1 Kings 20 – “Ahab’s War with Ben-Hadad”

Hebrew-English Text

I. Summary

After laying siege to Samaria, Ben-hadad is defeated by Ahab’s small army. A second battle ensues and Ahab is once again victorious. Ahab is rebuked by an unnamed prophet for letting Ben-hadad go.

II. Photo
Ahab fights against all odds: “When the Israelites encamped against them, they looked like two flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the land.” (v. 27b)

III. Important Verses
1-4: King Ben-hadad of Aram gathered his whole army; thirty-two kings accompanied him with horses and chariots. He advanced against Samaria, laid siege to it, and attacked it. And he sent messengers to Ahab inside the city to say to him, “Thus said Ben-hadad: Your silver and gold are mine, and your beautiful wives and children are mine.” The king of Israel replied, “As you say, my lord king: I and all I have are yours.”
8: All the elders and all the people said, “Do not obey and do not submit!”
11: The king of Israel replied, “Tell him: Let not him who girds on his sword boast like him who ungirds it!”
23: Now the ministers of the king of Aram said to him, “Their God is a God of mountains; that is why they got the better of us. But if we fight them in the plain, we will surely get the better of them.
29-30: For seven days they were encamped opposite each other. On the seventh day, the battle was joined and the Israelites struck down 100,000 Aramean foot soldiers in one day. The survivors fled to Aphek, inside the town, and the wall fell on the 27,000 survivors. Ben-hadad also fled and took refuge inside the town, in an inner chamber.
42-43: [The prophet] said to him, “Thus said the LORD: Because you have set free the man whom I doomed, your life shall be forfeit for his life and your people for his people.” Dispirited and sullen, the king left for home and came to Samaria.

IV. Outline
1. Ben-hadad lays siege to Samaria
2-6. Ben-hadad’s terms; Ahab’s capitulation
7-9. Ahab reneges his surrender
10. Ben-hadad’s anger
11. Ahab’s insult
12. Ben-hadad prepares for war
13-14. God tells Ahab to go to war
15-21. Ahab’s forces crush the Arameans
22. Preparations
23-25. Ben-hadad’s conception of the Israelite deity; Preparation for battle in the plain
26-27. Preparations
28. God’s promise to deliver for Ahab
29-30a. The Israelites prevail:
30b-34. Ben-hadad and Ahab parley
35-42. A prophet rebukes Ahab for letting Ben-hadad go
43. Ahab returns to Samaria in a sullen mood

V. Comment
Chapter 20 relates how Ahab king of Israel defeats Ben-hadad king of Aram in two separate battles. Cogan notes a similar structure between the two battle accounts. He writes: “The descriptions of the two battles are built up of similar elements: a description of the Aramean advance against Israel (vv. 12, 26); a prophetic promise of victory to the king (vv. 13-14, 28); the battle and its outcome in Israel’s favor (vv. 20-21, 29-30). The triumph of ‘the few over the many’ manifests, as it does in the other contexts in which this motif is employed (e.g. Judg 7:1-8), that it is [God] who grants victory to Israel (cf. 1 Kgs 20:13, 28).” (471)

Verse 1 mentions Ben-hadad’s union of kings: “King Ben-hadad of Aram gathered his whole army; thirty-two kings accompanied him with horses and chariots. He advanced against Samaria, laid siege to it, and attacked it.” Who were these 32 kings? Cogan writes: “This large number of allied kings cannot be confirmed by extrabiblical sources. Other coalitions were of smaller proportion; e.g., at Qarqar, Adad-idri f Damascus was supported by 11 Kings; according to the Zakir stela, Ben-hadad III led a force of 7 kings (ANET, 501). A fragment of a stela from Zinjirli contains a reference to ‘thirty kings,’ but the context is not recoverable (KAI 219, line 3). Moreover, the authority that Ben-hadad exercised over these kings (cf. v. 24) indicates that the 32 were most likely tribal chieftains, perhaps in the vicinity of Damascus, rather than heads of large kingdoms.” (462) For a similar idea, reference the “kings” mentioned in Numbers 31:8: “Along with their other victims, they slew the kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. They also put Balaam son of Beor to the sword.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
De Vries, Simon John. “1 Kings” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 12 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1985).
Longe, Burke O. “1 Kings with an Introduction to Historical Literature” Forms of Old Testament Literature vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1984).
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