Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.Ch. 1 Kings 20:1-12. Ben-hadad king of Syria besieges Samaria. His messages to Ahab (Not in Chronicles)
1. In the LXX. Chapters 20. and 21. are transposed, apparently with a view of bringing the history in which Elijah plays a part into closer connexion. Josephus also adopts the same order of events in his history. See Ant. viii. 13. 8 and viii. 14. i.
Ben-hadad the king of Syria] See above on 1 Kings 15:18. The LXX. always translates the first syllable of this name, writing υἱὸς Ἄδερ. There is nothing to help us to conclude with certainty whether the Ben-hadad of this verse was the same who made a treaty with Asa king of Judah against Baasha king of Israel. Between the death of Baasha and the beginning of Ahab’s reign was only about 14 years, so that it is not impossible that he may be the same Ben-hadad mentioned before, but perhaps the probability is in favour of his being a son or grandson with the same name.
gathered all his host together] The LXX. adds here ‘and went up and besieged Samaria,’ and repeats nearly the same words in the next verse.
thirty and two kings with him] These would be princes from the different provinces of Aram (Syria) over whom Ben-hadad at Damascus would be lord superior. They would probably include princes from among the Hittites and Hamathites, who dwelt near at hand and who would be in alliance or perhaps tributaries.
and horses] The LXX. gives πᾶς ἵππος ‘all his cavalry.’
besieged Samaria] Josephus says that Ahab did not feel equal to meeting his powerful adversary in the field and so shut up himself, and all that he could collect, in the strongest fortresses in the land, himself continuing in Samaria as the best defended.
and warred (R.V. fought) against it] The change of rendering is made because the verb is nearly always translated ‘fight’ elsewhere. It is so rendered in 1 Kings 20:23; 1 Kings 20:25 of this chapter.
And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad,2. he sent messengers] Sending first, no doubt, as Josephus explains, a herald to ask that his ambassadors might be received to explain his demands.
Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.3. even the goodliest] These words are omitted in the LXX. The claim laid to the wives and children would in Oriental eyes amount to a deposition of the monarch, or a deprivation of his royal power. It was one of the first acts of a conqueror to seize the wives of the vanquished opponent. Ahab’s fear of going forth would encourage Ben-hadad to treat him thus, just as his submissive answer at first only led to larger demands on the part of the besieger.
And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have.4. according to thy saying] The R.V. inserts It is before these words and thus brings out the division of the verse as marked in the Hebrew. The order of words in the original is ‘It is according to thy saying, my lord, O king.’
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;5. Although I have sent unto thee] The R.V. translates I sent indeed unto thee, and begins the 6th verse with But instead of yet. This brings out the arrogancy of Ben-hadad more fully. It is as though he said ‘You submitted to my first demand, but in spite of that I am not satisfied.’ Now not only Ahab’s houses and treasures are threatened but those of all his subjects. Hence the summoning of a council to discuss the position.
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.6. to-morrow about this time] The imperious victor (as he thought himself) would suffer no delay. His orders were to be carried out at once.
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.7. called all the elders of the land] It was more than a gathering of the chief men of the city. Probably at such a crisis many of the principal persons who dwelt at other times away from the fortified cities would have gathered in Samaria for safety. It was with all these that Ahab conferred. Josephus represents the king as gathering τὸ πλῆθος, ‘the bulk of the people.’ This can hardly have been thought necessary, nor is it at all after the manner of Eastern monarchs. The treasures which were now threatened would be the possessions of the principal men, and to them the king would appeal for advice. It is however mentioned in 1 Kings 20:8 that all the people agreed to the decision that Ben-hadad’s demand should be rejected. Ahab’s sentence is left unconcluded, but the conclusion suggests itself without being spoken. It would have run somewhat thus, “But now he threatens to seize your treasures as well as mine, tell me what answer I shall send to him.”
And all the elders and all the people said unto him, Hearken not unto him, nor consent.8. Hearken not unto him, nor consent] The R.V. omits the needless italics and reads neither instead of nor. The shorter the form of such a decision the better and more natural.
