April 20 Reading: I Kings 20-22 Commentary
“But Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you’…And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, ‘Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.'” (I Kings 21:3, 15)
“But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up.” (I Kings 21:25)
You may have heard it said about marriage that behind every good man there is a good woman. Well, the opposite is also true. It is interesting that the most wicked king in Israel’s history (King Ahab) would be married to the most wicked queen in Israel’s history – Jezebel. Together, they formed a dynamic and powerfully wicked team.
Elijah was sent by God to persuade King Ahab to turn from his wickedness. But Jezebel’s influence over her husband was much stronger than Elijah’s. After the dramatic incident at Mount Caramel, she put out an all points bulletin on Elijah which caused him to flee for his life (I Kings 19).
Jezebel’s influence over her husband continued when she helped him gain possession of a vineyard by killing its owner. That incident in today’s reading led Elijah to pronounce a devastating prophecy about Ahab and Jezebel’s future.
All in all, Jezebel was one of the most wicked characters in the Bible. The name has become synonymous with an immoral and wicked woman who schemes and plans to get what she wants. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see parents today assign this name to their baby girls.
I Kings 20 – Ahab Fights the Syrians
Alliances were common in the ancient middle east. Kings would form coalitions with other kings if they had the same agenda. In I Kings 20, Ben-Hadad, king of Syria (the land of Aram with Damascus as its capital – see II Kings 5:1), formed an alliance with 32 other kings in the region to come up against Ahab and Israel (vv. 1-3).
There was an attempt at diplomacy between the two leaders as to avoid unnecessary fighting (vv. 4-12). Ahab was not sure that he could withstand such a force, so he tried to appease the Syrian king. But when Ben-Hadad became rude in the negotiations and demanded more than Ahab was willing to give, the two sides shifted into battle mode.
It was at that point that a prophet suddenly appeared before Ahab. The prophet told Ahab, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the Lord'” (v. 13). Furthermore, the prophet said that Ahab would be the one to lead the army into battle (v. 14).
Ahab gathered up 232 young leaders and an additional 7,000 men to fight (v. 15) and marched out against Ben-Hadad’s coalition at noon. What Ahab’s army found was the opposing army, in their arrogance about the upcoming fight, getting drunk before battle (v. 16).
When the 232 young men approached with an initial skirmish, each one of them killed a man. This caused the Syrian army to flee (vv. 19-20). Ahab followed in pursuit and “killed the Syrians with a great slaughter” (v. 21).
However, the prophet who counseled Ahab previously warned that the Syrians would try again in the spring. So he encouraged Ahab to strengthen himself (v. 22).
The Syrians Try Again
The Syrians did not understand how the God of Israel worked. They thought that Israel’s gods were the “gods of the hills” (v. 23). Since the Syrians battled them previously in the hills, they had naturally been defeated.
So their plan this time was to fight Ahab in the plains. Ben-Hadad, who had barely escaped in the previous encounter (v. 20), listened to the advice of his commanders and began preparing for another engagement (v. 25).
The battle appeared to be a mismatch, with the Syrian forces vastly outnumbering Israel. But once again, a man of God came to Ahab saying, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Because the Syrians have said, ‘The Lord is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys,’ therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (v. 28). It is interesting to note that God’s defense of the nation was for Israel’s benefit and to send a message to King Ahab.
The opposing sides encamped against one another for seven days. Then on the seventh day, “the battle was joined; and the children of Israel killed one hundred thousand foot soldiers of the Syrians in one day. But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; then a wall fell on twenty-seven thousand of the men who were left” (vv. 29-30).
Ahab’s Treaty and Condemnation
Once again, Ben-Hadad escaped capture, fleeing “into the city, into an inner chamber” (v. 30). He sent servants to Ahab, hoping for come mercy by the king’s hand, and with an offer to restore all the cities his father had taken from Ahab’s father (v. 32-34). After all, they are both “brothers” (i.e. both kings)(v. 32-33).
In a surprise move, Ahab agreed to a treaty with Ben-Hadad (v. 34). The man who had sought to destroy Israel had his life spared, even though that is not what God intended (see vv. 13, 28).
God sent another prophet with a message for Ahab. He revealed the message in a unique way by injuring and disguising himself and then sharing a story with Ahab. It was all to point Ahab to the true message of the Lord which said: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Because you have let slip out of your hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people'” (v. 42).
So Ahab went away from the prophet in a bad mood, “sullen and displeased” (v. 43) at what he’d heard.
I Kings 21 – Ahab Steals a Vineyard
Some time after these things, Ahab desired a vineyard that was next to his palace. The only problem was that it was not his. It belonged to a man named Naboth.
Ahab sent Naboth a message, asking about the availability of the vineyard. He wanted to purchase it and turn it into a vegetable garden. He offered to pay Naboth whatever he deemed it was worth (vv. 1-2).
Naboth, however, had no interest in selling. He replied to Ahab: “The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!” (v. 3). Many things can be inferred from that sentence depending on where you put the emphasis in the verse. Regardless, Naboth wasn’t selling.
Ahab sure was moody. He’s described again as “sullen and displeased” over Naboth’s decision. It was so bad he laid in his bed and refused to eat (vv. 4-5).
