‘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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  • FangsFirst

    While we’re on the subject, was it a lady or a tiger already?

    It was a lady tiger, and they fell in love but were ostracized by the anti-anthropomorphic community.

  • Anonymous

    Exodus 4:24-26.

    As it stands, this appears to recount that God met Moses in a pub and picked a fight with him; but that Moses’ wife reacted by swearing at him and mutilating their baby, which made God think again (It would make me think again, too).

    You can read it literally as it is or you can infer that the text was corrupted at some point in its transmission. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice, as the man at the sideshow said.

  • GDwarf

    I meant to write “Kung-fu. Stupid auto-correct. Anyways, I loved the game (El Shaddai, for the curious), even though it was more style than substance. It just looks so…mesmerizing.

  • Anonymous

    On the other hand, one thing I find interesting is how often such prophecies come true in fiction, even in stories where it isn’t assumed that it’s possible to know the future or that the prophet in question can do it.

    Mieville’s _Un Lun Dun_ defies this (this is not a particular spoiler; it is one of the great charms of the — amazingly cheerful, for Mieville — book), of course, but one of Mieville’s central principles is that nothing is destiny. (Take a fantasy race, any race, with a trait which should, by all means, make it think or act in a particular way — and the characters portrayed by Mieville will essentially invert that. One of the characters we meet in _ULD_, IIRC, is a school of fish in a diving suit — running around on land.)

    I’ve wanted to do a pastiche of _The Wheel of Time_ as written by Pratchett for awhile, just because Pratchett is very much a “screw destiny” person while WoT is the complete opposite, but, come to think of it, Mieville’s WoT might be even more interesting. (OTOH, the philosophy clash might be too great — and Pratchett has a much more imitatible style.) Plus, Pratchett’s opening to the WoT saga is a lot easier to define.

  • Anonymous

    Whoa — holy crap, I had assumed someone was *quoting* you!

  • This is my favorite story in the entire Old Testament. I always thought the lack of an ending to the subplot involving Micaiah and Zedekiah just made it all the more tantalizing and surreal.

  • Anonymous

    there are many times when one reads fanfic and thinks that it ought to be cannon.

    Heh. Speaking of sources of incomplete stories…. Even under the *best* imaginable scenario, there are Chekov’s Guns which have been mentioned in _Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality_ [1] which we will almost certainly not get around to seeing pay off.

    [1] Which is — IMHO — better than the original books by far. I can’t say I agree with the author on all points, but some of his background by all means should have been cannon.

  • rizzo

    Sounds to me like they all died at the end.  Bears, maybe?

  • To say nothing of “LOST”!

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, LOST is an entirely different category, though — there’s some where the story is clearly incomplete and there’s others where authors just forget about Chekov’s guns they’ve placed on the mantle a few years back. (Alas, _WoT_ is almost certainly going to fall in that category. A lot of backstory will hopefully be wrapped up — and, in the last few books, several really tiny hints have exploded into major events, but there’s almost certainly going to be a lot of events which are just forgotten about.)

    And there’s a third category, where there’s Chekov’s guns that don’t go off because — even though they’ve been foreshadowed as all hell and sitting on the mantle for the past few sequels — the author just isn’t able to bring themselves to go there. There’s a beautiful tension between Vimes and Carrot that’s been hinted at in a number of books which is almost certainly never going to come to a head because Pratchett will never get that dark.

  • Rzinsius

    Star Wars Special Edition 2025: cuts to credits immediately after Han saves Luke from Darth Vader’s TIE fighter in the trenches of the Death Star.

    Actually, the TIE Fighter that Han shot at has to barrel roll and shoot at the Millenium Falcon first, because Han only shoots in self defense.

  • They created a slave race of machines to make life easier.  They rebelled.  They evolved.  And they have a plan. 

    But they don’t.  They don’t have a plan.  Every fracking episode for two seasons (three seasons?  I’m not sure, it’s been a while) we’re told they have a plan, and yet… no plan.  Not even an indication of a plan.  Total lack of plan.

    Then finally out comes a movie called “The Plan” and you know what’s not in it? A plan.

    The plan is a lie.  Even in a world where the cake is true, the plan is a lie.  I call bullshit.

    Perhaps more on topic, I know that there are entire books of The Bible that are missing* so it doesn’t seem all that surprising to me that sometimes parts of stories would be lost.

