Matthew Poole's Commentary
And Benhadad 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, not content with Ahab’s homage, besiegeth Samaria, 1 Kings 20:1-12. By the direction of a prophet the Syrians are twice beaten, and Ben-hadad hides himself, 1 Kings 20:13-30. The Syrians submit themselves, and Ahab maketh a covenant with Ben-hadad, 1 Kings 20:31-34. The prophet by a parable reproveth Ahab, and denounceth judgments against him 1 Kings 20:35-43.
Ben-hadad; called Adad by Josephus, and Ader by the LXX., and Adores by Justin; such changes of names being usual in their translations into other languages, and by other authors.
Gathered all his host together, to war against Israel; wherein his design was to amplify the conquests which his father had made, 1 Kings 15:20, but God’s design was to punish Israel for their apostacy and idolatry. Thirty and two kings; petty kings, such as were in Canaan in Joshua’s time, who indeed were no more than governors of cities or small territories. These were either subject or tributary to Ben-hadad, or hired by him.
And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad,No text from Poole on this verse.
Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.I challenge them as my own, and accordingly expect to have them forthwith delivered into my possession, if thou expectest peace with me.
And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have.I do so far comply with thy demand, that I will own thee for my lord, and myself for thy vassal and tributary; and will hold my wives, and children, and estate as by thy favour, and with an acknowledgment. But it is not likely that he would deliver up his wives and children into the barbarian’s hand, or that his proud and imperious wife Jezebel would permit him to do so.
And the messengers came again, and said, Thus speaketh Benhadad, saying, Although I have sent unto thee, saying, Thou shalt deliver me thy silver, and thy gold, and thy wives, and thy children;Although I did before demand not only the dominion of thy treasures, and wives, and children, as thou mayest seem to understand me, but also the propriety and actual possession of them, wherewith I would then have been contented;
Yet I will send my servants unto thee to morrow about this time, and they shall search thine house, and the houses of thy servants; and it shall be, that whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes, they shall put it in their hand, and take it away.Yet now I will not accept of those terms, but, together with thy royal treasures, I expect all the treasures of thy servants or subjects; nor will I wait till thou deliver them to me, but I will send my servants into the city, and they shall have free liberty and power to search out and take away all which they desire, and this to prevent fraud and delay; and then I will grant thee a peace.
Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said, Mark, I pray you, and see how this man seeketh mischief: 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.The elders of the land; whose counsel and concurrence he now desires in his distress.
See how this man seeketh mischief; though he pretended peace, and a friendly agreement upon these terms propounded, it is apparent by those additional demands that he intends nothing less than our utter ruin.
I denied him not; I granted his demands in the sense before mentioned.
And all the elders and all the people said unto him, Hearken not unto him, nor consent.No text from Poole on this verse.
Wherefore he said unto the messengers of Benhadad, Tell my lord the king, All that thou didst send for to thy servant at the first I will do: but this thing I may not do. And the messengers departed, and brought him word again.This thing I may not do; if I would do it, I cannot, because my people will not suffer it.
And Benhadad sent unto him, and said, The gods do so unto me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me.If I do not assault thy city with so potent and numerous an army, that shall turn all thy city into a heap of dust, and shall be sufficient to carry it all away, though every soldier take but one handful of it: see the like boast 2 Samuel 17:13.
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.Do not triumph before the fight and victory, for the events of war are uncertain.
And it came to pass, when Benhadad 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.Set yourselves in array; put yourselves and engines in order to make the assault.
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.There came a prophet; who having hid himself before, now ventures to come to Ahab, having this welcome message in his mouth.
Thus saith the Lord: God, though forsaken and neglected by Ahab, prevents him with his gracious promise of help; partly that Ahab and the idolatrous Israelites might hereby be fully convinced, and won to God, or left without all excuse; and partly, that Ben-hadad’s intolerable pride, and contempt of God, and of his people, might be repressed and punished; and partly, that the remnant of his prophets and people who were involved in the same calamity with the rest of the Israelites might be preserved and delivered.
Thou shalt know that I am the Lord, and not Baal, because I will deliver thee, which he cannot do.
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.By the young men of the princes of the provinces; not by old and experienced soldiers, but by those young men; either the sons of the princes and great men of the land, who were generally fled thither for safety; or their pages or servants that used to attend upon them, who are bred up delicately, and seem unfit for the business.
