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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 20

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

Ben-hadad, the king of Syria - Probably the son of the Ben-hadad who assisted Asa against Baasha (1 Kings 15:18 note).

Thirty and two kings with him - Not allies, but feudatories 1 Kings 20:24. Damascus had in the reign of this Ben-hadad become the center of an important monarchy, which may not improbably have extended from the Euphrates to the northern border of Israel. The Assyrian inscriptions show that this country was about the period in question parcelled out into a multitude of petty kingdoms, the chief tribes who possessed it being the Hittites, the Hamathites, and the Syrians of Damascus.

Horses and chariots - The Assyrian inscriptions show us how very important an arm of the service the chariot force was reckoned by the Syrians. A king, who has been identified with this Ben-hadad, brought into the field against Assyria nearly four thousand chariots.

Verse 2

It may be supposed that a considerable time had passed in the siege, that the city had been reduced to an extremity, and that ambassadors had been sent by Ahab to ask terms of peace short of absolute surrender, before Ben-hadad would make such a demand. He would expect and intend his demand to be rejected, and this would have left him free to plunder the town, which was evidently what he desired and purposed.

Verse 6

Ben-hadad, disappointed by Ahab’s consent to an indignity which he had thought no monarch could submit to, proceeds to put a fresh construction on his former demands.

Verse 7

The political institution of a Council of elders (Exodus 3:16, etc.), which had belonged to the undivided nation from the sojourn in Egypt downward, had therefore been continued among the ten tribes after their separation, and still held an important place in the system of Government. The Council was not merely called together when the king needed it, but held its regular sittings at the seat of government; and hence, “all the elders of the land” were now present in Samaria. On the “elders of towns,” see 1 Kings 21:8-14.

Apparently the king had not thought it necessary to summon the Council when the first terms were announced to him, inasmuch as they touched only himself. The fresh demands affected the people at large, and it became necessary, or at any rate fitting, that “the elders” should be consulted.

Verse 8

“The people” had no distinct place in the ordinary Jewish or Israelite constitution; but they were accustomed to signify their approbation or disapprobation of the decisions of the elders by acclamations or complaints (Joshua 9:18; Judges 11:11, etc.).

Verse 10

If the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls ... - In its general sense this phrase is undoubtedly a boast that the number of Ben-hadad’s troops was such as to make resistance vain and foolish. We may parallel it with the saying of the Trachinian at Thermopylae, that the Persian arrows would darken the light of the sun. Probably the exact meaning is, “When your town is reduced to ruins, as it will be if you resist, the entire heap will not suffice to furnish a handful of dust to each soldier of my army, so many are they.” There was a threat in the message as well as a boast.

Verse 11

Ahab’s reply has the air of a proverb, with which Orientals always love to answer a foe.

Verse 12

Pavilions - “Booths” (Genesis 33:17 margin; Leviticus 23:42; Jonah 4:5). The term seems to be properly applied to a stationary “booth” or “hut,” as distinguished from a moveable “tent.” On military expeditions, and especially in the case of a siege, such “huts” were naturally constructed to shelter the king and his chief officers.

Verse 13

The rabbinical commentators conjecture that this prophet was Micaiah, the son of Imlah, who is mentioned below 1 Kings 22:8.

Hast thou seen all this great multitude? - The boast of Ben-hadad 1 Kings 20:10, was not without a basis of truth; his force seems to have exceeded 130, 000 (compare 1 Kings 20:25, 1 Kings 20:29-30). In his wars with the Assyrians we find him sometimes at the head of 100, 000 men.

Verse 14

The “princes of the provinces” are the governors of districts, many of whom may have fled to the capital, as the hostile army advanced through Galilee and northern Samaria. The “young men” are their attendants, youths unaccustomed to war.

Who shall order the battle? - i. e., “Who shal join battle, begin the attack? We or the enemy?” The reply was, that the Israelites were to attack.

Verse 15

Seven thousand - Considering how populous Palestine was in the time of the earlier Israelite kings (see 2 Chronicles 13:3; 2 Chronicles 14:8; 2 Chronicles 17:14-18), the smallness of this number is somewhat surprising. If the reading be sound, we must suppose, first, that Ben-hadad’s attack was very sudden, and that Ahab had no time to collect forces from distant parts of the country; and secondly, that during the long siege the garrison of Samaria had been greatly reduced, until it now did not exceed 7,000 men fit for service.

Verse 16

drinking himself drunk - Ben-hadad meant probably to mark his utter contempt of his foe. Compare the contempt of Belshazzar Daniel 5:1-4.

Verse 17

Ben-hadad sent out, and they told him - The Septuagint has a better reading: “they sent and told the king of Syria.”

Verse 22

Go, strengthen thyself ... - That is, “collect troops, raise fortifications, obtain allies ... take all the measures thou canst to increase thy military strength. Be not rash, but consider well every step ... for a great danger is impending.”

At the return of the year - i. e., “When the season for military operations again comes round.” The wars of the Oriental monarchs at this time, like those of early Rome, were almost always of the nature of annual incursions into the territories of their neighbors, begun in spring and terminating in early autumn. Sustained invasions, lasting over the winter into a second or a third year, are not found until the time of Shalmaneser 2 Kings 17:5; 2 Kings 18:9-10, and do not become common until the Median and Babylonian period.

Verse 23

Their gods are gods of the hills - The local power and influence of deities was a fixed principle of the ancient polytheism. Each country was considered to have its own gods; and wars were regarded as being to a great extent struggles between the gods of the nations engaged in them. This is apparent throughout the Assyrian inscriptions. Compare also 2 Kings 18:33-35; 2 Kings 19:12. The present passage gives an unusual modification of this view. The suggestion of the Syrian chiefs may have been a mere politic device - they being really anxious, “an military grounds,” to encounter their enemy on the plain, where alone their chariots would be of much service. In the plain the Israelites had always fought at a disadvantage, and had proved themselves weaker than on the hills (see Judges 1:19, Judges 1:27, Judges 1:34).

Verse 24

The Syrian chiefs evidently thought that want of unity had weakened their army. They therefore proposed the deposition of the kings, and the substitution, in their place, of Syrian governors: not “captains.” The term used always denotes a civil office.

Verse 26

Aphek - There were several places of this name in Palestine (see the marginal reference). This Aphek has been almost certainly identified with the modern Fik, a large village on the present high road from Damascus to Nablous and Jersalem. The expression “went up to Aphek” is appropriate, for Fik, though in a level country, is at a much higher elevation than Damascus.

Verse 27

Were all present - The marginal rendering is adopted by almost all critics.

Like two little flocks of kids - The word translated “little flocks” does not occur elsewhere in Scripture. It seems to mean simply “flocks.” Compare the Septuagint, who render ὡσεί δύο ποίμνια αἰγῶν hōsei duo poimnia aigōn.

Verse 28

A man of God - Evidently not the prophet who had spoken to Ahab the year before 1 Kings 20:13, 1 Kings 20:22. He probably dwelt in the neighborhood of Samaria. Now that Ahab and his army had marched out into the Trans-Jordanic territory, another prophet, a native probably of that region, announced God’s will to them.

Verse 30

A wall - “The wall,” i. e., the wall of the town. We may suppose a terrific earthquake during the siege of the place, while the Syrians were manning the defenses in full force, which threw down the wall where they were most thickly crowded upon it, and buried them in its ruins. Ben-hadad fled from the wall, where he had been at the time of the disaster, into the inner parts of the city - probably to some massive stronghold - and there concealed himself.

Verse 31

And ropes upon our heads - “Ropes about our necks” is probably meant. They, as it were, put their lives at Ahab’s disposal, who, if he pleased, might hang them at once.

Verse 32

Ben-hadad is now as humble as Ahab had been a year before 1 Kings 20:9. He professes himself the mere “slave” of his conqueror.

Verse 33

The meaning of this verse is that the men from the first moment of their arrival were on the watch to note what Ahab would say; and the moment he let fall the expression “He is my brother,” they caught it up and repeated it, fixing him to it, as it were, and preventing his retreat. By the Oriental law of “dakheel” anyone is at any time entitled to put himself under the protection of another, be that other his friend or his greatest enemy; and if the man applied to does not at once reject him, if the slightest forms of friendly speech pass between the two, the bond is complete, and must not be broken. Ben-hadad’s friends were on the watch to obtain for him “dakheel;” and the single phrase “He is my brother,” having been accepted by them on his part, was sufficient to complete the bond, and secure the life of the captive. Ahab having called Ben-hadad his brother, treated him as he would a brother; he took him up into his chariot, than which there could not be a greater honor.

Verse 34

Ben-hadad, secure of his life, suggests terms of peace as the price of his freedom. He will restore to Ahab the Israelite cities taken from Omri by his father, among which Ramoth Gilead was probably the most important 1 Kings 22:3; and he will allow Ahab the privilege of making for himself “streets,” or rather squares, in Damascus, a privilege which his own father had possessed with respect to Samaria. Commercial advantages, rather than any other, were probably sought by this arrangement.

So he made a covenant with him ... - Ahab, without “inquiring of the Lord,” at once agreed to the terms offered; and, without even taking any security for their due observance, allowed the Syrian monarch to depart. Considered politically, the act was one of culpable carelessness and imprudence. Ben-hadad did not regard himself as bound by the terms of a covenant made when he was a prisoner - as his after conduct shows 1 Kings 22:3. Ahab’s conduct was even more unjustifiable in one who held his crown under a theocracy. “Inquiry at the word of the Lord” was still possible in Israel 1Ki 22:5, 1 Kings 22:8, and would seem to have been the course that ordinary gratitude might have suggested.

Verse 35

The sons of the prophets - The expression occurs here for the first time. It signifies (marginal references), the schools or colleges of prophets which existed in several of the Israelite, and probably of the Jewish, towns, where young men were regularly educated for the prophetical office. These “schools” make their first appearance under Samuel 1 Samuel 19:20. There is no distinct evidence that they continued later than the time of Elisha; but it is on the whole most probable that the institution survived the captivity, and that the bulk of the “prophets,” whose works have come down to us belonged to them. Amos Amos 7:14-15 seems to speak as if his were an exceptional case.

Said unto his neighbor - Rather, “to his friend” or “companion “ - to one who was, like himself, “a prophet’s son,” and who ought therefore to have perceived that his colleague spoke “in the word of the Lord.”

Verse 38

Ashes - Rather, “a bandage” (and in 1 Kings 20:41). The object of the wound and bandage was double. Partly, it was to prevent Ahab from recognizing the prophet’s face; partly, to induce him to believe that the man had really been engaged in the recent war.

Verse 41

He was of the prophets - Josephus and others conjecture that this prophet was Micaiah, the son of Imlah (but compare 1 Kings 20:13 note).

Verse 42

A man whom I appointed to utter destruction - or to חרם chērem, i. e., a man on whom My curse had been laid (Leviticus 27:28 note).

Verse 43

Heavy and displeased - Rather, “sullen and angry” (and so marginal reference), not repentant, as after Elijah’s warning 1 Kings 21:27 - not acknowledging the justice of his sentence - but full of sullenness and suppressed anger.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/1-kings-20.html. 1870.
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