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Rob Bowman

Is The Spirit In 1 Kings 22:19-23 Embodied Or Incorporeal?

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In an earlier thread, Wade suggested that there is evidence that spirits have bodies in 1 Kings 22:21, where a particular spirit is said to have “stood” (implying legs and feet) “before the LORD” (implying spatial locations for both the spirit and the LORD), and to have “said” something to the LORD (implying a mouth). in this post, I will offer a different point of view on the passage supporting the conclusion that the spirit was an incorporeal being. My basic method is to examine the verse in the context of the whole speech of which it is a part. (In what follows, except where noted I will be quoting from the ESV.) This was a speech given by the prophet Micaiah to Ahab, a wicked king of Israel:

19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you” (1 Kings 22:19-23).

There are in my view four considerations that taken together form a very strong argument against inferring from this passage that the spirit had a literal body.

1. The LORD Sitting on His Throne

Micaiah begins by saying that he “saw the LORD sitting on his throne” (v. 19). This description obviously uses very common imagery portraying the LORD as a king. The question is whether we should take this literally to mean that the LORD was actually sitting in a chair. The reader who has been following along in 1 Kings will have good reason not to take this language literally. In one of the key passages in 1-2 Kings, the account of the dedication of the temple, Solomon offers the following acknowledgment:

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).

Solomon here acknowledges that although he had built a “house” for God (the temple), it would not and could not function as a literal dwelling place for the LORD. Indeed, Solomon says that the heavens cannot “contain” God. The point here is not merely that God cannot be limited or restricted in his movements to one place (since no one in the ancient world thought that any deity was restricted to its temples or any other location). Rather, his point was that the temple—as huge and grand as it was—was too small for God; even the highest heaven was too small to enclose or contain God. Solomon’s statement here appears to think of God as transcending the physical universe. There is no place—not even the highest heaven—that is “big enough” to contain God.

This understanding of 1 Kings 8:27 is consistent with other passages in the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah quotes God as saying, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” (Isa. 66:1; quoted in Matt. 5:34; Acts 7:49; cf. Matt. 23:22). Here the LORD says through Isaiah something verbally very similar to 1 Kings 8:27 to make a similar point: no physical structure is adequate to house God because he is just too big. The imagery in Isaiah 66:1 is striking: heaven itself is called God’s “throne” and the earth is called his “footstool.” God’s “throne” here is not a literal chair: it is the entire expanse of the universe!

2. The “Host of Heaven”

Micaiah tells Ahab that he saw “all the host of heaven standing beside” the LORD “on his right hand and on his left” (v. 19). If we are to take the spirit’s “standing” in verse 21 anthropomorphically as meaning that the spirit was a man-shaped being standing on literal legs and feet, we should also interpret the host of heaven “standing” on the right and left sides of the LORD literally as well.

However, Micaiah’s reference to “the host of heaven” poses something of a problem for such a literal reading of the scene. The usual meaning and reference of the biblical expression “the host of heaven” is to the stars, planets, and similar observed objects in the sky (see especially Deut. 4:19; 17:3; 2 Kings 23:5; Isa. 34:4; Jer. 8:2; 33:22; Dan. 8:10; cf. also Ps. 33:6; Neh. 9:6a; Isa. 40:26; 45:12). The plural form “hosts” was often used to refer to angelic or spiritual beings, especially in the common expression “the LORD (God) of hosts” (occurring about three hundred times in the Hebrew OT). Since spirits or angels were also associated with heaven, it is not surprising that here in Micaiah’s revelation the expression “the host of heaven” refers to spirits, but this usage is unusual (1 Kings 22:19 and the parallel 2 Chron. 18:18 are the only clear examples; Neh. 9:6b; Isa. 24:21; 34:4; Dan. 4:35 are also likely examples). An ancient Hebrew reading the text would immediately associate the expression “host of heaven” with the stars and other points of light in the sky, which in the broader culture were associated with or identified as supernatural beings and often worshiped as deities. Micaiah uses this ancient mythological imagery to refer to the spirits that were with the LORD without endorsing the mythological worldview from which that imagery originated.

Consider how this information about the “host of heaven” and the previous point about the sitting of God on his throne as figurative converge. We have seen that God is a being too immense or transcendent to be literally sitting in a chair somewhere, and that the beings attending him in Micaiah’s scene are metaphorically referenced using an expression denoting the stars in the sky. These two points converge toward the same conclusion, which is that the whole description is symbolic, not literal. The spirits to the LORD’s left and right are not literal stars, nor are they beings literally standing on either side of the LORD as he sits in his chair. Micaiah is using stock religious imagery and language of his culture, not offering a literal description of the celestial kingdom.

It is often said that the scene Micaiah describes is God in his heavenly court or divine council. Although this interpretation is widely held, there are some reasons to think it may not be quite accurate. Micaiah’s use of the term “host of heaven” describes the spiritual beings in God’s presence as an army. That is what the term “host” (seba’) means. Furthermore, Micaiah describes the host as standing not before or facing the LORD, as council members attending to the presiding King, but as “standing beside him on his right hand and on his left.” This imagery depicts the host as flanking their King and Commander-in-Chief, what is in effect a military formation. A literal example appears in Samuel, where Shimei “threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left” (2 Sam. 16:6). It is therefore more likely that Micaiah is describing a military scene in which the LORD sits on his throne with the armies of heaven arrayed with him. This imagery fits the context as well: the subject of the whole passage is Jehoshaphat and Ahab’s alliance and their intention to attack Ramoth-gilead (v. 20, cf. vv. 1-18). That Micaiah is describing a military scene in heaven adds further confirmation that the description is symbolic: Micaiah clearly does not mean that the LORD is preparing to send his army to wage a literal battle against Jehoshaphat and Ahab.

3. The LORD Setting Up Ahab for Deception and Defeat

Although we are focused on the nature of the spiritual beings described in Micaiah’s vision, that is rarely the focus in most discussions and studies of this passage. What has made this passage extremely controversial is the fact that is appears (at least) to say that God proactively seeks to have Ahab deceived in order to defeat his military plans against Ramoth-gilead. According to Micaiah’s revelation, “the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’” (v. 20). The word “entice,” found here and in verses 21 and 22, depending on context can mean to seduce, induce, trick, or deceive, and in this context the connection with “lying” (vv. 22, 23) makes it clear that the enticement involves deception. Thus, Micaiah’s revelation portrays God as asking if one of the spirits in the army of heaven will volunteer to entice Ahab with going ahead with his battle plans against Ramoth-gilead by deceiving him into thinking those plans will succeed.

If we are to take this passage seriously as a source of truth about God and the heavenly army of spirits or angels, we will have to come to some sort of understanding of this part of the passage. Is the passage meant to be understood as saying that such a conversation literally took place in heaven?

The best interpretation of this element of the passage will take into account the larger narrative in the historical books (Joshua through 2 Kings) and pay close attention to the language used. Anyone reading through the historical books from beginning to end will know that the idea of God in some way initiating or authorizing an evil or deceiving spirit is not an isolated occurrence here. We read earlier in this history that “God sent an evil spirit” that provoked the men of Shechem to act treacherously toward Abimelech (Judges 9:23-24). When Saul proved unfaithful to God, “the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him” that would depart from him when David played the harp (1 Sam. 16:14-16, 23; 18:10; 19:9). While this evil spirit is not said to deceive Saul, it fits the same general pattern of a spirit from God wreaking havoc in someone’s life. Toward the end of the history Isaiah tells Hezekiah that the LORD had “put a spirit in” the king of Assyria “so that he will hear a rumor and return to his own land,” where the LORD would “make him fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:5-7; also Isa. 37:7). This last instance is another example of a spirit tricking or misleading someone with devastating consequences.

