Containing The Interval Of One Hundred And Sixty-Three Years.
From The Death Of David To The Death Of Ahab.
How Hadad King Of Damascus And Of Syria, Made Two Expeditions Against Ahab And Was Beaten.
1. WHEN the affairs of Ahab were thus, at that very time the son of Hadad, [Benhadad,] who was king of the Syrians and of Damascus, got together an army out of all his country, and procured thirty-two kings beyond Euphrates to be his auxiliaries: so he made an expedition against Ahab; but because Ahab's army was not like that of Benhadad, he did not set it in array to fight him, but having shut up every thing that was in the country in the strongest cities he had, he abode in Samaria himself, for the walls about it were very strong, and it appeared to be not easily to be taken in other respects also. So the king of Syria took his army with him, and came to Samaria, and placed his army round about the city, and besieged it. He also sent a herald to Ahab, and desired he would admit the ambassadors he would send him, by whom he would let him know his pleasure. So, upon the king of Israel's permission for him to send, those ambassador's came, and by their king's command spake thus: That Ahab's riches, and his children, and his wives were Benhadad's, and if he would make an agreement, and give him leave to take as much of what he had as he pleased, he would withdraw his army, and leave off the siege.
Upon this Ahab bade the ambassadors to go back, and tell their king, that both he himself and all that he hath are his possessions. And when these ambassadors had told this to Berthadad, he sent to him again, and desired, since he confessed that all he had was his, that he would admit those servants of his which he should send the next day; and he commanded him to deliver to those whom he should send whatsoever, upon their searching his palace, and the houses of his friends and kindred, they should find to be excellent in its kind, but that what did not please them they should leave to him. At this second embassage of the king of Syria, Ahab was surprised, and gathered together the multitude to a congregation, and told them that, for himself, he was ready, for their safety and peace, to give up his own wives and children to the enemy, and to yield to him all his own possessions, for that was what the Syrian king required at his first embassage; but that now he desires to send his servants to search all their houses, and in them to leave nothing that is excellent in its kind, seeking an occasion of fighting against him,
"as knowing that I would not spare what is mine own for your sakes, but taking a handle from the disagreeable terms he offers concerning you to bring a war upon us; however, I will do what you shall resolve is fit to be done."
But the multitude advised him to hearken to none of his proposals, but to despise him, and be in readiness to fight him. Accordingly, when he had given the ambassadors this answer to be reported, that he still continued in the mind to comply with what terms he at first desired, for the safety of the citizens; but as for his second desires, he cannot submit to them, - he dismissed them.
2. Now when Benhadad heard this, he had indignation, and sent ambassadors to Ahab the third time, and threatened that his army would raise a bank higher than those walls, in confidence of whose strength he despised him, and that by only each man of his army taking a handful of earth; hereby making a show of the great number of his army, and aiming to affright him. Ahab answered, that he ought not to vaunt himself when he had only put on his armor, but when he should have conquered his enemies in the battle. So the ambassadors came back, and found the king at supper with his thirty-two kings, and informed him of Ahab's answer; who then immediately gave order for proceeding thus: To make lines round the city, and raise a bulwark, and to prosecute the siege all manner of ways. Now, as this was doing, Ahab was in a great agony, and all his people with him; but he took courage, and was freed from his fears, upon a certain prophet coming to him, and saying to him, that God had promised to subdue so many ten thousands of his enemies under him. And when he inquired by whose means the victory was to be obtained, be said,
"By the sons of the princes; but under thy conduct as their leader, by reason of their unskilfulness [in war]."
