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I Kings 20-21 Listen
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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: 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.
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.
12 And it came to pass, when Benhadad heard this message, as he was drinking, he and the kings in the pavilions, that he said unto his servants, Set yourselves in array. And they set themselves in array against the city.
Benhadad, along with 32 vassal kings, besiege Ahab's capital, Samaria. He then sends messengers to extort Ahab's valuables (wives, children, silver, gold, etc.). At first Ahab expresses his intent to be compliant with Benhadad's demand when he says in verse 4, "I am thine, and all that I have." Benhadad's messengers come a second time - this time demanding that Ahab allow them to search the premises and take with them "whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes." When Ahab recognizes the extent to which Benhadad plans to bankrupt him, he sends a rather meek message back to Benhadad respectfully declining to comply with this most recent demand - this, of course, after a meeting with his cabinet. Big ol' bully Benhadad sends a royal message of intimidation when he says in verse 10, "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." In other words, "When we're finished with you, there won't be enough left of Samaria to provide a handful of dust for my soldiers as they leave!" Ahab replies through the messengers back to Benhadad, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." That's the equivalent of, "Talk is cheap, show me what you got!" OK! The stage is set for war between Syria and Israel.
Incidentally, "Benhadad" was the name of a dynasty of kings of Syria. The Hebrew word "ben" means "son." Therefore, "Benhadad" means "son of Hadad." King Asa of Judah had enlisted the help of his father (also Benhadad) back in I Kings 15:16-24; II Chronicles 16:1-14 (see notes) to assist him in defeating King Baasha of Israel.
Sometimes only a war will do - round #1 (I Kings 20:13-21)
13 And, behold, there came a prophet 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.
14 And Ahab said, By whom? And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Even by the young men of the princes of the provinces. 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.
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.
17 And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first; 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.
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: and Benhadad the king of Syria escaped on an horse with the horsemen.
21 And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.
This story is a bit of a puzzler. Ahab was a very wicked king...record-setting wickedness. Yet, he receives some assistance from a prophet of God in this passage. Israel makes a preemptive strike on Syria. As rotten as Ahab was, God spoke to him through an unnamed prophet and told him that he would prevail. Why? To prove the power of the one true God. When Ahab's meager army (7,000 men) shows up outside the city where Benhadad and his men are camped, drunken Benhadad thinks that perhaps this small contingent from Ahab has come in peace. Yet, as Benhadad's men approach, they are all slaughtered as they flee; Benhadad manages to escape.
You may wonder how it was that Ahab was only able to muster an army of 7,000 men. It was only 50 or so years before that King Jeroboam had lost 500,000 men in his battle against Judah's King Abijam (aka Abijah) back in II Chronicles 13:17 (see notes). That would have left a lot of widows in Israel back then. It takes a few generations to recover from that big of a loss of life.
Syria clashes with Israel - round #2 (I Kings 20:22-30)
22 And the prophet came to the king of Israel, and said unto him, Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see what thou doest: 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.
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.
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.
29 And they pitched one over against the other seven days. 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.
Benhadad prepares for war again the following year, but Ahab's unnamed prophet told him to expect it. However, with his meager army, Ahab prevails against the 127,000+ troops of King Benhadad of Syria a second time. Look at the statement in verse 27 regarding how lopsided the fighting forces were, "the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids; but the Syrians filled the country."
How had Israel prevailed against Benhadad's massive army? Verses 23-25 seem to indicate that Benhadad's war cabinet was not made up of the brightest people. They had determined that Israel's "gods" were hill specialists; Syria's gods were plains specialists. This second round of warfare must be fought in the open field. One more thing - those kings that led the troops the first time didn't know what they were doing; the second time they put captains in their places. Boom - same result - total defeat! After a loss of 100,000 men, Benhadad flees to the nearby northern Israeli city (Aphek), but the city's walls fall in (killing another 27,000), and Benhadad is surrounded.
What!!!!! Release the evil King Benhadad? (I Kings 20:31-34)
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.
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 Benhadad said unto him, The cities, which my father took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, 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.
Can you believe the big bully King Benhadad, who flexed his muscles before the war, is now pleading for his life? What a yellow-bellied coward! And then...what about Ahab! Benhadad had threatened to plunder everything Ahab treasured...and Ahab lets him go, and even makes a covenant with him? Incredible! However, Benhadad is not home free quite yet.
