Sermon preached on 1 Kings 22:1-40 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 03/08/2020 in Novato, CA.
Note: Due to technical difficulties, the audio recording is not available for this sermon.
Here we come to the fall of the most evil king in Israel’s history. For such an evil king there is so much recorded in 1 and 2 Kings about his reign compared to the length given to the other kings. But finally his long evil rule comes to an end. The narrator has an interesting restraint here in using King Ahab’s name in this passage. If we treat the final typical obituary-like section starting in verse 39 as distinct, this final passage only refers to Ahab by name one time – and that’s by God in heaven as he discusses his downfall in his heavenly court. Otherwise, Ahab is just repeatedly referred to in this passage as the King of Israel. Possibly that is the narrator’s way to already begin to diminish Ahab’s renown as his end quickly approached. In the end, Ahab goes out in the way that characterized his life – disregarding the word of the LORD.
We begin our consideration of this passage by looking at the first scene in this passage where Ahab gladly receives false prophecy. The context is given in the first five verses of the chapter. Despite having three years of peace with Syria, Ahab wants to break that peace and attack Syria to try to take back the Israelite town of Ramoth-gilead from them – a strategic town east of the Jordan River. Recall that two chapters ago Ahab had been battling with the King of Syria and God granted them victory over them but then Ahab foolishly let the King of Syria go free. The King of Syria had not only promised peace between the two nations but also to give back all the cities Syria had taken from Israel. Yet, not surprisingly, we see here that Israel had not apparently received back all their cities from Syria. God had not been happy with Ahab for letting the Syrian king go and prophesied that Ahab’s life and Ahab’s people would ultimately be exchanged for the lives of the Syrian king and their people. Well, here we see that fulfilled.
It’s in that context that we are introduced to Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Okay, technically his name was mentioned back in chapter 15 as succeeding his father Asa. But it won’t be until next week’s passage that we’ll be formally introduced and told anything really about him. Then we’ll see that he was one of the faithful kings of Judah. In fact, we see some of that godly influence attempt to assert itself here in today’s passage. Jehoshaphat tells Ahab that before going into battle they should inquire of a prophet of the LORD. That is certainly advice Ahab needs to hear and heed! For that matter, there is something hopeful in one sense of these two kings even being together in the same room. God’s people had been fractured and divided between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Was this messianic son of David going to help repair the ruins among God’s people? Well, maybe he had such good desires and intentions. Elsewhere in Scripture we even learn there was some sort of alliance between Jehoshaphat and Ahab including Ahab’s daughter being given in marriage to Jehoshaphat’s son. Their being together here is part of the fruit of that alliance. And yet while there is something hopeful here in this, it didn’t happen in the right way or at the right time. Jehoshaphat won’t be able to save Ahab and Israel. In fact, according to the account in 2 Chronicles 19:2, the otherwise godly Jehoshaphat receives a prophetic rebuke after this battle with Syria for helping those who hate the LORD.
But I digress. For now, we observe that because of Jehoshaphat’s urging, Ahab calls in the prophets, some 400 men, to inquire about the battle. The question is basically if they should go up and fight or not against Syria – if they will win the battle or not if they do. Well, Ahab’s prophets unanimously agree, saying in verse 6, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” And so, they prophesy victory for the Israelite-Judah coalition against Syria. Yet, Jehoshaphat immediately turns right around and asks if there is not yet a prophet of the LORD, of Yahweh, of whom they can inquire of. King Jehoshaphat apparently discerns that these are not true prophets. Maybe it’s because in their initial prophecy in verse 6 they don’t use the name of Yahweh, though interestingly they do start using it later in the chapter after Jehoshaphat asks about a prophet of the LORD, Yahweh. Or maybe it’s just because he knows Ahab well enough to know the kind of prophets he probably keeps around his court.
Well, Ahab apparently knows what kind of prophet Jehoshaphat is looking for. Someone like this Micaiah. But Ahab is hesitant to call for him and we see the reason in verse 8. Ahab says that Micaiah has historically prophesied bad things concerning him. This reveals Ahab’s problem when it comes to the word of the LORD. Instead of seeking out the true word from God, his first instinct is to pick prophets who will tell him what he wants to hear. The Apostle Paul refers to this phenomenon in 2 Timothy 4:3 as people with itching ears who accumulate teachers to suit their own passions. In other words, Ahab’s picking prophets based on what he wants to hear is not a problem limited to Ahab. Furthermore, Ahab’s response seems to suggest a rather pagan way of thinking of prophecy – that somehow you were getting the prophet to declare a certain future you want as to somehow change or put into effect such a future. But that’s not how prophecy works at all. That very notion is condemned by Micaiah in verse 14 when he’s being pressured to prophesy in agreement with the other prophets and he says that he can only prophesy what the LORD gives him to say. In other words, prophecy is not a way for humans to control God. Rather, when prophecy comes, it’s God’s gracious revealing of something to mankind.
This leads us then to our second point for today, to look at this second scene of our passage: where Ahab receives true prophecy. We see in verse 13 that Micaiah is summoned and arrives. Interestingly, Micaiah begins in verse 15 by telling Ahab the same thing the other false prophets had said. He just parrots their words. Likely he said this sarcastically as a sort of rebuke to Ahab, knowing that Ahab had summoned the original 400 prophets because they told him what he wants to hear. Ahab’s reply in verse 16 shows that he immediately knew that Micaiah hadn’t given him the real prophecy from the LORD. In fact, Ahab suggests that this has happened repeatedly in the past between him Micaiah. Probably Micaiah has gotten so use to Ahab disregarding his prophecies that he has gotten into the habit of sarcastically telling Ahab what he wants to hear first. Yet it is nonetheless interesting that while Ahab will ultimately disregard Micaiah’s prophecy, there is still some part of him that wants to know and even seems to give some weight to his true prophecy.
And so, we find the real prophecy from Micaiah in verse 17. There he says he saw Israel scattered as sheep without a shepherd. Surely this prophecy was to be understood as predicting that Israel would have trouble in this battle because their king would be struck and killed. That is quite a different prophecy than the repeated promises of triumph by the 400 prophets. But then Micaiah gives more prophetic information. In verse 19 it says he was granted to see into the heavenly throne room of God. That alone is not uncommon – several prophets are described in Scripture as having some vision of God in his heavenly throne room. But what does stand out here is what Micaiah sees and hears there. He is allowed to witness God soliciting ideas from the spirits about how to entice Ahab to go to battle at Ramoth-gilead so he could be killed in the battle. (By the way, think angels or possibly fallen angels when you hear of these spirits.) And so, the spirits bring different ideas to God but the one he chooses is the one who promises to be a lying spirit in the mouths of the prophets. In other word, God authorizes the use of false prophets to entice Ahab to go to battle where he will be killed.
Let’s pause here for a moment and acknowledge that this prophecy has been troubling to many. It can be hard to understand how our God of truth would use a lying spirit to deceive Ahab to his death. We might even remember how James 1:13 says that God tempts no one with evil. While I likely will not resolve all the mystery for you of this passage today, let me offer a few comments to help us think properly about this. I might first note that whatever we initially think about this, the text doesn’t paint God as doing anything wrong or morally questionable. I might also note that the Bible in various places even shows certain commendable uses of deception such as in matters of war. There is surely some reflection along those lines to be had here. Furthermore, we might acknowledge that God elsewhere is described as sometimes handing people over to their sins as part of his judgment upon them. In Ahab’s case, Ahab had been a peddler of false prophets all his reign. He had instituted the worship of Baal and Asherah with their prophets, and in turn persecuted the real prophets of the LORD. It’s poetic justice on God’s part in the sense of the punishment fits the crime for God to here send false prophets to lead Ahab himself astray. And yet if anyone is still troubled by the idea that God was involved in the sending of these false prophets, don’t forget he is also behind Micaiah revealing to Ahab here that they were false prophets. In other words, it’s hard to accuse God of deceiving Ahab when he here lays all the cards on the table. Yes, God authorized the sending of false prophets to Ahab, but then God also lets Ahab know they are false prophets who have come to trick him.
So, while people are often concerned here about God possibly being guilty of deceiving Ahab, that’s actually a non-issue for this text. God fully discloses to Ahab here that the prophets aren’t telling the truth. So, the real question isn’t about God telling the truth or not; it’s why does God authorize both false prophecy and true prophecy to come to Ahab? Since God authorized the means of false prophecy to entice Ahab unto his death, why also reveal the truth to Ahab then through Micaiah? Well, surely it is yet God giving Ahab opportunity to heed the word of the LORD. This becomes for Ahab an opportunity to discern truth from error, true prophecy from the false. It becomes a test for Ahab whether he will first recognize and then heed the true word from the LORD.
This idea of discerning true and false prophecy is raised to our attention in verse 28 when Micaiah responds to how he will be released from prison only after Ahab returns safely. Micaiah states an unhappy truth in his situation. If in fact Ahab did return in peace, that would prove that he himself was a false prophet. That is a crime punishable by death according to the law. But here, the point I’m making about Micaiah’s words in verse 28 is that he subtly refers to the test of Deuteronomy 18:22. There it describes how to test if a prophet is a true or false prophet – it’s by whether or not his prophecy comes to pass or not. So, in this case, Micaiah will be vindicated as a true prophet when Ahab dies in battle. But surely Micaiah’s reference to this brings out the bigger point. Prophecy needs to be discerned for truth and error. Given even the background hinted at in this passage between Ahab and Micaiah, surely Ahab had enough to know that Micaiah was a true prophet of the LORD. Surely, he could have discerned like Jehoshaphat that the other 400 prophets weren’t trustworthy. In other words, Ahab should have discerned Micaiah’s prophecy to be true and then should have heeded its wisdom.
