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Weekly Word


The Fire of God's Judgment

2 Kings 1:1-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 11, 2018.

Speculation and predictions are everywhere in our society today.  Everyone has an opinion about politics, business, religion, or society.  It is easy to become cynical like Pilate was before Jesus when he said, “What is truth?”  However, no matter how confusing the times of speculation are, there always comes a time when God makes clear the wisdom or folly of those speculations.  A case in point would be the many who predict that religion is on the way out and that Christianity is in its death throes.  Of course, if we are talking about dead religion that only masks itself with outward show and yet has no life, then we should be the first to say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”  However, I challenge us all to hear the word of the Lord and recognize that, when the dust settles, those who have put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will survive the fire of His judgments.  But those who thought they had the best understanding of the future and how to control it, will find themselves trapped in their own folly.  If we learn anything over these next two sermons, let us understand that the consuming fire of God brings down the wicked who rebel against Him, but it raises up the righteous who walk in faith with Him.

God’s judgment on the house of Ahab continues.

The clash between the wicked, political power of Ahab’s family line and those faithful to Yahweh continues in this passage.  But this clash is ultimately orchestrated by God Himself, and not the prophet Elijah.  The first stage of God’s judgment on Ahab took place with Ahab’s death in the last chapter.  The next stage will involve the death of Jezebel and the death of all male heirs to the throne.  You would think that this would happen quickly after Ahab’s death.  However, it is going to be 12 years after Ahab’s death that this is all fulfilled.  So it is important to recognize that, even as God’s judgment is falling, He leaves room for those involved to repent or show their true colors.  The judgment is stretched out in order to give room for either one.  So when God’s judgment is held off longer then we think, it is easy to slip into thinking that it won’t come at all.  There are many today who have convinced themselves that this idea of Jesus coming back and the judgment of the world is all a fairy tale.  They believe that because another year has gone by, and another presidential election has taken place, that things will continue moving forward as they always have.  They believe that they have time to pursue their own designs for the future.  We must take warning.  Today is a day for repentance and not for doubling down on abandoning God.  Our culture ignores this at its own peril.

We are told in verse one that the kingdom of Moab had rebelled against Israel upon the death of Ahab.  This kingdom was on the eastern side of the Dead Sea.  Though Ahab had some strength as a leader, he had none morally.  We can blame the deterioration on his son, but the truth is that the roots of this downfall are in Ahab’s life.  He has brought judgment on his own dynasty.  Northern Israel does not need a strong “leader” as the world thinks.  What they need is a moral leader that would lead them to repentance and turning back to God.

We are told that Ahab’s son Ahaziah has a serious “accident.”  He falls through a protective lattice and down at least one floor if not more.  He is injured so badly that he is concerned that he may not live.  Being Ahab’s son, it is no shocker that Ahaziah would turn to Baal for help.  Specifically he sends messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub, a local deity in the Philistine city of Ekron (it was about 50 miles away).  Here is a brief primer on the Canaanite religion.  Baal was considered to be the primary deity that humans interacted with.  The term Baal simply means master and so is used in a superlative sense, The Master.  The Canaanites also believed in local deities that were lesser than The Baal, however they were usually referenced as the master of “insert place name or descriptive term here.”  Thus Baal-Peor referenced the local deity of Peor who of course answered to The Baal.  In this passage the Philistine city of Ekron had a local deity they referred to as Baal-Zebub.  Over time this local deity had become known for having healing powers.  This is why Ahaziah asks his servants to inquire for him of this deity.  By the way, the phrase literally means Lord of the fly, where we get the term Lord of the flies.  Over the next 800 years this name became synonymous with Satan, the prince of demons (aka flies).  Thus, in the gospels Jesus is accused of casting out demons because he was in league with Beelzebub (alternate spelling of the time).

As the men travel towards Ekron, God sends Elijah to tell the men that God is not pleased with Ahaziah’s inquiring of a foreign, false god.  Thus a message is sent back to Ahaziah from Yahweh, the God of Israel, that he will not recover, but die.  It is presented in a way that shows his action of inquiring of Baal-Zebub seals his fate.  We will come back later and deal with this question about why Ahaziah seeks Baal-Zebub and not Yahweh.  When Ahaziah hears the story of the prophet from his servants he asks about what the prophet looked like and from the description he knows that it is Elijah.  Thus God confronts Ahaziah with his foolish decision through Elijah.  I guess we could say, like father like son.

