1 Kings 20
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
In human histories so much is made of brilliant uniforms, scientific discipline, skilful manoeuvres, exploits, surprises, and successes, that readers are carried away with "the pomp and circumstance" of so-called "glorious war." In the text we have the other side; and we are reminded of the appeal of James: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your own lusts that war in your members?" (James 4:1.) Conspicuous amongst these is -

I. THE SPIRIT OF WAR, We see this -

1. In Ben-hadad's message (ver. 3).

(1) We do not understand this to be a demand from Ahab for the actual surrender to Ben-hadad of his "silver" and "gold," "wives" and "children." Else it would be difficult to see any material difference between this first message and that which followed (ver. 6).

(2) The meaning seems to be that Ben-hadad would hold Ahab as his vassal, so that Ahab should retain his wealth, wives, and children only by the sufferance and generosity of his superior. He would have the king of Israel reduced to the condition of the "thirty and two kings" who, with their subjects and fortunes, appear to have been at his service (compare ver. 12 with ver. 24).

2. In his confident boasting.

(1) He boasts of the vastness of his army. "All the people that follow me." The Hebrew is given in the margin, "at my feet," suggesting subjection and submission.

(2) Of the certainty and ease with which such an army may carry victory. "The gods do so to me and more also if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me." They need not be content with handfuls of dust when they can fill their hands with the most valuable things in Samaria.

(3) This was the boasting which Ahab rebuked by the use of what had probably been a proverbial expression: "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." This caution might be profitably considered by those who are engaged in spiritual conflicts: "Be not high minded, but fear."


1. In Ben-hadad's requisitions.

(1) In those of his first message right is outraged. "Thy silver and gold are mine." Taking this demand in the sense of Ahab's coming under villenage to Ben-hadad, the claim was iniquitous. Man has rights of property and freedom, which, unless they are forfeited to law by crime, should ever be held most sacred. The injustice of slavery is horrible.

(2) The second message went even farther. It threatened open robbery. Robbery not only of the monarch, but of his subjects also. A starving wretch who steals a loaf of bread may be convicted as a felon; but warrior who plunders kingdoms - a Napoleon - is glorified as a hero! Rut how will these weigh together in the balances of the sanctuary?

2. In his principles of appeal.

(1) Justice is not named. How often is justice named in warfare where it has no place! The Syrian king was more outspoken than many modern war makers.

(2) Mercy is quite out of the question. Yet in modern times wars against savages have been trumpeted as benignities, because of the civilization which, it is presumed, will follow in their wake!

(3) Ben-hadad did not live in these favoured times, so the one principle to which he appeals is might. "He has the men," and he will have "the money tool" In this he has had too many successors in the kingdoms of civilization.

(4) Not only must the covetousness of the king be gratified; so also must the host "at his feet;" and since the "dust of Samaria" will not satisfy them, Samaria must be sacked and pillaged. One injustice begets another.


1. In the provocations.

(1) Observe the "putting" of Ben-hadad's requisitions. No attempt is made to spare the feelings of Ahab, but, on the contrary, the language is studiously framed to lacerate. "Whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes" - note, not what is pleasant in the eyes of the spoilers - "they shall put it in their hand and take it away."

(2) Witness also the peremptoriness. "Tomorrow about this time."

2. In the struggles.

(1) Men are in conflict. This is not a strife of elements without feeling, which is terrible enough, but of flesh and blood and nerves with exquisite sensibilities, with susceptibilities of acute pain and suffering.

(2) The combatants are armed. That they may put each other to torture they are provided with swords, spears, arrows; and in these clays of civilization, with fire-arms of various kinds. Elephants, camels, horses, and other animals are pressed into the dreadful service.

(3) Survey the battlefield after the strife. Men and animals dead and dying, mingled; gaping wounds; mangled limbs, sickening horrors I What pictures of cruelty are here!

(4) Reflect upon the homes plunged into grief and poverty entailed through the loss of breadwinners; and add the sequel of pestilences and famines. Surely we should pray for the advent of that peaceful reign of righteousness which is promised in the Scriptures of prophecy. - J.A.M.

