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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 20

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And Ben-ha'dad 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.

Ben-hadad the king of Syria. This monarch was the son of that Ben-hadad who, in the reign of Baths made a raid on the northern towns of Galilee (1 Kings 15:20). The 32 kings that were confederate with him were probably tributary princes. The ancient kings of Syria and Phoenicia ruled only over a single city, and were independent of each other, except when one great city, as Damascus, acquired the ascendancy; and even then they were allied only in time of war. The Syrian army encamped at the gates, and besieged the town of Samaria.

Verse 2

And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Ben-ha'dad,

Thus saith Ben-hadad,

Verse 3

Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.

Thy silver and thy gold is mine. The claim to the treasure is easily understood. Not so that made for the wives and children, and therefore it must be noticed, that he who obtained possession of the family of a king was considered in the East as possessing a title to be his legitimate successor, or feudal suzerain, (see the notes at 1 Kings 11:1-43.) To this message sent him during the siege, Ahab returned a tame and submissive answer, probably thinking it meant no more than an exaction of tribute. But the demand was repeated with greater insolence, and yet, from the abject character of Ahab, there is reason to believe he would have yielded to this arrogant claim also, had not the voice of his subjects been raised against it. Ben-hadad's object in these and other boastful menaces was to intimidate Ahab. But the weak sovereign began to show a little more spirit, as appears in his abandoning "my lord the king," for the single "tell him." and giving him a dry but sarcastic hint to glory no more until the victory is won.

Verses 4-10

And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 11

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.

Let not him that girdeth on his harness ... This is an old and now obsolete term for armour, derived from the French harnois, (see the notes at Exodus 13:18). Kindling into a rage at the cool defiance, Ben-hadad gave orders for the immediate sack the city.

Verse 12

And it came to pass, when Ben-ha'dad 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. As he was drinking he and the kings in the pavilions - booths made of branches of trees and brushwood. which were reared for kings in the camp, as they still are for Turkish Pashas or Agas in their expeditions (Keil, in loco; see also Chandler's 'Travails in Asia Minor,' p. 149).

Set yourselves in array - invest the city.

Verse 13

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.

Behold, there came a prophet unto Ahab. Though the king and people of Israel had highly, offended Him, God had not utterly cast them off. He still cherished designs of mercy toward them, and here, though unasked, gave them a signal proof of His interest in them, by a prophet's animating announcement, that the Lord would that day deliver the mighty hosts of the enemy into his hands, by means of a small, feeble, inadequate band. Conformably to the prophet's instructions, 232 young men went boldly out toward the camp of the enemy, while 7,000 more, apparently volunteers, followed at some little distance, or posted themselves at the gate, to be ready to reinforce those in front, if occasion required it. Ben-hadad, with his vassals and princes, were already, at that early hour-scarcely mid-day-deep in their cups; and though informed of this advancing company yet, confiding in his numbers, or it may be, excited with wine, he ordered; with indifference, the proud intruders to be taken alive, whether they came with peaceable or hostile intentions. It was more easily said than done: the young men smote right and left, making terrible havoc among their intended captors, and their attack, together with the sight of the 7,000, who soon rushed forward to mingle in the fray, created a panic in the Syrian army, who immediately took to flight. Ben-hadad himself escaped the pursuit of his victors on a fleet horse, surrounded by a squadron of horse-guards. This glorious victory, won so easily, and with such a paltry force opposed to overwhelming numbers, was granted that Ahab and his people might know (1 Kings 20:13) that God is the Lord. But we do not read of this acknowledgment being made, or of any sacrifices being offered in token of their national gratitude. (See Pye Smith's 'Scripture Testimony,' p. 353.)

Verses 14-21

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 22

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.

The prophet came to the king of Israel, and said. The same prophet who had predicted the victory shortly re-appeared, admonishing the king to take every precaution against a renewal of hostilities on the following campaign.

At the return of the year - i:e., in spring, when, on the cessation of the rainy season, military campaigns (2 Samuel 11:1) were anciently begun. It happened as the prophet had forewarned. Brooding over their late disastrous defeat, the attendants of Ben-hadad ascribed the misfortune to two causes-the one arose from the principles of paganism, which led them to consider the gods of Israel as local deities-`gods of the hills'-whereas their power to aid the Israelites would be gone if the battle was maintained on the plains. The war-chariots of the Syrians would have full scope for action there; while the Hebrews were utterly deficient in that species of force (cf. Judges 5:8; 1 Samuel 13:19-22). Probably, also, the Syrians supposed that as Canaan was a mountainous country, the Hebrews were fond of worshipping in high places, and that as their law was given from the summit of a mountain, the God of Israel was 'a god of the hills.' The other cause to which the Syrian courtiers traced their at Samaria, was the presence of the tributary kings, who had probably been the first to take fight; and they recommended 'captains to be put in their rooms' [ pachowt (H6346)], see 1 Kings 20:24 (cf. 1 Kings 20:16: see the notes at 1 Kings 20:15). Approving of these recommendations, Ben-hadad renewed his invasion of Israel the next spring, by the siege of Aphek, in the valley of Jezreel (cf. 1 Samuel 20:1 with 28:4), not far from Endor.

Verses 23-26

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 27

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.

