Tuesday, March 11, 2014

First Kings: Lies, Damn Lies, and Prophecies

Well, here we are again, and in today’s episode we have the activities of Ahab, king of Israel in the time of the prophet Elijah. We should be able to skip through these pretty quickly.

Immediately after Elijah took Elishah as his apprentice prophet, Ahab gets involved in a war with the king of Syria Ben-hadad. Note that this is not Hazael, whom God instructed Elijah to anoint king of Syria. And we’re explicitly told that God gave the Syrian army into Ahab’s hands (i.e. God helped Ahab win). The details of the battles aren’t really important, but in the end Ahab has defeats two Syrian armies and has the king cornered in the city of Aphek (where, apparently, a wall fell on 27,000 of his men – that must have been one fuck of a wall!). Ben-hazad buys his freedom by giving back to Israel some cities that Syria had previously captured from them and making a trade agreement for letting Israelite merchants into his cities.

Apparently, even though God never instructed Ahab to kill Ben-hazad, he’s pissed that Ahab spared his life. So he sends one of his prophets to inform Ahab of his displeasure in a psychotic little story that starts thusly:

1 Kings 20:35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of Yahweh, ‘Strike me, please.’ But the man refused to strike him. 36 Then he said to him, ‘Because you have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh, behold, as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall strike you down.’ And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and struck him down.”

So God has a lion kill a man for refusing to hit one of his prophets… because I guess people are just supposed to do whatever the hell a man calling himself a prophet tells them to or fucking else. Of course, for all he knew the instruction to hit the guy was a test to see if he would actually hit a prophet and he might be killed for doing that, but I suppose he guessed wrong.

Anyway, our little nameless prophet friend finally finds someone willing to hit him. And apparently this was just to add some verisimilitude to his disguise when he approaches Ahab claiming to be a soldier from the battles with Syria. There’s a brief little conversation in which the prophet essentially tricks Ahab into judging that it’s a bad thing to let a prisoner escape whom one’s commander has given into your charge by claiming that he was a soldier who’d accidentally done so during the battle. But I guess it’s not all that surprising that the prophets’ stock and trade would be trickery and deceit.

Of course, this is followed by judgment:

1 Kings 20:42 And he said to him ‘Thus says Yahweh, “ Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life and your people for his people.”’”

Yeah… so basically God is declaring that, because Ahab didn’t kill a guy who he was never explicitly told to kill, God is going to kill Ahab and his subjects as well. Because that’s totally not the behavior of a psychotic douchebag at all.

Then we get a quick side story about how Ahab wanted some dude’s vineyard. But since the guy wasn’t willing to sell it, Ahab’s wife Jezebel framed him for blasphemy and had him executed so that Ahab could take over his land. This brings Elijah back to the story, to deliver God’s threat that because of this Ahab and all of his descendants will be wiped out. And after receiving the threat, Ahab puts on a great show of sorrow and repentance. And so…

1 Kings 21: 28 And the word of Yahweh came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying 29 ‘Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because h has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.’”

So we go from “I’m going to punish you and your family horribly for the crimes you’ve committed,” to “OK, since you kissed my ass enough, I won’t punish you. I’ll only punish your family for the crimes you’ve committed.” Somehow, God managed to find a way to make his original unjust judgment even less just. Although, really, it kind of reads like the writers of the Bible were thinking that Ahab did a bunch of stuff they hated and seemed to get away with it, whereas bad stuff happened to his son, so they just went back after the fact and made up a story to make it look like the bad stuff that happened to the son was really Ahab’s punishment.

I’m not saying Ahab wasn’t clearly a shitty person. Just that God’s behavior was even shittier.

But it gets better.

After three years of peace, Ahab asks Jehosaphat the king of Judah to help him out with a war against Syria to take back the city of Ramoth-gilead. Jehosaphat doesn’t want to join up unless Ahab consults about what God wants them to do. So Ahab consults with four hundred prophets of God, who all tell him that God says it’s OK to go to battle because he’s going to give the city into Ahab’s hand. But Jehosaphat isn’t satisfied and asks for a second opinion (or a four-hundred-and-first opinion). So they bring up this guy, Micaiah. And at first, Micaiah gives the same advice. But when Ahab makes him swear to tell the truth, Micaiah admits that it was a lie and Ahab will actually be killed and Israel left without a king. Then he finally tells the full details of his prophecy:

1 Kings 22:19 And Micaiah said ‘Therefore hear the word of Yahweh: I saw Yahweh sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and Yahweh said, “Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before Yahweh, saying “I will entice him.” 22 And Yahweh said to him “By what means?” And he said “I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” And he said “You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.” 23 Now therefore behold, Yahweh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; Yahweh has declared disaster for you.”

 As it turns out, Micaiah was right and Ahab does in fact die in the battle (along with the usual casualties, of course, who wouldn’t have had to go to war without those lies).

So what are we supposed to get from this story? Either Micaiah was lying, and just got lucky about the outcome of the battle - in which case the other four hundred prophets were wrong and/or lying. The other option is that Micaiah was telling the truth, in which case God is in fact the kind of guy who lies (or sends spirits explicitly instructed to lie on his behalf – a distinction that makes no practical difference whatsoever) in order to start wars and get people killed. In either case… how the fuck does anyone ever justify believing a damn word any so-called prophet says?!

After all, according to this story, even in the (highly unlikely) circumstance that a prophet is faithfully reporting the exact message that an actual existing God is conveying to him, God could be fucking lying!

Say… isn’t the Bible supposed to be the God-inspired writing of his prophets? Just play with that thought a little.

And remember… all of this farce involving deceiving four hundred men who, so far as the text shows, were faithful prophets into becoming false prophets (a capital offense under the law at the time) and tricking Israel into going to war (causing unknown casualties among both peoples) was all supposedly aimed at killing one man: Ahab. Something God could have done with less effort that snapping his fingers if he’d wanted to. This is just going out of his way to be an asshole about it.

Anyway, the death of Ahab pretty much brings us to the end of First Kings. There’s some trivia about Jehosaphat ruling in Judah and Ahab’s son Ahaziah inheriting the throne of Israel, but nothing all that exciting is said about either. So it looks like next time we’ll pick up the Second Book of Kings.

Until then, be well!

Edit 9/24/2014: Since writing this, I've been exposed to a branch of Christian apologetics called "presuppositionalism." I won't try to describe it in detail here, but one of the key premises is that they only way to make any claim of knowledge is to presuppose the existence of the Biblical God, and that this knowledge is based on direct revelation from God. This, in turn, is based on their claim that revealed knowledge from God must be true, because the Biblical God cannot lie. I think the story of Micaiah and Ahab demonstrates pretty clearly that this position is false.

By the way, the standard response from presuppositionalists to pointing out that the Bible clearly contradicts their description of God is to state a flat refusal to discuss Bible interpretation with anyone who doesn't already believe it to be true. This contributes to my own belief that the purpose of presuppositional argument is not to demonstrate the existence of God, but rather to shield the believer from questioning.

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