Day 180: Tickling Itching Ears (1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18)

8 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” (1 Kings 22:8)

...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

In a rare story of cooperation between the two kingdoms, Ahab and Jehoshaphat form an alliance in order to reclaim land for Israel that had been lost to Syria. But good king Jehoshaphat requests first that they inquire of the Lord (1 Kings 22:5). So Ahab gathers four hundred prophets together, and to a man they all say, “Go! You’ve got this!”

At which point Jehoshaphat asks an extremely revealing question:

7 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kings 22:7)

Something about these 400 prophets raised a red flag for the King of Judah. Maybe he wasn’t convinced these were actually God’s prophets. Given Ahab’s track record of persecuting God’s prophets and listening to the prophets of Ba’al and Asherah, I would have had my doubts, too (see 1 Kings 18 and Day 178: Showdown on Mount Carmel). Or maybe it was an understanding of human nature–that when a king summons you, you tend to tell him what he wants to hear.

So Jehoshaphat wants to know if there are any credible prophets of God that will give a second opinion. Ahab responds like a whiny little boy:

“There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.” (2 Chronicles 18:7)

You know the rest of the story. Micaiah speaks the truth, gets thrown in jail for it; Ahab and Jehoshaphat go out to battle anyway, and Ahab gets killed by a random archer, and the Israelite army scatters, exactly as Micaiah said they would. The End.

Except, it’s not the end. The story gets repeated in Jeremiah 38, when the prophet gets thrown into a cistern because he speaks the truth to the people.

It’s repeated in the ministry of Jesus, when the religious leaders are so threatened by Jesus’ message that they put Him to death.

It’s repeated in the martyrdom of Stephen and the imprisonment of Paul. And it is repeated every time anyone in history has tried to speak truth to power. Power resists truth. Power suppresses truth. But truth doesn’t change.

Which is why Paul’s final message to his protege Timothy is so poignant. In 2 Timothy, Paul knows he is at the end of his ministry. He tells him in 1 Tim 4:6 that “the time of [his] departure has come.”

Paul knew firsthand that the church is full of people who won’t endure sound doctrine, and are not interested in truth. Long before there were social media algorithms that would populate your feed only with people who believed all the same things you did; and long before there were entire news networks dedicated to reinforcing whatever worldview their audience already had; Paul knew there would come a day in which people would be as eager as Ahab was to surround themselves with pastors and pundits who would tickle their itching ears.

They would tell them what they wanted to hear. They would confirm all their biases, reinforce all their prejudices, and coddle them in all their opinions, no matter how wrong they were.

So what does he tell Timothy about speaking truth to people that don’t want to hear it?

“Proceed with caution?” Nope.

“Pick your battles?” Uh-uh.

Preach the word. Preach the word, in season and out. Reprove, rebuke. Exhort. Be patient. Be sober minded. Endure suffering. Do the work of an evangelist.

Fulfill your ministry.

Pastors: are you ticking itching ears with your sermons? Or are you proclaiming prophetic truth? We don’t have to look forward to a coming day when people surround themselves with teachers who suit their own passions. That time is now. Fulfill your ministry.

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