Ahab and Jehoshaphat: A Cautionary Tale
2 Chronicles 18 tells the story of an unlikely partnership: Jehoshaphat, the godly king of Judah, and Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, joined together to make war against Syria.
Before going to battle, Jehoshaphat was intent on asking God’s will. Ahab summoned 400 of his prophets, all of whom, unsurprisingly, foretold victory. Jehoshaphat then asked if there was not a prophet of the Lord to consult (it seems he could tell the difference!). Ahab said there was one, the prophet Micaiah — “but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil” (verse 7). Jehoshaphat insisted, so Ahab agreed to have Micaiah brought in.
At first, the prophet (with a dose of sarcasm?) told Ahab to “go up and succeed.” But when the king pressed him for the truth, Micaiah declared that Ahab’s prophets had a deceiving spirit. The message from God was that Israel’s army would be scattered like sheep with no shepherd. “If you indeed return safely,” he told Ahab, “the Lord has not spoken by me” (verse 27).
Fuming over Micaiah’s gloomy forecast, Ahab had him imprisoned with bread and water rations. The two kings ignored the good prophet’s counsel and marched off to war. But the result was just as Micaiah had warned: Israel was defeated, and Ahab lost his life.
Consider a few lessons from this story.
1. Seek God’s will in all your decisions. Before committing to battle, Jehoshaphat made sure to inquire of the Lord. This godly king understood that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). He didn’t want to make a move that was out of step with the will of God.
Seeking God’s will means praying. Jesus spent the whole night in prayer before choosing His apostles (Luke 6:12-13). Do you pray when making decisions about your money? your career? your family? your friends? “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
Seeking God’s will also means study. Jehoshaphat wanted to hear what God had to say. He had Micaiah, and we have the Bible. But often we pray for God to lead us to a right decision, then refuse to listen to His leading! “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9-11). If you pray for God’s direction, make sure you open up His “road map."
2. Look for answers, not just approval. “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:5). Jehoshaphat wanted to learn the right way; Ahab only wanted to hear that his way was right (see verse 12). When God’s word is taught, which kind of hearer are you? Do you want preaching that challenges your thinking and stirs your conscience, or preaching that pats your back and strokes your ego?
Paul warned that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires” (2 Timothy 4:3). That time has certainly come. For every immoral or unscriptural activity you can name, you can find some preacher who will say tell you it’s alright. Instead of looking for “smooth words” (Isaiah 30:9-10), we should be looking for Divine truth.
3. When the truth is unpleasant, don’t blame the messenger. In some ancient societies it was not unusual for a king to execute a messenger who brought him bad news. Ahab didn’t go that far with Micaiah, but he did throw him in prison. He hated the prophet because he always spoke evil concerning him. Did it ever occur to Ahab that the problem might be with himself?
People get mad at preaching and teaching that convicts their sin. Teaching on modest dress angers the woman who likes to “show off her assets.” Teaching on drunkenness irritates the brother who enjoys his alcohol. Teaching on hypocrisy upsets the person who is comfortable with a phony veneer of discipleship. The kind of preaching that got John the Baptist beheaded, Stephen stoned, and Christ crucified was preaching that called on people to repent and put away wickedness. “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). Has the preacher said something that made you uncomfortable? Before you get angry with him, evaluate whether his message is true (Acts 17:11). If it is, then you may have no one to be angry with but yourself.
4. Once you have sought out God’s will, don’t ignore it. The astounding part of this story is that after God’s prophet foretold defeat, Ahab and Jehoshaphat went off to war anyway. We might expect this from Ahab, but Jehoshaphat should have known better! He asked for God’s will, he heard it, then he ignored it.
Most parents have had similar experiences with their children: they ask how to do this, or what to do about that, then turn around and totally disregard what mom and dad told them. Do we do the same thing to our heavenly Father? It should frighten us to hear ourselves say, “I know what God says about this, but…” The wise man warned, “He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding” (Proverbs 15:31-32). And James said, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).