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1 Kings 20:11. Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.
HOWEVER blinded men are in reference to their own sins, they can easily discern sin in others, and declare sagaciously enough what true wisdom requires. We should certainly not have expected Ahab, of all men, to become a monitor: the dictates of wisdom seem but ill suited to his lips. But the counsel, which he here gave to the king of Syria, was excellent, and is deserving of all the attention that can be paid to it.
In considering this counsel, it is my intention to point out,
The wisdom of it—
It may be noticed either,
As a political maxim—
[The history of all mankind attests the propriety of this advice. In every age there will be found unnumbered instances to prove that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor yet bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:11.].” The event of Benhadad’s boasting, as recorded in the chapter before us, is a remarkable illustration of this truth. So numerous were his forces, that he declared the very dust of Samaria would not suffice for each man to take au handful: yet were they all put to flight by a very small force (the whole of Ahab’s army scarcely exceeding seven thousand men); and not by experienced warriors, but “by the young men of the princes of the provinces,” and those amounting to no more than two hundred and seventy-two [Note: ver. 13–21.]. Whether in public or in private life, undue confidence will be sure to entail on us the most bitter disappointments — — —]
As a religious theorem—
[For man to boast of any thing that he will do, argues an utter forgetfulness of what human nature is, (imbecility itself — — — [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.]): of what God is, (the sole Governor of the universe, who “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will [Note: Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11.]” — — —): and of what he himself is; (for who has not, from bitter experience, learned, that “he who trusteth in his own heart is a fool [Note: Proverbs 28:26.]?”) Indeed, an overweening conceit of our own powers is the most ready way to arm God himself against us, and to ensure the defeat of our own purposes [Note: Isaiah 10:13-19.] — — — With God on his side, a stripling, with his sling and stone, may overcome a vaunting Goliath [Note: 1 Samuel 17:44-47.]: but, without God’s assistance, the strongest man on earth can effect nothing [Note: John 15:5; Jeremiah 10:23.].]
That we may see the practical utility of this advice, I will proceed to mark,
The importance of it—
It is of special importance,
To those who are just entering on their spiritual course—
[Persons in this situation are often ready to imagine, that their warfare is almost accomplished, when it is, in fact, scarcely yet begun. But, if God, as in the case of Israel coming out of Egypt [Note: Exodus 13:17.], keep off those trials which you are not yet prepared to encounter, do not think that you have no warfare to maintain. The way to heaven will not prove so easy as you imagine. If you become “a soldier of Jesus Christ,” you must prepare for war, and be ready to “fight the good fight of faith.” Sooner or later, you shall have occasion for all the armour that he has provided for you [Note: Ephesians 6:10-18.].]
To those who are going on victorious—
[Satan’s devices are more than can be numbered. He may, and no doubt often does, recede for a time, that he may renew his assaults to greater advantage. See the stratagem of Joshua against the men of Ai — — —, and you will have a just picture of the wiles by which Satan, that subtle serpent, is labouring to destroy you [Note: 2Co 11:3; 1 Peter 5:8.]. Your only safety is in watchfulness and prayer [Note: Mark 14:38.] — — —]
To those who are most advanced in the divine life—
[To you, no less than to others, is this counsel of great value. Did Lot, after withstanding the temptations of Sodom, fall in the cave? Did David, after all his high attainments, fall; and Solomon, “after the Lord had appeared to him twice?” Did Peter violate all his resolutions; and Demas, after his long course of steadfastness, relinquish at last all his professions? Who, then, are you, that you shall be secure? “Let him that thinketh he standeth, whoever he be, take heed lest he fall [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:12.]:” let him “not be high-minded, but fear [Note: Romans 11:20.]:” “blessed is the man that feareth always [Note: Proverbs 28:14.].” If Paul needed to keep his body under, “lest, after preaching to others, he himself should become a castaway [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.],” there is no creature under heaven to whom the counsel in my text is not altogether suitable and necessary. To all, then, I say, “Look to yourselves, that ye lose not the things that ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward [Note: 2 John ver. 8.].”]
AHAB’S SIN IN SPARING BENHADAD
1 Kings 20:42. 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.
IN every page of the Holy Scriptures we are reminded, that the Lord disposeth of all events according to his sovereign will, whilst at the same time he suits his dispensations to the conduct of mankind. Between the parties spoken of in our text there was little difference with respect to their desert before God: Ahab was an idolatrous Israelite; and Benhadad was a proud atheistical heathen. God appointed them, as his instruments, to punish each other: his primary purpose indeed was to destroy the heathen prince, and to rescue from his tyranny the king of Israel. For this end, God left Benhadad to follow the dictates of his own proud spirit, and gave to Ahab the directions and encouragements that were necessary to ensure success. But Ahab neglected to execute the commands of God; and then God reversed his sentence, and denounced against Ahab and his people, the destruction that had been designed for Benhadad and his people. This is told us in the words which we have read; and which will serve to shew us,
The power which God will exercise towards us—
Great has been the temporal deliverance [Note: Preached a few days after Buonaparte’s return to Paris, from his invasion of Russia (1812), after the destruction of his army, and just previous to its utter annihilation.] recently vouchsafed unto us—
[What has been done for our northern allies, has in reality been done for us. And, behold what a wonderful deliverance that is which the official reports announce to us! The resemblance between it and the facts recorded in the chapter before us is so striking, that, notwithstanding we do not in general approve of minute statements of this kind in a public discourse, we cannot forbear to point it out to you.
