Is There Not a Prophet of the LORD?
The beginning is the part of the sermon where I am supposed to tell a story. It would be helpful if it is funny and it absolutely must be interesting, to catch your interest so that you will listen to the sermon. I am going to start with a story, but it’s a long story. In fact, it will last 20 to 30 minutes, the whole length of the sermon.
The story involves Jehoshaphat. It is a true story, a series of historical events recorded in the Old Testament section of the Bible. It is also a rather complex story and it takes some time and effort to understand it.
The story is found in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings tell the story of the people of Israel living in Palestine for a period of about 500 years. The two books of 1 and 2 Chronicles tell the same story from a slightly different perspective.
2 Chronicles 18:1–4 says:
Do you understand what is going on here? You should be willing to ask questions about Scripture. The meaning is not always clear on the surface.
I. The Setting
All stories happen at a specific time and place. This story takes place about 853 B.C., in the middle of the Israelites’ time in Palestine.
The people of Israel were the people that God had chosen to reveal Himself to in a special way. He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and settled them in the land of Palestine – between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River and Dead Sea. They were the people of God, and their purpose was to demonstrate to the people of the world what God was like by the things they taught and by the way they lived together. (Sounds a little bit like the people of God today, the church, doesn’t it?)
But that is not exactly how things turned out. Things went wrong. The people of God sinned. For the most part, they didn’t follow God, and they didn’t tell other people about Him.
You may remember that the first king of Israel in the land of Palestine was Saul. He was followed by the godly King David and then by the wise King Solomon, who in the end proved not to be quite so wise. He led the people of Israel into sin. Because of the sin of God’s people, the nation was then divided into two nations, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. David’s descendants continued to rule the southern kingdom of Judah from Jerusalem, and other kings ruled the northern kingdom Israel from their capital, Samaria.
The people of Judah continued to worship the true God in Jerusalem. The kings of the northern kingdom, Israel, did not want their people going down to the other country to worship in Jerusalem, so they set up a new way of worshipping in the north. They did not say they were going to be worshipping a new god. They simply said they would create a new way of worshipping the same God.
II. The Characters
As our story begins, Jehoshaphat is King of Judah. He is a good and godly king, known for his reforms. As a result, God has given him great wealth and power – and peace.
The northern kingdom, Israel, is ruled by King Ahab. Now Ahab is also a very rich and powerful king. In fact, he may have been richer than Solomon, and he built a new palace in his capital, Samaria, that was inlaid with ivory all over. But Ahab is also an evil king. In fact, we are told that “There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel, his wife.” (1 Kings 21:25) He became evil like the nations around Israel. In fact, in the preceding chapter, 1 Kings 21, Ahab and Jezebel have just murdered a man named Naboth in order to steal his land.
Now, Jehoshaphat remains a good king, but he is not a very wise king. In fact, he can be downright stupid at times. He marries his son to Ahab’s daughter, he sets up some trading missions and economic enterprises with Ahab. Then he goes to visit Ahab and when Ahab asks for his help in a war, Jehoshaphat replies, “I am as you are, and my people as your people; we will join you in the war.” Jehoshaphat remains one of the best kings, but he repeatedly allies himself with Ahab, who is the most evil king in Israel’s history. This is very foolish and wrong. In fact, when this story we are reading is all over, God sends a prophet to Jehoshaphat and asks him in 2 Chronicles 19:2: “Should you help the wicked and make alliances with those who hate the LORD?”
This message is repeated in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial (or Satan)? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? . . . Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.”
Now, I want you to be very clear about what I am saying. We are to follow the example of Jesus, and Jesus loved His enemies. Jesus hung around with sinners like prostitutes and tax collectors. But Jesus did so in order to call the prostitutes and fraud artists and irresponsible drinkers to repentance. He never bought a half-share in a brothel or a beer parlour. God sent His prophets to talk to the evil King Ahab and to call him to repentance. Now when Jehoshaphat goes to visit King Ahab, he does not do so in order to call Ahab to repentance. Instead, he makes an alliance with Ahab and says, “I am as you are.” But Jehoshaphat is wrong. There is a profound difference between Ahab and Jehoshaphat. The principle here is clear. The people of God should not align themselves with people who are allied with evil.
III. The Action (or the Plot)
The action concerns a war, and a war about some place called Ramoth Gilead. King Ahab says to King Jehoshaphat, “Let’s go attack Ramoth Gilead.” Why does King Ahab want to start a war to attack Ramoth Gilead, and why does Jehoshaphat think that is a reasonable thing to do?
To understand this, you have to understand that there is a third powerful kingdom in the area, called Aram or Syria – in the area where the nation of Syria is today. The capital now, as it was then, is Damascus.
