1 Kings 20:39
As the king passed by, he cried out to the king: "Your servant had marched out into the middle of the battle, when suddenly a man came over with a captive and told me, 'Guard this man! If he goes missing for any reason, your life will be exchanged for his life, or you will weigh out a talent of silver.'
Resisted MercyJ. Urquhart 1 Kings 20:22-43
False MercyJ.A. Macdonald 1 Kings 20:30-43

The first army with which Ben-hadad invaded Israel was defeated with "great slaughter," and the king saved himself by flight. The defeat of the second was even more complete, when 127,000 men were destroyed and the king had to surrender at discretion. But Ahab, for his false mercy in sparing the life of Ben-hadad, brought judgment upon himself and upon his people.


1. That righteousness dooms the incorrigible to death.

(1) "The wages of sin." The incorrigible will certainly find this in the "damnation of hell" (Psalm 9:17).

(2) Their time also in this life is shortened either by the sword of the magistrate or by the judgment of God. They get sufficient space for repentance; but the space so given, if misimproved, aggravates the terror of their death. Protracted probationary existence under such conditions, therefore, becomes a doubtful mercy.

(3) It is also the reverse of mercy to their contemporaries, because the influence of the wicked is mischievous. It is, therefore, a considerate judgment that they do "not live out half their days" (Psalm 55:23).

(4) The difference between good and evil cannot be too strongly marked. The good must have no fellowship with the wicked. In eternity their separation is complete (Matthew 25:46; Luke 16:26). The more perfect the separation here, the more of heaven upon earth will the good enjoy; and the more of hell upon earth, the wicked.

2. Ben-hadad was obnoxious to that doom.

(1) He was guilty of the highest crimes against humanity. In his offensive wars he was not only a public robber, but also a wholesale murderer. But murder at least is held to be a capital crime (see Genesis 9:5; Exodus 21:12, 14; Leviticus 24:17. See also Matthew 26:52; Revelation 13:10).

(2) He was guilty likewise of the highest crimes against God. He was not only a gross idolater, but also a blasphemer of Jehovah. He localized and limited Him as "Elohim of the hills" and defied Him in the plains. But such blasphemy also was punishable with death (Leviticus 24:11-16).

(3) He committed all these offences in the land of Israel, where they were capital crimes, and the God of Israel delivered him into the hand of Ahab that he might suffer the penalty.

3. But Ahab opposed his mercy to the righteousness of God.

(1) But is there no mercy for the penitent? Certainly there is. In repentance there is no encouragement to evil; on the contrary, in it evil is condemned. Faith in Christ is the perfection of repentance since therein only can we be effectually delivered from sin. Repentance must be genuine.

(2) Ben-hadad's repentance was not genuine. His servants "girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live." (Sir John Froissart relates that the inhabitants of Calais acted in a similar manner when they surrendered their city to Edward III. in 1346). All this was intensely mortifying to Ben-hadad, whose tone was so different when he thought himself in the position of a dictator (see vers. 3-6). The haughtiest in prosperity are often the meanest in adversity.

(3) But here is no show of repentance towards God. He confesses that he deserves to be hanged for invading the land, but not a word about his blasphemy against the Elohim of Israel. Yet Ahab granted him his life.


1. Because thereby they encourage evil.

(1) If sin be committed with impunity it will soon lose its character. Men are naturally inclined to sin, and are restrained chiefly by fear of its penalties. If these are remitted, offences against the law of God will come to be justified.

(2) The estimate of goodness would consequently be lowered, for we judge of qualities by contrasts. Heaven is seen in its strongest light as the antithesis of hell Remove from sin its sinfulness, and goodness will be distorted into weakness or folly.

(3) Such confounding of right and wrong must be fatal to all law and order, and tend to inaugurate the wildest confusion and the deepest misery. All this flows from the principle of false or indiscriminate mercy.

