1 Kings 20
Syria invades Israel twice
Syria invades for wealth and women1Syrian King Ben-hadad mobilized all the armies in his region. He combined the infantry, cavalry, and chariot corps of 32 kings of kingdom territories and towns. Then he took them to Israel’s capital city of Samaria and attacked.
2He sent this message to King Ahab in the city: 3“Your silver and gold are mine. Your prettiest wives and children are mine.” 4Israel’s king sent this message: “You’re the king. You’re in charge. And you’re right. I am yours and everything I have belongs to you.”
5Ben-hadad’s messengers came back with a reply: “Okay then, get everything ready for us—your silver and gold and your wives and children. 6About this time tomorrow I’ll send in my people. They’ll search your palace and the houses in town and they’ll take whatever they want.”
Ahab rejects the Syrian demands7Ahab called in Israel’s leaders in town at the time and said, “Did you see that? This guy is looking for trouble. When he ordered me to give him my gold and silver and my wives and children, I said, ‘Sure. Done.’ But that wasn’t enough. He wants to take them.” 
8Israel’s leaders told Ahab, “Don’t do it. Don’t give into him.” 9Ahab told Ben-Hadad’s messengers, “Tell the boss, my king, ‘I serve at your pleasure. Everything I have is yours. But they need to stay here.’ The messengers took Ahab’s words back to their king.
10Ben-Hadad had choice words for Ahab: “When I’m done pulverizing your town, there won’t be enough of it left to give each of my soldiers a little brag bag of Samaritan dust. If there is, may the gods do worse than that to me.” 11Ahab fired back his response: “A man armored for battle shouldn’t brag like the battle is over.”
12When Ben-Hadad got that message, he was drinking in the tents with the other kings. He gave the order: “Let’s go. Prep the attack.” So the army set up to launch the attack.
Ahab defeats Ben-Hadad13While Syrians prepared to attack, a prophet delivered a message to Ahab. “Here’s what the LORD says: ‘Do you see that overwhelming force out there? I’m giving it all to you today. It’s my way of reminding you of who I am.’”
14Ahab asked, “How?” The prophet delivered God’s battleplan. “Call up the elite warriors who guard governors of the provinces. They will win the battle for you.” Ahab said, “Who will engage the enemy first?” The prophet said, “That’ll be you.”
15Ahab called in all 232 elite soldiers from the provinces who were guarding the assembled governors in town. He also mustered an army of 7,000 regulars. 16It was noon when Ahab led his regulars outside the city walls. Ben-Hadad was in a tent, drinking himself into a deeper drunk, and relaxing with his 32 royal allies, each one a king. 17Israel’s elite corps of guards stepped forward, creating a first line of attack. Ben-Hadad’s scouts saw them coming and reported back, “Men from Samaria are advancing onto our position.”
18Ben-Hadad said, “Take them alive. It doesn’t matter if they come in peace or come to fight.” 
19Ahab’s army of regulars followed behind the elite warriors. 20Each of the elites killed the first enemy he engaged. That was all it took to scatter the Syrians into a retreat at full speed. Israel ran many of them down. Ben-Hadad managed to climb on a horse and escape, with some of the cavalry. 21Ahab’s regular army charged the Syrians and inflicted heavy casualties on the cavalry and the chariot corps.
Syria preps to attack again22After the battle, the prophet told the king, “Strengthen your defenses. They are coming back next spring.”
23Ben-Hadad’s military leaders said, “Their gods own those hills. We can’t defeat Israel there. We need to fight on the flatland plains. We’ll beat them there. 24But there’s something else you need to do. Don’t assign the kings to lead their armies. Put military men in command of every unit of soldiers. 25You’ve also got to replace the army you lost—man for man, horse for horse, chariot for chariot. Then we can take the battle to the plains. There, we’ll be stronger than them.” Everyone agreed and got busy rebuilding their fighting force.
Syria takes a position on Israel’s coastal plain26In the spring, Ben-Hadad took his army to Aphek  to fight Israel again. 27Israel’s army loaded supplies, marched to Aphek, and camped near the Syrian army, which seemed to blanket the plain. By comparison, Israel’s army looked like a little bunch of goats—maybe two bunches. No more.
28The prophet told Ahab, “The LORD says this: Syrians think I’m a hill god. I’m going to let them know I do valleys, too. So, I’m going to give them to you again. Take this as your clue, too, that I am the LORD.”
Ben-Hadad surrenders to Ahab29For seven days the two armies eyed each other from their camps. Then, on day seven, they fought. Israel killed 100,000 Syrian infantrymen on that first day. 30The rest fled into the walled city of Aphek for protection. But the walls collapsed, killing another 27,000 of them. Ben-Hadad hid in the back room of a house. 31His officials said, “Listen, we’ve heard Israel’s kings show mercy. Let’s go to their king dressed in humble cloths, in sackcloth with rope belts.” He may let us live. 32So, wearing sackcloth with rope belts, the leaders presented themselves to the king of Israel. They said, “Ben-Hadad sends this message: “I am Ben-Hadad, your servant. Please let me live.” Ahab said, “Ah, he’s still alive? And he’s my brother now?” 33The captives took that as a hopeful sign. So, they said, “Yes. Yes he is. He’s your brother, Ben-Hadad.” Ahab said, “Then bring him here.” When Ben-Hadad stepped up, Ahab told him to step into his chariot with him. 34Ben-Hadad said, “I’m giving you back the cities my father took from your father. And I’m offering you a marketplace in Damascus, just as my father once had a market in Samaria.” Ahab said, “Agreed. Because of this peace treaty,  I’ll set you free.” So they made the treaty, and Ben-Hadad went home.
Prophet condemns Ahab’s bad judgment35There was a guild of prophets in Israel at the time. One of the prophets said to a man with him, “Hit me hard.” The man refused. 36The prophet said, “That order came from the LORD. Since you refused it, a lion is going to kill you as soon as you walk away from here.” When the man left, a lion killed him. 37The prophet went to another man and said, “Please, you had better hit me.” The man hit him hard enough to injure him. 38The injured prophet went over to the road and waited for King Ahab to come by. The prophet disguised himself with a headband pulled down to hide part of his eyes and face. 39As the king approached, the prophet said, “I have a problem. I went into the battle and was ordered to guard a captive. I was told if the man escaped I would have to pay with my life or with 75 pounds  of silver. 40But the thing is, I was busy doing other stuff, too. There was a battle going on. And the guy got away.” The king said, “You knew the price. You’ve got to pay it now.” 41The prophet took off the headband and the king recognized him right away as one of the prophets. 42The prophet said, “Here’s what the LORD says to you: You freed a man I sentenced to death. Now you have to pay the price he should have paid. Your life will pay for his. Your people will pay for his people.” 43Ahab, instantly depressed, went home to pout in his palace at Samaria.
It was common understanding that kings owned the kingdom and everything in it. But it was rare for a king to take it all away. Instead, the people in the kingdom used the resources entrusted to them to make a living for themselves and to pay taxes to the king.
That sounds like an order from a drunken commander. It’s tough for a soldier to fight a lethal enemy who, by the king’s order, can’t be killed. The results of the battle support that.
There were several towns called Aphek. That’s probably because the name means “fortress” or “stronghold.” It’s a bit like naming a guard dog Jaws instead of Petunia. The name alone might give invaders pause. One Aphek was on Israel’s coastal plain. Philistines crushed the Israelites there and stole the chest with the Ten Commandments, the Ark of the Covenant. But this Aphek was probably somewhere further north, closer to Syria. The most likely contender is a ruin about three miles (5 km) east of the Sea of Galilee. The tiny mound is called Tel Soreq in a valley near the town of Fig and near Afik, a Kibbutz community of Jews.
So, Ahab’s Israel was no longer a kingdom serving Syria and paying them annual tribute. Israel got back their territory in the north. They got to set up a bazaar in Damascus to sell their merchandise. And they got to keep their silver and gold and their pretty women and kids.
That’s 34 kilograms or, in ancient Hebrew measurement, one talent.
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.