1 Kings 20

1 KINGS CHAPTER 20

Ben Hadad Attacks Samaria

      • Now King Ben Hadad of Syria assembled his entire army together, along with 32 other kings with their horses and chariots. He marched against Samaria, besieged it, and attacked it. He sent messengers to King Ahab of Israel, who was in the city, saying, “This is what Ben Hadad says: ‘Your silver and gold are mine. Your best wives and children are also mine.’” The king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord king. I am yours along with all that I have.”

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “After Elijah’s recruitment of Elisha, one expects to read of his anointing of Hazael as king over Syria and of Jehu as king over Israel…Instead, one finds a story in which a different prophet appears and in which a different king of Syria (Ben-hadad) loses a war with Ahab. The message of ch. 19 is thus underlined: Elijah is not the only servant of God left, in spite of what he has claimed (19:10, 14); and the quiet ways of God must take their course for a while before the events spoken of in 19:17 come to pass.”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “Several kings of Aram known as Ben-hadad ruled Aram-Damascus in the ninth-century BC. The one mentioned here is identified by several scholars as Ben-hadad II (860-841 BC), also known as Hadadezer, son or successor of Ben-hadad I, who is mentioned in 15:18.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “Because he was outnumbered, Ahab’s compliance is nothing less than a surrender. His words resemble that of a vassal responding to a lord in the deferential language of covenant treaties from the ancient Near Eastern world.”

      • The messengers came back again saying, “This is what Ben Hadad says: ‘I sent messengers to you saying, “You must give me your silver and gold, your wives, and your children.” But now, at this time tomorrow, I will send my servants to you and they will search your house, and your servants’ houses. The will seize and carry away whatever is valuable to you.’” Then the king of Israel summoned all the elders of the land and said, “Notice how this man is looking for trouble. He demanded my wives, children, silver, and gold and I didn’t refuse him.” And all the leaders and the people told him, “Don’t listen to him or agree to his demands.” So he told Ben Hadad’s messengers, “Tell my lord the king: ‘I will give you everything you first demanded from your servant, but this latest demand I cannot do.’” So the messengers went back and gave their report.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “When Ben-hadad’s second delegation made even greater demands…Ahab realized that Ben-hadad seemed bent on war. Ahab repeated his compliance with Ben-hadad’s first demand but rejected the second. Ahab addressed Ben-hadad in polite diplomatic terms [i.e., my lord the king…], conceding his willingness to accept the Aramean king’s rule. Perhaps he hoped that his courteous reply would still avoid military confrontation.”

      • Then Ben Hadad sent messengers to him saying, “May the gods do so to me and more if there remains enough dirt from Samaria to provide even a handful for each of my soldiers.” The king of Israel replied, “Tell him: ‘One who puts on his armor shouldn’t boast like one who takes it off.’” When Ben Hadad received this reply, he and the other kings were drinking in the tents. He ordered his servants, “Take your positions.” So they took their positions to attack the city.

        • Of Ahab’s final reply to Ben Hadad, HCSB writes, “An English proverb with the same meaning is, ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!’”

        • On where Ben Hadad and the other kings were drinking, the same source notes, “The Hebrew word used for ‘tents’ is the same word as the city of Succoth, so it could possibly be a reference to the city rather than the literal meaning of ‘tents.’”

Ahab’s Victory Over Ben Hadad

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Two distinct battles ensued, one in Samaria (20:13-25) and one at Aphek (20:26-34). The writer included similar details regarding both: (1) pre-battle counsel (20:13-14, 23-25), (2) pre-battle conditions (20:15-16, 26-28), (3) victory for Israel despite the superior numbers of the enemy (20:17-21, 29-30), and (4) post-battle counsel (20:22, 31).”

      • Now a prophet came to King Ahab of Israel and said, “This is what Yahweh says: ‘Do you see this vast army? Watch, I will hand it over to you today so that you may know that I am Yahweh.” Ahab asked, “By whom?” And the prophet said, “This is what Yahweh says: ‘By the servants of the district governors.” Then Ahab asked, “Who will start the battle?” He answered, “You.”

      • So Ahab assembled the 232 servants of the district governors. Then he assembled the Israelite army- numbering 7,000. They marched out at noon while Ben Hadad and the 32 kings that were allied with him were drinking themselves drunk in their tents. The servants of the district governors marched out first. Ben Hadad had sent out scouts and they reported to him, “Men are marching out from Samaria.” He said, “Whether they come in peace or to do battle, take them alive.” They marched out of the city with the servants of the district governors in front and the army behind them. Each one struck down his opponent. The Syrians fled with the Israelites in pursuit. But King Ben Hadad of Syria escaped on horseback with some of his horsemen. Then the king of Israel marched out and struck down the horses and chariots. He defeated the Syrians with a great slaughter.

