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Monday, May 27th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 20

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-43


THE INVASIONS OF ISRAEL BY THE SYRIANS AND THEIR RESULTS.—The insertion of this chapter, which contains an account of two invasions of Israel by the hosts of Syria, and of the utter defeat of the latter, and which therefore constitutes a break in the history of Elijah, which has occupied the historian up to the end of 1 Kings 19:1-21; and which is resumed with 1 Kings 21:1-29.—the insertion of this twentieth chapter in this place is apparently due to the compiler of these records, who seems to have adopted this arrangement as the more chronological. It is not absolutely certain, however, that we owe this disposition of his materials to the original compiler, as the Vatican LXX; which sometimes appears to represent an older and purer text, places 1 Kings 20:1-43. after 1 Kings 21:1-29; thereby concluding the history of Elijah—so far as it was comprehended in the reign of Ahab—before entering on the subject of the Syrian wars. It is not improbable, consequently, that this latter was the original order; and it is quite certain that the account of Elijah's ministry, of which 1 Kings 21:1-29. forms a part, is of a piece with 1 Kings 19:1-21; and by the same hand, and is by a different hand from the author, or authors, of chaps, 20. and 22. 1 Kings 22:1 also supplies a reason why that chapter should follow 1 Kings 20:1-43. There seems, moreover to be a close connexion between 1 Kings 22:1-53. and the denunciation of 1 Kings 20:42. But the present arrangement evidently dates from very early times.

1 Kings 20:1

And Ben-hadad [See on 1 Kings 11:14 and 1 Kings 15:18. The LXX. uniformly spells the name Ader (υἱὸσἌδερ). The form אֲדַד is found in 1 Kings 11:17, and דand רare frequently interchanged; cf. Genesis 25:15, Genesis 36:39 with 1 Chronicles 1:30, 1 Chronicles 1:46. We learn from 1 Chronicles 1:34 that this prince was the son of a Syrian king who had conquered some of the cities of Israel, but we cannot nevertheless be certain that he was the son of that Ben-hadad (1 Kings 15:18) who invaded Israel in the reign of Baasha (Ewald), See on 1 Chronicles 1:34.] the king of Syria gathered all his host [See note on 1 Kings 10:2, where we have same word] together: and there were thirty and two kings with him [Evidently these were vassals, not allied powers. The number alone proves that they must have been petty princes or chieftains of Hittite tribes, ruling over very limited districts' and all acknowledging the suzerainty of the king of Damascus, all paying tribute (1 Kings 10:25) and furnishing a contingent in time of war "The Assyrian inscriptions show that this country was, about the period in question, parcelled out into a number of petty kingdoms," etc.], and horses, and chariots [Heb. horse and chariot; cf. verse 21 and 1 Kings 1:5; 1 Kings 10:26; 1 Kings 16:9, etc. Both are collective nouns. We see here the fruit and retribution of Solomon's irreligious policy. "A king who has been probably identified with this Ben-hadad brought into the field against Assyria nearly 4000 chariots" (Rawlinson)]: and he went up and besieged Samaria, and warred against it. [The object of this expedition was clearly to humble and to plunder the kingdom of Samaria. It would almost appear, from the animus of the Syrian king and the studied offensiveness of his messages, as if Ahab or Israel must have given him dire offence. But Ben-hadad was clearly a vain and overbearing and tyrannical prince, and the only crime of Israel may have been that it was independent of him, or had refused to do him homage.]

1 Kings 20:2

And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into [Heb. to. It is not clear that they entered the city. They may have delivered their message to the king, or to his representatives at the gates or to the people on the walls (2 Kings 18:18, 2 Kings 18:27)] the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Ben-hadad,

1 Kings 20:3

Thy silver and thy gold is mine [Heb. mine it is]; thy wives also and thy children [Nothing reveals Ben-hadad's object more clearly than the mention of Ahab's wives. When we consider how jealously the seraglio of an Eastern prince is guarded, and how the surrender of the harem is a virtual surrender of the throne (2 Samuel 16:21, 2 Samuel 16:22; note on 1 Kings 2:22), and certainly a surrender of all manhood and self-respect, we see that his aim was to wound Ahab in his tenderest point, to humble him to the lowest depths of degradation, and possibly to force a quarrel upon him], even the goodliest [The LXX. omits this. Bähr says the word can only apply to the sons, and that it must mean the most eminent young men of the city—not Ahab's children—whom Ben-hadad demanded as hostages. But against this is

(1) Ahab's answer, "All that I have," etc.;

(2) the fact that Ben-hadad obviously meant insult and plunder; and

(3) the language of verse 7, where see note], are mine. [Heb. mine are they. Rawlinson would explain this excessive demand of the Syrian king by the assumption that when it was made the siege had already lasted a long time, and that the people were now reduced to the greatest straits, circumstances which the historian, with the characteristic brevity of the sacred writers, omits to mention. But really no such supposition is needed. The overwhelming force which Ben-hadad had at his back would, in his eyes, justify any demands. And the prima facie view of verse 2 is that the messengers were sent on the first approach of the army, or rather at the beginning of the siege.]

1 Kings 20:4

And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have. [Much has been written about Ahab's pusillanimous acquiescence in these disgraceful terms, etc. But it is not absolutely clear that he ever meant to surrender either wives or children to the invader. All that is certain is that he judged it wise, in the presence of the enormous force arrayed against him, to make every possible concession, to adopt the most subservient tone, and to cringe at the feet of Ben-hadad. But all the time he may have hoped that his soft answer would turn away wrath. It is very far from certain that had Ben-hadad sent to demand the wives and children which Ahab here seems willing to yield to him they would have been sent. When Ben-hadad threatens (1 Kings 20:6) a measure which involved much less indignity than the surrender of the entire seraglio to his lusts, Ahab stands at bay. Allowance must be made for the exaggerations of Eastern courtesy. The writer was entertained in 1861 by Jacob esh Shellabi, then sheykh of the Samaritans, who repeatedly used words very similar to these. "This house is yours," he would say; never meaning, however, that he should be taken at his word.]

1 Kings 20:5

And the messengers came again, and said, Thus speaketh Ben-hadad, saying, Although [Heb. כִי. According to some of the grammarians, this is merely the Hebrew equivalent of the ὅτι recitantis. But the כִי אִם of the next verse suggests that there must be a connexion between the two, and that the second emphasizes the first, much as in the A.V.] I have sent unto thee, saying, Thou shalt deliver me thy silver and thy gold, and thy wives, and thy children [Our translators have often sacrificed force to elegance by disregarding the order of the Hebrew, which here, e.g; is "Thy silver and thy gold to me thou shalt give them."]

1 Kings 20:6

Yet I will send my servants unto thee tomorrow about this time [This proposal was definite and immediate, the first demand was vague and general. "In the first Ahab was to send what he thought fit to give; in the second, Ben-hadad's servants were to take into their own hands whatsoever they thought fit to sieze" (Wordsworth)], and they shall search thine house, and the houses of thy servants; and it shall be, that whatsoever is pleasant in [Heb. the desire of] thine eyes [The LXX. and some other versions have a plural suffix—their eyes. But the Hebrew text is to be preferred. The object of Ben-hadad was to couch his message in the most oftensive and humiliating terms, and "the desire of thine eyes" would be likely to cut deeper and wound more than "the desire of their eyes"], they shall put it in their hand, and take it away. [If Ahab ever hoped by his abject submission to conciliate the Syrian king, he now finds that his words have had just the opposite effect. For all that the latter concluded from it was that Ahab was one upon whom he might trample at pleasure, and this servility encouraged Ben-hadad to renew his demands in a still more galling and vexatious form. This second message discloses to us still more plainly the royal bully and braggart, and shows us what the "comity of nations" in the old world was often like.]

1 Kings 20:7

Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land [Bähr remarks that this expression, compared with "the elders of the city" (1 Kings 21:8, etc.), suggests either that these nobles, as the highest officials, had their residences at the court, or upon the approach of Ben-hadad had betaken themselves thither with their treasures. Rawlinson builds on this slender basis the conclusion that the council of elders which, he says, belonged to the undivided kingdom, had been continued among the ten tribes, had an important place in the government, and held regular sittings at the capital] and said, Mark, I pray you, and see how this man [or fellow. The זֶה expresses either hatred or contempt. Cf. 1 Kings 22:27; Luke 23:2, Luke 23:18, etc.] seeketh mischief [the purport of Ahab's address is not, "Ben-hadad is not satisfied with my treasures; he wants yours also" (Bähr), for there is no reference whatsoever to their property, but, "See how he is determined on our ruin. Nothing short of our destruction will suffice him. He is bent on provoking an encounter, that he may plunder the city at pleasure." The salient word is the רָעָה]: far he sent unto me for my wives, and for my children [LXX. περι τῶν υἱῶν μου. This shows clearly that "the most eminent young men "cannot be meant in Luke 23:3], and for my silver and for my gold: and I dented him not. [What these words mean depends on what Luke 23:4 (where see note) means. It is difficult to conceive that any monarch could gravely proclaim his own shame to his counsellors; could confess, that is, that he had consented to surrender his children and concubines without a struggle.]

1 Kings 20:8

And an the eiders and an the people [not only, i.e; the inhabitants of Samaria (Keil), but also those who had flea thither for refuge. It is not implied that they were formally consulted, but at such a crisis, when nothing could be done, humanly speaking, without their support, it was natural that they should express their opinion] said unto him Hearken not unto him nor consent. [Lit; thou shalt not consent. אַל is the equivalent of μὴ, ne, and לא of οὐ, non. Cf. Amos 5:5, and Ewald 350 a.]

1 Kings 20:9

Wherefore [Heb. and] he said unto the mcaeengers of Ben-hadad, Tell my lord the king [He still employs the same obsequious language as in verse 4], All that thou didst send for to thy servant at the first I will do: but this thing I may [Heb. can] not do [At first sight it appears as if Ahab objected to the search (verse 6), i.e; plunder, of his house and capital much more than to the surrender of his wives to shame and of his children to slavery. But we must remember that a man is ready to promise almost anything in his extremity, and that we do not know what construction he put, or would have claimed to put, upon Ben-hadad's first demand, had that monarch consented to revert to these conditions, or by what means he hoped to evade it]. And the messengers departed, and brought him [Ben-hadad, not Ahab, as Rawlinson imagines] word again. [Not the "word related in the next verse" (Rawlinson), but the message just recorded.]

1 Kings 20:10

And Ben-hadad sent unto him, and said [These words would be quite superfluous, if the oaths of which we now hear were the "word" of 1 Kings 20:9], The gods do so unto me, and more also [see notes on 1 Kings 2:23; 1 Kings 19:2], if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls [The meaning of שְׁעָלִים pugilli, is fixed by Isaiah 40:12, and Ezekiel 13:19] for all the people that follow me. [Heb. that are in my feet. Same expression Judges 4:16; Jdg 5:15; 1 Samuel 25:27; 2 Samuel 15:17, etc. This thoroughly Oriental piece of bluster and boasting, which was intended, no doubt, to strike terror into the hearts of king and people, has been variously interpreted, but the meaning appears to be sufficiently clear. Ben-bahad vows that he will make Samaria a heap of dust, and at the same time affirms that so overwhelming is his host, that this dust will be insufficient to fill the hands of his soldiers. Rawlinson compares with it the well-known saying of the Trachinian to Dieneces, that the Median arrows would obscure the sun (Herod. 7:226), but 2 Samuel 17:18 is still more apposite.]

1 Kings 20:11

And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him Let not him that girdeth on his harness bout himself as he that putteth it off. [This proverb consists of four words in the Hebrew. The commentators cite the Latin, Ne triumphum canas ante victoriam, but proverbs to the same effect are found in most languages.

