Ahab’s Victories over Aram.* 1Ben-hadad, king of Aram, gathered all his forces and, accompanied by thirty-two kings with horses and chariotry, set out to besiege and attack Samaria. 2He sent messengers to Ahab, king of Israel, within the city, 3and said to him, “This is Ben-hadad’s message: ‘Your silver and gold are mine, and your wives and your fine children are mine.’” 4The king of Israel answered, “Just as you say, my lord king, I and all I have are yours.” 5But the messengers came again and said, “This is Ben-hadad’s message: ‘I sent you word: Give me your silver and gold, your wives and your children. 6But now I say: At this time tomorrow I will send my servants to you, and they shall ransack your house and the houses of your servants. They shall seize and take away whatever you consider valuable.’” 7The king of Israel then summoned all the elders of the land and said: “Understand clearly that this man is intent on evil. When he sent to me for my wives and children, my silver and my gold, I did not refuse him.” 8All the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen. Do not give in.” 9Accordingly he directed the messengers of Ben-hadad, “Say this: ‘To my lord the king: I will do all that you demanded of your servant the first time. But this I cannot do.’” The messengers left and reported this. 10Ben-hadad then responded, “May the gods do thus to me and more, if there will remain enough dust in Samaria to make handfuls for all my followers.” 11The king of Israel replied, “Tell him, ‘Let not one who puts on armor boast like one who takes it off.’” 12Ben-hadad was drinking in the pavilions with the kings when he heard this reply. He commanded his servants, “Get ready!”; and they got ready to storm the city.
13Then a prophet came up to Ahab, king of Israel, and said: “The LORD says, Do you see all this vast army? Today I am giving it into your power, that you may know that I am the LORD.” 14But Ahab asked, “Through whom will it be given over?” He answered, “The LORD says, Through the aides of the provincial governors.” Then Ahab asked, “Who is to attack?” He replied, “You are.” 15So Ahab mustered the aides of the provincial governors, two hundred thirty-two of them. Behind them he mustered all the Israelite soldiery, who numbered seven thousand in all. 16* They marched out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking heavily in the pavilions with the thirty-two kings who were his allies. 17When the aides of the provincial governors marched out first, Ben-hadad received word, “Some men have marched out of Samaria.” 18He answered, “Whether they have come out for peace or for war, take them alive.” 19But when these had come out of the city—the aides of the provincial governors with the army following them— 20each of them struck down his man. The Arameans fled with Israel pursuing them, while Ben-hadad, king of Aram, escaped on a chariot horse. 21Then the king of Israel went out and destroyed the horses and chariots. Thus he inflicted a severe defeat on Aram.
22Then the prophet approached the king of Israel and said to him: “Go, regroup your forces. Understand clearly what you must do, for at the turning of the year* the king of Aram will attack you.” 23Meanwhile the servants of the king of Aram said to him: “Their gods are mountain gods. That is why they defeated us. But if we fight them on level ground, we shall be sure to defeat them. 24This is what you must do: Take the kings from their posts and put prefects in their places. 25Raise an army as large as the army you have lost, horse for horse, chariot for chariot. Let us fight them on level ground, and we shall surely defeat them.” He took their advice and did this. 26At the turning of the year, Ben-hadad mustered Aram and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27The Israelites, too, were mustered and supplied with provisions; then they went out to meet the enemy. The Israelites, encamped opposite, looked like little flocks of goats, while Aram covered the land. 28A man of God approached and said to the king of Israel: “The LORD says, Because Aram has said the LORD is a god of mountains, not a god of plains, I will give all this vast army into your power that you may know I am the LORD.” 29They were encamped opposite each other for seven days. On the seventh day battle was joined, and the Israelites struck down one hundred thousand foot soldiers of Aram in one day. 30The survivors fled into the city of Aphek, where the wall collapsed on twenty-seven thousand of them. Ben-hadad, too, fled, and took refuge within the city, in an inner room.
