Lectionary Calendar
Monday, May 27th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 20

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-25

God’s deliverance of Samaria 20:1-25

God dealt gently (cf. 1 Kings 19:12) with the Northern Kingdom at this time in the Divided Monarchy to continue to move His people back to Himself. This pericope records the first of three battles the writer recorded in 1 Kings between Ahab and the kings of Aram, Israel’s antagonistic neighbor to the northeast. The first of these evidently took place early in Ahab’s reign (ca. 874). Ahab’s adversary would have been Ben-Hadad I (900-860 B.C.). [Note: See D. D. Luckenbill, "Benhadad and Hadadezer," American Journal of Semitic Languages 27 (1911):279; and Julian Morgenstern, "Chronological Data of the Dynasty of Omri," Journal of Biblical Literature 59 (1940):392.] The political reasons for these encounters were of no interest to the writer of Kings, but we know what they were. [Note: See Merrill Unger, Israel and the Aramaeans of Damascus; and Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., pp. 346-47.]

The danger Ben-Hadad posed, as his demands on Ahab continued to escalate, made the Israelite king receptive to the directives of Yahweh’s prophet. The prophet presented Yahweh as Israel’s real deliverer (1 Kings 20:13). The deliverance would demonstrate Yahweh’s power and superiority over Baal (1 Kings 20:13). Ahab willingly followed God’s orders since he had no other hope (1 Kings 20:14). God’s strategy resulted in victory for Israel (1 Kings 20:21). The Lord further directed Ahab to prepare for the Aramean army’s return the next spring (1 Kings 20:22). Late spring and early summer were seasons for military expeditions, because at that time of year in the Middle East, grass was readily available for the horses. Victory was certain, though perhaps not known to Ahab, because of the Arameans’ limited view of Yahweh’s power (1 Kings 20:23; 1 Kings 20:28).

Verses 26-30

God’s deliverance of Israel 20:26-30

The battle of Aphek (873 B.C.) took place on the tableland east of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee), the modern Golan Heights. This was not the same Aphek where Saul battled the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:1; 1 Samuel 29:1). The Arameans greatly outnumbered Israel (1 Kings 20:27), but God promised Ahab victory so he and all Israel, as well as the Arameans, would know that Yahweh was the true God (1 Kings 20:28). God enabled the soldiers of Israel to defeat their enemy (1 Kings 20:29), but He also used supernatural means to assist them (1 Kings 20:30; cf. Joshua 6; et al.). One hundred casualties a day in ancient warfare was considered heavy, [Note: Wiseman, p. 178.] but God gave His people 100 times that number that day.

"The striking parallels to the conquest of Jericho, as the interval of seven days before the battle and the falling of the city walls, clearly identified the battles at Samaria and Aphek as holy war." [Note: Rice, p. 172.]

Verses 31-34

Ahab’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh and his sentence 20:31-34

This section is similar to the one that recorded Saul’s failure to follow Yahweh’s command that also resulted in God cutting him off (1 Samuel 13:13-14). The parallels between Saul and Ahab are remarkable throughout this record of Ahab’s reign.

Archaeology has confirmed that other ancient Near Eastern kings were more brutal in war than Israel’s were (1 Kings 20:31). Sackcloth and ropes expressed remorse and servitude (1 Kings 20:31-32). [Note: See Gray, pp. 429-30.] Ben-Hadad’s envoys called their king Ahab’s "servant" (1 Kings 20:32) because that is what Ben-Hadad was willing to become if Ahab would have mercy on him. Ben-Hadad was not Ahab’s blood brother (1 Kings 20:32). Ahab was willing to regard him as such rather than as a servant if Ben-Hadad agreed to make a treaty and concessions to him. Ahab’s plan was contrary to God’s Law that called for the deaths of Israel’s enemies (Deuteronomy 20:10-15). Ahab welcomed Ben-Hadad into his chariot (1 Kings 20:33). This was an honor. The Aramean king was quick to make concessions in return for his life (1 Kings 20:34). Compare Saul’s refusal to execute Agag. The covenant the two men made involved the return of Israelite cities that Aram had previously taken and trade privileges for Israel with Damascus (1 Kings 20:34). Ahab figured that it would be better for him and Israel to make a treaty than to obey God’s Law (cf. Exodus 23:32). Perhaps the reason Ahab was so eager to make this treaty was that the Assyrian Empire was expanding toward Israel from the northeast.

What happened to the man who refused to strike the prophet (1 Kings 20:35-36) was exactly what would happen to Ahab and for the same reason, disobedience to the word of the Lord. Compare Samuel’s first sentence against Saul for his disobedience (1 Samuel 13). Again a lion was God’s agent of execution (cf. 1 Kings 13:24). The prophet’s parable recalls the one Nathan told David (2 Samuel 12:1-7). Ahab condemned himself by what he said. God would kill Ahab for not killing Ben-Hadad (1 Kings 22:37). He would also cause Israel, which Ahab headed and represented, to suffer defeat rather than the Arameans (1 Kings 20:42; cf. 1 Samuel 15:22-29). Ahab foolishly chose to follow his own plan instead of obeying the Lord. Obedience probably would have terminated the conflict with the Aramean army.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-kings-20.html. 2012.
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