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Deeper Commentary

1Ki 20:1 Ben Hadad the king of Syria gathered all his army together; and there were thirty-two kings with him, and horses and chariots: and he went up and besieged Samaria, and fought against it-
Josephus and the LXX have chapters 20 and 21 the opposite way around. This could be the same Benhadad who 14 years ago had made a treaty with Asa of Judah and had attacked the ten tribes during Baasha's rule. The 32 kings would have been the rulers of the provinces and areas which were then under the control of Benhadad.

1Ki 20:2 He sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said to him, Thus says Ben Hadad-
An example of the Hebrew word malak meaning simply "messengers". It is elsewhere translated "messenger", such as here. The word can therefore be used about human beings, who can sin. But the Angels as in the Divine beings cannot sin as they all have God's nature, and there is no rebellion or division in Heaven.

1Ki 20:3 ‘Your silver and your gold is mine. Your wives also and your children, even the best, are mine’-
This was an intentional humiliation of Ahab. To agree to give a man your wealth, wives and children was to admit total failure as a man to protect yourself. Many men would have preferred to die fighting rather than agree. The strange sequence of events here can too easily be read as a reflection of Ahab's weak character. But in fact they were designed to humble him For humility is of such value to God, and the whole story of the weak Ahab ends up with him doing the most amazing, bravest thing which most men who have ever lived would have flinched at and failed: Ahab the weak became strong in that he repented, and will, it seems, be saved eternally because of it. That is the end product in view, and must be remembered as we read this chapter with the strange turns of fortune and event.

1Ki 20:4 The king of Israel answered, It is according to your saying, my lord, O king. I am yours, and all that I have-
As noted on :3, this was an incredible reflection of weakness of character. Ahab had not met Benhadad in the field in battle, and now he was surrounded, he refuses to accept what is surely an invitation to come out and fight. For that is what that kind of insulting demand was intended to elicit. But Ahab just agrees.

1Ki 20:5 The messengers came again and said, Ben Hadad says, ‘I sent indeed to you, saying, You shall deliver me your silver, and your gold, and your wives, and your children-
Benhadad wanted to provoke Ahab to come out and fight. He did this by making an insulting demand, which in Semitic terms was not intended to be taken literally. But Ahab does take it literally, and he agrees.

1Ki 20:6 but I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house, and the houses of your servants; and it shall be, that whatever is pleasant in your eyes, they shall put it in their hand, and take it away'-
As noted on :3, the whole purpose of this situation was to humble Ahab and force him to grow up and take personal responsibility. The demand to come out and fight is now made again, seeing Ahab had taken literally the insulting demand of :4 and had agreed to it. So now an even more insulting demand is made. Ahab would take any humiliation rather than fighting and trusting in God to save him. So he had to be humbled yet more.

1Ki 20:7 Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land and said, Please notice how this man seeks mischief; for he sent to me for my wives, my children, my silver, my gold; and I didn’t deny him-
Benhadad "sought mischief" by demanding his wealth and family. Ahab makes out that this was a demand he could agree to for the sake of avoiding war. But clearly the insulting demand to take absolutely everything from everybody was tantamount to declaring an invasion of the city.

1Ki 20:8 All the elders and all the people said to him, Don’t listen, neither consent-
"Listen and consent" is a phrase used of how Israel were to listen and consent to God, and they would be punished for not doing so (Lev. 26:21; Dt. 13:8; Is. 1:19; 28:12; 30:9 etc.). The phrase must have got Ahab thinking. And that was the intention of these events.

1Ki 20:9 Therefore he said to the messengers of Ben Hadad, Tell my lord the king, ‘All that you sent for to your servant at the first I will do; but this thing I cannot do’. The messengers departed, and delivered the message-
The second demand was tantamount to declaring an invasion and sacking of the city. There was no way Ahab could agree. As explained on :3, the whole series of events was to bring him to humility and taking personal responsibility, and it did finally work- for he repented at the end of his life.

1Ki 20:10 Ben Hadad sent to him and said, The gods do so to me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me-
The second demand was indeed tantamount to saying that the city was going to be sacked, and even the dust of it taken away.

1Ki 20:11 The king of Israel answered, Tell him, ‘Don’t let him who puts on his armour brag like he who takes it off’-
LXX "let not the humpbacked boast as he that is upright". This was a statement of confidence, and we wonder where Ahab got that confidence from, seeing he had just recently agreed to the humiliating demand to surrender his wives, children and wealth. He had no military strength, so we wonder whether, as intended, he was beginning to have a personal faith in Yahweh. For He alone would help in this situation.

