Ahab king of the northern kingdom of Israel is front and center today. Ahab lived in the capital city of Samaria with his wife Jezebel who was just as evil and cruel as he was. Ahab may have been the king, but he was really a slave to sin. And we see that when Elijah pays Ahab a visit. The Lord sent Elijah to visit Ahab because of yet another sin he had committed. Ahab remarked that Elijah had found him as though Ahab had been in hiding. Elijah’s response speaks volumes about him. He said, “I have found you because you sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord.” Today's reading describes four events in Ahab’s life: three battles with the Syrians, then called Arameans, and a land grab scheme that involved an illegal trial and several murders. Because Ahab wasn't rightly related to the Word of the Lord he was enslaved to sin. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death and Ahab received his wages with dividends.
The King of Syria, Ben-Hadad gathered his allies, 32 kings, who could have also been tribal chieftains or mayors or men of influence, to go to battle against Ahab and the northern kingdom. It was common practice in those days to form alliances. This often brought peace, and a measure of security for various countries and city-states. We usually see Ahab as simply evil but here he appears to have some sense of leadership and a feel for international diplomacy. He also seemed to havesome sense about himself in times of turmoil, although maybe not so much when it is personal. However, he does not have a relationship with the Lord. Ben-Hadad had several reasons for wanting to defeat the northern kingdom. Israel was just coming off three years of famine and would be in a weakened state so he figured Israel would be easy pickings. He also wanted Israel because the Assyrians to the north were growing in strength and territory and Ben-Hadad wanted to hold them off. And third, he wanted to control the trade routes that wound their way through Israel. He had already lost the routes that were now under Assyrian control.
When Ben-Hadad came visiting, he demanded Ahab’s wealth and his family, and Ahab agreed. Ben- Hadad planned to holdthe family hostage just to make sure Ahab didn't back out of his agreement. Instead of calling in Elijah or on the Lord, Ahab capitulated. But Ben-Hadad wanted more. That would lead to his defeat. Ahab refused. When Ben-Hadad got this message, it seems he was drunk and feeling very brave and he made a very unwise decision. He probably could have gotten most of what he wanted without losing any soldiers but instead he made an oath to grind Israel to powder. Then he had to live up to this boast.Ahab had nothing to stand on, but in His grace the Lord sent Ahab a message of hope. The Lord would see that Ahab was victorious. Just like the Lord did on Mount Carmel with the 450 prophets of Baal, He would again prove that He was the one and only true God.
Ahab sent his soldiers out at noon, knowing Ben-Hadad and his men would be eating and drinking, and they would be in no condition to fight. Ahab's men caught the Syrians off guard, and they proceeded to wipe out the Syrian army. Ben-Hadad got on his horse and fled but because Ahab believed the word that came from the Lord and acted on it, God gave him a great victory. But Ahab was also warned that the next spring Ben-Hadad would be back, so he needed to be ready. In Syria Ben-Hadad’s men were explaining the great loss by blaming it on the terrain. They reasoned that Israel's God was a God of the hills and because they fought in the hills that brought Syria defeat. The next battle would be on the plains because Israel's God would not be able to fight on the plains. But Israel's God is also a God of the plains and the Syrians were soundly defeated again. Ben-Hadad fled, seeking shelter in the city of Aphek. He was captured but managed to make a treaty with Ahab and Ahab let him go. That angered the Lord because he was using Ahab to discipline Ben-Hadad. This act of disobedience would cost Ahab his life.
Ben-Hadad was the man Ahab should have killed and Naboth was the man Ahab should have protected but Ahab killed him. When you sell yourself to do evil, you will call evil good and good evil. So, we look at the story of Ahab, Naboth, and Jezebel. Naboth had a vineyard very close to Ahab’s summer palace at Jezreel. Ahab wanted this vineyard because He needed a vegetable garden. Ahab did recognize that all land was really the Lord's, so he tried to negotiate with Naboth. It was family land for generations and Naboth said no to the king. While Ahab had the guts to stand up to Ben-Hadad, being told no by Naboth caused him to sulk and pout. Jezebel took matters into her own wicked hands. Acting as Ahab she ordered a mock trial for Naboth where he would be found guilty and stoned to death along with his sons. But look at what Ahab and Jezebel did to the Ten Commandments. The first two commandments declare that the Lord is the only true God and that he is the only God to be worshiped. Ahab coveted the land Naboth had and wanted it for his own. This is the last of the Ten Commandments. To get rid of Naboth, two scoundrels were hired to bear false witness against him. He was convicted of some crime and then he was led outside of the town and killed. That is two more commandments broken. There was no one left in Naboth’s family to inherit the land, but it was clan land. It should have stayed within the clan, but Ahab took it for his own, breaking the commandment to not steal.
If ever two people were guilty of blaspheming the Lord, it was Ahab and Jezebel. Judgement was about to fall. Again, the Lord sent Elijah to Ahab with a pronouncement of judgement. Ahab had shed innocent blood and his guilty blood would be licked up by the dogs. What a way to end his reign! Ahab would die dishonorably, and the dogs would lick up his blood while Jezebel would also die and be eaten by the dogs. In a very strange turn of events, instead of going home to pout, Ahab actually repented. The Lord saw his heart and accepted his humiliation. God didn't cancel his sentence of judgement but postponed them until the reign of Ahab’s son Joram. Ahab was slain on the battlefield and the dogs licked up his blood at the pool of Samaria. And the dogs licked up the blood of his son Joram on Naboth’s property. Later events proved that Ahab’s repentance was short lived, but God had given him another chance to turn from his life of sin and return to His Word.
One of my favorite lines from today's reading comes in chapter 22. Ahab has enlisted the help of Jehoshaphat, king of the southern kingdom of Judah. When they meet up Ahab wants to go to war, but Jehoshaphat asks if there is a prophet of the Lordavailable to consult first, indicating he didn't trust the host of prophets who Ahab relied upon. Ahab’s response was there was one prophet of the Lord left but Ahab didn't like him because he always prophesied dreadful things about him. Ahab looked upon this prophet, Micaiah, as his enemy. That was the case for anyone who did not agree with Ahab or bring him the news he wanted to hear. We will read more about Ahab when we reach the Book of 1 Chronicles.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W