Our lesson in this issue of Bible Helps is again a study of events that took place during the days of the divided kingdom in Israel (see issues 344-347 for other articles relating to this time period). After Israel had settled in the land of Canaan and chose to be ruled by a king, the nation was united for more than a century. Under the reign of Saul, and of David and Solomon, the nation flourished. After Solomon’s death, in the days of Rehoboam and Jereboam, the nation was divided into two parts—Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
Beginning with Jereboam, Israel in the north had 19 kings, all of whom were “bad.” Beginning with Rehoboam, Judah also had 19 kings, a few of whom were “good” kings. Kings were considered “good” or “bad” depending on their faithfulness to the true and living God, or their slide into the idolatry of the surrounding nations. In 722 BC the northern kingdom was taken captive by the Assyrians, and 150 years later, in 586 BC, the southern kingdom was taken into captivity by the Babylonians.
The 22nd chapter of 1 Kings tells about an incident in the life of one of Israel’s most wicked kings, King Ahab. Ahab and the Syrian leader, Ben-hadad, were about to go to war over a city named Ramoth-gilead. There had been a truce between Syria and Israel for three years, but now the tensions were heating up again (1 Kings 22:1-4).
Two chapters earlier, in 1 Kings 20, we learn about a battle in which Israel’s King Ahab defeated Syria’s Ben-hadad. Benhadad promised to return certain cities to Israel, but Ramoth-gilead (east of the Jordan river) was never returned, and so Ahab decided to retake the city by force. Ahab wasn’t sure he could do it with just his own armies, and so he appealed to Jehoshaphat (king of Judah) to help him in the task. Our lesson today tells how Ahab did get Jehoshaphat to join forces with him in going to battle against the Syrians—and we learn how the battle turned out.
Ahab (the king of Israel in the north) and Jehoshaphat (the king of Judah in the south) during this time period were on friendly terms. Ahab was the most wicked of all Israel’s kings. He “did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him” (1 Kings 16:33). Jehoshaphat, in spite of some failings, did what “was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Kings 22:43).
When Ahab invited Jehoshaphat to go to battle with him against the Syrians, Jehoshaphat promptly agreed (verse 4), and then he suggested that they seek the Lord’s will about the expedition. It would, of course, have been much better to ask God’s leading first. Perhaps you too have had to make a decision about a matter; you leaped to a conclusion, acted on it, and then later asked God to bless what you were doing! We need to remember to seek the Lord’s will before making our decisions.
Ahab had organized a group of 400 prophets who apparently took the place of the prophets of Baal that had been slaughtered after the showdown with Elijah (as described in 1 Kings 18). These prophets were called by the king, not by God, and so they were “yes-men” who told the king what he wanted to hear. The 400 prophets unanimously predicted that it would not be difficult for Ahab to capture Ramoth-gilead, and that the Lord would deliver the city into Ahab’s hand (verses 6,11). This, of course, is what Ahab wanted them to predict.
Jehoshaphat was an upright man and was accustomed to the ring of a genuine prophetic voice. Jehoshaphat had good spiritual discernment. Just so, a true child of God who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit today can often recognize “the spirit of error” (1 John 4:1-6). It seems that Jehoshaphat detected a false note in the words of Ahab’s prophets, and so he asked, “Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him?” (verse 7). Is there not at least one prophet in the northern kingdom who can be trusted to speak the truth? Ahab admitted that there was such a prophet, but because he did not prophesy good concerning the king—Ahab said, “I hate him” (verse 8). Ahab was more concerned about feeling good than he was about knowing the truth. The name of this 401st prophet was Micaiah.
When Jehoshaphat insisted that he wanted to hear Micaiah’s advice, Ahab reluctantly sent a messenger to bring him (verse 9). The officer who was sent to bring Micaiah before the two kings informed the prophet of the situation, and urged him not to cause trouble—but to prophesy before the king the same thing that the other 400 prophets had predicted. Micaiah’s firm and clear reply is a model of the way every spokesman for God should perform his duties. Micaiah said, “What the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak” (verse 14).
That brings us to verses 15 and 16 of 1 Kings 22—the place where the core message of our lesson begins.
1. A Disaster Foretold (1 Kings 22:15-18)
The appearance of Micaiah must have been a dramatic scene. He met with the two kings (Ahab and Jehoshaphat) in a wide-open arena, a threshing floor at the gate of Samaria. The kings were dressed in their royal regalia. The 400 crowd-pleasing prophets of Ahab were close by, and their chief spokesman (a man named Zedekiah) was wearing bull’s horns as an object lesson to demonstrate how Ahab would gore the Syrian armies into defeat.
When Micaiah came and stood before the kings, he at first delivered the same message as the other 400 prophets did. He said to Ahab, “Go and prosper, for the Lord shall deliver it (Ramoth-gilead) into the hand of the king” (verse 15b). Micaiah apparently wanted to see Ahab’s reaction, but Ahab must have sensed—perhaps by the tone of his voice—that Micaiah was using sarcasm, and that he was really mocking the false prophets (verse 16).
