I Kings 22:1–40. Was Ahab Deceived?
Key Notes: Jehoshaphat helps Ahab? One prophet against hundreds. God uses evil to destroy evil. Frustration of demonic power.
This text contains a problem easily ignored because it is difficult to unravel. What is God's interaction with the demonic? What could be more scarey and threatening? But passages that threaten us often contain vital truth that will help us understand Scripture more clearly.
IK.22:1–4 After three years of peace with Syria, Jehoshaphat of Judah came to visit Ahab. Ahab proposed that they recapture Ramoth-Gilead from the Syrians. This city had been a provincial capitol under Solomon. (IK.4:13). It should have been returned to Israel after Ahab's truce with Benhadad. (IK.20:34). Jehoshaphat agreed to join the battle.
22:5–12 But Jehoshaphat wanted first to inquire from God. Ahab gathered 400 prophets (not of the Lord) and they encouraged Ahab to go and win at Ramoth-Gilead. Jehoshaphat asked for another opinion, another prophet of God. Ahab mentioned Micaiah, who never had anything good to say to Ahab. Jehoshaphat did not like that kind of talk.
The scene was at the gate of Samaria with the kings in their royal robes, the 400 prophets leading the cheer and Zedekiah acting like a bull wearing metal horns to butt the Syrians away.
22:13–28 The messengers instructed Micaiah to confirm what the 400 prophets had already said. He refused, saying he would only say what God told him. Ahab asked the question again: shall we go to Ramoth-Gilead or not? Micaiah played along with a voice full of irony: Go to Ramoth-Gilead and win; God will give it into your hand.
Ahab insisted that he tell the truth. Then Micaiah told his vision of Israel scattered with no shepherd (ie.Ahab dead). Micaiah further offered the second part of his vision: God on His throne with the hosts of Heaven about him challenged His forces to entice Ahab to die at Ramoth-Gilead. One spirit came forward and agreed to be a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab's prophets. God told him to go; he would succeed.
Zedekiah was outraged and hit Micaiah in the face as if that were the Spirit of God going from him to Micaiah. Micaiah said he would later run for his life.
Ahab had Micaiah held hostage on bread and water until he returned in peace. Perhaps he had already been in detention. Micaiah said if what he said was true, Ahab would not return in peace. Micaiah was a brave man. "...so persecuted they the prophets that were before you". (Matt.5:12)
22:29–40 It gives one pause to realize that the two kings went ahead with their plan in spite of clear direction. They had set their minds to go to war and would not be deterred.
Ahab went in disguise and encouraged Jehoshaphat to go in his royal garments. (Why would Jehoshaphat agree to do that? Why should he be a target?) He became the target, but was able to dissuade the Syrians away. Ahab got hit by a "chance" arrow between the breast-plate and his mail skirt. He slowly bled to death, but stayed at the edge of the battle to support his troops. He was a brave man for all that. At evening the battle was over. Ahab died at Ramoth-Gilead and was brought back to Samaria for burial. They had not captured Ramoth-Gilead.
The dogs licked his blood from the chariot and the prostitutes washed themselves in it. What finer fluid is there than the blood of a king?
Why did God chose to have Ahab die in this way? Why not let him die of a heart-attack or a plague and an assassin? God had prophesied "your life for his". He had let Benhadad go against God's will and his life was now forfeited to Benhadad. IK.20:42
Why the big display at the gate of Samaria with the prophets and Zedekiah putting on their foolish show in front of the two kings and Micaiah? God is making it abundantly clear that He is in charge of the death of Ahab. Ahab, you recall, was a notorious Baal-worshiper, corrupting Israel, allowing Jezebel to murder the prophets of God as well as Naboth and his sons. God is putting an end to Baal worship and everyone will know it. It was all done in public.
Was Ahab deceived? He clearly saw the difference between the phony prophets and the prophet of God. The message was clear. But there were nevertheless two sources of information and he could chose. Was Jehoshaphat also deceived? Not likely, but why did he go on?
Why would God use an evil spirit to accomplish His purposes? God is holy and cannot look on sin.
