Chapter 16—The Fall of the House of Ahab
The evil influence that Jezebel had exercised from the first over Ahab continued during the later years of his life and bore fruit in deeds of shame and violence such as have seldom been equaled in sacred history. “There was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.”
Naturally of a covetous disposition, Ahab, strengthened and sustained in wrongdoing by Jezebel, had followed the dictates of his evil heart until he was fully controlled by the spirit of selfishness. He could brook no refusal of his wishes; the things he desired he felt should by right be his.
This dominant trait in Ahab, which influenced so disastrously the fortunes of the kingdom under his successors, is revealed in an incident which took place while Elijah was still a prophet in Israel. Hard by the palace of the king was a vineyard belonging to Naboth, a Jezreelite. Ahab set his heart on possessing this vineyard, and he proposed to buy it or else to give in exchange for it another piece of land. “Give me thy vineyard,” he said to Naboth, “that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.”
Naboth valued his vineyard highly because it had belonged to his fathers, and he refused to part with it. “The Lord forbid it me,” he said to Ahab, “that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.” According to the Levitical code no land could be transferred permanently by sale or exchange; every one of the children of Israel must “keep himself to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.” Numbers 36:7.
Naboth’s refusal made the selfish monarch ill. “Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him.... And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.”
Jezebel soon learned the particulars, and, indignant that anyone should refuse the request of the king, she assured Ahab that he need no longer be sad. “Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel?” she said. “Arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
Ahab cared not by what means his wife might accomplish the desired object, and Jezebel immediately proceeded to carry out her wicked purpose. She wrote letters in the name of the king, sealed them with his signet, and sent them to the elders and nobles of the city where Naboth dwelt, saying: “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people: and set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.”
The command was obeyed. “The men of his city, even the elders and the nobles, ... did as Jezebel had ... written in the letters which she had sent unto them.” Then Jezebel went to the king and bade him arise and take the vineyard. And Ahab, heedless of the consequences, blindly followed her counsel and went down to take possession of the coveted property.
The king was not allowed to enjoy unrebuked that which he had gained by fraud and bloodshed. “The word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it. And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?” And the Lord further instructed Elijah to pronounce upon Ahab a terrible judgment.
The prophet hastened to carry out the divine command. The guilty ruler, meeting the stern messenger of Jehovah face to face in the vineyard, gave voice to his startled fear in the words, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?”
Without hesitation the messenger of the Lord replied, “I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord. Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity.” No mercy was to be shown. The house of Ahab was to be utterly destroyed, “like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah,” the Lord declared through His servant, “for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked Me to anger, and made Israel to sin.”
And of Jezebel the Lord declared, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat.”
When the king heard this fearful message, “he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.
“And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before Me? because he humbleth himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.”
It was less than three years later that King Ahab met his death at the hands of the Syrians. Ahaziah, his successor, “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.” “He served Baal, and worshiped him, and provoked to anger the Lord God of Israel,” as his father Ahab had done. 1 Kings 22:52, 53. But judgments followed close upon the sins of the rebellious king. A disastrous war with Moab, and then an accident by which his own life was threatened, attested to God’s wrath against him.
Having fallen “through a lattice in his upper chamber,” Ahaziah, seriously injured, and fearful of the possible outcome, sent some of his servants to make inquiry of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, whether he should recover or not. The god of Ekron was supposed to give information, through the medium of its priests, concerning future events. Large numbers of people went to inquire of it; but the predictions there uttered, and the information given, proceeded from the prince of darkness.
Ahaziah’s servants were met by a man of God, who directed them to return to the king with the message: “Is it because there is no God in Israel, that ye go to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus saith Jehovah, Thou shalt not come down from the bed whither thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.” Having delivered his message, the prophet departed.
The astonished servants hastened back to the king, and repeated to him the words of the man of God. The king inquired, “What manner of man was he?” They answered, “He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins.” “It is Elijah the Tishbite,” Ahaziah exclaimed. He knew that if the stranger whom his messengers had met was indeed Elijah, the words of doom pronounced would surely come to pass. Anxious to avert, if possible, the threatened judgment, he determined to send for the prophet.
Twice Ahaziah sent a company of soldiers to intimidate the prophet, and twice the wrath of God fell upon them in judgment. The third company of soldiers humbled themselves before God; and their captain, as he approached the Lord’s messenger, “fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said unto him, O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight.”
“The angel of Jehovah said unto Elijah, Go down with him: be not afraid of him. And he arose, and went down with him unto the king. And he said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Forasmuch as thou hast sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word? therefore thou shalt not come down from the bed whither thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.”
