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Adam Clarke Commentary

1 Kings 20


Ben-hadad, king of Syria, and thirty-two kings, besiege Samaria, 1 Kings 20:1 . He sends an insulting message to Ahab; and insists on pillaging the whole city, 1 Kings 20:2 -7. The elders of Israel counsel the king not to submit to such shameful conditions, 1 Kings 20:8 . He sends a refusal to Ben-hadad; who, being enraged, vows revenge, 1 Kings 20:9 -12. A prophet comes to Ahab, and promises him victory, and gives him directions how he should order the battle, 1 Kings 20:13 -19. The Syrians are discomfited, and Ben-hadad scarcely escapes, 1 Kings 20:20 , 1 Kings 20:21 . The prophet warns Ahab to be on his guard, for the Syrians would return next year, 1 Kings 20:22 . The counsellors of the king of Syria instruct him how he may successfully invade Israel, 1 Kings 20:23 -25. He leads an immense army to Aphek, to fight with Ahab, 1 Kings 20:26 , 1 Kings 20:27 . A man of God encourages Ahab, who attacks the Syrians, and kills one hundred thousand of them, 1 Kings 20:28 , 1 Kings 20:29 . They retreat to Aphek, where twenty-seven thousand of them are slain by a casualty, 1 Kings 20:30 . Ben-hadad and his courtiers, being closely besieged in Aphek, and unable to escape, surrender themselves with sackcloth on their loins, and halters on their heads; the king of Israel receives them in a friendly manner, and makes a covenant with Ben-hadad, 1 Kings 20:31 -34. A prophet, by a symbolical action, shows him the impolicy of his conduct in permitting Ben-hadad to escape, and predicts his death and the slaughter of Israel, 1 Kings 20:35 -43.

Verse 1

Ben-hadad - Several MSS., and some early printed editions, have Ben-hadar, or the son of Hadar, as the Septuagint. He is supposed to be the same whom Asa stirred up against the king of Israel, 1 Kings 15:18 ; or, as others, his son or grandson.Thirty and two kings - Tributary chieftains of Syria and the adjacent countries. In former times every town and city had its independent chieftain. Both the Septuagint and Josephus place this war after the history of Naboth.

Verse 4

I am thine, and all that I have - He probably hoped by this humiliation to soften this barbarous king, and perhaps to get better conditions.

Verse 6

Whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes - It is not easy to discern in what this second requisition differed from the first; for surely his silver, gold, wives, and children, were among his most pleasant or desirable things. Jarchi supposes that it was the book of the law of the Lord which Ben-hadad meant, and of which he intended to deprive Israel. It is however evident that Ben-hadad meant to sack the whole city, and after having taken the royal treasures and the wives and children of the king, to deliver up the whole to be pillaged by his soldiers.

Verse 8

Hearken not unto him - The elders had every thing at stake, and they chose rather to make a desperate defense than tamely to yield to such degrading and ruinous conditions.

Verse 10

If the dust of Samaria shall suffice - This is variously understood. Jonathan translates thus: "If the dust of Shomeron shall be sufficient for the soles of the feet of the people that shall accompany me;" i.e., I shall bring such an army that there will scarcely be room for them to stand in Samaria and its vicinity.

Verse 11

Let not him that girdeth on - This was no doubt a proverbial mode of expression. Jonathan translates, "Tell him, Let not him who girds himself and goes down to the battle, boast as he who has conquered and returned from it.

Verse 12

In the pavilions - This word comes from papilio, a butterfly, because tents, when pitched or spread out, resembled such animals; partly because of the mode of their expansion, and partly because of the manner in which they were painted.Set yourselves in array - The original word, שימו simu, which we translate by this long periphrasis, is probably a military term for Begin the attack, Invest the city, Every man to his post, or some such like expression.

Verse 13

There came a prophet - Who this was we cannot tell; Jarchi says it was Micaiah, son of Imlah. It is strange that on such an occasion we hear nothing of Elijah or Elisha. Is it not possible that this was one of them disguised?

Verse 14

By the young men of the princes of the provinces - These were probably some chosen persons out of the militia of different districts, raised by the princes of the provinces; the same as we would call lord-lieutenants of counties.

