Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
1 Kings 22 is the continuation of 1 Kings 20 (which in the LXX. immediately precedes it) in record of the Syrian war, but in tone far grander and spiritually instructive, a fit catastrophe of the tragedy of Ahab’s reign. In it, for the first time since 1Kings 15:24, the history of Judah is touched upon; and there is an almost verbal coincidence with 2 Chronicles 18.
And they continued three years without war between Syria and Israel.(1) Three years without war.—The period is clearly reckoned from the rash peace made by Ahab with Ben-hadad in 1Kings 20:34. Evidently the king of Syria has recovered his independence, if not superiority; he has not restored Ramoth-gilead according to his promise; and his revived power is sufficient to cope with the united forces of Israel and Judah. The sagacity of the prophetic rebuke of 1Kings 20:42 has been amply justified.
And it came to pass in the third year, that Jehoshaphat the king of Judah came down to the king of Israel.(2) Jehoshaphat the king of Judah came down.—The fuller account of the Chronicles (2 Chronicles 17) notices that the early part of his reign had been marked by a continuance or increase of the prosperity of Asa; but (1Kings 18:1) adds, in significant connection, he “ had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab,” so that this prosperity was, at any rate in part, dependent on a change of policy from enmity to alliance, with apparently some measure of dependence, dangerous alike spiritually and politically, but probably thought to be a necessity. The visit of Jehoshaphat (2Chronicles 18:2) was one of festivity, of which Ahab took advantage.
And the king of Israel said unto 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?(3) Ramoth in Gilead.—The city is first mentioned (in Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 20:8; Joshua 21:38) as a city of refuge in the territory of Gad; then (in 1Kings 4:13) as the centre of one of the provinces of Solomon, including the towns of Jair, and the strong hill country of Argob. In the Syrian wars it appears as a frontier fortress, taken and retaken. It had fallen into the hands of the Syrians, and had not been restored according to promise. The defeat and death of Ahab were subsequently avenged by Jehoram, who took it, and held it against all the attacks of the enemy (2Kings 9:1-14).
And he said unto Jehoshaphat, Wilt thou go with me to battle to Ramothgilead? And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, I am as thou art, my people as thy people, my horses as thy horses.(4) I am as thou art.—The answer is apparently one of deference, as well as friendship, to the stronger kingdom. It must be remembered that, as the whole chapter shows, Ahab had now returned to the worship of the Lord.
Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall I go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king.(6) Prophets . . . four hundred.—These were clearly not avowed prophets of Baal, or the Asherah (“groves”), as is obvious from the context and from their words in 1Kings 22:12. But Jehoshaphat’s discontent makes it equally clear that they were not in his view true prophets of Jehovah. Probably they were devoted, like the old prophet of Bethel, to the service of the idolatry of Jeroboam.
And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might inquire of him?(7) Is there not here a prophet of the Lord.—The rendering of the great name “Jehovah” by “the Lord” obscures the sense of the passage. In the previous utterance of the prophets the word (Adonai) is merely “Lord” in the etymological sense, which might mean the Supreme God of any religion. Jehoshaphat, struck with their shrinking from the distinctive name Jehovah, asks, “Is there not a prophet of Jehovah?”—one who is not ashamed or afraid to speak in His awful name?
And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so.(8) Micaiah (“who is like Jehovah”)—the name being the same as Micah. According to Josephus, he was the prophet of 1Kings 20:35-43, who had “prophesied evil” of Ahab for his rash action towards Benhadad, and had already been imprisoned by him. The whole description, and especially the words of 1Kings 22:26, seem to confirm this account.
And 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 all the prophets prophesied before them.(10) Each on his throne.—The description evidently implies that, having reluctantly consented to send for Micaiah, Ahab seeks to overawe him by display not only of royal pomp, but of prophetic inspiration, professing to come, like his own, from the Lord Jehovah.
And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus saith the LORD, With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou have consumed them.(11) Zedekiah.—The name itself (“righteousness of Jehovah”) must certainly imply professed devotion to the true God, whose Name here is first uttered by him. Symbolic action was not unfrequent in the prophets. (See Note on 1Kings 11:30.) The use of the horns, as emblems of victorious strength, is also familiar, as in the utterance of Balaam (Numbers 23:22), in the blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:17), in the song of Hannah (1Samuel 3:1), in the visions of Daniel and Zechariah (Daniel 8:3-10; Zechariah 1:18-19).
