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485

CHAPTER XLVII.

ALONE AGAINST THE WORLD.

1 Kings xxii. 1-40.

"I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.... I have heard what the prophets said who prophesied lies in My name."—Jer. xxiii. 21-25.

"Μάντι κακῶν οὒ πώποτέ μοι τὸ κρήγυον εἶπας

Αἰεί τοι τὰ κάκ' ἐστὶ φίλα φρεσὶ μαντεύεσθαι

Ἐσθλὸν δ' οὔδε τί πω εἶπας ἒπος οὒδ' ἐτέλεσσας."

Hom., Iliad, i. 106.

We now come to the last scene of Ahab's troubled and eventful life. His two immense victories over the Syrians had secured for his harassed kingdom three years of peace, but at the end of that time he began to be convinced that the insecure conditions upon which he had weakly set Benhadad free would never be ratified. The town of Ramoth in Gilead, which was one of great importance as a frontier town of Israel, had, in express defiance of the covenant, been retained by the Syrians, who still refused to give it up. A favourable opportunity, he thought, had now occurred to demand its cession.

This was the friendly visit of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. It was the first time that a king of Judah had visited the capital of the kings who had revolted from the dynasty of David. It was the first acknowledged486 close of the old blood-feuds, and the beginning of a friendship and affinity which policy seemed to dictate. After all Ephraim and Judah were brothers, though Ephraim had vexed Judah, and Judah hated Ephraim. Jehoshaphat was rich, prosperous, successful in war. No king since Solomon had attained to anything like his greatness—the reward, it was believed, of his piety and faithfulness. Ahab, too, had proved himself a successful warrior, and the valour of Israel's hosts had, with Jehovah's blessing, extricated their afflicted land from the terrible aggressions of Syria. But how could the little kingdom of Israel hope to hold out against Syria, and to keep Moab in subjection? How could the still smaller and weaker kingdom of Judah keep itself from vassalage to Egypt and from the encroachments of Philistines on the west and Moabites on the east? Could anything but ruin be imminent, if these two nations of Israel and Judah—one in land, one in blood, one in language, in tradition, and in interests—were perpetually to destroy each other with internecine strife? The kings determined to make a league with one another, and to bind it by mutual affinity. It was proposed that Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, should marry Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat.

The dates are uncertain, but it was probably in connexion with the marriage contract that Jehoshaphat now paid a ceremonial visit to Ahab. The King of Israel received him with splendid entertainments to all the people.767767   2 Chron. xviii. 2. Ahab had already broached to his captains the subject of recovering Ramoth Gilead, and he now took occasion of the King of Judah's visit to invite his co-operation. What advantages and compensations he offered are not stated. It may have been enough487 to point out that, if Syria once succeeded in crushing Israel, the fate of Judah would not be long postponed. Jehoshaphat, who seems to have been too ready to yield to pressure, answered in a sort of set phrase: "I am as thou art; my people as thy people; my horses as thy horses."768768   2 Kings iii. 7.

But it is probable that his heart misgave him. He was a truly pious king. He had swept the Asherahs out of Judah, and endeavoured to train his people in the principles of righteousness and the worship of Jehovah. In joining Ahab there must have been in his conscience some unformulated murmur of the reproof which on his return to Jerusalem was addressed to him by Jehu, the son of Hanani, "Shouldst thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore is wrath upon thee from the Lord." But at the beginning of a momentous undertaking he would not be likely to imitate the godless indifference which had led Ahab to take the most fatal steps without seeking the guidance of God. He therefore said to Ahab, "Inquire, I pray thee, of the word of the Lord to-day."

Ahab could not refuse, and apparently the professional prophets of the schools had been pretty well cajoled or drilled into accordance with his wishes. A great and solemn assembly was summoned. The kings had clothed themselves in their royal robes striped with laticlaves of Tyrian purple,769769   1 Kings xxii. 10 (Peshito). and sat on thrones in an open space before the gate of Samaria. No less than four hundred prophets of Jehovah were summoned to prophesy before them. Ahab propounded for their decision the formal and important question, "Shall I go up to Ramoth Gilead to battle, or shall I forbear?"

