AHAB DEFEATS SYRIA
God's care for His people Israel is still remarkably displayed in this chapter in spite of the unholy character of Ahab. Ben Hadad, king of Syria, marshaled a tremendous army, having 32 kings allied with him, and came to Samaria to besiege the city. Because he was so confident of his superior strength, he did not immediately begin battle, however, but sent messengers to Ahab to tell him, "Your silver and your gold are mine; your loveliest wives and children are mine" (v.3). Thus he was calling upon Ahab to submit to his authority.
Ahab knew his forces were no match for the formidable enemy, so he answered, in evident subservience, "My lord, 0 King, just as you say, I and all that I have are yours" (v.4). He would give in to the haughty demands of Ben Hadad.
However, Ben Hadad became still more demanding, requiring that Ahab allow Ben Had ad's servants to search the houses of Ahab and his servants and take everything they desired (vs.5-6). This was too much for Ahab (though he might have been better off if Ben Hadad had taken his wife (Jezebel)! After consultation with his court officials he sent back word to Ben Hadad that, though he would agree to the first demand, he could not agree to the second (v.9).
Ben Hadad's reply was course and arrogant. He sent word to Ahab, "The gods do so to me, and more also, if enough dust is left in Samaria for a handful for each of the people who follow me" (v.10). The haughtiness of Ben Hadad evidently emboldened Ahab to reply to him, "Let not the one who puts on his armor boast like the one who takes it off" (v.11). Of course these were fighting words just as those of Ben Hadad were, and Ben Hadad received the message as he and his cohorts were drinking in the command post, the place where sober, sound wisdom was called for. He gave orders to get ready to attack the city (v.12).
But Ben Hadad ignored the fact that the God of Israel cared for His people. In fact, Ahab himself had cause to be fearful because of his weak condition numerically and because he had little regard for the God of Israel. In spite of this, God intervened, sending a prophet to Ahab to tell him that this great multitude of the Syrians would be delivered into their hand that day. Notice however that God told him this with an object in view, - that Ahab would know that God is indeed the Lord (v.13).
Ahab seemingly wanted more direction, and God gave this, telling him that he was to use the young leaders of the provinces, while Ahab himself was to be in charge. He mustered these leaders and followed this with mustering the people, only 7000 strong.
This seemed a pathetically weak force against the formidable army of Syria, but Ben Hadad, totally self-confident, was becoming drunk together with the other 32 kings (v.16). Would a leader like that inspire his men in disciplined warfare? Certainly not! But when the young men of Israel went out of the city, Ben Hadad gave orders to take them alive, whether they had come out for peace or for war. He had no doubt of Syria's total superiority.
But God's intervention decided everything. Those who wanted to capture the young men of Israel found that they themselves were killed instead (vs.19-20). This spread confusion into Syria's ranks and they fled from Israel. While Ben Hadad was able to escape on horseback, the army of Syria was left a prey to Israel, who attacked their horses and chariots and slaughtered a great number of the enemy (v.21).
However, the Lord sent the prophet again to Ahab to tell him not to relax, but strengthen himself, because Syria would in the Spring of the year return to attack Israel. The fact of God thus intervening on behalf of Ahab ought to have driven Ahab to turn from his evil ways and trust only the Lord, but sadly, the Word of God did not really penetrate his hard heart. The patience of God is wonderful, and this foolish king might have had a different end if only he had turned to the Lord.
A SECOND VICTORY FOR ISRAEL
The Syrians had no concept of a sovereign God, but assumed that each nation had certain 'gods' of various kinds who were all subject to the weakness and failure seen in humans. Ben Hadad's servants conceived the notion that Israel's God was a God of the hills because Israel bad triumphed in the hill country (v.23). Therefore they thought they would win if they were to fight Israel in the plain. Such is the stupidity of unbelief! They made careful plans as to how they would engage in another battle, and Ben Hadad was persuaded to accept these plans (vs.24-25).
As the Lord had warned Ahab, Ben Hadad returned in the Spring of the year with another tremendous army, going to Aphek, away from the hill country. Their arms filled the countryside, while Israel's forces resembled two little flock of goats (v.27).
The Lord again intervened on behalf of Israel, sending a man of God to Ahab to tell him that because the Syrians had said that God is not a God of the valleys, therefore God would deliver the multitude of the Syrians into the hand of the small Israelitish army (v.28). Again the Lord clearly declares that He has an object in doing this, that Ahab might know that God is the Lord. How often did God bear witness to His grace and power for Ahab's benefit! Yet all this had little lasting effect on Ahab's attitude toward God.
For seven days the armies remained opposite each other, each as it were taking measure of the other. Thus there was no element of surprise involved in the battle, except that when they attacked, the Israelites were able to kill 100,000 foot soldiers of the Syrians in one day The rest fled to Aphek, but found no security there, for God caused a wall to fall on 27,000 men. Thus there was a tremendous slaughter of Syria, and the king, Ben Hadad, found a hiding place in an inner chamber.
AN ILL - ADVISED TREATY
Ben Hadad's servants then advised their master to go out to seek the leniency of Ahab, for they had heard that Israel's kings were merciful. Ben Hadad would certainly not have spared Ahab if the tables had been turned, but of course he would take advantage of any possibility to remain alive. They put on the outward signs of repentance and came to Ahab, telling him "Your servant Ben Hadad says, "Please let me live" (v.32).
Ahab, self-complacent now that he was in the driver's seat, could be magnanimous, and told them, since Ben Hadad was still alive, "He is my brother." Sadly, this attitude compares with that of many Christians who consider it gracious to act as though even unbelievers were brothers, thus identifying themselves with the enemies of the Lord under the specious plea of toleration. But this is treachery against the Lord.
Ahab invited Ben Hadad into his chariot and Ben Hadad told him that the cities his father had taken from Ahab's father he would restore, and also that Ahab could set up market places for Israel in Damascus. On this basis they made a treaty and no doubt Ahab felt he had done good work in making Ben Hadad more friendly toward him in an outward way But Ahab was ignorant of God's thoughts.
GOD'S SENTENCE AGAINST AHAB
Ahab now needed a serious lesson. The Lord chose a striking way to teach him this. He had one of the sons of the prophets ask another man to wound him by striking. The man refused this, and was told a lion would kill him because he had refused to obey the Lord. This prophecy came to pass immediately after (v.36). Then the prophet asked the same of another man, who obliged him, inflicting a visible wound (v.37).
The prophet then waited for Ahab by the roadside, disguising himself with a bandage over his face (v.38). As the king passed by, he called out to him, saying that in the battle a man had brought to him a captive, telling him to guard the captive with the stipulation that if the captive escaped, either he would die or pay a tribute of silver. Then he said that while he had been busy the captive had disappeared.
Ahab responded that the man should be judged by his own admission, but Ahab was not prepared for the message the prophet then gave him, when the prophet took off his disguise and the king recognized him. He told Ahab that because he had let slip out of his hand the king that God had appointed to destruction, therefore the Lord would require Ahab's life for the life of Ben Hadad and Ahab's people for Ben Hadad's people. Not only would Ahab die, but his people, Israel, would suffer because of Ahab's wickedness. This was fulfilled by the raging conquest of Jehu (2 Kings 9:14-37; 2 Kings 10:1-28).
Sadly, this message to Ahab did not turn him back to the Lord, but caused him only to become sullen and displeased (v.43). Such is the attitude of foolish unbelief. Ahab is a sad witness to the truth of Proverbs 29:1, "He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany