The Divine Arrow

Michael S. Heiser

Few characters in the Bible are as maligned for their wickedness as King Ahab of Israel. While Ahab’s predecessors “did evil in the sight of the Lord,” Ahab had an agenda: “[He] did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kgs 16:33). 1

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Ahab’s rule includes Baal worship, forbidden foreign covenants (Syria) and foreign alliances (Jezebel), and the murder of Naboth. In 1 Kings 22, the prophet Micaiah warns Ahab of his impending fate. This isn’t run-of-the-mill prophecy. It’s mixed with a vision of how God came to the final details of His decision: a divine boardroom discussion.

Yes-Men and Yahweh’s Man

The 12 tribes of Israel had been split into two kingdoms for a century by the time Ahab took the throne (ca. 869 BC). Ahab ruled the northern kingdom (called Israel, or Ephraim), which often fought with the southern kingdom, Judah. After peace reigned between Israel and Judah for three years (22:1), Ahab decided he wanted to capture the city of Ramoth in Gilead from the Arameans. He asked Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, for military assistance.

Jehoshaphat agreed to the battle for political reasons, but he wanted assurance that God was in the endeavor (22:5). The 400 prophetic yes-men Ahab consulted endorsed the idea, but Jehoshaphat wanted another opinion (22:6, 11–12). Ahab agreed to summon Micaiah, the prophet of Yahweh, though he openly admitted to hating him (22:8). The real prophet of Yahweh never had anything positive to say about the ungodly Ahab and his rule.

The Prophecy

At first Micaiah told Ahab that God loved the plan, but Ahab saw through his mockery. Apparently this was not the first time: “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” (22:16). Micaiah proceeded to tell Ahab he was about to meet his Maker, so chances are good he wanted Ahab to go through with the battle, knowing the end result.

Rebuked by Ahab, Micaiah holds nothing back, revealing to Ahab and to us the inner workings of God’s counsel:

“I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord 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.’ Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you” (22:20–23).

The vision-prophecy shows God had decreed it was time for Ahab to die, but He allows the members of the divine assembly to weigh in on Ahab’s death. Nothing in the passage compels us to conclude that the omniscient God needed input. Ahab’s death was fixed and determined, but the Lord allowed the divine beings in His presence to decide on his mode of departure. This is consistent with other passages, such as Daniel 4:17–26, where a decision from heaven is described as both the decree of the Most High and a decree of the watchers, the holy ones who work for God.

Despite Micaiah’s warning, Ahab and Jehoshaphat go into battle. Ahab opts to disguise himself as an ordinary soldier, but his ruse fails. He is killed by an arrow from a “certain man [who] drew his bow at random” (1 Kgs 22:34). In the larger scheme—it’s not random at all.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 3


1. All biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Power Play: Kings and Kingdoms in the Balance

Rebecca Van Noord

Violent power swings characterize the monarchy after Israel is divided into two nations. The peace, prosperity and military might of Solomon’s reign are replaced with tales of murder, conspiracy and power struggle. However, Israel’s and Judah’s rebellion is not against flesh and blood. Kings and kingdoms are weighed in the balance of “the eyes of the Lord” and most often, they are found wanting.

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Israel and Judah march slowly toward exile despite the promises and warnings of the prophets. Led by disobedient kings, they mix Yahweh worship with metal, image and foreign god. Soon, they forget what loyalty to Yahweh even entails. So God punishes them—stripping them of their identity as a nation.

From exile, the writer of 1-2 Kings reflects on the rise and fall of kings and nations. He justifies Yahweh’s ways to a forgetful people as they live out the words of Solomon’s prayer: “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet … if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart … then hear in heaven your dwelling place … and forgive your people” (1 Kgs 8:46–49 ESV).

Kings is proof of God’s long-suffering nature. It shows that He pursues His people, even when they don’t always pursue Him back. Ultimately, He remembers His people by providing a way out of captivity—through His Son.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 3

As the Lion Roars

John D. Barry

Amos 1:1–4:5; Acts 8:26–9:19; Job 19:13–29

“Surely my Lord does not do anything unless he has revealed his secret to his servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who is not afraid? My Lord Yahweh has spoken, who will not prophesy? Proclaim to the citadel fortresses in Ashdod and the citadel fortresses in the land of Egypt and say: ‘Gather on the mountains of Samaria and see the great panic in her midst and the oppression in her midst!’ ” (Amos 3:7–9).

It’s easy to make excuses when we don’t know or understand something, and it’s equally hard to admit why. Amos declares that God’s plan and His work in the world are known to us—if we wish to learn. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we’re not trying hard enough to learn about Him and His work. God speaks through His prophets and through His Word in the Bible, so there is no reason for us to be unaware of how He is working and how He wants to use us in the process.