2. Hence Ahab was held to be an accomplice with Ben-hadad.

(1) He had an unworthy sympathy with. this blaspheming monarch. "Is he yet alive? He is my brother." "Brother king, though not brother Israelite. Ahab valued himself more on his royalty than on his religion" (Henry). Would Ben-hadad have called Ahab his brother had he been victorious?

(2) "He caused him to come up into the chariot." This was a sign of cordial friendship (see 2 Kings 10:15, 16). "The friendship of the world is enmity against God." So instead of imposing terms, he accepted those proposed by Ben-hadad (ver. 34).

(3) "So he made a covenant with him and sent him away." The form of these covenants was to cut a sacrifice in twain, and the persons entering into the compact walked between the pieces and were sprinkled, together with the articles of agreement, with the blood, to express that if they failed to fulfil their pledge God might treat them as the sacrifice had been treated.

3. Ahab in consequence was doomed to die.

(1) This was signified to him by another prophet. He is by the Jews supposed to have been Micaiah, and with some reason perhaps (compare 1 Kings 22:8).

(2) This prophet, after the example of Nathan (2 Samuel 12.), made Ahab pronounce his own sentence (vers. 37-42). In the doom of the prophet who, for disobedience to the word of the Lord in not smiting his fellow, was destroyed by the lion, Ahab could also read his doom for not obeying the word of the Lord when he should have smitten ben-hadad to death (vers. 35, 36).

(3) The prophecy came true. Ahab was slain fighting against the Syrians to recover Ramoth in Gilead (1 Kings 22:85). And by the hands of the Syrians, under Hazael, the children of Israel suffered severely (see 2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 10:32, 33).

(4) In anticipation of these things Ahab "went to his house heavy and displeased." Heavy at the tidings and displeased with the prophet. It would have been more to his advantage had he gone to the house of God in contrition for the sins of his wicked life. - J.A.M.

Now the men did diligently observe whether anything would come from him, and did hastily catch it.

1. There is far too little of diligent observance of what God says in His word.

2. The same thing ought to be done when you are heating the Gospel preached; for God has been pleased, in order that His truth may be brought home to your hearts, to choose certain of His servants to speak His word; and, so far as they speak in accordance with His mind and will, they speak for God to you.

3. Then, again, while there is too little of diligent observation of what God has said, there is also far too little of hastily catching at the word.


1. We have a proverb which says that "drowning men catch at straws." So they do; and when a man is in peril, he will usually grasp at anything that seems to offer him a hope of escape. How is it, then, that, with a Bible full of promises, and a Gospel full of encouragements, the mass of people with troubled consciences do not at once catch at what God says? There is another proverb of ours which says that "the wish is father to the thought." Sometimes, a man wishes for a thing so long that, at last, he believes it is really his; but how strange it is that, in spiritual things, men wish, and wish, and wish, — or say that they do, — and yet they do not believe that it is as they wish! The more they wish, the further they seem to be from the blessing they desire to possess.

2. This is the more strange, too, because you can continually see how sinners catch at everything else. See how they cling to their own righteousness. A thousand tons of it are not worth a farthing; it is neither fit for the land nor yet for the dunghill, yet they prize it as if it was a heap of diamonds. See what confidence many put in utterly worthless forms and ceremonies.

III. WHEN WE ARE DEALING WITH GOD, THERE IS VERY MUCH TO CATCH AT. Many years ago, when I was in great distress of soul, and could not find Christ for a long while, I would have been glad if I had heard anybody speak about how much there is for a troubled soul to catch at. Perhaps I did hear something about it; but, if so, I did not catch at it, though I think I should have done so if it had really been made plain and clear to me. Until God the Holy Ghost enlightens the soul, the truth may be put very plainly, but we do not see it. I will try, now, to set it before any one here who is willing to catch at it.

1. Now, poor troubled soul, if it had been God's purpose to destroy you, — if He never intended to hear your prayers — if He never meant to save you — let me ask you, very earnestly — Why did He give you the Bible? I want you to catch at this thought.

