December 18, 2017

Three Men and an Arrow

Gil Fremont

How should Christian leaders relate to secular leaders? Chuck Colson wrote in Kingdoms in Conflict about his days in the Nixon White House and described how easy it was to manipulate conservative religious leaders by inviting them to meet with the president, then stroking them with vague promises and reassurances. It was a sure way to get the support of conservative churches. A leading evangelist was asked in a 1995 interview why he did not point out offenses against God to a president to whom he had access. He replied that God had not called him to deal with those issues, but to preach the gospel and offer prayer support.

Many Christians feel betrayed by these men who seem to have traded the prophet’s mission for worldly prestige, but none of this is new. Second Chronicles 18 records a similar situation. The nation of Israel was ruled by wicked king Ahab, who wanted to wage a war but needed the cooperation and material assistance of Jehoshaphat, the godly ruler of Judah. Jehoshaphat came to Samaria, and committed himself and the lives of his soldiers to help Ahab even after a dramatic warning by a true prophet of God. Jehoshaphat ignored the warning and nearly died. Ahab ignored the warning and actually died.

There are three types of religious character represented in this story: the ungodly man, the compromised man, and the godly man. Each of these men made decisions on the basis of his character, and each man’s character holds lessons for us today.

Ahab almost seems a caricature of the ungodly man, but we know he was a real, flesh-and-blood, historical king. He shows us how calloused, self-centered, and illogical the unregenerate heart can be. In the history before 2 Chronicles 18, we find that Ahab was a whiner (1 Kings 21:4–6), that he was covetous (1 Kings 21:1–4), that he blamed others for the consequences of his own actions (1 Kings 18:17, 18), that he was dominated by his wife (1 Kings 21:25), that he was willing to do anything to get his desires (1 Kings 21:1–16), that he was foolish in foreign affairs (1 Kings 20:31–43), that he was resentful of people who tried to rebuke him (1 Kings 21:20), and that he was sold on doing evil (1 Kings 21: 20, 25, 26).

In this story we find him intent to involve his country in an unnecessary war and to get the endorsement and assistance of a conservative religious leader. He used flattery and lavish attention to make Jehoshaphat feel wanted and needed. He had a staff that was skilled in propaganda and communication, arrogant in self-anointed authority (2 Chron. 18:5, 9–11, 23). As Ahab listened to his 400 false prophets telling him what he wanted to hear, he was fully aware that they were lying. When Micaiah repeated their false counsel Ahab was angered at the mockery but knew the truth. His personal enmity toward Elijah (1 Kings 21:20) was directed toward Micaiah. By silencing the messenger, he hoped to ignore the message.

By threatening the prophet, he seems to have hoped that the prophet would recant and change by his own power Ahab’s doom (2 Chron. 18:25, 26). That same wrong-headedness is seen in the reactions of unsaved politicians today and in the liberal media’s hysterical misrepresentations of the statements of Christian leaders. They want the prophet of God to protect them from the judgment of God for what they have already decided to do.

Ahab rightly accused Micaiah of being negative (2 Chron. 18:17). God Himself had sent the lying spirit to deceive Ahab, and decreed that the spirit would succeed. God caused the king’s deception because He intended to destroy him. Ahab was so blinded that even when Micaiah explained the God-given deception, he still rushed headlong to judgment. When threatening failed to change the words of the prophet, Ahab tried to outsmart God by dressing as a common soldier and putting Jehoshaphat out front as a decoy, counting on the compromised Jehoshaphat’s astounding lack of discernment. But Ahab was unable to thwart God’s judgment as it came on the point of an arrow shot at random.

We wonder that God waited so long to bring Ahab low, even showing mercy on him at one point for halfhearted repentance (1 Kings 21:27–29). Ahab was truly a wicked man bound for destruction. That is a hard thing for 21stcentury America to grasp with its ingrained optimism and liberal indoctrination about the goodness of man. Bible believers say they don’t accept that view of man, but the difficulty compromised evangelicals have in recognizing the committed hostility of those in public life suggests that many do. Just as there are ungodly men, there are compromised men like Jehoshaphat, the inscrutable dupe.

