An Unconscionable Demand, A Gift of Grace, a Foolish Covenant, and a Tragic End (1 Kings 20-21)

Scripture reading – 1 Kings 20-21

Our Scripture reading is rich in drama and too long and involved for one devotional commentary. I encourage you to read both chapters, while I limit our devotional study to 1 Kings 20. By God’s grace, I hope to return to this great drama in another year.

1 Kings 20 – A Fearless Adversary and An Unconscionable Demand

Recalling Judah’s alliance with Benhadad, king of Syria (1 Kings 15:18-20), we find the armies of Syria and thirty-two other kings aligned against Ahab, king of Israel (20:1).

King Benhadad issued three demands to Ahab, each demand increasing in its severity. The first demand was for an unequivocal surrender of Ahab’s gold, silver, his wives, and his children (20:3-4).

Disgracefully, King Ahab capitulated to the first demand and it was soon followed by a second demand. Emboldened, Benhadad magnified his incursion into Israel’s autonomy and announced that his servants would not only plunder the treasuries of the palace, but the households of his servants (20:5-7).

Realizing there would be no end to his adversaries’ demands, King Ahab called his leaders to conference (20:7). The king shared how he had conceded his own household to Benhadad, however, his adversary’s second demand was to invade their homes and take their possessions. Ahab’s elders counseled him, “Hearken not unto him, nor consent” (20:8).

Refusing to accept Benhadad’s terms (20:9), the Syrian king threatened he would not rest until Ahab was dead (20:10). Empowered by the counsel of his elders, Ahab responded to Benhadad, “Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off” (20:11). If you will allow, I suggest a modern adage that sums up Ahab’s response is: “Don’t count your chicks until they hatch!”

Drunk with wine and clearly not possessing the good judgment of a warrior king, Benhadad ordered the kings of his alliance to make their armies ready for battle (20:12).

God mercifully, in an act of grace and in spite of the wickedness of King Ahab, sent a prophet to the king. The prophet encouraged Ahab, “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” (20:13).

Assured he would have the support of the young leaders of Israel (20:14), Ahab numbered his soldiers, and preempted a battle with Syria.  God gave Israel the victory (20:15-21); however, Benhadad escaped and the prophet warned Ahab he must prepare Israel’s army for a second battle that would follow the next year (20:22).

In spite of their defeat, the Syrians began to boast that Israel’s God was “not God of the valleys” (20:23, 28). The kings in alliance with Benhadad were reassured they would defeat Israel in the plains (20:24-27).

Facing an enormous Syrian army that had gathered in the plains, God sent a prophet to assure Ahab, “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” (20:28).

Seven days later, with their armies arrayed in battle, the LORD gave Ahab victory, and Israel slew one hundred thousand soldiers (20:29). Fleeing the battlefield to seek safety in the city of Aphek, another twenty-seven thousand Syrians died when the wall of that city fell and crushed them (20:30).

Fresh off his victory, King Ahab foolishly entered into an alliance with Benhadad who, following the counsel of his servants, depicted the humility of a defeated foe hoping that his life would be spared (20:30b-32). Failing to seek the LORD in the decision, Ahab made a covenant with the Syrian king and soon learned it was a disastrous decision for himself and Israel (20:33-34).

To portray the folly of Ahab’s covenant with Benhadad, God sent a young prophet who disguised himself as a wounded soldier (20:35-38). When the king passed by, the prophet, masquerading as a casualty of war, called to the king.  The young prophet’s true identity concealed, he explained how he had unwittingly allowed his enemy to escape and his penalty would be either to “pay a talent of silver” or forfeit his life (20:40).

King Ahab, rather than spare the “wounded soldier” and extend to him mercy and pardon, instead condemned the man (20:40). The young prophet then revealed that Ahab had pronounced his own judgment (20:41), revealing the king’s failure to kill his adversary would cost him his own life (20:42;22:34-38). Rather than repent of his sin, Ahab returned to Samaria knowing his failure to obey the LORD (20:42) had sealed his own fate (20:43).

I close with an oft spoken, but true adage: Be Sure Your Sin Will Find You Out!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith