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Swimming Upstream

2 Chronicles 18:11-17, CEV

11 All the prophets agreed that Ahab should attack the Syrians at Ramoth and promised that the Lord would help him defeat them.

12 Meanwhile, the messenger who went to get Micaiah whispered, “Micaiah, all the prophets have good news for Ahab. Now go and say the same thing.”

13 “I’ll say whatever the living Lord my God tells me to say,” Micaiah replied.

14 Then Micaiah went up to Ahab, who asked, “Micaiah, should we attack Ramoth?”

“Yes!” Micaiah answered. “The Lord will help you capture the city.”

15 Ahab shouted, “Micaiah, I’ve told you over and over to tell me the truth! What does the Lord really say?”

16 Micaiah answered, “In a vision I saw Israelite soldiers wandering around, lost in the hills like sheep without a shepherd. The Lord said, ‘These troops have no leader. They should go home and not fight.’”

17 Ahab turned to Jehoshaphat and said, “I told you he would bring me bad news!”

Micaiah Swims Upstream

There’s this interesting thing that happens in the Old Testament. The books of Samuel and Kings sketch out the history of Israel from just before they get a king until they are carted off into captivity. And then we go back almost to the beginning of Samuel and repeat the whole story again. This makes up the books of Chronicles. It seems a bit repetitive at first glance, but it turns out this repetition is for a reason. The books of Samuel and Kings are written likely while the people were in exile in Babylon. They were probably written as a way to preserve their teachings and traditions. And they were also likely written to try to explain to the people why they had ended up in captivity in the first place.

But it looks like the books of Chronicles are written later – after the people have been back in the land of Judah for more than a hundred years. Now the risk is that they will forget what captivity was like. That they will forget their cultural distinctives. Or that they will forget the way that God intended for them to live.

With this unique perspective, Chronicles focuses far more on the history of the kingdom of Judah (in the south). But today’s story sees the intersection of the two kingdoms.

Two Kings: Two Kingdoms

So in today’s story there are two kings. King Jehoshephat is king of Judah (the ‘good guys’) and King Ahab is king of Israel (the ‘bad guys’). And given what we know about King Ahab from 2 Kings, this is a fairly fair description. Ahab has a long record of ignoring God, doing whatever he wants, mistreating people and acting in unkingly, unwise ways. And King Jehoshephat, we are told in 2 Chronicles 17, seems to be much more concerned with what God cares about.

Jehoshephat eventually gets to the point where he becomes quite wealthy and powerful. So he decides to sign a treaty with King Ahab by marrying his son to Ahab’s daughter. While he’s visiting Ahab and eating and drinking and celebrating, Ahab invites him to go to war together against the Syrians at a place called Ramoth.

Jehoshephat agrees in principle, but insists on check with God first. So he asks to hear from the prophets.

Ahab agrees, and calls 400 prophets to come. These prophets arrive and agree with Ahab that this is a very fine idea indeed. They sound perfectly convinced that this will make God happy. They don’t seem to have any concerns about this venture going bad at all.

But Jehoshephat isn’t 100% convinced.

A 401st Perspective

So Jehoshephat asks whether there are any other prophets who they could ask.

Maybe by this point he had sobered up a bit from the party and was a little worried about Ahab’s scheme. Perhaps he had a bit of a sinking feeling as he realized how much more he had to lose from this battle then Ahab had. Or indeed, how little he had to gain. Either way, he presses Ahab who eventually replies that there was one more prophetThe only problem was that this man – Micaiah – had a very bad habit of only delivering bad news to Ahab.

Which is not what Ahab wants to hear at this point in the slightest.

Micaiah’s Response

A messenger is sent to find Micaiah. Micaiah is warned about what the kings want to know, and about how the other prophets have responded. So when he finally arrives and the kings ask him what they should do he begins by answering in chorus with the others: this is a great idea – it’ll definitely work!

But apparently even King Ahab knows when he’s being lied to and insists that Micaiah tell the truth. The truth in this case is devastating. Not only does Micaiah prophecy that the fight will go badly – he insists not once but twice that Ahab himself will be killed if he goes into battle.

The Truth Hurts

Unsurprisingly, Ahab throws Micaiah in prison on bread and water rations.

Unsurprisingly, Ahab still goes into battle.

Not only that, but Ahab decides that he can get around all of this by dressing Jehoshaphat up in his robes and putting him at the front and disguising himself as a soldier.

The ruse fails, in the end. The soldiers realize that Jehoshaphat isn’t who he appears to be and leave him alone. An enemy soldier’s unaimed arrow pierces between the layers of Ahab’s armour, mortally wounding him.

We never actually find out what happens to Micaiah. Presumably he is killed by the guards he was entrusted to, because everything that Micaiah prophesied came true. Like so many of the characters we’ve been meeting this summer, his life and story are merely offered in passing as part of the ‘big’ and ‘important’ story the writers think they are telling.

But I suspect that God may still be at work in the inclusion of these stories. I suspect that those of us reading them thousands of years later actually have a unique opportunity to see ourselves in these ‘forgotten’ moments. And I suspect that when we do it may be the passing, ‘unimportant’ characters that we have the most to learn from.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Consider King Jehoshephat. He’s amassed wisdom, wealth and good relations with those around him and decides to try to mend fences with his estranged countrymen. He gets there and is asked by the father of his son’s bride for a ‘favour’. Why do you think it was so easy for this wise man to let himself be dragged into a fight he couldn’t win?
  2. Take a few moments to put yourself in Micaiah’s shoes. He has clearly had interactions with King Ahaz before. He knows what the other 400 prophets have said. What did it take for him to come out and answer the king truthfully with the kind of news he had to share?
  3. What gives us the courage to tell the truth? To act justly? To do the things we know that God is calling us to do?
  4. What allows us to be faithful even in the face of significant challenges and opposition?
  5. Are you willing to ask God today how you can ‘swim upstream’ – towards justice, mercy, humility, radical inclusion, compassion or any of the other traits of the Kingdom – in your responses to the situations and people in your lives?

This summer we are looking at ‘stories you missed’ in the Bible. Feel free to check out the other stories in the series here.

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