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I Kings 20: God is Sovereign

Elijah has recovered from his despair and has returned to duty. He has recruited Elisha to help and eventually replace him. Elijah is to anoint new kings in Syria and Israel.

Now, in Chapter 20, we return to the situation in Israel (the northern rebellious tribes). Previously, we learned that King Asa of Judah engaged Syria to war against Israel for his own purposes. Syria is now back at Israel's door ready to cause trouble.

Ben-hadad Attacks and Demands

Ben-hadad, king of Aram (Syria), has joined with 32 other kings to besiege Israel. His price for peace is all of Ahab's gold, silver, most beautiful wives ad children.

Ahab agrees to the terms. "And says, I am yours; all that I have is yours."

Then Ben-hadad replied that he was sending in his servants to search everywhere and take everything they wanted. This time Ahab brought his elders and people together and showed how he was willing to concede but then Ben-hadad wanted more. His advisory told him to decline the deal.

Then Ben-hadad and Ahab taunted one another.

Now a prophet of the Lord appeared and asked Ahab to consider the multitude against him. Then he promised that the Lord would deliver him, to show him the Lord was God. then Ahab and the prophet discussed God's plan. Israel started with 7232 men, a small fraction of the armies they were up against.

And Ahab was to start the battle. Ben-hadad was drunk and didn't take it seriously. Israel slaughtered the Arameans and Ben-hadad fled.

The prophet followed up after the battle and told Ahab to go strengthen his military since the king of Aram would attack again at the turn of the year.

Meanwhile, Ben-hadad's advisors told him they only lost because the battle was in the mountains and Israel's gods were gods of mountains. Yikes. They said to take the fight to the plains. They also told him to replace the 32 kings with captains and muster an army to replace the one that was slaughtered. Horse for horse and chariot for chariot. Ben-hadad did as they counseled.

Round Two

As foretold by the prophet, Ben-hadad attacked at the new year. Israel was ready but a much smaller force than the Arameans.

The prophet approached Ahab again and told him that God would give him the victory- a.) because the Arameans claimed mountain gods gave him the victory last time, so he would disprove that, and b.) to show Ahab that the Lord was God.

I have to say...God is going to such great lengths for Ahab. I always had the impression that Ahab was a total baddie, but the Lord is giving him chance after chance after chance to see who the Lord really is and turn his heart to God- for the sake of his people.

As we are bracing ourselves for a new president who is against our most sacred and precious beliefs, we could despair; but we don't know what God is doing behind the scenes to change hearts and change outcomes. God is sovereign and in control. We have nothing to fear.

It is also worth noting that, so far in the text, the prophet never approaches Ahab and Jezebel. Her name doesn't appear in this story so far. Is it possible that the Lord knows her heart and that it would be useless to pursue her? Her heart being wholly devoted to Baal? Obviously just conjecture.

Starting in verse 29, they had come to a standoff for seven days (the Biblical number for perfection) and then they attacked one another. Israel's tiny army killed 100,00 Aramean foot soldiers in one day. (Once again, the thought of managing that kind of death, burial or body clean up, and economic damage from the loss of the male household leaders is incomprehensible.) The remaining 27,000 fled into the nearby city and the wall fell on them.

There's an application lesson for you...if you are doing the wrong thing, and you are opposing God, there is no safe place. You can't prevail against Him. And it's also worth bringing to mind that in the verse that reads that God "opposes the proud" (I Peter, I believe), the word "oppose" has a military connotation. So if you're proud, there's no safe place to hide...Food for thought. Yikes.

Also in verse 30, Ben-hadad hid in an inner chamber of the city. His servants suggested surrender, as Israel's kings had a reputation for being merciful.. His men surrendered on his behalf and Ahab called Ben-hadad his brother, so he came out and joined Ahab in Ahab's chariot.

Ben-hadad promised to give back all of the cities that had been taken in previous generations. He also promised that Ahab would Make streets in Damascus as he had made streets in Samaria. They made it a covenant and went their separate ways.

Please Strike Me.

Things take an odd turn in verse 35. A "certain man of the sons of the prophets", went looking for someone to strike him by the command of the Lord. The first person he commanded refused, so he was eaten by a lion. (Aslan?) 🙂 Then the second man did strike him.

Now this man is genuinely bruised, so he adds a bandage as part of a disguise and waits for King Ahab. He got Ahab's attention and brought to the king's mobile court a judgement to consider. He claimed he had been given a man to guard and threatened with a fine of a talent if he failed; but the man disappeared. The king's judgement was that the fine was clear. One talent for the failure.

