When Leaders Don't Listen

There’s a fascinating anecdote about spiritual leadership tucked away in 1 Kings 22. At this point in ancient Israel’s history, the people are divided into two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. In this account, their two kings discuss partnering to go to war against their common enemy, the Arameans.

Israel’s king, Ahab, proposes the idea to Judah’s king, Jehoshaphat (yes, it’s an actual name, not just a quaint term of exclamation). He asks, “Will you join me in battle to recover Ramoth-gilead?” Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “Why, of course! You and I are as one. My troops are your troops, and my horses are your horses.” Then Jehoshaphat added, “But first let’s find out what the Lord says” (1 Kings 22:4-5).

This brief exchange reveals the different approaches these leaders take to make decisions.
Ahab is pragmatic. He needs Jehoshaphat’s troops to stand a chance against Aram. Once Jehoshaphat agrees, Ahab is ready to pull the trigger.

Jehoshaphat, however, has another level in his due diligence process. He believes that even after the troops counts are done, the battle plans devised and combat scenarios considered, God still gets to vote.

Ahab trots out a company of loyalist prophets, 400 of them, who all claim God wants to rubber stamp Ahab’s agenda. But Jehoshaphat is leery of their uncritical endorsement. He asks Ahab if there’s a bona fide prophet of God who can offer a second opinion.

In verse 8, we read: “The king of Israel replied to Jehoshaphat, “There is one more man who could consult the Lord for us, but I hate him. He never prophesies anything but trouble for me! His name is Micaiah son of Imlah.” Jehoshaphat replied, “That’s not the way a king should talk! Let’s hear what he has to say.”

Ahab believes that God speaks. And he believes God speaks specific and credible messages through Micaiah. But Ahab hates Micaiah, because he never tells Ahab what he wants to hear. This is just like Ahab. Earlier in the story, he calls another prophet (Elijah) the “troublemaker of Israel.” Ahab can’t, or won’t, concede that his actions have anything to do with the negative prophetic message from Elijah or Micaiah.

When we live egocentric, self-destructive lives, we tend to pull away from both God, and anyone who might represent an accurate assessment of our behavior. For Ahab, it’s always somebody else’s fault and never his own. If the messages Ahab gets from the prophets make him uncomfortable, he reasons, there must be something wrong with the prophet.

Fortunately, Jehoshaphat is there to offer a simple course correction; “That’s not the way a king should talk.” For Jehoshaphat, there is value in listening for what God has to say in any situation. He’s confident God will speak. He’s also humble enough to admit, “I might be wrong. If the message I get from God is troubling, maybe I’ve jumped the rails somewhere. Maybe it’s me, not the message, that’s broken.”

Sometimes leaders won’t listen because they refuse to change. It’s a precarious place to be. Just read the rest of Ahab’s story and see how his resistance to God’s voice via Micaiah leads to immediate and permanent consequences.

Craig Custance