Next we see that king Ahaziah sends a squadron of 50 men to capture Elijah and bring him in.  Notice that Elijah is not running this time.  He takes the position of sitting on top of a hill, waiting for them.  The captain addresses Elijah, “Man of God, the king has said, ‘Come down!’”  The command and threatening posture of Ahaziah’s troops does not show any humility or repentance.  Thus Elijah speaks out the request.  Let God decide which of us should be taken in judgment.  If I am a prophet of the Lord, and therefore quilty of nothing requiring the king to arrest me, then let fire come down from heaven and destroy you.  Of course God gives a clear decision as the 50 soldiers are killed by fire.   Ahaziah then sends a second detachment of 50 soldiers with the same mission.  That captain calls out to Elijah, “Man of God, thus has the king said, ‘Come down quickly!’”  Again there is no humility or repentance in the actions, and Elijah puts forth the same public challenge.  Let God decide which of us should “Come down quickly!”  Of course, fire falls from the sky again and kills the soldiers.  In a classic action of folly, Ahaziah sends a third detachment of soldiers to apprehend Elijah.  Clearly Ahaziah has no care for the troops that he sends to their doom.  Yet, this third captain is different.  He begs mercy of Elijah, and really of God Himself.  This captain humbles himself and shows that he understands whose judgment is to be feared.  Now these judgments with fire falling from the sky literally happened.  However, they also have a symbolic nature.  The Bible tells us that God is a consuming fire.  Judgment and decisions about His creation are part of His nature.  The decisions of God or the fire of His decisions can be a benefit to us or harm.  Just as fire can warm a person and prepare their food, so it can destroy them and take their life.  It is a healthy respect for fire that allows us to approach it and benefit from it.  Now God is more than the analogy of fire allows for.  God is a sentient being that can analyze our intent and hold us accountable for it.  Thus the same consuming fire of God that can destroy us in judgment, can also give us life.  It all has to do with how we approach him.  The humility of this captain saves himself and the life of the men under his command.  It is too bad that Ahaziah could not find the same humility within himself.

Elijah concedes to go with this third captain. He is brought before king Ahaziah and repeats what we have heard now for the third time:  “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-Zebub?”  Clearly there is a God in Israel who has proven Himself time and time again.  In fact the fire falling from the sky should be a clear reminder of the Mt. Carmel incident over 5 years ago.  For whatever reason, Ahaziah has followed the footsteps of his father in disregarding the power and proofs that God had given to them and rebelliously persisted in approaching the Baals of the Canaanite religion for help.  When we are not living for the Lord, we live in a state of fear and doubt.  We search and find the things of this world that can help us, whether through protection, or information for the future.  What are the things that I look to in order to determine how things will go?  Ahaziah knew he dare not approach Yahweh because he hadn’t been serving Yahweh.  So he tries to skirt around God by going to some other power.  Do I turn to my favorite business journal, or TV talk show host?  Do I turn to my favorite blog or internet website?  Do I search out prophetic voices that give me a sense of where things are headed?  Ultimately what we need is to turn to the Lord and seek Him.  Only then can we have the confidence that does not come from knowing the details of the future.  But what if I haven’t been living for Him?  Do what this third captain did.  Instead of hardening your heart towards God in pride, humble yourself and beg His mercy.  It is not the future you need to know.  Rather, you just need to know the One in whose hands your future lies. 

Today we see that those who make themselves enemies of God eventually will be taken in the fires of judgment.  But, next week, we will see that the same fiery judgment that brings down the wicked, lifts up the righteous.  Let us live for Jesus, not just on the outward, but within our hearts.  Let us put our trust in His ways and mercy, and not the ways of this world.

Fire of God's Judgment audio


Folly or Wisdom? Part III

Today we will wrap up this passage regarding the folly of Ahab and Jehoshaphat.  Here we see that Ahab thinks he can avoid his fate, or at least tries to do so.  It reminds me of the Persian tale called Appointment in Samarra.

The story is told that a master sends his servant to the market in Baghdad.  While the servant is there, he is jostled by what he thinks is a woman.  But when they lock eyes he sees that it is death and that death is giving him a menacing look.  The servant immediately runs home and tells the master of his harrowing experience.  He asks the master for a fast horse so that he can ride far away to Samarra and avoid death.  The master allows the servant to take the horse and leave.   However, the master goes to the marketplace and searches until he finds death.  He then asks death why he gave his servant a menacing look.  Death replies that it was not a menacing look, but rather, a look of surprise.  “I was surprised to see him in the marketplace of Baghdad when I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

This common plot element, sometimes involving time-travel, explores the issues of trying to avoid a fate that you have discovered somehow.  If you know your fate then how do you try to avoid it?  Trying to avoid it can cause us to do exactly what brings it about.  Perhaps the best thing a person can do is nothing.  But how can you know?  Such mental puzzles may be fun to think about.  But, in our story today, Ahab is trying to out-fox God.  Whether you are running to a far off place, like Jonah did, or you are concealing your identity like Ahab will do in today’s passage, you cannot avoid God.  Instead of running from God or trying to out-fox Him, all you need to do is repent and run into His arms.  This is the essence of wisdom.

You cannot avoid God’s decrees by trickery or strategy.

We do not know all of Ahab’s reasoning.  But, his plan involves hiding his identity.  Somehow he believes that if he pretends to be someone else then he will not be killed.  Of course, God will still know who he is.  Trickery or strategy often works with humans, but it cannot work on God because He always knows what you are plotting.  You will be caught up in your own craftiness.

On top of this, Ahab convinces Jehoshaphat to go into the battle dressed as a king while Ahab conceals his identity.  This plan sounds an awful lot like a set up for Jehoshaphat.  Why not both of them conceal their identity?  In truth, Ahab does not care about Jehoshaphat as much as Jehoshaphat cares about him.  Ahab is only concerned about his own skin and will seek to save himself at the expense of others around him.

This should have been another red flag to Jehoshaphat that can leave us shaking our head at his folly.  However, Jehoshaphat may have seen the situation differently.  It is possible that his faith in the God of Israel precludes him stooping to concealment.  He may see Ahab’s attempt at trickery as a severe lack of faith.  Of course this is just speculation.   But, I want us to recognize that Jehoshaphat is not a complete blockhead.  In his mind he believes he is doing the right thing and that God will protect him, unless it is his time.

We are told that the King of Syria had given his commanders the instruction to go after Ahab.  Their mission was not to defeat the army, but to find Ahab and capture or kill him.  Maybe he thinks this will end the war quickly, or maybe he is tired of fighting with Ahab and would rather get rid of him then worry about strategy.  Whatever the reason, since Jehoshaphat is the only one dressed up like a king, the commanders quickly surround him and are about to capture him.  We are told that Jehoshaphat cries out to God.  It is not clear exactly what gets the commanders attention, but they figure out that this is not Ahab.  Another piece of information in this situation is found in 2 Chronicles 18, which is a parallel retelling of this same story.  In that passage we are told that God “helped Jehoshaphat.”  So when Jehoshaphat cried out to God, God helped him by causing the commanders to recognize that this was not Ahab.  This is an important point because throughout the Bible we are told that when the righteous call upon the Lord, He will hear them and help them.  It is important to develop a habit of calling upon the Lord in the good times, so that when the difficult time comes, it is our automatic reaction.  God sometimes answers the fox-hole prayers of those who have not been living for Him.  But you are in a far better position if you cry out to God from the foundation of a life of praying and calling upon Him.

While Jehoshaphat is being helped by God, we are told that a random guy shoots an arrow that just happens to strike Ahab between the joints of his armor, and in a lethal place.  Though it is not stated outright, the author is pressing home the point that this seemingly random coincidence was not random at all.  Ahab has continually disregarded God’s signs and warnings to him.  Perhaps he took them as random coincidence.  When Elijah declared there would be no rain and it didn’t rain for 3.5 years, he may have consoled himself that it was coincidence.  When Elijah prayed and the fire fell on his sacrifice, or prayed and the rains came, he may have told himself that it was just coincidence.  It is common today to cast down any personal experiences of the righteous by claiming answered prayer is just coincidence.  But, at the moment the arrow pierced his flesh, I think that Ahab knew that God had caught him.  Does it matter if we know exactly how God made this happen?  The point is that Ahab tried to use a masquerade as a means of avoiding God’s judgment and it didn’t work.  It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now.  Many people masquerade as a righteous person doing good work, and even a religious person doing good work.  However, in their hearts they are wicked and living only for self.  God knows our hearts and, if we do not repent, we will not escape.  So, why not deliver yourself from such a fate today?  Ahab was given chance after chance and grace after grace, yet he persisted in doing his own way and rejecting God’s way.  Don’t make the same mistake.

We are told that Ahab is not immediately killed.  He is removed from the battle and propped up in a chariot in order to watch how it is going.  It seems he bled to death, although the arrow may have been poisoned as well.  The end result is that Ahab has time to ponder his life and the path he had chosen before he died.  Perhaps it was one last grace from God to see if Ahab would repent of his rebellion and call upon the God of Israel.  Even in such a moment, if a person were to repent (like the thief on the cross) and beg forgiveness of God, He would give it.  We do not know Ahab’s final thoughts.  But I encourage you to review your life and make things right with God before you come to your death bed.  Be the type of person who can come to death with head held high, knowing that if it is your time then God will bring you to Him, and if not, then God will deliver you.  You need not fear either way.  Be the type of person who, when death gives them a menacing look in the marketplace, does not jump on a horse and ride as fast as they can to Samarra, or jump on a ship and sail as fast as you can for Tarshish, or dress up like a common soldier and hide from God.  Rather, look death in the eyes and say, “O death, where is your sting?”

After Ahab dies, the word spreads and, as evening comes, Israel abandons the field.  This is no doubt the scene that Micaiah described when he said that he saw all Israel scattered on the mountains like sheep without a shepherd.  The tribes of northern Israel had lost their king.  However Jehoshaphat is able to take his troops and head back to Jerusalem.  Some would say he was lucky, but Jehoshaphat was not lucky.  Rather, he had been given grace by God.  His life was spared.  God does not always protect the righteous from death.  King Josiah in a later time period lost his life to the King of Egypt, even though we are told that Josiah was righteous and did all he could to turn Israel back to God.  Regardless, Jehoshaphat is allowed to escape the fate of death and go home to his family once again.

This brings us to the recognition that all the prophecies that led up to this point were fulfilled.  Elijah, Micaiah, and the unnamed prophet of chapter 20, all warned Ahab that his life was forfeit for all of his rebellion against God.  We are told that Ahab’s body is brought back to Samaria (not to be confused with Samarra of Persia) and the chariot that is full of his blood is washed out at a pool outside of the city.  As the dogs lick the bloody water off the stones, Elijah’s prophecy is fulfilled.  In the same place that dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the Jezreelite, so Ahab’s blood has come full circle.  Justice is done.  There is some controversy over whether this prophecy was fulfilled exactly.  Did Naboth die outside of Jezreel or Samaria?  There is not enough information to completely answer all questions.  However, the conclusion of those who were there is that it was a complete fulfillment, and that should be enough for us who can only second guess the events of that day.  The Bible tells those who do not listen to the Lord, “Be sure your sins will find you out.”  Ahab’s true enemy was never Elijah, Micaiah, the prophets of the Lord, or even the Lord Himself.  Ahab’s true enemy was always his own sin and now in the end it has caught up with him.

