THIS WEEK’S STUDY: 1 Kings 22; 2 Kings 1; 2 Chron. 17-21
MEMORY TEXT: “Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper” (2 Chron. 20:20).
NOT EVERY PROPHET WHO SPEAKS IN THE NAME OF THE LORD IS TELLING THE TRUTH. Many voices claim to speak for God. Some are genuine, some are false. The issues were remarkably similar in the days of the monarchy. How was a king — or an ordinary believer — to know which voice to believe? This week’s lesson tells how men great and small struggled with that question; some won through to truth. Others made the wrong choice and paid with their lives.
OVERVIEW: PROPHETS YOU CAN TRUST
I. FOUR HUNDRED PROPHETS TO ONE: 1 Kings 22; 2 Chron. 18
II. A SURVIVOR REBUKED: 2 Chron. 19
III. A KING LEARNS TO TRUST: 2 Chron. 20
IV. A CAPTAIN LEARNS TO TRUST: 2 Kings 1
LISTENING TO THE RIGHT VOICE: A voice whispers, “This is the way. Another voice whispers, “No, this is the way.” If both voices claim to carry a special message from the Lord, how can we know which one is right? Our lesson this week deals with a cluster of events in which prophets play a key role. Ahab, a king with a bad reputation but still with a conscience partially alive, called on prophets for advice. Jehoshaphat, a king with a good reputation but now in a compromising situation, had serious second thoughts. The confrontation between the prophets and the kings which followed teaches us a great deal about prophets, visions, and God’s ways with his people.
Jehoshaphat survived and learned to listen to the right prophets. Others learned that lesson too, even in the wayward kingdom of Israel. God showed that he could teach his people which voice to respect. It required forcefulness; but he got his message through.
I. FOUR HUNDRED PROPHETS TO ONE: 1 Kings 22; 2 Chron. 18
Erratic King Ahab and righteous King Jehoshaphat were ready to make common cause. The authors of Kings and Chronicles only vaguely hint as to why they got together. A marriage alliance was part of the picture as well as a great feast in Samaria. When the Chronicler mentions the feast (2 Chron. 18:2), he says that Ahab “enticed” Jehoshaphat, a word which, in Deuteronomy 13:6, means to “lead into apostasy.”
- What was Jehoshaphat’s first response when Ahab suggested that they go up together to do battle against Ramoth-gilead? 1 Kings 22:4 (2 Chron. 18:3).
- Whose idea was it to inquire of the Lord before they set out for battle? 1 Kings 22:5 (2 Chron. 18:4).
Though finding himself in compromising circumstances, Jehoshaphat reveals a conscience not completely at ease. He suggested that making war together should first receive the stamp of approval from the Lord.
- In whose name did Ahab’s four hundred prophets prophesy and predict victory for Ahab at Ramoth-gilead? 1 Kings 22:6 (2 Chron. 18:5); compare 1 Kings 22:11 and 2 Chron. 18:10.
While 1 Kings 22:6 reads Adonai (Lord), and 2 Chron. 18:5 reads Elohim (God), many Hebrew manuscripts actually read Yahweh (LORD) at 1 Kings 22:6. The fact that these prophets were claiming to speak in Yahweh’s name is confirmed in 1 Kings 22:11-12 (2 Chron. 18:10-11). However much Ahab may have been inclined to worship Baal, he was politically astute enough to ask his prophets to speak in the name of Yahweh when the circumstances demanded it. Here in the presence of Jehoshaphat, Ahab’s prophets spoke in the name of Israel’s covenant deity: “Yahweh will give it into the hand of the king.”
- How does Ahab’s response to Jehoshaphat’s question reveal that Ahab, too had an uneasy conscience? 1 Kings 22:8 (2 Chron. 18:7).
How often does an apparently bold self-confidence mask the uneasy conscience which would have prevented us from embarking on a sinful course? Deep in his heart Ahab sensed that his course of action was a sinful delusion. Yet he apparently was willing to commit himself and his troops as well as Jehoshaphat and his troops to that delusion.
- When asked to tailor his answer to the fancy of the king, what resolute answer did Micaiah give? 1 Kings 22:14 (2 Chron. 18:13).
“The greatest want of the world is the want of men — men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall” (Education, p. 57).
- How does Scripture imply that Micaiah’s first response to the king was touched with irony, or even sarcasm? 1 Kings 22:15-16 (2 Chron. 18:14-15).
Micaiah’s first words echoed the optimistic prophecy of Ahab’s prophets. But Ahab caught the tone of sarcasm and demanded the truth. Did the king really want the truth? Micaiah would give it: Ahab’s army would be scattered; the flock of Israel would be left without a shepherd.
