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STUDIES IN OLD TESTAMENT MINISTRY

 

Bristol Road 27th October 2004

MICAIAH – MAN OF VISION

I Kings 22

“Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”     Matthew 16 v 14

MICAIAH is a prophet in the mould of Elijah – but the narrative about him is much shorter.  

You should be aware that Josephus identifies him with the anonymous prophet in 1 Ki. 20:35-43.  If that is the case then it is quite possible that when Ahab sent for Micaiah – he already had him in prison.

35 By the word of the Lord one of the sons of the prophets said to his companion, “Strike me with your weapon,” but the man refused.

36 So the prophet said, “Because you have not obeyed the Lord, as soon as you leave me a lion will kill you.” And after the man went away, a lion found him and killed him.

37 The prophet found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” So the man struck him and wounded him. 38 Then the prophet went and stood by the road waiting for the king. He disguised himself with his headband down over his eyes. 39 As the king passed by, the prophet called out to him, “Your servant went into the thick of the battle, and someone came to me with a captive and said, ‘Guard this man. If he is missing, it will be your life for his life, or you must pay a talent of silver.’ 40 While your servant was busy here and there, the man disappeared.”

“That is your sentence,” the king of Israel said. “You have pronounced it yourself.”

41 Then the prophet quickly removed the headband from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognised him as one of the prophets. 42 He said to the king, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’ ” 43 Sullen and angry, the king of Israel went to his palace in Samaria.

But although the narrative is short it is very dramatic.  As a pattern for the prophets we notice too that his namesake MICAH quotes at the beginning of his prophecy from the words of Micaiah:[i]

1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

2 Hear, O peoples, all of you,                           1 Kings 22 v 28

listen, O earth and all who are in it,

that the Sovereign Lord may witness against you,

the Lord from his holy temple.

28 Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!”

This allusion is not accidental – but an intentional quotation by MICAH to associate himself with the uncompromising stand taken by his earlier namesake.

MICAIAH then is marked out by these things:

He is UNCOMPROMISING and unpopular

He will not be diverted from the word God gives him

NO amount of pressure from Ahab or subtle suggestion by Ahab’s messenger will divert him from that truth

His prophecies are marked by VISIONS

He has every confidence that the word of the Lord will be fulfilled.

Such a high standard is surely a good role model for a leader in the church of today – when so many suggest that the message be made more palatable and the truth be bent so as to please the hearers.

Micaiah’s words also raise certain DIFFICULTIES.

So I want to set out for you this morning these main strands of his ministry:

1.               A comparison with John the Baptist and Elijah

2.               A ministry characterized by refusal to compromise

3.               A ministry characterized by vision

4.               A ministry that provokes confrontation

5.               A particular problem  v 22

MICAIAH, ELIJAH and JOHN THE BAPTIST

You will be familiar with the association in the minds of the people of Jesus’ day between John the Baptist and Elijah.  We remember that Jesus Himself directly associated the two.

Micaiah also comes from that NOBLE TRADITION – like Elijah, whose ministry took place at the same time – Micaiah is not afraid to talk out, he has a profound influence on the rulers of the day.

The formula used by Elijah:

17 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

is an echo of the almost universal “Thus says the Lord” but with a particular emphasis. The prophet knows his position in the grand scheme of things, he is not afraid to speak to kings – and he certainly expects that the Lord’s words spoken by him will be fulfilled.

14 But Micaiah said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.”

You will notice the absolute authority of the prophet is the authority of his Lord.

That is a very good rule for leadership styles today.

The comparison with John the Baptist is also clear:  Like John, Micaiah is imprisoned – and like John, Micaiah is respected in that strange way in which both Ahab and Herod respected the prophets of their day.

MARK 6

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

Herod’s ambivalence reminds us of the way in which God’s spokesmen have been regarded down through the ages.

Many are quick to dismiss their words – but somehow fascinated by the bearing and power with which they minister.

