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This chapter relates the siege of Samaria by the king of Syria, and his insolent demand of Ahab’s wives, children, and riches, ( 1 Kings 20:1-12), the sally made out upon him, at the direction of the prophet, and the route made of the Syrian army, ( 1 Kings 20:13-21), the return of the Syrian army the next year, when there was a pitched battle between them and Israel, in which the former were entirely defeated, ( 1 Kings 20:22-30), the peace Ahab made with the king of Syria, ( 1 Kings 20:31-34), and the reproof one of the sons of the prophets gave him for it, which made him very uneasy, ( 1 Kings 20:35-43).
Ver. 1 . And Benhadad the king of Syria gathered all his host together , etc.] This was Benhadad the second, the son of that Benhadad, to whom Asa sent to help him against Baasha, ( 1 Kings 15:18) and there were thirty and two kings with him ; these were heads of families, so called, and at most governors of cities under Benhadad; petty princes, such as were in the land of Canaan in Joshua’s time: and horses and chariots ; how many is not said: and he went up and besieged Samaria, and warred against it ; he went up with such an intent, but had not as yet done it in form; what moved him to it cannot be said precisely, whether an ambitious view of enlarging his dominions, or because the king of Israel paid not the tribute his father had imposed upon him, (see 1 Kings 20:34), however, so it was, through the providence of God, as a scourge to Ahab for his impiety.
Ver. 2 . And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel, into the city , etc.] Who there remained, and attempted not to go forth and meet him, and stop his progress, though he must have passed great part of his dominions to come to Samaria: and said unto him, thus saith Benhadad ; by them, his messengers, as follows. Ver. 3 . Thy silver and thy gold is mine , etc.] Not of right, but reckoning it as good as in his hands, Ahab not being able to resist him: and thy wives also ; for it seems he had more than Jezebel: and thy children ; which were many, for he had no less than seventy sons, ( 2 Kings 10:1), even the goodliest are mine : some aggravate this, as if his view was to commit the unnatural sin with his male children, when in his possession.
Ver. 4 . And the king of Israel answered and said, my lord, O king , etc.] So he said to Benhadad’s messengers, representing him, as acknowledging his sovereignty over him: according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have : which he understood of holding all that he had of him, by giving him homage, and paying him tribute; not that he was to deliver all his substance, and especially his wives and children, into his hands.
Ver. 5 . And the messengers came again , etc.] From Benhadad: and said, thus speaketh Benhadad, saying, although I have sent unto thee, saying : at the first message: thou shalt deliver me thy silver, and thy gold, and thy wives, and thy children ; into his possession, and not as Ahab understood it, that he should be his vassal, and pay a yearly tribute for his quiet enjoyment of them; yet even this he would not now abide by, growing still more haughty upon the mean submission of Ahab, as by what follows.
Ver. 6 . Yet I will send my servants unto thee tomorrow about this time , etc.] He gave him twenty four hours to consider of it: and they shall search thine house, and the houses of thy servants ; the royal palace, and the houses of the noblemen, and even of every of his subjects in Samaria: and it shall be, that whatsoever is pleasant (or desirable) in thine eyes, they shall put it in, their hand, and take it away ; not be content with what should be given, but search for more; and if any in particular was more desirable to the possessor than anything else, that should be sure to be taken away; which was vastly insolent and aggravating. Ver. 7 . Then the King of Israel called all the elders of the land , etc.] His poor sneaking spirit was a little aroused with the last message, and therefore called a council of the elders of the people upon it, which was a piece of wisdom in him: and said, mark, I pray you, and see how this man seeketh mischief ; nothing less than the entire ruin of the nation: for he sent unto me for my wives, and for my children, and for my silver, and for my gold, and I denied him not ; in the sense he understood him, which was, that he was to be a vassal, and tributary to him, for the sake of holding these, which yet was very mean; but he wanted to have these in hand, and not them only, but the pillaging of all his subjects.
Ver. 8 . And all the elders and all the people said unto him , etc.] They were unanimous in their advice: hearken not [unto him], nor consent ; promising, no doubt, that they would stand by him.