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.9. Tell my lord the king] The LXX. says ‘your lord’. The Hebrew accords better with the generally submissive conduct of Ahab throughout the whole narrative. The picture of the power of the Israelitish king is not very magnificent. Even in this final answer he speaks of himself as Ben-hadad’s ‘servant’.
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.10. if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me] i.e. I will bring such a host that if each man were but to take with him a handful of earth, Samaria would be all carried away. The boastful tone is quite of a piece with all Ben-hadad’s previous conduct.
The LXX. has read שֻׁעָלִים instead of שְׁעָלִים and so instead of ‘handfuls’ it gives ταο͂ς ἀλώπεξι = ‘for the foxes (or jackals).’ Josephus explains Ben-hadad’s threat to have meant, that the Syrian army, bringing each man his handful of earth, would make a mound against Samaria higher than the present walls. Thus contemptuously hinting at the ease with which he could overthrow the Israelitish fortifications. The original text is incapable of such a sense.
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.11. Tell him, &c.] For this the LXX. gives “Let it suffice: let not the crooked boast himself as the straight.” The latter portion is an attempt (but not very successful) to supply the place of one proverbial saying by another. We convey somewhat of a like sense by ‘Praise not the day till the evening.’
For the somewhat antiquated ‘harness’ the R.V. substitutes armour.
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.12. as he was drinking] Ben-hadad was clearly full of confidence, and was giving a banquet to the allied princes in anticipation of the victory.
he and the kings] i.e. The thirty and two, mentioned in 1 Kings 20:1.
in the pavilions] The word is the same which is used for the temporary booths erected of branches of trees at the feast of Tabernacles. Doubtless the tents of Ben-hadad and his princes were of the like kind, for the erection of which material was not difficult to find.
Set yourselves in array] As there is only the verb expressed here, it is possible to substitute as is done in the margin ‘the engines’ instead of the text. The word is used elsewhere with a noun ‘battering-rams’ after it (Ezekiel 4:2), but there is nothing in this passage to shew us whether the persons or the engines are referred to. Such elliptical phrases are common among words of command.
The LXX. has rendered ‘Build a stockade, and they set a stockade 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.13–21. God by a prophet promises the victory to Ahab. The Syrians are defeated (Not in Chronicles)
13. there came a prophet] The Hebrew verb is not the common word for ‘to come.’ The R.V. has therefore translated it here, and in 1 Kings 20:22; 1 Kings 20:28, by came near, as it is very frequently translated elsewhere in the A.V.
This prophet must have been one of those who were saved at the time of Jezebel’s attempt to destroy them all. Obadiah had saved a hundred, and no doubt others also escaped. When Elijah complained ‘I, even I only, am left,’ the reason was that, through the persecution, a stop had been put to all prophetic activity. In the present strait we need not doubt that any messenger of good tidings would be welcome. So that there is nothing strange about the prophet’s visit. The national thoughts were occupied on other things than the slaughter of Jehovah’s prophets.
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.14. the young men of the princes of the provinces] The LXX. gives υἱοὶ τῶν ἡγεμόνων, ‘sons of the leaders’, and Josephus nearly the same. ‘The princes of the provinces’ were probably chieftains who had come from various parts of the kingdom of Israel. The ‘young men’ would be their attendants or squires. Evidently they are selected as persons who had no great experience though they might have the courage to go, few in number, against a much superior force.
Who shall order the battle] The verb, as is seen from the margin of A.V., means ‘to bind’ or ‘tie’. The R.V. taking this to apply to the bringing of the armies together has rendered begin. Instead of remaining within the walls, God encourages Ahab to be the first to strike a blow. Humanly speaking, even, such a step was likely to meet with some success. Josephus says Ahab was to lead because of the inexperience of the young men.
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.15. Then he numbered [R.V. mustered] the young men] The verb occurs several times in this chapter, and is always rendered ‘numbered’ (see 1 Kings 20:26-27 and the two instances in this verse), as indeed it is in nearly all cases in A.V. But looking at 1 Kings 20:27, in comparison with this verse, ‘to number’ can hardly be correct, for then the operation would have been performed twice over, manifestly a needless proceeding. The verb literally signifies ‘to visit’, hence ‘to hold a visitation, or gathering,’ and so ‘to muster’ appears to represent the sense here very well. See also the note on 1 Kings 20:25 below.
even all the children of Israel] The LXX. omits these words. The smallness of the number mentioned (7000) is very remarkable. Josephus only speaks of them as the rest of the army. There were no doubt many more men of war in Israel, but if the number in the text be correct, it must be that Ahab had not been able to bring many soldiers together in the city by reason of the suddenness of the attack, or because so many other persons from the country had crowded into the safest places, and thus there was no room for more.
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.16. they went out at noon] They had probably learnt that the royal banquet was in progress, and the moment would appear a favourable one. When the leaders were giving themselves up to self-indulgence the army would not be well-prepared for action. The words which follow shew that the revelry in the camp of the Syrians had been carried to a perilous length.
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.17. and Ben-hadad sent out] Even in his drunken revelry he is made aware that something unexpected is taking place, and he sends to know exactly what it is. The LXX. says ‘they send and announce to the king of Syria’, but this is hardly what would take place. When the messengers come back they tell the king that the besieged have taken a new course: ‘There are men come out of (R.V. from) Samaria;’ ‘They are not going to wait for our attack, but either come to attack us, or to make proposals for peace’.
And he said, Whether they be come out for peace, take them alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive.18. take them alive] Whatever their mission might be Ben-hadad had no doubt that his followers could surround them and capture them without fighting. They could have no difficulty in overpowering so insignificant a force. Why he wished for the capture rather than the slaughter of the Israelites is not so evident. It might be only with a view of making it clear that there was no need to cut off any troops sent against them; by mere force of numbers they could overpower them and make them prisoners.
So these young men of the princes of the provinces came out of the city, and the army which followed them.19. So these young men, &c.] The R.V. keeps the order of the original and renders So these went out of the city, the young men, &c. The LXX. has made this clause part of Ben-hadad’s order: ‘And let not the young men &c. go forth’.
and the army which followed them] That is, the 7000 mentioned above in 1 Kings 20:15. Apparently the battle was to be commenced by the young men, and the other troops were to come on and increase the alarm caused by the unexpected attack.
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.20. on a horse with the horsemen] The distinction usually drawn between the two Hebrew nouns in this expression is that the first word describes a chariot horse, the second a horse for riding. If this be so (and there seems good ground for the distinction) the king of Syria fled away in such haste that he did not get a proper riding-horse for himself, but took a carriage-horse and on that made his escape among the mounted troops.
And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.21. And the king of Israel went out] Ahab’s part appears to have been a small one. He seems to have given directions to the young men, and to those that followed them, but himself to have tarried in Samaria, until the rout was seen to have begun.
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.22–34. The Syrians prepare another army, and are again defeated. ahab makes a covenant with Ben-hadad (Not in Chronicles)
22. the prophet came to the king] R.V. came near as in 1 Kings 20:13; 1 Kings 20:28. See on 13.
mark, and see] i.e. Take every possible precaution. Look out for what is best to be done.
at the return of the year] i.e. When the fitting season for taking the field has again come round. Cf. 2 Samuel 11:1, ‘after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle’.
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.23. their gods are gods] R.V. their god is a god. The LXX. also renders by the singular. The Syrians would speak of the God of Israel as a national divinity, just as they would of their own god. The former battle had been fought in the hill country round about Samaria, and this may have given encouragement to the idea that in a level plain, like that in which their own Damascus lay, the Syrian forces would meet with more success. It was not unnatural, in the heathen ideas about the gods, that they should consider each divinity specially able, and suited, to protect the land over which he was supposed to have the charge.
And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains in their rooms:24. Take the kings away] That is, the thirty and two, whose attendance on the court, and the wassail consequent on their presence, had done much harm to the expedition. We need not suppose that these kings were to be deprived of their power and deposed, though the text would bear that interpretation, but only that they were no longer to take part in the war. Their places were to be supplied by those who had made war their trade, and who would give their attention to the battle and not to revelry.
