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THE DEFEAT OF THE SYRIANS
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 20:1. Benhadad—Son of the king of the same name mentioned (chap. 1 Kings 15:20). Thirty and two kings with him—Vassals or viceroys who ruled single cities or districts (comp. Joshua 12:7). With him—אִתּוֹ not confederated as equals, but connected as dependent and tributary.
1 Kings 20:4. According to thy saying, I am thone, &c.—Not an ironical taunt, “according to thy saying” it is so; for Ahab had not spirit enough to resent Benhadad’s insolent domination: it was timorous submission.
1 Kings 20:10. If the dust of Samaria shall suffice, &c.—Braggart menacing. Its purport is: Thou refusest me thy treasures, but with so great an army will I cover Samaria that, if every soldier wished to carry away a handful, its sand would not suffice. Josephus incorrectly interprets the words thus: “He could with his army cast up a dyke higher than his walls were, if every one of his people contributed only a handful of earth.”
1 Kings 20:11. Boast himself, &c.—Answered Beuhadad with a good and apt proverb. The Latins say: Ne triumphum canas ante victoriam—the victory must be won before it is celebrated (Keil).
1 Kings 20:14. The young men of the princes—The נְעָרים Thenius interprets as “pages unaccustomed to fight;” Ewald, as “young lads of very tender age”—rather, the armour bearers of the princes, a small and unequal band (see 1 Kings 20:15). Order the battle?—Open it, or make attack.
1 Kings 20:17. There are men come out—Scornful; not an army, not warriors, but only a few men! Benhadad ordered their capture, thinking it easy, and being content to drink on, contemptuous and self-indulgent.
1 Kings 20:20. On an horse with the horsemen—i.e., with horsemen surrounding him.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 20:1-21
THE VICE OF DRUNKENNESS
A TIME came that tested the value of Baal as the guardian deity of Israel. The Syrian king invaded the country, attended by a gay retinue of regal courtiers and an immense army. Samaria was speedily invested, and threatened with complete destruction. There is no appeal to Baal now: he is impotent to help in time of trouble. Nor is the help of Jehovah sought in this extremity. Israel is at the mercy of the foe; and the godless, unbelieving Ahab, with cowardly supineness, surrenders himself to his fate. But the Lord has still a regard for His deluded people, and sends a prophet to assure them of deliverance. Formidable as the army of Benhadad appeared, there was an element of weakness in it which might readily bring about its defeat. The wine cup passed round freely, and the Syrian king and his military staff became intoxicated (1 Kings 20:12-16). This paragraph, therefore, while recording the fact of supernatural interference on behalf of Israel, also illustrates the evils that may arise from the vice of drunkenness. Observe—
I. That the vice of drunkenness inflates the mind with the most arrogant pretensions (1 Kings 20:1-9). Benhadad proudly demanded possession of all the treasures of Ahab and of his people—money, wives, and children—and threatened to search the palace and dwelling of the city for whatever was worth taking away. The insolence of this is almost beyond precedent. Such treatment is the worst that could be expected for a city taken by main force; and even an unscrupulous Eastern conqueror could hardly demand it of a garrison that had yielded without fighting. The whole conduct of Benhadad is another example of how the consciousness of irresistible power is apt to breed a spirit of arrogance, especially when under the influence of intemperance. “When drink’s in, wit’s out.” The drunkard blusters and boasts what he has done, and what he will do; and though not backed by an immense force like that which surrounded Benhadad, he threatens terrible destruction to every opponent. But alas! it is only the froth of a pot-valiant swagger: when the fumes of the liquor are gone, so is the courage.
II. That the vice of drunkenness is closely associated with the vice of blasphemy (1 Kings 20:10). Benhadad swore by his gods, as the blasphemous Jezebel had done by hers (chap. 1 Kings 19:2). The meaning of Benhadad’s oath has been differently understood. “In its general sense it is undoubtedly a boast that the number of Benhadad’s troops is such as to make resistance vain and foolish. We may parallel it with the saying of the Trachinian at Thermopylœ, that the Persian arrows would darken the light of the sun. Probably the exact meaning is—When your town is reduced to ruins, as it will be if you resist, the entire heap will not suffice to furnish a handful of dust to each soldier of my army, so many are they. Thus there was a threat in the message as well as a boast” (Speaker’s Comm. Such blasphemous presumption does not go unpunished. Thus Julian, the apostate, going against the Persians, swore at his return to sacrifice the blood of the Christians. So the Constable of France vowed the destruction of Geneva: but God forbad it. The drunkard swears oaths of which he is ashamed in his sober moments. Intemperance and blasphemy are twin vices.
III. That the vice of drunkenness excites to deeds of recklessness (1 Kings 20:12). The Syrian king was so enraged with the final message of Ahab, given in the terms of a proverb (1 Kings 20:11), and which was the only evidence of anything like a courageous spirit shown by Ahab during the whole transaction, that he gave orders for the battle to begin forthwith, little dreaming what would be the result to his own army. A step taken in a moment of intemperate recklessness is difficult to recall, and may involve ruinous consequences.
IV. That the vice of drunkenness renders the inebriate unable to discern the hand of God in public events (1 Kings 20:13-15). It seemed that Israel was doomed; in a few hours Samaria would be a heap of ruins, and Ahab and his treasures in the hands of the warlike Syrian. But a power was at work, unnoticed by the Syrians, too long despised by Ahab and ignored by his people. God interposed, once more sent His prophet to explain the method of rescue, and once more to call the apostate Ahab back to his allegiance. It was an evidence of the feeble condition of Samaria at the time when 7,000 people comprised all its inhabitants, and out of these was formed the little army that was to be led by the 230 young men of the princes. It was a paltry, insignificant force to oppose against the swarming host of the Syrians. But Jehovah was working His purpose through that tiny band of soldiers; and such was the blind infatuation of the intoxicated king that he saw it not. Drunkenness blears both the natural and the mental eye, and darkens and impairs the moral sense.
