Saturday, July 05, 2008

More Meddlesome Prophets: 1 Kings 22

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

Thanks to the diplomatic skills of the comparatively righteous (and at least God-fearing) king Jehoshaphat of Judah, Judah and Israel are trying to bury the hatchet. Jehoshaphat and Ahab meet and plan a joint war against Aram, in order to retake the land of Ramoth Gilead. Ahab's ready to go into battle but Jehoshaphat, following the old military tradition, thinks they should seek divine guidance first.

Ahab's reluctant. There's only one real prophet left in Israel, he admits, and it's an annoying man who's always insulting him. (Once again, 1 Kings describes prophets as social activists rather than donkey-finders.) Jehoshaphat doesn't care and summons this "Micaiah son of Imlah" anyways.

While they wait for Micaiah, Ahab brings in a group of other, quite useless prophets who behave more like hawkish newspaper columnists than spokespersons of God. Some of them even seem to be religious con artists, the sort who today can be found selling holy water and other magic charms. One named Zedekiah, for example, presents the kings with a pair of iron horns and announces that these can be used to "gore the Arameans until they are destroyed."

Eventually Micaiah arrives, but he refuses to agree with the pro-war prophets. Before he goes into the king's presence, the messenger who summoned Micaiah tells him he'd better agree with the other prophets and support the war. For some reason, Micaiah does this, but even Ahab seems suspicious by the terse answer he gives, and commands that Micaiah tell the truth.

I've no idea why Micaiah lied, but his next answer is clearly critical: the people of Israel, according to God, "have no master. Let aech one go home in peace."

Ahab doesn't like the notion of the people of Israel not having a king - after all, that would mean the end of his very profitable career! He turns to his fellow king Jehoshaphat and tries to commiserate: "See why I never bring this troublesome prophet to my court?"

A little irritated that they're talking over him, Micaiah imparts another vision, claiming that the Lord summoned the demons to his own heavenly throne room and asked them to lure Ahab into battle at Ramoth Gilead so that he could die at the hands of the Arameans. A "lying spirit" came forward and volunteered to do just that. This lying spirit, Micaiah claimed, has subsequently come and infected all of the king's false prophets.

The false prophets in question are irate and Zedekiah, strangely, wants to know "which way the spirit went" after it left God's throne room. Huh? Micaiah keeps provoking them, so Ahab orders him thrown in jail until he gets back from the coming battle. He never gets back, of course - he's shot and killed by an Aramean archer. Jehoshaphat returns to Judah and leads his kingdom in righteousness and peace (not military victory, but rather peace, I note). Israel, by contrast, gets another useless pagan king, in the form of Ahab's son Ahaziah.