The danger of preachers cozying up to politicians is the focus of a story found in 1 Kings 22.
The story takes place in the ninth century BCE. What had been the United Monarchy of Israel under King David and his son and successor, Solomon, has become two kingdoms.
A king named Ahab rules the northern kingdom of Israel while Jehoshaphat rules the southern kingdom of Judah. The two kings are meeting to discuss going to war with Syria.
When Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to join him in fighting against Syria, Jehoshaphat expresses his willingness to do so. But he makes a request of Ahab, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD” (1 Kings 22:5).
So, Ahab calls in 400 prophets. That’s 400 preachers. That’s a lot of preachers.
Ahab asks the preachers if he should go up to battle. All 400 of them affirm that he should. They guarantee him that God will give him success.
Hearing the unanimous opinion of the 400 prophets, Jehoshaphat says, “Is there no other prophet of the LORD here of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kings 22:7).
See, Jehoshaphat knows how this game is played. The 400 prophets are court prophets. They serve the king more than they serve the Lord. Their job is to support the king in whatever the king wants to do.
They probably don’t even think about what God really wants. Or if they do, they’ve sold themselves out to the king to the point that they assume that God wants whatever the king wants.
Jehoshaphat knows this. He has court prophets of his own. He knows that preachers who hitch their wagon to a powerful politician represent the politician, not the Lord.
But going to war is serious business. Jehoshaphat would like to hear from a prophet who isn’t just going to say what the king wants to hear.
When Jehoshaphat asks if there might be another prophet available, Ahab says, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster” (1 Kings 22:8).
In other words, the preacher, Micaiah, always tells the king the truth.
Ahab sends for Micaiah. The messenger who goes to get Micaiah advises him that he should make things easy on himself and agree with what the 400 court prophets are saying.
Micaiah responds, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak” (1 Kings 22:14).
After some verbal sparring, Micaiah tells Ahab the truth: If he goes to war against Syria, he won’t come back alive.
For speaking the hard truth to the king, Micaiah goes to prison. For telling the king what he wants to hear, the 400 court prophets go on about their useless business.
We’re told that Ahab does indeed die in battle.
We’re not told if Micaiah ever gets out of prison, but we are told that he represents God well.
The Bible honors him for speaking truth to power and for not dishonoring his call by aligning himself so closely to the king that he loses his spiritual, moral and ethical way.
There are important lessons here for preachers in our time.
- Preachers should be careful about aligning themselves too closely with political power.
- If preachers have a relationship with someone with political power, they shouldn’t be “yes women” or “yes men.”
- If preachers have the ear of someone in political power, for God’s sake, for the church’s sake, for the nation’s sake, for the world’s sake and for their own sake, they should tell the truth.
As for what that truth is – well, we Christian preachers really should look to Jesus, shouldn’t we?
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.