During ancient times when monarchies ruled Judea and Israel, prophets very often acted as political analysts. I’m not saying they weren’t divinely inspired — that’s easier than having to do research! — but I’m looking at the historical framework. They had to consider the kingdom’s situation, the king’s behavior, and the neighbors’ strength and intentions. Their job was not to engage in wishful thinking or to be the most popular or to promote their careers.
Micaiah (not to be confused with Micah) could be — if this were not so religiously contradictory — the patron saint of political analysts. My other small connection with his story is to have participated in a small way on the archaeological excavation of the town where the story took place.
Ahab was considered the worst Israelite king ever because of his pagan behavior and mistreatment of his subjects. Here’s the story, taken from I Kings 22.
King Ahab decided to recapture the town of Ramoth-Gilead. He called a meeting of 400 prophets — -today we’d call them experts- — to ask what the Lord wished: “Shall I march upon Ramoth-Gilead for battle, or shall I not?”
They unanimously answered: “March and the Lord will deliver [it] into Your Majesty’s hands.”
What more could one ask for? It’s like all scientists agreeing about man-made global warming; or all economists agreeing that Obama’s economic plan is brilliant; or all Middle East experts agreeing that the Muslim Brotherhood won’t take over Egypt or that the Arab side is desperately seeking peace with Israel.
But Ahab’s ally, King Jehoshaphat of Judah, asked: Wait a minute? Isn’t there someone missing?
Ahab responded, “There is one more man through whom we can inquire of the Lord; but I hate him, because he never prophesies anything good for me, but only misfortune — Micaiah son of Imlah.”
Jehoshaphat, however, replied: Well, why don’t we ask him, too?
The king reluctantly sends a messenger, who advises Micaiah: “Look, the words of the prophets are with one accord favorable to the king. Let your word be like that of the rest of them; speak a favorable word.”
Go along and you will be richly rewarded; disagree and be persecuted at worst and ignored at best. That Amalekite Liberation Front is a secular, moderate group? And supplying arms to the Ramoth-Gilead rebels is a brilliant idea, right?
If 400 other highly paid, honored pundits say it, how can they be wrong?