Ahab had raised his son to walk the same wicked path.

Jump ahead in the chapter to verses 51-53.  I won’t take long on this point, but because we are talking about Ahab’s folly, I must note this.  All parents model a lifestyle to their children, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  To live selfishly and in rebellion to God is foolish and brings destruction to the individual who does so.  However, the folly doesn’t stop there.  Our folly as parents can have a huge effect on the lives of our children as well.

A common verse to quote in this area is Proverbs 22:6.  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Typically people see this as a promise from God or a heavenly guarantee.  But proverbs are not meant to be taken as stipulations in a contract with God.  Rather they are statements of wisdom.  Wisdom says that if you want your child to serve God then you should serve God in front of him and teach him.  It has become vogue today to think that wisdom is to teach your child all the available options and let him choose.  In truth this is a foolish thing.  It is one thing to be intentional, but that intentionality is only helpful if it is coupled with serving God.  Ahab was very intentional, but it was in serving Baal, and ultimately in serving his own fleshly desires.  His life became a template that his own son followed.  I am not saying that it is all Ahab’s fault.  I am simply saying that how we raise our kids falls into the category of either foolish or wise.  Our life is ours to do with what we want.  However, whether we like it or not, others are looking at us, and may be taking their cues from us.  May God help us to set a righteous example for the world around us, and especially the next generation. 

Jehoshaphat is confronted with his folly.

I want to close this by pointing out the rest of the story in regards to Jehoshaphat.  He heads home to Jerusalem, and though 1 Kings 22-23 say nothing more about this incident, 2 Chronicles 19:1-3 (a parallel retelling of the same story) adds a detail. 

As Jehoshaphat approaches Jerusalem, he is met by a well-known prophet who confronts him with his foolish decision to go to war with Ahab.  He asks the question, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?”  Now this is an interesting question because the Christian-side of us probably feels inclined to say, “Yes, we should help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord.”   Of course, we could quote verses like John 3:16, how God so loved the world.  We could talk about Jesus’ love for the lost and how we too must have a heart for the lost.  However, this would be completely missing the point that God is trying to make here.  At the heart of the prophet’s (really the Lord’s) question is the deeper probing of what exactly it means to help a wicked person, or to love them.  Clearly you don’t “help” or “love” the wicked by helping them in their rebellious plans.  And, you don’t “help” or “love” the wicked by ignoring God’s warnings.  The prophet’s question is not an abstract one.  It is in connection to the choices Jehoshaphat has made.  Yes, he wants to help and love Ahab, but in the end his kind of help and love was foolish and did nothing to change Ahab's fate.  When our love for the lost leads us to help them continue in rebellion to God, then we are sinning too.  Also, when our love for those who hate the ways of Christ cause us to disobey Christ, then we are sinning too.  We are joining them in their sin instead of coming alongside of them to help them out of their sin.  It is not enough to have a good intention.  We are called to grow up and learn what real love and real help are in this context. 

You might note that the New Testament warns us over and over again that God’s judgment will come upon the rebellious.  We are in a time of grace in which God gives people the time to change their minds and repent.  Anyone can turn away from their sin and have peace with God.  However, too many Christians today are loving the wicked in all the wrong ways.  How can this be?  It is so because the love of the world and its systems has infected their hearts.  They want to appear loving by humans, but ignore God’s judgment on whether their actions are loving or not.  May God help us to love Him and His ways more than all the empty promises that this world can give.  And, may God help us to truly love the lost in the way that Jesus did, which involved truth and a cross.

Praise God that though Jehoshaphat is disciplined, God provides a way through it.  God is not seeking to destroy us, but rather to teach us and make us more like Him.  Please know that regardless of your foolish choices and actions, God is still working to bring you back to Him.  Instead of fighting Him, choose today to surrender to the love that will not coddle you in your sin, but will lay its life down for you.

Wisdom Folly III audio


Folly or Wisdom? Part II

1 Kings 22:19-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 25, 2018.

Last week we talked about choices in life.  Foolish choices lead to folly and wise choices lead to life.  As we continue the story today, we should remember that there are three different types of people in this story.  Ahab, and thus the false prophets who are inclined to bless his every desire, is bent on serving Baal of rather than the God of Israel.  He is a wicked king and they are wicked prophets because they have no concern about rejecting God’s word and commands.  Jehoshaphat is different.  He represents a righteous person who has a heart after God.  Yet, his idealistic desires for unity override the repeated warnings that God gave him.  He is a righteous person who is making a foolish choice.  Lastly we have Micaiah.  He is the righteous person who is making a wise choice (to speak only what God tells him to say) even though the fact that he lands in prison could cause one to judge him as foolish.

In this life we are not always the best judge of who is who.  It is easy to point the finger at every leader and label them a wicked Ahab or wicked Jezebel.  It is also easy to see ourselves as pure and clean as Micaiah or Elijah.  But, let us remember that every choice that comes before us is laden with an opportunity for folly or wisdom.  Only God can help us to choose wisely.