Now Aram was ruled by a king named Ben-Hadad, whose name literally means “son of the pagan god Hadad”. Now you have to understand that Ben-Hadad was a very evil king, even more evil than Ahab was. Think Hitler or Stalin and you will have some idea of the kind of man he was. He was arrogant and cruel and he sent his army out to war while he was sitting in his tent drinking himself into a stupor. Ben-Hadad started the war against Israel, and it was a cruel, vicious war. Ben-Hadad’s army slaughtered women and children and took people into slavery. It looked like Ben-Hadad and the Arameans were going to overrun the kingdom of Israel and annihilate them. But God said to Ahab, “In order to demonstrate My power, I am going to defeat the Arameans for you.” And God did. King Ahab’s troops defeated Ben-Hadad’s troops and captured Ben-Hadad. But instead of executing this evil war criminal as he deserved, Ahab said “he is my brother”, made a treaty with him and let him go.
In the terms of the treaty, Ben-Hadad, among other things, promised to give Ahab the city of Ramoth Gilead, which means “the heights of Gilead”. Ramoth Gilead is a fortress on a high point of land, and it controls Gilead, the land on the east side of the Jordan River between the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Aram. Now three years have gone by and Ben-Hadad still has not given Ramoth Gilead to Ahab. He has not kept his promise. Well, why would he? He is an evil man, and Ahab knew he was an evil man when he made the treaty with him. Why would he expect him to keep his promise?
What did I say before? Don’t make alliances with people who are allied with evil. Don’t ever make a deal with evil because the devil never keeps his bargains or delivers what he promises. He promises pleasure and freedom and love, and instead he gives alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases, hatred, guilt, loneliness and despair.
IV. The Religious Aspect
I’ve talked about the setting, the characters and the plot. One final thing you need to know before we look at this story itself – the religious aspect (this is a sermon after all). There are, in this story, two names for God.
The first is Adonai, which means “lord” and is translated in the New International Version and most other versions as “Lord” (see 1 Kings 22:6). It is a common and perfectly acceptable name for God.
The second is “Yahweh”, which is shown in most English translations as LORD, all in capitals (see 1 Kings 22:5). Whenever, you see LORD all in capitals in your Bibles, that is a signal that the Hebrew word is Yahweh. “Yahweh” does not mean “Lord”. It means “I AM”. It is the special name by which God revealed Himself to Moses and the people of Israel. It means “I AM” or the God who really exists. The God who revealed Himself to Israel is not just somebody else’s idea of God, but God as He really exists.
Now Jehoshaphat and Judah worship Yahweh, the all capital LORD, the God who really exists, but Israel, the northern kingdom, and Ahab worship the lowercase Lord, God in general. They have a vaguer understanding of God.
Now that you understand the setting, the characters, the action and the religious aspect, we are ready for the story. 1 Kings 22:1–18 says:
Two Concepts of God
Notice the two concepts of God here – not two gods, but two concepts of God.
Ahab’s god will say anything you want to hear. Do you want to go and attack Ramoth Gilead? Ahab’s god says sure, go and succeed. Do you want your god to be named Yahweh? Okay, his prophets will prophesy in the name of Yahweh. Ahab’s god will say anything he wants. In fact, Ahab’s god is not really a god at all. He is just a vacuum, an empty space which Ahab can fill up with any ideas he wants out of his own head. When it comes down to it, Ahab doesn’t really believe there is a living God there at all.
Now look at the contrast. Micaiah’s God is Yahweh. Micaiah says, “As surely as Yahweh lives”. Yahweh is alive, and active. Micaiah’s God doesn’t say anything you want. Micaiah says, “I can tell him only what Yahweh tells me.” Micaiah’s God, Yahweh, speaks. In fact, Yahweh is not called Yahweh because Micaiah decided to call him that. He is called Yahweh because that is the name Yahweh said to call Him by. Yahweh is the name that God Himself revealed to Moses. Yahweh is “I AM”, the God who truly exists.
Note that both sets of prophets still call their god God. They still call Him Lord, Adonai. They use the same words, but they mean profoundly different things. They have entirely different concepts of God.
This is extremely relevant to us, because the same two concepts of God are around today, competing for our attention.
Recently, a group connected to a church plant decided to do some research. They sent people out to find out what people who didn’t go to church were thinking. They asked people on the street, “If you were to look for a church, what would it have to look like?” One woman said, “It would have to be a place that shares my values.” Think about that. The woman does not want to go to church to learn about God. She wants to go to church to instruct the church in what is important. She doesn’t want God to tell her what to do. She wants to tell God what to do.
A few weeks ago, I was in my car flipping through radio channels and I came across a talk station. The guest was a woman who had studied religion on the Internet. In fact, she had written a book about it, called Give me that Online Religion. The Internet is this system which connects computers all over the world, and you can put up on the Internet any information you want. People have put on the Internet their ideas of God. In fact, the two most common topics on the Internet are pornography and religion.
Now this woman expert said that Internet religion is great because you can go on the Internet, surf over all the sites and “choose a religion which suits you”. Notice the phrasing: “Choose a religion that suits you”. Not the religion that is true. This is not a search for truth. There is no truth. Truth is whatever you want to make it.
This is Ahab’s concept of God, a god who will tell you anything you want to hear.
