1 Kings 20
Elijah and Elisha are not the only prophets demonstrating God’s will in Israel. At all times, but especially during wars, kings seek the advice of prophets and men of God. The messages delivered may not always guarantee God’s favor, but the words are always reliable and true.
20 Meanwhile, Ben-hadad, Aram’s king, gathered his entire army to lay siege to Samaria. He was accompanied by 32 other kings as well as a large group of horses and chariots. He waged war against Samaria. 2 Ben-hadad then instructed his messengers to travel to see Ahab, Israel’s king, inside the city.
Messengers (to Ahab): This is a message from Ben-hadad: 3 “All of your treasures—your silver and your gold—belong to me. Your finest wives and healthiest children belong to me as well.”
Ahab’s Response: 4 It is exactly as you say, my lord and king. My life and everything that belongs to me are in your possession.
5 The messengers came back to Ahab and gave him a new message.
Messengers: This is the reply from Ben-hadad to your submission: “Did I or did I not tell you to give me all your treasures—your silver and gold and your finest wives and healthiest children? None of it belongs to you. It’s all mine. 6 Now I am sending some of my servants to do a search of your house and the houses of your servants. They will be there in about 24 hours, and they will take everything that catches their eyes.”
7 Israel’s king gathered up all the elders of Israel and explained the situation to them.
Ahab: I need your help figuring out what to do. King Ben-hadad is trying to cause problems. He demanded that my finest wives and healthiest children and all my silver and gold become his possession, and I submitted to his wish.
Elders and Israelites: 8 Don’t do what he says. Ignore him.
9 Ahab then gave a new message for the messengers to take back to Ben-hadad.
Ahab’s Message: Tell my lord the king, “Everything you asked at the beginning I will do, but I cannot do this new thing you ask of me; it is too much.”
The messengers left and gave Ahab’s message to Ben-hadad.
Ben-hadad’s Response: 10 I will forfeit my life to the gods (to do whatever they please with me) if I leave even enough of the dirt on the ground of Samaria to support those who serve and follow me.
Ahab: 11 Give Ben-hadad this message: “It is foolish for a man who is putting on armor to brag like a man who has won a battle and is taking off his armor.”
12 When Ben-hadad received this message, he was drinking with other kings in the camp. He gave urgent instructions to his servants: “Get the army ready immediately. I’ve had enough of Ahab.” The army prepared for battle against the city. 13 About this time, a prophet entered into the presence of Ahab, who was Israel’s king.
Prophet: This is the Eternal’s message: “Have you laid eyes upon the great army that has risen up against you? They look like an impossible opponent, but observe what is about to take place. I am going to give you victory over them on this day. Then you will know that I am the Eternal One.”
Ahab: 14 I can’t comprehend how such a victory could occur. Their army is massive. How is this going to happen?
Prophet: This is the Eternal’s message: “The young officers of the provincial leaders will do it for you.”
Ahab: Who is going to begin the fight and lead us into battle?
Prophet: You are.
15 Ahab then gathered up all the young officers of the provincial leaders, and there were 232 in all. Then he gathered together everyone else, including the Israelites. There were 7,000 in all. 16 They set out at noon. While they did this, Ben-hadad was drinking alcohol excessively in the camp with the other 32 kings who served him. 17 The young officers of the provincial leaders approached first. When a patrol of scouts Ben-hadad had sent out came back, they reported to him.
Scouts: Men have traveled here from Samaria.
Ben-hadad: 18 I don’t care whether they come in peace or with motives of war. Take them all as captives, and keep them alive!
19 The young officers of the provincial leaders had left the city with their army following them. 20 They proceeded to crush each man they faced. All the Arameans ran for their lives, and the Israelites went after them. Ben-hadad, Aram’s king, escaped on horseback with some of his horsemen. 21 Israel’s king pursued the Arameans, defeating their horses and chariots, crushing many Arameans.
22 The prophet approached Israel’s king.
Prophet: Go, and keep yourself fit because at the end of the year, Aram’s king is going to come back and wage war against you. Prepare for what is to come.
Ben-hadad’s Servants: 23 When we fought them in the mountains, they won because their gods are the mountain gods. But if we fight them on flat land, then we are sure to win. 24 Therefore evacuate the royal leaders, place all the civilian military leaders in place of the ineffectual royalty, 25 and assemble an army exactly like the one you lost. Replace every lost horse with a new horse and every lost chariot with a new chariot. We will battle on flat land, and we are sure to win because we will be stronger than they will be.
