Mid-Ninth Century BC
Ramoth Gilead was a city of refuge east of the Jordan (Deut. 4:43; Josh. 20:8; 21:38 NKJV). Ahab, king of Israel lost the city to Benhadad II, king of Syria, and wanted it back. Jehoshaphat joined Ahab in battle against Benhadad to regain that city (1 Kings 22:1-36; 2 Chronicles 18 NKJV).
The Elusive Meaning of Words
After three years of peace between Israel and Syria, “Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went down to visit the king of Israel.” (1 Kings 22:1-2 NKJV), emphasis mine)
Words produce thought, but words don’t always accurately reveal intended meaning. Meaning is often dependent upon the time and place they are said or written.
Today, in our modern mechanized world, when we say we “went down” from one place to another, it means we traveled south. Israel, however, lies north of Judah. In the ancient world, traveling from an area of lower elevations to an area of higher elevation was more arduous than it is for us in motorized vehicles. So elevation dominated their thinking more than compass direction. Judah is higher than Israel, so Jehoshaphat went downhill to Israel.
With this in mind, the modern reader must never speculate the meaning of ancient texts without considering the text according to the terms and particulars of the time. Moreover, sometimes, such as in the scriptures concerning Ahab and Jehoshaphat’s battle against the Syrian king, the reader must fill in details with known external facts, for instance the name of the Syrian king, Benhadad, which these particular passages do not mention.
Our complete and accurate understanding of the passages in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles demands knowledge of ancient battles. The scriptural passages describing this battle and the Jewish kings’ plan are at best vague, a picture painted with a broad brush. Reading these passages without considering the nature, tactics, and strategies of ancient battles creates confusion and causes the reader to reach ridiculously erroneous conclusions.
In researching this essay, I’ve discovered a universal explanation for the passages in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18.
Basically, commentators all say the false prophet Zedekiah was an ostentatious showman. Nonetheless, they don’t seem to have an explanation for that false prophet’s use of two iron horns as a symbol.
They say fear of Micaiah’s prophecy caused Ahab to hide among his troops. Somehow, in his fear, he was able to talk Jehoshaphat into wearing the royal robes and presenting himself as the king of Israel.
They say Jehoshaphat was foolish for allowing Ahab to talk him into wearing the royal robes. These commentators often mention their bewilderment over why the king of Judah would ever allow such a thing since Ahab showed so much fear by hiding.
The morality of the story, they conclude, is similar to that of Jonah—you can’t hide from God.
Jehoshaphat went down to Israel for a visit, and Ahab invited him to join him in battle against the Syrians.
The chapter begins by revealing three years of peace between Syria and Israel. The script then immediately tells how King Jehoshaphat of Judah went to Israel for a visit. The timing of this visit, while Ahab is demanding Benhadad return Ramoth Gilead, appears more than coincidental, especially knowing Benhadad was Jehoshaphat’s enemy too. The juxtaposition of all these pieces of information imply Jehoshaphat’s visit wasn’t just one king dropping by to say, “Howdy,” to his neighboring king and in-law.
The Judean King did not live in a bubble. He would have known what was happening in Israel before his visit. So we can safely infer Jehoshaphat’s unspoken desire to join Ahab in battle against Benhadad. This desire also goes to Jehoshaphat’s motivation to later disregard God’s prophetic warning.
When Ahab suggested they join in battle against Benhadad, Jehoshaphat agrees but wants to “ ‘inquire for the word of the Lord…’ ” (1 Kings 22:5 NKJV)
“Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, ‘Shall I go against Ramoth Gilead to fight, or shall I refrain?’ So they said, ‘Go up, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king.’ ” (1 Kings 22:6 NKJV, emphases mine)
This, however, did not satisfy Jehoshaphat. “And Jehoshaphat asked, ‘Is there not still a prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of Him?’ ” (1 Kings 22:7 NKJV)
Obviously, Jehoshaphat did not consider these four hundred men God’s prophets. When Jehoshaphat insisted upon a prophet of God, however, Ahab said, “ ‘There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord; but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.’ ” (1 Kings 22:8 NKJV, emphasis mine)
By disparaging the prophet, Ahab, as the king, diminished the prophet’s message even before Micaiah has a chance to speak. Nonetheless, in that Jehoshaphat demonstrated a desire to join Ahab by traveling to Israel “for a visit” and then going on to Ramoth Gilead despite the prophet’s warming, the king of Judah shows his insistence for a prophet was more a desire to hear a positive message and not so much to hear the truth.
