A Symphony of Sycophants

It was 852 BC. The kingdom of Israel had been divided for eighty years. In the North, King Ahab was in his 22nd year of rule. In the South, King Jehoshaphat had reigned in Judah for 21 years. A land dispute led Ahab to ask Jehoshaphat to ally with him in a fight against Aram (east of the Jordan). Jehoshaphat responded, “Please inquire first for the word of the Lord.” (1 Kings 22:5).

Kings back then were surrounded by prophets. Ahab’s wife Jezebel came to Israel with a gaggle of pagan prophets serving Baal and Asherah. She slaughtered so many prophets of Yahweh that Elijah thought he was the only one left, even after he presided over Yahweh’s huge victory on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). Actually, there were still 7,000 prophets who had not bowed to Baal (19:18). Later, in 852 BC, the good king Jehoshaphat was seeking the word of Yahweh’s prophets.

Small problem: the vast majority of prophets in that day, regardless of their stripe, were sycophants—fawning parasites swarming around royalty for personal security. Elijah had been a bold exception to this norm but he was apparently out of pocket. So, a lesser known prophet named Micaiah stepped up in 852 BC to be the exception.

Ahab set the stage carefully. He rounded up 400 puppet prophets at the threshing floor near the town gate. Both kings were adorned in royal robes, sitting on their thrones and surrounded by a huge throng of Ahab’s sycophants. All the accoutrements for intimidation were in place.

Like a proverbial choir, the prophets unanimously sang, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” (22:6). Zedekiah the sycophant stepped up with a dog and pony show to re-enforce the message of the ‘yes men.’ To impress Ahab who was trying to impress Jehoshaphat, Zedekiah put on “horns of iron” to dramatize the future goring of the Arameans (22:11). Imagine the cheers.

Jehoshaphat was not impressed. He asked if there was another prophet of Yahweh besides these hand-picked poodles. Ahab admitted there was, but he hated this negative nay-sayer. Yet he sent for him upon Jehoshaphat’s request. Even the un-named messenger who summoned this unpopular prophet played his politically correct (PC) part. He gave Micaiah some “friendly” advice: “Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king. Please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” (22:13).

PC intimidation occurs at all levels, from top to bottom. The intimidated often pass it along. That’s how corruption controls a culture. “Go along to get along!” “Don’t make waves.” “Forget truth and follow the money.” “Settle!” “Everyone else is doing it.”

In a world of pretense, Micaiah responded, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I shall speak.” (22: 14). The plot takes some strange and sarcastic twists from there but Micaiah stood out as the exception. It does not end well for Ahab.

Nine centuries later, Jerusalem welcomed Jesus to town with shouts of “Hosanna,” but were soon intimidated into shouting “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:14). When Pilate asked the chief priests, “Shall I crucify your King?”, they answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15). They sold themselves to servile political correctness.

Today (2015), the media are the main enforcers. When they spin a false narrative, as in the Michael Brown tragedy, they heap scorn on those who think for themselves. Those who supported the false “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative used intimidation to keep dissenters in the closet. No one wants to be accused of racist motives.

Some PC Americans are even upset that I used the initials “BC” in this article.

Christians are called to be the exception. Faithful bakers, florists, photographers, chaplains, clergy and more face a rising pressure help celebrate (not just tolerate) same-sex marriage under the intimidation of lawyers and the force of law. Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, recently signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act to provide reasonable protection for people of faith regardless of color or ethnicity. Outraged homosexual militants are putting all their powers of phony scorn and intimidation into play. “Boycott Indiana” is their mantra. Shockingly, politicians who recently supported such laws are suddenly feigning outrage. The NCAA, Angie’s List, the CEO of Apple and many other sycophants are clamoring to undermine the most basic human right of all—the right of conscience. Many will cave.

Is your faith for sale? Is your freedom cheap? In 852 BC, a politically incorrect prophet defied intimidation saying, “As the LORD lives…” (22: 14) and stood firm. Of course, if you think God is dead, go ahead and sell out.

Undaunted Bravery in the Bible

Besides being Bible characters, what do Pharaoh, Joshua, Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Jehoshaphat, Ahab, Jezebel, Jehoram, Jehu, Joash, Hezekiah, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazar, Darius, Caesar, Xerxes, Herod, Antipas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Cornelius, Felix, Festus and Agrippa have in common?

