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with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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1 Kings 20

Benhadad besieges Samaria. (1-11) Benhadad’s defeat. (12-21) The Syrians again defeated. (22-30) Ahab makes peace with Benhadad. (31-43)

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Benhadad besieges Samaria

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.

Benhadad’s defeat

12 And it came to pass, when Ben-hadad 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.

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.

The Syrians again defeated

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.

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.

Ahab makes peace with Benhadad

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 Ben-hadad 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.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. And. The Rom. Sept. and Josephus place this war after the account of Naboth. C. xxi. But the Alex. copy follows the order of the Hebrew. H. — The style Benadad, “the son of Ader.” He succeeded (ver. 34.) the king who attacked Baasa. C. xv. 18. We know not the time nor the occasion of this war. C. — Probably Achab had refused to pay tribute, and God had a mint to try if his obstinacy would yield to kindness, v. 13 and 28. Salien, A.C. 919. — Kings. Almost every city had one.

Ver. 3. Mine. He had a desire to dispose of them, as he though proper. Achab was willing to pay tribute, to remove the impending danger. C.

Ver. 4. Have. Achab is not in earnest, but strives to pacify the barbarian. M.

Ver. 6. Servants, or subjects. The king of Israel has thus a plea to interest all his people, as the danger was common. Salien. — He assumes the character of disinterestedness, as if he had been willing to abandon all his private property; knowing that Banadad would not accede even to that hard proposal. H. — Thus “Nero consulted the first men of the city, whether they would prefer a doubtful war or a disgraceful peace.” Tacit. An. xv.

Ver. 10. Handfuls. Heb. shohal. The Sept. read “shuhal” and render it, “suffice for the foxes, for all the people, (even for) my infantry;” (H.) as if his forces were so numerous as to cover the whole land, and leave no room for even foxes to occupy. The hyperbole is equally great, supposing that his soldiers could by each taking a handful, or what might stick to his feet, (Chal.) carry off all Samaria. Josephus intimates, that Benadad speaks of erecting terraces of equal height with the walls; others, that he would level the city with the ground. Ezec. xxvi. 4. Sanctius.

Ver. 11. Let not the girded, &c. Let him not boast before the victory: it will then be time to glory when he putteth off his armour, having overcome his adversary. Ch. — “Let not him who goes to battle, though well armed, boast; but the man who returns victorious.” Chal. “Enough: let not the man with a crooked back boast, as one that is upright.” Sept. “Let not him that girdeth, (H.) or is bound,” (Heb.) or rather “shutteth up, boast, as he that openeth.” Syriac. It is easy to besiege: but the city does not always fall. Neither people in arms, nor the unarmed, have reason to boast; as the former are often made prisoners, as soon as the latter. C. — A despised enemy sometimes proves most dangerous. H. — Those who distrust in themselves, and place their confidence in God, prevail: a necessary lesson both in temporal and spiritual warfare. W. — The fortune of war is very doubtful. T.

Ver. 12. Pavilion, (umbraculis) or even under “the shade” of the trees, in full security. M. — Beset. Heb. “set, and they set against the city.” Chal. “hold yourselves in readiness, and they laid ambushes round the city.” The siege had not been yet commenced in form, as it was never expected that Achab would dare to make any resistance.

Ver. 13. Prophet. It does not appear who this and the other prophets were who address Achab so boldly during these wars; if indeed they were different persons: Elias is never mentioned. Did Jezabel leave the rest alone? or did these wars break out before she began to persecute them? C. — Many suppose that the prophet, who spoke on this occasion, was Micheas. M. — But Achab complains that he always brought him evil tidings. C. xxii. 8. Salien.

Ver. 14. Servants. Lit. “footmen.” H. — Heb. means either “sons or servants.” The pages of honour, or the menial servants of the lords, were not likely to gain the victory. C. — There were 232 in number, v. 15. Achab followed them, (v. 19.) with 7000; and this army defeated the Syrians. — Thou, not in person; but thy men must begin the attack.

Ver. 18. Alive. This he said out of contempt, and too great confidence; (M.) and this gave occasion to his defeat. For, while his men were endeavouring to execute his orders punctually, the Israelites cut many in pieces, and routed the rest. Salien.

Ver. 23. Hills. All the high places of Israel were covered with idols. Samaria, Bethel, Dan, &c. were built on eminences. M. — Altars had also been erected to the true God on the most famous mountains. The law had been given at Sinai, and promulgated at Garizim. The late miracle at Carmel was known to all. Hence the pagans, (C.) conformably to their notions of assigning different parts of the creation to different gods, suspected that the god of Israel might preside only over the mountains. H. — People are always ready to blame any but themselves. C. — They lay the fault on fortune, &c. T. — The pride of Benadad could not bear to be told that his own temerity had brought on the defeat. H.

