I Kings 20

 

 

            The Invasions of the Syrians and their Results (vs. 1-43)

The insertion of this chapter, which contains an account of two invasions of Israel

by the hosts of Syria, and of the utter defeat of the latter, and which therefore

constitutes a break in the history of Elijah, which has occupied the historian up to

the end of ch. 19 and is resumed with ch. 21.  The insertion of this twentieth chapter

in this place is apparently due to the compiler of these records, who seems to have

adopted this arrangement as the more chronological.

 

 

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.”  The object of this

expedition was clearly to humble and to plunder the kingdom of Samaria. It would

almost appear, from the animus of the Syrian king and the studied offensiveness

of his messages, as if Ahab or Israel must have given him dire offence. But

Benhadad was clearly a vain and overbearing and tyrannical prince, and the only

crime of Israel may have been that it was independent of him, or had refused to do

him homage  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.”  When we

consider how jealously the seraglio of an Eastern prince is guarded, and how the

surrender of the harem is a virtual surrender of the throne, and certainly a surrender

of all manhood and self-respect, we see that his aim was to wound Ahab in his

tenderest point, to humble him to the lowest depths of degradation, and possibly

to force a quarrel upon him.

 

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.”  It is not absolutely clear that Ahab

ever meant to surrender either wives or children to the invader. All that is certain is

that he judged it wise, in the presence of the enormous force arrayed against him, to

make every possible concession, to adopt the most subservient tone, and to cringe

at the feet of Benhadad. But all the time he may have hoped that his soft answer

would turn away wrath. It is very far from certain that had Benhadad sent to

demand the wives and children which Ahab here seems willing to yield to him they

would have been sent. When Benhadad threatens (v. 6) a measure which involved

much less indignity than the surrender of the entire seraglio to his lusts, Ahab stands

at bay. Allowance must be made for the exaggerations of Eastern courtesy.

 

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 children;  6 Yet I will send my

servants unto thee to morrow about this time,” - This proposal was definite

and immediate, the first demand was vague and general. In the first Ahab was to

send what he thought fit to give; in the second, Benhadad’s servants were to take

into their own hands whatsoever they thought fit to sieze - “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.”

If Ahab ever hoped by his abject submission to conciliate the Syrian king, he now

finds that his words have had just the opposite effect. For all that the latter concluded

from it was that Ahab was one upon whom he might trample at pleasure, and this

servility encouraged Benhadad to renew his demands in a still more galling and

vexatious form. This second message discloses to us still more plainly the royal bully

and braggart, and shows us what the “comity of nations” in the old world was often

like.

 

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:” - The hz, expresses

either hatred or contempt.  See how he is determined on our ruin. Nothing short of

our destruction will suffice him. He is bent on provoking an encounter, that he may

plunder the city at pleasure - “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.”  This thoroughly Oriental piece of bluster and

boasting, which was intended, no doubt, to strike terror into the hearts of king and

people, has been variously interpreted, but the meaning appears to be sufficiently

clear. Benbahad vows that he will make Samaria a heap of dust, and at the same

time affirms that so overwhelming is his host, that this dust will be insufficient to

fill the hands of his soldiers.

 

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.”  (A

proverb of that day meaning you brag too much – let not your mouth promise

what your heart cannot guarantee – CY – 2010).  12  And it came to pass,

when Benhadad heard this message, as he was drinking, he and the

kings in the pavilions, [Hebrew -  booths – leafy huts] 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  - This is

another proof that all the prophets had not been exterminated. Where Elijah was

at this time, or why he was not employed, we have no means of determining.