During the father’s reign, Ahaziah had witnessed the wondrous works of the Most High. He had seen the terrible evidences that God had given apostate Israel of the way in which He regards those who set aside the binding claims of His law. Ahaziah had acted as if these awful realities were but idle tales. Instead of humbling his heart before the Lord, he had followed after Baal, and at last he had ventured upon this, his most daring act of impiety. Rebellious, and unwilling to repent, Ahaziah died, “according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken.”
The history of King Ahaziah’s sin and its punishment has in it a warning which none can disregard with impunity. Men today may not pay homage to heathen gods, yet thousands are worshiping at Satan’s shrine as verily as did the king of Israel. The spirit of idolatry is rife in the world today, although, under the influence of science and education, it has assumed forms more refined and attractive than in the days when Ahaziah sought to the god of Ekron. Every day adds its sorrowful evidence that faith in the sure word of prophecy is decreasing, and that in its stead superstition and satanic witchery are captivating the minds of many.
Today the mysteries of heathen worship are replaced by the secret association and seances, the obscurities and wonders, of spiritistic mediums. The disclosures of these mediums are eagerly received by thousands who refuse to accept light from God’s word or through His Spirit. Believers in spiritism may speak with scorn of the magicians of old, but the great deceiver laughs in triumph as they yield to his arts under a different form.
There are many who shrink with horror from the thought of consulting spirit mediums, but who are attracted by more pleasing forms of spiritism. Others are led astray by the teachings of Christian Science, and by the mysticism of Theosophy and other Oriental religions.
The apostles of nearly all forms of spiritism claim to have power to heal. They attribute this power to electricity, magnetism, the so-called “sympathetic remedies,” or to latent forces within the mind of man. And there are not a few, even in this Christian age, who go to these healers, instead of trusting in the power of the living God and the skill of well-qualified physicians. The mother, watching by the sickbed of her child, exclaims, “I can do no more. Is there no physician who has power to restore my child?” She is told of the wonderful cures performed by some clairvoyant or magnetic healer, and she trusts her dear one to his charge, placing it as verily in the hand of Satan as if he were standing by her side. In many instances the future life of the child is controlled by a satanic power which it seems impossible to break.
God had cause for displeasure at Ahaziah’s impiety. What had He not done to win the hearts of the people of Israel and to inspire them with confidence in Himself? For ages He had been giving His people manifestations of unexampled kindness and love. From the beginning He had shown that His “delights were with the sons of men.” Proverbs 8:31. He had been a very present help to all who sought Him in sincerity. Yet now the king of Israel, turning from God to ask help of the worst enemy of His people, proclaimed to the heathen that he had more confidence in their idols than in the God of heaven. In the same manner do men and women dishonor Him when they turn from the Source of strength and wisdom to ask help or counsel from the powers of darkness. If God’s wrath was kindled by Ahaziah’s act, how does He regard those who, having still greater light, choose to follow a similar course?
Those who give themselves up to the sorcery of Satan, may boast of great benefit received; but does this prove their course to be wise or safe? What if life should be prolonged? What if temporal gain should be secured? Will it pay in the end to have disregarded the will of God? All such apparent gain will prove at last an irrecoverable loss. We cannot with impunity break down a single barrier which God has erected to guard His people from Satan’s power.
As Ahaziah had no son, he was succeeded by Jehoram, his brother, who reigned over the ten tribes for twelve years. Throughout these years his mother, Jezebel, was still living, and she continued to exercise her evil influence over the affairs of the nation. Idolatrous customs were still practiced by many of the people. Jehoram himself “wrought evil in the sight of the Lord; but not like his father, and like his mother: for he put away the image of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jereboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.” 2 Kings 3:2, 3.
It was during Jehoram’s reign over Israel that Jehoshaphat died, and Jehoshaphat’s son, also named Jehoram, ascended the throne of the kingdom of Judah. By his marriage with the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Jehoram of Judah was closely connected with the king of Israel; and in his reign he followed after Baal, “like as did the house of Ahab.” “Moreover he made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication, and compelled Judah thereto.” 2 Chronicles 21:6, 11.
The king of Judah was not permitted to continue his terrible apostasy unreproved. The prophet Elijah had not yet been translated, and he could not remain silent while the kingdom of Judah was pursuing the same course that had brought the northern kingdom to the verge of ruin. The prophet sent to Jehoram of Judah a written communication, in which the wicked king read the awful words:
“Thus saith the Lord God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father’s house, which were better than thyself: behold, with a great plague will the Lord smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: and thou shalt have great sickness.”
