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Monday, March 12, 2012

“Who Do You Listen To?” - (03/11/12)

I Kings 22:1-40/II Chronicles 18:1-34
March 11, 2012

            We are bombarded every day with news, or what is purported to be news.  It comes to us by way of radio, television, the Internet, our phones, and printed media.  It all claims to be true, but in reality, much of it is just gossip, speculation, fear mongering, distortion, and axe grinding.  If there is one story there will be 20 different slants, depending on which network you choose to listen to, or which commentator happens to be holding-forth at the moment, or which “experts” they put on the panel.  CNN will tell the story one way, MSNBC will pull it in another direction, then FOX News will have yet another take on the very same shooting, or speech, or Senate bill, or health scare.
            So how are we supposed to sort it all out—to know truth from fiction?  How do we know who we should listen to, whose interpretation of the facts we should trust?  Sometimes it gets very confusing!

            This morning we are going to read a fascinating story from the OT about a king who got conflicting advice from his trusted counselors and was left trying to figure out who to believe.  It is actually recorded twice in the Bible—in I Kings 22:1-40, and II Chronicles 18:1-34.  In this story you will meet a man that you’ve probably never heard of before.  That’s because he’s only mentioned in these two texts.  He was one of the lesser-known prophets of Israel through whom God worked and sent a message to His people.
            This prophet’s name was Micaiáh.  His name was a common one in ancient Israel and it meant, “Who is like Yah(weh)?”  [By the way, my Hebrew name, Micaiél, is almost like it.  My name means, “Who is like El(ohim)?”]  Sometimes his name was also rendered by its shorter form, Micah, like the author of the Minor Prophet book by that name.
            We know nothing about Micaiah’s background except that his father’s name was Imlah, and that he lived in Israel during the days when evil King Ahab ruled over the Northern Kingdom, and while Jehoshaphat was King of Judah.  One other historical side note… Josephus, the Jewish historian, claimed that Micaiah was also the unnamed prophet of I Kings 20:35-43.  We have no way to either confirm or disprove this theory but it is a long-standing Jewish tradition.
            To help us pinpoint this story in history, we know that King Ahab, the son and successor of Omri, was the 7th King of Israel and he reigned for 22 years (approx. 874-852 B.C.)  He set up his capital in the city of Samaria.  During his reign there were frequent wars with Syria, to the North and East, especially against the Aramaean King, Ben-hadad, who ruled from Damascus.  Against God’s orders Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the King of Sidon.  Besides being a non-Jew, she was an incredibly evil woman and an idol worshipper who introduced all kinds of sinful practices in Israel.
            In order to help you have a better understanding of the depth of Ahab’s wickedness listen to this synopsis of his life from I Kings 16:29-33: “Now Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years.  30 Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him.  31 It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him.  32 So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria.  33 Ahab also made the Asherah.  Thus Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”
            With that in mind let’s look at our story for today.  Turn to I Kings 22.  We are going to walk through the story verse by verse and I will make some observations as we go, and then we’ll try to draw some conclusions at the end.  My goal is to have us be able to leave here today with some solid biblical principles that we can apply to our daily lives.

1 Three years passed without war between Aram [Syria, settled by Aramaean people] and Israel.  This was some kind of record!

2 In the third year Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, came down to the king of Israel.  He came down the mountain from Jerusalem, to the city of Samaria.  But why?  The leaders of the two kingdoms normally didn’t wouldn’t speak to each other.  The answer is in II Chron. 18:1, “Now Jehoshaphat had great riches and honor; and he allied himself by marriage with Ahab.”  That was a big mistake!  This unholy alliance is described in II Kings 8:18.  Jehoshaphat entered into a treaty with Israel by taking one of Ahab’s daughters, Athaliah, to marry his son, Jehoram, who later became the King of Judah after Jehoshaphat died.  The II Chronicles account gives us another piece of useful information.  Verse 2 of chapter 18 says, Some years later he [Jehoshaphat] went down to visit Ahab at Samaria.  And Ahab slaughtered many sheep and oxen for him and the people who were with him, and induced him to go up against Ramoth-gilead.”  That’s called “bribery.”  Ahab wanted Jehoshaphat’s military assistance so he plied the Judean King with gifts before he put the question to him.  There is a principle here.  Let’s call it Principle #1: When people want to give you something for nothing there is usually a big price to pay later on.  There is no such thing as a “free lunch.”

3 Now the king of Israel said to his servants, “Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, and we are still doing nothing to take it out of the hand of the king of Aram?”  Ramoth-Gilead was a city approximately 30 miles due southwest from the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee.  It went back and forth for years between Israel and Syria.  After three years without a war, Ahab was ready for some action.  This brings us to Principle #2: Sometimes it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.  Don’t stir up trouble when it’s not necessary.

4 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.”  What else could he say?  Ahab was family, for crying out loud!  This brings me to Principle #3: Association with evil men is dangerous.  We should avoid entangling alliances with the ungodly (cf. Psalm 1).  The NT puts it this way in II Corinthians 6:14: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”  If Jehoshaphat had obeyed God’s Word he would have never gotten into this mess with Ahab, relative or not.
5 Moreover, Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Please inquire first for the word of the LORD.”  It’s important to remember that Jehoshaphat was generally a good guy, though he made some stupid mistakes along the way, like getting hooked up with that louse, Ahab.  He was the son and successor of Asa, and he reigned in Jerusalem for 24 years as the 4th King of Judah, the Southern Kingdom.  He loved God, and wanted to do right, and he did a lot to promote godliness in Judah, especially in tearing down all the places of idol worship and encouraging people to worship the one true God of Israel.  I see a principle in this verse.  Principle #4: Before any decision, big or small, seek the Lord’s leading before you leap.  Apply Proverbs 3:5-6 which exhorts us, Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” 

6 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go against Ramoth-gilead to battle or shall I refrain?” And they [all] said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.”  Ahab had a boat-load of prophets at his disposal—400+.  This is interesting because just back a little ways in the Book, in I Kings 18, you’ll remember the story of the showdown between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal.  At the end of that God-contest Elijah put all 450 false prophets to the sword.  However, the Bible tells us that Queen Jezebel had another 400 prophets at her disposal who worshipped Asherah (cf. I Kings 18:19).  Asherah was a fertility goddess whose exploits and veneration were linked with Baal.  Here we see that Ahab had replaced the 450 prophets of Baal with 400 who claimed to be prophets of Yahweh, the God of Israel.  Principle #5: A foolish leader draws around him those who will say only what he wants to hear.  We should never trust in these kinds of false counselors. 

7 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not yet a prophet of the LORD here that we may inquire of him?”  For some reason, Jehoshaphat began to smell a rat.  Something didn’t seem right.  Even though all 400 of Ahab’s prophets were saying the same thing, King Jehoshaphat apparently had some doubts.  He asked for a consultation with a true prophet of the LORD.  Principle #6: A wise man will be picky about whose counsel he listens to.  He will seek out counselors who have a track record of proven godly wisdom, rather than just settling for the loudest voice in the room. 

8 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.”  Ahab hated Micaiah because the prophet never had anything good to say about him.  That hacked him off, big time, because everybody else around him was more than willing to kiss his feet and say anything he wanted to hear.  Micaiah, on the other hand, didn’t care about making the King happy.  He was only concerned with making God happy.  Principle #7: A man who speaks an unpleasant truth may find himself hated.  In general, the world prefers to hear pretty lies.  However, the one who speaks out the truth for God is usually respected at least, because he stands out in any crowd. 

9 Then the king of Israel called an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micaiah son of Imlah.”  Josephus believed that Micaiah was already in jail at this point because of the King’s long-standing displeasure.  If that’s true, it was a short trip to his audience with the King.  A temple guard was dispatched to bring up the prisoner.  But in the meantime…

10 Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting each on his throne, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets were prophesying before them.
Principle #8: The number of counselors we have is not as important as having one who walks with God (400:1).  Remember, false prophets have always been a dime-a-dozen. 

11 Then Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah, made horns of iron for himself and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are consumed.’”  12 All the prophets were prophesying thus, saying, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and prosper, for the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”  This is quite a picture!  The two kings there on their thrones in all of their finery out in the open air.  Apparently they we in an open area close to the city gates and I’m sure the place was packed.  There were Ahab’s 400 prophets plus probably hundreds of curious civilians standing around trying to see and hear.  This guy, Zedekiah, was apparently the spokesman for the prophets.  He had fashioned a set of bull’s horns to symbolize the victory that Ahab would certainly have against the Aramaeans.  He and the other 399 prophets all said the same thing: “No worries, King.  You can go confidently into this battle against your enemies at Ramoth-gilead because God will give you the victory.  It’s a no-brainer, a done deal, you can’t lose.”  Principle #9: The advice of the majority is usually wrong. 

13 Then the messenger who went to summon Micaiah spoke to him saying, “Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king. Please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.”
The officer was trying to give Micaiah what he thought was some good advice.  Maybe he sort of liked the prophet and didn’t want to see him get tortured and killed.  But Micaiah didn’t know anything about diplomacy and political expediency.  He didn’t know how to lie and obfuscate.  The guard said, “Make it easy on yourself.  Just tell the King what he wants to hear.  Be a sycophant [a toady, flatterer, groveler] like everybody else.”  Principle #10: There will always be the temptation to water down the truth in order not to look like a party-pooper.  Never give in to that temptation because you will always regret it later.

14 But Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I shall speak.”    But Micaiah said, “No, I’ll say what the LORD tells me to say and let the chips fall where they may.” Principle #11: A man or woman of God does not speak the truth because it is popular but because it is right.  

15 When he came to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?” And he answered him, “Go up and succeed, and the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.” 16 Then the king said to him, “How many times must I adjure you to speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”  I’ll bet Ahab already had a sneaking suspicion that Micaiah would prove to be difficult.  He’d been down this road before with this sharp-mouthed prophet.  To Ahab’s question, “Should we go or not go?” Micaiah answered with all the sarcasm he could muster, “By all means, go and succeed.  What could possibly go wrong?”  But either from the look on his face or by his tone of voice, Ahab recognized that Micaiah was just jerking his chain.  I love Ahab’s response: “How many times do I have to tell you, when I ask you a question I want the truth, the straight skinny.  So which is it?  Should we go or stay home?”  

17 So he [Micaiah] said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep which have no shepherd.  And the LORD said, ‘These have no master.  Let each of them return to his house in peace.’”  After Ahab urged him to tell what the LORD had really revealed, Micaiah began to unwrap the message.

18 Then the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?”  This verse strikes me funny.  Ahab turns to Jehoshaphat and says: “What did I tell you?  Didn’t I tell you that this guy hates me and has nothing nice to say to me?”  Ahab’s snotty comment to King Jehoshaphat prompts Micaiah to unload the whole message.  He says: “You want to know what God said?  Well, here it is.  The whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” 

19 Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD.  I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of Heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left [i.e. angels].  20 The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’  And one said this while another said that.  21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’  22 The LORD said to him, ‘How?’  And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’  Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail.  Go and do so.’  23 Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.”  WOW! Here Micaiah pulls back the curtain and reveals a conversation that occurred in Heaven between God and His faithful angels.  He concludes by saying that this battle will prove to be the death of Ahab.  He will not come home alive.  Just a quick aside: I find these verses disturbing and somewhat theologically perplexing.  How is it that the holy angels of God can go out on what looks like an unholy mission, as “a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all of Ahab’s prophets”?  I hope to ask God about this passage personally some day, because for right now it’s still a little foggy to me.  

24 Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek and said, “How did the Spirit of the LORD pass from me to speak to you?”  The whole time that Micaiah was speaking, Zedekiah and his 399 buddies were listening to every word.  The longer he talked the madder they got.  Finally, Zedekiah couldn’t stand it any longer so he stepped up and belted Micaiah right in the chops.  POW!  Right on the kisser!  This was a cowardly act especially given the fact that Micaiah’s hands were probably bound, leaving him defenseless.  And Zedekiah’s question is a classic: “So how is it that the LORD passed right over me to tell you all this stuff?” implying, “If this were really true He would have told me not you.”  Principle #12: Spiritual pride produces spiritual blindness.  Zedekiah couldn’t recognize the truth even though it was right there in front of him.