Upon which he called for the sons of the princes, and found them to be two hundred and thirty-two persons. So when he was informed that the king of Syria had betaken himself to feasting and repose, he opened the gates, and sent out the princes' sons. Now when the sentinels told Benhadad of it, he sent some to meet them, and commanded them, that if these men were come out for fighting, they should bind them, and bring them to him; and that if they came out peaceably, they should do the same. Now Ahab had another army ready within the walls, but the sons of the princes fell upon the out-guard, and slew many of them, and pursued the rest of them to the camp; and when the king of Israel saw that these had the upper hand, he sent out all the rest of his army, which, falling suddenly upon the Syrians, beat them, for they did not think they would have come out; on which account it was that they assaulted them when they were naked (38) and drunk, insomuch that they left all their armor behind them when they fled out of the camp, and the king himself escaped with difficulty, by fleeing away on horseback. But Ahab went a great way in pursuit of the Syrians; and when he had spoiled their camp, which contained a great deal of wealth, and moreover a large quantity of gold and silver, he took Benhadad's chariots and horses, and returned to the city; but as the prophet told him he ought to have his army ready, because the Syrian king would make another expedition against him the next year, Ahab was busy in making provision for it accordingly.
3. Now Benhadad, when he had saved himself, and as much of his army as he could, out of the battle, he consulted with his friends how he might make another expedition against the Israelites. Now those friends advised him not to fight with them on the hills, because their God was potent in such places, and thence it had come to pass that they had very lately been beaten; but they said, that if they joined battle with them in the plain, they should beat them. They also gave him this further advice, to send home those kings whom he had brought as his auxiliaries, but to retain their army, and to set captains over it instead of the kings, and to raise an army out of their country, and let them be in the place of the former who perished in the battle, together with horses and chariots. So he judged their counsel to be good, and acted according to it in the management of the army.
4. At the beginning of the spring, Benhadad took his army with him, and led it against the Hebrews; and when he was come to a certain city which was called Aphek, he pitched his camp in the great plain. Ahab also went to meet him with his army, and pitched his camp over against him, although his army was a very small one, if it were compared with the enemy's; but the prophet came again to him, and told him, that God would give him the victory, that he might demonstrate his own power to be,not only on the mountains, but on the plains also; which it seems was contrary to the opinion of the Syrians. So they lay quiet in their camp seven days; but on the last of those days, when the enemies came out of their camp, and put themselves in array in order to fight, Ahab also brought out his own army; and when the battle was joined, and they fought valiantly, he put the enemy to flight, and pursued them, and pressed upon them, and slew them; nay, they were destroyed by their own chariots, and by one another; nor could any more than a few of them escape to their own city Aphek, who were also killed by the walls falling upon them, being in number twenty-seven thousand. (39)
Now there were slain in this battle a hundred thousand more; but Benhadad, the king of the Syrians, fled away, with certain others of his most faithful servants, and hid himself in a cellar under ground; and when these told him that the kings of Israel were humane and merciful men, and that they might make use of the usual manner of supplication, and obtain deliverance from Ahab, in case he would give them leave to go to him, he gave them leave accordingly. So they came to Ahab, clothed in sackcloth, with ropes about their heads, (for this was the ancient manner of supplication among the Syrians,) (40) and said, that Benhadad desired he would save him, and that he would ever be a servant to him for that favor. Ahab replied he was glad that he was alive, and not hurt in the battle; and he further promised him the same honor and kindness that a man would show to his brother.
So they received assurances upon oath from him, that when he came to him he should receive no harm from him, and then went and brought him out of the cellar wherein he was hid, and brought him to Ahab as he sat in his chariot. So Benhadad worshipped him; and Ahab gave him his hand, and made him come up to him into his chariot, and kissed him, and bid him be of good cheer, and not to expect that any mischief should be done to him. So Berthadad returned him thanks, and professed that he would remember his kindness to him all the days of his life; and promised he would restore those cities of the Israelites which the former kings had taken from them, and grant that he should have leave to come to Damascus, as his forefathers had to come to Samaria. So they confirmed their covenant by oaths, and Ahab made him many presents, and sent him back to his own kingdom. And this was the conclusion of the war that Benhadad made against Ahab and the Israelites.
