DARK DAYS OF AHAB 1 Kings 20–22
“There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife”(1 Kings 21:25).Despite the strength of his wife’s evil influence, God gave Ahab many chances to do right. Each of us is responsible for the choices we make and the opportunities we refuse.
The 800s B.C. saw the rise of Assyria. In Syria-Palestine, Ben-Hadad II of Aram (Syria) led a coalition of kings determined to resist the Assyrians. Ben-Hadad seized the opportunity created by Israel’s weakness after the three-year famine to invade Israel and force Ahab to join his anti-Assyria compact. Despite the defeats inflicted by Israel (1 Kings 20), Israel and Syria later did unite with seven other area states. In 853B.C at Qarqar the allies threw back the forces of Assyria’s Shalmaneser III. This battle, not mentioned in Scripture, took place between the events reported in 1 Kings 20 and 22. First Kings 22 portrays Syria and Israel again at each other’s throats, this time as Ahab set out to occupy Ramoth Gilead, which Ben-Hadad had ceded to him after his earlier defeats (cf. 20:34). Against this background of international tension and strife, the biblical writer focused on the character of Ahab, king of Israel, and on Israel’s gracious God.
God intervened to help Ahab repel two Syrian (Aramean) invasions (20:1–34), but Ahab was rebuked for sparing the Aramean ruler (vv. 35–43). When Jezebel arranged the death of Naboth so Ahab could have his vineyard, Elijah confronted the king and announced God’s judgment (21:1–29). Micaiah the prophet accurately predicted Ahab’s death in battle (22:1–40). In Judah, a devout Jehoshaphat succeeded his godly father, Asa (vv. 41–50).
Understanding the Text
“Meanwhile a prophet came to Ahab king of Israel” 1 Kings 20:1–30. Ahab, fully aware of Israel’s desperately weak condition, was willing to surrender to Ben-Hadad of Aram. However, Ben-Hadad’s progressively outrageous demands forced Ahab to resist. When a prophet of God appeared and predicted victory, a sobered Ahab asked for—and followed!-God’s instructions. Even the wicked may respond to God if desperate enough. But why should the Lord intervene on behalf of wicked King Ahab? The text and context suggest three significant reasons. (1) At Carmel the people of Israel acknowledged God and killed the prophets of Baal. God kept covenant with them by fighting for His people. (2) In victory Ahab would “know that I am the Lord” (v. 13). There could be no future doubts in Ahab’s mind that the Lord truly is God. (3) The Arameans challenged God’s nature and power. Each victory revealed God more clearly (v. 28). Ahab’s continuing commitment to evil despite God’s gracious revelation of Himself tells us much about his character. Every expression of God’s grace is intended to draw us to Him. Response to grace is up to us. “Therefore it is your life for his life” 1 Kings 20:31–42. When desperate, Ahab was eager for God’s help and direction. With the battles won, Ahab quickly reverted to his arrogant ways. The phrase, “You have set free a man I had determined should die,” suggests that Ahab had been commanded to kill Ben-Hadad. When Ahab was rebuked he did not repent but became “sullen and angry.” “Deathbed conversions” are too often shallow and meaningless. When the danger is past, too many revert to their old attitudes and ways. It is not what we know about God that counts. What counts is how we respond to Him once we know. “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” 1 Kings 21:1–16. Old Testament Law forbad permanent sale of family land. The godly Israelite saw property allotted to the family in the time of Joshua as God’s gift (cf. Josh. 13–19). Thus Naboth refused the king’s offer to buy or trade his vineyard on religious grounds. The king went home and sulked (vv. 3–4). Jezebel scornfully told him to “act as king” (v. 7), and promised to get him the vineyard. She then ordered, in Ahab’s name, that Naboth be falsely accused and killed so Ahab could take his land. Ahab did not order Naboth’s death. But he was only too glad to profit from it. Undoubtedly Ahab would have been quick to adopt Jezebel’s solution if only he had thought of it! “But I didn’t do it” is an empty excuse if we profit from and condone the wrong actions of others. “So you have found me, my enemy” 1 Kings 21:17–29. Elijah’s response to Ahab’s exclamation puts the king’s remark in perspective. Elijah appeared only because “you have sold yourself to do evil.” The king’s enemy was not Elijah, but Ahab himself! We really are our own worst enemies. But it is also true that when we choose to do right, we can be our own best friends! Ahab’s repentance (v. 27) was sincere, but far too late. God could only delay the judgment destined for Ahab’s line. If even this most wicked of Israel’s kings can find grace through repentance, think how much grace we can find when we repent. The armor Ahab wore when he was killed was probably made by attaching metal scales to a heavy shirt, as shown above. The person wearing scale armor was vulnerable to arrows which struck “between the sections” (1 Kings 22:34). “Attack and be victorious” 1 Kings 22:1–28. Ahab recognized the sarcasm in Micaiah’s voice and demanded he tell the truth. That prophet then told the king he would be killed in the battle for Ramoth Gilead. The lying spirit from the Lord troubles many. Two observations help. God is able to turn the evil done by Satan and his minions to accomplish good. The lying spirit may have had its own purpose in deceiving Ahab. Perhaps most important, God did not deceive Ahab at all! Through Micaiah the Lord fully revealed what He intended. Ahab then chose to act on the lie told by his own prophets, and so rode to his doom. God always reveals His truth to human beings. He is not responsible if men reject the truth in favor of lies. “Jehoshaphat . . . king of Judah” 1 Kings 22:41–50. Despite his association here with Ahab, Jehoshaphat was a godly king. We are told more about him in 2 Chronicles 17–20.
Jezebel’s Theory of Leadership (1 Kings 21)
“Do it because I said so!” Mom shouted at Kara. That girl was so exasperating! It seemed to Mom that these days she had to shout just to get Kara’s attention. “You’ll do the lawn before you go to practice, and that’s that,” Dad said grimly. “I don’t care if you miss every practice and get kicked off the team. I’m your father, and what I say around here goes.” Oh, I know. Teenagers can be irritating. Maybe Mom needs to yell at Kara. And maybe Dad is just putting his foot down because his son has put off a weekly chore. But some moms and dads who talk this way to their children have unwittingly adopted Jezebel’s theory of authority. We can deduce that theory from 1 Kings 21. Ahab wanted a vineyard? Well, Ahab was king, wasn’t he? So King Ahab ought to get what he wanted. And he could use his royal power any way he wished to get it! Actually Jezebel’s theory is out of line with what the Bible teaches. Kings in biblical Israel were supposed to rule, under God, for the benefit of God’s people. Kingship was never a right to command others for the king’s benefit. Sometimes Christian parents adopt Jezebel’s theory of authority. They “act like a king” and command their children without taking time to listen and without enough concern for the child’s needs. And they justify their ways just as Jezebel would. “I’m your dad. And I’ve got the right to tell you what to do.” Oh, yes. Sometimes Christian parents have to put their foot down. Maybe even yell a little. But Christian moms and dads can never forget that parenthood is a commission to servanthood. As Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:26–28).
Servanthood means acting in another’s best interests.