Formations 06.17.2018: In Defense of Troublemakers

1 Kings 22:6-9, 12-14, 19-23

A recent study of dissenting Supreme Court decisions concludes that if you’re going to disagree with people, you might as well do it with style. The study, “How to Lose Cases and Influence People,” was conducted by Rachael K. Hinkle of the State University of New York, Buffalo and Michael Nelson of Pennsylvania State University. The two set out to understand why Supreme Court justices wrote minority opinions, risking upsetting their colleagues by openly challenging them.

Hinkle and Nelson concluded that, though dissenting opinions don’t set legal precedents, they “can change minds and pave the way for a shift in perspective, so that a minority view gains acceptance over time and can even prevail” (Livni).

Furthermore, it seems that the most vividly argued minority opinions are the most influential. In fact, the most memorable dissents tend to be those that use the least lawyerly language.

Justices know this across the political spectrum. For example, Livni reports:

In King v. Burwell, Scalia accused the majority of engaging in “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” Likewise, Ginsburg’s dissent in Shelby County v. Holder criticized colleagues for logic akin to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Hinkle and Nelson also point to a “Sore Loser Benefit.” Negative emotional language tends to be remembered, they observe. Being mild and polite minimizes the conflict, but it also minimizes one’s influence.

The bottom line seems to be that people who disagree with others but also aren’t willing to rile people up tend not to effect change. Troublemakers, however, open a door for others to speak up and shift society’s perspectives. The world needs people like that.

In today’s passage, the prophet Micaiah delivers a withering minority opinion. He goes against four hundred other prophets to tell two kings precisely what they don’t want to hear. As our lesson writer points out, he does this with a razor wit and not a little sarcasm. In the end, Micaiah is thrown in prison for his efforts.

But there’s no denying his message was remembered.

Obviously, there are limits here. The Bible is clear about the dangers of an uncontrolled tongue, after all. Winning a soul is far more important than winning an argument. And Jesus may have said some things about kindness and peacemaking that we who bear his name could stand to hear.

Still, we have all been in situations where going along with the majority was easier than taking a stand. Micaiah’s story encourages us to obey God—openly, confidently—even when doing so is likely to cause us problems.

And in the interest of the kingdom, it might even be advisable to raise a little stink.

Ephrat Livni, “New Study Makes the Case for Being a Sore Loser,” Quartz, 28 May 2018 <https://qz.com/1289603/a-new-study-makes-the-case-for-being-a-sore-loser/>.

Discussion

• When have you heard an emotional statement of protest or dissent?
• Why do people tend to remember such statements?
• What boundaries would you suggest for Christian conduct when expressing dissent?
• How can we obey God boldly in the face of opposition?

Reference Shelf

The Prophet Micaiah

After the 400 ecstatic court prophets told Ahab and Jehoshaphat that they would win at Ramoth-Gilead, Jehoshaphat, who was apprehensive, inquired about the possibility of consulting another prophet of Yahweh. Ahab reluctantly summoned Micaiah ben Imlah, whom he hated, because Micaiah always prophesied evil concerning the king.

The fear that bad things might happen simply because Micaiah predicted them was shared by the officer sent to bring Micaiah. He urged the prophet to let his word be like the unanimous victory oracle given by the 400, fearing that the words of one lone dissenter might release forces that would jeopardize the victory believed to be assured by the oracle of the brotherhood.

Although Micaiah swore to the officer that he would prophesy only what Yahweh told him to say, when he came before the two kings he at first repeated the victory oracle of the court prophets. Micaiah’s rhetorical sarcasm (later to be used by Jeremiah [28:6] to show contempt for Hananiah’s oracle of weal) annoyed Ahab, who insisted that Micaiah speak only the truth.

Emmett W. Hamrick, “Micaiah Son of Imlah,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 574.

Prophetic Intervention against Royal Plans

The presenting problem of the narrative is Israel’s seemingly endless war with Syria (Aram) over disputed territory that lies between them. War with Syria was an enduring preoccupation of the Northern Kingdom (see chapter 20), and continues even now over what is more or less the same disputed territory (the Golan Heights). The narrative begins with royal consultation between Ahab and his Southern counterpart, Jehoshaphat (22:1-4). It is worth noting that the long-standing war between North and South has abated (see 12:24), so that the two kings may now act as allies. It is clear, more- over, that Ahab is the initiator of the military alliance in which Jehoshaphat willingly participates, perhaps because Israel is so much stronger that he has no option. The exchange between the two kings is brief. Ahab asserts that the disputed territory of Ramoth-gilead belongs to Israel and not to Syria (which of course is what disputatious kings always say) (22:3). Jehoshaphat does not dissent but pledges his complete military cooperation (22:4). The struggle over land here, as often, is seen to be worth dying for and killing for. Thus the mounting of the campaign is quick and without elaboration.

But this narrative is not in fact a story about a war. That is only the presenting problem. The real issue, as in the preceding chapters, is the deep struggle for Yahwism in the face of compromised alter- natives championed by Ahab and Jezebel. In this narrative, Jehoshaphat (who appears abruptly and has not yet been formally introduced into the narrative) is the vehicle whereby the question of Yahwism is introduced into the narrative. Against Ahab’s sheer pragmatism, Jehoshaphat asks about the will of Yahweh (22:5). Perhaps Jehoshaphat is genuinely pious, or the narrative wants us to see a Judean king at his Yahwistic best, or this is only a narrative device for posing the question. In any case, his insistence in v. 5 is a huge turn in the narrative, opening the way for the prophetic confrontation to follow. His insistence, moreover, invites us immediately to a radically different notion of public power. Yahweh is a key player in international affairs! Yahweh has a purpose in international transactions. The mobilization of state power is made penultimate by his awkward insistence. The remainder of vv. 6-28 are an implementation of the king’s uncompromising requirement for divine approval. When the issue of Yahweh is raised in this narrative, a prophet will not be long in coming, for it is the human agency of prophets that makes available the transcendent will of Yahweh. All parties agree to the linkage of Yahweh and prophets. For that reason, prophets must be mobilized in order to satisfy the enquiry of the king. The insertion of prophets into royal war making is a characteristic maneuver of this Deuteronomic narrative. But beyond that, it is a characteristic move in the biblical insistence that the public realm—as in royal war-making—is an arena in which Yahweh’s purposes are decisive.

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 267–68.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

*