Fausset's Bible Dictionary


1. Son of Omri; seventh king of the northern kingdom of Israel, second of his dynasty; reigned 28 years, from 919 to 897 B.C. Having occasional good impulses (1Ki_21:27), but weak and misled by his bad wife Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of Zidon, i.e. Phoenicia in general. The Tyrian historians, Dius and Menander, mention Eithobalus as priest of Ashtoreth. Having murdered Pheles, he became king of Tyre. Menander mentions a drought in Phoenicia; compare 1 Kings 17. He makes him sixth king after Hiram of Tyre, the interval being 50 years, and Eithobalus' reign 32; thus he would be exactly contemporary with Ahab (Josephus c. Apion, 1:18.) Ahab, under Jezebel's influence, introduced the impure worship of the sun-god Baal, adding other gods besides Jehovah, a violation of the first commandment, an awful addition to Jeroboam's sin of the golden calves, which at Dan and Bethel (like Aaron's calves) were designed (for state policy) as images of the one true God, in violation of the second commandment; compare 2Ki_17:9; "the children of Israel did secretly things Hebrew covered words that were not right Hebrew so against the Lord," i.e., veiled their real idolatry with flimsy pretexts, as the church of Rome does in its image veneration.

The close relation of the northern kingdom with Tyre in David's and Solomon's time, and the temporal advantage of commercial intercourse with that great mart of the nations, led to an intimacy which, as too often happens in amalgamation between the church and the world, ended in Phoenicia seducing Israel to Baal and Astarte, instead of Israel drawing Phoenicia to Jehovah; compare 2Co_6:14-18. Ahab built an altar and temple to Baal in Samaria, and "made a grove," i.e. a sacred symbolic tree (asheerah), the symbol of Ashtoreth (the idol to whom his wife's father was priest), the moon-goddess, female of Baal; else Venus, the Assyrian Ishtar (our "star".) Jehovah worship was scarcely tolerated; but the public mind seems to have been in a halting state of indecision between the two, Jehovah and Baal, excepting 7000 alone who resolutely rejected the idol; or they thought to form a compromise by uniting the worship of Baal with that of Jehovah. Compare Hos_2:16; Amo_5:25-27; Amo_5:1 Kings 18; 19. Jezebel cut off Jehovah's prophets, except 100 saved by Obadiah.

So prevalent was idolatry that Baal had 450 prophets, and Asherah ("the groves") had 400, whom Jezebel entertained at her own table. God chastised Israel with drought and famine, in answer to Elijah's prayer which he offered in jealousy for the honor of God, and in desire for the repentance of his people (1 Kings 17; Jam_5:17-18). When softened by the visitation, the people were ripe for the issue to which Elijah put the conflicting claims to Jehovah and Baal at Carmel, and on the fire from heaven consuming the prophet's sacrifice, fell on their faces and exclaimed with one voice, "Jehovah, He is the God; Jehovah, He is the God." Baal's prophets were slain at the brook Kishon, and the national judgment, through Elijah's prayers, was withdrawn, upon the nation's repentance. Ahab reported all to Jezebel, and she threatened immediate death to Elijah. Ahab was pre-eminent for luxurious tastes; his elaborately ornamented ivory palace (1Ki_22:39; Amo_3:15), the many cities he built or restored, as Jericho (then belonging to Israel, not Judah) in defiance of Joshua's curse (1Ki_16:34), his palace and park at Jezreel (now Zerin), in the plain of Esdraelon, his beautiful residence while Samaria was the capital, all show his magnificence.

But much would have more, and his coveting Naboth's vineyard to add to his gardens led to an awful display of Jezebel's unscrupulous wickedness and his selfish weakness. "Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? ... I will give thee the vineyard." By false witness suborned at her direction, Naboth and his sons (after he had refused to sell his inheritance to Ahab, Lev_25:23) were stoned; and Ahab at Jezebel's bidding went down to take possession (1 Kings 21; 2Ki_9:26). This was the turning point whereat his doom was sealed. Elijah with awful majesty denounces his sentence, "in the place where dogs licked Naboth's blood, shall dogs lick thine" (fulfilled to the letter on Joram his offspring, 2 Kings 9, primarily also on Ahab himself, but not "in the place" where Naboth's blood was shed); while the king abjectly cowers before him with the cry, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" All his male posterity were to be cut off, as Jeroboam's and Baasha's, the two previous dynasties, successively had been (See ELIJAH). Execution was stayed owing to Ahab's partial and temporary repentance; for he seems to have been capable of serious impressions at times (1Ki_20:43); so exceedingly gracious is God at the first dawning of sorrow for sin.

