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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Kings 20

 

 

Verse 1

BEN-HADAD’S WARS AGAINST AHAB, 1 Kings 20:1-34.

1. Ben-hadad the king of Syria — He reigned at Damascus, and was probably son of the king of the same name whom Asa hired with the treasures of the temple to smite the cities of Israel, and trouble king Baasha. 1 Kings 15:18-20.

Thirty and two kings — Not confederate kings of neighbouring independent nations, but vassal kings, or lords of single cities and their surrounding country, which were tributary to Ben-hadad. 1 Kings 20:24 shows the power and authority Ben-hadad wielded over them.

Horses and chariots — Many of the latter had probably been obtained from Egypt in the days of Solomon. 1 Kings 10:29.


Verse 3

3. Thy silver and thy gold is mine — This demand was somewhat ambiguous and uncertain, and Ahab seems to have understood it as merely a proposition of Ben-hadad to raise the siege and go away from Samaria on condition of receiving certain amounts of gold and silver, and the goodliest of his wives and children, leaving Ahab to make the selection.


Verse 4

4. I am thine, and all that I have — He pusillanimously agrees to make himself and his whole kingdom tributary to Ben-hadad.


Verse 5

5. The messengers came again — Either Ahab has misunderstood the meaning of his former message, or else the king of Syria is emboldened by the pusillanimity of Ahab to make a stronger demand.


Verse 6

6. I will send my servants — To this humiliation Ahab will not submit. He will allow no searching of his palace and his city by foreign emissaries, and no violent seizure of any of his goods, for this would be the same as to let the enemy come in and freely plunder all Samaria.


Verse 7

7. Seeketh mischief — Has his heart set on bringing disastrous evils on this kingdom.

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Verse 10

10. If the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls — That is, I will bring such a host that all the dust of the city of Samaria will not be sufficient to give each soldier a handful. This threat involved the idea of reducing the entire city to dust and ashes. Some have incorrectly taken שׁעלים, handfuls, to mean soles of the feet, and have explained: The dust of Samaria will not be sufficient room for the soles of the feet of the multitude of soldiers. Josephus explains it that Ben-hadad threatened to bring so vast an army that, by only each man of his army taking a handful of earth, they would raise a mound higher than the walls of Samaria. But this has no support in the Scripture text.


Verse 11

11. Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast — This is a proverb whose force and aptness in this case was clear. Thus the Romans say: “Sing not the triumphal song before the victory.” Our translators supply harness where, perhaps, armour would be a better word, and better still to supply nothing, but render: Let not him that girds himself boast like one that ungirds. The military girdle is frequently alluded to in Scripture, and its use is shown in the annexed cut. It was not a mere sword-sash, but served also both to sustain and defend the body.


Verse 12

12. Pavilions — War tents, covered either with canvass or with the boughs of trees.


Verse 13

13. There came a prophet — From one of the schools of the prophets, sent, probably, by Elijah. Compare 1 Kings 20:35.


Verse 14

14. Young men of the princes of the provinces — These princes of the provinces were the local governors of the several districts in the kingdom, who had been called into Samaria by order of the king to help defend the city against Ben-hadad. Their young men were their servants or attendants. Jehovah will show Ahab, and also Ben-hadad, that “the battle is not to the strong,” and these two hundred and thirty-two youths shall be mightier than the boasted numbers of the king of Syria.

Who shall order the battle — Literally, Who shall bind on the battle? That is, Who shall begin the fight?


Verse 15

15. Seven thousand — Some have supposed that these were the seven thousand that had not bowed the knee to Baal. 1 Kings 19:18. That, however, can only be regarded as a pleasing conjecture. Keil thinks that in both places seven thousand denotes the whole covenant people, but with this distinction, that in 1 Kings 19:18, it is the actually elect of Israel, while here it only represents the elect.


Verse 17

17. The young men… went out first — That is, went out in front of the seven thousand, which followed, ready to pursue the flying Syrians. Compare 1 Kings 20:19-20.

Ben-hadad sent out — To learn what this sudden sally from Samaria meant.


Verse 18

18. Take them alive — In the folly of his drunken insolence he was confident of victory, not dreaming of any power greater than his own.


Verse 22

22. The prophet — The same prophet that foretold the victory. 1 Kings 20:13.

Return of the year — When kings were wont to go forth to battle. See note on 2 Samuel 11:1.


Verse 23

23. Their gods are gods of the hills — They speak after the manner of idolaters, and show their polytheistic notions of religion. They, perhaps, knew something of Israel’s receiving the law at Mount Sinai, and of the temple on Mount Moriah at Jerusalem and of the recent miracle on Mount Carmel, and had noticed the worship on the high places: and now, on their overwhelming defeat among the mountains of Samaria, they attribute the loss chiefly to those gods of the hills whom Israel worshipped. The heathen also had hill gods, and it seems to have been a prevalent belief that each district had its tutelary divinities. Compare 2 Kings 17:26.


Verse 24

24. Put captains in their rooms — Officers more skilled in warfare than these kings have shown themselves to be. The vassal kings were probably the first to become panic stricken, and to fly before the youths of Israel.


Verse 25

25. Like the army that thou hast lost — Or, like the fallen army. Surely Syria must have been rich in soldiers and horses and chariots, to gather so soon another such army as Ben-hadad boasts of in 1 Kings 20:10.