And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the king's hand.(12) For the Lord shall deliver it.—The prophets, led by Zedekiah, now venture to use the Name of Jehovah, from which they had at first shrunk. The description, however, of 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.
And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good.(13) Behold now.—In the whole history, as especially in the words of the officer, there is evidence of the strange confusion of idea, so common in superstition at all times, which in some sense believes in the inspiration of the prophets as coming from God, and yet fancies that they can direct it as they will, and that accordingly they can be bribed, or beguiled, or coerced, to “prophesy smooth things.” The extremest form of this infatuation is exemplified in Simon Magus, who believed that 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 8:18-19). The natural result is a mingled awe and contempt, such as Balak feels for Balaam. The delusion is, of course, silenced at once by such declarations as the stern reply of Micaiah, which even Balaam could convey (Numbers 22:18). But, as all false religions and corruptions of true religion show, it is never rooted out, except by real spiritual knowledge of God and of His dealings with the soul.
So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king.(15) Go, and prosper.—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. But his message is couched in metaphor and symbolic vision, unlike the stern directness of the style of Elijah.
And he said, Hear thou therefore 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 hand and on his left.(19-22) The symbolic vision of Micaiah, which naturally recalls the well-known description in Job 1:6-12 of the intercourse of Satan with the Lord Himself, is to be taken as a symbol, and nothing more. (Josephus, characteristically enough, omits it altogether.) The one idea to be conveyed is the delusion of the false prophets by a spirit of evil, as a judgment of God on Ahab’s sin, and on their degradation of the prophetic office. The imagery is borrowed from the occasion. It is obviously drawn from the analogy of a royal court, where, as is the case before Micaiah’s eyes, the king seeks counsel against his enemies.
And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him.(21) A spirit.—It should be the spirit. The definite article is explained by some, perhaps rather weakly, as simply anticipatory of the description which follows. Others take the phrase to signify “the spirit of prophecy,” a kind of emanation from the Godhead, looked upon as the medium of the prophetic inspiration, which is an expression conceivable, but certainly unprecedented. Perhaps without introducing into this passage the distinct idea of “the Satan,” i.e., the enemy, which we find in Job 1, 2; 1Chronicles 21:1; Zechariah 3:1-2. it may be best to interpret it by the conception, common to all religions recognising the terrible existence of evil in the world, of a spiritual power of evil (called euphemistically, “the spirit”) overruled to work out the judgments of God. The absolute subordination of such spirits of evil in every notice of them in the Old Testament precludes all danger of the monstrous dualism of so many Eastern religions. The reference of the power of divination to such spirits is found in the New Testament also. (See Acts 16:16-18.)
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.(23) The Lord . . . the Lord.—The emphatic repetition of the Name Jehovah hero is an implied answer to the insinuation of mere malice in 1Kings 22:8; 1Kings 22:18.
But Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah went near, and smote Micaiah on the cheek, and said, Which way went the Spirit of the LORD from me to speak unto thee?(24) Smote Micaiah on the cheek.—The act is not only the expression of contempt (see Isaiah 1:6; Micah 5:1; Matthew 5:39), but of professed indignation at words of blasphemy against God, or of contempt for His vicegerents; as is seen clearly, when it is recorded as directed against Our Lord or against St. Paul (John 18:22-23; Acts 23:2). The words which accompany it evidently convey a sarcastic reference to the knowledge of the secret dealings of God, implied in Micaiah’s vision, with a view to turn it into ridicule. Micaiah’s answer accordingly passes them by, and merely declares the shame and terror, with which Zedekiah shall find out hereafter the truth of the prophecy of evil. Josephus has a curious addition, that Zedekiah challenged Micaiah to wither up his hand, like the hand of Jeroboam at Bethel, and scouted his prophecy as inconsistent with that of Elijah (Antt. viii. 15, § 4).
And the king of Israel said, Take Micaiah, and carry him back unto Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king's son;(26) Joash the king’s son, of whom we know nothing hereafter, is apparently entrusted (like the seventy sons of 2Kings 10:1) to the charge of the governor of the city, perhaps in theory left in command of Samaria with him.
And say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace.(27) Bread of affliction . . .—Comp. Isaiah 30:20. This is a command of severe treatment, as well as scanty fare. Ahab’s affectation of disbelief—which his subsequent conduct shows to be but affectation—simply draws down a plainer and sterner prediction, accompanied moreover, if our text be correct by an appeal to the whole assembly to bear witness of it. Of Micaiah’s fate we know nothing; but it is hard to suppose that his bold and defiant testimony could escape the extreme penalty of death, when Ahab’s fall gave opportunity of revival to the ruthlessness of Jezebel.
And Micaiah said, If thou return at all in peace, the LORD hath not spoken by me. And he said, Hearken, O people, every one of you.(28) Hearken, O people.—It is a curious coincidence that these are the opening words of the prophetic Book of Micah. They are not found in some MSS. of the LXX., and are supposed by some to be an early interpolation in this passage from that book.
So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramothgilead.(29) So . . . Jehoshaphat.—The continued adhesion of Jehoshaphat, against the voice of prophecy, which he had himself invoked (severely rebuked in 2Chronicles 18:31), and, indeed, the subservient part which he plays throughout, evidently indicate a position of virtual dependence of Judah on the stronger power of Israel, of which the alliance by marriage—destined to be all but fatal to the dynasty of David (2Kings 11:1-2)—was at once the sign and the cause.
And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and enter into the battle; but put thou on thy robes. And the king of Israel disguised himself, and went into the battle.(30) I will disguise myself.—The precaution of Ahab is almost ludicrously characteristic of his temper of half-belief and half-unbelief. In itself it is, of course, plainly absurd to believe that God’s judgment has in all probability been pronounced, and yet to suppose that it can be averted by so puerile a precaution. But, as experience shows, it is not the less on that account true to human nature, especially such a nature as his, always “halting between two opinions.”
But the king of Syria commanded his thirty and two captains that had rule over his chariots, saying, Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel.(31)His thirty and two captains.—See 1Kings 20:16; 1Kings 20:24. The power of Syria had already recovered itself, and is directed with singular virulence against the person of the king who had unwisely spared it. Ahab is represented as the mover of the whole war, and as fighting bravely to the death.
And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, Surely it is the king of Israel. And they turned aside to fight against him: and Jehoshaphat cried out.(32) Cried out—i.e., to rally his people round him In 2Chronicles 18:31 it is added, “And the Lord helped him; and God moved them to depart from him.”
And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness: wherefore he said unto the driver of his chariot, Turn thine hand, and carry me out of the host; for I am wounded.(34) A certain man.—Josephus says, “a young man named Naaman.” (Comp. 2Kings 5:1 : “because by him the Lord had given deliverance to Syria.”)
The driver of his chariot.—In the Egyptian and Assyrian monuments, as subsequently in the Greek of the Homeric days, the war-chariot holds but two, the warrior and the charioteer. This is the first place where the chariot, introduced by Solomon from Egypt (1Kings 10:29), is mentioned as actually used in war. (See subsequently, 2Kings 9:16; 2Kings 9:21; 2Kings 23:30; and compare the proverbial expression of this period, “The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof,” 2Kings 2:12; 2Kings 13:14.)
And the battle increased that day: and the king 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.(35) The king was stayed up . . .—Ahab’s repentance, imperfect as it was, has at least availed to secure him a warrior’s death, before “the evil came” on his house and on Israel. Evidently he conceals the deadliness of his hurt, though it disables him from action, and bravely sustains the battle, till his strength fails. Then the news spreads, and the army disperses; but the subsequent history seems to show that no fatal defeat was incurred. This union of desperate physical bravery with moral feebleness and cowardice is common enough in history, and (as Shakespeare has delighted to show in his Macbeth) most true to nature.
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.(38) They washed his armour.—There seems little doubt that this is a mistranslation, and that the LXX. rendering (supported also by Josephus) is correct: “And the harlots bathed in it,” that is, in the bloodstained pool, the usual public bathing-place of their shamelessness. The dog and the harlot are the animal and human types of uncleanness.
According unto the word of the Lord.—The reference to the emphatic prophecy of Elijah is unmistakable, and the context fixes its fulfilment plainly as having taken place in Samaria. The difficulty is, of course, the notice in 2Kings 9:25, where the dead body of Jehoram is cast “in the portion of the field of Naboth,” evidently at Jezreel; with quotation of the “burden of the Lord laid upon him,” “I will requite thee in this plot, saith the Lord.” The reconcilement is, with our knowledge, difficult, if not impossible. But the reference in the text is so much clearer, that it must outweigh the other. Naboth, in any case, is likely to have had land in his native place, which would be forfeited to the king; and there would still be an appropriate judgment in making it also the scene of the dishonoured death of the last king of Ahab’s house. We may notice, moreover, that the quotation in 2 Kings 9 is not taken from Elijah’s words against Ahab, nor does it contain the characteristic notice of the “dogs licking the blood;” though it is noticed as a fulfilment of the subsequent prophecy of chapter 21:24 against Ahab’s house.