Ver. 9 . Wherefore he sent unto the messengers of Benhadad , etc.] Upon the advice the elders had given him, and encouraged thereby, though in a poor sneaking manner after all: tell my lord the king, all that thou didst send for to thy servant at the first I will do ; owning him as his lord, and himself as his servant, and promising to grant his first demand, though so insolent, in the sense he understood him, of paying tribute to him for it: but this thing I may not do ; to have not only all put into his hands, but his and his servant’s houses to be searched and pillaged, because the elders of his people would not agree; and yet he seems to speak as if he himself would have submitted to it, but was restrained by his council: and the messengers departed, and brought him word again ; reported to Benhadad the answer they received from Ahab.
Ver. 10 . And Benhadad sent unto him, and said , etc.] That is, to Ahab: the gods do so unto me, and more also ; bring greater evils upon me than I can think or express: if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me , signifying that he made no doubt of it of reducing it to dust by numbers of men he should bring with him, which would be so many, that if each was to take an handful of dust of the ruins of Samaria, there would not enough for them all; which was an hectoring and parabolical speech, uttered in his wrath and fury.
Ver. 11 And the king of Israel answered and said , etc.] Very mildly and very wisely: tell him, let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off ; that is, he that prepares for the battle as he that has got the victory; the sense is, let no man triumph before the battle is over and the victory won; the events of war are uncertain; the battle is not always to the strong.
Ver. 12 . And it came to pass, when Benhadad heard this message (as he was drinking, he and the kings in the pavilions) , etc.] Though it was at noon, or before, ( 1 Kings 20:16), which shows that he and they were addicted to intemperance: that he said unto his servants ; some of the principal officers of his army: set yourselves in array ; prepare for battle, betake yourselves to your arms, invest the city at once, and place the engines against it to batter it down: and they set themselves in array against the city ; besieged it in form, at least prepared for it; for it seems after all that it was not properly done.
Ver. 13 . And, behold, there came a prophet unto Ahab king of Israel , etc.] Supposed by the Jewish writers to be Micaiah the son of Imlah, ( Kings 22:9) one of those perhaps that Obadiah hid in the cave, and now is sent out publicly on an errand to Ahab: saying, thus saith the Lord, hast thou seen all this great multitude ? considered what a vast number Benhadad’s army consisted of: behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day ; as great as it is: and thou shalt know that I am the Lord ; and not Baal, who can save by few as well as by many, and from a great multitude.
Ver. 14 . And Ahab said, by whom ? etc.] Knowing he had no army with him sufficient to go out with against the Syrian army: and he said, thus saith the Lord, even by the young men of the princes of the provinces ; either such, as Kimchi thinks, who were brought up with him; or, as others, the sons of governors of provinces, who were kept as hostages, that their fathers might not rebel; neither of which is likely: but rather the servants of such princes who waited on them, and lived delicately and at ease, and were not trained up to military exercise, even by these should the victory be obtained: then he said, who shall order the battle ? begin the attack, we or they? or who shall conduct it, or be the general of the army, go before it, and lead them on? Ahab might think, being an idolater, that the Lord would not make use of him, or otherwise who could be thought of but himself? and he answered, thou ; thou must be the commander, go forth with the army, and make the attack upon the enemy.
Ver. 15 . Then he numbered the young men of the princes of the provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty two , etc.] A very small number to go forth against so great an army as the host of the Syrians, and these raw unexperienced young men: and after them he numbered all the people, even all the children of Israel, being seven thousand ; which could never be the number of all the people in the land, nor even in the city of Samaria, who were able to bear arms; but it must mean such who were willing to go out to war on this occasion: and the number being just the same as of those that bowed not the knee to Baal, has led the Jewish commentators to conclude that these were the men that were numbered for war; but it is not likely that they were all in Samaria, or that none but those would go to war, though it must be owned the number is remarkable.
