1 Kings Chapter 20: Encounter with Ben-hadad, Son of the Prophet

Dec 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 1 & 2 Kings, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1 Kings Chapter 20: Encounter with Ben-hadad, Son of the Prophet

1 Kings 20:1 And Ben-hadad 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.

1 Kings 20:2 And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Ben-hadad,

1 Kings 20:3 Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.

1 Kings 20:4 And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have.

1 Kings 20:5 And the messengers came again, and said, Thus speaketh Ben-hadad, saying, Although I have sent unto thee, saying, Thou shalt deliver me thy silver, and thy gold, and thy wives, and thy children;

1 Kings 20:6 Yet I will send my servants unto thee tomorrow 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.

Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, confronted Ahab, the king of the ten tribes, and announced that Israel’s gold, silver, wives, children, and their best were his. Imagine being an Israelite and hearing such a request! When Ahab agreed, Ben-hadad sent the messengers a second time and strengthened his demand, saying that the Syrians would search the houses of the Israelites and their servants and take whatever pleased them. Ben-hadad’s abnormal requests show that he was seeking “mischief” (verse 7). Obviously, his making such demands was an act of war.

Ahab’s reply may have been a stalling tactic. Under this circumstance, he may have given this reply so that the king of Syria would not immediately takes steps to charge and enter the city. With a conciliatory reply, Ahab felt there would be time for him to collect his thoughts. From a worldly standpoint, to have given in to these demands without some resistance would have been insanity.

1 Kings 20:7 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.

1 Kings 20:8 And all the elders and all the people said unto him, Hearken not unto him, nor consent.

1 Kings 20:9 Wherefore he said unto the messengers of Ben-hadad, 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.

1 Kings 20:10 And Ben-hadad 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.

1 Kings 20:11 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.

1 Kings 20:12 And it came to pass, when Ben-hadad 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.

All the elders and all the people told Ahab not to agree to the second demand. Ahab sent that message back to Ben-hadad: “Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.” Being drunk, Ben-hadad told his servants, in anger, to set themselves in battle array.

What would these events represent, if they have a prophetic application? This chapter paints a background picture of the circumstances that were happening at this time in the northern kingdom and in Syria, that is, before Hazael was anointed instead of Ben-hadad.

Q: This chapter, which does not mention either Elijah or Elisha, is a parenthetical insert similar to the Micaiah account in 1 Kings 22. Since there were three battles between the northern kingdom and Syria, of which this battle was the first, could they picture three World Wars in the antitype?

A: We think they do picture three World Wars, but how to explain them is the problem. The setting is in Europe, and Ahab represents civil power that is related to Jezebel, or Catholicism. Both World War I and World War II were against Germany. Although the United States got involved later, these two World Wars were especially fought in Europe as a whole.

Q: Would Ben-hadad of Syria represent a trend toward socialism, for this trend kept getting stronger and stronger, and the so-called Christian nations did not deal with it properly?

A: In other words, fascism, nazism, and communism were all new forms of government that were supposedly of the people. Ostensibly, socialism shares the wealth (as was illustrated by Ben-hadad’s wanting the gold, silver, wives, children, etc.), but of course those in leadership positions manipulate these idealistic goals to their own ends. In the type, these confrontations took place either previously or while Elijah was making his way to Damascus. The account is giving us a background picture.

Q: Please explain verse 8 again: “And all the elders and all the people said unto him, Hearken not unto him, nor consent.”

A: Both the common people and the “elders,” or leaders, of the other nations in Europe did not give in to Germany’s demands but resisted and fought a war instead.

Q: Is the thought that Ben-hadad’s besieging Samaria and making such unreasonable demands are a picture of World War I?

A: Yes, those circumstances brought about that particular conflict. The ten tribes of Israel picture the nations of Europe. The Syrian power represents a philosophy that was engendered whereby Bavarian rulership in Germany came into existence. That Black Forest portion of Germany had militant soldiers. Hitler later took advantage of them, but in World War I, they were the backbone of the German army.

1 Kings 20:13 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.

The prophet was purposely not named so that this parenthetical account in chapter 20 would not interfere with the Elijah-Elisha picture and sequence. The war was between King Ahab of Israel and Ben-hadad of Syria.

