‘On that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber’

‘On that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber’ March 1, 2012

So, OK, this post will be about a story from the Bible, but it’s not really about religion or theology or biblical studies. It’s about stories.

There’s a really good story in 1 Kings 22. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, wants to go to war against the Arameans, so he tries to enlist the help of Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah. Jehoshaphat, not being a wicked king, wants to check with the prophets first to see if God approves.

Ahab has that covered — with several hundred prophets on his royal payroll eager to pronounce divine approval for whatever the king wants to do. These court prophets are led by a theatrical fellow named Zedekiah, who dresses up wearing iron horns and tells the kings that they will “gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.” All the other court prophets say the same thing, predicting an easy total victory.

Jehoshaphat isn’t convinced. “Who else you got?” he asks, and Ahab begrudgingly admits that there is one other prophet, this guy Micaiah. “But I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.”

So Jehoshaphat king of Judah summons Micaiah and asks him the same thing they asked all the court prophets and he gives the same answer. “Go up and triumph,” he says. You’ve got your heart set on war? Knock yourself out. Who am I to tell you different?

But something about the way Micaiah says it convinces “the king” (I’m not sure which one) that he’s not being completely honest. “Tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord,” the king says, and this time Micaiah says what he really thinks. If you go to war, he tells Ahab, you’ll die and your people will be scattered “like sheep that have no shepherd.”

At this, Ahab turns to Jehoshaphat and says, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favorable about me, but only disaster?”

But Micaiah isn’t done, he continues on to accuse the court prophets of being infected with a “lying spirit” sent by God to lure Ahab to his death. And then:

Zedekiah son of Chenaanah came up to Micaiah, slapped him on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the spirit of the Lord pass from me to speak to you?”

Micaiah replied, “You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber.”

Ahab orders Micaiah to be thrown into prison and fed “reduced rations of bread and water,” until his triumphant return from battle. Micaiah responds that Ahab’s triumphant return ain’t gonna happen and they cart him off to prison.

Somehow, Jehoshaphat still thinks this war with the Arameans is a good idea and he marches off to fight alongside Ahab. And Ahab gets killed, just like Micaiah said. And then …

That’s the frustrating part. There is no “and then.”

We never learn whether or not Micaiah is released from prison. And we never get any follow-up on what happened to Zedekiah.

That’s just unacceptable. Where is the comeuppance that Zedekiah so richly deserves? “You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber” is such a tantalizingly specific set-up that it’s just unforgivable to be left hanging.

I’ve read a couple of commentaries that suggest the failure to tell us more about what happened to Micaiah and Zedekiah reflects the main concerns of the text, which lie elsewhere. Fair enough, I suppose, but it’s impossible for my main concerns to lie elsewhere after reading “You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber.”

After reading that my main concern is to get to the scene where Zedekiah is going in to hide in an inner chamber. Where is that scene?

And then to make matters worse, after you’re left hanging with this rendition in 1 Kings, you hit the exact same story in 2 Chronicles and you think maybe this time the proper ending will be included. But no. Again it’s just a tease. Both renditions contain the same two acts of the three-act story of Micaiah and Zedekiah. The third act is nowhere to be found.

Seriously, this is no way to end a story. The list of things that bug me about the Bible is a long one, and this narrative flop is a relatively unimportant item on that list. But it’s still on that list. This bugs me.

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