1 Kings 20

War with Aram

Ben-hadad king of Aram (Syria) gathered all his army together; thirty-two kings were [allied] with him, with horses and chariots. And he went up and besieged Samaria [Israel’s capital], and fought against it. Then he sent messengers to the city to Ahab king of Israel; and he said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your wives and your children, even the fairest, also are mine [as conditions of peace].’” The king of Israel [conceded his defeat and] answered, “By your word, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.” The messengers returned and said, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘I indeed sent word to you, saying, “You shall give me your silver, your gold, your wives, and your children,” but about this time tomorrow I will send my servants to you, and they will search your house and the houses of your servants; and they will take with their hands (confiscate) whatever is desirable in your eyes and carry it away.’”

Then the king of Israel summoned all the elders of the land and said, “Please observe and see how this man is seeking our destruction. For he sent messengers to me for my wives, my children, my silver, and my gold, and I did not refuse him.” All the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen or consent [to this additional demand].” So he said to Ben-hadad’s messengers, “Tell my lord the king, ‘Every demand you first sent to your servant I will do, but I cannot do this [additional] thing [as a condition of peace].’” And the messengers left; then they brought him word again. Ben-hadad sent word to him and said, “May the gods do so to me, and more also, if there is enough dust left of Samaria for handfuls for all the [armed] people who follow me.” The king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘A man who puts on [his armor to go to battle] should not boast like the man who takes it off [after the battle has been won].’” When Ben-hadad heard this message, as he and the kings were drinking in the temporary shelters, he said to his servants, “Station yourselves.” So they stationed themselves against the city [of Samaria].

Ahab Victorious

Then a prophet approached Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Have you seen all this great army? Behold, I will hand them over to you, and you shall know [without any doubt] that I am the Lord.’” Ahab said, “By whom?” And he said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘By the young men [the attendants or bodyguards] of the governors of the districts.’” Then Ahab said, “Who shall begin the battle?” And he answered, “You.” Then Ahab assembled and counted the young men of the governors of the districts, and there were 232. After them he assembled and counted all the people, all the sons of Israel, 7,000.

They went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was getting drunk in the temporary shelters, he and the thirty-two kings who were helping him. The young men of the governors of the districts went out first; and Ben-hadad sent men out and they told him, saying, “Men have come out of Samaria.” And he said, “Whether they have come out for peace or for war, take them alive.”

So these young men of the governors of the districts went out of the city, and the army followed them. And each one killed his man; and the Arameans (Syrians) fled and Israel pursued them. Ben-hadad king of Aram escaped on a horse with horsemen. The king of Israel went out and struck [the riders of] the horses and chariots, and killed the Arameans in a great slaughter.

Then the prophet approached the king of Israel and said to him, “Go, strengthen yourself and observe and see what you have to do; for at the first of next year the king of Aram (Syria) will come up against you.”

Now the servants of the king of Aram said to him, “Israel’s [a]god is a [b]god of the hills; that is why they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we will be stronger than they. Do this: remove the [thirty-two allied] kings, each from his place, and put captains in their place, and assemble an army like the army that you have lost in battle, horse for horse and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their words and did so.

Another Aramean War

At the first of the year [in spring], Ben-hadad assembled and counted the Arameans (Syrians) and went up to Aphek [east of the Sea of Galilee] to fight against Israel. The sons of Israel were counted and given provisions, and they went to meet them. The Israelites camped before the enemy like two [c]little flocks of goats [with everything against them, except God], and the Arameans filled the country. A man of God approached and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills, but He is not a god of the valleys,” I will give this great army into your hand, and you shall know [by experience] that I am the Lord.’” So they camped opposite each other for seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle began, and the sons of Israel killed 100,000 of the Aramean foot soldiers in a single day. But the rest ran to the city of Aphek, and the [city] wall fell on 27,000 of the men who were left. Ben-hadad escaped and came into the city, going into an inner chamber [to hide].

But his servants said to him, “We have heard that the kings of the house (royal line) of Israel are merciful kings. Please let us put sackcloth around our [d]loins and ropes on our necks [as symbols of submission], and go out to the king of Israel; perhaps he will spare your life.” So they put sackcloth around their loins and ropes on their necks, and came to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please let me live.’” And Ahab asked, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.” Now the men took it as a good omen, and quickly understanding his meaning said, “Yes, your brother Ben-hadad lives.” Then the king said, “Go, bring him.” Then Ben-hadad came out to him, and Ahab had him come up into the chariot. Ben-hadad [tempting him] said to him, “I will restore the cities which my father took from your father; and you may set up bazaars (shops) of your own in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” Then, Ahab replied, “I will let you go with this covenant (treaty).” So he made a covenant with him and let him go.