It may also be reasonably asked why this gracious interposition was granted to the

kingdom of Samaria at all. Was not this invasion, and would not the sack of the city

have been, a just recompense for the gross corruption of the age, for the persecution 

of the prophets, etc.? But to this it may be replied that Ben-hadad was not then the

instrument which God had designed for the correction of Israel (see chps.19:17;

22:31; II Kings 10:32), and furthermore that by his brutal tyranny and despotic

demands, he had himself merited a chastisement. The city, too, may have been

delivered for the sake of the seven thousand (ch. 19:18; II Kings 19:34;

Genesis 18:26 sqq.) But this gracious help in the time of extremity was primarily

designed as a proof of Jehovah’s power over the gods of Syria (vs. 13, 28;

ch. 18:39; II Kings 19:22 sqq.), and so as an instrument for the conversion of

Israel. His supremacy over the idols of Phoenicia had already been established –

unto Ahab king of Israel, saying, Thus saith the LORD,  Hast thou seen

all this great multitude? behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and

thou shalt know that I am the LORD.”  This explains to us the motive of this

great deliverance.

 

14  And Ahab said, By whom? And he said, Thus saith the LORD,

Even by the young men of the princes of the provinces.”  In Benhadad’s

wars with Assyria he sometimes led 100,000 men.  All Ahab’s forces were

insufficient, and that in themselves 200 or 2000 tried veterans would have been as

inadequate a force as 200 pages.  The agency by which the victory was won was

purposely weak and feeble in order that the work might be seen to be of God.

“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.”

It looks very much as if, under the feeble rule of Ahab, the kingdom of Israel

had become thoroughly disorganized.  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.”  Strong drink would seem to have

been a besetment of the monarchs of that age (ch. 16:9; Proverbs 31:4; Daniel 5:1

 sqq.; Esther 1:10; 7:2; Habakkuk 2:5)

 

17  And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first;

(as scouts) 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.”  We may trace in these words, possibly the influence of wine, but certainly

the exasperation which Ahab’s last message had occasioned the king. So incensed

is he that he will not respect the rights of ambassadors, and he is afraid lest

belligerents should be slain before he can arraign them before him. Possibly he

meant that they should be tortured or slain before his face.

 

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:” - “The hasty and

disordered flight of a vast Oriental army before an enemy contemptible in numbers

is no uncommon occurrence. Above 1,000,000 of Persians fled before 47,000

Greeks at Arbela - “and Benhadad the king of Syria escaped on an horse

with the horsemen.  21 And the king of Israel went out,” – It looks as if

Ahab had remained within the city until the defeat of the Syrians was assured –

 and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great

slaughter.  22 And the prophet came to the king of Israel, and said unto

him, Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see what thou doest:” -  Take

every precaution – do not think that the danger is past -  “for at the return of

the year the king of Syria will come up against thee.”

 

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.”

Benhadad’s servants were trying to retrieve their reputation and salvage

their disgrace.  They felt that in the plain the Syrians would be able to deploy

their chariots a most important arm of their service in a way which they could

 not do in the valleys round Samaria. Moreover the Israelites would lose the

advantage of a strong position and the cover of their fortifications if they could

be induced to meet them in the “great plain,” or on any similar battlefield.

 

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 Israel.  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.” - The whole plain swarmed with their

legions in striking contrast to the two insignificant Bodies of Israelites.

 

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.”  It was partly for the instruction of Israel, and to confirm their

wavering faith in Jehovah (see v. 13), that this deliverance was wrought. But it

was also that neighboring nations might learn His power, and that His name might

be magnified among the heathen.  (It is very significant that in the book of Ezekiel,

this phrase “and they shall know that I am the Lord” occurs sixty-two [62]

 timesthis is in reference to the Last Days and may we know the Lord before that

dreadful day so we will not learn of Him through “world class disciplinary action”

CY – 2010)

 

29  And they pitched one over against the other seven days.” - The Syrians,

despite their overwhelming numbers, appear to have been afraid to attack, and the

Israelites were naturally reluctant, despite the promise they had received, to

join battle with so great a host.  “And so it was, that in the seventh day the

battle was joined: and the children of Israel slew of the Syrians an 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 chamber.

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.”  Apparently, Ahab’s

army was besieging the place. 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 Ben-hadad said unto him, The cities, which my father

took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee

in Damascus, (permission to establish bazaars and quarters in which the

Hebrews might live and trade) 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

neighbor in the word of the LORD, Smite me, I pray thee.”  The

wounding, we may be quite sure, and the tragic circumstances connected

therewith, are essential parts of the parable this prophet had to act, of the

lesson he had to teach. Now the great lesson he had to convey, not to the

king alone, but to the prophetic order and to the whole country, the lesson

most necessary in that lawless age, was that of implicit unquestioning

obedience to the Divine law. Ahab had just transgressed that law. He had

let go a man whom God had appointed to utter destruction;” he had

heaped honours on the oppressor of his country, and in gratifying benevolent

impulses had ignored the will and counsel of God (v. 42). No doubt it seemed to

him, as it has seemed to others since, that he had acted with rare magnanimity,

and that his generosity in that age, an age which showed no mercy to the fallen,

was unexampled. But he must be taught that he has no right to be generous at

the expense of others; that God’s will must be done even when it goes against

the grain, when it contradicts impulses of kindness, and demands painful sacrifices.

He is taught this by the prophetic word, but much more effectively by the actions

which preceded it. A prophet required to smite a brother prophet, and that for no

apparent reason, would no doubt find it repugnant to his feelings to do so; it would

seem to him hard and cruel and shameful to smite a companion. But the prophet who

refused to do this, who followed his benevolent impulses in preference to the

word of the Lord, died for his sin — died forthwith by the visitation of God.

What a lesson was this to king and country — for no doubt the incident would be

touted abroad, and the very strangeness of the whole proceeding would heighten

the impression it made. Indeed, it is hardly possible to conceive a way in which

the duty of unquestioning obedience could be more emphatically taught. When

this prophet appeared before the king, a man had smitten and wounded him,

disagreeable and painful as the task must have been, because of the word of

the Lord; whilst a brother prophet, who declined the office because it was

painful, had been slain by a wild beast. It is easy to see that there was here a

solemn lesson for the king, and that the wounding gave it its edge. “And the

man refused to smite him.”   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,” - same word as in ch. 13:24 -  “and slew him” -  For the

same sin as that of “the man of God (Ibid. 13:21, 26), viz., disobedience

(Deuteronomy 32:24; Jeremiah 5:6), and disobedience, too, under

circumstances remarkably similar to those. In fact, the two histories run on

almost parallel lines. In each case it is a prophet who disobeys, and

disobeys the “word of the Lord;” in each case the disobedience appears

almost excusable; in each case the prophet appears to be hardly dealt with,

and suffers instant punishment, whilst the king escapes; in each case the

punishment is foretold by a prophet; in each case it is effected by the

instrumentality of a lion. And in each case the lesson is the same — that

God’s commands must be kept, whatever the cost, or that stern

 retribution will inevitably follow.

 

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.”  This last particular

is apparently recorded to show how promptly and thoroughly this “other man,”

who is not said to have been a prophet, obeyed the charge. Probably he had

the fate of the other before his eyes.

 

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.”

It was probably because of this denunciation (ch. 22:8) that Josephus identifies

this prophet with Micaiah, the son of Imlah, “whom Ahab appears to have

imprisoned on account of some threatening prophecy (See ch. 22:9, 26).

For the fulfillment of this prediction see ch. 22. It has seemed to some writers

as if Ahab were here very hardly dealt with for merely gratifying s generous

impulse, and dealing magnanimously with a conquered foe. But it is to be

remembered, first, that Ahab was not free to do as he liked in this matter.

His victories had been won, not by his prowess, by the skill of his generals,

or the valor of his soldiers, but by the power of God alone. The war,

that is to say, was God’s war: it was begun and continued, and should therefore

have been ended, in Him. When even the details of the attack had been ordered

of God (v. 14), surely He should have been consulted as to the disposal of the

prisoners. The prophet who promised Divine aid might at any rate have been

asked — as prophets constantly were in that age (ch. 22:5, 8) — what was the

word of the Lord” concerning Israel’s overbearing and inveterate enemy. But

Ahab, who had himself played so craven a part (vs. 21, 31), and who had

contributed nothing to these great and unhoped-for victories, nevertheless

arrogated to himself their fruits, and thereby ignored and dishonored God.