The spirit realm affects the material world.

In verses 19-22 Micaiah reveals a vision that God had previously given him.  It is a vision of God’s heavenly throne in the spirit realm.  We must understand that the Bible promotes a world view that incorporates both a material realm (that which we can see and test) and a spiritual realm (that which we cannot generally see and test).  Thus Christians who follow Jesus must not skirt around this issue.  To be a faithful follower of Jesus is to believe that there is a spiritual realm.  It is also to believe that the spirit realm has a direct impact upon the material world that is unseen to natural eyes.  We can worry about a North Korean leader, an Iranian leader, or The Russians.  But, we often forget that these earthly beings are affected by spiritual forces (to the good or to the bad) that they generally do not understand, and generally do not recognize.

Micaiah reveals a principle or message that is emphasized throughout the Bible: God rules over the heavens and the earth.  The book of Daniel is a great example of this.  It reiterates five times that “The Most High God rules over the kingdom of men.”  On top of this the whole book demonstrates the truth of that statement among the world powers of Daniel’s day.  No matter how great the human powers of this world become, they are always under the rule of God and the spirit realm.  He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. 

So Micaiah sets the scene with God on His throne and the hosts of heaven, which are spirit beings, all before Him.  A fascinating thing about this story is that it pulls back the curtain of God’s decision process and allows us to see how heavenly decrees are made.  It would be important to also notice that this scene is reminiscent of the scene in Job chapter one and two, where God is on his throne and the sons of God, spiritual beings, are surrounding Him.  In that story we see Satan instigating God to decree that he could “touch” Job with suffering.  Thus God gives Satan permission to try Job.  In this story, however, God has initiated the issue on the table.

It is important to recognize that though God is sovereign He does incorporate the input of spirit beings in His decisions.  In Job God permits a suggestion of Satan.  In this passage God puts the decree that Ahab is to die at Ramoth Gilead on the table, so to speak, and seeks input on how to make that happen.  Some scholars refer to this setting as a divine assembly or divine council.  Regardless of what we call it, we see this dynamic also in the book of Revelation and its heavenly vision scenes.  This is an important understanding about how God runs the universe.  Even though He is omniscient and sovereign, He does not operate in complete whimsical fiat.  There are some things that He decrees outright and cannot be changed, but He also leaves some things to the input of spiritual beings.  We could also notice that God does something similar on earth.  He has decreed that the Gospel should go to the ends of the earth, but He allows humans to have a say in how that will happen, how quickly, and who will go.  Thus God is always partnering with both spiritual and earthly beings to accomplish His will.

He doesn’t do this because He lacks ideas or will get a better response from those He works with.  Rather, He chooses not to micromanage the affairs of heaven and earth (or His nature is such that He will not).  He works through those authorities and agencies that He has raised up for that very purpose, both in the spirit realm and on earth.  Think about the family unit as an example.  It is God’s decree that children are to be brought up into this world by a loving commitment between a man and a woman.  It is also His decree that those parents raise that child to know Him and take their place in His kingdom.  How that is done is a partnership between parents and God.  He will not overpower them in order to “perfect” the process.  God allows parents to make choices about what their authority will look like and how well they accomplish the decrees that God has given.  Of course, parents always fall short of absolute perfection.  Even though God has left room for our choices, He is ultimately still in control.  Thus we write the story together with God.  He is not a despot that tyrannically controls everything.

There is a part of this story that leads some people to declare that there is an ethical problem.  In the story a spirit comes forward and provides a solution for how to get Ahab to Ramoth Gilead so he can die.  The answer is that this spirit will be a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s prophets.  God states that this plan will work and authorizes the spirit to do what it suggested.  So is this an evil spirit or a good spirit asking to do something evil?  With the precedent of Job’s story- notice Satan is allowed to interact with God and permitted to do what he wanted, although with limitations- it seems clear that this is an evil spirit.  To many this seems odd or even wrong.  How could the Holy God of the heavens allow an evil spirit in His presence and then authorize false prophecy in order to deceive Ahab?  If we focus only on the actions of the spirit then of course it is generally wrong to mislead someone through deception and lies.  Is God being hypocritical here?  I do not believe that this is a true ethical dilemma.  Ahab has continually rejected the word of God, and also rejected the repeated grace of God as reason to turn back.  He has continually rejected the God of Israel and served Baal, the god of the Canaanites.  He is now under a death decree by God because of his willful insurrection (remember God created the nation of Israel to serve Him and they agreed to only serve Him).  Though murder is morally reprehensible, it is not the same as executing a criminal for capital crimes.  Thus here, Ahab is under the death penalty for capital crimes.  Part of the judgment is to use the same false prophets of Baal that he has been listening to in order to lead him to his death.  When we look at it this way, we see that the way the punishment is carried out is particularly fitting.  Ahab has only survived by the grace of God to this point.  So now God removes His grace and allows Ahab to suffer the results of listening to false prophets.  He is letting Ahab experience the full fruit of the path that He has chosen. 