And so in verse 17, Micaiah unleashed the painful truth; he told Ahab the vision he had seen. Ahab was going to die in battle, and his followers would be defeated and scattered. Micaiah said that Israel’s army would be like sheep without a shepherd; the soldiers would be scattered because there would no longer be a shepherd to lead them.
Micaiah’s message from the Lord was the very opposite from what the other prophets had predicted. This was a prophecy that Ahab did not want to hear, but which he guessed would come from God’s true prophet. Ahab caught the message, and he was angry with Micaiah. Ahab whined to Jehoshaphat, saying, “Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?” (verse 18).
It took great courage for Micaiah to tell King Ahab a truth that he did not want to hear. The 400 prophets were on the king’s payroll; they said what they were paid to say. Their aim was to please the king rather than to proclaim the truth.
One of the dangers confronting salaried pastors today is the temptation to say what they know some respected people in the congregation want to hear. Many pastors are tempted to avoid offending the liberal givers in the congregation, lest it affect their salary. You can be grateful if your minister is a modern-day Micaiah. My prayer is that every pastor will determine to become a faithful expositor of the Word of God. My advice to pastors is this: determine to preach the Word with kindness and with careful interpretation, and then “let the chips fall where they may.”
2. A Distressing Vision (1 Kings 22:19-23)
Even though King Ahab was upset with Micaiah’s words, the prophet went on to explain an additional vision God had shown him. It was a curious scene in Heaven. Micaiah saw “the Lord sitting on his throne,” and a host of angels (and perhaps other spiritual beings) standing around God’s throne (verse 19). The Lord said to the angelic host, “Who shall persuade (entice) Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” (verse 20). God was asking for a volunteer from among the host to go to Ahab and influence him to disregard Micaiah’s prophecy so that he would fall at Ramoth-gilead.
One of the spirits came forward and stood before the Lord and said, “I will persuade (entice) him” (verse 21). When the Lord asked the question “Wherewith?” (or, “How are you going to entice him?”), the spirit replied, “I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets” (verse 22). And the Lord gave the spirit permission to go forth and do that.
It is not necessary for us to press all the details related to this vision. God is accommodating our limited understanding, and so there will likely be some unanswered questions about these verses. In verse 23, after describing the vision, Micaiah spoke directly to King Ahab and said, “The LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee.” In essence, Micaiah said to Ahab, “Your prophets may bring you some comfort, but the whole group of counselors is telling lies, and are utterly unreliable.”
The point of the strange vision is this: In some unexplainable manner, God was actively working through Ahab’s false prophets to accomplish His planned divine judgment on Ahab, the wicked king of Israel.
3. A Disturbing Reply (1 Kings 22:24-28)
Zedekiah (mentioned in verse 24) was named already back in verse 11 as one of the false prophets who predicted victory for Ahab, and used a set of horns made of iron to demonstrate how Ahab would gore the Syrian army into defeat! Zedekiah was a spokesman for the group of 400 prophets. He was so angered by Micaiah’s words that he stepped forward and slapped Micaiah on the cheek, and said, “Which way went the Spirit of the LORD from me to speak unto thee?” (verse 24). He was asking, “How did the Spirit leave me and go to you?” Micaiah answered Zedekiah’s question by saying, “Thou shalt see in that day, when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself” (verse 25). (The explanation will come on the following pages.)
Faithful preachers of the Word know what it is like for people to respond with anger when the truth is declared. A few years ago, I received a letter telling about a woman’s anger over what I had said in a meeting in her congregation more than twenty years prior to that time. I had preached on divorce and remarriage as a brief part of a larger message, and when I recommended that those who chose to remarry while a former partner was still living should live separately, she was upset.
Her letter says, “It has taken me over twenty years to write this letter. You came to our church when my husband was the pastor and said that those who were married to a divorced partner should leave that companion because they were living in adultery—and I was angry. You gave a booklet you had written on the subject. Reading that book made me so furious, I took it outside and burned it. To say I did not like you is putting it mildly.”
She and her husband were not divorced, but she explained that her husband performed ceremonies for people who were divorced—and finally she and her pastor husband divorced. They are back together again, but she sees now how wrong divorce is. She concluded the letter with these words: “I ask forgiveness for the hatred I had toward you.” (You can be certain that I wrote to her immediately assuring her of my forgiveness, and of my joy that she sees the truth.)
The question in our lesson today is this: “Would Ahab go into battle and meet disaster—as Micaiah had predicted?” Or, “would Ahab go into battle and be victorious—as the 400 court prophets had predicted?” The answer will come, Micaiah said, when Zedekiah will have to go into hiding from those citizens who were angry that following the advice of the false prophets led to Ahab’s death. When Ahab would be killed in battle—contrary to what the false prophets had predicted—the 400 prophets could no longer pretend that they were spokesmen for God, and the citizens of Israel would be angry with them.