1 Kings 20:14 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.

1 Kings 20:15 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.

Ahab was to order the battle and number the “young men of the princes of the provinces” for battle. There were 232 princes. After that, he numbered “all the children of Israel,” and their number was 7,000—a very strange enumeration. Eventually the Israelites routed Ben-hadad, and he and his forces fled.

Verse 27 again refers to the two groupings of princes and people: “And the children of Israel were numbered, and were all present, and went against them [the Syrians]: and the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids [goats]; but the Syrians filled the country.”

One “flock,” the 232 “princes of the provinces,” represents the Little Flock. The other “flock,” the people, the 7,000 “children of Israel,” represents the Great Company (compare 1 Kings 19:18). The two flocks who went out in the forefront to battle against the great host of Syrians were called “little” because they were so outnumbered.

1 Kings 20:16 And they went out at noon. But Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the pavilions, he and the kings, the thirty and two kings that helped him.

Being very confident of victory and feeling they had nothing to fear, Ben-hadad and the 32 kings who were with him were relaxed and got drunk.

1 Kings 20:17 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.

1 Kings 20:18 And he said, Whether they be come out for peace, take them alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive.

According to the numbering by Ahab in harmony with the prophet’s declaration, the 232 princes of Israel went out first. When Ben-hadad was informed that these men had come out of Samaria, the ten-tribe kingdom, he commanded that whether they wanted peace or war, his forces were to “take them alive.”

1 Kings 20:19 So these young men of the princes of the provinces came out of the city, and the army which followed them.

Here is a significant statement—the “young men of the princes of the provinces [that is, the Little Flock] … and the army [the 7,000, the Great Company] which followed them,” came out of the city against the Syrians.

1 Kings 20:20 And they slew every one his man: and the Syrians fled; and Israel pursued them: and Ben-hadad the king of Syria escaped on an horse with the horsemen.

1 Kings 20:21 And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.

Syria was defeated, but Ben-hadad “escaped on an horse with the horsemen.” Notice that the king of Israel joined in this battle.

At the present time, we are not able to harmonize these pictures of World War I and World War II with the Little Flock and the Great Company fighting and being victorious and slaying the Syrians. It is strange that they are likened to two little flocks of goats, with one flock numbering 7,000 and the flock of princes numbering 232, which is a figure close to 300. While there will be three World Wars, in this first confrontation Ben-hadad demanded of Israel wealth, wives, etc.—an increasingly unreasonable and exorbitant demand—until Ahab fought and won. Then a second confrontation took place between Ahab and Ben-hadad, as we will see, and World War III is shown in the Micaiah picture in 1 Kings 22:1-38.

The “army” that followed the 232 princes comprised the 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). The Pastor thought the Church would be complete at the time of World War I. First, he thought the end date was 1914, and then he changed it to 1918. However, he lived only until 1916.

We will continue the narrative and then consider World Wars I and II together.

1 Kings 20:22 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.

1 Kings 20:23 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.

1 Kings 20:24 And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains in their rooms:

1 Kings 20:25 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.

1 Kings 20:26 And it came to pass at the return of the year, that Ben-hadad numbered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel.

1 Kings 20:27 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.

1 Kings 20:28 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.

1 Kings 20:29 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.

1 Kings 20:30 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 Ben-hadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner chamber.

What does the term “two little flocks of kids” in verse 27 imply? Certainly the captains of Israel were small in number.

Ben-hadad’s advisers said that the reason Syria had lost the first war was because the Lord was the God of the hills. Therefore, the strategy the second time was to plan that the confrontation would take place in the valleys.

Notice that Jezebel is not in this picture. Hence this battle was a political, or civil, confrontation.

World War I, which started in 1914, was basically three nations against three nations. On one side were England, France, and Russia, but Russia had to back out when the Russian Revolution against the Czar occurred in 1916-1917. Germany, Italy, and Japan were on the other side, and the war seemed to favor Germany when Russia withdrew. From the Allied standpoint on the Continent, Germany was the real enemy, the nation most feared. However, Germany was defeated.

In World War II, again Germany was the big enemy, and that nation was defeated the second time. Currently Germany is in NATO, and the potential rival in the opposite camp is Russia, if we understand prophecy correctly based on other pictures. Europe is basically the setting, the battleground, in all three World Wars.

We will make a few comments on the method of warfare in World Wars I and II. World War I was trench warfare; it was more or less a hand-to-hand battle, which is the same method that had been used for centuries. With the development of airplanes just starting, planes were not a significant factor. Thus the forces were land armies.

