King Ahab prepares for battle (1 Kings 20:15-20:18)

Then King Ahab mustered the young men who served the district governors, two hundred thirty-two. After them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand. They went out at noon, while King Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings allied with him. The young men who served the district governors went out first. King Ben-hadad had sent out scouts. They reported to him. ‘Men have come out from Samaria.’ King Ben-hadad said. ‘If they have come out for peace, take them alive. If they have come out for war, also take them alive.’”

King Ahab got his men together, the elite 232 who served the district governors. He also had 7,000 other troops. It is hard to believe that they were all in Samaria. He decided to go out at noon. King Ben-hadad and his men were drinking and getting drunk. I guess they started early or had not slept from the night before. However, King Ben-hadad had scouts go out to check what was happening. In a strange order, he took his scouts to take them alive whether they came peacefully or not.

A prophet appears to King Ahab (1 Kings 20:13-20:14)

“Then a certain prophet came up to King Ahab of Israel and said. ‘Thus says Yahweh. Have you seen this entire great multitude? I will give it into your hand today. You shall know that I am Yahweh.’ Ahab said. ‘By whom?’ He said. ‘Thus says Yahweh. By the young men who serve the district governors.’ Then he said. ‘Who shall begin the battle?’ He answered. ‘You.’”

A mysterious prophet of Yahweh appears on the scene. He is not Elijah or Elisha, because the biblical writer would have mentioned their names. This prophet told King Ahab that he would be successful today. King Ahab seems to equivocate. He wanted to know who this was. Once again the prophet said that Yahweh would lead a band of the young men from the district governors. Anyway King Ahab wanted to know who would begin the battle. He appeared surprised that it was he who would begin this battle.

The siege of Samaria (1 Kings 20:10-20:12)

“King Ben-hadad sent to him and said. ‘The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria will provide a handful for each of the people who follow me.’ King Ahab of Israel answered. ‘Tell him. One who puts on armor should not brag like one takes it off.’ When King Ben-hadad heard this message as he now had been drinking with the other kings in the tent booths, he said to his men. ‘Take your positions.’ They took their positions against the city.”

The war of words got more heated with the various messengers bringing messages back and forth. First King Ben-hadad said that the dust of Samaria would be scattered. Then King Ahab told him he did not know the difference between putting on and taking off armor. Anyway, the last message reached King Ben-hadad as he was having a drinking party with his other 32 kings. He then declared that there should be a siege of the city of Samaria. Everyone was to take their positions.

The meeting of the Israelites (1 Kings 20:7-20:9)

“Then King Ahab of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said. ‘Look now! See how this man is seeking trouble. He sent to me for my wives, my children, my silver and my gold. I did not refuse him.’ Then all the elders and all the people said to him. ‘Do not listen or consent.’ So he said to the messengers of King Ben-hadad. ‘Tell my lord the king, all that you first demanded of your servant I will do. But this thing I cannot do.’ The messengers left and brought him word again.”

King Ahab gathered all the elders of Israel and told them what was happening. They told him to say no. Thus King Ahab sent messengers back to King Ben-hadad that he was not going to allow the search and seizure.


The second demand of King Ben-hadad (1 Kings 20:5-20:6)

“The messengers came again, and said. ‘Thus says King Ben-hadad. I sent to you, saying, deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children. Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time. They shall search your house and the houses of your servants. They shall lay hands on whatever pleases them, and take it away.’”

The second request of King Ben-hadad said that he was going to send men to search and take anything that they wanted. This only seems logical from the first request since King Ahab had agreed to the first request.

The first demand of King Ben-hadad (1 Kings 20:1-20:4)

“King Ben-hadad of Aram gathered all his army together. Thirty-two kings were with him, along with horses and chariots. He marched against Samaria, laid siege to it, and attacked it. Then he sent messengers into the city to King Ahab of Israel. He said to him. ‘Thus says Ben-hadad. ‘Your silver and your gold are mine. Your fairest wives and children also are mine.’ The king of Israel answered. ‘As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.’”

This is an odd story. This may have been Ben-hadad II, since Ben-hadad I had made a deal with King Asa (911-870 BCE) of Judah to attack Israel. This may be a continuation of this battle. King Ben-hadad had with him 32 kings. These must have 32 chiefs or kings or small territories. His messengers came to King Ahab to tell him they he wanted all their gold, silver, wives, and children. In a strange response Ahab seems to say okay. You can have everything.

The call of Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-19:21)

“Elijah set out from there. He found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him. He was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said. ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother. Then I will follow you.’ Then Elijah said to him. ‘Go back again! For what have I done to you?’ He returned from following him. He took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them. Using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh. He gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah. He became his servant.”

After Elijah left Mount Horeb, he found Elisha, which was the 3rd command of Yahweh. Elisha was plowing with 12 oxen. Notice the number 12. Elijah did not anoint him, but put his mantle over him. Elisha wanted to say good-bye to his parents, but Elijah was offended. Then Elisha killed all his oxen and offered a sacrifice to share this with the people. He then became the servant of Elijah.

The message from Yahweh (1 Kings 19:15-19:18)

“Then Yahweh said to him. ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Arameans. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel. You shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill. Whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

This is a direct command of Yahweh to Elijah about what he must do. This is not a renewal of the covenant at Mount Horeb, but a direct order of who is to be in charge and who is to be killed. This is not love God and your neighbor. This was to prepare for the righteous remnant. For some reason, Elijah was to anoint Hazael, the King of the Syrians in Damascus. Why would the prophet of Yahweh anoint a non-Hebrew king who battled against Israel and Judah? However, he also was to anoint Jehu as the new king of Israel in opposition to King Ahab. That makes more sense. He also was to anoint a new prophet in his place, Elisha. In another twist, there is the admonition that those who escaped from the deadly attack of Hazael, King Jehu should kill. Those not killed by King Jehu, Elisha should kill. Finally there would be about 7,000 in all Israel, who have not bowed to Baal or kissed this idol god. This message for Elijah from Yahweh will dominate the life of Elijah and Elisha as they attempt to carry out this command of Yahweh.

The response of Yahweh (1 Kings 19:11-19:14)

“Yahweh said. ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before Yahweh. Yahweh is about to pass by.’ There was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks into pieces before Yahweh. Yahweh was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but Yahweh was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but Yahweh was not in the fire. After the fire there was a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle. He went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said. ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered. ‘I have been very zealous for Yahweh, the God of hosts. The Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left. They are seeking my life, to take it away.’”

Much like Exodus, chapter 33, the appearance of God to Moses in all his glory was very dramatic, so too is experience of Elijah. Here Yahweh will pass by as in Exodus. Moses could not see the face of Yahweh. Here Yahweh is like a wind, an earthquake, a fire, and silence. However, Yahweh is not in the wind, earthquake, or fire. Like Moses, he had to cover his face. Then Yahweh and Elijah somehow repeat exactly the same phrases that began this conversation. There is that wonderful phrase, “the sounds of silence” that was a popular song in the 1960s.

Elijah encounters Yahweh (1 Kings 19:9-19:10)

“At that place Elijah came to a cave. He spent the night there. Then the word of Yahweh came to him, saying. ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered. ‘I have been very zealous for Yahweh, the God of hosts. The Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have thrown down your altars. They have killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left. They are seeking my life, to take it away.’”

Elijah came to a cave where he spent the night. There the word of Yahweh came to him wanting to know why he was here. This is no longer an angel or messenger of God but the word of Yahweh himself. He explained his position. The Israelites have broken the covenant of Mount Horeb. They have taken down the Yahweh altars and killed the Yahweh prophets. Elijah was the last one standing and they were seeking his life.