1 Kings 20:12

And it came to pass, when Ben-hadad [Heb. he] heard this message [Heb. word], as he was drinking, he and the kings in the pavilions [Heb. booths. The word shows that, in lieu of tents, kings and generals on an expedition sometimes used leafy huts, like those of Israel (Leviticus 23:34, Leviticus 23:42). Such booths, it is said, are still erected on military expeditions in the East], that he said unto his servants, Set yourselves in array [Heb. שִׂימוּ one short, decisive word. His indignation and astonishment were too great for more. We might perhaps render "Form." Cf. 1 Samuel 11:11; Joshua 8:2, Joshua 8:13; Job 1:17; Ezekiel 23:24. It cannot mean οἰκοδομήσατε χάρακα (LXX.)] And they set themselves in array [or formed. Again one word, which is more spirited and graphic, and conveys that the command was instantly obeyed] against the city.

1 Kings 20:13

And, behold, there came a prophet [Heb. one prophet. Cf. 1 Kings 13:11. According to Jewish writers, this was Micaiah, son of Imlah, but 1 Kings 22:8 negatives this supposition, This is another proof that all the prophets had not been exterminated. Where Elijah was at this time, or why he was not employed, we have no means of determining. Bähr says that he was "least of all suited for such a message," but not if he had learned the lesson of 1 Kings 19:12. At the same time, it is to be remembered that he invariably appears as the minister of wrath. It may also be reasonably asked why this gracious interposition was granted to the kingdom of Samaria at all. Was not this invasion, and would not the sack of the city have been, a just recompense for the gross corruption of the age, for the persecution of the prophets, etc.? But to this it may be replied that Ben-hadad was not then the instrument which God had designed for the correction of Israel (see 1 Kings 19:17; 1 Kings 22:31; 2 Kings 10:32), and furthermore that by his brutal tyranny and despotic demands, he had himself merited a chastisement. The city, too, may have been delivered for the sake of the seven thousand (1 Kings 19:18; 2 Kings 19:34. Cf. Genesis 18:26 sqq.) But this gracious help in the time of extremity was primarily designed as a proof of Jehovah's power over the gods of Syria (cf. 1 Kings 19:13, 28; 1 Kings 18:39; 2 Kings 19:22 sqq.), and so as an instrument for the conversion of Israel. His supremacy over the idols of Phoenicia had already been established] unto Ahab king of Israel, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou seen all this great multitude? [cf. 1 Kings 19:10. "In Ben-hadad's wars with the Assyrians, we sometimes find him at the head of nearly 100,000 men" (Rawlinson).] Behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord. [This explains to us the motif of this great deliverance.]

1 Kings 20:14

And Ahab said, By whom? And he said, Thus saith the Lord [Observe the repetition. He is careful to give special prominence to the sacred name, as the only help in trouble (Psalms 20:1, Psalms 20:5, Psalms 20:7, etc.)], Even by the young men [or servants—נַעַר, has both meanings, corresponding with παῖς (cf. Genesis 37:2; 2 Kings 5:20; 2 Kings 8:4] of the princes of the provinces. [The local governors (cf. 1 Kings 4:7; 1 Kings 10:15), on the approach of Ben hadad, had apparently fled to the capital. Whether these "young men" were their "pages" (Thenius), or even were "young lads" (Ewald) at all, or, on the contrary, a "select body of strong young men" (Bähr), the bodyguard of the various governors (2 Samuel 18:15) (Von Gerlach), may be doubtful; but when Bähr says that Ahab would not have consented to appoint weak boys to lead the van, at least without remonstrance, he must have forgotten that all the ordinary means at Ahab's disposal were equally insufficient, and that in themselves 200 or 2000 tried veterans would have been just as inadequate a force as 200 pages. The agency by which the victory was won was purposely weak and feeble (per turbam imbellem), in order that the work might be seen to be of God (cf. Judges 7:2; 1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 1:29). And this consideration makes against the supposition that the attacking body was composed of tried and skilful warriors.] Then he said, Who shall order [Heb. bind; we speak of "joining battle"] the battle? [The meaning is—not, "who shall command this force," but, "which side shall begin the fray?"] And he answered, Thou [i.e; thy band of young men shall make the attack.]

1 Kings 20:15

Then he numbered [or reviewed (cf. Numbers 1:44 sqq.; Numbers 3:39-43)] the young men of the princes of the provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty-two [cf. 2 Chronicles 14:11; Psalms 33:16; Deuteronomy 32:30, etc. LXX. διακόσια τριάκοντα. Theodoret remarks that by this band—230, as he understood it—Almighty God would destroy the hosts of thirty and two kings. The numbers may have been recorded because of the correspondency]: and after them he numbered all the people, even all the children of Israel, being seven thousand. [This number is of course to be understood, unlike that of Deuteronomy 19:18, literally. And the context (cf. Deuteronomy 19:19) shows that this was the number of fighting men. But this small army can hardly fail to create surprise, especially if we compare it with the statistics of the soldiery of an earlier age (2 Samuel 24:9; 1Ch 21:5; 2 Chronicles 13:3; 2 Chronicles 14:8). It is true this was not strictly an army, but a garrison for the defence of the capital. But it looks very much as if, under the feeble rule of Ahab, the kingdom of Israel had become thoroughly disorganized. "The position of Jarchi is that of a true Rabbi, viz; that the 7000 were those who had not bowed the knee unto Baal (1 Kings 19:18)," Bähr.]

1 Kings 20:16

And they went out at noon. ["At the time when Ben-hadad, haughty and confident, had given himself up with his vassals, to the table, news of which had probably been received in the city" (Bähr). But it seems at least equally probable that the noon hour was selected either in obedience to the unrecorded directions of the prophet, or as being a time for rest and sleep, as it still is in the East.] But Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the pavilions, he and the kings, the thirty and two kings that helped him. [Strong drink would seem to have been a besetment of the monarchs of that age (of. 1 Kings 16:9; Proverbs 31:4; Daniel 5:1 sqq.; Esther 1:10; Esther 7:2; Habakkuk 2:5). It can hardly have been to "mark his utter contempt of the foe," Rawlinson, who compares Belshazzar's feast (Daniel 5:1-4) when besieged by Cyrus. But Ben-hadad was the besieger. We are rather reminded of Alexander's carouse at Babylon.]

1 Kings 20:17

And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first; and Ben-hadad sent out [Or had sent out. Possibly, the unusual stir in the city, the mustering of the troops, etc; had led to his sending out scouts before the young men issued from the gates. The LXX; however, has "And they send and tell the king of Syria," which Rawlinson thinks represents a purer text. But it looks like an emendation to avoid the difficulty, which is removed by translating וַיִּשְׁלַח as pluperfect], and they told him saying, There are men come out of Samaria. [Heb. men went forth, etc.]

1 Kings 20:18

And he said, Whether they be come out for peace [i.e; to negociate or to submit], take them alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive. [We may trace in these words, possibly the influence of wine, but certainly the exasperation which Ahab's last message had occasioned the king. So incensed is he that he will not respect the rights of ambassadors, and he is afraid lest belligerents should be slain before he can arraign them before him. Possibly he meant that they should be tortured or slain before his face.]

1 Kings 20:19

So these young men of the princes of the provinces came out of the city, and the army which followed them. [i.e; the 7000. They "came out" after the young men.]

1 Kings 20:20

And they slew every one his man [The LXX; which differs here considerably from the Hebrew, inserts at this point καὶ ἐδευτέρωσεν ἕκαστος τὸν παρ αὐτοῦ. Ewald thinks the Hebrew text ought to be made to correspond, and would read וַיּשְׁנוּ אישׁ אישׁוֹ i.e; each repeatedly killed his man, as in 1 Samuel 14:16]: and the Syrians fled [When a few had fallen, utter panic seized the rest. The separate kings, with their divided interests, thought only of their own safety. It was a sauve qui pout. "The hasty and disordered flight of a vast Oriental army before an enemy contemptible in numbers is no uncommon occurrence. Above 1,000,000 of Persians fled before 47,000 Greeks at Arbela" (Rawlinson). The very size of such hosts, especially where the command is divided and where the generals are drunk or incapable, contributes to their defeat]; and Israel pursued them: and Ben-hadad the king of Syria escaped on an horse [Thenius suggests that this was a chariot horse, the first that presented] with the horsemen. [Heb. and horsemen; sc; escaped with him Keil). He had an escort in some of his fugitive cavalry.]

1 Kings 20:21

And the king of Israel went out [It looks as if Ahab had remained within the city until the defeat of the Syrians was assured], and smote [LXX. καὶ ἐλαβε, and captured] the horses and chariots [i.e; the cavalry and chariotry; cf. 1 Kings 20:1], and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter. [Heb. in Syria a great, etc.]

1 Kings 20:22

And the prophet [obviously the same prophet] came to the king of Israel, and said unto him, Go, strengthen thyself [both as to army and to city], and mark, and see what thou doest ["Take every precaution. Don't think that the danger is past"]: for at the return of the year [in the following spring. There was a favourite time for campaigns (2 Samuel 11:1), viz; when the rainy season was past. Several late wars, notably those of our own armies in Africa and Afghanistan, have been considerably influenced by the seasons. And the wars of ancient times were almost universally summer raids. "Sustained invasions, lasting over the winter, are not found until the time of Shalmaneser" (2 Kings 17:5; 2 Kings 18:9 2 Kings 18:10, Rawlinson)] the king of Syria will come [Heb. cometh] up against thee.

1 Kings 20:23

And the servants of the king of Syria said unto him [naturally anxious to retrieve their character and obliterate their disgrace], Their gods are gods of the hills [All pagan nations have believed in local deities, Dii montium, dii nemorum, etc. (see 2 Kings 18:33-35; 2 Kings 19:12, 2 Kings 19:13). Keil accounts for this belief—that the gods of Israel were mountain divinities, by the consideration that the temple was built on Mount Moriah, and that worship was always offered on "high places." Kitto reminds us that the law was given from Mount Sinai, and that fire had recently descended on Mount Carmel. "In Syrophoenicia, even mountains themselves had Divine honours paid to them" But it is enough to remember that Samaria was a hilly district, and that the courtiers must find some excuse for the defeat]; therefore they were stronger than we; but [Heb. (וְאוּלָם often well rendered but not in this instance) by the LXX. οὐ μὴν δὲ ἀλλά] let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. [This counsel, which apparently rests on religious grounds alone, was, it is probable, really dictated by the practical consideration that in the plain the Syrians would be able to deploy their chariots a most important arm of their service in a way which they could not do in the valleys round Samaria. See 1 Kings 16:24, note. Moreover the Israelites would lose the advantage of a strong position and the cover of their fortifications if they could be induced to meet them in the "great plain," or on any similar battlefield.]

1 Kings 20:24

And do this thing. Take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains [Same word as in 1 Kings 10:15, where see note] in their rooms. [Not so much because (Bähr) the kings only fought through compulsion, for they appear to have been in complete accord with Ben-hadad (1 Kings 10:1, 1 Kings 10:12, 1 Kings 10:16), as because of their incapacity and divided interests and plans. The captains would presumably be selected because of their valour, military skill, etc.; the kings would owe their command to the accident of birth, etc. Moreover an army with thirty-three leaders could not have the necessary solidarity. Bähr assumes that the removal of the kings would involve the withdrawal of the auxiliaries which they contributed. But this does not appear to have occurred to Ben-ha

], horse for [Heb. as] horse, and chariot for chariot: and we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. And he hearkened unto their voice, and did so.

1 Kings 20:26

And it came to pass at the return of the year, that Ben-hadad numbered the Syrians [Heb. Syria], and went up to Aphek [As the word signifies "fortress," it is only natural that several different places should bear this name, and the commentators are not agreed as to which of them is here intended. Keil and Bähr identify it with the Aphek hard by Shunem (1 Samuels 29:1; cf. 28:4), and therefore in the plain of Esdraelon, while Gesenius and Grove the latter because of its connection with הַמִּישׁוֹר the plain, a word applied, κατ ἐξοχὴν to the plain in the tribe of Reuben (Deuteronomy 3:10; Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 13:9, Joshua 13:16, Joshua 13:17, Joshua 13:21, etc.)—would see in it the Aphek east of the Jordan, the Apheca of Eusebius, and perhaps the place mentioned 2 Kings 13:17 (where, however, see note). This trans-Jordanic Aphek is new represented by the village of Fik, six miles east of the sea of Galilee, and standing, as Aphek must have then stood, on the high road between Damascus and Jerusalem. On the whole, the balance of probability inclines to the latter. It would follow hence that the Israelites, emboldened by their victory of the preceding year, had crossed the river to meet the enemy], to fight against Israel. [Heb. to the war with Israel.]

1 Kings 20:27

And the children of Israel were numbered [lit; numbered themselves. Hith-pael], and were all present [Rather, and were provided with food, כוּל = to nourish. The Alex. LXX. inserts καὶ διοικήθησαν. Vulgate accepetis cibariis. Marg. were victualled. This word of itself suggests that they were at a distance from their capital or other city], and went against them [Heb. to meet them]: and the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks חֲשִׂיף strictly means separated. It is rightly translated "little flocks" (not "flocks," Rawlinson ), because the idea is that of two bands of stragglers separated from the main body of the flock. So the Vulgate, duo parvi greges caprarum; but LXX; δύο ποίμνια άγῶν. Ewald thinks the "two flocks" points to an an auxiliary fores furnished by Jehoshaphat, fighting with Israel. He also thinks goats are mentioned to convey the exalted position of the camp upon the hills. Flocks of goats as a rule are smaller than those of sheep, the former being more given to straying] of kids [lit; she-goats. "These flocks pasture mostly on the cliffs, and are smaller than the flocks of sheep" (Bähr)]; but the Syrians filled the country. [The whole plain swarmed with their legions in striking contrast to the two insignificant Bodies of Israelites.]

1 Kings 20:28

And there came a man of God [Whether this is the same person as the "prophet" of 1 Kings 20:13, 1 Kings 20:22, is not quite clear. The difference in the designation would lead us to suppose that a different messenger was meant. It is true the Hebrew has the article "the man of God" (LXX. ὁ ἄνθρωπος τοῦ θεοῦ), but אִיּשׁ הֶאֱלהִים (see Judges 13:6; Deuteronomy 33:1) is often hardly distinguishable from the same words without the article], and spake [Heb. said, same word as below] unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the Lord, Because the Syrians [Heb. Syria, but with a plural verb] have said, The Lord is Cod of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the Lord. [It was partly for the instruction of Israel, and to confirm their wavering faith in Jehovah (see verse 13), that this deliverance was wrought. But it was also that neighbouring nations might learn His power, and that His name might be magnified among the heathen.]

1 Kings 20:29

And they pitched one over against the other [Heb. these opposite these] seven days. [The Syrians, despite their overwhelming numbers, appear to have been afraid to attack, and the Israelites were naturally reluctant, despite the promise they had received, to join battle with so great a host]. And so it was, that in the seventh day the battle was Joined [Heb. the war drew near. It may have been by the direction of the man of God that the Israelites attacked on the seventh day, or the precedent of Jericho (Joshua 6:15) may have influenced their leaders; or the number seven, properly the mark and signature of the covenant, may have come to be regarded superstitiously—in fact, as a lucky number And the Hebrew at first sight seems to favour this idea, for it may be rendered literally, they smote Syria, a hundred thousand, etc. The 100,000 would then represent the entire strength of the Syrian infantry. But the mention of the "footmen" and of "one day" alike suggests that it is of slaughter, not dispersion, that the historian speaks.]

1 Kings 20:30

But the rest [Plainly those not claim It cannot mean those not defeated] fled to Aphek [It is clear that this fortress was then in the possession of the Syrians, as they took refuge within its walls], into the city; and there a wall [Heb. the wall, i.e; the city wall] fell upon twenty and seven thousand of the men that were left. [The Hebrew implies that these were practically all who survived the battle, הַנּוֹתָרִים is the word translated above, "the rest." We have here surely an exaggeration, even more obvious than that of verse 39. For even if we suppose an earthquake, it is difficult to believe that the walls of a place like Aphek could bury so large a number in their ruins. Rawlinson suggests that the Syrians at the time were "manning the defences in full force," and that the earthquake "threw down the wall where they were most thickly crowded upon it;" hut the question arises whether it is possible to mass 27,000 men upon any part of a wall, or all the walls, especially of an ancient village fortress. Thenius hints that the fall of the wall may have been occasioned by the Israelites undermining it during the night, but it seems hardly likely that so small a force could undertake operations of that kind against so formidable a body of troops. Keil objects to this view on another ground, viz; that its object is to negative the idea of a Divine interposition. But the text does not ascribe the fall of the wall to any such interposition, and we know that the sacred writers are not slow to recognize the finger of God whenever it is exerted.] And Ben-hadad fled, and came into [Heb. to] the city [i.e; Aphek. Rawlinson interprets this statement to mean that he "fled from the wall, where he had been at the time of the disaster, into the inner parts of the city," but this is extremely doubtful. Observe the words, "fled and cane to the city"—words almost identical with those used of the fugitives above], into an inner chamber. [Heb. into a chamber within a chamber, as in 1 Kings 22:25. This cannot mean from chamber to chamber," as marg. It is to be observed that חֶדֶר alone signifies properly an inner chamber. See Genesis 43:30; Judges 16:9, Judges 16:12. Rawlinson thinks that a secret chamber may be meant "a chamber in the wall, or one beneath the floor of another."]

1 Kings 20:31

And his servants [Possibly the very same men who (1 Kings 20:23) had counselled this second expedition] said unto him, Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings [As no doubt they were when compared with contemporary pagan sovereigns]: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins [in token of humiliation and contrition, שַׂק is identical, radically, with σάκκος, saccus, and our sack], and ropes upon our heads [i.e; round our necks. To show how completely they were at Ahab's mercy. Bähr shows that this custom still exists in China hut the well-known story of the citizens of Calais, after its siege by Edward III; supplies a closer illustration], and go out [Heb. go] to the king of Israel [It would appear from the language of verse 33 am if Ahab's army was now besieging the place. He himself may have kept at a safe distance from it]: peradventure he will save thy life. [LXX. our lives, τὰς ψυχὰς ἡμῶν.]

1 Kings 20:32

So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. [Compare with this abject petition for life the arrogant insolence of 1 Kings 20:6, 1 Kings 20:10. The tables are indeed turned.] And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother.

1 Kings 20:33

Now the men did diligently observe whether anything would come from him and did hastily catch it [Heb. and the men augured—נִחֵשׁ divinavit. Cf. Genesis 44:15; Le Genesis 19:26; 2 Kings 17:17. LXX. οἰωνίσαντο. Vulgate acceperunt pro omine—and hasted and made him declare whether from him, the meaning of which is sufficiently clear, viz; that the men took Ahab's words,"He is my brother," as a speech of good omen, and immediately laid hold of it, and contrived that the king should be held to it and made to confirm it. The only difficulty is in the word וַיַּחְלְטוּ which is ἄπαξ My. The Talmud, however, interprets it to mean, declare, confirm; in the Kal conjugation and the Hiphil would therefore mean, made him declare. The LXX. and Vulgate, however, have understood it otherwise, taking חָלַט as the equivalent of חָלָץ rapuit. The former has ἀνελέξαντο τὸν λόγον ἐκ τοῦ οτόματος αὐτοῦ, and the latter rapuerunt verbum ex ore ejus. They would seem also to have read instead of הַדָּבָר מ חֲמֵמֶּנוּ (Ewald). The law of dakheet, by which Rawlinson would explain this incident, seems to be rather an usage of the Bedouin than of any civilized nations]: and they said, Thy brother Ben-hadad. Then said he, Go ye, bring him. Then Ben-hadad came forth to him [out of his hiding-place and out of the city]: and he caused him to come up into the chariot. [A mark of great favour (compare Genesis 41:43), and of reconciliation and concord (cf. 2 Kings 10:15).]

1 Kings 20:34

And Ben-hadad said unto him The cities, which my father took from thy father, I will restore [We can hardly see in these words "the terms of peace which he is willing to offer as the price of his freedom" (Rawlinson), because he was absolutely at Ahab's mercy, and was not in a position to make any stipulations; but they express Ben-hadad's idea of the results which must follow the conquest. His utter defeat would necessitate this reconstruction of their respective territories, etc. We cannot be quite certain that the cities here referred to are those enumerated in 1 Kings 15:20, as taken by Ben-hadad's armies from Baasha. For Baasha was not the father, nor even was he the "ancestor" (as Keil, later edition) of Ahab, but belonged to a different dynasty. At the same time it is quite conceivable that a prince in Ben-hadad's position, in his ignorance or forgetfulness of the history of Israel, might use the word "father" improperly, or even in the sense of "predecessor." We know that אָב had a very extended signification.] Keil and Bähr, however, think that we have a reference to some war in the reign of Omri (cf. 1 Kings 16:27), which is not recorded in Scripture. And the words which follow make this extremely probable, inasmuch as in Baasha's days Samaria had no existence]; and thou shalt make streets [חצוֹת lit; whatever is without; hence streets, spaces, quarters] for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. [The commentators are agreed that a permission to establish bazaars or quarters, in which the Hebrews might live and trade, is here conceded]. Then said Ahab [These words are rightly supplied by our translators. The meaning would have been quite clear had the Hebrews been familiar with the use of quotation marks. For lack of these, all the versions ascribe the words to Ben-hadad], I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him and sent him away.

1 Kings 20:35

And a certain man [Heb. one man; of. 1 Kings 13:11, note] of the sons of the prophets [Here mentioned for the first time, though the prophetic schools probably owed their existence, certainly their development, to Samuel. The בּנֵי הָןּ are of course not the children, but the pupils of the prophets. For this use of "son," cf. 1Sa 20:1-42 :81 ("a son of death"); 2 Samuel 12:5; Deuteronomy 25:2; Matthew 23:15; 1 Kings 4:30; Ezra 2:1; John 17:12, and Amos 7:14. Gesenius refers to the Greek ἱατρῶν υἱοί ῥητόρων υἱοί, etc; and says that among the Persians "the disciples of the Magi are called, "Sons of Magi." The word, again, does not necessarily imply youth. That they were sometimes married men appears from 2 Kings 6:1, though this was probably after their collegiate life was ended. As they were called "sons," so their instructor, or head, was called "father" (1 Samuel 10:12)] said unto his neighbour [or companion. Another prophet is implied. It was because this "neighbour" was a prophet that his disregard of the word of the Lord was so sinful, and received such severe punishment], in the word of the Lord [see on 1 Kings 13:1], Smite me, I pray thee. [Why the prophet, in order to the accomplishment of his mission—which was to obtain from Ahab's own lips a confession of his deserts—why he should have been smitten, i.e; bruised and wounded, is not quite clear. For it is obvious that he might have sustained his part, told his story, and obtained a judgment from the king, without proceeding to such painful extremities. It is quite true that a person thus wounded would perhaps sustain the part of one who had been in battle better, but the wounds were in no way necessary to his disguise, and men do not court pain without imperious reasons. Besides, it was "in the word of the Lord" that these wounds were sought and received. It is quite clear, therefore, that it cannot have been merely to give him a claim to an audience with the king (Ewald)—he could easily have simulated wounds by means of bandages, which would at the same time have helped to disguise him—or that he might foreshadow in his own person the wounding which Ahab would receive (1 Kings 22:11), for of that he says nothing, or for any similar reason. The wounding, we may be quite sure, and the tragical circumstances connected therewith, are essential parts of the parable this prophet had to act, of the lesson he had to teach. 1%w the great lesson he had to convey, not to the king alone, but to the prophetic order and to the whole country, the lesson most necessary in that lawless age, was that of implicit unquestioning obedience to the Divine law. Ahab had just transgressed that law. He had "let go a man whom God had appointed to utter destruction;" he had heaped honours on the oppressor of his country, and in gratifying benevolent impulses had ignored the will and counsel of God (see on verse 42). No doubt it seemed to him, as it has seemed to others since, that he had acted with rare magnanimity, and that his generosity in that age, an age which showed no mercy to the fallen, was unexampled. But he must be taught that he has no right to be generous at the expense of others; that God's will must be done even when it goes against the grain, when it contradicts impulses of kindness, and demands painful sacrifices. He is taught this by the prophetic word (verse 42), but much more effectively by the actions which preceded it. A prophet required to smite a brother prophet, and that for no apparent reason, would no doubt find it repugnant to his feelings to do so; it would seem to him hard and cruel and shameful to smite a companion. But the prophet who refused to do this, who followed his benevolent impulses in preference to the word of the Lord, died for his sin—died forthwith by the visitation of God. What a lesson was this to king and country—for no doubt the incident would be bruited abroad, and the very strangeness of the whole proceeding would heighten the impression it made. Indeed, it is hardly possible to conceive a way in which the duty of unquestioning obedience could be more emphatically taught. When this prophet appeared before the king, a man had smitten and wounded him, disagreeable and painful as the task must have been, because of the word of the Lord; whilst a brother prophet, who declined the office because it was painful, had been slain by a wild beast. It is easy to see that there was here a solemn lesson for the king, and that the wounding gave it its edge.] And the man refused to smite him.

