The Book of Kings
Rav Alex Israel
#28: Chapter 22 – Achav's Final Battle
this chapter, Israel is back at war. After three peaceful years, Achav decides
to attack Aram. Why? If you recall, chapter 20 ended with a peace treaty between
Aram and Israel detailing that certain cities be returned to Jewish sovereignty.
It appears that these agreements had not been honored. Achav, confident in his
military superiority and determined to take Aram to task for abrogating their
peace promise, prepares for battle.
Achav's ally here is none other than Yehoshafat, King of Yehuda. Yehoshafat is exuberant about the
will do what you do; my troops shall be your troops, my horses shall be your
know that Yehoshafat is a God-fearing king who follows God devotedly. We might
anticipate that he would keep his distance from Achav. However, he clearly
valued the unity of the nation. He shared close family ties with Achav, marrying
his son to Achav's daughter (see Melakhim II 8:18). In addition, he
engaged in joint projects with the North, both military ventures
and sea voyages.
His language reflects his enthusiasm at the unity of the nation after a long
period of acrimonious division.
UNIQUENESS OF PROPHECY
first half of the perek depicts a scene at "the threshing floor at the
entrance to the gate of Shomron," where the two kings may have been viewing
their troops in training accompanied by prophets. Alternatively, this was an
arena in which a large numbers of "prophets, four hundred men" would deliver
their prophecy for the Kings.
the classic Jewish tradition, (Shoftim 20:27, Shmuel I 23:10-12,
Shmuel II 5:19) Yehoshafat suggests that prior to embarking upon the
military conflict, the king should consult with God. And it is here that a
struggle begins between the band of 400 prophets, who all act and speak in
unison and give an identical message, and Michayahu Ben
up and the Lord will deliver [them] into the hands of the king.
are Achav's prophets. Michayahu Ben Yimla is summoned by request of Yehoshafat,
who, being from Yehuda, is uncomfortable with this large band of prophets. He
specifically requests a "navi la-shem."
are several lessons to be learned from this chapter about the classic mode of
first is raised by the Talmud. The Talmud wants to know how Yehoshafat knew that
these four-hundred prophets were not loyal to God. Obviously, the number
four-hundred is familiar from chapter 18, in which this was the number of the
"prophets of Ba’al." We should note, however, that in this chapter they are not
described as such. Moreover, they talk in the language of God, using the
Tetragrammaton (YHVH) in pasuk 13. They talk like nevi'ei Hashem,
and even though we, the reader, know that this scene is staged (see pasuk
13), at the very least there would appear to be a desire to see prophets loyal
to God rather than to the Ba'al.
let us note that this represents, once again, evidence that Achav had ups and
downs in his relationship with monotheism and the Ba'al. At this stage, he has
adopted the outer trappings of the Ba’al but used the name of
Talmudic passage relates the conversation in the following
said, "Isn't there another prophet to Hashem…?"
[Achav] replied, "There are all of these [the 400]!"
responded, "I have the following tradition from my grandfather's house: the same
communication is revealed to many prophets, but no two prophets will prophesy in
the identical phraseology." (Sanhedrin 89a)
other words, Yehoshafat knew that Israelite prophets never prophesy in mass
groups, in unison. When you see a group of prophets talking the same and acting
the same, you know it is false prophecy.
point is underscored by the Rambam in his Laws of Principles of the Torah, ch.7,
where he details the phenomenon of prophecy:
is made known to a prophet during prophecy is done by way of parable, and he
will immediately realize what the parable means. For instance, when Jacob the
Patriarch saw the ladder with angels ascending and descending it, it was a
parable representing monarchy and its subjection. Similarly, the animals which
Ezekiel saw, the "boiling pot" and "almond branch" which Jeremiah saw, and all
the other objects seen by the other prophets were also parables. Of the
prophets, some … related what they saw in their prophecy and their
interpretation of it. Others related just their interpretation. Sometimes, they
related just the parables [of the prophecy], like Ezekiel and Zachariah
sometimes did. All of the Prophets prophesized by way of parables and riddles.
to the Rambam, only Moshe Rabbeinu was able to receive prophecy with the clarity
of a verbal message, a textual formulation. Prophets of a lower stature would
see images, "parables," or visions. Part of the skill or gift of a prophecy was
the ability to decipher and interpret the visions or the non-verbal
this is true, the text transmitted by the prophet, the words used in
communicating God's message, was selected by the prophet himself. Prophets must
put God's images and ideas into words, but it is the prophet, not God, who fixes
the phraseology. It is for this reason that no two prophets will prophecy with
precisely the same text. They receive a non-verbal message. The text is
formulated by them, and as such, the probability of two prophets (let alone 400)
emerging with same words, an identical linguistic formulation, is virtually
point should be made here on the basis of this Rambam. In the Torah, the text is
God's, because Moses' prophecy WAS textual, unlike that of the prophets.
However, in Nevi'im, where the text was written by the navi, we
should anticipate that each prophetic work will have a specific and unique
literary style, distinct from other books. Why? Because if Yechezkel writes his
book, and Yishayahu his, and Tzephania his, and each writes with God's content,
but his own literary formulation, then each book will contain the literary
hallmark of its human author.
have digressed somewhat, but I feel that we have learned something valuable
about the world of prophecy. No two prophets prophecy in exactly the same way.
For this reason, we have "four prophets who prophesized at the same time."
Why send four? Can a single prophet not deliver a message effectively?
