Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
but joined affinity with Ahab." For the latter clause affirms that on which we can by no means congratulate the king. Yet such is the common course of things; such is the bent of the human mind and the way that circumstances usually take, that the simple connective "and" is perhaps the more natural of the two. This close association deliberately entered upon between the servant of Jehovah and the devotee of Baal is human enough. The man who has become strong, according to all earthly measurements, seeks to become stronger still, not considering what care he is taking or is neglecting of his deeper and his higher interests. We look at -
I. THE COMMONNESS OF THIS COURSE. How true it is that "much wants more;" that the exchequer never seems full enough to the man who is amassing wealth, nor the rank high enough to him who is pursuing honour, nor the authority great enough to him who is striving after power] Men eat of earthly food and are the hungrier for their feasting. They have "abundance of riches and honour," but they will not be satisfied without that fascinating alliance; they must "join affinity with Ahab." Let no man imagine that when he has reached a certain height of worldly advancement he will be satisfied and will crave nothing more. He will most certainly find that, when he reaches that desired point, he will long to stand on the height that will be still beyond him. And the evil of it is that this thirst for more worldly good is something which so often displaces a nobler longing, a craving for more of goodness and of fellowship with God. It even affects and injures the spirit to such a degree that it positively lessens that better longing, until it is reduced to almost nothing.
II. THE GRAVE UNWISDOM OF IT. What did Jehoshaphat gain by this alliance with the house of Ahab? A measurable, momentary gratification. What did he lose by it? An immeasurable, permanent good. The mistake he then made was one the effects of which stretched far, very far forwards, and affected for evil many hundreds of households beside his own (2 Chronicles 21:4). What do we gain by adding something more to our material prosperity - another thousand pounds to our fortune; another honour to our titles; another position to our acquirement? Something truly, but something the worth of which is quite measurable; possibly very small, as an increase to our life-happiness. But if we are neglecting our higher interests, if we are allowing those sacred obligations to be relaxed, if we are departing from God, what do we lose? Who shall estimate the value of the favour and friendship of Jesus Christ, of the integrity of our Christian character, of the excellency and blessedness of holy usefulness, of that brighter and broader sphere which would have been ours, if we had not let earthly and human interests weigh down and press out the higher and the heavenly ones?
III. ITS GUILT. As God multiplies his gifts to us, of whatever kind those gifts may be, we ought to be thereby more closely attached to him and to be more heartily devoted to his service. When we permit increase of substance or added honour to lead us away from him, we are as guilty as we are unwise; our sin is as sad as our folly. - C.
I. AN UNFORTUNATE ALLIANCE. Jehoshaphat joins affinity with Ahab (ver. 1). This refers to the marriage of Jehoram his son with Athaliah, Ahab's daughter (2 Chronicles 21:6), eight or nine years before. The date may be approximately determined thus. Athaliah's son ascended the throne of Judah at the age of twenty-two (2 Kings 8:26), not forty-two (2 Chronicles 22:2). But Jehoram his father reigned eight years (2 Chronicles 21:5; 2 Kings 8:17). Hence the fourteen years leading back to Ahaziah's birth must have been the last fourteen of the reign of Jehoshaphat. Since, then, Jehoshaphat reigned twenty-five years (1 Kings 22:42), Ahaziah's birth must have happened in the eleventh year of Jehoshaphat's and the fifteenth of Ahab's reign (1 Kings 22:41). But Ahab reigned twenty-two years (2 Kings 16:29). Hence the interval between Ahaziah's birth and Ahab's death must have been at least seven years. The wedding, therefore, of Jehoram and Athaliah may be set down eight or nine years prior to Jehoshaphat's visit to Samaria. The alliance that wedding represented was the first wrong step Jehoshaphat took. It was:
(1) Not required by the safety of the state. The army that, with no ally but God (2 Chronicles 14:12), had defeated Zerah's million of soldiers, could hardly stand in need of succour from the son of Omri. In league with Jehovah (2 Chronicles 17:3), Jehoshaphat should have reckoned himself dispensed from the necessity of seeking other confederate (Romans 8:31; 1 John 4:4).
(2) Not demanded by the glory of his crown. His diadem had descended from David; Ahab's was of recent date. Omri had been an upstart (1 Kings 16:16); David a prince legitimate, a sovereign created by special act of Jehovah himself. Then he (Jehoshaphat) had "riches and honour in abundance," second only to those of Solomon, both of which were tokens of Divine approbation (Psalm 112:3). Besides, he possessed a good name (2 Chronicles 17:3), which is better than great riches (Proverbs 22:1) or precious ointment (Ecclesiastes 7:1).
(1) To his own religious character, which could not be improved thereby. "Evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33). Few can touch pitch and not be defiled. Considering Ahab's infamous character (1 Kings 16:29-33), Jehoshaphat should have reasoned that the wider they stood apart the better for him (Proverbs 13:20), and should have remembered David's prayer (Psalm 28:3), as well as acted on David's resolution (Psalm 101:4).
(2) To his son's piety (if that son had any), which would not likely be increased thereby. Nothing more ruinous to a young man for both time and eternity than an irreligious wife (Proverbs 12:4); nothing more helpful than a woman that fears the Lord (Proverbs 31:11, 12). Whatever Jehoram was in youth - and his upbringing may be assumed to have been godly - when he reached the throne he was truculent and debased, a murderer and an idolater, both of the worst type. This appalling deterioration the writer of the Kings and the Chronicles ascribe to Athaliah's influence (2 Chronicles 21:6; 2 Kings 8:18).
(3) To the best interests of his kingdom, which were not likely to be furthered thereby. On the contrary, these were grievously hindered. Judah declined till, in respect of idolatry, she stood at a level almost as low as that of Israel (2 Chronicles 21:13).
3. Sinful. A daughter from the house of Omri no fitting mate for a son of Jehoshaphat. The offspring of a Jezebel and an Ahab a good man should not have taken to his bosom (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
II. AN ILL-ADVISED JOURNEY. Jehoshaphat pays a visit to Ahab (ver. 2). The second wrong step of Judah's king:
1. Not demanded by duty. Nothing in his relations to Ahab or in the obligations resting upon him with reference to Ahab called for his journey to Samaria. Jehoshaphat in this case ran without being sent, always perilous for a good man.
2. Not prompted by self-interest. Jehoshaphat's true interest lay in keeping as far apart as possible from the house of Omri (Proverbs 4:14). Had Ahab been a pious sovereign, Jehoshaphat might have profited by his society; being the opposite, Ahab could not advance Jehoshaphat's religion (Proverbs 13:20).
3. Not required by courtesy. Had Jehoshaphat been invited to Samaria, he might have found it difficult to decline without offending his royal brother. But Jehoshaphat travelled northwards of his own motion. Considering who Ahab was, it would have evidenced more prudence had Jehoshaphat stayed at home. To say the least, it was hazardous to fraternize with such a son of Belial as the King of Israel (2 Samuel 23:6, 7).
III. AN UNHOLY CONFEDERACY. Jehoshaphat makes a league with Ahab (ver. 3).
1. At what time? After enjoying Ahab's hospitality, which was sumptuous. The pleasures of the table have a tendency to lay one open to temptation; indulged in to excess, they lead to other sins (2 Timothy 3:4; 1 Peter 2:11). Gluttony and drunkenness go commonly together (Deuteronomy 21:20; Proverbs 23:21; Matthew 24:49); and all experience shows that when wine is in wit is out. Besides, it requires courage to accept a neighbour's hospitality - to eat his dinner and drink his wines-and deny his request. (N.B. - Beware of dining with those whose characters cannot be trusted!)
2. On whose persuasion? Ahab's. The King of Israel doubtless reasoned he had a double claim on Jehoshaphat, to whose son he had given a wife, and to whose self he had furnished a splendid entertainment. It is dangerous for good men to accept favours at the hands of the wicked. Jehoshaphat should have remembered David's prayer (Psalm 141:4).
3. For what object? To recover Ramoth-Gilead upon the northern frontier of Israel - a town which belonged to Israel (Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 21:38), and had been captured by Benhadad's father, not in the war with Baasha (2 Chronicles 16:4; 1 Kings 15:20), who was not Ahab's father, but in a subsequent unrecorded struggle with Omri who was. Benhadad had promised to restore it (1 Kings 20:34), but had neglected or refused to do so. Accordingly, Ahab may have argued that his plea for the projected campaign was good, as the monuments appear to show he had ground for thinking the time opportune, Shalmaneser II. of Assyria having shortly before, in the battle of Karkar, defeated the Syrian king (Sayce, 'Fresh Light,' etc., p. 121) Still it was not clear that this expedition, though justified by political and military considerations, was approved by God, and Jehoshaphat would have been excused had he viewed with suspicion any enterprise that had Ahab for its author.
4. In what terms? "I am as thou art," etc. (ver. 3). The magniloquence of this utterance was probably due to the time when and the place where it was given forth. Had Jehoshaphat not been dining with Ahab, he would most likely have consulted Jehovah before committing himself and his battalions in so pompous and foolhardy a fashion. Yet it may have proceeded from a constitutional pomposity of manner with which the southern king was afflicted (cf. 2 Kings 3:7), as were ancient sovereigns generally; compare the treaty of the Grand Duke of Kheta with Rameses II. of Egypt, "Behold, I am at one in heart with Ramessu-Meriamen, the great ruler of Egypt" ('Records,' etc., 4:29). The world has travelled far since the clays when kings could send their peoples to war without asking their opinion, simply to gratify revenge or slake ambition. Amount civilized nations subjects cannot now be plunged into hostilities by their rulers without their own consent. Learn:
1. The danger of mixed marriages.
2. The perils of the table (Proverbs 23:2, 6, 20).
3. The slipperiness of evil paths - one sin leads to another.
4. The propriety of wisely selecting companions (Proverbs 28:7, 19).
5. The folly of being confederate with wicked men.
6. The wisdom of consulting God before engaging in a doubtful enterprise. - W.
I. THE FORMATION OF OUR FRIENDSHIPS, Jehoshaphat did an unwise thing in forming a friendship with Ahab; intimacy with such a man could not possibly end in his own elevation. We should not "love them that hate the Lord" (see homily on 2 Chronicles 19:2). In nothing is it more needful to show wariness and wisdom than in the choice of our friends; a mistake here means bitter disappointment, unimaginable misery, and, in all likelihood, spiritual deterioration if not positive ruin. Be slow to bind this bend. of friendship, which may, indeed, be a link to every good thing that blesses us, but which may be a fetter that chains us to every bad thing that curses and degrades us.
II. THE ENCOUNTERING OF SOCIAL PERILS. Whether or not Jehoshaphat suffered from the blandishments and allurements of the court where Jezebel was queen, we do not know. Certainly he ought to have thought twice before he exposed himself and his attendants to that serious peril. How much of social peril can we meet and master? That is a question which every man must answer for himself. But it is clear that a very large number of human souls have overestimated their capacity for resistance. The degenerating influences of a society which is not Christian, but worldly, or vicious, are a power which we must only encounter with the utmost circumspection. We may take counsel here of Ahab himself (1 Kings 20:11). Men go airily and easily to the contest with those social forces, and they come out of the conflict worsted and wounded, perhaps even unto death. Be wary here, for you stand in a "slippery place."
