The Book of 1 Kings is 22 chapters long. Solomon, wisest and richest of Israel’s kings and builder of the one temple dedicated to Yahweh, dominates 11 of them. Ahab, king of Israel (918-897 BC), features in 7 of them. Why this attention to Ahab? An ironic reason: Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him (1 Kings 16:30). A more edifying reason: Yahweh’s creative response to Ahab’s multi-faceted evil through the prophet Elijah.
Ahab sins: he perpetuates the sin of Jeroboam by subordinating the worship of Yahweh to that of Jupiter (called Baal), marries Jezebel of Sidon (a foreigner and enthusiastic Olympian), builds a temple in the capital city of Samaria and dedicates it to Jupiter, and sponsors the worship of Venus (vs. 31-33). These are just the highlights.
When the people of Yahweh demanded a human king, they got a concentration of power in sinful hands. Yahweh’s creative response to this was to call individuals without power as his prophets of freedom. Yahweh confronted Saul, the first human king of Israel, with his liberating word through Samuel; David, through Nathan; Solomon, indirectly through Ahijah (11:22-40).
Yahweh confronts Ahab through Elijah. First he has Elijah tell Ahab that Yahweh will punish him with drought. Yahweh then sends Elijah away from the land of Israel for his own protection (17:3).
During the drought and Elijah’s absence, Jezebel the queen—zealous worshiper of the six false Olympian gods—busies herself with murdering as many prophets of Yahweh as possible. Obadiah, responsible for running the royal palace, risks his own life to hide 100 of them from Jezebel’s wrath and feed them. (18:1-16).
After more than two years, Yahweh sends Elijah back to Ahab. When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals (vs. 17-18).
Elijah commands Ahab to assemble all Israel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal who eat at Jezebel’s table, for a decisive event on Mt. Carmel. Ahab does so. Elijah tells the assembled people of Yahweh to stop dividing their loyalty between Jupiter and Yahweh. To help them, he proposes that two sacrifices be prepared. Then the prophets of Jupiter will pray to Jupiter, he will pray to Yahweh, and the god who answers with fire proves himself the one true god. The people agree. When Yahweh alone answers with fire, all the people fall on their faces and shout their undivided loyalty to Yahweh. Elijah then has all the prophets of Jupiter put to death. Shortly afterward, rain starts falling again (18:19-46).
The victory of Yahweh on Mt. Carmel impresses Ahab but infuriates Jezebel. She commits herself to having Elijah murdered within 24 hours. Elijah flees the land of Israel once more. He ends up atop Mt. Sinai. Yahweh first questions his presence there and then commands him to anoint new kings for Syria and Israel and Elisha as prophet in his place. While Elijah laments that he is the last man of Yahweh standing, Yahweh assures him that he sustains 7,000 in Israel who have never bent their knees to the Olympians (ch. 19).
Perhaps surprisingly, Yahweh continues to work with Ahab. Prophets of Yahweh assure Ahab that Yahweh has delivered Ben-hadad, king of Syria, and the army of Syria into his hands for destruction. Ahab attacks, defeats the Syrian army, but releases Ben-hadad on favorable terms. As with Saul, Yahweh sends a prophet to confront the king for this disobedience. The prophet tells Ahab that Yahweh will require his life for the life of Ben-hadad he spared (ch. 20).
Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard. Naboth refuses to sell the ancestral heritage of his family to the king. True worshiper of Jupiter that she is, Jezebel has Naboth judicially murdered and makes Ahab the vineyard’s new owner. True god that he is, Yahweh sends Elijah to tell Ahab that he, his wife Jezebel, and all their sons will be put to death in response (ch. 22). And so they are.
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