Ben-hadad listened to his servants and did everything they said to do, dismissing the royal leaders and rebuilding the army.
26 In the spring of the year, Ben-hadad assembled the Arameans and waged war against Israel at Aphek. 27 All the Israelites assembled and prepared and went out to meet the Arameans for battle. The camp of the Israelites looked like two tiny herds of goats compared to the Aramean army which filled the entire land. 28 A man of God approached Israel’s king.
Man of God: This is the Eternal’s message: “The Arameans have proclaimed that the Eternal is only a mountain god and not a god of the flat land; therefore I am going to give you a great victory over them. Then you will know that I am the Eternal One.”
Just as the prophets of Baal in Israel think that only their god controls the rain, the Arameans think that the Lord is only a god of the mountains. Among their pagan neighbors, where different gods control different things, it is unthinkable that there can be one God who controls everything, such as climate and land. It is exactly this misconception that God is aiming to debunk through Israel’s victories. He is the One; He controls all.
29 They camped out across from each other for seven days; and when the seventh day arrived, the battle began. The Israelites crushed 100,000 Aramean warriors in a single day. 30 All those who escaped ran into the city of Aphek. A great wall collapsed on them and killed 27,000 men. Ben-hadad escaped to the city and hid himself in a secret chamber.
Ben-hadad’s Servants: 31 The kings of Israel have a reputation for being merciful. Allow us to dress ourselves appropriately for surrender: We will put sackcloth around our waists and ropes around our heads; then we will go to meet Israel’s king and hopefully salvage your life.
32 The servants dressed accordingly. They put sackcloth around their waists and ropes around their heads; then they approached Israel’s king.
Ben-hadad’s Servants: This is a message from Ben-hadad who proclaims he is in your service: “I beg you to leave my life untouched.”
Ahab: Ben-hadad is not yet dead? I thought he had surely been killed. He is my brother.
33 The servants watched carefully and perceived this to be a sign, and they replied with surprise.
Ben-hadad’s Servants: Yes, that’s right. Your brother, Ben-hadad.
Ahab: Bring Ben-hadad to me.
Ben-hadad came out of the city to Israel’s king, and Ahab allowed him to come up into the royal chariot.
Ben-hadad (to Ahab): 34 I will return all the cities that my father took from your father. Lay your own streets in Damascus, so you may market your goods there, just like the ones my father laid in Samaria.
Ahab: Under this covenant, I will release you.
So Ahab and Ben-hadad entered into a covenant with one another; then Ahab released Ben-hadad.
Remember that God has given Ben-hadad to Ahab. By orchestrating Ahab’s victory, the Lord reduces the power of the Arameans, whom He has used to discipline Israel, and now trusts Israel to keep Aram in check. Unfortunately, Ahab is easily bribed, tempted by Ben-hadad’s offer of land and trade opportunities in exchange for his freedom. Once again it is a prophet who shows Ahab his error in abandoning God’s plan by physically demonstrating how Ahab abused God.
35 By the word of the Eternal, one of the prophets’ sons made a request to another man.
Prophet’s Son: Hit me.
Prophet’s Son: 36 Because you have denied a command of the Eternal, you will be killed by a lion the moment you leave my presence.
Sure enough, the moment the man walked away, a lion killed him.
Prophet’s Son (to another man): 37 Hit me.
This man did as he was asked, and he bruised the prophet’s son. 38 The prophet left and waited on the side of the road for the king to come by. The prophet bandaged his eyes with a cloth, so that the king would not recognize him. 39 As soon as the king was near, the prophet shouted.
Prophet: Your servant entered into the heart of war, and someone gave a man over to my possession and said, “You are the guard of this man. If he escapes, then your life will replace his life. Or you may pay 75 pounds of silver instead.” 40 Your servant became busy with other work—doing this and doing that—and meanwhile, the prisoner disappeared.
Ahab: You have decided upon your own judgment, and so it shall be.
41 The prophet then removed the cloth from his eyes, and Israel’s king recognized him as one of the prophets.
Prophet: 42 This is the Eternal’s message: “You have allowed the man whom I was going to kill to escape. Your life will replace his life, and your people will take the place of his people.”
43 Israel’s king, frustrated and bad-tempered, returned to his house in Samaria.