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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Chapter 20

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1 KING Ben-hadad of Aram, having mustered all his forces, and taking with him thirty-two kings with their horses and chariots, marched up against Samaria to take it by siege and assault. 2He sent envoys into the city to King Ahab of Israel to say, ‘Hear what Ben-hadad says: 3Your silver and gold are mine, your wives and fine children are mine.’ 4The king of Israel answered, ‘As you say, my lord king, I and all that I have are yours.’ 5The envoys came again and said, ‘Hear what Ben-hadad says: I demand that you hand over your silver and gold, your wives and your children. 6This time tomorrow I shall send my servants to ransack your palace and your subjects’ houses to take possession of everything you prize, and carry it off.’

7The king of Israel summoned all the elders of the land and said, ‘You can see the man is bent on picking a quarrel; for I did not demur when he sent to claim my wives and my children, my silver and gold.’ 8The elders and people all answered, ‘Do not listen to him; you must not consent.’ 9So he gave this reply to Ben-hadad's envoys: ‘Say to my lord the king: I accepted your majesty's demands on the first occasion; but what you now ask I cannot do.’ The envoys went away and reported to their master, 10and Ben-hadad sent back word: ‘The gods do the same to me and more, if enough dust is left in Samaria to provide a handful for each of my men.’ 11The king of Israel made reply, ‘Tell him of the saying: “The time for boasting is after the battle.”’ 12This message reached Ben-hadad while he and the kings were feasting in their quarters, and he at once ordered his men to position themselves for an attack on the city, and they did so.

13Meanwhile a prophet had come to King Ahab of Israel and announced, ‘This is the word of the LORD: You see this great host? Today I shall give it into your hands and you will know that I am the LORD.’ 14‘Whom will you use for that?’ asked Ahab. ‘The LORD says: The young men who serve the district officers,’ was the answer. ‘Who will launch the attack?’ asked the king. ‘You,’ said the prophet. 15Then Ahab mustered these young men, two hundred and thirty-two all told, and behind them the people of Israel, seven thousand in all.

16They marched out at midday, while Ben-hadad and his allies, those thirty-two kings, were drinking themselves into insensibility in their quarters a 20:16 in their quarters: or at Succoth. . 17The young men sallied out first, and word was sent to Ben-hadad that men had come out of Samaria. 18‘If they have come out for peace,’ he said, ‘take them alive; if for battle, take them alive.’

19With the army following behind them, the young men went out from the city; 20each struck down his man, and the Aramaeans fled, with the Israelites in pursuit. Ben-hadad the king of Aram escaped on horseback with some of the cavalry. 21The king of Israel advanced and captured b 20:21 captured: so Gk; Heb. destroyed. the horses and chariots, inflicting a heavy defeat on the Aramaeans.

22The prophet came to the king of Israel and advised him, ‘Build up your forces; you know what you must do. At the turn of the year the king of Aram will renew the attack.’ 23The ministers of the king of Aram gave him this advice: ‘Their gods are gods c 20:23 gods are gods: or God is a god. of the hills; that is why they are too strong for us. Let us fight them in the plain, and then we shall have the upper hand. 24What you must do is to relieve the kings of their command and appoint other officers in their place. 25Raise another army like the one you have lost. Bring your cavalry and chariots up to their former strength, and then let us fight Israel in the plain; then assuredly we shall have the upper hand.’ He listened to their advice and acted on it.

26At the turn of the year Ben-hadad mustered the Aramaeans and advanced to Aphek to launch their attack on Israel. 27The Israelites too were mustered and formed into companies, and then went to meet the enemy. When the Israelites encamped opposite them, they seemed no better than a pair of new-born goats, while the Aramaeans covered the countryside. 28The man of God came to the king of Israel and said, ‘This is the word of the LORD: The Aramaeans may think that the LORD is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys; but I shall give all this great host into your hands and you will know that I am the LORD.’

29They lay in camp opposite one another for seven days; on the seventh day battle was joined and the Israelites destroyed a hundred thousand of the Aramaean infantry in one day. 30The survivors fled to Aphek, into the citadel, and the city wall fell upon the twenty-seven thousand men who were left. Ben-hadad took refuge in the citadel, retreating into an inner room.

31His attendants said to him, ‘We have heard that the Israelite kings are men to be trusted. Let us therefore put sackcloth round our waists and wind rough cord round our heads and go out to the king of Israel. It may be that he will spare your life.’ 32So they fastened on the sackcloth and the cord, and went to the king of Israel and said, ‘Your servant Ben-hadad pleads for his life.’ ‘My royal cousin,’ he said, ‘is he still alive?’ 33The men, taking the word for a favourable omen, caught it up at once and said, ‘Your cousin Ben-hadad, yes.’ ‘Go and fetch him,’ he said. When Ben-hadad came out Ahab invited him into his chariot. 34Ben-hadad said to him, ‘I shall give back the towns which my father took from your father, and you may establish for yourself a trading quarter in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.’ ‘On these terms’, said Ahab, ‘I shall let you go.’ So he granted him a treaty and let him go.

35One of a company of prophets, at the command of the LORD, ordered a certain man to strike him, but the man refused. 36‘Because you have not obeyed the LORD,’ said the prophet, ‘when you leave me a lion will attack you.’ When the man left, a lion did come upon him and attack him. 37The prophet met another man and ordered him to strike him. This man struck and wounded him. 38The prophet went off, with a bandage over his eyes, and thus disguised waited by the wayside for the king. 39As the king was passing, he called out to him, ‘Sir, I went into the thick of the battle, and a soldier came over to me with a prisoner and said, “Take charge of this fellow. If by any chance he gets away, your life will be forfeit, or you must pay a talent of silver.” 40While I was busy with one thing and another, sir, he disappeared.’ The king of Israel said to him, ‘You have passed sentence on yourself.’ 41At that the prophet tore the bandage from his eyes, and the king saw that he was one of the prophets. 42He said to the king, ‘This is the word of the LORD: Because you let that man go when I had put him under a ban, your life shall be forfeit for his life, your people for his people.’ 43The king of Israel went off home and entered Samaria sullen and angry.


a 20:16 in their quarters: or at Succoth.

b 20:21 captured: so Gk; Heb. destroyed.

c 20:23 gods are gods: or God is a god.

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