2 Chronicles 18 – Jehoshaphat, Ahab, and Micaiah
A. Jehoshaphat goes to Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel.
1. (1) Jehoshaphat’s unwise alliance with Ahab.
Jehoshaphat had riches and honor in abundance; and by marriage he allied himself with Ahab.
a. Jehoshaphat had riches and honor in abundance: Because of his personal godliness (2 Chronicles 17:1-4) and public godliness (2 Chronicles 17:7-10), God blessed Jehoshaphat and exalted him among neighboring nations.
b. By marriage he allied himself with Ahab: This manner of linking kingdoms by the bond of marriage was common in the ancient world, yet it was an unwise policy for Jehoshaphat. The wisest strategy for the protection of his kingdom was obedience instead of compromise with the ungodly King Ahab of Israel and his wife, Queen Jezebel.
i. 1 Kings 16:29-33 tells us just how bad Ahab was. He introduced the worship of completely new, pagan gods. In his disobedience, Jeroboam (the first king of the kingdom of the northern tribes) said, “I will worship the LORD, but do it my way.” Ahab said, “I want to forget about the LORD completely and worship Baal.”
ii. Ahab was greatly influenced towards wickedness by his Phoenician wife Jezebel. “He was a weak man, the tool of a crafty, unscrupulous, and cruel woman: and some of the worst crimes that have ever been committed have been wrought by weak men, at the instigation of worse – but stronger – spirits than themselves.” (Meyer)
2. (2-3) Ahab sets his eyes upon Ramoth-Gilead.
After some years he went down to visit Ahab in Samaria; and Ahab killed sheep and oxen in abundance for him and the people who were with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramoth Gilead. So Ahab king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, “Will you go with me against Ramoth Gilead?” And he answered him, “I am as you are, and my people as your people; we will be with you in the war.”
a. And persuaded him to go up with him to Ramoth Gilead: Previously, the king of Syria promised to return certain cities to Israel (1 Kings 20:34) in exchange for leniency after defeat in battle. Apparently this was a city that Ben-Hadad never returned to Israel and it was in a strategically important location.
b. Will you go with me against Ramoth Gilead? King Ahab of Israel asked King Jehoshaphat of Judah to help him in this dispute against Syria. This made some sense because Ramoth Gilead was only 40 miles from Jerusalem.
3. (4-8) Jehoshaphat proposes that they seek God in the matter.
Also Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Please inquire for the word of the LORD today.” Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?” So they said, “Go up, for God will deliver it into the king’s hand.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not still a prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of Him?” So the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD; but I hate him, because he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil. He is Micaiah the son of Imla. ” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say such things!” Then the king of Israel called one of his officers and said, “Bring Micaiah the son of Imla quickly!”
a. Please inquire for the word of the LORD today: Considering the generally adversarial relationship between Ahab and the prophets of Yahweh, this was a bold request of Jehoshaphat to ask of Ahab. It wasn’t surprising that Ahab picked prophets who would tell them what they wanted to hear.
i. “Though Jehoshaphat had already committed himself to the enterprise (2 Chronicles 18:3), and though he went on to disregard the guidance that was given him (2 Chronicles 18:28), he still retained the religion of Yahweh to the extent that he insisted on seeking ‘the counsel of the Lord.’” (Payne)
b. Go up, for God will deliver it into the king’s hand: When Ahab gathered the prophets, they were not faithful prophets of the LORD. These were prophets happy to please their kings, and to tell them what they wanted to hear. Jehoshaphat still wanted to hear from a prophet of Yahweh, the LORD (Is there not still a prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of Him?).
i. Trapp described this gathering of prophets as, “An ecumenical council.”
c. I hate him, because he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil: Ahab hated the messenger because of the message. His real conflict was with God, but he focused his hatred against the prophet Micaiah. Yet he was willing to listen to the king of Judah when he advised that Ahab should listen to the prophet Micaiah.
4. (9-11) An object lesson from the unfaithful prophets.
The king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah, clothed in their robes, sat each on his throne; and they sat at a threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets prophesied before them. Now Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah had made horns of iron for himself; and he said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘With these you shall gore the Syrians until they are destroyed.’“ And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, “Go up to Ramoth Gilead and prosper, for the LORD will deliver it into the king’s hand.”
a. Sat each on his throne, and they sat at a threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria: This illustrates the ancient custom of holding court and making decisions at the gates of the city. There were even thrones for high officials to sit on at the gates of the city of Samaria.
b. Thus says the LORD: These unfaithful prophets (such as Zedekiah) prophesied in the name of the LORD, but they did not prophesy truthfully. Many commentators believe these prophets were pagan prophets, perhaps representatives of Asherah or other pagan gods or goddesses. Yet they clearly prophesied in the name of the LORD. It is best to regard these not as pagan prophets, but unfaithful prophets to the true God.