      • Then the prophet came to the king of Israel and told him, “Go and strengthen yourself and determine what you should do, because the king of Syria will attack you in the spring.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Late spring and early summer were standard seasons for warfare in the ancient Near East; the forces could count on good weather and a supply of grain from the early harvest.”

        • The same source includes a very informative section on the identity of the Syrians (Arameans):

          • The Arameans were a Semitic group, descendants of Shem (Gen 10:22-23; cp Gen 22:20-21). Bethuel and Laban were known as Arameans (Gen 25:20; 28:1-7), Jacob lived for some twenty years with them in Aramean territory (Gen 28-31; Hos 12:12), and the people of Israel remembered that their forefathers were (at least culturally) Arameans (Deut 26:5).”

        • When the Arameans emerged into history around the time of Abraham, they were settled around the central Euphrates, from which they spread out to the east, west, and north. By about 1100 BC, Aramean tribes had spread throughout Syria and had expanded into northern Transjordan. They set up a number of powerful Aramean city-states, including Zobah and Damascus, that came into conflict with the Israelites beginning in the time of David (see 2 Sam 8:3-8; 10:6-25).”

        • Aramaic was the language of the Arameans. It eventually became the international language for diplomacy and administration all over the Near East…During the exile, the Jews adopted the Aramaic language; portions of Ezra and Daniel are written in Aramaic. Aramiac was the lingua franca of the Persian period from Egypt to India and was widely spoken in Palestine in Jesus’ day (see Mark 5:41; 1 Cor 16:22).”

Ben Hadad’s Second Attack

      • Now the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the mountains. That is why they were stronger than us. But if we fight them in the plains, we will certainly be stronger than them. Do this: Remove the kings from their commands and replace them with military commanders. Muster an army for yourself like the one you lost, with the same number of horses and chariots, so we can fight against them in the plain. Then surely we will be stronger than them.” He listened to them and did as they advised.

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible explains, “The Syrians raise a new army to replace the one destroyed in v. 21, planning next time to fight the Israelites in the plain, where horse and chariot will give them an advantage all too easily lost in the hills. There were also theological reasons for their choice of the plain. It was commonly believed in the ancient Near East that a god’s influence was localized and limited geographically. The Syrians mistakenly assumed that if they could draw Israel into the plain, they would win the battle, not only because of their superior chariots and horses, but also because they would be beyond Yahweh’s sphere of influence in the hills of Samaria.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Ben-hadad’s officers had a pagan religious outlook. Perhaps their erroneous view was fostered by traditional knowledge of the Lord’s appearance to Israel on Mount Sinai (Exod 19:1-3, 16-18) or of Israel’s long-term settlement of the hill country of Canaan (see Josh 10:40; 11:16; Judg 1:19)…”

      • In the spring, Ben Hadad gathered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight Israel. When the Israelites gathered and were given provisions, they marched out to meet them. The Israelites camped in front of them like two little flocks of goats while the Syrians covered the countryside. The man of God came to the king of Israel and said, “This is what Yahweh says: ‘Since the Syrians have said, “Yahweh is a god of the mountains and not a god of the valleys,” I will deliver this vast army into your hand and you will know that I am Yahweh.’”

        • On Aphek, ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds, “There were several sites with this name in ancient Israel. The Aphek mentioned here may be modern Afiq/Fiq near Ein Gev, located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee in what was southwest Syria. This Syrian outpost would have been an ideal location from which to launch attacks into Israel. In another incident, Ahab and Ben-hadad II conspired together against the Assyrian threat from the east. A text from the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (r 858-824 BC) described a battle he fought at Qarqar on the Orontes River in 853. The coalition was apparently able to halt any Assyrian advance. According to the text, ‘Ahab the Israelite’ provided ‘2,000 chariots and 10,000 men’ to the coalition, which included Ben-hadad II and others. The authors of Kings have not even mentioned this battle, however, because it is not relevant to their theme.”

      • They camped opposite each other for 7 days, and on the 7th day the battle began. The Israelites killed 100,000 Syrian foot soldiers in one day. The 27,000 who remained ran into the city of Aphek, but the wall fell on them. Now Ben Hadad ran into the city and hid in an inner room. His servants told him, “Look, we have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful kings. Let’s put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Maybe he will spare your life.” So they went out to the king of Israel wearing sackcloth around their waists and ropes on their heads and said, “Your servant Ben Hadad says, ‘Please let me live!’” The king replied, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.” Now the men were looking for a sign of hope, so they quickly accepted his offer saying, “Yes! Ben Hadad is your brother.” Then the king said, “Go bring him to me.” When Ben Hadad came out, Ahab had him come up into his chariot. Ben Hadad said to him, “I will return the cities that my father took from your father and you may set up marketplaces for yourself in Damascus just like my father set up in Samaria.” Ahab replied, “I will release you on the basis of this treaty.” So he made a treaty with him, then let him go.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Knowing the merciful mindset of the kings of Israel, Ben-hadad’s officers advised that they approach Ahab with symbols of humble repentance (Joel 1:13; Jon 3:5-9) and submission (Job 12:18; Lam 1:14). Ancient Near Eastern reliefs often depict captured enemies with ropes around their necks…Ahab spoke to Ben-hadad in terms that politely indicated the Aramean king’s royal authority and Ahab’s desire for good relations. Ahab welcomed Ben-hadad into his chariot to demonstrate his warm reception of the king, yet serving notice that he should recognize Ahab as his equal. Correspondence and parity agreements between kings in the ancient Near East used the language of brotherhood to express friendship, good relations, or formal equality. The treaty that Ahab and Ben-hadad established provided parity between the parties, although it was especially favorable to Ahab as the victor. The towns that Israel had lost to Aram (15:20) were restored and Ben-hadad made important trade concessions to Ahab…”