I will close this point by reminding us of a similar situation in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.  In it we are told that humanity in the last days will come under the judgment of God.  God will quit restraining the evil that the world is pressing towards (remove His grace).  The world will be enamored with a being that will use lying wonders and unrighteous deception.  Why would God allow this strong delusion that is called The Lie?  We are told that it is because they would not receive the love of the truth.  For 2,000 years God has sent His people into the world to not only speak His Truth, but to also be used of the Spirit of God to help convince people of the truth.  How can someone imagine Jesus on the cross dying for their sins and not receive a love of the truth of it all?  God is not the Agent of this evil deception and lies.  However, when we continually reject His endeavors to help us see the truth, we can come under His judgment, or at the least, His discipline.  For Ahab this story is judgment, but for Jehoshaphat it is discipline.  This understanding should sink in.  These 400 prophets were not complete phonies in the sense that they were making this up.  They were actually in contact with a spirit, but it wasn’t the Holy Spirit.  Rather, it was an evil spirit that their years of worshipping Baal had not prepared them to recognize.  They too were under a judgment of deception because they had rejected the truth that Elijah had revealed at Mt. Carmel: The God of Israel is the true God and Baal is nothing.

Foolish decisions are made despite hearing the truth.

In the tradition of a tragedy verses 24-29 show the different parties of this story making a critical choice for different reasons and thus headed on an inescapable course for disaster.  All of this is over the top of God’s repeated attempts to turn them back to the truth.

After Micaiah’s statement that all the prophets of Ahab were being led by an evil spirit, one false prophet named Zedekiah (probably their leader) takes offense and confronts Micaiah.  He does so by first slapping Micaiah on the cheek.  If you do a search of the word “cheek” in the Bible you will find that there are four places in the Old Testament that speak of this act of striking the cheek.  This story is the first of them.  It is always a public shaming of the person struck.  In Matthew 5:39 Jesus said, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person.  But, whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  The point Jesus is making is that it won’t do any good to slap an evil person back, or even to reason with them about truth.  The truth generally makes an evil person more enraged (note the experience of Jesus).  So what can a righteous person do?  The only thing you can do is let them pursue their course of wickedness and come to disaster, even if that course involves crucifying you.  Jesus let Israel crucify Him, partially to shock their conscience back to life.  Perhaps somewhere along the course of insanity and wickedness, as a person begins to reap the crop of destruction, the Holy Spirit’s conviction just might break through and lead them to repentance.

Zedekiah also asks the question, “Where did the Spirit of the Lord go between speaking to me and to you?”  This is a way of highlighting that the place the Holy Spirit went clearly makes no difference.  It strongly implies that the error is with Micaiah not Zedekiah.  Think of it as a way of saying, “I know I heard from the Holy Spirit.  So what happened to the Holy Spirit for Him to give you a different word?  Nothing!”  Either Zedekiah is truly deluded, which makes sense in light of the deceiving spirit, or he is keeping up the act.  I think it is the former.  He chooses folly over life.  Micaiah’s answer is to simply say that Zedekiah will figure it out when he flees to an inner room to hide.  Presumably this means that there will be great disaster and Zedekiah’s words will prove so false that he will run and hide himself.  All prophetic words must bear their weight or fall to the ground based upon what actually happens down the road.  Thus the truth will become clear in the end.

Ahab is another man who makes a foolish decision in this story.  Once again he has no desire to heed the counsel of Micaiah.  Thus he has the prophet of the Lord taken back to the city and put in prison with only bread and water of affliction.  This simply means the minimum quantity and quality to keep one alive.  The tyrants of this world, who are bent on pursuing their own selfish desires over the top of the God of heaven, love to put the righteous in prison and mistreat them.  Ahab should be honoring Micaiah and instead he orders his abuse.  Definitely, Ahab proved that he was not worthy of the immense amount of grace that God had sent to him.  Micaiah did not deserve what he was given.  But it was the duty that God was asking him to endure.  It isn’t easy to live for the truth of God in a world that does not love truth, nor wants to receive it.  Thus Ahab signs his own death decree by rejecting this last warning of God.  By putting Micaiah in prison, he is really putting God in prison.  He wants God to stay in the little box of his control.  But God will never stay in our little boxes.

The foolish decisions that we have looked at up to this point are the kind where we would say that it serves them right.  But, Jehoshaphat’s choice to still go to war with Ahab (verse 29) leaves us shouting at the Bible (ex. TV)  “What are you doing?  Don’t go with him!  You dummy, you’re gonna get yourself killed!”   Before we get too hard on Jehoshaphat, we need to see that there is some Jehoshaphat in all of us.  It is that part which is capable of making a foolish choice for all the “good reasons.”  My curiosity would like to know exactly what Jehoshaphat was thinking.  He must not have been convinced by Micaiah.  But then again the clear contradiction of the message of the false prophets, which Jehoshaphat obviously distrusted, should have warranted caution.  Maybe he trusts the assurances of Ahab, whom he knows, over the top of Micaiah, whom he doesn’t know.  Maybe Ahab’s complaint that Micaiah is prejudiced against him leads Jehoshaphat to disregard him as not objective.  Regardless, Ahab is going to his death and Jehoshaphat is going to be disciplined by the Lord.  He will lose the battle and many troops.  Only by the grace of God does he not lose his life.  But we will look at that next week.

Let us take our lives seriously enough that we take time to pray and seek out the counsel of God’s word regarding our decisions of life.  There are times that decisions are not critical.  However, if we have neglected to develop the habit of taking decisions before the Lord then we will be unprepared and easily tripped up when the critical decisions do come along.  Don’t make decisions in order to please people, but rather to please the Lord.  Neither should we confuse pleasing the Lord with doing exactly what we wanted to do.  May we be humble before God and our fellow man.

Folly Wisdom II audio


Folly or Wisdom? Part I

1 Kings 22:1-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 18, 2018.

The book of proverbs in the bible is famous for its sayings which warn people to avoid folly and choose wisdom.  Of course the Way of the Lord is always presented as the path of wisdom, and all the ways invented by mankind besides it are presented as the paths of folly.  So, how does wisdom fit in with the New Testament’s emphasis on love?  We will find in this chapter a help in this matter.  Here we find that a person can love God and their fellow man, and yet, make foolish choices.  Foolish choices lead to folly and folly eventually leads to destruction in one form or another.

It can be easy to think that because one has put their faith in Jesus, and have whole-heartedly pursued a love of God and your neighbor, that somehow we would be insulated from making foolish choices.  However, this is not true.  To choose to believe in Jesus and follow Him as your master is the wisest thing you will ever do.  Yet, every choice we face is a test, even if we have strung together a long streak of wise choices.  That said, if love for God and our neighbor is the foundation on which we build, then wisdom is how and what we build on top of that foundation.  May God help us all to be wise followers of Jesus.

A righteous person can act foolishly

As we open this chapter we will find three main characters and three cities that are important in our understanding.  Jehoshaphat is the King of Judah who reigns in Jerusalem.  He has gone north to visit with King Ahab of Northern Israel who reigns in Samaria.  These two kings couldn’t be more different.  Jehoshaphat is described as a righteous king who led his people to worship the God of Israel, and the God of Israel was with him. However, Ahab is described as a wicked king who led his people to worship the Canaanite god Baal, and God was against him.  In fact Ahab has been told by Elijah the prophet that he is under a decree of death from the God of Israel.  Thus, during Jehoshaphat’s visit with Ahab in Samaria, Ahab brings up a city called Ramoth in the Gilead region.  This was on the eastern side of the Jordan River Valley and up on the plains above it.  This city had served as one of Israel’s cities of refuge that belonged to the Levites.  Ben Hadad of Syria had captured it at some point and had not returned it, even though he had been twice defeated by Israel (see 1 Kings 20).  Ahab wants Jehoshaphat to join forces with him and take it back.  Now our last character is the prophet of the Lord, Micaiah.  We know very little of this individual except what is revealed in this chapter.  Though it is not specifically stated, it seems that Ahab may have had him imprisoned within Samaria before this event because of his command in verse 26 to have Micaiah “taken back” to the governor of Samaria in order to be imprisoned.  Regardless, Micaiah is a righteous follower of the God of Israel and will prove to be wise.

Ultimately this chapter is about the folly of people in the face of God’s continued gracious appeal to turn from it.  Ahab’s folly is that of a wicked person who has chosen to be an enemy of God.  All his false prophets can be lumped into that category along with him.  Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, is a righteous person who wants so badly to fix things that he makes foolish choices, instead of trusting in the Lord’s wisdom in regard to actions and timing.  Lastly we see all the soldiers who go along with the folly of their leaders for varying reasons.  Some agree with the king, some are ambivalent, and some no doubt only do so out of fear.  Citizens generally suffer from the folly of their leaders decisions and are blessed by their wisdom.

For our purposes we will focus on Jehoshaphat.  When propositioned by Ahab to join forces, he is quick to agree.  This speedy agreement, no doubt, comes from a good heart.  He hates to see the once united nation of Israel divided and fighting each other.  He thinks his good will and alliance with Ahab will make unity and heal the breach.  In fact, in later chapters we find that Jehoshaphat had strengthened this alliance by having his son Jehoram marry Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah.  This is the same Athaliah who nearly killed the whole royal line of David.  If not for God’s mercy to have the infant Joash hidden from her, she would have succeeded in usurping the Davidic throne and God’s promises to David.  I am sure that Jehoshaphat also hates to see the enemies of God ruling over a city of Israel.  Though he has righteous intentions, Jehoshaphat does not recognize that he is allying with a wicked man whom God is planning to have killed.  To join together with such a person is to put yourself in the crosshairs.  You do not want to be in league with a wicked person when God decides to bring them down.

It may be good to stop and think about how we can be guilty of this today.  Many in the Church of God who want to see unity among the denominations and acceptance within the culture will make love and unity their rally cry.  There is nothing wrong with having these things at the heart of our actions and speech.  However, as we see in this story, it is never good to ally ourselves with people who are at odds with God and His Anointed, Jesus.  There is a proper timing and a proper way to healing the breaches that have happened in our nation and society.  In our zeal to “fix things” we can make foolish choices that lead to further harm.  May God help us to lean only upon His wisdom and wait for His timing, rather than rushing ahead with people who are under the judgment of God.