Ver. 16 . And they went out at noon , etc.] From Samaria, the two hundred and thirty two young men, and the 7000 Israelites, openly, with great spirit and courage, fearless and undaunted; but it is not said that Ahab went out at the head of them; it seems as if he did not by what is said, ( 1 Kings 20:21), but Benhadad was drinking himself drunk in the pavilions (or booths, or tents), he, and the kings, the thirty two kings that helped him ; who either were his subjects, or his tributaries, or confederates; being secure, and having nothing to fear from Ahab, he and they gave themselves up to carousing and drinking, even at noon, and so destruction came upon them unawares, as on Belshazzar.
Ver. 17 . And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first , etc.] From Samaria, before the 7000 did: and Benhadad sent out ; of his pavilion, a messenger or messengers to his sentinels, to know what news, and how matters stood, whether Ahab had sent any message, signifying his compliance with his terms: and they told him, saying, there are men come out of Samaria ; but upon what account they could not say.
Ver. 18 . And he said, whether they be come out for peace , etc.] To propose terms of peace: take them alive ; make them prisoners, which was contrary to the laws of nations: or whether they be come out for war, take them alive ; he made no doubt of their being easily taken; but he would not have them be put to death, that he might examine them, and know the state of things in Samaria, and what Ahab intended to do, that he might take his measures accordingly.
Ver. 19 . So these young men of the princes of the provinces came out of the city , etc.] First, as before observed, and marched forwards towards the Syrian camp: and the army which followed them ; consisting of 7000 men.
Ver. 20 . And they slew everyone his man , etc.] The Syrian army, or at least a body of men detached from them, met them, opposed them, and fought them, and they slew of them 7232 men; as many as they themselves were: and the Syrians fled ; not expecting such a rebuff: and Israel pursued them ; to make some further advantage of their victory: and Benhadad the king of Syria escaped on an horse, with the horsemen ; with two couple of horsemen, as the Targum; with these to guard him he galloped away as fast as he could for his life.
Ver. 21 . And the king of Israel went out , etc.] Of Samaria; when he saw the Syrians fleeing, and his army pursuing, he went forth, perhaps, with more forces, who were now willing to join with him; Josephus says, Ahab had another army within the walls: and smote the horses and chariots ; that is, the men that rode on horses; and in chariots, the Syrian cavalry: and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter ; how many were slain is not said; but the Jewish historian says they plundered the camp, in which were much riches, and great plenty of gold and silver, and took their chariots and horses, and returned to the city of Samaria.
Ver. 22 . And the prophet came to the king of Israel , etc.] The same that came to him before: and said unto him, go, strengthen thyself ; exhorted him to fortify his cities, especially Samaria, and increase his army, that he might be able to oppose the king of Syria: and mark, and see what thou doest : observe his moral and religious actions, and take heed that he did not offend the Lord by them, as well as make military preparations: for at the return of the year the king of Syria will come up against thee ; about the same time in the next year, at the spring of the year, when kings go out to war, (see 2 Samuel 11:1).
Ver. 23 . And the servants of the king of Syria said unto him , etc.] His ministers of state, his privy counsellors: their gods are gods of the hills, therefore they were stronger than we ; and beat them in the last battle; this notion they might receive from what they had heard of Jehovah delivering the law on Mount Sinai to Moses, and of the miraculous things done lately on Mount Carmel, as well as of their worship being in high places, especially at Jerusalem, the temple there being built on an hill, as was Samaria itself, near to which they had their last defeat; and this notion of topical deities very much obtained among the Heathens in later times, some of which they supposed presided over rivers, others over woods, and others over hills and mountains f425 : so Nemestinus the god of woods, Collina the goddess of hills, and Vallina of valleys f426 ; and Arnobins makes mention of the god Montinus, and Livy of the god Peninus, who had his name from a part of the Alps, so called where he was worshipped; and there also the goddess Penina was worshipped; and Lactantius speaks of the gods of the mountains the mother of Maximilian was a worshipper of; and even Jupiter had names from mountains, as Olympius, Capitolinus, etc. and such was the great god Pan, called mountainous Pan f430 : but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they ; and prevail over them, and conquer them.
