7 Surprised People in the Bible, Part 4

 

By the end of 1 Kings 21, a lot of people were surprised by the curious turn of events.  King Ahab of Israel, the northern kingdom, was not a good king.  He was, however, an able king.  He is described as being a “statesman” by historians.  His wife, though, had very little to recommend her.  Jezebel was evil through and through.  King Ahab might have been quite the warrior and statesman, but he was a weak man who let Jezebel walk all over him.  

Ahab had secured an impressive victory against Syria and following on the heels of that, comes the darkest deed of his reign.  It’s interesting how the Bible orders events to make sure readers understand that in spite of a godless king’s professional good points and positive accomplishments, those things are never enough to compensate for his moral and religious failings.  Such was the case Ahab when, after the high of victory, the king sees Naboth’s vineyard and wants it.  

Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”. (1 Kings 21:2 | TNIV)

Naboth refused to sell the king his private property – his ancestral landholdings.  The king was helpless; Jewish law and tradition trumped his desire.  But Jezebel, who wasn’t a Jew, had no such respect for the law or tradition.  She bribed a couple of losers to accuse Naboth of treason.  The frame stuck and poor, innocent Naboth was summarily executed and his vineyard was confiscated by the king, as was the custom of dealing with traitors.

When you take a step back and take a look at these events, you can’t help by reminded of King David and his obsession: Bathsheba.  Like Naboth’s vineyard, Uriah’s wife Bathsheba became the desire of the king, and like Ahab, David did what it took to get what he wanted.  And as Nathan appeared on the scene to confront David, so the prophet Elijah confronted Ahab over his and Jezebel’s sinful actions.

He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.  I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.’  “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’  “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.”  (1 Kings 21:21 – 24 | TNIV)

It took a while, but Jezebel met her end in 2 Kings exactly as prophesied.  She had no regard for the Jewish faith or traditions and had no belief in Yahweh.  But Yahweh and His law still applied to even her, a person who had no belief in them.  Boy, was she surprised.  

Coming to back to her husband, King Ahab, you’ll recall, seemed as though he came to his senses and regretted his sinful ways.  

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.  Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite:  “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”  (1 Kings 21:27 – 29 | TNIV)

You may doubt Ahab’s sincerity, but God didn’t.  But that didn’t mean Ahab repented and changed his wicked, wicked ways.  He didn’t, and would face his surprising end in the last chapter of 1 Kings.  

Some background

For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel.  But in the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah went down to see the king of Israel.  The king of Israel had said to his officials, “Don’t you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the king of Aram?”  So he asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?” Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”  (1 Kings 22:1 – 4 | TNIV)

In the final years of Ahab’s reign, Israel was strong enough to exert some influence over Judah to the south and Syria.  In 875 BC, the year Ahab took the throne in Israel, King Asa in Judah died and his son, Jehoshaphat assumed the throne.  The long running war between Judah and Israel wasn’t doing Judah any good, so King Jehoshaphat ended it and sued for peace between the Judah and Israel.  He also sought an alliance between the Kingdoms and friendship with Ahab.  

Why in the world would a good king like Jehoshaphat make an alliance with a king as wicked as Ahab?  Why would he “get in bed” with his natural enemy?  From a Biblical standpoint, this alliance was abnormal; unnatural.  It was definitely a case of being “unequally yoked.”  So, at this point in the story, it’s more than strange.  Later on, we find out that Jehoram, the son of King Jehoshaphat, had married Athaliah, the daughter of King Ahab and Jezebel.  Well, that explains it all!  As Dr McGee notes, 

This was a case of the “sons of God marrying the daughters of men; a boy with a godly heritage married a girl with a wicked on.

And is always the case, it was the wicked influence that prevailed.  It’s a fact.  Holy never rubs off on unholy, which is why believers should never marry outside of the faith.   When a believer marries an unbeliever, the believer always gets into trouble.  Again, Dr McGee puts in a way only he can:

When you marry a child of the Devil, your father–in–law sees to it that you have trouble.

With Jehoshaphat’s military now free from involvement with Israelite skirmishes, the king of Judah turned his attention southward, intent on expanding the borders of the southern kingdom and hopefully open up King Solomon’s old trade route on the Red Sea, Judah’s only gateway to the outside world.  Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful.  King Ahab offered his help but was refused.  Apparently King Jehoshaphat didn’t want to get too entangled with this godless king.  