    Give up? This is a short list of political rulers or public officials in the Bible who were directly confronted or counseled by great men and women of God. Many of them got their personal morality challenged.

What do Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, Shemaiah, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah-son of Jehoiada, Daniel, Esther, Jesus, John the Baptist, Stephen, Peter and Paul have in common?

    Answer: They are among the many Bible heroes who confronted or served political rulers or public officials. Many suffered for their courage and some were slain by political authorities.

Honor is owed to such humble heroes as Job, Hannah, Ruth, Mary, Timothy, Titus and countless others who bravely performed less public roles. But when I hear people say that Christian leaders should avoid public moral and political conflict, I wonder if they have read the Bible. Here are a few agents of truth God inspired to confront moral and/or political concerns, often at great cost:


    confronted Pharaoh, the most powerful politician on earth, under God’s charge to boldly demand, “Let my people go!” (Exodus 8:1).


    bravely called King David on the carpet for his adultery, deception and conspiracy to rub out the loyal husband of the woman David impregnated (2 Samuel 12). David could have rubbed Nathan out for confronting him with the truth but Nathan didn’t care. He did his job undaunted.

    King Hezekiah,

    with Isaiah’s counsel and much prayer, held firm under the threat of a huge Assyrian army whose general tried to undermine Hezekiah’s confidence and break down the morale of the last remaining Israelites (Isaiah 36-38).


    bluntly confronted King Ahab three times, and King Ahaziah and Jehoram at least once. Each confrontation carried serious condemnation for the evil influence each king put into play with their political power.

    Queen Esther

    bravely confronted King Xerxes (her husband) knowing that it would put her life on the line. She said, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). She took the necessary political steps to reveal Haman’s evil plot to destroy her people. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, also boldly refused to bow down to the haughty politician Haman (Esther 2:3).


    showed moral courage as a man of God throughout his public service in the Babylonian political court. When the Medo-Persians rose to power, he became a top Persian politician and administrator. His competence in this governmental role inspired the jealousy of his fellow administrators who managed to get Daniel thrown to the lions (Daniel 6).

    Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego

    bravely defied King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow down and worship a golden image in Babylon (Daniel 3). Trusting in God, they enraged the king so much he had them thrown into a fiery furnace.

    Nehemiah and Ezra’s

    teamwork illustrates the political nature of religious leadership in Bible times. Both governor and priest were outraged that previous kings, leaders, and priests had not kept God’s law (Nehemiah 9:34).

    God’s Prophets:

    The list would seem endless if I illustrated the political courage of all the prophets who proclaimed God’s word in rebellious and wicked times, challenging public sin and sin-pushers.

    John the Baptist

    fearlessly blasted Herod Antipas for stealing his brother’s wife, and for “all the wicked things which Herod had done.” (Luke 3:19). For his undaunted bravery, John lost his head.


    described his generation as “evil and adulterous” (Matthew 12:39 and 16:4). Yet, he wept with compassion for them (Luke 19:41-42). He engaged in local political conflict by standing up to the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees in his theocratic culture. Jesus defined marriage as a union God joins together as two (male and female) becoming one flesh (Matthew 19:5-6) and commented on controversies related to divorce laws. Moral and political conflict was a huge component of Jesus’ earthly ministry and it got him killed.


    had the moral courage, while on trial in the face of false witnesses, to boldly confront the Sanhedrin, the center of local political and religious power and they killed him (Acts 7).


    boldly charged audiences in Jerusalem with putting the Lord Jesus to death (Acts 2:35; 3:14-15; and 5:31) and boldly disobeyed strict orders from local religious politicians (the Sanhedrin) to stop. He explained, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29).


    faced tremendous pressure to back down from his faith but never did. A Pharisee turned missionary, he confronted a hostile Sanhedrin and a high priest described as “the ruler” of the people (Acts 23:5). As a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), he went on to confront a Roman procurator named Felix with the gospel. Then, he stood before the Roman governor Festus and found it necessary to appeal to Caesar Himself (Acts 25:11). Paul also worked to raise funds to relive poverty. Later, he advised Timothy to pray for kings and all who are in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2).


Jesus identified His followers as “salt” because he expected them to be sprinkled into the mix of real life on earth, including arenas involving art, culture, entertainment and politics. The gospel is not primarily political but it should be brought to bear for the good in any human realm, public and private. Political conflict may not be your calling but it is biblical.

