Containing The Interval Of One Hundred And Sixty-Three Years.
From The Death Of David To The Death Of Ahab.
Concerning Jehoshaphat The King Of Jerusalem And How Ahab Made An Expedition Against The Syrians And Was Assisted Therein By Jehoshaphat, But Was Himself Overcome In Battle And Perished Therein.
1. AND these were the circumstances in which Ahab was. But I now return to Jehoshaphat, the king of Jerusalem, who, when he had augmented his kingdom, had set garrisons in the cities of the countries belonging to his subjects, and had put such garrisons no less into those cities which were taken out of the tribe of Ephraim by his grandfather Abijah, when Jeroboam reigned over the ten tribes [than he did into the other]. But then he had God favorable and assisting to him, as being both righteous and religious, and seeking to do somewhat every day that should be agreeable and acceptable to God. The kings also that were round about him honored him with the presents they made him, till the riches that he had acquired were immensely great, and the glory he had gained was of a most exalted nature.
2. Now, in the third year of this reign, he called together the rulers of the country, and the priests, and commanded them to go round the land, and teach all the people that were under him, city by city, the laws of Moses, and to keep them, and to be diligent in the worship of God. With this the whole multitude was so pleased, that they were not so eagerly set upon or affected with any thing so much as the observation of the laws. The neighboring nations also continued to love Jehoshaphat, and to be at peace with him. The Philistines paid their appointed tribute, and the Arabians supplied him every year with three hundred and sixty lambs, and as many kids of the goats. He also fortified the great cities, which were many in number, and of great consequence. He prepared also a mighty army of soldiers and weapons against their enemies. Now the army of men that wore their armor, was three hundred thousand of the tribe of Judah, of whom Adnah was the chief; but John was chief of two hundred thousand. The same man was chief of the tribe of Benjamin, and had two hundred thousand archers under him. There was another chief, whose name was Jehozabad, who had a hundred and fourscore thousand armed men. This multitude was distributed to he ready for the king's service, besides those whom he sent to the best fortified cities.
3. Jehoshaphat took for his son Jehoram to wife the daughter of Ahab, the king of the ten tribes, whose name was Athaliah. And when, after some time, he went to Samaria, Ahab received him courteously, and treated the army that followed him in a splendid manner, with great plenty of corn and wine, and of slain beasts; and desired that he would join with him in his war against the king of Syria, that he might recover from him the city Ramoth, in Gilead; for though it had belonged to his father, yet had the king of Syria's father taken it away from him; and upon Jehoshaphat's promise to afford him his assistance, (for indeed his army was not inferior to the other,) and his sending for his army from Jerusalem to Samaria, the two kings went out of the city, and each of them sat on his own throne, and each gave their orders to their several armies. Now Jehoshaphat bid them call some of the prophets, if there were any there, and inquire of them concerning this expedition against the king of Syria, whether they would give them counsel to make that expedition at this time, for there was peace at that time between Ahab and the king of Syria, which had lasted three years, from the time he had taken him captive till that day.
4. So Ahab called his own prophets, being in number about four hundred, and bid them inquire of God whether he would grant him the victory, if he made an expedition against Benhadad, and enable him to overthrow that city, for whose sake it was that he was going to war. Now these prophets gave their counsel for making this expedition, and said that he would beat the king of Syria, and, as formerly, would reduce him under his power. But Jehoshaphat, understanding by their words that they were false prophets, asked Ahab whether there were not some other prophet, and he belonging to the true God, that we may have surer information concerning futurities. Hereupon Ahab said there was indeed such a one, but that he hated him, as having prophesied evil to him, and having foretold that he should be overcome and slain by the king of Syria, and that for this cause he had him now in prison, and that his name was Micaiah, the son of Imlah.
But upon Jehoshaphat's desire that he might be produced, Ahab sent a eunuch, who brought Micaiah to him. Now the eunuch had informed him by the way, that all the other prophets had foretold that the king should gain the victory; but he said, that it was not lawful for him to lie against God, but that he must speak what he should say to him about the king, whatsoever it were. When he came to Ahab, and he had adjured him upon oath to speak the truth to him, he said that God had shown to him the Israelites running away, and pursued by the Syrians, and dispersed upon the mountains by them, as flocks of sheep are dispersed when their shepherd is slain. He said further, that God signified to him, that those Israelites should return :in peace to their own home, and that he only should fall in the battle. When Micalab had thus spoken, Ahab said to Jehoshaphat,
"I told thee a little while ago the disposition of the man with regard to me, and that he uses to prophesy evil to me."
Upon which Micaiah replied, that he ought to hear all, whatsoever it be, that God foretells; and that in particular, they were false prophets that encouraged him to make this war in hope of victory, whereas he must fight and be killed. Whereupon the king was in suspense with himself: but Zedekiah, one of those false prophets, came near, and exhorted him not to hearken to Micaiah, for he did not at all speak truth; as a demonstration of which he instanced in what Elijah had said, who was a better prophet in foretelling futurities than Micaiah (43) for he foretold that the dogs should lick his blood in the city of Jezreel, in the field of Naboth, as they licked the blood of Naboth, who by his means was there stoned to death by the multitude; that therefore it was plain that this Micalab was a liar, as contradicting a greater prophet than himself, and saying that he should be slain at three days' journey distance:
"and [said he] you shall soon know whether he be a true prophet, and hath the power of the Divine Spirit; for I will smite him, and let him then hurt my hand, as Jadon caused the hand of Jeroboam the king to wither when he would have caught him; for I suppose thou hast certainly heard of that accident."
