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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