Lectionary Calendar
Friday, May 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 20

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-43

1 Kings 20:3 . Thy gold thy wives are mine. The African princes still send similar messages to one another. Mungo Park mentions one who sent an order to a neighbouring prince to have the houses all made clean, because he was coming with an army to spend a fortnight in his city.

1 Kings 20:11 . Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast. A wise answer: no man can tell the events of a battle.

1 Kings 20:13 . There came a prophet to Ahab. Since the destruction of Baal’s prophets, religion had revived. The Lord’s altars, which Elijah complains had been destroyed, began again to smoke; and the holy prophets were active in labours and travels. Therefore the Lord now covered Israel with his defence.

1 Kings 20:30 . Fled to Aphek, in the tribe of Asher. Benhadad’s army being destroyed, he was now in fact a prisoner, begging his life. What a difference of tone from verse the third.

1 Kings 20:36 . A lion slew him. He knew the man was a prophet, speaking by the word of the Lord; this word was no doubt explained to him. He therefore despised the Lord, and lost his life for his sin. “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh.”


The long famine had made all Israel a desolation. The people had perished by hunger and the sword; had fled for food to neighbouring nations, till the population was small. The elders who had taken refuge, with many of the people in Samaria, were yet few in number, though this was a second year after the famine. The army was only seven thousand, besides a yeomanry of two hundred and thirty. There were indeed seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee; but they had been so persecuted that few of them dared to appear in Samaria, though it is presumed that Baal’s altar was now neglected. How impolitic for kings to persecute good men, of whom in every view they always have need.

Mark next the pride and avarice of Benhadad, otherwise called Adadus. He saw all the desolation of Israel; yet he revered not the hand of God. He was apprized that Ahab and his princes had treasures of gold and silver, notwithstanding their long affliction; of these treasures he resolved to plunder all the cities during their weak and defenceless state. Here is the cause of the war; avarice and pride are sure destroyers whenever indulged.

We learn also the great mercy and compassion of God. Though he had almost consumed his rebellious people; yet being now humbled, and many most precious confessors having returned from their caves to pray for Israel, he would not suffer the enemy to add to the calamities. When they had no courage, he sent a prophet with counsel and a promise of victory. And the Syrians, finding courage where they expected fear, and slaughter where they expected booty, fled with a precipitation and disgrace greater than the insolence with which they had summoned Samaria. Let the christian take comfort from the same consideration, for his sorest afflictions are all proportioned by weight and measure.

God often forewarns those of approaching danger, whom he deigns peculiarly to protect. Strengthen thyself, said the prophet, for at the return of the year, the king of Syria will come up against thee. This was a gracious premonition that Ahab should abstain from idolatry, and keep his army in force; for prayers and arms, have under God, for the most part, been happily united for the safety of empire. The second expedition of the Syrians, proved infinitely more calamitous than the first. It originated in ignorance of God. They, as well as most of the heathens had a notion that the gods were local; that the hills, the valleys, and the seas, had distinct divinities. It originated also in a false sense of honour: they wished to recover the glory so terribly tarnished in the last campaign. But Israel in general, having still adhered to the covenant of their fathers renewed on mount Carmel, God again made bare his arm for their defence. Their little army kept their hill; and the immense invading multitude, not daring to make the attack, looked on for a whole week: and according to Xenophon it was not unusual for an Asiatic army patiently to look on, while an invader ravaged their country. Cyropædia lib. 1. In that time, the little courage they had was all vanished away. The Hebrews descended to slaughter; for a hundred thousand invaders fell on the plain. And taking refuge in Aphek, the angels of God, as in the case of Jericho, killed twenty seven thousand more by overturning the walls under which they were crouched for defence. What a carnage! equally designed to encourage Israel, and to instruct the heathen in the glorious perfections of God. Hence, from the advice of the prophet, let the christian, after victory, learn to keep his armour bright, and let him keep right with heaven, for his enemies will return to tempt him again.

We have next an astonishing reverse of human greatness. Benhadad, who addressed to Ahab a most insolent summons, and menaced Samaria with total destruction, we now find begging his life as the worst of criminals. But Ahab, who it is presumed was divinely instructed to destroy the wanton invader: but Ahab not only spared this Agag, but called him brother, and sent him away with a treaty, though he had twice commenced a war without any provocation. Thus to his folly and his fears, he sacrificed every advantage arising from victories peculiarly the gift of heaven.

By this conduct Ahab forfeited his life and his crown. The Holy Spirit by an obscure prophet led him, as Nathan had led David, to pronounce the sentence against himself. The young man disguised himself with bandages as a wounded soldier, for merit has claims to the notice of kings; and having drawn him to lay down a fair maxim, immediately replied, “thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people.” This we shall presently find realized. Let my soul learn to profit by its victories, and never to make a covenant with its sins.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/1-kings-20.html. 1835.
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