Damascus had been under the control of the Assyrians since around 740 BCE, before the fall of the northern Israelites to Assyria in 724 BCE. Now the Babylonians were taking over for the Assyrians. The two other cities mentioned with Damascus, were Hamath and Arpad. Hamath was in upper Syria with Arpad nearly a 100 miles further north. These northern towns were upset and troubled over the news about southern Damascus. They felt like they were on troubled waters and could not be quiet. Damascus itself was weak and in panic. This former joyful town saw people fleeing with panic. Once again they had become weak like women in labor. Their young men were dying in the squares since the soldiers had been killed. The soldiers also died. There was a huge fire that destroyed the walls and royal buildings of Ben-hadad. King Ben-hadad was a 9th century BCE king of Damascus who had some battles with King Asa of Judah and King Omri of Israel, in 1 Kings, chapter 20. However, there were 2 other kings with the same name, so that it clearly referred to the royal palaces or fortresses in Damascus. Once again there is no mention of a restoration for Damascus.
“When King Hazael of Aram died, his son King Ben-hadad succeeded him. Then King Joash son of King Jehoahaz took again from King Ben-hadad son of King Hazael the towns that he had taken from his father King Jehoahaz in war. Three times Joash defeated him and recovered the towns of Israel from his rule.”
After the death of King Hazael of the Arameans, his son King Ben-hadad III took over. As I mentioned earlier in this chapter since King Ben-hadad II was killed by King Hazael, why would his son have the same name as the king he killed? Perhaps they were friends when he was born. Anyway, King Joash was successful 3 times in defeating the new king of the Arameans, just as Elisha had predicted. However, he did not destroy him. In each case, they got back some of the Israelite towns, that were switching back and forth.
“The anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel. He gave them repeatedly into the hand of King Hazael of Aram, and then into the hand of King Ben-hadad son of King Hazael. But King Jehoahaz entreated Yahweh. Yahweh heeded him. Yahweh saw the oppression of Israel. He saw how the king of Aram oppressed them. Therefore Yahweh gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Arameans. The people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly. Nevertheless they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he caused Israel to sin, but walked in them. The sacred poles also remained in Samaria. Thus King Jehoahaz was left with an army of not more than fifty horsemen and ten chariots with ten thousand footmen. The king of Aram had destroyed them. He made them like the dust at threshing.”
If King David had problems with the Philistines along the west coast, these 9th century BCE Israelite kings always seem to be in battle with the Arameans, in the northeast. Yahweh was continually upset with the Israelite kings. This may be partly due to the bias of the biblical author. There is a little confusion here since King Hazael had killed King Ben-hadad to take over the Arameans, why would his son have the same name as the king he killed? The answer might be that they were friends when he was born. King Jehoahaz asked Yahweh to help him in his battle with the Arameans. Yahweh was kind to the Israelites since he saw how they were suffering. He was going to send a savior or liberator, and that would be King Jeroboam II. Even after saving them from the Arameans, the Israelites continued to worship the sacred poles in Samaria. Then King Jehoahaz was left with 50 horsemen, 10 chariots, and 10,000 foot soldiers. That does not seem too bad. However, the Arameans destroyed them like the scattered dust.
“In the spring King Ben-hadad mustered the Arameans. They went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel. After the Israelites had been mustered and provisioned, they went out to engage them. The people of Israel encamped opposite them like two little flocks of goats, while the Arameans filled the country. A man of God approached. He said to the king of Israel. ‘Thus says Yahweh. Because the Arameans have said. ‘Yahweh is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,’ therefore I will give this entire great multitude into your hand. You shall know that I am Yahweh.’ They encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle began. The Israelites killed one hundred thousand Aramean foot soldiers in one day. The rest fled into the city of Aphek. The wall fell on the twenty-seven thousand men that were left.”
In the spring time, King Ben-hadad set out to defeat the Israelites. They went to a place called Aphek, on the road between Israel and Syria. There are other places with this same name where the Philistines and the Canaanites were. The 2 armies camped against each other for 7 days. On the 7th day, the Israelites attacked. Once again, the unnamed prophet, man of God, appeared to King Ahab to tell him that he was going to be successful. This time the Israelites killed 100,000 Arameans, while another 27,000 were killed when a wall collapsed. This was a great victory. The numbers seem a little high, but they indicate the complete defeat of the Aramean army from the Syrian area.
“But the Israelites had already come out of the city, the young men who served the district governors, and the army that followed them. Each killed his man. The Arameans fled. Israel pursued them, but King Ben-hadad of Aram escaped on a horse with the cavalry. The king of Israel went out. He attacked the horses and the chariots. He defeated the Arameans with a great slaughter.”
It was too late for the scouts since the elite Israelite 232 with the 7,000 troops behind them had left the city. They each killed a man. However, King Ben-hadad escaped on horseback with his cavalry. King Ahab went out and attacked the horses and chariots that led to a great slaughter of the Arameans.
“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.
“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.
“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.