This chapter is the history of a war between Ben-hadad king of Syria
and Ahab king of Israel, in which Ahab was, once and again, victorious.
We read nothing of Elijah or Elishain all this story; Jezebel's rage,
it is probable, had abated, and the persecution of the prophets began
to cool, which gleam of peace Elijah improved. He appeared not at
court, but, being told how many thousands of good people there were in
Israel more than he thought of, employed himself, as we may suppose, in
founding religious houses, schools, or colleges of prophets, in several
parts of the country, to be nurseries of religion, that they might help
to reform the nation when the throne and court would not be reformed.
While he was thus busied, God favoured the nation with the successes we
here read of, which were the more remarkable because obtained against
Ben-hadad king of Syria, whose successor, Hazael, was ordained to be a
scourge to Israel. They must shortly suffer by the Syrians, and yet now
triumphed over them, that, if possible, they might be led to repentance
by the goodness of God. Here is,
I. Ben-hadad's descent upon Israel, and his insolent demand,
1 Kings 20:1-11.
II. The defeat Ahab gave him, encouraged and directed by a prophet,
1 Kings 20:12-21.
III. The Syrians rallying again, and the second defeat Ahab gave them,
1 Kings 20:22-30.
IV. The covenant of peace Ahab made with Ben-hadad, when he had him at
(1 Kings 20:31-34),
for which he is reproved and threatened by a prophet,
1 Kings 20:35-43.
Ben-hadad's Insolent Demand.
B. C. 900.
1 And Benhadad the king of Syria gathered all his host
together: and there were thirty and two kings with him, and
horses, and chariots: and he went up and besieged Samaria, and
warred against it.
2 And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city,
and said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad,
3 Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy
children, even the goodliest, are mine.
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.
5 And the messengers came again, and said, Thus speaketh
Benhadad, saying, Although I have sent unto thee, saying, Thou
shalt deliver me thy silver, and thy gold, and thy wives, and thy
6 Yet I will send my servants unto thee to morrow about this
time, and they shall search thine house, and the houses of thy
servants; and it shall be, that whatsoever is pleasant in thine
eyes, they shall put it in their hand, and take it away.
7 Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land,
and said, Mark, I pray you, and see how this man seeketh
mischief: for he sent unto me for my wives, and for my children,
and for my silver, and for my gold; and I denied him not.
8 And all the elders and all the people said unto him, Hearken
not unto him, nor consent.
9 Wherefore he said unto the messengers of Benhadad, Tell my
lord the king, All that thou didst send for to thy servant at the
first I will do: but this thing I may not do. And the messengers
departed, and brought him word again.
10 And Benhadad sent unto him, and said, The gods do so unto
me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for
handfuls for all the people that follow me.
11 And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let
not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that
putteth it off.
I. The threatening descent which Ben-hadad made upon Ahab's kingdom,
and the siege he laid to Samaria, his royal city,
1 Kings 20:1.
What the ground of the quarrel was we are not told; covetousness and
ambition were the principle, which would never want some pretence or
other. David in his time had quite subdued the Syrians and made them
tributaries to Israel, but Israel's apostasy from God makes them
formidable again. Asa had tempted the Syrians to invade Israel once
(1 Kings 15:18-20),
and now they did it of their own accord. It is dangerous bringing a
foreign force into the country: posterity may pay dearly for it.
Ben-hadad had with him thirty-two kings, who were either tributaries to
him, and bound in duty to attend him, or confederates with him, and
bound in interest to assist him. How little did the title of king look
when all these poor petty governors pretended to it!
II. The treaty between these two kings. Surely Israel's defence had
departed from them, or else the Syrians could not have marched so
readily, and with so little opposition, to Samaria, the head and heart
of the country, a city lately built, and therefore, we may suppose, not
well fortified, but likely to fall quickly into the hands of the
invaders; both sides are aware of this, and therefore,
1. Ben-hadad's proud spirit sends Ahab a very insolent demand,
1 Kings 20:2,3.
A parley is sounded, and a trumpeter (we may suppose) is sent into the
city, to let Ahab know that he will raise the siege upon condition that
Ahab become his vassal (Nay, his villain), and not only pay him
a tribute out of what he has, but make over his title to Ben-hadad, and
hold all at his will, even his wives and children, the godliest of
them. The manner of expression is designed to gall them; "All shall be
mine, without exception."
