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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

1 Kings 20

Verses 1-6

Ben-hadad Besieges Samaria


A believer like Elijah can have their highs and lows. A wicked man like Ahab has only lows, despite so much evidence of God’s goodness. This chapter also shows this. God is good to Ahab, but he ignores it and reacts to it in pure willfulness.

In this chapter we hear nothing from Elijah. He has resigned and the LORD has accepted his resignation. He still has three tasks to complete. His service is over, although we hear from him once more. We do come across several prophets in this history. We also see that Ahab hasn’t changed. In this history God gives Ahab the opportunity to deal with a great enemy, Aram or Syria. He doesn’t do that and then dies later by the hand of the Syrians. An evil spared by us will not spare us and we will perish by it.

Yet something has changed because of the Carmel. The people have been reminded that there is a God in Israel. Also the hearts of the people are inclined towards God again. Then God sends blessing. That is astonishing when at the same time we see how little the people do with it. Here we see a gracious God. With a small trace of repentance God shows grace. We will also see this with Ahab in the next chapter. God also proves that He is the holy God.

The kings who go with Ben-hadad will be tribal princes. All cities have their own king. Syria is an important enemy of the ten tribes. They besiege Samaria. The enemy does not want to continue the siege and proposes a compromise, in which he sets the conditions. He proposes to Ahab to escape further siege and starvation.

Here we see that Ahab hasn’t changed. When Ben-hadad attacks him and makes a foolish proposal, he accepts it. Ahab is prepared to extradite his wives and children, as long as he stays out of harm. He even calls Ben-hadad “my lord”. He does not think about taking refuge in God. He accepts the proposal. Because of this he would also have to hand in Jezebel.

In his hubris Ben-hadad makes another demand. He wants to send his servants into town to take away everything they want.

Verses 7-12

Ahab Consults the Elders


Ben-hadad’s second proposal panics Ahab. Now everything that is desirable in his eyes will be taken (1Kgs 20:6). That goes too far for him. Instead of resorting to God, he calls together the elders with whom he consults as a man of the world. He is a weak man and cannot decide for himself. The elders advise him not to accept Ben-hadad’s proposal.

In his answer to Ben-hadad, Ahab does not repeat the strong answer of the elders, but gives a weak answer. He reiterates his willingness to meet the first demand and once again calls Ben-hadad “my lord”.

Ben-hadad has been agitated and now wants to take over the city. He poetically points to the enormous army he has. Ahab responds with a proverb. This saying means as much as: You shouldn’t have a big mouth before you have achieved results. The saying we have for that is: You should not share out the bearskin before the bear is dead.

Verses 13-21

A Prophet Promises Ahab Victory


Then a prophet appears on stage. Possibly the prophet is one of the 7,000, or one of the 100 hidden by Obadiah. It is God’s concern that Ahab will know that He is the LORD. This will happen because He executes the judgment.

The prophet gives some indications on behalf of God how Ahab can win the battle. Miraculously Ahab listens to this, perhaps because he sees no other possibility. God comes to his aid in pure grace. Once again He wants to show that He is there. He is going to help Ahab in spite of everything, for the sake of the faithful in the people. Ahab’s indifferent attitude does not prevent God from His intention to save his people despite this unwilling king.

Ahab is interested in this deliverance and informs how it will go. The prophet tells him that this will be done by a selection of young men. God uses the suitability of the persons, while it is clear that He Himself gives the victory, for there are few. We also see this with Gideon and his 300 men (Jdg 7:2; 21). When asked by Ahab who should take the initiative to fight, the prophet answers that he should take the initiative.

Ben-hadad is so overconfident, that he allows himself to drink himself drunk in the middle of the day. He has no eye for the danger that threatens. Diffused by the drink, he thinks he can ward off this danger. His men have only to capture the men of Ahab.

It runs differently. The men of Ahab defeat every man they meet. They are inviolable to the men of Ben-hadad. That is only because of the LORD. When Israel was God’s people, the people always won through Him. Never did the people gain a victory because they were the superior.

Verses 22-25

The Prophet Informs Ahab


When the battle is won, the prophet warns Ahab that Ben-hadad is not definitively defeated. Ben-hadad will come back. The prophet tells him to consider what to do. He has a year to do so.

Ben-hadad is also considering. He and his men evaluate the situation. A proposal is being made that will be successful in the next battle. Ben-hadad is advised to fight in the plain, because “their gods are gods of the mountains”. This makes it a battle between God and the idols. Here we hear how the servants of the king of Syria think about God. Today theologians also speak so about God, as a god of a primitive people, a god they themselves invented.

Verses 26-29

Israel Beats the Syrians Again


When the armies have positioned themselves opposite each other, a man of God comes. He tells Ahab that the battle that is about to break loose is a battle in which the LORD will prove His Name. Because His Name is at issue, He gives Israel victory.

It is not about the victory in itself, but about getting to know the power of the LORD. God does not only allow things, but works them to show that He is there. Thus Job did not accept what happened to him from the hand of Satan, but from the hand of God (Job 1:21b).

They defeat a huge number of enemies. The LORD mocks those who mock Him. As for Ahab, he has another lesson to learn. As in 1Kgs 20:13, it is written in 1Kgs 20:28 that Ahab should acknowledge by the victory, that God is the LORD.

