Tag Archives: Ahab

When the Opening Hints of Doom

Now Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage.
2 Chronicles 18:1 (NIV)

When you study the art of film, one of the things you learn is that the opening scene of a movie is very important, and a good writer and/or director is going to put a lot of thought into it. A good opening shot sets the stage and tone for the entire film and establishes the movie’s theme. Writers will use an opening line much the same way, and playwrights will do the same with their opening scene or Chorus.

In today’s chapter, the ancient Chronicler uses his opening sentence to set up the reader for the story to follow. I think most modern readers miss it the same way many film-goers miss the importance of the opening scene as they settle into their seat with the popcorn.

First, he references King Jehoshaphat’s “wealth and honor” which ties this part of the story back to the previous chapter which detailed Jehoshaphat’s wealth and honor. The Chronicler also made it clear that the said wealth and honor was linked to Jehoshaphat’s commitment and obedience to God. The next thing he tells us in the opening sentence is that Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with a man named Ahab.

Marriage alliances were common practice of royals throughout history. If you were King of one nation, Kings from neighboring nations would give you their daughters in marriage (or arrange a marriage between your respective children) as a way of assuring peace between nations as you’re not likely to attack your wife’s own father and destroy your wife’s family and tribe. This is why all the royal families of Europe are, to this day, a dizzying mash-up of intertwining family connections:

The fact that Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance is not surprising, but the Chronicler is telling his readers that Jehoshaphat made the alliance with Ahab. All of the Chroniclers contemporary leaders would know Ahab. It’s like a contemporary writer referencing a name like Gates, Buffet, Clinton, or Trump. Everyone knows who you’re talking about.

Ahab was king of Israel (the 10 tribes who split from Solomon’s son and created their own nation). Israel and Judah had been more or less in a state of on-and-off civil war for years. Israel’s monarchy and tribes had abandoned the worship of God. Ahab’s wife was the infamous Queen Jezebel. Together Ahab and Jezebel were one of the most detestable royal couples in the history of Israel. Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with them.

Since I’m on the theme of movies, let me reference the Godfather’s famous leadership principle: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It might be hopeful to think that Jehoshaphat was that cunning, but that would be wishful thinking. What the Chronicler is doing with his establishing sentence is setting his readers up for the fact that this is not going to end well. Especially given the fact that the Chronicler has already established a theme of immediate retribution throughout his stories: Do good by God and good things immediately happen. Do wrong by God and bad things immediately happen. We as readers should know by now that Jehoshaphat getting involved with the idolatrous and murderous Ahab and Jezebel is a foreshadowing of bad things to come.

This morning I’m thinking about the very simple life lesson of being careful who I align myself with. Jesus specifically prayed to God the Father that He would not take his followers “out of the world.” He wanted us in the world so as to influence it and bring His Kingdom’s love, grace, and power to all, especially those who need it most. So, I don’t think being careful with my “alignment” is about staying in my holy huddle and avoiding “those people” all together. There are certain individuals, however, for whom it would be unwise of me to align myself in a close relationship, a business partnership, a marriage, a contract, an obligation or a similar intertwining of life or business.

Even if it looks good on paper, the establishing shot hints at problems to come.

Still Using the Same Bloody Playbook

So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel. However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.
2 Kings 10:28-29 (NIV)

As I read the chapter this morning, I couldn’t help but think about the news reports coming out of the cities held by ISIS. Our own media have been slow to report the brutal daily realities there. People forced into religious submission and immediate death sentences for any who do not proclaim religious allegiance. Immediate death for anyone caught in the most minor moral infraction such as smoking a cigarette or not wearing the right garb. Those of other faiths beheaded or crucified. Dead bodies hung out for public display as a warning to all.

Life in ancient times was bloody and brutal. Today’s chapter is not a light, devotional read. It’s a veritable blood bath. Last week I used the Godfather saga as a modern parallel to Jehu’s take over of Ahab and Jezebel’s regime. The word picture continues to parallel in the today’s chapter. Having “capped” Ahab and Jezebel, the new Godfather Jehu consolidates his power by killing all of Ahab and Jezebel’s sons, all of their inner circle, their loyal followers, and then all of the members of the religious cult of Baal to whom Ahab and Jezebel zealously ascribed.