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.25. and number thee an army] Here we have a different verb from that in 15 and in 26, 27. Here the operation is one of numbering, making the force tally exactly in each arm with that which had been gathered in the previous year. The rendering of this verb by ‘number’ is an additional reason for changing ‘number’ to muster in the other places.
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.26. numbered] R.V. mustered, and so in the next verse. See above on 1 Kings 20:15.
up to Aphek] There were several places of this name. One was at the foot of Lebanon, in the tribe of Asher (see Joshua 13:4; Joshua 19:30). Another was in the hill country on the east of the sea of Galilee. But as Ben-hadad’s policy was to fight in the plain, the Aphek here intended must be the city of that name which lay in the plain of Jezreel. On the fitness of this place for a large encampment cf. 1 Samuel 29:1.
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.27. were all present] The R.V. has adopted the marginal rendering of A.V. were victualled. This is the rendering of the Vulg. cibaria exceperunt. The passive form of the verb occurs only here, but the active ‘to supply with victuals’ is found, Genesis 45:11; Genesis 50:21 and in several other places.
and the children of Israel pitched [R.V. encamped] before them] The R.V. is a very frequent translation of this word, and seems best when there is no object after the verb. When ‘their tents’ or some such expression is supplied, then ‘pitch’ is the more appropriate. The R.V. makes the same change in 1 Kings 20:29.
two little flocks] The rendering ‘little flocks’ is from the Vulg. ‘duo parvi greges’. The LXX. has δύο ποίμνια. The Hebrew word does not occur elsewhere.
The Israelite army had adopted a division into two parts, perhaps from the arrangement which had been so successful in the previous attack.
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.28. And there came a man of God] R.V. And a man of God came near. See on 1 Kings 20:13 above.
This was probably a different person from the prophet of 1 Kings 20:13; 1 Kings 20:22.
and said] This is the same word in the original with that rendered ‘and spake’ just a few words before. It seems probable, as the verse makes equally good sense without it, that its repetition is due to an error of the scribe. Some versions do not represent it.
the Lord is God] R.V. a god, twice in this verse, thus bringing it into accord with the alteration in 23.
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.29. seven days] Perhaps there was some religious idea on the part of the Israelites connected with this time of waiting before they began the battle. After the promise of the man of God, the conflict would have a religious sanction and be entered on with confidence.
an hundred thousand footmen] The number is very large, but Josephus gives the same. If it be correct, the slaughter can hardly have been effected in any other way but by a panic in which these troops cut and trampled down one another.
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.30. and there a [R.V. and the] wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand of the [R.V. omits of the] men] The noun is definite in the original, and must refer to the city wall of Aphek. The narrative gives no clue to the cause of the disaster. But the divine promise of victory seems to warrant us in concluding that it was by divine interposition, through an earthquake it may be, that a destruction so tremendous was wrought among the enemy. The small number of Israel could not have availed even for the slaughter of those who fell in the battle.
And Ben-hadad fled] He was probably on or near the walls when the great disaster occurred, and in terror gat him to the more central parts of the city.
into an inner chamber] Literally, ‘a chamber within a chamber’. The LXX. has εἰς τὸν οἷκον τοῦ κοιτῶνος εἰς τὸ ταμιεῖον, ‘into the bedchamber, even into the innermost room’. Josephus says ‘an underground room’. What is meant is no doubt some room as far removed from the entrance as possible, so that he might be hidden for a good while at all events, and perhaps remain altogether undiscovered.
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.31. let us, I [R.V. we] pray thee] The change is made because the sentence is in other parts in the plural. The Hebrew נא is a mere particle employed to give emphasis to forms of entreaty, and has nothing that indicates whether one or more persons are speakers.
sackcloth on our loins] The garment of humiliation and mourning. Cp. Genesis 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31; 2 Kings 6:30; Isaiah 37:1-2.
ropes upon our heads] Probably meaning with ropes around the neck. No token of submission could be more expressive than this to indicate that Ahab might hang them if he pleased.
peradventure he will save thy life] A touch of Oriental character, which is destroyed by the LXX., which has ‘our lives’. The Eastern courtier, even at such a time, would speak of his master’s life and not his own. If the former were spared, the latter would be spared also, as a matter of course.
