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May 2 lesson: Speaking Truth to Power

April 18, 2021
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Speaking Truth to Power

Spring Quarter: Prophets Faithful To God’s Covenant
Unit 3: Courageous Prophets of Change

Sunday school lesson for the week of May 2, 2021
By Dr. Hal Brady


Lesson Scripture: 1 Kings 22:15-23, 26-8
Key Verse: 1 Kings 22:14


Lesson Aims
  1. Identity the roles of Ahab, Jehoshaphat, and Micaiah.
  2. Compare and contrast how each of these three related to God’s truth.
  3. Create a plan to pursue and apply God’s knowledge in the week ahead.
Have you ever sought out counsel that would tell you what you want to hear, rather than truth, so that you could proceed with your own agenda? The writer of the lesson says that herein is an important lesson we can learn from George Washington.

As the first president of the United States, Washington had no precedent to follow when choosing the men who would shape his thinking and the new government. Wisely, Washington chose an eclectic group of people to fill cabinet positions and be his closest advisers. They were from different parts of the country, and they had different views on how the government should operate. Instead of choosing advisers exclusively from his state of Virginia, Washington chose to surround himself with people who had the same ultimate goals in mind. The varied opinions about how to achieve common goals helped President Washington make choices that were more informed and wiser.

Unfortunately, Ahab did not make similar decisions. He surrounded himself with false prophets who told him whatever he wanted to hear. However, today’s lesson focuses on the one prophet who refused to compromise the truth.

Walter Brueggemann says that at least on the surface, 1 and 2 Kings are historical narratives. That is, the text reports on the events and personalities that comprise the history of Israel (north and south) from 962, at the death of David, to 587 and the end of Jerusalem, together with a brief addition likely dated to 561.

But we do well to remember that no book of the Bible seeks merely to give us a history lesson. Every book in the Bible intends to tell us something about God.

The Old Testament narratives, 1 and 2 Kings included, were passed down with the intention of revealing truth about the relationship between God and his people. These books were read by the Babylonian exiles, who had many deep and painful questions regarding the benefits of being chosen by God. Jerusalem’s destruction and the exile of its people raised questions about God’s sovereignty and love. The point is that these books and others are more than history, though that is also reality.

First Kings 22 opens by describing a conversation between two kings: Ahab of northern Israel (reigned 874-853 BC) and Jehoshaphat of southern Judah (reigned 873-849 BC). Before launching a joint military initiative, Ahab decided to consult his prophets to learn whether God would give him victory (1 Kings 22:10). Consulting God (or false gods) before battle was customary (example: Judges 20:18, 1 Samuel 23:2).

Ahab followed this practice, but he sought divine guidance from about 400 false prophets. These men were charged with discerning God’s will while having no access to God! Their counsel was united that God would grant victory in the expected battle (1 Kings 22:1-6). A favorable report, delivered from a unified front, would certainly seem convincing.

But King Jehoshaphat was unimpressed by the verdict of the false prophets. Jehoshaphat’s reign was characterized by religious reform and the suppression of idolatry (2 Chronicles 17:3-6). But he found himself in a compromised position because he had entered into a political alliance with the spiritually lapsed northern kingdom. Consequently, in an attempt to do right, Jehoshaphat asked Ahab if he didn’t have a prophet of the true God who could be consulted. Ahab admitted that Micaiah was such a prophet.

A Sarcastic Prophecy
1 Kings 22:15-16

Ahab despised Micaiah because of the series of negative reports the prophet had made against the king. The unnamed prophet in 1 Kings 20:35-43 was suggested by both the Talmad (the Book of Jewish Law) and the first-century Jewish historian Josephus to have been Micaiah. Little else is known about this prophet.

Specifically, the issue in the story is the territory of Ramoth-Gilead, rich land between Israel and Syria and a cause of endless conflict. It was located (the city) on a large plain, making chariot warfare possible (see 1 Kings 22:31-38).

