2 Chronicles 17-18: The Old Switcheroo

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Jehoshaphat’s narrative, as Asa’s, is considerably bloated. While he takes up only a single chapter in Kings (1 Kgs 22) – which he must share with King Ahab of Israel – the Chronicler gives him four chapters.

Cultic Concerns

2 Chron. 17 kicks us off on a fairly positive note, and is largely unique to Chronicles.

We learn that Jehoshaphat was a faithful king, that he “walked in the earlier ways of his father” (2 Chron. 17:3 – as opposed to Asa’s later days in which he forgot to turn to God in his moments of need). He sought God to the exclusion of other gods, so God established his rule and built up his wealth.

Contradicting 1 Kgs 22:43, we learn that Jehoshaphat succeeded where his father had fallen short, and he removed all the high places and Asherim from Judah. (We can play the same games we played with Asa and say that he did fail to remove the YHWH shrines, but that he managed to oust the shrines to other gods that had cropped up since Asa’s purges. If we want to.)

In the third year of his reign, he sent his princes throughout Judah, in the company of Levites and priests, to teach the law to the people. The princes he sent were: Benhail, Obadiah, Nethanel, and Micaiah. The Levites who went along were: Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah, and Tobadonijah. The priests were: Elishama and Jehoram.

There are two questions that might be raised by this passage. The first is raised by the New Bible Commentary, which claims that it would have been prohibitively expensive to equip all these priests and princes with scrolls (p.388 – it also brings up the claim of widespread illiteracy, but easily smacks it down. Princes and priests would be just the sorts of people to have had access to education, at least so far as reading is concerned).

I find the claim difficult to swallow. Would scrolls have been expensive? Sure! But prohibitively so? Especially since we don’t actually know what they were carrying along with them. Was it the whole Pentateuch? Or merely a short-ish list of laws that, later, became the basis for parts of it? If we allow that it might have been a shorter text, and that it was only needed in 16 copies (assuming that each prince and priest carried his own), it seems well within the range of what a sufficiently-motivated monarch could manage.

Let’s not forget how many texts are mentioned as sources and references throughout Chronicles alone, written by court chroniclers and prophets (where there’s a difference). If the seer Iddo could get his hands on paper, couldn’t the king?

The second question, raised by James Bradford Pate, is why princes were sent along with the priests. One possibility he gives is that the princes were there to teach the secular law, while the priests taught the religious laws. I suspect, however, that such a dichotomy is rather anachronistic. Certainly, having now read through the Pentateuch, there’s little indication that its authors would have understood the difference.

Another possibility Pate raises is that the princes were there to give the priests backing, to make it clear that they taught with the king’s authority. A third is that they were there to serve the Chronicler’s own ends, to provide a precedent for members of the laity teaching cultic law, as he says was happening in synagogues in the Chronicler’s own time.

Personally, I suspect that this is just further evidence of theological evolution. In many cultures of the ancient Near East, secular and religious duties were conflated, with the roles of the king and high priest being filled by the same individual. It seems that the same was true in the early monarchy as, in 2 Sam. 8:18, we learn that David’s sons were priests. Why couldn’t Jehoshaphat’s sons also be priests? The Chronicler typically tries to erase these bread crumbs from his sources, but may have left this passage as Jehoshaphat’s devotion – that he would send his own sons out with the priests to, say, lead by example. He almost certainly added Levites to whatever his original source might have said, and perhaps made priests into a distinct category (as opposed to, say, “Jehoshaphat’s sons and other priests”). Perhaps he felt that was enough to fudge over his religion’s history, and bring it in line with his current belief system.

Military Might

We also learn about Jehoshaphat’s military might. We learn that he garrisoned all the fortified cities of Judah, as well as the surrounding land. He also garrisoned the cities of Ephraim that Asa had conquered (perhaps a reference to what might have fallen to him during Syria’s Benhadad’s attack on Israel in 2 Chron. 16).

He surrounded himself with soldiers and mighty men. In Jerusalem, his army commanders from Judah were:

  • Adnah, who oversaw 300,000 men;
  • Jehohanan, who oversaw 280,000 men;
  • and Amasiah, son of Zichri, who was a volunteer for the service of God and oversaw 200,000 men.

The commanders from Benjamin were:

  • Eliada, who was one of the mighty men and oversaw 200,000 archers;
  • and Jehozabad, who oversaw 180,000 men.

These were only the commanders in Jerusalem, and there were plenty more scattered about in the fortified cities.

Jehoshaphat’s power grew, and he built up fortresses and store-cities, not to mention the contents of those stores. All the surrounding nations were so afraid of God that they left Judah alone. In fact, some even made gifts and tributes to Jehoshaphat, including the Philistines and the Arabs. (This verse is used to support the possibility that Zerah, from 2 Chron. 14, had been an Arab king rather than an Ethiopian one, and that this “gift” arrangement was a result of that conflict.)