    *not as in apocrypha, as in in the Bible it will say something like, “As it is written in [thingy],” and the reader will go, “Wait.  What?  I don’t have a copy of [thingy]” flips to index “There’s no [thingy] listed here.” searches internet “There’s no [thingy] anywhere on earth.  Where the hell is [thingy]?”

  • You know, I had entirely forgotten about all the trouble with thingies until I read this post. God bless the Pythonites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmgcylAxjfY

  • Michael Cule

    Well, some of the lack of the Book of Thingy is because it exists and isn’t regarded as canon. (The aforesaid Book of Enoch is quoted in one of the Letters or it may be the Acts but it isn’t regarded as canon despite that.) And some of it is probably because books were lost before the question of canon ever came up.

    And some of it, a cynic might think, is because the priests took one look at the book and said: “We’re not leaving that in! Better burn it. Yes and all the copies…”

    And on another topic, I have twice had the pleasure of being in a LARP run by Jo Walton. They were both very cool! (“All Hail the Empress! May the Exalted Wearer of the Racoon Hat live a Thousand Years!” Also: “We Do!”) (In jokes ‘R Us!)

  • Jim D.

    I wonder if Fr. Guarnizo learned anything when he went to hide in an inner chamber.

  • Anonymous

    But they don’t.  They don’t have a plan.  Every fracking episode for two seasons (three seasons?  I’m not sure, it’s been a while) we’re told they have a plan, and yet… no plan.  Not even an indication of a plan.  Total lack of plan.

    Then finally out comes a movie called “The Plan” and you know what’s not in it? A plan.

    Ron Moore was seriously confused about the kind of story he was telling.  He thought he could keep throwing out “AND THEY HAVE A PLAN” “mysterious head-demon wants Baltar to convert to Cylonism” “Cylons know the truth behind human religion” etc. etc. etc. and people would still think they were watching character dramas where the history and ultimate nature of the universe they inhabited were irrelevant backdrops.

  • ChrisH

    Life interfered and I wasn’t able to comment yesterday on the meta point that Fred was making with strategic post placement but no explicit linking.

    The reason there is no ending to the story is because the ending had not yet happened.  Like most of the bible (tongue firmly in cheek)  Micaiah and Zedekiah is not historical or a metaphor, but prophesy of things happening in our time, prolly in the last week.

  • When the opposing side seems to have an unbeatable fifth column and srsly advanced tech, it’s not hard to think they do indeed have a plan, until all is revealed much later on.

  • hawkwing_lb

     I am geek.

    Which is why I went to the Septuagint, and the Greek word – phrase, – is ὅταν εἰσέλθῃς ταμίειον τοῦ ταμιείου τοῦ κρυβῆναι, “When you enter the storehouse of the treasury to lie hidden.” Now I’m wondering how that lines up with the Hebrew, and whether there’s the same sense of somewhere you store wealth in the inner chamber.

    (Hebrew, I don’t comprehend.)

  •  I planned out (and still mean to write) a story about a couple who ask the local Oracle whether the gods will smile on their love and get the answer “No way! You’re going straight to hell, you perverts!” They then decide screw that, and set out into the world to make their fortunes, eventually living a long and reasonably happy life together until the fortunes of war finally part them. My then-boyfriend suggested that, by mentioning the Oracle, I was setting up an expectation that the prophecy would be fulfilled in some way. My intention was to show an Oracle who basically just took people’s money and upheld the status quo, but I don’t know whether the expectation would work against that.

  • Anonymous


    Then finally out comes a movie called “The Plan” and you know what’s not in it? A plan.

    I really think the lack of Plan is one of the reasons I didn’t appreciate the BSG reboot more.  I wanted to, but it just never grabbed me.  Then again, I’ve viewed all shows that claim to have a myth arc with a jaundiced eye ever since I was a fan of The X-Files and Babylon 5 respectively.  If you can’t look me in the metaphorical eye and tell me the question of the Opera House will be cleared up sometime in season 4, I don’t believe in your myth arc.

  • ako

    I think you can do the story you’re describing well if you set up the details right so it’s clear that the Oracle is saying what he’s supposed to say, not any kind of actual prophecy.  It may require more than one instance of unfulfilled prophecy, or some other narrative indicators, but the idea sounds good.  I like the idea of authority figures using “It’s a prediction so now you can’t go against it!” to push their dogma on people.  (Er, in a story.  Obviously that would be horrible in real life.)