2. Ahab's poor spirit sends Ben-hadad a very disgraceful submission. It
is general indeed (he cannot mention particulars in his surrender with
so much pleasure as Ben-hadad did in his demand), but it is effectual:
I am thine, and all that I have,
1 Kings 20:4.
See the effect of sin.
(1.) If he had not by sin provoked God to depart from him, Ben-hadad
could not have made such a demand. Sin brings men into such straits, by
putting them out of divine protection. If God may not rule us, our
enemies shall. A rebel to God is a slave to all besides. Ahab had
prepared his silver and gold for Baal,
Justly therefore is it taken from him; such an alienating amounts to a
(2.) If he had not by sin wronged his own conscience, and set that
against him, he could not have made such a mean surrender. Guilt
dispirits men, and makes them cowards. He knew Baal could not help, and
had no reason to think that God would, and therefore was content to buy
his life upon any terms. Skin for skin, and all that is dear to him, he
will give for it; he will rather live a beggar than not die a
3. Ben-hadad's proud spirit rises upon his submission, and becomes yet
more insolent and imperious,
1 Kings 20:5,6.
Ahab had laid his all at his feet, at his mercy, expecting that one
king would use another generously, that this acknowledgment of
Ben-hadad's sovereignty would content him, the honour was sufficient
for the present, and he might hereafter make use of it if he saw cause
(Satis est prostrasse leoni--It suffices the lion to have
laid his victim prostrate); but this will not serve.
(1.) Ben-hadad is as covetous as he is proud, and cannot go away unless
he have the possession as well as the dominion. He thinks it not enough
to call it his, unless he have it in his hands. He will not so much as
lend Ahab the use of his own goods above a day longer.
(2.) He is as spiteful as he is haughty. Had he come himself to select
what he had a mind for, it would have shown some respect to a crowned
head; but he will send his servants to insult the prince, and hector
over him, to rifle the palace, and strip it of all its ornaments; nay,
to give Ahab the more vexation, they shall be ordered, not only to take
what they please, but, if they can learn which are the persons or
things that Ahab is in a particular manner fond of, to take those:
Whatsoever is pleasant in thy eyes they shall take away. We are
often crossed in that which we most dote upon; and that proves least
safe which is most dear.
(3.) He is as unreasonable as he is unjust, and will construe the
surrender Ahab made for himself as made for all his subjects too, and
will have them also to lie at his mercy: "They shall search, not only
thy house, but the houses of thy servants too, and plunder them
at discretion." Blessed be God for peace and property, and that what we
have we can call our own.
4. Ahab's poor spirit begins to rise too, upon this growing insolence;
and, if it becomes not bold, yet it becomes desperate, and he will
rather hazard his life than give up all thus.
(1.) How he takes advice of his privy-council, who encourage him to
stand it out. He speaks but poorly
(1 Kings 20:7),
appeals to them whether Ben-hadad be not an unreasonable enemy, and do
not seek mischief. What else could he expect from one who, without any
provocation given him, had invaded his country and besieged his capital
city? He owns to them how he had truckled to him before, and will have
them advise him what he should do in this strait; and they speak
bravely (Hearken not to him, nor consent,
1 Kings 20:8),
promising no doubt to stand by him in the refusal.
(2.) Yet he expresses himself very modestly in his denial,
1 Kings 20:9.
He owns Ben-hadad's dominion over him: "Tell my lord the king I
have no design to affront him, nor to receded from the surrender I have
already made; what I offered at first I will stand to, but this
thing I may not do; I must not give what is none of my own." It was
a mortification to Ben-hadad that even such an abject spirit as Ahab's
durst deny him; yet it should seem, by his manner of expressing
himself, that he durst not have done it if his people had not animated
5. Ben-hadad proudly swears the ruin of Samaria. The threatening waves
of his wrath, meeting with this check, rage and foam, and make a noise.
