Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary

Verses 1-11 (1 Kings 20:1-11)

Here is, I. The threatening descent which Ben-hadad made upon Ahab?s kingdom, and the siege he laid to Samaria, his royal city, 1 Kgs. 20:1. What the ground of the quarrel was we are not told; covetousness and ambition were the principle, which would never want some pretence or other. David in his time had quite subdued the Syrians and made them tributaries to Israel, but Israel?s apostasy from God makes them formidable again. Asa had tempted the Syrians to invade Israel once (1 Kgs. 15:18-20), and now they did it of their own accord. It is dangerous bringing a foreign force into the country: posterity may pay dearly for it. Ben-hadad had with him thirty-two kings, who were either tributaries to him, and bound in duty to attend him, or confederates with him, and bound in interest to assist him. How little did the title of king look when all these poor petty governors pretended to it!

II. The treaty between these two kings. Surely Israel?s defence had departed from them, or else the Syrians could not have marched so readily, and with so little opposition, to Samaria, the head and heart of the country, a city lately built, and therefore, we may suppose, not well fortified, but likely to fall quickly into the hands of the invaders; both sides are aware of this, and therefore,

1. Ben-hadad?s proud spirit sends Ahab a very insolent demand, 1 Kgs. 20:2, 3. A parley is sounded, and a trumpeter (we may suppose) is sent into the city, to let Ahab know that he will raise the siege upon condition that Ahab become his vassal (Nay, his villain), and not only pay him a tribute out of what he has, but make over his title to Ben-hadad, and hold all at his will, even his wives and children, the godliest of them. The manner of expression is designed to gall them; ?All shall be mine, without exception.?

2. Ahab?s poor spirit sends Ben-hadad a very disgraceful submission. It is general indeed (he cannot mention particulars in his surrender with so much pleasure as Ben-hadad did in his demand), but it is effectual: I am thine, and all that I have, 1 Kgs. 20:4. See the effect of sin. (1.) If he had not by sin provoked God to depart from him, Ben-hadad could not have made such a demand. Sin brings men into such straits, by putting them out of divine protection. If God may not rule us, our enemies shall. A rebel to God is a slave to all besides. Ahab had prepared his silver and gold for Baal, Hos. 2:8. Justly therefore is it taken from him; such an alienating amounts to a forfeiture. (2.) If he had not by sin wronged his own conscience, and set that against him, he could not have made such a mean surrender. Guilt dispirits men, and makes them cowards. He knew Baal could not help, and had no reason to think that God would, and therefore was content to buy his life upon any terms. Skin for skin, and all that is dear to him, he will give for it; he will rather live a beggar than not die a prince.

3. Ben-hadad?s proud spirit rises upon his submission, and becomes yet more insolent and imperious, 1 Kgs. 20:5, 6. Ahab had laid his all at his feet, at his mercy, expecting that one king would use another generously, that this acknowledgment of Ben-hadad?s sovereignty would content him, the honour was sufficient for the present, and he might hereafter make use of it if he saw cause (Satis est prostrasse leoni?It suffices the lion to have laid his victim prostrate); but this will not serve. (1.) Ben-hadad is as covetous as he is proud, and cannot go away unless he have the possession as well as the dominion. He thinks it not enough to call it his, unless he have it in his hands. He will not so much as lend Ahab the use of his own goods above a day longer. (2.) He is as spiteful as he is haughty. Had he come himself to select what he had a mind for, it would have shown some respect to a crowned head; but he will send his servants to insult the prince, and hector over him, to rifle the palace, and strip it of all its ornaments; nay, to give Ahab the more vexation, they shall be ordered, not only to take what they please, but, if they can learn which are the persons or things that Ahab is in a particular manner fond of, to take those: Whatsoever is pleasant in thy eyes they shall take away. We are often crossed in that which we most dote upon; and that proves least safe which is most dear. (3.) He is as unreasonable as he is unjust, and will construe the surrender Ahab made for himself as made for all his subjects too, and will have them also to lie at his mercy: ?They shall search, not only thy house, but the houses of thy servants too, and plunder them at discretion.? Blessed be God for peace and property, and that what we have we can call our own.

4. Ahab?s poor spirit begins to rise too, upon this growing insolence; and, if it becomes not bold, yet it becomes desperate, and he will rather hazard his life than give up all thus. (1.) How he takes advice of his privy-council, who encourage him to stand it out. He speaks but poorly (1 Kgs. 20:7), appeals to them whether Ben-hadad be not an unreasonable enemy, and do not seek mischief. What else could he expect from one who, without any provocation given him, had invaded his country and besieged his capital city? He owns to them how he had truckled to him before, and will have them advise him what he should do in this strait; and they speak bravely (Hearken not to him, nor consent, 1 Kgs. 20:8), promising no doubt to stand by him in the refusal. (2.) Yet he expresses himself very modestly in his denial, 1 Kgs. 20:9. He owns Ben-hadad?s dominion over him: ?Tell my lord the king I have no design to affront him, nor to receded from the surrender I have already made; what I offered at first I will stand to, but this thing I may not do; I must not give what is none of my own.? It was a mortification to Ben-hadad that even such an abject spirit as Ahab?s durst deny him; yet it should seem, by his manner of expressing himself, that he durst not have done it if his people had not animated him.

5. Ben-hadad proudly swears the ruin of Samaria. The threatening waves of his wrath, meeting with this check, rage and foam, and make a noise. In his fury, he imprecates the impotent revenge of his gods, if the dust of Samaria serve for handfuls for his army (1 Kgs. 20:10), so numerous, so resolute, an army will be bring into the field against Samaria, and so confident is he of their success; it will be done as easily as the taking up of a handful of dust; all shall be carried away, even the ground on which the city stands. Thus confident is his pride, thus cruel is his malice; this prepares him to be ruined, though such a prince and such a people are unworthy of the satisfaction of seeing him ruined.

6. Ahab sends him a decent rebuke to his assurance, dares not defy his menaces, only reminds him of the uncertain turns of war (1 Kgs. 20:11): ?Let not him that begins a war, and is girding on his sword, his armour, his harness, boast of victory, or think himself sure of it, as if he had put it off, and had come home a conqueror.? This was one of the wisest words that ever Ahab spoke, and is a good item or momento to us all; it is folly to boast beforehand of any day, since we know not what it may bring forth (Prov. 27:1), but especially to boast of a day of battle, which may prove as much against us as we promise ourselves it will be for us. It is impolitic to despise an enemy, and to be too sure of victory is the way to be beaten. Apply it to our spiritual conflicts. Peter fell by his confidence. While we are here we are but girding on the harness, and therefore must never boast as though we had put it off. Happy is the man that feareth always, and is never off his watch.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary