1 Kings 20


Ben-hadad, king of Syria, and thirty-two kings, besiege

Samaria, 1.

He sends an insulting message to Ahab; and insists on pillaging

the whole city, 2-7.

The elders of Israel counsel the king not to submit to such

shameful conditions, 8.

He sends a refusal to Ben-hadad; who, being enraged, vows

revenge, 9-12.

A prophet comes to Ahab, and promises him victory, and gives him

directions how he should order the battle, 13-19.

The Syrians are discomfited, and Ben-hadad scarcely escapes,

20, 21.

The prophet warns Ahab to be on his guard, for the Syrians would

return next year, 22.

The counsellors of the king of Syria instruct him how he may

successfully invade Israel, 23-25.

He leads an immense army to Aphek, to fight with Ahab, 26, 27.

A man of God encourages Ahab, who attacks the Syrians, and kills

one hundred thousand of them, 28, 29.

They retreat to Aphek, where twenty-seven thousand of them are

slain by a casualty, 30.

Ben-hadad and his courtiers, being closely besieged in Aphek,

and unable to escape, surrender themselves with sackcloth on

their loins, and halters on their heads; the king of Israel

receives them in a friendly manner, and makes a covenant with

Ben-hadad, 31-34.

A prophet, by a symbolical action, shows him the impolicy of his

conduct in permitting Ben-hadad to escape, and predicts his

death and the slaughter of Israel, 35-43.


Verse 1. Ben-hadad] Several MSS., and some early printed

editions, have Ben-hadar, or the son of Hadar, as the Septuagint.

He is supposed to be the same whom Asa stirred up against the king

of Israel, 1Ki 15:18; or, as others, his

son or grandson.

Thirty and two kings] Tributary chieftains of Syria and the

adjacent countries. In former times every town and city had its

independent chieftain. Both the Septuagint and Josephus place this

war after the history of Naboth.

Verse 4. I am thine, and all that I have.] He probably hoped by

this humiliation to soften this barbarous king, and perhaps to get

better conditions.

Verse 6. Whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes] It is not easy to

discern in what this second requisition differed from the first;

for surely his silver, gold, wives, and children, were among his

most pleasant or desirable things. Jarchi supposes that it was

the book of the law of the Lord which Ben-hadad meant, and of

which he intended to deprive Israel. It is however evident that

Ben-hadad meant to sack the whole city, and after having taken the

royal treasures and the wives and children of the king, to

deliver up the whole to be pillaged by his soldiers.

Verse 8. Hearken not unto him] The elders had every thing at

stake, and they chose rather to make a desperate defense than

tamely to yield to such degrading and ruinous conditions.

Verse 10. If the dust of Samaria shall suffice] This is

variously understood. Jonathan translates thus: "If the dust of

Shomeron shall be sufficient for the soles of the feet of the

people that shall accompany me;" i.e., I shall bring such an army

that there will scarcely be room for them to stand in Samaria and

its vicinity.

Verse 11. Let not him that girdeth on] This was no doubt a

proverbial mode of expression. Jonathan translates, "Tell him, Let

not him who girds himself and goes down to the battle, boast as he

who has conquered and returned from it."

Verse 12. In the pavilions] This word comes from papilio, a

butterfly, because tents, when pitched or spread out, resembled

such animals; partly because of the mode of their expansion, and

partly because of the manner in which they were painted.

Set yourselves in array.] The original word, simu, which

we translate by this long periphrasis, is probably a military term

for Begin the attack, Invest the city, Every man to his post, or

some such like expression.

Verse 13. There came a prophet] Who this was we cannot tell;

Jarchi says it was Micaiah, son of Imlah. It is strange that on

such an occasion we hear nothing of Elijah or Elisha. Is it not

possible that this was one of them disguised?

Verse 14. By the young men of the princes of the provinces.]

These were probably some chosen persons out of the militia of

different districts, raised by the princes of the provinces; the

same as we would call lord-lieutenants of counties.

Verse 15. Two hundred and thirty-two] These were probably the

king's life or body guards; not all the militia, but two hundred

and thirty of them who constituted the royal guard in Samaria.

They were therefore the king's own regiment, and he is commanded

by the prophet to put himself at their head.

Seven thousand.] How low must the state of Israel have been at

this time! These Jarchi thinks were the seven thousand who had not

bowed the knee to Baal.

Verse 18. Take them alive.] He was confident of victory. Do not

slay them; bring them to me, they may give us some useful


Verse 20. The Syrians fled] They were doubtless panic-struck.

