6. Ahab and Micaiah the Prophet (1 Kings 22, 2 Kings 1, 2 Chronicles 21:12-15)

Audio (48:47)

The Death of Ahab. James J. Tissot, 'Ahab Pierced by an Arrow' (1896-1904),
The Death of Ahab. James J. Tissot, 'Ahab Pierced by an Arrow' (1896-1904), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.

We're coming to the end of Ahab's reign, but before we do, the narrator introduces us to two prophecies concerning Ahab and his son and successor Ahaziah, both kings of Israel, the northern kingdom. And tucked away in 2 Chronicles we find a third prophecy, a letter sent to Jehoram, a king of Judah, the southern kingdom. We'll consider each of these and see what we can learn from them about living as disciples of the Living God.

6.1 Micaiah Declares Ahab's Death

Elijah has prophesied judgment upon King Ahab (1 Kings 21:17-24). Now another prophet, Micaiah, does the same. Let's set the stage. At the end of 1 Kings 20, Ahab spares Ben-Hadad's life on the basis of a treaty or covenant to return Israelite cities taken by Syria.

"'I will return the cities my father took from your father,' Ben-Hadad offered. 'You may set up your own market areas in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria." (1 Kings 20:34.)

Ahab waits and waits, but Ben-Hadad never follows through with the promises agreed to in the treaty. Chapter 22 begins:

"For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel." (1 Kings 22:1)

Ahab had spared the life of the king of Syria in order to gain an advantage, even though the Lord had declared that Ben-Hadad should be executed. Now Ahab realizes that his treaty with Ben-Hadad is worthless. If he wants the Israelite cities back, he must fight for them. He will begin with the border city of Ramoth-Gilead, once an Israelite city, now in Syrian hands.

Ahab Enlists the King of Judah in His War (1 Kings 22:2-4)

King Ahab's Syrian Wars
King Ahab's Syrian Wars (Larger map)

As you'll recall, after Solomon's death, the united kingdom had been split between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Though the two kingdoms had sometimes fought against each other (1 Kings 15:6, 16-22), now the common enemy is Syria. The northern and southern kingdoms share a common history as the twelve tribes of Jacob. In addition, Israel and Judah have a marriage alliance. Ahab's daughter Athaliah is married to Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram (2 Kings 8:18; 2 Chronicles 18:1), a marriage that later proves disastrous for Judah (2 Chronicles 21:6; 22:10-12).

In light of the thaw in relations between Israel and Judah -- allied against their common enemy Syria -- Jehoshaphat travels from Jerusalem to Samaria to visit his son's father-in-law, Ahab. Ahab raises the issue of Syrian control of its border cities.

" 3 The king of Israel had said to his officials, 'Don't you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the king of Aram?'

4 So he asked Jehoshaphat, 'Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?'

Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, 'I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.'" (1 Kings 22:2-4)

Among king Ahab's counselors there had been discussion of how to force Ben-Hadad to fulfill his treaty to restore Israelite cities to Israel. Now Ahab broaches the subject with Jehoshaphat, who graciously offers his army and war horses in support of an allied attack against Syrian forces holding Ramoth-Gilead. Jehoshaphat enters into a military alliance, an alliance that God's prophet Jehu later condemns (2 Chronicles 19:2).

Seeking Counsel from Yahweh (1 Kings 22:5-9)

"Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, 'First seek the counsel of the Lord.'" (1 Kings 22:5)

It is characteristic that Jehoshaphat -- a "good king" in a dynasty that didn't have too many good kings -- would bring up seeking Yahweh's will. Ahab is at best a nominal believer in Yahweh, though he has also built altars to Baal. But Jehoshaphat's history, on the other hand, has been to purify Judah of idol worship and to promote the knowledge of the Lord. The Chronicler tells us:

"The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed. He did not consult the Baals but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel.... His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah. In the third year of his reign he sent his officials ... to teach in the towns of Judah.... They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people."(2 Chronicles 17:3-4, 6, 7, 9)

Jehoshaphat is a strong advocate for Yahweh.

It was common practice in the Ancient Near East to consult the gods before a military expedition. But Jehoshaphat specifies the need to consult with Yahweh, the traditional God of the people of Israel and Judah.

Ahab has some court prophets -- 400 even though a few years previously Elijah had killed 450 prophets of Baal. And they purport to speak in Yahweh's name (verse 12). But as we'll see, they aren't Yahweh's prophets at all.

"So the king of Israel brought together the prophets -- about four hundred men -- and asked them, 'Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?'

'Go,' they answered, 'for the Lord will give it into the king's hand.'" (1 Kings 22:6)

Jehoshaphat suspects that these 400 men who speak with one voice are just saying what the king wants them to say. They are yes-men with whom the king surrounds himself. He also suspects that they aren't real followers of Yahweh. After all, Jezebel had been searching out and killing true prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:4). Jehoshaphat wants a second opinion from a certified prophet of Yahweh.

"7 Jehoshaphat asked, 'Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?'

8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, 'There is still one man 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.'

'The king should not say that,' Jehoshaphat replied.

9 So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, 'Bring Micaiah son of Imlah at once.'" (1 Kings 22:7-9)

Ahab needs Jehoshaphat's help against Syria, so he calls for the prophet Micaiah (pronounced mi-CAY-yah) who never tells him what he wants to hear.

Q22. (1 Kings 22:2-9) Why does Jehoshaphat want to consult an actual prophet of Yahweh before going into battle? What does this tell us about his discernment of Ahab's prophets? Of his desire to be obedient to God?

False Prophet with the Iron Horns (1 Kings 22:10-12)

While they are waiting for Micaiah, the true prophet of Yahweh, the court prophets are putting on quite a show.

"10 Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them. 11 Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah195 had made iron horns and he declared, 'This is what the Lord says: "With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed."'" (1 Kings 20:10-11)

The horns of a bull often represent might, especially military power,196 and Zedekiah acts this out before the kings with props that he has made for the occasion. A number of God's prophets had brought enacted or illustrated prophecies, sometimes called prophetic gestures or sign acts. Jeremiah breaks a clay pot, wears a yoke around his neck, and purchases a field.197 Ezekiel uses a clay tablet to represent a siege, digs through the wall of a house, and bakes bread over a fire kindled with dried human waste.198 Isaiah walks around naked for three years.199 Zedekiah may have perfected his prophetic style, but just because he can enact a prophecy doesn't make him a true prophet! In our day, we see some who can put on a great show -- concert, sermon, healing meeting, etc. -- whose first allegiance is not to Christ, but elsewhere. Jesus said, by their fruits you shall know them (Matthew 7:15-20)

We see remarkable agreement among all these so-called prophets as they are awaiting Micaiah.

"All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. 'Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,' they said, 'for the Lord will give it into the king's hand.'" (1 Kings 22:12)

A danger for leaders of all kinds -- whether political, business, or ministry -- is to surround oneself with people who agree with the leader. Sycophants. Yes-men, who see their future in keeping the leader happy and telling the leader what they know he or she wants to hear. Kings, presidents, dictators, corporations, and yes, churches, suffer when the leader allows pride and vanity to cloud counsel and determine those listened to. Proverbs tells us:

"Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety."
(ESV, Proverbs 11:14, cf. also 15:22; 20:18)

This only works if the leader is mature and humble enough to surround him or herself with a variety of diverse counselors, to make them less susceptible to "group think."

Summoning Micaiah the Prophet (1 Kings 22:13-16)

Micaiah, who appears in the Bible only in this passage, has a name that means, "Who is Like Yah[weh]." He has a reputation of not pleasing the king when queried. The king directs an court official200 to get Micaiah (verse 9), who briefs Micaiah on the way to the courtroom about proper courtroom etiquette and what others have told the king.

"13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, 'Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.'

14 But Micaiah said, 'As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.'" (1 Kings 22:13-14)

Those who wish to advance themselves say the "proper" thing. But true prophets don't have social advancement on their personal agenda. They only attribute to the Lord what he actually tells them.

Ahab, who is doing this out of deference to the devout Jehoshaphat, wants to get this over with.

"15 When he arrived, the king asked him, 'Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?'

'Attack and be victorious,' he answered, 'for the Lord will give it into the king's hand.'

16 The king said to him, 'How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?'" (1 Kings 22:15-16)

Micaiah, who knows from the official what the king wants to hear, says "Attack and be victorious" in some kind of sarcastic manner, which causes the king to rebuke him. The king, of course, is full of hypocrisy. He really doesn't want the unvarnished truth.

The Vision of the Scattered Sheep (1 Kings 22:17-18)

Now Micaiah begins to relate before the kings the two visions he has seen.

  1. The vision of sheep without a shepherd, and
  2. The vision of the lying spirit.

"Then Micaiah answered, 'I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, "These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace."'" (1 Kings 22:17)

We might think of "shepherd" in warm fuzzy thoughts that derive from the 23rd Psalm or Jesus as the "Good Shepherd" who takes little lambs in his arms. But throughout the Ancient Near East, "shepherd" was used as an analogy to refer to a nation's king.

In this case, Micaiah has a vision of the shepherd who is missing, causing the sheep to scatter. By analogy, this is a picture of the farmer-soldiers assembled for the battle who, when they find that their leader is dead, withdraw and disperse to their homes (see verse 36).

Ahab gets the point immediately and mutters, "I told you so!"

"The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, 'Didn't I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?'" (1 Kings 22:18)

The Vision of the Deceitful Spirit (1 Kings 22:19-22)

But Micaiah isn't finished. He tells of a second vision he has of a heavenly courtroom.

"19 Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, 'Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?'

One suggested this, and another that. 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, 'I will entice him.'

22 'By what means?' the Lord asked.

'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,' he said.

'You will succeed in enticing him,' said the Lord. 'Go and do it.'" (1 Kings 22:19-22)

I imagine a murmur roll across the king's court as Micaiah indicts the lying prophets so blatantly.