1 Kings 20:36

Then said he unto him, Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion [Heb. the lion, perhaps the lion appointed already to this office, or one that had lately been seen in the neighbourhood] shall slay thee. And as soon as he was departed from him, a [Heb. the] lion found him [same word as in 1 Kings 13:24, where see note], and slew him [For the same sin as that of "the man of God (1 Kings 13:21, 1 Kings 13:26), viz; disobedience (Deuteronomy 32:24; Jeremiah 5:6), and disobedience, too, under circumstances remarkably similar to those. In fact, the two histories run on almost parallel lines. In each case it is a prophet who disobeys, and disobeys the "word of the Lord;" in each case the disobedience appears almost excusable; in each case the prophet appears to be hardly dealt with, and suffers instant punishment, whilst the king escapes; in each case the punishment is foretold by a prophet; in each case it is effected by the instrumentality of a lion. And in each case the lesson is the same—that God's commands must be kept, whatever the cost, or that stern retribution will inevitably follow.]

1 Kings 20:37

Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him [Heb. smiting and wounding. This last particular is apparently recorded to show how promptly and thoroughly this "other man," who is not said to have been a prophet, obeyed the charge. Probably he had the fate of the other before his eyes.]

1 Kings 20:38

So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face. [Rather, a bandage upon his eyes. אֲפֵר there can be no doubt, denotes some sort of covering (LXX. τελαμών), and is probably the equivalent of עֲפֵר. Ashes cannot be put on the eyes, and even on the head would be but a poor disguise. This bandage was at the same time in keeping with the prophet's role as a wounded man, and an effective means of concealment. It would almost seem as if this prophet was personally known to the king.]

1 Kings 20:39

And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king [in his capacity of supreme judge; see on 1 Kings 3:9]: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle [i.e; the recent battle]; and, behold, a man turned aside [סָר; cf. 1 Kings 22:43; Exodus 3:3; Exodus 32:8. But Ewald, al. would read, סַר prince or captain (properly שַׂר), a change which certainly lends force to the apologue, and makes the analogy more complete. Only such an officer was entitled to give such an order. Moreover just as a common soldier ought to obey his captain, so should Ahab have obeyed God. But as our present text yields a good and sufficient meaning, we are hardly warranted in making any change], 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 life, or else thou shalt pay [Heb. weigh. There was then no coinage. Payments were made by means of bars of silver or gold] a talent of silver. [A considerable sum—about £400. "The prisoner is thus represented to be a very important personage" (Thenius). There is a hint at Ben-hadad. Ewald holds that the wounds represented the penalty inflicted instead of the talent which a common soldier naturally could not pay.]

1 Kings 20:40

And as thy servant was busy [Heb. doing. The LXX. περιεβλέψατο ὁ δοῦλός σου, and the Vulgate dum ego turbatus hue illucque me verterem, have led some critics to urge the substitution of פֹּגֶה turning, or שֹׁעֶה looking, for עֹשֵׂה doing, in the text. But no alteration is needed] here and there [or hither and thither—the הis generally local—as in Joshua 8:20. But sometimes it is merely demonstrative, "here and there," as in Genesis 21:29, Daniel 12:5, and so it may be understood here (Gesenius)], he was gone [Heb. he is not]. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it. [Cf. 2 Samuel 12:5-7, Ahab has himself pronounced that his judgment is just, and what it shall be.]

1 Kings 20:41

And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face [Heb. removed the covering from upon his eyes]; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets. [That is, he was one of the prophets who were known to him The face alone would hardly have proclaimed him a prophet. And the prophet's dress would of course have been laid aside when the disguise was assumed.]

1 Kings 20:42

And he said onto him. Thus saith the lord, Because thou hast let go [Heb. sent away; same word as in ver; 34. This is an in direct proof that those were the words of Ahab] out of thy hand [Heb. out of hand—same idiom in 1 Samuel 26:23—i.e; power, possession. Cf. Genesis 32:12; Exodus 18:9; Numbers 35:25] a man whom I appointed to utter destruction [Heb. a man of my devoting. Cf. Isaiah 34:5; Zechariah 14:11. It is the word used of the Canaanites and their cities, Deuteronomy 2:34; Deuteronomy 7:2; Joshua 8:26; Joshua 10:28; and it gave a name to the city Hormah, Numbers 21:3; Numbers 14:45. Ben-hadad, therefore, was doomed of God], therefore thy life shall go for [Heb. be instead of] his life, and thy people for his people. [By the lex talionis. It was probably because of this denunciation (cf. 1 Kings 22:8) that Josephus identifies this prophet with Micaiah, the son of Imlah, "whom Ahab appears to have imprisoned on account of some threatening prophecy (Rawlinson). See 1 Kings 22:9, 1 Kings 22:26. For the fulfilment o! this prediction see 1 Kings 22:1-53. It has seemed to some writers as if Ahab were here very hardly dealt with for merely gratifying s generous impulse, and dealing magnanimously with a conquered foe. Indeed, there are commentators who see in his release of the cruel and insolent tyrant s "trait which does honour to the heart of Ahab." But it is to be remembered, first, that Ahab was not free to do as he liked in this matter. His victories had been won, not by his prowess, by the skill of his generals, or the valour of his soldiers, but by the power of God alone. The war, that is to say, was God's war: it was begun and continued, and should therefore have been ended, in Him. When even the details of the attack had been ordered of God (1 Kings 22:14), surely He should have been consulted as to the disposal of the prisoners. The prophet who promised Divine aid might at any rate have been asked—as prophets constantly were in that age (1 Kings 22:5, 1 Kings 22:8)—what was the "word of the Lord" concerning Israel's overbearing and inveterate enemy. But Ahab, who had himself played so craven a part (1 Kings 22:21, 1 Kings 22:31), and who had contributed nothing to these great and unhoped-for victories, nevertheless arrogated to himself their fruits, and thereby ignored and dishonoured God. Secondly, if he had so little regard for his own private interests as to liberate such a man as Ben-hadad, he ought, as trustee for the peace and welfare of Israel, to have acted differently. The demand of 1 Kings 22:6 should have revealed to him the character of the man he had to deal with. And lastly, he was acting in defiance of all the principles and precedents of the Old Testament dispensation. For one great principle of that dispensation was the lex talionis. The king was the authorized dispenser of rewards and punishments, not only to wicked subjects but to aggressive nations. It was his duty to mete out to them the measure they had served to Israel. And the precedents were all in favour of putting such wretches as this Ben-hadad to the sword (Joshua 10:26; Judges 7:25; 1 Samuel 15:33). If he had been the first oppressor who fell into the hands of Israel, Ahab might have had some excuse. But with the fate of Agog, of Adonibezek, of Oreb and Zeeb, in his memory, he ought at any rate to have paused and asked counsel of God before taking Ben-hadad into his chariot and sending him away with a covenant of peace, to reappear at no distant period on the scene as the scourge of the Lord's people.]

1 Kings 20:43

And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased [Heb. sullen and angry; same words 1 Kings 21:4], and came to Samaria. [The order of verse suggests that the house was one in or near Aphek, in which the king was lodged after the battle—on which this interview, therefore, followed closely—and that shortly afterwards he left it for his capital.]


1 Kings 20:1-43

The Purgatory of Nations and Kings.

The two invasions of Israel by the armies of Syria, and their defeat by the finger of God, may suggest some lessons as to God's dealings with nations, and with oppressive and tyrannical kings. Two considerations must, however, be borne in mind here. First, that the present age, unlike the Mosaic, is not a dispensation of temporal rewards and punishments. It is true that even now men do receive a rough sort of retribution, according to their deserts, from the operation of natural laws; but that retribution is uncertain and indirect. Sometimes vengeance overtakes the wrong doer, but as often as not he escapes scathless. The Jewish economy, however, had absolutely none but temporal sanctions. A "judgment to come" formed no part of its system. It dealt with men as if there were no hereafter. It taught them to expect an exact and proportionate and immediate recompense; an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. It preached an ever-present Deity, the true King of the country, visiting every transgression and disobedience with its just recompense of reward (Hebrews 2:2). And so long as that economy was practised in its integrity, so long, either through the immediate dispensations of God, or the mediate action of the authorities who represented Him, did vice and crime, extortion and oppression, infidelity and apostasy, receive their just deserts. But with the advent of our Lord, and His apocalypse of life and immortality, all this was changed. We no longer look for temporal judgments because we are taught to wait for the judgement seat of Christ. It is only within very narrow limits that we expect to see vice punished or virtue rewarded. It causes us no surprise, consequently, to find even the tyrant and oppressor escaping all the whips and stings of vengeance. We know that he will not always escape; that though "the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;" and that he and all such as he will surely satisfy the inexorable claims of Justice hereafter.

But there is apparently one exception—and this is the second consideration—to this general rule. If the individual is not judged here, the nation is. For nations, as such, have no existence apart from this life present. In the kingdom of the future, nationalities have no place (Colossians 2:11). "Mortals have many tongues, immortals have but one." If, then, men are ever to be dealt with in their corporate capacity, they must, and as a matter of fact they do, receive their reckoning here. It surely is not difficult to trace the finger of God in the history of Europe as well as of Israel, of modern as of ancient times. In our own generation have not both Austria and Prussia paid in blood for the spoliation of Denmark? Have not the United States suffered for their overweening pride and greed and reckless speculation? Has not France paid a heavy forfeit for the corruption, the profligacy, the secularity which marked the latter years of the Empire? Has not England, too, had to lament her intermeddling? have not her late reverses suggested to many minds the painful thought that the hand of the Lord is gone out against her? Is she not suffering at this moment for her past misgovernment of Ireland? Is not Turkey, by the agonies of dissolution, expiating the uncleanness and injustice of the last four centuries? Yes, it should be clear that whatever arraignment awaits the individual hereafter, the community, the nation, receives its requital and acquittance here.

And if this be so, it is obvious that the king, the representative of the country, or the sovereign power, who is responsible primarily for the action of the community, will have a share, and by far the largest share, in whatever good or evil befalls it. On him primarily does the disgrace and blow of a disaster fall. It is not always true that "the kings make war and their subjects have to pay for it," for the king, in case of defeat, pays the heaviest toll of all. And though there is no one to call him to an account for internal misgovernment, yet even that does not go unrecompensed, as the history of Rome, of Russia, of Turkey, of England shows. We are warranted in looking, consequently, for the punishment of aggressive nations and tyrannical kings in this present age.
Now this chapter describes two invasions of the territory of Israel, and two successive defeats of the invaders. In the invasions we see the punishment of Israel and of Ahab; in the defeats the punishment of Syria and Ben-hadad. Let us inquire, in the first place, what each had done to provoke and deserve his respective chastisement.

