False Mercy
1 Kings 20:30-43
But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and there a wall fell on twenty and seven thousand of the men that were left…

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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and the wall fell on twenty-seven thousand men who were left. Ben Hadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner room.

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