1 Kings 20
Benson Commentary
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.
1 Kings 20:1. Gathered all his host — To war against Israel: wherein his design was to enlarge the conquest which his father had made; but God’s design was to punish Israel for their apostacy and idolatry. There were thirty and two kings with him — Petty kings, such as were in Canaan in Joshua’s time, who indeed were no more than governors of cities or small territories: these were either subject or tributary to Ben-hadad, or hired by him. He were up and besieged Samaria — He did not actually besiege it; for his army was routed before he could do it. But the sense is, He went up in order to besiege it.

And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad,
Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.
1 Kings 20:3-4. Thy silver and thy gold is mine — I challenge them as my own, and expect to have them forthwith delivered, if thou expect peace with me. The king said, My lord, O king, I am thine — I do so far comply with thy demand, that I will own thee for my lord, and myself for thy vassal, and will hold my wives, and children, and estate, as by thy favour, and with an acknowledgment.

And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have.
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;
1 Kings 20:5-6. Thus speaketh Ben-hadad, saying, &c. — Although I before demanded not only the dominion of thy treasures, and wives, and children, as thou mayest seem to understand me; but also the actual possession of them, wherewith I would then have been contented: yet now I will not accept of those terms, but, together with thy royal treasures, I expect all the treasures of thy servants or subjects; nor will I wait till thou deliver them to me; but I will send my servants into the city, and they shall search out and take away all thou art fond of, and this to prevent fraud and delay; and then I will grant thee a peace.

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.
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.
1 Kings 20:7. The king called all the elders — Whose counsel and concurrence he now desires in his distress. See how this man seeketh mischief — Though he pretended peace upon these terms propounded, it is apparent, by those additional demands, that he intends nothing less than our utter ruin. I denied not — I granted his demands in the sense before mentioned. In this Ahab showed some sparks of virtue remaining in him; in that while Ben-hadad desired only what he had in his own disposal, that is, all his private goods, he complied with his demands; but when all the people and the public good was concerned, he would do nothing without their consent.

And all the elders and all the people said unto him, Hearken not unto him, nor consent.
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.
1 Kings 20:9-11. This thing I may not do — If I would do it, I cannot; because my people will not suffer it. If the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls, &c. — If I do not assault thy city with so potent and numerous an army, as shall turn it all into a heap of dust, and shall be sufficient to carry it all away, though every soldier take but one handful of it. See the like boast, 2 Samuel 17:13. The king of Israel said, Let not him that girdeth, &c. — Do not triumph before the victory, for the events of war are uncertain.

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.
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.
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.
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.
1 Kings 20:13. And, behold there came a prophet unto Ahab — One of those, probably, that had been hid, but was now commanded of God to appear and carry a message to Ahab; which the prophet did not fear to do, as he brought him such good news as those which follow. Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou seen this great multitude, &c.? — God, though forsaken and neglected by Ahab, prevents him with his gracious promise of help; that Ahab and the idolatrous Israelites might hereby be fully convinced, or left without excuse; that Ben-hadad’s intolerable pride, and contempt of God, and of his people, might be punished; and that the remnant of his prophets and people, who were involved in the same calamity with the rest of the Israelites, might be preserved and delivered. I am the Lord — And not Baal, because I will deliver thee, which he cannot do.

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.
1 Kings 20:14. By the young men of the princes, &c. — The Hebrew word נערי, nagnaree, here rendered young men, is ambiguous, and may mean either the sons or the servants of the princes of the provinces. It was not by old, experienced soldiers, but by those young men, who had lived delicately, and perhaps had never seen a fight, that this battle was to be won; in order that it might appear that the victory was wholly due to God’s gracious providence, and not to the valour or worthiness of the instruments. Then he said, Who shall order the battle? — Or, as some understand the words, Who shall begin the fight, they or we? Shall we make a sally, or wait till they assault us? He answered, Thou — The prophet bids the king begin and lead them on, partly to encourage the young men to fight courageously, as being in the presence of their prince; and partly to try whether Ahab would thus far trust God, or not.

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.
1 Kings 20:15. He numbered all the men of Israel — All in Samaria and the neighbourhood that were fit to go out to war; all except those whom their age, or infirmity, or other sufficient causes excused; but certainly not all the men of war in Israel, who must have been far more than seven thousand.