Meanwhile, King Ahab, though successful in his war with Syria, wasn’t content with the present situation.  A piece of Israelite territory remained within Syrian borders, and so Ahab approached Jehoshaphat with a plan to recapture this land.  This time, Jehoshaphat relented.  

Battle of the prophets

But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the Lord.”  So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?” “Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”  (1 Kings 22:5, 6 | TNIV)

King Jehoshaphat was God’s man, though being far from perfect, and he should have sought the Lord before agreeing to do battle with Ahab against Ramoth Gilead.  Like a lot of Christians, he got it backwards.  How often do we determine to do such-and-such a thing, begin it, and then seek the Lord?  Living life in that order almost always ends badly.  The apostle Paul, writing to the Colossians, gives us a great piece of advice that we’d be wise to follow.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…  (Colossians 1:9 | TNIV)

Once we have been filled “with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,” then – and only then – can we make wise choices that will result in our success and God’s glorification.  Life would be so much easier for us if we’d learn to get the order right rather than hoping God will, somehow, sanction our choice.

Just who were the prophets Ahab consulted?  Some scholars associate these 400 prophets with the survivors of the slaughter of the Baal’s prophets at Mount Carmel. That may be true.  But it seems more likely these were prophets of Israel’s now perverted version of Judaism, which mixed elements of Baal and Asherah worship with the worship of Yahweh.  To these prophets, their “ministry” was more of a career than a calling and their so-called prophecies were almost always confirming what their inquirers wanted to hear.  This was the case with Ahab.  According to the 400 “prophets” of Israel, God was all for the military action.

But, King Jehoshaphat wasn’t convinced.  He didn’t trust their “sunshine-and-roses” prophecy and sought a true prophet of Yahweh.

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” “The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.  (1 Kings 22:7, 8 | TNIV)

Ahab’s attitude toward Micaiah, son of Imlah, shows that he hadn’t really changed from one chapter to the next.  Like always, he was in complete opposition to the true prophets of God, especially this time, because to Ahab’s mind, conquering Ramoth Gilead should have been easy, after all, God had given him victory over Syria the last time (chapter 20).  

There’s an important lesson here for the Christian.  We’re tempted to believe that if a majority of other believers, like a church for example, thinks one way about certain subject while there are one or two contrary views, that the two contrarians are wrong and the majority right.  That’s not always the case.  Here, all the prophets said one thing while a single prophet said something else.  This is why it’s so important to have the “mind of Christ” when making a decision.  Often times, within the faith, the majority is correct.  But sometimes it may not be.  In this case, since the incident on Mt Carmel, the truth had always rested with the minority, not the majority.

When he arrived, the king asked him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?” “Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”. (1Kings 22:15 | TNIV)

We know absolutely nothing about this true man of God, Micaiah, other than he had a sense of humor.  He messed with Ahab’s head by appearing to go along with the false prophets.  

Ahab’s reaction is just as funny, and may have indicated that deep down inside, he knew that the troublesome Micaiah would be a straight shooter and give him an accurate word.

The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”  (1 Kings 22:16 | TNIV)

As it turned out, Micaiah’s word from God was the exact opposite to what the other prophets gave.

Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’ ” The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?”  (1 Kings 22:17, 18 | TNIV)

Ahab didn’t want to hear this prophecy, but as I mentioned, I think he already knew that this prophet was right.  Micaiah, though, didn’t stop with dispensing the Word of the Lord.  He was like a man who had God’s Word bottled up inside, and once it started flowing out of him, he couldn’t stop.  He went on to expose the 400 prophets as false and completely useless.  

“So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”  (1 Kings 22:23 | TNIV)

One thing about the Word of God, it will cause a reaction!  Either a positive one or a negative one, you may be sure that when God’s Word is preached without compromise and with conviction, something will happen.  

The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’ ”  Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!”  (1 Kings 22:26 – 28 | TNIV)

Micaiah the true prophet of God ended up back in prison on a diet of hard tack and water for his faithful service to God.  But he did get the last word.  

