The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through who we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophecies anything good about me, but always bad.” (1 Kings 22:8)
The king speaking here is Ahab — far from a heroic figure in the annals of the kings of Israel. From his first appearance in 1 Kings 17:29 to his death in chapter 22, Ahab not only “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him,” but is revealed as a cowardly man under the thumb of his black-hearted wife Jezebel. Ahab is childish and petulant, sulking when he doesn’t get his way. It comes as no surprise that he’s not fond of God’s prophets or their messages for him.
Ahab has hated Elijah because he doesn’t want to hear God’s word if it doesn’t suit him. As he and Jehoshaphat of Judah are preparing for battle, Ahab says he hates Micaiah for the same reason. He prefers “prophets” who say what his “itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3).
When King Jehoshaphat insists on seeking God’s guidance before going into battle, Ahab reluctantly calls for Micaiah. Unlike the others who predict victory, Micaiah says Ahab will die if he attacks Ramoth Gilead. Instead of heeding the warning, Ahab lashes out at the messenger, ordering Micaiah’s imprisonment. His point is clear: “Don’t tell me anything I don’t want to hear or you’ll suffer for it.”
Ahab thinks he can overrule God’s word by disguising himself in battle and setting up Jehoshaphat to take the fall for him. He’s confident he can hide from the truth; that he can outsmart God. So he forges ahead with his own battle plan. “But,” Scripture tells us, “someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor.” (22:34)
Jehoshaphat, who earlier pledged his support for Ahab, does join him in the battle, and narrowly escapes death himself. When he is rebuked by the prophet Jehu for helping Ahab, Jehoshaphat takes the reprimand seriously; he goes throughout Judah to turn the people back to the Lord. He also sends out priests, Levites and family heads to administer God’s law reverently. Jehoshaphat knows he and his nation have been slipping spiritually, and he takes remedial action.
So it was that when he learned that a vast army was coming against Judah, Jehoshaphat “resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord.” Jehoshaphat stood with the people and prayed: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us,” he said. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
It could hardly be a more stark contrast to the approach of Ahab, who wanted to leave God out of the equation altogether. Jehoshaphat knows he’s powerless. More important, he knows where to go for help. He has his people on side because the foundation of faith has already been laid by teaching and example. The prophetic message that results from this prayer is very different from God’s word to Ahab:
“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. . . . You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you . . . Go out and face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.” (2 Chron 20:15-17)
Jehoshaphat and the people respond to this word from God with worship and praise. In the morning, they go out to face the enemy singing God’s praises, and an amazing thing happens. Before they can reach them, the enemy armies destroy each other. There’s so much plunder it takes three days tor collect it all.
The prophecy was true in every respect: the battle was God’s; they didn’t have to fight because they took up the position of faith in what God said; they stood firm in the face of an overwhelming enemy, andthey saw God’s deliverance. They were battle-ready because they worked on the foundations of faith before the threat came. They were victorious because they put their faith into action and followed their supreme commander.
Ahab died because he refused to be battle-ready. He had no interest in knowing anything except what he wanted and how to get it. He felt entitled to rule his own life. His fear was rooted in not getting his own way. His view of God was so skewed that he thought he could outwit Him. He had no teaching, and didn’t learn from his past mistakes.
Jehoshaphat made mistakes too, but he paid attention to God’s rebuke and made meaningful changes. As a result, he and his people were prepared when the enemy struck. This king had the wisdom to fear God and not man. When it came down to the crunch, Jehoshaphat knew he could do nothing, but God could do anything. He put his fear in the right place.
There’s a lot we can learn from these two kings. One lesson is that we’re not immune to closing our own eyes to unpleasant truths we don’t want to hear. Instead of taking warning, we can ignore, or rationalize, or refuse to admit what makes us squirm. The “Ahab Affliction” can infect each of us, keeping us from real maturity at best and devastation at worst.
At this time of active remembrance of past wars, it’s helpful to reflect that we’re always at war in the spiritual realm. We too need to be battle-ready, and we can best do that by being taught God’s word, by applying it in every aspect of our lives, by paying attention to our mistakes and learning from them. Most of all, we are battle-ready when we believe God, no matter the size of the vast army coming at us.
May we all be found in the ranks of the Supreme Commander every day of our lives here.