Saturday, March 19, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 48. Victory For Israel

Prophets And Kings
Day 48
Victory For Israel

When we left off Friday mornin, Ben-Hadad and thirty-two other kings weres bout to attack Israels capitol of Samaria. Today the Lord gives victory to Israel over this enemy.

1 KINGS 20:13-34
We ended yesterday with Ben-Hadad ordering his men, "Prepare to attack." We pick up here today, "Meanwhile a prophet came to Ahab king of Israel and announced, 'This is what the Lord says: 'Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the Lord.'" (1 Kings 20:13) The prophet is not named. Since we spent a lot of time last week studying about the prophet Elijah, we would almost expect this to be him or his successor Elisha, but the Bible doesn't name the prophet and so I think it must be someone else. The Lord assured Elijah that there were seven thousand people in Israel who had never bowed down to Baal and this unnamed prophet must be one of them.

"'But who will do this?' asked Ahab." (1 Kings 20:14a) Ahab doesn't see how he can muster enough troops to meet the enemy. His mind seems to pass right over the prophet's words that it is the Lord who will give the victory. Ahab isn't in the habit of trusting in the Lord.

"The prophet replied, 'This is what the Lord says: 'The junior officers under the provincial commanders will do it.'" (1 Kings 20:14a2) Each district of the nation of Israel may have had a commander over it with officers under each commander. Still, their number is no match for the enemy. It's the Lord fighting on their side that gives them the advantage.

There is evidently no war veteran in Israel capable of commanding an army in battle. Ahab is still doubtful they can pull this off. "'And who will start the battle?' he asked. The prophet answered, 'You will.'" (1 Kings 20:13b) What a dramatic moment! The Lord wants a personal encounter with the king who has scorned Him in favor of a Canaanite god. When the prophet comes to Ahab and says, "Then you will know that I am the Lord," he is speaking to Israel collectively but even more so to Ahab personally. "Then you will know that I am the Lord." What better way to prove to Ahab that the God of Israel is the only God than to put Ahab in a position where he has to rely solely on Him? 

God calls us to do great things in His strength, but often when He announces an ambitious plan we look around us and think, "But who is going to start it?" And His answer is, "You are." That's a scary moment but a pivotal moment in our faith. Taking that first step out of the boat, trusting Him to help us walk on the water, calls for a commitment in our hearts that He alone is God and that He is able to equip us for anything He asks us to do. I've probably missed some blessings and some powerful strengthening in my faith by turning and running from things that looked too hard for me, too fearful to take that step. 

To give Ahab credit, he moves ahead and musters the troops. "So Ahab summoned the 232 junior officers under the provincial commanders. Then he assembled the rest of the Israelites, 7,000 in all." (1 Kings 20:15) The population of able fighting men in Israel is reduced to 7,000 in the days of King Ahab. This is a long way down from the number of soldiers David had at his disposal. It's interesting that the number of soldiers is the same as the number of people in Israel who have never bowed to Baal, although I don't think they are the same group. The entire population of Israel is much higher, including infants, boys too young to fight, men too old to fight, men whose health was too poor to fight, and also young girls and women of all ages. Out of the whole population there were 7,000 faithful to God and I think that 7,000 was made up of males and females of various ages. But God is going to win a great military victory with only 7,000 troops and that tells us He is also able to win a great spiritual victory with only 7,000 faithful souls. Elijah was down and out a few days ago because he felt he was the only person who still loved and honored the Lord but the Lord promised him he wasn't alone, that there were 7,000 others who still loved and honored Him. For the sake of the faithful God is still on Israel's side and still fights for her. I think of this quite often when I think about the United States. God has thousands, if not millions, in our nation who hold fast to His name, and I pray that for the sake of the faithful He will remain on our side and fight for us.

"They set out at noon while Ben-Hadad and the thirty-two kings allied with him were in their tents getting drunk." (1 Kings 20:16) Even with a battle ahead, Ben-Hadad is so arrogant and sure of himself that he's still carousing in the middle of the day. He has let his guard down because he trusts in his power to overcome Israel. But there's one thing he hasn't reckoned on: the power of the God of Israel.

"The junior officers under the provincial commanders went out first. Now Ben-Hadad had dispatched scouts, who reported, 'Men are advancing from Samaria.' He said, 'If they have come out for peace, take them alive; if they have come out for war, take them alive.'" (1 Kings 20:17-18) He may have thought they were coming to surrender, in which case he would let them live. If they were coming to attack, he wanted them captured, maybe to torture them into revealing the battle plan.

"The junior officers under the provincial commanders marched out of the city with the army behind them and each one struck down his opponent. At that, the Arameans fled, with the Israelites in pursuit. But Ben-Hadad king of Aram escaped on horseback with some of his horsemen. The king of Israel advanced and overpowered the horses and chariots and inflicted heavy losses on the Arameans." (1 Kings 20:19-21) The force with which Israel's army comes at them takes the Arameans by surprise. It could be that the army behind the junior soldiers was concealed, hanging far enough back that Ben-Hadad's men didn't realize they were there until it was too late. Caught off guard, they fled the battle. Ben-Hadad and the drunken men with him leaped onto their horses and sped away.