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.32. Is he yet alive? he is my brother] Ahab could not know whether Ben-hadad had perished under the falling wall, but as soon as he hears that he is safe, his sympathy is stirred for one of his own rank, and he uses the kingly form of address in speaking of him ‘my brother’. Cf. above on 1 Kings 9:13.
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.33. the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it] R.V. the men observed diligently and hasted to catch whether it were his mind. There are several difficulties in this verse. The italics of A.V. being omitted, we have an expression meaning ‘whether from him’. This the R.V. takes as ‘whether it were his mind’, his true intention, to regard Ben-hadad in this friendly way. The first verb is used several times of divination by augury (cf. 2 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 21:6). Hence the sense of ‘diligent observation’ (see Genesis 44:5, marg. A.V.). Some have taken the word as implying a favourable omen, and so rendered ‘they took it as a good sign’. But this further meaning is no necessary part of the sense. The other verb rendered ‘to catch’ is only found here, and has nothing in Hebrew, or even in the cognate languages, to explain it. The traditional Jewish explanation is ‘they hasted to get him to say clearly’. The LXX. and the Vulg. give the sense of ‘to catch’; the former translating by ἀνελέξαντο, the latter by ‘rapuerunt’. Josephus represents the messengers as taking a pledge (ὅρκους λαβόντες) from Ahab that there should be no harm done to their master. The R.V. seems to have improved a little upon the A. V., and the following words ‘Thy brother Ben-hadad’ shew on what point the Syrians were anxious for confirmation.
into the chariot] The war chariot in which Ahab had come forth to the battle. For the whole proceeding appears to have taken place immediately after the Syrian overthrow.
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.34. This verse is very singular from the omission of the names of both the speakers. It is clear enough from the sense, to whom each clause must be assigned, but the omissions are so unusual that one can hardly help suspecting some error in the text. The LXX. joins the two clauses as though they were spoken by the same person.
make streets for thee in Damascus] This must signify that a portion of Damascus should be set apart as belonging to Israel, and that dwellings might be erected there for the use of such Israelites as should have need to go thither. That such a privileged quarter in a foreign city might be of great use for purposes of commerce we can readily imagine, and more so in those days and lands of caravans than in the western world. Probably ‘Lombard Street’ in London was originally a privileged part of the city, where the wealthy Lombard merchants established themselves.
Then, said Ahab, I will send thee away] R.V., And I, said Ahab, will let thee go. The verb is rendered ‘to let go’ in the application made by the son of the prophets in 1 Kings 20:42. It is better therefore to translate it in the same way here, and in the following clause of this verse ‘and let him go’.
with this covenant] The agreement, namely, for the restoration of the taken cities, and for the privilege of occupying part of Damascus with houses for Israelites. The language sets before us the easy way in which Ahab allowed the advantages of the victory to slip from his grasp. It seems too that Ben-hadad did not fulfil all his part of the covenant (see 1 Kings 22:3), and this may have been in consequence of the behaviour of Ahab, which would make the compact appear of little moment.
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.35–43. A prophetic message rebuking Ahab because he had let Ben-hadad go (Not in Chronicles)
35. a certain man of the sons of the prophets] It is clear from what follows in the history (2 Kings 2) about the taking of Elijah into heaven, that in spite of Jezebel’s persecution, the prophets and their schools were not put down, but still flourished in various places. Josephus represents this ‘son of the prophets’ as Micaiah, spoken of in 1 Kings 22:8, and says that it was in consequence of this message about Ben-hadad’s deliverance that Ahab put him in prison. (Ant. viii. 14. 5.)
said unto his neighbour in [R.V. fellow by] the word of the Lord] The man to whom he made the request was probably one who like himself dwelt in one of the prophetic societies, and he ought therefore to have understood that there was some purpose in his companion’s request. Hence his sin in refusing to comply with it. ‘Fellow’ gives the idea of men of the same guild better than ‘neighbour’. The expression ‘by the word of the Lord’ is found in a similar passage (1 Kings 13:17), and is the more usual form.