In his fury, he imprecates the impotent revenge of his gods, if the
dust of Samaria serve for handfuls for his army
(1 Kings 20:10),
so numerous, so resolute, an army will be bring into the field against
Samaria, and so confident is he of their success; it will be done as
easily as the taking up of a handful of dust; all shall be carried
away, even the ground on which the city stands. Thus confident is his
pride, thus cruel is his malice; this prepares him to be ruined, though
such a prince and such a people are unworthy of the satisfaction of
seeing him ruined.
6. Ahab sends him a decent rebuke to his assurance, dares not defy his
menaces, only reminds him of the uncertain turns of war
(1 Kings 20:11):
"Let not him that begins a war, and is girding on his sword, his
armour, his harness, boast of victory, or think himself sure of it,
as if he had put it off, and had come home a conqueror." This
was one of the wisest words that ever Ahab spoke, and is a good item or
momento to us all; it is folly to boast beforehand of any day, since we
know not what it may bring forth
but especially to boast of a day of battle, which may prove as much
against us as we promise ourselves it will be for us. It is impolitic
to despise an enemy, and to be too sure of victory is the way to be
beaten. Apply it to our spiritual conflicts. Peter fell by his
confidence. While we are here we are but girding on the harness, and
therefore must never boast as though we had put it off. Happy is the
man that feareth always, and is never off his watch.
B. C. 900.
12 And it came to pass, when Benhadad heard this message, as
he was drinking, he and the kings in the pavilions, that he
said unto his servants, Set yourselves in array. And they set
themselves in array against the city.
13 And, behold, there came a prophet unto Ahab king of Israel,
saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou seen all this great
multitude? behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day;
and thou shalt know that I am the LORD.
14 And Ahab said, By whom? And he said, Thus saith the LORD,
Even by the young men of the princes of the provinces. Then he
said, Who shall order the battle? And he answered, Thou.
15 Then he numbered the young men of the princes of the
provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty two: and after
them he numbered all the people, even all the children of
Israel, being seven thousand.
16 And they went out at noon. But Benhadad was drinking
himself drunk in the pavilions, he and the kings, the thirty and
two kings that helped him.
17 And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out
first; and Benhadad sent out, and they told him, saying, There
are men come out of Samaria.
18 And he said, Whether they be come out for peace, take them
alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive.
19 So these young men of the princes of the provinces came out
of the city, and the army which followed them.
20 And they slew every one his man: and the Syrians fled; and
Israel pursued them: and Benhadad the king of Syria escaped on an
horse with the horsemen.
21 And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and
chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.
The treaty between the besiegers and the besieged being broken off
abruptly, we have here an account of the battle that ensued
I. The Syrians, the besiegers, had their directions from a drunken
king, who gave orders over his cups, as he was drinking
(1 Kings 20:12),
drinking himself drunk
(1 Kings 20:16)
with the kings in the pavilions, and this at noon. Drunkenness
is a sin which armies and their officers have of old been addicted to.
Say not thou then that the former days were, in this respect, better
than these, though these are bad enough. Had he not been very secure he
would not have sat to drink; and, had he not been intoxicated, he would
not have been so very secure. Security and sensuality went together in
the old world, and Sodom,
&c. Ben-hadad's drunkenness was the forerunner of his
fall, as Belshazzar's was,
How could he prosper that preferred his pleasure before his business,
and kept his kings to drink with him when they should have been at
their respective posts to fight for him? In his drink,
1. He orders the town to be invested, the engines fixed, and every
thing got ready for the making of a general attack
(1 Kings 20:12),
but stirs not from his drunken club to see it done. Woe unto thee, O
land! when thy king is such a child.
2. When the besieged made a sally (and, by that time, he was far gone)
he gave orders to take them alive
(1 Kings 20:18),
not to kill them, which might have been done more easily and safely,
but to seize them, which gave them an opportunity of killing the
aggressors; so imprudent was he in the orders he gave, as well as
unjust, in ordering them to be taken prisoners though they came for
peace and to renew the treaty. Thus, as is usual, he drinks, and
forgets the law, both the policies and the justice of war.