1Ki 20:12 It happened, when Ben Hadad heard this message, as he was drinking, he and the kings, in the pavilions, that he said to his servants, Prepare to attack! They prepared to attack the city-
Benhadad comes over as an overconfident drunkard, leading from the rear. Sometimes God apparently supports the lesser of two sinners because He wishes to judge pride and fleshly confidence more than anything else. But that doesn't thereby justify the lesser sinner, Ahab in this case.

1Ki 20:13 Behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said-
The prophet is not named. If indeed 1 Kings 21 is before this incident (see on :1), it surely would have been noted if it were Elijah. Perhaps the point is that Elijah was so wrong to arrogantly claim that he was the only prophet of Yahweh left. There were others, such as this anonymous prophet, and the schools of the prophets mentioned in 2 Kings. Not to mention the 100 prophets Obadiah had hidden in a cave.

Thus says Yahweh, ‘Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into your hand this day; and you shall know that I am Yahweh’-
As explained on :3, the intention of this series of events was to bring Ahab to Yahweh. And finally, it worked. It is a parade example of how we should never give up with those who apparently have no interest in the ways of God. The victory was given by God's grace and not because of Ahab's faith or spirituality. And thereby he came to "know Yahweh", for the essence of Yahweh is His grace in giving undeserved favour. For Ahab was indeed ripe for judgment, and Benhadad appeared the logical person to use for that.

1Ki 20:14 Ahab said, By whom? He said, Thus says Yahweh, ‘By the young men of the princes of the provinces’. Then he said, Who shall begin the battle? He answered, You-
Part of the purpose of these events was to bring Ahab to greater personal responsibility, rather than living the life of an overgrown pampered adolescent, born into wealth and rulership, with a dominant wife who arranged everything for him. And so he was told that he was to lead off the battle; he who had no military experience and was clearly a coward by nature. The object of all this was that Ahab would "know Yahweh" (:13). So God was showing what He was like in that the victory was to be won by "young men" from the provinces, and by a cowardly king with no military experience. 

1Ki 20:15 Then he mustered the young men of the princes of the provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty-two. After them, he mustered all the people, even all the children of Israel, being seven thousand-
"Thousand" may not mean a literal 1000, but rather a division or regiment. But they were not used in the initial conflict. Just 232 young men were the vanguard of the Israelite attack. And they were followed by the army (:19), who only played a role in pursuing the much larger Syrian army once the 232 young men had won the battle and turned them to flight. As explained on :14, the purpose of this was that Ahab would "know Yahweh", the God who saves by the weak, the young, the inexperienced; because grace and humility are foremost in the things He values, and which comprise His Name.

1Ki 20:16 They went out at noon. But Ben Hadad was drinking himself drunk in the pavilions, he and the kings, the thirty-two kings who helped him-
Battles were usually won by lightning strikes at night or dawn. To attack at noon continues the theme discussed on :15; God was granting this victory by grace, when everything was very weak on the Israelite side, in secular terms. As it happened, noon was no bad time to attack in this case because Benhadad and all the leaders of the Syrian army were drunk.

1Ki 20:17 The young men of the princes of the provinces went out first; and Ben Hadad sent out, and they told him, saying, Men are coming out from Samaria-
LXX "sons of the leaders". We get the impression that the leaders of the Syrian army were too drunk and distant to really be leaders, and the leaders of Israel feared to fight themselves, with Ahab their king a weak minded coward.

1Ki 20:18 He said, If they have come out for peace, take them alive; or if they have come out for war, take them alive-
The arrogance of Benhadad is clear. He assumed that his soldiers could easily capture alive 232 young men. As noted on :12, sometimes God apparently supports the lesser of two sinners because He wishes to judge pride and fleshly confidence more than anything else. 

1Ki 20:19 So these went out of the city, the young men of the princes of the provinces, and the army which followed them-
As explained on :15, it was the 232 young men who won the battle. The army which followed them played no role in the victory apart from to chase the fleeing Syrians. The idea was that cowardly Ahab, a king with no military experience, should march at the front of those young men. For he was to 'lead forth' the battle (see on :14). There is no record that he did as he was asked; he only "went out" after the young men had won the battle (:21). 

1Ki 20:20 They each killed his opponent. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them. Ben Hadad the king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen-
As with the duel between David and Goliath, the idea may have been that these young men fought the Syrian young men, as also seen in 2 Sam. 2:14. Each of those young Israelites killed the man they were given to fight. 

