1 Kings 22:1-40 – Micaiah and the Death of Ahab
SummaryAhab'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.
AnalysisOnce 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.