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Ahab's Disobedience Regarding Ben-Hadad

Posted by Matt Postiff April 9, 2019 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Bible Texts 

Here is today's question:

I’m reading through first Kings, and am clear in the first half of the chapter but am starting to get lost in chapter 20. Why did King Ahab make a pact with the evil king Ben-Hadad. And why did a prophet ask to be stricken?

The implication of 1 Kings 20:13, 22, and 28 is that God promised the king of Israel (Ahab) to defeat the entire Syrian army, including their leader Ben-Hadad. God had appointed this troubler of Israel, Ben-Hadad, to destruction, much like Jericho was devoted to total destruction in Joshua 6-7. The Hebrew term for such a "ban" or destruction is herem.

Why did Ahab make a treaty with Ben-Hadad instead of destroying him? Sin. More specifically, the sin of pride. He wanted to continue to be known as merciful (v. 31). What Ahab did was not worth what Israel got in return--they got cities taken by Ben-Hadad's father returned, and a marketplace in Damascus. To get that stuff, Ahab disobeyed God's instructions to him. He was told God would give the army into his hand; he was told to make plans to fight against the army in the coming spring season; and he was to be God's agent to defeat the arrogant Syrians who thought God was a God of the hills only, not the valleys. But he refused to finish the job. Without punishing the Syrian king, he was basically letting the nation go (even though many foot soldiers died).

Ahab's sin is like that of Jehoshaphat of Judah (1 Kings 22). The latter got himself mixed up with wicked Ahab when he should not have. All too often, the people of Israel "went down to Egypt" for help instead of just following the Lord their God (see Isaiah 30:1-5).

The prophet asked to be stricken to make his "costume" as a soldier more realistic. He was disguised because otherwise the king would have recognized him as a well-known prophet, and would immediately have suspected something before the prophet could make his point. His point was made by way of a fictional story, to show the king that someone who is entrusted to do something as important as he was (with Ben-Hadad) was not going to avoid consequences for his failure to carry out his duty. The only punishment fit for such a sin was a punishment that was commensurate with the crime--the life of the king and the people of Israel in place of the life of Ben-Hadad.

Somewhat parenthetically, 1 Kings 20:35-36 show that obedience to a man of God was required even if it meant doing something fairly strange, such as inflicting a wound upon him. Because the neighbor would not obey, there was a penalty for that too. The severity of the penalty was probably due to the fact that the neighbor knew the man was a prophet and that he should obey him as one who was giving the word of God. It is unlikely he walked up to a random stranger and interacted with him this way.

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