He answered, Thou, partly to encourage the young men to fight courageously, as being in the presence of their prince; and partly that it might appear that the victory was wholly due to God’s gracious and powerful providence, and not to the valour or worthiness of the instruments.
Then he numbered the young men of the princes of the provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty two: and after them he numbered all the people, even all the children of Israel, being seven thousand.All the children of Israel; either,
1. All the men; for they only went out to battle; and the rest of the men might be consumed with the sword or famine, or other judgments. Or rather,
2. All the men of war, or all that were fit to go out to war; all except those whom their age, or infirmity, or other sufficient causes excused. Being seven thousand; which number may possibly be noted with respect unto those seven thousand, commended 1 Kings 19:18, for whose sakes principally God gave this deliverance.
And they went out at noon. But Benhadad was drinking himself drunk in the pavilions, he and the kings, the thirty and two kings that helped him.They went out at noon; when they were eating, and drinking, and secure from all fear and expectation of an assault.
And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first; and Benhadad sent out, and they told him, saying, There are men come out of Samaria.No text from Poole on this verse.
And he said, Whether they be come out for peace, take them alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive.He bids them not fight; for he thought they needed not to strike one stroke, and that the Israelites could not stand the first brunt.
So these young men of the princes of the provinces came out of the city, and the army which followed them.No text from Poole on this verse.
And they slew every one his man: and the Syrians fled; and Israel pursued them: and Benhadad the king of Syria escaped on an horse with the horsemen.They slew every one his man, i.e. him who came to fight with him, or to seize upon him, as Ben-hadad had commanded.
The Syrians fled; being amazed at the unexpected and undaunted courage of the Israelites, and being struck with a Divine terror.
And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.Went out, i.e. proceeded further in his march, and fought against them.
The horses and chariots, i.e. the men that fought from them, or belonged to them; for so horses and chariots are sometimes taken. See Poole "1 Samuel 13:5".
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.Mark, and see what thou doest; consider what is fit and necessary for thee to do by way of preparation, or prevention.
At the return of the year; next year about this time, when the season comes of going forth to battle; of which see 2 Samuel 11:1 1 Chronicles 20:1 2 Chronicles 36:10.
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.The servants of the king of Syria suppose that their gods were no better than the Syrian gods, (which the idolatry of the Israelites had given them too great cause to imagine,) and that there were many gods who had each his particular charge and jurisdiction; which was the opinion of all heathen nations, that some were gods of the woods, others of the rivers, and others of the mountains; and they fancied these to be the latter, because the land of Canaan was a mountainous land, Deu 12:2; and the great temple of their god at Jerusalem stood upon a hill, and so did Samaria, where they had received their last blow: or because the Israelites did generally chose high places for the worship of their gods. It is observable that they do not impute their ill success to their negligence, and drunkenness, and bad conduct, or cowardice, of which they were really guilty; nor to the valour of the Israelites; but to a Divine power, which indeed was visible in it.
Let us fight against them in the plain; wherein there was not only superstition, but policy, because the Syrians most excelled the Israelites in horses, which are most serviceable in plain ground.
And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains in their rooms:The kings being of softer education, and less experienced in military matters, were less fit for his service; and being many of them but mercenaries, and therefore less concerned in his good success, would be more negligent and cautious in venturing themselves for his good.
Captains, i.e. experienced soldiers of his own subjects, who will faithfully obey the commands of the general, (to which the kings would not so readily yield,) and use their utmost skill and valour for their own interest and advancement.
And number thee an army, like the army that thou hast lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot: and we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. And he hearkened unto their voice, and did so.No text from Poole on this verse.
And it came to pass at the return of the year, that Benhadad numbered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel.Not that Aphek in Judah, of which Joshua 13:4 Joshua 15:31; but that in Asher, of which Joshua 19:30 Judges 1:31, nigh unto which was the great plain of Galilee. And this seems to be one of those cities which Ben-hadad’s father had taken from Israel, 1 Kings 20:34. Here also the Syrians might retreat, if they should be worsted.
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.Were all present, i.e. all the forces of the Israelites were here gathered together to oppose the Syrians; so if these had been conquered, all had been lost.
Went against them; being persuaded and encouraged so to do; partly to invent the mischiefs of a siege in Samaria, and the waste of all the rest of their country; and partly by the remembrance of their former success, and an expectation of the same assistance from God again.
Pitched before them; probably upon some hilly ground, where they might secure themselves, and watch for advantage against their enemies; which may be the reason why the Syrians durst not assault them before the seventh day, 1 Kings 20:29.