Predestination and the Problem of Evil

It troubles us to see Yahweh soliciting a spirit to lie to Ahab. James tells us:

"God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone" (James 1:13).

Yet we see divine deception elsewhere,201 as well as evil spirits sent from God.202 All events, good and evil, are attributed to God,203 many times as the active agent; sometimes as the passive agent who allows events to occur. I think this is how the Old Testament saints expressed the truth that God is almighty and over all, that nothing happens without his knowledge.

Why? How? we ask. It comes back to the conundrum of God who predestines and also respects human "free will" decisions. And to the philosophical conundrum of "the problem of evil": How can God be both all good and all powerful and still allow evil in the world? Or use evil for his own purposes?

The apostle Paul helps us understand one difficult aspect of this. He teaches us that for people who persist in embracing lies and suppressing the truth, he will eventually "give them over" to their lies (Romans 1:18-25). We can't afford to nurse the lies we want to hear and believe. We must demand truth, for truth in Christ will set us free (John 8:32).

Men have spun lots of words about this, but in the final analysis we don't really understand all these things. Nevertheless, we trust our God who revealed himself to Abraham as the righteous Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25), and to Moses as "the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6). We believe in Jesus, in God's love for us that none of us who believe in him will perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Reactions to the True Word of God (1 Kings 22:23-28)

Finally, after sharing his vision of the lying spirit in the Lord's courtroom, Micaiah brings the point home!

"So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster204 for you." (1 Kings 22:23)

Previously, Elijah had prophesied disaster for Ahab (1 Kings 21:21). Now Micaiah says that this is the time the disaster will occur. Ahab, you will die in this battle and all these court prophets are liars!

His prophecy evokes an immediate reaction from the Zedekiah who had prophesied about the horns.

"Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. 'Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?' he asked." (1 Kings 22:24)

I'm the true prophet, Zedekiah is claiming. When did God's Spirit ever come to you? he asks with sarcasm.

"Micaiah replied, 'You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room.'" (1 Kings 22:25)

If you don't know already, Zedekiah, Micaiah is saying, you'll know when they come to find you where you are hiding in order to take your life for false prophecy.

Ahab, too, reacts with anger and orders Micaiah to be held in prison.

"26 The king of Israel then ordered, 'Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash205 the king's son 27 and say, "This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely."'

28 Micaiah declared, 'If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.' Then he added, 'Mark my words, all you people!'" (1 Kings 22:26-28)

King Ahab's Syrian Wars
King Ahab's Syrian Wars (Larger map)

Ahab qualifies his condemnation with the words, "until I return safely." Micaiah replies that if he returns safely it will show that Micaiah is not a true prophet after all. Then he says to all the stunned courtiers: Watch and see if what I've said isn't true!

Q23. (1 Kings 22:10-28) What kinds of pressures is Micaiah experiencing as he prophesies before Kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat? What is his danger from men? What is his danger from Yahweh? Why are the true prophets of the Old Testament so honored by Jesus? (Matthew 5:12; 23:31-32, 37; Luke 11:50-51; 13:34).

Ramoth Gilead

Ramoth Gilead was an important fortified city on the border between Israel and Syria. It was in the portion of the Promised Land east of the Jordan River conquered by Moses and assigned to the tribe of Gad.206 Its name, Ramoth (Hebrew rāmōṯ) means "heights, high places" in the region of Gilead. It seems to have been on the main road, the King's Highway, that runs south from Damascus in an area flat enough so battles could be fought effectively with chariots. Most scholars today identify it with Tell er-Rumeith, about 4.5 miles (7 km) south of the city of Ar-Ramtha, in the far northwest of present-day Kingdom of Jordan, near its border with Syria.207

Ramoth Gilead had been controlled by Israel when the northern kingdom was formed (Joshua 20:8; 21:38), but seems to have been conquered by Syria under Ben-Hadad I. Its return to Israel had been promised by Ben-Hadad II as part of the covenant that secured his release by Ahab, but never completed (1 Kings 20:34).

The Battle of Ramoth Gilead (1 Kings 22:29-36)

"29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead. 30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, 'I will enter the battle in disguise, but you wear your royal robes.' So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle." (1 Kings 22:29-30)

Since archers in a battle tended to focus their attack on the king, perhaps Ahab believes that if he is disguised, Micaiah's prophecy of his death can be thwarted, and that instead they will attack his ally King Jehoshaphat of Judah. Why Jehoshaphat would go along with this ruse, I don't know, since it would endanger him!

The text indicates, however, that Ahab's scheme didn't work.

"31 Now the king of Aram had ordered his thirty-two chariot commanders, 'Do not fight with anyone, small or great, except the king of Israel.' 32 When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they thought, 'Surely this is the king of Israel.' So they turned to attack him, but when Jehoshaphat cried out, 33 the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel and stopped pursuing him.

