1 Kings 20:1-43 – Ahab Battles Syria


1 Kings 20:1-43


Three prophetic encounters are woven into Ahab’s battles with Syria.


Israel’s primary enemy in the ninth century is Syria (Aram) with its capital in Damascus. The chapter divides into three scenes (vv. 1-21, 22-34, and 35-43). The first two depict Syrian attacks on Israel, with a definite progression provided by the three prophetic encounters interwoven with the battle accounts culminating in a prophetic assessment of the king. The story begins with Ahab agreeing to Ben-hadad’s demands of tribute and Ahab’s fairest wives and children in exchange for a relaxation of the siege against Samaria (vv. 1-4). Ahab refuses to allow an escalation of the suggested sovereign-vassal relationship to one of absolute plunder without first consulting his advisors who insisted that the king refuse (vv. 5-9). Ben-hadad’s predictable response was war (vv. 10-11). The following two battle scenes are similarly drawn: description of the Syrian attack (vv. 12, 26); prophetic announcement of victory (vv. 13-14, 28); battle report and Israel’s victory (vv. 20-21, 29-30).

Israel’s victory, with God’s help, is surprising in the Ahab stories, despite the reason given tersely in verse 28, “and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

The final scene (vv. 35-43) provides a surprising twist. Once again, an unnamed prophet is involved, but this time rather than announcing victory, the prophet announces utter condemnation of Ahab for his release of Ben-hadad despite the provisions of holy war that demanded his death (compare 1 Samuel 15:2-3).