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Entries in Decisions (1)

Tuesday
Feb272018

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