This chapter relates more to the history of Israel as a nation, than to the government of the church. It informs us of a battle between Syria and Israel, in which the Syrians are worsted. Ahab doth not avail himself of his victory, for which he is reproved by the prophet.
(1) В¶ 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.
During the time that Israel served the Lord, the Lord made all their enemies submissive. But when Israel rebelled against the Lord, the enemies of Israel became formidable. We may spiritualize this passage with great safety. While the Lord's people live in dutiful affection to Jesus, he maketh even their enemies to be at peace with them. But when they leave their first love, many subdued foes gain their ascendency. But what an object still is the soul of that man reduced to by sin, that, like Ahab, will rather live a pensioner upon the devil's favor, than die a freed servant of the Lord of hosts.
(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 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.
Reader! And is not this the language of the enemy of souls to his vassals? is not the man that committeth sin, the servant and slave of sin? And if we have yielded ourselves servants to such a tyrant, and such a master; can we expect anything but rigor in his treatment?
(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.
The historical sense of this passage, is what is very common in human life. A proud, imperious character triumphing over a less, and the oppressed obliged to submit, until overacted oppression compels the trampled upon to resist. But the spiritual sense is sweeter. While the enemy of souls, like Pharaoh, threatens total ruin; the believer in Jesus saith, I know that my God can, and I trust that he will deliver. We have a beautiful example in the case of the three servants of the Lord; see Daniel 3:16-18.
(12) В¶ 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.
So the enemy, confident of victory, sets on with his legions on our poor nature.
(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.
Observe the graciousness of God. Though Ahab be so undeserving: and though Israel be so undeserving also, in general; yet the Lord hath his seven thousand in Israel, for whose sakes the city must be preserved. Oh! how much, could it be calculated, do the ungodly owe to the Lord's people! See sweet examples, Genesis 19:22; Isaiah 65:8; Isaiah 65:8.
(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 everyone 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.
Observe how true God is to his promises.
(22) В¶ 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.
I pass over the mere history itself, to call the Reader to the spiritual lessons arising out of it. See, Reader! how confident the enemies of our God and of his Christ are: and see how the Lord, amidst all the undeservings of his people, is merciful. But, as in the case of Ahab's history, so in the history of the Lord's Israel, everything speaks the same language: Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake. Ezekiel 36:22-23. There is a similar gracious reason given in Moses' song. Deuteronomy 32:26-27.
(31) В¶ 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 anything 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.
I would again pass over the mere history, to gather somewhat spiritual. Is not Benhadad like the proud sinner when humbled and brought low? Doth he not come, as with a rope round his neck, and sackcloth on his loins, like one ready for execution; confessing, after all his proud and self righteous language, that now, the weapons of sin being taken out of his hands, he merits nothing but punishment in the very moment he pleads for mercy. Reader! depend upon it, every truly awakened sinner doth so; and while he sues for pardon, confesses he deserves it not. I dare not represent the clemency of our dear Jesus by such a character as Ahab, in his kindness to Ben-hadad. But yet, I may say, without the danger of sullying the holiness of the Saviour, by the view of the sinner; that in reading the account that Ahab called his enemy brother, and caused him to ride in his chariot, it reminded me of thy tender mercy, thou who art mercy itself, in that thou not only condescendest to receive sinners, and to eat with them; but on the cross, and now in glory, thou commendest thy love to us, in that while we were enemies, thou didst die for us. And not only is it said of thee, that thou art not ashamed to call such brethren; but hast shown thyself, a brother indeed born for adversity; one that loveth at all times, notwithstanding our undeservings; and who sticketh closer than a brother. Oh! unparalleled love, and matchless grace of our Jesus! Proverbs 17:17; Psalms 22:22; Proverbs 18:24.
(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.
Who this certain man of the sons of the prophets was is not said. The Jews have concluded that it was Micaiah, of whom we read in 1 Kings 22:1, because Ahab expresses in that chapter his hatred of him on account of his prophesying evil. But, be it whom it might, certain it is, that be came to Ahab in the name of the Lord. The story he feigned was just corresponding to the real state of the case. The Lord had delivered his enemy into his hand; and he, without consulting the Lord, had let him escape. And the prediction, that his life should pay the forfeiture for the life of Benhadad, and the people of Israel for the Syrians, came to pass. 1 Kings 22:35.
READER! the perusal of this chapter ministers to our minds two very opposite reflections; but both such as may be rendered sweet and profitable under the Lord's teaching. It is hardly possible to look at Ahab in the determined hardness of a corrupt heart, which neither the fear of man nor the mercy of God proved sufficient to subdue, but with the most painful consideration on the awful state of the wicked. To what an extent of power must Satan have reigned and ruled in this man's mind! Deaf to all danger: to all the alarming providences of God around him! Deaf to all the calls of grace and mercy: neither moved by the alarms of Benhadad's army, anymore than as it concerned temporal safety: nor moved by the gracious message of God, though twice repeated, and as often followed with the promised deliverance: we hear nothing of his expressing any sense of his undeserving; nor of his thankfulness for the great and unmerited deliverance. Having eyes and seeing not; and having ears, and hearing not; neither regarding the works of the Lord, nor the operations of his hands.
But how blessed is it, in the midst of all the unworthiness and continued provocations of Ahab, and of his people, to see the Lord still saving his Israel and remembering his covenant-mercy. Oh, Lord! let these precious tokens of thy love comfort my soul, amidst all mine unhallowed and soul-distressing departures I am continually making from thee. Oh, Holy Father! let me never forget that tender, that unparalleled love of thine, who, though thou knewest I should be a transgressor from the womb, still didst not keep back thy Son, thine only blessed Son, but gave him up for my salvation! Oh! most precious Jesus! cause my soul to hang forever on thee, in the contemplation of thine unheard of mercy, when for my sake thou didst endure the cross, despise the shame, and art now sat down on the right-hand of the Majesty on high. And oh! thou Holy Ghost, the Comforter! forever blessed be thy matchless love to me, in that thou hast condescended, in defiance of all my carnal enmity and hatred to the ways of salvation, which by nature my whole frame was full of, to become my teacher, and to make me willing in the day of thy power! Oh! Lord God! Jehovah! now reign and rule in all, and over all my affections, that while, like Ahab, men of the world go down to their houses heavy and displeased, I may come to Zion with Songs of everlasting joy upon my head, with all the redeemed of thy people; and sorrow and sighing may flee away forever.