Smite me] He wished to personate a man who had been engaged in the battle and had suffered something from the enemy.
the man refused] Such a refusal was utterly at variance with the character of a prophet, who was to be prepared to obey at all costs a message which came as the word of the Lord. His companion puts the case very strongly in the next verse when he calls his own request ‘the voice of the Lord’.
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.36. a lion] On the frequency of wild beasts in the Holy Land at this time, see above on 1 Kings 13:24. The incident here recorded is not without its importance as a comment on disobedience to God’s command, for which a punishment was just to be pronounced against Ahab.
Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him.37. so that in smiting he wounded him] The R.V. has adopted the literal rendering which stands on the margin of A. V. smiting and wounding him. Josephus specifies the nature of the wound θραύσαντος αὐτοῦ τὸ κράνιον ‘breaking his head’. This of course is to be inferred from what follows.
So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face.38. waited for the king by the way] He wished to intercept Ahab just as he was coming from his interview with Ben-hadad. A parallel this to the lion meeting the disobedient prophet as soon as he had departed from his fellow.
and disguised himself] With this action may be compared the assumed mourning garb of the widow of Tekoah (2 Samuel 14:2).
with ashes upon his face] R.V. with his head band over his eyes. The A. V. is the rendering of the Vulg. and Syriac, and is the result of taking אֲפֵר in the text as the same אֵפֶר which means ‘dust’, ‘ashes’. The LXX. has the true sense in τελαμών = a bandage, while the Chaldee translates it as ‘a veil’. When the proper meaning is given to the first word, the common rendering ‘eyes’ for the second can be brought in.
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.39. cried unto the king] The appeal for the king’s intervention is made with a view of getting free from the punishment which had been threatened to him.
a man turned aside] Evidently meant to indicate one of authority who had a right to command the services which he desires and to impose a penalty if they be not fulfilled. In the interpretation he represents Jehovah.
be missing] i.e. When I come to ask for the prisoner whom I trusted to your hands.
a talent of silver] The fine was large to mark the importance of the trust.
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.40. he was gone] The sentence would of course continue thus: ‘Let me however find grace and let not thy servant suffer for this neglect’.
So shall thy judgement be] i.e. As he laid down who entrusted his prisoner to thy care. The LXX. rendering here is utterly without sense, and it is impossible to conceive whence it was derived, ἰδοὺ καὶ τὰ ἔνεδρα παρʼ ἐμοὶ ἐφόνευσας.
And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets.41. the ashes away from his face] Here R.V. (as in 38) the head band from his eyes.
that he was of the prophets] It is clear that the prophets were distinguished by dress, or in some evident manner, so that they were easy of recognition. Perhaps the hairy prophetic mantle was the usual garb, and that on the present occasion the prophet had some wrapping thrown over that, which he laid aside along with the head band, and then the king recognised his character.
out of thy hand] The LXX. represents the pronoun, which is omitted in the Hebrew text, perhaps only by a slip of the scribe.
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.42. a man] R.V. the man. For the whole multitude, and of course the king above all, had been delivered into Ahab’s hand (see 1 Kings 20:28), and the victory was to be an evidence that Jehovah had fought for Israel.
appointed to utter destruction] R.V. devoted to destruction. This was the purpose for which Ben-hadad had been brought into Ahab’s hand. The literal rendering is ‘the man of my banning’, whom I have laid under a ban. It is used Isaiah 34:5 ‘the people of my curse’.
And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.43. heavy and displeased] Said again of Ahab in the next chapter (1 Kings 20:4) when he could not prevail upon Naboth to part with his vineyard. The first of these words is used in 1 Kings 21:5 to signify sadness of spirit, the second indicates anger arising from disappointment. It describes the sort of rage which Asa exhibited (2 Chronicles 16:10) when he put Hanani in prison for telling him that he had done wrong in relying on the help of the Syrians instead of trusting in the Lord.