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Rubin Reports

The Prophet Micaiah Teaches Me My Job

July 17th, 2013 - 3:23 pm

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?

Micaiah, however, isn’t intimidated. He replies: I’m not going to lie! I will only say what the Lord tells me to say. When Micaiah comes before the king, at first he speaks so sarcastically — sure, go ahead and attack the city — that the king knows Micaiah didn’t mean it. So he retorts: Come on! Tell me the truth!

So Micaiah replied, in effect: Okay, you asked for it. I foresee a terrible disaster.

And why did the other 400 all agree that the proposed military attack would be a great idea? Micaiah explained it as him having had a vision of the Lord who, since He had good reason to detest Ahab, asked, “Who will entice Ahab so that he will march and fall at Ramoth-Gilead?”

A certain being (perhaps what would be today a high-ranking advisor, CIA chief, secretary of state, secretary of defense, professor, or journalist) came forward and said: I’ll do it!

The Lord asks, How?

“I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.”

And the Lord agreed, “You will prevail.”

Imagine all of those 400 false prophets- — or perhaps, to be fair, misinformed ones — bragging afterward how they had spoken truth to power as they ate their dainties, basked in the court’s admiration, and dwelt in their nice abodes. Those were their rewards, in fact, for not speaking the truth.

But, wait! There’s a paradox here:

If Micaiah is just doing the Lord’s will and the Lord wants Ahab to be deceived, then why is Micaiah telling the truth? Either Micaiah is defying the Lord — unlikely — or the Lord wants Ahab to be told the truth and given one last chance to change his mind if only he listens to reason.

What was Micaiah’s reward for telling Ahab the truth? One of Ahab’s men punched him and the king had him thrown into a dungeon and fed only bread and water. He was to remain in prison until Ahab’s return. Unintimidated, Micaiah replied: You’re not coming back.

And so it came to pass. Ahab lost the battle and was slain. The Bible doesn’t say what happened to Micaiah, but I like to think he was immediately released from prison and lived happily ever after being able to say, I told you so!

Whether you are religious, agnostic, or atheist, this story is equally appropriate. Say, for example, that Micaiah evaluated the quality of each side’s troops, the weapons they used, and the terrain they were fighting on. And the others engaged in wishful thinking, told the king what he wanted to hear, or didn’t know what they were talking about.

This story brought home to me that to do one’s task rightly, to bear witness honestly, and to face the consequences without flinching should be the hallmarks of my field. What else should a writer, teacher, or intellectual do?  Unfortunately, at times one seems to be outnumbered by 400 to 1, in both numbers and audience size.

Micaiah had a good answer as to how to know who was right: Watch and see who is right according to the outcome! Or as he put it more elegantly to Ahab: “If you ever come home safe, the Lord has not spoken through me.”

Not always, of course, is the proof of who is correct so quickly at hand. Yet there are many such indications available on a daily basis.

If the Palestinians make peace with Israel; the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah, Iran, and other Islamists turn out to be moderates; Syria is a democratic success story, and many other such things come to pass, I guess I was wrong.

Otherwise, you can’t say I didn’t warn you!

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All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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Sorry for the off topic. Been reading here at PJMedia for many years (started with the Belmont Club). I suffer from sometimes neglecting to follow my dreams in life or maybe not realizing them in time. Since my very early 20’s (now in my 40’s) visiting or even living in Israel has been in my heart but now it is even more difficult. My question is to any Israelis, when I am able to visit (after my children are older) I would very much like to already know people in Israel. Any suggestions on how I can get to know Israelis even though I am not actually living there?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
jack probably thinks Mussolini was a good leader because he had the trains on time ... and conquered those Ethiopians!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The pagan worship thing is key. See:


Where do Bush and Bibi fall? Certainly not as out-and-out pagans, but hardly as those listening closely to Hashem. Guys doing their best, maybe, and then:

Putin/Assad/Saddam/Pol Pot/Stalin/Mao/etc.

And then those who managed to raise up righteousness in the critical moments:


That looks like the lineup to me: A few pearls, some well-meaning muddlers, and dreck. Welcome to our species.

And some folks like Barry, offering bits of prophecy here and there - like dust in the wind it may glitter in the dying light, but usually fades.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It seems few of the people called to testify about the series of administration blunders have ever heard of the "thou shall not bear false witness" idea.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A relevant moral lesson for those who can hear it...(I suspect Obama is deaf -- he doesn't hear you.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It doesn't matter how many battles a King wins if he loses the war. A contrast is a King who losesmost of the battles but wins the war by winning the last one and keeping his kingdom intact. See: George Washington.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr. Rubin: The moral of the story is good, but the characterization of Ahab by the Deuteronomist isn't. Ahab gets a bumb rap by the Deuteronomist. Ahab was one of the most effecitve king of the Kingdom of Israel. He briefly managed to unite Israel and Judah, and he was instrumental in stopping Assyrian advances into Aram (today's Syria). Not for nothing did Assyrian annals call the Kingdom of Israel called Beth Omri (Ahab's father's name). Regretfully, Yehu's coup against Omri-ide dynasty put an end to that, and ultimately to the Kingdom of Israel.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
None of those things matter to God. What matters is obedience to HIM.

Ahab elevated pagan worship practices in Israel. That's all we need to know that he was a bad king.

1 year ago
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