The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And they continued three years without war between Syria and Israel.The End of Ahab
1 Kings 22
This chapter is really a continuation of chapter 20. In the Septuagint version the twentieth chapter immediately precedes the twenty-second. The three years without war is a period which is reckoned from the peace which was so rashly made by Ahab with Benhadad (1Kings 20:34). It is clear that Benhadad has recovered his independence, and is probably in a position of superiority; it is certain that he has not restored Ramoth-gilead as he had promised to do, and his re-constructed army seems to him to be now sufficient to encounter successfully the united hosts of Israel and Judah. In 1Kings 22:42 of the same chapter we have seen how Ahab was rebuked for allowing the enemy to escape. It has been supposed that this conduct on the part of Ahab may have been due partly to compassion and partly to weakness. The judgment of the Lord was, however, expressed in the severest terms: "Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people" (1Kings 20:42). In 1Kings 22:3 we see these words signally fulfilled: The king of Israel seems to have had a good cause when he said to his servants, "Know ye that Ramoth in Gilead is ours, and we be still, and take it not out of the hand of the king of Syria?" On this occasion Ahab entered into an alliance with Jehoshaphat king of Judah for the purpose of taking back the city which belonged to Israel. Jehoshaphat made a deferential as well as a friendly reply, but insisted upon the fulfilment of a religious condition. Jehoshaphat would make inquiry at the word of the Lord. Thereupon four hundred prophets were gathered together, and with one consent they advised that the attack should be made upon Ramoth-gilead. Surely this was enough to satisfy the judgment and the conscience of the most religious man, yet Jehoshaphat was not content with the unanimous reply which four hundred prophets had returned. "There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." All external unanimity goes for nothing when the conscience itself dissents from the judgment which is pronounced. There is a verifying faculty which operates upon its own responsibility, and which cannot be overpowered by the clamour of multitudes who eagerly rush down paths that are forbidden. Even when imagination assents to the voice of the majority, and when ambition is delighted with the verdict of the prophets, there remains the terrible yet gracious authority of conscience. Through all the clamour that authority makes its way, and calmly distinguishes between right and wrong, and solemnly insists that right shall be done at all hazards and in view of all consequences. A vital lesson arises here to all who are anxious to know the right way under difficult circumstances. It is not enough to have great numbers of authorities on our side; so long as the conscience remains unsatisfied all other authorities are "trifles light as air." Jehoshaphat was, therefore, uneasy, notwithstanding the prophets had said, "Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king." He inquired, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might inquire of him? The word which Jehoshaphat used was the great word Jehovah. It was not enough for him to use a religious or sacred term, he must have the prophecy identified with the awful Name Jehovah, then it would come with final authority. The king of Israel knew that there was another man whose very name signified "Who is like Jehovah?" Ahab frankly declared that he hated Micaiah because he never prophesied good concerning him, but always evil.
Observe the madness of Ahab's policy, and note how often it is the policy which we ourselves are tempted to pursue. We suppose that if we do not consult the Bible we may take licence to do what seems good in our own eyes, and we imagine that by ignoring the Bible we have divested it of authority. We flatter ourselves that if we do not listen to an exposition of the divine word we shall be judged according to the light we have, forgetting the solemn law that it is not according to the light we have that we are to be judged, but according to the light we might have if we put ourselves in right relations to the opportunities created for us by divine providence. We know that if we go to hear a certain preacher he will insist upon "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come;" and, supposing that we already know everything that he will say, we turn away from him and listen to men who do not profoundly treat vital subjects, or press home upon the conscience the terrible judgments of God. What is this but closing our eyes to light, and supposing that darkness is safety? What is this ostrich policy, but one that ought to be condemned by our sense as well as shrunk from by our piety? Our duty under all critical circumstances is to go to the truth-teller, and to get at the reality of things at all costs. Where the truth-teller disturbs our peace and disappoints our ambition, we ought to learn that it is precisely at that point that we have to become self-rectifying. The truth-teller is only powerful in proportion as he tells the truth; officially, he is nothing; his power is simply the measure of his righteousness. But do not men love to be flattered, even in courses of evil? Is it not pleasant to go out to forbidden war amid the huzzahs of thoughtless and irresponsible multitudes? Jehoshaphat, however, was a just man, and, as such, he protested against the sin of the king of Israel, saying, "Let not the king say so." Jehoshaphat being so bent upon having a complete judgment of the case, Micaiah was sent for. The king of Israel wished to overawe the despised prophet by the pomp and circumstance under which he was introduced to the royal presence. "The king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah sat each on his throne, having put on their robes, in a void place in the entrance of the gate of Samaria;" and to increase the impressiveness of the occasion, all the prophets prophesied before the kings. A singular addition was made to the surroundings of the occasion which was intended to impress the imagination and stagger the courage of the despised Micaiah. A man bearing the name of Zedekiah (righteousness of Jehovah) made him horns of iron. The use of symbolical acts is quite common in biblical history. We have already seen Abijah engaged in an act of this kind: he "caught the new garment that was on him and rent it in twelve pieces: and said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces." The enthusiasm of Zedekiah inflamed the other prophets to the highest point of excitement, and they shouted as with one voice, "Go up to Ramoth-gilead, and prosper: for the Lord shall deliver it into the king's hand." In this instance the prophets, overborne by the enthusiasm of Zedekiah, actually ventured to use the name of Jehovah which had not been used in the first instance. The excitement had passed the point of worship and had become more nearly resembling the frantic cry that was heard on Mount Carmel—"O Baal, hear us."
Is it possible that there can be found any solitary man who dare oppose such unaminous testimony and complete enthusiasm? The messenger who was sent to call Micaiah was evidently a man of considerate feeling who wished the prophet well. Seeing that the words of the prophets had all declared good unto the king with one mouth, the messenger wished that Micaiah should for once agree with the other prophets and please the king by leaving undisturbed their emphatic and unanimous counsel. Thus the voice of persuasion was brought to bear upon Micaiah, and that voice is always the most difficult to resist. The temptation thus addressed to Micaiah was thus double in force; on the one hand, there was the pomp and the terror of the king who had sold himself to do evil, and who would shrink from the infliction of no cruelty that would express his unreasoning and unlimited anger; on the other hand, there was the goodwill of the messenger who wished Micaiah to escape all danger and penalty, and for once to take the popular side. Micaiah's reply is simply sublime: "And Micaiah said, As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak" (1Kings 22:14). The humility of this answer is as conspicuous as its firmness. Its profound religiousness saves it from the charge of being defiant. Micaiah recognises himself merely in the position of a servant or medium who has nothing of his own to say, who is not called upon to invent an answer, or to play the clever man in the presence of the kings; he was simply as a trumpet through which God would blow his own blast, or a pillar on which God would inscribe his own message, or a voice which God would use for the declaration of his own will. It is unjust to attribute obstinacy or any form of self-will or self-worship to Micaiah. If he had consulted his natural inclination alone, he would have sought favour with the king, and the logical effect of his subsequent position would have been that Ahab would have endeavoured for ever to silence him by constituting him the prince and leader of the four hundred prophets. Micaiah said in effect, what was said centuries afterwards: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." Micaiah lived in God, for God, and had nothing of his own to calculate or consider. Until preachers realise this same spiritual independence, they will be attempting to accommodate themselves to the spirit of the times, and even the strongest of them may be betrayed into connivances and compromises fatal to personal integrity and to the claims of truth.
Now came the critical moment. Now it was to be seen whether Micaiah was to be promoted to honour, or thrust away in contempt and wrath. It is easy to read of the recurrence of such moments, but difficult to realise them in their agony. Yet these are the moments which make history in its sublimest lines. It is not too much to say that there have been points of time at which if certain men had given way, the whole economy of the world would have been wrecked. The king addressed himself to the prophet, saying: "Shall we go against Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we forbear?" The answer of Micaiah must have been a surprise to all who heard it, for he said, "Go, and prosper: for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king" (1Kings 22:15). This is an answer which cannot be understood in print. It was evident, however, that Ahab was in no doubt as to its meaning, for the tone of the prophet was a tone of almost contemptuous irony. If king Ahab had taken Micaiah's literal answer, he would have gone forth to the battle comforting himself with the thought that he was carrying out the will of heaven; but he knew in his own soul that Micaiah was not uttering that which expressed the reality of the case. With anger the king said unto him, "How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the Lord?" (1Kings 22:16). Then Micaiah replied in symbolic language, the meaning of which was vividly clear to the mind of Ahab; for, turning to Jehoshaphat, he said, "Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?" (1Kings 22:18). Thereupon Micaiah charged the whole band of prophets with being under the inspiration of a lying spirit, and thus he put a stigma upon and extracted from their judgment every particle of dignity and authority. But this was not to be borne, for Zedekiah went near and smote Micaiah on the cheek and taunted him as being the only prophet in Israel. Micaiah had to bear the sarcasm conveyed in the angry inquiry, "Which way went the Spirit of the Lord from me to speak unto thee?" (1Kings 22:24). Micaiah like a true prophet leaves his judgment to the decision of time. He will not stoop to argue, or to exchange words either of anger or of controversy; he simply says that Zedekiah will one day see the meaning of the whole prophecy, and until that day controversy would be useless. Micaiah had to pay for his fearlessness: he was carried unto Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king's son, and was to be put in prison and fed with the bread of affliction and with the water of affliction until Ahab returned in peace. Micaiah thus disappears from history. Of his fate we know nothing; but there can be no difficulty in forecasting it a cruel death. Micaiah knew well the meaning of the king's message. It may be difficult for the commentator to explain the expression "bread of affliction, and water of affliction," but Micaiah knew the full meaning of the terms, and yet, whilst their cruel sound was in his ears, he looked at the king and said, "If thou return at all in peace, the Lord hath not spoken by me." Micaiah made also his appeal to the people, and thus committed himself to the verdict of history, saying, "Hearken, O people, every one of you" (1Kings 22:28). See whether it is not a moment to be proud of when Micaiah turns away in the custody of his persecutors, having delivered his soul with fearlessness that did not cower or blanch even at the sight of death in its most ghastly forms. Surely it is due to history to recognise the fact that there have been men who have not counted their lives dear unto themselves when they were called upon to testify for truth and goodness. The martyrs must never be forgotten. Dark will be the day in the history of any nation when the men who shed their blood that truth might be told and honour might be vindicated, are no longer held in remembrance. In vain do we bring forth from our hidden treasure the coins of ancient times, the robes worn in high antiquity by kings and priests, the rusty armour of warriors, if there is no longer in our heart the tenderest recollection of the men who wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, that they might save the torch of truth from extinction and the standard of honour from overthrow.