II. The Israelites, the besieged, had their directions from an inspired
prophet, one of the prophets of the Lord, whom Ahab had hated and
persecuted: And behold a prophet, even one, drew near to the king of
Israel; so it may be read,
1 Kings 20:13.
1. Behold, and wonder, that God should send a prophet with a kind and
gracious message to so wicked a prince as Ahab was; but he did it,
(1.) For his people Israel's sake, who, though wickedly degenerated,
were the seed of Abraham his friend and Jacob his chosen, the children
of the covenant, and not yet cast off.
(2.) That he might magnify his mercy, in doing good to one so evil and
unthankful, might either bring him to repentance or leave him the more
(3.) That he might mortify the pride of Ben-hadad and check his
insolence. Ahab's idolatry shall be punished hereafter, but Ben-hadad's
haughtiness shall be chastised now; for God resists the proud, and is
pleased to say that he fears the wrath of the enemy,
There was but one prophet perhaps to be had in Samaria, and he drew
near with this message, intimating that he had been forced to keep at a
distance. Ahab, in his prosperity, would not have borne the sight of
him, but now he bids him welcome, when none of the prophets of the
groves can give him any assistance. He enquired not for a prophet of
the Lord, but God sent one to him unasked, for he waits to be
2. Two things the prophet does:--
(1.) He animates Ahab with an assurance of victory, which was more than
all the elders of Israel could give him
(1 Kings 20:8),
though they promised to stand by him. This prophet, who is not named
(for he spoke in God's name), tells him from God that this very
day the siege shall be raised, and the army of the Syrians routed,
1 Kings 20:13.
When the prophet said, Thus saith the Lord, we may suppose Ahab
began to tremble, expecting a message of wrath; but he is revived when
it proves a gracious one. He is informed what use he ought to make of
this blessed turn of affairs: "Thou shalt know that I am
Jehovah, the sovereign Lord of all." God's foretelling a thing that
was so very unlikely proved that it was his own doing.
(2.) He instructs him what to do for the gaining of this victory.
[1.] He must not stay till the enemy attacked him, but must sally out
upon them and surprise them in their trenches.
[2.] The persons employed must be the young men of the princes of
the provinces, the pages, the footmen, who were few in number, only
232, utterly unacquainted with war, and the unlikeliest men that could
be thought of for such a bold attempt; yet these must do it, these weak
and foolish things must be instruments of confounding the wise and
strong, that, while Ben-hadad's boasting is punished, Ahab's may be
prevented and precluded, and the excellency of the power may appear
to be of God.
[3.] Ahab must himself so far testify his confidence in the word of God
as to command in person, though, in the eye of reason, he exposed
himself to the utmost danger by it. But it is fit that those who have
the benefit of God's promises should enter upon them. Yet,
[4.] He is allowed to make use of what other forces he has at hand, to
follow the blow, when these young men have broken the ice. All he had
in Samaria, or within call, were but 7000 men,
1 Kings 20:15.
It is observable that it is the same number with theirs that he not
bowed the knee to Baal
(1 Kings 19:18),
though, it is likely, not the same men.
III. The issue was accordingly. The proud Syrians were beaten, and the
poor despised Israelites were more than conquerors. The young men gave
an alarm to the Syrians just at noon, at high dinner-time, supported by
what little force they had,
1 Kings 20:16.
Ben-hadad despised them at first
(1 Kings 20:18),
but when they had, with unparalleled bravery and dexterity, slain
every one his man, and so put the army into disorder, that proud
man durst not face them, but mounted immediately, drunk as he was, and
made the best of his way,
1 Kings 20:20.
See how God takes away the spirit of princes, and makes himself
terrible to the kings of the earth. Now where are the silver and
gold he demanded of Ahab? Where are the handfuls of Samaria's dust?
Those that are most secure are commonly least courageous. Ahab failed
not to improve this advantage, but slew the Syrians with a great
1 Kings 20:21.
Note, God oftentimes makes one wicked man a scourge to another.
