|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Prophets True and False|
|Text||1 Kings ch.22 v.7 |
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"And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him? (I Kings 22,7)
1. The danger of association with the ungodly
2. Separate from evil.
3. Cling to the truth
In order to understand the words of my text, I will need to bring you into the background of what has been happening in this piece of the history of the people of God in the Old Testament. I think the simplest way would be for me to spend a minute or two telling you about these two kings, and why they were gathered together, and what their intention was.
One of these kings, you notice, was Ahab. He was king of the northern part of the people who belonged to the Lord. They were known as Israel. Now, some sixty years or so before Ahab came to the throne, there had been a division among the people of God. Immediately following the death of Solomon, and upon the accession of his son Rehoboam to the throne of the people of God, there had been trouble, and there had been division.
And the man that came to the throne of Israel in the north was a man called Jeroboam I. The first thing he did to secure his power amongst the people was to make important changes to religion. There was a political motive for this. He saw that if the inhabitants of his kingdom were to travel south to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, they would be likely to leave him and to abandon his reign. So what he did was to create a new form of religion. He set golden calves in Dan and at Bethel; one in the north, and one in the south of Israel so that the people would never need to go to Jerusalem. And he cried, "Behold thy gods, oh Israel" (I Kings 12,28) and he demanded that they should worship God under the form of these two golden calves.
Now, sixty years had passed since then, and this man, Ahab, now comes to the throne. Sadly, he is married to an idolatrous woman, Jezebel. And Jezebel is not only a worshipper of false gods, but she is a persecutor of all who do not do as she commands. She believed in absolute monarchy; she believed in the divine right of kings to rule. She believed that all the consciences of her people were to be subjected to herself. And not only, therefore, now did they worship the golden calves, but with the coming of this king Ahab the people of Israel were compelled, on pain of death, to worship Baal. Now, the sin of Jeroboam I was to break the second commandment. He worshipped the true God under the image of these two golden calves. But the sin of Ahab and of Jezebel was to break the first commandment: they no longer worshipped God at all - they worshipped Baal. So here is one of the two kings.
The other king in this chapter has the name Jehoshaphat. He was the king of Judah in the south, from which Israel sixty years before had broken away. The true God was still worshipped in Judah. The truth was still in Judah: they had the temple, they had the sacrificial system that God had set up, and this man Jehoshaphat was a good man, a godly man. He did many worthy things. For one thing, he put down the sodomites in the land. He reformed the religion of Judah; he sent Levites and princes throughout the cities and towns of his kingdom, to instruct the people in the Word of God. And because of that God blessed him and he prospered, and the fear of God fell upon the neighboring kingdoms and countries.
But sadly, this good king Jehoshaphat had one besetting weakness: he wanted to make peace with the wicked king Ahab in the north. This had never happened before. His predecessors had been enemies of those godless men in the north. But Jehoshaphat was a peace-loving man - to a fault. And therefore, he wanted to do everything in his power to repair the breaches between the two kingdoms. So, at the invitation of Ahab, he tells the man, We will be as you are. Our armies will go with you; our horsemen will go with you in the battle to recover the town of Ramoth-gilead which had been lost (I Kings 22,4). So that is what brings these two men together.
They're going to pool their military resources to recover the town whose name was Ramoth-gilead. Now, before they set off for the battle, they want to know how things are going to go. In these days there were prophets. So the two kings gather together in an open space. There they set up their thrones, and they wear their robes, and the people are round about them. It's a great occasion of state: king Jehoshaphat; king Ahab.
And king Ahab calls in his prophets - there are some four hundred of them, and he asks them the question, "Shall I go against Ramoth-Gilead to battle, or shall I forbear?" And these prophets, all to a man, give the same answer: "Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king" (verse 6). It's at that point that the question in my text, verse seven, is asked: "Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him?"
Now then, that is the background. And I want to look at some of the lessons, and the principles, and the teachings that come to us from this part of the Word of God.
My friends, for one thing, we must see written into this passage the great principle that we must not associate in the worship of God with evil. We must not associate in the worship of God with evil. This was the sin, I'm afraid, even of this good and godly man Jehoshaphat. He was rebuked for it later. One of the prophets of God - a true prophet called Jehu, the son of Hanani went out to meet Jehoshaphat after the battle and he said to him bluntly: "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore wrath is upon thee from the Lord" (2 Chronicles 19,2). What were you doing? And Jehoshaphat was rebuked.
