(Aʹhab) [Father’s Brother].
1. Son of Omri and a king of the northern kingdom of Israel. He ruled in Samaria 22 years, from about 940 B.C.E.
Condones False Worship. Ahab’s record was one of the worst as regards the vital area of true worship. Not only did the corrupted worship of Jehovah by means of Jeroboam’s golden calves continue but Ahab also allowed Baal worship to infect Israel on an unprecedented scale due to his early marriage to Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon. Josephus, quoting ancient historian Menander, refers to Ethbaal as Ithobal, and the account (Against Apion, I, 123 ) relates that he was the priest of Astarte before ascending the throne by murdering the king.
Ahab allowed his pagan wife Jezebel to lead him into Baal worship, to build a temple for Baal, and to erect a sacred pole in honor of Asherah. (1Ki 16:30-33) Before long there were 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the sacred pole, all being fed from Jezebel’s royal table. (1Ki 18:19) True prophets of Jehovah were slain by the sword, and only the action of Ahab’s house manager Obadiah, a man of faith, preserved the lives of 100 of them by hiding them in caves, where they subsisted on bread and water.
As a result of his turning to Baal worship, Ahab was informed by Elijah of the coming of a severe drought that, according to Luke 4:25 and James 5:17, covered a period of three years and six months. (1Ki 17:1; 18:1) The rains would return only at Elijah’s word, and though Ahab searched for him in all the surrounding nations and kingdoms, Elijah stayed out of his reach until the due time. (1Ki 17:8, 9; 18:2, 10) Ahab now endeavored to place the blame on Elijah for the drought and famine, an accusation that Elijah refuted, showing the real cause to be the Baal worship patronized by Ahab. A test held on top of Mount Carmel proved Baal to be a nonentity and manifested Jehovah as the true God; the prophets of Baal were slain at Elijah’s command, and shortly thereafter a drenching downpour brought an end to the drought. (1Ki 18:17-46) Ahab headed back to Jezreel and to his wife, whom he informed of Elijah’s actions against Baalism. Jezebel reacted with a violent threat to Elijah, resulting in his flight to Mount Horeb.
Capital Construction; Victories Over Syria. It is believed that Ahab’s construction works included the completing of Samaria’s fortifications, shown by archaeology to have consisted of three immensely strong walls of superior workmanship. Excavations have revealed a rectangular palace platform measuring about 90 m (295 ft) by 180 m (590 ft), with an enclosing wall of fine ashlar masonry. Numerous ivory panels for decorating furniture and wall panels were found, perhaps connected with Ahab’s “house of ivory” mentioned at 1 Kings 22:39.
The wealth of the city and the strength of its position were soon put to the test by a siege set against Samaria by Syrian Ben-hadad II at the head of a coalition of 32 kings. At first meekly acquiescing to the aggressor’s demands, Ahab then balked at agreeing to allow the virtual plunder of his palace voluntarily. Peace negotiations fell through, and by divine direction Ahab employed a battle stratagem that caught the enemy off guard and led to their slaughter, though Ben-hadad escaped.
Convinced that Jehovah was a ‘mountain god’ only, Ben-hadad returned the following year with a military force of equal size, but drew up for battle on the generally flat tableland near Aphek in the territory of Manasseh, rather than advancing into the mountainous region of Samaria. (See APHEK No. 5.) The Israelite forces advanced to the battle site but looked like “two tiny flocks of goats” compared to the massive Syrian encampment. Reassured by Jehovah’s promise to demonstrate that his power was not controlled by geography, Ahab’s forces dealt a crushing defeat to the enemy. (1Ki 20:26-30) However, much like King Saul with Agag the Amalekite, Ahab let Ben-hadad survive and concluded a covenant with him by which captured cities would be returned to Israel and streets in Damascus would be assigned to Ahab, evidently for the establishment of bazaars, or markets, to promote Ahab’s commercial interests in that Syrian capital. (1Ki 20:31-34) Similar to Saul, Ahab was condemned by Jehovah for this, with future calamity foretold for him and his people.
Murder of Naboth, and Consequences. During a three-year interval of peace, Ahab turned his attention to the acquisition of the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel, a piece of land much desired by Ahab because it bordered his residential palace grounds there. When Naboth refused the request on the basis of God’s law regarding the inviolability of hereditary possessions, Ahab petulantly withdrew to his house, where he lay on his couch with his face to the wall, refusing to eat. Learning the cause of his dejection, pagan Jezebel arranged the murder of Naboth under guise of a trial for blasphemy, using letters written in Ahab’s name. When Ahab went to take possession of the coveted plot of ground, he was met by Elijah, who scathingly denounced him as a murderer and as one who sold himself to do wickedness at the constant prodding of his pagan wife. As the dogs had licked up Naboth’s blood so dogs would lick up Ahab’s blood, and Jezebel herself and Ahab’s descendants would become food for dogs and scavenger birds. These words hit home, and in deep grief Ahab fasted in sackcloth, alternately sitting and pacing the floor in despondence. On this basis a measure of mercy was extended to him as regards the time when the calamity would come on his house.
Ahab’s relations with Judah to the S were strengthened through a marriage alliance in which Ahab’s daughter Athaliah was married to King Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram. (1Ki 22:44; 2Ki 8:18, 26; 2Ch 18:1) During a friendly visit by Jehoshaphat to Samaria, Ahab induced him to support him in an effort to retake Ramoth-gilead from the Syrians, who evidently had not carried out to the full the terms of the covenant made by Ben-hadad. While a body of false prophets chorused their assurances of success, at Jehoshaphat’s insistence the prophet Micaiah, hated by Ahab, was called and predicted certain calamity. Ordering Micaiah’s arrest, Ahab stubbornly went ahead with the attack, though taking the precaution to disguise himself, but he was hit by a random arrow so that he slowly died. His body was brought to Samaria for burial and when “they began to wash off the war chariot by the pool of Samaria . . . the dogs went licking up his blood.” A large artificial basin has been excavated in the NW corner of the spacious palace courtyard in Samaria, and this may be the location of this fulfillment of prophecy.
Moabite and Assyrian Inscriptions. Mention is made of the rebuilding of Jericho during Ahab’s reign, perhaps as part of a program for strengthening Israel’s control over Moab. (1Ki 16:34; compare 2Ch 28:15.) The Moabite Stone by King Mesha of Moab speaks of the domination of Moab by King Omri and his son.
Assyrian inscriptions describing the battle waged between Shalmaneser III and a coalition of 12 kings at Karkar include the name A-ha-ab-bu as a member of the coalition. This is generally accepted by most scholars as a reference to King Ahab of Israel; however, for evidence showing that such a claim is subject to question, see the article on SHALMANESER No. 1.
2. A false prophet among the exiles in Babylon; son of Kolaiah. Jeremiah predicted that this immoral and lying prophet and his associate would be roasted in the fire by Nebuchadnezzar.