Apparently, God had something significant to communicate and he wanted four
different people to say it in four different ways.
yet, when you think about it, one of the characteristics of the Jewish prophet
is his standing alone. This aloneness sometimes translates into loneliness as
well. And this feature is shared by several prophets, from Moshe Rabbeinu
second aspect of our chapter that illustrates a central feature of Israelite
prophecy is the manner in which the four-hundred prophets engage in symbolic
acts in order to demonstrate their point. In pasuk 11m], their leader,
Tzidkiya ben Kena'ana (a very "Jewish" name) creates iron horns that symbolize
the victory of Israel against Aram, saying:
these shall you gore Aram until you make an end of them.
this style, the false prophets follow a Jewish prophetic practice of engaging in
theatrical symbolic action. Yirmiyahu walks around Jerusalem with a yoke on his
shoulders (ch.27) in order to demonstrate subservience to Babylon. Yishayahu was
told to walk barefoot and undressed to simulate the image of a prisoner of war
(ch.20). Whether we are talking about Hoshea's marriages or Yechezkel breaking
the wall of his house (ch.8), lying on his side(ch.4), or uniting pieces of wood
(37:16-17), neviei Yisrael were frequently commanded to engage in
demonstrative "drama" in order to transmit God's message. In this manner,
Achav's false prophets represent and reinforce their message by acting in the
true prophetic tradition.
do these iron horns represent? One imagines that they are designed to activate
the ancient nevuah mentioned by Moshe in Sefer Devarim
a firstling bull in his majesty,
has horns like the horns of a Re'em,
then he gores the peoples…
the Torah, these verses are addressed to the tribe of Efrayim, which is an
appellation for the Northern kingdom (as in Yishayahu ch.7 and
Hoshea ch.5). It makes sense
that the horn, a symbol of military victory
and of the tribe of Efrayim, should be used to symbolize an Israelite military
triumph. Achav's prophets would certainly reinforce their credibility by using
we once again see the nerves of steel necessary to function in the role of a
prophet. Michayahu is used to delivering unpopular messages to the king (see
pasuk 8). In our chapter, the king's courtiers call him and instruct him
as to the script or mantra that he should chant:
your words be like the rest of them; speak a favorable
we were in any doubt as to the veracity of the four-hundred prophets, we now
understand that the entire spectacle is nothing more than a fraud. And we know
that Achav is also aware of this fact because when Michayahu meets the king, he
repeats the lines he had been dictated verbatim. The king's response
many times must I adjure you to tell me nothing but the truth in God's name.
other words, Achav is also aware that this "prophecy" by the four-hundred is
nothing more than a façade, a pretence.
the same time, Michayahu's confidence and audacity at teasing the king and
causing him to profess the lack of authenticity of his own prophets demonstrates
his fearless stand towards the king.
angers Achav to such an extreme degree that the king strikes him and jails him
with meager rations, "until I come home safe." Nonetheless, Michayahu holds his
ground, saying "we will see who has to flee from room to room" (pasuk 25,
a clear reference to the failure of 20:30; see the same phrase there).
loses the battle, as Michayahu predicted. At the end of the perek, Achav,
although disguised in battle, is fatally injured. Sefer Melakhim seems to
stress that this is an act of providence, as it informs us that Achav was
disguised and yet "a man pulled back a bow randomly and hit the king of Israel
between the folds of his armor" (v.34); it was a random shot, despite the kings
disguise, and it entered the single weak point in Achav's armor.
Achav remains in the battlefield, probably losing volumes of blood that cost him
his life. He stays there to encourage his troops. Once the figurehead of the
nation is dead, it is unlikely that the rank and file soldiers will hold their
discipline, and he thus instructs his men that he remain propped in his chariot,
even though it will cost him his life. Chazal (Moed Katan 28b)
speak of this selfless and heroic trait very positively.
is killed as the fulfillment of prophecies in BOTH the end of ch.20 and ch.21.
Obviously, the manner in which he meets his death at the end of the chapter
reflects BOTH of these decrees: The national defeat and his death is a
fulfillment of the prediction in ch.20, but the dogs that lap up Achav's blood
fulfill the prediction in ch.21.
is at this point that we bid farewell to Achav, who has been a central figure in
the last five chapters. As we mentioned at the outset, Achav is one of the evil
kings listed in Perek Ha-Chelek (the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin) as having no
place in Olam Ha-Ba because they betrayed their religious legacy in the
most fundamental of ways. On the other hand, Rav Nachman said that "Achav was
equally balanced" (Sanhedrin 102b). In other words, he had his
devastating flaws, but also significant virtues.
our study, we have seen that while we can certainly assert that Achav took the
Northern Kingdom to unprecedented levels of idolatry, he is far from a
simplistic character. Whereas his desire to ally himself with Phoenicia, his
tough wife, and possibly his personal predilections drew him to the Ba'al, he
also has an affinity for listening to God's prophets and appears to distance
himself from the Ba’al after the great assembly at Mt. Carmel. He has periods of
faith in God and his teshuva is accepted by Hashem. On the other
hand, we read how "there were none worse than Achav" (21:25) and the story of
Navot is a chilling story of state murder.
the end, we gain an impression of Achav as a wavering personality who lacks a
solid backbone and is easily swayed and influenced. He can be swayed towards
Ba'al and can be shocked to veer closer to God worship. It is this lack of
personal resilience and consistency that leaves him so susceptible to wide
alterations in his religious orientation. But that is no excuse for the damage
that he inflicted upon both the nation and the unfortunate individuals who met
their death as a result of his actions.
next week's shiur we will take a closer look at the life and times of
King Yehoshafat, which will bring us to the end of Sefer Melakhim