The past few days I have been reading in the book of 1 Kings, starting with the section beginning at 16:29-34:
And in the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. And he raised up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a wooden image; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him. In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates with his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.
Ahab is said to have been more wicked than all the kings of Israel who had preceded him, a charge made in the verses immediately previous about his father, Omri. This was a scathing accusation, given the succession of evil rulers of Israel. After the death of Solomon a few generations earlier, his son Rehoboam succeeded him as king of Judah (and Levi), while the remaining ten tribes of Israel seceded under the leadership of Jeroboam 1, forming the northern kingdom headquartered in Samaria. Jeroboam re-introduced Egyptian calf worship in Israel, and he was followed by a line of idolatrous successors leading up to Ahab.
For Ahab the idolatry of Jeroboam was not enough, so he ratcheted it up a notch by marrying a wicked Sidonian princess named Jezebel. Together they introduced Baal worship to the people of Israel. Ahab built an altar and a temple of Baal in Samaria. Baal worship was a fertility cult, and the reference to the wooden image in v. 33 speaks of a huge phallus (erect penis). Essentially Baal worship was sex/penis worship, complete with male and female temple prostitutes and sacrifices to Baal and the female counterpart Ashtaroth. (And, yes, included in Ashtaroth worship were wooden images carved in the likeness of the female genitalia.)
We are told in verse 34 that under the watch of Ahab a man named Hiel rebuilt the walled city of Jericho, thereby bringing upon himself the curse of Joshua 6:26. When Hiel had completed the foundations of the wall his firstborn died; and when he had set up the gates his youngest son died. Presumably all his other male children likewise perished under the curse during the course of construction. This tidbit of information is not so much an indictment against Hiel as it is an illustration of the rebellious arrogance of Ahab and Jezebel and their complete disregard for the word of God. In rebuilding Jericho they were not only violating the divine warning given through Joshua, but they were also paying tribute to the ancient Canaanite center of wickedness and idolatry.
When we ponder the most wicked rulers of our era our minds immediately focus on those men who have inflicted the most suffering and death on other human beings. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and a few others present themselves. No doubt all the wicked kings of Israel oppressed those under their charge as well; but in case after case the defining characteristic of their lives was their open rebellion against God. We would do well to remember that all sin is primarily God-ward and secondarily man-ward. With David we must affirm that, against you and you only I have sinned (Psalm 51:4).
But there is a flip side to the coin. Even as sin is primarily God-ward, so too is righteousness. We find it commendable when we see individuals engaging in humanitarian acts–feeding the hungry, clothing and housing the homeless, and advocating for the downtrodden. But all the love for man in the world does not add up to an ounce of love for God. A person can devote his or her life to serving other people selflessly and sacrificially; but if they are not born again they cannot see the kingdom of God. All their so-called righteousness is worthless and in fact sinful if they do not believe the gospel.
We live in a time when many are saying the current president of the United States is the most evil of them all. I will not comment on that, for it may or may not be true. I am in no position, nor are you, to determine that. But when we look at the other guy, Mitt Romney, it is easy to see a nice squeaky clean presidential looking guy and disregard the fact that he belongs to a non-Christian cult. The difference between Romney the American Mormon and Ahmadinejad the Iranian Muslim is quantitative rather than qualitative. Both believe in false Gods and false gospels. Omri was evil, but Ahab was more evil. Neither was as evil as he might have been were it not for the restraining hand of God. It is no credit to Romney that he is not as wicked as Ahmadinejad in the humanitarian sense. The point is that both embrace false belief systems and both will wind up in hell unless they repent and believe the gospel before they die.
In our day, as in the days of Ahab, truth has been turned on its head. Biblical theism has given way to humanism. Morality is on a sliding scale and one man’s view of right and wrong is as good as the next guy’s. What is the answer? Is it social and political activism? Should we all just sit around the campfire holding hands drinking a Coke singing Kum-Ba-Yah?
Tomorrow we will see what God’s response was to the wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel, and how this might apply in our own day.