What was true for the OT prophets was also true for the apostles. Through Philip, we see how God intimately involves people in His work. An angel tells Philip, “Get up and go toward the south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26). It took great faith for Philip to do as the angel instructed. The last part of verse 26 adds, “This is a desert place.” Few people have encountered an angel, as Philip did, but each of us has the opportunity to experience direction from our Lord.

If we ask, God will answer. If we seek to learn how God is speaking, our path will become clear. Often we make this idea more complicated than it should be, but the work of the prophets and the early church demonstrate otherwise: Amos continued to tell of a fate that indeed came to pass, much of it in his lifetime. Philip took that desert road and led an Ethiopian man to Jesus. There is great, enduring hope for us to be part of God’s work if we’re willing to seek His will, listen, and act in faith.

What does God wish for you to know today?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.


John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.

Shelf Life Book Review: The Kingdom New Testament

Elliot Ritzema

The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation
HarperOne, 2011

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This translation by N.T. Wright attempts to make the first-century writings of the New Testament intelligible to the average 21st century reader. The Kingdom New Testament was originally made for Wright’s “For Everyone” commentary series. Though meant to communicate to modern eyes and ears, it is not a paraphrase.

Wright states in the preface that translating the New Testament is something that “each generation ought to be doing.” In hopes that the text will be swallowed in gulps rather than sips, he maximizes readability by minimizing textual notes. Those who are unfamiliar with the Bible will find Wright’s translation accessible; those who know the New Testament well will find it contains fresh takes on familiar passages. For instance, John 3:16 reads: “This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age.” Another familiar passage, Romans 3:22–24, reads: “For there is no distinction: all sinned, and fell short of God’s glory—and by God’s grace they are freely declared to be in the right, to be members of the covenant, through the redemption which is found in the Messiah, Jesus.”

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 4

Promise Undelivered?

Michael S. Heiser

When exposed to evil, we might doubt God’s presence. Soldiers’ accounts and memoirs often recall times of doubt as they grappled with war atrocity and, ultimately, the struggle between good and evil. While Scripture is clear that good will triumph, it also says evil will win its share of battles. Second Kings 3 records a war event where evil won.

Yahweh Takes Sides

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Second Kings 3 describes the rebellion of Moab, led by its king, Mesha, against the monarch of the northern kingdom of Israel, King Jehoram (3:5). Like his father Ahab, Jehoram solicited King Jehoshaphat of Judah (the southern kingdom) for assistance against his enemy (3:7). They were joined by the king of Edom (3:9).

The invasion route—“by way of the wilderness of Edom”—is critical to the storyline. Edom was the territory settled by the descendants of the red-haired Esau (Gen 25:25; 36:1, 8). “Edom,” a play on the word adom (“red”), was epitomized by the reddish soil and rock of its wilderness.

By taking a circuitous approach to Moab, the invading armies must cross desert terrain without water (3:9). Jehoshaphat called the wilderness-wandering prophet Elisha for advice (3:11–12). After a testy response to Jehoshaphat’s plea (3:13–14), Elisha received word from Yahweh: God would supply the armies with water (3:16–17). It would appear—without rain—in a streambed that was presently bone dry. Elisha had even better news: “This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord. He will also give the Moabites into your hand” (3:18).

No Faith, No Gain

When they arrived at the place of battle, the Moabite soldiers were fooled by the pools of water that appeared red against the ground and the sun’s reflection (3:21–22). They assumed it was blood and that invading armies (often enemies themselves) had erupted in battle against each other (3:23). When the Moabites approached to strip and plunder the dead, they were ambushed by the invading armies.

In desperation, the king of Moab committed a horrible atrocity: “He took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall” (3:27). The meaning of the next line is hotly debated: “And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.” Why did this happen? Why wasn’t Yahweh victorious? After all, Elisha had said God would give the invaders victory (3:18).

In the Old Testament, we read that the Israelites believed the gods of other nations were real, assigned to the nations by Yahweh, who was superior and ruled over all other gods (Deut 32:8–9). They believed these gods were demons—real spiritual beings (Deut 32:17). Given the nature of this worldview, it seems the Israelites were frightened by the sacrifice and lost faith, thinking Moab’s god was angry against them and would empower Moab to win because of the sacrifice.

Elisha had told the kings of Israel and Judah that God would help them. So why had He not? This situation isn’t the first time God promises but chooses not to deliver: God had told the Israelites that they would conquer Canaan under Moses and Joshua, yet they failed because of unbelief (Num 13; Deut 31:1–7; Josh 13:1–5; Judg 1:27–36). Yahweh was not defeated by the god of Moab. He was, and is, ready and able to help His people. But He will not do so if they refuse to believe and act on that belief.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 3