Kings of Israel and Judah (4) – King Ahab
Having written concerning a good king who finished badly (Asa) and a bad king who finished well (Manasseh), we turn our attention to a bad king who started badly and also finished badly (Ahab).
We are spoiled for choice – there are many kings of Israel and Judah who we can select, who fit the bill of starting bad and ending bad. For this installment, I have chosen Ahab. Concerning him, it is written: “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him … Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.” 1Kings 16:30,31,33.
There are several reasons for choosing Ahab to make my point, not least, despite little that was said about him outside the Book of Kings (Chronicles focuses on the Kings of Judah, and says little regarding the Kings of Israel) a lot is said about Ahab. Moreover, we are left in little doubt he was one of the baddest of the bad. He was also mentioned in some of my blogs – to do with Jezebel, the power behind the throne, and Jehu, a later king of Israel, anointed by God to drain the swamp that Ahab left. He was also my entrée into kings and prophets – the sermon I heard preached when I was a teenager on Naboth’s vineyard was when my interest began.
Ahab is perhaps best known because he was married to someone even more wicked: Jezebel, and for his encounter with the prophet Elijah, as detailed in 1Kings 17 – 19, beginning with the words: “And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (17:1). Among other things, we learn of: the judgment of God concerning Israel’s idolatry, the scheming of Jezebel to kill the prophets and the showdown on the top of Mount Carmel, when the prophets of Baal received a mighty defeat by the hands of the Lord, the life and work of Elijah and Ahab seeing first-hand God at work.
Before we get to Naboth, it is worth noting the ongoing conflict between Israel and Syria in 1Kings 20 and the word’s of an unnamed prophet promising Israel victory in war, which under Ahab they achieved but not entirely, which invited the Lord’s rebuke by the prophet: “And he said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people. And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria” (20:42,43).
The story of Naboth’s vineyard is told in 1Kings 20, which brings out much concerning Ahab’s weak and wicked character and was to invite a stinging rebuke by Elijah, amounting to the deaths of Ahab and Jezebel (who master minded the plot to kill Naboth and steal his vineyard) and the demise of Ahab’s dynasty. What is often missed in the story was Ahab’s response to the rebuke: “And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house” (20:27-29), and well discussed in the video: “1 Kings 21-22 The Repentance of King Ahab”. A salutary lesson we find here is the importance of true repentance toward God as being a key to obtaining divine favour, a theme seen throughout scripture.
It would have been nice to place Ahab in the category of bad king who came good in the end but sadly he remains in the category of bad king who remained bad, albeit with at least one redeeming feature. His repentance was all too short lived. When we read of yet another skirmish with the Syrians in 1Kings 22, we read about more of his foolishness. He sought an alliance with (good) King Jehoshaphat of Judah to go and fight the Syrians. He was even able to get the affirmation of 400 (approved) prophets, who told him what he wanted to hear – he would win if he did, but then put the one (disapproved) prophet (Micaiah), who was the only one in the “true” category, who counselled such a move would be disastrous, in prison. Ahab suffered a sorry and ignoble end when hit by stray arrow when his chariot entered the field of battle.