all destroyed.

The watching public was duly impressed, and Elijah took the opportunity to order the 450 prophets of Baal executed, as the LORD's law required. Then, under perfectly clear skies, Elijah advised Ahab to seek shelter from the rain storm, which came later that day, ending the years-long famine.

When Jezebel heard all that had happened, she was furious. She ordered Elijah killed, and Elijah again fled for his life, becoming deeply depressed in spite of his great success.

Source: 1 Kings 18:15 - 19:2

God Twice Defends Ahab from Benhadad

Benhadad, king of neighboring Syria, laid siege against Ahab in his capital, Samaria. He demanded payment in silver and gold, plus the best of Ahab's wives and children for himself, and on those terms Ahab agreed to surrender. Benhadad, however, pressed for further concessions that were unacceptable to Ahab, who retracted his surrender and prepared to defend his capital.

A prophet approached Ahab and announced that the LORD would defeat Benhadad, if Ahab would himself lead the attack. Ahab obeyed and, coming upon Benhadad's army in a drunken state, inflicted heavy losses on them.

Upon the victory, the prophet told Ahab to strengthen his position, because Benhadad would attack again in the spring.

Spring came, and with it, the Syrian army. Military scouts reported that the Syrians filled the countryside, while by comparison the army of Israel looked like two small herds of goats. Benhadad was encouraging his troops by telling them they had lost the last battle only because they had fought it in the hill country, where Ahab's God was most powerful; but if they fought in the valleys, Ahab's God was powerless there. On hearing this, the prophet told Ahab that the LORD was determined to display the unlimited reach of his power by defeating Benhadad in the valley.

They fought, and the Syrian army was routed. Benhadad himself, unable to escape, surrendered to Ahab and appealed for mercy. Without consulting the LORD, Ahab released Benhadad. A prophet then told Ahab that because he thereby misused the victory the LORD had given him, he would die. This prophecy was fulfilled 3 years later, when Ahab again fought Benhadad.

Source: 1 Kings 20

The Scandal of Naboth's Vineyard

About 20 miles north of his capital in Samaria, Ahab kept a palace in Jezreel. Wanting to improve his property, he tried to buy an adjacent parcel from his neighbor, Naboth. Though he made a generous offer, Naboth refused to sell; the land had been in his family for generations, and he couldn't part with it.

When Jezebel saw her husband, with sour mood and lost appetite because of his failed purchase, she was determined to solve his problem. Acting with his approval, she ordered the local leaders to frame Naboth on capital charges and execute him by stoning. This they did, and in keeping with their customs, executed Naboth's sons1 as well. With owner and heirs dead, Ahab had no trouble acquiring the real estate.

As Ahab was dressing his new vineyard, God sent the prophet Elijah to him with this announcement: because Ahab had murdered Naboth and seized his field, in this same field dogs would lick up Ahab's blood when he died in disgrace. Furthermore, Ahab's entire family would be exterminated, and Jezebel would be eaten by dogs.

When Ahab heard these words, his dormant conscience sprang to life, and he repented in deep grief over his crime. When the LORD saw this, he honored Ahab's contrition by announcing that he would delay the prophesied extermination until the next generation; his sons were just as evil as Ahab, but never did repent.

Source: 1 Kings 21

  1 2 Kings 9:26

Micaiah's Prophecy and Ahab's Death

Ahab invited Judah's King Jehoshaphat for treaty negotiations. Both had suffered losses of territory to the Syrians under their king, Benhadad, and Ahab wanted to regain those lands.

Jehoshaphat agreed to join forces with Ahab, provided they first ask the LORD's approval. Ahab called his staff of 400 false prophets of idol gods, who unanimously predicted victory. Unsatisfied, Jehoshaphat pressed Ahab to find a true prophet of the LORD. Ahab reluctantly suggested Micaiah, who, he complained, always prophesied bad things about Ahab. Jehoshaphat insisted that Micaiah be summoned.

At first, timid Micaiah was reluctant to oppose the formidable group and tell the truth. But under pressure, he revealed a vision he had had, in which Ahab's army was left leaderless. When Ahab told Jehoshaphat “I told you so,” Micaiah revealed a further vision: the LORD had arranged for Ahab's 400 prophets — habitual liars in their own right — to falsely predict victory, in order to secure Ahab's death in battle.

Hearing this, Ahab would listen no more. He ordered Micaiah jailed until Ahab returned victorious. As he was being arrested, Micaiah announced, “If you return alive, I am a false prophet!”

To avoid being killed, Ahab entered the battle incognito, putting Jehoshaphat in his place at the head of the army. Benhadad had ordered his men to concentrate their attack on King Ahab, ignoring every other battle objective. Mistaking King Jehoshaphat for Ahab, Benhadad's men charged him with their full force. Under extreme attack, Jehoshaphat shouted to the LORD for rescue. Benhadad's men realized that idol-addicted Ahab would never appeal to the LORD, so they abandoned the attack and searched elsewhere for Ahab.

They never found him. However, Ahab was struck by a random arrow and mortally wounded, and he instructed his charioteer to take him home. He died outside the palace, in Naboth's field; and dogs licked up his blood, as Elijah had prophesied.

Years later, an army captain named Jehu, acting on the LORD's instructions, ordered all Ahab's descendents slain. He also ordered Jezebel thrown from an upstairs window; she died from the fall. Jehu sent men to bury her, but they found only traces of her body, which had been eaten by dogs, further fulfilling Elijah's prophecy.

Source: 1 Kings 22:1-40; 2 Chronicles 18

For Discussion

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