"Afterward, the prophet came to the king of Israel and said, 'Strengthen your position and see what must be done, because next spring the king of Aram will attack you again.'" (1 Kings 20:22) It must have been nearing the rainy season. We learned in our study of King David's life that springtime was when kings went to war and that conflicts had to be suspended during the fall and winter because of the rainy weather. 

I think there's something very important in verse 22 that we don't want to miss. God fights for Israel but He also expects her to fight for herself. Ahab has the fall and winter to draft or enlist fighting men into the army, to train them and hone their skills, so that in the spring they can meet Ben-Hadad with even more force than they met him today. God expects us to participate in our victories. He wants us to work together with Him, like soldiers fighting together on the battle line. This is how we learn to trust Him. This is how we learn God is with us in our struggles. Although Israel could not have won the battle without God, they also wouldn't have won it if they sat at home and expected God to strike down the Arameans. There are times in Scripture where God miraculously defeats armies without the people having to fire a single arrow, but this is not one of those times. When God miraculously defeats an enemy in the Scriptures, it's usually when the king is living in the will of God. Ahab is living in opposition to God and therefore is required to participate in the victory alongside God, so he will see with his own eyes that God is the Lord and that God alone has the power to save.

"Meanwhile, the officials of the king of Aram advised him, 'Their gods are gods of the hills. That is why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they. Do this: Remove all the kings from their commands and replace them with other officers. You must also raise an army like the one you lost---horse for horse and chariot for chariot---so we can fight Israel on the plains. Then surely we will be stronger than they.' He agreed with them and acted accordingly." (1 Kings 20:23-25) The advisers put a lot of the blame on the men leading the charge against the Israelites, so they are to be demoted and other commanders put in their place. In ancient times, pagan cultures believed that certain gods had authority over the hill country and certain gods had authority over the plains. Because Israel and Judah were hilly, the men were more familiar with fighting on that type of terrain. Ben-Hadad's advisers believe Israel is inexperienced at fighting on level ground. Plus, they believe Israel serves gods of the hill country and that her gods won't accompany her to the plains. The Arameans don't believe in only one god and they certainly don't believe in the God of Israel. By this time Israel has fallen into such idolatry that it doesn't appear to her enemies as if she believes in the God of Israel either. The bad advice given to Ben-Hadad will lead to defeat of the Aramean army. 

"The next spring Ben-Hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. When the Israelites were also mustered and given provisions, they marched out to meet them. The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside. The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, 'This is what the Lord says: 'Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.'" (1 Kings 20:26-28) The army of Israel must have looked pitiful in comparison to the army of Ben-Hadad, but God is about to show the Arameans that He is God of all the earth.

"For seven days they camped opposite each other, and on the seventh day the battle was joined. The Israelites inflicted a hundred thousand casualties on the Aramean foot soldiers in one day. The rest of them escaped to the city of Aphek, where the wall collapsed on twenty-seven thousand of them. And Ben-Hadad fled to the city and hid in an inner room." (1 Kings 20:29-20) The men of Israel fight together with the Lord. The soldiers have trained to the point of being mighty adversaries to the Arameans and the Lord miraculously causes a great fortress wall to fall onto thousands of Ben-Hadad's men.

"His officials said to him, 'Look, we have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful. Let us go to the king of Israel with sackcloth around our waists and ropes around our heads. Perhaps he will spare your life.' Wearing sackcloth around their waists and ropes around their heads, they went to the king of Israel and said, 'Your servant Ben-Hadad says: 'Please let me live.' The king answered, 'Is he still alive? He is my brother.'" (1 Kings 20:31-32) Humiliated by their defeat, the men come to Ahab and beg for the life of their king. Ahab agrees to spare his life, calling him brother to signify a desire to make an alliance between them and to have peace between the two nations. 

"The men took this as a good sign and were quick to pick up his word, 'Yes, your brother Ben-Hadad!' they said. 'Go and get him,' the king said. When Ben-Hadad came out, Ahab had him come up into his chariot. 'I will return the cities my father took from your father,' Ben-Hadad offered. 'You may set up your own market areas in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.'" (1 Kings 20:33-34a) Ben-Hadad quickly makes offers to Ahab before Ahab presents any demands. Ahab is a man who always gives in too easily. When he married Jezebel, he gave in and let her have control over the religious practices of the nation. When Ben-Hadad first came against him and demanded his wives and children, along with his silver and gold, Ahab readily agreed. Now, sitting in a position to demand anything he wants, Ahab imposes no sanctions on the Arameans but instead accepts only what is offered.

"Ahab said, 'On the basis of a treaty I will set you free.' So he made a treaty with him, and let him go." (1 Kings 20:34b) This is a bad decision and one that was not made in God's will, for the Arameans cannot be trusted. Israel will face this enemy again.

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