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1 Kings 20 by Robert Dean
Series:Kings (2007)
Duration:1 hr 7 mins 44 secs

The Importance of Obedience. 1 Kings 20:1-ff


1 Kings chapter twenty doesn't even mention Elijah but he is very much in the background. We focus in this chapter though on what God is doing in working out His discipline on the northern kingdom of Israel and specifically on the house of Ahab. This fits perfectly within the flow of what is taking place between chapters 18 which focused on the event on Mount Carmel where God showed that he is God, the Lord and creator of the universe and is in control, the theme which continues throughout these next two or three chapters. God is making this clear in several interesting ways and the focus on chapter twenty fits within this theme; He is showing to Ahab that He is God. This is an expression of God's grace. God continues to reach out to Ahab to challenge him with the truth of His existence, and this is a tremendous reminder to us of God's continuing grace in our lives and that even when we are disobedient and rebellious and even ignore Him, nevertheless He continues to reach out to us in grace. There is always the opportunity for us to recover and to be restored to fellowship. But there is a warning, an implicit warning, that if we push things too far we can come under the sin unto death.


What we see in this chapter is an emphasis on two different doctrines: on the one hand the grace of God and on the other hand the judgment and discipline of God for those who are disobedient. If we were to take one word that sort of focuses our attention on the key doctrines in this chapter it has to do with obedience. There are those within the grace camp that emphasize the grace of God who have somehow got the idea that obedience equals legalism. That is just not true. Legalism is the idea that by doing certain things, going through certain motions, that just those actions and acts themselves somehow impress God and he blesses us because we do those things. That is the essence of legalism—if we go to church, if we read our Bible every day, if we pray, if we memorize Scripture, if we give a certain amount of money, God blesses us because we do those things. So in legalism the emphasis is on the actions themselves rather than what is really going on in the believer's own individual life and walk with God. A grace orientation to the spiritual life doesn't mean that we don't have to read the Bible, don't have to pray, don't have to witness and don't have to give; in other words, we don't have to be obedient. A grace orientation focuses on the fact that obedience is a response to God's grace and goodness because we want to align ourselves with His Word in obedience to what He says and in gratitude for what He has given us, not in order to gain favor. We recognize that the grace that we receive from God is not based on what we do, it is based on what Christ did; it is based on His righteousness and His character which was given to us at salvation, and because we have His righteousness we are saved. It is His righteousness that is the basis for God's grace blessings to us, not on what we do.


The reason we are to be obedient is because that is aligning ourselves with the way God created things; it is aligning ourselves to the reality of God's Word. When He has these various mandates/commands in Scripture and prohibitions that that is designed for our wellbeing and our spiritual health, physical health in some cases, and moral health, because that is how He had designed reality. So obedience isn't a bad thing.


When we look at various things in Scripture that talk about obeying His commandments we always have to pay attention to where we read those on the Scripture. Are we reading in Exodus, Leviticus, John, Galatians or Ephesians? The focus of obedience changes in terms of the context of these books historically and the dispensation in which they were given. In the Old Testament obedience is directed to the Mosaic Law to Israel because that was the controlling covenant for the Old Testament period for Israel. But in the New Testament the focus is on that which is revealed in the New Testament, the mandates and prohibitions that are there for believers. We obey these because it is expected of us. We are responsible for how we live sour lives as members now of God's royal family. There is a code of conduct for those who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we disobey Him we are out of fellowship and in a position where God will bring discipline on us, but He always precedes that discipline with grace. We see that principle of grace preceding judgment all the way through Scripture and even when we see despicable characters like Ahab we just wonder why God continues to reach out to him in grace. Even though Ahab's sins are much more obvious than most of ours sin is not something that is qualified in such a way that there are better sins and there are worse sins, all sin, any sin, no matter how light it is, is just as obnoxious to God and just as much a violation of His character as a sin such as mass murder or child abuse or any of the other horrible things we can think of. God deals with us in grace just as he deals with Ahab.


Chapter 20 is rather simple to cover. It involves a couple of different battle scenes, battles which take place between Ahab and Ben-hadad II who is the king of Aram, no referred to as Syria. At the beginning we have this act of Ben-hadad who is just a drunken bully coming down with 32 allies to try to intimidate Ahab into giving up all of his wealth and just to let the Aramaeans come in and plunder the northern kingdom. But God sends a prophet to Ahab and says He is going to give Ahab victory. What a gracious thing! We have seen how horrible Ahab is and this victory that God gives him is pure grace. Ahab doesn't deserve it. As we see this invading army coming in from the north perhaps the first thing that would occur to us is that we are going to see another stage of divine discipline in the northern kingdom as they are defeated militarily. But as we read further that God sends a prophet to tell Ahab that He is going to give him victory over Ben-hadad we might ask just what is going on here. Why is God being so good to Ahab? And it doesn't have anything to do with Ahab. What a great picture of salvation! God saved us and it doesn't have anything to do with us. It has to do with something prior to all of that, it has to do with the character of God, His plan and His purposes for the northern kingdom. It goes back to the Abrahamic covenant and to aspects of the Mosaic covenant; and so God is continuing to deal with Israel on the basis of these covenants, on the basis of His character and not on the basis of who they are and what they do. So there is gong to be this great victory in the first part of the chapter, and then there is a second battle at Aphek. Following this there is another little episode where another prophet comes to Ahab and acts out a drama in front of the king, in the process of which there is going to be a judgment announced on Ahab because he has continued to resist the grace of God.


