Friday, March 2, 2012

Ahab, God and Free Will in I Kings 22

We live in perilous times.  Will massive debt destroy the world’s economy for decades to come?  Will nuclear war break out between Iran and Israel?  Will an autocratic Chinese empire arise to dominate the nations?  Will radical Islam sweep the Middle East, Africa and Europe back into the middle ages?  Will there be enough food and water to sustain the growing billions of people on earth?

Though these are serious and sobering questions before us, they all pale in comparison to our MOST pressing issue; is Jesus Christ truly “the way, the truth and the life?”  More importantly, is He the ONLY way to the Father?  Everyone MUST answer these questions!  Is there a God in heaven or is there not?  Is Jesus Christ the one and only Son of God or is He not?  Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead or did He not?  Does the Holy Bible contain “all things pertaining to life and godliness” or does it not?  Will there be a Day of Judgment when “we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an account of all deeds done in the flesh both good and evil” or not?  And finally, we must all ask the ultimate question; “What must I do to be saved?” OR… are we not going to ask that question, assuming that heaven and hell are nothing more than ancient superstitions?

As we contemplate these questions, we must also come to grips with yet another question.  If there is a God in Heaven and we stand condemned as sinners before Him, has He clearly warned us of our condition?  Has He plainly articulated His plan of salvation for us in His Word or is He enticing us to sin and be lost?  Among many examples in the Bible, I Kings 22 is an outstanding example of just how far God goes to warn even the most wicked of men. 

As we contemplate our eternal destinies we are all witnesses to a great and powerful drama being played out in the public square on a daily basis in all forms of media.  The “Prophets of Darwin” and the “Prophets of God” engage daily in a dramatic debate for the hearts, minds and souls of each of us.  Who is speaking truth?  Who is speaking falsehood?  We are there, as is were, while the Zedikiah’s and the Miciah’s of our day dramatically debate for souls…just like they did in front of King’s Ahab and Jehoshaphat as they decided to go up to Ramoth-Gilead…or not…and battle the Arameans.  Decide right and live or decide wrong and die…the stakes could not have been higher!  Today, God’s detractors mockingly ask “how could a loving God ever send anyone to hell?”  Those same mockers chide the faithful with the assertion that God Himself lied to Ahab, deceived Ahab and tricked Ahab into going up the Ramoth-Gilead where he met his death.  Did God lie to Ahab?  Did God “trick” Ahab?  Did God “conspire” against Ahab?  Did God turn Ahab’s 400 prophets into lying robots?  And…most importantly…did God rob Ahab, Zedekiah and the 400 false prophets of their free will?
We will show conclusively that God did none of these things and in fact redundantly extended grace, life, mercy and salvation to these men redundantly!  

Before we answer the questions at hand; “Did God lie to Ahab?”  “Did God “trick” Ahab?”  “Did God “conspire” against Ahab?”  “Did God turn Ahab’s 400 prophets into lying robots?”  And…most importantly…”did God rob Ahab, Zedekiah and the 400 false prophets of their free will?” we should first look at this passage in it’s original cultural context.

What do you think of when you run across the term “drama?”  Today, drama, either live or on the screen is considered entertainment…period.  Was this always so?  Absolutely not.  In Ahab’s day “drama” was a highly sophisticated form of communication.  When kings needed to make major decisions, competing choices were dramatized before the ruler(s) by the promoters of the opposing choices.  In Israel and Judah these dramas took on a special spiritual significance.  The opposing proponents were members of competing prophetic communities, each claiming to speak for God Himself.  We refer to such occasions as “prophetic dramas.”  The scene of I Kings 22 is such a prophetic drama.  On the one side was King Ahab’s hand picked party of 400 royal staff prophets who somehow always managed to prophesy whatever the king wanted to hear.  They were, to borrow a New Testament phrase, “ear ticklers.”   On the other side was a one lone prophet, Miciah.  Instead of speaking what the king wanted to hear, he spoke only the “words of the Lord.”