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.
1 Kings 20:16; 1 Kings 20:18. And they went out at noon — When they knew the Syrians were at dinner, if not also drinking to excess, as their king was. And he said, Whether they be come for peace, take them alive, &c. — It was against the law of nations to apprehend those that came to treat of peace: but he, in his insolent pride, told his people not to trouble themselves to examine what they came for, but to take them alive, which he thought they might easily do, these Israelites being so few in number, and not able, he supposed, to stand the first brunt.

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.
And he said, Whether they be come out for peace, take them alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive.
So these young men of the princes of the provinces came out of the city, and the army which followed them.
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.
1 Kings 20:20-21. They slew every one his man — Who came to apprehend him. And the Syrians fled — Amazed at the undaunted and unexpected courage of the Israelites, and struck with a divine terror. And Ben-hadad escaped on a horse — That proud boaster durst not face them; but mounted immediately, drunk as he was, and made the best of his way to escape. And the king of Israel went out — Proceeded further in his pursuit of them. And smote the horses and chariots — The men that fought in them. And slew the Syrians with great slaughter — Improving this advantage to the utmost. Thus ended Ben-hadad’s proud boastings; and thus does God often make one wicked man a scourge to another!

And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.
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.
1 Kings 20:22. Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see, &c. — Consider what is necessary for thee to do by way of preparation, and take care that nothing be wanting to oppose the designs of the Syrians against thee, who will certainly return and renew the fight next year. The enemies of the children of God are restless in their malice, and though they may take some breathing-time for themselves, they are still breathing out slaughter against the church: it therefore concerns always to expect our spiritual enemies, and to mark and see what we do.

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.
1 Kings 20:23. Their gods are gods of the hills, &c. — The heathen, in general, had no notion of the God of the universe, but only worshipped local and tutelary deities; who, they thought, ruled over particular countries, and distributed the several parts of those countries among them, some being gods of the woods, others of the rivers, and others of the mountains: and the Syrians fancied the gods of the Israelites, whom they thought to be no better than their own gods, to be of the latter kind, gods of the hills, because the land of Canaan was a mountainous land, and the great temple of their God, at Jerusalem, stood upon a hill, as did the city of Samaria, where they had received their last blow; or because the Israelites did generally choose high places for the places of their worship. It is observable, that the Syrians do not impute their ill success to their negligence, and drunkenness, and bad conduct, nor to the valour of the Israelites, but to a divine power, which was indeed visible in it. Let us fight against them in the plain — In this counsel there was not only superstition, but policy; because the Syrians excelled the Israelites in horses and chariots, which were most serviceable on plain ground.

And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains in their rooms:
1 Kings 20:24. Do this — take the kings away, &c. — He had made the thirty- two kings, who were his tributaries, chief commanders in his former army; which his counsellors represent to him as a great error, and therefore advise him to displace them, and put his own captains in their stead, who would fight better. The kings, they thought, had had a softer education; and, being less inured to hardships, and less experienced in military matters, were less fit for service: besides, being many of them mercenaries, and therefore less concerned in his good success, they judged they would be more cautious in venturing themselves, and risking their lives in his cause, and not so obedient to discipline, as captains from his own subjects would be. These latter, they supposed, would faithfully obey the commands of their general, to whom the kings would not readily yield, and would use their utmost skill and valour for their own interest and advancement.

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.
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.
1 Kings 20:26-27. Ben-hadad numbered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek —

A city in the tribe of Asher; which, it is probable, was one of those that Ben-hadad’s father had taken from the king of Israel, (1 Kings 20:34,) not far from which was the plain of Galilee, where he intended to fight. And the children of Israel went against them — Being encouraged by the remembrance of their former success, and an expectation of assistance from God. And pitched before them — Probably upon some hilly ground where they might secure themselves, and watch for advantage against their enemies; which might be the reason why the Syrians durst not assault them before the seventh day, 1 Kings 20:29. Like two little flocks of kids — Few and weak; being also, for convenience of fighting, and that they might seem more than they were, divided into two bodies.

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.
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.
1 Kings 20:28. Because the Syrians have said, &c. — What they had said, this man of God knew, either from common report, strengthened by their present choice of plain ground for the battle; or rather, by revelation from God, to whose inspection their secret counsels lay open, 2 Kings 6:12. His omnipotence being disputed, he sent his prophet to predict the vengeance coming on his enemies; and their defeat in the plains was a singular and undeniable confirmation, both of his omnipotence and veracity. Ye shall know that I am the Lord — Namely, the universal Lord of all places, persons, and things.