In the end, Micaiah did prophesy against Ahab, foretelling his death. For this, Ahab tossed Micaiah in prison. Yet, to conclude Micaiah’s prophecy caused Ahab fear enough to make him later hide among his troops is not consistent with Ahab’s actions; if he had been afraid of the prophecy he would have also been afraid of the prophet and not tossed him into the clink.
“So the king of Israel said, ‘Take Micaiah, and return him to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son; and say, “Thus says the king: ‘Put this fellow in prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and water of affliction, until I come in peace.’ ” ’ ” (1 Kings 22:26, 27 NKJV)
This is a good place to mention an important study protocol: When scripture seems to produce an incredible conclusion, such as Ahab tricking Jehoshaphat into wearing the royal robes out of fear, it usually means the biblical student has gotten something wrong, necessitating a reevaluation of the evidence. If Ahab had been too fearful to present himself as king during the battle due to the prophet’s word, it strains credibility to believe he could have talked Jehoshaphat into exposing himself to the same danger.
In addition, it would appear commentators believe Jehoshaphat stood in the battlefield alone, awaiting whatever came his way. In ancient battles, kings did not stand alone, battling individual soldiers. Likewise, the Syrian charioteers, who were ordered to fight no one but the king, would have not wandered around the battlefield until they suddenly found the king and attacked him? All ancient battles were fought according to tactics and strategies—all battles are fought according to tactics and strategies, today, yesterday, and tomorrow.
The commentators I’ve read so far demonstrate absolutely no understanding of ancient battles. This is stunningly clear. And ignoring battlefield tactics and strategies when reading the verses in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18 turns these biblical verses into a strange tale indeed.
To understand Ahab and Jehoshaphat’s battle and the battle plan, it is essential to comprehend the tactics, strategies, and practices of ancient battles. The passages of scripture give us important bits of information to make sense of these two kings’ actions, specifically four points: 1 Zedekiah’s use of two iron horns as a symbol, 2 that two kings joined forces against one king, 3 Ahab disguising himself and Jehoshaphat wearing the royal robes as a tactic, and 4 the Syrian king ordered his charioteers to fight none but Ahab, the king of Israel.
Before we further consider these things, let’s take a quick look at the prophet’s prophecy.
Micaiah’s Two Prophesies
There is more to Micaiah’s prophecy than commentators have noted. And these prophecies go to the heart of these scriptures.
Ahab’s false prophets, some four hundred of them, all agreed victory belonged to Ahab. When Jehoshaphat pushed the issue, Ahab presented another prophet, Micaiah, a prophet of God.
The man sent to retrieve Micaiah encouraged him to play ball.
“Then the messenger who had gone to call Micaiah spoke to him, saying, ‘Now listen, the words of the prophets with one accord encourage the king. Please, let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak encouragement.’ ” (1 Kings 22:13 NKJV)
At first, as if yielding to the messenger’s advice, Micaiah repeated what the others had said, almost word-for-word. “And he [Micaiah] answered him [Ahab], ‘Go and prosper, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king!’ ”
The king did not believe Micaiah and said, “ ‘How many times shall I make you swear that you tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?’ ” (1 Kings 22:16 NKJV)
At this point, commentators suggest Micaiah spoke in a highly sarcastic way, because Ahab immediately and definitely did not believe him. However, this cannot be, because a prophet of God is not at liberty to mock God’s king or speak sarcastically to him, even a king as evil as Ahab. It is written, “ ‘You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.’ ” (Exodus 22:28 NKJV) It is against God’s law to mock the king.
No, the answer to why the king did not accept Micaiah’s first prophecy begins back with the messenger who retrieved the prophet. There is only one good reason this messenger encouraged Micaiah to agree with the false prophets; because Micaiah would have never agreed with them before. Remember what Ahab said to Jehoshaphat? “ ‘…Did I not tell you he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?’ ” (1 Kings 22:18 NKJV) Ahab did not believe Micaiah’s words, because Micaiah had a history of not speaking the same words the false prophets.
However, notice something important: Micaiah had told the messenger: “ ‘As the Lord lives, whatever the Lord says to me, that I will speak.’ ” (1 Kings 22:14 NKJV, emphasis mine) If the prophet spoke whatever the Lord told him, then it follows whatever he said to Ahab was what the Lord had told him to say. And Micaiah said, “ ‘Go and prosper, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king,’ ” (I Kings 22:15 NKJV)
God had good reason to have Micaiah say such a thing. As freewill agents, a man must choose between good and evil. To choose, a man must have a choice. Micaiah, symbolically, gives the kings two messages, the first a message they wanted to hear, the same words the false prophets spoke, and a second a message they did not want to hear. This is an essential element of the lying spirit.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan as the snake spoke a lie to Eve, “You will not surely die.” (Gen 3:4 NKJV) Eve had a choice, either to believe God, who said she would surely die, or to believe the snake, who said she will not surely die. In the end, to make a freewill choice Eve had to have a choice to make.