In all of these references, and in Micaiah’s revelation, the spirits are evil and do evil things (fomenting violence, tormenting, deceiving), yet they are said to do this at God’s behest (“God sent an evil spirit”; “from the LORD”; “from God”; “I will put a spirit in him”; “the LORD has put a lying spirit”). This idea is central and essential to Micaiah’s vision or revelation, so if we balk at the idea, we will have to abandon any positive use of the passage in forming Christian doctrine. But I do not think we need to or should balk at this idea, though we need to be careful in thinking through its implications.

On the one hand, we can be sure that these passages do not mean that God is literally or actually dishonest, untruthful, or deceptive. Our confidence that the passages do not teach such a view of God need not be forced onto the texts from the outside; it is well supported from the history itself. Earlier in the history, Samuel tells Saul, “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret” (1 Sam. 15:29). (“Have regret” here is often translated “repent” or “change his mind.”) In context Samuel is warning Saul that God’s solemn decision to reject Saul as king, which Samuel had just communicated to Saul, was not going to change (see vv. 22-28). Furthermore, if God was literally intent on deceiving Ahab he went about it in a very strange way, since the whole point of Micaiah’s revelation was that the spirit to which Ahab was listening was deceiving him!

On the other hand, we must take seriously the fact that the passage in some sense assigns to the LORD a governing role with regard to the spirit’s deceit. The question is what exactly that sense is. In the broader context of the historical books, something bad or harmful is said to be “from the LORD” if he uses it to accomplish his purposes. For example, Rehoboam’s unwise decision not to lighten the people’s burden, as they had asked, “was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (1 Kings 12:15). That is, in God’s sovereign superintendence over the history of Israel, it served his purposes that Rehoboam provoked the people of Israel to rebellion as God’s judicial punishment against Solomon for his idolatry (1 Kings 11:9-13, 29-39). The text certainly does not mean that God spoke to Rehoboam and told him not to lighten the people’s burden so that they would rebel against Reheboam! Nor does it mean that God forced Rehoboam to do so. In some way God orchestrated events so that Rehoboam would bring trouble on himself, fulfilling God’s stated intentions but without God actually causing Rehoboam to do evil. This sense of judicial punishment fits the contexts of the other “spirits” mentioned earlier, such as the tormenting spirit that came “from the LORD” on Saul. It also fits our passage in 1 Kings 22:19-23, where the lying spirit deceives Ahab into initiating a battle that will bring about his death.

We need to balance, then, the evidence from the historical books that God does not literally deceive people with the evidence from the same books that he does in some sense use lying spirits to accomplish his purposes and to execute his judicial punishment of the wicked. This balance requires something stronger than God merely permitting spirits to lie and something weaker than God actually directing or causing spirits to lie. This means that it is probably best to understand the conversation that Micaiah describes between the LORD and the lying spirit not as a report of a literal conversation in heaven but as a story told in ironic fashion conveying to Ahab two truths. First, Ahab was listening to the wrong spirit—literally, he was listening to the wrong prophets. Second, the LORD was using Ahab’s folly in listening to that lying spirit to bring about his downfall.

The idea that Micaiah is not claiming to report an actual conversation between God and the spirit may seem far-fetched. Readers of a variety of theological and religious backgrounds may all find this idea at the least surprising and perhaps even odd. One factor that I would suggest may contribute to this perception is the tendency to read the whole Bible as if it were all written in a gravely serious, even solemn tone. This is a mistake; biblical prophets and apostles, and even Christ, could and did use humor, irony, sarcasm, and even scorn. Just a few chapters earlier Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal: “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). We miss something if we think that verses like this one are meant to be read in a serious tone. The dominance of the King James Version long after people normally spoke in Elizabethan English has likely exacerbated this tendency among English-speaking readers. We tend to read Micaiah’s story about God’s call for a volunteer to entice Ahab to his death as if the whole passage were meant to be intoned in ultra-pious sentences, read aloud as we might imagine a somber Amish patriarch would read it. It is difficult to overcome this problem or even to illustrate it in writing alone, but try reading aloud the following two versions of the passage:

And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee. (KJV)

Then Micaiah continued, “Listen to what the LORD says! I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. And the LORD said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so he can be killed?’ There were many suggestions, and finally a spirit approached the LORD and said, ‘I can do it!’ ‘How will you do this?’ the LORD asked. And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’ ‘You will succeed,’ said the LORD. ‘Go ahead and do it.’ So you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all your prophets. For the LORD has pronounced your doom.” (NLT)

Put some voice inflection into your reading of the passage, some theater, and you may see what I mean. Micaiah’s message to Ahab is inspired and true, expressed in an ironic story. We are probably not to take the story to be a literal transcript of a conversation in heaven, but rather a humorous, barbed story that expresses in colorful fashion God’s message to Ahab: You’re listening to the wrong prophets, and their false message is leading you to the doom I have planned for you.

4. “A Lying Spirit in the Mouth of All His Prophets”

The spirit who volunteers to entice Ahab into the battle that will result in his death says that he will do this by being “a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets” (v. 22; repeated in v. 23). If we are to interpret all of the bodily language of the passage literally, this statement, which appears twice in the short passage, poses something of a problem. Will the spirit literally be located “in the mouth of all his prophets”? How will the spirit accomplish this? Will the spirit flit from one false prophet to another so that it can take up residence temporarily in each one, long enough to inspire him to speak the lie to Ahab before jumping into the mouth of the next one?

What we see in this passage is that a single spirit is able to “inspire” prophecies (in this case, false prophecies) through multiple individuals. In fact, according to the account earlier in the chapter, these false prophets were inspired to give this false prophecy at the same time:

“Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, ‘Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?’ And they said, ‘Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king’” (1 Kings 22:6).

Micaiah’s message to Ahab in verses 19-23 is a comment, truly inspired by the LORD, on this incident involving the four hundred prophets. Ahab gathered the four hundred together and asked them if he should go to battle against Ramoth-gilead. All four hundred were evidently inspired by the one lying spirit to give the same lying answer assuring Ahab that the Lord would give him victory.

Once we understand this, we can clearly rule out taking the words “in the mouth of all his prophets” literally to mean that the lying spirit became bodily located in the prophets’ mouths. A single embodied spirit cannot become bodily located within four hundred different bodies, each with its own separate location, at the same time. By “cannot” here I mean such a statement is incoherent because it is self-contradictory. Hypothetically, if a spirit is an embodied entity that occupies a specific location in space, it can possess at most only one human body at a time, and it can temporarily enter into at most one such physical body at a time. But the lying spirit was “in the mouth of” four hundred men at the same time! Evidently, we cannot take this language literally as referring to the spirit having a specific location. But if we cannot take the locational statement in verses 22 and 23 literally, this suggests that locational statements about the spirit should in general not be taken literally.

Summary and Conclusion

I have drawn attention to four elements of the text of 1 Kings 22:19-23, read in the immediate context and in the broader context of the Israelite history in Joshua through 2 Kings:

  1. The LORD is said to have been seated on his throne (v. 19), but the reader has learned earlier that the LORD is an immense and/or transcendent being who cannot be contained even within the highest of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27).
  2. The reference to the spirit beings in the LORD’s presence as the “host of heaven” uses language that normally refers to the stars and other astronomical bodies, which cannot be the literal reference or meaning here. Furthermore, these spirits are depicted as the heavenly host or army, gathered in military formation on either side of the King’s throne, even though no literal battle involving these spirits is envisioned in the passage.
  3. The story that Micaiah tells Ahab about a conversation between the LORD and one of his spirits planning for Ahab to be incited to go to battle against Ramoth-gilead should probably not be taken literally. It is unlikely that Micaiah is claiming to have heard a literal conversation between the LORD and a spirit planning Ahab’s deception (I gave several reasons for this view).
  4. The statement that the spirit became “a lying spirit in the mouth of” Ahab’s four hundred prophets cannot be taken literally to mean that a single embodied being of spirit inhabited the mouths or bodies of four hundred men simultaneously.

