The Truthful Prophet
1 Kings 22
Ahab, King of Israel, is at war with Syria. Benhadad, a luxurious and insolent braggart, had demanded the unconditional surrender and plunder of Samaria, and Ahab has refused (1 Kings 20). A prophet of God assured him of successful resistance. It would seem that Jezebel's influence has temporarily waned, for we find prophetic authority being exercised and a large school of the prophets in existence. Apparently Baal worship has declined and the worship of Jehovah in a very imperfect way has been restored.
The Syrians were defeated twice with great slaughter and the King, Benhadad, captured. Some of the leading Syrians came in abject humility to Ahab to plead for the best terms possible. Ahab showed an unexpected clemency, made a treaty with Benhadad and, after extracting a promise from the Syrian King to restore certain cities to Israel, let him go free.
Three years later come the events of 1 Kings 22, the story of Micaiah the son of Imlah. During these years there had been reigning in the neighbouring kingdom of Judah a man of a distinctly different type, Jehoshaphat. He was a good king, walking in the righteous way of David his ancestor. The Lord prospered his reign and he became rich and powerful, but during this rise to prosperity he had thought it wise to cement a friendship with his powerful ally Ahab by marrying his son Jehoram to Ahab's daughter Athaliah. Now, eight years after that event, Jehoshaphat goes down to Samaria on a friendly visit. Ahab receives him with royal hospitality, kills sheep and oxen in abundance. This is part of a deliberate plan for obtaining Jehoshaphat's co-operation in the projected campaign against the Syrians. Ramoth Gilead, an Israelite town, was still in the hands of the Syrians, who, according to the unfortunate treaty made with Benhadad, had agreed to restore it but had not done so.
Ahab asks Jehoshaphat if he will join with him in the expedition and Jehoshaphat consents but would like to have prophetic advice. Ahab probably thought this a foolish weakness of his ally but strove to humour him, so four hundred prophets are summoned. These would not be Baal prophets or those of Ashtaroth such as Elijah had contended with. They spoke in the name of the Lord, as verse 12 indicates, but Jehoshaphat was not satisfied. Perplexed by the din, it is clear that they were not in his view true prophets of Jehovah. He was accustomed to enquiring of the Lord through the person of one man, the High Priest at the temple. They had used the word Adonai, which might mean the Supreme God of any religion, and Jehoshaphat, struck with their shrinking from the distinctive name Jehovah, asks, "Is there not here a prophet of Jehovah; One who is not ashamed or afraid to speak in his awful name?"
Ahab read at once Jehoshaphat's secret dissatisfaction. He knew where to find such a prophet, but he had had some bitter experience with that man, Micaiah. He recalled the day when he had sent Benhadad away in peace and had been suddenly confronted by a prophet. How often the words had recurred to him since "thy life shall go for his life". No wonder with a burst of anger Ahab says, "I hate him, for he doth not prophesy good concerning me but evil". Jehoshaphat's courteous disclaimer is an irresistible demand for his presence, so Micaiah is summoned, probably from prison. An officer is sent to fetch him.
Elijah's trial at Carmel was in some respects easier than Micaiah's now. In that case it had been the servant of Jehovah against the sham gods, Baal and Ashtaroth. Elijah had stood single handed against four hundred and fifty prophets, the King and his court, and triumphed. Micaiah's test was far subtler of approach and so far more difficult, for these men professed themselves prophets of the Lord. In the name of Jehovah they had uttered their predictions (v.12). Probably to many, if not to all of them, there had been a time when the true voice visited them; but the gift, like all God's gifts, could be turned by the receiver to evil use. He might trifle with it, dumb its utterance through fear of man, pervert it for gifts and rewards, like Balaam, and as he thus trifled with the great power he drove away its presence and an evil spirit came and dwelt there. He became a false prophet, a prophet of lies. We read not so much of the false prophets prophesying consciously a lie as of their seeing lying visions and so uttering deceits. Micah portrays this condition of things in Micah 3. 5‑7.