This element in 1 Kings 22, the choice to either believe the lying spirit or believe God’s Word, is the point of the entire story. Micaiah’s actions are much more complicated than that suggested by commentators, “Micaiah spoke sarcastically to the king.”
After Ahab called him on his first prophesy, Micaiah then spoke to what God had revealed in a vision. This vision told of Ahab’s death, the people scattered, and a lying spirit.
This part of Micaiah’s prophecy has convinced many commentators Ahab had become afraid enough to disguise himself among his troops in the battle. However, Jehoshaphat, who had requested a prophet of God, should have been more afraid than Ahab—yet he demonstrated no fear. Nonetheless, if Jehoshaphat had come down to join Ahab against a common enemy, then he and Ahab would have wanted good news from the prophet. Like Eve yielding to her desire to eat the luscious fruit, these two kings gave into their common desire to battle a hated enemy. And they, like Eve, did not listen to the Word of the Lord. They listened to the false prophets’ lie.
The Battle and the Plan
To understand the battle and battle plan in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18, we must understand ancient battles. As an illustration, the game of chess is based upon these ancient battles. The pawns are the front line troops with the king behind them, flanked by his cavalry. Ahab and Jehoshaphat’s battle formation would have followed this formation.
Jehoshaphat merged his forces with Ahab’s when he said, “ ‘I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.’ ” (Verse 4 NKJV) In other words, I’m joining my army to your army. This union would have created a military force probably twice the size of the Syrian army in both foot soldiers and chariots.
Benhadad’s order also demonstrates his force, foot soldiers and chariots, was smaller than that of the Jewish army. He commands his entire chariot force, “ ‘Fight with no one small or great, but only with the king of Israel.’ ” (Verse 31 NKJV)
There is only one possible way for the Syrian charioteers to obey their
king. Moreover, there is only one reason to give such an order.
Alexander the Great faced a larger force when he fought Darius, King of Persia. Darius outnumbered him at least three-to-one (some sources put the numbers as high as six-to-one). Darius wanted to use his chariots in a flanking maneuver to envelop Alexander’s army. Since Alexander’s chariot (cavalry) was smaller, he could not have stopped them. So, in their first engagement, Alexander lured Darius’s army into a valley, which prevented Darius’s chariots. Alexander and Darius fought to a draw in this encounter.
The next time they faced each other two years later, Darius made sure to pick the battlefield, an area wide enough to allow his chariots freedom of movement. He even made his men plow and level the ground to facilitate these chariots. He planned to provoke Alexander into attacking the center, so he could tie Alexander’s army down in battle and then surround it with his chariots.
Again, Alexander would not cooperate. Instead of attacking, Alexander held back. Moreover, Alexander shifted his personal position as the king to his right (In chess, this is called castling). He also shifted half his front line to the right, causing Darius to shift the left side of his front line to match them. This opened a hole in Darius’s front lines.
Darius was unable to see Alexander’s cavalry hiding in the dust created by Alexander’s shifting front line, a dust cloud ironically enhanced by Darius having plowed the battlefield. When the hole in the center had grown wide enough, Alexander and his cavalry pivoted and drove at speed through the gap and into the center of the Persian army to fight Darius’s bodyguard. The foot soldiers in Darius’s front line could not run fast enough to either intercept the cavalry or close the gap.
Darius freaked out and fled. Alexander won the battle and the war.
The Syrian king, Benhadad, wanted his chariots (cavalry) to fight the king of Israel only, just like Alexander’s cavalry years later fought only the Persian king. If Benhadad had sent his chariots around the flanks, the Jewish chariots would have met them. The only way to reach the Jewish king without fighting would be to pass through the center of the front lines.
Instead of tricking Ahab into splitting his force, Benhadad would likely have had his troops probe the Jewish line for a weakness. Finding one, they would then use a wedge formation to pry open a gap. Once the gap had been opened, his chariots could then speed through. This is one of many standard operating procedures during this time in history. The Russians (former Soviet Union) devised a similar tactic for penetrating front lines with their tanks.
