I am reading Hillel Millgram’s The Elijah Enigma.
In 1 Kings 22 we see a situation where prophets advise kings. Ahab has secured the backing of Judah’s king Jehoshaphat to retake Ramoth-Giliad east of the Jordan, a stronghold that has been retained by the Syrian regime in Damascus.
Ahab’s purpose is to accommodate King Jehoshaphat of Judah, who is more religious (read superstitious) than he is. So he calls together an assembly of ecstatic prophets to also raise morale and build confidence in the coming campaign.
The scene described in 1 Kings 22:10-12 gets imagined by Millgram as quite a show with prophets whirling, dancing and chanting in ecstasy. A certain Zedekiah puts on a headpiece with iron horns and charges up and down the court before the thrones, saying that the two kings will gore Syrians like a bull. The prophets start to chant together that the kings should go to war and triumph.
Into this scene comes and otherwise unknown prophet, Micaiah. He at first offers to confirm the positive oracles of the others. But Ahab hesitates. He has gotten negative pronouncements from this prophet before. So he wants him to get real. So Micaiah prophecies that the flock will lose their shepherd, the king. Remember that Ahab has already been sentenced to death because of the killing of Naboth. So the question for our narrative is only when this will happen.
To explain the contradictory messages the king is getting, Micaiah tells of a vision of the heavenly court where God sends a lying spirit to dupe the prophets and the king. So the Micaiah is not saying the court prophets are false prophets, only that they are agents of God in luring the king into the situation where the death penalty already pronounced against him will be executed.
Ahab dies from wounds inflicted in the battle. From the point of view of the author of 1 Kings, he has been a moral failure. Yet he knows the worldly achievements of Ahab:
Now the rest of the acts of Ahab, and all that he did, and the ivory house that he built, and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel? (1 Kings 22:39 NRSV).
We know about some of the building projects from archeological digs. For instance, it seems that he rebuilt and expanded the port at Dor to establish Israel as a factor in sea trade on the Mediteranean. His alliances made him part of a coalition that Assyrian records report as fighting them at Qarqar, thus delaying Assyrian expansion into the Syrian-Phoenician-Israelite area. He reestablished close ties with Judah, apparently marrying off his relative, Athaliah, to the crown prince. (Millgram takes the unique position that Athaliah was Ahab’s younger sister.)
The main interest of Kings is not really kings. A book of annals he uses as a source is really about them. Kings is the prophetic challenge to kings.
I am rushing a bit to publish today because of pre-Christmas activities (my social life picks up this time of year). Before I close, let me share a thought that is may be altogether wrong.
When Zedekiah puts on bull horns and charges around, is he giving us a hint about the nature of the bull cult at Bethel? When the Northern Kingdom was founded, Jeroboam identified bulls with the deity that had brought Israel out of Egypt. So might the idea of bulls have been closely associated with divine help in battle?
Zedekiah son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron, and he said, “Thus says the Lord: With these you shall gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.” (1 Kings 22:11 NRSV).