What would you, as a Christian do, if you encountered “dueling prophets” like this?  Is there a sure way to discover who the true spokesman for God is and who is the false prophet?  In the story, both Zedekiah and Micaiah claimed to be prophets of God.  They both claimed their messages were the real deal.  Both claimed to be speaking for God.  But how can you know for sure?  When somebody says, “God told me,” should we just take them at their word?

Church tradition has claimed that “the church” is the ultimate authority in such matters.  Philosophers believe that human reason should tell us truth from lies.  Then there are Christians who trust the various Creeds of the Church as the authoritative norm for all Christian beliefs and behavior.  Then there is a growing number of Christians who believe that the Holy Spirit directly speaks to the believer’s heart and that He will enable them to discern the truth.  In other words, personal experience is the determinative factor in faith and practice.  

In a sense, all these views have merit and are correct.  Many horrible things have happened in Church history when some church leader claimed, “This is God’s will” or “God told me to do it,” when God really didn’t at all.  Or when opportunities were missed because church leaders couldn’t find a precident in their Book of Church order.  

John Calvin, the butt of so many jokes, did teach something very helpful in matters like this.  There most certainly is a vital relationship between the objective authority of the Word of God and the subjective authority of the Holy Spirit’s inner witness.  Calvin believed that the Spirit’s “inner voice” is always consistent with the Word of God and that the Word is always confirmed in a person’s heart by the Spirit of God. 

Ideally, religious authority must be both objective and subjective, grounded in the witness both of the Word and the Spirit. John Calvin made a valuable contribution to Christian thought with his emphasis on the relationship between the Scriptures (objective authority) and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (subjective authority). He taught that the Holy Spirit’s inward voice is always consistent with the objective word of revelation, and conversely, that the authority of the word is affirmed through the Holy Spirit’s witness in the heart of the believer.

The end is nigh

In spite of Micaiah’s warning, the two kings prepared their respective armies for a head on assault at Ramoth Gilead.  It was customary for kings to wear their official robes in battle, but Ahab, perhaps giving some credence to Micaiah’s prophecy, disguised himself.  Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, dressed in his royal best, probably thinking his life was in God’s hands anyway, no matter what happened.  Naturally, God couldn’t be fooled by Ahab’s silly disguise.  

Meanwhile, behind enemy lines, the Syrian king had plans of his own.

Now the king of Aram had ordered his thirty-two chariot commanders, “Do not fight with anyone, small or great, except the king of Israel.”  When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they thought, “Surely this is the king of Israel.” So they turned to attack him, but when Jehoshaphat cried out, the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel and stopped pursuing him.

Ahab wasn’t an idiot.  He was a godless man, but he was skilled at warfare.  It could have been that his disguise was not just for self-protection.  It may have been part of a larger military strategy designed to trick the Syrians.  He may have suspected Ben Hadad’s plan, and with the king disguised that plan would keep the enemy distracted long enough for Ahab to make a sneak attack.  

That sounds like a good plan, and it would have worked had it not been for an accident.  A single Syrian archer made a mistake.  Or so it seemed.  In God’s economy, there are no accidents.

But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the breastplate and the scale armor. The king told his chariot driver, “Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.”  (1 Kings 22:34 | TNIV)

Ahab had been mortally wounded, likely in the stomach.  He may not have known it, but he was already dead.  He ordered his driver to take him out of the battle.  What was in Ahab’s mind?  Some think that he wanted to seek medical attention, but because of the intensity of the battle there was no way to do that, so he was forced to watch from the sidelines.  Others think the king wanted to appear to be unhurt so as not to discourage his army.  Regardless of the reason, poor old Ahab spent the remainder of the day propped up, like a dummy, in his chariot, facing the Syrians, as his lifeblood ebbed away.  Ahab had spared Ben Hadad’s life, and now he paid for that mercy with his own.  As the sun was going down, word spread that King Ahab was dead and the Israelite-Judean troops retreated.

So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried him there.  They washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria (where the prostitutes bathed), and the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared.  (1 Kings 22:37, 38 | TNIV)

In the end, Elijah’s prophecy came true.  Was Ahab surprised by the incredible coincidence of being his by stray arrow?  Maybe.  But I suspect he knew his end as decreed by the unknown prophet, Elijah, and Micaiah would eventually come to pass.  Ahab was not a good man, and his life and death are a testimony to the fact that nobody can outrun God’s plans for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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