Consulting Micaiah

2 Chron. 18 is taken almost verbatim from 1 Kgs 22, and is pretty much all that the author of Kings felt worthy of mentioning about Jehoshaphat. The Chronicler doesn’t much bother with the northern kingdom, but makes an exception of Ahab for Jehoshaphat’s presence in the story. Where there are differences, it is usually to trim some of Ahab’s narrative detail, or to enhance Jehoshaphat’s.

While 2 Chron. 17 paints a rather rosy picture of Jehoshaphat, we learn here that he made a marriage alliance with Ahab. In real terms, whatever respite it might have brought in the multi-generational conflicts between the two half-nations seems like it would have been a blessing (to use the term in a secular sense), particularly for border communities. To the theologically motivated Chronicler, however, it was no such thing.

After a few years, Jehoshaphat visits Ahab in the Israelite capital of Samaria. To make Jehoshaphat seem more like a highly honoured guest, the Chronicler adds a detail about Ahab slaughtering a great many sheep and oxen for Jehoshaphat and his retinue.

2 Chronicles 17-18It is during this trip that Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to join him in attacking Ramoth-gilead, which had fallen into Syrian hands. Jehoshaphat agrees, but asks that they consult with God first.

The scene is painted in surprising detail, with the two kings in their full display. They are arranged in their robes, on their thrones, at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and 400 sycophantic prophets were before them, all prophesying that they should go, that God would deliver Ramoth-gilead into their hands.

One prophet in particular, Zedekiah son of Chenaanah, goes above and beyond with the theatrics. He makes himself iron horns, and declares that God will use them to push the Syrians until they are all destroyed. The other 399 prophets agree.

But Jehoshaphat isn’t quire sure, and he asks for a 401st opinion. As it happens, there is one prophet, Micaiah son of Imlah, who had not been invited. Micaiah, you see, is an absolute Debbie Downer. But he is summoned at Jehoshaphat’s insistence.

When the kings’ messenger finds Micaiah, he tells him what the other prophets have said, and warns him to bring his own prophecies in line. But Micaiah, man of integrity, insists that he will say whatever God tells him to say, and not a word contrary.

Despite this pledge, he ends up agreeing with the other prophets when he is before the kings.

Ahab is suspicious. Malaise Micaiah would never say something so rousingly positive! And Micaiah confesses his lie, that his vision was actually of all Israel scattered upon the mountain, “as sheep that have no shepherd” (2 Chron. 18:16).

You see, he saw a vision of God on his throne, surrounded by his heavenly court. God announced that he wanted a way to lure Ahab to his doom in Ramoth-gilead. Members of the court made a few suggestions until, finally, one spirit suggested putting lies in the mouths of the prophets, assuring Ahab that he would succeed in his battle against the Syrians.

Zedekiah, a bit of a sore loser, punches Micaiah in the face, and asks him how the Spirit of God went from him into Micaiah. Micaiah responds that he will know on the day that he goes into an inner chamber to hide himself. Whatever that is supposed to mean (perhaps there was a second part of the story, one involving Zedekiah, that we no longer have?).

Ahab, also a sore loser, has Micaiah imprisoned and fed nothing but bread and water until Ahab returns in peace. To which Micaiah replies that he will only return in peace if God has not spoken through him [Micaiah]. Personally, I think something about “guess I’ll die on bread and water, then!” would have had more zing, but I’m not the author here.

Despite his insistence that Micaiah be consulting, Jehoshaphat doesn’t appear to have been particularly moved by what he had to say, and he goes to Ramoth-gilead with Ahab.

James Bradford Pate rightly asks why Jehoshaphat would have gone along with Ahab after Micaiah’s words. It seems very inconsistent. He also asks why Jehoshaphat, if he was so powerful, would have consented to an alliance with Ahab in the first place. Pate answers both by suggesting that the Chronicler may have been a little too generous, and that Jehoshaphat was the weaker party in the alliance. This explains why he might have been obligated to go along with Ahab’s plan despite whatever reservations he may have had.

Personally, I think it’s equally likely that Jehoshaphat’s insistence on a second opinion is the fictional addition (perhaps to make him look good by having him doggedly seek out God’s will, or perhaps to make Micaiah look good by introducing him as a prophet with a reputation for bucking authority).

As for the idea that it had to have been Jehoshaphat seeking the alliance, I’m not sure that we can make that assumption. The two might have been equally matched, or Jehoshaphat might have accepted a royal Israelite wife as a vassal price. For all we know, there was an exchange of brides. It’s also possible that Jehoshaphat was the stronger party in absolute terms, but not strong enough to thoroughly crush Israel. He might then have sought an alliance just to put an end to the border skirmishes that seem to have been going on since his great-grandfather’s day.