When Jezebel found out what happened, she devised a plan for Ahab to gain possession of the vineyard (v. 7). She held a banquet to which Naboth was invited. Then, she hired two “scoundrels” to sit across from Naboth at the feast and accuse Naboth of blasphemy against the Lord. When the people heard the report of the two false witnesses, they took Naboth outside the city and stoned him (vv. 7-14).
At that point, Jezebel told Ahab that Naboth was dead. And he went and took possession of the vineyard (vv. 15-16).
Elijah Condemns Ahab’s Theft
The Lord was not pleased with Ahab and Jezebel’s actions in regards to Naboth’s vineyard. He told Elijah to speak to Ahab by saying,
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Have you murdered and also taken possession?’ And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick your blood, even yours'” (v. 19).
But that was only part of the message Elijah delivered. Elijah told Ahab that calamity was coming for his house. God would “take away your posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every male in Israel, both bond and free. I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked Me to anger, and made Israel sin” (vv. 21-23). In other words, no one would be left from Ahab’s house, whether slave or free.
Jezebel received her own death sentence. The Lord spoke through Elijah to her saying, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” (v. 24).
They brought this punishment on themselves. Verse 25 explains their behavior this way: “But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up.”
Interestingly enough, Ahab showed humility at this pronouncement. He put on sackcloth and fasted (v. 27). And based on what God said to Elijah in verse 29, Ahab demonstrated repentance for these actions. So God said that because of his humility, the judgment on Ahab would come after he’d died, in the days of his son (v. 29).
I Kings 22 – The Prophet Micaiah and Ahab
Syria and Israel had been at war before. Since the last attack by Ben-Hadad, three years had passed (v. 1). Now Ahab has his sights on securing Ramoth in Gilead and taking it away from the king of Syria (v. 3).
The king of Judah at this point is Jehoshaphat (v. 2). He was relative of Ahab through marriage. Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram married Ahab’s daughter Athaliah (II Kings 8:18, 27). Due to their familial relationship, Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to go to war with him against Syria (v. 4).
Before agreeing, Jehoshaphat wants to know the word of the Lord on the matter. The king had gathered all his prophets, 400 in all (v. 6). They all agreed that “the Lord will deliver it [Ramoth Gilead] into the hand of the king [Ahab]” (v. 6).
It appears Jehoshaphat was not buying their message. He wanted to hear from a true prophet of the Lord (v. 7). Ahab said only one remained, Micaiah, but that he never said anything good to Ahab (v. 8). Nevertheless, Micaiah was summoned and brought before the kings (v. 9).
Micaiah’s Message to Ahab
When Micaiah arrived, he played along and gave the same answer as the other prophets (v. 15). However, Ahab knew that Micaiah was not telling the truth. Maybe it was his tone of voice or body language but something tipped Ahab off that Micaiah was not being forthcoming. We know this because Ahab said, “How many times shall I make you swear that you tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” (v. 16).
So Micaiah tells him the truth:
“Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the Lord said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’ Therefore look! The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the Lord has declared disaster against you.” (vv. 19-23).
The lying prophets did not like Micaiah’s message and one of them named Zedekiah struck him on the face (v. 24). Ahab didn’t like the message either and sent Micaiah to prison (v. 27). And none of them headed Micaiah’s warning and they went to battle anyway.
For more on this incident see II Chron. 18:1-27.
Ahab and Jehoshaphat ignored the prophets message and went to try and capture Ramoth Gilead (v. 29). Ahab went in disguise so as to avoid detection by the enemy (v. 30). Jehoshaphat in the meantime, was used as a decoy to draw the army away from Ahab (vv. 31-33).
None of it mattered though. An archer drew a bow and fired an arrow at random. His arrow happened to strike Ahab between the joints of his armor. The king stayed “propped up in his chariot” all day as the battle raged. But when evening came he died and his blood ran out of the floor of the chariot and onto the ground. And they brought the king back to Samaria and buried him (see II Chron. 18:28-34).
And then “…someone washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria, and the dogs licked up his [Ahab’s] blood while the harlots bathed, according to the word of the Lord which He had spoken” (v. 38). Thus Elijah’s gruesome prediction concerning Ahab’s death was fulfilled (I Kings 21:19-24).
Jehoshaphat: King of Judah
We’ve already been introduced to Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. He took control of the kingdom after his father Asa died during the fourth year of Ahab’s reign. Jehoshaphat was 35 years old when he became king.
He followed in the godly footsteps of his father: “He did not turn aside from them, doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 43). The high places were not removed and people still sacrificed there. However, he did continue to expel the “perverted persons” who remained in the land that his father did not banish (v. 46).
For more on his reign see II Chron. 20:31-21:1.
Ahaziah: King of Israel
When Ahab died, his son Ahaziah became king in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah. His short reign of two years was marked by ungodliness. Ahaziah “…did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin; for he served Baal and worshiped him, and provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger, according to all that his father had done” (vv. 52-53)
Questions to Consider:
It is challenging sometimes to speak truth into another person’s life because we are scared about how we may hurt them. But we are doing them a disservice if we don’t share the truth about their situation.
Ever say something because you know it’s what the person wants to hear? A prophet Micaiah faced that when King Ahab’s advisors wanted him to speak favorably about an upcoming battle. But Micaiah took a bold step, predicting a different outcome, the one God intended to happen.
Ahab did not listen to the words of God’s true prophet and met a gruesome end, being killed in battle. Why do we ignore the truth and go our own way?
What other points would you want to know about in our I Kings 20-22 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.