King Ahab, 874–853 BCE
“So he (Ahab) mustered the aids of the provincial governors, 232 strong, and then he mustered the troop – all the Israelites – 7,000 strong.”
- 1 Kings 20:15
Ahab was the first king of Israel who came into conflict with Assyria, and he is also the first whose name is recorded on the Assyrian monuments (see Schrader, "K. A. T."). It was in 854 B.C. that a combination was formed by eleven of the princes of the Mediterranean coastland against Shalmaneser II., who made several invasions into the west country during his long and warlike career. In this alliance the king of Israel found himself for once fighting by the side of the king of Damascus (Benhadad II.). Shalmaneser, who tells of the affair in three distinct inscriptions, gives a list of the kings in the longest account (on his monolith inscription). Besides Israel and Damascus, it is stated that Hamath, Ammon, and Arabia sent contingents. Ahab put 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers into the field. The confederacy was soon dissolved by the battle of Karkar, where the Assyrians were victorious, though Shalmaneser could not follow up his success. The Assyrian invasions of the lands bordering on Palestine were repeated, but it was long before either northern or southern Israel was directly attacked. In the next year (853 B.C.) the war with Damascus was renewed. Ahab secured the help of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and the two kings fought side by side at Ramoth in Gilead. In this battle Ahab disguised himself as a common soldier so as not to become a mark for the enemy, but an arrow, "shot at a venture," mortally wounded him, and he died at the close of the day.
Besides the above-mentioned wars, certain events of great importance marked the reign of Ahab. One of these was the establishment of close relations between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, a policy which put an end to the rivalry that had existed between them since the days of the great schism. Another was the encouragement afforded by Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, to the worship of the Phenician Baal. Jezebel was a daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre, and the family alliance thus cemented, while it was of political and commercial advantage to Israel, resulted in great moral and religious injury through this idolatrous and sensual cult. A third noteworthy event was Ahab's cruel and oppressive dealing with Naboth of Jezreel whose property the king wished to secure, and who, upon his refusal to sell it, was put to death by false accusation at the instigation of Jezebel. For this outrage upon the rights of a freeholder, the prophet Elijah predicted a violent death for Ahab and Jezebel and the destruction of their dynasty. Noticeable also is the increase of luxury in Israel, in consequence of foreign trade and the ambition of the king and nobles. Ahab's palace of ivory (I Kings, xxii. 39) is an indication of the fashions of the time. Finally there was inaugurated in the reign of Ahab the régime of the preaching prophets, of whom Elijah was the first and greatest example (see I Kings, xvii.-xxii.).