The Battle

We have a little more confusion with the battle itself. Before going in to fight, Ahab decides to disguise himself, and has Jehoshaphat wear Ahab’s robes.

If we assume historicity, it seems strange that Jehoshaphat would have agreed to this. One possibility, though, is that they believed Jehoshaphat would be protected by not being Ahab, but that a disguise might protect Ahab by confusing the Evil Eye (or equivalent). We see plenty of similar folk traditions, like not giving a newborn a name (keeping them liminal and therefore safe from curses) until they are past the high risk early days.

As for dressing Jehoshaphat up like Ahab rather than simply putting both kings in disguise, it would have been necessary for the army to see that they had a leader (morale and whatnot), and this was clearly Ahab’s venture. Therefore, Ahab had to be seen to be on the battlefield, even if it wasn’t actually him. And having the substitute still be a monarch might not have violated the honour of the engagement.

Another possibility is simply that the story is a fabrication, following the typical pattern of a “you can’t escape your fate” fable. These stories often have fairly ridiculous set ups, with characters behaving in terribly odd ways in attempts to save themselves, only to bring themselves right into the situation they had been trying to avoid.

As it happens, the king of Syria had commanded his chariot captains to focus on killing Ahab, at the expense of going after his soldiers. As planned, they focus on Ahab (who is actually Jehoshaphat in disguise) and pursue him.

Jehoshaphat is spared when he cries out to God, and God draws away (or “seduces,” apparently) the chariot captains. Still, one of them drew his bow, just on a lark, and shot into the fray. Predictably, it just so happens to strike Ahab, and thus he is delivered his fatal wounds.

Kings gives us some more details of Ahab’s slow and gruesome death, but the Chronicler tells us only that he propped himself up in his chariot, facing the Syrians as he attempted retreat, until evening. He died with the sun.

1 Kings 22: Tricking the Prophets

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Though ostensibly about Ahab, the majority of this story does not mention Ahab by name (he is mentioned only once, in 1 Kings 22:19, before the the chronicle of the kings portion that comes right at the end). Rather, the story talks about “the king of Israel.” According to J.R. Porter, this could be an indication that this story “was not originally about Ahab at all” (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.90). Particularly since, as Porter points out, the phrase used in the chronicle section – that Ahab “slept with his ancestors” – tends to indicate a peaceful death.

The peace we saw forged in 1 Kings 20 between Syria and Israel lasted for only three years. According to my study Bible, during this time, Syria and Israel formed a military alliance to defend against the Assyrians (culminating in a battle at Qarqar in 853 B.C.E.). Though the text doesn’t explain why, suddenly, Israel was willing to break the alliance, the historical events suggest that Israel may no longer have considered it necessary with the Assyrians defeated.

1 Kings 22In the text, we just have King Jehoshaphat of Judah coming to visit, and Ahab proposing on a lark that they go conquer Ramoth-gilead together (apparently it was one city that the Syrians did not return, as per Benhadad’s promise in 1 Kings 20:34).

Jehoshaphat is game with bells on, saying: “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (1 Kings 22:4). This response seems a little subservient to me, as does Jehoshaphat’s agreement to go along with Ahab’s plan later on, and I’m not sure what to make of that.

Jehoshaphat’s only reservation is that prophets ought to be consulted first, before they get into a messy military conflict. According to Collins, “Most prophets were not isolated individuals but were members of a guild. One of the functions of prophets seems to have been to whip up enthusiasm at the beginning of a campaign. Here the prophets hold a virtual pep rally for the king” (A Short History of the Hebrew Bible, p.141).

And that’s precisely what they do. Four hundred prophets are summoned, and they are unanimous: Yes! Fight! You’ll be victorious! It’ll be great! One prophet, Zedekiah, is so excited that he even makes a pair of iron horns and declares that Ahab will use them to vanquish Syria (the imagery is quite similar to Deut. 33:17).

But Jehoshaphat isn’t convinced, and wants to get a 401st opinion. It could be that he is meant to see through the political purpose of the prophets Ahab has chosen and wants to hear what a real prophet has to say. However, as we later find out, the 400 prophets aren’t just Yes Men, they are relaying what they believe to be God’s message to Ahab (and, in fact, that’s precisely what it is). So the charge that they are just sycophants is misplaced. What, then, does that say about Jehoshaphat’s mistrust? It seems like a small thing, but it becomes quite a complicated knot, and makes for difficult theology.