These four considerations lead me to conclude that Micaiah’s story about the spirit that “stood before the LORD” and “spoke” to him does not mean or imply that the spirit was an embodied entity with legs and feet as well as a mouth. This “spirit” is said to have “stood before” a Deity who transcends the largest and highest heaven, is pictured figuratively as a member of that Deity’s heavenly army volunteering for duty across enemy lines, and is able to influence the minds of hundreds of men simultaneously to give false prophecies. Understood in this way, the passage seems to support the conclusion that the spirit is an incorporeal entity.

(Edited to fix font size problem.)

Edited by Rob Bowman

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There really is no choice but to go coporeal (more refined matter in the case of a spirit) and anthropomorphic in light of such verse sets as Ezekiel 1 in which the glory of God is described as a man sitting on a throne.

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It looks like another instance where Bowman "knew" the answer before he started and asserts only the view that will support his conclusion and dismiss everything that doesn't.

For example,

The question is whether we should take this literally to mean that the LORD was actually sitting in a chair.

And the answer is YES!!!

The reader who has been following along in 1 Kings will have good reason not to take this language literally.

Actually the reader has just as good of a reason to take this language literally. See below.

In one of the key passages in 1-2 Kings, the account of the dedication of the temple, Solomon offers the following acknowledgment:

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).

It is ONLY a problem if you take 1 Kings 8:27 literally and not figuratively.

So, now the question is begged, why must 1 Kings 8:27 be literal and not figurative?

Ah, yes, simply ASSERT that it must.

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Micaiah begins by saying that he “saw the LORD sitting on his throne” (v. 19). This description obviously uses very common imagery portraying the LORD as a king. The question is whether we should take this literally to mean that the LORD was actually sitting in a chair.

Should we also not take it literally that Adam and Eve heard the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze and hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden? Or that Moses, Aaron, Nabab, Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel saw the God of Israel, and under his feet was, as it were, a pavement of sapphire, but the Lord did not stretch out his hand to the leaders of Israel? If God is so immense, why did he command Moses to build a Tabernacle so he could dwell among the Israelites? Or that Moses saw God's back, but was not allowed to see his face, as the Lord passed by?

In other words, must every vision of the Lord in human form be discounted?

Bernard

Edited by Bernard Gui

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In an earlier thread, Wade suggested that there is evidence that spirits have bodies in 1 Kings 22:21, where a particular spirit is said to have “stood” (implying legs and feet) “before the LORD” (implying spatial locations for both the spirit and the LORD), and to have “said” something to the LORD (implying a mouth).

While I disagree with the notion that this one instance establishes a consistent perspective on the corporeality of spirits, in this case the spirit is unquestionably being presented in anthropomorphic terms.

in this post, I will offer a different point of view on the passage supporting the conclusion that the spirit was an incorporeal being. My basic method is to examine the verse in the context of the whole speech of which it is a part. (In what follows, except where noted I will be quoting from the ESV.) This was a speech given by the prophet Micaiah to Ahab, a wicked king of Israel:

There are in my view four considerations that taken together form a very strong argument against inferring from this passage that the spirit had a literal body.

1. The LORD Sitting on His Throne

Micaiah begins by saying that he “saw the LORD sitting on his throne” (v. 19). This description obviously uses very common imagery portraying the LORD as a king. The question is whether we should take this literally to mean that the LORD was actually sitting in a chair. The reader who has been following along in 1 Kings will have good reason not to take this language literally. In one of the key passages in 1-2 Kings, the account of the dedication of the temple, Solomon offers the following acknowledgment:

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).

This is the hermeneutic circle, though. You're saying we have to take this text literally to show that the other cannot be taken literally. Why not take the other literally to show that this one shouldn't be taken literally? There's no rule saying they have to both be taken one way or the other. On the other hand, Micaiah does not describe an event necessarily located on earth or even in heaven. Taking into consideration the cosmology of this time period, it would be best to understand this convening of the divine council as taking place above the heavens. The statement from 1 Kgs 8:27 reflects the view that God is so much bigger than the earth and the heavens. In Isa 66:1, from much later, we read that heaven is God's throne and the earth his footstool. If we take this literally (it would fit nicely with a literal reading of 1 Kgs 8:27) then it just means God is bigger than heaven and earth. This also makes it clear that "heaven and earth" does not represent all the physical universe in the Israelite cosmology. It is just a small portion of the divine realm. If we insist this is just rhetoric, then why not rhetoric in 1 Kgs 8:27? The fact that Micaiah is describing a vision makes that, of the three texts, the most likely to represent a physical reality in the Israelite worldview.

Solomon here acknowledges that although he had built a “house” for God (the temple), it would not and could not function as a literal dwelling place for the LORD. Indeed, Solomon says that the heavens cannot “contain” God. The point here is not merely that God cannot be limited or restricted in his movements to one place (since no one in the ancient world thought that any deity was restricted to its temples or any other location). Rather, his point was that the temple—as huge and grand as it was—was too small for God; even the highest heaven was too small to enclose or contain God. Solomon’s statement here appears to think of God as transcending the physical universe. There is no place—not even the highest heaven—that is “big enough” to contain God.

This doesn't really fit with the Israelite cosmology. It just means the heavens and the earth are not big enough. God was thought to dwell primarily outside of the closed system that is the heavens and the earth. The host of heaven dwelled in the heavens, but they would come before God's throne, which was beyond the heavens. The heavens were most commonly thought of as a solid dome upon which the waters of heaven were suspended. The dome above the waters was the heaven of heavens. God's throne was beyond that. The event of this vision would have been thought of as taking place outside the heavens and the earth.

This understanding of 1 Kings 8:27 is consistent with other passages in the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah quotes God as saying, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” (Isa. 66:1; quoted in Matt. 5:34; Acts 7:49; cf. Matt. 23:22). Here the LORD says through Isaiah something verbally very similar to 1 Kings 8:27 to make a similar point: no physical structure is adequate to house God because he is just too big. The imagery in Isaiah 66:1 is striking: heaven itself is called God’s “throne” and the earth is called his “footstool.” God’s “throne” here is not a literal chair: it is the entire expanse of the universe!

No, it doesn't indicate the whole universe, just the heavens and the earth. The idea is that he's so much bigger he could sit on the heavens and put his feet up on the earth. The imagery doesn't at all conflict with the ancient notion that God sat in a throne and had corporeal beings come before him. That was the most common motif in the divine council type-scene, and it pervaded the entire ancient Near East.

2. The “Host of Heaven”

Micaiah tells Ahab that he saw “all the host of heaven standing beside” the LORD “on his right hand and on his left” (v. 19). If we are to take the spirit’s “standing” in verse 21 anthropomorphically as meaning that the spirit was a man-shaped being standing on literal legs and feet, we should also interpret the host of heaven “standing” on the right and left sides of the LORD literally as well.

Absolutely, although it literally reads "standing before him (עליו), on his right and on his left." The sense is that they are standing before him and they spread out on both sides of him.