Away the kings have gone, and instead of relying upon the word of the Lord, or taking refuge in the sanctuary of great principles, they invent little tricks for the surprise and dismay of the enemy. The king of Israel disguised himself, and Jehoshaphat made himself as the king of Israel, but all their inventions came to nothing. A certain man drew a bow at a venture and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness. The poor king was fatally struck, he "was stayed up in his chariot against the Syrians, and died at even: and the blood ran out of the wound into the midst of the chariot.... And one washed the chariot in the pool of Samaria; and the dogs licked up his blood; and they washed his armour; according unto the word of the Lord which he spake." So will perish all the enemies of the Lord. Differences of merely accidental detail there will always be, but no honour can mark the death of those who have gone contrary to the will of heaven, and taken counsel of their own imagination. How long shall the lesson of history be wasted upon us? How long will men delude themselves with the mad infatuation that they can fight against God and prosper? Horsemen and chariots are nothing, gold and silver are valueless, all the resources of civilisation are but an elaborate display of cobwebs: nothing can stand in the final conflict but truth, and right, and purity. These are the eternal bulwarks, to these are assured complete and unchangeable victory. If God be for us, who can be against us? and if God be against us no matter what kings are for us, they shall be blown away of the wind as if contemptuously, and cast out as refuse which is of no value. My soul, be thou faithful to the voice of history nor tell lies to thyself, nor operate merely through imagination, ambition, or selfish calculation, for the end of this course is death: not heroic death, not death over which coming men and women will weep; but death that shall be associated with dishonour, a thing to be forgotten, an event that never can be named without bitterness and shame.
The Books of the Kings.—This section of Jewish history originally formed only one book in the sacred writings. It was customary with the Jews to name the sacred books from the word or words with which they commenced; and, while this practice may have given rise to the designation, "Kings" (1Kings 1:1), it is right to observe that the title is well fitted to indicate the character of these historic compositions.
The annals given in these sacred registers are necessarily brief; but they extend from the close of David's reign till the commonwealth was dissolved, a period of four hundred and twenty-seven years. Succinct as is the history contained in these books, there are some peculiarities in them which should not be overlooked, and from which not a little may be learned. There is not here a simple biography of the various kings that occupied the thrones of Judah and Israel, nor is there a mere detail of national movements and events, nor even a tabular register of ecclesiastical affairs. The throne, the state, and the church, are all exhibited in their mutual relations and bearings upon each other. Kings and people are held up to view as existing and acting under the immediate government of God; and hence the character of the ruler is always tested by the mode in which he adheres to the laws of the Almighty, and developes the moral excellences of the people. The notice of his accession to royal office is generally accompanied with an estimate of his conduct, and the standard to which he is likened or contrasted is either the character of David, of his own father, or of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, "who made Israel to sin." All the political events which are recorded, are brought forward chiefly to exhibit the influence of religion on national prosperity: and, in this way, to show how the divine King of Israel observed the conduct of his subjects, and rewarded their fidelity or avenged their wickedness with expressions of righteous indignation. And the affairs of the Church are all portrayed with the design of giving prominence to the same important truth. Idolatry in Israel was treason against their King; religious defection was open revolt; and every act of overt wickedness was an act of rebellion. Hence there is a constant comparing or contrasting of religious state and feeling with those of former times, and especially are the oracles of truth continually elevated as the perfect standard to which the thoughts and actions of all should all be conformed. The Mosaic promises and warnings are strikingly verified in the Books of Kings—for this object they were written; and to the manifestation of this the author has made his whole narrative conduce.
Much variety of opinion exists with reference to the author of these records, and the period of their composition. Jewish tradition ascribes the authorship of the treatise to Jeremiah the prophet; a supposition which is greatly strengthened by the similarity of style and idiom which is traceable between the language of the Books of Kings and that of Jeremiah.