Micaiah and the God of the Details

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 1 Kings 22:1-40

As Christians we believe in a God who rules all things in this world, even down to the small details. Whether you find that comforting and appealing or frightening and off-putting depends in large measure upon how good your relationship with him is.

In recent messages I have been following the career of the great Old Testament prophet Elijah. It’s a thrilling story, especially the climactic showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, when – at least for a while – the people of Israel were recalled from the idolatrous pursuit of the gods of their neighbors to worship and serve the Lord, the true God of Israel. Throughout Elijah’s career his fierce antagonist was Ahab, the seventh king to rule over the ten northern tribes of Israel.

1 Kings 22 describes how Ahab finally met his doom, although, interestingly, it does not feature Elijah. Instead, another of the Lord’s prophets serves as Ahab’s nemesis here, a man called Micaiah.

We know nothing at all about Micaiah, nor are we told why he stands in for Elijah in this dramatic story and serves as God’s messenger of judgment to end Ahab’s evil career. But it’s encouraging, I think, to reflect on the fact that the Lord has many servants – many more than any of us realize – and that the great majority of them are humble, anonymous folks who just obediently go about the task of sharing God’s word with the world.

I doubt that very many people have ever even heard of Micaiah, even those familiar with the Bible. But that’s who God’s spokesman is on this occasion, and Micaiah’s message to King Ahab is what precipitates the crisis. We see in Ahab’s fate the final end of the person who rejects God’s word and flaunts God’s will. God has declared his judgment against Ahab because of all his sins, and especially because of his role in the murder of his innocent neighbor Naboth.

Two Kings

During the mid-ninth century B.C., King Ahab built up Israel’s power to considerable strength. In fact, Israel’s Syrian and Assyrian neighbors called the northern kingdom “the house of Omri” after Ahab’s father, because the dynasty he founded was by far the most powerful of all Israel’s monarchs. (It’s interesting to note that the Bible devotes just eight verses to the story of Omri; the Bible isn’t impressed with power as the world understands it.) Ahab consolidated the gains of his father Omri by making alliances with neighboring kingdoms, cementing them with family marriages, as has always been customary among princes and kings. Ahab even managed to make peace with Judah the southern kingdom – for the first time since the split between the two – and he did it by giving his daughter Athaliah in marriage to King Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram.

Our story begins when these two kings, Ahab and Jehoshaphat, have assembled for a meeting, much the same way that today’s politicians get together with great pomp and circumstance for a summit meeting. Jehoshaphat had traveled to Israel on a state visit, perhaps in connection with the marriage of his son to Ahab’s daughter. Ahab greeted Jehoshaphat with the full panoply of rank.

The two kings presented an interesting contrast: Ahab, powerful but a godless man, a person with basically a secular worldview, who only used religion when it suited his ambition; and Jehoshaphat, a God-fearing king who tried to serve the Lord, but who was personally weak and dominated by the stronger personality of his royal neighbor. So Ahab proposed a joint military campaign to reconquer Ramoth in Gilead, ancient Israelite territory on the east side of the Jordan River which had been seized by the Syrians. The plan sounded good, but Jehoshaphat wished to consult the Lord about it, and Ahab was willing to humor him.

400 Prophets – Plus One

Ahab kept a large retinue of professional prophets handy to serve his religious needs. They were the “yes-men” whose job was to flatter him and sanction whatever plans he made by automatically granting them the appearance of divine approval. So it was easy to call them together and ask about the proposed military campaign against Ramoth Gilead. These religious professionals were enthusiastic in their support of the plan. Their leader, a man called Zedekiah, even acted out a sign of overwhelming victory for the combined Israelite forces by picking up a set of iron horns and pretending to drive away imaginary Syrians with them.

But somehow King Jehoshaphat was still uneasy, so he asked if there wasn’t another prophet to consult. Well, yes, Ahab grudgingly admitted, there is one more. “But I don’t like him. He never says anything good about me.” Ahab, like so many people, preferred flattery to truth. Nevertheless, at Jehoshaphat’s insistence, Micaiah was summoned.

What happened next is one of the most dramatic and heroic scenes in the whole Bible. Micaiah is warned to offer an agreeable message to the two kings.

But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that will I speak.” And 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?” And he answered him, “Go up and triumph; the Lord will give it to the hand of the king.” 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.” And Micaiah said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd.” . . .

And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did not I tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?”

And Micaiah said . . . “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.” . . . And the king of Israel said, “Seize Micaiah and . . . put this fellow in prison . . . 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 22:14-28, ESV

Wow! What a confrontation! Micaiah begins by sarcastically agreeing with the 400 yes-men: “Sure, king, go ahead and attack. You’ll have a terrific time.” But then comes the truth: the attack is doomed to disaster, and so is Ahab himself. And finally a stirring affirmation – if Ahab should return from this battle, then Micaiah himself is a false prophet. Here is an outstanding example of what a true preacher ought to be. He declares the word of the Lord regardless of the popularity of the message or the number of others who agree. He backs up what he says with an integrity that comes from knowing he has been faithful to the truth, no matter what the personal cost to himself.

A Random Shot

So what happened next? The kings ignore God’s warning delivered through Micaiah, and they mount the attack. But just to play it safe, Ahab decides to go into battle disguised as an ordinary soldier. He tells Jehoshaphat to dress up in all his royal robes, while Ahab himself puts on the armor of a regular charioteer. Then at the very height of the battle, the biblical historian records this:

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

1 Kings 22:34-35, ESV

Ahab’s folly was to think he could disregard the word of God and so control his own life as to get what he wanted. The message that came to Ahab through Micaiah was actually a moment of grace for him. If you think about it, this message was one last attempt to get Ahab to hear the truth, to believe the Word of God, to repent and save his life. God could not have told him more clearly and plainly.

Whenever God promises judgment, his real message is mercy if only we will humble ourselves and return to him. But Ahab insisted on his own way. He thought he could out-maneuver God by going into battle in disguise and letting Jehoshaphat take the risk. But at the height of battle, in the swirling chaos and confusion of the melee, an anonymous soldier – we’re not even told which side he was on, whether this was a Syrian shot or “friendly fire” – drew his bow and fired without even aiming. And that random arrow, in what appears to be a freak coincidence, struck Ahab at just the vulnerable spot in a gap in his armor, mortally wounding him.

But the biblical writer doesn’t see it as a fluke or coincidence. He is, rather, showing us something basic about the God who governs all things, the God for whom there are no coincidences, the God from whom no secrets are hid, the God who sees through our disguises and who directs the flight of an arrow.

A famous architect once said that God is in the details. He meant that it was attention to the little things which makes the big things work. That’s how God governs the world. He’s not just in the big things, the movement of stars and planets, the rise and fall of nations. God is in the details of our lives, bringing his will to pass. Ahab learned that to his cost. Does it frighten you to think that even the small things are controlled by God? I would find it much more frightening if I believed that these things were just left to random chance.

Some people believe that it injures God’s reputation to see him as involved in each and every thing that happens in the world, because that somehow seems to make him responsible for so many bad things. But to those of us who love God and are called according to his purpose, to us who know we belong to him, it is a truth that brings inexpressible comfort. “Not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation” (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1). Praise God.