However, Micaiah’s reference to “the host of heaven” poses something of a problem for such a literal reading of the scene. The usual meaning and reference of the biblical expression “the host of heaven” is to the stars, planets, and similar observed objects in the sky (see especially Deut. 4:19; 17:3;

In both instances here the "host of heaven" is explicitly being described as deities that are worshipped by the nations, but that were allotted to the nations, not to Israel. The verses unquestionably allude to Deut 32:8–9, wherein Elyon sets up the Sons of God over the individual nations of the earth. Certainly the author of Deut 4:19 isn't intending to insist the Sons of God are really just non-sentient astral beings. Even as late as Job we have the Sons of God coming before Yahweh to present themselves, and shouting for joy at the creation of the earth (where they are described as the "stars of God"). The Israelites most likely viewed the astral bodies as avatars, so to speak, of anthropomorphic deities. Look at 2 Kgs 23:4–5. Incense was burned to Baal, Asherah, the sun, the moon, and the host of heaven. Every other culture surrounding Israel had analogues if not direct cognates for each of these deities, and they all viewed that collection of deities as thoroughly anthropomorphic. What reason do we have to insist that Israel, which presents them as equally anthropomorphic in so many places, did not? Look at 2 Kgs 17:16. Calves represent Yahweh. Groves represent Asherah. Baal is the storm deity. Why should we decide the host of heaven--which elsewhere fight in battles alongside Yahweh (Josh 5:14–15; Judg 5:20) and are described as angels (Gen 32:1–2)--should not be representative of anthropomorphic deities, but should only be metaphorically understood when they are presented in explicitly anthropomorphic motifs?

2 Kings 23:5;

See above.

Isa. 34:4; Jer. 8:2; 33:22; Dan. 8:10; cf. also Ps. 33:6; Neh. 9:6a; Isa. 40:26; 45:12).

Many times it is used in a strictly astral sense.

The plural form “hosts” was often used to refer to angelic or spiritual beings, especially in the common expression “the LORD (God) of hosts” (occurring about three hundred times in the Hebrew OT). Since spirits or angels were also associated with heaven, it is not surprising that here in Micaiah’s revelation the expression “the host of heaven” refers to spirits, but this usage is unusual (1 Kings 22:19 and the parallel 2 Chron. 18:18 are the only clear examples; Neh. 9:6b; Isa. 24:21; 34:4; Dan. 4:35 are also likely examples).

Not that unusual. See the verses I cited above in Genesis, Joshua, and Judges.

An ancient Hebrew reading the text would immediately associate the expression “host of heaven” with the stars and other points of light in the sky, which in the broader culture were associated with or identified as supernatural beings and often worshiped as deities. Micaiah uses this ancient mythological imagery to refer to the spirits that were with the LORD without endorsing the mythological worldview from which that imagery originated.

What evidence can you produce to support the conclusion that although Micaiah uses mythological imagery, he doesn't really endorse the worldview that the imagery presupposes?

Consider how this information about the “host of heaven” and the previous point about the sitting of God on his throne as figurative converge. We have seen that God is a being too immense or transcendent to be literally sitting in a chair somewhere,

You're still conflating the heavens and the earth with the entire physical universe. These are two vastly disparate concepts in Israelite cosmology.

and that the beings attending him in Micaiah’s scene are metaphorically referenced using an expression denoting the stars in the sky.

I think rather we've seen that the stars in the sky were thought of as representative of anthropomorphic deities.

These two points converge toward the same conclusion, which is that the whole description is symbolic, not literal.

So what Micaiah and numerous other prophets see is actually just a personification of a metaphor? I disagree.

The spirits to the LORD’s left and right are not literal stars, nor are they beings literally standing on either side of the LORD as he sits in his chair. Micaiah is using stock religious imagery and language of his culture, not offering a literal description of the celestial kingdom.

But the other cultures surrounding Israel also presented the astral bodies as both anthropomorphic deities and as non-sentient bodies. If there's no difference in the usage, how can we determine that when they do it it's literal, but when Israel does it, it's just symbolism that makes use of imagery but doesn't really mean it (and no one has to be told).

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It is often said that the scene Micaiah describes is God in his heavenly court or divine council. Although this interpretation is widely held, there are some reasons to think it may not be quite accurate. Micaiah’s use of the term “host of heaven” describes the spiritual beings in God’s presence as an army. That is what the term “host” (seba’) means. Furthermore, Micaiah describes the host as standing not before or facing the LORD, as council members attending to the presiding King, but as “standing beside him on his right hand and on his left.”

Actually the Hebrew says they were standing עליו, which is literally "against him," or "before him."

This imagery depicts the host as flanking their King and Commander-in-Chief, what is in effect a military formation. A literal example appears in Samuel, where Shimei “threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left” (2 Sam. 16:6). It is therefore more likely that Micaiah is describing a military scene in which the LORD sits on his throne with the armies of heaven arrayed with him.

Creative, but precluded by the imagery. Military formations do not include kings sitting on thrones. In Samuel David is standing with his troops, not sitting on a throne. Next, the posing of a question regarding an administrative decision, followed by the presentation and deliberation of a plan points exclusively and unquestionably to the divine council motif. This is strengthened by the use of the verbs "sitting" and "standing," which are crucial to that motif. Lastly, as I've already pointed out, the king's subjects are standing before him and not at his side.

This imagery fits the context as well: the subject of the whole passage is Jehoshaphat and Ahab’s alliance and their intention to attack Ramoth-gilead (v. 20, cf. vv. 1-18). That Micaiah is describing a military scene in heaven adds further confirmation that the description is symbolic: Micaiah clearly does not mean that the LORD is preparing to send his army to wage a literal battle against Jehoshaphat and Ahab.

No, but he is deliberating with his council regarding what to do.

3. The LORD Setting Up Ahab for Deception and Defeat

Although we are focused on the nature of the spiritual beings described in Micaiah’s vision, that is rarely the focus in most discussions and studies of this passage. What has made this passage extremely controversial is the fact that is appears (at least) to say that God proactively seeks to have Ahab deceived in order to defeat his military plans against Ramoth-gilead. According to Micaiah’s revelation, “the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’” (v. 20). The word “entice,” found here and in verses 21 and 22, depending on context can mean to seduce, induce, trick, or deceive, and in this context the connection with “lying” (vv. 22, 23) makes it clear that the enticement involves deception. Thus, Micaiah’s revelation portrays God as asking if one of the spirits in the army of heaven will volunteer to entice Ahab with going ahead with his battle plans against Ramoth-gilead by deceiving him into thinking those plans will succeed.

If we are to take this passage seriously as a source of truth about God and the heavenly army of spirits or angels, we will have to come to some sort of understanding of this part of the passage. Is the passage meant to be understood as saying that such a conversation literally took place in heaven?

It is Micaiah's explanation for why the other prophets are promising victory for the king. Whether or not it really happened, Micaiah asserted that the other prophets are telling the king he should go ahead because God deceived them. Now, the most likely explanation here is just that Micaiah made the story up.

The best interpretation of this element of the passage will take into account the larger narrative in the historical books (Joshua through 2 Kings) and pay close attention to the language used. Anyone reading through the historical books from beginning to end will know that the idea of God in some way initiating or authorizing an evil or deceiving spirit is not an isolated occurrence here. We read earlier in this history that “God sent an evil spirit” that provoked the men of Shechem to act treacherously toward Abimelech (Judges 9:23-24). When Saul proved unfaithful to God, “the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him” that would depart from him when David played the harp (1 Sam. 16:14-16, 23; 18:10; 19:9). While this evil spirit is not said to deceive Saul, it fits the same general pattern of a spirit from God wreaking havoc in someone’s life. Toward the end of the history Isaiah tells Hezekiah that the LORD had “put a spirit in” the king of Assyria “so that he will hear a rumor and return to his own land,” where the LORD would “make him fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:5-7; also Isa. 37:7). This last instance is another example of a spirit tricking or misleading someone with devastating consequences.

In all of these references, and in Micaiah’s revelation, the spirits are evil and do evil things (fomenting violence, tormenting, deceiving), yet they are said to do this at God’s behest (“God sent an evil spirit”; “from the LORD”; “from God”; “I will put a spirit in him”; “the LORD has put a lying spirit”). This idea is central and essential to Micaiah’s vision or revelation, so if we balk at the idea, we will have to abandon any positive use of the passage in forming Christian doctrine. But I do not think we need to or should balk at this idea, though we need to be careful in thinking through its implications.