Should I attack Ramoth Gilead? Sure, go ahead. Should I marry an evil woman who will lead me to do evil? Sure. Is it okay if I murder Naboth and steal his vineyard? Sure. Should I make an alliance with someone who is allied with evil? No problem. Is it okay if I sleep with my girlfriend? Sure, God won’t mind. Would it be alright if I cheated on my income tax? Yes. It doesn’t matter what religion people follow because they all lead to the same place anyway, right, God? Right. Will God make me rich? Sure. Can I have a Porsche? No problem.
In contrast is the God who really exists, the God who speaks, the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. This God does not say whatever you want. No, this God, the true God, calls the shots. He determines right and wrong. Extramarital sex is wrong. Abortion is wrong. Giving to the poor is an obligation. You have to love your wife as Christ loved the church, to the point of laying down your life for her. Well, I’m not too comfortable with some of those things. They’re hard. Too bad. God said it. The true God knows better than we do, and He calls the shots, He makes the decisions.
We all have to choose between whatever we want and the God who really exists, between Ahab’s concept of God and Micaiah’s concept of God. But remember that any religion which we control won’t be much good to us in the end, because it will be weaker than we are. The Old Testament makes fun of people who worshipped idols. You pick up your idol and carry it around, but don’t expect it to do anything for you – it can’t even walk.
Micaiah’s prophecy continues in 1 Kings 22:19–23:
Why does Micaiah say all this? Think of the context. Back in verse 10, it says: “Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them.”
This is a threshing floor, a large, high flat area in front of the city of Samaria. Behind them is the city of Samaria, a newly built city, on a hill, with the ivory palace of Ahab gleaming in the sun. The two kings are dressed in their royal robes – not their everyday clothes, but gold and purple. They are sitting on thrones, not chairs. They are surrounded by their courtiers and servants and armies. The people are gathered around watching. And in front of them are 400 prophets prophesying, not just standing there talking, but dancing and jumping. Zedekiah has props, iron horns, and he is acting out how Ahab is going to conquer his enemies. This is spectacle, power and majesty.
In contrast to all this, you have Micaiah, who wasn’t even invited to the party in the first place, dressed in ordinary clothes, Micaiah the lonely representative of Yahweh (who gets thrown into jail by Ahab because he doesn’t like what Micaiah says, by the way).
Micaiah could feel outnumbered and weak and insignificant and apologetic, but listen to what he says: “I saw the LORD sitting on His throne with all the host of heaven standing around Him.” Micaiah has a vision of truth, he has a vision of the true God.
Ahab has a palace of ivory, but Yahweh’s streets are paved with gold. Ahab has hundreds of prophets and thousands of soldiers. Yahweh has uncountable legions of angels made of fire. The contrast is a joke. Ahab has this religion he has created, but he is being judged by the God who really exists. He thinks he is powerful, but in contrast to the power of the real God, he is nothing. Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah (40:21–23):
It doesn’t matter that Micaiah is outnumbered 400 to 1, because he has the living God on his side, he has truth on his side.
Every story has to have an ending. How do you think this story is going to end?
1 Kings 22:29 says: “So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead.”
What did I tell you about Jehoshaphat? He is a good king, but he is stupid. He wants to do the right thing, He wants to serve the true God, He insists on asking for advice from a prophet of Yahweh. But then he doesn’t take Yahweh’s advice. He is stupid.
But is he really that different from us? We study the Bible and try to understand what God wants, but then we say, “But God couldn’t really mean that. I’ve already made plans to do this. And I don’t really want to lose face in front of my friends. They would think I was a wimp.”
1 Kings 22:30–33 says:
Remember what I told you earlier. Do not be allied with people who are allied with evil because the devil never keeps his promises.
When Ahab earlier went to war against the Arameans and captured Ben-Hadad, Ahab spared Ben-Hadad’s life. And how does Ben-Hadad repay him for this? In the next war, Ben-Hadad tells his soldiers to especially seek Ahab and kill him. Nice guy. You don’t make alliances with people who are allied with evil because the devil does not keep his promises. The devil makes alliances with people in order to destroy them.
And look what Ahab does to Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat comes to help Ahab in Ahab’s war, and how does Ahab reward him? Ahab says to Jehoshaphat, “You dress up in your royal robes and I will go in disguise. (That way, they will kill you instead of me.)” Nice guy. Don’t make alliances with people who are allied with evil because the devil does not keep his promises. The devil makes alliances with people in order to destroy them.
Finally, 1 Kings 22:34,37 says “But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor. The king told his chariot driver, ‘Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.’ . . . So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried him there.”
An arrow, shot at random, happens to hit the joint between the pieces of Ahab’s armour. It is a shot in a million, a fluke. . . . No, it’s God. Ahab can disguise himself and fool Ben-Hadad’s soldiers, but he can’t fool God. The LORD Yahweh is the God who really exists, and you can’t hide from Him. He will always find you.
The story is over. Think about it. Learn from it.