However, in World War II, Germany used the Panzer militia, or tanks. Without declaring war, Germany invaded and took control of Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc., in just a matter of days. Because of mechanized tank warfare, Germany seemed to be prospering on flat terrain, that is, on the “plains.” (In contradistinction, trench warfare can take place anywhere.) But in the final analysis, both World War I and World War II were won by the Allied powers. In the first instance, the entry of the United States made the victory possible by sending great numbers of troops. In the Second World War, a similar situation occurred. The very tanks that Hitler started with were counteracted when England and the United States made their own tanks. Eventually the German tanks were overwhelmed because of the mass production of tanks, especially here in America.

Not all the particulars here in chapter 20 would fit the antitype. Two small groupings of Israelites are mentioned the second time (verses 15 and 20), so in both battles, Israel fought with insignificant numbers against a great Syrian host.

Q: Is there any connection with the fact that by the time World War III comes, the Little Flock will be off the scene? Since God knows who will comprise the Little Flock and also the Great Company, both are mentioned for World War I and World War II. Revelation 7:3 reads, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” When the final conflict comes, the Little Flock will be off the scene but not the Great Company.

A: At this time, we cannot harmonize all the details in chapter 20 with the antitype. [Note: The study on this chapter was given in 1990.]

1 Kings 20:31 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.

1 Kings 20:32 So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother.

1 Kings 20:33 Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy brother Ben-hadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Ben-hadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot.

1 Kings 20:34 And Ben-hadad 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.

This whole setting pertained to the military, not to religion. Also, we see that Ahab spared the life of Ben-hadad at the end of this second war and made a covenant with him.

Comment: If Ben-hadad represents Germany as a common denominator, we are seeing again today a leniency toward that country in allowing reunification.

Reply: The Allied nations were liberal to Germany after World War II. Of all the strange developments, the Marshall Plan was instituted, and the United States backed up the finance minister of Germany, who was a genius. He brought Germany through circumstances from the bottom of the ladder to the top. Japan rose economically too. Thus these two nations emerged from their defeat to assume a strong economic status. In the type, King Ahab pulled Ben-hadad up into his chariot and made a covenant with him. Antitypically speaking, this certainly happened as a result of World War II.

Japan was an enemy during the war, but the Japanese people revered General Douglas MacArthur for his efforts after the war. Japan was in chaos and disarray following the bombing of two cities, but MacArthur treated the Japanese very honorably, raising their morale. A good administrator, he got Japan back on its feet. Japan’s and Germany’s reconstruction continued, and now they are in a better financial situation than we are.

Many things are backward and strange in the social, criminal, and moral system. The enemy, not the victor, dictated the terms for peace. For example, Israel won the more recent war with Egypt but, because of pressure from allies, lost the fruits of the war to its Egyptian attackers.

1 Kings 20:35 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.

1 Kings 20:36 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.

1 Kings 20:37 Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him.

1 Kings 20:38 So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face.

1 Kings 20:39 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.

1 Kings 20:40 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.

1 Kings 20:41 And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets.

1 Kings 20:42 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.

1 Kings 20:43 And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.

A son of the prophets asked in the name of the Lord that he be smitten. The one who disobeyed “the voice of the LORD” by refusing to do the smiting was slain by a lion. Then that prophet found another man and said, “Smite me.” This time the man smote him but only wounded him instead of killing him. Next the same prophet departed and, disguising himself, waited for King Ahab to come along. As Ahab passed by, the prophet cried out, “I went out into the midst of the battle, and behold, a soldier brought a man to me and said, ‘Keep this man. If by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you will pay a talent of silver.’ And as your servant was busy here and there, the man was gone.” Ahab said to the disguised prophet, “So shall your judgment be. You yourself have decided it.” When the prophet removed the disguise, Ahab recognized him as one of the prophets. The prophet then pronounced judgment on Ahab for letting go the man (Ben-hadad) whom God had devoted to destruction. Ahab went back to Samaria “resentful and sullen” (see RSV). Subsequently Ahab mourned and repented, so the destruction of his house was delayed until his son came on the scene (see chapter 21).

Comment: World War III is not mentioned until the Micaiah account in chapter 22. The prophecy is just given that Ahab would lose his life.

(1989-1991 Study)

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