Christian Churches of God
Israel Fights Against Syria
(Edition 1.0 20081213-20081213)
The army of Ben-hadad, the Syrian king, had been defeated and routed from Israel but Ben-hadad decided to enlarge what was left of his army and try again to conquer the limited forces of King Ahab of the House of Israel. This paper has been adapted from chapters 118-122, Volume V of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
Israel Fights Against Syria
We continue here from the paper Trouble in Israel and Judah (No. CB105).
About five years passed, during which northern Israel recovered from the three-year drought and became prosperous. For a time matters went rather well for King Ahab in spite of his continuing in idolatry. All Israel became lax.
Meanwhile, Ben-hadad king of Syria gathered his entire army, and along with thirty-two kings with their horses and chariots, he went up and besieged Samaria and attacked it. He sent messengers into the city to say to Ahab, “Your silver and gold are mine, and the best of your wives and children are mine” (1Kgs. 20:1-3).
"Tell your king that all I have is his," Ahab told the messengers, hoping that his submissive answer would satisfy Ben-hadad for the time being.
When the king of Syria heard what Ahab had to say he sent his messengers back and they said, “This is what Ben-hadad says: “Although I already demanded your silver and gold, your wives and your children, yet about this time tomorrow my servants will search your palace and the houses of your officials. They will take away anything of value that pleases them.’”
Ahab was more troubled than ever. He immediately summoned the leading men of the city to explain the situation to them and ask what they thought should be done.
"Don't listen to him or agree to anything he says," they told the king.
So Ahab said to the messengers, "Tell your king that although I consented to what he asked for in the beginning, I can't allow his men to come into my city and take whatever they want."
When Ben-hadad was told Ahab’s answer he sent another message saying, "May the gods take my life, if I don't set so many men against Samaria that there won't be room enough in the dust of the city for them to stand on! " (vv. 4-10).
When Ahab heard Ben-hadad's declaration that he would destroy Samaria, he sent back an angry answer to the other king.
"Remind your king that a soldier who is just about to go into battle shouldn't boast about his victories. He should wait until he is returning from battle to do that" (v. 11).
Ben-hadad heard this message while he and the other kings were drinking in their tents.
He then ordered his men: "Prepare to attack the enemy's city!" (v. 12).
Meanwhile, a prophet came to the king of Israel to say that God would give Ahab a victory over the huge Syrian army that day, to remind him again that the God of Israel was the only real God.
"But who will do this?" Ahab asked.
The prophet replied: The Lord says the servants of the governors of the district will do it” (vv. 13-14).
“And who will start the battle?” he asked.
The prophet answered, “You will.”
Ahab summoned the 232 servants of the governors of the district. Then he numbered the rest of the Israelites – 7000 in all (1Kgs. 20:15).
They marched out at noon to face Ben-hadad's army. By this time Ben-hadad and the thirty-two kings with him were drunk.
Now Ben-hadad had sent out scouts who reported that men were advancing from Samaria.
He said, "Take them alive whether they have come out for peace or whether they have come out for war" (vv. 16-18).
By now Ahab’s army had joined in the attack. Each one killed a Syrian soldier. Suddenly the Syrian army panicked and fled and the Israelites chased them. King Ben-hadad and some others managed to escape on horses. However, the majority of the horses and chariots were captured and most of the Syrian army was killed in a great slaughter (vv.19-21).
Not long after the short siege of Samaria, the prophet came to Ahab again and said, “Strengthen your position and do what must be done because next spring the king of Syria will attack you again” (v. 22).
At the same time, the advisors to King Ben-hadad were trying to convince him that he should challenge the God of Israel again and invade Israel.
"We lost the battle because the Israelite gods dwell mostly in the hilly regions," they explained to Ben-hadad. "But we can beat them easily on the plains. This time replace the kings with other officers! Recruit another army like the one you lost and give us the same number of horses and chariots and men and we will fight them in the plains and beat them”. And he listened to their advice (vv. 23-25).
Next spring, Ben-hadad did as they suggested and he and his army marched out to fight against Israel again.
When the Israelites were mustered and given provisions they marched out to meet them. They camped opposite the Syrians but the Israelite army looked like two little flocks of goats in comparison to the Syrian forces that filled the countryside (vv. 26-27).