Now a certain man of [e]the sons of the prophets said to another by the word of the Lord, “Please strike me.” But the man refused to strike him. Then the prophet said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as you leave me, a lion will kill you.” And as soon as he left him, a lion found him and killed him. Then the prophet found another man and said, “Please strike me.” So the man struck him hard, wounding him. So the prophet left and waited for King Ahab by the road, and disguised himself [as a wounded soldier] with a bandage over his eyes. As the king passed by, the prophet called out to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the middle of the battle, and behold, a man turned aside and brought a man to me and said, ‘Guard this man; if for any reason he is missing, then your life shall be required for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ But while your servant was busy here and there, he [escaped and] was gone.” And the king of Israel said to him, “Such is your own judgment (verdict); you have determined it.” Then the prophet quickly removed the bandage from his eyes, and [Ahab] the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. He said to the king, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Because you have released from your hand the man [Ben-hadad] whom I had devoted to destruction, your life shall be required for his life, and your people for his people.’” So the king of Israel went to his house resentful and sullen, and came to Samaria.

  1. 1 Kings 20:23 Or gods are gods.
  2. 1 Kings 20:23 In polytheistic religions it was common for gods to be associated with particular topological regions or natural events (like rain or lightning). The thinking evidently was that supernatural beings must control the many aspects of nature, and that man could gain some control over nature by acknowledging and appeasing these beings. The Arameans (Syrians) may have associated the God of Israel with Mt. Sinai; and instead of realizing that they needed to appeal to the one true God who favored Israel, they imagined that God did not control the plains and valleys (cf v 28), and that Israel could be defeated there by superior numbers.
  3. 1 Kings 20:27 I.e. small, compact fighting units.
  4. 1 Kings 20:31 I.e. the midsection of the body between the lower ribs and the hips.
  5. 1 Kings 20:35 I.e. a band or association of prophets.

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1 Kings 21

Ahab Covets Naboth’s Vineyard

Now it came about after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, close beside the [winter] palace of Ahab king of Samaria; Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a garden of vegetables and herbs, because it is near my house. I will give you a better vineyard for it, or, if you prefer, I will give you what it is worth in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you.” So Ahab [already upset by the Lord’s message] came into his house [feeling more] resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face, and would not eat any food.

Then Jezebel his wife came to him and asked him, “Why is your spirit so troubled that you have not eaten?” And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ But he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now reign over Israel? Get up, eat food, and let your heart rejoice; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. Now in the letters she wrote, “Proclaim a [a]fast and seat Naboth at the head of the people; and seat two worthless and unprincipled men opposite him, and have them testify against him, saying, ‘You [b]cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.”

Jezebel’s Plot

So the men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived there, did as Jezebel had sent word to them, just as it was written in the letters which she had sent to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the people. Two worthless and unprincipled men came in and sat down opposite him; and they testified against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth cursed and renounced God and the king.” Then they brought him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent word to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned to death.”

When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, she said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite which he refused to sell you, because Naboth is no longer alive, but dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria. Behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession of it. You shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Have you murdered and also taken possession [of the victim’s property]?”’ And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will lick up your blood as well.”’”

Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” And he answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Behold [says the Lord], I am bringing evil (catastrophe) on you, and will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond and free in Israel; and I will make your house (descendants) like that of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for provoking Me to anger and making Israel sin. The Lord also spoke in regard to Jezebel, saying, ‘The dogs will eat [the body of] Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.’ The dogs will eat anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city, and the birds of the air will eat anyone who dies in the field.”

There certainly was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very repulsively in following idols, in accordance with everything the Amorites had done, whom the Lord expelled [from the land] before the sons of Israel.

Now when Ahab heard these words [of Elijah], he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly (mourning). Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil (catastrophe) in his lifetime, but in his son’s days I will bring evil upon his house.”

  1. 1 Kings 21:9 The point of the fast was to display grief and humility toward God over a grave sin that had been committed, usually when famine or another disaster had occurred as judgment from God for the sin. So Jezebel’s plot not only included the judicial murder of an innocent man; it was a direct affront and challenge to God.
  2. 1 Kings 21:10 Lit blessed. This word is used here and in v 13 as a euphemism referring to cursing, to avoid actually uttering a curse against God, even when it is placed in the mouth of someone else.

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