On the one hand, we can be sure that these passages do not mean that God is literally or actually dishonest, untruthful, or deceptive. Our confidence that the passages do not teach such a view of God need not be forced onto the texts from the outside; it is well supported from the history itself. Earlier in the history, Samuel tells Saul, “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret” (1 Sam. 15:29). (“Have regret” here is often translated “repent” or “change his mind.”)

Yeah, but we're also told in 1 Sam 15:35, "Yahweh felt regret for having made Saul king over Israel." Why would we be surprised that the text would say God will not lie in one place, and that he will in another? The presumption that a perfectly unified and consistent worldview and ethic governs this entire narrative is misguided, and you're still stuck in the hermeneutic circle. Why do you give 1 Sam 15:29 priority? Why don't you use all the examples of God lying to contextualize 1 Sam 15:29 away from a literal reading? You're favoring the verses that agree with your dogmas and then using them to govern the interpretation of verses that disagree.

In context Samuel is warning Saul that God’s solemn decision to reject Saul as king, which Samuel had just communicated to Saul, was not going to change (see vv. 22-28).

So why not just understand that absoluteness of the statement to extend to that context and go no further? Since we know the rhetorical point of the statement, why do we need to presume that this statement holds beyond that rhetoric context, especially when it conflicts with other statements? Why not acknowledge that it is rhetoric aimed at a specific goal and leave it at that?

Furthermore, if God was literally intent on deceiving Ahab he went about it in a very strange way, since the whole point of Micaiah’s revelation was that the spirit to which Ahab was listening was deceiving him!

I don't think the argument that this can't be literal because it's not very practical is one that can really hold when it comes to Old Testament prophecy.

On the other hand, we must take seriously the fact that the passage in some sense assigns to the LORD a governing role with regard to the spirit’s deceit. The question is what exactly that sense is. In the broader context of the historical books, something bad or harmful is said to be “from the LORD” if he uses it to accomplish his purposes. For example, Rehoboam’s unwise decision not to lighten the people’s burden, as they had asked, “was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (1 Kings 12:15). That is, in God’s sovereign superintendence over the history of Israel, it served his purposes that Rehoboam provoked the people of Israel to rebellion as God’s judicial punishment against Solomon for his idolatry (1 Kings 11:9-13, 29-39). The text certainly does not mean that God spoke to Rehoboam and told him not to lighten the people’s burden so that they would rebel against Reheboam! Nor does it mean that God forced Rehoboam to do so. In some way God orchestrated events so that Rehoboam would bring trouble on himself, fulfilling God’s stated intentions but without God actually causing Rehoboam to do evil.

I think it does indicate God forced it. He influenced events specifically so that a prophecy would come to pass. That explicitly indicates causality.

This sense of judicial punishment fits the contexts of the other “spirits” mentioned earlier, such as the tormenting spirit that came “from the LORD” on Saul. It also fits our passage in 1 Kings 22:19-23, where the lying spirit deceives Ahab into initiating a battle that will bring about his death.

We need to balance, then, the evidence from the historical books that God does not literally deceive people

I see no evidence anywhere in the historical books that God does not deceive people. I see one indication that he's not lying concerning a specific promise. I see in the exact same chapter explicit evidence that God would do exactly what that evidence says he wouldn't do, only he did it outside the purview of that specific promise, so it doesn't really conflict.

with the evidence from the same books that he does in some sense use lying spirits to accomplish his purposes and to execute his judicial punishment of the wicked. This balance requires something stronger than God merely permitting spirits to lie and something weaker than God actually directing or causing spirits to lie. This means that it is probably best to understand the conversation that Micaiah describes between the LORD and the lying spirit not as a report of a literal conversation in heaven but as a story told in ironic fashion conveying to Ahab two truths. First, Ahab was listening to the wrong spirit—literally, he was listening to the wrong prophets. Second, the LORD was using Ahab’s folly in listening to that lying spirit to bring about his downfall.

You're imposing a fallacious interpretive lens on this story in the interest of making it say something other than what it actually says. This is pure eisegesis.

The idea that Micaiah is not claiming to report an actual conversation between God and the spirit may seem far-fetched. Readers of a variety of theological and religious backgrounds may all find this idea at the least surprising and perhaps even odd. One factor that I would suggest may contribute to this perception is the tendency to read the whole Bible as if it were all written in a gravely serious, even solemn tone. This is a mistake; biblical prophets and apostles, and even Christ, could and did use humor, irony, sarcasm, and even scorn. Just a few chapters earlier Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal: “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). We miss something if we think that verses like this one are meant to be read in a serious tone.

Or do we miss something if we simply decide that we can insist any story we don't like is to be understood as irony? We have reasons to conclude that Elijah is mocking. We have no reasons to believe Micaiah is using his vision as a fable. You've decided that a balance needs to take place between two broad and conflicting ethical patterns that you say characterize the entire historical narrative (even though one is found in only one passage that is directly contradicted only six verses later). You've decided that one pattern (namely the one that is attested in only one verse) needs to govern out interpretation of the other. You've decided that the best way to bring this pericope into harmony with that one pattern is by simply assuming it is a fable and that no one else needed to be told not to take it seriously (even though it perfectly fits a common motif). I don't find any of these decisions particularly helpful.

The dominance of the King James Version long after people normally spoke in Elizabethan English has likely exacerbated this tendency among English-speaking readers. We tend to read Micaiah’s story about God’s call for a volunteer to entice Ahab to his death as if the whole passage were meant to be intoned in ultra-pious sentences, read aloud as we might imagine a somber Amish patriarch would read it. It is difficult to overcome this problem or even to illustrate it in writing alone, but try reading aloud the following two versions of the passage:

Put some voice inflection into your reading of the passage, some theater, and you may see what I mean.

In other words, if you make it sound sarcastic, it will sound sarcastic.

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Micaiah’s message to Ahab is inspired and true, expressed in an ironic story. We are probably not to take the story to be a literal transcript of a conversation in heaven, but rather a humorous, barbed story that expresses in colorful fashion God’s message to Ahab: You’re listening to the wrong prophets, and their false message is leading you to the doom I have planned for you.

"But I'm not going to tell you it's a humorous story. I'm going to let you believe it's literal. Since it's for my own purposes, though, I'm not actually deceiving you."

4. “A Lying Spirit in the Mouth of All His Prophets"

The spirit who volunteers to entice Ahab into the battle that will result in his death says that he will do this by being “a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets” (v. 22; repeated in v. 23). If we are to interpret all of the bodily language of the passage literally, this statement, which appears twice in the short passage, poses something of a problem. Will the spirit literally be located “in the mouth of all his prophets”? How will the spirit accomplish this? Will the spirit flit from one false prophet to another so that it can take up residence temporarily in each one, long enough to inspire him to speak the lie to Ahab before jumping into the mouth of the next one?

So you're going to argue that if a vision is meant to be understood as a description of an actual event, there can be no colloquialisms in it?

What we see in this passage is that a single spirit is able to “inspire” prophecies (in this case, false prophecies) through multiple individuals. In fact, according to the account earlier in the chapter, these false prophets were inspired to give this false prophecy at the same time:

“Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, ‘Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?’ And they said, ‘Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king’” (1 Kings 22:6).

Micaiah’s message to Ahab in verses 19-23 is a comment, truly inspired by the LORD, on this incident involving the four hundred prophets. Ahab gathered the four hundred together and asked them if he should go to battle against Ramoth-gilead. All four hundred were evidently inspired by the one lying spirit to give the same lying answer assuring Ahab that the Lord would give him victory.

Once we understand this, we can clearly rule out taking the words “in the mouth of all his prophets” literally to mean that the lying spirit became bodily located in the prophets’ mouths.

I don't think understanding that colloquialism literally was ever in danger of being ruled in.

A single embodied spirit cannot become bodily located within four hundred different bodies, each with its own separate location, at the same time. By “cannot” here I mean such a statement is incoherent because it is self-contradictory. Hypothetically, if a spirit is an embodied entity that occupies a specific location in space, it can possess at most only one human body at a time, and it can temporarily enter into at most one such physical body at a time. But the lying spirit was “in the mouth of” four hundred men at the same time! Evidently, we cannot take this language literally as referring to the spirit having a specific location.

No, we just can't understand it as referring to the spirit actually physically hunkering down inside someone's mouth. There's nothing in the notion of a spirit's physical form that precludes its ability to inspire multiple prophets at the same time.

But if we cannot take the locational statement in verses 22 and 23 literally, this suggests that locational statements about the spirit should in general not be taken literally.

In other words, because one statement is figurative, all statements are figurative. I don't find that particularly convincing. This is kinda like saying that because the Bible speaks in a few places of God's wings, in all the places it speaks of his physical form it is equally metaphorical. We might as well conclude that because Ps 139:9 says the morning has wings, any and all qualities attributed to the morning are metaphorical.

Summary and Conclusion

I have drawn attention to four elements of the text of 1 Kings 22:19-23, read in the immediate context and in the broader context of the Israelite history in Joshua through 2 Kings:

  1. The LORD is said to have been seated on his throne (v. 19), but the reader has learned earlier that the LORD is an immense and/or transcendent being who cannot be contained even within the highest of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27).
And one must assume that the "highest of the heavens" means all space occupied by mortal or divine beings, which directly conflict with ancient Near Eastern cosmology.
The reference to the spirit beings in the LORD’s presence as the “host of heaven” uses language that normally refers to the stars and other astronomical bodies, which cannot be the literal reference or meaning here.
And it is also quite frequently used to refer to anthropomorphic beings. You tried to marginalize that part by insisting it was not all that common, as if that means it can't be the situation here.
Furthermore, these spirits are depicted as the heavenly host or army, gathered in military formation on either side of the King’s throne, even though no literal battle involving these spirits is envisioned in the passage.
And you're simply completely mistaken about a military formation.
The story that Micaiah tells Ahab about a conversation between the LORD and one of his spirits planning for Ahab to be incited to go to battle against Ramoth-gilead should probably not be taken literally.
As long as you have reason to not want to take it literally.
It is unlikely that Micaiah is claiming to have heard a literal conversation between the LORD and a spirit planning Ahab’s deception (I gave several reasons for this view).
And I showed why those reasons aren't adequate for this conclusion.
The statement that the spirit became “a lying spirit in the mouth of” Ahab’s four hundred prophets cannot be taken literally to mean that a single embodied being of spirit inhabited the mouths or bodies of four hundred men simultaneously.
There's no reason to think it should be taken literally.

These four considerations lead me to conclude that Micaiah’s story about the spirit that “stood before the LORD” and “spoke” to him does not mean or imply that the spirit was an embodied entity with legs and feet as well as a mouth. This “spirit” is said to have “stood before” a Deity who transcends the largest and highest heaven, is pictured figuratively as a member of that Deity’s heavenly army volunteering for duty across enemy lines, and is able to influence the minds of hundreds of men simultaneously to give false prophecies. Understood in this way, the passage seems to support the conclusion that the spirit is an incorporeal entity.

I disagree entirely. I think you're trying to find a way to make the text say what you want it to say. The fact that you're arguing we need to force a particular text into an ethical balance with a much broader narrative is quite clear evidence of this. As I've shown before, the text of Kings is quite fragmented. I've yet to have anyone directly engage the three different and conflicting versions of Sennacherib's siege on Jerusalem, or the fact that Saul knew who David and his father were in one chapter and then had no idea who they were in the chronological subsequent next chapter. I don't think the narrative unity of any portion of the historical books can simply be assumed in light of that, much less that of the entire collection. The fact that your one proof text for the notion that God will not lie makes another absolute assertion that is directly contradicted six verses later also problematizes the notion that we need to have all these concepts work in harmony with each other. It also makes it pretty difficult to assert that the governing principle is that God will not lie when the overwhelming majority of the stories show just the opposite.

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There are two answers to your post.

  1. To prove LDS doctrine of spirits wrong or unbiblical, you need to show that the Bible expressly contradicts it; not that it does not explicitly teach it. The Bible does not explicitly teach quantum mechanics either; but neither does it contradict it. You can’t therefore use that argument to claim that quantum mechanics is unbiblical. We don’t claim that our theology is derived exclusively from the Bible; but we do claim that it is not contradicted by the Bible. If you want to prove that our theology is unbiblical, you need to show that the Bible contradicts it; not that it does not explicitly teach it.
  2. Your biblical exegesis is for the most part flawed for the following reasons:

Summary and Conclusion

I have drawn attention to four elements of the text of 1 Kings 22:19-23, read in the immediate context and in the broader context of the Israelite history in Joshua through 2 Kings:

1. The LORD is said to have been seated on his throne (v. 19), but the reader has learned earlier that the LORD is an immense and/or transcendent being who cannot be contained even within the highest of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27).

Solomon’s exclamation was an expression of humility before the Lord, to avoid giving the impression that he had done God some favor for building Him a house here on earth. God is indeed greater than any temple or house (however grand and opulent) that man can build for Him, that is true; but that does not mean that He is physically larger. It means that He is greater in power, glory, majesty, and dominion. As for God’s being able to sit physically in a throne, there is further evidence that supports it:

Isaiah 6
:

1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and
his train filled the temple
.

There is no indication here that this scripture is figurative. On the contrary, the details presented suggest otherwise. “Train” refers to the hem of His garments. In other words, God was attired in kingly robes; and that is how Isaiah saw Him. There are no legitimate grounds for interpreting that observation other than literally.

2. The reference to the spirit beings in the LORD’s presence as the “host of heaven” uses language that normally refers to the stars and other astronomical bodies, which cannot be the literal reference or meaning here. Furthermore, these spirits are depicted as the heavenly host or army, gathered in military formation on either side of the King’s throne, even though no literal battle involving these spirits is envisioned in the passage.

The basic rule of sound and reasonable exegesis requires that you look at the immediate context before looking further afield. You are “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel”. The immediate context makes it clear that by the “hosts of heaven” is meant the intelligent beings who consort and associate with God in heaven, or those of them who were gathered around Him on that occasion. Who they are and what function they perform are irrelevant. The Lord is counselling with them what to do to deceive Ahab. Each gives an opinion; and God chooses one opinion above the rest. You are making a mountain out of a molehill with this one. There is no reason to understand this passage other than the way it is presented in context.

3. The story that Micaiah tells Ahab about a conversation between the LORD and one of his spirits planning for Ahab to be incited to go to battle against Ramoth-gilead should probably not be taken literally. It is unlikely that Micaiah is claiming to have heard a literal conversation between the LORD and a spirit planning Ahab’s deception (I gave several reasons for this view).

If your views on that is correct, then Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6 should present a big problem for you. But there is nothing in the context to suggest that the events did not happen as it says it did. All spirits, good and evil, are God’s creations, therefore they are His servants and agents, therefore God uses them for whatever purpose He chooses. He allows evil spirits to deceive the wicked (who are willing to hearken to evil spirits) to deceive them. Satan is able to deceive us by God’s permission. He couldn’t do it if God didn’t allow him to. The same applies to all evil spirits.

4. The statement that the spirit became “a lying spirit in the mouth of” Ahab’s four hundred prophets cannot be taken literally to mean that a single embodied being of spirit inhabited the mouths or bodies of four hundred men simultaneously.