V. That the vice of drunkenness incapacitates at a critical moment (1 Kings 20:16-18). The Syrians observe the sally of the young men from the city, and inform Benhadad; but such was his sovereign, almost sottish, indifference to any force that Samaria could send forth, that without troubling himself about the matter, he simply gave orders to take them alive. This was easier said than done. It was the crisis of the campaign, when the utmost vigilance and activity should have been shown; but the drunken king could not see it until it was too late. It is a great blunder to despise an enemy; and to be intoxicated gives the enemy a double advantage. “Drunkards are besotted and disabled; as a snuff of a candle in a socket drowned in the tallow yieldeth little or no light, but only a stench.”
VI. That the vice of drunkenness subjects its victims to humiliating defeat (1 Kings 20:19-21). The enemy that had been treated so contemptuously proved to be more powerful than was supposed. The 230 young men smote right and left, and laid prostrate all who opposed them; and the Syrians, seeing the 7,000 coming out of the city to join in the fight, were seized with a sudden panic and fled, Benhadad escaping on horseback, leaving his army to be massacred by the victorious Israelites. So that it now might be said to Benhadad what Zebul once said to Gaal: Where is now thy mouth which just now boasted such great things? (1 Kings 20:10) Is not this the people that thou hast despised? Go out, I pray now, and fight with them (Judges 9:38). Any undertaking begun and carried on in drunkenness is sure to end in confusion and misery. Intemperate boasting is often the prelude of defeat. Wisely did the Romans say: “Sing not the triumphal song before the victory.”
1. Drunkenness is a prolific source of national vice.
2. It is offensive to God and injurious to man.
3. It is certain to be severely punished.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 20:1-21. The pride and insolence of power.—I. Making extravagant demands (1 Kings 20:1-6). II. Using blasphemous threats (1 Kings 20:10). III. Provoking the weak to cautious and courageous opposition (1 Kings 20:7-9; 1 Kings 20:11; 1 Kings 20:13-15). IV. Giving way to sensual indulgence (1 Kings 20:12; 1 Kings 20:16). V. Contemptuously indifferent in moments of danger (1 Kings 20:17-18). VI. Brought to an ignominious downfall (1 Kings 20:19-21).
—Who can look for other than war when he sees Ahab and Jezebel on the throne, Israel in the groves and temples of Baalim? The ambition of Benhadad was not so much guilty of this war as the idolatry of that wicked nation. How can they expect peace from earth who do wilfully fight against Heaven? Rather will the God of hosts arm the brute, the senseless creatures, against Israel, than He will suffer their defiance unavenged. Ahab and Benhadad are well matched: an idolatrous Israel with a paganish Idumean. Well may God plague each other who means vengeance to them both!—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 20:2. The sacred historians study brevity so greatly, that their narrative is often, at the first look, abnormal and strange. But in view of this brevity, it is always lawful, as it is most reasonable, to supplement their narrative by supposing circumstances of small moment, which would remove the strangeness, to have happened, but not to have been recorded. Here the excessive demand of the Syrian king, coming close upon the first announcement of the siege, and placed at the very commencement of the negociations for peace, strikes us as something very unusual. But if we suppose a considerable time to have passed in the siege, and the city to be reduced to an extremity, and ambassadors to have been sent by Ahab to ask terms of peace short of absolute surrender, then we can quite understand that Benhadad might make such a demand in reply. He would expect and intend his demand to be rejected, since the voluntary surrender of his seraglio by an oriental monarch would be regarded as so disgraceful that no prince of any spirit could for a moment entertain the idea. The rejection of his demand would have left him free to plunder the town, which was evidently what he desired and purposed.—Speaker’s Comm.
1 Kings 20:1-4. In these two kings we see what a thing the human heart is, how insolent and timorous by turns (Jeremiah 17:9). It is insolent when man, grown prosperous, powerful, and rich, places his confidence in his success, and haughtily despises his neighbour. But it is timid when man falls into difficulty, and neither sees nor knows any help, just as was the despairing, womanly heart of king Ahab, who took it for granted that everything was lost when he saw the hosts of his enemies.—Wurt. Summ.
1 Kings 20:1-3. Benhadad thought that because he had the power to rob and appropriate, he also had the right to do so. But God gives power and might to kings, not to distort the right, but to protect it. The power of that one who, confiding in his own strength, treads the right under his feet, will sooner or later miserably decline.—Lange.
1 Kings 20:3-4. Benhadad knows his own strength, and offers insolent conditions. It is a fearful thing to be in the mercy of an enemy: in case of hostility might will carve for itself. Ahab now, after the division of Judah, was but half a king: Benhadad had two-and-thirty kings to attend him. What equality was in this opposition? Ahab, therefore, as a reed in a tempest, stoops to the violent charge of so potent an enemy. It is not for the overpowered to capitulate; weakness may not argue, but yield. Tyranny is but drawn on by submission; and, where it finds fear and dejection, insulteth.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 20:4. Abject submission.
1. Unbecoming the dignity of a king.
2. A revelation of a cowardly spirit.
3. Subjects to increased insults and degradation.
—Those who no longer have a Lord in Heaven whom they fear, and before whom they bow, cringe and fawn before all men who can harm or serve them. If Ahab had said to the King of kings what he sent as a response to the royal robber and boaster: “I am Thine, and all that I have,” he would then have had the trust and assurance: He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, &c. (Psalms 91:1-3). He who bows before God is sure to be humble before men; but he does not cringe to them nor throw himself away. To submit to the superior power and force that demands gold and silver is no disgrace; but to surrender wife and child is contrary to honour, duty, and conscience.
1 Kings 20:5-6. Haughty and insolent men grow all the more overbearing and ungovernable, and the more one submits to them, and crawls before them, and gratifies their desires, the more exorbitant they become in their demands. It is the curse that rests upon avarice, that the more the appetite after money and property is gratified, the more it grows, not diminishes (Proverbs 16:8).—Lange.
1 Kings 20:7; 1 Kings 20:9. Overstrained subjection turns desperate. If conditions be imposed worse than death, there needs no long disputation of the remedy. The elders of Israel, whose share was proportional in this danger, hearten Ahab to a denial; which yet comes out so fearfully, as that it appears rather extorted by the peremptory indignation of the people, than proceeding out of any generosity of his spirit. Neither doth he say, I will not; but, I may not.—Bp. Hall.
—Ahab and his people.
1. Ahab feels himself helpless and perplexed. Adversity teaches us how to pray, but Ahab had turned from the living God, who is a helper in every time of trouble, to a dumb idol that cannot help. He had forgotten how to pray. He had sought to help himself by cowardly submission, and now he seeks help of men. In every distress we should turn first to the Lord (Psalms 118:8-9; Psalms 108:13). II. The elders and the people reproach Ahab. Instead of his giving instructions to them with the words of Joel 3:15, like a king, they gave commands to him. He is no real king, realizing the position which has been given to him by God, whom the people control, instead of allowing themselves to be controlled by him. Tyrants are of this class. At first they do not consult the people, and do not scruple to appropriate their most sacred possessions, take away their faith, and burden their consciences. Ahab did not consult his people about the introduction of the worship of Baal and the persecution of the prophets; but now, when he does not know how to counsel or help himself, he applies to the wish of the nation—the aid of the people is now very acceptable.—Lange.
1 Kings 20:10-11. The proud Syrian, who would have taken it in foul scorn to be denied, though he had sent for all the heads of Israel, snuffs up the wind like the wild ass in the wilderness, and brags, and threats, and swears. O vain boaster! in whom I know not whether pride or folly be more eminent. Victory is to be achieved, not to be sworn; future events are no matter of an oath; thy gods, if they had been, might have been called as witnesses of thy intentions, not of that success whereof thou wouldst be the author without them. Thy gods can do nothing to thee, nothing for thee, nothing for themselves! All thine Aramites shall not carry away one corn of sand out of Israel, except it be upon the soles of their feet in their shameful flight; it is well if they can carry back those skins which they brought thither. There is no cause to fear that man that trusts in himself. Man may cast the dice of war, but the disposition of them is of the Lord.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 20:11. The Christian warrior. Very generally the young and inexperienced, when about to enter on any new enterprize, commence with feelings of more or less self-confidence. The young convert is often more confident than the old Christian, and thinks that he shall attain higher eminence in piety than others who are older in Christian experience. It is well to aim high, but we must not be too confident in our own strength, lest, like Peter, we suffer a grievous fall, or like others, sink down under great disappointment. In this verse we shall notice the contrast between the young Christian’s anticipations, and the old Christian’s experience.
I. The Christian soldier commencing his career.—
1. The oath of allegiance and servitude. When a young man determines to enter the army, he accepts the bounty, is examined, sworn-in to serve his sovereign and country, clothed in regimentals, and joins the army for actual service. So, when God in His mercy converts a soul, He is drawn by the cords of love and the bands of a man. He feels his vast obligations; first gives himself up in solemn covenant to God, and then to His people. Then, in the Lord’s house, in the presence of God, of angels, and men, takes the sacramental cup and swears allegiance to Christ. We know no act so solemn as this but the act of dying. It is a public dedication of the soul to God and to His service from henceforth.
2. The service he enters upon. As a soldier soon commences actual service to protect his country and defend its laws, so a soldier of Christ immediately enters on the Christian duties. He must oppose sin, fight against Satan, and withstand all the unhallowed influence of an ungodly world, and, as far as in him lies, promote the extension of the kingdom of Christ. The standard around which he is to rally is “The Cross,” and he must die rather than strike his colours. His encouragement is that he shall come off more than a conqueror.
3. The armour he wears. Ancient soldiers wore armour (1 Samuel 17:5-6; 1 Samuel 17:54.) The Christian soldier has a complete suit from the armoury of God (Ephesians 6:13-15): “The girdle of truth,” or Christian sincerity; “The breastplate of righteousness,” being blest with imputed and imparted righteousness; “The shoes of the Gospel,” having gospel truths as the foundation of his religion; “The shield of faith,” an indispensable thing, for without confidence in Christ he would always fail; “The helmet of salvation,” ever keeping his salvation in view and aiming after it; “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” which must be well handled both for offensive and defensive warfare, and always used with much prayer and with great determination and courage.
4. The ardent feelings he evinces. The soldier prepares himself with high expectations, and a determination not to desert his post or betray his cause. And so the young Christian soldier espouses the cause of Christ with ardent feelings, holy determination, and high anticipations of final success. He knows that an almighty arm is on his side, that grace is promised, and final victory insured. He has much reason to rejoice, but none for self-confidence, for the conflict will often be severe; he will frequently be discouraged, and perhaps occasionally wounded, though not finally defeated. Let him not boast except in the Lord and in His strength.