That leads us to our third point to consider the final scene in this chapter – the death of Ahab. You see, the only thing that could have saved Ahab from dying in that battle at this point is if he heeded the warning of the prophecy and stayed home. But of course, Ahab wasn’t one to closely heed true prophecy, and so this final section starts out in verse 29 recording that he and Jehoshaphat go up to battle at Ramoth-gilead. We learn in verse 31 that the king of Syria had given his army captains specific instructions to target Ahab. That seems like the primary Syrian objective here – to search out and take out Ahab. We recognize here how true Micaiah’s prophecy was – the Syrians were specifically aiming for Ahab.
Interestingly, we see that Ahab apparently didn’t completely disregard Micaiah’s prophecy because he goes into the battle in disguise. Meanwhile he sends Jehoshaphat in his kingly robes. But none of this would save Ahab. Ahab’s disguise wouldn’t keep him safe. God’s providence allows for a “random” arrow to strike the death blow on Ahab. Nor would Jehoshaphat be able to save Ahab. Whatever forces Jehoshaphat brought with him from Judah are apparently not enough to give Israel victory. Nor would Jehoshaphat die in the place of Ahab and thus save him that way – even though that almost happened. Jehoshaphat cried out at the last moment and the Syrians realized it was not Ahab and that saved Jehoshaphat from having to die in Ahab’s place. The point is that despite Ahab’s strategies of disguise, decoy, and extra fire power, his only way to have been saved here is if he had heeded the prophetic word of the Lord. But alas, he didn’t, and thus came to an end the twenty-two year reign of King Ahab.
Verse 37 records the fact of his death. It also goes on to describe how his death and the manner of it was ultimately a fulfillment of the word of the Lord. This reminds us that while Ahab could have hypothetically chosen to heed the prophecy from Micaiah and be saved that day, his death was ultimately a working out of the providential plans of God. In other words, ultimately Ahab’s fate had been sealed. Throughout his life he made one choice after another to disregard the word and way of the Lord. This chapter is a culmination of such a life and the judgment of God upon it. Our chapter today ends starting in verse 39 with a typical obituary-like statement about Ahab and his reign. Taken along with the rest of the chapter, the whole thing reads almost like a funeral service for Ahab. But like funerals in general, they are really meant not for the dead but for the living.
And so, I direct you back to a key line in this passage. Look at the end of verse 28. The prophet declares as he’s thrown into prison, “Hear, all you peoples.” This chapter and Micaiah’s words, even his prophecy, wasn’t ultimately for Ahab. Yes, his prophecy left Ahab without excuse. But his prophecy ultimately was directed beyond Ahab to all the people. When Micaiah’s prophecy was proven true and Ahab came back in a coffin, would the people come to the right conclusion? Would they recognize that a prophet had truly been among them? Would they repent of the direction the nation had gone down under Ahab? Would they turn from the pagan religion and from all the false prophets and seek the true word of the LORD? Micaiah’s call “hear, all you people” was a call to the people to do what Ahab failed to do: discern and then heed the word of the LORD! That would be the only path for salvation for Israel.
Unfortunately, after Ahab’s death, there is no record of any widespread repentance on the part of Israel at that time. Rather, the imagery of Micaiah was rather fitting. It described Ahab’s death resulting in Israel becoming as sheep without a shepherd, verse 17. It would not be until much later that finally such lost sheep would have a shepherd come to them that could save them. One day a shepherd-prophet-king would come that would bring them the word of the LORD and teach them to heed it. What King Jehoshaphat couldn’t do, his greater son could. King Jesus died in our place to save us and bring us back to the Lord! Interestingly, Jesus quoted the prophecy in Zechariah 13:7 which said, “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered” to refer to what would happen at the cross. If Satan at all thought he was having victory when he sought the death of Jesus, he was deceived. For at the cross, Jesus secured the fall of Satan to our salvation. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of our souls who guides us to the eternal springs of living water.
I bring then to us today these same words of Micaiah. Hear, all you peoples. This passage was recorded in Scripture not for Ahab’s sake but for all would hear it afterwards. Hear, all you peoples! Ahab is a defeated enemy. Satan is a defeated enemy. Would any continue to hold on to the religion of Ahab and Satan? Or would you recognize the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Christ Jesus the King of Kings? Will you discern the truth in his sure prophetic word and trust your life to it? Will you heed its warning and submit to its solution – a life of repentance from sin and faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation?
We here today as members of Christ’s church have declared our trust in Jesus. But there are yet many out there today looking to deceive you with lies. They want to turn us away from the truth that is in Christ Jesus and his holy word. So often it can seem like there are 400 people speaking lies to you for every 1 person pointing you to the truth. God has already told us that would be the case; that there would be false prophets and false christs to try to lead us astray. God has given us full disclosure to this fact ahead of time. He calls us then to not believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Let us be on guard and heed this warning. Let us look to hold fast instead to that clear truth which is in the Bible. May this be our goal so that when we die, it will not be a day of culminating God’s judgment against us. But rather that it would be a day of great triumph when he ushers us into our eternal reward. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.