Secondly, if he had so little regard for his own private interests as to

liberate such a man as Benhadad, he ought, as trustee for the peace and

welfare of Israel, to have acted differently. The demand of v. 6 should

have revealed to him the character of the man he had to deal with. And lastly,

he was acting in defiance of all the principles and precedents of the

Old Testament dispensation. For one great principle of that dispensation

was the lex talionis (the law of retaliation).  The king was the authorized

dispenser of rewards and punishments, not only to wicked subjects but to

aggressive nations. It was his duty to mete out to them the measure they had

served to Israel. And the precedents were all in favor of putting such wretches

as this Benhadad to the sword (Joshua 10:26; Judges 7:25; I Samuel 15:33). If he

had been the first oppressor who fell into the hands of Israel, Ahab might

have had some excuse. But with the fate of Agog, of Adonibezek, of Oreb

and Zeeb, in his memory, (those who do not know history are doomed to

repeat it – CY – 2010).   He ought at any rate to have paused and asked

counsel of God before taking Ben-hadad into his chariot and sending him

away with a covenant of peace, to reappear at no distant period on the

scene as the scourge of the Lord’s people.

 

43  And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and

came to Samaria.”

 

 

                                    ADDITIONAL NOTES

 

            God’s Dealings with Nations and Kings (vs. 1-43)

 

The two invasions of Israel by the armies of Syria, and their defeat by the

finger of God, may suggest some lessons as to God’s dealings with

nations, and with oppressive and tyrannical kings. Two considerations

must, however, be borne in mind here. First, that the present age, unlike

the Mosaic, is not a dispensation of temporal rewards and punishments. It

is true that even now men do receive a rough sort of retribution, according

to their deserts, from the operation of natural laws; but that retribution is

uncertain and indirect. Sometimes vengeance overtakes the wrong doer,

but as often as not he escapes scatheless. The Jewish economy, however,

had absolutely none but temporal sanctions. A “judgment to come” formed

no part of its system. It dealt with men as if there were no hereafter. It

taught them to expect an exact and proportionate and immediate

recompense; an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. It preached an

ever-present Deity, the true King of the country, visiting every

transgression and disobedience with its just recompense of reward

(Hebrews 2:2). And so long as that economy was practiced in its

integrity, so long, either through the immediate dispensations of God, or

the mediate action of the authorities who represented Him, did vice and

crime, extortion and oppression, infidelity and apostasy, receive their just

deserts. But with the advent of our Lord, and His revelation of life and

immortality, all this was changed. We no longer look for temporal

judgments because we are taught to wait for the judgement seat of Christ

(Romans 14:10).   It is only within very narrow limits that we expect to see

vice punished or virtue rewarded. It causes us no surprise, consequently, to

find even the tyrant and oppressor escaping all the whips and stings of vengeance.

We know that he will not always escape; that though “the mills of God grind

slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;” and that he and all such as he will

surely satisfy the inexorable claims of Justice hereafter.

 

But there is apparently one exception to this general rule. If the individual is not

judged here, the nation is. For nations, as such, have no existence apart from this

life present. In the kingdom of the future, nationalities have no place

(Colossians 2:11). “Mortals have many tongues, immortals have but

one.” If, then, men are ever to be dealt with in their corporate capacity,

they must, and as a matter of fact they do, receive their reckoning here. It

surely is not difficult to trace the finger of God in the history of Europe (and

now the decline of the United States – CY – 2011) as well as of Israel, of

modern as of ancient times.  Has not France paid a heavy forfeit for the

corruption, the profligacy, the secularity which marked the latter years of

the Empire? Yes, it should be clear that whatever arraignment awaits the

individual hereafter, the community, the nation, receives its requital and

acquittance here.

 

Now this chapter describes two invasions of the territory of Israel, and two

successive defeats of the invaders. In the invasions we see the punishment

of Israel and of Ahab; in the defeats the punishment of Syria and Benhadad.

Let us inquire, in the first place, what each had done to provoke and

deserve his respective chastisement.