Verse 15

Two hundred and thirty-two - These were probably the king's life or body guards; not all the militia, but two hundred and thirty of them who constituted the royal guard in Samaria. They were therefore the king's own regiment, and he is commanded by the prophet to put himself at their head.Seven thousand - How low must the state of Israel have been at this time! These Jarchi thinks were the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal.

Verse 18

Take them alive - He was confident of victory. Do not slay them; bring them to me, they may give us some useful information.

Verse 20

The Syrians fled - They were doubtless panic-struck.

Verse 23

Their gods are gods of the hills - It is very likely that the small Israelitish army availed itself of the heights and uneven ground, that they might fight with greater advantage against the Syrian cavalry, for Ben-hadad came up against Samaria with horses and chariots, 1 Kings 20:1 . These therefore must be soon thrown into confusion when charging in such circumstances; indeed, the chariots must be nearly useless.Let us fight against them in the plain - There our horses and chariots will all be able to bear on the enemy, and there their gods, whose influence is confined to the hills, will not be able to help them. It was a general belief in the heathen world that each district had its tutelary and protecting deity, who could do nothing out of his own sphere.

Verse 24

Take the kings away - These were not acquainted with military affairs, or they had not competent skill. Put experienced captains in their place, and fight not but on the plains, and you will be sure of victory.

Verse 26

Ben-hadad numbered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek - There were several towns of this name; see the notes on Joshua 12:18 . It is supposed that the town mentioned here was situated in Libanus, upon the river Adonis, between Heliopolis and Biblos.

Verse 28

Because the Syrians have said - God resents their blasphemy, and is determined to punish it. They shall now be discomfited in such a way as to show that God's power is every where, and that the multitude of a host is nothing against him.

Verse 29

Slew a hundred thousand footmen in one day - This number is enormous; but the MSS. and versions give no various reading.

Verse 30

A wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand - From the first view of this text it would appear that when the Syrians fled to Aphek, and shut themselves within the walls, the Israelites immediately brought all hands, and sapped the walls, in consequence of which a large portion fell, and buried twenty-seven thousand men. But perhaps the hand of God was more immediately in this disaster; probably a burning wind is meant. See at the end of the chapter, 1 Kings 20:43 (note.Came into the city, into an inner chamber - However the passage above may be understood, the city was now, in effect, taken; and Ben-hadad either betook himself with his few followers to the citadel or to some secret hiding-place, where he held the council with his servants immediately mentioned.

Verse 31

Put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads - Let us show ourselves humbled in the deepest manner, and let us put ropes about our necks, and go submitting to his mercy, and deprecating his wrath. The citizens of Calais are reported to have acted nearly in the same way when they surrendered their city to Edward III., king of England, in 1346. See at the end, 1 Kings 20:43 (note.

Verse 32

Thy servant Ben-hadad - See the vicissitude of human affairs! A little before he was the haughtiest of all tyrants, and Ahab calls him his lord; now, so much is he humbled, that he will be glad to be reputed Ahab's slave!

Verse 33

Did hastily catch it - They were watching to see if any kind word should be spoken by him, from which they might draw a favorable omen; and when they heard him use the word brother, it gave them much encouragement.

Verse 34

Thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus - It appears that it was customary for foreigners to have a place assigned to them, particularly in maritime towns, where they might deposit and vend their merchandise. This was the very origin of European settlements in Asiatic countries: "The people gave an inch to those strangers; and in consequence they took an ell." Under the pretense of strengthening the place where they kept their wares, to prevent depredations, they built forts, and soon gave laws to their entertainers. In vain did the natives wish them away; they had got power, and would retain it; and at last subjected these countries to their own dominion.It was customary also, in the time of the crusades, to give those nations which were engaged in them streets, churches, and post dues, in those places which they assisted to conquer. The Genoese and Venetians had each a street in Accon, or St. Jean d'Acre, in which they had their own jurisdiction; with oven, mill, bagnio, weights, and measures. - See William of Tyre, and Harmer's Observations.He made a covenant with him - According to the words recited above, putting him under no kind of disabilities whatsoever.