A Fool and His Folly

    “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs,
    Rather than a fool in his folly.”
    (Proverbs 17:12)

Watch out! On April 1st, practical jokes, pranks, hoaxes and playful lies will spike. It’s not a day for excessive trust. Maybe I should go for a hike that day–in bear country!

The origins for April Fools’ Day go back beyond reliable tracing. The roots for foolishness go back even farther. The Bible portrays foolishness in deadly serious terms. Proverbs indicates that fools despise wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), have “lying lips” (17:7), and refuse to turn from evil (13:19). Elsewhere, we read, “Anger resides in the bosom of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Finally, “the complacency of fools will destroy them.” (Proverbs 1:32).

Are you complacent?

But isn’t there a place for a little foolish fun? One famous April Fool hoax took place in a BBS television show on April 1, 1957, which reported a bumper spaghetti crop being harvested from Swiss spaghetti trees. The dreaded “spaghetti weevil” bug had finally been eradicated, or so they said. In 1962, a Swedish broadcast claimed that a nylon stocking over a TV screen would make the picture come through in color. Their in-depth explanation of the physics behind this phenomenon fooled thousands. Ha!

In 1511, a brilliant scholar in Northern Europe named Erasmus published a book titled, The Praise of Folly. In it, he recognized both the pleasure and the peril in foolishness. Pouring on the irony, Folly (the main character) praises herself constantly, thinking she is indispensable. Her self-praise leads to self-deception which is the highest form of folly—and the most dangerous. In short, fun is fine but it does not hold a candle to truth.

Let’s get serious. With the advent of the internet, readily shows, and entertainment news, it seems like every day is April 1st in America today. The blogosphere is full of baloney. Journalists and candidates invent heroic biographies. Some pretend to be minorities claiming the benefits that come with that status. Protesters often riot on false pretenses. E-mail scams, identity theft, media hoaxes, doctored photos, fake videos, false advertisements, phony phone calls, politician promises, and get-rich-quick schemes are just a few of the pot-holes that litter our cultural highway today. And they work like charms.

The ancient Greeks and Romans saw seriousness as a high virtue. The Greeks called it, semnos. In Latin, it’s gravitas. In both classic cultures, it was a virtue to be august, dignified, respectful and serious. The apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to be “semnos” (1 Timothy 2:2) and told him that any elders and deacons he might appoint in the church should be men of “semnos” (1 Timothy 3:4 and 3:8). An early Christian theologian, Clement of Alexandra (150 – 215 AD), defined gravitas as “a life turned toward the divine.”

Today, there seems to be as little semnos or gravitas as there is shame. Just turn on a TV. Much of our popular culture is designed to fool you into ignoring the serious side of life. Focus only on fun and Jesus’ central message of repentance and forgiveness will be lost on you. And you will be seriously lost.

God’s word teaches; “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Just don’t laugh at other people’s expense. A well-timed silly side is important. But at all times, whether weeping or laughing, apply wisdom. Beware of lovely liars, funny fools, slick charmers, hustlers, seducers, and snake-oil peddlers. Your chances are better with a mama bear in the wild.

So, have fun on April Fools’ Day but don’t live an April Fool’s life. The consequences of foolishness are hard to bear.

(Adventures in Answered Prayers)

Have you noticed how delicious hot food can be in a cold wilderness? Surrounded by the wonders of nature, famished from the long hike, and tired from setting up camp, it hardly matters what kind of food you have. It’s all good!

The ancient Israelites, wandering through the Sinai desert for forty years, may have felt this way too… for a few days, weeks or months. But for the most part, praise for the food was seldom heard. Bitter complaining was the norm.


The journey to the Promised Land was no walk in the park. God had given the Israelites their freedom and marching orders (the Ten Commandments) but these gifts came with much adversity. Disgusted with the manna God provided in the wilderness, they longed for the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they ate in Egypt. They whined: “If only we had meat to eat!” So their leader, Moses, carried their complaints, and his, to God in prayer. His mission had become too heavy to bear. His self-pity was running amuck. He wanted out! He brazenly prayed for his own death: “So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:15).

God responded with so much meat that it was, as it were, coming “out of their nostrils” (11:20). To cut to the chase, God said, “no” to Moses and pointed him back to his mission as a leader.