 

 

  • THE INVASIONS. That these were punishments hardly needs proof.

            For can any land be overrun with a horde of barbarians, such as the Syrians

            and their confederates, the Hittite chieftains, were, without widespread and

            profound suffering? We know what invasion means in modern times, when

            warfare is conducted with some approach to humanity, but what it meant

            in the Old World and the Orient, we are quite unable to realize. It is idle to

            say that the Syrians were defeated in the end. Who shall picture to us what

            the thousands of Israel suffered during the advance, possibly during the

            retreat, of that unwieldy and rapacious host, certainly during the

            occupation of the country? “Before them the garden of Eden, behind

             them a desolate wilderness” (Joel 2:3). Fire, rapine, famine, these three

            fell sisters marched in their train. The invasions, then, though repelled, would

            entail prodigious loss and suffering on the people. It would not compensate

            the Jewish farmer for the loss of his corn and oil and wine, still less the

            Jewish father for the dishonor of his daughters, to know that the siege

            was raised, that the king had fled to an inner chamber, that thousands of

            their enemies lay buried under the walls of Aphek. No, each invasion was

            nothing short of a national calamity, and we do well to ask what it was

            had provoked this chastisement. It was:

 

ü      The sin of the people at large. The sin of Israel at this epoch was

                        idolatry. The sin of Jeroboam had already received, in part at least,

                        its recompense. A Syrian invasion in a preceding generation (ch.

                        15:20) had wasted the territory of Dan. But the calf worship was

                        continued, and vile idolatry was now associated with it. It is true

                        this had been fostered, if not introduced, by Jezebel, but it is

                        impossible to acquit the people of blame. (Just as in the United

                        States over the last 50 years when the Supreme Court has been

                        given to radical philosophy and the undermining of morality and

                        religion in America – Does not Jeremiah 5:31 cry out “and my

                        people love to have it so” – 2011).  The pleasant vices of the

                        Phoenician ritual were sweet to their taste. They loved to have it so.

                        Justice demanded, consequently, that the people should

                         share in the punishment. Idolatry had already procured the

                        investment and spoliation of Jerusalem; it now accounts for the

                        march of the Syrians and the siege of Samaria, the centre of the

                        Baal-worship. This is the third time that a foreign army has

                        appeared before a polluted shrine.  “How can one expect peace

                        on earth when he wilfully fights against heaven?”

 

ü      The sin of its rulers. We have just seen that Ahab and Jezebel were

                        primarily responsible for this last great apostasy. It was Jezebel really

                        whoreared up an altar for Baal,” etc. (ch. 16:32), though Ahab

                        was a facile instrument in her hands. We find, consequently, that king

                        and queen were the first to suffer, and suffered most. It is easy to

                        picture the abject wretchedness and despair to which Ahab was

                        reduced by the insolent messages of the northern barbarian. Those

                        were indeed days of trouble and rebuke and blasphemy. The iron

                        must have entered into his soul as he found himself utterly without

                        resources, at the mercy of one who showed no mercy, but

                        absolutely gloated over his misery. Nor did Jezebel escape her

                        share of torture. She had to face the prospect of being handed over

                        with the other ladies of the harem, to the will of the brutal, sensual,

                        drunken despot who was thundering at their gates. Had her hair

                        turned white, like that of another queen, in one night, we could not

                        have wondered at it. Strong-willed, desperate woman that she was

                        (2 Kings 9:31), she must have known too well how cruel are the

                        tender mercies of the wicked not to have trembled. It is clear,

                        therefore, that that prince and princess reaped some fruit of their

                        doings in this life.  But it may be said that this reign of terror did

                        not last long, and that despair was speedily succeeded by the joy

                        and triumph of victory. But the victory was not one which could

                        afford unmixed satisfaction, either to king or people. It was not

                        won by their prowess. It was of such a kind that all boasting was

                        excluded. In the first place, they owed it to a prophet of the

                        Lord — one of the order whom Jezebel had persecuted. It would

                        therefore heap coals of fire upon Ahab’s head. Secondly, it was

                        achieved by a handful of boys. His trained veterans had to follow

                        their lead and enter into their labors. It was therefore more of a

                        humiliation than a glory for his arms. It left him, in the presence

                        of his people, a helpless debtor to that God whose altars he had

                        overthrown; to that prophet whose companions he had slain.

                        Such were the immediate causes of the invasion. Two others, which

                        were more remote, must be briefly indicated.

 

ü      The impiety of Solomon. The horses and chariots furnished by

      that great prince to the “kings of the Hittites and the kings of

      Syria (ch.10:29) now overrun the great plain and stream into

      the valleys of Samaria.  The Syrians owed the most important arm

      of their service (vs. 1, 25) to the disobedience of Solomon.

      The two-and-thirty subject princes had once been the vassals of

      Solomon (ch.4:21). We now turn to

 

ü      The unwisdom and unbelief of Asa. He it was who first taught the

                        Syrians that the way to Samaria lay open to them, and that the spoils

                        of the country repaid the cost and trouble of invasion (ch.15:18-19).

 

 

  • THE DEFEATS. If this prodigious host was really called together to

            chastise the idolatries of Israel, it seems strange that it was not allowed to

            effect its purpose; that in the very hour of victory it was utterly and

            irretrievably defeated. But the explanation is not far to seek. Its advance

            was the punishment of Ahab’s sin; its dispersion the punishment of

            Benhadad’s.  “Well may God plague each with other who means

            vengeance to them both.” And Ben-hadad’s sin consisted in:

 

ü      Defiance of God. The Battles of the Old World, as this chapter

      shows, were regarded as the contests of national deities. The defeat

      of Pharaoh was a judgment upon the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12).

      It was to altars, hecatombs, incantations that Balak looked for help

      (Numbers chps 22 and 23.) It was the mighty God of Israel that the

      Philistines feared (I Samuel 4:7-8). And we know how Goliath (Ibid.

      17:45) and Sennacherib alike (Isaiah 37:23) defied the living God.

      And when we see Benhadad swearing by his gods (v. 10), when we

      find his courtiers accounting for their first defeat by the belief that

      the gods of their adversaries were gods of the hills only, we

      perceive at once that this war was regarded on Syria’s and Israel’s

      part alike (Isaiah 37:28) as a trial of strength between the deities whom

      they respectively worshipped. The defeat, consequently, was

      primarily the punishment of Ben-hadad’s blasphemy (Ibid. v.29).

 

ü      Wanton insolence and cruelty. We constantly find the instruments

      used of God for the punishment of Israel, punished in their turn for

      their oppression of Israel. We have instances in Judges 3.; 4:3, 22;

      6:1;  II Chronicles 32:21; Isaiah 10:5-12, 24 sqq.; 14:4 sqq.;

      Obadiah 1:28. When king or army exceeded their commission,

      when they trampled on the foe, they straightway provoked the

      vengeance which they were employed to minister. It would have

      been strange of such overbearing brutality as Benhadad’s

      (vs. 3, 6, 10) had gone unreproved.

 

ü      Arrogant  pride. He was so intoxicated with the greatness of his

                        army, with the praises of his courtiers and allies, that he thinks,

                        Nebuchadnezzar-like, that neither God nor man can withstand him.

                        His haughtiness comes out very clearly in his messages (vs.3, 6), in

                        his scorn of his adversaries (vs. 16-18), in the passionate outburst

                        with which he receives Ahab’s reply (v. 10). “The proud Syrian

                        would have taken it in foul scorn to be denied, though he had sent

                        for all the heads of Israel.” And pride provokes a fall (Proverbs

                        16:18; 29:23; II Chronicles 32:26; Isaiah 16:6-7; Obadiah 1:4.)

                        Pride stands first on the list of the “seven deadly sins,” because

                        self-worship is the most hateful form of idolatry, the most

                        obnoxious to the Majesty of Heaven.

