Ahab was a biblical king of Israel, whose reign has been dated from references in the first Book of Kings to the early/mid-9th century BC. He is wrathful and disobedient towards the Hebrew God, feuding with His prophet Elijah (see note to page 105) and permitting the worship of an upstart rival deity, Ba'al.
He is lured into attempting to recapture the city of Ramoth-Gilead by the assurances of many prophets that he will succeed. One however, named Micaiah, reveals that these prophecies were false, part of a vendetta against Ahab pursued by the God he has offended (chapter 22):
19And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
20And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.
21And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him.
22And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.
23Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee.
The king meets this challenge and is duly killed by a chance arrow, his blood left to be licked up by wild dogs (38). Like Ishmael, Melville's Ahab proves well-named.
Online copy of 'Authorised King James Bible'