We are studying 1 Kings 22:15-23 and 26-28 for Sunday, May 2. This is the story of the final interaction between the prophet Micaiah and king Ahab of [the Northern kingdom of] Israel, and it’s a textbook example of the prophet as someone who “speaks truth to power.” Also, of the frankly political issues highlighted by that role. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are some questions we might want to consider or discuss:
The background situation for our story is that the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Aram [Syria, to us] have been at peace for three years. The king of Israel wants to take back the city of Ramoth Gilead, and is conferring with the king of Judah about them making war on Aram together.
What is going through our minds at this point? Why?
What motive or motives do we ascribe to the king? What are our sources for this? [That is, does the text tell us directly, or give us any hints? If not, where do our ideas about the king’s motives seem to come from?]
How are the kings in this situation similar to national leaders today, do we think? How are they different, do we think? Why do we think that?
Another part of the background situation is that the king has consulted a large number of prophets about the matter of waging war on Aram to re-take Ramoth Gilead. These prophets may be somehow attached to the royal court (based on 1 Kings 18:19). Consulting the prophets may be a customary practice.
Again, what is going through our minds at this point? Why?
Why do we think someone in Ahab’s position would consult prophets? What is the role of a prophet in this situation? What would make someone “good at” this job? What would make them not so good at it? Why do we say this?
Do we see any potential problems with the arrangement of having “court prophets”? What problems?
Can we think of any institutions or arrangements in our own world that are similar to this one? [We might think of economic forecasters or intelligence analysts, for instance.] What are they? Does this story shed any light on the advantages and disadvantages associated with those?
In verse 13, the messenger sent to fetch the prophet Micaiah tells Micaiah what the other prophets have been saying, and warns him to concur. Why, do we think? What do we think is at stake for Micaiah? For the other prophets? For the messenger?
The prophet Micaiah gives three testimonies, each one longer than the first, between verses 15 and 23. Does Micaiah speak truthfully? When? Why do we say this?
Do we have any questions or concerns about that? Why? [It might be worthwhile to take each of Micaiah’s speeches and say how we understand it to be truthful, or what exactly we think Micaiah is saying there.]
In Micaiah’s second testimony, he mentions “all Israel” – the people. Has the king been thinking about the people, do we think? Should he have been thinking about them, do we think? Why?
In Micaiah’s third testimony, he portrays God in heaven in a way that mirrors Ahab’s court. Does this story raise any questions for us? [More speculative, or theological, maybe] What if those questions are part of the point of the story? What if Ahab had asked those questions?
Would we call Micaiah’s interaction with the king a call to repentance? That is, do we hear Micaiah offering the king a choice, and calling on him to change his mind here? Why, or why not?
In verse 26, the king of Israel orders Micaiah seized and imprisoned. Why, do we think?
What does Micaiah’s fate show us about the project of “speaking truth to power”?
[More personal, and theological, and political] Who in general “speaks truth to power”? Who in general needs to?
[Much more personal, theological, and political] Can we think of anyone who is doing that today? Who? Why do we say that?
[Still personal, theological, and political] What enables or empowers people to “speak truth to power,” do we think?
[Still more personal, theological, and political] Are we ourselves ever called on to do that? When? How are we doing with that?
A comment: I think we contemporary readers could easily get tripped up in Micaiah’s speech in verses 19-23, by asking ourselves questions like “Does God really literally have a heavenly court??” and “Would God really seriously encourage people – that is, other prophets – to tell lies on purpose??”
If we do that, I think we might miss the main point of that story, which is to get AHAB to ask those very questions, and then to have as much doubt about this as he has in verse 15! Shouldn’t he wonder whether YHWH is really as petty and conniving as Ahab himself is? Shouldn’t he wonder whether YHWH just plain has it in for him, or whether YHWH could be trying to steer him in the right direction?
Because, if YHWH were so determined to get Ahab to commit suicide by war with Syria, and assuming YHWH is feeding Micaiah his lines, why even give the prophet Micaiah any alternative word to say?
So, I think we will be better served by keeping in mind the principle that Biblical true prophecy is always about warning people and presenting them with the opportunity to do the right thing. If we try to understand what is going on in this story from that perspective, we will probably start to think that this interaction between Micaiah and Ahab is a complex and sensitive, serious and sophisticated effort to persuade Ahab to change course. Even though it fails to accomplish that end.
And then we can get back to asking ourselves about where and how power, and purpose, and truth, and courage, show up in our own world, and how this story might help us with all that.
Image: “Am Mittagstisch,” an image by Hermann Groeber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,