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.
1 Kings 20:29. They pitched one over against the other seven days — It may seem strange that they should look one another in the face so long, without coming to any action; for the Syrians had so much advantage in their numbers, that one would have thought they would have immediately encompassed the Israelites, and have destroyed them all: but perhaps the Israelites continued all these days on the rising ground, and the Syrians did not dare to attack them till they came down into the plain. Israel slew of the Syrians a hundred thousand footmen in one day — In all probability they surprised them by a sudden, unexpected attack; and God dismayed them, and struck such a terror into them, that they could make no resistance.

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.
1 Kings 20:30. A wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand — The wall of the city under which they lay, ready to defend it; or the walls (the singular number being put for the plural, than which nothing is more frequent) of some great castle or fort, in or near the city in which they were now fortifying themselves; or of some part of the city where they lay. This might possibly happen through natural causes; but most probably was effected by the mighty power of God, sending some earthquake, or violent storm, which threw down the walls upon them: and if ever a miracle was to be wrought, now seems to have been the proper season for it; when the blasphemous Syrians denied the sovereign power of God, and thereby in some sort obliged him to give a proof of it; and to show, that he was the God of the plains, as well as of the mountains; and that he could as effectually destroy them in their strongest holds, as in the open fields; and make the very walls, to whose strength they trusted for their defence, to be the instruments of their ruin. But it may be further observed, that it is not said, that all these were killed by the fall of this wall; but only that the wall fell upon them, killing some, and wounding others.

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.
1 Kings 20:31. We have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful kings — More merciful than others, because that religion, which they professed, taught them humanity, and obliged them to show mercy. Let us put sackcloth upon our loins, and ropes, &c. — As a testimony of our sorrow for undertaking this war; and that we have justly forfeited our lives for it, and shall submit to any punishment he may be pleased to inflict. This, it seems, was the habit in those times, in which supplicants presented themselves, when they petitioned for mercy. Peradventure he will save thy life — This encouragement have all poor sinners, to repent and humble themselves before God. The God of Israel is a merciful God; let us rend our hearts and return to him.

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.
1 Kings 20:32. Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live — He now as humbly petitions Ahab, as Ahab a little while ago had petitioned him, and begs of him his life. What a change from the height of prosperity to the depth of distress! Such is the uncertainty of human affairs! Such the strange turns which are continually taking place! The spoke of the wheel which is uppermost now, may soon be the lowest of all. And he said, is he yet alive? He is my brother — I do not only pardon him, but honour and love him as a brother. This was rather folly than mercifulness, or good nature; to treat a man thus, who had so lately used him with such extreme haughtiness, and brought so much confusion, terror, and damage, into his kingdom.

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.
1 Kings 20:33. The men did diligently observe, &c. — They were wise persons whom Ben-hadad employed in this embassy; who watched attentively to hear whether any kind word would drop from Ahab’s mouth, on which they might lay hold, and make their advantage of it, before he could retract it. And they catched hastily at the word brother, and said, Thy brother Ben-hadad lives, and implores this favour, that he may live. They repeated the word again, to try whether the king would own it, or whether it had only dropt casually from him; or whether he spoke this from his heart, or only in dissimulation and design; for it seemed too good news to be true.

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.
1 Kings 20:34. The cities which my father took from thy father — Either from Baasha, (1 Kings 15:20,) whom he calls Ahab’s father, because he was his predecessor in the government; or rather, from Omri, in whose time he probably made a successful invasion into the land of Israel, and took some more of the cities, and Aphek among the rest, though it be not elsewhere recorded in Scripture. And thou shall make streets in Damascus — Bishop Patrick tells us, that some suppose the word to signify market-places, where things were sold, the toll of which should belong to Ahab: others think he meant courts of judicature, where he should exercise a jurisdiction over the Syrians; others, what we now call a piazza, or rather, what by Rauwolff is called a caravansera, and by others a kane, that is, a great house, built like a cloister, round a great court-yard, and full of warehouses and apartments, in which foreign merchants are wont to live, or travellers to repair to, as to an inn, and of which Ahab was to receive the rents. It is probable, it was a quarter for his subjects to live in, and which he should possess, and over which he should enjoy the same jurisdiction, as he did with respect to the rest of his kingdom. Such a power granted in Samaria, and such a making over a part of it, to the father of Ben-hadad, and annexing it to the kingdom of Syria, with a right of building such idol temples as he thought fit, was a sufficient disgrace to the father of Ahab; as the proposing to give Ahab now a like honour in Damascus, was an expression of a very abject adulation in Ben-hadad.

