Today’s lesson is set in the period of the divided kingdom. Israel did not last very long as a single kingdom. There were only three kings who reigned over a united Israel – Saul, David and Solomon – and after Solomon the kingdom split north and south and the king of Israel sat in Samaria in the north and the king of Judah in the south sat in Jerusalem.
The period of the divided kingdom is not particularly glorious. Both kingdoms fell into apostasy, adopting the culture and customs of the surrounding tribes and worshiping their gods. The kingdom of Judah had a good king every now and then and this kingdom lasted about three hundred and fifty years before falling to Babylon in 586 BC.
In the northern kingdom almost all of the kings were corrupt and this kingdom lasted for only about 200 years before falling to the Assyrians in 722 BC.
Our lesson today takes place during the reign of King Ahab in Samaria. Ahab was one of the worst kings in Israel’s history and was encouraged in his evil by his wife Jezebel whose very name has come to mean evil woman.
1 Kings 21:25-26English Standard Version (ESV)
25 (There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. 26 He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.)
Our lesson today starts with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, making a visit to Ahab’s court in Samaria. Jehoshaphat was a good king and had enjoyed military victories during his reign in Judah:
Jehoshaphat Reigns Well in Judah
II Chronicles 17: 2 He placed troops in all the fortified cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah and in the cities of Ephraim which Asa his father had captured. 3The LORD was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the example of his father David’s earlier days and did not seek the Baals, 4but sought the God of his father, followed His commandments, and did not act as Israel did.…
10The fear of the Lord fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not go to war against Jehoshaphat. 11Some Philistines brought Jehoshaphat gifts and silver as tribute, and the Arabs brought him flocks: seven thousand seven hundred rams and seven thousand seven hundred goats. 12Jehoshaphat became more and more powerful; he built forts and store cities in Judah 13and had large supplies in the towns of Judah. He also kept experienced fighting men in Jerusalem.
So here comes Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat into Ahab’s kingdom. Jehoshaphat, the great warrior who was feared by the kingdoms about. Bad King Ahab starts working the situation immediately.
There is some reason to believe that Ahab’s Israel actually had a legal right to the city of Ramoth Gilead, perhaps because of a treaty with the Syrian King Ben Haddad. But until old Jehoshaphat came to town Ahab had apparently decided to leave well enough alone and not venture east against the city of Ramoth Gilead. But as soon as Jehoshaphat and his entourage arrive in sunny Samaria, Ahab sees his opportunity and goes immediately to work. He starts his political maneuvering in a rather devious way, speaking not to his equal and peer, King Jehoshaphat, but to Jehoshaphat’s servants. The account of this episode in II Chronicles tells us more of Ahab’s manipulation or seduction of Jehoshaphat:
2 Chronicles 18 King James Version (KJV)
18 Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab.
2 And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramothgilead.
3 And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramothgilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war.
While we know that Jehoshaphat was a good man, a God-fearing man whom the Lord had blessed, there is reason to believe that he was naïve, at least when it came to his dealings with Ahab.
Ahab was a man who ought to have been avoided, and if Jehoshaphat had had his eyes open, he should have known that, yet Jehoshaphat makes a trip to Samaria, apparently of his own volition.
Jehoshaphat is quick to pledge his troops in the support of Ahab’s venture. A more prudent and sophisticated king might have been more reluctant here.
In this negligence, Jehoshaphat is not a good example for the Christian. We are to be is “Wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Matt 10: 16 Some have said that Christians these days are very good on the harmless as doves part, but not so great when it comes to being “wise as serpents.” We are to be a discriminating people. Not racial discrimination, but the ability to discriminate or discern good from evil.
The spiritual gift of discernment is also known as the gift of “discernment of spirits” or “distinguishing between spirits.” The Greek word for the gift of discernment is Diakrisis. The word describes being able to distinguish, discern, judge or appraise a person, statement, situation, or environment. In the New Testament it describes the ability to distinguish between spirits as in 1 Corinthians 12:10, and to discern good and evil as in Hebrews 5:14.
Jehoshaphat is nonetheless sober enough to request that they seek the counsel of the Lord before going into battle and he is smart enough to see through the charade of “prophesy” that Ahab’s court put on.
Look at the total corruption in Samaria. Ahab has surrounded himself with 400 yes men who act under the guise of faithfulness to God but who are empty suits who think of nothing but the favor of the corrupt king.
The corruption is broad – 400 prophets
The corruption is sophisticated and subtle, employing the methods and
look of the true prophets of God. Thus Zedekiah uses a common religious formula, adopting the practice of symbolic actions (see I Kings 11:40) and using the horn as a symbol of power:
The Blessings of the Twelve Tribes
…16And with the choice things of the earth and its fullness, And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush. Let it come to the head of Joseph, And to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers. 17″As the firstborn of his ox, majesty is his, And his horns are the horns of the wild ox; With them he will push the peoples, All at once, to the ends of the earth. And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim, And those are the thousands of Manasseh.” 18Of Zebulun he said, “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going forth, And, Issachar, in your tents.…
New American Standard Bible
The corruption of Israel is audacious. Even in the face of a true prophesy from God, the yes men of Ahab are bold:
24Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit froma the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked.
Zedekiah is a false prophet. He has no word from the Lord. Yet he is bold enough to humiliate God’s true prophet and to deny God’s truth that has been put immediately before him. There is no fear of God here!
The corruption of the nation is so deep that the lie is enforced by the power of the state. The one man who is true to God is imprisoned.
The corruption of Israel leads to confusion. Even the godly King Jehoshaphat is at last persuaded to act against the true counsel of God.
The corruption of Israel leads to catastrophe and defeat. Israel is defeated at Ramoth Gilead and the nation is scattered like sheep without a shepherd. They are men without a master, which is a recipe for chaos and weakness.
Finally, the truth of God is unaffected by public opinion. Despite the fact that the experts and the majority supported the idea that Israel would prevail in the battle, they were routed, just as Micaiah had prophesied.