Mending Fences Can Be Dangerous
Ahab was a man of distinction. He had the distinction of having done “more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:33). He was so bad that God sent His great prophet Elijah to bring down three years of severe drought on Israel. He was the one who pitted 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah against Elijah in a contest on Mount Carmel to call down fire from heaven, so as to determine who was the true God: Baal and Asherah or Yahweh, the Lord. And because he desired Naboth’s vineyard, to make it a vegetable garden, Naboth was falsely accused and executed. Now who would desire to make a friend of such an evil man?
Jehoshaphat king of Judah did. Perhaps Jehoshaphat was a youngster who did not know better? But no, he was 35 when he ascended the throne (2 Chronicles 20:31). In fact he started out very well, by consulting God instead of Baal on important matters. God prospered him greatly and gave him peace.
But despite having God with him, and despite his huge army of over 1.16 million men, Jehoshaphat felt uneasy about his northern neighbour Israel. So “he allied himself with Ahab by marriage” (2 Chronicles 18:1). And if that was not enough, he visited Ahab (2 Chr 18:2; 1 Kings 22:2). We are not told why. Perhaps Jehoshaphat wanted to see for himself Ahab’s army and his defences? For with an evil king like Ahab as a neighbour, you can never rule out the possibility that he would one day attack you. Maybe Jehoshaphat wanted to mend fences with Israel? Anyway, Jehoshaphat may have had a good reason for visiting Ahab, and we should hope so; otherwise the whole trip could be called “Jehoshaphat’s Folly”.
Now, Ahab had just told his officials: “Don’t you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the King of Aram?” (1 Kgs 22:3). And like magic, Jehoshaphat arrives. Hmmm, I wonder: Did Ahab invite him? For the next verse says, “So he asked Jehoshaphat, ‘Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?’.” There is no word “So” in the Hebrew text but a connecting “And”, which has the effect of “So”. But did you notice how sly Ahab was? He only mentioned the little border town of Ramoth Gilead. Attack a little border town? No sweat! But would the powerful nation of Aram not go to war when a town in its possession was attacked?
Compared to the crafty Ahab, Jehoshaphat was a little babe in the woods. Ahab had given him a royal welcome, “slaughtered many sheep and cattle for him”, which must have been very flattering to Jehoshaphat, and then casually popped the question about “fighting Ramoth Gilead”, like it was a walk in the park. But what has Jehoshaphat got to do with a border town at the furthest boundary of Israel from Judah? Still, Jehoshaphat grandly replied, “I am as you are (What? Jehoshaphat was as evil as Ahab?), my people as your people, my horses as your horses, we will join you in the war” (1 Kgs 22:4; 2 Chr 18:3). Well, at least he had the sense to recognize that it would be a war, and not just a little battle with Ramoth Gilead.
Was Israel at war with Aram, so that Ahab needed Judah’s help to survive? Actually, no. The Bible tells us, “For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. But in the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah went down to see the king of Israel.” (1 Kgs 22:1, 2) And then there was war!
To be fair, Jehoshaphat had one main saving point. He told Ahab, “First seek the counsel of the LORD.” (1 Kgs 22:5) Ahab obliged by trotting out 400 prophets, who prophesied that “the Lord” (not the LORD, i.e. Yahweh) had said “Go (to war)”. But wait a minute! Who did Ahab pray to? He prayed to Baal and Asherah (1 Kgs 16:31-33)! So the 400 prophets were prophets of Baal and Asherah? Certainly, for Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?” (1 Kgs 22:7) Good for Jehoshaphat. This is what we should all do before we make a decision: seek God’s will and counsel.
Ahab had no choice but to call for Micaiah, a prophet of Yahweh. Micaiah revealed that God had allowed a lying spirit to go into the mouths of Ahab’s prophets, and that defeat had been decreed for Ahab (1 Kgs 22:23). God had spoken, so did Jehoshaphat back out of going to war with Aram? Incredibly, he did not! Why not? Because he committed the “Folly of Following the Largest Crowd”? After all, 400 prophets all can’t be wrong, right? Jehoshaphat was dead wrong, or almost dead and absolutely wrong.
For the crafty Ahab told him before the battle, “I will enter the battle in disguise, but you wear your royal robes.” (1 Kgs 22:30) Why did Ahab say that? Was it not to make the Arameans believe that Jehoshaphat was Ahab, and make him the main target instead of Ahab? At the very least, Jehoshaphat would divert attacks from Ahab. But was there another motive? What would have happened if Jehoshaphat was killed by the Arameans? Would the chances of Ahab taking over Judah and re-uniting Israel and Judah as a kingdom under himself not increase exponentially?
Poor Jehoshaphat fell into Ahab’s trap. The 32 chariot commanders of Aram had been instructed to fight only with the king of Israel, and when they saw Jehoshaphat from afar they mistook him for Ahab, and focused their attack on him. Poor Jehoshaphat fled in panic; “he cried out, and the LORD helped him. God drew them away from him….and they stopped pursuing him.” (2 Chr 18:31, 32). Did Jehoshaphat cry out to God? Very likely, for the juxtaposition of God’s help to Jehoshaphat’s crying out cannot be coincidental. Jehoshaphat’s crying out to God resulted in God helping him. When we are in trouble, do we immediately cry out to God for help? God will help us, like He helped Jehoshaphat though he had made mistake after mistake.
Oh, what a laugh Ahab must have had when he saw Jehoshaphat being attacked by fearsome chariots, the equivalent of armoured tanks today! If not for silly, naïve Jehoshaphat, they would be attacking him! But Ahab did not have the last laugh. An arrow shot at random hit Ahab between the sections of his body armour. It was not a fatal wound, but Ahab ordered his chariot to be wheeled out of the fighting, and he stood in his chariot the whole day facing the Arameans, to encourage his troops. As he stood there, or as 1 Kgs 22:35 says, “was propped up in his chariot”, he bled to death. All his craftiness and all his evil plans came to naught.
What did Jehoshaphat gain? Nothing except the fright of his life. When Ahab died, everyone fled. Jehoshaphat reached home safely, but only by the grace of God. Don’t we too need the LORD, our protector, defender and king, to protect us from the schemes of evil people and to help us in our many battles in life?