1 Kings 20 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of 1 Kings 20)

Verse 1

[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.

Gathered his host — To war against Israel: wherein his design was to enlarge the conquest which his father had made, but God's design was to punish Israel for their apostacy and idolatry.

Verse 3

[3] Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.

Thy silver, … — I challenge them as my own, and expect to have them forthwith delivered, if thou expect peace with me.

Verse 4

[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.

The king said — I do so far comply with thy demand, that I will own thee for my Lord, and myself for thy vassal, and will hold my wives, and children, and estate, as by thy favour, and with an acknowledgment.

Verse 5

[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;

Saying, … — Although I did before demand not only the dominion of thy treasures, and wives, and children, as thou mayst seem to understand me, but also the actual portion of them; wherewith I would then have been contented.

Verse 6

[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.

Yet, … — Yet now I will not accept of those terms, but together with thy royal treasures, I expect all the treasures of thy servants or subjects; nor will I wait 'till thou deliver them to me, but I will send my servants into the city, and they shall search out and take away all thou art fond of, and this to prevent fraud and delay; and then I will grant thee a peace.

Verse 7

[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.

Seeketh mischief — Though he pretended peace, upon these terms propounded, it is apparent by those additional demands, that he intends nothing less than our utter ruin.

I denied not — I granted his demands in the sense before mentioned.

Verse 10

[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.

And said, … — If I do not assault thy city with so numerous an army, as shall turn all thy city into an heap of dust, and shall be sufficient to carry it all away, though every soldier take but one handful of it.

Verse 11

[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.

Let not him, … — Do not triumph before the victory, for the events of war are uncertain.

Verse 13

[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.

And behold, … — God, though forsaken and neglected by Ahab, prevents him with his gracious promise of help: that Ahab and the idolatrous Israelites, might hereby be fully convinced, or left without excuse, that Ben-hadad's intolerable pride, and contempt of God, and of his people, might be punished: and that the remnant of his prophets and people who were involved in the same calamity with the rest of the Israelites, might be preserved and delivered.

I am the Lord — And not Baal, because I will deliver thee, which he cannot do.

Verse 14

[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.

He said, … — Not by old and experienced soldiers, but by those young men; either the sons of the princes, and great men of the land, who were fled thither for safety; or their pages, or servants that used to attend them: who are bred up delicately, and seem unfit for the business.

Thou — Partly to encourage the young men to fight courageously, as being the presence of their prince: and partly, that it might appear, that the victory was wholly due to God's gracious providence, and not to the valour or worthiness of the instruments.

Verse 15

[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.

All Israel — All that were fit to go out to war; all, except those whom their age, or the same infirmity excused.

Verse 18

[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.

Take them — He bids them not fight, for he thought they needed not to strike one stroke; and that the Israelites could not stand the first brunt.

Verse 20

[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.

His man — Him who came to seize upon him, as Ben-hadad had commanded.

Fled — Being amazed at the unexpected and undaunted courage of the Israelites, and struck with a divine terror.

Verse 21

[21] And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.

The king went — Proceeded further in his march.

Smote the chariots — The men that fought from them.

Verse 22

[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.

Mark, and see — Consider what is necessary for thee to do by way of preparation. The enemies of the children of God, are restless in their malice and tho' they may take some breathing time for themselves, they are still breathing out slaughter against the church. It therefore concerns us always to expect our spiritual enemies, and to mark and see what we do.

Verse 23

[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.

Said to him — They suppose that their gods were no better than the Syrian gods and that there were many gods who had each his particular charge and jurisdiction; which was the opinion of all heathen nations; that some were gods of the woods, other of the rivers, and others of the mountains; and they fancied these to be the latter, because the land of Canaan was a mountainous land, and the great temple of their God at Jerusalem, stood upon an hill, and so did Samaria, where they had received their last blow: it is observable, they do not impute their ill success to their negligence, and drunkenness, and bad conduct, nor to the valour of the Israelites; but to a divine power, which was indeed visible in it.

In the plain — Wherein there was not only superstition, but policy; because the Syrians excelled the Israelites in horses, which are most serviceable in plain ground.

Verse 24

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

Take the kings away — Who being of softer education, and less experienced in military matters, were less fit for service; and being many of them but mercenaries, and therefore less concerned in his good success, would be more cautions in venturing themselves.