Like two little flocks of kids Goats are never seen in large flocks or scattered like sheep; and hence the two Like two little flocks of kids. Goats are never seen in large flocks or scattered, like sheep; and hence, the two small; but compact divisions of the Israelite force are compared to goats, not sheep. Humanly speaking, that little handful of men must have been overpowered by numbers. But a prophet was sent to the small Israelite army to announce the victory, in order to convince the Syrians that the God of Israel was omnipotent everywhere-in the valley as well as on the hills. And accordingly, after the two armies had pitched opposite each other for seven days (i:e., according to the Oriental mode of reckoning, including only parts of the first and last days: cf. Matthew 12:40; Luke 2:21; also 1 Kings 20:29), they came to an open battle: 100,000 Syrians lay dead on the field, while the fugitives took refuge in Aphek, and there, crowding on the city walls, they endeavoured to make a stand against their pursuers; but the old walls giving way under the incumbent weight, fell, and buried 27,000 in the ruins. Ben-hadad succeeded in extricating himself, and with his attendants, sought concealment in the city, fleeing from chamber to chamber; or, as some think it, the chamber of a chamber - i:e., a harem, the most private apartment of a house. The Septuagint has: eiseelthen eis ton oikon tou koitoonos eis to tameion, entered into the house of the bedchamber; into the closet]; but seeing no ultimate means of escape, he was advised to throw himself on the tender mercies of the Israelitish monarch.

Verses 28-31

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 32

So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Ben-ha'dad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother.

They girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel. It was considered an act of deep humility and submission for a vanquished foe to approach the conqueror with a sword suspended from his neck. A modern instance, which occurred on the storming of Bagdad by the Turks, 1638, is related in Thevenot's 'Travels,' Part 1:, p. 289. In the case of a defeated army, or remnant of an army, having resolved to beg for quarter the vanquished general sought an interview with the vizier or prime minister, by whom he was introduced to the king, and in token of his throwing himself and his remaining soldiers upon the victor's clemency, he appeared with a black coarse scarf about his neck, a badge of mourning, and a sword fastened to it by the hilt. The ropes used by Ben-hadad and his companions in misfortune were probably adopted for want of scarfs, or as extraordinary tokens of affliction. "On their heads" [ bªraa'sheeyhem (H7218). So the Septuagint, epi tas kefalas autoon]. The Arabic version has 'necks,' and this conformable to the Oriental custom. Captives were dragged by ropes round their necks, bound together in companies, or in a line, the loop of the rope being passed round each neck, and their hands tied behind their backs, as is depicted on the monuments of Egypt, also on the Persian sculptures at Behistun. 'The whole of this demeanour,' says Sir John Malcolm ('History of Persia'), 'is a mode of begging clemency the most humble, and is considered by proud and barbarous men the most ignominious. It signifies, I approach you as a criminal, and bring myself to submit to whatever terms you may impose.'

Verse 33

Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy brother Ben-ha'dad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Ben-ha'dad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 34

And Ben-ha'dad 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.

Streets ... in Damascus - implying that a quarter of that city was to be assigned to Jews, with the free exercise of their religion and laws, under a judge of their own. The provision was designed for the benefit of trading and commercial colonies of Jews who might be resident there. 'This privilege of having streets in a foreign capital,' says Harmer, 3: pp. 489-492, (quoting from Knollis' 'History of the Turks'), 'gave them liberty to have not only houses, but in each an oven, a mill, a bagnio, weights and measures for wine, oil, and honey, if they thought fit, and also to judge causes among themselves, together with as great a jurisdiction over all those that dwelt in their streets and houses, of whatever nation they might be, as the king of Jerusalem had over others. May we not believe that the same, or nearly the same, franchises and regalities the father of Ahab had granted to Ben-hadad's father to obtain peace, and that Ben-hadad, on this fatal turn of his affairs, proposed to grant to Ahab in Damascus a quarter for Jewish subjects to live in, which he should possess, and enjoy the same jurisdiction over them as he did over the rest of his kingdom? Such a power in Samaria, and such a making over of a part of it to him, in 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; and the proposing to give Abab a like honour in Damascus was a proof of the most abject adulation in Ben-hadad.'

So he made a covenant with him, and sent him away. This misplaced kindness to a proud and impious idolater, so unbecoming a theocratic monarch, exposed Ahab to the same censure and fate as Saul, (1 Samuel 15:9, etc.) It was in opposition to God's purpose in giving him the victory.

Verse 35

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.

Smite me. This prophet is supposed (1 Kings 20:8) to have been Micaiah. The refusal of his neighbour to smite the prophet was manifestly wrong, as it was a withholding of necessary aid to a prophet in the discharge of a duty to which he had been called by God, and it was severely punished, as a beacon to warn others (see the notes at 1 Kings 13:2-24). In general, it may be remarked, that the very actions and words of a prophet during the prophetical ecstasy were symbolical. In the case under notice, the refusal of the man who was asked to smite the excited prophet was morally good, on the supposition that the thing had not been commanded by the Spirit, and that the men knew not but the prophet might be disordered in his intellect. But yet it was a wrong refusal, as the person applied to, being of course a friend who was cognizant of the prophetic office of Micaiah, ought to have complied with the request, and the man was, on account of refusal, slain by a lion. The other individual, who obeyed the commandment by smiting the prophet so that he wounded him, did well, because that action served the purpose of the prophet, whose stroke symbolically represented that Ahab should be smitten; and the unbelief of the former, followed by his destruction, represented the unbelief of the king, who should, therefore, perish in a similar manner. The prophet found a willing assistant, and then, waiting for Ahab, leads the king unconsciously, in the parabolic manner of Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-31), to pronounce his own doom, (see the notes at 1 Kings 21:1-29.)

Verses 36-38

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 39

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.

A talent of silver - 342 pounds sterling.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-kings-20.html. 1871-8.
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