So when, upon his smiting Micaiah, no harm happened to him, Ahab took courage, and readily led his army against the king of Syria; for, as I suppose, fate was too hard for him, and made him believe that the false prophets spake truer than the true one, that it might take an occasion of bringing him to his end. However, Zedekiah made horns of iron, and said to Ahab, that God made those horns signals, that by them he should overthrow all Syria. But Micaiah replied, that Zedekiah, in a few days, should go from one secret chamber to another to hide himself, that he might escape the punishment of his lying. Then did the king give orders that they should take Micaiah away, and guard him to Amon, the governor of the city, and to give him nothing but bread and water.
5. Then did Ahab, and Jehoshaphat the king of Jerusalem, take their forces, and marched to Ramoth a city of Gilead; and when the king of Syria heard of this expedition, he brought out his army to oppose them, and pitched his camp not far from Ramoth. Now Ahalx and Jehoshaphat had agreed that Ahab should lay aside his royal robes, but that the king of Jerusalem should put on his [Ahab's] proper habit, and stand before the army, in order to disprove, by this artifice, what Micaiah had foretold. (44)But Ahab's fate found him out without his robes; for Benhadad, the king of Assyria, had charged his army, by the means of their commanders, to kill nobody else but only the king of Israel. So when the Syrians, upon their joining battle with the Israelites, saw Jehoshaphat stand before the army, and conjectured that he was Ahab, they fell violently upon him, and encompassed him round; but when they were near, and knew that it was not he, they all returned back; and while the fight lasted from the morning till late in the evening, and the Syrians were conquerors, they killed nobody, as their king had commanded them. And when they sought to kill Ahab alone, but could not find him, there was a young nobleman belonging to king Benhadad, whose name was Naaman; he drew his bow against the enemy, and wounded the king through his breastplate, in his lungs. Upon this Ahab resolved not to make his mischance known to his army, lest they should run away; but he bid the driver of his chariot to turn it back, and carry him out of the battle, because he was sorely and mortally wounded. However, he sat in his chariot and endured the pain till sunset, and then he fainted away and died.
6. And now the Syrian army, upon the coming on of the night, retired to their camp; and when the herald belonging to the camp gave notice that Ahab was dead, they returned home; and they took the dead body of Ahab to Samaria, and buried it there; but when they had washed his chariot in the fountain of Jezreel, which was bloody with the dead body of the king, they acknowledged that the prophecy of Elijah was true, for the dogs licked his blood, and the harlots continued afterwards to wash themselves in that fountain; but still he died at Ramoth, as Micaiah had foretold. And as what things were foretold should happen to Ahab by the two prophets came to pass, we ought thence to have high notions of God, and every where to honor and worship him, and never to suppose that what is pleasant and agreeable is worthy of belief before what is true, and to esteem nothing more advantageous than the gift of prophecy (45) and that foreknowledge of future events which is derived from it, since God shows men thereby what we ought to avoid. We may also guess, from what happened to this king, and have reason to consider the power of fate; that there is no way of avoiding it, even when we know it. It creeps upon human souls, and flatters them with pleasing hopes, till it leads them about to the place where it will be too hard for them. Accordingly Ahab appears to have been deceived thereby, till he disbelieved those that foretold his defeat; but, by giving credit to such as foretold what was grateful to him, was slain; and his son Ahaziah succeeded him.
(43) These reasonings of Zedekiah the false prophet, in order to persuade Ahab not to believe Micaiah the true prophet, are plausible; but being omitted in our other copies, we cannot now tell whence Josephus had them, whether from his own temple copy, from some other original author, or from certain ancient notes. That some such plausible objection was now raised against Micaiah is very likely, otherwise Jehoshaphat, who used to disbelieve all such false prophets, could never have been induced to accompany Ahab in these desperate circumstances.
(44) This reading of Josephus, that Jehoshaphat put on not his own, but Ahab's robes, in order to appear to be Ahab, while Ahab was without any robes at all, and hoped thereby to escape his own evil fate, and disprove Micaiah's prophecy against him, is exceeding probable. It gives great light also to this whole history; and shows, that although Ahab hoped Jehoshaphat would he mistaken for him, and run the only risk of being slain in the battle, yet he was entirely disappointed, while still the escape of the good man Jehoshaphat, and the slaughter of the bad man Ahab, demonstrated the great distinction that Divine providence made betwixt them.
(45)We have here a very wise reflection of Josephus about Divine Providence, and what is derived from it, prophecy, and the inevitable certainty of its accomplishment; and that when wicked men think they take proper methods to elude what is denounced against them, and to escape the Divine judgments thereby threatened them, without repentance, they are ever by Providence infatuated to bring about their own destruction, and thereby withal to demonstrate the perfect veracity of that God whose predictions they in vain endeavored to elude.