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With one voice the prophets "philippised." They answered the king according to his idols. Had the gold of Ahab or of Jezebel been at work among them? Had they been in king's houses, and succumbed to courtly influences? Or were they carried away by the interested enthusiasm of one or two of their leaders who saw their own account in the matter? Certain it is that on this occasion they became false prophets. They used their formula "Thus saith Jehovah" without authority, and promised Jehovah's aid in vain.770770   The LXX. has, "The Lord shall deliver into thy hands even the king of Syria." At first they all said, "Adonai shall deliver it"; but afterwards, perhaps stung by the doubts of Jehoshaphat, or encouraged by the audacity of Zedekiah, they said, "Jehovah shall deliver it." Conspicuous in his evil ardour was one of them named Zedekiah, son of Chenaanah. To illustrate and emphasise his jubilant prophecies he had made and affixed to his head a pair of iron horns; and as though to symbolise the bull of the House of Ephraim, he said to Ahab, "Thus saith Jehovah. With these shalt thou push the Assyrians until thou have consumed them."771771   Deut. xxxiii. 17. "His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people altogether to the ends of the earth." And all the prophets prophesied so.

What could be more encouraging? Here was a patriot-king, the hero-victor in great battles, bound by fresh ties of kinship and league with the pious descendant of David, meditating a just raid against a dangerous enemy to recover a frontier-fortress which was his by right; and here were four hundred prophets—not Asherah-prophets or Baal-prophets, but genuine prophets of Jehovah—unanimous, and even enthusiastic, in approving his design and promising him489 the victory! The Church and the world were—as they so often have been—delightfully at one.

"One with God" is the better majority. These loud-voiced majorities and unanimities are rarely to be trusted. Truth and righteousness are far more often to be found in the causes which they denounce and at which they sneer. They silence opposition, but they produce no conviction. They can torture, but they cannot refute. There is something unmistakable in the accent of sincerity, and it was lacking in the voice of these prophets on the popular side. If Ahab was deceived and even carried away by the unwonted approval of so many messengers of Jehovah, Jehoshaphat was not. These four hundred prophets who seemed superfluously sufficient to Ahab by no means satisfied the King of Judah.

"Is there not," he asked, with uneasy misgiving, "one prophet of the Lord besides, that we might inquire of him?"

One prophet of the Lord besides?772772   The LXX., omitting "besides," implies Jehoshaphat's opinion that these were not true prophets of Jehovah. So, too, the Vulg., "Non est hic propheta Domini quispiam?" Were not, then, four hundred prophets of the Lord enough? They must have felt themselves cruelly slighted when they heard the pious king's inquiry, and doubtless a murmur of disapproval arose amongst them.

And the King of Israel said, "There is yet one man." Had Jehoshaphat been secretly thinking of Elijah? Where was Elijah? He was living, certainly, for he survived even into the reign (apparently) of Jehoram. But where was Elijah? If Jehoshaphat had thought of him, Ahab at any rate did not care to mention him. Perhaps he was inaccessible, in some lonely unknown490 retreat of Carmel or of Gilead. Since his fearful message to Ahab he had not been heard of; but why did he not appear at a national crisis so tremendous as this?

"There is yet one man," said Ahab. "Micaiah, the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord; but"—such was the king's most singular comment—"I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil."773773   Compare Agamemnon's bitter complaint of Calchas.

It was a weak confession that he was aware of one man who was indisputably a true prophet of Jehovah, but whom he had purposely excluded from this gathering because he knew that his was an undaunted spirit which would not consent to shout with the many in favour of the king. Indeed, it seems probable that he was, at this moment, in prison. Jewish legend says that he had been put there because he was the prophet who had reproved Ahab for his folly in suffering Benhadad to escape with the mere breath of a general promise. Till then he had been unknown. He was not like Elijah, and might safely be suppressed. And Ahab, as was universally the case in ancient days, thought that the prophet could practically prophesy as he liked, and not merely prophesy, but bring about his own vaticinations. Hence, if a prophet said anything which he disliked, he regarded him as a personal enemy, and, if he dared, he punished him—just as Agamemnon punished Calchas.