I. THE INVASIONS. That these were punishments hardly needs proof. For can any land be overrun with a horde of barbarians, such as the Syrians and their confederates, the Hittite chieftains, were, without widespread and profound suffering? We know what invasion means in modern times, when warfare is conducted with some approach to humanity, but what it meant in the Old World and the Orient, we are quite unable to realize. It is idle to say that the Syrians were defeated in the end. Who shall picture to us what the thousands of Israel suffered during the advance, possibly during the retreat, of that unwieldy and rapacious host, certainly during the occupation of the country? "Before them the garden of Eden, behind them a desolate wilderness" (Joel 2:3). Fire, rapine, famine, these three fell sisters marched in their train. The invasions, then, though repelled, would entail prodigious loss and suffering on the people. It would not compensate the Jewish farmer for the loss of his corn and oil and wine, still less the Jewish father for the dishonour of his daughters, to know that the siege was raised, that the king had fled to an inner chamber, that thousands of their enemies lay buried under the walls of Aphek. No, each invasion was nothing short of a national calamity, and we do well to ask what it was had provoked this chastisement. It was—

1. The sin of the people at large. The sin of Israel at this epoch was idolatry. The sin of Jeroboam had already received, in part at least, its recompense. A Syrian invasion in a preceding generation (1 Kings 15:20) had wasted the territory of Daniel But the calf worship was continued, and vile idolatry was now associated with it. It is true this had been fostered, if not introduced, by Jezebel, but it is impossible to acquit the people of blame. The pleasant vices of the Phoenician ritual were sweet to their taste. They loved to have it so. Justice demanded, consequently, that they should share in the punishment. Idolatry had already procured the investment and spoliation of Jerusalem; it now accounts for the march of the Syrians and the siege of Samaris, the centre of the Baal-worship. This is the third time that a foreign army has appeared before a polluted shrine. "How can they expect peace from the earth who do wilfully fight against heaven?"

2. The sin of its rulers. We have just seen that Ahab and Jezebel were primarily responsible for this last great apostasy. It was Jezebel really who "reared up an altar for Baal," etc. (1 Kings 16:32), though Ahab was a facile instrument in her hands. We find, consequently, that king and queen were the first to suffer, and suffered most. It is easy to picture the abject wretchedness and despair to which Ahab was reduced by the insolent messages of the northern barbarian. Those were indeed days of trouble and rebuke and blasphemy. The iron must have entered into his soul as he found himself utterly without resources, at the mercy of one who showed no mercy, but absolutely gloated over his misery. Nor did Jezebel escape her share of torture. She had to face the prospect of being handed over with the other ladies of the harem, to the will of the brutal, sensual, drunken despot who was thundering at their gates. Had her hair turned white, like that of another queen, in one night, we could not have wondered at it. Strong-willed, desperate woman that she was (2 Kings 9:31), she must have known too well how cruel are the tender mercies of the wicked not to have trembled. It is clear, therefore, that that prince and princess reaped some fruit of their doings in this life.

But it may be said that this reign of terror did not last long, and that despair was speedily succeeded by the joy and triumph of victory. But the victory was not one which could afford unmixed satisfaction, either to king or people. It was not won by their prowess. It was Of such a kind that all boasting was excluded. In the first place, they owed it to a prophet of the Lord—one of the order whom Jezebel had persecuted. It Would therefore heap coals of fire upon Ahab's head. Secondly, it was achieved by a handful of boys. His trained veterans had to follow their lead and enter into their labours. It was therefore more of a humiliation than a glory for his arms. It left him, in the presence of his people, a helpless debtor to that God whose altars he had overthrown; to that prophet whose companions he had slain.
Such were the immediate causes of the invasion. Two others, which were more remote, must be briefly indicated.

3. The unwisdom and unbelief of Asa. He it was who first taught the Syrians that the way to Samaria lay open to them, and that the spoils of the country repaid the cost and trouble of invasion (1 Kings 15:18, 1 Kings 15:19).

4. The impiety of Solomon. The horses and chariots furnished by that great prince to the "kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria" (1 Kings 10:29) now overrun the great plain and stream into the valleys of Samaria. The Syrians owed the most important arm of their service (verses 1, 25) to the disobedience of the Lord's anointed. The two-and-thirty subject princes had once been the vassals of Solomon (1 Kings 4:21). We now turn to—

II. THE DEFEATS. If this prodigious host was really called together to chastise the idolatries of Israel, it seems strange that it was not allowed to effect its purpose; that in the very hour of victory it was utterly and irretrievably defeated. But the explanation is not far to seek. Its advance was the punishment of Ahab's sin; its dispersion the punishment of Ben-hadad's. "Well may God plague each with other who means vengeance to them both." And Ben-hadad's sin consisted in—

1. Defiance of God. The Battles of the Old World, as this chapter shows, were regarded as the contests of national deities. The defeat of Pharaoh was a judgment upon the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12). It was to altars, hecatombs, incantations that Balak looked for help (Numbers 22:23.) It was the mighty gods of Israel that the Philistines feared (1 Samuel 4:7, 1 Samuel 4:8). And we know how Goliath (1 Samuel 17:45) and Sennacherib alike (Isaiah 37:23) defied the living God. And when we see Ben-hadad swearing by his gods (verse 10), when we find his courtiers accounting for their first defeat by the belief that the gods of their adversaries were gods of the hills only, we perceive at once that this war was regarded on Syria's and Israel's part alike (verse 28) as a trial of strength between the deities whom they respectively worshipped. The defeat, consequently, was primarily the punishment of Ben-hadad's blasphemy (Isaiah 37:29).

2. Wanton insolence and cruelty. We constantly find the instruments used of God for the punishment of Israel, punished in their turn for their oppression of Israel. We have instances in Judges 3:1-31.; Judges 4:8, Judges 4:22; Judges 6:1; cf. Jdg 7:25; 2 Chronicles 32:21; Isaiah 10:5-12, Isaiah 10:24 sqq.; Isaiah 14:4 sqq.; Obadiah 1:1 :28. When king or army exceeded their commission, when they trampled on the foe, they straightway provoked the vengeance which they were employed to minister. It would have been strange of such overbearing brutality as Ben-hadad's (Obadiah 1:8, Obadiah 1:6, Obadiah 1:10) had gone unreproved.

3. Overweening pride. He was so intoxicated with the greatness of his army, with the praises of his courtiers and allies, that he thinks, Nebuchadnezzar-like, that neither God nor man can withstand him. His haughtiness comes out very clearly in his messages (Obadiah 1:8, Obadiah 1:6), in his scorn of his adversaries (Obadiah 1:16-18), in the passionate outburst with which he receives Ahab's reply (Obadiah 1:10). "The proud Syrian would have taken it in foul scorn to be denied, though he had sent for all the heads of Israel." And pride provokes a fall (Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 29:23; cf. 2 Chronicles 32:26; Isaiah 16:6, Isaiah 16:7; Obadiah 1:4.) The highest mountain-tops draw down on themselves the artillery of the skies. Pride stands first on the list of the "seven deadly sins," because self-worship is the most hateful form of idolatry, the most obnoxious to the Majesty of Heaven.

4. Drunkenness. Like another invader, he transgressed by wine (Habakkuk 2:5; cf. Daniel 5:2, Daniel 5:23). His revels in the thick of the siege reveal to us the man. It would have been, in Jewish eyes especially, a glaring injustice if such a man, while employed to chastise the sins of others, had escaped all chastisement himself. And his two-and-thirty confederates were like him. They had aided and encouraged him; they drank with him (Obadiah 1:16), and they fell with him (verse 24).

It only remains for us now to observe how exact and exemplary was the punishment which overtook king and princes and the entire army—for the army, no doubt, had shared the views and vices of its commanders. The defeat of the entire host was not occasioned by the sin of its leader alone, any more than the invasion was provoked by the sin of Ahab alone. In the day that God visited the sin of Ben-hadad, He visited also the sin of Syria. In the first place, the drunkenness of the leaders brought its own retribution. It involved the demeralization of the soldiery. With such besotted and incapable heads, they were unprepared for attack, and fell an easy prey to the vigorous onslaught of the 232 youths. The size of the host, again, contributed to make the disaster all the greater. And what but pride and cruelty had dictated the assembling of such an enormous array, merely to crush a neighbour kingdom? And their pride was further humbled by the circumstances of their defeat. It was to their eternal disgrace that a handful of men, of boys rather, unused to war, foemen quite unworthy of their steel, had routed and dispersed them; that their innumerable army had melted away before "two little flocks of kids." What a contrast to the proud boasting of Obadiah 1:10! Even the manner of Ben-hadad's escape, his hurried, ignominious flight on the first horse that offered; his cowering abjectly in a corner of an inner chamber, this helped to sink him to a lower pitch of shame. The cavalry that was to accomplish such great things; he is thankful for one of its stray horses to bear him away from the field of slaughter. The walls of Aphek, again, avenged his threats against the walls of Samaria And the kings who had flattered him and encouraged his cruel projects, they too received a meet recompense, not only in the defeat, but in their summary degradation from their commands; while the courtiers who suggested the second expedition expiated their folly by the miseries and indignities which they suffered. It was a pitiful end of a campaign begun with so much of bluster and fury, and threatening; that procession of wretched and terrified men, with "sackcloth on their loins, and ropes on their heads." Nor did the losses of Syria end with the battle or the earthquake; the king voluntarily cedes a part of the territory which his father had won by his valour from Israel, and returns to his capital with a decimated army, a tarnished fame, and a restricted realm. His gluttonous desire for pillage, his forcing a quarrel upon Israel, his defiance of the Almighty, have been punished by the forfeiture of all he holds most dear.

It has more than once been remarked that the history of Israel has its lessons for the individual soul. But it also speaks to nations and kings. This chapter proclaims that neither any people nor its rulers can forget God with impunity; that disregard of His laws is sure to bring down His judgments; that the purgatory of nations is in this life present; that, while the individual awaits a judgment to come, the community is judged now, by sword, and famine, and pestilence; by invasion and defeat; by loss of fame and territory; by bad harvests and crippled trade. Corporate bodies and communities may" have no conscience," but they will prove sooner or later, as Assyria and Babylon, as Medes and Persians, as Greeks and Romans, as Russia and Turkey, as France and Germany have proved, that" verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth" (Psalms 58:11).

But this history has other lessons than those which concern nations and kings. Some of these we may glean as we pass along.

1 Kings 20:1

"All his host thirty and two kings horses and chariots." It has been remarked that it is not easy to account for this expedition. Was it that Ahab had refused to do fealty? or had he offered some personal affront to the Syrian king? Nay, may we not find explanation enough in the fact that Ben-hadad, having an enormous host at his command, must find something for it to do? Large standing armies are constantly the cause of war. Preparations for war in the interest of peace (si vis pacem, etc.) are so manifestly paradoxical that who can wonder if war, and not peace, is the result? Let Europe beware of its bloated armaments. It is natural for statesmen to wish to have something to show for the cost of their maintenance.

1 Kings 20:3

"They silver, … is mine." A conspicuous instance this of that law of old time—

" the simple plan

That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can."

But is our modern warfare so very different in principle? Why may kings remove landmarks any more than peasants? Why may a Ben-hadad, an Alexander, a Napoleon cry, "Your lands or your life," without reproach, and yet the footpad who plays at the same game on the highway is hanged for it? Why should what is plain "stealing" in private life be called "conveying" or "annexing" when practised on a larger scale?

1 Kings 20:4

"I am thine." "Wisely doth Ahab, as a reed in a tempest, stoop to this violent charge." "It is not for the overpowered to capitulate." Besides, who knew what the "soft answer" might effect? If smooth words could do no good, rough ones would certainly do much harm. The meek always have the best of it, and so inherit the earth.

1 Kings 20:9

"This thing I may not do." "Better die than live in disgrace," says the Greek proverb. The king of Samaria was in a similar strait to those four logical lepers who, a few years later, in another siege, lay at the gate of the city (2 Kings 7:4). He could but die in any case, and he might perchance live if he stood on his defence. Even a worm will turn when trod upon. We should think scorn of Ahab, had he not made a stand for his life and wife and children.