1 Kings 20:1 NASB "Now Ben-hadad king of Aram gathered all his army, and there {were} thirty-two kings with him, and horses and chariots. And he went up and besieged Samaria and fought against it." The 32 kings would probably be smaller kings of city states in the area of Aram. [2] "Then he sent messengers to the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, 'Thus says Ben-hadad, [3] Your silver and your gold are mine; your most beautiful wives and children are also mine.'" Ahab uses a certain amount of diplomatic skill here and he is wanting to draw Ben-hadad out in terms of his real motivations for what he is going to do. So he decides to give them to Benhadad. [4] "The king of Israel replied, 'It is according to your word, my lord, O king; I am yours, and all that I have.'" He is sort of calling Ben-hadad's bluff a little bit. The messengers go back to Ben-hadad who decides to ask for even more. He is acting like a typical bully coming in and wants to knock Ahab around a little bit and run off with all his valuables. So he sends other messengers.


1 Kings 20:5 NASB "Then the messengers returned and said, 'Thus says Ben-hadad, 'Surely, I sent to you saying, "You shall give me your silver and your gold and your wives and your children," [6] but about this time tomorrow I will send my servants to you, and they will search your house and the houses of your servants; and whatever is desirable in your eyes, they will take in their hand and carry away.'" So at this time Ahab calls his council together and explains what is going on. [7] "Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land and said, 'Please observe and see how this man is looking for trouble; for he sent to me for my wives and my children and my silver and my gold, and I did not refuse him.' [8] All the elders and all the people said to him, 'Do not listen or consent.'" In other words, if Ben-hadad wants a battle we'll give it to him.


1 Kings 20:9 NASB "So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, "Tell my lord the king, 'All that you sent for to your servant at the first I will do, but this thing I cannot do.'" And the messengers departed and brought him word again." Notice how respectful Ahab is in the diplomatic interchange. The way he expresses this in the Hebrew is not "I cannot do," it is "I may not do." He is being very tactful in the way that he is handling to situation. So the messengers go back with the word to Ben-Hadad and Ben-hadad swears an oath, much like the oath that Jezebel swore against Elijah in the previous chapter. [10] "Ben-hadad sent to him and said, 'May the gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria will suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.'" In other words, he is saying may I end my life if I haven't reduced Samaria to just a couple of handfuls of dust by this time tomorrow. This isn't just a flippant saying. Oaths like this were considered very serious in the ancient world; he is putting his own life on the line, as it were.


1 Kings 20:11 NASB "Then the king of Israel replied, "Tell {him,} 'Let not him who girds on {his armor} boast like him who takes {it} off.'" In other words, don't act as if you have already won the battle yet; we haven't even fought so don't take your victory for granted. When Ben-hadad heard that he gathered his kings together and they decided to prepare for battle by getting drunk. That's always a great idea, we know right away that their orientation to reality is a little off, that they are overwhelmed and blinded by their own arrogance, and so they decide to prepare for battle by having a great party. By noon they are already drunk and their ability to think clearly has been destroyed. And it is at this time that a prophet comes to Ahab.


1 Kings 20:13 NASB "Now behold, a prophet approached Ahab king of Israel and said, "Thus says the LORD, 'Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD.'" We might wonder why in the world we need to pay attention to this, it just seems like the history of a battle in Israel so what is the spiritual impact here. Pay attention to what God is doing through the prophet. This happens about three times in the chapter and that gives us the orientation as to how it has application for us.


Remember that Elijah said in the last chapter, O Lord there is no one left but me. So in this chapter through these unnamed prophets God is showing that are other prophets there in the northern kingdom that are just as obedient as Elijah and they haven't bowed the knee to Baal either. This is one of the 7000 who hadn't bowed the knee to Baal.