He had a record of righteousness, and the first verse in 2 Chronicles 18 tells us that he had “riches and honour in abundance.” In other words, he had no needs and everyone’s admiration. From our perspective, it is difficult to understand what motivated him to agree to risk his life for a rascal who openly intended to use him. Jehoshaphat had nothing to gain and nearly everything to lose, but after being invited to dine at the capital (the Samaritan equivalent of the White House) with the top politician, he practically gave his soul in gratitude for that attention. Jehoshaphat just seemed to be getting in the way of God’s judgment, like a tourist wandering into a nuclear test site.

The most baffling thing about his decision to cooperate with God’s enemy is that he agreed to dress as a decoy for a man targeted for death by the omnipotent God even after hearing the true prophet’s message of doom.

Perhaps he saw it as a witnessing opportunity? His initial request that Ahab seek God’s guidance (2 Chron. 18:6) would have been a good start if he had followed through, demanding that Ahab be accountable to God’s Word, or staunchly defending Micaiah. But he seemed more concerned about offending the ungodly than he was about defending God’s servant. He watched the righteous stand alone, and still allied himself with God’s enemy.

Was Jehoshaphat a good man? In some ways he was. God commended him for leading the people of Judah to righteousness. But in 19:1–3, God sent a prophet to Jehoshaphat to say that God’s wrath rested on him for his part in trying to help Ahab. The lesson is clear: it is possible for a highly respected, godly leader to be dead wrong in his associations and political dealings. Even someone worthy to be commended for all time in God’s Word, someone who led in national revival, was not above a rebuke for sinful foolishness, for putting the feelings of the wicked above the Word of the Lord. The compromised man will become an ungodly man.

What about Micaiah, the truly godly man? His kind will make enemies just by being honest, and he may suffer physically for it (2 Chron. 26). Pastors in San Francisco have seen the wrath of the ungodly directed against their families and churches because of their open opposition to homosexuality. Certain pro-lifers have been jailed simply for showing politicians the “blobs of tissue” killed by abortion.

Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men shall speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” Preachers still seek to avoid the ill treatment promised by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” They avoid the whole counsel of God, treading lightly around the sins of those they hope to influence. Micaiah was counted by Ahab as a personal enemy with a negative message. We find him grimly promising that he’ll say what God says, then suddenly saying what Ahab wants to hear. Perhaps he was so thoroughly disgusted with what he had seen that he resorted to sarcasm. In any case, Ahab instantly recognized Micaiah’s words (the very same words he had just eagerly accepted from the 400 false prophets) as false prophecy, and angrily demanded the truth. So Micaiah gave him the unvarnished truth, and Ahab got angry. So did Zedekiah, the false prophet, who struck Micaiah and rebuked him for daring to say he actually spoke for God. What a great example of the contemporary liberal clergy’s attitude toward the man who dares to say, “Thus saith the Lord!”

Can you imagine Micaiah’s frustration? He was ordered to prophesy, but warned to be nice, then attacked for lying and ordered to be truthful, then condemned to death for the truth! What then should a godly preacher say to a godless politician? Whatever God says. No platitudes, no prayer for God’s blessing on the designs of the wicked, but the cold, hard truth of God’s judgment on the sins of the political leader to whom he has access. That’s the clear lesson from God.

Ahab went to his inescapable doom. Micaiah went back to prison for the sake of God’s Word. And what about Jehoshaphat? He was left with riches and honor in abundance, but for his compromise with the ungodly, for his silence in the face of sin, God’s wrath remained on his head. And that is what remains on any man of God who neglects the opportunity to rebuke wickedness wherever it may be found.


Gil Fremont teaches at Bob Jones Junior High in Greenville, South Carolina.


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