1 Kings 20:10

"The gods do so to me," .etc. How often has the swearer to eat his words. The hero does; he never talks of what he will do. "Victory is to be achieved, not to be sworn." This vulgar fashion of calling upon God to do oneself some hurt thus appears to be of great antiquity. But it always proceeds from those who have very little belief in God at all. The profane swearer is practically an infidel, so far as the gods he invokes are concerned. An Italian workman was once reproved in a Roman studio for the oaths which he swore by the sacred name of Gesu. "Oh," said he boldly, "I'm not afraid of Him at all." Then, lowering his voice to a whisper, he added, "I'll tell you what I'm afraid of: it is His blessed mother" He never swore by the Deity he believed in.

1 Kings 20:12

"Set yourselves in array" (Heb. שִימוּ). The command was prompt and decided enough. But observe, he himself went on drinking (1 Kings 20:16). This helps to explain his defeat. He was a man of words only. The successful generals—it is a trite saying—are those who say "Come," not "Go."

1 Kings 20:18

"There came a prophet" O altitudo! For years past the prophets have been proscribed, hunted, harried to death. Yet in his darkest hour, when other refuge fails him, Ahab finds a prophet at his side. God bears no grudges. It is sufficient to give us a claim upon His help that we are helpless (Psalms 68:5; Hosea 14:8). He "comforteth" (i.e; strengtheneth, con fortis) "those that are cast down (2 Corinthians 7:6). "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 God will again bless and solicit him with victory; one of those prophets whom he persecuted shall comfort his dejection with the news of deliverance and triumph." This act of grace should have proved that the Lord was God, and that the prophet was His messenger. It is not in man to act thus. "Thou shalt know that I am the Lord." "Not for thy righteousness or the uprightness of thine heart dost thou go in to possess their land, but for the wickedness of these nations," etc. (Deuteronomy 9:4, Deuteronomy 9:5). The drought, the fire, the great rain, none of these had convinced the king and queen. Will deliverance from the jaws of death move them? Will they believe in a God of battles? Will they recognize HIS finger in a superhuman victory?

1 Kings 20:15

"The young men were two hundred and thirty-two." "Not by might nor by power (Zechariah 15:6). God's host is ever a little flock (cf. Judges 7:2-7; 2 Chronicles 20:12; 1 Corinthians 1:27-29). The "weak things" were chosen then, as subsequently, "that no flesh should glory in his presence." God never departs from that rule. The "carpenter's son," the "fishermen," the "unlearned and ignorant men"—it is the same principle underlies His choice in every case.

1 Kings 20:16

"Drinking himself drunk he and the kings." Of strong drink it may justly be said, "Many strong men have been slain by her" (Proverbs 7:20). "It is not for kings to drink wine" (Proverbs 31:4). Nor is it for warriors. Alexander, conqueror of the world, was conquered by wine. Our great generals of modern times have been abstainers. The march to Coomassie, to Candahar was effected without the aid of intoxicants. The Russian soldiers in the Crimea were drugged with vodka, but it did not prevent their defeat.

1 Kings 20:18

"Take them alive." "Security is the certain usher of destruction. We have never so much cause to fear as when we fear nothing" (cf. Daniel 5:1, 80; Luke 17:27; 1 Thessalonians 5:3).

1 Kings 20:20

"They slew every one his man." It is thus the world must be won for Christ. Mohammed had two fixed ideas: first, to make converts; second, to make his converts soldiers. And every Christian is a soldier of the Cross, enlisted at his baptism into the Church militant. By personal, individual effort are Churches built up and believers added to the Lord. So it was in the first days. "Andrew findeth his own brother Simon." "Philip findeth Nathanael" (John 1:41-45).

1 Kings 20:23

"Their gods are gods of the hills." It is no uncommon thing to find men laying the blame of their misfortune on God. We smile at those poor pagans who beat their wooden gods with sticks, or those Italian villagers who, s few weeks ago, threw the image of their patron saint into a well, and set upon their parish priest, because their prayers for rain remained unanswered; but the same thing, slightly varied in shape, is often done amongst ourselves. "Bad luck" is held responsible for many of the failures for which we have only ourselves to thank. That "everybody is against him" is often the cry of the man who has no enemy but himself. The idle scoundrel who has wife and children generally accuses them of being the causes of his misfortunes; if he has no such scapegoats, he will lay the blame on God's providence. He never remembers that he himself was "drinking himself drunk" at the hour for action.

1 Kings 20:22

Go strengthen thyself." Though God had delivered him once and would deliver him again (1 Kings 20:28), yet Ahab must consult for his own safety. While trusting in God, he must keep his powder dry. The same prophet who has announced deliverance by a band of youths, wholly inadequate to cope with the Syrians, now bids him look well to the defences of the country. Aide-toi et Dieu t'aidera; this is the purport of his message.

1 Kings 20:29

"Seven days." Compare the "seven thousand" of 1 Kings 20:15, and Joshua 6:4, Joshua 6:15, Joshua 6:16. He hath commanded His covenant forever (Psalm 3:9; cf. 1 Chronicles 16:15; Psalms 89:28, 84). By this act, Israel

(1) showed that they remembered the works of the Lord, His wonders of old time; and

(2) they reminded Him of His holy covenant (Luke 1:72-74).

1 Kings 20:30

"A wall fell," etc. (Cf. Acts 28:4; Habakkuk 2:11). "A dead wall in Aphek shall revenge God on the rest that remained." Where they sought shelter and thought themselves secure, they found death (cf. Amos 5:19; Amos 9:3; Psalms 139:7-10; Luke 19:40).

1 Kings 20:31

"The kings of Israel are merciful kings." How true is that of the true King of Israel. He is the very fount of mercy (Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 25:10; Psalms 100:5; Psalms 102:17; Psalms 130:7). We often picture Him as "less merciful than His image in a man." But let us do Him this dishonour no more. It is "His property always to have mercy." Is He less clement than an Ahab? Is His heart less tender to penitent rebels? "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."

1 Kings 20:34

"I will send thee away," etc. On another occasion such conduct as this was commanded (2 Kings 6:22, 2 Kings 6:23). Why, then, was it sinful now? Precisely because it was not commanded; because God intended the opposite (1 Kings 20:42). It was not clemency, it was culpable weakness to send this overbearing despot, who had already cost Israel so dear, to send him to his home, there to renew his plots against the people of God. As well might the magistrate compassionate the burglar, or the garotter, and instead of shutting him up in prison, send him into the streets, to be the plague of society. The king, like the magistrate, is trustee for the commonwealth. He has no right to gratify his benevolent instincts at the expense of the community. Still less right had the theocratic king, the representative of Heaven, to liberate, ex mero arbitrio, a tyrant whom God had manifestly given into his hands. "Charity cannot excuse disobedience." He had proved Ben-hadad twice, yet he asks for no material guarantees. He neither consults nor remembers his deliverer.

1 Kings 20:40

"Thyself hast decided it." So shall our judgment be. "Out of thine own mouth," etc. (Luke 19:22). How many will stand self condemned, condemned by their own precepts, condemned by the sentences they have passed upon others, by the measure they have exacted from others, etc.

1 Kings 20:43

"Heavy and displeased." Cf. Psalms 16:4; Psalms 32:10. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Life out of God brings only disappointment. The most magnificent of kings found it vanity and vexation of spirit. The things of earth cannot satisfy the soul of man, the soul made for God. History has preserved for us a striking testimony to this truth in the confession of Abdalrahman, caliph of Spain. "I have now reigned," he wrote, "fifty years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasures, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation I have numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to fourteen! O man, place not thy confidence in this present world."


1 Kings 20:1-11

The Spirit of War.

In human histories so much is made of brilliant uniforms, scientific discipline, skilful manoeuvres, exploits, surprises, and successes, that readers are carried away with "the pomp and circumstance" of so-called "glorious war." In the text we have the other side; and we are reminded of the appeal of James: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your own lusts that war in your members?" (James 4:1.) Conspicuous amongst these is—

I. THE SPIRIT OF WAR, We see this—

1. In Ben-hadad's message (verse 3).

(1) We do not understand this to be a demand from Ahab for the actual surrender to Ben-hadad of his "silver" and "gold," "wives" and "children." Else it would be difficult to see any material difference between this first message and that which followed (verse 6).

(2) The meaning seems to be that Ben-hadad would hold Ahab as his vassal, so that Ahab should retain his wealth, wives, and children only by the sufferance and generosity of his superior. He would have the king of Israel reduced to the condition of the "thirty and two kings" who, with their subjects and fortunes, appear to have been at his service.

2. In his confident boasting.

(1) He boasts of the vastness of his army. "All the people that follow me." The Hebrew is given in the margin, "at my feet," suggesting subjection and submission.

(2) Of the certainty and ease with which such an army may carry victory. "The gods do so to me and more also if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me." They need not be content with handfuls of dust when they can fill their hands with the most valuable things in Samaria.

(3) This was the boasting which Ahab rebuked by the use of what had probably been a proverbial expression: "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." This caution might be profitably considered by those who are engaged in spiritual conflicts: "Be not high minded, but fear."


1. In Ben-hadad's requisitions.

(1) In those of his first message right is outraged. "Thy silver and gold are mine." Taking this demand in the sense of Ahab's coming under villenage to Ben-hadad, the claim was iniquitous. Man has rights of property and freedom, which, unless they are forfeited to law by crime, should ever be held most sacred. The injustice of slavery is horrible.

(2) The second message went even farther. It threatened open robbery. Robbery not only of the monarch, but of his subjects also. A starving wretch who steals a loaf of bread may be convicted as a felon; but warrior who plunders kingdoms—a Napoleon—is glorified as a hero! Rut how will these weigh together in the balances of the sanctuary?

2. In his principles of appeal.

(1) Justice is not named. How often is justice named in warfare where it has no place! The Syrian king was more outspoken than many modern war makers.

(2) Mercy is quite out of the question. Yet in modern times wars against savages have been trumpeted as benignities, because of the civilization which, it is presumed, will follow in their wake!

(3) Ben-hadad did not live in these favoured times, so the one principle to which he appeals is might. "He has the men," and he will have "the money tool" In this he has had too many successors in the kingdoms of civilization.

(4) Not only must the covetousness of the king be gratified; so also must the host "at his feet;" and since the "dust of Samaria" will not satisfy them, Samaria must be sacked and pillaged. One injustice begets another.


1. In the provocations.

(1) Observe the "putting" of Ben-hadad's requisitions. No attempt is made to spare the feelings of Ahab, but, on the contrary, the language is studiously framed to lacerate. "Whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes"—note, not what is pleasant in the eyes of the spoilers—"they shall put it in their hand and take it away."

(2) Witness also the peremptoriness. "Tomorrow about this time."

2. In the struggles.

(1) Men are in conflict. This is not a strife of elements without feeling, which is terrible enough, but of flesh and blood and nerves with exquisite sensibilities, with susceptibilities of acute pain and suffering.

(2) The combatants are armed. That they may put each other to torture they are provided with swords, spears, arrows; and in these clays of civilization, with fire-arms of various kinds. Elephants, camels, horses, and other animals are pressed into the dreadful service.

(3) Survey the battlefield after the strife. Men and animals dead and dying, mingled; gaping wounds; mangled limbs, sickening horrors I What pictures of cruelty are here!

(4) Reflect upon the homes plunged into grief and poverty entailed through the loss of breadwinners; and add the sequel of pestilences and famines. Surely we should pray for the advent of that peaceful reign of righteousness which is promised in the Scriptures of prophecy.—J.A.M.

1 Kings 20:12-21

The hand of God.

The notable answer of the king of Israel to the insolent king of Syria, "Let not him that girdeth on the harness boast himself as he that putteth it off," came to Ben-hadad when he was drinking wine with the thirty and two kings that followed him. He at once gave orders to his servants to set themselves in battle array. While the enormous host which "filled the country" (see 1 Kings 20:25, 1 Kings 20:27) disposed itself to attack the city, the men of Israel, who were but a handful, naturally trembled for the issue, at this juncture God interposed in the manner related here, and thereby asserted the general truths, viz.—


1. Here He showed His hand.

(1) He sent a prophet. Jarchi says it was Micalah, the son of Imlah, while others think it was Elijah in disguise; but it is useless to speculate on this point. We are more concerned with the purport of His message, which was to promise victory to Israel, and to indicate how that victory should be organized, so that in the issue Jehovah might be acknowledged.