5. The manner in which he should conduct himself. It should be with prayer, watchfulness, and perseverance (Ephesians 6:18). A Christian cannot feel too much his entire dependence upon God for all he needs. He is commanded to “watch and pray.” Whatever be the strength of the foes, their mode of attack, the severity of the conflict, he must never lay down his arms; the decisive victory is often won when the conflict is most severe, and the soul most discouraged. Then it is that the power of the Great Captain is seen.
II. The Christian veteran at the close of his career.—
1. His retrospect. As the old soldier loves to recount his past career, so the old Christian, on the bed of death, can look back on his past experience with adoring gratitude, as he thinks of the beginning of his Christian life, the enemies he has had to face, the hard battles he has been in, the wounds he has received, the victories he has won, the honours he has gained; but even then, and though about to put off his armour, he feels that he has nothing to boast of, but much to be thankful for. He has lower thoughts of himself than ever, and higher thoughts of Christ, feeling that all his failings were from himself, and that the praise of all his victories belongs to the captain of his salvation.
2. His glorious end. The putting off his armour, which is at death, not before. When he has by grace conquered the last enemy, then his warfare is accomplished, and his honourable career ended; then he exchanges the sword for the palm, the helmet for the crown, the armour for the victor’s robe, and conflict for triumph.
3. His eternal triumph. No sooner is the last conflict over, and the victory won, than he enters heaven in triumph beyond all description or conception. What more could he wish for? He now thinks nothing of the warfare in the greatness of his joy.
1. That if you would enjoy this glory you must become a soldier of Christ.
2. That if you would be victorious you must put on the whole Christian armour, and look to God for grace.
3. That in order to stimulate you in the conflict, you should think of the victory promised and the glory that follows.—Pulpit Sketches.
1 Kings 20:13-15. Who can wonder enough at this unweariable mercy of God? After the fire and rain fetched miraculously from heaven, Ahab had promised much, performed nothing; yet again will God bless and solicit him with victory. One of those prophets whom he persecuted to death shall comfort his dejection with the news of his deliverance and triumph. Had this great work been wrought without premonition, either chance, or Baal, or the golden calves had carried away the thanks. Beforehand, therefore, shall Ahab know both the author and the means of his victory: God for the author; the two hundred and thirty young men of the princes for the means. What are these for the vanguard, and seven thousand Israelites for the main battle, against the troops of three and thirty kings, and as many centuries of Syrians as Israel had single soldiers? An equality of numbers had taken away the wonder of the event; but now the God of hosts will be confessed in this issue, not the valour of men. How indifferent is it with thee, O Lord, to save by many or by few, to destroy many or few! A world is no more to thee than a man; how easy is it for thee to enable us to be more than conquerors over principalities and powers!—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 20:13. Formerly Ahab wished no instruction from the prophets; now, in his danger and distress, he admits them and listens to them. In days of prosperity the world does not care for any advice from faithful servants of the Divine Word; it looks down upon them and despises them; but in the hour of sorrow and mourning it grants them access, and is glad to avail itself of their consolation. Before a great troop which has been abandoned of God, you have no cause to fear if God has said to you, I will help thee (Isaiah 41:13).—Starke.
1 Kings 20:16. Benhadad must have sorely repented his drunkenness, as it resulted in the loss of his army, his horses, and chariots. How often still is drunkenness the original cause of great sorrow and distress (Ephesians 5:18; Isaiah 5:22; Proverbs 23:29-30)!
—There was nothing in Benhadad’s pavilion but drink and surfeit and jollity, as if wine should make way for blood. Security is the certain usher of destruction. We never have so much cause to fear, as when we fear nothing. This handful of Israel dares look out, upon the prophet’s assurance, to the vast host of Benhadad. It is enough for that proud pagan to sit still and command amongst his cups. O the vain and ignorant presumptions of wretched men, that will be reckoning without, against their Maker!—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 20:18. Great men often think, when they have been disturbed in their carnal rest and security, that they only need to speak the word of command in order to be relieved from everything disagreeable and wearisome; but they must learn that they cannot rid themselves, by a command, of what God has sent for their humiliation.
1 Kings 20:19-21. The way of the godless shall perish (Psalms 1:6). Their way is covetousness and pillage (1 Kings 20:3-6), haughtiness, insolence, and assurance (1 Kings 20:10-18), service of their belly, wantonness (1 Kings 20:16). This way shall perish; they are as chaff which the wind driveth away, utterly consumed with terrors (1 Kings 20:20-21; Psalms 73:19).—Lange.
—How easy is it for Him who made the heart to fill it with terror and consternation, even where no fearis! Those whom God hath destined to slaughter He will smite; neither needs He any other enemy or executioner than what He finds in their own bosom. We are not the master of our own courage or fears: both are put into us by that overruling power that created us. Stay now, oh stay! thou great king of Syria, and take with thee those forgotten handfuls of the dust of Israel. Thy gods will do so to thee, and more also, if thy followers return without their vowed burden! Learn now of the despised king of Israel, from henceforth, not to sound the triumph before the battle, not to boast thyself in the girding on of thine harness as in the putting off.—Bp. Hall.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 20:22. At the return of the year—לִתְשׁוּבת השָׁנָה. with the beginning of the year—the spring—until which time the winter rains would prevent another campaign.
1 Kings 20:24. Put captains in their rooms—Not mere military ornaments, but experienced warriors. Benhadad now realises that he is engaged in no trifling conflict, to be airily undertaken and easily won.
1 Kings 20:26. Went up to Aphek—In the valley of Jezreel, not far from Endor (1 Samuel 29:1), “the largest plain of Palestine, where, from the times of Joshua to Napoleon, so many great battles have been fought” (Keil). There is also an Aphek near Bethshemesh, on the mountains of Judah (Joshua 15:53), where the Philistines lost the ark in battle (1 Samuel 4:1).
1 Kings 20:30. A wall fell upon 27,000—Interpreters say, by miracle or earthquake; but most probably the fugitives crowded on to the old walls and attempted to make a stand against their pursuers, whereupon the walls gave way under the weight and pressure burying the vast host in their ruins.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 20:22-30
THE SUPREME POWER OF JEHOVAH VINDICATED
I. Against the flippant calumny of the heathen (1 Kings 20:22-23). The Syrian chiefs placed the God of Israel on the same level as their own heathen deities, and attributed their failure to the power of the Israelitish gods, who were gods of the hills. The local power and influence of deities was a fixed principle of the ancient polytheism. Each country was considered to have its own gods; and wars were regarded as being to a great extent struggles between the gods of the nations engaged in them. But not thus could the God of Israel be localised. His omnipresence, as well as his omnipotence, must be vindicated; and the slanders and misconceptions of the heathen answered in a way they could understand. It is one of the most mournful results of sin that it distorts the true idea of God; and there are those to-day who have even less noble ideas of His being and attributes than many of the ancient heathen. Jehovah is continually declaring His power and godhead—in His works, by His ministers, in the events of His Providence, in the story of redemption.
II. By means apparently disproportionate (1 Kings 20:24-27). The Syrians were numerous—“filled the country”: the Israelites were comparatively few—“like two little flocks of kids.” The Syrians were well appointed: the Israelites but indifferently equipped. The Syrians chose their own battle-ground where their peculiar method of chariot warfare would have everything in its favour: the Israelites cautiously kept to the hills, and for six days harrassed the invaders as they marched along the plains, until on the seventh day the battle was joined, and it would seem to a spectator that the little band of Israelites would be instantly swallowed up by the Syrian hosts. But Jehovah is not confined to numbers, or to the best-considered human methods. He makes the weak things of the world confound the things that are mighty, to show that the excellency of the power is not of man, but of God.
III. By gaining a signal victory over the enemies of His people (1 Kings 20:29-30). Through the might of the Lord the Israelites were again victorious. They fell upon the Syrians, and slew great numbers of them. Seized with panic, the rest fled to Aphek, where a wall, probably cast down by an earthquake, crushed some thousands more in its fall. The vain boasting of the heathen was silenced; the Syrian host was scattered, and their king a fugitive and a suppliant. They had learnt that Jehovah was something more than the god of the hills. How terribly was their blasphemy rebuked! A day is approaching when all the detractors and enemies of God will be overthrown and punished, and the glory of His Name vindicated in the presence of an adoring universe.
IV. For the instruction of the nations (1 Kings 20:28). The Lord has no delight in war, nor does He take pleasure in the death of the wicked; but He is jealous for His own honour. The Israelites do not deserve deliverance; but the Syrians have blasphemed Him by denying His attributes of omnipotence and omnipresence, and this sin of theirs must be punished. By destroying the Syrians Jehovah shows in the eyes of all the nations round that He is not the god of the hills only, but also of the valleys. It was similarly a denial of Jehovah’s power which brought destruction on the host of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35). All the actions of God are full of significance, and are intended to reveal Himself more distinctly to the world. The more Jehovah vindicates His character, the higher the blessedness possible to man.
1. The presence of Jehovah is not confined to one locality.
2. Jehovah is specially jealous of His glory.
3. It is in great defeats that man discovers his own helplessness and the Almighty power of a righteous God.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 20:22-30. The two victories over the Syrians were designed, according to the declaration of both the prophets who foretold them, to effect that thou (the king) and ye (the entire nation) may know that I am Jehovah—that is to say, that Jehovah is the only true God, the God of Israel. In this declaration we have specified the purpose of the entire narrative, and, at the same time, the standpoint from which it is comprehended. That day on Mount Carmel, if it did not put an end to idolatry at once, had at least broken its power, as was already evident from the mere fact that the prophets were no longer persecuted and put to death, but could again go about openly, and continue the work begun by Elijah. Still the conversion was by no means complete, but rather, being weak, it needed support and strength from above, if a complete relapse was to be prevented from setting in. This assistance came from a display of the power of Jehovah, a power which rescued in a time of great need and distress. The attack of the Syrian king who had grown so mighty threatened Ahab and his kingdom with destruction. At this crisis God, who never forsakes His people, repeatedly grants them the victory, which was so extraordinary and wonderful that it could not possibly be ascribed to human power and strength, but only to God, to His might, His grace and truth. We have thus, in this account, not merely an ordinary history of wars, but a part of the divine history of salvation before us. Although the first victory is a marked evidence of the saving might and grace of Jehovah, the second, by which the entire Syrian power was destroyed, was for Israel, as well as for the Syrians themselves, a still more remarkable proof of the fact that Jehovah was no mere mountain and local or national divinity, but that the whole earth was His, and He was God of all nations (Exodus 19:5; Psalms 24:1). He who reduces the God of Israel to a mere local or national deity, as is so often done even now-a-days, stands on the same footing with the servants of the king of Syria (1 Kings 20:23; 1 Kings 20:28).—Lange.
1 Kings 20:22-25. The invariable symptoms of warlike policy. I. Restless vigilance and expensive preparations (1 Kings 20:22). II. A facility in finding reasons for recent defeat (23, 24). III. A thirsting for revenge (1 Kings 20:25).
1 Kings 20:22. God purposeth the deliverance of Israel, yet may not they neglect their fortifications; the merciful intentions of God towards them may not make them careless; the industry and courage of the Israelites fall within the decree of their victory. Security is the bane of good success. It is no contemning of a foiled enemy; the shame of a former disgrace and miscarriage whets his valour and sharpens it to revenge. No power is so dreadful as that which is recollected from an overthrow.—Bp. Hall.