That seems a non-issue. I don’t see problem there. A spirit may typically have the power to inspire or influence more than one person at the same time. We know that Satan can influence more than one person at the same time. So I don’t see where you are going with that one.

Edited by zerinus

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maklelan,

I wondered if this topic would get your interest. Say, have you seen my thread on the Mormon use of the Alphabet of Rabbi Akiva? You might want to take a look at it, since I specifically critique a statement you made about it.

Regarding my citation of 1 Kings 8:27, you wrote:

This is the hermeneutic circle, though. You're saying we have to take this text literally to show that the other cannot be taken literally. Why not take the other literally to show that this one shouldn't be taken literally? There's no rule saying they have to both be taken one way or the other.

Actually, there is such a rule. It is the hermeneutical principle of differentiating between using stock imagery or language of the culture and making a direct affirmation or assertion. Here's an illustration of the difference. If I say, "The sun rose at 7:20 am today," my use of the term "rose" is stock cultural language and implies nothing about the relative motions of the earth and the sun--even though that language originated from a time when people believed that the sun literally moved around the earth. On the other hand, if I state, "The earth rotates on its axis approximately once every 24 hours," that is an assertion about the nature of the earth's motion.

In the case of 1 Kings 22:19, we do not have an assertion or affirmation about the nature of God, whereas we do have one in 1 Kings 8:27. That is, in 22:19, Micaiah refers to Yahweh seated on his throne, but makes no assertion about the nature of Yahweh. He doesn't say anything like, "Yahweh is a being that looks just like a man, and he sits on a throne in a realm outside the heavens." The description of Yahweh sitting on his throne with his army on either side of him uses stock religious imagery but makes no statement, assertion, or affirmation about what this language means. In 8:27, on the other hand, Solomon makes a direct statement that asserts or affirms something about the nature of Yahweh. He observes that although he has just built a huge house for Yahweh, the reality is that Yahweh cannot literally live in that house, because not only can that house not contain Yahweh but even the heavens and the highest heaven cannot contain him. Hermeneutically, we must allow the explicit statement of 8:27 to guide our understanding of 22:19 rather than the other way around.

You wrote:

On the other hand, Micaiah does not describe an event necessarily located on earth or even in heaven. Taking into consideration the cosmology of this time period, it would be best to understand this convening of the divine council as taking place above the heavens.

I would like to see some clear evidence that in Israelite cosmology there is a realm above even the highest heaven. I realize that you claimed Isaiah 66:1 as such a reference, but I disagree: see below.

You wrote:

The statement from 1 Kgs 8:27 reflects the view that God is so much bigger than the earth and the heavens. In Isa 66:1, from much later, we read that heaven is God's throne and the earth his footstool. If we take this literally (it would fit nicely with a literal reading of 1 Kgs 8:27) then it just means God is bigger than heaven and earth.

It is, frankly, impossible to take Isaiah 66:1 "literally." The text does not mean that Yahweh literally has his feet propped up on the earth! Nor is heaven, by anyone's reasoning so far as I know, a literal chair. I have yet to meet anyone who will defend the statement as literal once these difficulties are pointed out.

I know this doesn't matter to you, but other Mormons here might be curious to know how the conclusion that Yahweh is bigger than heaven and earth is compatible with the First Vision (for example).

You wrote:

This also makes it clear that "heaven and earth" does not represent all the physical universe in the Israelite cosmology. It is just a small portion of the divine realm. If we insist this is just rhetoric, then why not rhetoric in 1 Kgs 8:27?

I have explained above why Solomon's statement in 1 Kings 8:27 is not merely rhetoric and why it should be regarded as affirming something about the nature of Yahweh: because it is making an affirmation about the nature of Yahweh! I have also explained above why Isaiah 66:1 cannot be taken literally.

You wrote:

The fact that Micaiah is describing a vision makes that, of the three texts, the most likely to represent a physical reality in the Israelite worldview.

In my opinion, the considerations I have given lead to a different conclusion.

You wrote:

This doesn't really fit with the Israelite cosmology. It just means the heavens and the earth are not big enough. God was thought to dwell primarily outside of the closed system that is the heavens and the earth. The host of heaven dwelled in the heavens, but they would come before God's throne, which was beyond the heavens. The heavens were most commonly thought of as a solid dome upon which the waters of heaven were suspended. The dome above the waters was the heaven of heavens. God's throne was beyond that. The event of this vision would have been thought of as taking place outside the heavens and the earth.

I've already asked for evidence that this was the common Israelite cosmology. Your statement that God's throne was beyond the heavens is not literally compatible with Isaiah 66:1, which says (translating woodenly) that "the heavens [are] my throne."

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As far as taking Micaiah's vision literally as support for a Mormon view of spirits as embodied beings, it might also be worth mentioning that Joseph Smith made the following statement:

"Spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire and glory. Angels have advanced further, their light and glory being tabernacled; and hence they appear in bodily shape" (TPJS, 325).

Since Micaiah refers to the entity as a "spirit" it would seem that according to Joseph Smith's distinction Micaiah could not have literally seen him in bodily shape. If one considers getting around this problem by saying that Micaiah was having a vision, not seeing something with his physical eyes, this simply acknowledges through the back door that Micaiah did not literally see the spirit.

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In an earlier thread, Wade suggested that there is evidence that spirits have bodies in 1 Kings 22:21, where a particular spirit is said to have “stood” (implying legs and feet) “before the LORD” (implying spatial locations for both the spirit and the LORD), and to have “said” something to the LORD (implying a mouth).

<snip>

  1. The LORD is said to have been seated on his throne (v. 19), but the reader has learned earlier that the LORD is an immense and/or transcendent being who cannot be contained even within the highest of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27).
  2. The reference to the spirit beings in the LORD’s presence as the “host of heaven” uses language that normally refers to the stars and other astronomical bodies, which cannot be the literal reference or meaning here. Furthermore, these spirits are depicted as the heavenly host or army, gathered in military formation on either side of the King’s throne, even though no literal battle involving these spirits is envisioned in the passage.
  3. The story that Micaiah tells Ahab about a conversation between the LORD and one of his spirits planning for Ahab to be incited to go to battle against Ramoth-gilead should probably not be taken literally. It is unlikely that Micaiah is claiming to have heard a literal conversation between the LORD and a spirit planning Ahab’s deception (I gave several reasons for this view).
  4. The statement that the spirit became “a lying spirit in the mouth of” Ahab’s four hundred prophets cannot be taken literally to mean that a single embodied being of spirit inhabited the mouths or bodies of four hundred men simultaneously.

Here’s my take; and maybe some of this was brought up in the earlier thread:

RE: 1: Instead, I think this means that anything we do (like build temples) to bring us closer to God, or anything God commands us to do to get closer to Him, is for Him to help and define us, not for us to help or define Him. This is one reason the Tower of Babel was such an abomination—it was to get what He has, without Him. His influence cannot be contained, and when people attempt to do so by living contrary to His Gospel, they fail to honor and be molded by Him as He has defined.

RE: 2: Most things the prophets see carry both symbolic and literal, spiritual and temporal, meaning. The spirits are as real as the planets that may be used to represent them. The army is fighting a literal war against evil spirits and the evil they engender.

RE: 3 & 4: Even the translated Bible uses more than one meaning of the word “spirit” (a person’s “ghost”; a person’s life or character; divine or supernatural power or influence; a person’s mood). Most things the prophets say carry both symbolic and literal meaning. A “ghost” can lead the charge for engendering a certain spirit (character, power or mood, etc.).

Your conclusions may be reasonable to a degree, but we each espouse those that are more reasonable to us.

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"Spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire and glory. Angels have advanced further, their light and glory being tabernacled; and hence they appear in bodily shape" (TPJS, 325).

