Do You Believe in Cake? (1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18)

Portal.  A game that began as a simple tech demo and became a franchise all of its own, complete with memorable characters, one of the great ending theme songs of all time, and quite possibly one of the most enjoyable antagonists in the history of gaming.  The wry sense of humor interwoven through the ingenious puzzles added an underrated but needed storyline that compelled you forward even when a particular test had you at your wits end.  As your player character wordlessly moves through each challenge armed only with the “portal gun”, a bizarre yet perfect reward is repeatedly dangled before you… The promise of cake at the end of your testing.

Considering the life-threatening dangers that you must overcome in each room to progress, the cake that awaits you upon success seems  to be a petty reward by comparison.  And as the true motivation for your nemesis is slowly revealed, a budding awareness occurs that the cake you have been promised is likely non-existent anyways.  The bitter irony is that the cake, which in and of itself was an inadequate motivating factor to begin with, is in actuality a lie that was promised not just to you, but also others who had attempted the same set of trials before you.  I have faced the potential disappointments inherent with cake many times in my life to this point… Too little frosting, overly dry, cake that has been accidentally sneezed in, cake that secretly has carrots in it… But at least in each of these instances the reality of the cake’s existence was never something I had to question.

“The Cake is a Lie” has more to offer than a simple inside joke for gamers or a meme-worthy catchphrase, and my search for substance under the subtext led me to one of the most interesting yet difficult to process chapters in the Bible.  This chapter challenged me for many years, because it seemed to lie in conflict with the character and operating style of the Lord as I understood Him from my studies to that point.  Just so we don’t miss it or chalk it up to poor translation, this event is captured in both 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18 virtually identically, and it is here we catch a glimpse of heaven from a decidedly different view point than we may have ever considered possible.  But let’s start with the context here on good ol’ earth, where we find the wicked King Ahab of Israel, the good but improperly aligned King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and a sarcastic prophet named Micaiah intertwined in a decision with fatal repercussions.

Ahab has beef with the king of Syria, and despite the fact that they had been in a state of peace for three years to this point there is a contested city that Ahab believes is worth going to war over.  During his recruitment effort to convince Jehoshaphat to align forces for this battle, the God-fearing Jehoshaphat agrees to provide support as long as the will of God is determined first.  Ahab acquiesces as he needs the additional manpower, and brings together 400 “yes men” to sway this potential alliance.  But Jehoshaphat, discerning enough to see through this manipulation, pressed for an actual prophet of God to be consulted.  And this is where things get really interesting, as Micaiah enters the scene and his answer pulls back the curtain on the workings within the heavenly court in a way not seen since the first chapter of Job.

In response to the question of the outcome of this proposed war, Micaiah describes this literal event occurring within the throne room of the Almighty, as God sits on His throne surrounded by the angelic beings He created.  While I will not be dogmatic on this point, the text says ALL the hosts of heaven, and I interpret ALL the host of heaven to mean ALL both good and evil, as it is the same word “all” that is used to describe God creating “all” things repeatedly throughout Genesis and is translated as “every” or “all” throughout the Old Testament.  So if “all” means “all” here and everywhere else this particular Hebrew word is used, then ALL the angels, both fallen and obedient, are present here much as satan was present in a similar gathering in the book of Job.  The description of being gathered to the right and left sides of His throne also references the separation of the just and unjust, similar to the way Jesus describes man standing at the throne of God in Matthew 25.  I would not typically belabor a point like this, but it is critical to the understanding of the remainder of this passage that we have the correct interpretation of who is present here.

God asks a question to this gathering that at first took me aback… “Who will convince Ahab to enter this war so that he will die in the battle?”  Now that sentence deserves a very Keanu Reeves-style “Whoa.”  God is actively sourcing ideas on who will take the responsibility of persuading Ahab to follow his doomed course of action to the grave.  But before we get caught up on the implications of this, we see the attendees present idea after idea on how this could be accomplished to the Lord until one spirit suggests a method that meets His approval… this spirit would deceive Ahab by becoming a lying voice within the mouths of the 400 false prophets Ahab consulted.  God saw that this would be a successful approach and commanded the spirit to proceed.  We can now fast forward to the end of the chapter, where the spirit did exactly what he had proposed and Ahab indeed marches defiantly into the battle.  Bolstered by the lying voices surrounding him promising victory as well as his confidence in a subterfuge in which he would enter the battle incognito while Jehoshaphat would be the only participant decked out in kingly garb, Ahab thought he could deny the outcome God could not have been clearer in defining.  I cannot imagine why Jehoshaphat would be so naive as to make himself the largest target on the battlefield, but God and His plan were not fooled and it was Ahab, despite his machinations to deceive, who fell prey to the plot hatched in God’s court room, meeting his demise just as Micaiah predicted.

So many questions come to mind after reading this chapter, and I would encourage everyone to read it in its entirety for yourself as there are even more details than I have space to elaborate on here.  But the core issue I am going to focus on is the idea that God did not only allow this deception to occur for Ahab, but He was an active participant and initiator of this situation.  Fortunately, when we put this together with the rest of Scripture some very interesting truths emerge quite clearly.  First, to be clear, James 1:12-14 tells us that God does not tempt any of us, but that we are tempted when we are drawn away and enticed by our own desires.  God did not put it in Ahab’s heart to enter this war, Ahab did that to himself.  Secondly, in Romans chapter 1:24-32 we see that if we choose not to glorify God in the way we live our lives, He will give us over to pursue our sinful desires or as Paul describes it, a “reprobate mind”.  And in perhaps even stronger language, Paul writes in 2 Thess. 2:9-12 that God will send a “strong delusion” to those who are insistent on denying the truth and instead take pleasure in living an unrighteous life.  And just to round out this concept, in 2 Timothy 4:3-5 Paul reminds his readers that even within the church that people would have “itching ears” and surround themselves with false teachers, hearing only what they want to hear and as a result will be turned away from God’s truth by “their own desires”.

Ahab chose to believe in the cake, and in point of fact chose to be deceived.  He wanted to believe the lie, and God created the situation in which He both heard the truth of God’s word from the singular voice of Micaiah and the deceptive voice of destruction from the 400 false voices he had surrounded himself with.  His Twitter followers and Facebook friends praised His courageous decisions and inflated his ego all the way to his bloody end.  The frightening truth is that if we are committed to following a lie, God will not only allow us to pursue it, will actually empower our enemy to enhance the deception through the enabling processes we provide ourselves.  It’s a sobering thought, but Ahab was no innocent victim of deception here.  He made the choice to surround himself with false voices to support his sin, he made the choice to imprison Micaiah for daring to tell him the truth, and in the end he got the cake that these ingredients combined to make… A lying cake of his own design.

This cautionary tale that provides such insight into the supernatural realm really makes me reflect on how many cakes I have chased in my life that ended in disappointment, and the reality that I am the architect of my own deception.  The path to avoiding the pitfalls of false cake pursuit lies in knowing and removing the areas that both provide and enable us to deceive ourselves.  It is clearly not God’s will for us to be deceived, but He will absolutely allow us to follow our desires to their ultimate result if we insulate ourselves within the lies we embrace.  It is almost as if God said to Ahab, “Fine.  I sent Elijah and Micaiah and so many others to guide you but you just won’t listen, so let them eat cake.”  The cake is a lie, and one we more often than not tell ourselves, and it is only by giving our life and thoughts daily to Jesus that we find His way, the real truth, and the life He has planned for us.

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