Sometimes following the Lord and obeying Him doesn’t look like the world expects it to look. Those dilemmas can be difficult for mature believers, they are much more confusing to new followers. Listening to the Lord takes precedence over listening to the heart which can often lead us astray.
It seems that everything that happened between Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah had impacted Ahab for the better. Because their king was following the Lord, so too was Israel. The prophets who had lived hidden under Obadiah’s care were now free.
Ben-hadad, king of Syria had a treaty with Judah, but not Israel and they were a strong nation determined to take everything from Israel. Ben-hadad gathered a huge army from the thirty two nations which served him and set his sights on Israel. With such an enormous army he didn’t even feel the need to fight. They gathered in their tents and Ben-hadad sent a messenger to Ahab to say his wives, children, and treasure were now his. Ahab said, “Sure, all that is mine is yours.” But when the king of Syria said okay, hand ‘em over Ahab didn’t want to do. He conferred with the elders and sent word that he had changed his mind. Verses 10-12 describe the rest of the conversation.
“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.” 11 And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.’” 12 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.’
Now there would be war. And the Syrian king as so confident about it, he directed the action, not from the battlefield, but from a tent where he and some of the other kings were getting drunk. Verses 13-15 read,
“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.” 14 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.” 15 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.”
Ahab understood that there was no human way to defeat Syria, but he listened to the prophet and followed God’s directions. He remembered that The LORD can do anything. Verses 16-21 describe the battle.
“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. 17 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.” 18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”
19 So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them. 20 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. 21 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 back to Ahab and said, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.”
How often do we win one battle against the enemy and rest on our laurels? We can rest on the faith that Jesus wins and we win with Him. It is already done. But we can’t let down our guard and let the enemy make us as ineffective as Ben-hadad was in his battle. Galatians 5:1 says,
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
But God told Ahab to strengthen himself and prepare for the next battle which would happen in the spring. While Ahab prepared so did Ben-hadad and the kings under him. They decided that they lost because they had fought in the hills not the plain. They declared their gods to be gods of the plains and Israel’s God to be a God of the hills. But they underestimated The Lord. He is God of All, He is God of the Universe. It is all His. Psalm 24:1-2 say,
“The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
2 for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.”
Verses 26-30 describe the battle.
In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. 28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “TheLord is a god of the hills 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.’” 29 And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. 30 And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.
The Syrian army had undervalued and misjudged God but now they made an assumption about His people. Verses 30-32 in The Message read,
“Ben-Hadad escaped into the city and hid in a closet. Then his advisors told him, “Look, we’ve heard that the kings of Israel play by the rules; let’s dress in old gunnysacks, carry a white flag of truce, and present ourselves to the king of Israel on the chance that he’ll let you live.”
32 So that’s what they did. They dressed in old gunnysacks and carried a white flag, and came to the king of Israel saying, “Your servant Ben-Hadad said, ‘Please let me live.’”
Ahab said, “You mean to tell me that he’s still alive? If he’s alive, he’s my brother.”
In the ESV they described the kings of Israel as merciful. God is merciful, to His people, those He chooses to be merciful to. (Romans 9:14-18). We are to be like Him. But the world doesn’t know God, so they misconstrue who He is and who they think Christians ought to be. Of course they get it wrong, and they use it against us.
Ahab was in a quandary. It seemed more godly to show mercy and spare their lives, but God had time and again warned Israel against taking prisoners. (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). Ahab, the once vicious and wicked king chose mercy. It looked like godliness, but it was worldliness. How many times have we chosen Christianity over Christ? How many times have we chosen to look good to the world rather than obey The Lord? Ahab let Ben-hadad go and made a financially beneficial covenant with him. Verses 35-37 say,
“And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the Lord, “Strike me, please.” But the man refused to strike him. 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall strike you down.” And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and struck him down. 37 Then he found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” And the man struck him—struck him and wounded him.”
Hitting the prophet seemed wrong but God had ordered it. He had a reason. The injury allowed the prophet to be disguised when he confronted Ahab. Verses 38-43 in The Message read,
“Then the prophet went and took a position along the road, with a bandage over his eyes, waiting for the king. It wasn’t long before the king happened by. The man cried out to the king, “Your servant was in the thick of the battle when a man showed up and turned over a prisoner to me, saying, ‘Guard this man with your life; if he turns up missing you’ll pay dearly.’ But I got busy doing one thing after another and the next time I looked he was gone.”
The king of Israel said, “You’ve just pronounced your own verdict.”
41 At that, the man ripped the bandage off his eyes and the king recognized who he was—one of the prophets!
42 The man said to the king, “God’s word: Because you let a man go who was under sentence by God, it’s now your life for his, your people for his.”
43 The king of Israel went home in a sulk. He arrived in Samaria in a very bad mood.”
It seemed godly to be merciful and let Ben-hadad go, but it wasn’t what God chose. He had delivered the mighty Syrian into Ahab’s hands under a sentence of death. God showed him his folly through the prophet. God was owed a life and the lives of a people. Ahab was going to pay the price.
Today, as believers we know Jesus paid the price. We’re forgiven. But we don’t use His grace as an excuse for sin, we use it as a reason to more closely follow Him, and He uses it to make us more like Him. The more we look like Jesus, the less we look like the world. Remember who you are in Christ.