Syria was long a problem for Israel. In the days of King Asa of Judah, Asa paid Syria to break its alliance with Israel and attack the northern kingdom while Baasha ruled it (1 Kings 15:16–24). Later, Israel again went to war against Syria when its king sought to loot the palace of King Ahab. Israel defeated Syria, but Ahab disobeyed the Lord by not executing Syria’s king. Consequently, a prophet predicted Ahab’s death (ch. 20).
At some point in the history of conflict between Israel and Syria, Syria captured the Israelite city of Ramoth-gilead, located in Dan (Josh. 20:8). That is the background for today’s passage, which tells us about the alliance King Ahab of Israel made with King Jehoshaphat of Judah against Syria. We read in 2 Chronicles 18:1, that Jehoshaphat had made “a marriage alliance with Ahab.” Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram married Ahab’s daughter Athaliah, and we will consider this couple more in due time (2 Kings 8:16–18; 2 Chron. 21:1–22:2).
Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to join him in besieging Ramoth-gilead in order to recapture it from the Syrians (2 Chron. 18:1–3). Being a godly man, Jehoshaphat wanted first to hear from the Lord regarding the plan (v. 4; see 17:1–6). Ahab called forth several prophets who said God would give the city into the hands of Ahab, but for reasons not disclosed, Jehoshaphat was unconvinced that they had heard a true word from God. So, he asked for another prophet. Ahab summoned Micaiah, who said first that the Lord would give Ahab victory. Later, when pressed, Micaiah said that the message of success was from a lying spirit, sent by God to entice Ahab to go up against Ramoth-gilead and be destroyed (18:5–27).
This story about the lying spirit in the mouth of Micaiah tells us some important things about divine sovereignty and our response. First, while the Lord does not Himself lie, He can send others to deceive people. Second, when God does this, it is for the sake of judgment. Our Lord is exceedingly gracious, but He is not indulgent. When people persistently oppose the truth, He will hand them over to a lie, hardening them in their sin (Rom. 1:18–32). Ahab did not want to obey the truth, so the Lord sent him a lie. Let us remember that the same can happen to anyone who rejects God’s truth.
Having heard from the prophet, Ahab tried to escape God’s word by disguising himself in battle so that Syria would not target him. Unsurprisingly, Ahab failed in this (2 Chron. 18:28–34).