Structure in 2 Chronicles 18

Structure in 2 Chronicles 18 January 15, 2018

2 Chronicles 18 is the story of Ahab and Jehoshaphat’s war with the Arameans at Ramoth-gilead. The battle occupies only a brief portion at the end. Most of the chapter is taken up with the kings’ consultation of prophets.

After a brief introduction, the bulk of the chapter consists of complexly shifting verbal exchanges between different characters.

1.King to king, vv. 3-4 (Ahab, Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat). Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to join his war, Jehoshaphat agrees and then asks to inquire of a prophet. That sets up for the next exchange.

2. King to prophets, v. 5 (Ahab, prophets). Ahab asks his 400 court prophets if the kings should go up to war, and they agree with one voice.

3. King to king, vv. 6-7 (Jehoshaphat, Ahab, Jehoshaphat). Responding to the prophets, Jehoshaphat asks if any prophets of Yahweh are available. Ahab names Micaiah, but says that Micaiah never prophesies good for Ahab. Jehoshaphat replies, “Let not the king say so.”

4. King to official, v. 8 (Ahab, official). Having agreed to bring Micaiah, Ahab sends an official to fetch him.

Three of the four exchanges are initiated by Ahab. The only time Jehoshaphat begins an exchange, he asks for a prophet of Yahweh (#3); it is the last time he speaks in the narrative. We might see the sequence as two sets of two-stage conversations: First the kings converse between themselves, and then a third party (prophets) comes in (#1-2); the kings again converse among themselves, and again a third party (official) comes in (#3-4).

The conversational movement of the narrative is interrupted in verse 9 with a description of the kings sitting on their thrones on the threshing floor at Samaria’s gate. When the pattern resumes, prophets rather than kings take most of the speaking parts.

5. Prophet, prophets, vv. 10-11 (Zedekiah, all prophets). This is not an exchange; the prophets merely repeat what Zedekiah says with more pizzazz. But these verses still involve a pair of speakers, and so continue the earlier pattern.

6. Messenger to prophet, vv. 12-13 (messenger, Micaiah). The messenger warns Micaiah that all the prophets agree that the kings should attack Ramoth-gilead and urges him to confirm their advice. Micaiah insists that he can speak only what Yahweh says.

7. King to prophet, vv. 14-22 (Ahab, Micaiah, 3x; an aside from Ahab to Jehoshaphat is embedded). The climactic seventh exchange is the longest and most complex. Ahab asks Micaiah if they should go up, and Micaiah repeats the counsel of the other prophets. Ahab tells him to speak truth, and Micaiah responds with a prophecy about Israel as a flock without a shepherd. Ahab reminds Jehoshaphat of what he had predicted about Micaiah (v. 17), and then Micaiah launches into a lengthier vision of Yahweh’s court planning to entice Ahab to his death. It is a Sabbatical vision: Yahweh enthroned, passing judgment. Jehoshaphat asked for a word from Yahweh (v. 4) and Micaiah delivers it (v. 18).

8. Prophet to prophet, vv. 23-24 (Zedekiah, Micaiah). Zedekiah had the first prophetic speaking part, but he has ceded the stage to Micaiah. Now Zedekiah slaps Micaiah and asks how the Spirit of Yahweh passed to Micaiah. Micaiah responds with a prediction that Zedekiah will himself be forced to hide.

9. King to prophet, vv. 25-27 (Ahab, Micaiah, Micaiah). Ahab instructs soldiers to put Micaiah in prison until he returns. Micaiah replies, If Ahab returns, the Lord has not spoken. Micaiah has the last word, a shema: “Hear, all you people.”

#5-9 are generally organized in parallel:

A. Zedekiah speaks.

B. Ahab addresses Micaiah.

A’. Zedekiah slaps and rebukes Micaiah.

B’. Ahab addresses Micaiah.

Here the smooth political and prophetic unanimity is broken by a true prophet. Both kings agree to fight; all the prophets confirm their plans. Only the voice of Micaiah is raised in protest. Prophecy becomes the site of debate; when the kings agree, prophecy is still contested.

There are two further exchanges, first between Ahab and Jehoshaphat (Ahab instructs Jehoshaphat to wear his robes while Ahab disguises himself, #10), and then between the king of Aram and his men (instructing them to kill only the king of Israel, #11). Ahab has the last word of the chapter, a word that confirms Micaiah’s prophecy and marks Ahab’s tragic Saul-like end: “I am severely wounded” (v. 33).

Or, we could see the opening verses of chapter as the close of this pattern: The prophet Jehu speaks to Jehoshaphat upon his return to Jerusalem, rebuking him for helping those who hate Yahweh but commending him for seeking God (19:1-3). That would be the 12th dialogue of the narrative.

Though the conversational pattern continues in some respects to the end of the chapter, the battle scene itself is arranged in a neat chiasm:

A. Ahab to Jehoshaphat: Disguise yourself, vv. 28-29
B. King of Aram to charioteers: Seek king of Israel, vv. 30-31a
C. Jehoshaphat cries out to Yahweh, v. 31b
B’. Chariots abandon pursuit of Jehoshaphat, v. 32
A’. A random arrow pierces Ahab’s armor and kills him, vv. 33-34

Throughout the chapter, Ahab is identified as “king of Israel,” usurping the role that the Davidic king Jehoshaphat should have. And, in spite of themselves, the Arameans do carry out their king’s instructions; they do kill the king of Israel.

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