Ahab's Folly Reproved.
B. C. 900.
22 And the prophet came to the king of Israel, and said unto
him, Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see what thou doest:
for at the return of the year the king of Syria will come up
23 And the servants of the king of Syria said unto him, Their
gods are gods 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.
24 And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his
place, and put captains in their rooms:
25 And number thee an army, like the army that thou hast lost,
horse for 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.
26 And it came to pass at the return of the year, that Benhadad
numbered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek, to fight against
27 And the children of Israel were numbered, and were all
present, and went against them: and the children of Israel
pitched before them like two little flocks of kids; but the
Syrians filled the country.
28 And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of
Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Because the Syrians have
said, The LORD is God 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.
29 And they pitched one over against the other seven days. And
so it was, that in the seventh day the battle was joined: and
the children of Israel slew of the Syrians a hundred thousand
footmen in one day.
30 But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and there a
wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand of the men that were
left. And Benhadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner
We have here an account of another successful campaign which Ahab, by
divine aid, made against the Syrians, in which he gave them a greater
defeat than in the former. Strange! Ahab idolatrous and yet victorious,
a persecutor and yet a conqueror! God has wise and holy ends in
suffering wicked men to prosper, and glorifies his own name
I. Ahab is admonished by a prophet to prepare for another war,
1 Kings 20:22.
It should seem, he was now secure, and looked but a little way before
him. Those that are careless of their souls are often as careless of
their outwards affairs; but the prophet (to whom God made known the
following counsels of the Syrians) told him they would renew their
attempt at the return of the year, hoping to retrieve the honour they
had lost and be avenged for the blow they had received. He therefore
bade him strengthen himself, put himself into a posture of defence, and
be ready to give them a warm reception. God had decreed the end, but
Ahab must use the means, else he tempts God: "Help thyself, strengthen
thyself, and God will help and strengthen thee." The enemies of God's
Israel are restless in their malice, and, though they may take some
breathing-time for themselves, yet they are still breathing out
threatenings and slaughter against the church. It concerns us
always to expect assaults from our spiritual enemies, and therefore to
mark and see what we do.
II. Ben-hadad is advised by those about him concerning the operations
of the next campaign.
1. They advised him to change his ground,
1 Kings 20:23.
They took it for granted that it was not Israel, but Israel's gods,
that beat them (so great a regard was then universally had to invisible
powers); but they speak very ignorantly of Jehovah--that he was
many, whereas he is one and his name one,--that he was
their God only, a local deity, peculiar to that nation, whereas
he is the Creator and ruler of all the world,--and that he was a God
of the hills only, because David their great prophet had said,
I will lift up my eyes to the hills whence cometh my help
and that his foundation was in the holy mountain
and much was said of his holy hill
supposing him altogether such a one as their imaginary deities, they
fancied he was confined to his hills, and could not or would not come
down from them, and therefore an army in the valley would be below his
cognizance and from under his protection. Thus vain were the
Gentiles in their imaginations concerning God, so wretchedly
were their foolish hearts darkened, and, professing
themselves to be wise, they became fools.
2. They advised him to change his officers
(1 Kings 20:24,25),
not to employ the kings, who were commanders by birth, but captains
rather, who were commanders by merit, who were inured to war, would not
affect to make a show like the kings, but would go through with
business. Let every man be employed in that which he is brought up to
and used to, and preferred to that which he is fit for. Syria, it
seems, was rich and populous, when it could furnish recruits
sufficient, after so great a defeat, horse for horse, chariot for
III. Both armies take the field. Ben-hadad, with his Syrians, encamps
near Aphek, in the tribe of Asher. It is probable that Asher was a city
in his own possession, one of those which his father had won
(1 Kings 20:34),
and the country about it was flat and level, and fit for his purpose,
1 Kings 20:26.
Ahab, with his forces, posted himself at some distance over against
1 Kings 20:27.
The disproportion of numbers was very remarkable. The children of
Israel, who were cantoned in two battalions, looked like two
little flocks of kids, their numbers small, their equipage mean,
and the figure they made contemptible; but the Syrians filled the
country with their numbers, their noise, their chariots, their
carriages, and their baggage.