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.
1 Kings 20:35. A certain man said to his neighbour — Hebrew, אל רעהו, eel regnehu, to his companion, as St. Hierom translates it, that is, to a prophet bred in the same school with himself, who well understood the importance of obeying the command. In the word of the Lord — In the name and by the command of God, whereof, doubtless, he had informed him. Smite me, I pray thee — So as to wound me, 1 Kings 20:37. He speaks what God commanded him, though it was to his own hurt; by which obedience to God, he secretly reproacheth Ahab’s disobedience in a far easier matter. And this the prophet desires, by God’s appointment, that, looking like a wounded soldier, he might have the more free access to the king. And the man refused to smite him — Not out of contempt to God’s command, but probably, in tenderness to his brother.

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.
1 Kings 20:36. Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the Lord, a lion shall slay thee — If the punishment seem too severe for so small a fault, let it be considered, 1st, That disobedience to God’s express command, especially when delivered by a person known by the party disobeying to be a prophet, was a great sin, and no less than capital, Deuteronomy 18:19. 2d, This fault was much worse in a prophet, who very well knew the authority of God’s commands, and this way of publishing them. 3d, This man might be guilty of many other heinous sins unknown to us, but known to God; for which God might justly cut him off: which God chose to do upon this occasion, that by the severity of this punishment of a prophet’s disobedience, proceeding from pity to his brother, he might teach Ahab the greatness of his sin, in sparing him through foolish pity, whom, by the laws of religion, and justice, and prudence, he should have cut off.

Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him.
So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face.
1 Kings 20:38. And disguised himself with ashes upon his face — As a man in a very sorrowful condition. Houbigant reads it, He had his eyes covered with a bandage, supposing that the genuine, reading of the text is, not אפר, apher, but אפד, aphed, which signifies a bandage; whence comes the Hebrew word ephod; something bound round. Several of the versions render it, with a veil: and thus the Hebrew doctors understand it. It is probable, it was a cloth or bandage of some kind, wherewith he bound up his wound, which probably was in his face: for it was made in a conspicuous place, that it might be visible to Ahab and others.

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.
1 Kings 20:39. And he said, Thy servant, &c. — This relation is a parable; a usual way of instruction in the eastern parts, and most fit for this occasion, wherein an obscure prophet was to speak to a great king, impatient of a downright reproof, and exceeding partial in his own cause. A man turned aside and said, Keep, &c. — His commander said this unto him, as the manner of expression shows. The king of Israel said, So shall thy judgment be — Thou hast pronounced thy own sentence. According to your agreement; so shalt thou suffer. Thou shalt lose thy life, or pay the talent or silver. Ahab had forgot how he had dismissed a greater person willingly, or else he could scarcely have been so hard-hearted as to condemn one that had offended unwillingly. But the prophet soon brought it to his remembrance.

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.
And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets.
1 Kings 20:41. And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face — Threw off his disguise immediately, by pulling off the cloth or bandage wherewith his face, or a part of it, had been concealed. And the king of Israel discerned him — Either by his face, which was known to the king, or to some of the courtiers there present: or, by the manner of his address to him, which, being changed, was now such as the prophets generally used.

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.
1 Kings 20:42. Thus saith the Lord, Because, &c. — “What was the great sin of Ahab in this action, for which God so severely punished him?” The great dishonour hereby done to God, in suffering so horrid a blasphemer to go unpunished, which was contrary to an express law, Leviticus 24:16. And God had delivered him into Ahab’s hand, for his blasphemy, as he promised to do, (1 Kings 20:28,) by which act of his providence, compared with that law, it was most evident that this man was appointed by God to destruction. But Ahab was so far from punishing this blasphemer, that he did not so much as rebuke him, but dismissed him upon easy terms, and took not the least care for the reparation of God’s honour. And the people were punished for their own sins, which were many and great; though God took this occasion to inflict the punishment. The former part of this decree of God, Thy life shall go for his life, was fulfilled three years after, when Ahab was killed in a battle against the Syrians, 1 Kings 22:1-40. But the latter, And thy people for his people, was deferred till the reign of Hazael, who fulfilled it by the wars he had with the Israelites, and the slaughter he made of them, 2 Kings 10:32-33.

And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.
1 Kings 20:43. The king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased — This distressing sentence turned all their joy, for their late victory, into mourning; Ahab being much troubled for what he had done, and for what, it seems, he now believed he must suffer.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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