Then a prophet went to the king with a message from the Lord. "The Syrians have come here with the belief that the God of Israel has power only over the mountains and hilly regions," the prophet told Ahab. "They think that if they do battle with you on a level plain, God can't help you. I have been sent to tell you that He will again give you victory over the Syrian army, so that all will be shown that God has power in every part of every land and over all the Earth, and that great numbers of soldiers, horses and chariots are as nothing to Him" (v. 28).
The two armies camped opposite each other for seven days. On the seventh day the battle began. The Israelites killed 100,000 Syrian foot soldiers in one day. The rest of them escaped to the city of Aphek, where the wall collapsed on 27,000 of them. And Ben-hadad fled to the city and hid in an inner room (v. 29-30).
His officers said to him, “We have heard that the kings of Israel are very merciful. So let us go to the king of Israel wearing sackcloth and with ropes on our heads. Perhaps he will spare your life.”
These were ancient eastern signs of humility.
So they went to the king and said, “Your servant, Ben-hadad says: ‘Please let me live’”.
Ahab replied, " Is he still alive? He is my brother!" (vv. 31-32).
The Syrians thought this reply meant the difference between life and death for Ben-hadad, and probably for them.
"Go and bring your king out to me," Ahab instructed the Syrians.
When Ben-hadad came out Ahab invited him up in his chariot (v. 33).
Ben-hadad said, "My father took some cities from Israel when your father was king. I will restore them to you. And you may set up your own markets in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria".
Ahab said, “I will set you free on these terms.” So he made a treaty with him and let him go (v. 34).
If Ahab had been led by God's influence, in the manner in which God's servants are guided, he wouldn't have been so friendly with this man who hated him. Ben-hadad and his advisors should have been seized for their murders and given the extreme punishment. Instead, Ahab treated one of Israel's worst enemies like a guest, suggesting to him that they should agree not to war against each other any more. Ahab let him go on his way to freedom – and to prepare for war with Israel three years later.
While Ahab was on his way back to Samaria, a prophet stopped the king. He informed the king that he had made a fatal error in giving Ben-hadad his freedom.
He said to the king, "This is what the Lord says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’” Resentful and angry the king returned to his palace in Samaria (vv. 35-43).
Naboth, a man from Jezreel, had a vineyard on the outskirts of the city near King Ahab’s palace. One day the king talked to him about selling him this land.
"I need your vineyard," Ahab told him. "I want to expand my gardens to include other kinds of produce. Your land is next to mine. I'll pay you what your vineyard is worth or buy a bigger and better vineyard and give it to you for yours." Here Ahab was guilty of coveting his neighbour's property (1Kgs. 21:1-2; cf. Ex. 20:17; Isa. 5:8).
Naboth replied, "The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (1Kgs. 21:3).
Naboth refused to sell his land because the land belongs to God and God's Law plainly states that an inheritance in Israel shouldn't be sold unless the owner is quite destitute, and even then he should have it returned to him when he is able to make payment. If he turned over his inheritance for a price, both buyer and seller would be guilty before God (cf. Num. 27:8-11; Lev. 25:10-13, 23-28).
So Ahab went home angry and lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat (v. 4).
Ahab then explained matters to his wife, who had no sympathy for him. She was disgusted that he had considered Naboth's reason for not selling his property.
Jezebel said, "Why are you so sad? Are you not king of Israel? Get up and eat and drink! I’ll get that the vineyard for you."
Using Ahab's signature and royal seal, Jezebel sent letters to prominent men of the city, telling them to proclaim a day of fasting. They were to summon Naboth and find two scoundrels who would accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then they were to take him out and execute him (vv. 5-10).
The queen’s orders were followed; a meeting was called and Naboth was tried. Two men who had no conscience accused him of cursing God and the king; and he was dragged outside the city and stoned to death. Not long afterward, Jezebel received the news she awaited – that Naboth was dead (vv. 11-14).
Later that day when she saw Ahab, Jezebel cheerfully informed him that Naboth's vineyard was his (v.15).
So Ahab went down to claim the vineyard.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go down to meet Ahab, who rules in Samaria. He has gone to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not killed a man and taken possession of his property? Then say: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will lick up your blood!’”
"At one time you were my friend," Ahab said to the prophet. "Now you are my enemy. Otherwise you wouldn't come here to seek me out just to make evil predictions against me."
"I have come to place God’s curse on you because you have sold yourself to the devil," Elijah continued. "You have always been aware of God's laws. You've had plenty of opportunity to live by them. Because you have persisted in wrong and shameful ways, you and your family must go the awful way of Jeroboam and Baasha, who also led the people in the wrong ways. As for your idolatrous and murderous wife, dogs won't just lick up her blood; they'll EAT her! Others of your family will share the same fate. If dogs don't devour them, their flesh is going to be consumed by scavenger birds" (vv. 20-26).
When Ahab heard these prophecies he tore his clothes, put on rags, fasted, slept in sackcloth and went about in deep humility. The king of Israel was starting to know the meaning of bitter regret!
At that time Elijah received a message from God informing the prophet that although Ahab had not fully repented, he had become so humbled that God was willing to delay a part of the curse He had put on the king and his family.
"I will not bring evil on Ahab's family while Ahab is alive," God told Elijah, "but it will surely come later in his son's days; I will destroy his descendants" (vv. 27-29).
While unpleasant events were taking place in the house of Israel, there was peace and prosperity in the house of Judah. Judah's king Jehoshaphat, son of Asa, was a king who followed God's laws and worked to put idolatry out of Judah, and his heart was devoted to the Lord. He built strong fortifications in the land and manned them with many well-trained troops. All Judah brought gifts to Jehoshaphat so that he had great wealth and honour (2Chr. 17:1-6).
He sent his officials and priests around all the towns of Judah to teach the people from the Book of the Law. The fear of the Lord fell on all lands surrounding Judah, so they did not make war with Jehoshaphat. Some Philistines brought tributes of silver and valuable gifts. Arabs brought him flocks of thousands of male sheep and goats. God was sending rewards for the obedience of the Jewish king and the people who followed his example (vv. 7-11).
With an army of 1,160,000 soldiers around Jerusalem, besides those who guarded the cities, Jehoshaphat became more and more powerful (vv.12-19).
During this period of grief for Israel and good conditions for Judah, a marriage occurred that didn't have God's approval. It later resulted in trouble for all the twelve tribes. Omri's granddaughter (and Ahab's daughter), Athalia, was married to Jehoram, Jehoshaphat's son (2Kgs. 8:16-18, 26; 2Chr. 21:5-6; 1Kgs. 16:29-31). The wedding took place at Israel's capital, Samaria.
Some years later Jehoshaphat went to visit Ahab in Samaria. Ahab prepared a great feast for him and those with him and urged Jehoshaphat to attack Ramoth Gilead (2Chr. 18:1-2).
King Ahab asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me against Ramoth Gilead?”
Jehoshaphat replied, "Your people and we Jews are all Israelites. If you need help against your enemies, we will join you in the war, but first seek counsel from the Lord" (1Kgs. 22:4-5; 2Chr. 18:3-4).
Ahab called together about four hundred prophets and asked them if he should go to war against Ramoth Gilead. They told him what he wanted to hear – that he should and that he would be successful (1Kgs. 22:6; 2Chr. 18:5).
But Jehoshphat asked, “Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” (1Kgs. 22:7; 2Chr. 18:6).
"There is still one man who is reportedly a strong follower of God" Ahab told Jehoshaphat. "But I hate him because he only ever prophesies bad things about me. He is Micaiah" (1Kgs. 22:8-9; 2Chr. 18:7-8).
“The king should not say such things,” Jehoshaphat replied.
So Ahab sent for Micaiah.
So, dressed in their royal robes, the two kings sat on their thrones in an open area near the main gates of the city with the prophets prophesying before them.
All the prophets were repeating the same thing: “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious, for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”
The messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “All the prophets are speaking favourably to the king so let your word be like one of them and speak favourably.” But Micaiah said, “What the Lord says to me, that I will speak”.
When the prophet Micaiah arrived the king said to him, “Shall we go up to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”
"You should go!" Micaiah proclaimed. "God will deliver the city to you!" (1Kgs. 22:10-15; 2Chr. 18:9-14).
The king said to Micaiah, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”
Micaiah answered, "Here is what God wants me to tell you. The soldiers of Israel will be victorious against the Syrians, yet they shall be scattered as sheep that have lost their shepherd. They shall straggle back to their homes because of the loss of their leader" (1Kgs. 22:16-17; 2Chr. 18:15-16).
Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, "I told you this man would not prophesy good concerning me, but only bad."
Micaiah went on, "I had a vision from God in which I saw Him sitting on his throne, surrounded by His angels. God asked them which one would persuade Ahab to attack Ramoth Gilead, so that he should lose his life there. Finally one spirit came forward and explained that he would manage to get the king of Israel to go to his doom simply by causing his prophets to lie to him by telling him that he would overcome the Syrians. God permitted this, and sent him on his way. Now you know why your four hundred prophets said you would succeed, whereas you will actually die if you go to battle" (1Kgs. 22:18-23; 2Chr. 18:17-22).
Then one of the men in the crowd went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “How did the spirit of the Lord go from me to speak to you?” he asked.
Micaiah replied, “You will find out on the day you go to hide in the inner room.”
Ahab called to his guards, "Take this man to the ruler of the city and tell him that I want him put in prison and kept alive only with bread and water until I return from taking possession of Ramoth Gilead!"
Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely the Lord has not spoken through me. Everybody should remember what I'm saying here today" (1Kgs. 22:24-28; 2Chr. 18:23-27).
So the two kings went up to Ramoth Gilead. In an attempt to provide more safety for himself, Ahab decided that he would enter the battle in disguise, but he asked Jehoshaphat to wear his royal robes.
Meanwhile, Ben-hadad, king of Syria, had ordered his commanders not to fight with anyone except the king of Israel (1Kgs. 22:29-31; 2Chr. 18:28-30).
When they saw Jehoshaphat in his royal robes, they thought he was the king of Israel and turned to attack him. Jehoshaphat cried out and the Lord helped him and drew them away. For when they saw he was not the king of Israel they stopped chasing him.
At this time a Syrian archer randomly drew his bow and struck the king of Israel between the sections of his armour.
"Get me out of the fighting because I've been wounded," Ahab told his driver (1Kgs. 22:32-34; 2Chr. 18:31-33).
The battle increased for the rest of the day. By sundown Ahab had lost so much blood that he died. His officers feared that news of his death could demoralize his army. Before the report could get out, they sent out orders that every man was to return immediately to his country and his home.
The prophet Micaiah had foretold that the soldiers of Israel would return to their homes because of the loss of their leader. The prophecy was fulfilled as the army broke up and went back home.
Ahab's body was taken back to Samaria in the chariot in which he died. After the corpse was removed, the chariot was washed because of the blood the king of Israel had lost. Dogs came around to lick up the blood, thus carrying out the prophecy made by Elijah that dogs would one day consume Ahab's blood because of his disobedience to God (2Chr. 18:34; 1Kgs. 22:35-40; 1Kgs. 21:1-19.)
When Jehoshaphat returned safely with his troops to Jerusalem, Jehu the prophet went out to meet him and said to the king, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? The Lord is angry with you because of what you did. Yet, there is some good in you, for you have rid the land of idols and obeyed God’s laws" (2Chr. 19:1-3).
The king of Judah was so troubled that during the weeks that followed he toured every part of his kingdom to carefully inspect his judicial system. He wanted to make certain that the officials were conscientious and fair. In some places he made replacements. In others he added more judges. He admonished every man in authority to fear God and be completely just, so that God would give them greater wisdom in making decisions.
When Jehoshaphat returned to Jerusalem, where the high priest and supreme court of the nation functioned, he made some changes for the better there, too, besides advising the Levites and the judges to be courageous in their decisions. Being fair often requires courage.
Jehoshaphat worked diligently to make conditions right in Judah, hoping that God would take these things into account, and that Jehu's pronouncement of trouble wouldn't come to pass. He even reminded the Levites to be more obedient to their chief priest, Amariah (2Chr. 19:4-11).
Later on, the armies of the kings of Moab, Ammon and some of the Meunites declared war on Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah.
[The Meunites were an Arab tribe that lived around the town of Ma’an some twelve miles or 18 kilometres SE of Petra to the East of the Edomite hill forts on the Eastern border of Edom. They came from the direction of Mt. Seir but Edom was not involved in this raid. They were subdued again by king Uzziah (2Chr. 26:7). The Meunites were later listed among the Nethinim or Temple servants living in Judah perhaps incorporated by conquest (Ezra 2:50; Neh. 7:52). The text here in 2Chr. 20:1 reads Meunites in the RSV in place of Ammonites due to the text in 26:7. The term means “tribals” and hence an inbred tribe, which is mentioned separately to Ammon and Moab here. ed].
