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Stuart Chase - 16 April 2023

Submitting to Truth (1 Kings 22:1–40)

Humanity has a long track record of hearing but dismissing warnings of impending peril. The story of Micaiah’s encounter with Israel’s King Ahab reveals that this tendency is not new. The text shows us at once Micaiah’s fierce commitment to God’s truth, which serves as an example for all of God’s people, and shows the destructive consequences of those who, like Ahab, dismiss God’s truth. We will consider this narrative under the following broad headings: 1. A Flippant Response to Truth (vv. 1–6) 2. A Forced Response to Truth (vv. 7–12) 3. A Faithful Response to Truth (vv. 13–14) 4. A Formulaic Response to Truth (vv. 15–23) 5. A Furious Response to Truth (vv. 24–28) 6. The Fulfilled Response of Truth (vv. 29–38) 7. The Focused Response of Truth (vv. 39–40)

Scripture References: 1 Kings 22:1-40

From Series: "Hidden Figures"

Lessons from some of the lesser known characters in Scripture.

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In late March 2023, an explosion at a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania in the United States killed seven people. A lawsuit filed a little more than a week after the disaster claims that the factory owners bear responsibility for the explosion because they ignored warnings of a gas leak shortly before the explosion.

Investigations are ongoing, but it will prove to be a sad, though hardly unprecedented, revelation if, indeed, there were ignored warnings. Humanity has a long track record of ignoring warnings and suffering the consequences. The text before us in this study reveals that that tendency is hardly a new thing by showing us how King Ahab blatantly ignored God’s word through the prophet Micaiah. This writer’s burden in this chapter is straightforward: to show that those who disregard God’s truth are destined to be destroyed by it.

By recording this showdown between wicked King Ahab and a lesser-known prophet—Micaiah—the writer contrasts a faithful response to God’s truth with a series of unfaithful responses to that truth, and then shows how God, in his truth, responds to those who reject his truth. There is a lot here in these forty verses, but we will move through them quickly, with a focus on the need to submit to God’s truth.

The Response to Truth

As I have said, the writer’s major burden is to show that those who disregard God’s truth are destined to be destroyed by it. He sets this lesson up by showing how Ahab, Ahab’s faithless prophets, and Micaiah, a faithful prophet, all responded to God’s truth (vv. 1–28). Very briefly, we will touch on four different responses to truth in this text before we see how God, in his truth, responded.

A Flippant Response to Truth

First, the text draws our attention a flippant response to God’s truth. We see this in the opening six verses:

For three years Syria and Israel continued without war. But in the third year Jehoshaphat the king of Judah came down to the king of Israel. And the king of Israel said to his servants, “Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, and we keep quiet and do not take it out of the hand of the king of Syria?” And he said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?” And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”

 

And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Enquire first for the word of the LORD.” Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.”

 

(1 Kings 22:1–6)

The writer sets up the reader for the entrance of the text’s hidden figure—Micaiah ben Imlah—by highlighting the flippant manner with which Ahab and his prophets treated God’s truth. Israel’s King Ahab and Judah’s King Jehoshaphat had formed an alliance by marriage: Jehoshaphat’s son had married Ahab’s daughter (2 Kings 8:18; 2 Chronicles 18:1). When Ahab wanted to go to war to recapture Ramoth-gilead from Syrian control, he knew precisely where to go for allies.

Jehoshaphat agreed to join Ahab but, being a man far more sensitive than Ahab to Yahweh’s leading, he asked first whether there was a prophet of Yahweh they could consult. Ahab was armed with prophets for just such an occasion. Those familiar with the biblical story know that Ahab had prophets of Baal and Asherah on call, whom Elijah had confronted in chapter 18. But he evidently also had prophets who were willing to invoke Yahweh’s name in giving him the message he wanted to hear. At first, these prophets promised that “the Lord” (Adonai) would give Ahab victory, but they were not beyond invoking the name of Yahweh, as we see in v. 12.

The point is that both Ahab and his prophets treated God’s truth flippantly. He ensured that he kept on prophets on his payroll who were willing to tell him what he wanted to hear, while they, without hesitation, told him exactly what he wanted to hear.

Little has changed in three thousand years. The world in which we live is filled with professing Christians who treat God’s truth flippantly. They profess allegiance to the truth, but really God’s word is just a means for them to get what they want.

Our country is filled with churches that profess to be biblically centred but who really use the Bible very flippantly to draw in people so they can pursue their own agenda. God’s truth plays very little role in their doctrine and practice. Congregants flock to these churches because want the respectability of a “Bible-teaching” church without the actual, piercing conviction of God’s truth. They don’t mind that the pastor holds, and even reads from a Bible, so long as he doesn’t teach its truth in a way that calls them to obey it.

Ahab kept nominal prophets of Yahweh on his payroll because it may at times prove convenient to invoke Yahweh’s authority in pursuing his own agenda. Too many professing Christians and churches do the same, paying lip service to Scripture to justify their own godless teachings and practices. The sad result, as we will see, is irreversible destruction.