For ancient political upstarts like Jehu this type of bloody takeover was nothing new or groundbreaking. There was a well-worn playbook for taking over and consolidating power, and Jehu’s actions were strictly takeover “by the book.” Even in The Godfather II they reference the ancient Roman Empire as blueprint for how they organized and carried out “business.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I thought the most important thing mentioned in today’s chapter was when it is reported that Jehu had wiped out the corruption and idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel, but then he continued to commit his own personal idolatry by worshipping the idols of golden calves. One idolatrous regime gives way to another. Jehu was happy to violently wipe-out his enemies and set up his own personal empire, but in the end he wasn’t that much different from his predecessors.

Which brings me back to today’s headlines, and my own thoughts in the quiet of the morning. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The reports out of cities controlled by Islamic State read like the ancient story of Jehu (and the Inquisition, as well). Even in our own “modern” and “enlightened” culture we have groups of people both left and right who have actively ascribed to violence, power, and intimidation to do away with those who disagree and subject others to their personal world views.

Maybe we’re not so civilized as we think we are.

I’m reminded this morning of Jesus’ words, “You have heard it said…, but I say….” As a follower of Jesus I am called to a different playbook that says if you want to gain power you have to let it go, if you want to lead you have to serve, if you want to ascend you must humbly bow. Jesus’ playbook begins with a change of heart that leads to a change in behavior and relationships. It grows organically by contagion.

The problem with Ahab, Jehu, Rome, the Corleones, Islamic State, the Alt-Right, and Antifa is that it’s all about external power to subject others to their will, but this only serves to sow seeds of hatred and rebellion in the hearts those subjected. Thousands of years of human history and we still haven’t learned the lesson. We’re still falling back to the old playbook. It often works, for a time.

I much prefer Jesus’ strategy. Start with changing the individual heart and then working outward using simple tactics of love, grace, forgiveness, and generosity. I’m not forcing anyone to follow this path, mind you, but I’m happy to buy you a cup of coffee or a pint and tell you about my own personal experience.

Jezebel’s Epic End

“Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.
2 Kings 9:33 (NIV)

I have long been a fan of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy for the epic story it tells across life and generations. Over the years, Wendy and I have enjoyed introducing friends to the original film over a feast of spaghetti and cannoli, complete with some good Italian red wine.

One of the things that makes a great story is when it is layered with truth and meaning. Epic stories are mines that yield new treasure each time you descend into them. With each telling they reveal something you hadn’t seen before. Yet, even with all of the layers of meaning the narratives of great stories are typically built on something quite simple.

The Godfather epic might be summed up with Jesus’ simple words to his disciple, Peter: “Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords.” It is a generational tale in which the characters give themselves to “the sword” with what they believe are the best of intentions to protect those they love dearest. Their course, however, only serves to destroy the very things they tried to protect.

This came to mind in the quiet this morning as I read today’s chapter in the handwritten text of The St. John’s Bible. The stories of the ancient kings of Israel and Judah are epic stories, though I find that I have to move beyond the scribe’s text and descend into the story before I begin to see the layers.

The story of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, belongs in the same genre of epic stories of those who live and die by the sword. Their tale is about lust for power, corruption, vengeance and blood.  Today’s chapter is the closing scene on their story. Ahab is dead and Jezebel feels her power slipping away as the leader of a coup d’état reaches her stronghold. Jezebel goes back to her tried and true playbook, putting on her make-up and doing her hair so as to seduce her way out of the corner where her own nefarious actions have placed her. But true to Jesus’ observation, the way of the sword ends badly for those who follow that path. The power of seduction fades and becomes impotent. Jezebel’s very own servants, no doubt weary of her wickedness, are only too willing to join the coup, chuck her out the window, and watch the dogs devour her dead flesh.

This morning I’m thinking about epic stories and the way they reveal truths about life and soul. This week at the lake Wendy and I enjoyed much conversation with our adult daughters. Along the meandering path of our discussions was the observation that we humans never seem content with “enough.” Vito Corleone and Jezebel followed the insatiable way of the sword, violently taking all they could for themselves believing that it would provide security of position and provision. They ignored the reality that when you violently take from others there will eventually be others who will violently take it from you.