1Ki 20:21 The king of Israel went out, and struck the horses and chariots, and killed the Syrians with a great slaughter-
Ahab was to 'lead forth' the battle (see on :14), at the head of the 232 young men. But it seems he didn't; he only "went out" once the battle had been won, to lead the chase. The point of it all was to make him realize that he, the coward, had been given a great victory and had gone down as a king who won a battle against great odds. This was all by the grace of the Yahweh whom he had so resisted. And so through this grace he came to "know Yahweh" (:13). They destroyed very many horses and chariots (:25). Ahab loved horses, for he personally had gone around Israel during the drought seeking for fodder for them. For him, the worst thing about the drought was the damage done to his horses. So we wonder why the horses were "struck" or destroyed (:25). Was it not because he knew that the king of Israel should not have horses and chariots, and he wished to follow Joshua's example in destroying them when he captured them (Josh. 11:6)? We see the beginnings of faith and response, as intended.     

1Ki 20:22 The prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, Go, strengthen yourself, and mark, and see what you do; for at the return of the year the king of Syria will come up against you-
For "the prophet", see on :13. The repeat of the situation was because as discussed on :3, these events were carefully designed to develop Ahab's faith, humility and sense of personal responsibility. "See what you do" is a phrase often used about seeing what God does or works (Ex. 6:1; 14:31; Num. 14:22; Dt. 4:3; 11:7 and often). Perhaps he was to take the hint that he would only win again if he recognized that God would work through him. Ahab was also being led to self awareness, personal responsibility and forward planning, rather than just leaving it all to Jezebel and living his life as he pleased.  

1Ki 20:23 The servants of the king of Syria said to him, Their god is a god of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they-
Their impression was perhaps because of Israel's tendency to worship Yahweh on the "high places", mixing idolatry with Yahweh worship. Again, as noted on :12, there are times when God may apparently give blessing or victory to one side in a conflict because the other side is so blasphemous. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the winning side, Ahab in this case, are right before Him. He even considered sparing Israel from destruction in the desert because of what the nations would say about Him and His people.

1Ki 20:24 Do this thing: take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains in their place-
This was a tacit recognition that no army can achieve victory if it is led by political rather than military leaders, who get drunk at the rear during a battle.

1Ki 20:25 Muster an army, like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. We will fight against them in the plain, and surely we will be stronger than them. He listened to their voice, and did so-
We see here the great extent of the first Israelite victory, involving destroying many horses and chariots. See on :21 for the significance of this.

1Ki 20:26 It happened at the return of the year, that Ben Hadad mustered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel-
"Aphek" means 'strength', and the Syrians were determined to "be stronger than them" (:25), and Ahab had been told to make himself strong for this battle (:22). It was all about strength, and the purpose of the battle was to make Ahab trust in God's strength; for he was clearly weaker than Benhadad.  

1Ki 20:27 The children of Israel were mustered and were provisioned, and went against them. The children of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of young goats; but the Syrians filled the country-
The Israelites seemed doomed to destruction. They were outnumbered, and are described as goats and not sheep; for they were condemned before God. So again, the lesson was to be of salvation by grace, when they didn't deserve it; so as to teach Ahab to "know Yahweh" (:28), to see what He was really like, and His grace is His lead characteristic.

1Ki 20:28 A man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel and said, Thus says Yahweh, ‘Because the Syrians have said, Yahweh is a god of the hills, but He is not a god of the valleys; therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am Yahweh’-
This "man of God" would appear to be a different one from the prophet who previously came to Ahab. Again the point is being made that Elijah was so wrong in assuming he was the only true prophet of Yahweh. There were others, and he was wrong to consider each of them to be astray on some point or other, and he alone right before Yahweh. The phrase "I will deliver this multitude into your hand" is a quotation from Jud. 4:7, where again a spiritually weak Israel, led by a woman [perceived as weak] were given victory over Sisera. And if Ahab had thought about it, he would have noticed that this victory was at the river Kishon, the place where Elijah had slain his prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:40). 

Although unrecorded, it is an inference of :42 that at this time the prophet of Yahweh had told Ahab to destroy Benhadad.

1Ki 20:29 They encamped opposite one another seven days. So it was, that in the seventh day the battle was joined; and the children of Israel killed one hundred thousand footmen of the Syrians in one day-
"Thousand" often doesn't mean 1000, but refers instead to regiments or military divisions. The seven day period would have been a time for Ahab to consider how weak Israel were, as nothing before the hugely superior forces of Syria (:27). The camping opposite each other was to recall the situation with David and Goliath. Ahab was being humbled, and made to trust in God's strength (see on :3).