Elijah had just seen God dramatically respond to his prayer to reveal Himself on Mt. Carmel. But there was no victory celebration or ministry appreciation awards for Elijah. Instead, he ran for his life to escape the wrath of his furious queen Jezebel. His life felt worse than worthless. Deep in depression, Elijah irrationally wanted for himself exactly what Jezebel wanted for him: death! Under a juniper tree, he prayed: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4).

Full of self-pity and feeling all alone, Elijah fell asleep and woke up to hear an angel say, “Arise and eat.” A wilderness meal of bread cake on hot stones was there (19:6). It must have been delicious! It also nourished Elijah for a 40-day journey ahead. So God said “no” to Elijah’s death plea and sent him on to further challenges.


Jonah fits this depressing pattern. After running away from his God-given mission, Jonah got with the program and successfully called Nineveh to repent. Instead of rejoicing, he pouted so much that he prayed, “O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” (Jonah 4:3). But instead of killing Jonah, God challenged his right to be angry. This preacher of repentance needed to repent.


Job’s prayers were filled with “whys.” Suffering huge losses for reasons unknown to him, he begged God to crush him and cut him off (Job 6:9). He loathed his life and longed for “Death rather than my pains.” (Job 7:15). But God essentially said “no” and retuned to Job twofold of what he had lost (42:10).


The prophet Jeremiah got sick and tired of being a “laughing-stock” (Jeremiah 20:7) and cursed the day of his birth (20:14). Yet, in all his despair, he did not shrink from His God-given mission to proclaim the judgments and mercies of the Lord.


Then there was Jesus. When he came to his great moment of desperation, he prayed in such agony that “his sweat became like drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44). But unlike Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Job and Jeremiah (a venerable hall of fame for men of prayer), Jesus knelt down alone on the Mount of Olives with death looming and prayed that He might actually live: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Once again, God answered, “no.” Like Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Job and Jeremiah, God had a mission for Jesus. They all lived to accomplish theirs but Jesus died to accomplish His, providing the only path possible to the forgiveness of our sins forever.

Let’s be like the greatest men of prayer ever and learn to take “no” for an answer.

Goody Two-Shoes

I wear two shoes everywhere I go, except to bed. Be thankful–my feet are ugly.

I also try to be good. With God’s help, sometimes I may actually come close. Does that make me a “goody two-shoes?”

In 1765, an anonymous children’s story about a little girl named Margery Meanwell was published in London. Margery’s nick-name was the title of this fictional bedtime story–“Goody Two-Shoes.” She was a poor orphan girl with just one shoe. After a kind gentleman of means gave her a complete pair, she went around telling everyone she has “two shoes,” something I take for granted.

Eventually, Margery became a good teacher and married a wealthy widower. The moral of the story was that goodness plus patience will pay off (a popular theme for 18th century children). So, the goodness of a rich gentleman inspired gratitude in a little girl, which became the soil from which more goodness grew.

21st century children could use more stories like this.

Over the years, it seems the cynics have outlived little Miss Meanwell. “Goody Two-Shoes” is now a pejorative. We use Margery’s nick-name to ridicule, not to compliment. Another popular cliché today warns that good intentions will lead us down a road we don’t want to follow. And if our good intentions do result in good action, we run the risk of being criticized as a “do-gooder.”

Forget the critics. The spiritual fruit of goodness is delicious to God. He also relishes good intentions but not without good behavior. Jesus’ brother James warned, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17). The apostle Paul taught that Christians are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10). So, God is the real do-gooder.

Doing good and dealing with sin sums up the life and mission of God’s sinless Son, Jesus. Besides doing good, He talked a lot about being good. Just read His sermon on the mount. He also minced no words about being bad, often railing against his own generation as “wicked and adulterous.” More than just unpopular, this made Jesus a target for His jealous enemies—the faux goody two-shoed Pharisees and Sadducees of His day.

Conceit and self-righteous pride are not good. Those “two shoes” really stink! The great 19th century preacher Charles H. Spurgeon (1834 –1892) once said, “The Lord loves to use tools which are not rusted with self-conceit.” Better yet, Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11).

Margery Meanwell told everyone about her two shoes because she was overwhelmed with gratitude, not conceit. And gratitude is fertile soil for the genuine growth of goodness.

So, what on earth is good? Let’s go back 2,800 years for the best answer ever to that good question:

    He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8).