But what does God say? (June 14, 2020)
But what does God say?
1 Kings 22:10-28
How long will you stand firm? How long would you hold a position? It’s easy to hold to a conviction or position when you are among the majority. But would you hold to it when you find yourself among the minority? Would you hold to that same position unwaveringly if you were the last person holding to it?
I know this is partially influenced by what kind of position it is. Are we talking about flavors of ice cream here? Are we talking about favorite teams? Are we talking about political positions or worldviews? Are we talking proven, hard facts or opinions? Today we are going to talk about holding firm to a position based on the Word of God. Standing firm upon the word of God, unwaveringly. And we are going to hear the account of a prophet who did so even though his position was opposed to the position of every other so-called prophet. And then we are going to see that doing so, standing firm on the foundation of God’s Word, also has implication for many other aspects of life – many of which are in contention at the present.
So, let’s set the scene. We are in the book of 1st Kings. This is after the first few kings of Israel whose names you may recognize: Saul, David, and Solomon. We are after them, into the divided kingdom of Israel – So you have the northern tribes, simply called Israel, and you have the southern tribes, called Judah. Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah, and he is a good king, a God-fearing king, a believer. And then we have Ahab, king of Israel. He was not a God-fearing king. He was a wicked king who did all kinds of evil – even killed a man named Naboth just because he wanted his vineyard, killed God’s prophets, and many more horrendous things.
So these two kings of divided Israel have a summit, a meeting, because Ahab wants to regain a city called Ramoth Gilead. It’s one of the six cities of refuge that God appointed when Israel took possession of the Promised Land. It was apparently an embarrassment that a heathen nation had captured and occupied such an important city. So, Ahab wanted to retake it and he wanted Jehoshaphat’s help. Jehoshaphat pledged his support, his troops, and his horses, but urged Ahab to first consult the Lord on such a battle. And here’s where it gets interesting!
Ahab brought together all his prophets, about 400 of them and asked, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?” (1 Kgs 22:6). Their response was a unanimous, “Go, for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand” (1 Kgs 22:6). One of the prophets even used symbolism, as God often does. Zedekiah made iron horns – iron was the strongest metal of the time, a symbol of strength, and horns were symbols of power and authority – with these he declared, “This is what the Lord says: ‘ With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’” (1 Kgs 22:11). And I can just picture him holding them to his head, parading around, bucking his head like a mighty ram or raging bull as he spoke. It was a spectacular sight! And quite convincing when all 400 prophets agree and are in consensus with one another!
“Yes, but what does God say?” Pious King Jehoshaphat was not impressed – not so easily coerced. He saw this for what it was, a sham, a spectacle, an appeal to the king’s pride and power, a flattery and soothing of their advisers. “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” (1 Kgs 22:7).
It’s easy to get excited, revved up, and passionate about all the things you want to hear. Compliments make us feel great! Complimentary messages are easy to take to heart because they go right along with our convictions. And when so many are saying the same thing, it’s easy to be convinced that these messages must be truth – because surely, it would be impossible for so many to be wrong. What are some of the popular messages today? A 7-day creation of everything that exists is unreasonable now that we have the scientific theory of evolution. Calling sin what it is and urging sinful people to repent is judgmental. We should let people live their lives no matter their convictions. Condemning homosexuality, talking about gender issues, and calling abortion what it is… these are all unloving. God is love, right? Therefore we cannot speak words that touch on sensitive issues and may be hard to swallow.
Sadly, many churches and ministers have been swept along by the tide of society. Sadly, ministers and pastors who refuse to waver on points of biblical teaching are becoming fewer and farther between. I see very much so the exact same picture today as we read about in 1st Kings – a vast majority of ministers speaking flattering words of love over truth, and soothing the sinner’s heart with words of acceptance over truth. And where has this gotten us?! Crowds are gathering and getting their way in certain cities because we have let the popular opinion become more important than the truth. Because we have lost the ability to speak about sensitive topics and speak the truth in love.
The same is true right here in my own heart. Currently, I have a big life decision I have to make in the coming weeks. A decision which leads me to reflect on and evaluate many aspects of my life. I’ve been talking to a number of people I look up to and respect in regards to all of this as well. And would I like them to have nothing but compliments and praise? Sure! Would I like them to paint a bright picture of an easy future? Of course! But we’ve had some difficult conversations. Conversations that touched on and brought to light some flaws and shortcomings which I would rather keep hidden. Did it feel good to talk about them? No! But I would expect nothing less from my advisors. It would be harmful for these issues not to be addressed – to remain hidden and continue to fester.
