A yoke is "the wooden bow bound to the oxs neck"1 for the purpose of ploughing. It not only pictures work which may be onerous (1 Kings 12.4,9,11) or a delight (Mt 11.29-30) but also partnership in that work, since a yoke unites two animals in their labours. The New Testament concept of an unequal yoke (2 Cor 6.14-18) found its origins in the Mosaic ban on ploughing "with an ox [clean animal] and an ass [unclean beast] together" (Deut 22.10). Because believers and unbelievers are also of completely different natures it is vitally important for Christians to avoid close associations with the ungodly. In practical terms, this principle applies to three main areas: business, marriage, and religion. Jehoshaphat, though a brilliant king, fell down in all three, not only allying himself with Ahab, but also with his two sons.
Ahab (1 Kings 22.1-38; 2 Chr 18.1-19.3)
Jehoshaphats alliance with Ahab began when he "had riches and honour in abundance" (2 Chr 18.1). Riches hold many dangers, including the temptation to trust in, or be devoted to them, rather than the living God (1 Tim 6.9,10,17). Perhaps Jehoshaphats wealth went to his head, eroding his determination to remain distinct from the northern kingdom, so leading to his alliance with Ahab through the marriage of his son, Jehoram, to Ahabs daughter, Athaliah (2 Chr 21.6; 22.2), which briefly ended the overt hostility between north and south. The full impact of this flagrant act of disobedience was only felt many years later "when Athaliah arose and destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah" (2 Chr 22.10), almost obliterating the Messianic line. Likewise, much spiritual harm can result from Christians marrying unbelievers.
Syria had not restored Ramoth-Gilead to Israel, as promised three years earlier (1 Kings 20.34; 22.3). Determined to reclaim this city, through a lavish social engagement Ahab enlisted Jehoshaphats assistance. Now, so entangled with Ahabs family, Jehoshaphat could not possibly say no. Thus, he was drawn into a conflict that did not concern him, and which very nearly cost him his life. Unequal yokes can also cost us dearly, for although our life in Christ is eternally secure (Jn 10.28-29) our enjoyment of it can be severely affected. Unequal yokes also tend to blur the distinction between good and evil. Jehoshaphats statement, "I am as thou art, my people as thy people" was simply untrue. In addition, his partnership with Ahab weakened his resolve to obey Gods word. He still retained an interest in the word, the ability to discern falsehood in Zedekiahs 400 prophets a feature of spiritual maturity (Heb 5.14) and willingness, however tempered, to correct Ahabs view of godly Micaiah. Yet, alas, the word now seemed to have taken second place. What a sad sight: godly Jehoshaphat sitting alongside unregenerate Ahab, listening to the word which neither of them finally obeyed. Whereas Ahab cunningly disguised himself, Jehoshaphat having heard the prophecy, brazenly charged into battle dressed in his royal attire. Even common sense was dulled through this unequal yoke. Jehus father, Hanani, was imprisoned for correcting Jehoshaphats father. Yet now Jehu bravely rebuked Jehoshaphat: "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?" (2 Chr 19.2). These words "are rich in warning to Christians today who feel that the Lords work can best be promoted by co-operation with unregenerate religious leaders".2 Jehoshaphat handled his correction better than his father. Rather than lashing out against Gods prophet, he threw himself into establishing a nation-wide judicial system.
Against this dark background of compromise and failure Micaiah shone brightly as an outstanding man of God. First, the ungodly afflicted him. Ahab verbalised his hatred, while Zedekiah actually smote him. The speediness of Micaiahs summons may imply that he was already imprisoned. It is certainly true that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim 3.12).
Second, He was not intimidated. The splendid appearance of two kings in royal attire - a conflicting majority view, which is not necessarily correct; let us "Prove all things" (1 Thess 5.21) and even a quiet word of warning to conform, all failed to silence his courageous voice: "As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak". By repeating verbatim the false prophets words (1 King 22.6,12,15) he exposed their pathetic attempts to placate Ahab with an optimistic message. In contrast, and in no uncertain terms, he predicted Ahabs death, Israels scattering as sheep, and Zedekiahs judgment.
Third, Micaiah understood Gods sovereignty. His sight of heavens throne room reinforced the truth that Jehovah rules this world. God was not being inconsistent with His character by recruiting a lying spirit to entice Ahab. Rather, it was part of His judgment on a man who had obstinately rejected the truth, committed rampant idolatry, spared Ben-hadad whom the Lord had sentenced to death, and even murdered innocent Naboth (1 Kings 21). In the not too distant future "God shall send [those who reject the truth] strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (2 Thess 2.11). Ahab died from a fluke shot. Dogs licked up his blood. Both of these confirmed that God is fully in control of His universe.
