The Trustworthiness of God: Perspectives on the Nature of Scripture is a volume of essays edited by Paul Helm and Carl Trueman. I don’t often see this book referenced, but it contains several excellent essays. For instance, Craig Bartholomew’s “A God for Life, and Not Just for Christmas! The Revelation of God in the Old Testament Wisdom Literature” is an excellent introduction to the wisdom literature.
Yesterday I was studying 1 Kings 22, and I found Peter Williams’s essay one of the best treatments of that chapter that I’ve read. And I have read a fair bit of the commentary literature and a handful of journal articles on this chapter and the issues surrounding it.
One of the issues in this chapter is found in verse 15 in which Micaiah, the true prophet, gives the same false prophecy as the false prophets directly after rebuffing a suggestion that he give Ahab a favorable prophecy with the statement that he would speak only what Yhwh told him to speak—and all this in a book which emphasizes that false prophets speak lies while the words of a true prophet always come to pass.
Williams rejects some common solutions.
1. He rejects that idea that there was some kind of gesture or way of speaking that indicated that the words were not true since the text does not indicate these (61-62).
2. He rejects the idea that Micaiah’s speech in v. 15 was an initial personal response before he had received Yhwh’s word since the preceding verses would be in tension with this reading (62).
3. He rejects the view that Micaiah is lying. He grants that the absence of a phrase like “thus says Yhwh” in verse 15 is notable, but he also notes that verse 14 means that Yhwh “is not completely disassociated from the statement” (62-63).
Here is Williams’ solution:
Taking the simplest hypothesis that no nonverbal indication was given to the king that the oracle of verse 15 was not true, we may ask how it was that the king recognized it not to be true. If he did not decide this on the basis of the mode of delivery, he must have realized this on the basis of the message’s content. If the king was capable of recognizing that the oracle was not true merely on the basis of content, he must have been equally capable of recognizing it as untrue when almost the same words as Micaiah pronounces in verse 15 were used by his own prophets (vv. 6, 12). The king, by his response in verse 16, has in fact given away that at some level in his consciousness he was aware all along that what his prophets were telling him was not true. Micaiah’s words in verse 15 have elicited that admission from him in a way that a simple statement of doom could not have done.
Yet we still have to explain how God can be associated with a statement that seems so false as verse 15 does. Part of a solution to this may be found in Tim Ward’s article later in this volume (pp. 192-218), where he illustrates the wrongness of isolating utterances in understanding a work. When Micaiah’s initial statement in verse 15 is separated from its context and set up as an individual proposition, the truth or falseness of which is to be evaluated, the statement is clearly false. However, in its context it neither deceived anyone nor had the intention of deceiving anyone, but was acting as a preface to a full explanation of the truth. The dialogue as a whole is entirely truth-illustrating, somewhat akin to Solomon’s “wise” initial ruling that the baby whose parentage was being debated should be cut in half (1 Kings 3:25). It seems clear that, however God is associated with Micaiah’s statement in verse 15, he cannot be charged with deceit.”P. J. Williams, “Lying Spirits Sent by God? The Case of Micaiah’s Prophecy,” The Trustworthiness of God, 63.
Williams’s handling of God’s sending a deceiving Spirit is equally compelling. His bottom line is this:
These two themes of the truth of God’s word and his sovereignty over the lying spirit are such prominent themes in the narrative that it is hard to avoid concluding that they are being set in deliberate tension and that the narrator believes that both must be held to firmly. … The assertion then of the narrative of God’s sovereignty over lying spirits is precisely that, an assertion of sovereignty. According to the narrative it does not in any way compromise the utter truthfulness of God’s word, nor is a lie to be associated with God’s spirit.”P. J. Williams, “Lying Spirits Sent by God? The Case of Micaiah’s Prophecy,” The Trustworthiness of God, 65-66.