The First Book of Kings
Chapter Twenty

1-Kings. Chapter 20. Ahab King of Israel at War with Aram


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To Hear a Talk based on the Text below:
War between Israel and Ben-Hadad of Aram

1-Kings ch. 20

(ca.34 minutes)
Talk includes points not mentioned in the text.

1 Kings 20 (New King James Version)

Chapter 20. Ahab King of Israel at War with Aram

Ahab Defeats the Syrians

[1-Kings 20:1] Now Ben-Hadad the king of Syria gathered all his forces together; thirty-two kings were with him, with horses and chariots. And he went up and besieged Samaria, and made war against it.
The King of Aram (translated as "Syria") came against northern Israel together with 32 other kings. This indicates that by standards of the time the Kingdom of Israel must have been considered a formidable opponent.

[1-Kings 20:2] Then he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, and said to him, Thus says Ben-Hadad:

[1-Kings 20:3] Your silver and your gold are mine; your loveliest wives and children are mine.

[1-Kings 20:4] And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, just as you say, I and all that I have are yours.

[1-Kings 20:5] Then the messengers came back and said, Thus speaks Ben-Hadad, saying, Indeed I have sent to you, saying, You shall deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children;

[1-Kings 20:6] but I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants. And it shall be, that whatever is pleasant in your eyes, they will put it in their hands and take it.
This time Ben-Hadad says in effect:

"At first I demanded you give them to me. Now, I want my messengers to come and search your houses take them from you and not only from you but also from your servants."

Josephus seems to suggest that at first Ben Hadad made the demand to Ahab but later extended the demand to include all the subjects of Ahab.

[1-Kings 20:7] So the king of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said, Notice, please, and see how this man seeks trouble, for he sent to me for my wives, my children, my silver, and my gold; and I did not deny him.

[1-Kings 20:8] And all the elders and all the people said to him, Do not listen or consent.
CONSENT. Hebrew "toveh" from the root OBeH. This is probably where the word "obey" in English comes from.
Daat Mikra explains the difference between what Ahab agreed to and what was demanded of him. In principle he agreed to turn over hostages. Ben-Hadad however wanted his servants to enter the palace and take what they wished. There was a difference. From a position of formal suberservience Ahab would have been reduced to complete subjugation.
Ahab took counsel with the elders of the people. He was not an outright despot.

Manasseh in Rabbinical Sources
"Presidents and Not Kings"

Kings of Israel from Manasseh were more like "Princes" or "Presidents"  and Not Kings.
Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews.
Book viii. CHAPTER 14.

1. #WHEN the affairs of Ahab were thus, at that very time the son of Hadad, [Benhadad,] who was king of the Syrians and of Damascus, got together an army out of all his country, and procured thirty-two kings beyond Euphrates to be his auxiliaries: so he made an expedition against Ahab; but because Ahab's army was not like that of Benhadad, he did not set it in array to fight him, but having shut up every thing that was in the country in the strongest cities he had, he abode in Samaria himself, for the walls about it were very strong, and it appeared to be not easily to be taken in other respects also. So the king of Syria took his army with him, and came to Samaria, and placed his army round about the city, and besieged it. He also sent a herald to Ahab, and desired he would admit the ambassadors he would send him, by whom he would let him know his pleasure. So, upon the king of Israel's permission for him to send, those ambassador's came, and by their king's command spake thus: That Ahab's riches, and his children, and his wives were Benhadad's, and if he would make an agreement, and give him leave to take as much of what he had as he pleased, he would withdraw his army, and leave off the siege. Upon this Ahab bade the ambassadors to go back, and tell their king, that both he himself and all that he hath are his possessions. And when these ambassadors had told this to Berthadad, he sent to him again, and desired, since he confessed that all he had was his, that he would admit those servants of his which he should send the next day; and he commanded him to deliver to those whom he should send whatsoever, upon their searching his palace, and the houses of his friends and kindred, they should find to be excellent in its kind, but that what did not please them they should leave to him. At this second embassage of the king of Syria, Ahab was surprised, and gathered together the multitude to a congregation, and told them that, for himself, he was ready, for their safety and peace, to give up his own wives and children to the enemy, and to yield to him all his own possessions, for that was what the Syrian king required at his first embassage; but that now he desires to send his servants to search all their houses, and in them to leave nothing that is excellent in its kind, seeking an occasion of fighting against him, "as knowing that I would not spare what is mine own for your sakes, but taking a handle from the disagreeable terms he offers concerning you to bring a war upon us; however, I will do what you shall resolve is fit to be done." But the multitude advised him to hearken to none of his proposals, but to despise him, and be in readiness to fight him. Accordingly, when he had given the ambassadors this answer to be reported, that he still continued in the mind to comply with what terms he at first desired, for the safety of the citizens; but as for his second desires, he cannot submit to them, - he dismissed them.#

[1-Kings 20:9] Therefore he said to the messengers of Ben-Hadad, Tell my lord the king, All that you sent for to your servant the first time I will do, but this thing I cannot do.
And the messengers departed and brought back word to him.
Even if Ahab had have been prepared to completely subject himself to the King of Aram he could not do so. The People of Israel did not allow it.

[1-Kings 20:10] Then Ben-Hadad sent to him and said, The gods do so to me, and more also, if enough dust is left of Samaria for a handful for each of the people who follow me.
Josephus (Antiquities viii;14;2) says that Ben Hadad threatened to build a sloping ascent up against the walls of Samaria out of dust. 

[1-Kings 20:11] So the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not the one who puts on his armor boast like the one who takes it off.
Do not be so sure you will win before you have done so.
Josephus, Antiquities, Book viii. CHAPTER 14.
#2. Now when Benhadad heard this, he had indignation, and sent ambassadors to Ahab the third time, and threatened that his army would raise a bank higher than those walls, in confidence of whose strength he despised him, and that by only each man of his army taking a handful of earth; hereby making a show of the great number of his army, and aiming to affright him. Ahab answered, that he ought not to vaunt himself when he had only put on his armor, but when he should have conquered his enemies in the battle.#

[1-Kings 20:12] And it happened when Ben-Hadad heard this message, as he and the kings were drinking at the command post, that he said to his servants, Get ready. And they got ready to attack the city.

[1-Kings 20:13] Suddenly a prophet approached Ahab king of Israel, saying, Thus says the LORD: Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD.

[1-Kings 20:14] So Ahab said, By whom?
And he said, Thus says the LORD: By the young leaders of the provinces.
Then he said, Who will set the battle in order?
And he answered, You.
#the young leaders of the provinces#: This is the New King James version.
The King James Version has, THE YOUNG MEN OF THE PRINCES OF THE PROVINCES. To our mind this is more correct.

In Hebrew "naari sari ha-midinot". Naar means "youth" but it can also connote "assistant" or "deputy". Joshua is referred to as the "naar" of Moses even though Joshua at that time was about eighty years old. Perhaps we may find a parallel in the English word "boy" as used in slang. Strictly speaking a "boy" is a young man but we use the expression "boy of", "the boys", etc, to indicate followers or supporters.
Daat Mikra says that in Canaanite and Egyptian writings parallels to the term "naar" have a distinct military significance.
Also in Scripture the term is used for "fighting warriors" (e.g. Genesis 14:24, 2-Samuel 2:14
Nehemia 4:10).
Different explanations have been offered as to what "
naari sari ha-midinot" really means. The literal simple interpretation would render the expression, "Deputies of the Provincial Governors".  

[1-Kings 20:15] Then he mustered the young leaders of the provinces, and there were two hundred and thirty-two; and after them he mustered all the people, all the children of  Israel seven thousand.
According to Rashi these "seven thousand" were the same as the seven thousand that the Almighty informed Elijah had remained faithful, cf.
## Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him ## [1-Kings 19: 18].

[1-Kings 20:16] So they went out at noon. Meanwhile Ben-Hadad and the thirty-two kings helping him were getting drunk at the command post.

The Commentary Me'Am Loez points out that the Israelites going out to war at noon shows their confidence in the promise of the Prophet that they would be victorious. Ben Hadad in the meantime did not imagine they would attack and certainly not in the middle of day. Rather he assumed the Israelites being vastly outnumbered would wait in their defensive positions.

[1-Kings 20:17] The young leaders of the provinces went out first. And Ben-Hadad sent out a patrol, and they told him, saying, Men are coming out of Samaria!

[1-Kings 20:18] So he said, If they have come out for peace, take them alive; and if they have come out for war, take them alive.

So great was the host of Ben Hadad compared to that of the Israelites that he thought they could capture and disarm the Israelite force even its members attempted to fight for their lives!

[1-Kings 20:19] Then these young leaders of the provinces went out of the city with the army which followed them.

[1-Kings 20: 20 And each one killed his man; so the Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them; and Ben-Hadad the king of Syria escaped on a horse with the cavalry.
Remember the word in Hebrew translated as "Syria" in Hebrew is Aram and Aram did sometimes include Syria but just as often extended to regions more to the north and east.
Each Israelite slew one of the enemy who came to grab him. This is an important point when fighting against a force that outnumbers you. The enemy can only effectively set one man at a time against you if you strike first and give him no time to do more than that. The enemy is also human. He sees that the one who went before him is killed and he is next in line. He turns and runs. Everyone around him does as well even if they do not know why.

[1-Kings 20:21 Then the king of Israel went out and attacked the horses and chariots, and killed the Syrians with a great slaughter.
It may be that military tactics of the Israelites encompassed preliminary strikes at the horses and chariots in such a way that they were incapacitated. Instead of enhancing the mobility of the Aramaeans their incapacitated means of transport would have then hindered them.

[1-Kings 20:22] And the prophet came to the king of Israel and said to him, Go, strengthen yourself; take note, and see what you should do, for in the spring of the year the king of Syria will come up against you.

 God was with the Israelites and the Prophet himself had brought Israel a message from the Almighty.  This message included the injunction to prepare yourself, i.e. prepare the army and everything they should need. Such preparations are included in the Promises given. So too, with the blessings. It is not enough to be sent that the Almighty will send them to us as promised. We must also do what we can to receive them.
[1-Kings 20:23] Then the servants of the king of Syria said to him, Their gods are gods of the hills. Therefore they were stronger than we; but if we fight against them in the plain, surely we will be stronger than they.

 The logic was that the Israelite at that time dwelt mainly in the hill country. They were used to it and knew how to use the topography to their own advantage. On the other hand the Aramaeans who depended heavily on cavalry and chariots were more proficient in the flat lands of the plains where their superiority in numbers and in organized military force could be brought to effect.

[1-Kings 20:24] So do this thing: Dismiss the kings, each from his position, and put captains in their places;

 The advice to Ben Hadad was to,

Appoint professionals and appoint they who have much to gain by showing acheivement and prowess.

[1-Kings 20:25] and you shall muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain; surely we will be stronger than they.
And he listened to their voice and did so.

Aramaean Cavalry

[1-Kings 20:26] So it was, in the spring of the year, that Ben-Hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel.

The identity of Aphek is uncertain. There were several places by that name. Me-Am Loez says it was in Judah whereas Daat Mikra suggests the Golan which is at the other end of the country!

[1-Kings 20:27] And the children of Israel were mustered and given provisions, and they went against them. Now the children of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, while the Syrians filled the countryside.

#like two little flocks of goats # the Hebrew here says literally "like the bare [ground] of two goats" which Daat Mikra explains as possibly meaning the space of a field needed to provide two goats with nourishment for a day. We will see (in verses 20:29-30) that the Aramaeans fatal casualties were more than 127,000 so they must have mustered even more than number.

[1-Kings 20:28] Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, Thus says the LORD: Because the Syrians have said, The LORD is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys, therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.

 MeAm Loaez points out that the Israelites under Ahab at that time were idol worshippers. They still however revered the ALMIGHTY God of Israel only they placed HIM alongside their idols. In the eyes of foreigners the ALMIGHTY was the only God of Israel. Israel was identified with HIM. By sanctifying HIS own NAME he would be sanctified amongst the nations and Israel itself should come to realize that the ALMIGHTY is the only God.

[1-Kings 20:29] And they encamped opposite each other for seven days. So it was that on the seventh day the battle was joined; and the children of Israel killed one hundred thousand foot soldiers of the Syrians in one day.

