False Mercy As Witchcraft: A Study of 1st Kings
Last night we continued looking at 1 Kings, particularly chapter 20, a chapter that most people overlook while studying the dramatics of Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel. In looking at these times we must always understand that this a story about the Lord God Jehovah versus Baal (pronounced "Baa-awl") the God of the Phoenicians. Ahab was the first king of Israel to marry outside his people's blood. He married Jezebel, the princess and high priestess of Phoenicia, for strictly political reasons. This "false peace" and period of seeming prosperity was deadly for the nation as Jezebel brought her monstrous religion to Israel. Baal was a territorial god, in that each region of the country had their own Baal, but in a general sense, Baal is a weather and fertility God. The name roughly means "Storm God." Elijah arrives on the scene in chapter 17 in a mysterious fashion. Breaking custom, there is no mention of his father or tribal lineage. Some believe he was a priest, but there is nothing saying that he was anything but a sojourner from Tishbe.
He takes on Baal on the enemy's turf by pronouncing drought. When we look at that we must recall the scriptures in James 5:17-18 that begin by saying "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain..." (A nature like ours!?)
When Elijah fled Jezebel after the Mt. Carmel showdown with the 450 false prophets he fled to a cave where he was fed by an angel. The Lord found him there and the Lord passed by as a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire. But, the Word says, the Lord was in none of these. Instead, he was in a "still small voice." This is a wonderful example of seeking intimacy with God and not merely looking for dramatic manifestations, but let me suggest something else. Elijah had control over the elements. He was fully capable of crying out to God in such a manner that he could evoke a wind, earthquake, and fire. But the Lord took him to the end of his own power. Let me add this, the Lord sends his miracle when we need it, not necessarily when we want it. A chapter later Elijah gets his earthquake.
When you are dealing with the "Storm God" you are dealing with a brooding, swarming, dense spirit of the atmosphere. You can expect some dark moods, brass heavens, and stormy spiritual seasons. Ahab was an evil king, but his evil was rooted more in indecision and compromise (1 Kings 18:21 shows that influence on the people) than it was malicious intent.
Abab's conflict was simple: did he listen to Elijah or did he listen to his wife, Jezebel? Interestingly, 1 and 2 Kings is a study in double portions as Elisha receives a double portion of Elijah's spirit. But Ahab, too, was a man of double portions. His evil father, Omri ruled for 11 years but Ahab ruled for 22. Eleven is the number of disorganization, confusion, and chaos, and 22 is divisible by no numbers except 2 and 11.
Having set the stage, this brings us to Chapter 20.
Ben-Hadad is listed as the King of Syria, but the name Ben-Hadad is not a name but a title. It literally means "Son of God," but more correctly, it means "Son of the Storm God, Ba-al." When the Syrians threaten Israel Ahab is told by a prophet (probably Elijah) that the Lord would deliver Israel militarily, but the suggestion was there that Ahab was to destroy Ben-Hadad. This is almost the retelling of the story of Saul and King Agag that is found in 1 Samuel 15:9. The mighty Syrian army is routed by Israel's "two little flocks of goats" (note, they were called goats, not sheep) and Ben-Hadad and his troops flee to Aphek, which means "fortress." It is here where a wall falls that kills 27,000 Syrian troops. Let me suggest that this is where Elijah got his earthquake. What else could cause a wall to fall that would do that type of damage?
Ben-Hadad flees to an inner sanctuary within the rubble. The "strong man" when pressed, will always flee deep within. The principle here is, that within his "stronghold", the "strong man" will always flee to where he first got his "foot-hold." The verse in 20:31 is very interesting. Ben-hadad's servants tell him that they have heard that the kings of Israel are "merciful" kings. The servants dress in their form of sackcloth and ashes and go to Ahab begging for their king's life. Ahab says: "Is he still alive? He is my brother."