Behold then the origin of the contest between Benhadad and the king of Israel; the war was altogether unprovoked on the part of Ahab, and proceeded from the insufferable pride and tyranny of the Syrian monarch. Behold his boastings, whilst yet he was “only girding on his armour:” yet, notwithstanding his confederate armies were so numerous, he was vanquished by a little band of princes, whose efforts he utterly despised: and this proud boaster fled away on horseback from the field of battle, whilst his army was defeated with great slaughter. Mortified beyond measure, but not humbled, he determines to collect another army, numerous as the first, and to effect the destruction of his victorious enemy. At the return of the year he renews his attempts; but, notwithstanding the immense disproportion of the contending armies, he is again defeated with the loss of a hundred thousand men; and God completes his destruction by causing the walls of Aphek to fall, and bury in their ruins twenty-seven thousand more of those who had escaped the edge of the sword. Thus was this tyrannical oppressor constrained at last to hide himself in an inner chamber, and to become a suppliant for his own life.
Behold the parallel. The proudest and most tyrannical oppressor that has appeared in modern ages, invaded Russia for no other reason than because she would not be subservient to his will, and aid his ambitious designs. He went at the head of an immense army of confederate princes; boasting that no power could withstand him: but through the merciful intervention of Providence he has been vanquished, and that too by men whom he had despised as incapable of standing before a single regiment of his warriors; and he himself fled on horseback from the field of battle, and hastened back in disguise to his own country, leaving his whole army to be a prey to the sword of the avenger, and to the elements, which have left scarcely any remaining to record the history of their disasters. This man however is now boasting, like Benhadad, that he will with the returning spring replace his armies, and renew his assaults. He pours the same contempt on God that the Syrian monarch did. Benhadad indeed did acknowledge his defeat to have proceeded from a superior Being, though he limited his power to the hills, and thought to overcome him in the plains: but this atheistical ruler discards God entirely, and talks of nothing but “fate and fortune.” What shall be the issue of his future attempts, God alone knows: but we think it highly probable, that he is working out his own destruction as Benhadad did.
We cannot fail of acknowledging the interposition of Heaven in the history of Benhadad: let us be willing also most thankfully to acknowledge it in the events which we have just recited.]
Great also is the spiritual deliverance which God will vouchsafe to all who look unto him—
[The power of our spiritual enemies is infinitely more disproportionate to ours, than that of Benhadad to the king of Israel [Note: Ephesians 6:12.] — — — But God has instructed us how to overcome them, and will enable us to do it [Note: Ephesians 6:13-18.] — — — No enemy shall prevail against us, if only we rely on him, and follow his directions [Note: Isaiah 54:17; Romans 8:31-39.] — — — His people in every age have been made victorious [Note: Hebrews 11:32-34.] — — — and we also, if we fight manfully under the banners of the cross, shall have “Satan himself shortly bruised under our feet” — — —]
In this connexion it is highly requisite to contemplate,
The fidelity we should exercise for him—
God punished Ahab for not executing faithfully the work assigned him—
[As Agag, king of Amalek, had formerly been delivered into the hands of Saul in order to his destruction, so was now Benhadad into the hands of Ahab. But Ahab, elated with vanity, spared the captive monarch, and restored him to his throne; and thus brought upon himself and upon his own people the destruction which was primarily intended for their Syrian enemies.
The way in which this sentence was denounced against him was very remarkable. A prophet was required to personate a wounded soldier, and by a well-contrived parable to get Ahab to condemn himself. The artifice succeeded; and Ahab did unwittingly condemn himself, and thereby justify God in executing upon him the sentence which he had passed upon the supposed offender. And it was but about three years afterwards that Ahab himself was slain in battle with the Syrian monarch, whom he had so inconsiderately spared.]
And shall not we be called to account for the manner in which we execute his commands in relation to our spiritual enemies?
[As to what may be God’s will in reference to our great temporal foe, we presume not to judge: and where an express revelation is wanting, we must be guided by justice and political expediency. But respecting our spiritual enemies we have no doubt. He requires them all to be slain without exception: not one is to be spared. The great master-sin, whatever it be, “the sin that most easily besets us,” must be the object of our more determined hostility [Note: Hebrews 12:1.]. If one sin be spared, our life must go for the life of that: if it be dear as “a right eye,” or necessary as “a right hand,” we have no alternative, but to destroy it utterly, or to perish eternally “in hell fire [Note: See how frequently this awful truth is repeated, and this terrific language used, in Mark 9:43-48.]” — — — Shall we then rest content with any victory, whilst so much as one lust remains to be mortified and subdued? — — —]
The proud and presumptuous—
[Let not any imagine it an easy thing to get to heaven: our foes are exceeding numerous and powerful; and the more secure we are in our own conceit, the more certain we are to be subdued before them — — — “Let us not be high-minded, but fear.”]
The timid and desponding—
[Our weakness, though a reason for crying mightily to God for aid, is no reason for despondency. “When we are weak, then are we strong,” because God will then interpose to “perfect his own strength in our weakness.” If, as we are told, “a worm shall thresh the mountains [Note: Isaiah 41:14-15.],” then need not any man fear, if only he go forth in Jehovah’s strength, and follow the directions which God has given him. The language of the feeblest saint should be, “Who art thou, thou great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain [Note: Zechariah 4:7.].”]
The humble and victorious—
[Some there are who, though crying occasionally, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” are yet able to add with joy, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Yes, many there are who can say, “Thanks be to God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ!” Let them therefore be more and more joyful and confident in their God. But let none ever forget, that their enemies, however often repulsed, are watching for opportunities to renew their assaults. Whilst we are in this world we must not for a moment lay aside our armour, or intermit our exertions. Soon the period of final victory shall arrive; and then shall we be invested with that glorious kingdom which God has promised to all that overcome [Note: Revelation 3:21.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany