Summary: A free meal almost cost this king his life!
Background: the kingdom of Israel, or the ten northern tribes, had been at peace with Syria for three years. Peace didn’t seem to last very long back then, and Ahab, king of Israel, now decided to reconquer a city which had been lost to Syria. Apparently it was still under Syria’s control. Ramoth-Gilead was the name of the city, and the fact that it remained under Syrian control must have bothered Ahab. He was able to convince Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (the two southern tribes) to join in the battle, but neither of them was able to achieve victory. The plan started at a banquet, but went to pieces once the battle was underway.
2 Chronicles 18:1-3, KJV: 1 Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab. 2 And after [certain] years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that [he had] with him, and persuaded him to go up [with him] to Ramothgilead. 3 And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramothgilead? And he answered him, I [am] as thou [art], and my people as thy people; and [we will be] with thee in the war.
This passage tells us about two very different kings, ruling over two very different nations. At one time these two nations were united, from the time of Moses until the time of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, about 120 years before the events in this chapter. The northern tribes declared independence and crowned a new king, Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who promptly acted to make the break permanent. 1 Kings 12-14 for more details has more of this story.
Every king of the northern kingdom had followed the religion of Jeroboam, who had set up a pair of golden calves and commanded the people to worship them. That was bad enough, but Ahab had done even worse by marrying a pagan woman, Jezebel. She wasn’t even an Israelite, she was from Sidon (1 Kings 16:31), and introduced Baal-worship into the northern kingdom. Through her daughter the worship of Baal reached Judah, too, some years later. To his credit, Jehoshaphat had remained true to the God of Israel and worked to keep the knowledge of God alive in the southern kingdom.
No one really knows why Jehoshaphat made the journey to Samaria. Was it by an invitation? Did Jehoshaphat sense a chance to bring a call to return to the God of their fathers? Jehoshaphat may not have been king for very long, and indeed in the third year of his reign he sent people to teach the Law to his subjects (2 Chron 17:7-9). We really can’t say for sure why he went to Samaria.
But we do know that Ahab prepared a feast while Jehoshaphat was there! We read that Ahab had prepared oxen and sheep “in abundance (v. 2)” for, it seems, this very purpose. And what was that purpose? Ahab had something in mind, but hadn’t disclosed it to Jehoshaphat. He would have done well to remember what Solomon wrote about sitting down with a ruler (Prov. 23:1-3)!
Most of us are, or should be, familiar with the story of Micaiah, one of the few prophets of the LORD who stayed true to Him in those days. We read of 400 prophets but whether they were lying prophets, servants of Baal who used the name of the Lord in vain; or if they were truly prophets of the Lord who gave a soothing message to Ahab isn’t certain. Given that Jezebel had arranged for the murder of God’s prophets (we’re not told how many in 1 Kings 18:4), it’s a pretty safe wager that any prophet who would be called before the king, to give a prophecy, would give a pleasing message.
Not Micaiah. 1 Kings 22:13-28 gives one account of Micaiah’s appearance before Ahab and Jehoshaphat.
Micaiah was even asked to give the same message as the others (!) but he declared he would only speak the message from God. He did just that, revealing to Ahab a final word of warning (1 Kings 22:28). Ahab ignored the warning, then he and Jehoshaphat mobilized their armies for the joint campaign they had planned for Ramoth-Gilead.
Something to always keep in mind, when studying the Bible, is to be aware of the physical locations, geography, terrain, and so on. Especially is this true when looking at a military campaign like this proposed “joint operation” with two countries against a third.
Remember that Jerusalem, Judah’s capital, and Samaria, Israel’s capital, were both on the west side of the Jordan River. Both of these cities were more or less centrally located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (Great) Sea. Both, also, were several miles away from anywhere close to Ramoth-Gilead, which not only was on the east side of the Jordan but was also about as far away from Israel’s territory as it could get. Besides being a city of refuge (Deut 4:43), it was very close to being a border town between Israel and Syria or any other country. The soldiers of both armies would have a rather long march to even get to the Jordan River, let alone to Ramoth-Gilead.