IV. Ahab is encouraged to fight the Syrians, notwithstanding their
advantages and confidence. A man of God is sent to him, to tell him
that this numerous army shall all be delivered into his hand
(1 Kings 20:28),
but not for his sake; be it known to him, he is utterly unworthy for
whom God will do this. God would not do it because Ahab had praised God
or prayed to him (we do not read that he did either), but because the
Syrians had blasphemed God, and had said, He is the God of the hills
and not of the valleys; therefore God will do it in his own
vindication, and to preserve the honour of his own name. If the Syrians
had said, "Ahab and his people have forgotten their God, and so put
themselves out of his protection, and therefore we may venture to
attack them," God would probably have delivered Israel into their
hands; but when they go upon a presumption so very injurious to the
divine omnipotence, and the honour of him who is Lord of all hosts, not
only in hills and valleys, but in heaven and earth, which they are
willingly ignorant of, they shall be undeceived, at the expense of that
vast army which is so much their pride and confidence.
V. After the armies had faced one another seven days (the Syrians, it
is likely, boasting, and the Israelites trembling), they engaged, and
the Syrians were totally routed, 100,000 men slain by the sword of
Israel in the field of battle
(1 Kings 20:29),
and 27,000 men, that thought themselves safe under the walls of
Aphek, a fortified city (from the walls of which the shooters might
annoy the enemy if they pursued them,
2 Samuel 11:24),
found their bane where they hoped for protection: the wall fell upon
them, probably overthrown by an earthquake, and, the cities of Canaan
being walled up to heaven, it reached a great way, and they were all
killed, or hurt, or overwhelmed with dismay. Ben-hadad, who thought his
city Aphek would hold out against the conquerors, finding it thus
unwalled, and the remnant of his forces dispirited and dispersed, had
nothing but secresy to rely upon for safety, and therefore hid himself
in a chamber within a chamber, lest the pursuers should seize
him. See how the greatest confidence often ends in the greatest
cowardice. "Now is the God of Israel the God of the valleys or
no?" He shall know now that he is forced into an inner chamber to
hide himself, see
1 Kings 22:25.
31 And his servants said unto him, Behold now, we have heard
that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let
us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our
heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will
save thy life.
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 Benhadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said,
Is he yet alive? he is my brother.
33 Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would
come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy
brother Benhadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Benhadad
came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot.
34 And Benhadad said unto him, The cities, which my father
took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets
for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. Then said
Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a
covenant with him, and sent him away.
35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his
neighbour in the word of the LORD, Smite me, I pray thee. And the
man refused to smite him.
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 shall slay thee. And as soon as he was departed from him,
a lion found him, and slew him.
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.
38 So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way,
and disguised himself with ashes upon his face.
39 And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king: and he
said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and,
behold, a man turned aside, 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 a talent of silver.
40 And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And
the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be;
thyself hast decided it.
41 And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and
the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets.
42 And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because thou hast
let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter
destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy
people for his people.
43 And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and
displeased, and came to Samaria.
Here is an account of what followed upon the victory which Israel
obtained over the Syrians.
I. Ben-hadad's tame and mean submission. Even in his inner chamber he
feared, and would, if he could, flee further, though none pursued. His
servants, seeing him and themselves reduced to the last extremity,
advised that they should surrender at discretion, and make themselves
prisoners and petitioners to Ahab for their lives,
1 Kings 20:31.
The servants will put their lives in their hands, and venture first,
and their master will act according as they speed. Their inducement to
take this course is the great reputation the kings of Israel had for
clemency above any of their neighbours: "We have heard that they are
merciful kings, not oppressive to their subjects that are under their
power" (as governments then went, that of Israel was one of the most
easy and gentle), "and therefore not cruel to their enemies when they
lie at their mercy." Perhaps they had this notion of the kings of
Israel because they had heard that the God of Israel proclaimed his
name gracious and merciful, and they concluded their kings would
make their God their pattern. It was an honour to the kings of Israel
to be thus represented, as indeed every Israelite is then dressed as
becomes him when he puts on bowels of mercies. "They are
merciful kings, therefore we may hope to find mercy upon our
submission." This encouragement poor sinners have to repent and humble
themselves before God. "Have we not heard that the God of Israel is a
merciful God? Have we not found him so? Let us therefore rend our
hearts and return to him."
That is evangelical repentance which flows from an apprehension of the
mercy of God in Christ; there is forgiveness with him. Two
things Ben-hadad's servants undertake to represent to Ahab:--
1. Their master a penitent; for they girded sackcloth on their
loins, as mourners, and put ropes on their heads, as
condemned criminals going to execution, pretending to be sorry that
they had invaded his country and disturbed his repose, and owning that
they deserved to be hanged for it. Here they are ready to do penance
for it, and throw themselves at the feet of him whom they had injured.
Many pretend to repent of their wrong-doing, when it does not succeed,
who, if they had prospered in it, would have justified it and gloried
2. Their master a beggar, a beggar for his life: Thy servant
Ben-hadad saith, "I pray thee, let me live,
1 Kings 20:32.
Though I live a perpetual exile from my own country, and captive in
this, yet, upon any terms, let me live." What a great change is
(1.) In his condition! How has he fallen from the height of power and
prosperity to the depths of disgrace and distress, and all the miseries
of poverty and slavery! See the uncertainty of human affairs; such
turns are they subject to that the spoke which was uppermost may soon
come to be undermost.
(2.) In his temper--in the beginning of the chapter hectoring,
swearing, and threatening, and none more high in his demands, but here
crouching and whining and none more low in his requests! How meanly
does he beg hi life at the hand of him upon whom he had there been
trampling! The most haughty in prosperity are commonly most abject in
adversity: an even spirit will be the same in both conditions. See how
God glorified himself when he looks upon proud men and abases them,
and hides them in the dust together,
II. Ahab's foolish acceptance of his submission, and the league he
suddenly made with him upon it. He was proud to be thus courted by him
whom he had feared, and enquired for him with great tenderness: Is
he yet alive? He is my brother, brother-king, though not
brother-Israelite: and Ahab valued himself more upon his royalty than
on his religion, and others accordingly. "Is he thy brother,
Ahab? Did he use thee like a brother when he sent thee that
1 Kings 20:5,6.
Would he have called thee brother if he had been the conqueror? Would
he now have called himself thy servant if he had not been
reduced to the utmost strait? Canst thou suffer thyself to be thus
imposed upon by a forced and counterfeit submission?" This word
brother they caught at
(1 Kings 20:33),
and were thereby encouraged to go and fetch him to the king. He that
calls him brother will let him live. Let poor penitents hear
God, in his word, calling them children
catch at it, echo to it, and call him Father. Ben-hadad, upon
his submission, shall not only be honourably conveyed (he took him
up into the chariot), but treated with as an ally
(1 Kings 20:34):
he made a covenant with him, not consulting God's prophets, or
the elders of the land, or himself, concerning what was fit to be
insisted on, but, as if Ben-hadad had been conqueror, he shall make his
own terms. He might now have demanded some of Ben-hadad's cities, when
all of them lay at the mercy of his victorious army; but was content
with the restitution of his own. He might now have demanded the stores,
and treasures, and magazines of Damascus, to augment the wealth and
strength of his own kingdom, but was content with a poor liberty, at
his own expense, to build streets there, a point of honour and no
advantage, or no more than what the kings of Syria had had in Samaria,
though they had never had so much power as he had now to support the
demand of it. With this covenant he sent him away, without so much as
reproving him for his blasphemous reflections upon the God of Israel,
for whose honour Ahab had no concern. Note, There are those on whom
success is ill bestowed; they know not how to serve God, or their
generation, or even their own true interests, with their prosperity.