In Ahab’s day, the Arameans (later known a Syrians) held the city. Despite the fact that Israel had some ancestral links to the Arameans, the Arameans were often opposed to Israel, either instigating or experiencing war with Israel.

Now, Micaiah at first surprised the king, Ahab, by telling him exactly what he wanted to hear and what the other prophets had already told him. “Attack and be victorious,” Micaiah answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand” (1 Kings 22:15).

King Ahab knows, however, this is not the truth. He knows this, perhaps because of the tone and manner of Micaiah’s delivery. Or it may be that the king knows all too well that Micaiah would not say anything favorable to him (see 1 Kings 22:8).

At any rate, it’s hard to blame Micaiah for his initial response to Ahab. In all probability, Micaiah was exhausted from telling Ahab God’s sovereign truth just to have it ignored in the face of what Ahab wanted to do all along. How often do we ask God for his truth, realize it, and promptly choose what we wanted to hear instead of what he said? Basically, it’s time to start following God’s truth rather than simply asking for it. A lesson for all of us. But even though King Ahab heard what he wanted to hear, he interpreted Micaiah’s response as a bald-faced lie, not even meant to be believed. Ahab’s asking “how many times” implies that Micaiah had fallen into the pattern of disdain telling the king whatever it was he wanted to hear.

The king then ironically demands that Micaiah fulfill his prophetic duty and only give God’s word (Deuteronomy 18:18). But Ahab wasn’t really interested in hearing God’s actual will. He only used his prophets to legitimize the plans that were already in his heart (see 1 Kings 22:22).

As Walter Brueggemann reminds us, “Prophetic faith is useless if it is only an echo of what the powerful already think is truth. Prophetic truth is expected to go beyond acceptable pragmatism.” In other words, prophetic truth challenges the party line.

A Sincere Prophecy
1 Kings 22:17-23

In verses 17-23, the narrative arrives at its center. Micaiah drops his act, causing the atmosphere in the room to immediately darken. Israel would be thrown into as much disarray as “sheep without a shepherd (see 1 Kings 22:28). When they realized they had “no master,” the army would be scattered—each to his own home. Returning “in peace” might mean that, though leaderless, the army would be better off without their previous master. Or it might simply mean that the fighting would be over for a time.

Ahab’s response in verse 18 to Micaiah’s prophecy suggests that the prophet was brought to court more as a jester or curiosity than a legitimate adviser. Ahab’s heart was so hardened against God that he was able to dismiss Micaiah’s warning as just one more “bad” thing the prophet said about the king of Israel.

At the same time, King Jehoshaphat’s non-reaction is equally disturbing. Here’s a king who worshipped the God of Israel and took measures to stomp out idolatry in his nation. But at this point he failed to advise the other king to heed the word of the Lord.

Moving on, Micaiah then describes a vision of the Lord sitting enthroned in the celestial court, surrounded by members of the divine council (the “heavenly host”). So Micaiah has a word to speak from another source, and the source is a glimpse into the heavenly throne of God (see Isaiah 6:1-8; Jeremiah 18, 22).

As Walter Brueggemann asked, “who can argue with such a credential?” Micaiah’s message from the holy source is two-fold. First, there will be disaster: “no shepherd, no master.” That is, the king will be killed (v.17). Second, God so wants the death of Ahab that the false assurance of the false prophets are a play on the part of God to seduce Ahab into the death-trap of war (vv.20-23).

Ahab would die on the battlefield. Such a sentence was just since Ahab had followed the ways of his evil queen, Jezebel, and led the northern kingdom into the idolatrous worship of Baal (1 Kings 16:31-33). Unlike Ahab’s prophets, who all answered the king in unison, God’s court was filled with lots of ideas, giving various plans for how to lure Ahab to his death.

In Micaiah’s vision, God asks for a volunteer from the divine council to go and trick Ahab into going into battle, only to be struck down. One of the members of the council came forward proposing to be a “lying spirit” in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets. This is in order that these prophets might entice Ahab into going to war (see Jeremiah 20:7; Ezekiel 14:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). The volunteer is duly charged with the task by the Lord and is promised success. Micaiah then interprets the vision for Ahab telling him that the false prophets who give him what he wants to hear are speaking for the lying spirit.

