This chapter almost feels out of place in our study. There is story after story of Elijah’s involvement in the politics of Israel and then all the sudden there is a story of a battle between nations. And regardless of the evil of Ahab, God promises him a victory. Not for Ahab’s benefit, not for Elijah’s benefit even, but for God’s sake alone. He has made promises down through the ages, and this is yet, another fulfillment of the promises of God. He has not changed. He is still who He is.
Remember, God has just promised Elijah in chapter 19 that He’s going to replace Aram’s king [Ben-hadad] with Hazael, and Israel’s king [Ahab] with Jehu. Chapter 20 is the beginning of God making good on His promise.
Ahab and Ben-hadad have a little power struggle. Ben-hadad surrounds Ahab and tells him he is wants all his best stuff. And he’s going to come in and get it. Ahab agrees at first and then comes to his senses. He doesn’t WANT to give the Ben-hadad all his best stuff, his prettiest wives, his children, and his finest silver and gold. Ahab consults with his elders and decides that the next day when Ben-hadad sends his servants to collect Ahab’s best things, he would refuse.
The messengers returned to Ben-hadad with the news. Ahab’s exact words are, “Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off.” [v. 11] He’s trash talking. He’s basically saying, don’t have the confidence of winning a battle, before you have shown up for it. Don’t rejoice before the battle has been fought. Ahab’s not going to make this easy on Ben-hadad.
As you can imagine, Ben-hadad is angry. He was already drinking with his buddies after Ahab’s positive response the day before, and now he’s going to actually have to DO something. So he stations his army around Ahab.
It’s getting a little tense and heated. Ahab’s sweating bullets. Maybe he SHOULD have just turned over all his best stuff to this Aramaen king and been done with it?! But a prophet comes to him and promises God’s blessing. I don’t know about you, but this astounds me.
The all time most evil king in Israel’s history, who is more evil than each king before him, who has repeatedly tried to kill God prophet, who has allowed his wife to turn the hearts of the country to false gods, who taunts God, THIS KING is promised victory.
And what piques my interest even more is the why. God, through a prophet tells Ahab, “Behold, I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [v. 13] God has shown Himself to Ahab repeatedly. Through the drought, and the relief from the drought, through the face off at Mt. Carmel, through Elijah’s words and proclamation, and yet here God is giving Ahab another chance to repent. This battle is going to require some courage. Ahab is told he has to strike first. Ben-hadad’s army is encamped around Ahab and the prophet tells him to begin the battle.
Ben-hadad is having a grand time. He thinks there is no way he can lose. He’s already drunk in his tent with 32 other kings who have joined him against Ahab. Ben-hadad tells his soldiers that if they come in peace to bring them to him alive, and if they’ve come for war, to also bring them to him alive. But they don’t get a chance. Ahab’s men kill the soldiers as soon as they’re in range.
It catches Ben-hadad and his men so off guard that Israel completely slaughters the Aramaen army.
The prophet again warns Ahab. The Aramaens will be back at the new year. Be prepared.
I have a few ideas about God’s work here with Israel and Ahab. If I were God, I’d want to fulfill every stereotype created about me, throwing lightning bolts on Ahab’s arrogant house. But God doesn’t. He has promises to fulfill for Israel. He also has judgment to follow through with for Aram.
He gives Ahab another opportunity to turn to Him, to give Him the glory for the work in his life, and to repent. In a way Ahab IS acknowledging the power of God. He actually obeyed the prophet’s orders. But what is the state of his heart? Is it merely for his victory or is there a genuine willingness to see God for who He is?
It causes me to question my own motives as I pursue my relationship with God.
Why am I obeying God?
How can I bring God greater pleasure and glory, by obeying Him for His sake alone?