Ahab erupted in anger. He did not want the truth.
Ask yourself: Do I sometimes act like Ahab, torn between goals which I suspect are not sanctified and a desire to be a part of God’s family? Is it possible even to call upon the Word of God to support unsanctified goals? Do I erupt in anger when God seeks to tear away my carefully constructed mask?
Do I sometimes act like Jehoshaphat, pushed onto dangerous ground by the gifts and attentions of friends who do not really share my highest goals?
- Micaiah’s explanation of God’s role in Ahab’s fall reveals helpful insights about the way God handled the problem of evil in Old Testament times. Note the following aspects, based on 1 Kings 22:19-23 (2 Chron. 18:18-22:Was his explanation based on a vision?_________________Where did the lying spirits originate?__________________
Who actually inspired the false prophets?______________
Christians are so accustomed to seeing the clear distinction between the forces of good and evil as described in the New Testament (see especially Revelation 12), that the straightforward reading of the Old Testament passages can sometimes be quite jarring.
The facts of the matter are that Satan is rarely mentioned by name in the Old Testament. God is seen to be responsible for good and evil (Isaiah 45:7). Thus it is God who is said to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3; 10:1); the evil spirit which tormented Saul is said to be from the Lord (1 Sam 16:14); and the lying spirits speaking through the mouths of the prophets are said to have come from the Lord (1 Kings 22:23; 2 Chron. 18:22).
Here, as in Job 1 and 2, supernatural evil beings (Satan and the evil angels?) are seen as part of the “heavenly council.” Evil deities were worshiped in surrounding pagan cultures, but not in Israel, for God maintained full control over the forces of evil. God’s people had fallen so far from their knowledge of truth, that it was not safe to tell them everything at once. Out of pastoral concern for his people, God did not clearly reveal the issues and the personalities in the great controversy until the cross. The cross marked the point when Satan was excluded forever from the courts of heaven (Rev. 12:7-12).
If we ask the question, “Does Micaiah’s vision represent the way it really happened?” we may refer to visions of the book of Revelation and remind ourselves that visions are excellent for teaching purposes because God can use pictures in vision which are adapted to the ability of the people to understand. The words of Ellen White are appropriate here: “The Lord speaks to human beings in imperfect speech, in order that the degenerate senses, the dull, earthly perception, of earthly beings may comprehend His words. Thus is shown God’s condescension. He meets fallen human beings where they are. The Bible, perfect as it is in its simplicity, does not answer to the great ideas of God; for infinite ideas cannot be perfectly embodied in finite vehicles of thought” (Selected Messages 1:22).
If the words of Scripture are thus adapted, the same would hold true for visions as well. Some will be inclined to see Micaiah’s vision as a concrete portrayal of the heavenly realm. Others will be inclined to see it as an visual adaptation to the needs of fallen human beings. But regardless of how one interprets the details, the moral of the vision is clear: Ahab disobeyed and deserved to die. Micaiah’s vision proved true. Ironically, in the conversation with Micaiah before the battle, both Ahab and Jehoshaphat leave tell-tale signs which suggest that they had not made peace with Micaiah’s message. Yet they still went out to battle, contrary to the prophet’s counsel and advice.
II. A SURVIVOR REBUKED (2 CHRON. 19)
- When Jehoshaphat returned from the fiasco with Ahab, who came out to meet him with a somber message? 2 Chron. 19:2-3.
Scripture does not record any specific punishment upon Jehoshaphat for his escapade with Ahab. To the contrary, the verses that follow indicate a concerted effort to establish the worship of God and the practice of justice in the land. Apparently, Jehoshaphat had learned to listen to the voice of the prophets.
- How did Jehoshaphat impress upon his newly-appointed judges the seriousness of their task? 1 Chron. 18:6-7.
Throughout Scripture, it is clear that our first responsibility is to God. But the duty comes full circle, for every person is a creature of God; thus, if we love God, we will love his creatures. That is why Jesus gave such a “human” perspective when he succinctly summarized the Old Testament: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12, RSV).
In the parable of the judgment, Jesus makes the point even more vividly: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Our love to God is reflected in the way we love his creatures. Jehoshaphat knew that the only way to ensure justice on earth was to act as if in the presence of God.
III. A KING LEARNS TO TRUST: (2 Chron. 20)
The battle described in 2 Chronicles 20 is one of the most remarkable in Scripture, an “ideal” battle where the Lord fought for his people.
