Ahab and Jezebel

by Deborah Horscroft

In our series of studies about people of the Old Testament we have met great men and women of inspiring faith. We have also seen their human failings, and sometimes these are easier for us to relate to. Through their stories the greater story of God’s redeeming love and faithfulness has been evident.

The subject of this month’s study, however, is a couple who did not have an inspiring faith in God. In fact, despite being the rulers of Israel, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel worshipped Canaanite gods, like Baal and the goddess Asherah. They are a study in “How Not to Live”.

In 1 Kings 16:30-33 Ahab and Jezebel are introduced thus:

“Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.”

Their story reads like an ancient soap opera. It would be comic, if they had not been responsible for leading God’s people.

“So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.’ He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat. His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, ‘Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?’ He answered her, ‘Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, “Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.” But he said, “I will not give you my vineyard.'” Jezebel his wife said, ‘Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.'” (1 Kings 21:4-7)

Jezebel was a thoroughly modern woman, ahead of her time. Liz Curtis Higgs sums it up well in “Bad Girls of the Bible”, calling her bold, courageous, assertive, intelligent and proud. She was a strong woman of royal descent, born to leadership. She was also a devious, murderous, idolatrous, ruthless, domineering, power-hungry megalomaniac. Jezebel had no respect for her husband, the people of Israel, their laws or their God. She was the daughter of the High Priest of Baal and indulged in witchcraft. Jezebel, queen of Israel, was the Old Testament poster child for why one should not marry outside of the faith.

1 Kings 18:4 also tells us that Jezebel was systematically killing off the Lord’s prophets in an effort to quell the voice of the Lord, which led to a somewhat awkward moment when Jehoshaphat, king of neighbouring Judah, was visiting. Rather than be happy listening to the Baal-serving yes men produced by Ahab, King Jehoshaphat wanted to inquire of God concerning whether a battle should be fought.

“But Jehoshaphat asked, ‘Is there not a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?’ The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.’ ‘The king should not say that,’ Jehoshaphat replied.” (1 Kings 22:8)

There are so many “How Not To” lessons to learn from this couple:

  • How not to lead a people in righteousness
  • How not to choose a good wife
  • How not to treat your husband, neighbour, local minister
  • How not to be a good role model
  • How not to bring up Godly children

Ahab’s one and only redeeming quality was that when faced with God’s wrath Ahab did humble himself for a time, and God’s incredible mercy was revealed. This family also experienced God’s fearful judgement. These themes of judgement and repentance are further explored in the second of the “Messages from the Messiah” series with a three part study exploring The Message of Repentance.