During the monarchies of ancient Judea and Israel, prophets often acted as
I’m not saying they weren’t divinely inspired (easier
than having to do research), just looking at the historical framework. They had
to consider the kingdom’s situation, the king’s behavior and the neighbors’
strengths and intentions. Their job was not to engage in wishful thinking or to
be most popular or to promote their careers.
Micaiah (not to be confused
with Micah) could be the patron saint of political analysts, so to speak. My
other small connection with his story is to have participated a small bit in the
archeological excavation of the town where the story took place.
considered the worst king ever among the Israelites because of his pagan
behavior and mistreatment of people. Here’s the story, taken from I Kings
King Ahab decided to recapture the town of Ramot- Gilead. He called a
meeting of 400 prophets (today we’d call them experts) to ask what the Lord
wished: “Shall I march upon Ramot-Gilead for battle, or shall I not?” They
unanimously answered: “March and the Lord will deliver [it] into your majesty’s
What more could one ask for? It’s like all scientists agreeing
about man-made global warming; or all economists agreeing President Barack
Obama’s economic plan was 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 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. 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 sarcastically, saying: Sure, go ahead and attack.
The king knew
Micaiah didn’t mean it, so he retorted: Come on, tell me the truth! So Micaiah
replied, in effect: Okay, you asked for it. I foresee a terrible
And why did the other 400 all agree that it would be a great
idea? Micaiah explained. He had a vision of the Lord in His throne room; the
Lord asked, “Who will entice Ahab so that he will march and fall at
Ramot-Gilead?” A certain being (perhaps what would be today a high ranking
adviser, CIA chief, secretary of state, secretary of defense, professor or
journalist) came forward and said: I’ll do it! The Lord asks how.
go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.”
Lord agreed, saying, “You will prevail.”
Imagine all of those 400 false
prophets – or perhaps, to be fair, misinformed ones – bragging afterward about
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 he only 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
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 correctly, 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
Micaiah had a good answer: Watch and see who is right. Or as he put
it more elegantly to Ahab: “If you come home safe, the Lord has not spoken
Not always, of course, is the proof so quickly at
Yet there are many such indications available on a daily
But if the Palestinians make peace with Israel; the Muslim
Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Iran and other Islamists turn out to be moderates; and
many other such things come to pass, I guess I was wrong.
can’t say I didn’t warn you.The author is director of the Global
Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.