1Ki 20:30 But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and the wall fell on twenty-seven thousand men who were left. Ben Hadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner room-
Again, "thousand" may refer to some kind of military division. The battles of Israel often feature some supernatural element behind their total victory, and that was intended to teach them that the victory was of God's grace and not solely their own bravery, tactics or strength. And surely in this case, this again was intended as part of Ahab's spiritual education.

There is a connection between Benhadad going into an inner room to hide when Ahab was given victory against him (1 Kings 20:30), and the false prophet Zedekiah going into an inner room to hide when Ahab was defeated (1 Kings 22:25). The same Hebrew words are used, and the connection becomes more apparent if we accept that 1 Kings 20 and 21 should be placed the other way around, as in LXX. This would mean that the hiding of Benhadad is recorded just a short time before that of Zedekiah. The connection would be to show that the false prophets were in fact bracketed together by God with Israel's enemies; whereas they had claimed that they were nationalists on Israel's side, proclaiming Israel's certain victory against their enemies. God sees not as man sees, and the real spiritual realities are often the very opposite of what appears. See on :31.    

1Ki 20:31 His servants said to him-
The very men who had advised and urged Benhadad to go into this battle (:23). The situation repeats in the context of Israel when the false prophet Zedekiah predicts Israel's victory and is proven wrong (1 Kings 22:25).

See now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Please let us put sackcloth on our bodies, and ropes on our heads, and go out to the king of Israel. Maybe he will save your life-
None of the kings of Israel are recorded as being particularly spiritual. But they apparently had a reputation for being merciful. Something of God's grace had rubbed off upon them.

1Ki 20:32 So they put sackcloth on their bodies and ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Your servant Ben Hadad says, ‘Please let me live’. He said, Is he still alive? He is my brother-
Ahab had still not been humbled as intended; see on :3. For suddenly (and probably unexpectedly) being placed in such a position of power and glory, he acts in pride. The fawning of a powerful king before him led him to play God, assuming he could give life to those whom God had commanded to be slain. Although unrecorded, it is an inference of :42 that the prophet of Yahweh had told Ahab to destroy Benhadad. And now Ahab repeats the sin of Saul concerning Amalek, and allows him to live.

1Ki 20:33 Now the men observed diligently, and hurried to take this phrase; and they said, Your brother Ben Hadad. Then he said, Go, bring him. Then Ben Hadad came out to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot-
This was indeed merciful and gracious in a secular sense, but it was not the grace of God. We must note that difference, between grace in a secular sense and in a Divine sense. Ahab was condemned for not destroying Benhadad. 

1Ki 20:34 Ben Hadad said to him, The cities which my father took from your father I will restore-
If these are the cities of 1 Kings 15:20, then they were taken from Baasha, who was not any relative of Ahab. Perhaps Benhadad uses the term "father" as meaning a previous king. 

You shall make streets for yourself in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. I, said Ahab, will let you go with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him, and let him go-
These streets would likely have been dedicated to the gods of Syria, whom the Israelites worshipped. Ahab agrees to the offer. But what names, then, was he to give the streets of Damascus? They were to be named after the gods of Israel. If Ahab named them after the gods Israel worshipped, then the names wouldn't have been changed at all. For Israel worshipped the Syrian gods. So Ahab was forced to assume that he would have to name the streets of Samaria after Yahweh. Israel only had one true God- Yahweh. So as "streets" in the plural were to be named after Israel's gods- what were they to be called, seeing Israel had only one national Deity? These practical questions were designed to bring Ahab to acceptance of Yahweh as Israel's only God.

1Ki 20:35 A certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow by the word of Yahweh, Please strike me! The man refused to strike him-
Again the point is made that Elijah was so wrong in thinking that he was the only prophet of Yahweh. The record shows how that during Elijah’s lifetime there were other prophets of Yahweh active in His service (1 Kings 20:13,35). And yet the lesson is that God still works through the conceited, the spiritually superior, those who despise their brethren. God didn’t give up on Elijah because he was like this, and neither should we give up in our relationship with such brethren.

1Ki 20:36 Then he said to him, Because you have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh, behold, as soon as you are departed from me, a lion shall kill you. As soon as he was departed from him, a lion found him, and killed him-
The message was that God's word must be obeyed, even if it seems utterly counter instinctive to us. We are not to assume that we know better. It is all leading up to how Ahab is to be condemned for refusing to slay Benhadad. The use of a lion to kill him connects with how the prophet of Judah in 1 Kings 13 was slain by a lion for not being strictly obedient to God's word not to eat or return by the way he had come. 

