Ahab and Jehoshaphat

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:

Study Bible
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.


Psalm 65

A Christian might turn to the Psalms for several reasons. First, we think of the Psalms as a means of private devotion. These poems, as they are collected in the Bible, were the hymn book of the Second Temple and thus originally used in formal, corporate worship. But today they are often read by individual Christians in connection with private prayer as we face the challenges of life on this earth. Thus, in the Psalms, we may find comfort; we may find emotions that we identify with – frustration, disappointment, grief, happiness, joy.

But the Psalms may not be the first book of the Bible we think of when we think of theology.

But in today’s lesson, in this little, thirteen-verse Psalm about midway through the book, we might find plenty.

At first glance, this Psalm may seem rather generic. It begins, like many other Psalms, with an expression of praise. The Psalmist goes on to praise God for His many gifts to mankind and ends the Psalm with a poetic, almost romantic, description of the land and God’s role in bringing forth its bounty.
But on closer examination we find a remarkable thing. This Psalm, written perhaps a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, is chock full of the Gospel.

I. Like in the Gospel, this Psalm makes clear that God’s revelation of himself is not limited to Israel, but extends to and is aimed at the entire world.

First of all, this Psalm makes clear that God is not merely the God of Israel; he is God over all the Earth, over all of creation. Moreover, Israel does not have the experience of God all to itself: “To you all flesh shall come.” (verse 3) The God of Israel is “the hope of all the ends of the Earth.” (verse 5) And those who dwell at the ends of the earth (the nations, the gentiles) have some intimation, intuition or knowledge or anticipation of Him as they are “in awe of [His] signs.” (verse 8)

We see much of the same thought in Paul’s writing:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him . . .
Romans 1: 18-21

II. Just as in the Gospel, this Psalm makes clear that salvation is of God.

Paul writes to the Ephesians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2: 8-9)

We know this verse to have been the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation some 1400 years after Paul wrote it. But did we know that a Psalmist, writing a thousand years before Paul, had said much the same thing.

In Psalm 65 we hear that
You [God] atone for our transgressions. (verse 3)
The Hebrew word that is here translated “atone” is the word “kaphar.” A form of that word is used in Deuteronomy 32: 43 “ . . . he [God] will make atonement for his land and people”

Although the verb “kaphar” is translated as “forgiveness” in some translations, the idea in the original may connote something more active than forgiveness. As the notes in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance say of the verb:
It is conceived that God in His sovereignty may himself provide an atonement or covering for men and their sins which could not be provided by men.

If that is not a statement of the Gospel, I don’t know what is.

More on this Psalm as it is developed in class . . .

Psalm 63


A few weeks ago we studied Psalm 42, the “as the hart panteth after the waterbrook” Psalm. We talked then about how that Psalm might be read as an individual devotion and how we might tend to think of the Psalms as just that – the work of solitary individuals (David himself, ,maybe) pouring their souls out to God. Maybe even while they are hidden away in the hills before or after some battle or another.

But Psalm 42 carries within it lots of evidence that corporate worship – formal, “church” worship, if you will – was of profound and fundamental importance to the Psalmist. There we found evidence that the Psalmist’s experience of God – his “taste” of God, if you will – was first of all in Temple worship. We pointed to the Psalmist’s reference to his leading of the procession into the Temple, his singing songs and observance of a festival. All of that, we said, was of formal, institutional religion and emphasized the importance of formal, corporate worship as a primary means of knowing God.

This week we saw much of the same in Psalm 62. The Psalm begins with an expression of longing for God. Here, as in Psalm 42, the metaphor employed is that of physical thirst: “my soul thirsts for you. . . as in a dry and weary land. . .”

But again, the reference to corporate worship is obvious: “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and your glory.” Indeed, the Psalmist, when alone on his bed, remembers the God he has experienced in the sanctuary.

Formal worship is important. It is formative. It is central to the life of the Christian. It is one primary means by which he or she comes to know and experience God.

Psalm 42

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?[b]
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.


When I think of the Psalms, I think of David. Lots of the Psalms are attributed to him. Some, like Psalm 51, have to do with events in his life. David was Israel’s rock star. Chapter one of his story is his dramatic slaying of the gigantic captain of the Philistine army; this while he was just a lad. The shepherd boy accepts the challenge of Goliath out of devotion to the God of Israel. Older men – seasoned warriors – are afraid of the giant, but David, the humble shepherd boy who has “slain the lion and the bear with his hands,” steps up and kills the man who dared to profane the name of the God of Israel. We can go on from there to consider David’s career as a warrior in Saul’s army. We know what the adoring crowds said of him. It was enough to make the king himself jealous: “Saul has slain thousands, but David tens of thousands.” On top of all that there is David’s reputation as a poet and musician. He wrote songs in praise to God, some of which have lasted for three thousand years and his harp playing was the one thing that could cool the manic King Saul’s savage breast. Given all of this, we may see David as a larger than life romantic figure; a combination of George Clooney, Jackson Browne and John Rambo.

Thus, when I think of the Psalms, I think of them being written by David, or somebody like him. Somebody out under the stars on the desert plain or high in the mountain meadows of Judah. Someone “training his arms for battle.” This idea is not without some support in the Psalms themselves as many of them are individualistic, existential complaints or praises.

Look at Psalm 42. The poem starts with one man’s emotional statement of his own desire; his desire for God. The writer goes on to complain of his existential agony in exile. This looks personal, individual. But when we get to verse four of the poem, we see that the Psalmist’s experience of the God he thirsts for was formed in church.

Or the Old Testament version of church, anyway. For when the Psalmist speaks of his nearness to God, his taste of God, it is clear that he gained that experience in formal, corporate worship. When the Psalmist experienced God, the Psalmist was leading the throng in procession into the Temple in Jerusalem. They were singing songs of praise and were celebrating a festival. This little verse is a near-complete outline of formal, communal religion.

Thus, the worship the Psalmist knew was associated with a particular place and institution – the Temple. And worship there was corporate – the Psalmist led “the throng.” Moreover, they were singing songs in celebration of a festival, all of which establishes that he was a part of an ongoing, established tradition; one with its own liturgy and calendar.

This is enough to remind us that the religion of the Bible – both of the Old and New Testaments – is a corporate, communal experience that involves the individual being taught and discipled. However romantic the notion of the lone poet on the distant mountain giving praise to God may be, this Psalm reminds us that the knowledge of God, the experience of him, is usually communal and fostered by learning and form and tradition.

This may be a lesson to us modern Americans. We tend to be individualistic and romantic in our view of the world and of faith. We may see ourselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” This Psalm may remind us that spirituality is learned and fostered through formal, corporate religion.

Psalm 42: Review and Preview

Last Sunday we began our study of Psalm 42 by considering the nature of the Psalmist’s religion.

We said, first of all, that the Psalmist’s religion was a personal faith. It was experiental – based at least in part on the experience of God in life. His faith is no second hand faith. The Psalmist has known answered prayer. He has known deliverance. He has known repentance.

We also observed that the Psalmist’s faith was emotional. It was passionate. His longing for God is as strong as an animal’s thirst.

Third, we noticed the honesty of the Psalmist’s relationship with God. He did not put a happy face on his pain and disappointment as he addressed God.

Next Sunday we will talk about what this Psalm may say about the communal or corporate nature of the Psalmist’s religion and what that may imply for our lives.