(ay' hab) HEBREW: AHAB
"father's brother" or "the Father (God) is my brother"

The son of Omri, Ahab ruled the northern kingdom of Israel form about 869 to 850 B.C., a period of renewed vitality and strength. As the defender of Israel against Syria, Ahab is described as a competent leader with widespread support. But he is denounced for religious policies that "did more to provoke the Lord... to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him" (1 Kg. 16:33).

Ahab's father, Omri, formed an alliance with the Phoenicians through the marriage of his son to Jezebel, daughter of the Phoenician king Ethbaal. Omri and Ahab also stopped the long war with Judah; their desire for an alliance was later achieved when Ahab married his daughter Athaliah to Jehoram, the crown prince of Judah.

Apparently, Ahab was primarily a worshiper of Yahweh, Israel's God, and all his children who are identified have names that praise Yahweh. A large part of his kingdom, however, remained Canaanite, and Ahab accomodated these subjects by granting the Canaanite god Baal the same standing as Yahweh and allowing Jezebel to support many priests and prophets of Baal.

This policy brought conflict with Elijah, who condemned Ahab's tolerance as "limping with two different opinions" (1 Kg. 18:21). The dispute turned violent when Jezebel, who was exclusively devoted to her god, executed many prophets of Yahweh, Elijah pointed to a severe drought as Yahweh's punishment on Israel and asked Ahab to arrange a contest on Mount Carmel between himself and the prophets of Baal. When Elijah won the contest and immediately killed hundreds of Baal's prophets, and when Jezebel in turn swore to kill Elijah, Ahab perhaps was that his policy of religious tolerance could not survive.

Ahab's greatest military challenge came from Ben-hadad, the Syrian king of Damascus, who besieged Samaria. Though Ahab was ready to surrender extensive treasure, he refused to open the city. Guided by a prophet of Yahweh, Ahab sprang a surpruse attack on the invaders and overwhelmed them. When Ben-hadad attacked again the next year, Ahab was ready and met him at Aphek east of Galilee. Again, an oracle of Yahweh promising victory was fulfilled.

In 853 B.C., Ahab joined with Damascus and other cities to confront the fierce Assyrian army of Shalmaneser III in the battle of Qarqar. The Assyrians claimed a triumph, but, in reality, their advance south was stopped for several years.

The alliance with Damascus broke down as Ahab built close ties with King Jehoshaphat of Judah, with whom he planned a joint campaign to regain Ramoth-gilead from Syrain control. The battle went well until a stray arrow pierced a seam in Ahab's armor and killed him. Jezebel remained powerful during the reigns of their two sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

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