Verse 23. Their gods are gods of the hills] It is very likely

that the small Israelitish army availed itself of the heights and

uneven ground, that they might fight with greater advantage

against the Syrian cavalry, for Ben-hadad came up against Samaria

with horses and chariots, 1Ki 20:1. These therefore must be

soon thrown into confusion when charging in such circumstances;

indeed, the chariots must be nearly useless.

Let us fight against them in the plain] There our horses and

chariots will all be able to bear on the enemy, and there their

gods, whose influence is confined to the hills, will not be able

to help them. It was a general belief in the heathen world that

each district had its tutelary and protecting deity, who could do

nothing out of his own sphere.

Verse 24. Take the kings away] These were not acquainted with

military affairs, or they had not competent skill. Put experienced

captains in their place, and fight not but on the plains, and you

will be sure of victory.

Verse 26. Ben-hadad numbered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek]

There were several towns of this name; see the notes on

Jos 12:18. It is supposed that the town mentioned here was

situated in Libanus, upon the river Adonis, between Heliopolis and


Verse 28. Because the Syrians have said] God resents their

blasphemy, and is determined to punish it. They shall now be

discomfited in such a way as to show that God's power is every

where, and that the multitude of a host is nothing against him.

Verse 29. Slew a hundred thousand footmen in one day.] This

number is enormous; but the MSS. and versions give no various


Verse 30. A wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand] From the

first view of this text it would appear that when the Syrians fled

to Aphek, and shut themselves within the walls, the Israelites

immediately brought all hands, and sapped the walls, in

consequence of which a large portion fell, and buried twenty-seven

thousand men. But perhaps the hand of God was more immediately in

this disaster; probably a burning wind is meant. See at the end of

the chapter. See Clarke on 1Ki 20:43.

Came into the city, into an inner chamber.] However the passage

above may be understood, the city was now, in effect, taken; and

Ben-hadad either betook himself with his few followers to the

citadel or to some secret hiding-place, where he held the council

with his servants immediately mentioned.

Verse 31. Put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads]

Let us show ourselves humbled in the deepest manner, and let us

put ropes about our necks, and go submitting to his mercy, and

deprecating his wrath. The citizens of Calais are reported to have

acted nearly in the same way when they surrendered their city to

Edward III., king of England, in 1346. See at the end.

See Clarke on 1Ki 20:43.

Verse 32. Thy servant Ben-hadad] See the vicissitude of human

affairs! A little before he was the haughtiest of all tyrants, and

Ahab calls him his lord; now, so much is he humbled, that he will

be glad to be reputed Ahab's slave!

Verse 33. Did hastily catch it] They were watching to see if any

kind word should be spoken by him, from which they might draw a

favourable omen; and when they heard him use the word brother, it

gave them much encouragement.

Verse 34. Thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus] It

appears that it was customary for foreigners to have a place

assigned to them, particularly in maritime towns, where they might

deposit and vend their merchandise. This was the very origin of

European settlements in Asiatic countries: "The people gave an

inch to those strangers; and in consequence they took an ell."

Under the pretense of strengthening the place where they kept

their wares, to prevent depredations, they built forts, and soon

gave laws to their entertainers. In vain did the natives wish them

away; they had got power, and would retain it; and at last

subjected these countries to their own dominion.

It was customary also, in the time of the crusades, to give

those nations which were engaged in them streets, churches, and

post dues, in those places which they assisted to conquer. The

Genoese and Venetians had each a street in Accon, or St. Jean

d'Acre, in which they had their own jurisdiction; with oven, mill,

bagnio, weights, and measures.-See William of Tyre, and Harmer's


He made a covenant with him] According to the words recited

above, putting him under no kind of disabilities whatsoever.

Verse 35. In the word of the Lord] By the word or command of the

Lord; that is, God has commanded thee to smite me. Refusing to do

it, this man forfeited his life, as we are informed in the next


By this emblematical action he intended to inform Ahab that, as

the man forfeited his life who refused to smite him when he had

the Lord's command to do it; so he (Ahab) had forfeited his life,

because he did not smite Ben-hadad when he had him in his power.

Verse 36. A lion found him, and slew him.] This seems a hard

measure, but there was ample reason for it. This person was also

one of the sons of the prophets, and he knew that God frequently

delivered his counsels in this way, and should have immediately

obeyed; for the smiting could have had no evil in it when God

commanded it, and it could be no outrage or injury to his fellow

when he himself required him to do it.