Verse 26

26. Aphek — Many suppose this to have been at the modern Fik, a little to the east of the Sea of Galilee; but Keil observes: “This Aphek lies not only very high, but has also a very difficult mountain pass, where the Syrians, who feared the hill-gods of the Israelites, would not have come to an engagement with them. If we reflect, besides, that the Syrians had advanced the first time as far as Samaria, we cannot doubt that this time they advanced as far as the Aphek known by the victory over Saul in the plain of Esdraelon.” 1 Samuel 29:1.


Verse 27

27. Were all present — Rather, as in the margin, were victualled, supplied with necessary provisions.


Verse 28

28. There came a man of God — This prophet was evidently not identical with the one mentioned in 1 Kings 20:13; 1 Kings 20:22. Thus does one of these prophets confirm and strengthen the sayings of the other.


Verse 29

29. A hundred thousand — This number is in keeping with the immense numbers which are represented as following the king of Syria. Compare 1 Kings 20:10; 1 Kings 20:25; 1 Kings 20:27.


Verse 30

30. A wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand — “This tremendous destruction was caused, as I suppose, by an earthquake; and, after having seen the effects of an earthquake in Safed and Tiberias, I can easily understand and readily credit this narrative. We are not required to limit the catastrophe to the falling of a single wall; or, if this be insisted upon, we have only to suppose that it was the wall of the city, and a little consideration will convince any one familiar with Oriental fortifications that it might overwhelm a whole army. Those ramparts were very lofty and massive. An open space was always left along their base, and this would be packed full and tight, from end to end, by the remnants of Ben-hadad’s mighty host, and escape from the falling towers would be impossible.” — Thomson.

An inner chamber — Margin, more literally, a chamber within a chamber; that is, the innermost hiding place he could find. Keil takes the meaning to be that he fled from one room to another.


Verse 31

31. Ropes upon our heads — Tokens of the most abject submission and humiliation.


Verse 32

32. He is my brother — Ahab’s vanity was flattered by this humiliation of his royal foe; and the king, who is subject to such vanity, will be likely to do many foolish things.


Verse 33

33. Did diligently observe Augured, divined; took as a favourable omen. That which immediately follows should be rendered, and they hastened and received assurances from him, and said, Thy brother Ben-hadad! It was to them surprising condescension and kindness in Ahab thus to speak of the king of Syria, and they repeat his words in astonishment. יחלשׂו occurs here only. According to Gesenius it means they pressed, they urged; but Furst, more correctly, they received a definite assurance.


Verse 34

34. The cities — See at 1 Kings 15:20. Streets for thee in

Damascus — Whole streets and houses to be known and honoured as the Israelitish quarter, and something like the bazaars of modern Oriental cities. Compare “the bakers’ street.” Jeremiah 37:21. Ben-hadad’s father had such a Syrian quarter in Samaria.


Verse 35

AHAB’S REPROOF, 1 Kings 20:35-43.

35. A certain man of the sons of the prophets — A member of one of the schools of the prophets. The head of one of these schools was a spiritual father. See note on 1 Samuel 10:5.

His neighbour — A fellow-student among the sons of the prophets.

Smite me — Here we first meet with an example of those symbolical actions of the prophets which occur so often in the subsequent history of Israel and Judah. This demand was made in the word of the Lord. It was positively required by Jehovah, and was to be symbolical. The wonderful interposition of Divine power, by which the Syrians had been defeated and Ben-hadad made a captive, was a sufficient indication to Ahab that God had appointed the king of Syria to utter destruction. 1 Kings 20:42. His letting him go, therefore, was a disobedience of the Divine will.

The man refused to smite him — And so became a representative of Ahab in his refusal to obey the word of the Lord. The prophets mentioned 1 Kings 20:13; 1 Kings 20:22; 1 Kings 20:28 had said enough to show Ahab that when his royal enemy fell into his power, he must not covenant with him, but smite and utterly destroy him. But his making a covenant with him, and sending him away, was a refusal to smite him.


Verse 36

36. A lion shall slay thee — As in the case of the disobedient prophet of Judah. 1 Kings 13:24. Both of these examples show how fearful a thing it is for a prophet to disobey the word of the Lord; and Ahab also is to find, like Saul, (compare 1 Samuel 15:26,) that it is equally fearful for a king to disobey.


Verse 38

38. With ashes upon his face — Rather, with a bandage over his eyes. אפר, a bandage, a fillet or head band. Septuagint, τελαμων . He disguised himself with this head-covering that the king might not recognize him as one of the prophets, (compare 1 Kings 20:41,) and he had procured himself smitten and wounded that his parable (1 Kings 20:39) might have the greater semblance of reality.


Verse 39

39. He cried unto the king — His measure to elicit from Ahab his own condemnation is like that of Nathan to make David pronounce judgment on himself. Compare 2 Samuel 12:1-12.

A talent of silver — About one thousand seven hundred dollars. A sum, says Keil, “not to be procured by a poor man, so that he must certainly have answered with his life, for the prisoner escaped.”


Verse 40

40. Thyself hast decided — As thou hast let thy prisoner go, thy life must go for his life. Here Ahab, just as David, (2 Samuel 12:5-6,) pronounces his own condemnation.


Verse 42

42. A man whom I appointed to utter destruction — Literally, the man of my curse: that is, Ben-hadad, whom God had in judgment devoted to destruction. Compare Leviticus 27:29.


Verse 43

43. Heavy and displeased — He was vexed, troubled, and felt the burden of a sense of Divine wrath upon him; but he was still refractory and rebellious. He went home sulky and sour.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-kings-20.html. 1874-1909.

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