How does a prophet get an audience with the King? (I Kings 20:35-43)
35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his neighbour in the word of the LORD, Smite me, I pray thee. 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, and slew him.
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.
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.
43 And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.
This prophet (apparently a different one than before) asks a neighbor to injure him so that he can fake a battle injury. After the neighbor refuses, he's eaten by a lion as the prophet had prophesied for his refusal. A second man complies with the prophet's request, injures the prophet and thus the prophet fakes a battle injury to get the king's attention as he passes by. Upon Ahab's arrival to the scene, the prophet spins a scenario (a lie, really) of having lost a Syrian prisoner charged to his custody. When Ahab decrees that he should be punished for this negligence, the prophet blasts him with the word from God. Here's the bad news, Ahab. You should not have let Benhadad snooker you into letting him leave in peace - it's gonna cost you your life. Sometimes you just can't win for losing...true when you disobey God. Actually, Ahab had no right to spare the life of a king whom he had not defeated. Only God had that authority.
1 And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.
2 And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.
3 And Naboth said to Ahab, The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.
4 And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him: for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.
5 But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread?
6 And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and said unto him, Give me thy vineyard for money; or else, if it please thee, I will give thee another vineyard for it: and he answered, I will not give thee my vineyard.
7 And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.
8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth.
9 And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people:
10 And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.
11 And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who were the inhabitants in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them, and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them.
12 They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people.
13 And there came in two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died.
14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead.
15 And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money: for Naboth is not alive, but dead.
16 And it came to pass, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
You've heard of the woman behind the man? That's Jezebel - Ahab was nothing without her. She was the woman behind the man, and Ahab was a whiner. Naboth, a resident of Israel, won't release his garden to Ahab, so he sulks in earshot of Jezebel. No problem for a mover and shaker like Jezebel - she has Naboth framed by a couple of "sons of Belial" (see definition below) and subsequently stoned to death by his own townspeople for a crime he did not commit (blaspheming God and the king)...just so Ahab can have his garden. Jezebel was a ruthless woman. Do you still wonder why Mamas don't name their little girls Jezebel?
Note regarding "sons of Belial" in verse 10: While the KJV frequently transliterates the Hebrew word, "Belial," as a proper name, in fact it is a general Hebrew word meaning worthless or wicked. Seeing it capitalized, one might get the impression that it was the name of a pagan god, but not so.
17 And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,
18 Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it.
19 And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.
20 And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the LORD.
21 Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel,
22 And will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and made Israel to sin.
23 And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.
24 Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat.
25 But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.
26 And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.
27 And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.
28 And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,
29 Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.
For a prophet of God, when times are good, they're real good; when they're bad, well...you know. And times are bad in Israel. Elijah gets his assignment from God, "Go confront King Ahab because of the death of Naboth." Look at how this charming couple is described in I Kings 21:25, "But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." It looks as though Ahab still holds the record for wickedness. King Ahab sees Elijah and refers to him as "the enemy." Ahab is evil - very evil, but nothing compared to his charming wife, Jezebel. Elijah's prophecy against this dynamic evil duo features dogs...that's right, dogs. First of all, dogs will lick up the blood from King Ahab's dead body at the very site where Naboth had been stoned. And...dogs will actually eat Jezebel. By the way, that happens to Jezebel in II Kings 9:30-37 (see notes), and to Ahab in I Kings 22:38, (see notes). Wait! There's more. Ahab's dynasty over Israel will end - no royal posterity for his lineage! Ahab gets scared - repents. Subsequently, God defers his judgment on him; it'll now happen to his son; Ahab's dynasty will end, and it does at the death of his son in II Kings 9:14-29 (see notes).
Charles Ryrie (Ryrie's Study Bible) makes an interesting point here: "Ahabs repentance was not accompanied by acts (such as restoring Naboths vineyard to his family or tearing down the altars to Baal) that would prove it was genuine."
Incidentally, Elijah's promise to Ahab that all of his male descendants will be terminated is expressed in a very interesting way in the Hebrew text. Of modern translations, only the King James Version keeps the Hebrew phrase intact in verse 21; that's exactly how the Hebrew phrase identifies these male heirs.