Today: [1 Kings Chapter Twenty]: When God Blesses an Unrepentant Sinner. In this chapter we find king Ahab under attack by the Syrians. Ahab is an idolater, married to Jezebel who delighted to kill the prophets of God. Yet when he comes under attack by a foreign power God defends and protects him and he wins a great victory. We are taught that God will not bless the sinner – yet he died for us when we were yet sinners. At the same time we cannot interpret God’s mercy as His endorsement of our lifestyles lest we become a Pharisee in our thinking.
[1Ki 20:1-43 KJV] 1 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. 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 to morrow 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. 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. 12 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.
In this chapter the king of Syria comes against Ahab, the king of the Northern Tribes of Israel. Ahab rules from the hill of Samaria. Samaria was built by Ahab’s father Omri as the capital of the northern tribes and it is located approximately 30 miles north of Jerusalem. Samaria means “hedge”. Everything the northern kings did in setting up the altar in Bethel and Samaria was to put a hedge between Judea and the northern kingdom. Now the king of Syria by the name of Benhadad sends word demanding Ahab’s wives, children and gold and silver as a threat of war. Benhadad means “son of the mighty” and he is the same king of Syria that Asa enlisted against Israel when Basha reigned. He had defeated Israel before and is now coming back for a second time. All of this originated not only in Ahab’s evil ways before the Lord but also Asa’s penchant for leaning to the arm of flesh instead of looking to the Lord.
Zecheriah 4:6 tells us “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord…” when we lean to the arm of flesh rather than trusting in God we are not always in charge of the outcome. When Asa hired Syria against Israel eventually Syria decided to come in on their own and eventual this opened the door for all the northern tribes to go into captivity. Asa in failing to trust in God gave incentive to the enemies of God to attack Israel again and again. We see this in our own day. In years past the enemies of God use the courts to take prayer out of schools and legalize abortion. In retaliation the church used the courts to pass initiatives such as the defense of marriage act – relying on the same courts for victory just as Asa tried to use Syria instead of trusting in God. What was the result? The people who sponsored legislation such as the defense of marriage act, etc., gave the enemies of God something they could defeat likewise using the courts. Are we to rely on the courts or to rely upon God? King David in the Psalms poses the question:
[Psa 121:1 KJV] I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help?
Most translators read this is a statement but in fact it is a question that David answers in the next verse:
[Psa 121:2 KJV] 2 My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
King Asa died because he leaned to the physicians. He opened the door for the ten northern tribes to go into captivity because he relied on Syria rather than relying on God. Our help does not come from the courts, or from the next presidential candidate, or from the political party you choose to support. Our help comes from the Lord. When we lean to the arm of flesh and try to use the enemy’s tactics we will be defeated every time.
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. 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 every one 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. 22 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.
An unnamed prophet comes to Ahab and instructs him from the Lord how to gain the victory over Syria. Bear in mind the events of previous chapters. Elijah confronted Ahab and slew the 450 prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel put Elijah on the run for his life even though he broke a three year drought by the word of the Lord. Ahab has seen the God that answers by fire but has not given any sign of repentance. Rather than repent he put a bounty on Elijah’s head and he has been on the run since. What this tells us is that God is promising victory to an unrepentant Ahab. In Christian teaching we are led to believe that God will not act in behalf of those who do not repent but time and again in the scriptures we find that not to be true. The danger of that thinking is to presume if you measure up to what you think God requires is that He is somehow obligated to act on your behalf. This is a Pharisee in the making. God delivered Ahab all the while he was worshipping at the altar of Baal and completely unrepentant. Jesus talked about this very issue:
[Mat 5:44-45 KJV] 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
So Ahab hearkens to the counsel of the Lord by the prophet and wins a great victory against Benhadad of Syria. The following year the Syrians come again because they are thinking that the Israelites gods are in the hills and if they attack in the plains they hope to be successful. Why did the Syrians think the gods of the Israelites are in the hills? Because the northern tribes littered their territory with pagan gods on top of every hill and under every green tree in Israel. Nonetheless God gives them victory.
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. 31 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 [any thing 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. 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.
In this second campaign against Israel Benhadad and his army are defeated by the word of the Lord. A prophet is sent to instruct Ahab and over 100,000 Syrians die in the battle. Benhadad comes in sackcloth and ashes asking for mercy and Ahab regards him like a brother. Why? Because Benhadad worships Baal just as Ahab does. Because of this in violation of God’s command Ahab makes a covenant with a defeated Benhadad and sends him away. Ahab doesn’t realize it but he has signed his death warrant. A prophet disguises himself and confronts Ahab. Because Ahab spared Benhandad when God ordered that he be destroyed – Ahab will now lose his own life. This was exactly what Saul did in the Southern Kingdom when he spared Agag the king of the Amalekites.
When your life or liberty are threatened in some way you can seek the Lord and be instructed. The thing you must pay near attention to is to do all that God says even when it isn’t convenient to do so. You must also realize that just because God gives you victory over your enemies doesn’t mean that God approves of your lifestyle or your choices. Ahab was an unrepentant idolatry who delighted in killing the prophets and worshipping at the altar of Baal – yet God spared him. Likewise we cannot assume because we are protected by God in a given situation that God endorses the choices we make. We must obey God even in the inconvenient things lest we forsake our own mercy and bring about our own downfall.
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