I. AHAB'S EXTREMITY (vers. 1-11). God's goodness to the froward is shown by His bringing them into circumstances where they may prove and know Him. The clouds they "so much dread are big with mercy."

1. The land is overrun and the capital besieged. The fruit of sin is difficulty and disaster. The land and the life which will not acknowledge God will know at last what it is to be bereft of His protecting care and the ministrations of His goodness. These are the eternal portion only of those whom they raise and bless.

2. His degradation (vers. 2-4). In his own city he has to listen and assent to the terms that rob him at one stroke of all that is dearest and best. The foe has no mercy, and Ahab neither strength nor dignity. Those who forsake God, and shut themselves out from the experience of His truth and mercy, will prove the vanity of every other trust.

3. His helplessness (vers. 5-11).

(1) Compliance with Ben-hadad's first demands does not save him from further degradation. Those who rely only on the world's compassion lean on a reed which will break and pierce them.

(2) Ahab's defiance (ver. 11) was an appeal to chance. He had no clear confidence that Ben-hadad's threatenings would come to nothing. Forgetfulness of God is weakness for the battle of life, and darkness amid its dangers. Are we remembering Him? Are we stirring ourselves up to lay hold on God?

II. GOD'S HELP (vers. 12-21).

1. Its compassionateness. The help came unsought, and when, indeed, there was no thought of seeking it. How often has He thus prevented us with the blessings of His goodness!

2. Its timeliness. The final attack was about to be made (ver. 12). The progress of the siege had no doubt alarmed Ahab, and led to negotiation. Now it needed but one more effort and the Syrian hosts would be surging through the streets of Samaria. Within the city there was only a terrible fear, or dull, defiant despair. But now, as the blow is about to fail, the shield of God sweeps in between. The Lord knows]:[is time to help, and, by helping, to reveal Himself and bind us to Him.

3. Its fulness.

(1) Israel is glorified. The weakest part of the army achieves the victory.

(2) Ahab is honoured (ver 14). The victory is gained under the leadership of the man whom God might have righteously destroyed.

(3) The triumph is complete (vers. 20, 21), Ben-hadad a fugitive, and his army a prey. The glory of God is manifested most of all in His mercy. We cannot contemplate our deliverance from danger and the fulness of our triumph in Christ without feeling upon our soul the recreative touch of the hand of God. - J.U.

The notable answer of the king of Israel to the insolent king of Syria, "Let not him that girdeth on the harness boast himself as he that putteth it off," came to Ben-hadad when he was drinking wine with the thirty and two kings that followed him. He at once gave orders to his servants to set themselves in battle array. While the enormous host which "filled the country" (see vers. 25, 27) disposed itself to attack the city, the men of Israel, who were but a handful, naturally trembled for the issue, at this juncture God interposed in the manner related here, and thereby asserted the general truths, viz. -


1. Here He showed His hand.

(1) He sent a prophet. Jarchi says it was Micalah, the son of Imlah, while others think it was Elijah in disguise; but it is useless to speculate on this point. We are more concerned with the purport of His message, which was to promise victory to Israel, and to indicate how that victory should be organized, so that in the issue Jehovah might be acknowledged.

(2) The hand of God was seen not only in the prophet's foreknowledge of events, but also in the wisdom of the adjustments by which they were to be brought about. For the victory was organized according to instructions of the prophet, purporting also to be from the Lord. Who but the Lord could have foreseen that at noon Ben-hadad and his kings would be so drunken as to be unfit and indisposed to take their posts of command? Who else could have foreseen that Ben-hadad would have been so foolish as to order the sortie to be taken alive? For thereby the Syrians were put to a disadvantage, which enabled the "young men of the princes of the provinces" and those who followed them to slay "every one his man," and throw the invading host into confusion.

(3) The power of God also was evident when the disparity of numbers is considered. An army of seven thousand Israelites could never without supernatural aid, have demoralized and routed the formidable hosts of Syria.

(4) And that God was in this victory could not be reasonably doubted, since this was not an extraordinary event by itself, but one of a series of such events; therefore it could not have been an accident. It was preceded by three years of drought which began and ended according to the "word" of Elijah, with the miracle on Carmel.