Ver. 24 . And do this thing , etc.] Also take this further piece of advice: take the kings away, every man out of his place : for being brought up delicately, they were not inured to war, nor expert in the art of it; and being addicted to pleasure, gave themselves to that, and drew the king into it, which they observed was the case before, though they did not care to mention it; and if they were tributaries or allies, they would not fight as men do for their own country: and put captains in their rooms ; of his own people, men of skill and courage, and who would fight both for their own honour, and for the good of their country.
Ver. 25 . And number thee an army like the army that thou hast lost , etc.] Raise an army of an equal number, which they supposed he was able to do: horse for horse and chariot for chariot ; as many horses and chariots as he had before: and we will fight against them in the plain ; where they could make use of their horses and chariots to greater advantage than on hills and mountains, (see Judges 1:19) and surely we shall be stronger than they ; and beat them: and he hearkened unto their voice, and did so ; took their counsel, and prepared an army, and placed captains in it instead of kings.
Ver. 26 . And it came to pass at the return of the year , etc.] In the spring, or autumn, as some think, (see Gill on “ 2 Samuel 11:1”) that Benhadad numbered the Syrians ; took a muster of his army, to see if he had got the number he had before: and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel ; not that in Judah, ( Joshua 15:53), rather that in Asher, ( Joshua 19:30), but it seems to be that which Adrichomius places in Issachar, near to the famous camp of Esdraelon, or valley of Jezreel, where it is probable the king of Syria intended to have fought; the battle; and some travellers, as he observes, say f432 , the ruins of that city are still shown in that great camp or plain, not far from Gilboa, to the east of Mount Carmel, and five miles from Tabor; according to Bunting f433 , it was fourteen miles from Samaria; but it may be Aphaca near Mount Lebanon, and the river Adonis f434 , is meant.
Ver. 27 . And the children of Israel were numbered, and were all present , etc.] The same as before; the two hundred and thirty two young men of the princes of the provinces, and 7000 of the people, not one was missing: and went against them ; out of Samaria, towards Aphek: and the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids : being few and weak, the two hundred and thirty two young men in one body, and the 7000 in another: but the Syrians filled the country: with their men, their horses, and their chariots.
Ver. 28 . And there came a man of God , etc.] The same as before, ( Kings 20:13,22) or had come before the little army went out to meet the Syrians; though he might go to Ahab when encamped, for his encouragement: 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 ; (see Gill on “ 1 Kings 20:23”). therefore will I deliver, all this great multitude into thine hand ; not for Ahab’s sake would the Lord do this, who does not appear thankful to God for the former victory, nor to be reformed from his idolatry, and the better for it, but for the honour of his own name, which had been blasphemed by the Syrians: and ye shall know that I am the Lord ; both of hills and valleys, the omnipotent Jehovah, the only true God.
Ver. 29 . And they pitched one over against the other seven days , etc.] Very probably the Israelites pitched upon an hill, and the Syrians waited till they changed their position, not caring to fall upon them, though so very supernumerary to them, for the reason before given: and so it was, that in the seventh day the battle was joined ; or they that made war drew nigh, as the Targum, and both sides engaged in battle: and the children of Israel slew of the Syrians 100,000 footmen in one day ; which was a prodigious slaughter to be made by so small an army; the hand of the Lord was visible in it.
Ver. 30 . But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city , etc.] Which perhaps was in the hands of the Syrians, and was designed for a retreat for them, should they be beaten: and there a wall fell upon twenty seven thousand of the men that were left ; not slain in the battle; here again the Lord might be seen, who, as Abarbinel observes, fought from heaven, and either by a violent wind, or an earthquake, threw down the wall upon them just as they had got under it for shelter: and Benhadad fled, and came into the city into an inner chamber ; or, “into a chamber within a chamber” f436 , for greater secrecy.
Ver. 31 . And his servants said unto him , etc.] Being reduced to the utmost extremity; for if he attempted to go out of the city, he would fall into the hands of the Israelites, and there was no safety in it, the wall of it being fallen down; and it could not be thought he could be concealed long in the chamber where he was, wherefore his servants advised as follows: behold, now, we have heard that the kings of the Israel are merciful kings ; not only the best of them as David and Solomon, but even the worst of them, in comparison of Heathen princes, were kind and humane to those that fell into their hands, and became their captives: let us, I pray thee ; so said one in the name of the rest: put sack cloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads ; and so coming in such a mean and humble manner, and not with their armour on, they might the rather hope to have admittance; so, the Syracusans sent ambassadors to Athens, in filthy garments, with the hair of their heads and beards long, and all in slovenly habits, to move their pity f437 ; and go out to the king of Israel : and be humble supplicants to him: peradventure he will save thy life ; upon a petition to him from him; to which the king agreed, and sent it by them. Ver. 32 . So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads , etc.] Signifying they came to surrender themselves to him as his captives and prisoners, and he might do with them as seemed good to him, hang them up if he pleased, for which they brought ropes with them, as a token that they deserved it, (see Isaiah 20:2-4), and came to the king of Israel, and said, thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee let me live : he that a little while ago insolently demanded his wives, and children, and silver, and gold, as his property, now is his humble servant, and begs, not for his crown and kingdom, but for his life: and he said, is he yet alive? he is my brother ; which was intimating at once, that not only they might expect he would spare his life, who seemed to be so glad that he was alive, but that he would show him more favour, having a great affection for him as his brother; this was a very foolish expression from a king in his circumstances, with respect to one who had given him so much trouble and distress, and had behaved with so much haughtiness and contempt towards him.
Ver. 33 . Now the men did diligently observe whether anything would come from him , etc.] That would be a good omen to them, and encourage them to hope for success; they observed him as diligently by his words and behaviour as soothsayers do when they look out for a lucky sign; for the word is sometimes used of divining f438 : and did hastily catch it ; as soon as it was out of his mouth, and laid hold on it to improve it to advantage, being wiser than him: and they said, thy brother Benhadad ; him whom thou callest thy brother; he is thy brother, and is alive; this they caught, and expressed it, to observe whether it was a slip of his tongue, and whether he spoke it heartily, and would abide by it, or whether he would retract it: then he said, go ye, bring him ; meaning from the city to the place where he was: then Benhadad came forth to him ; out of his chamber, upon the report of his servants: and he caused him to come up into the chariot ; to sit and converse with him there. Ver. 34 . And [Benhadad] said unto him , etc.] The word Benhadad is not in the original text, and some, as Osiander and others, have thought they are the words of Ahab last spoken of; which seems most likely, who not only took Benhadad into his chariot, but in his great and superabundant kindness, though the conqueror, said to him what follows: the cities which my father took from thy father I will restore ; that is, those cities which Omri, the father of Ahab, had taken from the father of Benhadad; for as Omri was a prince of might and valour, ( 1 Kings 16:16-18,27), it is more probable that he took cities from the king of Syria, than that the king of Syria should take any from him, and which Ahab in his circumstances weakly promises to restore: and thou shall make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria ; which confirms it that it is Ahab, and not Benhadad, that is speaking; for Benhadad’s father never had any power nor residence in Samaria, whereas Omri, the father of Ahab, had, he built it, and made it his royal seat; and, in like manner, Ahab promises Benhadad that he should have his palace at Damascus, the metropolis of Syria, and exercise power there, and over all Syria; whereby Ahab renounced all right he had to the kingdom, and any of the cities of it: for by “streets” are not meant those literally so called, for the making of which there was no reason; nor markets to take a toll from, as some, supposing them to be the words of Benhadad; nor courts of judicature, to oblige them to pay it who refused it, as others; nor fortresses to keep them in awe; but a royal palace, as a learned critic has observed, for Benhadad to reside in; this Ahab gave him power to erect, and added: and I will send thee away with this covenant ; or promise now made: so he made a covenant with him ; confirmed the above promises: and sent him away ; free, to enjoy his crown and kingdom, for which folly and weakness Ahab is reproved by a prophet, ( 1 Kings 20:42).