Then the prophet removed the disguise and Ahab saw that it was one of the prophets, and not a soldier. The prophet told him that he had failed to kill the man that God had delivered into his hands. God's judgement on him was the same as he had given to the "failed soldier", Ahab would sacrifice his own life and that of his people.

The King went home sullen and vexed.

Wow. That's a tough one. Surprise twist ending to this passage. I was sort of "proud" or at least encouraged that Israel's kings, as wicked as they were, would have a reputation for mercy. However, I also see that Ahab called Ben-hadad his "brother". That's beyond mercy. That's collusion. Recognizing Ben-hadad as being as wicked as he. Evidence of this is that part of the covenant was Ben-hadad giving a commercial zone to Ahab. And God is just. I'm sure it was clear before the battle that Ahab was expected to end Ben-hadad's reign.

But I didn't see it at the time. I did not understand the prophet's parable until the explanation was provided.

I was also vexed by the man being eaten by the lion for failing to strike the prophet. I completely understand that we are to be totally obedient to the Lord, no matter what is asked of us. And He gifts us and prepares us for these tasks. But again...I know that God is just. There is more to this story that explains how the man could have known he was to do this seemingly sinful thing in the name of the Lord.

I feel little tendrils of fear crawling around, making me worry I'll miss an assignment from God. But the cure for that is:

  • God tells us not to fear, so He'll make a way
  • Be in the Word, so God has a clear way to speak to you
  • Be in prayer, so you can recognize His voice
  • Be open to the Holy Spirit inside you

If God commands, God provides and equips.


NIV Chronological Bible

An sidebar in my NIV Chronological Bible describes these events coming near the end of Ahab's reign.

The NIV sidebar goes on to explain that Aram (Syria) had led a coalition, which included Israel) against the Assyrians prior to these events. Soon after that combined battel, Aram and Israel became enemies. To me, that sheds some more light on Ahab finding it inside himself to spare Ben-hadad and call him, "brother." I still trust God's judgement that Ahab should have known better.

Ben-hadad is a common name in that region because Hadad was their god, so son of Hadad would be common. But it could be the same Ben-hadad that worked with Asa to get Israel to back off of their siege. However, there are other Ben-hadad, making some of the specific historical events uncertain.


Wiersbe offers a plausible reason why Ben-hadad attacked in the first place. David had defeated this region, which was called Syria in his day. But it had slowly gained its independence. Now, north of Aram were the Assyrians (different people even though their name is similar). They were aggressive and warring people and had taken Aram's trading routes. Ben-hadad waned Israel's trading route, Israel's men, and everything else he needed to strengthen himself against the Assyrians.

Wiersbe points out that Ahab should have cried out to God. Instead he capitulate. He was fine giving up his wives and children rather than seek God's face. Or maybe his heart was so hard, it just didn't occur to him. Either way, when Ben-hadad decided he'd send in men to search for more, Ahab had enough. That's so sad to me. "Take my wives and children...but you can't have the goodies I hid under my bed."

As always, I know I sound judge-y, but am confident God could reveal many many times I capitulated without crying out to him and was willing (or actually did) give up treasure so I could keep my tiny bubals. If you're not drawing close to Him daily in His Word and Prayer, you (and by you I mean I) will be vulnerable to terrible deals offered by the enemy.

Wiersbe points out that Ahab was willing to pass judgement on the "wounded soldier" and make him forfeit his life; but gave Ben-hadad a pass. Again, this King of Israel had all of the wrong priorities.

So What?

Israel (the 10 rebellious northern tribes) lasted hundreds of years past the split.

That's a great mystery to me.

God could have worked to reunite them.

God could have wiped any one of the many evil kings off the map.

God could have...

How many of us start that sentence every day.

We have alternate scenarios. Which is fine. God commands us to be thinkers. He wants us to know what we believe and why we believe it. Carrying out alternate scenarios as an intellectual action is one thing.

But most of us don't use it in that way. What we mean is, "God should have..."

And that's not ok.

We have to practice our faith in Him daily. Our reflex should be to give Him the benefit of the doubt and know there's more info that brings clarity we don't have.

As we round the corner of a new year with a pandemic still being used by the government to ruin our economy, big tech has shown their ability and willingness to control us, and we prepare to inaugurate a mean-spirited dementia patient and his socialist vice president...there are a lot of us tempted to start a few sentences with, "God coulda, shoulda..."

But He didn't. He is sovereign and allowed or created this reality.

And just like He kept working with a very flawed Ahab (to mixed results), he also works with all of us very flawed folks. Thank the Lord for His patience with us!

I know there is a day when I'm either going to have all of my questions and mysteries solved or I will be with Him and no longer care. But until then, the goal is to cling to Him and with His help, remain humble, obedient, and saved by grace.


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