OT Survey 113 Seminar 15 Ahab Jezebel and Elijah
Andrew Hodge 12th August 2006
Old Testament Survey OTE 113
Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah
Jensen, Irving L. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament 1978, Moody Press, Chicago pp185-216; 1 Kings 16:29-22:40; 2 Chronicles 21; Libronix
Explain the wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel:
The context of the evil of Ahab is that of the evil of the Nation prior to him reigning over the 10 Northern tribes. Idol worship was tolerated in the time of the patriarchs (Genesis 31:32 Rachel steals Laban’s teraphim), while Israel was in Egypt (the gods of Egypt Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7ff), during the wilderness wanderings (Numbers 25:1-3 describes how Israel joins itself to Baal of Peor of the abomination of the Moabites, the final straw for God to keep the Nation in the wilderness until the rebellious generation had died) and the recurrent rebelliousness of the Nation in the Land during the period of the Judges.
Moses had taken great pains prior to the Eisodus to tell the nation exactly what they should do and warned them if they turned away from Jehovah (eg Deuteronomy 4:15-20 and 7:1-6 cf 13:6-16 and 17:1-7) that the punishment was death. After the establishment of the monarchy, the nation fared reasonably well spiritually under David, but toward the end of Solomon’s reign his wives and concubines turned him aside (1 Kings 11:1-9) and the downward spiral began. Ultimately death for the Nation did occur, although in God’s mercy and longsuffering and long-term planning, it did not always take place immediately and sometimes took forms that were spiritual and not physical eg the Babylonian Captivity of the southern kingdom in 586 BC which took the last of the nation away from their Temple.
On the other hand, Ahab was a competent military leader (although his politics with Benhadad was disastrous), there was reasonably stable government and ‘public’ works (Ahab built some ‘cities’ as well as palaces in Samaria [1 Kings 22:39] and Jezreel [1 Kings 21:1], and the temples for Baal worship [1 Kings 16:32]).
He was the eighth king from Jeroboam 1st but the second king of the third dynasty started by Omri his father. This succession of evil is in sharp contrast to the stability of succession in Judah (which was necessary to establish the legitimacy of Messiah).
The context of Jezebel’s evil is also that of her country. The Zidonians were Baal worshippers and Jezebel must have learnt that this religion was useful for control and manipulation of the people to her own advantage. “She wanted the Israelites to bow down to Baal, so she brought hundreds of Baal’s prophets into the country and put them on the government payroll (1 Kings 18:19). She also killed as many of the prophets of the Lord as she could find (1 Kin. 18:13).”
In spite of his victories in the Lord, Elijah became afraid of her (after killing 400 of her prophets) and ran away when she threatened his life; there were only 7000 people left in Israel who had not bowed down to this evil idol. It is said that Baal worship continued unabated in Israel after her death.
Because of her non-Jewishness she was unfamiliar with the history, traditions and Laws of the nation. Even if she had attempted to understand them, she held them in contempt, as proven by her actions eg stripping Naboth of his land inheritance, insisting on the right of kings to do whatever they wished in ‘their’ kingdom.
She was also very accomplished in the arts of femininity and Ahab was susceptible to her influence; so much so that it is likely that she was the real ruler in Israel - the ‘power behind the throne’ (2 Kings 8:18).
It might be asked why they got married at all. It may have been ‘chemistry’ on the part of Ahab, political advantage on the part of Jezebel, and justified by cementing economic ties to the Phoenicians for trade. It was in any case contrary to the written wish of Jehovah (see below). They seem to have made a ‘go’ of it at least up to the time of their cooperation together in achieving the death of Naboth and his sons. It is not recorded that Ahab took other wives or concubines.
Ahab may have been an emotionally ‘soft’ or ‘weak’ person in that he was influenced by others when he should have been following a straighter line, and that he showed significant remorse when his sin over Naboth was pointed out - at least enough for the Lord to commute his deserved punishment. Why is God willing to place the punishment of the fathers on to the children? Surely it is the father who sins. Why should another suffer a penalty for something he did not do, contrary to the standards of Ezekiel 33:1-20; Psalm 94:23; Proverbs 5:22; Jeremiah 31:30? (but NB Isaiah 53:6 and Exodus 34:7).
Ahab and Jezebel’s sinning was part of the continuous rebellion against God which characterised the Northern Kingdom from its inception, resulting in the Assyrian Captivity in 722 BC. Jeroboam 1st initiated idol/syncretistic worship of Jehovah at the beginning of the separation between North and South (931 BC) and subsequent Northern kings voluntarily followed his lead. Ahab was a stand-out, however, in that he was worse than all the kings that had been before him (1 Kings 16:30; Micah 6:16).
This was expressed in several ways. First, Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal the king of the Zidonians (rather than an Israelitess [1 Kings 16:31], entirely contrary to the commandment recorded by Moses prohibiting such marriages [Deuteronomy 7:3-4]. This law was openly flouted by Israel’s previous king, Solomon, and brought him down).
Ahab then built a house and an altar in Samaria to Baal, plus a grove for Baal worship (Asherah 16:31-33) aided and abetted by Jezebel (1 Kings 21:25-26). It is suggested by 16:31 that Jezebel caused Ahab to openly reject Jehovah in favour of Baal.
If Jeroboam had originally intended to make the golden calves Israel’s “super-diety” by combining idol worship with the worship of Jehovah, then Ahab made a blatant turn away from this half-way syncretism and openly worshipped a pagan god in his capital city. Ahab did these things: “as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (1 Kings 16:31).
Baal worship (connected with Tophet in the Valley of Hinnom next to Jerusalem) includes child sacrifice (2 Kings 17:16-17) although this vile practice is commonly associated with the worship of Molech, another Canaanite deity. Baal worship also includes ritual sexual practices and fertility rites and was one of the most condemned of the religions of the nations in the land, completely justifying God’s requirement that the Canaanites should be exterminated at the Eisodus. The Israelites did not do this and the kingdom-split and captivity are the direct results of their apostasy (2 Kings 17:1-18) which is directly akin to adultery in a spiritual sense (Jeremiah 3:6; Ezekiel 23).
Discuss the doctrine of Sin as shown in the characters of Ahab and Jezebel:
There are multiple definitions of sin and its characteristics. One of the more reasonable is taken from the Larger Catechism (Westminster): “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of any law (character) of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.” Ahab and Jezebel certainly demonstrate that they wilfully refuse to conform to the character of God. They remain reasonable creatures in their consistent application of their sin natures to the world around them.
Ahab is his father Omri’s son. Although God will “visit(ing) the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation”, this is not an invariable sequence as shown in some of the succession of the kings of Judah (both from bad to good and vice versa). However, Ahab not only follows his father’s bad example, but worsens it - Omri conditions his son’s sin nature, Ahab feeds it. This is the natural consequence of being born in the image of fallen Adam, rather than the image of God. Only the willingly received intervention of God can break this cycle.
Ahab deliberately disregards God in his choice of wife.
Ahab allows the world (?), his flesh (?) and the devil (?) [all three in the person of Jezebel?] to blatantly turn him away from God to idolatry and to cause the northern kingdom to follow him in it. Sin wants to exercise the pleasures of the flesh as well as bolstering one’s own confidence in sin by convincing others that sin is right to do.
Ahab’s notion of right and wrong is severely distorted (see above and below). One such example is his interaction with the invading Syrian armies under Benhadad. Benhadad besieges Samaria and demands Ahab’s silver, gold, wives and the best of the children (1 Kings 20:1-4). Without any protest whatsoever, Ahab says OK, whatever you want. This is not political expediency rather than full cowardly submission without any reference to Jehovah, as proven by subsequent events.
Jehovah gives Ahab the victory over Syria twice because His reputation is at stake, but Ahab chooses to treat the idolatrous Benhadad with pragmatic economic rationalism, rather than with the execution that would have been right (1 Kings 20). God sends a prophet specifically to rebuke Ahab for this.
Both Ahab and Jezebel’s consciences are seared with regular abuse for they do not stop at murder to achieve a personal desire - a ‘want’. There ought not to be a fine line between good and evil (although some times we all have a problem with this) - there ought to be a great gulf fixed ie the way God sees it. Ahab fails to see that Naboth cannot give up his land, on account of Leviticus 25:23 (and Deuteronomy 27:17); and the fact that God owns the Land, His people being the stewards (Psalm 24:1). Ahab has no right to ask for it.
Sinfulness deepens as Ahab has a fit of ‘poor me’, and Jezebel plots Naboth’s (and his sons as inheritors’) death using flattery and deceit with false accusation. She abuses the king’s power over his kingdom by usurping it, and such is the spiritual state of enough of the people under their combined rule that there is more than enough sinful subjects to carry out the flagrant injustice of it all.
Sinners see the consequences of their own sin and blame God’s people for it - in this case Ahab blames Elijah for causing the long drought (1 Kings 18:17).
Sin caused the nation to forsake Jehovah and turn to Baal. God’s reply is to arrange a simple effective demonstration that even in an idolatrous mind would settle the question of who was boss (1 Kings 18:21). Hence the contest on Carmel which was acceptable to the people. The nation after this has no excuse to worship any but Jehovah but they fail to repent. As today, General Revelation rightly condemns many who want to go their own sinful way.
“All Israel” was present at this encounter (1 Kings 18:19). Their sin natures prevented them from siding with Elijah from the beginning; they were influenced by their past, the peer pressure of their fellows, the king and the 850 priests in their pageantry, and by the seeming impotence of a single old man with attitude. When they see the superiority of Jehovah they exclaim over it with head knowledge (18:39) but do not see the need of repentance. Sin 1: Jehovah ½. The Jews require signs for faith and belief but in this situation, even a sign which is proof of the Creator’s omnipotence is not enough.
Commitment to a religion requires earnestness. In that case, the prophets of Baal could not be condemned on the grounds of commitment as they capered and cut themselves beseeching their ‘one and only’ to answer their call; such is the deception of sin.
Ahab is willing to receive the advice of the prophets in Jezebel’s pay, even though he knows they prophesy only to tell him what they think will please him. He is opposed to accepting the advice of a prophet (Micaiah ben Imlah) whom he knows to be Godly, on the grounds that previous prophecy has always been unpleasant or against him, not understanding that it is his own sin that is the cause of this.
In Ahab’s final battle (against the Syrians under Benhadad and in alliance with Jehoshaphat of Judah), Ahab seeks to protect himself and expose Jehoshaphat to danger by making himself inconspicuous as a regular soldier. God has a way of exposing such cowardice by directing a chance arrow to kill Ahab that very day.
The alliance with Judah also demonstrates the powerfulness of sin. Jehoshaphat was generally one of Israel’s better kings in a spiritual sense, but he allowed himself to be conned by Ahab into a war that was strictly not Judah’s business - sin sucks in the unwary. In addition, Ahab gave his (very evil) daughter Athaliah to Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram in marriage, resulting in more than ten years of Baal worship in Judah. It was not until Jehoshaphat’s grandson, Joash, was made king that the situation could be reversed.
It should be noted that those who remained righteous were comforted and sustained during the judgments of God on the idolatry of others eg Elijah is personally fed and watered during the drought (and even when he was on the run from Jezebel). Obadiah is protected in Ahab’s court and is in turn able to succour 100 of God’s priests. The household at Zarephath was also sustained because of their support for the righteous Elijah. Sin drags one’s fellows down, righteousness holds them up, even if they are not ‘saved’ or of the same mind. It is sin’s nature to do this - well illustrated by Ahab and Jezebel’s influence over Israel.
Compare the ministries of Elijah and John the Baptist:
Elijah appears suddenly on the scene, and there is no record of his commissioning from God, although God uses him to great effect. His first act is to go straight to Ahab regarding a prophecy of a prolonged drought (1 Kings 17 cf James 5:17). The drought appears to be only the result of Elijah’s prayer but is entirely consistent with the then-existing written Word of God (Deuteronomy 11:16-17).
John’s ministry is amply prophesied in the Word before his appearing, being directly appointed by God for his tasks (John 1:6-8). Once he has finished his preparation in the wilderness, John goes straight to the point of his message concerning the imminent appearance of the Lamb of God, without partiality to whom he preaches, making sure that every class of person gets to clearly hear what he has to say.
Elijah’s ministry was also forceful and full of God’s righteousness. This was entirely appropriate for a community that was hard-core in its idol worship, needing strong opposition to its rebellion against YHWH. Only an Elijah was suitable to rebuke the king of Israel for his idolatry even to the prophesying of the extermination of his ‘house’ (fulfilled under Jehu 2 Kings 10:10). John’s preaching and rebuke of the ruling Pharisees and Herod required similar courage and forthrightness; the consequence for Elijah was translation to heaven in a whirlwind, for John, beheading in Herod’s prison.
Both men remind the nation of their sources in Jehovah, of His continued requirement for single minded worship and His provision for them and prophecies about them as stated in His Word. John backs up his picture by the sign of baptism for the repentance of sins; Elijah his by the signs mentioned above demonstrating Jehovah’s power and righteous anger. Both men announce coming judgment.
Both Elijah’s and John’s view of Israel were similar: the nation and its leaders were corrupt and in need of restoration), of eschatology (God will soon come to judge the nation and restore the true Israel), and of ethics (Israel must repent and practise righteousness).