III. THE UNDERTAKING OF OUR ACHIEVEMENTS. Very readily, to all appearance, Jehoshaphat acceded to Ahab's proposal (ver. 2). But it was one involving himself, his family, his princes, and his people in great hazards. Syria was a power not at all to be despised, and, except the Lord appeared on their behalf, they would most likely be defeated. And what reason had Jehoshaphat to conclude that he would have the arm of Jehovah on his side when he was going hand-in-hand with such a man as Ahab? It was a very doubtful procedure; and the haste with which it was agreed. upon showed no sagacity at all. Before we adopt our neighbour's proposal we should weigh well all its probable and, so far as we can tell, its possible consequences; and not those which affect ourselves only, but those also which affect our kindred and connections. We may go "with a light heart ' into an enterprise that means nothing less than disaster. Before undertaking anything of importance, there should be
(1) careful consideration, looking at the subject from all points of view;
(2) consultation with the wise and good;
(3) prayer for Divine guidance.
IV. THE REGULATION OF OUR CHRISTIAN LIFE. Some men leave the retention of their spiritual integrity almost wholly to their good impulses. But this is a rash and perilous course. It is, indeed, the foolish and often fatal absence of all method. He who has the wariness which is wisdom, will adopt and maintain carefully regulated habits of devotion and of self-culture. - C.
I. A WISE AND HOLY HABIT to seek a knowledge of God's mind, and the supreme advantage of his direction. Not, indeed, that he invariably asked in this admirable spirit. If we may judge from the silence of Scripture, he had hurried into this questionable partnership without any such reverent solicitude (see preceding homily). Nevertheless, as a devout servant of Jehovah, he was accustomed to consult the Divine will; and it was, no doubt, a strong feeling that he must not depart from this good habit on so great an occasion that prompted him to ask of Ahab what that king would most willingly have dispensed with. It should be our constant custom, our fixed habit of life, to inquire of God concerning everything we propose to ourselves to do; and more particularly respecting the greater events of life on which large issues hang. For who are we that we should lean unto or upon" our own understanding"? How few of all possible considerations can we take into our mind! How impossible for us to give the proper weight to those which are the more grave and serious. How short a way can we look into the future, and how unable we are to foretell what other factors, now out of sight, will come into play! How continually our greatest sagacity must prove to be but childish simplicity in the sight of him who sees everything at a glance! How wise, therefore, to form the habit of continually inquiring of God, of seeking Divine guidance at every stage and even at every step of our human life!
II. THE RARE PRIVILEGE for which we may not look. Jehoshaphat wished to know, not only whether God was willing for him to go up to the battle, but also that he would return victorious. He believed that he might gain, not only the instruction, but the information he desired. Now, it is not at all certain that God never gives his people intimation of coming events in our own time; the evidence is rather the other way. But we may not look for Divine predictions as the ordinary and regular thing. Certainty concerning the event would probably have an unfavourable effect on the duty and the struggle before the event. It is, on the whole, best for us not to know what the issue will be; best for us to act as if the result were hanging on our own fidelity. The "long result" we do know, and rejoice to foresee: it nerves us for action; it sustains us in misfortune and temporary defeat. But as to the immediate issue we are best left in uncertainty.
III. THE PROMISE WE MAY PLEAD, AND THE HOPE WE MAY CHERISH. (Psalm 30:10; Psalm 121.; Proverbs 3:6; Isaiah 58:11; Matthew 7:7-11; Hebrews 13:6.) If we are walking in the fear of God, and are his children reconciled to him in Jesus Christ, then we may continually ask and confidently expect
(1) his guidance at the outset, and
(2) his help all through the work we have undertaken, the duty we are discharging, the burden we are bearing. Reverently, intelligently, obediently, God "will be inquired of" by those who love and serve him. - C.
I. JEHOSHAPAT'S PROPOSAL. To inquire at the Lord (ver. 4). A proposal:
1. Good. Commanded by God (Proverbs 3:5, 6), recommended by the pious (Genesis 25:22; 1 Samuel 23:2, 4; 1 Chronicles 21:30), approved by experience as indispensable for safety (Jeremiah 10:23), and one that can seldom be neglected without loss (Zephaniah 1:6), and even hurt (1 Chronicles 10:14).
2. New. At least in Israel, where the custom had been to say, 'Inquire of Baal' (Hall). As such, it probably appeared to Ahab unnecessary, as to ungodly men generally religion and its forms mostly do; though to Ahab it should likewise have served as a rebuke, reminding him of his apostasy from Jehovah and inviting, him to return. "A word fitly spoken," etc. (Proverbs 25:11).
3. Untimely. It should have been made not after but before the conclusion of the treaty, and was now too late. It is not clear that God will direct those whose minds are fixed before they consult him.
4. Insincere. Jehoshaphat's suggestion not that of an honest man who desired guidance from Heaven, but of one who half suspected he had entered on a doubtful course, from which, however, he did not care to withdraw, but for which he wished Divine permission, if not approbation. Cf. Balaam with the messengers of Balak (Numbers 22:7, 8).
II. AHAB'S CONSULTATION. (Ver. 5.)
1. The oracle inquired at.
(1) Seemingly safe. The advisers were "prophets," whose calling was to pronounce upon cases of conscience, and deliver authoritative utterances concerning Heaven's will (Exodus 7:1; Deuteronomy 18:22; Ezekiel 14:7). The recognized media of communication between Jehovah the theocratic King and his subjects; they were likewise four hundred in number, and had not Solomon said, "In the multitude of counsellors there is safety"? (Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 24:6).
(2) Really doubtful. "These four hundred privy councillors were prophets, not of Jehovah, but of the calves introduced by Jeroboam, who gave themselves out, indeed, as prophets of Jehovah worshipped under the symbol of the calves," but who "came forward of their own accord without a Divine call, and were, if not in the pay, at least in the service of the idolatrous king" (Keil).
(3) Wholly misleading. Not being in the secret of Jehovah (Psalm 25:14), Ahab's prophets could not reveal Jehovah's mind. Merely calling their answer, or believing it to be, Jehovah's would not make it so. Men have been known to dignify as "revelations" and "visions" from God what was purely the product of their own imaginations or the whisperings of lying spirits.
(4) Perfectly useless. Since Ahab's prophets could not tell the mind of Jehovah, they were not the advisers Jehoshaphat wanted. Their answer would shed no light upon the problem that perplexed him.
2. The question proposed.
(1) Wrongly expressed. Instead of asking, "Shall we go to Ramoth-Gilead to battle, or shall we forbear?" Ahab should have said, "Have we done right in deciding to go to Ramoth-Gilead? or have we done wrong?" When men consult God they should state the case submitted to his judgment with accuracy. Perhaps, however, so far as Ahab was concerned, the statement was correct enough, as it cannot be supposed the rightness or wrongness of the contemplated expedition would much trouble him. That Jehoshaphat did not check his royal brother looked suspicious.
(2) Insincerely moved. Ahab did not want to know the mind of Jehovah upon the subject; Jehoshaphat secretly wished that mind to accord with his own inclinations. With both the Ramoth campaign was a foregone conclusion. Under such circumstances to have asked Jehovah at all was hypocrisy and insult. Compare the conduct of the Jewish remnant who pretended to consult God through Jeremiah about going into Egypt (Jeremiah 42:20).
3. The answer returned.
(1) What the two kings wanted: "Go up to Ramoth-Gilead." To Jehoshaphat's uneasy conscience this ought to have given relief, though it did not.
(2) What Jehovah intended: that Ahab should at Ramoth receive his death-stroke.
(3) What the prophets invented: they derived it from their own deceived imaginations.
4. The reason given.
(1) A fiction, framed by the speakers to please their royal patron.
(2) A falsehood, since it was not the Divine purpose at this time to permit the recovery of Ramoth-Gilead.
III. JEHOSHAPHAT'S QUESTION. (Ver. 6.)
1. Dictated by suspicion. The King of Judah was not satisfied with the answer of the prophets; which was not wonderful, considering:
(1) Whose prophets they were - Ahab's: "Like master like man."
(2) What sort of prophets they were: "of the calves," not "of Jehovah." Men usually become like the deities they worship; so do prophets.
(3) What inducements they had to return such an answer to Ahab's interrogation. Ahab being their master, by whose favour they lived, their interest clearly was to please Ahab.
(4) What reason he had to suspect their deliverance - it was too like the response he himself desired.
2. Prompted by caution. Jehoshaphat would not act precipitately. If possible, he would have Jehovah's mind upon the matter. He would imitate David, and urge Ahab to inquire at Jehovah again (1 Samuel 23:4). Good men should ponder the paths of their feet (Proverbs 4:26), remembering that he who hasteth with his feet sinneth (Proverbs 19:2), and that the prudent man looketh well to his going (Proverbs 14:15).
IV. AHAB'S ANSWER. (Ver. 7.)
1. Promptly given. To Jehoshaphat's inquiry, "Is there not here a prophet of Jehovah besides?" etc. (ver. 6), Ahab responded there was one. Ahab probably at the moment did not know where Elijah was, or was afraid of the Tishbite. Most likely he mentioned Micaiah because he expected either that Jehoshaphat, heating Micaiah was in jail, would never dream of proposing he should be called, or that Micaiah, though summoned, would not have courage to speak in presence of two kings and four hundred prophets. In both expectations Ahab miscalculated and outwitted himself, as wicked men usually do.
2. Instantly qualified. The prophet's name was Micaiah, the son of Imlah - conjectured, without historical foundation, to have been the disguised prophet who had announced to Ahab his doom for permitting Benhadad to escape (1 Kings 20:38), and by the rabbis to have been either he or the unnamed prophet mentioned earlier (1 Kings 20:13, 22, 28). That Ahab disliked him was a point in his favour, it being a dubious commendation to be liked by a bad man. Moreover, the ground of Ahab's displeasure was an additional certificate to Micaiah, though a heavy condemnation of Ahab. Unless Micaiah had been a true prophet he would not so invariably have spoken evil of Ahab; that he did so was unmistakable evidence that Ahab was a bad man (Isaiah 3:11; Isaiah 48:22). Then Micaiah at the moment was in prison, which Ahab probably imagined would end the matter. But it did not, Jehoshaphat perhaps remembering that good men were often imprisoned unjustly (Genesis 39:20), and that Micaiah's incarceration, like Hanani's (2 Chronicles 16:10), might be to his credit rather than the opposite.
V. JEHOSHAPHAT'S REMONSTRANCE. (Ver. 7.) The speech of Ahab told of:
1. A great wrong to Micaiah. Ahab would have sinned in hating Micaiah even had Micaiah been an offender (Leviticus 19:17 ); much more when Micaiah was innocent and Ahab's anger was without a cause (Psalm 35:19; Matthew 5:22); most of all when Micaiah was a prophet of Jehovah (Psalm 105:15), who had only spoken the words Jehovah put into his mouth (Jeremiah 1:7; Jeremiah 7:27).
2. A greater wrong to Jehovah. Just because Micaiah's words were not his own so much as Jehovah's, a reflection on Micaiah was a virtual reflection on Jehovah. When Ahab charged Micaiah with always speaking evil concerning him, he practically charged Jehovah with being malignant towards him. But if Micaiah prophesied calamity for Ahab that was conditional on Ahab's disobedience, and would have been averted by repentance and reformation (Ezekiel 33:14)); if Jehovah put minatory language into his prophet's mouth; - this was out of love to Ahab, to turn him from his evil ways.