We don't know how large this army was that Ben-hadad had with him but they probably outnumbered the Israelites 10 or 15 to one. It was a huge number when they had this kind of a coalition force gathered together just against a small Israel and the city of Samaria. God promises that it doesn't matter how big the opposition is the battle is His, not theirs—"and you shall know that I am Yahweh." Ahab, didn't you get that figured out a few months ago when we were on Mount Carmel? Didn't that make an impression on you? It didn't. The important point to remember here is that no matter how great the miracle or how powerful the theophany of God is the real issue in life doesn't have to do with people's reason or experience, it has to do with their volition. When their volition is set against God it doesn't matter how much evidence is put in front of them. They may have a superficial, emotional change for a short time but if they have set their heart against God it is not long before they go back to their old ways. Peter called that a dog returning to his vomit. So once again Ahab has to have a little extra sensory demonstration of God's power and reality.


1 Kings 20:14 NASB "Ahab said, 'By whom?' So he said, 'Thus says the LORD, 'By the young men of the rulers of the provinces.' Then he said, 'Who shall begin the battle?' And he answered, 'You.'" God has not only said that He would give them victory but He was also going to give the means to victory: the right thing has to be done in a right way. The "rulers of the provinces" were the key leaders who came out of different regions and formed up an elite group of warriors within the Israelite army.

1 Kings 20:15, 16 NASB "Then he mustered the young men of the rulers of the provinces, and there were 232; and after them he mustered all the people, {even} all the sons of Israel, 7,000. They went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the temporary shelters with the thirty-two kings who helped him." Notice the number 7000. There is a correlation with the previous reference to 7000 "who have not bowed the knee to Baal." This can't be coincidence, it has to be reminding us of what God had told Elijah. It was those positive believers who were responding to the call for troops. It shows again that it is believers who are oriented to the Word of God and rightly oriented to an understanding of God's plan and purposes in history, who understand the importance of the nation and the defense of the nation, and these are the ones who respond to the call. They go out at noon and Ben-hadad and those helping him were getting drunk at the command post and are well prepared now for defeat. 

1 Kings 20:17 NASB "The young men of the rulers of the provinces went out first; and Ben-hadad sent out and they told him, saying, 'Men have come out from Samaria.'" When Ben-hadad sees the 232 coming out he is told that it was too small of a group to be an armed attack. He is not sure if he is being attacked or whether they are coming out to negotiate, so what is he going to do? [18] "Then he said, 'If they have come out for peace, take them alive; or if they have come out for war, take them alive.'" It is such a small group, just surround them and take them all alive. As they did that, because of the tactics of these young warriors, when they Aramaean army surrounded them they attacked. They attacked in every direction. 1 Kings 20:20 NASB "They killed each his man; and the Arameans fled and Israel pursued them, and Ben-hadad king of Aram escaped on a horse with horsemen."

1 Kings 20:21 NASB "The king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and killed the Arameans with a great slaughter. [22] Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, 'Go, strengthen yourself and observe and see what you have to do; for at the turn of the year the king of Aram will come up against you.'" Ahab needed to go and prepare because this was not the end of this, they are going to come back. The second attack comes up in the next verse. This is going to take place at Aphek. There are several villages and town in Israel named Aphek and most believe that this refers to the Aphek that is near the present day Eingev—"ein" relates to a spring and so this relates to a spring on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. This area is that is now known as the Golan Heights. It has always been in dispute between Syria and Israel.

1 Kings 20:23 NASB "Now the servants of the king of Aram said to him, 'Their gods are gods of the mountains, therefore they were stronger than we; but rather let us fight against them in the plain, {and} surely we will be stronger than they.'" This is what happens in human viewpoint when nations and leaders are operating apart from a biblical framework of truth, because they have to reinterpret reality in terms of their rejection of God. And so they make fundamentally flawed decisions. This is the same kind of thing that we see going on in the world today as leaders in the west seek to continue to act as if Islam is not the militant, radical religion that the Koran presents it to be.

1 Kings 20:25 NASB "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 will be stronger than they.' And he listened to their voice and did so. [26] At the turn of the year, Ben-hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. [27] The sons of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went to meet them; and the sons of Israel camped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Arameans filled the country." There was quite a difference is size. Israel is just overwhelmed. Then God speaks.

1 Kings 20:28 NASB "Then a man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel and said, 'Thus says the LORD, 'Because the Arameans have said, "The LORD is a god of {the} mountains, but He is not a god of {the} valleys," therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.'" Notice, God takes this personally. Before he was trying to demonstrate to Ahab that He was God; now He is going to demonstrate to the Syrians that he is not a small little hill god, and so His honor, His character, His person is at stake and he is now going to once again deliver Ahab. It doesn't have anything to do with Ahab or what he has done or hasn't done; it has everything to do with God and His character once again. When the day of the battle comes, [29] "So they camped one over against the other seven days. And on the seventh day the battle was joined, and the sons of Israel killed {of} the Arameans 100,000 foot soldiers in one day." In the ancient world if you lost 100 troops in one day that was a serious defeat. So we can multiply that by 1000 and we have an extremely serious defeat. [30] "But the rest fled to Aphek into the city, and the wall fell on 27,000 men who were left. And Ben-hadad fled and came into the city into an inner chamber."

