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 thereby.
I. Ahab is admonished by a prophet to prepare for another war, 1 Kgs. 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 Kgs. 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 (Ps. 121:1), and that his foundation was in the holy mountain (Ps. 87:1; Ps. 78:54), and much was said of his holy hill (Ps. 15:1; 24:3); 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 Kgs. 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 chariot.
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 Kgs. 20:34), and the country about it was flat and level, and fit for his purpose, 1 Kgs. 20:26. Ahab, with his forces, posted himself at some distance over against them, 1 Kgs. 20:27. 5033 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 Kgs. 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 Kgs. 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 Sam. 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 Kgs. 22:25.