Jehoshaphat, however, was still dissatisfied; he wanted further confirmation. "Let not the king say so," he said. If he is a genuine prophet, the king should not hate him, or fancy that he prophesies evil491 out of malice prepense. Would it not be more satisfactory to hear what he might have to say?

However reluctantly, Ahab saw that he should have to send for Micaiah, and he despatched a eunuch to hurry him to the scene with all speed.774774   1 Kings xxii. 9. LXX., εὐνοῦχον ἔνα. And this is probably the meaning of סָרִיס, not "officer," as in A.V.

The mention of a eunuch as the messenger is significant. Ahab had become the first polygamist among the kings of Israel, and a seraglio so large as his775775   For he had seventy sons, besides daughters (2 Kings x. 7) could never be maintained without the presence of these degraded and odious officials, who here first appear in the hardier annals of the Northern Kingdom.

This eunuch, however, seems to have had a kindly disposition. He was good-naturedly anxious that Micaiah should not get into trouble. He advised him, with prudential regard for his own interest, to swim with the stream. "See now," he said, "all the prophets with one mouth are prophesying good to the king. Pray agree with them. Do not spoil everything."

How often has the same base advice been given! How often has it been followed! How certain is its rejection to lead to bitter animosity! One of the most difficult lessons of life is to learn to stand alone when all the prophets are prophesying falsely to please the rulers of the world. Micaiah rose superior to the eunuch's temptation. "By Jehovah," he said, "I will speak only what He bids me speak."

He stood before the kings, the eager multitude, the unanimous and passionate prophets; and there was deep silence when Ahab put to him the question to which the four hundred had already shouted an affirmative.

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His answer was precisely the same as theirs: "Go up to Ramoth Gilead and prosper, for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king!" Every one must have been astonished. But Ahab detected the tone of scorn which rang through the assenting words, and angrily adjured Micaiah to give a true answer in Jehovah's name. "How many times," he cried, "shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in Jehovah's name." The "how many times" shows how faithfully Micaiah must have fulfilled his duty of speaking messages of God to his erring king.

So adjured, Micaiah could not be silent, however much the answer might cost him, or however useless it might be.

"I saw all Israel,"776776   The words implied that the king would fall, though the army would escape (1 Kings xxii. 17, בְּשָׁלוֹם). Comp. Numb. xxvii. 16, 17 "Let the Lord ... set a man over the congregation, ... who may lead them out and in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd." he said, "scattered on the mountain like sheep without a shepherd. And Jehovah said, These have no master, let every man return to his house in peace."

The vision seemed to hint at the death of the king, and Ahab turned triumphantly to his ally, "Did I not tell you that he would prophesy evil?"

Micaiah justified himself by a daringly anthropomorphic apologue which startles us, but would not at all have startled those who regarded everything as coming from the immediate action of God, and who could ask, "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?"777777   Theodoret explains it as anthropomorphism, and condescension to human modes of speech (προσωποποιΐα τίς ἐστι διδάσκουσα τὴν θείαν συγχώρησιν). The prophets were self-deceived,493 but this would be expressed by saying that Jehovah deceived them. Pharaoh hardens his heart, and God is said to have done it.

He had seen Jehovah on His throne, he said, surrounded by the host of heaven, and asking who would entice Ahab to his fall at Ramoth Gilead. After various answers the spirit778778   1 Kings xxii. 21. It is "the," not "a" spirit, i.e., the unclean spirit of deception (τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης, 1 John iv. 6). Comp. Zech. xiii. 2, "Also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land." St. Paul says in 2 Thess. ii. 11: "God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe the lie." said, "I will go and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets, and will entice him." Then Jehovah sent him, so that they all spoke good to the king though Jehovah had spoken evil. God had sent to them all—king, people, prophets—strong delusion that they should believe a lie.