A Forced Response to Truth

A second response to God’s truth is highlighted in vv. 7–12. Here, we find a forced response to God’s truth.

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may enquire?” And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may enquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micaiah the son of Imlah.” Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king 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. And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.’” And all the prophets prophesied so and said, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”

(2 Kings 22:7–12)

Jehoshaphat, who was more sensitive to God’s truth than Ahab, saw through the sham. He was not so easily going to be swayed by a promise that Adonai would give victory: He wanted to hear from Yahweh. “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may enquire?” (v. 7). Ahab’s prophets, seeing that Jehoshaphat was not as easily swayed as Ahab, tried another tactic: They tried to force God’s truth to fit their agenda.

“And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron and said, ‘Thus says the LORD, “With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.”’ And all the prophets prophesied so and said, ‘Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king’” (vv. 11–12). Reading of Zedekiah’s antics, some have concluded that he was just like the prophets of Baal whom Elijah encountered on Mount Carmel. I think something else is going on here. I think that Zedekiah, recognising Jehoshaphat’s unwillingness to accept his prophecy, resorted to a crude form of proof-texting. Let me explain.

Moses, in Deuteronomy 33:17, gave this prophecy concerning the descendants of Joseph: “A firstborn bull—he has majesty, and his horns are the horns of a wild ox; with them he shall gore the peoples, all of them, to the ends of the earth.” I think Zedekiah was appealing to this written law, pairing it, as the prophets so often did, with parabolic action, to appeal to Yahweh’s authority.

Zedekiah was essentially trying to beat Micaiah to the punch. He knew that Micaiah would declare Yahweh’s truth, so he appealed to Yahweh’s word himself to try and persuade Jehoshaphat and thereby give Ahab what he wanted.

Again, we observe that little has changed in three thousand years. The Christian world is still filled with people who proof text to force God’s word to say what they want it to say. Their cars are protected by Psalm 91. They appeal to Proverbs 29:25—“whoever trust in the LORD is safe”—and claim the “promise” that nothing bad will ever happen to them. Some churches appeal to Acts 2:38 to enforce their teaching on baptismal regeneration. These Christians and churches wrench isolated texts out of context in support of what they want to be true.

Of course, Christians always want to appeal to Scripture in what they believe and how they behave, but there is a huge difference between citing carefully evaluated Scripture in its proper context and citing a verse out of context to justify a belief or action. We must always be careful of forcing Scripture to say what it doesn’t say.

A Faithful Response to Truth

The highlight of the text comes in vv. 13–14, the centrepiece of the story: “And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Behold, 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.’ But Micaiah said, ‘As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.’”

Micaiah is the only character in the story who displayed full fidelity to God’s truth and willingness to suffer for it. He understood that God’s people are under authority to his word rather than in authority over it. Ahab kept nominal prophets of Yahweh on hand because he assumed that the prophet controlled the word. The prophets seemed to be happy to stay on payroll under this same assumption. Only Micaiah understood that the prophet is subject to the word.

Three thousand years later, too many professing Christians still assume that they stand above God’s word. They will “submit” when they agree with its teaching, but they are the final authority. We need to be more like Micaiah, willing to embrace and suffer for God’s truth as we sit under its authority.

When he was finally brought before the kings, Micaiah initially, and somewhat sarcastically, presented God’s truth with the same formula that the false prophets did: “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (v. 15).

Scripture doesn’t tell us the tone of voice with which Micaiah delivered God’s word, but we can assume, from what we read, that it carried a tone of sarcasm. Ahab knew that Jehoshaphat wasn’t buying it, and so he insisted that Micaiah tell the truth: “But the king said to him, ‘How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?’” (v. 16).

This was a game that Ahab and Micaiah had played before. Ahab didn’t really care what Yahweh said, but he knew that it was important to Jehoshaphat to hear from Yahweh, so he insisted that Micaiah speak the truth. Micaiah consented:

And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you.”

(1 Kings 22:17–23)

Micaiah’s prophecy was simple: The battle was not going to go well. In the Old Testament, a nation’s king was considered to be its shepherd. Israel would be left shepherdless when Ahab was killed in battle. To underscore that he knew Ahab wouldn’t listen, he told of a second vision in which Yahweh told him that Ahab would believe his deceiving prophets. Micaiah knew that he would not be believed, but it did not sway his commitment to the truth, even if it meant he would suffer.

Micaiah’s attitude to the truth is the one we should emulate. Thousands of years before Jesus walked on earth, Micaiah exemplified a Christlike attitude to truth. He believed that God’s truth was decisive and binding. He believed that God’s truth was authoritative and sufficient. He believed that God’s truth was true and certain. He believed that God’s truth was reliable and, indeed, unbreakable. We should have the same response to truth.