—The advice of the prophet, Go, strengthen thyself, &c., is applicable in another and higher sense to us all. Our enemies are not idle, they are constantly returning to the attack. Even if we have by the help of the Lord obtained a victory over sin, the world, and the devil, that is not all there is to be done; we must, even after the victory, be on our guard and arm ourselves, so that the enemy may not fall on us unawares (1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:10; 1 Peter 5:8).
1 Kings 20:23-25. The evil counsellors of Benhadad. I. They urge him on to war and battle instead of counselling peace, because their pride was wounded, and their hope of booty had been frustrated. Place no confidence in the man who incites you to begin a quarrel. II. They plead religious reasons, and make use of the superstition of their unwitting lord. It is possible for a bad unholy thing to become confirmed through superstition; the man who plants himself on truth, however, will not permit himself to be deceived on such a foundation. III. They shove the blame of the ignominious defeat on to the thirty-two kings, instead of seeking for it in themselves. A man always prefers to find the cause of his own misfortune and distress in another’s rather than in his own sin and guilt.—Lange.
1 Kings 20:23. What doltish conceits doth blind paganism frame to itself of a godhead! As they have many gods, so finite: every region, every hill, every dale, every stream hath their several gods; and each so knows his own bounds, that he dares not offer to encroach upon the other; or, if he do, buys it with loss. Who would think that so gross blockishness should find harbour in a reasonable soul? A man doth not alter with his station: he that wrestled strongly upon the hill, loseth not his force in the plain; all places find him alike active, alike valorous. Yet these barbarous Aramites shame not to imagine that of God which they would blush to affirm of their own champions. Superstition infatuates the heart out of measure; neither is there any fancy so absurd or monstrous, which incredulous infidelity is not ready to entertain with applause.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 20:26. Benhadad followed their foolish and perverse advice, because it was entirely in accordance with his own wish. So strong and overpowering is sinful desire in the human heart, that even the bitterest dispensation and chastisement of God suppresses it only for a time, and, as soon as the external impression ceases, it breaks forth afresh.
1 Kings 20:27. The conditions of victory. I. Are not always decided by numbers. II. Are in the hands of God. III. It is vain for the most powerful armies to fight against the Divine purpose. IV. Valuable lessons are gained by defeat.
1 Kings 20:28. The declaration of the Divine Majesty. I. Is made by competent messengers. II. Seen in the overthrow of blasphemous detractors. III. Is intended to teach and reassure the people of God.
1 Kings 20:29. Nothing among mortal affairs is so inconstant as temporal prosperity. There is a time for everything. For that reason let no man place his dependence on his good fortune, and exalt himself on its account, for he does not know whether he shall possess in the evening what was his in the morning.—Wurt. Summ.
1 Kings 20:30. We may suppose a terrific earthquake during the siege of the place, while the Syrians were manning the defence in full force, which threw down the wall where they were most thickly crowded upon it, and buried them in its ruins. The great earthquake at Lisbon in 1755 is said to have destroyed 60,000 persons in a little more than five minutes.—Speaker’s Comm.
—“Benhadad fled into an inner chamber.” Glad to hide himself in any hole. So Manasseh, that faced the heavens in his prosperity, in trouble basely hides his head among the bushes (2 Chronicles 33:12). Gidlimer overcome by Bellisarius and besieged, sent to beg of him three things:
1. A piece of bread to ease his hunger;
2. A sponge to dry his eyes;
3. A harp to cheer up his heart, well-nigh broke with grief.—Trapp.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 20:33. Men did diligently observe—Took his words as a good omen. Did hastily catch it—Hastened to seize or quote the words, “my brother.” Ahab found his vanity flattered by their abject suit, and, losing sense and wit, yielded to a sentimental magnanimity.
1 Kings 20:34. Make streets for thee—חִצוֹת means business thoroughfares.
1 Kings 20:38. Ashes upon his face—Rather, head bandage for wounds (1 Kings 20:37).
1 Kings 20:42. Thou hast let go a man, &c.—It was a weakminded act, an injustice, a clear neglect of duty, and a dishonour to the God of Israel, whom the king of Israel represented. Ahab knew Benhadad was Israel’s enemy, and the fact that God had so signally defeated him showed Jehovah’s anger towards him.
1 Kings 20:43. Heavy and displeased—סַר וְזָעֵף, vexed and refractory, from סרר, to be stubborn (Deuteronomy 21:18); more than gloomy and uneasy—fretful and resentful.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 20:31-43
THE REMORSE OF NEGLECTED OPPORTUNITIES
LIFE is but brief, yet it is full of great opportunities for usefulness. Those opportunities correspond to our position, our means, and our abilities. God expects from no man what He has not given him power to do. He who is wise to sec and prompt to act when the opportunity is presented will win success and honour. Not to do the plainly revealed duty of the moment is to entail weakness, disappointment, and suffering. We shall be punished for the good we neglect, as well as for the evil that we do.
I. That opportunities occur when we are called to do a great work for God.
1. Every opportunity brings with it corresponding responsibility (1 Kings 20:31-32). Victory, a victory achieved by direct Divine interference, had placed Benhadad—the enemy of God and of Israel—in the power of Ahab. It was an opportunity not to be thrown away. The Lord had appointed this man to “utter destruction” (1 Kings 20:42), and Ahab knew it. Benhadad was to be taught to know, in avenging justice, the greatness of that God he had blasphemed; and the power of the state he ruled was to be so broken as to render it incapable of giving further trouble to Israel. The purpose of God and the safety of Israel were placed in the hands of Ahab; the enemy might now be punished, and his power for ever crushed. Ahab neglected the opportunity, and he lived long enough to see and regret it. It is a grave, solemn moment when we are brought into the presence of an acknowledged evil which we have power to destroy. We have need to pray for courage and fidelity to act wisely and decisively.
