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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