When word reached Jehoshaphat that a vast army was marching against him he was badly shaken but was determined to beg for help from the Lord.
He sent messengers to all parts of Judah to proclaim a fast and ask the people to pray for the protection of the nation. Within only a few hours people began flocking to Jerusalem, anxious to gather there to ask God for help. This crowd wasn't composed of just the leaders of Judah. The many thousands were made up mostly of families who wanted to come to the temple. Jehoshaphat welcomed this opportunity to lead the growing assembly in prayer (2Chr. 20:1-4).
"God of our fathers, we come to you now to ask for help," Jehoshaphat cried out as he stood in the court before the temple. "We know You are the Supreme Ruler of the universe as well as the One who controls even every heathen nation of this world. You have power that none can withstand. You are our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land and gave it to the descendants of Israel forever. Your people lived here and built this temple for You. In time of war, famine, pestilence or any kind of national disaster, they came to the temple to ask for help because they knew that your Presence was in the temple. Again we are in a time of danger because enemies are invading our land. When our forefathers came here, they passed in peace by the Moabites, Ammonites and inhabitants of the land south of the Dead Sea, even though You could have given the Israelites the power to destroy them. Now the armies of these nations are close at hand to attack us. They surely plan to push us out of the land You gave to Israel. The numbers of the enemy are so great we are fearful of defeat if we rely on the strength of the army of Judah. We look to our God for protection and strength. Be merciful to us!" (2Chr. 20:5-12; Deut.2:4-9, 18-19,37).
As the people stood before the Lord, the Spirit of the Lord came upon one of the men standing there.
"Hear what I have to say to you, people of Judah and Jerusalem and you King Jehoshaphat! God wants you to know that we shouldn't be afraid because the invaders are so numerous. Our army won't have to fight against them. God will take our part in the battle. All that is expected of us is that we go tomorrow to meet our enemies and witness what will happen to them!" (2Chr. 20:13-17).
Jehoshaphat fell to his knees and bowed his head to the ground. The people followed his good example, remaining prostrate while the king gave a prayer of thanks. Afterward, the Levites praised God with songs that rang out strong and clear.
Next morning the army of Judah marched off to meet the invaders at a location Jahaziel had mentioned in his declaration. Jehoshaphat admonished the people to believe God and His prophet. The soldiers weren't the first to go. They were led by the Levites, who sang and played anthems as they moved along.
Meanwhile, only a few miles away, the Lord had caused the armies of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir to begin fighting among themselves, and they destroyed each other! (2Chr. 20:18-23).
When Jehoshaphat and his army reached the region through which the enemy was supposed to be marching, they came on a gruesome sight. Thousands of corpses were strewn out before them almost as far as they could see. The Israelites were sobered by what God was able to do.
The king and his people then gathered so much spoil that they found that carrying all of it away at one time was too much for them. For three days the men of Judah worked at collecting and carrying away arms, clothing, food, jewels, gold, silver and other valuable articles from the invaders. Next day, before returning to Jerusalem, they assembled to thank God for what He had done for them (2Chr. 20:20-27).
Then, in spite of what had happened because of his teaming up with Ahab against the Syrians, Jehoshaphat went into partnership with Ahaziah, king of Israel, who was a wicked man. They built a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber to sail to Tarshish and planned to share in any profit they made in trade with other nations.
When the fleet was well under construction, a prophet named Eliezer came to Jehoshaphat with some disagreeable news. "God has sent me to tell you that because you have joined with an evil man, this effort will surely fail." Consequently, the ships were wrecked and were not able to sail to trade.
Then Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers and was buried with them in the city of David. And Jehoram his first-born son succeeded him (1Kgs. 22:41-50; 2Chr. 20:31-37; 21:1-3).
When Ahab died, his son Ahaziah became king of Israel in Samaria in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord because he walked in the ways of his father and mother and other kings before him. He worshipped Baal and so provoked the Lord to anger just as his father did (1Kgs. 22:51-53).
We continue with the Bible stories in the paper Elisha Succeeds Elijah (No. CB144).