Enter Micaiah

There is one other prophet, admits Ahab, but he’s a total jerk. Micaiah, son of Imlah, never prophecies anything good. But Jehoshaphat insists and, surprising everyone, Micaiah actually agrees with the other prophets. Ahab is rightly suspicious.

Only then does Micaiah admit that, it’s true, his real prophecy is that the Israelites will soon be scattered and masterless. That’s more like it, says Ahab.

Micaiah continues to describe his vision, in which God sat on his throne, surrounded by host of heaven. God asked his entourage to come up with a way to mess with Ahab and entice him to his death at Ramoth-Gilead. Several spirits make suggestions, but the winner is the one who suggests that he be a “lying spirit” (1 Kings 22:22) and plant a false prophecy. Again, we see the prioritizing of God’s strength and power over his goodness. Lying may be forbidden, but it is perfectly acceptable to view God as the originator/director of the lie so long as it demonstrates that nothing happens outside of his direct control.

None of this makes Zedekiah “Iron Horns” ben Chenaanah very happy, so he punches Micaiah in the face. “How did the Spirit of the Lord go from me to speak to you?” (1 Kings 22:24), he asks. According to my New Bible Commentary, he is asking “by what authority does Micaiah give a prophecy different from that of the other prophets?” (p.348). However, I read it as an acknowledgement of Micaiah’s superior prophecy, and a resentment that God had chosen to give Zedekiah only the trick version.

To this, Micaiah tells Zedekiah that he will see once he goes into hiding. I think. It’s a little unclear, but I think the point he’s making is that Micaiah has proven himself willing to challenge Ahab (and therefore has perhaps needed to go into hiding to dodge the repercussions on a few occasions), and that this is why he was chosen to receive the true prophecy. Since Zedekiah was acting more the cheerleader, he was given the false prophecy instead.

Ramoth-Gilead

Ahab is furious about Micaiah’s prophecy and has him arrested. Yet he does still seem to believe him – or has at least decided to hedge his bets. While he still goes after Ramoth-Gilead, he disguises himself, while Jehoshaphat is to wear his normal royal getup.

This initially seems to work, as the king of Syria (here unnamed) orders his men to focus fire on the king. They see Jehoshaphat wearing royal garb and head for him, but realize that he isn’t Ahab once they get close and they break off. As they are moving away from Jehoshaphat, however, they loose an arrow that just happens to Ahab by chance. This “you can’t escape your fate” motif is a very common in mythology.

So Ahab is indeed brought down at Ramoth-Gilead, and his body ends up bleeding out in the floor of his chariot while his men scatter, masterless. Finally, his chariot is brought back to Samaria and washed out by a pool, from which the dogs drink (1 Kings 21:19) and harlots bathe. Even though this takes place in Samaria and not in Jezreel (where Naboth died, though 1 Kings 21:19 is quite specific that Ahab’s blood will be licked by dogs in the same place as Naboth’s), and even though the referenced passage doesn’t mention anything about harlots, my study Bible suggests that the treatment of Ahab’s body and the fate of his blood may have been an editorial insert, intended to make his death harmonize with the earlier prediction.

Chronology

After the Ahab-themed narrative interlude, we return to the princely chronology. Once Ahab was safely tucked in with his fathers, it was his son Ahaziah’s turn at the throne, in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat. He only reigned two years, and was a total baddie.

According to Porter, there’s some evidence that Ahab was actually a fairly accomplished ruler, who oversaw a surprisingly stable government given the external pressures:

He built cities and secured his state by renewing the Israelite alliance with the Phoenicians of Tyre. He dominated the southern kingdom of Judah through marriage of his daughter, Athaliah, to Jehoram, the son of the Judean king Jehoshaphat (873-849 BCE). Ahab’s importance is strikingly shown in an inscription of Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria (ca. 859-824 BCE), the first Assyrian monument to include an Israelite king’s name. Ahab allied with Israel’s old foe, Damascus, against Shalmaneser, and the allies met the Assyrians at Qarqar in the Orontes Valley in 853 BCE. Although Shalmaneser claimed victory, his advance was checked. His inscription records that Ahab had two thousand chariots and then thousand infantry. (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p. 90)

Back over in Judah, Jehoshaphat came to the throne in Ahab’s fourth year, when he was 35 years old. He then reigned for a further 25 years from Jerusalem. His parents were Asa and Azubah, the daughter of Shilhi. According to the author, he was one cool dude, and a chip off the ol’ block. His only downside was that he did not take away the high places, though he did get rid of male cultic prostitution. He managed to oversee a period of peace, at last, between Judah and Israel.

He seems to have had control over Edom, appointing a deputy to rule it on his behalf. While he lost merchant ships at Eziongeber, Ahaziah still wanted to partner in on subsequent trade excursions, which Jehoshaphat refused.

When he died, he was succeeded by Jehoram.