Benhadad’s plan depended upon his chariots reaching and defeating the enemy king. Ahab is the king of the battle—not Jehoshaphat. So, just like Darius’s inability to see Alexander’s cavalry hidden in the dust cloud, Benhadad would not have been able see the man dressed in the royal robes was in fact Jehoshaphat and not Ahab. Ahab hiding among his troops as just another commander and Jehoshaphat displaying the royal robes was not an act of foolishness and fear. It was a trick, a royal slide-of-hand—Now you see the king. Now you don’t.
With Jehoshaphat pretending to be the king of Israel and drawing the Syrian chariots through the lines, Ahab is free to lead his chariot forces in a flanking maneuver and against the Syrian king unmolested like two iron horns. I’m certain the Jews would have reformed their lines to close the gap, which would have cut the Syrian chariots off from their king.
If I had been the Jewish commander, knowing the Syrians would want to punch a hole in my front line and into my trap, I would have instructed my troops to put on a good show of resistance but then give in and allow the Syrians to create an opening for their chariots. The sooner the Syrian chariots pass through, the sooner they would be out of the way and on the wrong side of the battle.
Jehoshaphat, Ahab, and the four hundred prophets would have all known this before the two kings left Israel. (The reader doesn’t learn about this trick until the narration reaches Ramoth Gilead.) It is evident they know, because Zedekiah used two iron horns to symbolize Ahab’s flanking chariots, “ ‘…With these you shall gore the Syrians until they are destroyed.’ ” (1 Kings 22:11 NKJV)
Over two thousand years later in the 1700s, the great African king Shaka Zulu created a battle formation that helps us see the chariots’ flanking maneuver as a pair of horns.
So, with the Syrian chariots on the wrong side of the battle fighting a shadow, Ahab’s chariots could surround the Syrians and do battle with Benhadad (his bodyguard) unchallenged. (Kings did not hang out on the battlefield alone. Benhadad and Jehoshaphat both would have been surround by large bodyguard forces and enough soldiers to protect each king.)
The distance the Syrian chariots traveled to Jehoshaphat was shorter than the distance the Jewish chariots traveled to reach Benhadad. If the Syrian chariots had in reality been fighting the king of Israel instead of the king of Judah, their maneuver would have been effective. But the Syrians had chased an illusion and had to break off from fighting Jehoshaphat upon discovering he was not Ahab.
When the English translators translated this part of Kings and Chronicles, they clearly did not fully understand the passages' meaning. Their translation reads:
“So it was, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, “It is the king of Israel!” Therefore they surrounded him to attack; but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the Lord helped him, and God diverted them from him. For so it was, when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him.” (2 Chronicles 18:31, 32 NKJV, emphasis mine)
The Hebrew word for “cried out” is zaaq (zaw-ak). It means to cry out in anguish, pain, fear, or alarm. However, it also means to herald or call out a proclamation. Jehoshaphat would not have cried out in alarm. He would have, however, cried out a proclamation, such as “Hey, I’m not Ahab. I am Jehoshaphat, King of Judah.”
Nonetheless, there was no reason the Syrian charioteers should believe him. He was, after all, wearing the royal robes. So God aided Jehoshaphat by allowing the charioteers to see the truth. Finding themselves in violation of Benhadad’s command, they broke off their engagement.
At that point, these charioteers would have also realized their horrible position—they were on the wrong side of the battle. But in trying to rejoin the battle, they would have ended up against the backside of the Jewish line. Since there are more Jews than Syrians, part of the Jewish line could simply turn around and fight the Syrian chariots. Jehoshaphat’s personal bodyguard and supporting bodyguard could have also pursued the Syrian charioteers and pinned them again the line, preventing them from rushing around the battle line and rejoining their besieged king.
With the Syrian chariots on the wrong side of the battle lines and Ahab, the Jewish chariots, and the Syrian king engaged on the other, the battle belonged to the Jews. There was nothing left but the fighting, which should have lasted only a while longer.
However, a random arrow shot by an unknown archer hit Ahab’s armor at a weak point, wounding the king. He had been actively and bravely engaged in the battle when he ordered his chariot driver to, “Turn around and take me out of the battle, for I am wounded…” (Verse 34 NKJV)
When Ahab had himself propped up in his chariot, it was not so he could watch the battle but so his men could see him. As long as he lived, the Jews fought, for the people’s fate was linked to the king’s. When the king died that evening, the army lost its will to fight and fled.
Here’s the upshot. The Syrians would have probably folded by the end of the day. So, about the same time the Syrians should have lost the battle, the Jews, who would have been winning all day, suddenly lost—all due to a single stray arrow shot by an unknown archer.
