Ahab Defeats The Assyrians

Several years ago, Millard Fuller of Habitat for Humanity addressed the National Press Club on public radio, on which he recalled a workshop he conducted at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with 200 pastors in attendance. The assembled pastors quickly pointed toward greed and se … More


The scene now switches temporarily from Elijah to an account of Ahab’s reign. This chapter begins with the first of three battles over Samaria. These are between Ahab and Ben-hadad, king of Israel’s northern neighbor.

This Syrian leader, Ben-hadad, was greedy for land. Ahab had strengthened the defenses of the capital city Samaria but he had not prepared an army to meet the threat of the emerging powers around him. Ben-hadad attacked the capital and attempted to intimidate Ahab into an easy surrender. At first Ahab agreed to give in to Ben-hadad’s demands for his silver and gold as well as wives and children. However, Ben-hadad sensed that he could gain more and so he pressed harder (vv. 5-6).

This led to a counsel of war and Ahab’s elders counseled the king not to listen to Ben-Hadad demands. When Ahab replied to the Syrian king that he would not comply he was told that Israel would be ground to dust. Ahab told them not to “count their chickens before they hatch” (v. 11). A prophet of the Lord came to Ahab with the encouraging news that God promised victory to Israel.  The instructions were given and 7,000 Israelites went out in the heat of the day and found the Syrian army resting and getting drunk. This surprised the Syrians and they fled back across their borders.


God defeated the Syrian army for Ahab. Despite this great victory Ahab continued to live without God. Evidence of God’s greatness surrounds me, but like Ahab I can choose to ignore it and disaster will strike. I need to open my eyes to the victories that God is winning for me.

I Kings 20:1-25 (English Standard Version)

Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathered all his army together. Thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots. And he went up and closed in on Samaria and fought against it. And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, "Thus says Ben-hadad: 'Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.'" And the king of Israel answered, "As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have." The messengers came again and said, "Thus says Ben-hadad: 'I sent to you, saying, "Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children." Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants and lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.'" Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land and said, "Mark, now, and see how this man is seeking trouble, for he sent to me for my wives and my children, and for my silver and my gold, and I did not refuse him." And all the elders and all the people said to him, "Do not listen or consent." So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, "Tell my lord the king, 'All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.'" And the messengers departed and brought him word again. Ben-hadad sent to him and said, "The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me." And the king of Israel answered, "Tell him, 'Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.'" When Ben-hadad heard this message as he was drinking with the kings in the booths, he said to his men, "Take your positions." And they took their positions against the city. And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, "Thus says the LORD, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the LORD." And Ahab said, "By whom?" He said, "Thus says the LORD, By the servants of the governors of the districts." Then he said, "Who shall begin the battle?" He answered, "You." Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were 232. And after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand. And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him. The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, "Men are coming out from Samaria." He said, "If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive." So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them. And each struck down his man. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen. And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow. Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, "Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you." And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, "Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places, and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they." And he listened to their voice and did so.

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