Meme: Jack Nicholson, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!"

400 Prophets Can’t Be Wrong! Or Can They? Part 2

In the last post, we began a story about Ahab, King of Israel, in 1 Kings 22. At some point, the Arameans had taken a city called Ramoth-gilead from Israel, but the two kings reached a truce. They were at peace for three years, but Ahab wanted to take that city back. Of course, if the king of Aram defeated him before, it would not be easy, so he enlisted the help of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. As kings would normally do before going into battle, they inquired for a word of Yahweh. Ahab brought in 400 prophets of Yahweh, and every one of them said, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (1 Ki 22:12).

But Jehoshaphat did not trust those prophets, because they seemed more concerned with saying what the king wanted to hear rather than speaking the word of the LORD. He asked for another prophet of the LORD. There was only one the king could call, Micaiah son of Imlah. Ahab summoned him, though he really did not want to, because he never spoke favorably of him but only disaster. But Jehoshaphat insisted. Micaiah has been coy with Ahab up to this point, but Ahab commanded him to drop the sarcasm and tell him the truth. We pick up there, verses 19-23.

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. And 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, until a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’

‘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.’

So you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has decreed disaster for you.”

(1Ki 22:19-23 NRSV)

Micaiah received the word from Yahweh and told him. So of course, Ahab was grateful. He said, “Boy, Micaiah, I’m sure glad we asked you. Thanks for warning me. I almost started a fight that would have killed me. I wanted to get that city back, but I know better than to go into a battle where the LORD is against me. Why is the LORD so bound and determined to destroy me? Maybe it’s because I haven’t been living up to God’s standard of justice and righteousness. What I did to Naboth proves that. In fact, I wonder if he was the one who volunteered to put a lying spirit in my prophets. He is there before the throne of the LORD still seeking justice for what I did to him. Oh, Naboth, please forgive me. LORD, I repent, and I promise from now on to uphold the rights of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien, and to honor our laws that protect family farms and release people from slavery every sabbatical year.

“Micaiah, I’m sorry I treated you the way I did. From now on, you will be my chief advisor, because I need a prophet who will speak the truth to me.

“And as for all of you, you lied to me. You succumbed to a lying spirit, and this is not the first time. You have never spoken the truth to me. You do not even know how to speak the truth because of the lying spirit the LORD has put on you. Micaiah son of Imlah is the only one who hears the word of the LORD and the only one who speaks the truth. What do I need 400 false prophets for when I have Micaiah son of Imlah? Can anyone find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? I want all of you gone from my palace by sundown, and I order all your schools of prophecy to be closed. Your license to prophesy in my kingdom is revoked. Micaiah and only Micaiah will speak the word of the LORD to me.”

By the way, in case you were wondering, that was sarcasm. Here’s what really happened. Verses 24-25.

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?”

Micaiah replied, “You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber.”

(1Ki 22:24-25 NRSV)

Zedekiah was the only one of the 400 court prophets mentioned by name, because he stood out by taking iron horns and charging like a bull and saying, “Thus says the LORD: With these you shall gore the Arameans until they are destroyed” (1Ki 22:11 NRS). He knows this doesn’t make him look good. So he slapped Micaiah on the cheek, and he’s like, “I don’t have a lying spirit. You have a lying spirit!” So here’s a classic he said-he said between two competing prophets.

“He’s a false prophet.”

“No, he’s a false prophet.”

How do we know who’s telling the truth? One says (along with 399 others) the king will be victorious in battle. The other says the king will meet with disaster if he goes into battle. In King Ahab’s mind, the prophet(s) who speaks favorably of him is always right. So who do you think he believes? Verses 26-27.

The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah, and return him to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son, and 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.’”

(1Ki 22:26-27 NRSV)

Ahab throws him in prison for daring to speak against him. And just for spite, he orders reduced rations of bread and water, just enough to keep him alive until he comes in peace. Micaiah’s answer to this is my favorite line in the story.

Micaiah Sums It Up

Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, you peoples, all of you!”

(1Ki 22:28 NRSV)

Micaiah knows the rules. He prophesied something in the name of Yahweh. If it does not come true, that is a word that Yahweh did NOT speak. According to the law of Moses, that means he should be put to death (Deu 18:20-22). Some of the most powerful statements are not in what someone says but in what they leave unsaid. If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me. That’s what he said. But what is left unsaid there? “If the LORD has spoken by me, you will not return in peace.” More like, “You will return in pieces.”

The last thing he says as he’s being taken away is, Hear, you peoples, all of you! Remember, this is not happening within the walls of a palace. This is happening out in the open at the city gate. A spectacle like this was sure to attract a crowd. He’s telling the people to remember what the prophets of the king said versus what he said and watch to see which one comes true. That is how they will know who the true prophet of the LORD is.

Now, remember, Ahab does not have to do this. He can take Micaiah’s counsel and not go to battle. But he is bound and determined to get this city back and prove Micaiah is “fake news.” The problem with kings and others who have a lot of power and are used to getting what they want is when they can’t get what they want, they often do not take it well. Continuing with Verse 29.

So the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead.

(1Ki 22:29 NRSV)

Wow, Jehoshaphat went with Ahab after what the prophet of Yahweh, that he asked for, said? Oh yeah. He must have been thinking, “He said it would be a disaster for you, not me. If you still want to do this, it’s your funeral.” Literally.

“I Will Disguise Myself and Go into Battle”

The 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.

(1Ki 22:30 NRSV)

So he called Micaiah fake news, but now he’s not so sure? I guess I can’t blame him for wanting to hedge his bet. But does he really think he can disguise himself from Yahweh? It’s worth a try, I guess.

Now 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.”

(1Ki 22:31 NRSV)

The king of Aram must really be pissed. “I made a truce with that fool, and now he wants to break it? He thinks he can beat me because he’s got a friend with him? We’ll see about that.” Chariots were one of the most powerful weapons in the ancient world. The king of Aram could do some damage to the flanks of Israel with them. He could maybe send half against the armies and half against Ahab, but no. He wants all of his chariots to hunt down one man, the king of Israel. You’ve really gotta hate someone to do that.

Imagine you’re going into battle. You are one of thirty-two Apache helicopter pilots. And your general says, “Forget about everyone else. Forget their tanks, infantry, planes, helicopters, and artillery. I want every one of you to target their general. Seek and destroy him.”

Now Verse 32.

I’m Not the King of Israel!

When 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.

(1Ki 22:32 NRSV)

Ahab told Jehoshaphat to wear his own robes (v. 30), but he still looked like the king of Israel. I guess Ahab and Jehoshaphat’s robes looked similar, because they saw him and thought, “That’s our guy! Get him!”

Jehoshaphat cried out. What did he cry out, I wonder? Did he say, “It’s not me! It’s him!” Did he know the orders the king of Aram gave them?

I guess they look similar.

"Coin" image, black and white, inscribed R(ex) Israel Achab
Rex Achab Israel (Ahab, King of Israel). Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Coin-like image, black and white, incribed Iosaphat Rex Iud(ea)
Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. By Guillaume Rouille – Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85736029

When the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him.

(1Ki 22:33 NRSV)

So the king of Aram was serious. He does not want them going after anyone but the king of Israel. Even the king of Judah gets a pass from them. Fortunately, for Jehoshaphat, they knew the king of Israel well enough to see this was not him. Verse 34.

But a certain man drew his bow and unknowingly struck the king of Israel between the scale armor 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.”

(1Ki 22:34 NRSV)

A certain man? They don’t even tell us which side he was on. For all we know, he could have been an Israelite soldier. They make it sound like it was an accident, like the confederate soldier who shot Stonewall Jackson. Maybe he was fooled by the king’s disguise. Wouldn’t that be ironic? In trying to fool God, he outsmarted himself. It could have been one of the Aramean soldiers, but then it wouldn’t have been an accident, would it?

Verses 35-37.

Ahab, King of Israel, Dies

The 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. Then about sunset a shout went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!”

So the king died, and was brought to Samaria; they buried the king in Samaria.

(1Ki 22:35-37 NRSV)

The driver of the chariot must have been getting more and more worried as the floor of the chariot got ankle deep in blood. Kings often rode chariots with a driver, so they could shoot arrows. They often got very accurate, hitting targets at full speed while making it difficult for the enemy to shoot them. Ahab must have survived many battles that way.

Kurkh stela of Shalmaneser III that reports battle of Karkar, 853 BC.
Kurkh stela of Shalmaneser III that reports battle of Karkar, 853 BC, names King Ahab

In the ancient world, you couldn’t continue a battle after sundown, so they declared an end for that day. The king died. So who was the true prophet, Micaiah or the 400?

The epitaph of king Ahab in the Bible would not be kind. If you can say anything good about him, it was that he was courageous in battle. The Spartans would say he went down on his shield. The next verse describes what happened after he was brought home. It’s pretty graphic, so for sensitive listeners, I won’t read that.

But it did say that it happened according to the word of the LORD that [Elijah] had spoken. (1Ki 22:38 NRSV). This refers to an incident from the previous chapter. Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, had a man named Naboth murdered, so they could take his vineyard from him and his family. Again, this is exactly what Samuel warned the people kings would do to them. Here is what Elijah told him was the judgment from the LORD.

You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (1Ki 21:19 NRSV)

In the minds of the Israelites, this was poetic justice. Just as he did to Naboth, it was done to him. I don’t want to encourage vengefulness, but for the ancient Israelites, this was like the Wicked Witch of the West melting.

Gif: Wicked Witch of the West, "I'm melting!"
“A certain girl” threw water on her.

(sing) “Ding, Dong, the witch is dead. Da da, da daa. Da da, da daa.”

An ignominious end to a controversial ruler (1Ki 22:38-40). Jehoshaphat, not surprisingly, gets a much more favorable assessment of his rule (1 Ki 22:41-46).

How Do We Know the Prophet Is False?

Some of you may ask, how was Ahab supposed to know who to believe? Many prophets spoke in the name of Yahweh, but only one got it right. The only way to know for sure was to go into battle. I used to think that with all the competing prophets and schools of prophets back then, how was anyone supposed to know which one to believe? If he was victorious, the 400 were right. If he died, Micaiah was right. So the only way Ahab could know was to die.

But now, I am convinced this was not the first time Ahab’s court prophets got it wrong. He saw them prophesy things that did not come true, but he continued to believe them anyway. Why? Because they only spoke what was favorable to him. They learned quickly he could not handle any truth that was not what he wanted to hear.

Meme: Jack Nicholson, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!"

Now let’s imagine we are there at the city gate, watching all the prophets competing to be heard not just to say that the king will win, but how big a landslide victory it will be. “You will defeat them, for God is with you.” “You will annihilate them, for God is with you.” “With these horns, you will gore your enemies until they are no more, for God is with you.”

And then Micaiah son of Imlah comes along and says in effect, “God has decreed disaster for you if you go.” Who should we believe? Without the benefit of hindsight, how can we know? Micaiah actually gave the answer to that. If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me. Ahab might not know which one is correct before he goes into battle. But we are not going into battle. All we have to do is wait and see. At sundown, does the king return in peace or not?

The driver of the chariot brings him back and shows his body to everyone. Can you tell the difference between a live and a dead body? That’s all you have to do to know who spoke the word of the LORD. You don’t need to be a prophet yourself. You don’t need any gift of discerning of spirits. You don’t need a vision from angels. You don’t need to go off into the wilderness and fast for forty days until you are so near death you can hear God. And you don’t need any propaganda from false prophets and Ahab’s supporters saying he really won when he lost. Just answer that one question. Is Ahab alive or dead? He is dead. There’s your answer. Every prophet who promised victory for the king is false. You don’t need supernatural or spiritual vision. You just need to see the facts. The two eyes and the brain God gave you will do just fine.

“But the prophets had to be right. They speak the word of the LORD.” That’s probably what Ahab thought. “My prophets have to be right!”

Remember, Micaiah reminded us of the rules. If the king returns in peace, the LORD did not speak through him. The other 400 prophets could then claim the LORD spoke through them, and no one could prove them wrong. Did the king return in peace? No. The king did not have the victory the false prophets promised. Micaiah knew the rules, and he was the only prophet willing to play by them. Because even though Micaiah knew he could die if he was wrong, I guarantee not one of the king’s prophets was put to death for speaking falsely in the name of the LORD.

If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; 

(Deu 18:22 NRSV)

So you’ve seen the king’s dead body. He’s dead. The chariot driver is washing the blood out of the bottom of the chariot. But a mob pushes the driver of the chariot away, props the king up and says, “Look! The king is alive! He returned in peace! Victory is ours!”

Then the corpse slips out of their hands and collapses. They pick him up again and say, “Victory is ours, just like the prophets said.” And it happens again and again, and each time they claim the king won

No, the king is dead, just like the prophet Micaiah said. What Micaiah said proved true. What the false prophets said did not come true. Yes, every prophet who promised victory for the king was false. It doesn’t matter how many times you prop him up. You can’t bring him back to life. You can’t have a do-over of the battle. It’s over.

God Told Me the King Is Not Dead

At what point do we admit the Trump prophets were false? When the votes are counted and Biden is the winner? When every legal challenge to the results has failed? When the electoral college casts their votes and Biden is the winner? When Congress certifies the results, despite an attempted coup, and Biden is still the winner? The king is dead. No matter how many times you prop Trump up in the chariot and decree, declare, or prophesy that he is the winner, he lost. I’m not saying whether that’s good or bad. I’m saying those are the facts. And the facts are how you know if the prophet is false.

What about when he is inaugurated? If Biden is inaugurated (which any other time in history was never even questioned), should we accept then that the prophets were false?

The prophets are not false! The election was stolen!

The “400 prophets” (I think that’s what I’ll call them from now on) didn’t say he would really win, but the election would be stolen. They said Donald Trump would win. The facts do not match the prophecy. And no, the election was not stolen. Your vote was counted along with 155 million other votes. You voted for the candidate who got fewer votes. He lost. That’s how democracy works. The votes have been counted, the electoral college has cast its votes, and Congress has certified the results, all in keeping with the Constitution. Biden won, Trump lost. You can try again in four years. That system has worked since 1789. No, it’s not perfect, but more than anything it is what makes this nation great. I know the prophets promised he would win, but he lost.

But we walk by faith, not by sight (2Co 5:7 KJV). You can’t see it now except through the eyes of faith. But Donald Trump won, and God will reveal it, and God will defeat every plan of Satan to put Joe Biden in the White House.

Gif: Saturday Night Live, Church Lady to Colin Jost, "Satan!"

2 Corinthians 5:7 was never meant to be an excuse for denying the facts. How did the Bible say to identify false prophets?

If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; 

(Deu 18:22 NRSV)

If it does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. I know I keep repeating that, but you seem to have a hard time accepting it. Micaiah told the people to watch what happens and see which prophet’s word comes true. That’s how you will know which prophet is true, and which prophet is false. You don’t need to “walk by faith not by sight” to know if the 400 prophets are false. Just compare what they said with the facts. The king is dead, and  306 electoral votes is still more than 232. At this point, no one can change the results of the election without overturning the Constitution.

All the prophets said Trump would win. How could all those prophets have been wrong?

All 400 of Ahab’s prophets were wrong. How did that happen? According to Micaiah, the LORD sent a lying spirit to them because he was sick of King Ahab’s injustice and unrighteousness. Did the LORD send a lying spirit to the false prophets of Trump? Or did the prophets simply speak presumptuously, as Deuteronomy 18:22 says? Did they presume to think their own wishful thinking was “the word of the LORD”? I don’t know. All I know is what they spoke did not come true, and Deuteronomy 18:22 and Micaiah both say that means God did not promise any victory to Trump, no matter what the 400 prophets said.

God shouldn’t even have had to put that in the Bible. Just use the brain God gave you. A prophet whose prophecies don’t come true is literally the definition of a false prophet. Simple common sense should tell you that. When God, the Bible, and common sense all agree, you’d better pay attention. You may even need to repent, like I did years ago.

“Hear, you peoples, all of you!”

I’m spending so much time on this, because even after the horrific events of January 6, there are reports that some people are planning even more violence on Inauguration day. If you are considering that, let me ask you. Even if by some crazy turn of events you are successful in stopping the inauguration and overturning the election by force, is that really a win? If that happens, we lose much more than one presidential election. We lose the greatest legacy of the Constitution, the peaceful transfer of power. And with that, we lose the world’s longest running constitutional democracy. That is not how you make America great again. That is how you become a fascist state.

Meme: Tom Cruise, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "I want the truth!"

400 Prophets Can’t Be Wrong! Or Can They? Part 1

I had written this post before the incidents of January 6. Ironically, that is Epiphany, the day many churches celebrate the visit of the wise men. But it looked like wisdom decided to take a holiday from Washington, D.C. I don’t have a lot to say that hasn’t already been said. But I will say my goal as a Christian is to follow Jesus’ commands, specifically, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Do unto others as you would have them to do you”, “Love one another as I have loved you”, “Love your enemies”, and “Turn the other cheek.” I don’t see any way to reconcile that with insurrection, terrorism, and storming the Capitol to stop our democracy from doing what it has done since 1789. But what do I know? I’m just a Bible scholar.

The House and Senate did their duty in spite of it, and for that, I commend them. Maybe some people need to take a lesson from how God handled losing an election, as I talked about in my last post.

I know for some of you, the idea of Trump leaving the white house without a second term is very upsetting. You think it’s the end of the world. But let me ask, does the reason you are so upset about losing an election (welcome to democracy, by the way) have anything to do with the prophets who promised God would give Trump the victory? If so, then there is a story from the Bible I want to point to you. You thought so many prophets all saying the same thing could not possibly fail. What if I told you one time 400 prophets all prophesied the exact same thing and got it wrong? That is the story I’ll bring you today.

Quick Background: A United Kingdom Now Divided

In the previous episode, I told you that while Samuel was judge, priest, and prophet in Israel, the people demanded a king. God did not like it, but God told Samuel, if the people voted for a king, give them a king. You see there? God did not agree with the results of the election, but God accepted them. When you finish this, maybe you’ll want to go back and read my post on that.

This story takes place about 160 or 170 years later. The people got their king. David ruled from about 1000-960 BC, and at first it worked out like the people hoped. He succeeded in uniting the twelve tribes into one nation and beating all of Israel’s enemies into submission. With stability within and peace with the surrounding nations, his son Solomon built on David’s success, and the nation enjoyed peace and prosperity under him (ca. 960-920 BC). Hail to the king!

But it came with a cost. Solomon used forced labor for his many building projects, one of several things Samuel warned the people a king would do to them. It is a testament to Solomon’s popularity that the people did not complain too much while he was king. But when Solomon died, they asked his successor, Rehoboam, to ease up on the forced labor. Rehoboam responded by telling the people in effect, “You thought my father was tough? I will be ten times tougher!”

The people rebelled, particularly the northern tribes, and the end result was the nation split into a northern and southern kingdom (ca. 920 BC). Rehoboam remained king in the south, but Jeroboam, the leader of the rebellion, became king in the north. From then on, the name Israel referred to the northern kingdom, and Judah referred to the southern kingdom.

As two nations instead of one, each of them became more vulnerable to enemy invasion.

The Relationship Between the Kings of Israel and Judah

Ahab was one of the northern kings from about 871-852 BC. He is perhaps best known for being married to Jezebel and being the king at the time of Elijah’s duel with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Ki 16:29-34; 18:1-46). He had been in conflict with the king of Aram (modern day Syria), but they came to a truce. For three years, he was at peace with the Arameans. But he still had an axe to grind with them, so he called Jehoshaphat, the king of the south (ca. 870-849 BC), to his capital city of Samaria. We’ll pick up the story in 1 Kings 22.

For three years Aram and Israel continued without war. But in the third year King Jehoshaphat of Judah came down to the king of Israel. The 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?”

(1Ki 22:1-3 NRSV)
"Coin" image, black and white, inscribed R(ex) Israel Achab
Rex Achab Israel (Ahab, King of Israel). Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Coin-like image, black and white, incribed Iosaphat Rex Iud(ea)
Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. By Guillaume Rouille – Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85736029

The notes in my study Bible say Ramoth-gilead had been a tax center for Israel before the Arameans took it from them. Back then, certain cities were designated for collecting taxes, most of which came in the form of agricultural products like grain, wine, and olive oil. These cities had the main storehouses for all of that, so this was a significant loss for Ahab’s kingdom. He wanted it back. Verse 4.

He 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.”

(1Ki 22:4 NRSV)

The study notes say Jehoshaphat’s response indicates he was a vassal of Ahab, so the northern kingdom was more powerful than the south at that time. Ahab wants to take Ramoth-gilead back from the Arameans. But if they took it from him before, he does not want to fight them again without an ally. If Jehoshaphat was his vassal, did he have the right to say no or not? Ahab asks as if he does, but maybe this was a formality. Still, Jehoshaphat did at least have some wiggle room, if not a right of refusal, as we see in the next verse. Also, you’ll note that in this story, the narrator never calls king Ahab by name. He only refers to him as “the king of Israel,” indicating he does not have a high opinion of this king.

Inquire First for the Word of Yahweh

In the ancient world, you always wanted to inquire of your gods before a major undertaking, like war. King Leonidas of Sparta went to the oracle of Delphi, and Jehoshaphat wants to ask the prophets of the LORD before he commits to this. Verse 5.

But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.”

(1Ki 22:5 NRSV)

It’s important to note in this verse that LORD is in all capital letters. In the NRSV that I use, and most English translations, when LORD is in all caps like this, it refers specifically to Yahweh, the God of Israel and Judah. This is key because at that time, the Canaanite god Baal was also called “the Lord.” The prophets frequently denounced the kings and the people for worshipping Baal along with Yahweh. You cannot serve two lords, to paraphrase Jesus. What was the first commandment?

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

(Exo 20:2-3 NRSV)

The prophets constantly reminded them Baal did not bring you out of slavery. Yahweh did. Baal did not give them this land. Yahweh did. Baal is not your God. Yahweh is. But both Israelites and Jews wanted to have it both ways. They thought Yahweh was good for some things, but Baal was more reliable for other things. So it was not uncommon for there to be shrines both to Yahweh and Baal, even in the same city. So when they ask for “a word of the LORD,” do they mean Yahweh or Baal? If “lord” is in all caps, as it is throughout this story, that means the original text says Yahweh. Verses 6-7.

Then 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.”

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the LORD here of whom we may inquire?”

 (1Ki 22:6-7 NRSV)

LORD is in all caps in both cases, so Ahab brought in prophets of Yahweh, not Baal. But Jehoshaphat still doesn’t trust them. He wants to hear from another prophet of Yahweh.

Jehoshaphat Dares to Question the Prophets

What’s your problem, Jehoshaphat? You asked to inquire of a prophet of Yahweh, and Ahab brought you 400 of them. And you still want to inquire of another prophet of Yahweh? Why do you need one more? Every prophet is in perfect agreement. Doesn’t that tell you this has to be the word of Yahweh?

For some reason, this does not pass the “smell test” for Jehoshaphat. The reason becomes clearer a few verses later, so I’m going to skip ahead to verse 10.

Now 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.

(1Ki 22:10 NRS)

Two Thrones at the City Gate

You might have assumed, as I did at first, that if one king is in his capital city (Samaria) and receiving another, they would discuss their business in the palace. But they were actually at the entrance of the gate. A lot of important business took place at the gate of a city back then. The elders would usually gather there to counsel people, settle disputes to avoid going to court, or be witness to some official transaction. Here, it says both kings were sitting on their thrones. Remember, this is Ahab’s capital. He has a throne here, presumably in addition to the one in the palace. But there is a throne for the king of Judah as well. I don’t know if it was for him specifically, or if it was for any king who had come to negotiate with the king of Israel. But if Ahab had a throne for the king of Judah, I think it speaks to the fact that even though they were no longer one nation, they were on friendly terms. The two kingdoms had a shared history and, for the most part, a shared religion. True, they had been through a pretty nasty divorce, and they were “never ever getting back together” (as Taylor Swift would say), relations at that time were amicable.

This is a different scene than what I pictured at first. If you don’t read the Bible regularly, just know that this will happen sometimes. Continuing with verses 11-12.

Writer’s Tip: Don’t do what this writer did here. If you realize halfway into a scene you have to add details to make it clear, that’s jarring for the reader. They had pictured the scene one way, but then they have to tear that down and rebuild it, and then reimagine what has already happened in order to catch up.

Prophecy or an Echo Chamber?

Zedekiah 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.”

All 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.”

(1Ki 22:11-12 NRS)

Before, it sounded like the king asked if he should go and attack the Arameans at Ramoth-gilead, the prophets said yes, and that was it. Why would that look suspicious? But in these verses, we see the prophets had been speaking the whole time. And not just speaking either. In true prophetic fashion, they were all dramatizing how the king would utterly defeat the Arameans, each one trying to make their voices heard over all the others. One called Zedekiah son of Chenaanah stood out by making himself horns of iron, probably so he could charge like a bull and trample and gore imaginary enemies. And this is all happening by the gates of the city for everyone to see.

Now are you starting to see why Jehoshaphat did not trust these prophets? This was not 400 prophets who each heard the word of the LORD independently, and lo and behold, they all agree! This was an echo chamber of 400 clamoring sycophants who have learned that when they prophesy, “the word of the LORD” had better be favorable to the king and whatever he wants to do. So with 400 prophets each trying to be the most enthusiastic supporter of the king, Jehoshaphat leans over to Ahab so he can hear him speak. Now, we go back to verses 7-9.

Is There No Prophet of Yahweh Here?

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the LORD here of whom we may inquire?”

The 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 favorable about me, but only disaster.”

Jehoshaphat said, “Let the king not say such a thing.”

Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micaiah son of Imlah.”

(1Ki 22:7-9 NRSV)

Jehoshaphat wants a prophet who will actually inquire of the LORD and tell the truth, whether it is favorable to the king or not. Ahab says, “Yeah, there is one, but he is fake news.” Why is he fake news? Because his prophecies do not come true? No, because he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.

So he is “fake news” because he knows God is under no obligation to speak favorably of the king. Jehoshaphat is like, “That’s the one I want to hear from.”

One of the responsibilities of a prophet was to speak truth to power, whether they liked hearing it or not. Jehoshaphat understood that, but Ahab did not. He only wanted to hear from prophets who would tell his itching ears what he wanted to hear. He demanded loyalty. Micaiah gave him honesty. He did not want to hear the minority report, but he knew Jehoshaphat would not agree to anything without it. Reluctantly, he sent for the prophet, Micaiah son of Imlah.

Micaiah: Not a Team Player

The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.”

But Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak.”

(1Ki 22:13-14 NRSV)

Come on, Micaiah. All the other prophets have already spoken favorably to the king. Just go along with them. Can’t you be a team player for once?

And Micaiah is like, “That’s not how it works. I don’t speak favorably or unfavorably to the king. I only speak what the LORD tells me.”

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.”

But 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?”

(1Ki 22:15-16 NRSV)

I think Jehoshaphat must have got a good laugh out of this. I mean, technically, he said what the king wanted to hear. So why did the king get angry and tell him to say nothing but the truth?

Meme: Tom Cruise, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "I want the truth!"

When I was in the Word of Faith, they placed so much emphasis on being careful with your words. Never say something you don’t mean or that you don’t want to come to pass, so sarcasm was out. God doesn’t understand sarcasm. God only understands the literal meaning of the words you speak. But here we have a prophet speaking the word of the LORD with sarcasm. The problem with sarcasm is it doesn’t always come across on the written page. But there is no other reason for Ahab to think he doesn’t really mean what he’s saying. I picture him giving a smirk before he speaks and mimicking the enthusiasm of Ahab’s prophets.

How ironic is it that Ahab orders him to tell nothing but the truth in the name of Yahweh, but he told Jehoshaphat he did not want to bring in Micaiah because he spoke the truth. Okay, Ahab. You want to hear the truth? Micaiah son of Imlah is about to lay it on you. Verse 17.

Then 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.’”

(1Ki 22:17 NRSV)

It’s kind of a roundabout way of saying, “Don’t go up to Ramoth-gilead.” But the message is still clear to Ahab. In Biblical language, saying all Israel is like sheep that have no shepherd is a critique of his leadership, which someone like Ahab hates. And if he says everyone should go home in peace, that doesn’t sound like getting ready for battle, does it? Verse 18.

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favorable about me, but only disaster?”

(1Ki 22:18 NRSV)

Disaster? He said let each one go home in peace. You haven’t heard disaster yet. He says he wants the truth. Can he handle it?

This post is getting pretty long, so I’ll stop here and continue it in the next post. In the meantime, enjoy this classic clip from the movie, A Few Good Men.