"But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor." (1 Kings 22:31-34a)

Edwin John Prittie, 'Ahab Slain' (1923) in Jane Eayre  Fryer, The Bible Story Book for Boys and Girls
Edwin John Prittie, 'Ahab Slain' (1923) in Jane Eayre Fryer, The Bible Story Book for Boys and Girls (John C. Winston, 1924)

Initially, the Syrian archers turn their attack on Jehoshaphat, but they soon recognize that he is not their main target -- Ahab, King of Israel. King Ahab is wearing scale armor, small scales tied together by thongs (not a breastplate used later by Greek and Roman soldiers). While scale armor would protect against an arrow hitting straight on, an arrow could pierce the soldier if it came in between the scales, as happens to Ahab.208

The bowman doesn't realize he is shooting at the king of Israel himself, and the random arrow just happens to find its way between the scales of his armor, fatally wounding him.209 Of course, this "lucky arrow" is fulfilling God's plan.

"The king told his chariot driver, 'Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I've been wounded.' 35 All day long the battle raged, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that evening he died." (1 Kings 22:34b-35)

Ahab knows he is wounded and withdraws, but stays on the battlefield, propped up in his chariot so that his soldiers will continue to fight, encouraged by his presence. But the battle turns against them, and his army panics and retreats.

"As the sun was setting, a cry spread through the army: 'Every man to his town; everyone to his land!'" (1 Kings 22:36)

Dogs Licking Ahab's Blood (1 Kings 22:37-38)

Elijah had prophesied to Ahab sometimes previously,

"In the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, dogs will lick up your blood-- yes, yours!" (1 Kings 21:19b)

The narrator makes sure the reader realizes that Yahweh's word is fulfilled, as he relates the details of Ahab's death and burial.

"37 So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried him there.
38 They washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria (where the prostitutes bathed), and the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared." (1 Kings 22:37-38)

Summary of Ahab's Reign and Succession (1 Kings 22:39-40)

Now the narrator summarizes Ahab's other achievements, his burial, and succession.

"39 As for the other events of Ahab's reign, including all he did, the palace he built and inlaid with ivory, and the cities he fortified, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? 40 Ahab rested with his fathers. And Ahaziah his son succeeded him as king." (1 Kings 22:39-40)

Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah (1 Kings 22:41-53)

Chapter 22 concludes with summary information about the reign of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah and Ahaziah, Ahab's son. Since they don't figure directly into the story of Elijah's life, I haven't commented on them further.

"41 Jehoshaphat son of Asa became king of Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel. 42 Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-five years. His mother's name was Azubah daughter of Shilhi. 43 In everything he walked in the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. 44 Jehoshaphat was also at peace with the king of Israel...." (1 Kings 22:41-44a)

Jehoshaphat is, however, criticized by the Prophet Jehu for allying himself with the wicked king Ahab.

"1 When Jehoshaphat king of Judah returned safely to his palace in Jerusalem, 2 Jehu the seer, the son of Hanani, went out to meet him and said to the king, 'Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, the wrath of the Lord is upon you. 3 There is, however, some good in you, for you have rid the land of the Asherah poles and have set your heart on seeking God.'" (2 Chronicles 19:1-3)

Q24. (1 Kings 22:29; 2 Chronicles 19:2) Why do you think Jehoshaphat goes into battle alongside Ahab, even after he hears Micaiah's prophecy? What kind of weaknesses in Jehoshaphat's character does this decision suggest?

Reflection on Court Prophets

We need to pause for a moment to consider the relevance to our day of the sycophantic prophets in Ahab's court.

The passage about the false prophets in Ahab's court shows the danger of men of God identifying themselves too closely with men of power. When you seek the favor of a great man, you know you cannot speak a word from God against him and still keep his favor. So you temper your comments. You are no longer an independent prophet of Yahweh, but one of the sycophantic courtiers that a king gathers around himself to reinforce his own preferences.

In country after country, in age after age, we have observed what happens to the integrity of men and women of God when they are attracted by power. When the Russian Orthodox Patriarch endorsed the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, it injured the independence of the Orthodox Church throughout the world. When Evangelicals publicly endorsed an American president's candidacy without appropriate distance from his sins, they discredited their entire movement in the eyes of many.

Mistaken Prophecy

The Scripture states clearly:

"If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:22)

This seems like a truism, that a true prophet's words will come true.

However, these words are worthy of pondering in our own day. In the 2020 American presidential election, a number of prominent Pentecostal leaders prophesied that their favored candidate would win. When he didn't, some repented and asked forgiveness publicly. Others doubled down on what -- judged by subsequent events -- seems to have been mistaken.210

This led some to believe that there is no true prophecy in our day, that prophecy passed away with the apostles. I disagree. We shouldn't expect prophecy to pass away until Jesus comes (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

However, we know that even prophets can make mistakes, as did Nathan (2 Samuel 7:3-5). Prophecies can be conditional, and events cause God to change his mind, as in the case of Jonah (Jonah 3:4, 10; Jeremiah 18:7-10). Sometimes outcomes are deferred (1 Kings 21:29). Sometimes even true prophecies are misinterpreted, as in the case of Paul being imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem (see Acts 19:21; 20:23; 21:11-14).