2. By so showing His hand He evinced that He is ever working.

(1) When events are ordinary, men are disposed to see in them natural causes only; but extraordinary events force upon their consideration the fact of a superior agency behind these causes.

(2) This truth is the more evident when the ordinary are recognized in the extraordinary. Thus God ordered the battle. He appointed the general, disposed the attack which was to assure the victory, and timed everything so to fit in with circumstances as to bring about the promised result.

(3) With God there is no essential difference between things ordinary and extraordinary. It is simply a question of proportions. For natural causes are all second causes, and would have no existence but for the First Cause. A miracle is but the unusual action of the First Cause upon the second causes; but in the usual action, God is none the less present and necessary to the result.


1. He humbles the proud is righteousness.

(1) Defeat in any case is humiliation. To Ben-hadad after his confident boasting it was eminently so. He would remember the lesson, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." Let us observe it.

(2) The manner was an aggravation of the defeat. It was accomplished by two hundred and thirty-two "young men of the princes of the provinces," who are by some thought to have been a militia raised by provincial magistrates, and by others, with perhaps better reason - for the number seems too small to answer the former description - the attendants of such of those princes as were then in Samaria. It was intensely humiliating that a company of such combatants should rout a formidable army. God makes the weak confound the mighty.

(3) Ben-hadad would be mortified to think how his overweening confidence, together with his drunkenness, had directly contributed to his humiliation. He was too drunk to appear at the head of his army, but not too drunk to find his way to the cavalry to facilitate his flight. "There is but one step from the sublime to the ludicrous!"

2. He shows long-suffering in mercy.

(1) The judgment upon Ben-hadad was mercy to Ahab. It delivered him from the hand of a cruel oppressor. It gave him another warning and space for repentance.

(2) Did Ahab deserve this? Certainly not, while he submitted to be led by Jezebel, and that notwithstanding his experience of the drought and the miracle on Carmel. God is long suffering in mercy.

(3) But there were "seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which had not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him" Jarchi would identify these with the "seven thousand" mentioned in verse 15. Probably some of that seven thousand went to compose this, and for their sakes it may have been that God had so signally interposed. Let us never lose sight of God. Let us discern His hand in nature, providence, grace. Let us never provoke His justice by pride, by rebellion. Let us respect His long-suffering by repentance. Let us throw ourselves upon His mercy for salvation, for help. - J.A.M.

No man is so wise that it may not be to his advantage to consider advice; but in listening to advice we may be led astray. There are two classes of advisers, viz., those who are influenced by the "wisdom of this world," and those who are influenced by the "wisdom from above." Of both we have examples in the text.


1. It is not destitute of sagacity.

(1) It has its maxims of prudence.

(a) Ben-hadad's counsellors would not have him underrate his enemy. The army they advise him to raise for the invasion of Israel must not be inferior to that which had been lately vanquished (ver. 25). Let us not underrate our spiritual foes.

(b) Neither would they have him underrate the quality of his soldiers. They do not admit that his army was fairly beaten, but speak of "the army that thou hast lost," or "that fell from thee." In this also they were right, for if God had not helped Israel the Syrians would not have been routed. In all our spiritual conflicts let us fight under the banner of Jehovah.

(2) It has its lessons of experience.

(a) Ben-hadad's counsellors lay emphasis here - "And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his place." Why remove the kings? Because in the last war they were "drinking themselves drunk" when they should have been at their posts, and the army, without officers, became confused and demoralized. Trust not the kings again (see Psalm 118:9; Psalm 146:8).

(b) "Put captains in their rooms." Let the army be commanded by men of ability and experience. Pageants are of no use in times of exigency.

2. But its sagacity is mingled with folly.

(1) Because the motives of the wicked are vicious.

(a) In his former war Ben-hadad's impulse was pride. The insolence of his demands evidenced this (vers. 3, 6). But what wisdom is there in pride?

(b) Though mortified by defeat, that pride remained, and was now moved by the spirit of revenge: "Surely we shall be stronger than they." But what wisdom is there in resentment?