An Encounter with “Yes Men” Leadership

rubber stamp
source: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” 1 Kings 22:8 (NIV)

Some time ago I found myself appointed to a project committee. The head of the committee was a young leader in the organization. I did not know him well, but I knew from observation that he was an up-and-comer. I was a late appointee to the committee and I did a lot of listening the first couple of meetings. I wanted to get a sense of group, the leader, and how my own personality and style might best fit into the whole.

It was in that second meeting that everyone on the committee was asked to share how they thought things were going and what could be done better. One of the first things that I had noticed was that our project leader had revealed two things that concerned me:

  1. He had an aggrandized vision for what our project was going to accomplish, speaking in hyperbole about how we were going to change the world, when it wasn’t clear we were actually going to accomplish what we were trying even on a small, local scale.
  2. He had placed himself in a position in the implementation that ensured he’d be in the spotlight, but it was clear to me that the position required strengths, abilities, and giftedness that I had not seen him demonstrate. I was concerned that he was setting himself, and the project, up for failure.

It would not have been appropriate for me to share my reservations about the leader with the entire group, so I kept that to myself. In the meeting I shared one thing I thought was going very well, and I shared one thing I thought our committee could do to improve the project outcomes.

I’m still not sure what I said that got me called into the leader’s office after the meeting. It was there that I was told I was too critical and the leader was questioning whether my presence would be destructive. He went to explain that he believed all criticism was inherently negative and counter productive. When I asked about the concept of “constructive criticism” he balked at the idea as an oxymoron, as all criticism in his estimation was negative and destructive.

It was at that point that I realized that the leader was right on one point. My presence on the project committee would be a negative. I knew I could not serve under such delusional thinking and keep my own personal sanity. At that point, I figured I had nothing to lose. I expressed my concerns with the project leader about his vision and his giftedness being misaligned. He saw this as just another example of my critical, judgmental spirit and said that it proved his point. I told him that I would quit, to which he responded, “Let’s not say you quit. Let’s just tell the others you’ve decided to take a break from the project.” I told him he could say whatever he wanted to say to the rest of the committee. I was done.

I thought about this experience as I read about King Ahab and the prophet Micaiah. Ahab hated Micaiah because the prophet refused to tell him what he wanted to hear. The king had clearly surrounded himself with “yes men” prophets who put their spiritual rubber stamp on whatever the king desired. Such leaders rarely become great leaders. Leadership requires an honest understanding of one’s own strengths, gifts, and weaknesses. It also requires wisdom to discern between good and weak criticism, the humility to accept responsibility for failures, and the strength to make changes for the good of the whole.

As I look back at my experience with 20/20 hindsight, I believe the project leader was a young leader driven both by his passion to do great things and his insecurities. To be honest, I recognized in him some my own weaknesses as a leader at his age. I believe that in his own personal journey he will encounter wise counsel from whom he can receive honest feedback, and he will eventually temper the dim view of constructive criticism he expressed to me. I simply wasn’t the right person to work with him. It happens.

By the way, the project continued on for another couple of years. I witnessed it accomplishing some good outcomes, and I chose in to contributing on occasion from outside the project committee. It never came anywhere near to realizing the grandiose vision I’d heard the leader proclaim in my brief time on the committee. The project leader eventually jumped at the chance to move on to bigger and better things.

Contrition

Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 2...
Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 28 articles of the Augsburg Confession by Wenceslas Hollar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 1 Kings 21:27 (NIV)

For over 20 years I have been training and coaching people in the art of delivering customer service. In that time, I have found that there is no more contentious and divisive service skill than the simple apology. I increasingly find that individuals struggle with saying a simple, “I’m sorry that happened,” even when saying it as a representative of a business and there is no interpersonal relationship between customer and representative. I also find it common for clients to exchange the word “unfortunately” for any form of “sorry” or “apologize.” I find this fascinating.

The root word of “unfortunately” is “fortune” which is synonymous with “luck.” When saying, “Unfortunately, you don’t have a receipt with you,” it’s like saying “It’s bad luck that you don’t have a receipt with you.” It acknowledges the other’s stinky situation, but does nothing to express any kind of personal empathy. It avoids having any personal skin in the game like the statement “I am sorry, but you don’t have a receipt,” or “I apologize, but without a receipt your options are limited.”

We don’t talk much, at least in the protestant circles in which I run, about contrition anymore. Contrition is the act of being sorrowful or remorseful about the ways you’ve blown it and the things you’ve done (or should have done but didn’t). In culture, and in media, it seems to me that we commonly find individuals who stonewall, obfuscate, deny, and deceive in order to escape taking responsibility for their inappropriate or damaging words or actions. As I write this, we are nearing an election day. One need only turn on the television to be bombarded by every politician with the same message: “I’m all good and am going to make your life rosy. My opponent is all bad and is going to ruin your life. Here are some gross misrepresentations of truth to deceive you into believing it.”

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus addressed potential followers, the call to following and believing were regularly predicated by an act of contrition. “Deny yourself,” “Take up your cross,” “Repent,” and “Sell all you have,” were prerequisites Jesus placed to faith and belief. Sincere contrition is a gateway to spiritual reconciliation, as we see in the example of Ahab in today’s chapter. By acknowledging our impotence, God’s power is loosened in our lives. By accepting our need, God’s sufficiency is quickened to provide. With the honest confession of our failures, God successfully showers us with grace through the blood of Jesus which was sacrificially poured out to atone for them.

For the Prophet, “The Play’s the Thing…”

source: seattlemunicipalarchives via Flickr
source: seattlemunicipalarchives via Flickr

The prophet found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” So the man struck him and wounded him. Then the prophet went and stood by the road waiting for the king. He disguised himself with his headband down over his eyes. As the king passed by, the prophet called out to him, “Your servant went into the thick of the battle, and someone came to me with a captive and said, ‘Guard this man. If he is missing, it will be your life for his life, or you must pay a talent of silver.’ While your servant was busy here and there, the man disappeared.”

“That is your sentence,” the king of Israel said. “You have pronounced it yourself.”

Then the prophet quickly removed the headband from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. He said to the king, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’” Sullen and angry, the king of Israel went to his palace in Samaria. 1 Kings 20:37-43 (NIV)

I will never forget this one day in an Acting class I participated in college. Students were broken up in pairs and each pair prepared a short scene to perform before the class. My partner and I played our scene and, as we were playing the short scene, something remarkable happened. I have since learned that there are rare moments as an actor when you are on stage and you experience this (perhaps it happens frequently to great actors who are on stage for a living, but I believe it’s rare even then). When it happens you lose yourself in the portrayal and in the moment you are playing. The audience is caught up in it, as well. There’s this thing that happens, which is nearly impossible to describe or explain. I happens in that place at that moment between the actors on stage and between the stage and the audience which is a communal and emotional and spiritual moment experienced by the whole.

The scene ended and there was no polite, golf-clap applause that is traditionally offered to the players by the rest of the class. There was just an “oh….wow” kind of silence. I felt a surge of emotion like I wanted to cry. It was the power of theatre as a medium to relate story and theme experientially. It is that experience which is at the heart of what I love about live theatre.

One of the things I love about the stories of the ancient prophets is the way they used theatre to communicate their message. The prophet in today’s chapter creates a character and a story: A man is commanded to guard an enemy prisoner and is told that he will be sentenced to death if the prisoner escapes, which he does. He develops his character: He asks another to punch him in the face to make it look like he’d been wounded. He then performs his improvised scene: He plays out his part to the unsuspecting King Ahab when the king passes by, and in the playing out of the scene the King’s hypocrisy is revealed.

“The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,”

– Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, Line 416-417

I love that God’s Message can be communicated in endless number of expressive mediums from art to poetry to stage to novel to film to graphic design. And, I love that each expressive medium can communicate pieces of God’s truth in powerful ways unique to that medium.

The Intriguing Person of the Prophet Elijah

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) b...
The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael, depicting Christ miraculously discoursing with Moses and Elijah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [Elijah] did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:5-6 (NIV)

The prophet Elijah is one of the most intriguing characters in the entirety of God’s Message. He appears out of nowhere, has a brief ministry marked by miraculous events, confronts the evil and powerful King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel, and then disappears in a whirlwind.