Verses 30-34

Ahab Spares Ben-hadad


What does Ahab do after the victory? He is surprised to hear that Ben-hadad is still alive. He even appears to be pleasantly surprised. A living enemy is a more beautiful trophy than a dead one. At the same time he calls this enemy of God and His people “my brother”. However, he is not his brother, but his enemy. He proves kindness to the wrong person. God loves man, but not his sins. Therefore He commands man to repent and He also gave His Son. God loves His children, but not their wrong deeds.

Ahab is persuaded by Ben-hadad to a misplaced show of grace and lets him live. Ben-hadad gives him back a number of cities and makes a covenant with him. Ahab does not deal definitively with this enemy of God and His people. In this way he proves his insensitivity to the will of God.

The wicked Ahab fraternizes with a wicked man. The application for us is that we do not condemn evil in our brother if we live in evil ourselves. It will be more so that the evil in the brother attracts us, because it sends out a signal that we can continue doing evil.

Ben-hadad talks beautifully and promises Ahab a trading place. Ahab takes the bait and lets him go. He has the king of Syria in his power. God has given him in his power to kill him, but he lets him go. Thus Saul spared Agag, and also the cattle, while God had commanded to eradicate everything. Then Samuel kills that evil power (1Sam 15:8-9; 32-33). Ahab should have done that here.

Verses 35-43

Ahab’s Covenant Judged


This history may have ended for Ahab, but for God it is not. Ahab has made it clear that he does not acknowledge God, even after God has so graciously given outcome in his hopeless situation. He abuses grace as a reason for fulfilling his own desires.

We become witnesses of the preparation of a message for Ahab. A son of the prophets, a pupil-prophet, must go and bring Ahab the message from God that God will punish his failure. The pupil-prophet must make use of a similarity that he must play himself. For this it is necessary that another pupil-prophet beats him in such a way that he is wounded and must be connected. What the prophet has to do shows the seriousness of what Ahab has done. It is no small matter. The prophet must look like a soldier who comes out of battle wounded.

If the pupil-prophet to whom he asks to strike him refuses to do so, that refusal is punished with death. This shows the seriousness that the word of the prophet must be taken as the word of God. The man who refuses to strike the pupil-prophet is killed because he has not listened to the voice of the LORD. The prophet must have been known as such.

We must remember that this is not about two ordinary people, but about a prophet who tells another prophet to strike him. It must be known that the prophet who refuses, knows that it is a word of the LORD, but that he will not strike the other, against the word of the LORD. He chooses not to harm his fellow prophet, but with this he is disobedient to the LORD. This must be punished, given the seriousness of the situation. We see something similar with the man of God from Judah in 1 Kings 13. His disobedience is also punished with being killed by a lion (1Kgs 13:20-24; 26).

We must not only fulfill our tasks that we understand and agree with, but we must also fulfill a task, simply because it is asked of us. We need to teach our children to obey, even if they do not understand or see the point in it. We should not always explain in detail to our children why we want them to do something. It is not about negotiations, but about teaching them obedience. The whole of society is a society of negotiation and only then doing. We must make sure that this spirit does not take hold of our families.

Then he asks another pupil-prophet to strike him, this one does. The other man strikes him so hard that he injures him. This may be to indicate that the prophet identifies with the pain God feels about the infidelity of the leader of His people. The prophet dresses his wound in a way that makes him unrecognizable. In this way he “waited for the king by the way”.

When the king arrives, he speaks to him. He asks the king for mercy because he has done something that costs him his life or a large sum of money. He tells what happened. He was “busy here and there” when the man he had to guard escaped. Being busy here and there is a bad thing for a soldier who must always be attentive.

When the prophet has spoken, Ahab passes judgment. With this he judges himself. This is also the case with David after his sin with Bathsheba, who, after a parable, passes judgment and is told: “You are the man! (2Sam 12:7a). Ahab should have struck Ben-hadad and will now be struck himself, just as the prophet who refused to strike the man of God was struck himself. He has been busy here and there, so he has been negligent in doing what he had to do.

The lesson for us is to remove the evil from the midst of the church (1Cor 5:13b), not only in view of the honor of God, but also in view of our own salvation. If we don’t stop the evil, it will grow and affect everything. Ahab let Ben-hadad go and will now die by Ben-hadad. God has never been merciful to evil. We see this in the judgment of His Son.

Ben-hadad himself has also come to an end. He is murdered by Hazael according to the word of the LORD to Elijah. Hazael suffocates him in a blanket (2Kgs 8:15).

The reaction of a man so graciously treated by God to the message he receives is terrible. God always bothers him. But he does not understand that it is to his own salvation. His reaction is a total rejection of all God’s proofs of grace. If we react grumpily to God’s actions with us we are in a bad mood. Then it turns out that we only think of our own pleasures and find God troublesome, Someone Who does not grant us our pleasures.

We may stand before the Lord and ask, “Lord, what is there of Ahab in my heart? Am I willing to give up all kinds of things, as long as they don’t come up with things that I consider important? Do I recognize the proofs of Your help in the fight against the enemy, that I may honor You for the victory? Or did I make an alliance with the enemy somewhere?” We can pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psa 139:23-24).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Kings 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-kings-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.