25 Micaiah said, “Behold, you shall see on that day when you enter an inner room to hide yourself.”  What did the prophet mean by this?  I think he was needling Zedekiah by saying, “On the day when the Syrians show up and start going door to door looking for Jews to kill let’s see if you are still so brave.  You’ll be under the bed in the back room crying like a little girl and hoping that the big nasty Syrians don’t find you.”

26 Then the king of Israel said, “Take Micaiah and return him to Amon, the governor of the city, and to Joash, the king’s son; 27 and say, ‘Thus says the king, “Put this man in prison and feed him sparingly with bread and water until I return safely.”’”  Ahab didn’t like the message that Micaiah gave so he decided to punish the messenger.  In reality, this may have been the death penalty for Micaiah because we know that Ahab never returned from the battle, and we never hear from Micaiah again.  Principle #13: The truth is more important than our personal safety and comfort, even if it means forfeiting our own life.  To die for the truth puts us in good company. 

28 Micaiah said, “If you indeed return safely the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Listen, all you people.”  Micaiah would go but not without a last word.  He basically said, “If you come back alive from this battle then I am a false prophet.  But if I’m right, then you’re a dead-man-walking.”  Then he turned his attention to the large crowd of people there listening.  He said, “All of you, MARK MY WORDS!” 

29 So [Ahab], the king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, went up against Ramoth-gilead.  30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into the battle, but you put on your robes.”  So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into the battle.  31 Now the king of Aram had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, saying, “Do not fight with small or great, but with the king of Israel alone.”  Ahab was a real piece of work.  He said, “I have a neat idea.  Just for fun, you wear your kingly clothes and I’ll dress like a hobo and we’ll just see what happens.  You go out looking like the King and I’ll go out looking like Joe Nobody.”  Now, I wonder why he came up with this idea, huh?  I just find it hard to believe that Jehoshaphat was stupid enough to go along with Ahab’s suggestion.

32 So when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “Surely it is the king of Israel,” and they turned aside to fight against him, and Jehoshaphat cried out.  33 When the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him.  34 Now a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel in a joint of the armor.  So he [Ahab] said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and take me out of the fight; for I am severely wounded.”  Jehoshaphat looked the part riding into the battle.  He looked like a king, so the soldiers zeroed right in on him.  Now this is where the II Chronicles account adds an interesting fact.  Verses 31-32 tell us: So when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is the king of Israel,” and they turned aside to fight against him.  But Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him, and God diverted them from him. 32 When the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him.”  You see, it wasn’t just a case of mistaken identity.  God wanted to make sure that the right guy, Ahab, got the magic arrow.  This was the day of reckoning for Ahab.  He tried to hide himself and save his own life by wearing a commoner’s clothes, but God knew exactly where he was, and He guided that arrow into the little slot in Ahab’s armor.  This was no accident, no lucky shot!  Which brings us to my last principle from this text…  Principle #14: An evil man cannot outrun or trick God.  Sooner or later the LORD will pull that man’s plug and he will get what he has coming.  God is merciful and longsuffering, but He is not forgetful. 

35 The battle raged that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot in front of the Arameans, and died at evening, and the blood from the wound ran into the bottom of the chariot.  36 Then a cry passed throughout the army close to sunset, saying, “Every man to his city and every man to his country.”  37 So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried the king in Samaria.  38 They washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood (now the harlots bathed themselves there), according to the word of the LORD which He spoke.  39 Now the rest of the acts of Ahab and all that he did and the ivory house which he built and all the cities which he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?  40 So Ahab slept with his fathers, and Ahaziah his son became king in his place.  

            Chances are you have never heard of Micaiah before today.  But he was one of God’s choice servants who was willing to suffer personal loss for the sake of the truth.  His goal was to please God rather than man.  He was more intimidated by the idea of offending God than of offending his fellow clergymen or the ruling leaders.  He refused to sugarcoat the truth just to make himself more safe, more popular, and more successful.  His motto was: “No compromise with the truth.”
I hope we will live like he did, no matter the cost.  In this day and age, the world needs more Micaiahs!

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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