Verse 38. Disguised himself with ashes upon his face.] It does

not immediately appear how putting ashes upon his face could

disguise him. Instead of apher, dust, Houbigant conjectures

that it should be aphad, a fillet or bandage. It is only

the corner of the last letter which makes the difference; for the

daleth and resh are nearly the same, only the shoulder

of the former is square, the latter round. That bandage, not

dust, was the original reading, seems pretty evident from its

remains in two of the oldest versions, the Septuagint and the

Chaldee; the former has καικατεδησατοεντελαμωνιτους

οφθαλμουςαυτου, "And he bound his eyes with a fillet." The latter

has ukerich bemaaphira einohi; "And he

covered his eyes with a cloth." The MSS. of Kennicott and De Rossi

contain no various reading here; but bandage is undoubtedly the

true one. However, in the way of mortification, both the Jews and

Hindoos put ashes upon their heads and faces, and make

themselves sufficiently disgusting.

Verse 39. Keep this man] The drift of this is at once seen; but

Ahab, not knowing it, was led to pass sentence on himself.

Verse 41. Took the ashes away] He took the bandage from off his

eyes: see on 1Ki 20:38. It was no doubt of thin cloth, through

which he could see, while it served for a sufficient disguise.

Verse 42. Thy life shall go for his life] This was fulfilled at

the battle of Ramoth-gilead, where he was slain by the Syrians;

see 1Ki 22:34, 35.

Verse 43. Heavy and displeased] Heavy or afflicted, because of

these dreadful tidings; and displeased with the prophet for having

announced them. Had he been displeased with himself, and humbled

his soul before God, even those judgments, so circumstantially

foretold, might have been averted.

1. WE have already seen, in 1Ki 20:30, that according to our

text, twenty-seven thousand men were slain by the falling of a

wall. Serious doubts are entertained concerning the legitimacy of

this rendering. I have, in the note, given the conjecture

concerning sapping the foundation of the wall, and thus

overthrowing them that were upon it. If instead of chomah, a

wall, we read confusion or disorder, then the

destruction of the twenty-seven thousand men may appear to have

been occasioned by the disorganized state into which they fell; of

which their enemies taking advantage, they might destroy the whole

with ease.

But chomah, a wall, becomes, as Dr. Kennicott has

observed, a very different word when written without the vau,

which signifies heat; sometimes the sun, vehement heat, or

the heat of the noon-day sun; and also the name of a wind, from

its suffocating, parching quality.

The same noun, from yacham, Dr. Castel explains by

excandescentia, furor, venenum; burning, rage, poison. These

renderings, says Dr. Kennicott, all concur to establish the sense

of a burning wind, eminently blasting and destructive. I shall

give a few instances from the Scripture:-

We read in Job 27:21:

The east wind carrieth him away; where the word kadim is

καυσων, burning, in the Septuagint; and in the Vulgate, ventus

urens, a burning wind. In Eze 19:12:

She was plucked up she was cast down to the ground, and the

east wind dried up her fruit; her strong rods were withered, and

the fire consumed them. Hosea (Ho 13:15) mentions the desolation

brought by an east wind, the wind of the Lord. What in Am 4:9 is,

I have smitten you with blasting, in the Vulgate is, in vento

vehemente, "with a vehement wind;" and in the Syriac, with a hot


Let us apply these to the history: when Ben-hadad, king of

Syria, was besieging Samaria the second time, the Israelites slew

of the Syrians one hundred thousand footmen in one day; and it

follows, that when the rest of the army fled to Aphek,

twenty-seven thousand of the men that were left were suddenly

destroyed by hachomah, or hachamah, a burning wind.

That such is the true interpretation, will appear more clearly if

we compare the destruction of Ben-hadad's army with that of

Sennacherib, whose sentence is that God would send upon him a

BLAST, ruach, a wind; doubtless such a wind as would be

suddenly destructive. The event is said to be that in the night

one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians were smitten by

the angel of the Lord, 2Ki 19:7, 35. The connection of this

sentence with the execution of it is given by the psalmist, who

says, Ps 104:4:

God maketh his angels ruchoth, winds; or, maketh the

winds his angels, i.e., messengers for the performance of his

will. In a note on Ps 11:6, Professor Michaelis has these

words: Ventus Zilgaphoth, pestilens eurus est, orientalibus

notissimus, qui obvia quaevis necat; "The wind Zilgaphoth is a

pestilent east wind, well known to the Asiastics, which suddenly

kills those who are exposed to it." Thevenot mentions such a wind

in 1658, that in one night suffocated twenty thousand men. And the

Samiel he mentions as having, in 1665, suffocated four thousand

persons. "Upon the whole, I conclude," says the doctor, 'that as

Thevenot has mentioned two great multitudes destroyed by this

burning wind, so has holy Scripture recorded the destruction of

two much greater multitudes by a similar cause; and therefore we

should translate the words thus: But the rest fled to Aphek, into

the city; and THE BURNING WIND fell upon the twenty and seven

thousand of the men that were left."