Just because it’s the popular opinion and an easy teaching to swallow doesn’t mean it’s truth. In fact, Jesus says, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Mt 7:13-14). So, when faced with contradictory views, when pressured to change our stance, the question that we must always ask is, “What does God say”.
That’s the question that Jehoshaphat asked when the 400 so-called prophets were rallying together in agreement and putting on a show of it, Jehoshaphat asked, “But what does God say?” “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” (1 Kgs 22:7). And the response Ahab gives is so telling of his attitude, so telling of our very own hearts, so revealing of the sinful nature. It’s almost comical when read out loud, but sadly true… and sadly the story of our own hearts and the story of many ministers of God who have abandoned the truth. “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah” (1 Kgs 22:8). I hate him because he never prophesies anything good… Sometimes the truth is hard to hear.
A messenger summons Micaiah, and actually bludgeons him on the way. I can almost see that move a mom does to her child where she is whispering forcefully in the child’s ear while squeezing his arm so that you know she is serious! All while keeping a smile on her face for onlookers, of course. This messenger, perhaps squeezing Micaiah’s arm tightly says on the way to the assembly, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let you word AGREE with theirs, and speak favorably” (1 Kgs 22:13). And how does Micaiah respond? We’ve been working on this, how should we always respond when threatened to change our stance? “But what does God say”. Micaiah responds, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what the LORD tells me” (1 Kgs 22:14).
Micaiah is now standing in the presence of the two kings of divided Israel. They are sitting on their thrones dressed in their royal robes looking powerful and noble. The 400 or so other prophets are all there probably looking intensely at Micaiah, intimidating him with their piercing eyes. And the king speaks, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?” “Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand” (1 Kgs 22:15). Wait, what? He was swayed? He actually agreed with the false prophets? No, his response is heavily sarcastic. And I’m not just making that up to push my narrative. The king actually perceives it as sarcasm – and I think the prophet’s words carried more weight with the sarcasm, both communicating the truth and condemning the soothsaying false prophets, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?” (1 kgs 22:16). And then Micaiah goes on with the plain and simple truth. “All Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd… These people have no master…. If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me” (1 Kgs 22:17,28).
God certainly has spoken through Micaiah. Unlike those false prophets who are not prophesying at all – because prophecy actually means to “speak forth,” to “speak forth for someone else,” to speak forth for God, not come up with your own words, but simply be a mouth for God’s Words. “Prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt 1:21). Micaiah was the only true prophet – the only one acting merely as a mouthpiece for God’s Word.
It’s fascinating that in this account, too, we get an exclusive peek behind the scenes – much like what happened back in the beginning of Job. Micaiah has an explanation for the false consensus of all the other deceiving prophets. He proclaimed, “I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ One suggested this, another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ‘By what means?’ the LORD asked. ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said” (This deceiving spirit is Satan, the father of lies) “’You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the LORD. ‘Go and do it.’” (1 Kgs 22:19-22).
I find it fascinating that we get a behind the scenes look at what’s going on here. God allows Satan to go out and deceive. And I go into this because we learn 3 very important truths from it. Comforting truths – yes, you heard me right. 1) God is in control, 2) God can work good through evil, 3) God’s plan always prevails. God is in complete control over Satan. It is Satan who must approach God and ask permission. And God limits Satan’s power to carrying out only what he intends. When people continue, intentionally, to reject God and his word, the time finally comes when God abandons them to the control of Satan. God’s plan prevailed through this, punishing Ahab for his unrepentant sins and removing this corrupt king from his position of leadership.
God’s words were clear. God proclaimed through Micaiah that Ahab would be defeated. It was Ahab who rejected the truth of God’s Word. And if you read on in 1st Kings 22, it’s actually really interesting how Ahab tried to evade his fate, yet God’s plans still prevailed.
What does God say to you? What popular opinions and words of flattery does God’s word topple like a house of cards in your life? And, the more important question, will you listen? God’s only intention in touching on difficult topics and pricking the conscience is to lovingly rescue you from the way that leads to condemnation. He addresses sin. Yes, it’s hard to hear at times. But he does so with a loving purpose. God is love – and true love is addressing difficult topics and speaking the truth for your good. So who are you going to listen to? When surrounded my a myriad of opinions and viewpoints – some more popular than others – what does God say?
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Mt 7:15). “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Mt 7:24-25).