Most people don’t realize it, but Elijah also figures into Jesus’ life and teachings. When asked who people that Jesus was, his followers respond that Elijah was a trending vote getter. Jesus told His followers that John the Baptist was the person of Elijah returned to restore all things. On the mount of transfiguration when Jesus was revealed in His glory, Elijah appeared with Him. Jesus referred to Elijah in His teaching on multiple occasions. While hanging on the cross, witnesses thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it interesting that the miracles of Elijah seemed to strongly parallel the miracles of Jesus. The widows flour and oil never ran dry, much like the baskets filled with bread and fish when Jesus fed the crowds with His all you can eat fish fry by the Sea of Galilee. When Elijah takes the dead widow’s son into an upper room and bring’s the boy back to life, it is eerily reminiscent of Jesus going into the room of Jairus’ dead daughter bringing her back to life.

One of the things I have come to appreciate more and more in my sojourn through God’s Message is the connections, parallels, foreshadowing, and recurring themes that stretch across the entirety of the story that God has told and is still telling. I love that God is both an artist and an author. He is telling a story. It is His-story.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 17

[Jehoshaphat] was single-minded in following God. 2 Chronicles 17:6a (MSG)

When reading 2 Chronicles, it’s important to remember that the nation of Israel was divided in two parts. While we are reading about the kings of Judah (the southern part), the events we read about in the books of the Kings is happening simultaneously in the northern kingdom. Sometimes the parallel events have light to shed on our reading.

Reading about Jehoshaphat’s single-minded devotion to God is a stark contrast to King Ahab, who was on the throne of the northern kingdom of Israel during that time. While Jehoshaphat led the people in devotion to God alone, the prophet Elijah gathered the people of the northern kingdom together and called them to account for their double mindedness:

Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!” 1Kings 18:21 (MSG)

The human eye cannot see darkness unless it is contrasted by light. In the light of Jehospaphat’s devotion, the darkness of Ahab and Jezebel came into greater focus. When we are single-minded in following God, we become the “light of the world” and the darkness stands in stark contrast to our thoughts, words, and love in action.

Today, I’m thinking about my own life. How single-minded am I? Is my life the light that God intends? Do my thoughts, words, and actions stand in contrast to the darkness – or does it all just sort of blend together in a shade of gray?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and WTLphotos

Chapter-a-Day 1 Kings 22

Willing not to follow the crowd. The king of Israel told Jehoshaphat, "As a matter of fact, there is still one such man. But I hate him. He never preaches anything good to me, only doom, doom, doom—Micaiah son of Imlah." 1 Kings 22:8a (MSG)

As a consultant, I often have the opportunity to observe the culture of a company as an outsider. It is always fascinating to me how middle managers and upper management relate to the President or CEO of a company. I often watch people wrangle with how they will approach the top dog. They sweat over what they should say and how they should say it. Many live in terror of the meeting in which they must address their company's executive. They are afraid of consequences if they offend the boss, so they attempt to diving exactly what he or she wants to hear.

As I read about the 400 prophets blindly telling the King of Israel exactly what he wanted to hear, I thought about the hoardes of corporate "yes men" I've observed through the years covering their collective asses and lining up to say exactly what their boss wants them to say.

It gives me an even greater love and appreciation for Micaiah, who is willing to be the lone voice of truth in a culture that panders to the whims of their leader. He is so sold out to God's truth that he is willing to face painful consequences rather than fall in line with the other lemmings.

God, grant me the courage and commitment of Micaiah.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Ric e Ette

Chapter-a-Day 1 Kings 21

Rings of influence. Ahab, pushed by his wife Jezebel and in open defiance of God, set an alltime record in making big business of evil. 1 Kings 21:25 (MSG)

Our lives are influenced by those with whom we surround ourselves, and few people, if any, influence our lives as much as the person we marry. Jezebel gets a bad rap, and deservedly so. Yet, Ahab's weakness created a black hole which Jezebel filled with her own brand of evil. Had Ahab cultivated a heart for God and developed character qualities of selflessness, righteousness and strength, the story may have been quite different.

Every marriage is a perpetually reciprocal affair in which man and woman influence and affect one other. Both partners bear responsibility for the motives, thoughts, words and actions which affect themselves, their partner, and the whole of the relationship. Ahab and Jezebel each bore responsibility for the evil that eminated out of their reign and relationship.

God, help me cultivate a heart for you and to bear the fruit of the Spirit in my own life, so that my wife, my marriage, my family, my children, my friends and my community will be nourished, refreshed, and strengthened.