2. We are not justified in indulging private sentiment at the sacrifice of public duty (1 Kings 20:33-34). It was here that Ahab failed. What at first sight might seem an act of magnanimity becomes, when rightly viewed, a gross weakness; and the generosity which might entitle a man to praise if shown towards a private enemy, may become a crime in a king towards a public adversary. What would have been thought of the Regent of England, after the victory of Waterloo, if, when Napoleon, the great troubler of Europe, was brought a prisoner to our shores, he had been set free? The sense of duty was weakened in Ahab by his past disobedience and by his unlawful sympathy with idolatry. The neglect of one duty incapacitates the soul for doing another; and so when a great emergency comes upon us, we find ourselves unequal to its demands. The king must lose sight of selfish ends and feeling in a righteous anxiety to promote the public good.
II. That a time will come when we shall be made painfully conscious of opportunities neglected.
1. This may be done through the sufferings of others (1 Kings 20:35-38). A son of the prophets submitted to be wounded that he might the more effectively bring home to Ahab his sin. The faithful teacher must not shrink from suffering. It is rarely we can be faithful to others without pain to ourselves. The most powerful method of preaching the truth is learned in the school of trial.
2. Will be done in a way not to be mistaken (1 Kings 20:39-42).
(1). It was symbolic. This is the first example of those symbolical actions of the prophets which occur so often in the subsequent history of Israel and Judah. The man who refused to smite the son of the prophet became a representative of Ahab in his refusal to obey the word of the Lord. The prophets mentioned in 1 Kings 20:13; 1 Kings 20:22; 1 Kings 20:28 had said enough to show Ahab that when his royal enemy fell into his power he must not covenant with him, but smite and utterly destroy him. But his making a covenant with him and sending him away (1 Kings 20:34) was a refusal to smite him.
(2). It was faithful and pointed (1 Kings 20:42). Here Ahab, like David on another occasion (2 Samuel 12:5-6), pronounces his own condemnation. As the son of the prophet was to answer by his life for letting his supposed prisoner free, so Ahab is to answer with his life for granting liberty to the doomed Syrian monarch. The sin of neglect will sooner or later be brought home to every bosom, and the guilt will be self-acknowledged.
III. That the consciousness of neglected opportunities will fill the soul with bitter remorse (1 Kings 20:43). The slumbering conscience of the weak, easy-going Ahab was once more awoke, and he went to his home depressed and angry—angry with himself, and angry with the means which had been intended to bring him to repentance and disobedience. He felt the burden of a sense of Divine wrath upon him, and, instead of humbling himself and seeking for mercy, he became sulky and soured. He was still refractory and rebellious; and yet he could not shake off the gloomy, stinging remorse of neglected opportunities. His experience is a picture of the tortures which will for ever afflict the impenitent: for ever conscious of oft-repeated sin, and for ever incapable of ridding himself of its consequences!
1. Every soul will be judged according to its opportunities in life.
2. Opportunities for well-doing are offered to all.
3. To neglect opportunities for good is to condemn ourselves.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 20:31-43. When authority is compassionate out of the proper season, and neglects its office of correction, it draws upon itself the guilt of the other. God wants no mercy to be shown where He has ordered punishment.—Cramer.
1 Kings 20:31-33. Praise, flattery, and subserviency are only too often the snare with which kings and great men are caught, so that under the appearance of generosity and magnanimity they may be led astray and act contrary to the will of God. They ought, indeed, to be merciful and gracious, but not forget that to do justice is their first duty, and that they do not carry the sword in vain. Ahab persecutes an Elijah in every kingdom, and threatens him with death; but he permits a robber and a plunderer to sit beside him in his chariot, and makes a covenant with him. What in the eyes of the world looks like generosity, in the eyes of God, who trieth the heart and reins, is only weakness and folly. Great injury can be done by seeming ill-timed generosity.—Lange.
1 Kings 20:31. There can be no more powerful attractive of humble submission than the intimation and conceit of mercy. We do at once fear and hate the inexorable. This is it, O Lord, that allures us to thy throne of grace, the knowledge of the grace of that throne; with thee is mercy and plenteous redemption; thine hand is open before our mouths, before our hearts. If we did not see thee smile upon suitors, we durst not press to thy footstool. Behold now we know that the king of heaven, the God of Israel, is a merciful God; let us put sackcloth upon our loins and strew ashes upon our heads, and go meet the Lord God of Israel, that He may save our souls.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 20:32 compared with 1 Kings 20:10. Contrasts in the same individual life.
1. The king—the slave.
2. The proud boaster—the craven suppliant.
3. The confident leader of a great army—the defeated and dejected fugitive.
1 Kings 20:32. How well doth this habit become insolent and blasphemous Benhadad and his followers! a rope and sackcloth! a rope for a crown, sackcloth for a robe! He that was erewhile a lord and king, is now a servant; and he that was servant to the king of Syria, is now his lord. He that would blow away all Israel in dust, is now glad to beg for his own life at the door of a despised enemy. No courage is so haughty which the God of hosts cannot easily bring under. What are men or devils in those Almighty hands?—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 20:34. Complicity with idolatry.