Captains — That is, experienced soldiers of his own subjects, who would faithfully obey the commands of the general (to which the kings would not so readily yield) and use their utmost skill and valour for their own interest and advancement.

Verse 27

[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.

And went — Being encouraged by the remembrance of their former success, and an expectation of assistance from God again.

And pitched — Probably upon some hilly ground, where they might secure themselves, and watch for advantage against their enemies; which may be the reason why the Syrians durst not assault them before the seventh day, verse 29.

Little flocks — Few, and weak, being also for conveniency of fighting, and that they might seem to be more than they were, divided into two bodies.

Verse 30

[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.

The wall — Or, the walls (the singular number, for the plural) of the city; in which they were now fortifying themselves. This might possibly happen thro' natural causes; but most probably, was effected by the mighty power of God, sending some earthquake, or violent storm which threw down the walls upon them; or doing this by the ministry of angels. And if ever miracle was to be wrought, now seems to have been the proper season for it; when the blasphemous Syrians denied the sovereign power of God, and thereby in some sort obliged him, to give a proof of it; and to shew, that he was the God of the plains, as well as of the mountains; and that he could as effectually destroy them in their strongest holds, as in the open fields; and make the very walls, to whose strength they trusted for their defence, to be the instruments of their ruin. But it may be farther observed, that it is not said, that all these were killed by the fall of this wall; but only that the wall fell upon them, killing some, and wounding others.

Verse 31

[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.

He will save thy life — This encouragement have all poor sinners, to repent and humble themselves before God. The God of Israel is a merciful God; let us rend our hearts and return to him.

Verse 32

[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.

My brother — I do not only pardon him, but honour and love him as my brother. What a change is here! From the height of prosperity, to the depth of distress. See the uncertainty of human affairs! Such turns are they subject to, that the spoke of the wheel which is uppermost now, may soon be the lowest of all.

Verse 33

[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.

Thy brother — Understand, Liveth: for that he enquired after, verse 32.

Verse 34

[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.

Streets — Or, Markets, etc. places where thou mayest either receive the tribute which I promise to pay thee, or exercise judicature upon my subjects in case of their refusal.

So he made, … — He takes no notice of his blasphemy against God; nor of the injuries which his people had suffered from him.

Verse 35

[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.

In the word — ln the name, and by the command of God, whereof doubtless he had informed him.

Smite me — So as to wound me, verse 37. He speaks what God commanded him, though it was to his own hurt; by which obedience to God, he secretly reproacheth Ahab's disobedience in a far easier matter. And this the prophet by God's appointment desires, that looking like a wounded soldier, he might have the more free access to the king.

Refused — Not out of contempt of God's command, but probably, in tenderness to his brother.

Verse 36

[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.

Slew him — We cannot judge of the case; this man might be guilty of many other heinous sins unknown to us but known to God; for which, God might justly cut him off: which God chose to do upon this occasion, that by the severity of this punishment of a prophet's disobedience, proceeding from pity to his brother, he might teach Ahab the greatness of his sin, in sparing him through foolish pity, whom by the laws of religion, and justice, and prudence, he should have cut of.

Verse 38

[38] So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face.

With ashes — Or, with a cloath, or band; (as the Hebrew doctors understand the word) whereby he bound up his wound, which probably was in his face; for it was to be made in a conspicuous place, that it might be visible to Ahab and others.

Verse 39

[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.

He said — This relation is a parable; an usual way of instruction in the eastern parts, and most fit for this occasion wherein an obscure prophet was to speak to a great king; impatient of a down-right reproof, and exceeding partial in his own cause.

A man — My commander as the manner of expression sheweth.

Verse 40

[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.

Thy judgment — Thy sentence; thou must perform the condition. Either suffer the one, or do the other.

Verse 42

[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.

Thy life — "What was the great sin of Ahab in this action, for which God so severely punisheth him?" The great dishonour hereby done to God, in suffering so horrid a blasphemer, to go unpunished, which was contrary to an express law, Leviticus 24:16. And God had delivered him into Ahab's hand, for his blasphemy, as he promised to do, verse 28, by which act of his providence, compared with that law, it was most evident, that this man was appointed by God to destruction, but Ahab was so far from punishing this blasphemer, that he doth not so much as rebuke him, but dismisseth him upon easy terms, and takes not the least care for the reparation of God's honour, and the people were punished for their own sins, which were many, and great; though God took this occasion to inflict it.