i. Perhaps these were true followers of Yahweh who were seduced by Ahab’s sincere but shallow repentance three years before (1 Kings 21:27-29). After that, they began to align with Ahab uncritically. Three years later they were willing to prophesy lies to Ahab if that was what he wanted to hear.
c. With these you shall gore the Syrians until they are destroyed: Zedekiah used a familiar tool of ancient prophets – the object lesson. He used horns of iron to illustrate the thrust of two powerful forces, armies that would rout the Syrians. Zedekiah had the agreement of 400 other prophets (all the prophets prophesied so).
i. “Dramas of this kind were a typical method of prophetic revelation (cf. Jeremiah 27-28), based on this occasion on the horns as a symbol of strength.” (Selman)
ii. This must have been a vivid and entertaining presentation. We can be certain that every eye was on Zedekiah when he used the horns of iron to powerfully illustrate the point. It was certainly persuasive to have 400 prophets speak in agreement on one issue. No matter how powerful and persuasive the presentation, their message was unfaithful.
5. (12-15) The prophecy of Micaiah, the faithful prophet.
Then the messenger who had gone to call Micaiah spoke to him, saying, “Now listen, the words of the prophets with one accord encourage the king. Therefore please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak encouragement.” And Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak.” Then he came to the king; and the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?” And he said, “Go and prosper, and they shall be delivered into your hand!” So the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”
a. As the LORD lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak: The assistant of King Ahab tried to persuade Micaiah to speak in agreement with the 400 other prophets. Micaiah assured him that he would simply repeat what God said to him.
i. This was a dramatic scene. Micaiah was brought out from prison (1 Kings 22:26 indicates that he came from prison). We see a prophet in rags and chains stand before two kings, ready to speak on behalf of the LORD.
ii. “This might have daunted the good prophet, but that he had lately seen the Lord sitting upon His throne with all the host of heaven standing by Him, and hence he so boldly looked in the face these two kings in their majesty; for he beheld them as so many mice.” (Trapp)
b. Go and prosper, and they shall be delivered into your hand! When Micaiah said this, his tone was probably mocking and sarcastic. He said similar words to the 400 unfaithful prophets, but delivered a completely different message.
c. How many times shall I make you swear that you tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD? King Ahab recognized the mocking tone of Micaiah’s prophecy and knew it contradicted the message of the 400 prophets. He demanded that Micaiah tell nothing but the truth – which Ahab believed and hoped was the message of the 400 other prophets.
6. (16-17) Micaiah speaks the true prophecy from the LORD.
Then he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master. Let each return to his house in peace.’” And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?”
a. I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd: Micaiah was challenged to tell the truth, and now he changed his tone from mocking to serious. He said that not only would Israel be defeated, but also that their leader (shepherd) would perish.
b. Did I not tell you he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil? King Ahab said that he wanted the truth – but he couldn’t handle the truth. What he didn’t consider was that though Micaiah prophesied evil towards Ahab, he prophesied truth.
i. “Ahab knew in his heart that Micaiah would not fear or flatter him, but only declare the word of Jehovah. This he construed into personal hatred…. Hatred of the messenger of God is clear evidence of willful wickedness.” (Morgan)
7. (18-22) Micaiah reveals the inspiration behind the 400 prophets.
Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and His left. And the LORD said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab king of Israel to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ The LORD said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the Lord said, ‘You shall persuade him and also prevail; go out and do so.’ Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you.”
a. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing: King Ahab and others at the court found it hard to explain how one prophet could be right and 400 prophets could be wrong. Here Micaiah explained the message of the 400 prophets. It is possible that this was just a parable, but it is more likely that Micaiah had an accurate prophetic glimpse into the heavenly drama behind these events.
b. On His right hand and His left: Since the right hand was the place of favor, this may indicate that God spoke to the combined host of heaven, both faithful and fallen angelic beings.
i. Some people forget that Satan and his fellow fallen angels have access to heaven (Job 1:6, Revelation 12:10). There is a well-intentioned but mistaken teaching that God can allow no evil in His presence, meaning that Satan and other fallen angels could not be in His presence. These passages show that God can allow evil in His presence, though He can have no fellowship with evil and one day all evil will be removed from His presence (Revelation 20:14-15).
c. Who will persuade Ahab king of Israel to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead? God wanted to bring judgment against Ahab, so He asked this group of the host of heaven for a volunteer to lead Ahab into battle.
d. I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets: Apparently, one of the fallen angels volunteered for this task. Since Ahab wanted to be deceived, God would give him what he wanted, using a willing fallen angel who worked through willing unfaithful prophets.
i. “The Hebrew that underlies the phrase rendered ‘a spirit’ (came forward) reads literally, ‘the (well-known) spirit,’ i.e., Satan the tempter (as in Job 1:6-12)…. Apparently Micaiah seems to assume among his hearers a working knowledge of the Book of Job.” (Payne)
ii. “This strange incident can only be understood against the background of other Old Testament passages, especially Deuteronomy 13:11 and Ezekiel 14:1-11. both these passages speak of people being enticed by false prophets, in each case as a result of a link with idolatry.” (Selman)
8. (23-28) The reaction of the false prophets and Ahab.
Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah went near and struck Micaiah on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the spirit from the LORD go from me to speak to you?” And Micaiah said, “Indeed you shall see on that day when you go into an inner chamber to hide!” Then the king of Israel said, “Take Micaiah, and return him to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son; and say, ‘Thus says the king: “Put this fellow in prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and water of affliction until I return in peace.”’ But Micaiah said, “If you ever return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Take heed, all you people!”
a. Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah went near and struck Micaiah on the cheek: Zedekiah responded the way some do when they are defeated in an argument – he responded with violence.
b. Put this fellow in prison: King Ahab responded the way many tyrants do when they are confronted with the truth. Ahab wanted Micaiah imprisoned and deprived (feed him with bread of affliction and water of affliction).
i. “The phrase ‘bread of affliction and water of affliction’ may be translated ‘bread and water of scant measure.’” (Dilday)
c. If you ever return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me: The prophet Micaiah made one final and ultimate appeal. He was willing to be judged by whether his prophecy came to pass or not. Since he knew his words were true, it was fitting for him to cry out as they dragged him back to prison, “Take heed, all you people!”
B. The death of King Ahab of Israel.
1. (29) Jehoshaphat and Ahab go into battle.
So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead. And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle; but you put on your robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself, and they went into battle.
a. So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead: It is easy to understand why King Ahab of Israel went to this battle; he didn’t want to believe that Micaiah’s prophecy was true and wanted to courageously oppose it. It is less easy to understand why King Jehoshaphat of Judah went to this battle with Ahab. He should have believed the prophecy of Micaiah and known that the battle would end in disaster and the death of at least Ahab.
i. It may be that Jehoshaphat had a fatalistic attitude towards the will of God, figuring that if it all was God’s will then there was nothing he or anyone else could do about it.
b. I will disguise myself and go into battle; but you put on your robes: Going into the battle, Ahab did not want to be identified as a king and therefore be a special target. He thought this would help protect him against Micaiah’s prophecy of doom. It is more difficult to explain why Jehoshaphat agreed to go into the battle as the only clearly identified king. Perhaps he was either not very smart or he had very great faith.
i. “Ahab pretended herein to honour Jehoshaphat, but intended to save himself, and to elude Micaiah’s prophecy.” (Trapp)
2. (30-34) Jehoshaphat is saved and Ahab dies in battle.
Now the king of Syria had commanded the captains of the chariots who were with him, saying, “Fight with no one small or great, but only with the king of Israel.” So it was, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, “It is the king of Israel!” Therefore they surrounded him to attack; but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him, and God diverted them from him. For so it was, when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him. Now a certain man drew a bow at random, and struck the king of Israel between the joints of his armor. So he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and take me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” The battle increased that day, and the king of Israel propped himself up in his chariot facing the Syrians until evening; and about the time of sunset he died.
a. Fight with no one small or great, but only with the king of Israel: Ahab’s previous mercy to Ben-Hadad (1 Kings 20:31-34) did not win any lasting favor with the rulers of Syria. This strategy of the Syrian army made Ahab’s counterstrategy of disguising himself in battle seem very wise.
i. “Thus doth the unthankful infidel repay the mercy of his late victor…but God had a holy hand in it.” (Trapp)
b. Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him: Finding himself as the only identifiable king in the battle, Jehoshaphat found himself quickly in danger. He cried out to the LORD and was rescued when they turned back from pursuing him.
c. Now a certain man drew a bow at random, and struck the king of Israel: This seemed to be pure chance. It was a certain man, and he pulled his bow at random – but it struck as if it were a sin-seeking missile, hitting right between the joints of his armor. God orchestrated the unintended actions of man to result in an exercise of His judgment.
i. “Probably this man already had shot many arrows, and he went on in his simplicity, little knowing that this particular arrow was to be guided through all the confusion straight to its mark by the unerring knowledge and power of God. Yet so it was.” (Morgan)
ii. “Men may secrete themselves so that other men may never find them; but when the hour of their judgment has come, God takes hold on some ordinary event and makes it the highway on which He comes to carry out His purpose. ‘It just happened,’ says the man of the world. ‘God did it,’ says the man of faith.” (Morgan)
iii. “And now what joy could Ahab’s black soul, ready to depart, have of his ivory house? Who had not rather be a Micaiah in the jail than Ahab in the chariot? Wicked men have the advantage of the way, godly men of the end.” (Trapp)
d. The king of Israel propped himself up in his chariot, facing the Syrians until evening: Ahab faced the end of his life bravely, dying propped…up in his chariot to inspire his troops. When his death became known the battle was over.
i. “It appears that the Israelites and Jews maintained the fight the whole of the day; but when at evening the king died, and this was known, there was a proclamation made, probably with the consent of both Syrians and Israelites, that the war was over.” (Clarke)