The book of Kings is rather dramatic and, at times, drastically heartbreaking. Contained within this book are stories of prophetic victories such as Elijah vs the prophets of Ba’al (1 Kings 18), stories of hope such as the building of the Temple by Solomon (1 Kings 6), and stories that seem incredibly unnecessary or confusing such as when the two bears attacked the young men who called Elisha bald (2 Kings 2). However, there is one story in particular that brings about a theological conundrum: the story of when God allowed a lying spirit to entice King Ahab to his death in a battle against the Syrians.
This story begs the question: How could a loving God deceive his own king to his death? In order to answer this question, one must be willing to view the entirety of King Ahab’s life as recorded in the Bible rather than isolating this story.
King Ahab was the son of Omri and the husband of Jezebel and he reigned over the Kingdom of Israel in Samaria for 22 years. The biblical author(s) painted Ahab as a terrible king; following suit after his father, Ahab did was what evil in the sight of God and “did more to provoke Yahweh Almighty of Israel than all the kings of Israel that were before him (1 Kings 16:33). Ahab’s continual refusal to accept and listen to the words of God’s prophet Elijah caused issues through the entirety of his reign as king.
God began to curse Ahab for his failure to carry out the required kingly duties set in place by God. Instead of leading Israel into worship of the true God, Yahweh, Ahab aligned himself with Ba’al, the ancient storm god of many middle eastern pagan nations. Because of this, Ahab had many disputes with God’s chief prophet Elijah. Ahab blamed Elijah for the drought that struck Israel for three years when it was Ahab and his insubordination that were to blame for the lack of rain. Since Ahab refused to accept Elijah as Yahweh’s prophet, ultimately rejecting Yahweh as his (Ahab’s) lord, Ahab figurately declared war on God; in response, God would declare war on Ahab by killing the prophets of Ba’al to which Ahab had aligned (1 Kings 18:19-40). Even through a display of Yahweh’s sovereignty at Mount Carmel, Ahab refused to submit and remained in his rebellion.
God was merciful in sparing Ahab in not only the Mount Carmel event but many others as well. Though God is not required by any means to offer grace to any person, he continued to give Ahab opportunities to repent and be forgiven. But there came a time when God finally had enough of Ahab’s rebellion and his causing of God’s people to forsake Yahwistic worship and embrace that of Ba’al or other pagan deities. Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, came to Ahab (which was completely unorthodox behavior of the two kings) and asked Ahab to aid in battle to take Ramoth-Gilead from the Assyrians. Once again, Ahab consulted his pagan prophets on the outcome of the battle, to which they unanimously assured him that Israel and Judah would be successful. However, Jehoshaphat insisted that they consult a prophet of Yahweh before entering the battle to be sure that his God was on their side. Micaiah was a true prophet and was asked to intercede on behalf of Israel and Judah considering the upcoming battle.
Micaiah served as God’s final warning to Ahab. Micaiah said to Ahab that Israel would be successful in battle but at the cost of their king’s life. Ahab disregarded Micaiah’s words, telling Jehoshaphat, “did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” (1 Kings 22:18). God had already declared to Ahab that he would die (1 Kings 20:42), but he continued to provide Ahab with opportunities to repent and save his life. Micaiah’s words were God’s final rebuke for Ahab’s behavior, but Ahab again rejected God’s prophet and ultimately God himself.
Since Ahab chose to continue to believe the words of the pagan (false) prophets, God chose to allow one of them to entice Ahab to proceed with the battle, ultimately leading to Ahab’s death. “A spirit” approached God on his throne and volunteers to be “a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets” (1 Kings 22:22). Because God is sovereign, he can use whoever or whatever he desires to accomplish his objective. The lying spirit (probably a demonic force similar to Satan when he approached God’s throne in hopes of being allowed to tempt Job) will receive its due punishment just as Ahab will.
I would argue that, while this event served as Ahab’s death sentence, God still allowed for one last chance at repentance. As King of Israel, Ahab was more than familiar with the promises of Yahweh and that his (God’s) way is always true over that of other gods or prophets. Being that the word came from a prophet of Ba’al that Ahab would win and survive the battle, while the word came from Micaiah that Ahab would win but die in battle, God provided Ahab one final chance to see the situation for what it is: the word of false prophets are lies, but the word of Yahweh is truth. However, Ahab once again failed to submit to God and accept him as lord, leading to his death in the battle.
God is merciful, but nothing in the universe demands that God be merciful; that is why it is called mercy; it is unmerited grace. For God to give Ahab, or even us, one single chance to repent is an act of sheer mercy. Who are we to tell God how often he is to extend his hand of grace? And who are we to tell God that, once he has given all his desired acts of grace, he should give even more? In the end, we must understand that God is holy and is not obligated to be the merciful, loving, and caring God that he is, and that once he decides to give someone up to their own desires, we must accept that as his will. How will you react next time you are tempted to make your own decisions contrary to God’s commands and regulations for our lives? Do not be like King Ahab, because one day God will have given you all of your chances to repent and you do not want to still be living life contrary to his will.