We are not to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather we are to reprove them (Ephesians 5,11). Jehoshaphat was weak at that very point. There are good people who do not realize that we must in connection with the worship of God separate from evil. This is very clear. Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers in the service of God and the work of God (2 Corinthians 6,14). And these principles are things, of course, which abide forever.
So, Jehoshaphat on his throne heard these four hundred prophets. It must have been a tedious business - they only had one message, and they all said the same thing: Go up and prosper: the Lord is with you. So at that point, Jehoshaphat asks this question which is my text, verse seven: "Is there not here a prophet of the Lord?" Now then, he was suspicious of these prophets of king Ahab.
It might be interesting just for a moment to ask ourselves, Why? why was he suspicious of these prophets? Well I think the first reason why he was suspicious of them is: there were so many of them. Never in the history of the world, probably, have there ever been together as many as four hundred prophets of the Lord all at once. Can you think of a time in the Old Testament when there were all these true prophets of God? We can think of Moses, and Samuel, and Elijah, and Elisha, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and some others, but they were more or less on their own. They were all lonely men. They were men who trod a different path from the rest of mankind. But, lo and behold! four hundred! No wonder Jehoshaphat's suspicions were aroused.
And then notice their answer to Ahab: Go up, they said, for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And they all said the same thing. If that's not enough reason for suspicion, notice their certainty! One of these men, Zedekiah, made horns of iron. This is the sort of thing they did in the Old Testament times - they made symbolical signs and emblems of their message. And this man had these iron horns made and he did this with them before the king Ahab: these horns are the symbol of the power that you will exercise! You will drive the Syrians away and recover Ramoth-Gilead. They were very emphatic; they were very confident; they were very certain of their message! And Jehoshaphat being a man of God was very doubtful about their certainty; very doubtful about their message; very doubtful about their confidence.
You see, Jehoshaphat was a godly man, and godly men have an unction from God Himself, and they recognize the voice of truth when they hear it; and they recognize the hollow sound of falsehood when they hear it. It's one of the great blessings of being converted: that God gives you an instinct for the truth.
The best illustration I can give you is this: it's like a man whose job is tasting wine. I don't know the first thing about wine, or tasting it, but I will tell you this that there are men and women whose job it is to taste wine. And they have rows and rows of little vials of different wines - from France, and Spain, and Italy, and all the other countries - and their job is to sip this wine, to put it round their tongue and then to spit it out. And they comment on the quality of the wine. They are expert; they recognize the good from the bad. Well that's how a true Christian is.
When he hears a message in the name of God, there's something in the Christian which savours the message, and he knows the true from the false. Now the unconverted man does not. The man who's not a man of God doesn't know the difference! It's all to him wine - the good and the bad. He drinks the whole lot of it as a man drinks a dish of dirty water. He doesn't know the clean from the unclean, the true from the false.
You see, this question asked by Jehoshaphat shows he was a man of God. He turned politely no doubt to king Ahab sitting beside him in his royal robe and he said, Sire, fellow king, I've heard all these prophets, but could we not now have a real prophet?
Now there's a lesson for us there. My friends, we must be extremely careful who we listen to in connection with the Word of God. The simple listen to everything; but the wise look well to his doings. There is nothing more important for us than to distinguish and to discriminate between those who bring the truth of God, and those who bring something else. In other words, the question of Jehoshaphat is a question for us all: Who is the prophet of the Lord? Who brings the Word of God? Who is bringing the truth? Or, what is something less than the truth?
Well that's the thing that raised the suspicions of this man Jehoshaphat. He saw that these men were false prophets. Look at the number of them. Listen to their chorus of prophecy. They only had the same thing to say; they all were echoes of one another. It's always the sign of the false prophet: he simply parrots what the other men have said. He simply reproduces the same noise. The prophets all saying the same thing; all banging the same drum. You never get that with a true prophet: they always say the thing which is distinct.
And you notice how they all fraternize with one another. You see their very majority makes them confident that they have the right message. The very fact that they have sheer weight of numbers gives them the impression that this must be the Word of God. But, you see, truth cannot be created by numbers. It doesn't matter how many people you have saying the same thing. You can't create truth. Truth is something which belongs to God. You can't make it up.