Elijah’s faith was simple and direct ie he was so sure of Jehovah’s power, righteousness and reputation that he ridiculed the prophets of Baal when they were trying to encourage their own god to act on Carmel. John’s message is preached with similar faith.
Elijah is first recognised as a man of God by the widow of Zarephath after ‘he’ raises her son from the dead. John is a ‘man come from God’ and it is not long before he is being questioned as to exactly who he thought he was (John 1:19-25).
Elijah gets discouraged when his expectations are frustrated eg the nation does not turn to Jehovah even when Elijah demonstrates that Jehovah has ‘the keys of heaven’ in that it does not rain for three and a half years, nor does the nation turn when the prophets of Baal and the people declare that “Jehovah he is God!” after the contest on Carmel. In particular, Ahab does not come out from under his domination by Jezebel. John has frustrations but of a different kind. When imprisoned he needs reassurance that Jesus really is the promised Messiah.
Elijah’s final acts of ministry are three: to anoint a king over Syria (Hazael), to anoint a new king over Israel (Jehu, northern kingdom), and to anoint a successor to himself (Elisha). These three acts are designed to rid Israel of Baal worship. John’s ministry is to announce the restoration of Israel in Christ (John 1:14-17) in a similar fashion to Elijah’s.
Historically, Elijah is taken up before he can complete these tasks and they are left to Elisha to do.
Before he goes, and after Ahab’s death, Elijah under God personally passes judgment on Ahab’s son and grandson for their wickedness (2 Kings 1), and sends a letter to Jehoram, Jehoshaphat’s successor reigning in Judah, of a plague that will engulf him on account of his apostasy (2 Chronicles 21:12-15). John’s last action which causes his imprisonment is his public indictment of Herod’s adultery with Herod’s aunt-in-law Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.
Elijah’s faith in Jehovah apparently fails him at the last minute when Elisha asks him to confirm him as his successor. John also had last minute doubts (see above).
Elijah’s ministry does not stop with his being taken up in a whirlwind. He will return “before the great and terrible day of the Lord……..to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children……….” (Malachi 4:5-6). John refuses to be directly identified with Elijah perhaps largely on account of this prophecy (John 1:21, 25 but note Jesus’ comment about Elijah and John - Matthew 11:14; Mark 9:11-13). John is Elijah only in a figurative sense and he is not prophesied to return for any special purpose.
In 1 Kings 19:9-18 Elijah is full of self-pity. Explain how God “counsels” him:
Interestingly, this incident takes place on Mount Sinai where God appeared personally to Moses. Elijah is irritated regarding the effectiveness of his ministry and is in some despair over his flight from Jezebel - he has travelled about 200 km. He has the mistaken idea that he, of all the people of Israel, is the only one left true to Jehovah - perhaps he also had the next logical thought that God would now have to make him ‘the father of many nations’, and appear to him, too.
God has strengthened him for this journey for the express purpose of refocusing his effort and restoring his confidence. God begins by asking Elijah “What doest thou here?” This is a gentle rebuke that Elijah has deserted his post.
God indeed manifests Himself to Elijah as He passes by in the wind strong enough to rend the rocks, the earthquake and the fire - all signs that are also associated with Baal - but God does this to remind Elijah of His creative dominion and power. Elijah’s response is to remain huddled up in his cave (v 13).
It is the subsequent still small voice that grabs Elijah’s attention. The weapons of God’s warfare are spiritual, not carnal as Elijah is used to manifesting; the secret voice that speaks to the heart, the mind and the conscience, for the Lord will “keep mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:7), a balance that Elijah had lost (perhaps not unreasonably for the signs that the Lord had him perform were public and judgmental).
Elijah grudgingly half-obeys God’s command to go outside. God repeats His question, and although Elijah replies with the same words, it is highly likely that after God’s demonstration of power, his tone is entirely different, indicating humiliation regarding his previous attitude and a renewed dependence on the ‘still small voice’ instead of the public display of power. He has realised that he acted hastily and without faith, wanting to do God’s work his own way.
He is instantly obedient to his next commission which is to return to the fray and anoint those who God has pointed out, however unsuitable they may appear to human logic (or to Elijah himself in the case of Elisha).
Finally, God reassures him of the existence of 7000 colleagues - he is by no means alone.
Describe the significance of Ahab’s reign in Israel’s history (1 Kings 16:30): see above.
Appreciate Elijah’s example of a righteous man living in a wicked society: see above.
J.I. Packer, Merrill Chapin Tenney and William White, Nelson's Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, 429 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995).
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Originally published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948., 2:227 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993).
T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).