In fulfillment of this prophecy “the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines, and of the Arabians, that were near the Ethiopians: and they came up into Judah, and brake into it, and carried away all the substance that was found in the king’s house, and his sons also, and his wives; so that there was never a son left him, save Jehoahaz [Ahaziah, Azariah], the youngest of his sons.
“And after all this the Lord smote him in his bowels with an incurable disease. And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years, ... he died of sore diseases.” “And Ahaziah [Jehoahaz] his son reigned in his stead.” Verses 12-19; 2 Kings 8:24.
Jehoram the son of Ahab was still reigning in the kingdom of Israel when his nephew, Ahaziah, came to the throne of Judah. Ahaziah ruled only one year, and during this time, influenced by his mother, Athaliah, “his counselor to do wickedly,” “he walked in the way of the house of Ahab, and did evil in the sight of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 22:3, 4; 2 Kings 8:27. Jezebel, his grandmother, was still living, and he allied himself boldly with Jehoram of Israel, his uncle.
Ahaziah of Judah soon met a tragic end. The surviving members of the house of Ahab were indeed “his counselors after the death of his father to his destruction.” 2 Chronicles 22:3, 4. While Ahaziah was visiting his uncle at Jezreel, the prophet Elisha was divinely directed to send one of the sons of the prophets to Ramoth-gilead to anoint Jehu king of Israel. The combined forces of Judah and Israel were at that time engaged in a military campaign against the Syrians of Ramoth-gilead. Jehoram had been wounded in battle, and had returned to Jezreel, leaving Jehu in charge of the royal armies.
In anointing Jehu, the messenger of Elisha declared, “I have anointed thee king over the people of the Lord, even over Israel.” And then he solemnly charged Jehu with a special commission from heaven. “Thou shalt smite the house of Ahab thy master,” the Lord declared through His messenger, “that I may avenge the blood of My servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord, at the hand of Jezebel. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish.” 2 Kings 9:6-8.
After he had been proclaimed king by the army, Jehu hastened to Jezreel, where he began his work of execution on those who had deliberately chosen to continue in sin and to lead others into sin. Jehoram of Israel, Ahaziah of Judah, and Jezebel the queen mother, with “all that remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men, and his kinsfolks, and his priests,” were slain. “All the prophets of Baal, all his servants, and all his priests” dwelling at the center of Baal worship near Samaria, were put to the sword. The idolatrous images were broken down and burned, and the temple of Baal was laid in ruins. “Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel.” 2 Kings 10:11, 19, 28.
Tidings of this general execution reached Athaliah, Jezebel’s daughter, who still occupied a commanding position in the kingdom of Judah. When she saw that her son, the king of Judah, was dead, “she arose and destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah.” In this massacre all the descendants of David who were eligible to the throne were destroyed, save one, a babe named Joash, whom the wife of Jehoiada the high priest hid within the precincts of the temple. For six years the child remained hidden, while “Athaliah reigned over the land.” 2 Chronicles 22:10, 12.
At the end of this time, “the Levites and all Judah” (2 Chronicles 23:8) united with Jehoiada the high priest in crowning and anointing the child Joash and acclaiming him their king. “And they clapped their hands, and said, God save the king.” 2 Kings 11:12.
“Now when Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and praising the king, she came to the people into the house of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 23:12. “And when she looked, behold, the king stood by a pillar, as the manner was, and the princes and the trumpeters by the king, and all the people of the land rejoiced, and blew with trumpets.”
“Athaliah rent her clothes, and cried, Treason, Treason.” 2 Kings 11:14. But Jehoiada commanded the officers to lay hold of Athaliah and all her followers and lead them out of the temple to a place of execution, where they were to be slain.
Thus perished the last member of the house of Ahab. The terrible evil that had been wrought through his alliance with Jezebel, continued till the last of his descendants was destroyed. Even in the land of Judah, where the worship of the true God had never been formally set aside, Athaliah had succeeded in seducing many. Immediately after the execution of the impenitent queen “all the people of the land went into the house of Baal, and brake it down; his altars and his images brake they in pieces thoroughly, and slew Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars.” Verse 18.
A reformation followed. Those who took part in acclaiming Joash king, had solemnly covenanted “that they should be the Lord’s people.” And now that the evil influence of the daughter of Jezebel had been removed from the kingdom of Judah, and the priests of Baal had been slain and their temple destroyed, “all the people of the land rejoiced: and the city was quiet.” 2 Chronicles 23:16, 21.