The treaty between the besiegers and the besieged being broken off abruptly, we have here an account of the battle that ensued immediately.
I. The Syrians, the besiegers, had their directions from a drunken king, who gave orders over his cups, as he was drinking (1 Kgs. 20:12), drinking himself drunk (1 Kgs. 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, Luke 17:26-29 Ben-hadad’s drunkenness was the forerunner of his fall, as Belshazzar’s was, Dan. 5:1-31. 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 Kgs. 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 Kgs. 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 Kgs. 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 inexcusable. (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, Deut. 32:26, 27. 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 gracious.
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 Kgs. 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 Kgs. 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 Kgs. 20:15. It is observable that it is the same number with theirs that he not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kgs. 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 Kgs. 20:16. Ben-hadad despised them at first (1 Kgs. 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 Kgs. 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 slaughter, 1 Kgs. 20:21. Note, God oftentimes makes one wicked man a scourge to another.