Let favour be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn
III. The reproof given to Ahab for his clemency to Ben-hadad and his
covenant with him. It was given him by a prophet, in the name of the
Lord, the Jews say by Micaiah, and not unlikely, for Ahab complains of
(1 Kings 22:8)
that he used to prophesy evil concerning him. This prophet
designed to reprove Ahab by a parable, that he might oblige him to
condemn himself, as Nathan and the woman of Tekoa did David. To make
his parable the more plausible, he finds it necessary to put himself
into the posture of a wounded soldier.
1. With some difficulty he gets himself wounded, for he would not wound
himself with his own hands. He commanded one of his brother prophets,
his neighbour, or companion (for so the word signifies),
to smite him, and this in God's name
(1 Kings 20:35),
but finds him not so willing to give the blow as he is to receive it;
he refused to smite him: others, he thought, were forward enough to
smite prophets, they need not smite one another. We cannot but think it
was from a good principle he declined it. "If it must be done, let
another do it, not I; I cannot find it in my heart to strike my
friend." Good men can much more easily receive a wrongful blow than
give one; yet because he disobeyed an express command of God (which was
so much the worse if he was himself a prophet), like that other
(1 Kings 13:24),
he was presently slain by a lion,
1 Kings 20:36.
This was intended, not only to show, in general, how provoking
but to intimate to Ahab (who no doubt was told the story) that if a
good prophet were thus punished for sparing his friend and God's, when
God said, Smite, of much sorer punishment should a wicked king
be thought worthy, who spared his enemy and God's, when God said,
Smite. Shall mortal man pretend to be more just than God,
more pure or more compassionate than his Maker? We must be
merciful as he is merciful, and not otherwise. The next he met with
made no difficulty of smiting him (Volentinon fit injuria--He
that asks for an injury is not wronged by it) and did it so that he
1 Kings 20:37.
He fetched blood with the blow, probably in his face.
2. Wounded as he was, and disguised with ashes that he might not be
known to be a prophet, he made his application to the king in a story
wherein he charged himself with such a crime as the king was now guilty
of in sparing Ben-hadad, and waited for the king's judgment upon it.
The case in short is this--A prisoner taken in the battle was committed
to his custody by a man (we may suppose one that had authority over him
as his superior officer) with this charge, If he be missing, thy
life shall be for his life,
1 Kings 20:39.
The prisoner has made his escape through his carelessness. Can the
chancery in the king's breast relieve him against his captain, who
demands his life in lieu of the prisoner's? "By no means," says the
king, "thou shouldst either not have undertaken the trust or been more
careful and faithful to it; there is no remedy (Currat
lex--Let the law take its course), thou hast forfeited thy
bond, and execution must go out upon it: So shall thy doom be, thou
thyself hast decided it." Now the prophet has what he would have,
puts off his disguise, and is known by Ahab himself to be a prophet
(1 Kings 20:41)
and plainly tells him, "Thou art the man. Is it my doom?
No, it is thine; thou thyself hast decided it. Out of thy own
mouth art thou judged. God, thy superior and commander-in-chief,
delivered into thy hands one plainly marked for destruction both by his
own pride and God's providence, and thou hast not carelessly lost him,
but wittingly and willingly dismissed him, and so hast been false to
thy trust, and lost the end of thy victory; expect therefore no other
than that thy life shall go for his life, which thou hast
spared" (and so it did,
1 Kings 22:35),
"and thy people for his people, whom likewise thou hast spared,"
and so they did afterwards,
2 Kings 10:32,33.
When their other sins brought them low, this came into the account.
There is a time when keeping back the sword from blood is
doing the work of the Lord deceitfully,
Foolish pity spoils the city.
3. We are told how Ahab resented this reproof. He went to his house
heavy and displeased
(1 Kings 20:43),
not truly penitent, or seeking to undo what he had done amiss, but
enraged at the prophet, exasperated against God (as if he had been too
severe in the sentence passed upon him), and yet vexed at himself,
every way out of humour, notwithstanding his victory. He who by his
providence had mortified the pride of one king, by his word cast a damp
upon the triumphs of another. Be wise therefore, O you kings! and be
instructed to serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling,
Matthew Henry "Verse by Verse Commentary for '1 Kings' Matthew Henry Bible Commentary".