Fourth, Micaiah made a lasting impression. His final words, "Hearken O people, every one of you" (1 Kings 22.28), were taken up by his namesake almost 100 years later: "Hear, all ye people" (Micah 1.2), for "no one can full measure the impact of one godly life upon the hearts of other men".3
Ahaziah (1 Kings 22.48-49; 2 Chr 20.35-37)
Jehoshaphat persisted in his affiliation with the north; this time in a commercial enterprise. Although business partnerships tend to yield far higher financial rewards than, for example, salaried positions in a firm, yet Christians must avoid this particularly enticing, and thoroughly respectable, unequal yoke. Never forget that God can destroy our feeble business ventures just as easily as He broke Jehoshaphats ships.4
Jehoram (2 Kings 3)
Jehoram was not as wicked as either of his parents, in that he "put away the image of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless, he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam". To this ungodly man, and his campaign to recover lost tribute, Jehoshaphat fully committed himself. In so doing, he unwittingly found himself also closely linked to the king of Edom, for unequal yokes can quickly multiply, enmeshing us in a complicated and unbreakable net.
Jehoram prepared carefully for his attack. He numbered his troops, recruited two willing allies Edom may have been motivated by revenge (see 2 Chr 20.23) and planned his route. Yet, in spite of Jehorams careful planning, something as simple as insufficient water very nearly destroyed the alliance. It has been well said that "the best-laid schemes o mice an men gang aft agley" (Robert Burns). Because such uncertainty does exist in this life, even in Gods service, meticulous preparation must go hand in hand with utter dependence on Him. Jehoram responded to their plight with unjustified cynicism. Jehoshaphat, in contrast, sought the Lord. How do we react to difficulties? Do we blame the Lord like Jehoram, or seek Him like Jehoshaphat?
Elisha had been trained by Elijah to be "a prophet of the Lord" for, generally speaking, God prepares His servants under the supervision of older men. As Gods authoritative mouthpiece "the word of the Lord [was] with him". Throughout the Old Testament God spoke in different ways (Num 12.6-8; Heb 1.1) in this case music helped Elisha. Even in the early church God revealed His mind through apostles and prophets (Eph 2.20). However, with the completion of Holy Scripture, God has now finalised His revelation (1 Cor 13.10; Heb 1.2; Rev 22.18-19). Today, any servant of God worth his salt simply explains and applies the Bible with clarity and power.
Furthermore, deeply conscious of his responsibility to the Lord of hosts before whom he stood, Elisha rebuked Jehoram, the unprincipled idolater. Having done this, "the hand of the Lord came upon him". Ridiculous as it may have sounded, the three kings were to "Make this valley full of ditches". And then, without them seeing either wind or rain "there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water", perhaps through a "violent storm having taken place in the eastern mountains of Edom".5 This water quenched their thirst, and that of their cattle, and was instrumental in destroying their enemies: "the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood". Lulled into a false sense of security through this optical illusion, Moab came carelessly against Israel, and was utterly surprised. Israel, according to Gods command, disregarded the normal rules of military engagement and destroyed the land (vv.19,25; Deut 20.19, 20).
In utter desperation, the Moabite king, having failed to break through to the king of Edom, sacrificed his eldest son. So extreme was this action, and the thought of human sacrifice so abhorrent (Lev 18.21; 20.3; Deut 12.31; Micah 6.7), that "there was great indignation against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land". This unusual and disturbing end to their battle is a further reminder of the importance of avoiding entanglement with the ungodly. May we, with Gods help, and in response to the Saviours wishes (Jn 17.15), live lives that are holy unto the Lord.
1 Fausset, A R. HOME BIBLE STUDY DICTIONARY (Kregel Publications, 1987), p. 727.
2 Davis, J J and Whitcomb J C. ISRAEL, From Conquest to Exile (Baker Book House, 1992), p.384.
3 Davis, J J and Whitcomb J C. ISRAEL, From Conquest to Exile (Baker Book House, 1992), p.383.
4 "Tarshish ships are merely ships which, like those going to Tarshish, were built for long sea journeys" Keil & Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 1996), 3:641.
5 Keil & Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 1996), 3:215