Like two little flocks of kids, i.e. few, and weak, and heartless; being also for conveniency of fighting, and that they might seem to be more than they were, divided into two bodies.
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.Because the Syrians have said; which he knew, either by common report, strengthened by their present choice of a plain ground for the battle; or rather, by revelation from God, who discovered their secret counsels, 2 Kings 6:12. I am the Lord, to wit, the universal Lord of all places, and persons, and things.
And they pitched one over against the other seven days. And so it was, that in the seventh day the battle was joined: and the children of Israel slew of the Syrians an hundred thousand footmen in one day.No text from Poole on this verse.
But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and there a wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand of the men that were left. And Benhadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner chamber.The wall, or, the walls, (the singular number for the plural, than which nothing more frequent,) of the city; or of some great castle or fort in or near the city, in which they were now fortifying themselves; or of some part of the city where they lay. Which might possibly happen through natural causes; but most probably was effected by the mighty power of God, then sending some sudden earthquake, or violent storm of wind, which threw down the wall, or walls, upon them; or doing this by the ministry of angels; which cannot be incredible to any man, except to him that denies the truth of all the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament; which being attested, many of them, by Jews and heathens, it is the height of folly and impudence to deny. For if ever miracle was to be wrought, now seems to have been the proper time and season for it; when the blasphemous Syrians denied the sovereign and infinite power of God, and thereby in some sort obliged him, for his own honour, to give a proof of it; and to show that he was the God of the plains as well as of the mountains, and that he could as effectually destroy them in their strongest holds as in the open fields, and make the very walls, to whose strength they trusted for their defence, to be the instruments of their ruin. But it may be further observed, that it is not said that all these were killed by the fall of this wall; but only that the wall fell upon them, killing some, and wounding others, as is usual in those cases. Nor is it necessary that the wall should fall upon every individual person; but it is sufficient to justify this phrase, if it fell upon the main body of them; for the words in the Hebrew ran thus,
the wall fell upon twenty-seven thousand (not of the men that are left, as we render it, but) which were left of that great army. Into the city; either,
1. Out of the fields, as the rest of his army did; which is distinctly and particularly noted of him, because he was the most eminent person in it, and the head of it. Compare the title of Psalm 18:1. Or,
2. At and from the noise and report of that terrible fall of the wall, or walls; which possibly might be in the outside or suburbs of the city; from whence he fled further into the city.
Into an inner chamber; or, a chamber within a chamber; where he supposed he might lie hid, till he had an opportunity of making an escape, or of obtaining mercy.
And his servants said unto him, Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life.Merciful kings; more merciful than others, because that religion which they had professed taught them humanity, and obliged them to show mercy.
Sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads; as a testimony of our sorrow for undertaking this war; and that we have justly forfeited our lives for it, which we submit to their mercy.
So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother.I do not only freely pardon him, but honour and love him as my brother.
Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy brother Benhadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Benhadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot.Did hastily catch it; or, they took that word for a good token, and made haste and snatched it (i.e. that word) from him, i.e. from his mouth; they repeated the word again, to try whether the king would own it, or it only dropped casually from him: or made haste to know whether it was from him, i.e. whether he spoke this from his heart, or only in dissimulation or design; for it seemed too good news to be true.
Thy brother Ben-hadad; understand, liveth; for that he inquired after, 1 Kings 8:32.
And Benhadad 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.The cities which my father took from thy father; either,
1. From Baasha, 1 Kings 15:20, whom he calls Ahab’s father, because he was his legal father, i.e. his predecessor. Or,
2. From Omri; in whose time, it seems, he made a successful invasion into the land of Israel, and took some more of the cities, and Aphek amongst the rest, though it be not elsewhere recorded in Scripture.
Thou shalt make streets, or markets, &c., places where thou mayest either receive the tribute which I promise to pay thee, or exercise judicature upon my subjects in case of their refusal; or outlets (as the LXX. render it) in or into Damascus, i.e. some strong fort near Damascus, which might curb the kings of Damascus, and keep them from attempting any other invasion into the land of Israel. With this covenant: he takes no notice of his blasphemy against God, nor of the vast injuries which his people had suffered from him; but only minds his own grandeur, and the advancement of his power.
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.Unto his neighbour, or brother; another son of the prophets.
In the word of the Lord; in the name and by the command of God, whereof doubtless he had informed him.
