Saturday, January 31, 2015

II Chronicles 18

II Chronicles 18 presents the story of the prophet Micaiah.  The wicked King Ahab of Northern Israel and the righteous King Jehoshaphat of Judah have entered into an alliance.  Jehoshaphat visits Ahab, and Ahab wants to fight Syria.  Ahab consults his prophets, and they tell him that he will succeed.  Jehoshaphat is a bit skeptical, however, and inquires if there is another prophet whom Ahab can consult.  Ahab reluctantly has Micaiah brought in, and Micaiah says that Ahab’s military adventure will fail and that the Israelite forces in the battle will become sheep without a shepherd.  Well, Jehoshaphat and Ahab go out to fight anyway.  Ahab tells Jehoshaphat to put on his robes, while Ahab disguises himself.  Thinking that Jehoshaphat is Ahab, some Syrians try to attack Jehoshaphat, but Jehoshaphat cries out to God and is saved, as God moves those Syrians to depart from Jehoshaphat.  Ahab, though, gets killed by an arrow.

I have three items:

1.  II Chronicles 18:1 says that Jehoshaphat had lots of riches and honor.  Ralph Klein in the HarperCollins Study Bible asks a question: Why, then, did Jehoshaphat see a need to enter into an alliance with Ahab?  The idea seems to be that ordinarily vulnerable parties seek alliances.  If a weaker country enters into an alliance with a stronger country, then the weaker country becomes more secure because she can receive help from the stronger country.  Yet, Jehoshaphat represents a strong country that is seeking an alliance.

David Rothstein in the Jewish Study Bible makes a similar point and proposes a solution: perhaps Ahab’s slaughtering of an abundance of sheep and cattle for Jehoshaphat is what motivated Jehoshaphat to enter the alliance.  Ahab knew of Jehoshaphat’s power and was trying to flatter him, and Jehoshaphat succumbed.

I have long wondered: Why did Jehoshaphat ask for another prophet of the LORD, one who would speak something different from what Ahab’s yes-men prophets were saying, only to turn around and disregard that prophet’s message?  The reason may have been that Jehoshaphat was the weaker party in the alliance and thus had to do what Ahab said.  In II Chronicles 18, however, Jehoshaphat is not the weaker party but is courted by Ahab due to his strength.  Consequently, the Chronicler’s answer may be that Jehoshaphat was succumbing to flattery, and that compromised his spiritual filters.

2.  Jehoshaphat will be criticized for his alliance with Ahab in II Chronicles 19.  Yet, even while Jehoshaphat is in a battle and an alliance that God opposes, God still hears Jehoshaphat when Jehoshaphat cries out to him in peril.  We are not told why.  Maybe it was because God was honoring Jehoshaphat’s record of righteousness, or because God wanted to show himself mighty and loving in Jehoshaphat’s life, a reason that God answers a number of prayers.  Jehoshaphat was being encouraged to trust God, something that Jehoshaphat did not do when entering the alliance.  Even if God heard Jehoshaphat while Jehoshaphat was in a state of disobedience, however, God still punished Jehoshaphat for his disobedience.

3.  II Chronicles 18:29 is a bit puzzling.  The battle is raging, and Ahab tells Jehoshaphat to put on his robes, while Ahab disguises himself.  The Septuagint goes so far as to say that Ahab was telling Jehoshaphat to put on Ahab’s robes!  This is an odd request.  It’s almost like Ahab was telling Jehoshaphat to make himself a target for the Syrians, while Ahab disguises himself and thus removes himself from being a target.  That would be odd, though, for why would Jehoshaphat fall for that?

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary says that Ahab was saying that Ahab knew that Micaiah’s prophecy was that Ahab, not Jehoshaphat, would die in the battle.  Ahab, therefore, would be the one who would have to disguise himself to keep himself from being a target.  Jehoshaphat, however, did not need to worry.  Why would Ahab tell Jehoshaphat to put on his robes?  Perhaps because that could comfort and rally the Israelite and Judahite troops: they would see that a king was still around leading them, and they would realize that they still had a shepherd in battle.  John Gill says that Ahab was flattering Jehoshaphat: Jehoshaphat would look like a royal commander in those robes!  If that is the case, then Jehoshaphat once more succumbed to flattery, which dulled his reasoning ability.

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