(c) Beyond these base feelings the desire for plunder seems to have moved the Syrian. But where is the wisdom in a king becoming a common robber?

(2) Because they put themselves into conflict with the Almighty.

(a) The Syrians formed an unworthy idea of the Elohim of Israel when they localized and limited Him to the hills. Palestine is a hilly country, and its cities and high places were generally on hills; and probably in the hill country of Samaria the cavalry and chariots of Syria were of little service. (See Psalm 15:1; Psalm 24:3; Psalm 87:1; Psalm 121:1.)

(b) In the proposal to give Israel battle in the plains the Syrians now set Jehovah at defiance.


1. It is far reaching.

(1) God sees the end from the beginning. We should therefore seek His counsel and guidance.

(2) He forewarns His people. He sent His prophet to the king of Israel to inform him that the king of Syria would come up against him at the return of the year. He forewarns us of the things of eternity.

2. It is prudent.

(1) The prophet advised Ahab to prepare for the event. "Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see what thou doest." We should ever deport ourselves as in the presence of spiritual foes.

(2) God helps those who help themselves.

3. It is unerring.

(1) Events foreshown by God will surely come to pass.

(2) According to the advice of the prophet, "at the return of the year," viz., "at the time when kings go forth to battle" (see 2 Samuel 11:1; 1 Chronicles 20:1), probably answering to our March, which has its name from Mars, the god of war, Ben-hadad "went up to Aphek to fight against Israel." There were several cities of this name: one in the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:30); another in Judah (1 Samuel 4:1); a third in Syria (2 Kings 13:17). The last is probably that referred to here.

4. It is profitable.

(1) This follows from its other qualities. The guidance which is "prudent," "far reaching," and "unerring" must be "profitable."

(2) But further, those who follow that guidance so commend themselves to God that He directly interposes in their behalf. There was a faithful "seven thousand" in Israel (1 Kings 19:18).

(3) If in conflict with those who prefer a worldly policy, they not only have God on their side, but they have Him with them against their enemy.

(4) God helped Ahab against Ben-hadad, not that Ahab deserved it, but that Ben-hadad had to be punished (ver. 28. See also Ezekiel 36:22). The "two little flocks of kids" could not have slain in one day "one hundred thousand men" unless God had helped them. The hand of God also was in the falling of that wall by which "seven and twenty thousand" perished. Let us faithfully pursue the policy of right. Let us never permit the expediency of a moment to swerve us from this. Truth abides. - J.A.M.

I. GOD MULTIPLIES HIS BENEFITS TO THE SINFUL (vers. 22-30). Ahab makes no public acknowledgment of God's mercy, nor, so far as appears, has it been suffered to change in any way his attitude towards Jehovah; yet God crowns him with loving-kindnesses.

1. Delivered from one danger, he is warned of another. "Go, strengthen thyself, and see what thou doer," etc. The enemy, baffled for the time, will return again. The intimation was a call not only to prepare his hosts and strengthen his cities, but, beyond all else, to seek His face who had delivered him already, and was able to deliver him again. We are warned of dangers that we may strengthen ourselves in God. There is love in the warning, and vaster love in the offered strength.

2. When the danger comes he is assured of success (ver. 28). The most needful preparation had been neglected; Ahab had not sought God. But God again seeks him. Mark the unwearied, all-forgiving love of God.

3. The Lord fights for him. In vain did the Syrians change their ground and remodel their army. In vain did they surround with their myriads the two small bands of Israel. They are given as stubble to the swords of Israel, and the very walls of the city into which they flee for safety become their destruction. God's hand is so marked in His deliverances, that the sinful cannot fail to see the wondrous love that is behind them. They bring us face to face with "the depths of the riches" of His mercy.

4. The purpose of the mercy. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord." It is the revelation of God, and is meant to. be the birth hour of the soul. The goodness of God may be mentioned with seeming gratitude, but it. has been barren of result unless it has brought us into the presence of the King. The Divine Love has blessed us in vain unless it has become the light of the Lord's face.