31His servants said to him: “We have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Allow us, therefore, to garb ourselves in sackcloth, with cords around our heads, and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life.” 32Dressed in sackcloth girded at the waist and wearing cords around their heads, they went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Spare my life!’” He asked, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.”* 33Hearing this as a good omen, the men quickly took him at his word and said, “Ben-hadad is your brother.” He answered, “Go and get him.” When Ben-hadad came out to him, the king had him mount his chariot. 34Ben-hadad said to him, “The cities my father took from your father I will restore, and you may set up bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” Ahab replied, “For my part, I will set you free on those terms.” So he made a covenant with him and then set him free.
Prophetic Condemnation. 35Acting on the word of the LORD, one of the guild prophets said to his companion, “Strike me.” But he refused to strike him. 36Then he said to him, “Since you did not obey the voice of the LORD, a lion will attack you when you leave me.” When he left him, a lion came upon him and attacked him.a 37Then the prophet met another man and said, “Strike me.” The man struck him a blow and wounded him. 38The prophet went on and waited for the king on the road, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. 39As the king was passing, he called out to the king and said: “Your servant went into the thick of the battle, and suddenly someone turned and brought me a man and said, ‘Guard this man. If he is missing, you shall have to pay for his life with your life or pay out a talent of silver.’* 40But while your servant was occupied here and there, the man disappeared.” The king of Israel said to him, “That is your sentence. You have decided it yourself.” 41He quickly removed the bandage from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42b He said to him: “The LORD says, Because you have set free the man I put under the ban,* your life shall pay for his life, your people for his people.” 43c Disturbed and angry, the king of Israel set off for home and entered Samaria.
* [20:1–22:54] Although coverage of Ahab’s reign began in 16:29, he was only a secondary character in the chapters about Elijah. Now attention focuses on Ahab. Each of these chapters tells a story of the king (20:1–34; 21:1–16; 22:1–4, 29–38), to which is attached a scene of prophetic condemnation (20:30–42; 21:17–29; 22:5–28). As relations between Ahab and the prophets of the Lord deteriorate, the scenes of prophetic condemnation get longer and the condemnations themselves become more pointed. Some historians doubt that the stories of hostility between Israel and Aram (chaps. 20 and 22) originally pertained to the reign of Ahab. If this is correct, their original setting may have been several decades later.
* [20:1–34] This story recounts two battles through which Ahab won freedom for Israel from vassalage to Ben-hadad of Syria. The story is chiastically arranged: negotiations (vv. 1–12), battle (vv. 13–21), battle (vv. 22–30), negotiations (vv. 31–34). The ensuing prophetic condemnation is surprising, since the portrait of Ahab in vv. 1–34 is apparently quite positive.
* [20:16–19] The narrator uses a sort of verbal split-screen technique to show us two separate and simultaneous scenes. At the gates of Samaria, the Israelite forces are coming out to battle (v. 16a): first the aides (lit., “young men”; v. 17a), then the whole army (v. 19). Meanwhile in the Aramean camp Ben-hadad is getting drunk (v. 16b), receiving reports (v. 17b) and issuing commands (v. 18).
* [20:22] At the turning of the year: the idiom may mean “next year about this time” or “at the beginning of the year,” i.e., the spring (cf. 2 Sm 11:1).
* [20:32] He is my brother: cf. note on 9:13.
* [20:39] The “man” is ostensibly a prisoner of war, to be kept or sold as a slave. In the event he escapes, the one charged with guarding him would be obliged either to pay a fine or to take his place as a slave. The fine, however, is exorbitant: a talent of silver is roughly one hundred times the price of an ordinary slave (see Ex 21:32). This is the only clue Ahab will get that he is being set up and that the story is really about himself in his dealings with Ben-hadad. In 2 Sm 14:1–20, the wise woman of Tekoa uses the same technique with King David: she tells a story that elicits a reaction from the king; David is tricked into pronouncing judgment on himself, as the story parallels his own situation. The prophet Nathan (2 Sm 12:1–7) likewise uses a story that leads David to see his sin for what it is.
* [20:42] Under the ban: cf. note on Dt 2:34.
a. [20:36] 1 Kgs 13:24.
b. [20:42] 1 Kgs 22:35.
c. [20:43] 1 Kgs 21:4.