 

ü      Drunkenness. Like another invader, he transgressed by wine

                        (Habakkuk 2:5; Daniel 5:2, 23). His revels in the thick of the

                        siege reveal to us the man. It would have been, in Jewish eyes

                        especially, a glaring injustice if such a man, while employed to

                        chastise the sins of others, had escaped all chastisement himself.

                        And his two-and-thirty confederates were like him. They had

                        aided and encouraged him; they drank with him (v. 16), and they

                        fell with him (v. 24).  It only remains for us now to observe how

                        exact and exemplary was the punishment which overtook king

                        and princes and the entire army. The defeat of the entire host was

                        not occasioned by the sin of its leader alone, any more than the

                        invasion was provoked by the sin of Ahab alone. In the day that

                        God visited the sin of Benhadad, He visited also the sin of Syria.

                        In the first place, the drunkenness of the leaders brought its own

                        retribution. It involved the demoralization of the soldiery. With such

                        besotted and incapable heads, they were unprepared for attack,

                        and fell an easy prey to the vigorous onslaught of the 232 youths.

                        The size of the host, again, contributed to make the disaster all the

                        greater. And what but pride and cruelty had dictated the assembling

                        of such an enormous array, merely to crush a neighbor kingdom?

                        And their pride was further humbled by the circumstances of their

                        defeat. It was to their eternal disgrace that a handful of men, of boys

                        rather, unused to war, foemen quite unworthy of their steel, had

                        routed and dispersed them; that their innumerable army had melted

                        away before “two little flocks of kids.” What a contrast to the

                        proud boasting of ver. 10! Even the manner of Benhadad’s escape,

                        his hurried, ignominious flight on the first horse that offered; his

                        cowering abjectly in a corner of an inner chamber, this helped to

                        sink him to a lower pitch of shame. The cavalry that was to

                        accomplish such great things; he is thankful for one of its stray

                        horses to bear him away from the field of slaughter. The walls

                        of Aphek, again, avenged his threats against the walls of Samaria

                        And the kings who had flattered him and encouraged his cruel

                        projects, they too received a meet recompense, not only in the defeat,

                        but in their summary degradation from their commands; while the

                        courtiers who suggested the second expedition expiated their folly

                        by the miseries and indignities which they suffered. It was a pitiful

                        end of a campaign begun with so much of bluster and fury, and

                        threatening; that procession of wretched and terrified men, with

                        sackcloth on their loins, and ropes on their heads.” Nor did

                        the losses of Syria end with the battle or the earthquake; the king

                        voluntarily cedes a part of the territory which his father had won

                        by his valor from Israel, and returns to his capital with a decimated

                        army, a tarnished fame, and a restricted realm. His gluttonous

                        desire for pillage, his forcing a quarrel upon Israel, his defiance of

                        the Almighty, have been punished by the forfeiture of all he

                        holds most dear.

 

It has more than once been remarked that the history of Israel has its lessons for the

individual soul. But it also speaks to nations and kings. This chapter proclaims that

neither any people nor its rulers can forget God with impunity; that disregard

of His laws is sure to bring down His judgments; that the judgment of nations is in this

life present; that, while the individual awaits a judgment to come, the

community is judged now, by sword, and famine, and pestilence; by invasion

and defeat; by loss of fame and territory; by bad harvests and crippled trade.

Corporate bodies and communities may “have no conscience,” but they will prove

sooner or later, as Assyria and Babylon, as Medes and Persians, as Greeks and

Romans, as Russia and Turkey, as France and Germany have proved, that

verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth

in the earth” (Psalm 58:11).

 

Alexander the Great, conqueror of the world, was conquered by wine.

 

Life outside the will of God brings only disappointment. The most magnificent

of kings (Solomon)  found it vanity and vexation of spirit. The things of earth

cannot satisfy the soul of man, the soul that was  made for God. History has

preserved for us a striking testimony to this truth in the confession of Abdalrahman,

caliph of Spain:

 

             “I have now reigned fifty years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects,

                 dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors,

                power and pleasures, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing

                appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation I have

                numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my

                lot: they amount to fourteen! O man, place not thy confidence in this

                present world.”

 

 

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