Ahab or Achav (Hebrew, "father's brother") (r. 918-897 BC by Ussher, or 874-853 BC by Thiele) was the seventh king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (or the eighth if one counts the pretender Tibni, defeated by Omri). He reigned for twenty-two years. He was arguably the most despicable of all the kings of that troubled kingdom. His major claim to fame, however, was his contest-of-wills with that most famous prophet, Elijah.
Ahab was the son of Omri, who in 929 BC (Ussher) had taken over the kingdom by force following the treason of Zimri and then had to fight a civil war with a pretender who had persuaded half the country to follow him. Ahab was married, beginning at an unspecified time, to Jezebel, daughter of Ithobaal I of Tyre; she would prove a most infamous queen. By her he had at least one daughter, Athaliah, in the second year of Omri's reign. He also had more than seventy sons, of whom the two eldest were Ahaziah and Jehoram The Bible does not specify when they were born in relation to Ahab's life or his or his father's reigns, but he could have sired those two sons either upon his accession or shortly earlier.
Ahab succeeded his father Omri at Omri's death. Under his wife's influence, Ahab fell away from the worship of the true God and instead worshipped Baal, the husbandman-god of the people of Tyre and Sidon. He built a temple to Baal, complete with an altar, and set up an Asherah pole.
He also lived a life of luxury, even to building a palace made of ivory. The latter is attested to in the archaeological excavation of Samaria. Archaeologists have discovered a palace built either next to or directly on top of that of Omri, and decorated with ivory plaques.
Elijah challenged Ahab probably in the ninth year of his reign. He first proclaimed that no rain would fall on Israel; this produced a severe famine. Jezebel responded by ordering the execution of all prophets, but Elijah and a hundred other prophets hid themselves. In this they received aid from Obadiah, the royal steward, who was a God-fearing man.
In the thirteenth year of Ahab's reign, Elijah staged the great Mount Carmel demonstration between himself and the prophets of Baal. After it was over, the alarming report came back to Ahab that Elijah had not only succeeded in demonstrating that his God was the true God (because God sent fire from heaven while Baal could not), but also persuaded the onlookers to execute all the prophets of Baal at the Kidron brook. Ahab mentioned this to Jezebel, who then sent a dire message to Elijah saying, in essence, that she swore by the gods she worshipped that she would kill him.
Elijah disappeared completely after that, but not for long. Ahab would not know until much later the full measure of the decree that God now made against him, and against the rest of the House of Omri.
In the twentieth year of his reign, Ahab coveted a vineyard owned by one Naboth. Jezebel found out about it and caused Naboth to be arrested on a false charge of blasphemy, and then executed by stoning for it—possibly the most brazen example of lynching in Bible history. Ahab brazenly came down the high hill of Samaria and took possession of the vineyard. Shortly after this, Elijah came to see Ahab one last time. Elijah told him that his dynasty would be destroyed, and Jezebel would be eaten by dogs by the wall of Jezreel.
Ahab realized at once the crushing weight of his guilt. He tore his clothes, wore sackcloth, and slept on sackcloth. Because of this, God granted Ahab this boon: that he would not live to see the disaster that would befall his royal house.
In the twelfth year of his reign (907 BC by Ussher, or 863 BC by Thiele), Ahab made an alliance with King Jehoshaphat of Judah. To seal this, Ahab gave his daughter Athaliah in marriage to Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram.
In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Benhadad I of Syria attacked the Northern Kingdom. He was defeated and fled. A year later, Benhadad attacked again, coming as far as Aphek. He was defeated again, and had to surrender to Ahab. Ahab received him with honor and courtesy, and then concluded a peace treaty with him and let him return to his capital of Damascus. For this, he received a reproof from an unnamed prophet; however, because of that treaty, he had peace with Damascus for three years.
Disputed Synchrony with Assyria
Secular archaeologists assert that Ahab participated in the Battle of Qarqar, and provided one of the largest contingents of a twelve-nation coalition force that stood in opposition to the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III. This battle is supposed to have taken place in 853 BC. The warrant is said to be an inscription in the stele of Shalmaneser III, referring to a king named A-ha-ab-bu Si-ri-la-a-a and the formidable chariot force he is said to have provided. But Larry Pierce points out that Ahab would be very unlikely to have been able to contribute a force of 2,000 charioteers and 10,000 infantrymen, considering that, three years earlier when he had had to meet Benhadad in battle, he could barely muster a force of 7,000 infantrymen.
More likely, if an Israelite king participated in the Battle of Qarqar, or sent his general to that battle, it was not Ahab at all, but rather King Jehu's son Jehoahaz, who might have had time to build his army to such strength after the First Interregnum. But that even assumes that the battle did indeed take place in 853 BC.
We should also remember that the Bible nowhere names any Israelite king, Northern or Southern, who was at the Battle of Qarqar or at any other battle like it.
A Viceregal Appointment
The Battle of Ramoth-gilead
In the last year of his reign, Ahab persuaded Jehoshaphat to join him in a joint operation to recapture the city of Ramoth-gilead from the Syrians—proof that even the three-year truce between Samaria and Damascus was not perfect. Ahab asked four hundred prophets whether the siege would be advisable, and they all said, "Yes." But Jehoshaphat was not convinced; he somehow recognized that these four hundred prophets were false. He insisted that Ahab ask Micahiah instead. Micahiah warned that such a siege would end in defeat and death for Ahab. Ahab went to battle anyway, in disguise—and furthermore, Jehoshaphat was somehow convinced to act as Ahab's decoy. The battle ended badly. Jehoshaphat barely escaped alive, after crying out to God for help. Ahab was fatally wounded, was carried off the battlefield, and died. He was buried in Samaria, and his elder son Ahaziah succeeded him.
Ahab Remembered After His Reign
Ahab was remembered long after his death, but not with fondness. The prophet Amos would heap scorn on Ahab's ivory palace and predict that all such symbols of excessive luxury would fall under God's blows. Over half a century later, the prophet Micah used the rule of Omri and Ahab as a by-word for religious apostasy and the desolation that would result therefrom.
Ahab in Modern Popular Culture
The actual character of Ahab does not bear much mention in popular or classical literature. However, the author Herman Melville, in his best-remembered novel (Moby Dick), gave Ahab's name to a paranoiac sea captain who sacrificed himself, his ship and his crew in the fatal pursuit of a gigantic white sperm whale that, he believed, had once attacked him and amputated his leg.
- Authors unknown. "Entry for Ahab." Christian Resource Center, 2007. Retrieved June 19, 2007.
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pghh. 507, 511, 513-5, 517-9
- Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, rev. ed. David O'Brien, Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986 (ISBN 031034770X), pp. 263-267
- Konig, George. Ahab, King of Israel. AboutBibleProphecy.com, 2007. Retrieved June 19, 2007.
- I_Kings 16:29-34
- I_Kings 17-22
- Pierce, Larry, Evidentialism–the Bible and Assyrian chronology, TJ 15(1):62–68 April 2001
- I_Kings 22:51
- Amos 3:15
- Micah 6:16
- Northern Kingdom
- House of Omri
- Biblical chronology dispute
- Assyrian chronology
- Larry Pierce