1. Unfits for the proper discharge of kingly duties.
2. Encourages a false leniency towards the greatest enemy.
3. Blinds the mind to true conceptions of public justice.
4. Sows the seeds of future troubles.
—Ahab, without “inquiring of the Lord,” who had given him so great a victory (1 Kings 20:28), whether he should let Benhadad go or no, at once agrees to the terms offered; and, without even taking any security for their due observance, allows the Syrian monarah to depart and return to his own country. Considered politically, the act was one of culpable carelessness and imprudence. It let loose an enemy whose talent, ambition, and personal influence made him peculiarly formidable; and it provided no effectual security against the continuance of his aggressions. Benhadad might, or might not, regard himself as bound by the terms of a covenant made when he was a prisoner. If he took the view that he was not bound—as his after conduct shows that he did (22 1 Kings 20:3)—Ahab left himself no means of enforcing the obligations incurred except by a renewal of hostilities. And if Ahab’s conduct was thus, politically speaking, wrong in him as the mere human head of a state, much more was it unjustifiable in one who held his crown under a theocracy. “Inquiry at the word of the Lord” was still possible in Israel (1 Kings 22:0, 1 Kings 20:5; 1 Kings 20:8), and would seem to have been the course that ordinary gratitude might have suggested.—Speaker’s Comm.
—This as impolitic as untheocratic proceeding of Ahab arose by no means from a “heart naturally very good,” but from weakness, indecision, and self-deluding vanity. To free a cruel and faithless enemy was not only great harshness towards his own subjects, but also an obvious striving against God, who, by granting the promised victory, had given the enemy of His people into His hand. Even though Ahab had no express command, as Saul had regarding Agag (1 Samuel 15:3), yet there lay upon him, if as theocratic ruler he would respect the will of the Lord, inasmuch as the Lord had given him into his hands as a despiser of His Divine Majesty, the sacred duty of securing rest for himself and his subjects by his death; as it was natural to presume that the faithless adversary, after his freedom was recovered, would not adhere to a treaty formed on compulsion, which accordingly happened (1 Kings 21:1). The punishment of his striving against God is immediately announced to Ahab.—Keil.
1 Kings 20:35-37. He who has his calling and service from the Word of God ought to allow no danger to detain him from making an announcement of the fact (2 Timothy 4:2), and must obediently submit himself to His commands, even when the fulfilment of them is joined with pain and sacrifice.
1 Kings 20:35-36. Disobedience.
1. Is aggravated as committed against the revealed will of God.
2. Is not excused from a reluctance to inflict pain.
3. Is faithfully denounced.
4. Is inevitably punished.
1 Kings 20:35. “Smite me, I pray thee.”
1. That hereby I may show Ahab how he hath wounded his own soul by sparing Benhadad.
2. What a wound both he and his people shall hereafter receive hereby.
3. That I may seem a wounded soldier, and so may have the easier access to Ahab.—Trapp.
1 Kings 20:36. It is not for us to examine the charges of the Almighty: be they never so harsh or improbable, if they be once known for His, there is no way but obedience or death. Not to smite a prophet when God commands, is no less sin than to smite a prophet when God forbids. It is the divine precept or prohibition that either makes or aggravates an evil; and if the Israelite be thus revenged that smote not a prophet, what shall become of Ahab that smote not Benhadad!—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 20:40. Lost opportunities. I. Important interests have been committed to our care.
1. Our personal salvation.
2. The salvation of our neighbours.
3. The religious education of our children.
4. Sympathy and relief for the poor and suffering. II. God furnishes an opportunity to all.
1. He fits the opportunity to the work required.
2. He provides the means essential to success.
3. He gives efficiency and certainty to the effort. III. Opportunities lost are lost for ever.
1. We lose them unconsciously.
2. We lose them while busied here and there with minor things.
3. Lost opportunities bring loss of happiness.
4. The consequences of their loss will be eternal.—Wythe.
—The danger of much worldly business. Consider—
1. The extreme brevity of seasons of spiritual advantage. Shortness of life—illustrate by metaphors of Scripture. Life as the commencement of eternity, everything; in competition with eternity, nothing. Danger of procrastination. Importance of every opportunity of spiritual instruction. II. The difficulties and dangers against which we have to guard, if we would not sacrifice them.
1. The absorbing character of worldly business.
2. Liable to neglect chief ends of existence for inferior pursuits.
3. Much devotedness to the world disqualifies for spiritual services.
4. Positive losses of religious privilege accrue from multitude of engagements. III. The appalling losses we may sustain through a solitary act of negligence. Great business of Satan is to draw off men from the care of the soul. One act of indiscretion may, in the things of this life, involve years of repentance; but one neglect of the soul may be the cause of its everlasting ruin. “Oh, that thou hadst known at least in this thy day,” &c.
1. Cultivate a spirit of contrition over past indifference.
2. Use all diligence to make your calling and election sure.—The Preacher’s Portfolio.
1 Kings 20:42-43. Ahab listened well pleased to the falsehood from the lips of the Syrian nobles, for it gave nourishment to his folly; the truth from the mouth of the prophet made him restless and angry, because it punished his folly. There is no help for the man who allows himself to be irritated by the truth instead of receiving it with meekness (James 1:21). There is nothing that so rouses and provokes an unconverted and unbelieving man as to have his sinful character so unveiled and set before his eyes that he can no longer justify or excuse himself.—Lange.
1 Kings 20:42. The equity of punishment.
1. The Divine order.
2. Is regulated by opportunities granted.
3. Is afflicted according to nature and degree of sin.
1 Kings 20:43. “Heavy and displeased.” Not with a “sorrow according to God,” but such as arose from a slavish fear. This heavy message in the midst of his triumph being worse than the whip and bell hung up usually in the chariot of the Roman triumpher, to show him what he might one day come to—namely, to be whipped as a slave, yea, to lose his head as an offender.—Trapp.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20