[1-Kings 20:30] But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; then a wall fell on twenty-seven thousand of the men who were left. And Ben-Hadad fled and went into the city, into an inner chamber.
[1-Kings 20:31] Then his servants said to him, Look now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Please, let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes around our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; perhaps he will spare your life.

 THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL ARE MERCIFUL KINGS. These kings were worshippers of idols, sometimes murderers. By Torah standards they were bad men. In the eyes of the heathen however and judged in comparison with the monarchs of other nations they were MERCIFUL KINGS.

MERCIFUL KINGS. In Hebrew "Malcei Chesed". This title was applied by the Ultra-Orthodox in what was once "Palestine" to the British Rulers who on the whole, most of the time, were more pro-Jewish than anything else.

The title has also been applied by Great Rabbis (.e. the Lubavitcher Rabbi) to Presidents of the USA.

MERCIFUL KINGS. In Hebrew "Malcei Chesed", i.e. Kings of [Malcei] Kindness. The Commentary Mishbatsot Zavav interprets it negatively. The Kings of Israel were distinct from the Kings of Judah from the House of David. They had different characteristics and different laws applied to them. David proclaimed himself an enemy of the enemies of the Almighty.

Cf. Psalms 139:

 21 Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You?
         And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
 22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
         I count them my enemies.

 The Kings of Israel however were soft towards the worshippers of idols and had mercy on evil-doers. King Saul the first king of Israel was from the Tribe of Benjamin and he too failed by showing mercy to King Agag the Amalekite.

On the other hand,

 HaNatziv (1817-1893), takes the term "Malcei Chesed" as reflecting a positive aspect of the Ten Tribes (represented by Joseph) in general.

YOUR CAPTAINS OF YOUR TRIBES: Commentary of the "Natziv" (Naphtali Zvi Berlin, an important 19th century Rabbi in Russia whose opinion is still greatly respected) in free translation:

##YOUR CAPTAINS OF YOUR TRIBES: The expression "of your tribes" would appear to be superfluous...rather it comes to teach us that each tribe and its heads  are not judged the same as the others. Each tribe is judged according to its own nature and according to that quality it was recognized to be most adhering to. It is judged by the extent of its deviation from its own special characteristic. This is similar to Amos:

##The main judgment against Judah is because they departed from their good path of keeping HIS commandments meaning the qualities of the Torah. It is an honor for the Written Law that it be kept very strictly.  When they departed from the good path it was as if they despised the Torah. This did not apply to the [other] Tribes of  Israel who had never been really strict about learning the Torah. On the contrary, their main characteristic was kindness [empathy] between a man and his fellow. The main judgment against the [northern ten ] Tribes  is because they departed from this quality of social empathy and sold  THE POOR FOR A PAIR  OF SHOES?. ##

[1-Kings 20:32] So they wore sackcloth around their waists and put ropes around their heads, and came to the king of Israel and said, Your servant Ben-Hadad says, Please let me live.
And he said, Is he still alive? He is my brother.
Ben-Hadad King of Aram had attacked the Israelite nation and been defeated. He was in hiding and in fear of his life. His advisors told him that the Kings of Israel were merciful kings (Malcei Chesed) and that he should throw himself on the mercy of the King of Israel. This is what he did.
The King of Israel then extended him the hand of friendship and fraternity.
This was not wise. It was against the will of the Almighty.

Ben Hadad had demanded the women and children of the King of Israel. He had shamed the Israelite nation. He was a bad man. He deserved to die and should have been killed and not shown mercy.
The Bible is AGAINST mercy towards the wicked.
Arabs who
commit terror attacks against Israelites or support such acts should be executed on the spot.
The rest of the so-called Palestinians should be re-located overseas.

[1-Kings 20:33] Now the men were watching closely to see whether any sign of mercy would come from him; and they quickly grasped at this word and said, Your brother Ben-Hadad.
So he said, Go, bring him. Then Ben-Hadad came out to him; and he had him come up into the chariot.
#the men#: in Hebrew "Ha-anoshim". Daat Mikra points out that throughout the Bible this term is applied only to men of importance.
The followers of Ben Hadad grasped this sign of Israelite weakness and took advantage of it.

[1-Kings 20:34] So Ben-Hadad said to him, The cities which my father took from your father I will restore; and you may set up marketplaces for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.
Then Ahab said, I will send you away with this treaty. So he made a treaty with him and sent him away.

 #The cities#. Daat Mikra suggests this is referring to the cities of Naphtali that the father of Ben-Hadad (who was also called Beh Hadad) had taken from Israel in the reign of Baasha King of Israel [1-Kings 15:18-20]. Other Israelite Lands such as the area of Ramat Gilead are spoken of later (1-Kings 22:3) as being in Aramaean hands.
The King of
Aram promised to restore the captured cities to Israel and to give Israel commercial privileges in Damascus. We wil;l see later that he did not fulfill this pledge but instead renewed hostilities against Israel.
Two different places are referred to in the Bible (and in archaeological findings) as Damascus. One was probably identical with or near the present city of Damascus in Syria. The other was further to the north on the Euphrates River (approximately int he area of Carcamish on the map below) or to the east of it.
"Brit-Am Now"- 402

#3. The  NORTHERN  BORDERS of Biblical Israel
[1-Kings 20:35] Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his neighbor by the word of the LORD, Strike me, please. And the man refused to strike him.
#a certain man of the sons of the prophets#. The sages identified this person with Micayahu son of Rimla.
#the sons of the prophets#. In Hebrew "
Bnei HaNaveim". These were members of a special group or school whose members prepared themselves to receive the gift of Prophecy. Maimonides explains that they could not be guaranteed that they would become Prophets but by preparing themselves and living a certain lifestyle their chances were increased. By banding together these like minded special personages obtained a mutual enhancement of whatever super-sensitive qualities they already had. According to tradition the Gift of Prophecy has now for some time ceased from the world BUT towards the end times it will be renewed.
# the man refused to strike him. # This person was to be killed by a lion for not hitting his companion as commanded. Perhaps he had committed some offence and deserved to die anyway? We do not know. We do know however that good people can sometimes be too good with bad results.

[1-Kings 20:36] Then he said to him, Because you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD, surely, as soon as you depart from me, a lion shall kill you. And as soon as he left him, a lion found him and killed him.

[1-Kings 20:37] And he found another man, and said, Strike me, please. So the man struck him, inflicting a wound.

[1-Kings 20:38] Then the prophet departed and waited for the king by the road, and disguised himself with a bandage over his eyes.
This probably means he tied a kind of scarf around his forehead.

[1-Kings 20:39] Now as the king passed by, he cried out to the king and said, Your servant went out into the midst of the battle; and there, a man came over and brought a man to me, and said, Guard this man; if by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.

# a man #. Hebrew "ish" which often connotes someone of importance.
He brought him a captive to guard. It was the custom in war to take captives and then demand ransom for them afterwards.
#a talent of silver#.
Daat Mikra says that in those times this was sixty times as much as an ordinary slave cost!

[1-Kings 20:40] While your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.
Then the king of Israel said to him, So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.
You accepted the job of guarding the captive and agreed to the terms.

[1-Kings 20:41] And he hastened to take the bandage away from his eyes; and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets.

[1-Kings 20:42] Then he said to him, Thus says the LORD: Because you have let slip out of your hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people.
Daat Mikra says the people were also to be punished for showing mercy to Ben Hadad. Their representatives, the princes, had been present when Ahab showed mercy to Ben Hadad and reached an agreement with him. They had apparently acquiesced in this. We are responsible for our leadership.
Because the Israelites had shown mercy to Ben Hadad they were to be punished.
So too if we show mercy to the Arabs we are liable to bring disaster on ourselves:

Numbers 33:55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. 56 Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them.

[1-Kings 20:43] So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and displeased, and came to Samaria.
Samaria was the capital of Israel. Samaria in Hebrew is Shomron. This region is now in the center of the so-called West Bank. The USA, EU, CSS and everybody else is pressuring Israel to give this area up. They are denying the truth of the Bible and defying the God of Israel.

Continued in Chapter 21

After the Death of Solomon:
The Divided Kingdom

The Divided Kingdom
Source of Map:

1-Kings ch.19
1-Kings Contents
1-Kings ch.21