Ahab was so upset with these words of Micaiah that he ordered the mayor of the city of Samaria to put Micaiah in prison, and to give him a restricted diet of bread and water as punishment. Ahab planned to deal with him when he returned from battle (verses 26-27). But Micaiah had one last word. He said that if Ahab returned at all, it would be clear evidence that Micaiah had not spoken the truth. Micaiah was willing to submit his prophecy to the test of Deuteronomy 18:21-22. Micaiah would certainly have been killed by Ahab’s soldiers if indeed Ahab had returned alive from battle.
Micaiah had just predicted disaster if Ahab went to battle against the Syrians. The last section of our lesson tells about Ahab’s defeat and death. The account is also described in 2 Chronicles 18, with a few added details.
4. A Defeat Ends in Death (1 Kings 22:29-40)
Ahab disregarded Micaiah’s warning, and Jehoshaphat joined him in the battle against Ramoth-gilead. Ahab prevailed on Jehoshaphat to wear his royal clothing, and Ahab went into battle with the attire of an ordinary soldier. (By this cowardly act, we know that Ahab secretly feared that Micaiah’s prophecy might indeed be true.)
The Syrian king ordered his troops to try and capture or kill King Ahab. When they saw someone dressed in Ahab’s garments, they launched an attack on that chariot. The Syrian troops headed straight for Jehoshaphat, thinking he was Ahab. But Jehoshaphat “cried out” (verse 32b), and somehow the Syrians knew that this was not Ahab, and they stopped attacking him. Jehoshaphat almost lost his life, but God intervened. The account in 2 Chronicles 18:31 explains that when Jehoshaphat cried out, “the Lord helped him” and drew the Syrians away from him. This reminds me of the Psalm my father taught me when I was a little boy: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee (the Lord)” (Psalm 56:3).
In the meantime, elsewhere on the battlefield, suddenly a Syrian archer shot an arrow at random, and it found a narrow opening in Ahab’s armor. The arrow pierced Ahab’s body (verse 34), and he bled to death in his chariot. When Ahab was killed, his soldiers scattered and returned to their homes—thus fulfilling Micaiah’s prophecy in verse 17. And Ahab’s body was carried back to Samaria and buried. Later, his chariot was washed out, and the dogs licked up his blood (verse 38). This fulfilled a prophecy which Elijah had made in 1 Kings 21:19.
There are some practical applications from this lesson:
1) Jehoshaphat was a godly king; his mistake was that he sought the friendship of ungodly Ahab, and this led him into some predicaments. He almost lost his life in the battle, and when he went south back to Judah, the prophet Jehu reprimanded him. Jehu said, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD. Nevertheless there are (some) good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves (idols) out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God” (2 Chronicles 19:2-3). For us today—to witness to unbelievers and to offer them help is one thing, but to join them in immoral activities is something else. The believer who is seeking to live by God’s Word will know when and how to build bridges, and when and how to build walls.
2) The man who randomly shot the arrow that killed Ahab did not knowingly aim at the crack in Ahab’s armor. God directed his action and guided the fatal missile to its mark. No matter what Ahab did, nor how much he schemed, God was in control—and God’s judgment on Ahab was sure. Ahab’s disguise could not fool God.
3) Micaiah’s courageous truth-telling arose out of his relationship with God. He knew that he was accountable to a greater King than the wicked king Ahab. He was aware that all of us someday must give an account of ourselves to God, as the New Testament says in Romans 14:12, and so he told Ahab what he knew God wanted him to say.
4) Ahab’s messenger, who had gone to bring Micaiah before the king, said to him, “Behold now, the words of (all) the prophets declare good (victory) unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good” (verse 13). The messenger was saying to Micaiah, “All the other prophets have promised victory to Ahab; the sensible thing for you to do would be to agree with them.” Micaiah responded, “What the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak.” One reason why some today do not speak up for what the Bible says is that they don’t know what it says. Another reason for silence is the cowardly fear that others might look down on us if we stand up for what is right in God’s eyes. We must be convinced of the fact that where the Bible speaks—right is right even if nobody does it, and wrong is wrong even if everybody does it!
The one quality that stands out about the prophet Micaiah is that he told the truth, as unpopular as it was—in spite of pressures to go along with the crowd. Those who are spokesmen for God must guard against telling audiences what they want to hear—instead of the pure Word of God which they need to hear. The Apostle Paul speaks of those who in the last days will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (see 2 Timothy 4:3). In our lesson today, Ahab foolishly chose to listen to prophets who told him what he wanted to hear, much like multitudes today who choose to attend churches where they will not be reproved for their sins. Studying Micaiah’s courageous action should help us make a commitment to tell the truth (in our daily witness) even when it is dangerous and unpopular to do so!