Thus, Micaiah presented Ahab with a message of judgment. But implied in that message was the opportunity for repentance (compare Jonah 3). Mercifully, Ahab was given the opportunity to admit his sinful state, repent, and break off his doomed campaign.

Speaking of sin, Bishop Woodie White states in his book “Confessions of a Prairie Pilgrim” that we are to own our sin and accept responsibility for it. “Don’t make excuses or rationalizations. Don’t call it by sophisticated sociological or psychological jargon. Call it by its name. God already knows it. God wants you to claim it, to acknowledge it. Then with a penitent and contrite heart, give it to God. Leave it with God. There is no sin so terrible that God’s love cannot forgive.”

But back to Ahab! God used Ahab’s character and the deference of the king’s prophets to deceive the man. Important! God never lies, but he does work through humans to accomplish his purposes, whether they do good or ill. In this case, the “deceiving spirit” intensified human dynamics already in play to ensure that Ahab would be fooled. In truth, the king who resists God must die.

A Sure Prophecy
1 Kings 22:26-28

Now, Ahab’s response was anything but one of repentance. Referencing “the ruler of the cities and the king’s son” lets us know that Ahab was so determined to silence Micaiah that he evoked both local and national authorities to ensure the prophet’s secure incarceration.

The question of whether Micaiah spoke the truth would be determined on the battlefield. If Micaiah truly spoke for God, then Ahab would die, never returning home “safely” as the king assumed. Micaiah, however, was so confident in what he’d heard from God that he challenged those present to be witnesses. Ahab’s death would not only vindicate Micaiah, but God as well.

Ahab died, just as Micaiah said (1 Kings 22:29-38), while Micaiah’s fate in prison is unknown.

Conclusion
Truth Displayed

Today’s lesson has to do with the timeless struggle to relate to the truth properly. The characters in the lesson before us provide us with three stances that people exposed to God’s truth can take.

The first character is King Ahab. It’s so easy to hear what we want to hear rather than hearing the truth itself. Whenever we find ourselves willfully in rebellion to the truth, we can see shades of Ahab within our own spirits. And whenever we find ourselves in this precarious state and are then admonished by caring friends, we should realize that this is a form of God’s mercy, even when their words challenge and/or inconvenience us (Proverbs 27:5,6).

The second character is Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. In him we have a case study of a person who desired to please God but lacked faithful follow-through.

William Gladstone wrote in his diary on his 22nd birthday: “It matters not whether the sphere of duty be large or small, but may it be duly fulfilled.”

However, any of us can find ourselves tempted as Jehoshaphat was – to fail to follow-through. So when we encounter a fellow believer in a similar situation, the correct response is to offer encouragement and wise counsel.

And the third character is the prophet Micaiah. He was bound by the simple adage that he was only to preach the word that God gave him and not add or subtract from that word (compare Deuteronomy 4:2). Here we see Micaiah’s ability to think and speak independently in the face of a hostile crowd of 400 false prophets, two powerful leaders, and a prevailing climate of wickedness. The prophet’s outspokenness reminds us that speaking truth can result in very negative consequences. Yet Micaiah was aware of this, but was still obedient and faithful to God. We, too, can build a life centered on truth through regular study of God’s word.

When Jesus went to the cross, the centurion overseeing the execution said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). How did he figure that out? He simply watched Jesus die as he had lived, exhibiting attributes that only the Son of God could possess. He saw Christ living the truth.

Action Plan
  1. What are some proper ways to react to those who expect us to tell them what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear?
  2. How should you go about testing the statements of one who claims to speak for the Lord?
  3. Summarize how Ahab, Jehoshaphat, and Micaiah related to God’s truth.
Resources for this lesson
  1. “2020-2021 Standard Lesson Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 297-304.
  2. “The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume III” pages 160-164.
  3. “1 Kings” by Walter Brueggmann, pages 98-102.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

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