Ahab knows what kind of word Micaiah will bring:

8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one man through whom we can enquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

“The king should not say that,” Jehoshaphat replied.

Jehoshaphat was not taken in by the unison prophecy of Ahab’s prophets and he suggests that there must be a prophet of the Lord who might be consulted.

A MINISTRY THAT REFUSES TO COMPROMISE

5 But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the Lord.”

6 So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”

“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can enquire of?”

Ahab may regard his own prophets as authoritative – but I suspect he knows what we know, that they are Yes-men ready to tell it not as it is but as the king wants to hear it.

Ahab KNOWS what kind of word Micaiah will bring.

8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one man through whom we can enquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

12 All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favourably.”

14 But Micaiah said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.”

15 When he arrived, the king asked him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”

“Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

16 The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”

There are two very revealing statements here:

·        Micaiah’s refusal to tell anything but the truth God gave him

·        Ahab’s recognition that Micaiah was teasing him

TRUTH is a more valuable commodity than comfortable words.

The mark of divine authority is on the messenger – and recognised by the unbelieving Ahab.

We also notice the stark contrast between the performing prophets and Micaiah.

I suggest to you that a faithful minister of the Word will be known not by eloquence or by the way in which his ministry is easy to hear – but by the measure of its TRUTH and ITS REFUSAL TO BEND.

That will not make for EASY LISTENING – but it will certainly be immensely POWERFUL.

The STYLE of the messenger is adapted to the audience – but never departs from its truth.

Micaiah may use a whole range of mannerisms as he speaks – he will draw on humour and sarcasm – he will tell a good story – and impart a vision – but what he says is marked most of all by its authoritative truth.

A MINISTRY CHARACTERISED BY VISION

Certainly the most distinctive element of Micaiah’s short ministry is HIS VISIONS:

17 Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’ ”

18 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?”

19 Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing round him on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’

“One suggested this, and another that. 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’

22 “ ‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.

“ ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

“ ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’

23 “So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”

Two very different – but highly memorable visions.

Not every prophet has them or uses them – but for some the vision is powerful and distinctive.

THE FIRST VISION IS THE MOST DIRECT

 17 Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’ ”

We recall that Ahab’s death has already been the subject of a prophecy:

17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’ ”   1 KINGS 21:17 – 19

Now Micaiah paints a graphic image of a defeated army scattering as its king is killed.

17 Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’ ”

Fulfilled:-  verses 34-38

34 But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armour. The king told his chariot driver, “Wheel round and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.” 35 All day long the battle raged, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that morning he died. 36 As the sun was setting, a cry spread through the army: “Every man to his town; everyone to his land!”

37 So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried him there. 38 They washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria (where the prostitutes bathed) and the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared.

The meaning was not lost on Ahab and I guess not on any of the others who heard it either.

How those words and that description must have haunted Ahab as he prepared for battle, and as he tried to confuse the enemy and rode in his chariot in ordinary battle-dress.   There is something most compelling about the words that the prophet uses – much more so than a simple statement about defeat.

Some of the preachers who have most influenced me have been those able to describe a Biblical narrative in such a way as to create a picture in the mind. I have always admired that ability.

In an age when the spoken word had priority over the written word – such a visionary element to the word was so important.

THE SECOND VISION IS MORE DIFFICULT

We will look at the theological problem posed by the second vision in a moment. At this point we want simply to see how graphically Micaiah paints an alternative canvas to the real scene in front of him:

10 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. 11 Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had made iron horns and he declared, “This is what the Lord says: ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’ ”

12 All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

Visual aids (like those used by Ezekiel) have their place in the presentation of the prophet’s message.

Such expertise is not the province of the Lord’s prophet only – indeed, as in today’s TV age the false prophets have the technique mastered too.

Zedekiah has (at considerable expense I guess) made iron horns as such an aid and he uses it forcibly to the company gathered before the two kings.

