Saturday, April 13, 2013

CXXXVIII - I Kings 20 - Ben-Hadad the King of Aram

In the last two posts we saw Elijah come on the scene, dealing with king Ahab of Israel.  Elijah's commission was to prove to Ahab and the Israelites that Baal and Ashteroth were false gods, and there was only one true God, the Lord God of Israel.  Although Elijah was successful in carrying out this commission, its impact would be short-lived.  We will continue studying Ahab, and the negative influence he allowed his wife Jezebel to have on his reign and his life.  I've mentioned before that Ahab was one of the most unsavory characters in the entire Bible, but I must admit that he is an interesting and entertaining study.

Chapter 20 would be easy to breeze through on our way to studying about Ahab and Naboth.  But that is what most teachers of the Old Testament do, as this story is not well known.  I want to give this chapter some attention and thought.  It recounts an event that, on the surface, does not seem to have a large Historical impact, but in the whole scheme of things, it is significant.  The basic pagan thought of the day was "might makes right".  It permeated the minds of all leaders and Ahab was no exception.  Ahab's love for power and pleasure made it easy for his wife Jezebel to lure him to Baal worship, but Ahab was becoming aware that this commitment to Baal was going to eventually lead to facing God Almighty and His divine judgement.  Ahab seems to think the most pressing issue and biggest problem is Syria's tremendous power.  His father Ornery Omri had lost several cities to the north and northeast of Samaria to the Syrians.  And as Omri lost those cities, the Syrians had demanded and recieved certain concessions from Israel, which still remain.  The only way a nation could get out from underneath these concessions was through war.
Verse 1 introduces the powerful king Ben-Hadad of Aram, a Syrian territory.  He was evidently an influencial king, as he was able to persuade thirty two other kings and their armies to help him in his plan to conquer and overtake Samaria, Israel's capital.  {The Syrians already held so much control over Israel that to make further threats and demands seemed unnecessary, unless Ben-Hadad wanted to actually make the Promised Land part of the nation of Syria.}  Ben-Hadad sent word to Ahab that he wanted all of Samaria's silver and gold plus all of the "best" of their wives and children as slaves.  Ahab foolishly agrees to this ridiculously greedy demand.  {Sounds cowardly to me.  Women and children should be worth fighting for, no matter what the odds.}  But Ben-Hadad is not satisfied:  He sends another message that he wants his soldiers to come into Samaria and search every building and household and take anything the deem valuable.  {Ben-Hadad is clearly picking a fight.  He has amassed thirty two armies into one large one and wants to put it to good use.  If Ahab agrees to this second demand, Ben-Hadad will make yet another one, even more severe than the first two.}  Ahab summoned the elders for advice and they told him he must reject this demand, which he did.  Ben-Hadad recieved this news and I believe this is exactly what he wanted to hear.  He sends the messenger back to Ahab to tell him that the Syrians were going to attack Samaria and destroy the entire city, leaving it without even enough dust for a man to hold in the palm of his hand.  Ahab responded in verse 11.  He said to tell him,  "one who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off."  I know Ahab was shaking in his boots when he sent this message to Ben-Hadad.  The meaning was that Ben-Hadad was boasting prematurely.  Only the victors can take off their armor.  The losers die with it still on.  It says in verse 12 that Ben-Hadad and his men were in their tents drinking.  I believe they were celebrating that they finally got the response they wanted, and also celebrating a military victory before it happens.

Verse 13 tells of an unnamed prophet coming to Ahab, telling him that Israel will defeat Ben-Hadan and his entire army.  But note the last phrase in the verse, "then you will know that I am Lord".  {This is the reason the prophet gives for God providing victory against a far superior military.  One wonders how many times must God prove Himself.}  As Ahab expresses some doubts, the prophet instructs him to send out 232 junior (young and inexperienced) soldiers.  These young men would act as something of a commando unit, assigned to engage Ben-Hadad's entire army in battle.  This was such a small group that Ben-Hadad did not even consider them to be anything more than a group of representatives of Ahab, coming in peace, perhaps even to surrender.  These 232 soldiers attacked and were so successful in their fighting that the Syrian army ran away, but Ben-Hadad escaped.

Verse 22 tells us that after Ahab's victory, the prophet returned and told him that the Syrians were going to attack again in the Spring.  Therefore Ahab was to fortify and prepare for a severe attack on Samaria.  In the meantime, Ben-Hada sought answers as to how his superior military could possibly have been defeated by Ahabs soldiers.  So, being pressed to come up with something, his advisors convinced him that Israels gods were gods of the hills (where the battle was fought) and if the
battle was to take place in the plains, Ben-Hadad would be successful.  This is the way these people's minds worked.  So they planned for their next attack, confident of victory.

Vss 26-->  The following Spring, just as the prophet foretold, Ben-Hadad gathered his army and marched toward Samaria.  Israel's army went to meet them and camped opposite of them.  Verse 27 says "the Israelites looked like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside".  The prophet returned to Ahab with some more good news.  Israel would again defeat the Arameans, but note the reason that God will give them victory.  Verse 28:  "because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys.....".  On the seventh day the two armies engaged in battle.  Israel killed 100,000 soldiers in that battle and again the enemy soldiers ran away and escaped to the city of Aphek.  While in Aphek, the walls of the city fell on the Aramean soldiers, killing 27,000 more, but Ben-Hadad survived.  Ben-Hadad dressed himself in sackcloth (a burlap-type of very uncomfortable clothing, which was a sign of humility and subservience) and asked Ahab to spare his life.  Ahab did spare Ben-Hadad, apparently against the instructions of the prophet.  This seemingly gracious act of kindness appears out of character for Ahab, but he made it conditional, forcing Ben-Hadad to make a treaty with him and Israel, the details of which are not given.

Vss 36--> the prophet confronts Ahab with his disobedience.  Ahab was supposed to execute Ben-Hadad, not strike a deal with him.  In verse 42 the said to Ahab through the prophet, "You have set free a man I had detemined should die.  Therefore it is your life for his, your people for his people."  {These kings must understand that when they disobey God, not only will they as individuals suffer punishment, but also many other people along with them.  Again, Leaders matter.}  In the last verse of this chapter Ahab returns to his palace sullen and angry.  {Ahab may or may not have admitted to himself that he did wrong, but he definately has learned to fear and respect the word of prophets who represent the Lord God.  But Ahab has always suffered from a short memory.}

Next post:  Chapter 21  -  Naboth's Vineyard

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