Ahab’s Wars with Syria
20 Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathered all his army together. Thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots. And he went up and closed in on Samaria and fought against it. And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.’” And the king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.” The messengers came again and said, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘I sent to you, saying, “Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children.” Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants and lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.’”
Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land and said, “Mark, now, and see how this man is seeking trouble, for he sent to me for my wives and my children, and for my silver and my gold, and I did not refuse him.” And all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen or consent.” So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, “Tell my lord the king, ‘All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.’” And the messengers departed and brought him word again. Ben-hadad sent to him and said, “The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.’” When Ben-hadad heard this message as he was drinking with the kings in the booths, he said to his men, “Take your positions.” And they took their positions against the city.
Ahab Defeats Ben-hadad
And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the LORD, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” And Ahab said, “By whom?” He said, “Thus says the LORD, By the servants of the governors of the districts.” Then he said, “Who shall begin the battle?” He answered, “You.” Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were 232. And after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand.
And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him. The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samaria.” He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”
So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them. And each struck down his man. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen. And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow.
Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.”
And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places, and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so.
Ahab Defeats Ben-hadad Again
In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.
Ben-hadad also fled and entered an inner chamber in the city. And his servants said to him, “Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life.” So they tied sackcloth around their waists and put ropes on their heads and went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please, let me live.’” And he said, “Does he still live? He is my brother.” Now the men were watching for a sign, and they quickly took it up from him and said, “Yes, your brother Ben-hadad.” Then he said, “Go and bring him.” Then Ben-hadad came out to him, and he caused him to come up into the chariot. And Ben-hadad said to him, “The cities that my father took from your father I will restore, and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” And Ahab said, “I will let you go on these terms.” So he made a covenant with him and let him go.
A Prophet Condemns Ben-hadad’s Release
And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the LORD, “Strike me, please.” But the man refused to strike him. Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD, behold, as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall strike you down.” And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and struck him down. Then he found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” And the man struck him—struck him and wounded him. So the prophet departed and waited for the king by the way, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. And as the king passed, he cried to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle, and behold, a soldier turned and brought a man to me and said, ‘Guard this man; if by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” The king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.” Then he hurried to take the bandage away from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. And he said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.’” And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria.
1 Kings 20 Commentary
by Hank Workman
So far there have been two evil kings and two good kings. The southern kingdom, Judah, still wavers between righteous and unrighteous living. The northern kingdom is a different story. They continue to live the way they want and when all is said and done have 8 kings in succession who were evil and bent on their own ways. In an attempt to rein these thoughts in, God would allow other nations to gain strength and become their enemies during the next 2 centuries. Aram would be the first who would rise up against the northern kingdom of Ahab. Assyria and Babylon would be on their heels.
What is so fascinating is although God allowed these enemies to rise up and come against His people He would still give them a chance to turn in repentance. Case in point, Ben-Hadad from Aram who brought an attack against the northern kingdom. Camped around the city ready for a full-blown war, a nameless prophet speaks a bold promise of God towards Ahab and Israel of deliverance. Truly, after the showdown of the true God and prophets of Baal, it shows God’s grace extending.
Throughout the story, God would give the people more evidence that God was the God of all – sadly this king would fail to recognize it in two different victories. In fact, as the story unfolds, he let his enemy live. This foolish move of Ahab, who was acting in his own thought and desires or wisdom would have a pronouncement from the same prophet who had given a strand of hope for deliverance. Ahab would die in the place of this evil king Ben-Hadad who lived.
God continues to extend mercy and grace today even to the hardest of hearts. He uses situations and aspects that show His absolute greatness. Although many times these are overlooked, much like Ahab did, man’s response doesn’t dictate the far-reaching hand of His mercy. As we know, many today have the heart of Ahab where it doesn’t matter what He does, it won’t be recognized. But thank God He isn’t dependent upon our own foolishness. He will keep extending an opportunity to turn back to Him.
1 Kings 20 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
There are some incredible spiritual metaphors we can glean from these passages which build on the disobedience of Ahab in 1 Kings 19.
Right off the bat, there is the threat of warfare. Ben-hadad decides he wants to conquer Israel, so he sends his troops along with 32 other rulers into Samaria. This was a formidable army against man but toy soldiers to the Living God. Rather than pray or consult a reputable prophet, Ahab surrenders to the enemy.
Selfishness = Compromise
This is a microcosm of Ahab’s entire life. He surrendered to Jezebel. He surrendered to the prophets of Baal. He surrendered, ultimately, to Satan. These were easy compromises. He did not, however, surrender to God because he would have been forced to change his lifestyle. Ahab was weak because he was selfish. As long as he could maintain his luxurious style of living, he didn’t care what kind of compromises needed to be made. Ahab had no spiritual depth.
Today, in the church, there are many who know Jesus’ commands but do not know the person of Jesus. Ahab seemed to be fine with the prophets of God as long as they didn’t disrupt his comfortable life. He would accept truth if it supported his agenda but deny its power when it disrupted his comfy culture. Knowing truth is not enough. Reading the Bible is not enough. If we do not know the character of Jesus and surrender to the Holy Spirit, we will never see the teaching of Christ in the way God intended!
The Grace of God
With the help of his advisors, Ahab grows a spine and eventually decides to stand up to Ben-hadad. This certainly had less to do with the wisdom of Ahab’s advisors and much more to do with the provision of God answering the prayers of faithful men like Elijah and Elisha. We know this is true because a man of God comes to Ahab and promises victory. God even gives Ahab the exact plan to follow in order to win the battle. Why would He do such a thing? Because God’s love far exceeds ours. When we have reached our breaking point, God has already pulled strings that will glorify His Name above all other names.
Selfishness = Compromise Part II
Israel routs the Syrians but the prophet warns they will be back in the spring. God delivers Israel from their enemies a second time and this is the moment where Ahab once again shows his true character.
So they wrapped sackcloth around their waists and ropes around their necks, went to Ahab and said, “Your servant Benhadad pleads with you for his life.” Ahab answered, “Is he still alive? Good! He’s like a brother to me!”1 Kings 20:32 GNB
A prophet of God goes on to illustrate Ahab’s blunder using himself as a metaphor. What did he do? Ahab welcomed the enemy back into his presence just as he had done time and time again in his own spiritual life.
Ahab followed God when he was in danger but went right back to making compromises once things were comfortable again.
Does this not describe so many who claim to follow Jesus today? Yes. It describes me and maybe it describes you too? The depth of this story is found in the spiritual metaphor.
God, in His scandalous grace, delivered Ahab from his enemies even though he never asked for help. Ahab agreed to follow God when it benefitted him. When the stress hit, he pulled God out like an old credit card. He didn’t want to die! But as soon as he was out of the woods, he filled his bathtub full of selfish compromise and dove right back in there!
This is not how it was supposed to be. If we do not know the character of God, we will never get beyond our shallow living. God’s Word will always be translated as benefiting us in a selfish and compromised way. His unexplainable ways will be scrutinized when we suffer under His sovereign trials.
Holy Spirit, reveal the ways that I am retreating to compromise in the shadow of your grace!