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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 20

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-21

Benhadad's first Defeat

v. 1. And Benhadad, the king of Syria, under whom the kingdom had grown very strong, gathered all his host together, his entire army; and there were thirty and two kings with him, vassal kings, tributary chiefs, including lords of single cities and their districts, and horses, and chariots; and he went up and besieged Samaria, in a campaign of conquest, and warred against it.

v. 2. And he sent messengers to Ahab, king of Israel, into the city and said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad,

v. 3. Thy silver and thy gold is mine, he coolly demanded the contents of the royal treasury; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, the most eminent young men of the city, are mine, he demanded that they be delivered to him as hostages.

v. 4. And the king of Israel, appalled by the great show of power which the Syrian king displayed, answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine and all that I have, he was ready to yield without the faintest show of resistance, glad to buy off his city by the payment of this tribute.

v. 5. And the messengers came again and said, Thus speaketh Benhadad, saying, Although I have sent unto thee, saying, Thou shalt deliver me thy silver and thy gold and thy wives and thy children,

v. 6. yet I will send my servants unto thee tomorrow about this time, and they shall search thine house and the houses of thy servants, openly plundering the houses of the wealthiest people in the city; and it shall be that whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes, what Ahab valued especially highly, they shall put it in their hand and take it away. Benhadad's behavior was overbearing, insolent; it was equivalent to the demand that Ahab place himself and his city in his power.

v. 7. Then the king of Israel, aroused to action by the unbounded insolence of Benhadad, called all the elders of the land, the highest officials of the country, who evidently had sought the shelter of the capital at the approach of Benhadad, and said, Mark, I pray you, and see how this man seeketh mischief, his intention being to ruin Israel completely; for he sent unto me for my wives, and for my children, and for my silver, and for my gold; and I denied him not, so much he had willingly agreed to deliver.

v. 8. And all the elders and all the people said unto him, Hearken not unto him nor consent, he should pay no attention to Benhadad's demands, but be emphatic in his refusal.

v. 9. Wherefore he said unto the messengers of Benhadad, Tell my lord the king, All that thou didst send for to thy servant at the first I will do, willing to fulfill his first promise; but this thing I may not do, the second demand was an outrage. And the messengers departed, and brought him word again.

v. 10. And Benhadad sent unto him and said, in the rage of a tyrant who finds himself foiled, The gods do so unto me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me! His intention was so utterly to destroy the city that the dust of the ruins would not even suffice for the purpose mentioned by him.

v. 11. And the king of Israel, whose courage grew at the same rate as the insolence of the enemy, answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off, a proverbial saying equivalent to: Do not boast of a victory before it is won.

v. 12. And it came to pass, when Benhadad heard this message as he was drinking, he and the kings in the pavilions, engaged in a drinking-bout in the booths made of the branches of trees, which had been put up for them during the siege, that he said unto his servants, Set yourselves in array, ready to storm the city in a sudden attack. And they set themselves in array against the city.

v. 13. And, behold, there came a prophet unto Ahab, king of Israel, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou seen all this great multitude? It was a very great army which was encamped against the city. Behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord. Here was both a promise of victory and a call to repentance.

v. 14. And Ahab said, By whom? He wanted to know who was to bring about the deliverance. And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Even by the young men of the princes of the provinces, the servants of the officials of the various districts of Israel, the members of their body-guards. Then he said, Who shall order the battle, open the attack? And he answered, Thou; Ahab himself was to lead the charge.

v. 15. Then he numbered the young men of the princes of the provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty-two, a very small band to lead in the attack; and after them he numbered all the people, even all the children of Israel, those able to bear arms, being seven thousand.

v. 16. And they went out at noon, advancing boldly to the attack. But Benhadad was drinking himself drunk in the pavilions, he and the kings, the thirty and two kings that helped him.

v. 17. And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first; and Benhadad sent out, and they told him, saying, There are men come out of Samaria; they were not even recognized as a troop or as an attacking force.

v. 18. And he said, in maudlin presumption, Whether they be come out for peace, that is, to confer about a treaty or to capitulate, take them alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive, in either case, they were simply to be arrested.

v. 19. So these young men of the princes of the provinces, a mere handful of soldiers, came out of the city, and the army which followed them.

v. 20. And they, the members of the attacking band, slew every one his man, as they closed with the enemy in a hand-to-hand encounter. And the Syrians fled; and Israel, the entire army, pursued them. And Benhadad, the king of Syria, escaped on an horse with the horsemen, having quickly seized a chariot-horse, as the panic took hold of him.

v. 21. And the king of Israel went out and smote the horses and chariots, all those who were trying to escape by means of them, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter. Thus God punished the pride and the insolence of the tyrant, while, at the same time, He called Ahab to repentance. To this day the goodness of God plans to lead men to repentance if they would but take note of the signs.