Paul encourages all to seek to prophesy in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:5). I think here he is talking about an occasional ability to prophesy, rather than the established gift-ministry of prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:29).

We need to receive prophecy with humility. Even the finest prophets only know in part and prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13:9). And everything that is said needs to be weighed carefully (1 Corinthians 14:29) and tested (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). We must not despise prophecy, Paul tells the Thessalonian church, but we are to discern what is said and hold onto the good.

Q25. What is the danger of Christian leaders identifying themselves too closely with political leaders? What do the Christian leaders hope to gain from the association? What do the political leaders hope to gain? What is the effect on the church and Christ's work if these political leaders are ungodly men? How can Christians work for good through politics without being corrupted by a quest for power?

6.2 Elijah Confronts King Ahaziah (1 Kings 22:53-2 Kings 1)

Now we return to our story of Elijah and the kings of Israel. After his death, Ahab is succeeded by his son Ahaziah (whose name means, "Yah[weh] has grasped/sustained"). Though he has the name of Yahweh in his name, he is obviously not a worshipper of Yahweh. Ahaziah has an evil, but otherwise undistinguished reign -- a short administration of only two years.

"51 Ahaziah son of Ahab became king of Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. 52 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, because he walked in the ways of his father and mother and in the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. 53 He served and worshiped Baal and provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger, just as his father had done." (1 Kings 22:51--53)

The narrator outlines two primary sins:

  1. Golden calves. He continues Jeroboam's sin of causing Israel to worship at the golden calves, placed strategically at Bethel in the south and Dan in the north.
  2. Baal worship. He puts his faith in the Canaanite god Baal. Jezebel, daughter of a Phoenician king, had killed the prophets of God to suppress Yahweh worship, and had sponsored prophets of Baal and Asherah. And she has done her job thoroughly. Now Jezebel's son and Ahab's successor believes in Jezebel's gods.

Here, 1 Kings ends and 2 Kings begins. They were originally part of the same narrative, broken up probably to fit on two scrolls.

Moab Rebels against Israel (2 Kings 1:1)

Moabite Stone (Mesha Stele), 840 BC.
Moabite Stone (Mesha Stele), 840 BC.

As 2 Kings begins, the narrator observes,

"After Ahab's death, Moab rebelled against Israel." (2 Kings 1:1)

This agrees with what is given on the Moabite Stone (or Mesha Stele), a stele of black basalt, dated about 840 BC, that was found in 1868 in Dhībân, Jordan, east of the Jordan River. On it, King Mesha of Moab recounts how the god Chemosh had been angry with Moab and allowed them to be subjugated to Israel, probably under Omri, Ahab's father. It reads:

"Now Omri took the land of Madeba, and occupied it in his day, and in the days of his son [Ahab], forty years."

Finally, Mesha throws off the yoke of Israel.

 "I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men ... women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of Yahweh, and offered them before Chemosh"

The stone contains the first extra-biblical reference to the Israelite God Yahweh. While there are some unsolved chronological problems, the Moabite Stone confirms the biblical account.211

Ahaziah's Fall (2 Kings 1:2)

Ahab's son Ahaziah has an accident early in his reign that cuts it short.

"Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself." (1 Kings 1:2a)

The palace in Samaria was probably an elaborate two or three story building. There were no panes of glass in those days, but windows would be openings in the walls to let in air and light. The window openings were typically filled with hinged casements made of wood latticework, often quite ornamental. They could be opened fully, but when closed, the lattice would provide some privacy and protection from the sun on a hot day, but would let the breezes through. Lattice windows are used to this day in warm middle eastern countries.212

By its nature, wood lattice is weak. Ahaziah must have accidentally crashed into the lattice, broken through, and fallen two or three stories to the ground. His injuries may have included compound fractures as well as internal injuries213 -- serious enough that Ahaziah isn't sure he'll live.

Consulting Baal-Zebub (2 Kings 1:2b)

"So he sent messengers, saying to them, 'Go and consult214 Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover215 from this injury.'" (2 Kings 1:2b)

Baal worship has similarities throughout the region, but isn't uniform. Each city has its own particular idols and variations on the Baal cult. For example, we hear of Baal of Peor, Baal Gad, Baal of Hermon, Baal-berith, etc.216 The Baal cult that Ahaziah has the most confidence in is Baal-Zebub,217 the god of Ekron, a Philistine city on the coastal plain of Palestine. By New Testament times, the demon Beelzebub was considered the prince of demons (Matthew 12:22--28).

Elijah Intercepts Ahab's Messengers (2 Kings 1:3-8)

Location of Samaria, Ekron and Moab (larger map)

The messengers have begun their journey from Samaria to Ekron, a trip of about 56 miles (91 km.),218 at least two days each way. Elijah meets them at the beginning of their trip, so they return to the palace much sooner than expected.

"3 The angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, 'Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, "Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?" 4 Therefore this is what the Lord says: "You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!"' So Elijah went.