Ver. 35 . And a certain man of the sons of the prophets , etc.] Which the Jews take to be Micaiah, and so Josephus f440 , which is probable; the same that had been with Ahab more than once; and, whoever he was, it is not unlikely that he was the same, since Ahab knew him when his disguise was off, ( 1 Kings 20:41), said unto his neighbour, in the word of the Lord, smite me, I pray thee ; told his neighbour, that by the command of God he was ordered to bid him smite him, so as to wound him: and the man refused to smite him ; being his neighbour, and perhaps a fellow prophet, and having an affection for him.
Ver. 36 . Then said he unto him, because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the Lord , etc.] In not smiting him; which, if he was a prophet, he must know how great an evil it was to disregard or disobey what was said by a prophet in his name; he must be inexcusable: 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 ; which may seem severe, yet being an act of disobedience to the command of God, by a prophet of his, was punishable with death.
Ver. 37 . Then he found another man, and said, smite me, I pray thee , etc.] This is not said to be his neighbour, nor one of the sons of the prophets, but a rustic man, and so stuck not to take him at his word: and the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him ; in his face; made some incision in his flesh, broke the skin, and fetched blood of him; perhaps somewhere about his eyes, by what follows: this he got done to him, that he might look like a wounded soldier, and thereby get the more easily to the speech of Ahab.
Ver. 38 . So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way , etc.] As he went from Aphek, the place where the battle had been fought, to Samaria, his royal seat: and disguised himself with ashes upon his face ; the Targum is, he covered his eyes with a vail, or piece of cloth, which he wrapped about his head, as men do when they have got a wound or bruise in such a part, which seems very probable; for had he besmeared his face with ashes, clay, or dust, or any such thing, he could not so easily have got it off, as in ( 1 Kings 20:41).
Ver. 39 . And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king , etc.] With a loud voice, signifying he had something to say unto him, at which he stopped: and he said, thy servant went out into the midst of the battle ; this was not real, but fictitious, an apologue, fable, or parable, by which he would represent to Ahab his own case, and bring him under conviction of his folly, just as Nathan dealt with David: and, behold, a man turned aside ; a superior officer in the army: and brought a man unto me ; he had made a prisoner of: and said, keep this man ; do not let him escape: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver ; if he let him go willingly, or by any means he should get out of his hands, then he should either die for it, or be fined a talent of silver, which of our money is three hundred and seventy five pounds; and to this it seems he agreed.
Ver. 40 . And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone , etc.] Employed in one thing or another relative to the battle, his prisoner committed to his care made his escape: and the king of Israel said unto him, so shall thy judgment be, thyself hast decided it ; the sentence was plain and open against him, that either he must die or pay the money, for he himself had agreed to it.
Ver. 41 . And he hasted, and took away the ashes from his face , etc.] Took off the linen cloth from his eyes, unveiled or unmasked himself: and the king of Israel discerned him, that he was of the prophets ; he knew him again, having seen him once or twice before; otherwise there could be nothing in his face that could discover him to be a prophet, rather he was to be known by his habit.
Ver. 42 . And he said unto him, thus saith the Lord , etc.] He spake not his own sense, and in his own words, but in the name of the Lord, for which he had authority, that it might have the greater weight with Ahab: because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction ; meaning Benhadad; or “the man of my anathema or curse” f441 ; cursed of God for his blasphemy of him, and devoted by him to ruin on that account; or “of my net” f442 , being by his providence brought into a net or noose at Aphek, out of which he could not have escaped, had not Ahab let him go: therefore thy life shall go for his life ; as it shortly did, and that by the hand of a Syrian soldier, ( 1 Kings 22:34,35), and thy people for his people ; which was fulfilled by Hazael king of Syria, the sins of Israel rendering them deserving of the calamities they endured by his means, (see 2 Kings 8:12 10:32).
Ver. 43 . And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased , etc.] With the prophet for what he had said, and with himself for what he had done in letting Benhadad go; the Targum is, he was “troubled and grieved,” not so much for the sin he had committed, as for the punishment of it on him and his people: and came to Samaria ; with a heavy heart, for the message of the prophet had spoiled the joy of his victory.