The Lying Spirit
The point of revealing these events in Kings and Chronicles was not to tell of a battle planned and executed by two kings. The point of this story is the revelation of the lying spirit that had possessed the four hundred prophets, the two kings, and all the people. (“ ‘…Take heed, all you people!’ ” (1 Kings 22:28 NKJV)) With a more accurate understanding of the battle and the battle plan and the motivation therein, the true nature of this lying spirit becomes clear.
The four hundred prophets were apparently well aware of the Jewish battle plans. These prophets knew the Jews possessed a larger force than the Syrians. They knew the Syrians would send their chariots up the center of lines instead of around the flanks. These prophets knew the trick Ahab and Jehoshaphat were about to employ to make the Syrian chariots chase a shadow. They knew all the above would leave Ahab free to outflank the Syrians with his chariots unmolested. With all this in mind, these prophets were prophesying not words from God as they claimed but prophesying what they could see—that surely the day belonged to King Ahab.
A lying spirit is not God whispering lies in one’s ear. A lying spirit is when a man believes what he sees over what God says.
In the movie Contact, Jodi Foster’s character, Dr. Arroway, asks, “Unless I have proof, how can I be sure?” That’s a good question, Dr. Arroway. God sees the visible and the invisible. Man sees only the visible. Proof, as desired by Dr. Arroway, is only possible with sight. God reveals the unseen to us through His word. According to freewill, we either believe Him or we do not. Without faith, it is impossible to please God, who rewords those who believe and diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV)
My faith supplies certainty greater than your proof, Dr. Arroway. My faith makes me sure.
The apostle Paul speaks to this lying spirit in 2 Thessalonians 2: 9-12. He wrote:
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (Emphasis mine)
Paul was foretelling, specifically, the Catholic Church. The strong delusion was the fact the Catholic Church dominated of the world, and did so for over a thousand years. If the Catholic Church were so powerful, then God must be on her side. If God were on her side, then the Catholic Church must truly represent God.
The apostle John further wrote of this same Catholic delusion in Revelation:
“So they worshiped the dragon [Satan] who gave authority to the beast [Catholic Church]; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” (Revelation 13:4 NKJV)
According to man’s thinking, if the Catholic Church were so powerful, then God was with her. If He were with her, then the Catholic Church was God’s church. Nobody can war against God; therefore nobody can war against the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church’s domination of the world was the strong delusion Paul and John foretold, a lying spirit turning man away from his God. The Catholic Church’s continuing dominance is still a strong delusion for many people, since they currently hold captive one billion “souls of men” (Rev 18:11-13).
Current Scientific Lying Spirit
Today many brethren stumble over a modern lying spirit born of science. This modern lying spirit is, as it were, our ability to accurately measure the age of light from distant stars. The Hubble telescope has photographed several galaxies in deep space. Some of these are ten billion light-years away. That means their light is ten billion years old—not looks like it is ten billion years old but is literally ten billion years old.
The Bible says God created the universe in six days in its entirety. Then the Bible records a genealogy that accounts for only six thousand years of history. Therefore, according to the Bible and our ability to add, God created the universe in six days a little over six thousand years ago.
At the same moment we witness the light from a distant galaxy, proven ten billion years old by scientific measurement, God is telling us He created everything, including that light, six thousand years ago. Two competing truths cannot occupy the same time and space. Therefore, positioning a six-thousand-year-old-universe alongside ten-billion-year-old-light creates a paradox*.
As I view the ten billion year-old light, I must ask: Who am I? I can't even find my way from bedroom to bathroom in the dark without stumbling. I, a human, have limitations in ability and knowledge. God has none.
The four hundred prophets believed what they saw over what God had said. The Catholics believed what they saw over what God had said. And brethren like John Clayton (Does God Exist) believe what they see over what God says.
We, however, no matter how strong the delusion, yesterday, today, or tomorrow, must believe God in all things. I believe God created this fourteen billion year-old universe some six thousand years ago. I believe He destroyed the world with a flood. I believe He sent his Son, the Christ, to die for my sins. I believe this same Christ rose from the dead on the third day. I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. I believe, because God through his word said so.
We are finite creatures, seeing only one side of a thing. God is infinite, seeing all sides of all things at all times. If I stand here and a friend stands over there, and from his vantage point my friend sees a thing I cannot, it would be the epitome of stupidity to ignore his advice. I shall believe the Lord even when my own eyes tell me different.
church of Christ
God created time, light, the distant galaxy, and my eyes. If God is so powerful, so able to create all things in their complexities and simplicities, the universe in its enormity and the atom in its compactness, then surly He is capable of also creating a universe both literally fourteen billion years old and brand spanking new in the same instant of creation.