This means that spirits are "clothed" with flaming fire and glory to reveal their forms, but resurrected angels are "clothed' with a tabernacle (human body) to reveal theirs. "Bodily shape" refers to the shape being manisfest by means of the physical body, and not by the spiritual or spirit body (with its attendant light and glory) alone.

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As far as taking Micaiah's vision literally as support for a Mormon view of spirits as embodied beings, it might also be worth mentioning that Joseph Smith made the following statement:

"Spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire and glory. Angels have advanced further, their light and glory being tabernacled; and hence they appear in bodily shape" (TPJS, 325).

Joseph meant the (bodily) forms of spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire and glory, whereas the spirits of angels, which also appear in bodily shape, aren't limited to appearing in only flaming fire and glory.

You should ask yourself (and God) how a person/being of "glory" would appear, realizing the person/being would have to appear in some kind of form for you to be able to see him/her.

Since Micaiah refers to the entity as a "spirit" it would seem that according to Joseph Smith's distinction Micaiah could not have literally seen him in bodily shape.

Notice how you preface your conclusion with the phrase "it would seem" and then realize you're drawing the wrong conclusion by not correctly understanding what Joseph meant.

That's what reasonable conclusions can sometimes lead to, even though your conclusion is reasonable as well as logical, and that's why you need something more than reason and logic to be able to arrive at the correct understanding.

If one considers getting around this problem by saying that Micaiah was having a vision, not seeing something with his physical eyes, this simply acknowledges through the back door that Micaiah did not literally see the spirit.

N/A

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Hi Rob,

I thank you for offering your reasoning for viewing the passage in question differently than I do. What you say makes good sense in its own right.

However, as others have astutely pointed out, the context doesn't necessitate your reasoning. There are other reasonable ways to interpret the passage in context.

At this time I don't have much more to offer in response than what has already been said, though I wish to present for consideration a reasonable way to reconcile a literal reading of both 1 Kings 22:19 and 1 Kings 8:27, and this in addition the one offered by maklelan.

The question is, can something have a body, with finite size and shape, yet also fill the universe? Or, in other words, can God have a body that sits upon the throne, yet the heavens and highest heavens cannot contain him?

To answer this question, let's use the metaphor of the Sun. Isn't the sun a heavenly body of relatively limited size and shape, and yet it also fills the universe?

I believe it is. And, I view God in similar terms: He has a spiritual body, which the physical bodies of man are made in the image and likeness thereof, and yet his spirit light radiates from him to fill the universe. As such, to my way of thinking, God can literally sit upon his thrown, and, without contradiction, the heavens and highest heavens cannot contain him.

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

Edited by wenglund

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Such a broad variety of possible interpretations! Thank goodness for the Gift of the Holy Ghost and Latter-day Revelation to accompany the scriptures.

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As far as taking Micaiah's vision literally as support for a Mormon view of spirits as embodied beings, it might also be worth mentioning that Joseph Smith made the following statement:

"Spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire and glory. Angels have advanced further, their light and glory being tabernacled; and hence they appear in bodily shape" (TPJS, 325).

Since Micaiah refers to the entity as a "spirit" it would seem that according to Joseph Smith's distinction Micaiah could not have literally seen him in bodily shape. If one considers getting around this problem by saying that Micaiah was having a vision, not seeing something with his physical eyes, this simply acknowledges through the back door that Micaiah did not literally see the spirit.

In addition to what has already been said, it is important to note that the quote from Joseph above was not a statement about spirits personages in general, but specifically about the "spirits of just men made perfect" (i.e. resurrected beings), as contrasted with angels (which consist of pre-mortal spirit personages, mortal personages, and post-mortal, though ore-resurrection, spirit personages).

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

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Such a broad variety of possible interpretations! Thank goodness for the Gift of the Holy Ghost and Latter-day Revelation to accompany the scriptures.

My sentiments exactly! [thumbs up]

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

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Your biblical exegesis is for the most part flawed for the following reasons:

Merely using exegesis contradicts the Bible. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

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It looks like another instance where Bowman "knew" the answer before he started and asserts only the view that will support his conclusion and dismiss everything that doesn't.

Exactly. Another waste of time.

Question-begging from word 1.

Just like the Bible is true because it proves itself to be true. :blink:

He is here to collect counter-arguments so he can scuttle away to his little website and create more straw men to knock down by misquoting what he has collected here.

It's no mystery.

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technical error

Edited by mfbukowski

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As far as taking Micaiah's vision literally as support for a Mormon view of spirits as embodied beings, it might also be worth mentioning that Joseph Smith made the following statement:

"Spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire and glory. Angels have advanced further, their light and glory being tabernacled; and hence they appear in bodily shape" (TPJS, 325).

Since Micaiah refers to the entity as a "spirit" it would seem that according to Joseph Smith's distinction Micaiah could not have literally seen him in bodily shape. If one considers getting around this problem by saying that Micaiah was having a vision, not seeing something with his physical eyes, this simply acknowledges through the back door that Micaiah did not literally see the spirit.

Joseph Smith also said this:

D&C 129:6
"If he [a ministering spirit] be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will
come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear

What Joseph Smith calls "in flaming fire and glory" in your quote, is the same as what he calls "in his glory" in the above quote. He is contrasting the appearance of a ministering angel (i.e. a resurrected servant of the Lord) with that of a ministering spirit, i.e. a righteous spirit who has not yet been resurrected. What he is saying is that whereas the former can appear in a physical, tangible form, that can be touched experienced physically; the latter, because he does not have such physical component which we can physically relate to or experience, can manifest himself to us by means of his "glory" (which he likens to "fire" in your quote). In other words, "fire" is used as a metaphor for the "glory" with which such a righteous spirit can make himself manifest or visible to us. It doesn't mean that spirits are literally made of fire, or that they are shapeless or incorporeal in their sphere of existence.

Edited by zerinus

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Merely using exegesis contradicts the Bible. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

I think you misunderstand 2 Peter 1:19-21. "Scripture exegesis" is not the same as "private interpretation". In the book of Acts we read of someone named "Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, . . ." (Acts 18:24). In modern revelation the Lord has counselled:

D&C 71
:

7 Wherefore, confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and in private; and inasmuch as ye are faithful their shame shall be made manifest.

8 Wherefore, let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord.

There is a rightful place in the gospel of Jesus Christ for scripture exegesis based on sound understanding of scriptures.

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The problem of interpretation is know when something is metaphorical, and when it is actual.

For example, Christ declared that a man and woman would become "one flesh". The interpretation is obvious since we can observe the reality, but when we are talking about the unseen God, whether God sits on a throne, confined to a specific space, or not. Whether we are literally created in His image, or not.

Clearly we need a living prophet to give us guidance where the wisdom of man fails us. We all appreciate that Rob shares his time and thoughts on this matter, but he is limited by using only a portion of the word of God and the use of his natural abilities without the use of the spirit of revelation.

Edited by cdowis

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Im not sure if these have been added yet but...

Isaiah 6:5

5 ¶Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

Amos 9:1

1 I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.

You know Im pretty sure that every Prophet in the OT has seen the Lord. Kind of like Joseph Smith!

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This doesn't really fit with the Israelite cosmology. It just means the heavens and the earth are not big enough. God was thought to dwell primarily outside of the closed system that is the heavens and the earth. The host of heaven dwelled in the heavens, but they would come before God's throne, which was beyond the heavens. The heavens were most commonly thought of as a solid dome upon which the waters of heaven were suspended. The dome above the waters was the heaven of heavens. God's throne was beyond that. The event of this vision would have been thought of as taking place outside the heavens and the earth.

What Mak is saying is illustrated perfectly... in thewse verses...

Deuteronomy 10:14

14 Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is.

Psalms 148:4

4 Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.

Psalms 115:16

16 The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.

Hmmm.. that last Psalm contradicts the Deuteronomy verse.

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