2. On the case of Ben-hadad and his servants coming out to Ahab

with sackcloth on their loins and ropes about their necks,

1Ki 20:31, I have referred to that of the six citizens of

Calais, in the time of Edward III. I shall give this affecting

account from Sir John Froissart, who lived in that time, and

relates the story circumstantially, and with that simplicity and

detail that give it every appearence of truth. He is the only

writer, of all his contemporaries, who gives the relation; and as

it is not only illustrative of the text in question, but also very

curious and affecting, I will give it in his own words; only

observing that, King Edward having closely invested the city in

1346, and the king of France having made many useless attempts to

raise the siege, at last withdrew his army, and left it to its

fate. "Then," says Froissart, chap. cxliv., "after the departure

of the king of France with his army, the Calesians saw clearly

that all hopes of succour were at an end; which occasioned them so

much sorrow and distress that the hardiest could scarcely support

it. They entreated therefore, most earnestly, the lord Johns de

Vienne, their governor, to mount upon the battlements, and make a

sign that he wished to hold a parley.

"The king of England, upon hearing this, sent to him Sir Walter

Manny and Lord Basset. When they were come near, the lord de

Vienne said to them: 'Dear gentlemen, you, who are very valiant

knights, know that the king of France, whose subjects we are, has

sent us hither to defend this town and castle from all harm and

damage. This we have done to the best of our abilities; all hopes

of help have now left us, so that we are most exceedingly

straitened; and if the gallant king, your lord, have not pity upon

us, we must perish with hunger. I therefore entreat that you would

beg of him to have compassion upon us, and to have the goodness to

allow us to depart in the state we are in; and that he will be

satisfied with having possession of the town and castle, with all

that is within them, as he will find therein riches enough to

content him.' To this Sir Walter Manny replied: 'John, we are not

ignorant of what the king our lord's intentions are, for he has

told them to us; know then, that it is not his pleasure that you

should get off so, for he is resolved that you surrender

yourselves wholly to his will, to allow those whom he pleases

their ransom, or to be put to death; for the Calesians have done

him so much mischief, and have, by their obstinate defense, cost

him so many lives, and so much money, that he is mightily


"The lord de Vienne answered: 'These conditions are too hard for

us; we are but a small number of knights and squires, who have

loyally served our lord and master, as you would have done, and

have suffered much ill and disquiet: but we will endure more than

any men ever did in a similar situation, before we consent that

the smallest boy in the town should fare worse than the best. I

therefore once more entreat you, out of compassion, to return to

the king of England, and beg of him to have pity on us; he will, I

trust, grant you this favour; for I have such an opinion of his

gallantry as to hope that, through God's mercy, he will alter his


"The two lords returned to the king and related what had passed.

The king said: 'He had no intention of complying with the request,

but should insist that they surrendered themselves unconditionally

to his will.' Sir Walter replied: 'My lord, ye may be to blame in

this, as you will set us a very bad example; for if you order us

to go to any of your castles, we shall not obey you so cheerfully

if you put these people to death, for they will retaliate upon us

in a similar case.'

"Many barons who were present supported this opinion; upon which

the king replied: 'Gentlemen, I am not so obstinate as to hold my

opinion alone against you all. Sir Walter, you will inform the

governor of Calais, that the only grace he is to expect from me

is, that six of the principal citizens of Calais march out of the

town with bare heads and feet, with ropes round their necks, and

the keys of the town and castle in their hands. These six persons

shall be at my absolute disposal, and the remainder of the

inhabitants pardoned.'

"Sir Walter returned to the lord de Vienne, who was waiting for

him on the battlements, and told him all that he had been able to

gain from the king. 'I beg of you,' replied the governor, 'that

you would be so good as to remain here a little, whilst I go and

relate all that has passed to the townsmen; for, as they have

desired me to undertake this it is but proper that they should

know the result of it.'

"He went to the market place, and caused the bell to be rung;

upon which all the inhabitants, men and women, assembled in the

town-hall. He then related to them what he had said, and the

answers he had received, and that he could not obtain any

conditions more favourable; to which they must give a short and

immediate answer.

"This information caused the greatest lamentations and despair,

so that the hardest heart would have had compassion on them; even

the lord de Vienne wept bitterly.

"After a short time the most wealthy citizen of the town, by

name Eustace de St. Pierre, rose up and said: 'Gentlemen, both

high and low, it would be a very great pity to suffer so many

people to die through famine, if any means could be found to

prevent it; and it would be highly meritorious in the eyes of our

Saviour, if such misery could be averted. I have such faith and

trust in finding grace before God, if I die to save my townsmen,

that I name myself as first of the six.'

"When Eustace had done speaking, they all rose up and almost

worshipped him: many cast themselves at his feet with tears and

groans. Another citizen, very rich and respected, rose up and

said, 'He would be the second to his companion Eustace;' his name

was John Daire. After him James Wisant, who was very rich in

merchandise and lands, offered himself as companion to his two

cousins, as did Peter Wisant, his brother. Two others then named

themselves, which completed the number demanded by the king of

England. The lord John de Vienne then mounted a small hackney, for

it was with difficulty he could walk, (he had been wounded in the

siege,) and conducted them to the gate. There was the greatest

sorrow and lamentation over all the town; and in such manner were

they attended to the gate, which the governor ordered to be opened

and then shut upon him and the six citizens, whom he led to the

barriers, and said to Sir Walter Manny, who was there waiting for

him, 'I deliver up to you, as governor of Calais, with the consent

of the inhabitants, these six citizens; and I swear to you that

they were, and are at this day, the most wealthy and respectable

inhabitants of Calais. I beg of you, gentle sir, that you would

have the goodness to beseech the king that they may not be put to

death.' 'I cannot answer for what the king will do with them,'

replied Sir Walter; 'but you may depend that I will do all in my

power to save them.'

"The barriers were opened, when these six citizens advanced

towards the pavilion of the king, and the lord de Vienne

re-entered the town.

"When Sir Walter Manny had presented these six citizens to the

king, they fell upon their knees, and with uplifted hands said:

'Most gallant king, see before you six citizens of Calais, who

have been capital merchants, and who bring you the keys of the

castle and of the town. We surrender ourselves to your absolute

will and pleasure, in order to save the remainder of the

inhabitants of Calais, who have suffered much distress and misery.

Condescend, therefore, out of your nobleness of mind, to have

mercy and compassion upon us.' All the barons knights, and

squires, that were assembled there in great numbers, wept at this


"The king eyed them with angry looks, (for he hated much the

people of Calais, for the great losses he had formerly suffered

from them at sea,) and ordered their heads to be stricken off. All

present entreated the king that he would be more merciful to them,

but he would not listen to them. Then Sir Walter Manny said: 'Ah,

gentle king, let me beseech you to restrain your anger; you have

the reputation of great nobleness of soul, do not therefore

tarnish it by such an act as this, nor allow any one to speak in a

disgraceful manner of you. In this instance all the world will say

you have acted cruelly, if you put to death six such respectable

persons, who of their own free will have surrendered themselves to

your mercy, in order to save their fellow citizens.' Upon this the

king gave a wink, saying, Be it so, and ordered the headsman to be

sent for; for that the Calesians had done him so much damage, it

was proper they should suffer for it.

"The queen of England, who was at that time very big with child,

fell on her knees, and with tears said: 'Ah, gentle sir, since I

have crossed the sea with great danger to see you, I have never

asked you one favour; now I most humbly ask as a gift, for the

sake of the Son of the blessed Mary, and for your love to me, that

you will be merciful to these six men.' The king looked at her for

some time in silence, and then said: 'Ah, lady, I wish you had

been any where else than here; you have entreated in such a manner

that I cannot refuse you; I therefore give them to you, to do as

you please with them.'

"The queen conducted the six citizens to her apartments, and had

the halters taken from round their necks, new clothed, and served

them with a plentiful dinner; she then presented each with nobles,

and had them escorted out of the camp in safety."

This is the whole of this affecting account, which is mentioned

by no other writer, and has been thought a proper subject for the

pen of the poet, the pencil of the painter, and the burin of the

engraver; and which has seldom been fairly represented in the

accounts we have of it from our historians. The translation I have

borrowed from the accurate edition of Froissart, by Mr. Johns, of

Hafod; and to his work, vol. i., p. 367, I must refer for

objections to the authenticity of some of the facts stated by the

French historian. We see in Eustace de St. Pierre and his five

companions the portrait of genuine patriotism.-a principle, almost

as rare in the world as the Egyptian phoenix, which leads its

possessors to devote their property and consecrate their lives to

the public weal; widely different from that spurious birth which

is deep in the cry of My country! while it has nothing in view but

its places, pensions, and profits. Away with it!

Copyright information for Clarke