2. Again, why has God raised up a ministry, and given you the opportunity of listening to it? Why are you continually being warned to flee from the wrath to come? Why are you constantly being instructed in the truths of the Gospel?

3. I remind you also that you are still on praying ground.

4. See, next, if you cannot catch at this great truth — God has given Jesus Christ to die for sinners. You are a sinner, so catch at this glorious fact: "He gave Himself for our sins."

5. There is another truth that I think some' of you might catch at; it is this one: "God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." This was the message that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself preached, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

6. Then, again, what can be the meaning of that other command, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," except that if, as a guilty sinner, I come and trust in Christ, I shall be saved? It is even so; indeed, I am saved as soon as ever I do believe in Jesus.


1. For, first, suppose Ahab did utter a hopeful word, he was very deceitful.

2. Then, again, when those men listened to Ahab, he might have uttered a friendly word without meaning it.

3. These messengers from Ben-hadad said that the Kings of Israel were merciful kings; and we know that God is much more merciful than they were, for "His mercy endureth for ever."

4. Those messengers from Ben-hadad might have believed be: tar of Ahab than would have been true, but you cannot believe better of God than will be true.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

Sinner, whoever thou art coming to Christ, believe it, thou wilt not injure Christ at all, if, as Ben-hadad's servants served Ahab, thou shalt catch Him at His word. "The men did diligently observe whether anything would come from him," to wit, any word of grace, "and did hastily catch it." And it happened that Ahab had called Ben-hadad his brother. The men replied, therefore, Thy "brother Benhadad": catching him at his word. Sinner, coming sinner, serve Jesus Christ thus, and He will take it kindly at thy hands. When He in His argument called the Canaanitish woman "dog," she catched Him at it, and said, "Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." I say she catched Him thus in His words, and He took it kindly, saying, "O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee as thou wilt." Catch Him, coming sinner, catch Him in His words; surely He will take it kindly, and will not be offended at thee.

( J. Bunyan..)

Ahab, Aram, Ben, Benhadad, Ben-hadad, Hadad, Israelites, Syrians
Aphek, Damascus, Samaria, Syria
Aside, Battle, Behold, Bringeth, Captive, Chance, Cried, Crying, Fight, Gets, Guard, Midst, Missing, Pass, Passed, Passing, Pay, Payment, Price, Prophet, Reason, Servant, Silver, Soldier, Someone, Talent, Thick, Weigh
1. Ben-Hadad, not content with Ahab's homage, besieges Samaria
13. By the direction of a prophet, the Syrians are slain
22. As the prophet forewarned Ahab, the Syrians come against him in Aphek
28. By the word of the prophet, and God's judgment, the Syrians are smitten again
31. The Syrians submit; Ahab sends Ben-Hadad away with a covenant
35. The prophet, under the parable of a prisoner,
39. making Ahab judge himself, denounces God's judgment against him

Dictionary of Bible Themes
1 Kings 20:39

     4363   silver
     5260   coinage

1 Kings 20:35-42

     5438   parables

1 Kings 20:35-43

     5837   disguise

1 Kings 20:37-42

     4938   fate, final destiny

1 Kings 20:37-43

     5920   pretence

The Lost Opportunity
TEXT: "And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it."--1 Kings 20:40. There is a very striking incident connected with this text. The great battle is raging, a certain important prisoner has been taken, and if you read between the lines you seem to know that upon him depend many of the issues of war. His skill in leading the enemy had been marvelous, his courage in the thick of the fight striking;
J. Wilbur Chapman—And Judas Iscariot

Putting on the Armour
And the king of Israel answered and said. Tell him. Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.'--1 KINGS xx. 11. For the Young. Ahab, King of Israel, was but a poor creature, and, like most weak characters, he turned out a wicked one, because he found that there were more temptations to do wrong than inducements to do right. Like other weak people, too, he was torn asunder by the influence of stronger wills. On the one side he had a termagant of a wife, stirring
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