Verse 35

In the word of the Lord - By the word or command of the Lord; that is, God has commanded thee to smite me. Refusing to do it, this man forfeited his life, as we are informed in the next verse.By this emblematical action he intended to inform Ahab that, as the man forfeited his life who refused to smite him when he had the Lord's command to do it; so he (Ahab had forfeited his life, because he did not smite Ben-hadad when he had him in his power.

Verse 36

A lion found him, and slew him - This seems a hard measure, but there was ample reason for it. This person was also one of the sons of the prophets, and he knew that God frequently delivered his counsels in this way, and should have immediately obeyed; for the smiting could have had no evil in it when God commanded it, and it could be no outrage or injury to his fellow when he himself required him to do it.

Verse 38

Disguised himself with ashes upon his face - It does not immediately appear how putting ashes upon his face could disguise him. Instead of אפר apher, dust, Houbigant conjectures that it should be אפד aphad, a fillet or bandage. It is only the corner of the last letter which makes the difference; for the ד daleth and ר resh are nearly the same, only the shoulder of the former is square, the latter round. That bandage, not dust, was the original reading, seems pretty evident from its remains in two of the oldest versions, the Septuagint and the Chaldee; the former has Και κατεδησατο εν τελαμωνι τους οφθαλμους αυτου, "And he bound his eyes with a fillet." The latter has וכריך במעפריאעינוהי ukerich bemaaphira einohi; "And he covered his eyes with a cloth." The MSS. of Kennicott and De Rossi contain no various reading here; but bandage is undoubtedly the true one. However, in the way of mortification, both the Jews and Hindoos put ashes upon their heads and faces, and make themselves sufficiently disgusting.

Verse 39

Keep this man - The drift of this is at once seen; but Ahab, not knowing it, was led to pass sentence on himself.

Verse 41

Took the ashes away - He took the bandage from off his eyes: see on 1 Kings 20:38 (note. It was no doubt of thin cloth, through which he could see, while it served for a sufficient disguise.

Verse 42

Thy life shall go for his life - This was fulfilled at the battle of Ramoth-gilead, where he was slain by the Syrians; see 1 Kings 22:34 , 1 Kings 22:35 .

