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1 Kings 22:1-40 – Micaiah and the Death of Ahab

Summary

Ahab's final battle with Syria is fought in collaboration with Jehoshaphat of Judah. His encounter with Micaiah typifies the struggle between king and prophet that runs through the book of Kings.

Analysis

Once again Ahab is involved in a battle with Syria (Aram) and a confrontation with yet another prophet, Micaiah son of Imlah, who announces Ahab's death. The narrative (also found in 2 Chronicles 18) provides insight into the nature of prophecy and the relations between kings and prophets in the period of the monarchy.

The biblical account skips the alliance of Israel and Syria and their combined defeat of the Assyrians at the historically significant battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C.E. and begins with the first recorded alliance between Israel and Judah (vv. 1-5). While kings generally consulted prophets before going to war, the prophets on the royal payroll generally predicted victory; if the king won, so did they, if the king lost… (vv. 6-7). Jehoshaphat was unimpressed with the pat answers of the 400 court prophets and sought the independent counsel of a "prophet of the LORD." Ahab hated Micaiah for his prophesies of disaster (that is, his true prophecy), but he acquiesces and brings in Micaiah son of Imlah (vv. 8-12).

At first, Micaiah (facetiously?) announces victory but then poetically predicts the death of Ahab in battle (vv. 13-18). More significant is the description of the heavenly council as that place where God reveals to the prophets the divine intentionality (vv. 19-23). The heavenly council (sod) appears elsewhere in scripture:
•    God is depicted as seated upon a throne surrounded by the hosts of heaven (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; 15:8; Psalm 82:1; 89:5-7; 103:21).
•    The "true" prophet is the one who has stood in this council and heard the word of the Lord (Jeremiah 23:18, 22).
•    Amos claims that God does nothing without revealing his counsel (sod) to the prophets (Amos 3:7).
A "lying spirit" is sent by the council to deceive Ahab through his prophets. The prophetic word is thus understood to be God's word in action, but not in a deterministic way; for example, Ahab sees through the same advice when it is on the lips of Micaiah (vv. 15-16). The "lying spirit" does not force the prophets to act against their will; it encourages them to be who they are and to say what they will.

1 Kings 22:1-40

Joint Campaign with Judah against Aram

22For three years Aram and Israel continued without war. 2But in the third year King Jehoshaphat of Judah came down to the king of Israel. 3The king of Israel said to his servants, ‘Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, yet we are doing nothing to take it out of the hand of the king of Aram?’ 4He said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?’ Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, ‘I am as you are; my people are your people, my horses are your horses.’

5 But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, ‘Inquire first for the word of the Lord.’ 6Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred of them, and said to them, ‘Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?’ They said, ‘Go up; for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.’ 7But Jehoshaphat said, ‘Is there no other prophet of the Lord here of whom we may inquire?’ 8The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favourable about me, but only disaster.’ Jehoshaphat said, ‘Let the king not say such a thing.’ 9Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, ‘Bring quickly Micaiah son of Imlah.’ 10Now the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were sitting on their thrones, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing-floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets were prophesying before them. 11Zedekiah son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron, and he said, ‘Thus says the Lord: With these you shall gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’ 12All the prophets were prophesying the same and saying, ‘Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.’

Micaiah Predicts Failure

13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favourable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favourably.’ 14But Micaiah said, ‘As the Lord lives, whatever the Lord says to me, that I will speak.’

15 When he had come to the king, the king said to him, ‘Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?’ He answered him, ‘Go up and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.’ 16But 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?’ 17Then Micaiah* said, ‘I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd; and the Lord said, “These have no master; let each one go home in peace.” 18The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favourable about me, but only disaster?’

19 Then Micaiah* said, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him. 20And the Lord said, “Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” Then one said one thing, and another said another, 21until a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, “I will entice him.” 22“How?” the Lord asked him. He replied, “I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” Then the Lord * said, “You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.” 23So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has decreed disaster for you.’

24 Then Zedekiah son of Chenaanah came up to Micaiah, slapped him on the cheek, and said, ‘Which way did the spirit of the Lord pass from me to speak to you?’ 25Micaiah replied, ‘You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber.’ 26The king of Israel then ordered, ‘Take Micaiah, and return him to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son, 27and say, “Thus says the king: Put this fellow in prison, and feed him on reduced rations of bread and water until I come in peace.” 28Micaiah said, ‘If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.’ And he said, ‘Hear, you peoples, all of you!’

Defeat and Death of Ahab

29 So the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. 30The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.’ So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. 31Now the king of Aram had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, ‘Fight with no one small or great, but only with the king of Israel.’ 32When the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, ‘It is surely the king of Israel.’ So they turned to fight against him; and Jehoshaphat cried out. 33When the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. 34But a certain man drew his bow and unknowingly struck the king of Israel between the scale-armour and the breastplate; so he said to the driver of his chariot, ‘Turn around, and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.’ 35The battle grew hot that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans, until at evening he died; the blood from the wound had flowed into the bottom of the chariot. 36Then about sunset a shout went through the army, ‘Every man to his city, and every man to his country!’

37 So the king died, and was brought to Samaria; they buried the king in Samaria. 38They washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria; the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it,* according to the word of the Lord that he had spoken. 39Now the rest of the acts of Ahab, and all that he did, and the ivory house that he built, and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel? 40So Ahab slept with his ancestors; and his son Ahaziah succeeded him.

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10 February 2011

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