II. HOW THE MERCY WAS MADE OF NO EFFECT. TO Ahab the mercy brought only deeper condemnation. It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for Chorazin and Bethsaida, which saw the goodness of God in Christ, and yet repented not.

1. The mercy was frustrated by prayerlessness. Though warned of the danger, he does not with lowly confession of sin and unworthiness implore God's direction and help. There is no breaking up of the fallow ground that it may receive the blessing as the seed of joy and life in God.

2. By thanklessness. When the blessing came it might still have saved him. The benefits with which God had loaded him might have bowed him in lowly acknowledgment of his multiplied iniquities and long impious rebellion. The goodness of God leads us to repentance only as we pass in before the Lord through the gates of praise.

3. By blindness to the indications of God's will. The multitude slain in the battle, the falling of the wall upon those who escaped, the overthrowing of every defence till the king, the head and centre of the whole evil, was reached, might have shown that God purposed to make an end for the time of the Syrian power, and give a full deliverance to Israel. The fruit of the victory was blighted by Ahab's blindness and folly. To cooperate with God in working out our own salvation, we must read and faithfully fulfil His purpose.

4. By vanity and worldly policy. He enjoys for a brief moment the Bower which God has given, becomes the benefactor and brother of the man whom the Lord had doomed, and makes a covenant with him. The trust which God had desired should wholly rest upon Himself he reposes in his foe. The hour of prosperity, which should be our covenant time with God, is too often made the occasion for worldly alliances, which lead us to forget Him and all we owe to Him.


1. The message came through swift and stern judgment. Disobedience meant death (vers. 35, 36). The Divine threatenings come to us through terrible judgments.

2. Ahab was self condemned. The voice of conscience is on God's side. "If our heart condemn us," etc.

3. His own life should answer for the life he spared. Letting go God's enemy, and keeping back his hand from God's righteous though terrible work, he destroyed himself. No cross, no crown. The awful price which a soul must pay for present ease and pleasure: "He that loveth his life shall lose it."

4. The shadow of God's wrath swallows up the worldling's peace (ver. 43); and it falls ever deeper till the end come. - U.

The first army with which Ben-hadad invaded Israel was defeated with "great slaughter," and the king saved himself by flight. The defeat of the second was even more complete, when 127,000 men were destroyed and the king had to surrender at discretion. But Ahab, for his false mercy in sparing the life of Ben-hadad, brought judgment upon himself and upon his people.


1. That righteousness dooms the incorrigible to death.

(1) "The wages of sin." The incorrigible will certainly find this in the "damnation of hell" (Psalm 9:17).

(2) Their time also in this life is shortened either by the sword of the magistrate or by the judgment of God. They get sufficient space for repentance; but the space so given, if misimproved, aggravates the terror of their death. Protracted probationary existence under such conditions, therefore, becomes a doubtful mercy.

(3) It is also the reverse of mercy to their contemporaries, because the influence of the wicked is mischievous. It is, therefore, a considerate judgment that they do "not live out half their days" (Psalm 55:23).

(4) The difference between good and evil cannot be too strongly marked. The good must have no fellowship with the wicked. In eternity their separation is complete (Matthew 25:46; Luke 16:26). The more perfect the separation here, the more of heaven upon earth will the good enjoy; and the more of hell upon earth, the wicked.

2. Ben-hadad was obnoxious to that doom.

(1) He was guilty of the highest crimes against humanity. In his offensive wars he was not only a public robber, but also a wholesale murderer. But murder at least is held to be a capital crime (see Genesis 9:5; Exodus 21:12, 14; Leviticus 24:17. See also Matthew 26:52; Revelation 13:10).

(2) He was guilty likewise of the highest crimes against God. He was not only a gross idolater, but also a blasphemer of Jehovah. He localized and limited Him as "Elohim of the hills" and defied Him in the plains. But such blasphemy also was punishable with death (Leviticus 24:11-16).

(3) He committed all these offences in the land of Israel, where they were capital crimes, and the God of Israel delivered him into the hand of Ahab that he might suffer the penalty.