That simple statement reveals Ahab's heart. Ben-Hadad is not really King Ahab's brother. In fact, if Ahab had a brother it was Elijah. But, due to the compromises of his political nature, he identifies with the evil of Baal rather than the righteousness of Jehovah. Jehovah, actually, had ordered Ahab to kill Ben-Hadad. But rather than do this, Ahab makes a treaty with him. Remember, a treaty is a covenant. All along, it was the desire of Satan to seduce the Israelites into a covenant with evil. This was the role and purpose of Jezebel, and while she made many evil "reforms" in the Kingdom, it is Ahab's disobedience here that really seals the deal. When mercy brings disobedience it is not mercy at all. It's simply disobedience.
If verse 35 we come across another "unnamed, unknown" prophet. I love these guys. Every time I come across a prophet in the Bible who is not named I write the verses down in the back of my Bible.
This is a fascinating story!
The unnamed prophet goes to a neighbor and says: "Strike me, please."
The neighbor refuses. See again, how mercy can triumph over obedience? In says in this verse that the prophet requested this "by the word of the Lord." It was the Spirit of God asking the neighbor to strike the prophet, but the neighbor refused.
And, the prophet had even said "please." This is a lesson in itself. The Holy Spirit is gentle and polite. Prophets too often are concerned only about the subject of their word. God is concerned about both substance and style. The prophet did not order his neighbor: "STRIKE ME!" He requested of his neighbor, "Strike me, please."
Now, get out of your head that the prophet just wanted a little slap on the cheek. When you look through the Old Testament you see many examples where a person is struck. It usually refers to being struck down with a staff or walking stick. The prophet was asking to be hit hard enough with a weapon so as to cause injury.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend.
The first neighbor was "too nice." The prophet rightly sees him not as nice, but as disobedient and says that a lion will find him and kill him.
Look at the story in 1 Kings 13. Again, an unnamed prophet. He comes boldly with a message to a king, but yields to the supposed position of an older prophet. His disobedience causes him to be eaten by a lion. (True spiritual authority does not exert its authority or hide behind a position.)
Back to chapter 20. The prophet finds another man, probably another neighbor, and says "Strike me, please." Even after his first bad experience, the prophet is still polite.
This man is obedient and strikes the prophet. This is all to set up a confrontation between the prophet and King Ahab, a confrontation that is very similar to Nathan confronting King David. In this, we see how leadership sometimes needs to be confronted and a manner of doing it.
The prophet is tricky and disguises himself. He then tells a story, like Nathan did, that illustrates the King's sin.
I could go on here because there is still much to tell, but I want to stop and ask all of you to consider the question of authority and obedience.
If a prophet asked you to do a strange thing, what would your reaction be?
Would you demand "Why?" or would you be instantly obedient?
Let me suggest that the first thing we must do is discern that the prophet is speaking "by the word of the Lord" and not merely out of his own spirit. If he is speaking from the word of the Lord, we must be obedient.
Young children love to demand "why?" Most of you are parents and you know when little children ask that they seldom actually want a reason. Their "why?" is really more of a "Says who?" It is not a question wanting explanation, it is rebellion buying time.
The spiritual atmosphere of this time in history was one of witchcraft. Rebellion "is as the sin of witchcraft."
One of the disguises of rebellion can be false mercy. Another disguise can be "explanation."
At the early stages of our walk the Lord is more than happy to explain things to us. As we grow He requires that we put away our childish understandings. It is one thing to say "Why, Lord" when we are little children walking with daddy in the garden. It is another thing, entirely, to demand "Why?" in the heat of spiritual battle. There are times when you must respect position. In the military we are taught "to salute the rank, not the person." In our work places, most of us have to obey someone we may not like, but our job requires submission.
The unnamed prophet had a dangerous job to do that required assistance. "False mercy" would not give the prophet the wound he required in order to fulfill God's commission and confront the King.
It continues to do the same today.
People are asking all the time: "Why aren't the prophets confronting the evil of this age?" Good question. Another question would be, are the "neighbors" cooperating with the prophets so they might confront the evil of this age?
John L. Moore