5. But a certain prophet, whose name was Micaiah, (41) came to one of the Israelites, and bid him smite him on the head, for by so doing he would please God; but when he would not do so, he foretold to him, that since he disobeyed the commands of God, he should meet with a lion, and be destroyed by him. When that sad accident had befallen the man, the prophet came again to another, and gave him the same injunction; so he smote him, and wounded his skull; upon which he bound up his head, and came to the king, and told him that he had been a soldier of his,and had the custody of one of the prisoners committed to him by an officer, and that the prisoner being run away, he was in danger of losing his own life by the means of that officer, who had threatened him, that if the prisoner escaped he would kill him. And when Ahab had said that he would justly die, he took off the binding about his head, and was known by the king to be Micaiah the prophet, who made use of this artifice as a prelude to his following words; for he said that God would punish him who had suffered Benhadad, a blasphemer against him, to escape punishment; and that he would so bring it about, that he should die by the other's means (42) and his people by the other's army. Upon which Ahab was very angry at the prophet, and gave commandment that he should be put in prison, and there kept; but for himself, he was in confusion at the words of Micaiah, and returned to his own house.
(38) Mr. Reland notes here very truly, that the word naked does not always signify entirely naked, but sometimes without men's usual armor, without heir usual robes or upper garments; as when Virgil bids the husbandman plough naked, and sow naked; when Josephus says (Antiq. B. IV. Ch. 3. Sect. 2) that God had given the Jews the security of armor when they were naked; and when he here says that Ahab fell on the Syrians when they were naked and drunk; when (Antiq. B. XI. Ch. 5. Sect. 8) he says that Nehemiah commanded those Jews that were building the walls of Jerusalem to take care to have their armor on upon occasion, that the enemy might not fall upon them naked. I may add, that the case seems to be the same in the Scripture, when it says that Saul lay down naked among the prophets, 1 Samuel 19:24; when it says that Isaiah walked naked and barefoot, Isaiah 20:2, 3; and when it says that Peter, before he girt his fisher's coat to him, was naked, John 21:7. What is said of David also gives light to this, who was reproached by Michal for
"dancing before the ark, and uncovering himself in the eyes of his handmaids, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself," (2 Samuel 6:14, 20);
yet it is there expressly said (ver. 14) that
"David was girded with a linen ephod,"
i.e. he had laid aside his robes of state, and put on the sacerdotal, Levitical, or sacred garments, proper for such a solemnity.
(39) Josephus's number, two myriads and seven thousand, agrees here with that in our other copies, as those that were slain by the falling down of the walls of Aphek; but I suspected at first that this number in Josephus's present copies could not be his original number, because he calls them "oligoi," a few, which could hardly be said of so many as twenty-seven thousand, and because of the improbability of the fall of a particular wall killing so many; yet when I consider Josephus's next words, how the rest which were slain in the battle were "ten other myriads," that twenty-seven thousand are but a few in comparison of a hundred thousand, and that it was not "a wall," as in our English version, but "the walls" or "the entire walls" of the city that fell down, as in all the originals, I lay aside that suspicion, and firmly believe that Josephus himself hath, with the rest, given us the just number, twenty-seven thousand.
(40) This manner of supplication for men's lives among the Syrians, with ropes or halters about their heads or necks, is, I suppose, no strange thing in later ages, even in our own country.
(41) It is here remarkable, that in Josephus's copy this prophet, whose severe denunciation of a disobedient person's slaughter by a lion had lately come to pass, was no other than Micaiah, the son of Imlah, who, as he now denounced God's judgment on disobedient Ahab, seems directly to have been that very prophet whom the same Ahab, in 1 Kings 22:8, 18, complains of,
"as one whom he hated, because he did not prophesy good concerning him, but evil,"
and who in that chapter openly repeats his denunciations against him; all which came to pass accordingly; nor is there any reason to doubt but this and the former were the very same prophet.
(42) What is most remarkable in this history, and in many histories on other occasions in the Old Testament, is this, that during the Jewish theocracy God acted entirely as the supreme King of Israel, and the supreme General of their armies, and always expected that the Israelites should be in such absolute subjection to him, their supreme and heavenly King, and General of their armies, as subjects and soldiers are to their earthly kings and generals, and that usually without knowing the particular reasons of their injunctions.