5 When the messengers returned to the king, he asked them, 'Why have you come back?'

6 'A man came to meet us,' they replied. 'And he said to us, "Go back to the king who sent you and tell him, 'This is what the Lord says: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending men to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!"' (2 Kings 1:3-7)

Elijah tells Ahaziah that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is insulted that Ahaziah considers Him so impotent that he sends to a pagan god two days' journey distant! Yahweh is the God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, went before them to settle the Promised Land, and recently proved himself superior to Baal on Mount Carmel. Ahaziah's inquiry is not only insulting, it is defiling. The Torah commands:

"Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:31)

Elijah prophesies that Ahaziah will die from his injuries and the messengers carry this word back to the king.

A Hair Mantle and a Leather Belt (2 Kings 1:7-8)

"7 The king asked them, 'What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?'

8 They replied, 'He was a man with a garment of hair and219 with a leather belt around his waist.'

The king said, 'That was Elijah the Tishbite.' (2 Kings 1:7-8)

From the messengers' description, Ahaziah knows instantly that Elijah is the prophet they met. This kind of humble dress seems to characterize many of the prophets (Zechariah 3:14) down to John the Baptist. The New Testament records.

"John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey." (Mark 1:6)

Ahaziah Sends Armed Men to Take Elijah (2 Kings 1:9-12)

Azariah is both angry and fearful. This is a case of "kill the messenger."

"9 Then he sent to Elijah a captain with his company of fifty men. The captain went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, 'Man of God, the king says, "Come down!"'

10 Elijah answered the captain, 'If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!' Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men." (2 Kings 1:9-10)

We may be shocked by such a harsh judgment upon the soldiers. But we shouldn't quibble with God's judgments in protecting and honoring his servant. They have come to arrest and kill Elijah, who has spoken Yahweh's true words. The king sends another band of soldiers with the same result.

"13 So the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. This third captain went up and fell on his knees before Elijah. 'Man of God,' he begged, 'please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants! 14 See, fire has fallen from heaven and consumed the first two captains and all their men. But now have respect for my life!'" (1 Kings 1:13-14)

The third time, the captain in charge approaches Elijah with appropriate humility -- on his knees, begging, acknowledging Elijah as the Man of God. The angel assures Elijah that his life is no longer in danger.

"15 The angel of the Lord said to Elijah, 'Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.' So Elijah got up and went down with him to the king.

Elijah Prophesies to Ahaziah. Artist unknown
Elijah Prophesies to Ahaziah. Artist unknown.

16 He told the king, 'This is what the Lord says: Is it because there is no God in Israel for you to consult that you have sent messengers to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Because you have done this, you will never leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!' 17 So he died, according to the word of the Lord that Elijah had spoken." (2 Kings 1:15-17a)

Earlier in this lesson we saw that Jehoshaphat was careful to seek guidance from Micaiah, a true prophet of Yahweh (though he didn't follow Micaiah's word). Here, Ahaziah seeks guidance from Baal rather than Israel's own God. In our day we see politicians, military leaders, and common people making decisions by consulting all sorts of experts, but failing to consult God himself in earnest prayer and listening. Some have used this passage wrongly as proof that people should go to God for healing rather than doctors. This is a false interpretation. We should seek both God and the physicians he has given us to maintain our health. Nowhere are we told that true faith means rejecting medicine!

Q26. (2 Kings 1) Why is Yahweh offended by Ahaziah's consulting Baal rather than Israel's own God? What are modern-day applications of this sin? Have you ever made important decisions without seeking God's wisdom? Why?

Ahaziah Succeeded by Joram (2 Kings 1:17b-18)

The chapter ends in a formulaic conclusion to Ahaziah's reign. Joram seems to be Ahaziah's brother.

"Because Ahaziah had no son, Joram succeeded him as king in the second year of Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah. 18 As for all the other events of Ahaziah's reign, and what he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? (2 Kings 1:17b--18)

We'll read about Joram's tragic death, prophesied by Elijah, in Lesson 7.2 (2 Kings 9:14-29).

6.3 Elijah's Letter to Jehoram, King of Judah (2 Chronicles 21:12-15)

Elijah is primarily a prophet to the northern kingdom Israel. But in 1 Chronicles we find a letter he writes to Jehoram, king of Judah, the son of Jehoshaphat. Don't be confused; there is a king of Israel with a similar name, Joram or Jehoram (2 Kings 1:17). In fact, the names Joram and Jehoram seem to be used interchangeably.

Jehoram, king of Judah, is an evil king, in part because his father Jehoshaphat (one of Judah's better kings) had married him to Athaliah, a daughter of Ahab, king of Israel. It was designed as a marriage alliance between the two countries. Jehoram himself murders some of his brothers so he can secure his throne. But after Jehoram's death, Athaliah the queen (and later the queen mother) nearly completes the task by wiping out all the descendants of David eligible to sit upon the throne of Judah -- except one, Joash, who was hidden (2 Kings 11). 2 Kings 8:16-24 tells the basics of Jehoram's evil reign, pretty much parallel with the account in 1 Chronicles 21:4-11. However, the Chronicler includes in his account a letter from Elijah the prophet.

Elijah compares Jehoram's evil reign with those of a couple of the "good kings" of Judah -- Jehoshaphat and Asa.

"This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: 'You have not walked in the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah. " (1 Chronicles 21:12)

Rather, his actions are more like the evil kings of Israel.

"But you have walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and you have led Judah and the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves, just as the house of Ahab did. You have also murdered your own brothers, members of your father's house, men who were better than you." (1 Chronicles 21:13)

Elijah has spelled out the indictment. Now he declares the Lord's judgment.

"14 So now the Lord is about to strike your people, your sons, your wives and everything that is yours, with a heavy blow. 15 You yourself will be very ill with a lingering disease of the bowels, until the disease causes your bowels to come out." (1 Chronicles 21:14-15)

Indeed, Elijah's word came to pass. Jehoram dies a horrible death. The Chronicler gives his epitaph:

"He passed away, to no one's regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings." (2 Chronicles 21:20b)

Elijah must have been very near the end of his ministry when this letter was written. Stek writes,

"If Jehoram committed these atrocities shortly after his father's death in 848 BC, this letter may be dated as early as 847 BC, and Elijah's translation may have taken place the same year."220

Elijah's letter to Jehoram reminds us afresh that God sees our actions and will hold all to account, whether small or great.

Lessons for Disciples

These have been kind of grim chapters. But by its very nature, the life of a reforming prophet of Yahweh isn't filled with sunlight. His focus is rooting out evil and turning people from false gods. Let's review some of the chief lessons of these chapters.

  1. Inquiring of the Lord before undertaking any major action is wise. Sometimes God will speak to us directly. More commonly, we can discern his will by sensing his nudges or restraints. The key is to wait on him rather than just forging ahead heedlessly (1 Kings 22:7)
  2. The authenticity of a man or woman of God lies not in the show they can put on, but in their allegiance to Jesus. Jesus said, by their fruits you shall know them (1 Kings 20:10-11; Matthew 7:15-20)
  3. It is dangerous for leaders to gather around them only people who agree with them. They tell the leader what he or she wants to hear. Diversity in counselors provides safety and avoids "group-think" (1 Kings 20:6-8; Proverbs 11:14).
  4. Yahweh seems to be soliciting an evil spirit to deceive Ahab, which is difficult for us to understand (1 Kings 22:19-22) Perhaps this is what Paul describes when people persist in suppressing the truth and they are "given over" to their lies (Romans 1:18-25).
  5. We may have great pressures when we are called upon to "speak truth to power," as Micaiah was, but we must do what God is urging us to do! (1 Kings 22:10-28)
  6. We must not be disobedient like Jehoshaphat was when God shows him not to do something. Associating ourselves with evil and evil men displeases God unless we act under his direction (1 Kings 22:29; 2 Chronicles 19:2).
  7. There is a danger of prophets and Christians associating themselves too closely with political parties and government leaders. While we might gain some power, we may very well lose the clear testimony of the gospel as our image is conflated with political forces.
  8. Unlike Ahaziah, we must consult with God about our actions before doing anything. To consult with false gods, mediums, etc. or ungodly people, rather than God, will lead us astray (2 Kings 1)

Elijah: Rebuilding Yahweh's Altar, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats.


Father, keep us humble before you so we can discern wisdom when we hear it. Keep us from the pride and vanity that seeks people to like us. Keep us from the corruption of the world. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, 'First seek the counsel of the Lord.'" (1 Kings 22:5, NIV)

"Micaiah said, 'As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.'" (1 Kings 22:14, NIV)

"Micaiah declared, 'If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.' Then he added, 'Mark my words, all you people!'" (1 Kings 22:28, NIV)

"Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?" (2 Kings 1:3, NIV)


References and Abbreviations

[195] We need to distinguish this Zedekiah son of Kenaanah from the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo whose prophecies are contained in the book of Zechariah.

[196] For example, Psalm 18:2; 75:4, 10; 89:17, 24; cf. Deuteronomy 33:17.

[197] Jeremiah 19:1, 10-12; 27:2; 32:6-25.

[198] Ezekiel 4:1-2, 12; 12:3-7.

[199] Isaiah 20:2-4.

[200] Sārîs, "official, eunuch." The meaning "eunuch" arose with the practice of utilizing castrated men in key positions in the various nations of the Ancient Near East, though by no means were all officials physical eunuchs (R. D. Patterson, TWOT #1545). (Eunuch who is a) "court official" (Holladay 260, 2).

[201] Jeremiah 20:7; Ezekiel 14:9; 2 Samuel 17:14; 24:1; Jeremiah 4:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12.

[202] Judges 9:23; Isaiah 19:14; 1 Samuel 16:14-16; 18:10.

[203] Amos 3:6; Isaiah 45:7; Deuteronomy 32:39; etc.

[204] "Disaster" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "evil" (KJV) the noun raʿ that we saw in 1 Kings 21:21-22. It can refer to: 1. physical injury, 2. times of distress, and 3. (usually) unethical or immoral activity (G. Herbert Livingston, TWOT #2191a).

