1 Kings 20

Ben-hadad the King of Syria gathered all his army together; thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots; and he went up and besieged Samaria, and fought against it.

And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab King of Israel, and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your fairest wives and children also are mine.'”

And the King of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king. I am yours, and all that I have.”

The messengers came again, and said, “Thus says Ben-hadad, ‘I sent to you, saying “Deliver to me your silver and gold, your wives and your children.” Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants, and lay hands on whatever pleases them, and take it away.'”

Then the King of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said, “Mark now, and see how this man is seeking trouble. For he sent to me for my wives and my children; and I did not refuse him.”

And all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not heed or consent.”

So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, “Tell my lord the King, ‘All that you first demanded of your slave I will do; but this thing I cannot do.'”

And the messengers departed and brought him word again. Ben-hadad sent to him and said, “The gods do so to me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.”

And the King of Israel answered him, “Tell him, ‘Let not him that girds on his armor boast himself as him that puts it off.'”

When Ben-hadad was drinking with the kings in their booths, he heard this message, and said to his men, “Take your positions.” And they took their positions against the city.

And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab King of Israel, and said, “This says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

And Ahab said, “By whom?”

He said, “Thus says the Lord, By the servants of the governors of the districts.”

Then he asked, “Who shall begin the battle?”

He answered, “You.”

Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were two hundred and thirty-two; and after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand. And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, with his thirty-two kings.

The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, who reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samaria.”

He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive; or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts, and the army which followed them. And each killed his man; the Syrians fled and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad escaped on a horse with horsemen. And the King of Israel went out, and captured the horses and the chariots, and killed the Syrians with a great slaughter.

Then the prophet came near to the King of Israel, and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do; for in the spring the King of Syria will come up against you.”

And the servants of the King of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.

“And do this, remove the kings, each from his post; and put commanders in their places; and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse and chariot for chariot; then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he hearkened to their voice, and did so.

In the spring Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel.

And the people of Israel were mustered, and were provisioned, and went against them; the people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country.

And a man of God came near and said to the King of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.'”

And they encamped before each other another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined; and the people of Israel smote of the Syrians a hundred thousand foot soldiers in one day. And the rest fled into the city of Aphek; and the wall fell upon twenty-seven thousand men that were left.

Ben-hadad also fled, and entered an inner chamber in the city. And his servants said to him, “Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings; let us put sackcloth on our loins and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the King of Israel; perhaps he will spare your life.” So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and went to the King of Israel and said, “Your slave Ben-hadad says, ‘Pray let me live!'”

And he said, “Does he still live? He is my brother.” Now the men were watching for an omen; and they quickly took it up from him, and said, “Yes, your brother Ben-hadad.” Then he said, “Go and bring him.”

Then Ben-hadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot. And Ben-hadad said to him, “The cities which my father took from your father I will restore; and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” [!]

And Ahab said, “I will let you go on those terms.” So he made a covenant with him and let him go.

And a certain man of the prophets said to his fellow, at the command of the Lord, “Strike me, I pray!”

But the man refused to strike him.

Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold; as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall kill you!”

And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and killed him.

Then he found another man, and said, “Strike me, I pray!”

And the man struck him, smiting and wounding him.

So the prophet departed, and waited for the King by the way, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. And as the King passed, he cried to the King, and said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle; and behold, a soldier turned and brought a man to me, and said, ‘Keep this man; if by any means he be missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver!’ And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone!”

The King of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgement be; you yourself have decided it!”

Then he made haste to take the bandage away from his eyes; and the King of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. And he said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people!'”

And the King of Israel went to his house resentful and sullen, and came to Samaria.


2 responses

  1. Maybe too much to say about this one.Prophets are saying, ~It isn't numbers that win wars, but which side God supports (When/if God supports any.) God is not getting the respect needed to teach people anything, so the prophet is saying: ~'God will back you, with your smaller forces.' Amply vindicated– The enemy is overconfident and drunk. But will be back for a rematch.And the Syrians are betting: Betcha can't do that again, not down in the plains, where our numbers should fully count.And the next prophet is saying ~It wasn't tactics and it wasn't a fluke; the Spirit was the decisive factor, and will be this time also. And so it happens.When the Syrian king comes out to surrender, we note that he's offering a pretty good deal for his life. [And as a minor detail– Even then people are figuring, ~We'll do better putting our bazaar in their city than letting them set up business in ours.]But we've pretty well established that this war is a series of looting expeditions, pure and simple. Also that this king isn't the sort to stop just because he's lost a round. He will want to play again next year, despite a few conceded cities and a bazaar in Damascus. We aren't talking about settling honest disputes peacefully between two nations– but about allowing the escape of one leader with a slight flaw in his character, and the resources to raise a large gang of armed men the next time Damascus gets boring.And now, the next issue. If somebody speaking for God (legitimately) tells you to strike him, should you do that? This is not a Quaker story; the prophet who answers this question the way we would– ends up as lion chow. Must we consider this "punishment" for "disobedience"?– or is he simply obedient to a call to illustrate something here, doing so with his own life as it happens? Rather than "following the rules", a prophet gig seems to involve constant attention to God's immediate demands. The "discernment" involved is not at all about whether a leading matches the pattern or the ethics of past leadings. Then again, there might conceivably be worse possible outcomes than getting munched.And next… a classical prophetic motif: "So shall your judgement be; you yourself have decided it!" One doesn't have to be a prophet to follow this principle– but it's evidently risky.And Ahab insists, "It isn't fair!" He can't win.Why he can't… I think it's because he thinks there's "something he can do" that'll put him on the winning side in these encounters, some way of dealing with the prophets that will guarantee he gets what he wants from them and their God.But there isn't. If he could want to see God's will done, even when it isn't identical to his own, that would work. But as that isn't what he wants–[The upbringing of kings in those days evidently involving mainly pampering and flattery] he really is caught up in an unwinnable game.

  2. “The ‘discernment’ involved is not at all about whether a leading matches the pattern or the ethics of past leadings. Then again, there might conceivably be worse possible outcomes than getting munched.” Yes! The unwinnable game is a bit heartbreaking. I’m seeing Michael Hudson now pillory Obama with hard verbal blows. For conforming to the “looting expeditions” of casino economics by funding finance. Deserved imho. One part of the unwinnable game is a mystery to me – when a “slight flaw” produces catastrophic effects? – and when slight flaws accumulate in a ‘process’ (like your process of revelation) becoming increasingly hardened to the point where lion chow is on the menu? I don’t like my question. It feels naive. And lost. It’s just that I don’t foresee the casino capitalists handing out refunds voluntarily to the poor anytime soon. ~ Jim

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