Smite me, so as to wound me, 1 Kings 20:37. He speaks what God commanded him, though it was to his own hurt; by which obedience to God he secretly reproacheth Ahab’s disobedience in a far easier matter. And this the prophet by God’s appointment desires, that looking like a wounded soldier, he might have the more free access to the king, and discourse with him; which it was very hard for a prophet to obtain, that sort of men being hateful to Ahab, 1 Kings 22:8, and to his courtiers.
The man refused to smite him; not out of contempt of God’s command, but most probably in tenderness and compassion to his brother.
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.If the punishment seem too severe for so small a fault, let it be considered.
1. That disobedience to God’s express command, especially when it is delivered by a prophet, is a great sin, and no less than capital, Deu 18:19.
2. This fault was much worse in a prophet, who very well knew the authority of God’s commands, and this way or manner of publishing them.
3. We cannot judge of the case, because this man might be guilty of many other heinous sins unknown to us, but known to God; for which God might justly cut him off; which God chose to do upon this occasion, that by the severity of this punishment of a prophet’s disobedience, proceeding from pity to his brother, he might teach Ahab the greatness of his sin, in sparing him through foolish pity, whom by the laws of religion, and justice, and prudence, and common safety, he should have cut off, and what punishment he might expect for it.
Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him.No text from Poole on this verse.
So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face.That he might sooner gain access to the king, and audience from him. See Poole "1 Kings 20:35".
With ashes; whereby he changed the colour of it. Or, with a veil, or cloth, or band, (as the Hebrew doctors understand the word,) whereby he might seem to have bound up his wound, which probably was in his face; for it was to be made in a very conspicuous place, that it might be visible to Ahab and others.
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.Thy servant went out: this following relation is not an untruth, but a parable; a usual way of instruction in the eastern parts, and ancient times, and most fit for this occasion, wherein an obscure prophet was to speak to a great king; whose ears were tender, and impatient of a downright reproof, and exceeding partial in his own cause; who by this artifice is made to condemn himself before he was aware of it, and so forced to receive the prophet’s just sentence with more patience and moderation: compare 1Sa 12 1Sa 14.
A man turned aside; my commander or superior, as the manner of his expression here following showeth.
Then shall thy life be for his life; thou shalt die in his stead; as below, 1 Kings 20:42: compare Exodus 21:23.
And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it.i. e. Thy sentence; or the sentence against thee: thou must perform the condition to which thou didst submit; either suffer the one, or do the other.
And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets.Either,
1. By his face, which was known either to the king, or to some of his courtiers there present. Or,
2. By the change of the manner of his address to him, which now was such as the prophets used.
And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people.Quest. What was the great sin of Ahab in this action for which God so severely punisheth him?
Answ. The great dishonour hereby done to God in suffering so horrid a blasphemer, 1 Kings 20:23, to go unpunished, which was, contrary to an express law, Leviticus 24:16.
Object. What is this to Ben-hadad, seeing that law concerned Israelites only?
Answ. It reached both to them that were born in the land, and (as is there expressed) unto strangers that were among them, and in their power, which was Ben-hadad’s case; for God had delivered him into Ahab’s hand for his blasphemy, as he promised to do, 1 Kings 20:28, by which act of his providence, especially compared with that law, it was most evident that this man was appointed by God to destruction, as is here said. But Ahab was so far from punishing this blasphemer, that he doth not so much as rebuke him, but treats him like a friend and a brother; dismisseth him upon easy terms, and takes his word for the performance, and takes not the least care for the reparation of God’s honour, but only for the amplification of his own power.
Thy people for his people.
Quest. Why were the people punished for Ahab’s sin?
Answ. 1. Because Ahab was punished in the loss of his people.
2. The people were punished for their own sins, which were many and great; though God took this occasion to inflict it.
3. The great injury and mischief was hereby done to his own people, who by this most foolish and wicked act were exposed to all those rapines and slaughters which Ben-hadad either did commit, or might have committed, against them afterwards; of which consequently Ahab was guilty. And it must be considered that all the Israelites were the Lord’s peculiar people; nor did their apostacy from God deprive God of his right; and the kings of Israel and Judah had these committed to them, in way of trust, to be governed and protected by them. And therefore Ahab for this gross breach of his trust was justly liable, though not to the censures of his people, yet to the hand of God, who was his King and Governor.
And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.Heavy and displeased; not for his sin, but for the sad effects of it upon himself and people; which he might confidently expect, having had many experiences that God did not suffer the words of his prophets to fall to the ground.