I love the drama of First and Second Kings.
I was digging the last chapter of First Kings, which was one of the morning readings this week.
In this chapter, both kings of the Divided Kingdom team up to retake a prime piece of real estate east of the Jordan called Ramoth Gilead, currently under the control of the Arameans. But they want assurances that things will go their way.
The king of the southern kingdom of Judah is Jehoshaphat ("Joe" to his friends, "Phat" to his detractors). Joe is a faithful Jew, unlike the crapbag king of Israel, Ahab. Joe says, "We should really find out what the Lord thinks about all this. Know any prophets?"
Ahab calls together four hundred yes-men who say in unison: "You betcha! The 'Lord' says go for it." (This 'Lord' is 'adonai' whereas elsewhere in the chapter it's YHWH--the Hebrew is telling us subliminally that these "prophets" don't have a clue as to who God is or what He might be saying.)
Joe is naturally suspicious. "Um...don't you have any real prophets? You know, who actually get their content from YHWH?"
What Ahab says next is priceless: "Yeah, there's this one guy. But I hate his guts. He's always saying negative stuff about me."
Blanching, Joe says, "Um, I don't think saying you hate God's prophet is such a good idea..."
"All right, all right." Ahab turns to one of his men: "Go and get Mike and bring him here."
So the messenger, a barrel-chested, mean-looking guy with uneven eyes (okay, I made that up), goes off to summon Micaiah. When they meet he offers some "friendly" advice. Speaking Hebrew with a Cockney accent, he says, "Look here, mate. Everybody else's telling the king it's awright to go ahead wi'dis fight, innit. How's about you play nice and sing the same tune, right? If you know what's good for you."
Micaiah says, "Look, I don't make this stuff up. I can only say what God tells me to say."
The prophet is brought before the two kings. Ahab, rolling his eyes, poses the question. "Very well then, Mike: Should we go to war against Ramoth Gilead? Yes or no?”
Micaiah answers right away. "Sure. Attack. Be victorious. It's pretty much a done deal. "
"Really?" Ahab asks, eyes narrowing.
"Nah," Micaiah says. "Actually, you should tell everybody to go home."
Ahab turns to Joe. "You see? I told you he's always disrespecting me."
"Disrespecting you?" says Micaiah. "Hardly. The fact is, God was looking for a way to take you out. He was in heaven with all the angels, saying 'How can we get Ahab to get himself killed by attacking the Arameans?'
"There was a bit of brainstorming, and then one of the angels raised his hand: 'Ooh! Ooh! I know! I'll go and dupe all of Ahab's so-called prophets"--all the other angels snickered when he said that--"and get them beating the war drums.'
"And God said, 'Hmm, sounds like it could work. Give it a shot.'"
For this, Ahab throws Micaiah into jail "until I return," he says. But the prophet retorts: "If you come back in one piece, then I guess God hasn't spoken through me after all. Ya'll all better remember what I said."
+ + +
The drama continues. Ahab makes Joe dress up in all his fancy robes so that he will draw all the enemy fire, while he himself dresses like a grunt. But a random Aramean arrow "happens" to find a crack in his armor, and Ahab spends the rest of the day bleeding to death on the floor of a chariot.
But what I found fascinating was the interaction between Ahab and Micaiah. The prophet tells it like it is, straight from God's mouth, clear and unambiguous, but Ahab doesn't want to listen and thinks Micaiah is being mean and unfair. Ahab never once considers that he might be wrong, out of bounds, in need of changing course.
Instead, Ahab prefers to muster a whole group of "prophetic voices" to assure him that God wants him to do what he was already set on doing.
But note: God actually enacted His judgment by giving Ahab the "prophetic assurance" he was looking for before flying headlong into destruction and death.
Can anyone say General Convention? Or General Synod, perhaps? (But how could hundreds of people be wrong?)
If you read these words: "The church is bleeding to death"--what church(es) come to mind?
And how many times did I hear at seminary something along the lines of "I hate Paul's guts. He's always saying negative things about [whatever I like to engage in/whatever is considered groovy in my groovy circle of friends]."
But even more painfully: How many times have I "sought the Lord's guidance" only to ignore it and set about rationalizing my own predetermined course? And how often has that worked out?
And still more painfully: Am I doing it now?