To his credit, Jehoshaphat asks Ahab to inquire of the God of Israel in verse 5.  At the end of the day this is a wise thing to do and could have been the very thing that saved him from his own naiveté.  But we will deal with that later.  Ahab calls forward 400 prophets who begin prophesying that if they go to battle they will win.  These prophets are clearly not prophets of the God of Israel because Jehoshaphat immediately asks if there isn’t a prophet of the God of Israel.  These are either prophets of Baal or Asherah or both.  It is difficult to tell if Ahab was trying to present them as prophets of the God of Israel, but this is highly probable.  Ahab knows that Jehoshaphat only serves the God of Israel.  Regardless of how Jehoshaphat knows (most likely their demeanor smacked of paganism), he has a big “red flag” moment in his heart.  He knows that these 400 prophets do not represent the message of the God of Israel.  So why not tell Ahab you are not interested in going to battle?  Perhaps he is in too deep and doesn’t want to mess up the good-will that he has obtained with Ahab.  Thus Jehoshaphat disregards a huge red flag and pushes on trying to find a justification to help Ahab.

When Jehoshaphat asks Ahab if there isn’t still a prophet of the God of Israel available, Ahab answers that there is one (notice he doesn’t bring up Elijah).  However, Ahab says that he hates the prophet because he never has anything good to say about Ahab.  Now, a prophet’s job is not to make the king feel good about himself, but rather to tell him the truth.  The prophets of the God of Israel were not enemies of Ahab.  They only told him the truth.  It was his obstinate insistence to reject their words that had led to his death decree.  Jehoshaphat recognizes how dangerous Ahab’s statement is.  To say that you hate a true prophet of God is to hate God.    Though he softly rebukes Ahab, he disregards another huge red flag telling him that he is on the wrong path.

A righteous person can act wisely

As Jehoshaphat and Ahab wait for Micaiah to be summoned, we are told that the false prophets continue to do their prophesying.  One particular false prophet named Zedekiah has fashioned some iron horns for himself as a prophetic prop.  He proclaims that with these two iron horns Israel will gore the Syrians.  In Israel horns were used symbolically of a king and his kingdom.  Thus the two horns are Ahab and Jehoshaphat.

Meanwhile some officer is bringing Micaiah to the Kings and clearly applies some social pressure to him.  He tells Micaiah that 400 prophets are telling the kings that they will be successful and that he should agree with them.   Such social pressure to support the public policy of the king, or the current leaders, is the folly of many a government.  Yes-men never help a leader, but rather fail their duty to fully inform and counsel them.  We see this same dynamic within our own politics and within the culture of our society.  Often believers in Jesus are pressured to speak and act in a socially acceptable way because so many are already going along with it.  Yet, Micaiah is a righteous man who wisely refuses to bow to such pressures.  He states that he will only speak what the Lord tells him to speak.  This sounds familiar with the words of Jesus in John 12:49 (and in many other places), “For I [Jesus] have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”  He also mentions that He only does what He has been told by His Father.  Is this my resolve?  Imagine how different the response of the churches in our land would be if they all followed the path of Micaiah, and ultimately that of Jesus.  Is my resolve to only speak and do what God wants me to speak and do? 

When Micaiah is finally brought before the kings, it may seem strange that he actually does tell Ahab that he will be successful.  But, it is clear in the context that he is being sarcastic.  Ahab immediately adjures him to tell the truth.  I do not believe that Micaiah’s sarcasm presents any ethical problem.  It is clear that he and Ahab have a history wherein Ahab has continually disregarded the word of the Lord from Micaiah.  Thus when Ahab asks for the truth, he is not really asking for truth so that he can obey the Lord.  Ahab will go to war regardless of what Micaiah has to say.  Instead Ahab sees Micaiah as a source of “spiritual chatter.”  He wants to know what the prophets of Yahweh have to say.  Perhaps he can glean enough information to prevent what they are predicting.  All of this is happening in front of Jehoshaphat and should be even another red flag to him.    I believe that Micaiah’s sarcasm actually highlights the hypocrisy of Ahab.  He has never really wanted the truth because he has always embraced the lie of Baal and his religion.

Of course Micaiah then tells the kings what he saw in a vision.  His words are worth noting.  “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd.”  These are similar of the words Matthew used in Matthew 9:36.  “But when [Jesus] saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”  This metaphor of sheep without a shepherd is used throughout the Bible.  Moses used this metaphor when God told him it was time for him to die.  In Numbers 21:17 Moses asks God to appoint another leader so that Israel would not be like sheep without a shepherd.  In other words they would be vulnerable to the world around them without strong, godly leadership.  David used it in Psalm 23 to declare, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Of course Jesus used description of the good shepherd for himself.  In Ezekiel 34:12 the Lord says, “As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.”  Lastly, in Zechariah 10:2 God says, “The idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain.  Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd.”

Even with Ahab as their king, Israel has been without a true shepherd for years because Ahab is a false shepherd who only cares about himself.  His actions are only leading to a scattering of the sheep both physically and spiritually.  Yet, God has promised to regather His sheep who have been scattered.  Today, Christians are a part of God’s work of regathering the sheep.  However, it is not just the lost sheep of Israel, but of the whole world.  In the midst of God’s regathering process we must be wise and lean upon the wisdom of the Lord rather than our own.  Yes, God so loves the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life.  However, no amount of false unity and pretending that the wicked are not in danger will save them.  Only the truth sets us free.  Let’s be righteous people who choose wisely rather than being led into folly.

Folly or Wisdom audio