It reminds me of a story. It shows the absurdity of the point that these prophets were making and getting wrong. In an American classroom some years ago, the children, all imbued of course with the idea of democracy and voting, had this experience. One child came into the classroom on this particular morning bringing with him something he'd found on the way to school. What was it? It was a frog. So, he said to the teacher, Miss, is it a boy frog or a girl frog? Well the teacher hadn't any idea. So there was a terrible silence fell on the classroom. Not even the teacher knew. So one bright boy at the back said, I know, Miss, how to solve it: we'll vote on it! You see, they were going to vote on whether it was a boy frog or a girl frog. In other words, by voting they were going to create the truth! But you can't do that. Voting cannot create truth. And that's what this man Ahab was getting wrong.
Let me introduce you now to this true prophet who is brought before us in this passage. We know his name: Micaiah, the son of Imlah. I love this man. We're introduced to him at verse eight: "And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil." So that's the first thing we notice about this man of God, Micaiah the son of Imlah. The first thing that's said about him is: the king hated him. Why did he hate him? Well, because he always said something that upset the king. I'm afraid it's one of the things that characterize the true prophets of God. They must expect to be hated; they must expect to be misunderstood. People do not always like to have the truth said straight to them.
So, all right, says king Ahab, we'll call this man. He must have been in prison, judging from what we read about in the passage. He was eating his bread of affliction, and drinking his water of affliction in his prison situation. So a messenger is sent, and the messenger hurries to tell Micaiah the son of Imlah that he is summoned into the royal presence and is to make a prophecy. It's very interesting what this messenger says. Listen to these words, "And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good" (I Kings 22,13).
Now I'm sure this messenger meant well. I'm sure he wasn't intending to be deceitful, or to be false in any way. I'm sure he meant it well. I mustn't weary you with technicalities, but in the Hebrew language it's very obvious that this man was courteous, and we get it in the English translation at verse 13: "Let thy word, I pray thee". In the Hebrew language it's a little word na'. That's the way they show politeness. If you want to say something politely, in the Hebrew language you keep saying: Na', na'. That means, 'I pray thee', or 'please', or 'I beg of you'; 'I entreat you'. And this man keeps saying, Na'. He's trying to be courteous to the prophet. He respects the prophet. But he says, Now when you come into the presence of these kings, please, whatever you do, say the thing which is welcome, and the thing which is good, like all the rest of them. Don't create unnecessary trouble! And then he gets this answer at verse 14, an answer which deserves to be written in letters of gold. Micaiah said, "As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak."
Well, my friends, it's not an accident that that's the way in which the Word of God is written down. All of this is written down for our learning! because you see God is showing us here what a real prophet is like! This is the way a real prophet speaks! This is the way a real preacher speaks! As the Lord liveth, I will tell the people nothing but what God has said! come wind, come weather. I must only tell the people what God has said.
Well then, being duly prepared I suppose they have to shave Micaiah. I dare say he was in a somewhat uncouth condition. They'd let him languish, no doubt, in this prison for some days, weeks, or months; we don't know how long. There he was - meditating and praying, as all prophets do. But suddenly shaved, and clothed, and brought into the king's presence, here he is now in his presence of the kings. And Ahab says, Now Micaiah what have you got to say? All these prophets tell us to go! and prosper! What's your message?
And Micaiah, of course, speaks with irony. Oh, you go, he says, go and prosper; the Lord will bless you. It's all right, go! there's no harm (verse 15). Of course he didn't mean it seriously. He was mocking, with irony. And Ahab was very quick to notice it was not a genuine prophecy. "How many times," he said, "shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the Lord?" (verse 16).
And then Micaiah tells him the message of God. "Hear thou therefore the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right hand and on His left," and God was saying to all these angels and demons, "Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. "And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him." And the Lord said unto him: How will you do it? "I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And He said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth and do so" (I Kings 22,19-22). Go! says God, and you will succeed.
What a message! I say, my friends: What a message! And you see what happens in the end. Micaiah gets his reward for telling the truth. His reward is - take him back to the prison; feed him with bread of affliction, and water of affliction till I come home. And as he's being dragged away, in his chains, Micaiah turns back, and says to the people: If he comes back at all, the Lord has not sent me (verse 27-28). And we know as a matter of fact from the reading, king Ahab never did come home - he died in battle. Someone drew a bow at a venture and it struck him through the harness and joints of his armor, and dogs licked his blood as a judgment on him for what he had done in the past - his wickedness! - especially in killing Naboth the Jezreelite.