3. But Ahab opposed his mercy to the righteousness of God.

(1) But is there no mercy for the penitent? Certainly there is. In repentance there is no encouragement to evil; on the contrary, in it evil is condemned. Faith in Christ is the perfection of repentance since therein only can we be effectually delivered from sin. Repentance must be genuine.

(2) Ben-hadad's repentance was not genuine. His servants "girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live." (Sir John Froissart relates that the inhabitants of Calais acted in a similar manner when they surrendered their city to Edward III. in 1346). All this was intensely mortifying to Ben-hadad, whose tone was so different when he thought himself in the position of a dictator (see vers. 3-6). The haughtiest in prosperity are often the meanest in adversity.

(3) But here is no show of repentance towards God. He confesses that he deserves to be hanged for invading the land, but not a word about his blasphemy against the Elohim of Israel. Yet Ahab granted him his life.


1. Because thereby they encourage evil.

(1) If sin be committed with impunity it will soon lose its character. Men are naturally inclined to sin, and are restrained chiefly by fear of its penalties. If these are remitted, offences against the law of God will come to be justified.

(2) The estimate of goodness would consequently be lowered, for we judge of qualities by contrasts. Heaven is seen in its strongest light as the antithesis of hell Remove from sin its sinfulness, and goodness will be distorted into weakness or folly.

(3) Such confounding of right and wrong must be fatal to all law and order, and tend to inaugurate the wildest confusion and the deepest misery. All this flows from the principle of false or indiscriminate mercy.

2. Hence Ahab was held to be an accomplice with Ben-hadad.

(1) He had an unworthy sympathy with. this blaspheming monarch. "Is he yet alive? He is my brother." "Brother king, though not brother Israelite. Ahab valued himself more on his royalty than on his religion" (Henry). Would Ben-hadad have called Ahab his brother had he been victorious?

(2) "He caused him to come up into the chariot." This was a sign of cordial friendship (see 2 Kings 10:15, 16). "The friendship of the world is enmity against God." So instead of imposing terms, he accepted those proposed by Ben-hadad (ver. 34).

(3) "So he made a covenant with him and sent him away." The form of these covenants was to cut a sacrifice in twain, and the persons entering into the compact walked between the pieces and were sprinkled, together with the articles of agreement, with the blood, to express that if they failed to fulfil their pledge God might treat them as the sacrifice had been treated.

3. Ahab in consequence was doomed to die.

(1) This was signified to him by another prophet. He is by the Jews supposed to have been Micaiah, and with some reason perhaps (compare 1 Kings 22:8).

(2) This prophet, after the example of Nathan (2 Samuel 12.), made Ahab pronounce his own sentence (vers. 37-42). In the doom of the prophet who, for disobedience to the word of the Lord in not smiting his fellow, was destroyed by the lion, Ahab could also read his doom for not obeying the word of the Lord when he should have smitten ben-hadad to death (vers. 35, 36).

(3) The prophecy came true. Ahab was slain fighting against the Syrians to recover Ramoth in Gilead (1 Kings 22:85). And by the hands of the Syrians, under Hazael, the children of Israel suffered severely (see 2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 10:32, 33).

(4) In anticipation of these things Ahab "went to his house heavy and displeased." Heavy at the tidings and displeased with the prophet. It would have been more to his advantage had he gone to the house of God in contrition for the sins of his wicked life. - J.A.M.

