1 Kings 20:22-43: Prophet and King
We were learning about Syria, and its king Ben-hadad. The Syrians were at war with Israel, and their army had besieged Samaria where King Ahab lived. Who encouraged the king of Israel? The Syrians were driven off. At the same time, the prophet warned Ahab to strengthen himself, for at the return of the year the king of Syria would come against him again. The spring when the bright weather came again after the cold and wet of winter, was "the time when kings go forth to battle" (2 Sam. 11:1); for they depended more on war than on useful work for the enrichment of their kingdoms.
So the next year in the spring the Syrians came again, but this time they did not come to Samaria, nor into the hills. They said that the gods of Israel were gods of the hills, and they hoped that they would not be with them in the plain. The Syrians came across the Jordan from the east and camped in the great meadow of Esdraelon, where so many battles have been fought. The town of Aphek, near which they were, was the same town by which the Philistines camped in their last battle with Saul and Jonathan. (1 Sam. 29:1) It was in the eastern border of the plain near Mount Gilboa.
The army of Israel was gathered together, and pitched near by. They were so few compared with the host of the Syrians that they looked "like two little flocks of kids." But the very fact that they were so few would make them more sure to depend for strength upon the Lord. They waited seven days, and then in a battle the Israelites drove the Syrians before them. They found shelter in Aphek, but a great number were killed by a falling wall.
The Syrians with every sign of submission and humility asked pity for Ben-hadad. Ahab was too easily deceived. He called the Syrian king his brother and received him into his chariot, and they made promises of friendship. A prophet now came to Ahab, and by a sort of parable showed the king what wrong he had done in letting his enemy go. We can often know ourselves more truly and judge of our own conduct when we see the same in other people. Remember Nathan's parable to David, and our Lord's parables. We see nothing clearly in the parable, and then we see that it is the same in ourselves. As you read how Ahab saved Ben-hadad whom he should have destroyed, are you reminded of another story which we learned, of Saul? (1 Sam. 15)
1. Who was Ben-hadad? For what purpose did he come to Samaria? With what result?
2. When the Syrians came again why did they meet the army of Israel in the plain and not among the hills?
3. What other battles had been fought near this same place?
4. What was the result of this battle? What did Ahab do which he should not have done?
5. How did the prophet show Ahab his fault? What similar wrong had been done by another king?
Because some enemy, of wrong habit or wrong feeling or thought, has been overcome by the Lord's help and ceases for the time to trouble us, we ought not to feel secure against it and be off our guard. It will return. We should make use of the time of rest to strengthen ourselves, so that when it comes again we shall be ready, by the Lord's help, to defeat it again, and gradually it will lose its power.
The Syrians, when they came the second time, fought with Israel in the plain. We may perhaps be strong in good resolutions. If our enemies should attack us in our higher, holier states they could not have success, but they meet us in the valley; they lie in wait as we are busy with the work and cares of the world; they find us when we are tired and discouraged and our good resolutions are in part forgotten; and we must be prayerful and watchful or they will overcome us. The Holy Land is a land of hills and valleys. There are in a good life, in a heavenly life, internal and external states; there are times for worship and holy resolution, and there are times for the business of the world. The Lord is ready to give protection and blessing in them all; only let us be sure that our God is with us as we go from the hills into the valleys. (Deut. 8:7; 9:10-11; E. 518, 644; A. 2702, 8278)
The army of Israel seemed "like two little flocks of kids" as it lay encamped against the Syrians. What element of heavenly life does the kingdom of Israel represent in us? Spiritual intelligence, as Judah represents heavenly affection. Goats in their best meaning also represent spiritual intelligence, the affection for learning and thinking true thoughts about the Lord and heaven; and kids represent such intelligence of the most innocent and gentle kind. (A. 4169; E. 314)
The armies waited seven days. This reminds us of the seven days at Jericho, when the ark was carried about the city. Seven is associated with a full week of labor and the state of heavenly strength and peace which follows. So in both these cases the seven days preceding the victory represent the thoroughness of preparation, the patience with which we must persist in what is right, until the right prevails. (E. 257; A. 433)
Aphek by which the Syrians camped and in which they took refuge, the same city by which the Philistines once took their stand, would seem to represent some false and perverted state of thought. Especially the wall in Aphek, which fell upon the Syrians, must represent false principles and reasoning in which the mind trusts for defense, but which bring destruction. We may remember Jericho again and its walls which fell before the ark. We may remember the Philistines in Gaza when Samson pulled their own house down upon them. (A. 6419, 8815)
Ahab saved the Syrian king alive, as Saul had saved the king of the Amalekites. A battle in which an enemy is defeated, but in which the king is saved alive, represents a conflict with an evil of life, in which some external wrongs are corrected, but the root of evil is not overcome. We love it too well. We own it as our brother. Ben-hadad making friends with Ahab in his chariot is natural, self-confident reasoning and thought mingling with true spiritual thought which is from the Lord. There is a similar suggestion of the mingling of our own natural thought with the Lord's pure truth, in the Syrians' making streets in Samaria, and Ahab making streets in Damascus. In all our conflicts with wrong habits of life, of thought, and of feeling, we must be thorough, and must not save alive what is pleasant to ourselves and make compromises with evil. (A.7523; E. 650)