The Play’s the Thing

“As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.”

The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.” But Micaiah said, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.” 2 Chronicles 18:12-13 

Micaiah had been summoned to give the word of the Lord to two kings – Ahab, who was very wicked, and Jehoshaphat, who “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.” They were trying to decide if they should go into battle. 400 of Ahab’s prophets were declaring he would be victorious. But Jehoshaphat was not so sure.  

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?” The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” “The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied. 2 Chronicles 18:6-7 

This peevish complaint would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. It reminds me of 2 Timothy 4: 3 

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 

So, Micaiah was called and was pressed by the messenger to stick with the script and agree with the other prophets that the kings would be victorious. As Micaiah steps on the stage of this bizarre play scripted to please the wicked King Ahab, the kings are in costume, “dressed in royal attire,” and one of the prophets is acting out the goring of the enemy with a costume of iron horns on his head. And all 400 prophets are repeating their lines correctly: “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand.” This whole drama always makes me think of Hamlet’s famous line, “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” (Act 2, Scene 2) 

God is not averse to using some street theater to get his message across. I have always been intrigued by how much theater there is in the Bible. God directed Ezekiel to act out packing up his belongings for exile and digging a hole in the city wall (Ezekiel 12:4-6). God also told Ezekiel to act out a siege of Jerusalem, laying down on the ground and bearing their sin for 390 days (Ezekiel 4)! God directed Jeremiah to smash a jar before the people to act out the shattering of the nation (Jeremiah 19:10). God also had Isaiah walk around naked and barefoot for three years (yikes!) as “a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush” (Isaiah 20:2-4). 

But in all these cases it was God who wrote the script and gave the direction. When I was taking acting class in high school our teacher used the quote, “the play’s the thing” (i.e., Shakespeare’s written words were the thing) to emphasize that we could NOT improvise with Shakespeare. We had to know and say the words exactly accurately. Everybody knows Shakespeare wrote it and many know it by heart and would catch any deviation from the original words. “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.”  

“The Word of God is our Script. That’s why we call it Script-ure. We are not just memorizing lines. We are learning a character (Jesus). We are immersing ourselves in a plot and narrative. We are becoming players in the story. When we get our eye off of that ball, we so easily slip into a comedy of errors.” — J.D. Walt i 

And it turns out that Jehoshaphat did not stick with Ahab’s script after all and it saved his life. As they went into battle Ahab changed out of his kingly costume, hedging his bets that maybe Micaiah was right, but still directing his own play, still writing his own script. He told Jehoshaphat to keep his kingly costume on though. Jehoshaphat may have been feeling uneasy about this time, and with good reason. 

Now the king of Aram had ordered his chariot commanders, “Do not fight with anyone, small or great, except the king of Israel.” When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they thought, “This is the king of Israel.” So they turned to attack him, but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him. God drew them away from him, for when the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel, they stopped pursuing him. 2 Chronicles 18:31-32  

I always think that maybe the attackers realized that this guy in the king costume wasn’t the king that they were after, because the king that they were after would never have cried out to the Lord – at least not the capital “L” Lord, not to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Crying out to the Lord God Yahweh was not in Ahab’s script. And if you read the whole story, you know that, even though Ahab changed his costume and had 400 actors shouting his script, he was still killed in the battle, just as Micaiah prophesied.  

Jehoshaphat made a mistake that day aligning himself with a wicked king, but he learned something. Because this is the same Jehoshaphat who later when a great army came against him, cried out to his God, “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” And God answered him, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” ii And, there was a great rout of the enemy. 

The battle is not ours. The script is not ours. It belongs to God. Let us cry out to the true Lord. Let us fix our eyes on Him. He is the one with the power to overcome impossible odds. He sustains “all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1: 3). He is our glorious God, the Author of the Script, the Word. The Word made flesh, Jesus, who came to show us God’s character that we might learn it. 

Obeying God is hard. The narrow way is narrow. God’s word cuts to the heart of our self-deception, self-preservation and promotion, our efforts to be in control. Let’s decide right now not try to write our own script. Let’s let God be the director of our life story. Let’s stick with God’s script. Let’s memorize it. Let’s learn our character, immersing ourselves in Jesus, clothing ourselves in His kingly garments. 

… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ … Romans 13:14 

… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (NASB) 

i J.D. Walt, The Word of God and the Comedy of Errors  https://www.seedbed.com/the-word-of-god-and-the-comedy-of-errors/ 

ii2 Chronicles 20:13-15 

Image, Hamlet by Kevin Houle https://flic.kr/p/8U8hv  

Author: wrestlingwordblog

I am a retired librarian and emeriti from Western Michigan University. I am married with three grown children and three grandchildren. I love digging for treasure in the Word.

3 thoughts on “The Play’s the Thing”

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