(2) The hand of God was seen not only in the prophet's foreknowledge of events, but also in the wisdom of the adjustments by which they were to be brought about. For the victory was organized according to instructions of the prophet, purporting also to be from the Lord. Who but the Lord could have foreseen that at noon Ben-hadad and his kings would be so drunken as to be unfit and indisposed to take their posts of command? Who else could have foreseen that Ben-hadad would have been so foolish as to order the sortie to be taken alive? For thereby the Syrians were put to a disadvantage, which enabled the "young men of the princes of the provinces" and those who followed them to slay "every one his man," and throw the invading host into confusion.

(3) The power of God also was evident when the disparity of numbers is considered. An army of seven thousand Israelites could never without supernatural aid, have demoralized and routed the formidable hosts of Syria.

(4) And that God was in this victory could not be reasonably doubted, since this was not an extraordinary event by itself, but one of a series of such events; therefore it could not have been an accident. It was preceded by three years of drought which began and ended according to the "word" of Elijah, with the miracle on Carmel.

2. By so showing His hand He evinced that He is ever working.

(1) When events are ordinary, men are disposed to see in them natural causes only; but extraordinary events force upon their consideration the fact of a superior agency behind these causes.

(2) This truth is the more evident when the ordinary are recognized in the extraordinary. Thus God ordered the battle. He appointed the general, disposed the attack which was to assure the victory, and timed everything so to fit in with circumstances as to bring about the promised result.

(3) With God there is no essential difference between things ordinary and extraordinary. It is simply a question of proportions. For natural causes are all second causes, and would have no existence but for the First Cause. A miracle is but the unusual action of the First Cause upon the second causes; but in the usual action, God is none the less present and necessary to the result.


1. He humbles the proud is righteousness.

(1) Defeat in any case is humiliation. To Ben-hadad after his confident boasting it was eminently so. He would remember the lesson, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." Let us observe it.

(2) The manner was an aggravation of the defeat. It was accomplished by two hundred and thirty-two "young men of the princes of the provinces," who are by some thought to have been a militia raised by provincial magistrates, and by others, with perhaps better reason—for the number seems too small to answer the former description—the attendants of such of those princes as were then in Samaria. It was intensely humiliating that a company of such combatants should rout a formidable army. God makes the weak confound the mighty.

(3) Ben-hadad would be mortified to think how his overweening confidence, together with his drunkenness, had directly contributed to his humiliation. He was too drunk to appear at the head of his army, but not too drunk to find his way to the cavalry to facilitate his flight. "There is but one step from the sublime to the ludicrous!"

2. He shows long-suffering in mercy.

(1) The judgment upon Ben-hadad was mercy to Ahab. It delivered him from the hand of a cruel oppressor. It gave him another warning and space for repentance.

(2) Did Ahab deserve this? Certainly not, while he submitted to be led by Jezebel, and that notwithstanding his experience of the drought and the miracle on Carmel. God is long suffering in mercy.

(3) But there were "seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which had not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him" Jarchi would identify these with the "seven thousand" mentioned in 1 Kings 20:15. Probably some of that seven thousand went to compose this, and for their sakes it may have been that God had so signally interposed. Let us never lose sight of God. Let us discern His hand in nature, providence, grace. Let us never provoke His justice by pride, by rebellion. Let us respect His long-suffering by repentance. Let us throw ourselves upon His mercy for salvation, for help.—J.A.M.

1 Kings 20:22-30

Wisdom in Counsel.

No man is so wise that it may not be to his advantage to consider advice; but in listening to advice we may be led astray. There are two classes of advisers, viz; those who are influenced by the "wisdom of this world," and those who are influenced by the "wisdom from above." Of both we have examples in the text.


1. It is not destitute of sagacity.

(1) It has its maxims of prudence.

(a) Ben-hadad's counsellors would not have him underrate his enemy. The army they advise him to raise for the invasion of Israel must not be inferior to that which had been lately vanquished (1 Kings 20:25). Let us not underrate our spiritual foes.

(b) Neither would they have him underrate the quality of his soldiers. They do not admit that his army was fairly beaten, but speak of "the army that thou hast lost," or "that fell from thee." In this also they were right, for if God had not helped Israel the Syrians would not have been routed. In all our spiritual conflicts let us fight under the banner of Jehovah.

(2) It has its lessons of experience.

(a) Ben-hadad's counsellors lay emphasis here—"And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his place." Why remove the kings? Because in the last war they were "drinking themselves drunk" when they should have been at their posts, and the army, without officers, became confused and demoralized. Trust not the kings again (see Psalms 118:9; Psalms 146:8).

(b) "Put captains in their rooms." Let the army be commanded by men of ability and experience. Pageants are of no use in times of exigency.

2. But its sagacity is mingled with folly.

(1) Because the motives of the wicked are vicious.

(a) In his former war Ben-hadad's impulse was pride. The insolence of his demands evidenced this (1 Kings 20:3, 1 Kings 20:6). But what wisdom is there in pride?

(b) Though mortified by defeat, that pride remained, and was now moved by the spirit of revenge: "Surely we shall be stronger than they." But what wisdom is there in resentment?

(c) Beyond these base feelings the desire for plunder seems to have moved the Syrian. But where is the wisdom in a king becoming a common robber?

(2) Because they put themselves into conflict with the Almighty.

(a) The Syrians formed an unworthy idea of the Elohim of Israel when they localized and limited Him to the hills. Palestine is a hilly country, and its cities and high places were generally on hills; and probably in the hill country of Samaria the cavalry and chariots of Syria were of little service. (See Psalms 15:1; Psalms 24:3; Psalms 87:1; Psalms 121:1.)

(b) In the proposal to give Israel battle in the plains the Syrians now set Jehovah at defiance.


1. It is far reaching.

(1) God sees the end from the beginning. We should therefore seek His counsel and guidance.

(2) He forewarns His people. He sent His prophet to the king of Israel to inform him that the king of Syria would come up against him at the return of the year. He forewarns us of the things of eternity.

2. It is prudent.

(1) The prophet advised Ahab to prepare for the event. "Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see what thou doest." We should ever deport ourselves as in the presence of spiritual foes.

(2) God helps those who help themselves.

3. It is unerring.

(1) Events foreshown by God will surely come to pass.

(2) According to the advice of the prophet, "at the return of the year," viz; "at the time when kings go forth to battle" (see 2 Samuel 11:1; 1 Chronicles 20:1), probably answering to our March, which has its name from Mars, the god of war, Ben-hadad "went up to Aphek to fight against Israel." There were several cities of this name: one in the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:30); another in Judah (1 Samuel 4:1); a third in Syria (2 Kings 13:17). The last is probably that referred to here.

4. It is profitable.

(1) This follows from its other qualities. The guidance which is "prudent," "far reaching," and "unerring" must be "profitable."

(2) But further, those who follow that guidance so commend themselves to God that He directly interposes in their behalf. There was a faithful "seven thousand" in Israel (1 Kings 19:18).

(3) If in conflict with those who prefer a worldly policy, they not only have God on their side, but they have Him with them against their enemy.

(4) God helped Ahab against Ben-hadad, not that Ahab deserved it, but that Ben-hadad had to be punished (1 Kings 20:28. See also Ezekiel 36:22). The "two little flocks of kids" could not have slain in one day "one hundred thousand men" unless God had helped them. The hand of God also was in the falling of that wall by which "seven and twenty thousand" perished.

Let us faithfully pursue the policy of right. Let us never permit the expediency of a moment to swerve us from this. Truth abides.—J.A.M.

1 Kings 20:30-43

False Mercy.

The first army with which Ben-hadad invaded Israel was defeated with "great slaughter," and the king saved himself by flight. The defeat of the second was even more complete, when 127,000 men were destroyed and the king had to surrender at discretion. But Ahab, for his false mercy in sparing the life of Ben-hadad, brought judgment upon himself and upon his people.


1. That righteousness dooms the incorrigible to death.

(1) "The wages of sin." The incorrigible will certainly find this in the "damnation of hell" (Psalms 9:17).

(2) Their time also in this life is shortened either by the sword of the magistrate or by the judgment of God. They get sufficient space for repentance; but the space so given, if misimproved, aggravates the terror of their death. Protracted probationary existence under such conditions, therefore, becomes a doubtful mercy.

(3) It is also the reverse of mercy to their contemporaries, because the influence of the wicked is mischievous. It is, therefore, a considerate judgment that they do "not live out half their days" (Psalms 55:23).

(4) The difference between good and evil cannot be too strongly marked. The good must have no fellowship with the wicked. In eternity their separation is complete (Matthew 25:46; Luke 16:26). The more perfect the separation here, the more of heaven upon earth will the good enjoy; and the more of hell upon earth, the wicked.

2. Ben-hadad was obnoxious to that doom.

(1) He was guilty of the highest crimes against humanity. In his offensive wars he was not only a public robber, but also a wholesale murderer. But murder at least is held to be a capital crime (see Genesis 9:5; Exodus 21:12, Exodus 21:14; Le Exodus 24:17. See also Matthew 26:52; Revelation 13:10).

(2) He was guilty likewise of the highest crimes against God. He was not only a gross idolater, but also a blasphemer of Jehovah. tie localized and limited Him as "Elohim of the hills" and defied Him in the plains. But such blasphemy also was punishable with death (Leviticus 24:11-16).

(3) He committed all these offences in the land of Israel, where they were capital crimes, and the God of Israel delivered him into the hand of Ahab that he might suffer the penalty.

3. But Ahab opposed his mercy to the righteousness of God.

(1) But is there no mercy for the penitent? Certainly there is. In repentance there is no encouragement to evil; on the contrary, in it evil is condemned. Faith in Christ is the perfection of repentance since therein only can we be effectually delivered from sin. Repentance must be genuine.

(2) Ben-hadad's repentance was not genuine. His servants "girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live.". All this was intensely mortifying to Ben-hadad, whose tone was so different when he thought himself in the position of a dictator (see 1 Kings 20:3-6). The haughtiest in prosperity are often the meanest in adversity.

(3) But here is no show of repentance towards God. He confesses that he deserves to be hanged for invading the land, but not a word about his blasphemy against the Elohim of Israel. Yet Ahab granted him his life.


1. Because thereby they encourage evil.

(1) If sin be committed with impunity it will soon lose its character. Men are naturally inclined to sin, and are restrained chiefly by fear of its penalties. If these are remitted, offences against the law of God will come to be justified.

(2) The estimate of goodness would consequently be lowered, for we judge of qualities by contrasts. Heaven is seen in its strongest light as the antithesis of hell Remove from sin its sinfulness, and goodness will be distorted into weakness or folly.

(3) Such confounding of right and wrong must be fatal to all law and order, and tend to inaugurate the wildest confusion and the deepest misery. All this flows from the principle of false or indiscriminate mercy.

2. Hence Ahab was held to be an accomplice with Ben-hadad.

(1) He had an unworthy sympathy with. this blaspheming monarch. "Is he yet alive? He is my brother." "Brother king, though not brother Israelite. Ahab valued himself more on his royalty than on his religion" (Henry). Would Ben-hadad have called Ahab his brother had he been victorious?

(2) "He caused him to come up into the chariot." This was a sign of cordial friendship (see 2 Kings 10:15, 2 Kings 10:16). "The friendship of the world is enmity against God." So instead of imposing terms, he accepted those proposed by Ben-hadad (1 Kings 20:34).

(3) "So he made a covenant with him and sent him away." The form of these covenants was to cut a sacrifice in twain, and the persons entering into the compact walked between the pieces and were sprinkled, together with the articles of agreement, with the blood, to express that if they failed to fulfil their pledge God might treat them as the sacrifice had been treated.