"The Lord is just and all His ways and kind in all His doings." (Psa.145:17)
But "To the loyal You show yourself loyal; to the blameless You show yourself blameless; to the pure you show yourself pure and with the crooked You show yourself perverse. For You deliver a humble people but the haughty eyes You bring down." (Psa.18:25)
If this were the only instance of God using an evil spirit, we could shrug it off. Doctrine is not usually made from single references. So we look for other instances where God uses evil spirits to do His bidding.
•"God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem...that the violence done to the 70 sons of Jerubbaal (Gideon)...and their blood might be laid upon Abimelech." (Judg.9:23)
•"If that prophet be deceived, I the Lord have deceived that prophet and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. And they shall bear their punishment...that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me." (Ezek.14:9–11)
•"An evil spirit from the Lord tormented Saul". (ISam.16:14,23;18:10)
•Three foul spirits like frogs will assemble the kings for battle at Armageddon. Rev.16:13
God uses evil to destroy evil. He uses evil spirits--and evil people--to bring judgment on evil people.
"As judge, God stands to evil not in the attitude of permission, but in one of punishment. Since evil does not come from God, but from man, who rebels against God, chooses evil, and opposes it to God, so punishment comes upon man through evil. God proves His holiness most of all by that, that He punishes evil by evil and destroys it by itself. It is an essential feature in the divine government of the world that the evil which springs up in the world is made an instrument in the hand of the Holy One for neutralizing and destroying itself, and that it becomes a means of ruin to him who chooses it and brings it into being."
("The Books of Samuel". D. Erdman; Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 1887; Vol.5, p.257)
We have evidence that evil spirits know their ultimate end.
"Have you come to torment us before the time?" (Matt.8:29)
"Have you come here to destroy us?" (Mk.1:24)
"They begged Him not to command them to depart into the abyss." (LK8:31)
"You believe there is one God? The devils do, and tremble." (Jm.2:19)
We speculate, on the other hand, that they do not know the immediate implications of their deeds. Thus we believe that God can command evil spirits to do evil--which they are happy to do--but they cannot see that God is turning their evil against themselves and to His purposes.
•Thus Satan's "hour of darkness" is Jesus' death but he cannot see the glorious outcome three days later, the Resurrection. That was Satan's defeat.
•The evil spirit that deceives Ahab does not realize that Baalism is being punished; he only sees death for Israel's king.
•The evil spirit that turns the men of Shechem against Abimelech does not realize that God is exacting vengeance against Abimelech for murdering Gideon's children; he only sees the opportunity to make a disruption.
We may interpret Hitler's demonic power over Germany as God's judgment on a formerly Christian society--one that started the Great Reformation--which had fallen into gross apostasy that was corrupting seminaries and pastors all over the world by its destructive criticism of Scripture.
This concept is different from judicial hardening, in which God's continued pressure for obedience leads to further human resistance. No evil spirit is involved here.
•This happened to Pharaoh of the Exodus. He hardened his heart at first; afterward God hardened Pharaoh's heart by continually pressing him to obey.
•Isaiah is given a message which will harden Israel's hearts (Isa.6:8,9), already confirmed in unbelief. This passage is cited three times during the time of Christ and the early church to show that the unbelief of Isaiah's time was continuing. Jn.12:27–41; Matt.13:10–16; Acts 28:25
•Jesus' use of parables (Matt.13:10–17) magnetized the believing disciples while confusing the crowds that had rejected him.
We may ask whether God ever allowed evil spirits to attack believers. We have four examples, each of which was a defeat for Satan.
•Job. God used Satan's hate against himself. In trying to ruin Job, Satan proved God's power and Job's spiritual strength, and God brought Job through Satan's abuse to a higher spiritual plane. Job 1–3
•Jesus. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. Jesus defeated Satan under extreme physical weakness and emerged triumphant. Matt.4:1–11
•Peter was sifted by Satan (Lk.22:31) but survived because Jesus prayed for him. He was the stronger for it and became the early leader of the Christian church.
•Paul was given a messenger of Satan to buffet him lest he become too elated from the revelations he received. IICor.12:7
The concept we have studied is important because we are often led to believe that at best God is in an eternal struggle with evil (dualism), or at worst too weak to prevent evil from over-running nations and societies. This lesson leads us to the idea that God does use evil spirits and evil people to enact His judgment on the wicked and disobedient. He can also use evil spirits to temper and strengthen believers but not to infect or possess the believers.
"Surely the wrath of men shall praise Thee...." (Psa.76:10)