1-11: The Threat is Sent
Ahab was willing to comply humbly with Ben Hadad’s initial demand (v. 4). But it would appear that Ben Hadad smelled weakness in Israel and decided to try for much more. Ben Hadad repeats his demand, but this time with the addition that his servants will be free to roam through Samaria taking whatever they want (v. 5-6). It is clear that Ahab sees this as a stiffer demand. Most likely, Ahab interpreted the first demand to be a requirement of tribute of some sort to Syria, which he was willing to give. But the second demand indicated that Ben Hadad was looking for complete and utter subservience. Ahab and the elders of Israel are not ready for this kind of submission to Syria and they send their defiance to Ben Hadad (v. 9). Ben Hadad responds with an oath, vowing Samaria’s complete and total annihilation (v. 10). And Ahab responds with one of the best trash-talking lines of all time (v. 11).
12-22 Know That I Am the Lord
The Syrians do not take the threat too seriously. They are busy getting drunk in their tents (v. 12 and v. 16). Meanwhile, God sends an unnamed prophet to Ahab to let him know that this victory will come from God, leaving Ahab without excuse before God. The army is to be lead by the “youths / servants of the leaders of the provinces.” The point is that God is not sending out the seasoned leaders, with the exception of Ahab. Just as in the last chapter God had Elijah appoint the next generation of leaders, here also God is sending a new crop of leaders out to see his hand deliver Israel in battle. What is weird is that the army that is sent out is 7,000. (cf. 19:18). These are the men that God had reserved for himself.
The Syrians are over confident. Their leaders are drunk back in their tents. And the men are sent out with orders to capture these men alive (v. 18). It’s important to note that the command to take them alive is not a mercy. The only reason to take them alive is so that they can be taken back to Syria and be made an example of. But God is with the Israelites and they slaughter the Syrians. Ben Hadad has to run.
23-34 Ben Hadad Tries Again
Ben Hadad tries to figure out what went wrong. And he decides that the God of the Israelites must be good at fighting in the mountains and not good at the plains. It is this boast that provokes God to once again deliver Israel mightily. Ahab disobediently spares Ben Hadad, who was a moment ago his Lord (v. 4) and is now his brother (v. 32).
35-43 Ahab Rebuked
The disobedient prophet who was devoured by the lion is a picture in miniature of Ahab’s disobedience. God used lions often at this time to judge men who failed to serve him (1 Kings 13:34, 2 Kings 17:25). In this instance, the prophet failed to strike the one that God sent him to strike. This is hard for us to stomach, because it seems severe to us.
We are all guilty of sin and under the penalty of death (Rom. 3:23 and 6:23). In the ultimate sense, there is no such thing as an innocent victim. The problem is not that we don’t deserve death. It’s that we aren’t just executioners. We don’t have the right to take one another’s lives, except where God has given it. This is the right there are a host of restrictions that God puts on him as well. But since we are all guilty, there is no ultimate injustice in our deaths. What can’t be explained by justice is our living.
When we talk about the problem of appearing before God, we are talking about this – the just sentence of death that hangs over us when we stood before a perfectly holy God. And this is why we are so grateful for Jesus. The grace of Jesus Christ is God’s sovereign interruption into justice, to save us. We are talking about the wonderful mercy of God that set aside his righteous anger against us by sending us a Savior.
Ahab is now judged by his own words. He knew what justice looked like when applied to others. Because of this a curse is pronounced on Ahab (v. 42), a curse that is fitted according to Ahab’s own judgment (Mat. 7:2).
Two Closing Thoughts
First, Ahab confused his own glory for God’s and misunderstood what the worship of God was about. The point of conquering Ben Hadad was to bring glory to God’s name. But Ahab quickly began to think that the point of conquering Ben Hadad was to bring wealth and glory to Ahab. When God answers our prayers, the point is to teach us to trust in him.
But what often happens is that we begin to put our trust in the relief that he has brought us. We trust in our financial security, the last clear results that the doctor gave us, the family and friends that surrounded us. But these are all the result of trusting in God. They are not things to be trusted in themselves. They say that there are no atheists in foxholes. But there are very few theists in palaces (Heb. 11:24-26 and Mat. 19:24).
Second, we need to be clear on grace. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Without understanding this, we don’t really get what Jesus did for us on the cross.