Micaiah offers AN ALTERNATIVE PICTURE:

19 Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing round him on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’

Once again the ability to keep the message firmly in the minds of his hearers is paramount.   As Micaiah begins his description we sense the royal crowd and retinue become quiet to hear the vision described.

That there are problems to our minds with the detail of the vision do not in any way diminish the central message of Micaiah’s second vision.

Ahab’s prophets are deceiving him – the king will go to his death.

A MESSAGE THAT PROVOKES CONFRONTATION

One of the things that I have always felt my own ministry lacked is the ability to get the application of the truth across forcibly.

Yet there are times when the presentation of God’s Word must provoke a response.

We notice this in the ministry of Micaiah in particular in the reactions of AHAB and of ZEDEKIAH

18 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?”

24 Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked.

25 Micaiah replied, “You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room.”

26 The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son 27 and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’ ”

28 Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!”

From Ahab Micaiah received nothing but contempt and imprisonment; from Zedekiah he received a profound public insult.  

From history – and, in particular, his namesake Micah he receives a fitting tribute.

A PARTICULAR PROBLEM

The main difficulty in the passage is the SECOND VISION and its apparent reference to God sanctioning a lying spirit.

Numerous attempts are made to get round this difficulty.  It arises of course from the suggestion that God who is wholly good could sanction lies.

The difficulties are compounded by the language that Micaiah uses:

19 Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing round him on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’

“One suggested this, and another that. 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’

22 “ ‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.

“ ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

“ ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’

23 “So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”

In a vision that foreshadows Isaiah Micaiah sets the scene.

Perhaps that it exactly what it is – a setting of the scene – a kind of further dramatic episode to underscore the lying prophets and Ahab’s fate.

It reminds us of the prologue to JOB.

It also reminds us of the ministry of our Lord – in, for example, the parable of the unjust judge.

What do you think?

(Examples from various commentaries follow below. . .)

Modern students of the Bible hardly know how to comprehend this until they are reminded that both Jeremiah (20:7, 10) and Ezekiel (14:9) describe Yahweh as deceiving or enticing a prophet. This accords with Micaiah’s explanation of his vision in v 23, to the effect that this heavenly Spirit has become a lying spirit in the mouth of the king’s prophets. This ultimately means that Yahweh has spoken unfavorably against the king, because the encouraging oracles of his deceived prophets will deceive him into doing himself harm. This leads to the third episode in which the question of where the greater authority lies is brought to a head (vv 24–25)

 

Word Commentary on 1Kings

This strange story raises the question of whether a prophecy can be known to be true or false. There is no easy answer to this problem. The criterion offered in Dt. 18:22 can be applied only in retrospect; an alternative criterion, in Dt. 13:1–3, places the emphasis on whether the prophet leads people towards or away from serving the true God, and not on whether his words come true.

[1]

[2]Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (1 Ki 22:1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

Then Micaiah said, “I’m not through. I have something else to say to you that you ought to hear.” And he gives a parable. You could call it a parable that is the reductio ad absurdum. It is a preposterous parable, a parable by contrast. (You will not find parables like this until you come to our Lord’s teaching as recorded by Luke. Take, for example, the parable of the unjust judge: God is not an unjust judge.)

[3]McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (1 Ki 22:18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

22:18–23 King Ahab presented this to Jehoshaphat as evidence that Micaiah could speak nothing but evil against him. Then the brave prophet spoke up again. He related a vision in which a lying spirit, appearing before the Lord, agreed to trick Ahab into going against Ramoth Gilead and be slain. The lying spirit would put this advice into the mouth of all the king’s prophets. This is an example of how God, while not the author of evil, uses it to achieve His ultimate ends. He sent the lying spirit only in the sense that He permitted it.[4]

[5]MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (electronic ed.) (1 Ki 22:18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


[This statement, especially to those who have taken the narrative literally, and who have seen in “the spirit” either one of the angels of God, or Satan himself, has presented almost insuperable difficulties. The main difficulty lies in the fact that the Almighty and All Holy is here made to give His sanction to deceit and lying, for the purpose of tempting Ahab to his death. We have precisely the same difficulty, though, if possible, more directly expressed in Ezek. 14:9: “If the prophet be deceived…I the Lord have deceived that prophet.” Cf. Jer. 20:7; 1 Sam. 16:15. But this difficulty vanishes if we remember that this is authropopathic language, and is merely meant to convey that God had “taken the house of Israel in their own heart,” because they were “estranged from Him through their idols” (Ezek. 14:5). Ahab wished to be guided by false prophets, and the justice of God decreed that he should be guided by them to his ruin. Sin is punished by sin. “God proves His holiness most of all by this, that He punishes evil by evil, and destroys it by itself” (Bähr). Ahab had chosen lying instead of truth: by lying—according to the lex talionis—he should be destroyed. The difficulty, in fact, is that of the permission of evil in the world; of the use of existent evil by God to accomplish His purposes of good],[6]

The commentator points to Jeremiah and Ezekiel as evidence of the perception that God seems to deceive:

Jeremiah’s Complaint

7 O Lord, you deceiveda me, and I was deceived;a

you overpowered me and prevailed.

I am ridiculed all day long;

everyone mocks me.

8 Whenever I speak, I cry out

proclaiming violence and destruction.

So the word of the Lord has brought me

insult and reproach all day long.

9 But if I say, “I will not mention him

or speak any more in his name,”

his word is in my heart like a fire,

a fire shut up in my bones.

I am weary of holding it in;

indeed, I cannot.

10 I hear many whispering,

“Terror on every side!

Report him! Let’s report him!”

All my friends

are waiting for me to slip, saying,

“Perhaps he will be deceived;

then we will prevail over him

and take our revenge on him.”

[7]

EZEKIEL 14:

7 “ ‘When any Israelite or any alien living in Israel separates himself from me and sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling-block before his face and then goes to a prophet to enquire of me, I the Lord will answer him myself. 8 I will set my face against that man and make him an example and a byword. I will cut him off from my people. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

9 “ ‘And if the prophet is enticed to utter a prophecy, I the Lord have enticed that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and destroy him from among my people Israel. 10 They will bear their guilt—the prophet will be as guilty as the one who consults him. 11 Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me, nor will they defile themselves any more with all their sins. They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’ ”

[8]

I feel we have three alternatives:

1.                To explain the vision as a PARABLE

To compare with Jesus’ parable of the unjust judge

2.                To explain it as the Lord over-ruling evil – permitting it for His purpose

3.                To accept it as it is and say “I don’t understand”

In any event I commend to you Micaiah as an example of an uncompromising prophet of vision – who even now has the ability to challenge our preconceptions about God and the way He overrules history.


----

[6]The Pulpit Commentary: 1 Kings. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (535). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

a Or persuaded

a Or persuaded

[7]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1984; Publsihed in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996 (electronic edition.) (Je 20:7). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[8]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1984; Publsihed in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996 (electronic edition.) (Eze 14:7). London: Hodder & Stoughton.


----

[i] 3. Peculiarities

a) The Two Prophets bearing the Name of Micah (or Micaiah)

Already 1 Kings 22:8ff (and 2 Chron. 18) mentions a prophet by the name of Micaiah who laboured at king Ahab's time in Israel. He warned Ahab and Jehoshaphat against the war with Syria but he was not taken seriously. It is very striking that the last words of this prophet Micaiah literally correspond with the first words of Micah the Morasthite "Hear, all ye people" ( hebr . schim'u ' ammim kullam; compare 1 Kings 22:28; 2 Chron. 18:27 with Micah 1:2). The second prophet Micah thus starts where the first ended.

http://www.biblecentre.org/commentaries/ar_37_ot_micah.htm

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