1Ki 20:37 Then he found another man, and said, Please strike me. The man struck him, smiting and wounding him-
Maybe we are intended to infer that the slaying of the first prophet by a lion encouraged this prophet to zealously obey what he was commanded. But Ahab surely knew the story of 1 Kings 13. A man had been slain by a lion for lack of careful obedience to God's word. He should have known from this that he must be carefully obedient.

1Ki 20:38 So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way-
He was the equivalent of the lion meeting the first prophet by the way. The prophetic word of future death was as powerful as death.

And disguised himself with his headband over his eyes-
The idea is of a bandage over his eyes (LXX), which also served to hide his face from Ahab, who apparently would have otherwise recognized him; see on :41.

1Ki 20:39 As the king passed by, he cried to the king; and he said, Your servant went out into the midst of the battle; and behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man to me and said, ‘Guard this man! If by any means he be missing, then your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver’-
The implication is that Ahab had been told beforehand that he must destroy Ahab, or else lose his life. Although see on :42 for another possibility. We note in this story that the man had to either give his life, or pay a talent of silver. Possibly there is here the hint that Ahab need not die for what he had done, but could somehow be redeemed from it- by repentance. But we simply learn that he went home depressed because of his judgment (:43), with no thought as to repentance.

1Ki 20:40 As your servant was busy here and there, he was gone. The king of Israel said to him, So your judgment shall be; you yourself have decided it-
Ahab's sin was in fact also his own judgment. For he was to meet his death fighting the Syrians in 1 Kings 22. If he had slain Benhadad, this situation would not have occurred. It is a common theme that the wicked snare themselves, falling into their own pit, judged by their own words, rather than God specifically snaring them (e.g. Ps. 7:15; 9:15; 57:6; Prov. 26:27; 28:10; Ecc. 10:8). From their own mouth and words men will be judged (Mt. 12:37; Lk. 19:22 cp. 2 Sam. 1:16; 1 Kings 20:40). It could even be that the Lord cites the condemnatory words of the rejected uttered during their lifetimes and leaves these as their condemnation. Woe, therefore, to he or she who has said unrepentantly that they don’t want to be in the Kingdom if brother x or sister y are going to be there. “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life; but he that openeth wide his lips [in this life] shall have destruction” at judgment day (Prov. 13:3).

1Ki 20:41 He hurried, and took the headband away from his eyes; and the king of Israel recognized that he was of the prophets-
This implies that the prophets were known to Ahab because they risked death at the hands of Jezebel by witnessing to him; as Elijah did. But Elijah obviously considered them all to be somehow insincere and fake, because he proudly considered himself the only prophet of Yahweh.

1Ki 20:42 He said to him, Thus says Yahweh, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people’-
Ahab's sin was in fact his own judgment. For he was to meet his death fighting the Syrians in 1 Kings 22. If he had slain Benhadad, this situation would not have occurred.

Ahab was rebuked for not killing Benhadad, in obedience to God’s command (1 Kings 20:35,42). But it could be argued that Ahab is not recorded as ever having been told to do this. What he had been told was that Yahweh would deliver the Syrians into his hand (:28). Presumably, God expected Ahab to infer from this that he should kill Benhadad; and rebuked him for his lack of perception, just as Jesus rebuked the disciples after the resurrection. The New Testament also has examples of our being expected to deduce things which at first glance we might find somewhat demanding. 1 Cor. 14:21 rebukes the Corinthians for speaking to each other in languages which their brethren didn’t understand. Paul considered that they were immature in their understanding because they hadn’t perceived that Is. 28:11,12 states that it will be the Gentile non-believers who will speak to God’s people in a language they don’t understand.  

1Ki 20:43 The king of Israel went to his house sullen and angry, and came to Samaria
See on :39. The character portrayal of Ahab is consistent, as we would expect from a Divinely inspired record. There is a clear connection with how he "came into his house sullen and angry" because Naboth would not sell him his vineyard (1 Kings 21:4). We get the impression of an overgrown spoilt child. He sulked over Naboth's vineyard because he wasn't obedient to God's word. And in 1 Kings 20:43 again Ahab "went to his house sullen and angry" because he was condemned for not having obeyed God's word. The LXX puts 1 Kings 20 and 21 the other way around. The experience with Naboth was intended to teach him obedience to God's word. He failed, so he "went to his house sullen and angry". He didn't learn from that lesson. And so he does the same again, when he fails to be obedient on an even more significant level.