- What was the response of the king and his people when they learned that a multitude was coming up against Judah to do battle? 2 Chron. 20:3-4.
- What was Jehoshaphat’s posture and attitude toward God in prayer and what was the basis of his appeal? 2 Chron. 20:5-12.
In this particular instance, both the king (vs. 5) and his people (vs. 13) stood reverently before the Lord. The king recognized their utter helplessness and simply appealed to the grace and goodness of God to fulfill his promises.
- In response to the fervent appeal of the king, what encouraging message came to the people in assembly? 2 Chron. 20:15-17.
- When Jehoshaphat and the people heard the words of hope, what stance and attitude did they adopt? 2 Chron. 20:18-19.
Interestingly enough, both the king and his people stood before the Lord when they were making their appeal. But when the answer came, they were so overwhelmed with gratitude that they fell on their faces out of awe and respect. With the whole multitude thus in an attitude of worship, the temple singers stood to praise the Lord “with a very loud voice.” Whether standing, kneeling, or lying prostrate on the ground, we can lift our petitions to God and he will listen. The important thing to remember is that he is God and we are merely his creatures. “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2, RSV).
- How does Jehoshaphat reveal his full confidence in the ministry of the true prophets? 2 Chron. 20:20.
- What was the reaction of the surrounding nations when they recognized that Judah’s God, Yahweh, had fought the battle for his people? 2 Chron. 20:29.
IV. A CAPTAIN LEARNS TO TRUST (2 Kings 1)
True to form, Kings does not report the glowing account of Jehoshaphat’s reign. That story is found only in Chronicles. Also true to form, the somber story of judgment on Israel’s King Ahaziah, is not found in Chronicles, but only in Kings. Here again a prophet plays a key role. As the Lord seeks to get a message through to the stubborn king, the king resists. Yet the Lord is prepared to jolt the king back to reality. Through a series of shocking events, the king’s men, if not the king himself, learn to respect the voice of the prophet.
- Where did Ahaziah send for help when he wanted divine insight about his future? 2 Kings 1:2.
Ekron was one of the chief Philistine cities. Apparently Elijah’s great victory on Mt. Carmel had not been enough to convince the royal house who was God in Israel. Again it was Elijah who would be the “troubler” of Israel.
- What reminder of Mt. Carmel is reflected in Elijah’s first words to Ahaziah’s messengers? Compare 2 Kings 1:3 and 1 Kings 18:21, 37, 39.
- What “test” did the king apply to verify the source of the message which his envoys brought back to him? 2 Kings 1:5-8.
The nature of the prophetic message aroused the king’s suspicions. That message, combined with Elijah’s dress, clinched the identity. Even when hated, Elijah was a man who could be trusted to give a consistent witness.
- Why was it safe to go with the third captain who came to arrest Elijah, and not the other two? 2 King 1:9-15.
A prophet and a soldier can work together if both stand in a holy awe before the Lord. The captain who buried his martial pride and asked for mercy was the one with whom Elijah could safely go. The captain had learned the lesson which his master Ahaziah should have learned: it is safe to entrust your life to a prophet if you have made peace with the prophet’s God.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH VOICE TO TRUST? All the key personalities in this week’s lessons were familiar with the gift of prophecy. The crucial issue was whether or not they would recognize when a message was reliable and from the Lord.
Ponder how each of the following reacted to the “true” messenger of the Lord.
Jehoshaphat with Ahab___________________________________
Jehoshaphat without Ahab________________________________
Ahaziah’s “faithful” captain_________________________________
Further Study and Meditation: Read Prophets and Kings, pp. 190 -216. For further study on the concept of the “heavenly court” as suggested in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18, see Psalm 82. There, the word elohim is used in its broadest sense, applying both to God (singular) and to the “gods” (plural) who are the “evil” members of the heavenly court. In a sense, Psalm 82 could be seen as an evangelistic sermon at that point when God wishes to convince his people that there is really only one God worthy of the name. No longer can each nation simply claim to have its own deity, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for to thee belong all the nations” (Ps. 82:8).
SUMMARY: Being honest with one’s conscience is a crucial element in recognizing the message of a true prophet. What is needed is not logical proofs, but honesty of heart. Both Ahab and Ahaziah reveal that they were struggling with an uneasy conscience. “The sinner’s own thoughts are his accusers; and there can be no torture keener than the stings of a guilty conscience, which give him no rest day nor night” (Desire of Ages, p. 223). Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah’s captain both show the positive results of seeing the evidence of God’s power and listening to the voice of conscience.