Ver. 24. Stead, who may obey thy orders more implicitly. Rex unius esto. C. — Captains, who have been inured to warfare, would not so easily run away. M. — Thus, in the late French republic, commanders were chosen from the common ranks, while the nobles were neglected. H.

Ver. 26. Aphec, belonging to the tribe of Aser, though it does not appear that they ever obtained possession of it. Jos. xix. 30. A subterraneous fire and earthquake have caused the city to sink; and a lake, nine miles in circumference, now occupies its place. The ruins may still be discerned in its waters. It is about two hours walk from the plains of Balbec, (Paul Lucas. Levant i. 20.) at the foot of Libanus. The waters must be very thick and bituminous, if what is related by the ancients be true; namely, that the presents, offered to the Aphacite goddess, were tried by them, and deemed agreeable to her, if they sunk; as wool would do, while tiles, and often metals, would swim. C. Adrichomius places this Aphec on the great plain of Esdrelon, not far from Jezrahel. M.

Ver. 27. Victuals. Heb. also, “they were all present.” Chal. “ready.” Syr. “in battle array.” — Goats. They were comparatively so contemptible, v. 15. H. — At the same time, Josaphat could muster above a million warriors; for piety makes kingdoms prosper. Salien.

Ver. 28. Lord. Many favours were bestowed on Achab, but he died impenitent. W.

Ver. 29. Days. The Syrians durst not begin the attack. H.

Ver. 30. Went, or had gone before, and commanded his men to defend the walls of Aphec. H. — But the slaughter of these 27,000 is joined to the preceding. M. — God caused the walls to fall, as he had done those of Jericho; or the Israelites beat them down with battering rams, and the defendants perished in the ruins. — Chamber. Josephus observes that it was under ground. Micheas told Benadad that he would have thus to hide himself again. C. xxii. 25. C.

Ver. 31. Heads, or necks, to indicate that hey deserved to die. H. — The Syrians acted thus, when they came as supplicants. Josephus viii. 14. — The son of Psammetichus, king of Egypt, was led in this manner to execution, with 2000 others. Herodot. iii. 14. — Bessus was conducted to Alexander with a chain round his neck. Curt. vii. C. — What a reverse of fortune do we here behold! Salien.

Ver. 33. Men. Prot. “Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it, and they said.” They heard him mention the title of brother with joy, concluding that he was not so much irritated, as they might have expected. Allied kings style each other brother; those who are tributary, call themselves servants, (like Achaz, 4 K. xvi. 7. C.) as well as those who seek for favour; as Benadad does at present, v. 32. H. — Luck. The pagans were accustomed to make vain observations. M.

Ver. 34. Thy father. Benadad did not know the changes which had taken place in the royal family of Israel. He speaks of the cities which his predecessor had wrested from Baasa. C. xv. 20. — Streets, for merchants, of whom he would receive tribute: or military stations, as David had done, (2 K. viii. 6.) to prevent any inroads. Benadad does not appear to have complied with these conditions, as the king of Israel had to take Ramath by force. C. xxii. 2. — And having. These words seem to be the conclusion of Benadad’s proposition: but, according to the Hebrew, they contain Achab’s reply. C. — Prot. “The said Achab: I will send thee away with this covenant.” H. — How generous does the conduct of Achab appear to the world! Yet it displeased God. Salien. — He severely punished this foolish pity towards a dangerous foe. W.

Ver. 35. In the word, or by the authority. The person who refused to comply, out of a false compassion, displeased God. The wound of the prophet was a symbol of what would happen to Achab. It was a prophetic action. C. xi. 30. C.

Ver. 38. Dust. Chal. and Sept. “he tied a veil,” &c. Apher has both meanings.

Ver. 39. One. Thus God delivered the proud and blasphemous Benadad to Achab. H.

Ver. 40. Decreed. Thou must either die or pay the money. M. — Thus the king pronounced sentence against himself, as David had done. 2 K. xii. 1. and xiv. 4. The Rabbins assert, that Achab had received an express order from God to destroy and subjugate all the Syrians. He ought, at least, to have been consulted, as he had given the enemy into the hands of the Israelites; (C.) and thus insinuated, that he would have them punished, (v. 28. Rupert v. 13.) for restricting his power to the hills. T.

Ver. 42. Worthy. Heb. “of my anathema;” or, “the man who has fallen into my snares.” Vatab. Cherem is taken in this sense, Mic. vii. 2. &c. He was my prey, and you ought not to have disposed of him without my leave. C. — People. This was verified (C. xxii. M.) within three years. Salien.

Ver. 43. Raging, (furibundus) full of indignation. Heb. “went to his house heavy and displeased.” Sept. “confounded and fainting,” through rage; eklelumenos. H. — “Vexed at the prophet, he ordered him to be kept in prison; and confounded at what Micheas had said, he went to his own house.” Joseph. viii. 14.