Verse 43

Heavy and displeased - Heavy or afflicted, because of these dreadful tidings; and displeased with the prophet for having announced them. Had he been displeased with himself, and humbled his soul before God, even those judgments, so circumstantially foretold, might have been averted.1. We have already seen, in 1 Kings 20:30 , that according to our text, twenty-seven thousand men were slain by the falling of a wall. Serious doubts are entertained concerning the legitimacy of this rendering. I have, in the note, given the conjecture concerning sapping the foundation of the wall, and thus overthrowing them that were upon it. If instead of חומה chomah, a wall, we read חומה confusion or disorder, then the destruction of the twenty-seven thousand men may appear to have been occasioned by the disorganized state into which they fell; of which their enemies taking advantage, they might destroy the whole with ease.But חומה chomah, a wall, becomes, as Dr. Kennicott has observed, a very different word when written without the ו vau, חמה which signifies heat; sometimes the sun, vehement heat, or the heat of the noon-day sun; and also the name of a wind, from its suffocating, parching quality.The same noun, from יחם yacham, Dr. Castel explains by excandescentia, furor, venenum; burning, rage, poison. These renderings, says Dr. Kennicott, all concur to establish the sense of a burning wind, eminently blasting and destructive. I shall give a few instances from the Scripture: - We read in Job 27:21 : The east wind carrieth him away; where the word קדים kadim is καυσων, burning, in the Septuagint; and in the Vulgate, ventus urens, a burning wind. In Ezekiel 19:12 : She was plucked up בחמה she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up her fruit; her strong rods were withered, and the fire consumed them. Hosea Hosea 13:15 mentions the desolation brought by an east wind, the wind of the Lord. What in Amos 4:9 is, I have smitten you with blasting, in the Vulgate is, in vento vehemente, "with a vehement wind;" and in the Syriac, with a hot wind.Let us apply these to the history: when Ben-hadad, king of Syria, was besieging Samaria the second time, the Israelites slew of the Syrians one hundred thousand footmen in one day; and it follows, that when the rest of the army fled to Aphek, twenty-seven thousand of the men that were left were suddenly destroyed by החומה hachomah, or החמה hachamah, a burning wind. That such is the true interpretation, will appear more clearly if we compare the destruction of Ben-hadad's army with that of Sennacherib, whose sentence is that God would send upon him a Blast, רוח ruach, a wind; doubtless such a wind as would be suddenly destructive. The event is said to be that in the night one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians were smitten by the angel of the Lord, 2 Kings 19:7 , 2 Kings 19:35 . The connection of this sentence with the execution of it is given by the psalmist, who says, Psalms 104:4 : God maketh his angels רחות ruchoth, winds; or, maketh the winds his angels, i.e., messengers for the performance of his will. In a note on Psalms 11:6 , Professor Michaelis has these words: Ventus Zilgaphoth, pestilens eurus est, orientalibus notissimus, qui obvia quaevis necat; "The wind Zilgaphoth is a pestilent east wind, well known to the Asiastics, which suddenly kills those who are exposed to it." Thevenot mentions such a wind in 1658, that in one night suffocated twenty thousand men. And the Samiel he mentions as having, in 1665, suffocated four thousand persons. "Upon the whole, I conclude," says the doctor, 'that as Thevenot has mentioned two great multitudes destroyed by this burning wind, so has holy Scripture recorded the destruction of two much greater multitudes by a similar cause; and therefore we should translate the words thus: But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and The Burning Wind fell upon the twenty and seven thousand of the men that were left."2. On the case of Ben-hadad and his servants coming out to Ahab with sackcloth on their loins and ropes about their necks, 1 Kings 20:31 , I have referred to that of the six citizens of Calais, in the time of Edward III. I shall give this affecting account from Sir John Froissart, who lived in that time, and relates the story circumstantially, and with that simplicity and detail that give it every appearance of truth. He is the only writer, of all his contemporaries, who gives the relation; and as it is not only illustrative of the text in question, but also very curious and affecting, I will give it in his own words; only observing that, King Edward having closely invested the city in 1346, and the king of France having made many useless attempts to raise the siege, at last withdrew his army, and left it to its fate. "Then," says Froissart, chap. cxliv., "after the departure of the king of France with his army, the Calesians saw clearly that all hopes of succor were at an end; which occasioned them so much sorrow and distress that the hardiest could scarcely support it. They entreated therefore, most earnestly, the lord Johns de Vienne, their governor, to mount upon the battlements, and make a sign that he wished to hold a parley.The translation I have borrowed from the accurate edition of Froissart, by Mr. Johns, of Hafod; and to his work, vol. i., p. 367, I must refer for objections to the authenticity of some of the facts stated by the French historian. We see in Eustace de St. Pierre and his five companions the portrait of genuine patriotism. - a principle, almost as rare in the world as the Egyptian phoenix, which leads its possessors to devote their property and consecrate their lives to the public weal; widely different from that spurious birth which is deep in the cry of My country! while it has nothing in view but its places, pensions, and profits. Away with it!

1 Kings 20

  1 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.
  2 And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad,
  3 Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.
  4 And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have.
  5 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;
  6 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.
  7 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.
  8 And all the elders and all the people said unto him, Hearken not unto him, nor consent.
  9 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.
  10 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.
  11 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.
  12 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.
  13 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.
  14 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.
  15 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.
  16 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.
  17 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.
  18 And he said, Whether they be come out for peace, take them alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive.
  19 So these young men of the princes of the provinces came out of the city, and the army which followed them.
  20 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.
  21 And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.
  22 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.
  23 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.
  24 And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains in their rooms:
  25 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.
  26 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.
  27 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.
  28 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.
  29 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.
  30 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.
  31 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.
  32 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.
  33 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.
  34 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.
  35 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.
  36 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.
  37 Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him.
  38 So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face.
  39 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.
  40 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.
  41 And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets.
  42 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.
  43 And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.

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