[205] Joash means "Yah[weh] has bestowed." Joash seems to be a younger son of Ahab, not one of Ahab's older sons who inherit the throne: Ahaziah (1 Kings 22:40, 51-53) and Joram (2 Kings 1:17).

[206] Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 20:8; 21:38.

[207] William Stanford LaSor, "Ramoth-Gilead," ISBE 4:40-41. The site was excavated beginning in 1967 by archaeologist Paul Lapp (Tristan Barak, "Reconstructing Tell er-Rumeith," Friends of ASOR (vol. IV, no. 4), April 2016. www.asor.org/anetoday/2016/04/reconstructing-tell-er-rumeith/)

[208] "Between sections of his armor" (NIV), "between the scale armor and the breastplate" (ESV, NRSV), "the joints of the harness" (KJV) is two words: the preposition bên, "between", the noun debeq, "joints" from the verb dābaq, "stick to, join to," often used of physical things sticking to each other, especially parts of the body. Debeq is used in describing Ahab's wounding here and in 2 Chronicles 18:33. In Isaiah 41:7 it describes soldering in the construction of idols. Reference is obviously to one thing attached to another (Earl S. Kalland, TWOT #398a). širyôn is "body armor" (here and 1 Samuel 17:5, 38). Holladay translates debeq as "appendage," that is, scales of coat of mail (Holladay 66) and širyôn as "coat of mail, scale-armor" (Holladay 384). The armor used in the Ancient Near East was scaled armor, small scales tied together by thongs. Hoffmeier notes that while Greek and Roman soldiers had a metal breastplate, the Hebrews used scale armor, not plate armor (J.K. Hoffmeier, "Weapons of War," ISBE 4:1041, C1 and C3; J. W. DeHoog, "Scale Armor," ISBE 4:348).

[209] "At random" (NIV, ESV), "unknowingly" (NRSV), "at a venture" (KJV) is two words, the preposition , "to" and the noun tōm, "integrity," here "in his simplicity," that is, unsuspectingly (J. Barton Payne, TWOT #2522a). "Perfection, completeness." In 2 Samuel 15:11 it is translated "unsuspectingly," in our verse, "unwittingly" (Holladay 391).

[210] See Craig Keener, "Failed Trump Prophecies Offer a Lesson in Humility," Christianity Today, 20 Jan 2021. Julia Duin, "The Charismatic Christians Prophesying Trump's Victory (And Not Backing Down)," Religion Unplugged, 6 Nov 2020; Julia Duin, "The Christian Prophets Who Say Trump Is Coming Again", Politico, 18 Feb 2021.

[211] J. R. Kautz III, "Moab," ISBE 3:393; P.D. Miller, Jr., "Moabite Stone," ISBE 3:396-398.

[212] "Lattice" (NIV) is śĕbākâ, "lattice work" (probably window lattice) (TWOT #2230b). See Proverbs 7:6; Judges 5:28; Song of Solomon 2:9. A. C. Dickie and J. B. Payne, "House," ISBE 2:771.

[213] "Injured" (NIV), "lay sick" (ESV), "lay injured" (NRSV), "was sick" (KJV) is the Qal imperfect of ḥālâ, "be or become sick, weak, diseased." To be 'sick' includes the condition brought about by physical injury or wounding (Carl Philip Weber, TWOT #655). "Injury" (NIV, NRSV), "sickness" (ESV), "disease" (KJV) is ḥŏlî, "sickness, disease, illness." (TWOT #655a).

[214] "Consult" (NIV), "inquire of" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the Qal imperative of dāraš, "to seek with care, inquire." To seek God also connotes an inquiry after knowledge, advice, insight, into a particular problem (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #455). It can mean to "seek a word from" a deity. We saw this previously in 1 Kings 22:5 (Holladay 74, 7).

[215] "Recover" is the Qal imperfect of ḥāyâ, "live, remain alive, revive from sickness" (TWOT #644).

[216] Numbers 25:1-9; Joshua 11:17; Judges 3:3; 8:33.

[217] Baal means "lord, master, husband," while zĕbûb is "flies." Scholars believe that this is a deliberate mocking distortion of the god's real name zĕbûl, "prince, high place, dais" (D. E. Aune, "Beelzebul," ISBE 1:447; Zĕbûb, Herbert Wolf, TWOT #523a; Holladay 86; K.G. Jung, "Baal," ISBE 1:377-378).

[218] Ekron is the present-day Khirbet el-Muqanna or Tel Miqne, near Kibbutz Revadim in Israel (A.F. Rainey, "Ekron," ISBE 2:47-48). The city of Samaria is the present day city of Sebastia in Palestine (A. Van Selms, "Samaria," ISBE 4:295-298).

[219] "Garment of hair" (NIV, ESV), "hairy man" (NRSV, KJV) is three words: ʾîš, "man", "śēʿār, "hair," and baʿal, "owner, possessor, husband, master."

[220] John H. Stek, "Elijah," ISBE 2:66.

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