A Furious Response to Truth

But there is one more response to truth that we must consider before we see how the God of truth responded to Ahab. When they heard Micaiah’s delivery of God’s word, Ahab and his prophets were incensed:

Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek and said, “How did the Spirit of the LORD go from me to speak to you?” And Micaiah said, “Behold, you shall see on that day when you go into an inner chamber to hide yourself.” And the king of Israel said, “Seize Micaiah, and take him back 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 meagre rations of bread and water, until I come in peace.”’” And Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, all you peoples!”

(1 Kings 22:24–28)

Micaiah, as I have said, was willing to suffer for God’s truth, if necessary. He did not allow fear of man to determine what he preached. If it cost him, it cost him. He knew that God’s truth would vindicate itself in the end.

Many people today remain incensed at the truth of God’s word. Consider this email, which was submitted anonymously via our church’s website recently:

Incredible that so many people still believe all this nonsense and are prepared to spend time and money perpetuating it. Heaven and Hell are not real places, but Bible Prison certainly is. Bottom line: nobody survives (or will survive) their own demise. No amount of faith can bridge the gap between make-believe and reality. The bible is 100% man-made. God exists only in people’s heads. It should be so obvious. Christianity is mind-control, and where the mind leads, the rest is sure to follow. Honest and diligent search for the truth (reality) leads one out of Christianity, not into it. Online resources are available to assist in transitioning from a supernatural to a naturalistic worldview…. People deserve better than what they’ve been getting. They have a right to know that they have been hoodwinked for two millennia. Life is very precious, very fragile and very short: do not sacrifice it to a dressed-up mythology. The future of Christianity is, truly, the future of an illusion.

But it is not only people “out there” who are angered by the truth. This attitude is evident even in churches. Too many pew-sitters are angry when God’s truth confronts their sin by calling them to repentance. The attitude of the prophets has not died.

The Response of Truth

The closing section highlights, not so much man’s response to God’s truth, as God’s own twofold response to his truth. We see, briefly, two responses of God, in his truth, to those who resisted his truth.

The Fulfilled Response of Truth

To begin with, we see a fulfilled response (i.e. God fulfilled his word).

So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” And 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. And when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armour and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” And the battle continued that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, until at evening he died. And the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot. And about sunset a cry went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!”

 

So the king died, and was brought to Samaria. And they buried the king in Samaria. And they washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the word of the LORD that he had spoken.

 

(1 Kings 22:29–38)

Interestingly, Ahab did not entirely discount God’s truth. If he completely disbelieved Micaiah, he would have gone into battle in his royal regalia. But he knew Micaiah well enough to know that there was truth to Micaiah’s words, and he sought to negate those words by his own clever planning.

But, of course, God’s truth stands, and events unfolded precisely as God had warned. Ahab heard and ignored God’s word and it destroyed him.

Those who disregard God’s truth are destined to be destroyed by it. When God speaks, he acts. When God warns that a day of eternal destruction is coming, in which those who do not submit to truth “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from his glorious strength” (1 Thessalonians 1:9, CSB), we can be sure that it will be fulfilled. Those who disregard God’s truth are destined to be destroyed by it.

But the wonderful reality is that the opposite is equally true: Those who embrace God’s truth will find life in it. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). God’s truth reveals that every human being is a sinner under God’s wrath, but that, in a display of lavish love, God sent his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but inherit eternal life (John 3:14–21). Those who disregard the truth stand condemned, while those who embrace it find forgiveness and salvation at the cross.

God is true to his word. The choice before us is simple: How will we respond to that truth? The way we respond to God’s truth will determine the way in which God (in his truth) will respond to us. There is a choice between eternal life and eternal destruction, depending on how we respond to the truth of the gospel.

The Focused Response of Truth

Finally, in vv. 39–40, we see the focused response of truth: “Now 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 Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? So Ahab slept with his fathers, and Ahaziah his son reigned in his place.”

The writer plainly tells us that he was not interested in Ahab’s achievements. He was interested in one thing: Ahab’s response to God’s truth. “For him there is only one question about Ahab that has any consequence: How did he stack up beside the word and commandments of God?” (Davis).

Ahab’s story contains three instances of ignored prophecy. In chapter 20, he ignored the words of an anonymous prophet. In chapter 21, he ignored the word of Elijah. In chapter 22, he ignored the word of Micaiah. He disregarded God’s truth, and the truth destroyed him. The warning stands for us today.

So let me ask you this: How will you respond to the truth of Scripture today? Will you respond flippantly, perhaps interested in what it says without a commitment to obey it? Will you respond by forcing God’s truth into your preconceived way of life? Will you respond furiously, angered when God’s truth confronts your sin? Or will you, like Micaiah, respond faithfully, submitting yourself to the teaching of Scripture, holding firm to the commitment: “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak”? And that I will believe. And that I will do.

Perhaps you are reading these words as an unbeliever. If so, you cannot begin to submit to God’s truth without first submitting to the gospel. God’s word says that, as a sinner, you are under his divine wrath, and that the only means of escape from the penalty of eternal destruction is a frank confession of sin as you embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour. Do that today, and then commit to walking in glad and humble submission to the authority of God’s word.

AMEN