VI. AHAB'S SUBMISSION. (Ver. 8.) An officer (or eunuch) was hastily despatched to fetch Micaiah from his cell. The haste may have indicated:
1. Ahab's sense of the importance of the question under consideration; and certainly nothing can be of greater moment for any than to understand what the will of the Lord is. Only this can be ascertained by none but renewed hearts (Romans 12:2). More likely, however, it marked:
2. Ahab's sense of his own importance, which could brook no delay in the execution of his royal commands. An earthly king's business, even when insignificant, is commonly supposed to require haste (1 Samuel 21:8); how much more the business of the King of kings (John 9:4; Romans 12:11)! The haste may even have been due to:
3. Ahab's inward irritation with Jehoshaphat, to whom he had submitted, possibly not with the best grace. It requires a large amount of magnanimity to enable even good men to accept the rebukes and yield to the persuasions of others. Learn:
2. The unlikelihood of learning God's mind from the world's prophets or teachers (John 3:31).
4. The danger of playing fast and loose with conscience. - W.
i.e. of the man who speaks for God; he is not merely the man who has a vision of the future - that is the smaller part of his function; he is the one who is charged with a Divine message, and who faithfully delivers it, however it may be received. Thus regarding him, we learn that the spokesman for God must be -
I. UNCONCERNED ABOUT NUMBERS. There may be "four hundred men" on one side (ver. 5), and only one on the other; or see 1 Kings 18:19. The prophet of the Lord may be in a most honourable but most decisive minority, but he must not consider that. "Truth cannot be put to the vote "and carried by a majority. Many a time it has been overwhelmingly outnumbered, and yet ultimately triumphant. We must not count heads when we undertake to speak for the Eternal. "A man with truth on his side can never be in a smaller minority than Almighty God and himself."
II. INACCESSIBLE TO HUMAN BLANDISHMENTS, The messenger that summoned Micaiah and attended him to the king seems to have employed his opportunity in trying to persuade the prophet to give a pleasant and courtly answer (ver. 12). He did not succeed. Many times have men sought to tamper with the ministers of the truth; sometimes they have succeeded. But when they have done so, there has been a lamentable failure. "We seek not yours, but you;" "If I pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ." These are the sentiments and this is the spirit of the true prophet. No human whisper in the ear as he goes before his audience will make him change one word or tone in the message he delivers from his Master.
III. FEARLESS OF HUMAN AUTHORITY. Micaiah had caused Jehoshaphat to "hate" him (ver. 7); and once again he drew upon him the king's resentment. There were two kings now present, arrayed in royal apparel and seated on thrones (ver. 9); there was much in the position to constrain a deliverance that would answer to their known wishes; but Micaiah was unmoved by fear. He acted as honourably and as heroically as if he had witnessed the example and heard the exhortation of the Lord himself (Luke 12:4, 5). To be condemned of man is a small thing when we are commended and honoured of God. We can afford to incur the hatred even of kings when we rest in the loving favour of our heavenly Father.
IV. UNMOVED BY ILL TREATMENT. Micaiah responded to Zedekiah in a spirit that showed no shade of submission or withdrawal (ver. 23); and when the vexed and passionate king ordered him to be imprisoned and fed with the bread and water of affliction, he still manifested a fearless spirit, totally unmoved by the ill usage he was receiving (ver. 27). The minister of Christ, who is (or should be) the successor of the Hebrew prophet, will not use the language or cherish the spirit of retaliation, but he will be utterly undisturbed in his aim and in his purpose by any unjust or unkind treatment he may receive. Nothing of this kind will move him from his resolve, will turn him from his high and noble task. Acting under the inspiration of God, and conscious that he is "partaking of the afflictions of Christ," the "bread and water of affliction" will be sweet to his taste. In that day he will "rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Matthew 5:10-12).
V. WHOLLY ATTENTIVE TO THE DIVINE VOICE. "Even what my God saith, that will I speak" (ver. 13). So spoke the faithful witness. One greater far than he described himself as "a Man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God" (John 8:40). What has God said to us that we can tell our brethren? What do we learn of Christ and in his service? What do we read in his Word, by a careful, reverent, and intelligent study of it? What sacred lessons have we gleaned, as his holy providence has led and his Divine discipline has taught and trained us? This, nothing else and nothing less, will we carry to the minds of men, to redeem them from sin, to succour them in sorrow, to prepare them for the burden and battle of life, to make them ready for the time of judgment and the long day of eternity. - C.
I. THE COURAGE HE DISPLAYED. (Vers. 9-13.) He delivered Jehovah's message under circumstances that might and probably would have intimidated him had he not been a hero.
1. Before two kings to whom that message was unacceptable. The scene was calculated to steal away Micaiah's fortitude, could anything have done so. In an open space or threshing-floor, at the entering in of the gate of Samaria, Ahab and Jehoshaphat, arrayed in royal robes, sat each. upon.his throne. Immediately encircling them were the four hundred prophets; while each, king was attended by his army (Josephus 'Ant' 8:15. 3.) Ordinarily, "there is such a divinty doth hedge a king," that Micaiah might have been excused had he trembled when ushered into the presence of two such royal personages, decked out with the trappings of lofty station, waited on by bowing courtiers, and escorted by battalions of warriors; much more when one of them was Ahab, whose displeaure he had already felt, and the might of whose arm he had lately experienced; most of all when he knew or suspected that his words could not be acceptable to the kingly auditors on whose ears they were about to fall. Yet Micaiah flinched not. Composed as if he stood before peasants, he told out the message Jehovah put into his lips. Compare the attitudes of Hanani before Asa (2 Chronicles 16:7), of Elijah before Ahab (1 Kings 18:18; 1 Kings 21:20), of Daniel before Belshazzar (Daniel 5:13), of John the Baptist before Herod (Matthew 14:4), of Paul before Felix and Agrippa (Acts 24:25; Acts 26:28), of Polycarp before Antoninus, of Luther before the Diet of Worms, of John Knox before the court of Mary.
2. In the presence of four hundred false prophets whom that message opposed. Had numbers been a test of truth, then was Micaiah wrens, since he stood alone against the united body of the Israelitish prophets. Their answer to Ahab's question was unanimous. Without one dissenting voice they had assured him Jehovah would reward his efforts with victory. Ramoth-Gilead would be delivered into his hand, and the power of Syria crushed. Zedekiah, one of these prophets, playing the clown on the occasion, putting iron horns on his head and butting like an ox, added, "Thus saith the Lord, With these horns thou shalt push Syria until they be consumed; "while all his brother-prophets, applauding his performance, urged the king to "go up to Ramoth-Gilead, and prosper." Micaiah, however, knew that all that was false, and in spite of appearing singular, non-complaisant, obstinate, perverse, would not cry, "Amen!" would not shape his words either to please the king or accord with the fashion of the hour. It mattered nothing to Micaiah that he stood alone - his feet were planted on the rock of truth; or that men might regard him as "odd," "punctilious," "over-scrupulous," provided he was right. Compare Elijah on Mount Carmel before the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, with the four hundred prophets of the grove (1 Kings 18:19).
3. Though he knew that message would not improve his own prospects. On the way from prison to the king's presence he had obtained a hint from his conductor what kind of "oracle" would best suit - would most gratify the king and recompense himself. All the state-prophets had observed in what quarter the wind sat, and had prophesied accordingly. They discerned what their royal master wanted, and why should they who ate his bread decline to gratify his whims? With one consent had they declared "good" to Ahab. If he, Micaiah, consulted for "good" to himself he would act upon that hint; taking his cue from the "prophets," he would let his word be as theirs. But Micaiah was too honest to play the knave. Micaiah understood not the art of studying self. Micaiah knew his duty was to speak the word given him by God, without regarding consequences to any, least of all to himself. And he did it!
II. THE ORACLE HE DELIVERED. (Vers. 14-22.)
1. A seeming permission. Micaiah answered Ahab in the words of the false prophets (ver. 14), in, irony (Keil, Bertheau), or in reproof of Ahab's hypocrisy (Bahr). Either Micaiah meant the opposite of what he said - that the advice Ahab had received was worthless; or he intended to be understood as declining to give other oracle than that already spoken by the prophets, which was the one Ahab wanted. But in any case Ahab suspected Micaiah's sincerity.
2. symbolic warning. Adjured to speak the truth, he related to the king a vision he had seen - "all Israel scattered upon the mountains as sheep without a shepherd;" and a voice he had heard - "These have no master; let them return every man to his house in peace." Whether the words of Moses (Numbers 27:17) were in Micaiah's mind when he described his vision or not, the import of the vision and the voice was as patent to Ahab as to him. Ahab was to fall at Ramoth-Gilead; Israel to become like a flock without a shepherd; the campaign to end in failure and shame.
3. A serious explanation. Accused by Ahab of speaking from a spirit of malignant hatred towards him, Micaiah depicted another vision, which let the king see the real deceivers were his own prophets, not he, Micaiah. The vision, most likely received some time before and not then only for the first time, consisted of a dramatic representation of the Divine government, in which were set forth the following truths:
(1) That God works by means of secondary agents. The prophet saw Jehovah, as Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1) afterwards beheld him, seated upon his throne, with all the host of heaven, standing on his right hand and on his left. The host of heaven was the innumerable company of angels of which David sang (Psalm 68:17), two battalions of which met Jacob at Mahanaim (Genesis 32:2), and many regiments of which protected Elisha and his servant at Dothan (2 Kings 6:17). Their designation "host" indicated their number and order; their position, "on his right hand and on his left," marked their submission and readiness to execute Jehovah's will (Psalm 103:20, 21).
(2) That agencies of evil equally with those of good are under the Divine control. Though God is not and cannot be the author of sin, he may yet, through the wicked actions of his creatures, accomplish his designs. His purpose was that Ahab should fall at Ramoth-Gilead; he effected that purpose by suffering Ahab to be misled by his false prophets, and these to be deceived by a lying spirit. Neither could the prophets have spoken to Ahab, nor the lying spirit whispered to the prophets, without the Divine permission. This truth Micaiah dramatically portrayed by representing Jehovah as taking counsel with his angels, and asking, "Who shall entice Ahab King of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead?"
(3) That God does not always hinder from being deceived those who wish to be deceived. Ahab and his prophets desired to believe Jehovah in favour of the campaign, and Jehovah allowed them to be persuaded by the lying spirit that he was. Having wilfully turned their backs upon Jehovah and become worshippers of idols, Jehovah now left them to reap the fruit of their folly - gave them up to strong delusion to believe a lie (Isaiah 66:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). "Not by any sudden stroke of vengeance, but by the very network of evil counsel which he has woven for himself, is the King of Israel to be led to his ruin" (Stanley, 'Jewish Church,' p. 316).
(4) That God, in permitting the wicked to be the victims of their own evil machinations, only exercises upon them righteous retribution. "It is just that one sin should be punished by another" (Bishop Hall). This principle universally operative in Providence.
4. A solemn denunciation. Without further parley, or veiling of his thoughts in metaphorical speech, he declares that the king had been imposed upon by his prophets, and that Jehovah had spoken evil against him. There are times when God's messengers must deliver God's messages to their hearers with utmost plainness and directness of speech.
III. THE RECOMPENSE HE RECEIVED. (Vers. 23-27.)
1. Insult from the prophets, through their leader Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah.
(1) What it was. A blow from the fist, and a stroke from the tongue - the first hard to bear, the second harder; the first a common resort of cowards, the second of persons overcome in argument. For Zedekiah to smite Micaiah on the cheek, as afterwards the soldiers smote Jesus in Pilate's praetorium (Matthew 26:27), and later the bystanders Paul in the council chamber at Ananias's command (Acts 23:2), was "intolerably insolent - much more to do so in the presence of two kings." "The act was unbeseeming the person, more the presence; prophets may reprove, they may not smite" (Hall). It was, besides, painfully like a confession that Zedekiah was conscious of having been found out.
(2) Why it was. To gratify his thirst for revenge. It was easier to do so in this way than by attempting to disprove the truth of Micaiah's oracle. Any fool can exercise his fist; it takes a wise man to use his tongue with effect. Zedekiah probably imagined he did so when he mockingly inquired, "Which way went the Spirit of the Lord from me to speak unto thee?' That in so saying he claimed to be as much under the Spirit of Jehovah as Micaiah, may be true; that Micaiah understood him to be talking lightly seems apparent from the reply returned him: "Thou shalt see on that day when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself." The event would decide which of the two predictions was correct. When the people rose up against the prophets who had raise led their king, Zedekiah, as he fled for safety to some inner chamber, or from chamber to chamber, would understand how to answer his own jest.
2. Punishment from the king. Micaiah was remanded back to his confinement in the city jail. Amen the governor of the city, and Joash the king's son - not necessarily a son of Ahab, but a prince of the blood - as commandants of the prison, were instructed to thrust him back into his old cell, and "feed him with bread of affliction and water of affliction;" in modern phrase, to subject him to imprisonment with hard labour, until Ahab should return in peace (ver. 26). It was severe upon Micaiah, yet he retracted not. Without a murmur at his hard fate, he cheerfully returned to his cell, only calling the people to observe that if Ahab returned home from the war in peace, he was not a true prophet (ver. 27). Learn:
1. The nobility of true courage.
2. The certainty that good men will suffer for their goodness.
3. The reality of an overruling Providence.
4. The infallibility of God's Word. - W.
I. TWO THOUGHTS WHICH ARE SPECIOUS BUT FALSE. Some men would probably infer from similar facts happening in the range of their own observation:
1. That the issue of events is in the hands of an irreversible fate. Ahab (they would argue) was bound to fall that day; do what he might, disguise himself as he pleased, take whatever precaution he could, his death was decreed and was simply unavoidable. But this is not the wise, nor is it the right, way of regarding it. Had he been as brave as Jehoshaphat (see ver. 29), he certainly would not have fallen in the way he did; had he been as true to Jehovah as the King of Judah was, and as he might and should have been, he would not have "gone up to Ramoth-Gilead" at all, for he would have been dissuaded by the prophet of the Lord, and he would not have fallen at all. His death that day, as well as that way, was due to his own course and to his own choice. Our destiny is not in the hands of some inexorable necessity; it resides in our own character; it is the work of our own will.
2. That many things, if not most things, are decided not by choice, but by chance. The death of Ahab (they would say) was the result of "a bow drawn at a venture." And it is this chance-work that has a very large share in the determination of our whole earthly history. But chance, in the sense of positive lawlessness, does not exist. Everything happened here according to law. The soldier drew his bow according to his instruction, aiming at the enemy, though not at any one whom he recognized in particular; the arrow went on its career according to the laws of motion, and did its work on Ahab's person in accordance with all the laws of physics. There was no violation of law in the smallest degree, though something happened which no man could have calculated and predicted. If we succeed, it will be by using the laws of health, of prosperity, etc.; if we fail, it will be in consequence of our disregarding these laws, which are laws of God. Chance will neither make nor mar us.
II. TWO THOUGHTS WHICH ARE BOTH TRUE AND SERVICEABLE.
1. That we do not know what harm we do by our most casual strokes. We "draw a bow at a venture," we "send an arrow through the air;" it is only a sentence, it is a very simple deed, we think; but it hits and wounds a sensitive human heart; it may even slay a Soul. It may cause such grief as we would on no account hays inflicted if we could have foreseen it; it may lead to the first declension of a valuable human life, and may end in such spiritual disaster as it would grieve us indeed to originate.
2. That we cannot tell what good we do by our simplest efforts. Little did the Syrian soldier suppose that by that shot of his arrow he was to serve his royal master as he did. It is a most cheering and inspiring thought that we cannot tell what kind or measure of good we are effecting by our everyday service of our Lord. A kindly smile, a gracious recognition, an encouraging word, a neighbourly kindness, a warning utterance, the taking of "a class," the giving of "an address," the conduct of "a service," perhaps under the humblest roof, or to the most unpromising audience, may prove to be a most valuable contribution to the cause of Jesus Christ, to the service of mankind. - C.
I. AHAB'S DISGUISE. (Ver. 29.)
1. Artfully contrived. Apprehensive of the truth of Micaiah's prediction, Ahab agreed with Jehoshaphat to lay aside his royal robes and go into battle in the garb of a common soldier, perhaps (though not so said) concealing his well-known features behind a vizor, while he (Jehoshaphat), who had no occasion to dread an evil issue from the campaign, should array himself as usual in regal apparel - not in Ahab's robes (Josephus), but in his own. In this way Ahab may have reckoned on a double chance of safety. On the one hand, his disguise would assist him to elude the notion of the enemy; on the other hand, Jehoshaphat's kingly clothing would probably cause him to be mistaken for Ahab.
