1 Kings 20:1-11
And Benhadad the king of Syria gathered all his host together: and there were thirty and two kings with him, and horses, and chariots…
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."
II. THE SPIRIT OF INJUSTICE. This we see -
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.
III. THE SPIRIT OF CRUELTY. This appears -
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.