Then we get to the last point which is the real focal point of this chapter. 1 Kings 20:31 NASB "His servants said to him, 'Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful [chesed, the word for being loyal to a covenant] kings, please let us put sackcloth on our loins and ropes on our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; perhaps he will save your life.'" This presupposes a covenant between the Aramaens and the northern kingdom preceding this, and so they are saying that they would plead with Israel and they will be faithful to that covenant and will not kill us. So they are going to dress up to them is sackcloth, etc. This is how they would dramatize their repentance, their sorrow, and their obedience and submission to the king of Israel, and maybe he will spare their lives. Ahab is going to release Ben-hadad and let him live.      

1 Kings 20:33 NASB "Now the men took this as an omen, and quickly catching his word said, 'Your brother Ben-hadad.' Then he said, 'Go, bring him.' Then Ben-hadad came out to him, and he took him up into the chariot." They described Ben-hadad as "brother," he is other royalty; Royalty doesn't like to execute other royalty, once regicide begins you never know when it is going to stop and so they don't like to kill other kings.

1 Kings 20:34 NASB "{Ben-hadad} said to him, 'The cities which my father took from your father I will restore, and you shall make streets for yourself in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria.' {Ahab said,} 'And I will let you go with this covenant.' So he made a covenant with him and let him go." This goes back to Ben-hadad I who had taken the area of Naphtali which is most of the sea on the west side of the Sea of Galilee all the way up to Dan. That is described in 1 Kings 15:13-20.

Now we get to the real spiritual point of the chapter. 1 Kings 20:35 NASB "Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to another by the word of the LORD, 'Please strike me.' But the man refused to strike him." The idea was that he wanted someone to knock him hard around the head so that he would have a head wound, would be all bloodied, and look as if he had come out of the battle. He is doing this under the authority of God. The person he goes to would have understood that but he just can't do it. But this was a command from God, a command from the prophet is a command from God, and so the act of disobedience brings immediate consequences. [36] "Then he said to him, 'Because you have not listened to the voice of the LORD, behold, as soon as you have departed from me, a lion will kill you.' And as soon as he had departed from him a lion found him and killed him." Instant divine discipline: sentence of death for disobeying a direct command from God under these circumstances.

1 Kings 20:37 NASB "Then he found another man and said, 'Please strike me.' And the man struck him, wounding him." He had heard about the first man. So the prophet is bloodied because he has to be prepared for the little street drama that he is going to put on before the king. [38] "So the prophet departed and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with a bandage over his eyes. [39] As the king passed by, he cried to the king and said, 'Your servant went out into the midst of the battle; and behold, a man turned aside and brought a man to me and said, 'Guard this man; if for any reason he is missing, then your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.'" In other words, this wounded prophet who is playing a role here says, I was in the battle and was given a prisoner to guard, and I was told that if the prisoner escaped then I would pay for it with my life or with a talent of silver. A talent of silver would be about 75-pounds of silver, and that is worth about $15,000 on today's market. This was a tremendous amount of money for this individual would have paid in order to redeem his life from the death penalty. [40] "While your servant was busy here and there, he was gone." And the king of Israel said to him, "So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided {it.}" Ahab just says, well that's your punishment.

At that point the prophet pulls off the bandage to reveal who he is and the king recognized him as one of the prophets. 1 Kings 20:42 NASB "He said to him, 'Thus says the LORD, 'Because you have let go out of {your} hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people.'" This is the same kind of drama Nathan played before David. [43] "So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and vexed, and came to Samaria." That means he is angry and depressed because God had just given him the death penalty for his disobedience. God had extended grace to him and grace to him and grace to him: more and more evidence of His reality and His existence and Ahab continued to disobey or to partially obey. God brought judgment.

Obedience is a critical issue in a believer's life. The elements that are important in a believer's life are faith—because we trust in God, we believe His Word and we trust in His promises. Because we believe His Word is true that leads to the implementation and application of His Word, and that is obedience. When we get into the New Testament in John 14 where Jesus makes it very clear what the issues are in terms of obedience. John 14:15 NASB "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." Jesus is giving the disciples their marching orders for the church age. This is not being legalistic, it is a demonstration of our response to Him, to His grace. John 14:23 NASB "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.'" This is a promise related to fellowship.

The same thing was true in Israel. In Deuteronomy they were told that those who loved the Lord were to keep His commandments. This is a principle that goes throughout the Scripture. So in order to show our love for Him, to keep His commandments, we have to know what His commandments are; we do this through a study of His Word. We have to know what pertains to Israel in the Old Testament and what pertains to the church age in the New Testament. But it is by keeping His commandments, by learning to walk by the Holy Spirit, to abide in Christ, and not stay out of fellowship for long, that the believer is in a position where God the Holy Spirit matures us and brings spiritual growth into our lives.