Verses 22-43

Benhadad's Second Defeat, Capture, and Release

v. 22. And the prophet, the same one who had prophesied the defeat of the Syrians, came to the king of Israel and said unto him, Go, strengthen thyself, namely, by enlarging and equipping his army, and mark and see what thou doest, he was to be on his guard; for at the return of the year, at the close of the winter rains, when campaigns were usually commenced, the king of Syria will come up against thee.

v. 23. And the servants of the king of Syria, in an effort to find an explanation of their defeat, said unto him, Their gods are gods of the hills, they believed that the God of Israel had power only in the mountainous region of Ephraim; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they, for they had the idea that the god of the mountains would have no power in the lowlands. But they had also a second suggestion.

v. 24. And do this thing, Take the kings away, the tributary vassals, every man out of his place, and put captains in their rooms, upon whose loyalty one might rely with greater assurance;

v. 25. and number thee an army, mustering a force as large as the first, like the army that thou hast lost, for the removal of the tributary kings meant the loss of their troops as well, horse for horse and chariot for chariot; and we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they; they felt sure that the victory must be theirs if these suggestions were carried out. And he hearkened unto their voice and did so.

v. 26. And it came to pass at the return of the year, as the prophet had foretold, that Benhadad numbered the Syrians and went up to Aphek, in the Plain of Jezreel, the great battlefield of Palestine, to fight against Israel.

v. 27. And the children of Israel were numbered, mustered for the campaign, and were all present, fully equipped and prepared, and went against them; and the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids, like two insignificant bands separated from the main herd; but the Syrians filled the country.

v. 28. And there came a man of God, the same prophet once more, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the Lord, Because the Syrians have said, The Lord is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys, this being an insult to His majesty, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the Lord, again the reminder of the singular position of Jehovah.

v. 29. And they pitched one over against the other seven days, each army waiting for an opening. And so it was that in the seventh day the battle was joined, the troops clashing upon each other; and the children of Israel slew of the Syrians an hundred thousand footmen in one day, a slaughter made possible only by the help of God.

v. 30. But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and there, by the miraculous interposition of God, a wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand of the men that were left. And Benhadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner chamber, literally, "from room to room," seeking a place where he might safely hide.

v. 31. And his servants said unto him, Behold, now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings, unlike the murderous tyrants of the heathen; let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, as a sign of deep sorrow, and ropes upon our heads, as a token of complete subjection, and go out to the king of Israel, placing themselves absolutely into his power; peradventure he will save thy life.

v. 32. So they, trying out this one last scheme to save their lives, girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. It was an unconditional surrender and a prayer for mercy. And he said, Is he yet alive? He is my brother. The king's vanity had so been flattered by the submission of Benhadad that he made this declaration.

v. 33. Now, the men did diligently observe whether anything would come from him, whether he would give a favorable answer, and did hastily catch it; and they said, Thy brother Benhadad. By repeating Ahab's statement, they held him to his word. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Benhadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot. So far from treating him as a captive, who should have been put to death, he gave him all the honor of a king of equal rank, just as if Benhadad were not guilty of an unprovoked attack on Israel.

v. 34. And Benhadad said unto him, taking advantage of Ahab's gracious mood, The cities which my father took from thy father, in a war of which we have no record, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria, sections of the city where he might open bazaars and carry on business unhindered, unrestricted free trade thus being offered. Then said Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him and sent him away. His manner of acting, in permitting a murderous, cruel tyrant to go scot-free, was due to weakness and vanity, and was not at all in accord with God's will.

v. 35. And a certain man of the sons of the prophets, the association which is mentioned so often during this period of Israel's history, said unto his neighbor in the word of the Lord, by Jehovah's order, Smite me, I pray thee, the purpose being to inflict a wound upon him. And the man refused to smite him.

v. 36. Then said he unto him, Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the Lord, for so the matter had undoubtedly been explained to him, behold, as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion shall slay thee. And as soon as he was departed from him, a lion found him and slew him, as a punishment for his disobedience.

v. 37. Then he found another man and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him.

v. 38. So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, for he wanted his message to reach him in public and before he returned home, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face, the heavy head-bandages concealed his features.

v. 39. And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king; and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle, and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man; if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his lifer or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver, the prisoner thus being represented as a person of importance.

v. 40. And as thy servant was busy here and there, engaged with minor matters, which caused him to forget his trust, he was gone. The end of the parable, namely, as to whether he could be held responsible for the escape of the prisoner entrusted to him, is purposely omitted. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it, he would have to pay the penalty.

v. 41. And he, the prophet, hasted and took the ashes, the bandage, away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets, he recognized his face.

v. 42. And he said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man. whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life and thy people for his people; Ahab would be held responsible, he would have to pay the penalty. By letting the archenemy escape, he had practically denied the might, the goodness, and the justice of Jehovah, and both he and Israel would pay.

v. 43. And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, in a peevish and stubborn mood, and came to Samaria. Where God's Word has spoken, all other considerations, including even that of human sympathy and expediency, must be set aside. He who blesses a sinner and condones a transgression plainly condemned by God's holy will, draws down God's curse upon his own soul.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/1-kings-20.html. 1921-23.
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