Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Lying Spirit from the Lord???

Today is the second day in our 29th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  1 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 18; Matthew 2.



If you're like me, then you're a bit disturbed when you read today's Old Testament passages.  The two scriptures parallel one another.  Ahab, king of Israel, teams up with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, in order to combine forces and combat Syria.  First, it disturbs me because Ahab is known for his wickedness and Jehoshaphat is a righteous king.  But if you set that aside, the rest is even more disturbing.  They inquire of the Lord (it's Jehoshaphat's idea), and the Hebrew word that's translated as "LORD" in many Bibles (note that's in all caps) is YHWH--the name of the One True God.  It's conceivable that Ahab might inquire of the Baals, but here it's very specific that Jehoshaphat the righteous king inquired of Yahweh.  And the answer that the prophets unanimously give is that they should go up to battle, for God will give them victory.

Yet, something seems wrong to Jehoshaphat.  (Maybe it's because this group of prophets has never agreed on anything before.)  Ahab remembers that there's one more prophet that they haven't asked--and yet he hates to ask because Micaiah never prophecies anything good (what a bummer).  In fact, he says that he hates the prophet because he always has a negative message.  Nevertheless, he believes that he should hear from all the prophets, so he sends for him.  At first, this prophet agrees with the other four hundred, telling him to go up to battle.  But then when Ahab asks him if he swears that he was telling the truth, the prophet's story changes.


16 And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” 17 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” 18 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LordI saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left. 19 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab the king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another.20 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ 21 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.’ 22 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets. The Lord has declared disaster concerning you.”
23 Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek and said, “Which way did the Spirit of the Lord go from me to speak to you?” 24 And Micaiah said, “Behold, you shall see on that day when you go into an inner chamber to hide yourself.” 25 And the king of Israel said, “Seize Micaiah and take him back to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king's son, 26 and say, ‘Thus says the king, Put this fellow in prison and feed him with meager rations of bread and water until I return in peace.’” 27 And Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, all you peoples!”  (2 Chronicles 18:16-27 ESV)

Now, I don't know about you--but this disturbs me.  A lying spirit from the Lord???  What can this possibly mean?  Did an angel from God go to the prophets and speak lies to them, so that they would unanimously declare that the Lord was blessing them to go up to battle?  

It needs to be noted here that God is responding to Jehoshaphat in a tricky sort of way, because the righteous king has allied himself with a tricky sort of king.  Titus 1:15 says, "To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled."  Psalm 18:25-26 (NIV) agrees with this, saying, "To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd."  Jehoshaphat has subjected himself to the impure thoughts of Ahab, and as such his thinking has become defiled.  Romans 1:26 (ESV) says that "...the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."  Verse 28 says, "...since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done."  This means that when we turn away from the truth, God will allow delusion to come into our lives.   


It's important to understand what the Bible means when it calls this a "lying spirit from God."  This doesn't mean that God asked the spirit to lie.  God actually asked the spirit to entice a battle (the sovereign Lord is God of peace, and God of war).  When God asked the spirit how he would accomplish this enticement, it was the spirit who said he would lie.  In this matter, God's hands are clean.

Then, we must ask ourselves the identity of this spirit--for it's hard to believe that an angel of God would tell a lie.  One interesting suggestion comes from Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible, in his note on 2 Chronicles 18:20:

Then there came out a spirit - The Targum gives a strange gloss here: "Then the spirit of Naboth of Jezreel came out from the abode of the righteous, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will deceive him. And the Lord said, By what means? To which he answered, I will be a spirit of false prophecy in the mouth of his prophets. And the Lord said, Thou mayest then. But although the power of deceiving them is given unto thee, nevertheless it will not be lawful for thee to sit among the righteous; for whosoever shall speak falsely cannot have a mansion among the righteous. Therefore go forth from me, and do as thou hast said." - Targum.[Rabbinic scripture commentary]

I'll note here that on the whole, God doesn't permit the dead to communicate with the living (Dt 18:11; 26:14; Isa 8:19; 29:4).  In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus says that Abraham told the rich man that Lazarus wouldn't be sent from beyond the grave to pass a message to his brothers.  "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead (Lk 16:31 NIV)."  By and large, human messengers from the afterlife aren't allowed back for any reason.  However, there are exceptions to that rule.  We read about the visitation of Moses and Elijah in Matthew 17:1-9.  In 1 Samuel 28, Saul pays a witch to conjure the spirit of Samuel from the dead.  Of course, this was forbidden, yet it wouldn't have been possible at all if God hadn't permitted it for his own purposes.  See--sometimes God allows sin to take place, because the Lord has purposes for it.  That doesn't mean that God causes sin.  He simply allows it and works all things together for good (Rom 8:28).  So, while the Bible doesn't specifically say that this spirit is the spirit of spirit of Naboth (1 Kings 21), and while the Targum's suggestion is perhaps a little unorthodox, based on scripture I won't say that it's completely impossible.

Other Bible commentators will say that this is a demonic spirit that lies to the kings through the prophets.  2 Thessalonians 2:10 (NLT) says that Satan  "...will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them."  Further, 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV) says, "The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers..." Of Satan, Jesus says, "He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44 NIV)."

The Guzik Bible Commentary notes that in verse 18, the prophet sees God on his throne, with the host of heaven gathered on the Lord's right hand, and on his left.  This may indicate the favored righteous angels on the right hand, and the rebellious demonic spirits on the left.  In other words, the entire host of the heavenlies may be present for this one.  Guzik writes:


Some people forget that Satan and his fellow fallen angels have access to heaven (Job 1:6, Revelation 12:10). There is a well-intentioned but mistaken teaching that God can allow no evil in His presence, meaning that Satan and other fallen angels could not be in His presence. These passages show that God can allow evil in His presence, though He can have no fellowship with evil and one day all evil will be removed from His presence (Revelation 20:14-15).
Apparently, one of the fallen angels volunteered for this task. Since Ahab wanted to be deceived, God would give him what He wanted, using a willing fallen angel who worked through willing unfaithful prophets... 
“The Hebrew that underlies the phrase rendered ‘a spirit’ (came forward) reads literally, ‘the (well-known) spirit,’ i.e., Satan the tempter (as in Job 1:6-12). . . . Apparently Michaiah seems to assumed among his hearers a working knowledge of the Book of Job.” (Payne)...
“This strange incident can only be understood against the background of other Old Testament passages, especially Deuteronomy 13:11 and Ezekiel 14:1-11. both these passages speak of people being enticed by false prophets, in each case as a result of a link with idolatry.” (Selman)

Admittedly, this whole idea is a bit difficult to sift through.  But rest assured that however it happened, neither divine hands nor angelic hands were dirtied in the course of this event.  Whatever a "lying spirit from the Lord" means, the Bible reminds us that God doesn't lie (Num 23:19)  In fact, Hebrews 6:18 says that it is impossible for God to lie.  The One who said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6)" never deals in falsehood.  






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