Ben-hadad II. was seeking his revenge for a defeat inflicted on him the preceding year by the Israelitish army, led by a band of 232 young noblemen. He had disciplined his army, and reofficered it, no longer allowing money or family influence to supersede military skill. Everything that organization could accomplish or superstition dictate (ver. 23) had been done, but all proved in vain; for the contest was not simply between Ben-hadad and Ahab, but between the heathen and the living God who had been blasphemously challenged. Describe Ben-hadad's successful appeal to Ahab after the defeat. Why was it not commendable (as it was, for example, after the siege of Calais) to spare the vanquished? Because the motive was not pity, but policy; and the criminal allowed to escape had avowedly fought as Jehovah's foe. It is sometimes "expedient that one man should die for the people." Ben-hadad's death would have been the salvation of Ahab, who in the next war fell mortally wounded; it would have ensured a lasting peace, as this was the campaign of the Syrian king, rather than of the Syrian people; and it would have seriously shaken the confidence of the heathen in their gods. The king let his prisoner go to his own undoing. It was this sin which was now rebuked. Picture Ahab returning from the field flushed with victory. He is accosted by a man who has been sitting wounded and dusty beside the road. He is a disguised prophet, probably Micaiah, acting a parable. Says he, in effect: "I have come from the battle. In the hour of victory, the captain, whom I acknowledge I was bound to obey, gave me in charge a prisoner of note, saying that if he escaped my life should answer for it. I admit that I failed, though not designedly; but while thy servant was busy here and there he was gone. Ought I to suffer for that slight negligence?" And when Ahab answered, "Yes," the disguise was flung off, and the daring prophet appeared, saying, "In pronouncing my doom, thou hast pronounced thine own." [Read vers. 42 and 43.] The prophet set before the king a picture of his neglect of opportunity which is worthy of our study. We observe -

I. THAT OPPORTUNITY IS GIVEN OF GOD. "There is a time forevery purpose under heaven." Examples:

(1) In the operations of nature. There is a suitable time for the gathering of fruit. It may not come when you wish it or expect it; but neglected then, the fruit is spoiled. A farmer may in the spring be "busy here and there" with other things, and so neglect to sow his seed. The opportunity does not recur.

(2) In the cultivation of mind. The indolent schoolboy never gets again the leisure and opportunity for study; and if he did, his capacity for acquiring knowledge has decreased. Contrast the flexibility of mind of the lad with that of the man in middle life.

(3) In the acquisition of material good. Energy, promptitude, and diligence displayed at a critical moment make a man a millionaire. "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune," etc.

(4) In the consecration of life. No father is content with the physical beauty of his child if mentally he is dead - an idiot; nor is our heavenly Father satisfied to see mental vigour accompanied by spiritual death. He looks for a change, which is a passing from death unto life, and for this He gives opportunity. Observe, secondly -

II. THAT OPPORTUNITY IS GRANTED TO ALL. If you would discover this,

(1) Consider your outward circumstances. The helpfulness of a Christian home; inherited tendencies; direct religious teaching; exemplars of holy life; recognition of God at the family altar; services frequented from childhood. If these leave you unblessed, they leave you under heavier condemnation. Soon the home may be broken up, and the encouragements to good may vanish, and with unavailing regret you will say, "As thy servant was busy here and there, they were gone."

(2) Consider your inward condition. There are seasons when it is easier to avail ourselves of religious advantages. Youth is such a season, for then impulses are generous, susceptibilities are tender, affections free. Under the influence of bereavement or personal illness religious convictions are experienced. In and through these the Holy Spirit works. Such a tame may be like the morning twilight which brightens into day, or like the evening twilight that deepens into night. Beware of letting convictions slip!

III. THAT OPPORTUNITY IS NEGLECTED BY MANY. TWO causes of this may be suggested:

(1) The pressure of business. The man on the battlefield was busy enough, but he failed to remember his special charge. Nothing he did was wrong in itself, but it became a wrong when it led to the neglect of obvious duty: and if his life was sacrificed because of that neglect, the advantage gained by other activity was of no value. Apply this, and show the difficulty in the way of meditation and prayer, created by the multitudinous claims upon our activity.

(2) The effect of frivolity. Some people are "busy here and there" in another sense. You never know where to find them. Their character is indeterminate; their information is incomplete; their work is wanting in persistence and thoroughness; and their whole life is frittered away, they scarcely know how. Each day comes to such an one, saying, "Here is something for you to do for God, something for you to think of for your spiritual good;" and, having delivered its message, the day falls back into the darkness of night. Again and again the message comes in vain, until the last day approaches, then vanishes, and eternity is at hand! The work is left undone; and over the lost opportunity he can only say, "While thy servant was busy here and there, it was gone." CONCLUSION. - 1. Apply to Christians who are neglecting work for God. 2. Apply to the careless who are neglecting decision for God. - A.R.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com

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