Ahab fought three campaigns against Benhadad II., king of Damascus. The arrogance of the Syrian king, who besieged Samaria, not content with the claim to Ahab's silver, gold, wives, and children being conceded, but also threatening to send his servants to search the Israelite houses for every pleasant thing, brought on him God's wrath. A prophet told Ahab that Jehovah should deliver to him by the young men of the princes of the provinces (compare 1Co_1:27-29) the Syrian multitude of which Benhadad vaunted, "The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me" (1 Kings 20). "Drinking himself drunk" with his 32 vassal princes, he and his force were utterly routed. Compare for the spiritual application 1Th_5:2-8. Again Benhadad, according to the prevalent idea of local gods, thinking Jehovah a god of the hills (His temple being on mount Zion and Samaria being on a hill) and not of the plains, ventured a battle on the plains at Aphek, E. of Jordan, with an army equal to his previous one.

He was defeated and taken prisoner, but released, on condition of restoring to Ahab all the cities of Israel which he held, and making streets for Ahab in Damascus, as his father had made in Samaria (i.e. of assigning an Israelites' quarter in Damascus, where their judges should have paramount authority, for the benefit of Israelites resident there for commerce and political objects). A prophet invested with the divine commission ("in the word of the Lord": Hag_1:13) requested his neighbor to smite him; refusing, he was slain by a lion. Another, at his request, smote and wounded him. By this symbolic act, and by a parable of his having suffered an enemy committed to him to escape, the prophet intimated that Ahab's life should pay the forfeit of his having suffered to escape with life one appointed by God to destruction. This disobedience, like Saul's in the case of Amalek, owing to his preferring his own will to God's, coupled with his treacherous and covetous murder of Naboth, brought on him his doom in his third campaign against Benhadad three years subsequently.

With Jehoshaphat, in spite of the prophet Micaiah's warning, and urged on by an evil spirit in the false prophets, he tried to recover Ramoth Gilead (1 Kings 22). Benhadad's chief aim was to slay Ahab, probably from personal hostility owing to the gratuitousness of the attack. Conscience made Ahab a coward, and selfishness made him reckless of his professed friendship to Jehoshaphat. Compare 2Ch_18:2; feasting and a display of hospitality often seduce the godly. So he disguised himself, and urged his friend to wear the royal robes. The same Benhadad whom duty to God ought to have led him to execute as a blasphemer, drunkard, and murderer, was in retribution made the instrument of his own destruction (1Ki_20:10; 1Ki_20:16; 1Ki_20:42). That false friendship which the godly king of Judah ought never to have formed (2Ch_19:2; 1Co_15:33) would have cost him his life but for God's interposition (2Ch_18:31) "moving them to depart from him." Ahab's treachery did not secure his escape, an arrow "at a venture" humanly speaking, but guided by God really, wounded him fatally; and the dogs licked up his blood, according to the Lord's word of which Joram's case in 2Ki_9:25 was a literal fulfillment (1Ki_21:19), on the very spot, while his chariot and armor were being washed (1Ki_22:38).

The Assyrian Black Obelisk mentions "Ahab of Jezreel," his ordinary residence, and that he furnished the confederacy, including Benhadad, against, Assyria 10,000 footmen and 2000 chariots, and that they were defeated. At first sight this seemingly contradicts Scripture, which makes Benhadad Ahab's enemy. But an interval of peace of three years occurred between Ahab's two Syrian wars (1Ki_22:1). In it Ahab doubtless allied himself to Benhadad against the Assyrians. Fear of them was probably among his reasons for granting Benhadad easy terms when in his power (1Ki_20:34). When the Assyrians came in the interval that followed, Ahab was confederate with Benhadad. Hence arose his exasperation at the terms granted to Benhadad, whereby he gained life and liberty, being violated in disregard of honor and gratitude (1Ki_22:3). The Moabite stone mentions Omri's son; "He also said, I will oppress Moab," confirming Scripture that it was not until after Ahab's death that Moab rebelled (2Ki_1:1; 2Ki_3:4-5). (See DIBON.)

2. A false prophet, who deceived with flattering prophecies of an immediate return the Jews in Babylon, and was burnt to death by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer_29:21-22). The names of him and Zedekiah, his fellow deceiver, were doomed to be a byword for a curse.


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)