3. Ahab in consequence was doomed to die.

(1) This was signified to him by another prophet. He is by the Jews supposed to have been Micaiah, and with some reason perhaps (compare 1 Kings 22:8).

(2) This prophet, after the example of Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-31.), made Ahab pronounce his own sentence (1 Kings 20:37-42). In the doom of the prophet who, for disobedience to the word of the Lord in not smiting his fellow, was destroyed by the lion, Ahab could also read his doom for not obeying the word of the Lord when he should have smitten ben-hadad to death (1 Kings 20:35, 1 Kings 20:36).

(3) The prophecy came true. Ahab was slain fighting against the Syrians to recover Ramoth in Gilead (1Ki 22:1-53 :85). And by the hands of the Syrians, under Hazael, the children of Israel suffered severely (see 2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 10:32, 2 Kings 10:33).

(4) In anticipation of these things Ahab "went to his house heavy and displeased." Heavy at the tidings and displeased with the prophet. It would have been more to his advantage had he gone to the house of God in contrition for the sins of his wicked life.—J.A.M.


1 Kings 20:1-21

Veiled Mercies.

I. AHAB'S EXTREMITY (1 Kings 20:1-11). God's goodness to the froward is shown by His bringing them into circumstances where they may prove and know Him. The clouds they "so much dread are big with mercy."

1. The land is overrun and the capital besieged. The fruit of sin is difficulty and disaster. The land and the life which will not acknowledge God will know at last what it is to be bereft of His protecting care and the ministrations of His goodness. These are the eternal portion only of those whom they raise and bless.

2. His degradation (1 Kings 20:2-4). In his own city he has to listen and assent to the terms that rob him at one stroke of all that is dearest and best. The foe has no mercy, and Ahab neither strength nor dignity. Those who forsake God, and shut themselves out from the experience of His truth and mercy, will prove the vanity of every other trust.

3. His helplessness (1 Kings 20:5-11).

(1) Compliance with Ben-hadad's first demands does not save him from further degradation. Those who rely only on the world's compassion lean on a reed which will break and pierce them.

(2) Ahab's defiance (1 Kings 20:11) was an appeal to chance. He had no clear confidence that Ben-hadad's threatenings would come to nothing. Forgetfulness of God is weakness for the battle of life, and darkness amid its dangers. Are we remembering Him? Are we stirring ourselves up to lay hold on God?

II. GOD'S HELP (1 Kings 20:12-21).

1. Its compassionateness. The help came unsought, and when, indeed, there was no thought of seeking it. How often has He thus prevented us with the blessings of His goodness!

2. Its timeliness. The final attack was about to be made (1 Kings 20:12). The progress of the siege had no doubt alarmed Ahab, and led to negotiation. Now it needed but one more effort and the Syrian hosts would be surging through the streets of Samaria. Within the city there was only a terrible fear, or dull, defiant despair. But now, as the blow is about to fail, the shield of God sweeps in between. The Lord knows]:[is time to help, and, by helping, to reveal Himself and bind us to Him.

3. Its fulness.

(1) Israel is glorified. The weakest part of the army achieves the victory.

(2) Ahab is honoured (1 Kings 20:14). The victory is gained under the leadership of the man whom God might have righteously destroyed.

(3) The triumph is complete (1 Kings 20:20, 1 Kings 20:21), Ben-hadad a fugitive, and his army a prey. The glory of God is manifested most of all in His mercy. We cannot contemplate our deliverance from danger and the fulness of our triumph in Christ without feeling upon our soul the recreative touch of the hand of God.—J.U.

1 Kings 20:22-43

Resisted Mercy.

I. GOD MULTIPLIES HIS BENEFITS TO THE SINFUL (1 Kings 20:22-30). Ahab makes no public acknowledgment of God's mercy, nor, so far as appears, has it been suffered to change in any way his attitude towards Jehovah; yet God crowns him with loving-kindnesses.

1. Delivered from one danger, he is warned of another. "Go, strengthen thyself, and see what thou doer," etc. The enemy, baffled for the time, will return again. The intimation was a call not only to prepare his hosts and strengthen his cities, but, beyond all else, to seek His face who had delivered him already, and was able to deliver him again. We are warned of dangers that we may strengthen ourselves in God. There is love in the warning, and vaster love in the offered strength.

2. When the danger comes he is assured of success (1 Kings 20:28). The most needful preparation had been neglected; Ahab had not sought God. But God again seeks him. Mark the unwearied, all-forgiving love of God.

3. The Lord fights for him. In vain did the Syrians change their ground and remodel their army. In vain did they surround with their myriads the two small bands of Israel. They are given as stubble to the swords of Israel, and the very walls of the city into which they flee for safety become their destruction. God's hand is so marked in His deliverances, that the sinful cannot fail to see the wondrous love that is behind them. They bring us face to face with "the depths of the riches" of His mercy.

4. The purpose of the mercy. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord." It is the revelation of God, and is meant to. be the birth hour of the soul. The goodness of God may be mentioned with seeming gratitude, but it. has been barren of result unless it has brought us into the presence of the King. The Divine Love has blessed us in vain unless it has become the light of the Lord's face.

II. HOW THE MERCY WAS MADE OF NO EFFECT. TO Ahab the mercy brought only deeper condemnation. It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for Chorazin and Bethsaida, which saw the goodness of God in Christ, and yet repented not.

1. The mercy was frustrated by prayerlessness. Though warned of the danger, he does not with lowly confession of sin and unworthiness implore God's direction and help. There is no breaking up of the fallow ground that it may receive the blessing as the seed of joy and life in God.

2. By thanklessness. When the blessing came it might still have saved him. The benefits with which God had loaded him might have bowed him in lowly acknowledgment of his multiplied iniquities and long impious rebellion. The goodness of God leads us to repentance only as we pass in before the Lord through the gates of praise.

3. By blindness to the indications of God's will. The multitude slain in the battle, the falling of the wall upon those who escaped, the overthrowing of every defence till the king, the head and centre of the whole evil, was reached, might have shown that God purposed to make an end for the time of the Syrian power, and give a full deliverance to Israel. The fruit of the victory was blighted by Ahab's blindness and folly. To cooperate with God in working out our own salvation, we must read and faithfully fulfil His purpose.

4. By vanity and worldly policy. He enjoys for a brief moment the Bower which God has given, becomes the benefactor and brother of the man whom the Lord had doomed, and makes a covenant with him. The trust which God had desired should wholly rest upon Himself he reposes in his foe. The hour of prosperity, which should be our covenant time with God, is too often made the occasion for worldly alliances, which lead us to forget Him and all we owe to Him.


1. The message came through swift and stern judgment. Disobedience meant death (verses 35, 36). The Divine threatenings come to us through terrible judgments.

2. Ahab was self condemned. The voice of conscience is on God's side. "If our heart condemn us," etc.

3. His own life should answer for the life he spared. Letting go God's enemy, and keeping back his hand from God's righteous though terrible work, he destroyed himself. No cross, no crown. The awful price which a soul must pay for present ease and pleasure: "He that loveth his life shall lose it."

4. The shadow of God's wrath swallows up the worldling's peace (verse 43); and it falls ever deeper till the end come.—U.


1 Kings 20:40

The Neglected Opportunity.

Ben-hadad II. was seeking his revenge for a defeat inflicted on him the preceding year by the Israelitish army, led by a band of 232 young noblemen. He had disciplined his army, and reofficered it, no longer allowing money or family influence to supersede military skill. Everything that organization could accomplish or superstition dictate (1 Kings 20:23) had been done, but all proved in vain; for the contest was not simply between Ben-hadad and Ahab, but between the heathen and the living God who had been blasphemously challenged. Describe Ben-hadad's successful appeal to Ahab after the defeat. Why was it not commendable (as it was, for example, after the siege of Calais) to spare the vanquished? Because the motive was not pity, but policy; and the criminal allowed to escape had avowedly fought as Jehovah s foe. It is sometimes "expedient that one man should die for the people." Ben-hadad's death would have been the salvation of Ahab, who in the next war fell mortally wounded; it would have ensured a lasting peace, as this was the campaign of the Syrian king, rather than of the Syrian]people; and it would hare seriously shaken the confidence of the heathen in their gods. The king let his prisoner go to his own undoing. It was this sin which was now rebuked. Picture Ahab returning from the field flushed with victory. He is accosted by a man who has been sitting wounded and dusty beside the road. He is a disguised prophet, probably Micaiah, acting a parable. Says he, in effect: "I have come from the battle. In the hour of victory, the captain, whom I acknowledge I was bound to obey, gave me in charge a prisoner of note, saying that if he escaped my life should answer for it. I admit that I failed, though not designedly; but while thy servant was busy here and there he was gone. Ought I to suffer for that slight negligence?" And when Ahab answered, "Yes," the disguise was flung off, and the daring prophet appeared, saying, "In pronouncing my doom, thou hast pronounced thine own." [Read 1 Kings 20:42 and 1 Kings 20:43.] The prophet set before the king a picture of his neglect of opportunity which is worthy of our study. We observe—

I. THAT OPPORTUNITY IS GIVEN OF GOD. "There is a time forevery purpose under heaven." Examples:

(1) In the operations of nature. There is a suitable time for the gathering of fruit. It may not come when you wish it or expect it; but neglected then, the fruit is spoiled. A farmer may in the spring be "busy here and there" with other things, and so neglect to sow his seed. The opportunity does not recur.

(2) In the cultivation of mind. The indolent schoolboy never gets again the leisure and opportunity for study; and if he did, his capacity for acquiring knowledge has decreased. Contrast the flexibility of mind of the lad with that of the man in middle life.

(3) In the acquisition of material good. Energy, promptitude, and diligence displayed at a critical moment make a man a millionaire. "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune," etc.

(4) In the consecration of life. No father is content with the physical beauty of his child if mentally he is dead—an idiot; nor is our heavenly Father satisfied to see mental vigour accompanied by spiritual death. He looks for a change, which is a passing from death unto life, and for this He gives opportunity. Observe, secondly—

II. THAT OPPORTUNITY IS GRANTED TO ALL. If you would discover this,

(1) Consider your outward circumstances. The helpfulness of a Christian home; inherited tendencies; direct religious teaching; exemplars of holy life; recognition of God at the family altar; services frequented from childhood. If these leave you unblessed, they leave you under heavier condemnation. Soon the home may be broken up, and the encouragements to good may vanish, and with unavailing regret you will say, "As thy servant was busy here and there, they were gone."

(2) Consider your inward condition. There are seasons when it is easier to avail ourselves of religious advantages. Youth is such a season, for then impulses are generous, susceptibilities are tender, affections free. Under the influence of bereavement or personal illness religious convictions are experienced. In and through these the Holy Spirit works. Such a tame may be like the morning twilight which brightens into day, or like the evening twilight that deepens into night. Beware of letting convictions slip!

III. THAT OPPORTUNITY IS NEGLECTED BY MANY. TWO causes of this may be suggested:

(1) The pressure of business. The man on the battlefield was busy enough, but he failed to remember his special charge. Nothing he did was wrong in itself, but it became a wrong when it led to the neglect of obvious duty: and if his life was sacrificed because of that neglect, the advantage gained by other activity was of no value. Apply this, and show the difficulty in the way of meditation and prayer, created by the multitudinous claims upon our activity.

(2) The effect of frivolity. Some people are "busy here and there" in another sense. You never know where to find them. Their character is indeterminate; their information is incomplete; their work is wanting in persistence and thoroughness; and their whole life is frittered away, they scarcely know how. Each day comes to such an one, saying, "Here is something for you to do for God, something for you to think of for your spiritual good;" and, having delivered its message, the day falls back into the darkness of night. Again and again the message comes in vain, until the last day approaches, then vanishes, and eternity is at hand! The work is left undone; and over the lost opportunity he can only say, "While thy servant was busy here and there, it was gone."


1. Apply to Christians who are neglecting work for God.

2. Apply to the careless who are neglecting decision for God.—A.R.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/1-kings-20.html. 1897.
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