Melachim 1/Kings 1: Chapter 20: Battle of Achav and Ben Hadad

Chapter 20: Battle of Achav and Ben Hadad

1.      Ben-Hadad wages war against Israel:

  • The city of Shmron is placed under siege: Ben-Hadad the king of Aram gathered all his army, and thirty-two kings, and horses and chariots, and he went up and besieged the city of Shomron and waged war with it.
  • Ben-Hadad demands all the treasures of Achav and his wives and daughters: Ben-Hadad sent messengers to Achav the king of Israel, to the city and he said to him: “So says Ben-Hadad: Your silver and your gold are mine; your beautiful wives and children are mine.” Achav, the king of Israel answered him that he accepts him as his master, and king [to pay an annual tribute, however, not to literally allow all of his treasures and women to be handed to him[1]]. “I and all that I own shall belong to you.” The messengers [after relaying the message to their king Ben Hadad] returned back to Achav and said, “So says Ben-Hadad: Your silver and your gold, your wives, and your children you shall give to me. At this time tomorrow I will send my servants to you, and they will search your palace and the houses of your servants, and they will take all your items of value [including your Sefer Torah[2]].”
  • Achav consults with the elders of Israel and declines to the demands: Achav, the king of Israel summoned all the elders of the land and told them that Ben Hadad is looking to cause harm, and “demands my wives, my sons, and my silver and gold, and therefore I cannot acquiesce to his requests.” All of the elders and all of the people responded to Achav that he should not obey and not consent to Ben Hadad. So, Achav said to the messengers of Ben-Haddad, “Tell your master the king, that while I am willing to abide by the first request [to pay tribute to him as a King, and become under his reign] I cannot agree to the latter demands.” And the messengers went, and they brought back the message to Ben-Haddad.
  • The siege begins: Ben-Haddad sent back a message to Achav, “I swear by G-d that the land of Shomron will not have enough space for all my many warriors who will come to battle it.” Achav, the king of Israel replied saying that Ben-Haddad should not be so boastful and assured of his strength that he will win the war. Ben-Haddad received the above message when he and the fellow kings were drinking alcohol inside of the huts [that they had made for shade]. When Ben-Haddad heard this reply he immediately instructed his servants to lay siege to the city, and so the city was put under siege.
  • Achav receives a prophecy that he will be victorious in the war: A certain prophet approached Achav, the king of Israel, and told him that he had received a prophecy from Hashem that he should not fear from all of the great multitude that he sees as Hashem will hand them over to his hands in order so he will know that Hashem is God. Achav asked the prophet as to who should be on the front line in the battle and the prophet replied that Hashem had told him that it should be led by the sons of the ministers and governors of the lands [whom were under the sovereignty of Achav]. Achav then asked as to who should be the general of the war, and the prophet replied that it should be him.

2.      The battle begins and Achav is victorious:

  • The number of soldiers on the side of Achav: Achav counted all of the children of the governors of the provinces who would be on the frontlines, and there were two hundred thirty-two men in total. Afterwards he counted the remainder of the people who would join the battle and they had a total of seven thousand.
  • The soldiers leave the city for battle while Ben-Haddad is drunk: The soldiers of Achav went out at noon to fight the battle and at that time Ben-Haddad and the thirty-two kings were drinking themselves drunk in the huts that they made for shade. The children of the governors of the provinces were the first to lead the line of battle. Ben-Haddad was then informed by messenger that they were men who had left the city of Shomron. Ben-Haddad replied that the individual should be seized alive whether they have come for peaceful purposes and whether they have come for war.
  • The initial battle is won: The children of the governors of the provinces came out of the city, together with an army leading after them. They killed every man of the enemy camp, and the Arameans fled, and Israel chased after them. Ben-Haddad, the king of Aram, escaped on horseback with horsemen. Achav, the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and the chariots and inflicted upon Aram a great defeat.

3.      The second battle:

  • The prophet warned to be second battle: The prophet approached Achav, the king of Israel, and warned him, that he should go strengthen his army and prepares a strategy for the next war as at the end of the year, the king of Aram will once again come up against you in war.
  • Ben Hadad prepares for a second battle in the planes: The servants of the king of Aram said to him: “Their God is the God of mountains and that is why we lost the war to the. Therefore, let us now fight them in the plains, and you will see that we will overpower them. Now you should do the following: Remove all the kings from their positions in the Army, and rather place regular officers in their place. You should gather for yourself an army, with soldiers and horses and chariots, of the same numbers as the original army that fell in the first battle and we will fight against the Jewish people in the plains, and you will see that indeed we will overpower them.” Ben Hadad heeded listen to the words of the servants and prepared for the second battle as they suggested.
  • The armies of both sides set up for the second battle: At the end of the year, Ben-Haddad counted the Arameans, and he went up to Aphek to wage war against Israel. The people of Israel were properly armed, and they went to meet the Arameans in battle. They encamped against them like two flocks of goats, whereas the Arameans filled the land.
  • Achav is told that he will be victorious: A prophet of Hashem approached Achav, the king of Israel, and told him: “Thus said Hashem, Because the Arameans said that the God of the mountains your G-d and He is not the God over the valleys, therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand in order so you will know that I am G-d.”
  • The seven day wait: They were encamped opposite each other for seven days.
  • The battle and Israel’s victory: On the seventh day, the men draw close to battle and the children of Israel killed of Aram, one hundred thousand footmen in one day. The survivors fled to the city of Aphek, however, the wall fell onto them, and twenty-seven thousand survivors [were killed].

4.      Peace is made between Achav and Ben Hadad:

  • Ben Hadad goes into hiding and pleads before Achav for mercy: Ben-Haddad fled and came into the city into a chamber within a chamber. His servants said to him, “Behold, we have heard that the kings of Israel are kind. Let us put sackcloth on our loins and ropes on our heads and let us go out to the king of Israel, and perhaps he will spare your life.” So, they girded sackcloth on their loins and ropes on their heads, and they came to Achav, the king of Israel, and said, “Your servant Ben-Haddad is begging for his life be spared.” Achav replied, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.”
  • Achav spares Ben Hadad: The servants of Ben Hadad took Achav’s peaceful words seriously, and they had Ben-Haddad come out to Achav, and Achav helped him climb up into the chariot.
  • Ben Hadad returns cities to Achav: Ben Hadad said to Achav, “I will return the cities which my father took from your father [Omri]. You should make streets for yourself in Damascus [and rule over the city[3]] as my father had made in the Shomron.” Achav replied that he will, release Ben Hada with this treaty of condition. And he forged with him a treaty, and he released him.

5.      Achav is told by a prophet of his demise due to allowing Ben Hadad to live:

  • Story of man who dies for not listening to the prophecy of G-d: There was a certain man who was a prophet [i.e. Michiyahu Ben Yimlah[4]] who said to his friend, “I am asking you in the name of Hashem [i.e. Hashem has told me in a prophecy[5]], please strike me [and kill me].” However, the man refused to hit him. So, the prophet said to him, “because you have not obeyed the word of Hashem, therefore, when you depart from me, a lion will strike you.” And so it happened that he went his way, and a lion came and struck him. The prophet then found another man and he asked him to hit him and so the man listened and struck him, and wounded him.
  • The prophet disguises himself and meets Achav: The prophet went on his way and waited for the king on the road. He disguised himself with his headband over his eyes. When the king was passing, he cried out to the king, and said, “Your servant went out to battle, and behold a man brought to me a captive and asked me to watch the captive for him. He told me, that if the captive will go missing, then it will cost me my life, or I will need to pay a Kikar of silver. Now, I became involved in other things, and the captive managed to escape. [What should I do?].” Achav, the king of Israel replied to him, “You have pronounced your own verdict.”
  • The prophet reveals himself and gives Achav a prophecy of doom: The prophet then removed the headband from his eyes, and Achav recognized him as being one of the prophets. The prophet then said to Achav, “Thus said Hashem: Since you have released the man whom I designated for destruction, from your hand, therefore your life will be taken instead of his life and your people instead of his people.”
  • Achav, the king of Israel, returned home sad and angry, and he came to Samaria.

[1] See Metzudos Dovid 20:4

[2] Rashi 20:6

[3] Rashi 20:34

[4] Sanhedrin 89b; Metzudos Dovid 20:35

[5] Rashi 20:35

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