Now the rest of the acts of Ahab, and all that he did, and the ivory house which he made, and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?(39) The ivory house.—See Amos 3:15. We note that now, for the first time since the days of Solomon (1Kings 10:18-20), the use of ivory—in this case for inlaying the walls of houses—so characteristic of Zidonian art, is mentioned. The “undesigned coincidence,” in relation to the renewed intercourse with Zidon, is remarkable.
All the cities . . .—Possibly the cities ceded by Ben-hadad, and rebuilt as strongholds. The description shows that Ahab’s reign was externally one of power and prosperity, as yet unimpaired even by his death and disaster at Ramoth-gilead. The fruits of spiritual corruption had not yet ripened.
And Jehoshaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel.(41) Jehoshaphat.—The narrative here, so far as it is full and continuous, centres round the prophetic work of Elijah and Elisha, the scene of which was in Israel; and the compiler contents himself with the insertion of a few brief annalistic notices of the kingdom of Judah, taking up the thread of the narrative of chapter 15:24, except where (as in 2 Kings 3) it becomes again connected with the history of Israel. In the Chronicles, on the contrary, there is a full and interesting account of the reign of Jehoshaphat, and especially of his great religious revival (2 Chronicles 17-20), coinciding with this chapter, almost verbally, in the account of the battle at Ramoth-gilead. The brief notices here of the religious work of Jehoshaphat, his “might,” and his “wars,” agree entirely with this fuller record.
And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.(43) The high places were not taken away.—This agrees with 2Chronicles 20:33, and stands in apparent contradiction with 2Chronicles 17:6 : “He took away the high places and groves out of Judah.” Probably the key to the apparent discrepancy lies in the words “and groves” (Asherah). The high places taken away were those connected with the base Asherah worship; those which were simply unauthorised sanctuaries remained, at any rate in part.
And Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel.(44) And Jehoshaphat.—This verse is chronologically out of place. It refers to the policy of Jehoshaphat, pursued apparently from the beginning, of exchanging the chronic condition of war with Israel in the preceding reigns, for peace and alliance.
And the remnant of the sodomites, which remained in the days of his father Asa, he took out of the land.(46) The remnant . . .—See 1Kings 14:24; 1Kings 15:12.
There was then no king in Edom: a deputy was king.(47) There was then no king in Edom.—This notice is apparently connected with the following verses; for Ezion-geber is a seaport of the Edomite territory. Whatever may have been the influence of Hadad in the last days of Solomon (1Kings 11:14), Edom does not seem to have regained independence till the time of Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat (2Chronicles 21:8-10); although in the confederacy against Jehoshaphat, those “of Mount Seir” are included with the Moabites and Ammonites (2Chronicles 20:10; 2Chronicles 20:22). The “king of Edom,” of 2 Kings 3, who is evidently a subject ally, not regarded in consultation (see 1Kings 22:6-9), must be “the deputy” of this passage.
Jehoshaphat made ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir for gold: but they went not; for the ships were broken at Eziongeber.(48) Ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir.—See Note on 1Kings 10:22. We note that this revival of maritime enterprise coincides with the renewed alliance through Israel with Tyre. The account in 2Chronicles 20:35-37 makes the brief narrative of these verses intelligible. The fleet was a combined fleet of Judah and Israel, built at Ezion-geber, which belonged to Judah; the alliance was denounced and judgment threatened by the prophet Eliezer. After the wreck of the fleet, manned, it would seem, by the subjects of Jehoshaphat, Ahaziah of Israel desires to renew the enterprise with the aid of Israelite and probably Tyrian sailors; but Jehoshaphat now refuses.
Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned two years over Israel.(51) Ahaziah.—In this short reign the influence of Jezebel, evidently in abeyance in the last days of Ahab, revives; and the idolatry of Baal resumes its place side by side with the older idolatry of Jeroboam, and (see 2Kings 1:2) with the worship of the Canaanitish Baalzebub.