This stern reproof to all the prophets was more than their coryphæus Zedekiah could endure. Having recourse to "the syllogism of violence" he strode up to Micaiah and smote the defenceless, isolated, hated man on the cheek,779779   The worst of insults (Job xvi. 10; Lam. iii. 30). with the contemptuous question, "Which way went the spirit of the Lord from me, to speak unto thee?"

"Behold thou shalt know," was the answer, "on the day when thou shalt flee from chamber to chamber to hide thyself." If the hands of the prophet were bound as he came from the prison, there would have been an infinite dignity in that calm rebuke.

But as though the case was self-evident, and Micaiah's opposition to the four hundred prophets proved his guilt, Ahab sent him back to prison. "Issue orders," he said, "to Amon, governor of the city, and Joash, the494 king's son, to feed him scantily on bread and water till the king's return in peace."

"If thou return at all in peace," said Micaiah, "Jehovah hath not spoken by me."780780   The words (verse 28) "And he said, Hearken, O people, every one of you," are believed by Nöldeke, Klostermann, and others to be an interpolation from Micah i. 2, by some one who confused Micaiah with Micah. They are omitted in the LXX.

It is a sign of the extreme fragmentariness of the narrative that of Micaiah and Zedekiah we hear nothing further, though the sequel respecting them must have been told in the original record. But the prophecy of Micaiah came true, and the unanimous four hundred had prophesied lies. There are times when "the Catholic Church" dwindles down to the one man and the small handful of those who speak the truth. The expedition was altogether disastrous. Ahab, perhaps knowing by spies how bitterly the Syrians were incensed against him, told Jehoshaphat that he would disguise himself and go into the battle, but begged his ally to wear his robes as was usual with kings.781781   We have no reason to accuse Ahab of any bad or selfish motives here. No doubt Micaiah's prophecy of his approaching death had made him anxious. If the LXX. reading, "but put thou on my robes," were right, the case would be different. Benhadad, with the implacable hatred of one who had received a benefit, was so eager to be avenged on Ahab that he had told his thirty-two captains to make his capture their special aim.782782   We see in this order a trace of the single combats which mark the Homeric battles. Seeing a king in his robes they made a fierce onset on Jehoshaphat and surrounded his chariot. His cries for rescue showed them that he was not Ahab, and they turned away.783783   2 Chron. xviii. 31: "And the Lord helped him, and God moved them from him." But Ahab's495 disguise did not save him. A Syrian—the Jews say that it was Naaman784784   So Jarchi. Josephus calls him Aman.—drew a bow with no particular aim,785785   1 Kings xxii. 34. "At a venture"; marg., "in his simplicity"; comp. 2 Sam. xv. 11. and the arrow smote Ahab in the place between the upper and lower armour.786786   What the French call le défaut de la cuirasse (Keil). Luther has, zwischen den Panzer und Hengel. Feeling that the wound was deadly he ordered his charioteer to turn his hands and drive him out of the increasing roar of the mêlée. But he would not wholly leave the fight, and with heroic fortitude remained standing in his chariot in spite of agony. All day the blood kept flowing down into the hollow of the chariot. At evening the Syrians had to retire in defeat, but Ahab died. The news of the king's death was proclaimed at sunset by the herald, and the cry was raised which bade the host disband and return home.787787   Josephus, Antt., VIII. xv. 6.

They carried the king's body back to Samaria, and they buried it. They washed the blood-stained chariot in the pool outside the city, and there the dogs licked the king's blood, and the harlot-votaries of Asherah bathed in the blood-dyed waters, as Elijah had prophesied.788788   Köster thinks that there may be reference to the fact that the name "dog" was given to the unchaste.

So ended the reign of a king who built cities and ivory palaces,789789   Amos iii. 15; Psalm xlv. 8; Hom., Od., iv. 72. and fought like a hero against the foes of his country, but who had never known how to rule his own house. He had winked at the atrocities committed in his name by his Tyrian queen, had connived at her idolatrous innovations, and put no obstacle in496 the way of her persecutions. The people who might have forgotten or condoned all else never forgot the stoning and spoliation of Naboth and his sons, and his death was regarded as a retribution on this crime.


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