1 Kings 20 Commentary: Battles, Prophets, and Divine Will

1 Kings 20 Commentary

1 Kings 20 presents a vivid narrative filled with warfare, divine intervention, and the contrasting fates of kings.

This chapter focuses on the conflict between King Ahab of Israel and Ben-Hadad of Aram, showcasing a series of battles that highlight the role of divine guidance in warfare. The text intricately weaves together themes of pride, humility, obedience, and the consequences of defying prophetic warnings.

Through the interactions between Ahab and the prophets, the chapter offers insights into the complexities of leadership under divine scrutiny.

1 Kings 20 not only depicts the tumultuous nature of ancient Near Eastern politics but also serves as a reflection on the importance of heeding divine counsel in times of crisis.

1 Kings 20:1-12, Ben-Hadad’s Siege of Samaria and Ahab’s Response

King Ben-Hadad of Aram assembled a massive invasion force and laid siege to Samaria, demanding valuable plunder from King Ahab.

Though Ahab initially conceded, even surrendering his wives, children and silver to Ben-Hadad, he refused further demands for plundering the palace treasures.

And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.’” And the king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.” The messengers came again and said, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘I sent to you, saying, “Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children.” Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants and lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.’”

1 Kings 20:2-6, ESV

Ahab’s appeasement reveals his desperation and weakness against Ben-Hadad’s superior forces. Yet his refusal to allow complete plundering of the palace treasures, even at the cost of military defeat, expresses Ahab’s concern to preserve some remaining dignity and royal wealth.

In response to Ahab’s refusal, Ben-Hadad arrogantly declared the imminent destruction of Samaria. However, Ahab shrewdly warned of premature boasting before battle.

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.” And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.’”

1 Kings 20:10-11, ESV

Ahab’s warning proves perceptive, as divine intervention will soon reverse the impending defeat.

1 Kings 20:13-21, Ahab’s Victory Over Ben-Hadad

A prophet of God assured Ahab of victory, declaring the destruction of Ben-Hadad’s army. Bolstered by this prophecy, Ahab assembled an impressively small army compared to the Arameans.

God miraculously delivered this vast Aramean army into Ahab’s hands, achieving a great victory.

And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” And Ahab said, “By whom?” He said, “Thus says the Lord, By the servants of the governors of the districts.” Then he said, “Who shall begin the battle?” He answered, “You.” Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were 232. And after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand.

And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him. The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samaria.” He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them. And each struck down his man. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen. And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow.

1 Kings 20:13-21, ESV

Despite Ahab’s wickedness, God demonstrated mercy in granting military victory for His greater purposes.

Ahab’s faithful obedience to God’s prophetic word led to divine empowerment on the battlefield.

However, Ahab’s failure to completely annihilate Ben-Hadad will soon prove costly.

1 Kings 20:22-30, Arameans’ Second Attack and Israel’s Victory

The following spring Ben-Hadad attacked again, only to suffer another humiliating defeat by Israel, led by Ahab’s servants.

After this second loss, Ben-Hadad’s officers convinced him that Israel’s gods must be mighty, giving them victory. After defeat, Ben-Hadad surrendered himself to Ahab’s mercy.

In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.

Ben-hadad also fled and entered an inner chamber in the city.

1 Kings 20:26-30, ESV

Against overwhelming odds, God’s providential power crushed the Arameans, revealing His sovereign control over the nations.

Ben-Hadad’s surrender to Ahab highlights how quickly pride bows to defeat.

1 Kings 20:31-34, Treaty Between Ahab and Ben-Hadad

Showing troubling mercy, Ahab formed a treaty with Ben-Hadad, letting him live and restoring Aram’s conquered cities. Ahab prioritized expedient politics over obedience to God’s commands.

And his servants said to him, “Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life.” So they tied sackcloth around their waists and put ropes on their heads and went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please, let me live.’” And he said, “Does he still live? He is my brother.” Now the men were watching for a sign, and they quickly took it up from him and said, “Yes, your brother Ben-hadad.” Then he said, “Go and bring him.” Then Ben-hadad came out to him, and he caused him to come up into the chariot. And Ben-hadad said to him, “The cities that my father took from your father I will restore, and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” And Ahab said, “I will let you go on these terms.” So he made a covenant with him and let him go.

1 Kings 20:31-34, ESV

Ahab’s disobedience exposes his moral weakness and sinful rebellion against God’s will.

His actions would soon reap tragic consequences.

1 Kings 20:35-43, A Prophet Condemns Ahab

A prophet condemned Ahab through a creative parable, tricking Ahab into pronouncing his own death sentence for disobeying God’s command to destroy Ben-Hadad.

The prophet declared Ahab’s life would now be required for Ben-Hadad’s, as payment for Ahab’s foolish treaty.

And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the Lord, “Strike me, please.” But the man refused to strike him. Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall strike you down.” And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and struck him down. Then he found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” And the man struck him—struck him and wounded him. So the prophet departed and waited for the king by the way, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. And as the king passed, he cried to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle, and behold, a soldier turned and brought a man to me and said, ‘Guard this man; if by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” The king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.” Then he hurried to take the bandage away from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. And he said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.’” And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria.

1 Kings 20:35-43, ESV

The prophet’s tactful yet dramatic condemnation highlights God’s displeasure with Ahab over this grievous compromise.

This event foreshadows the continuing conflict between Ahab and Aram in the following chapters.