Prophetic dramas are often found in the pages of the Old Testament.  The first such drama plays out in front of Pharaoh with his “magicians” on the one side with Moses and Aaron on the other.  The prophet Daniel took part in several such dramas in front of his Babylonian captors.  Two other prophetic dramas come to mind as well, Elijah vs. the Prophets of Baal in I Kings 19 and Hananiah vs. Jeremiah in Jeremiah 28.  Commenting on this form of spiritual communication, Wurthwein and Rufe’ conclude that the prophetic drama “…helps scholars determine how classical prophesy debated such theological issues as true vs. false prophesy and the character of the worthy prophet.”[1]  In 1982, R. Goldenberg observed that; “….rabbinical texts attempted to explain the problem of two prophets (or groups of prophets RM) (ostensibly) possessing God’s Word, yet only one of them being worthy of obedience.”[2]  Goldenberg further observes;

“It is not enough to identify the prophet sent by the Lord.  You must also know WHY the Lord has sent the prophet and the result of the prophesy in question that it was designed to produce.”[3]

Far from being an entrapment of Ahab, Zedikiah and the 400 staff prophets, the events of I Kings 22 represent the extreme bounds of God’s mercy and grace towards those who are in sin.

 We now will answer the questions at hand; “Did God lie to Ahab?”  “Did God “trick” Ahab?”  “Did God “conspire” against Ahab?”  “Did God turn Ahab’s 400 prophets into lying robots?”  And…most importantly…”did God rob Ahab, Zedekiah and the 400 false prophets of their free will?”  No, no, no, no and… no!

A predestination Calvinist would, however, answer in the affirmative.  A Calvinist, among other things, denies the fact that men and women have free will.  In fact, they claim, every soul is “predestined” by God for salvation or damnation…and…nothing can ever changes one eternal destiny.  In other words, a Calvinist would state emphatically that Ahab, Zedikiah and the 400 royal prophets were damned to perdition without ANY hope of salvation.  Such WOULD be the case “IF” God’s conversation in the Heavens was concealed from Ahab, Zedikiah and the 400 royal prophets.
The FACT that God’s conversation regarding Ahab and the “lying prophets” (Zedikiah was their leader and spokesman) was TOLD to them by Miciah in his prophetic drama in order to warn them, plead with them and beg them NOT to go up to Ramoth-gilead…is CLEAR evidence that not only did these men retain their free will but God was yearning for their repentance!  His warnings were overt, numerous and extremely clear.  Only when they reject the counsel of Miciah do they incur judgment.  They were warned over and over NOT to go up to Ramoth-gilead…but…they went anyway, rejecting Miciah and God Himself.

In many ways, life is a drama.  Sometimes we play the part of Ahab.  Sometimes we play the part of Zedikiah.  Sometimes we are Miciah.  More often than not, I suppose, we play the part of Jehoshaphat, an otherwise Godly man who makes no attempt to address Ahab’s spiritual bankruptcy…a spectator who “went with the flow.” 

The main character in this prophetic drama, however, was God Himself.  He made sure that ALL of these people had overwhelming access to the truth.  His mercy, grace and love are evident at every turn so that even men as evil as Ahab had ample opportunity for repentance.  Too bad that he, Zedikiah and the 400 royal prophets did not have “ears to hear.”  Let’s pay more attention to our own life’s drama that is playing out.  The “final curtain” may fall sooner than we expect!  Today, we are without excuse before God for He has given us His Word, a Word that is full, from cover to cover, with account after account of His warnings of judgment to come for those who reject Him.  It is also full, from cover to cover, of His love, mercy and grace that is available to all those who “trust and obey!”  As the song says; “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey!”
Friend, if you are not a Christian, you can become one today!  “And now, why do you wait?  Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” – Acts 22.16 (ESV)  If you are an unfaithful Christian, you can be restored.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – I John 1.9 (ESV) Another familiar song has this refrain; “Why do you wait dear brother?  The harvest is passing away, the Savior is longing to bless you, there’s danger and death in delay!”  We’ve been warned, no one has to go up to Ramoth-gilead and lose both life and soul…and neither did Ahab.

- Russ McCullough 

[1] Paul R. House (The New American Commentary – I & II Kings, Vol. 8, Nashville, TN, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1995)  pg, 237, paragraph 2
[2] Ibid. pg. 237, paragraph 3
[3] R. Goldenberg (“The Problem of False Prophesy; Talmudic Interpretations of Jeremiah 28 and I Kings 22,” in The Biblical Mosaic Changing Perspectives, ed. R. M. Poszin and E. Rothman, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982) as quoted in Ibid. pg. 237, paragraph 3

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