A Prophet Condemns Ahab

      • At Yahweh’s command, one of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow, “Hit me with your weapon.” But the man refused to hit him. So he told him, “Look, because you have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh, a lion will kill you as soon as you leave me.” When he left him, a lion found him and killed him. Then he found another man and said, “Hit me!” So the man hit him and wounded him. Then the prophet disguised himself, putting a bandage over his eyes, and went and waited for the king beside the road.

        • On the group called the “sons of the prophets,” ESV Study Bible writes, “The sons of prophets are not their physical descendants but groups of prophets usually affiliated with a more prominent prophet (cf 1 Sam 10:5; 19:20; 1 Kgs 18:4; 2 Kgs 4:1, 38; 6:1; 9:1). (The phrase ‘sons of’ can mean ‘members of a guild of’; cf ‘the sons of the gatekeepers’ in Ezra 2:42). Though groups of false prophets also exist (e.g. 1 Kgs 22:6), the prophetic groups associated with true prophets such as Samuel and Elijah are never viewed as false prophets but as servants of God…”

      • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes, “The man to whom he made the request was probably one who like himself dwelt in one of the prophetic societies, and he ought therefore to have understood that there was some purpose in his companion’s request. Hence his sin in refusing to comply with it. ‘Fellow’ gives the idea of men of the same guild better than ‘neighbour’. The expression ‘by the word of the Lord’ is found in a similar passage (1 Kings 13:17), and is the more usual form. He wished to impersonate a man who had been engaged in the battle and had suffered something from the enemy. Such a refusal was utterly at variance with the character of a prophet, who was to be prepared to obey at all costs a message which came as the word of the Lord. His companion puts the case very strongly in the next verse when he calls his own request ‘the voice of the Lord’.”

        • ESV Study Bible continues, “The scene is reminiscent of ch 13, where the same point is made (even prophets must obey the divine word) and the same punishment is pronounced. The implication is also clear in both passages: if disobedient prophets cannot escape God’s judgment, then disobedient king’s certainly will not.”

      • As the king passed by, he cried out to the king saying, “Your servant went out into the middle of the battle, and someone brought a man to me and said, ‘Guard this man! If he goes missing for any reason, you will pay your life for his life, or pay with 75 pounds of silver.’ But as your servant was busy here and there, he disappeared.” The king of Israel said to him, “That is your judgment- you just pronounced it yourself.” Then he quickly removed the bandage from his eyes and the king recognized him as one of the prophets. The prophet told the king, “This is what Yahweh says: ‘Because you released a man that I had devoted to destruction, you will pay your life for his life, and your people will suffer instead of his people.” The king of Israel left for his home in Samaria resentful and angry.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible, “The Lord apparently told Ahab to put Ben-hadad to death (cp Josh 6:17-21), but Ahab violated his charge, perhaps viewing the Aramean king as part of the spoils of war (cp 1 Sam 15:1-23)…Rather than learning from the prophet’s rebuke, Ahab went home angry and sullen.”

        • Guzik adds, “Ahab was sullen and displeased, but he was not repentant. He had the sorrow of being a sinner and knowing the consequences of sin, without having the sorrow for the sin itself.”

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “In a scene reminiscent of 2 Sam 12:1-4, the prophet tricks the king into pronouncing judgment on himself, albeit with a disguise whose purpose is obscure (Did Ahab know this man, or did prophets have distinctive facial garb?) He tells a story that implies that because he failed in his guard duties, he is liable to pay a fine of a talent of silver (an impossible amount for an ordinary soldier to raise) or suffer death. Ahab agrees on the justice of the death sentence and thus provides the prophet with the opportunity to declare Ahab’s life forfeit because Ahab released an enemy king whom God had devoted to destruction (cf 1 Sam 15:17-24). Ahab’s death is in fact strangely prefigured in the very manner in which God’s word about it comes to him. A prophet as disguised himself as a soldier fresh from fighting the Syrians, in order to catch the king. In 1 Kings 22:29-40 Ahab will disguise himself as a soldier going out to fight the Syrians, in order to trap a prophet (and his God). His strategy will fail as spectacularly as this prophet’s has succeeded.”

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