While the officer has gone to fetch Micaiah, verse 11 tells of one of these false prophets, Zedekiah. As the name means "Righteousness of Jehovah", it is quite possible that he was once a true prophet of God but had lost the true vision by a desire to curry royal favour. Anyway he joins in the unanimous voice of the other prophets and declares that the expedition against the Syrians will be successful. Their united reiteration of the cry, evidently with increasing excitement, reminds us of the repeated, "O Baal, hear us" of Mount Carmel and stands in similar contrast with the calm stern utterance of the true prophet.
In v.13 the man who has gone to summon Micaiah appears to give the prisoner friendly advice. He acquaints him with what is going on, tells him of the united advice of the prophets and advises him for his own safety and possible release from prison to agree with the popular voice. There is in the whole incident, especially in the words of this officer, evidence of the strange confusion of ideas so common in superstition at all times, which in some sense believes in the inspiration of the prophets as coming from God, yet fancies that they can direct it as they will and that accordingly they can be bribed or beguiled or coerced to speak smooth things. The extreme form of this infatuation is exemplified in the case of Simon Magus, who believed the Apostles were the medium for conferring the highest spiritual gifts from God and yet madly persuaded himself that this power could be bought for money (Acts 8.18). The delusion in this case is silenced by the stern reply of Micaiah, "As the Lord liveth, what Jehovah saith unto me, that will I speak."
Micaiah is brought out of the darkness of his prison into the full glare of a Syrian noonday sun. It is a significant scene. There are two Kings resplendent in their robes of silk and purple and gold, surrounded by all the glint of pomp and ceremonial display. Courtiers, magnificent in their dress and overbearing in their pride are numerous, and at a respectful distance are the prophets keeping up their repeated adjurations to the Kings to go up to Ramoth Gilead and prosper. All around are the people and probably the troops.
Amidst this crowd the single prophet stands. To him the dull stillness of the dungeon has been suddenly exchanged for the eager interrogation of the King, the angry taunts of the prophets and the deep expectant hum of the people. All around, there is an eager sea of faces.
A weaker heart might have fainted under the heaviness of the burden laid upon him. Not so Micaiah; he was strong in the power of Jehovah and felt no fear. The King puts the formal question and Micaiah repeats the refrain of the prophets with their exact words, "Go, and prosper, for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the King". Micaiah is a true disciple of Elijah in the defiant irony of the tone in which he takes up and mocks the utterance of the false prophets so bitterly as at once to show Ahab his scorn of them and him.
In verse 17 Micaiah drops the bantering tone and prophesies the defeat of the army which has become leaderless, and the King's worst fears are confirmed. Micaiah has as usual prophesied evil. But Micaiah is not finished; he has more to say from the Lord (vv 19‑23). "Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee."
Zedekiah shows his contempt by striking Micaiah on the cheek. He professes indignation in words of blasphemy against God and of contempt for his prophets and sarcastically enquires how Micaiah came to know the secret dealings and counsels of God, with the idea of turning Micaiah's words into ridicule, but Micaiah ignores his words and merely declares the shame and terror with which Zedekiah shall find out, hereafter, the truth of his words.
Ahab's affection of disbelief, which his subsequent conduct shows to be but affectation, simply draws down a plainer and sterner prediction accompanied by an appeal to the whole assembly to bear witness of it. 'If you return at all in peace, Jehovah hath not spoken by me. Hearken O people, everyone of you." What courage, what bravery! He was resolute in face of danger.
A few hours later all is accomplished. The session is ended, the royal train rolls proudly back to the ivory palace of Ahab, the company of the prophets whose voice of counsel has prevailed sweeps triumphantly away and the crowd melts and disperses. The one man with whom was Jehovah's presence is led back, dishonoured, smitten and reviled, to eat prison bread and drink its water.
A few days later, a King, dying on Gilead's mountains, and an army slaughtered, scattered and fugitive, attested the truth of Micaiah's words "If thou return at all in peace the Lord hath not spoken by me".