2. Wickedly designed. In so far as Ahab's contrivance was prompted by a desire of self-preservation it was legitimate, though scarcely valorous, and palpably selfish, considering that he did not suggest the like expedient to Jehoshaphat, but rather recommended the contrary. The King of Israel's artifice, however, had not its origin in any praiseworthy motive. Whether he hoped that Jehoshaphat might fall, while he escaped and seized upon the southern kingdom (Schulz), cannot be known, and is probably "too low and unworthy" a scheme "even for a character so bad as Ahab" (Keil); it is certain he aimed at falsifying Micaiah's prediction by evading his threatened doom. This, indeed, he might have done by foregoing the Ramoth campaign, to which he was not called by Jehovah; but to attempt by such a flimsy or even any device to elude Divine vengeance while defying the Divine will, was a fearful aggravation of his original offence.
3. Completely ineffectual. "Ahab's fate found him without his robes" (Josephus), while Jehoshaphat, who seemed to be in the greater peril of the two, escaped unhurt. So God commonly confounds the counsels of the crafty, and defeats the designs of deceitful workers.
II. BENHADAD'S ORDER. (Ver. 30.)
1. The meaning of it. In commanding the captains of his chariots, thirty-two in number (1 Kings 22:31), to fight neither with small nor great, but only with the King of Israel, the King of Syria meant that against Ahab they should direct their principal and, as far as practicable, exclusive attack. This they would be able to do, seeing that Ahab, according to custom, would appear upon the field in his royal robes. That ancient monarchs followed this practice appears from the monuments of Egypt - the heroic poem of Pentaur representing Ramses II. as fighting in person at the head of his warriors and charioteers against the Khita and saying, "The diadem of the royal snake adorned my head. It spat fire and glowing flame in the face of my enemies" (Brugsch, 'Egypt under the Pharaohs,' 2:63).
2. The motive of it.
(1) Perhaps clemency, as knowing that the shortest way to end the war was to secure the capture or destruction of Ahab, armies commonly being disheartened when they lose their leaders.
(2) More probably revenge, as never having been able to forget, and far less forgive, the disgrace of his own capture by Ahab in a previous campaign of his against Ahab. If it was so, it was a poor return for the merciful consideration and mild treatment then shown to him by Ahab (1 Kings 20:30-34). But in ordinary life least kindness is often received from those from whom one might expect the most.
III. JEHOSHAPHAT'S DELIVERANCE. (Ver. 31.)
1. His imminent peril. Mistaking him for the King of Israel, the Syrian charioteers surrounded him. This natural, and had Jehoshaphat been smitten the blame would have been his own. He who runs into danger unbidden need hardly expect to come out of it in safety. Moreover, just as certainly as he who walketh with wise men shall be wise, the companion of fools shall be destroyed (Proverbs 13:20); if he is not, the praise is due not to himself but to God (Psalm 115:1).
2. His sudden outcry. That this "cry" was a prayer, the Chronicler is thought by some to indicate; this, however, is not absolutely certain. The Chronicler says not Jehovah helped Jehoshaphat because (cf. 19:3), but only when he cried, and Jehovah might have helped him without being appealed to by a formal supplication. Considering where Jehoshaphat was, it is as likely as not that he did not address Jehovah in prayer; but remembering who and what Jehoshaphat was, a descendant of David and a follower of Jehovah, it is certain his "outcry" would sound in Jehovah's ears as an appeal for help.
3. His mysterious rescue. Scarcely had he "cried" when the Syrian charioteers turned aside and left him unmolested. If the "cry" was a "prayer" Jehoshaphat must have looked upon his unexpected escape as an answer to his supplication; if only a "shout" or signal of distress, he must still have regarded the extraordinary behaviour of the Syrians as little short of a providential miracle - as a merciful interposition of Jehovah on his behalf, as indeed it was. Jehovah helped Jehoshaphat; moved the charioteers and, warriors to turn aside, not by any supernatural influence upon them, but by so ordering the succession of events, that they understood Jehoshaphat's cry and recognized his features in time to let them see he was not the object of their pursuit.
IV. JEHOVAH'S ARROW. (Ver. 33.)
1. Whence it flew. From the bow of an unknown warrior, most likely an obscure common soldier, who shot either aimlessly into the ranks of the Israelitish army, or with deliberate aim, but at no one he knew, at the first man that came into his field of vision. Either explanation satisfies the phraseology - "a certain man drew a bow at a venture." That the man's name was Naaman (Josephus) is a groundless tradition.
2. Whither it sped. To the person of Ahab. All events are under God's control. He directeth the flights of arrows as of fowls, the careers of javelins as the courses of stars, according to the counsel of his will. Nothing happens by accident. In a world governed by infinite wisdom and power chance is impossible. The Syrian archer drew his bow at a venture; not so did Jehovah draw his. The Syrian sharpshooter knew not at whom he aimed; Jehovah understood well who was his target. "Every bullet has its billet," not because the gunner but because God directs its path through the air. Not a sparrow can fall to the ground without our heavenly Father's permission (Matthew 10:29), nor shaft can hit till he pleases.
3. To what it led. To the death of Ahab. It smote him "between the joints of the harness;" rather between the lower armour and the breastplate (Revised Version), between the corselet and the tunic (Luther), between the joints and the harness (Keil). It found the spot where the parts of Ahab's armour fitted least closely, and there it entered the lower region of his body. Had it penetrated as far as did the arrow with which Jehu shot Jehoram (1 Kings 9:24), it must have proved instantaneously fatal. That it did not seems a natural inference from the fact that he was able to remain upon the field. Learn:
1. The folly of attempting to outwit God.
2. The certainty that no disguise can hide a wicked man from God.
3. The impossibility of evading death when the appointed hour has come.
4. The clemency of God to his erring people.
5. The reality of God's interference with the affairs of time. - W.