13 September 2011

"Ahab said to Elijah, 'Have you found me, O my enemy?' He answered, 'I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you.'" (vv. 20-21a)


King Ahab reigned in Israel from about 869 to 850BC. His marriage to Jezebel, the Phoenician princess and Baal worshipper, was roundly condemned, and the account of his reign in 1 Kings makes it clear that, in the view of the writers, he led Israel to sin, a phrase that normally is used criticise rulers in terms of the first commandment ("You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3)). Those who tolerate the worship of other gods in Israel, leading the people to sin, are condemned.

The word of judgement in this passage follows the story of Naboth (1 Kings 21). Ahab had allowed Jezebel to arrange for the death of Naboth in order to confiscate his land. The story of Naboth's death, through Jezebel's machinations, seems to imply that both king and court got away with murder, but in this passage the prophet Elijah receives a word of the Lord in judgement against Ahab and his house.

Ahab is first condemned for Naboth's death, and Elijah is told to confront Ahab in Naboth's vineyard just as he is taking possession of the land. But when he comes face to face with Ahab, Elijah speaks a word of judgement against Ahab and all of his house, because he has done "evil in the sight of the Lord". This language suggests a shift in focus from Ahab's abuse of power to his breaking of the first commandment. So while the murder and abuse of power in the Naboth incident precipitate the condemnation of the king, the question of faithlessness and the sin of apostasy (ie the abandonment or renunciation of a belief) is never far away.

In response to Elijah's graphic description of the death awaiting him and his family, Ahab repents, something he had not done before when prophetic oracles condemned him. In doing so, he succeeds in receiving a postponement of the judgement: the disaster will come, but not until the time of the next generation. Ahab's actions will result in his death and the end of his dynasty, but for now, he continues his reign, with Elijah's words ringing in his ears.

To Ponder

Why do you think Ahab's actions are so strongly condemned by God?

According to the story of Ahab, if you do something terribly wrong that in the sight of God, is it enough simply to repent of your actions in order to put things right with God? Why? Or why not?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Susan Graham

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