King Ahab was an ordinary man. OK. Maybe not altogether ordinary. He and his wife, Isabella (Jezebel in the King James Version and subsequent English versions) are held up as the epitome of evil. With the possible exceptions of Haman and Adolf Hitler, Ahab has the reputation as the wickedest man ever. But in some ways he was an ordinary man. Like all of us, he was a bundle of contradictions. Perhaps this is most obvious in his dealings with a prophet named Micaiah. (1 Kings 22)
Ahab did not know how to react to Micaiah. He tells Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, that he hates this man. “His offence, honesty!” (King Lear, I, ii) How like a human being. There is a stereotype of a woman asking her husband to tell her honestly if a particular garment makes her look fat. The husband does not know how to answer. If he says yes, she hates him for telling the truth. If he lies, she knows, and gets mad at him for lying. Typically this is told of women, but Ahab shows that men are no different.
Ahab and Jehoshaphat are about to go to war. Jehoshaphat insists that they consult the prophets of God first. Ahab gathers four hundred of his prophets, who all tell him what he wants to hear. Jehoshaphat asks if there is not another prophet. Ahab says there is, “But I hate him, because he never prophesies good concerning me, but only evil.” He will tell the truth, and I don’t want to hear the truth. I can’t handle the truth.
So Micaiah comes and lies to Ahab. He says Ahab will be victorious. All will go as the others prophets have said. For once he tells Ahab what he wants to hear. And what is Ahab’s reaction? “How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD?” Poor Micaiah. He can’t seem to get it right. Ahab hates him for telling the truth, and yells at him for lying.
What can Micaiah do but tell the truth? God says that Ahab will die in battle. You want the truth, O king. God wants you to go into battle so that you will die. Now that I’ve obeyed you can I go home?
So now Ahab turns to Jehoshaphat and says, “Did I not tell you he never prophesies good about me?” What do you want, Ahab? The truth or a lie? Neither. Ahab wants to look like he knows what he is doing.
And in that, Ahab shows his humanity. You see, Jehoshaphat, I am the king. I know when someone is telling the truth and when someone is lying. And what good is this prophet, anyway? He can’t make up his mind what to tell me. I might as well just do what I intended in the first place.
We can use the same tortuous reasoning to justify doing what we want to do. Look at all those hypocrites in the church. I had better not associate with them. Instead I will step all over people on my way up the corporate ladder. Paul talks about faith instead of legalism; James says faith without works is dead. Can’t these guys agree on anything? I don’t believe baptism is for the forgiveness of sin, so I’ll call the book of James a “book of straw” and remove it from my Bible.
Yes, Ahab was an ordinary man. But if he was ordinary, why don’t we strive to be extraordinary? Instead of saying “I told you so,” maybe we should just stick with “God told me so.”