Now, my friends, you must understand that this is the proof of a true prophet. How would you know a true prophet? Well, you know him for the hatred he has to suffer in this world. You know him for the isolation that he's made to experience in this world. You know from the way people separate themselves from him, that he's a true prophet.
You remember how Stephen put this in speaking to the Sanhedrin: "Which of the prophets," said he, "have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and the murderers?" (Acts 7,52).
And you know what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself said: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for m y sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matthew 5,11-12). "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you," however, "for so did their fathers to the false prophets" (Luke 6,26).
My friend, if you want to know a prophet from a prophet - the true from the false - it is in passages like this that light and understanding is given.
Now you see the answer to Jehoshaphat's question is to be seen in the light of this beloved man Micaiah the son of Imlah. I love Micaiah the son of Imlah! If I'm privileged to get to heaven, I would love to wash his feet. Oh! faithful man! Oh! holy, godly prophet! He faced kings, prophets, congregations of thousands, and he spoke the truth! Now there's the way in which to recognize a prophet. A prophet is a man who speaks the truth at all costs. If we were to write down the kind of ministers we need in Scotland, and England, and elsewhere, at this hour! it is men like Micaiah the son of Imlah. He's our pattern for this generation: men like that who put the truth first! and themselves and everything else next. Faithful in their warnings! You see, he told the king, You will go to battle, oh king, and you will die there. Very unwelcome news. But it was the truth.
You know, there's something abroad today which tells ministers, if they're prepared to listen to it: You mustn't warn people of the truth. You mustn't warn them anymore! You mustn't talk about sin! or judgment! or hell! or damnation! You mustn't talk about these things! People are troubled enough in this modern generation with all the follies and difficulties of the age! You mustn't worry them with warnings! Tell them about the love of God. Oh, we must do that too, of course. Tell them sweet things, smooth things, nice things! Oh, we must do that too at times. Of course, the Bible has many nice, sweet things to say - of course! But it also has the other things to say, doesn't it? Jesus talked about blessings and cursings - they're both in this Book. And we're not allowed to choose what we want to preach to the people. We must preach the whole of what God says! So, I say, this beloved man gives his faithful warnings.
We must be positive, and we must be negative. We must tell people about the love of God, and a bleeding, suffering Saviour Jesus Christ, who came to die for our sin, in love, and in grace, and in kindness, that you and I may be taken to glory when we die. Thank God for all of that. But what if people won't listen? We must also remind them that there is a death-day coming, and a Judgment Day coming. Like Ahab, we will die! all of us - and then, where will you be? Well, the faithful minister tells his people the positive and the negative. But the sign of the false prophet is that he suppresses the things that he knows the people do not want to hear.
What else does the prophet do who's true to God? He has to put up with a great deal of opposition in this world. What a thing for anyone to say about a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ: "I hate him". You know there are ministers in the world today and the people would say that just as they said it about this man: 'I just hate that man. I hate his emphasis; don't like his message.' And look at the way they're treated. There was Micaiah, standing before the king, telling the truth. And you notice what happened. Along came this man Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah, who had his horns of iron, to tell the king that he would push the enemy forward and destroy them! And he heard Micaiah's faithful word. He strode up to him, and smote him across the face (verse 24). Our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ had the same, you remember, at his trial: they smote Him on the face (John 18,22-23). They spat on His face! They ripped off His beard! They hurried Him to crucify Him! because He was the truth, and He stood for the truth in a world that hates the truth and hates the light!
My very dear friends, we have come to a very important change, division, and alteration in the state of all our churches in Britain today. And when the newspaper people are no longer interested in it there will be men, and young men with their families, who will be, if you like, the casualties to this very thing we're talking about here. I beg of you to remember the men who were faithful in the country, both in prayer and with your generosity, because, for the sake of the gospel of Christ, to preserve the truth concerning the gospel, these men and their families have suffered, and will suffer perhaps, materially in time to come. The Lord, however, is with His people, and He can make the bread of affliction, and the water of affliction, very sweet in their mouths.
Remember these men, especially the younger ones. The Micaiahs of this world, they're not made of stone or steel - they're made of flesh and blood like ourselves; men of like passions. But these are the men, whom I'm persuaded God will acknowledge in the day when He sets His throne. When all the Ahabs of this world are gone! and the Jehoshaphats are gone - God will set His throne in an open place! And He will call all these prophets, great and small, into His presence, and woe betide those then who have spoken lies in the name of the Lord. And blessed then will be those men, and their families, who have held to the truth in this perverse and evil generation.
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