The Section Chap. I. -iii.
The question which here above all engages our attention, and requires to be answered, is this: Whether that which is reported in these chapters did, or did not, actually and outwardly take place. The history of the inquiries connected with this question is found most fully in Marckius's "Diatribe de uxore fornicationum," Leyden, 1696, reprinted in the Commentary on the Minor Prophets by the same author. The various views may be divided into three classes. 1. It is maintained by very many interpreters,
Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg—Christology of the Old Testament

The Letter of the Synod to the Emperor and Empress.
(Labbe and Cossart, Concilia, Tom. VII., col. 577.) To our most religious and most serene princes, Constantine and Irene his mother. Tarasius, the unworthy bishop of your God-protected royal city, new Rome, and all the holy Council which met at the good pleasure of God and upon the command of your Christ-loving majesty in the renowned metropolis of Nice, the second council to assemble in this city. Christ our God (who is the head of the Church) was glorified, most noble princes, when your heart,
Philip Schaff—The Seven Ecumenical Councils

Nature of the Renderings
From the text we now turn to the renderings, and to the general principles that were followed, both in the Old and in the New Testament. The revision of the English text was in each case subject to the same general rule, viz. "To introduce as few alterations as possible into the Text of the Authorised Version consistently with faithfulness"; but, owing to the great difference between the two languages, the Hebrew and the Greek, the application of the rule was necessarily different, and the results
C. J. Ellicott—Addresses on the Revised Version of Holy Scripture

The Practice of Piety in Glorifying God in the Time of Sickness, and when Thou Art Called to Die in the Lord.
As soon as thou perceivest thyself to be visited with any sickness, meditate with thyself: 1. That "misery cometh not forth of the dust; neither doth affliction spring out of the earth." Sickness comes not by hap or chance (as the Philistines supposed that their mice and emrods came, 1 Sam. vi. 9), but from man's wickedness, which, as sparkles, breaketh out. "Man suffereth," saith Jeremiah, "for his sins." "Fools," saith David, "by reason of their transgressions, and because of their iniquities,
Lewis Bayly—The Practice of Piety

The Twelve Minor Prophets.
1. By the Jewish arrangement, which places together the twelve minor prophets in a single volume, the chronological order of the prophets as a whole is broken up. The three greater prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, stand in the true order of time. Daniel began to prophesy before Ezekiel, but continued, many years after him. The Jewish arrangement of the twelve minor prophets is in a sense chronological; that is, they put the earlier prophets at the beginning, and the later at the end of the
E. P. Barrows—Companion to the Bible

Tiglath-Pileser iii. And the Organisation of the Assyrian Empire from 745 to 722 B. C.
TIGLATH-PILESER III. AND THE ORGANISATION OF THE ASSYRIAN EMPIRE FROM 745 to 722 B.C. FAILURE OF URARTU AND RE-CONQUEST Of SYRIA--EGYPT AGAIN UNITED UNDER ETHIOPIAN AUSPICES--PIONKHI--THE DOWNFALL OF DAMASCUS, OF BABYLON, AND OF ISRAEL. Assyria and its neighbours at the accession of Tiglath-pileser III.: progress of the Aramaeans in the basin of the Middle Tigris--Urartu and its expansion into the north of Syria--Damascus and Israel--Vengeance of Israel on Damascus--Jeroboam II.--Civilisation
G. Maspero—History Of Egypt, Chaldaea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, V 7

The book[1] of Kings is strikingly unlike any modern historical narrative. Its comparative brevity, its curious perspective, and-with some brilliant exceptions--its relative monotony, are obvious to the most cursory perusal, and to understand these things is, in large measure, to understand the book. It covers a period of no less than four centuries. Beginning with the death of David and the accession of Solomon (1 Kings i., ii.) it traverses his reign with considerable fulness (1 Kings iii.-xi.),
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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