1 Kings 20:11
And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.’”
When I read this verse I knew I liked it but it took me a couple of times it to understand the simple message that King Ahab, the king of Israel, was conveying to King Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria.
King Ben-Hadad had gathered all his forces together, which included the armies of thirty two other kings. That must have been a substantial military force. For some reason Ben-Hadad wanted to conquer Samaria which was part of Israel and part of King Ahab’s domain. Ben-Hadad massed all his forces around Samaria and was ready to attack.
Ben-Hadad was feeling pretty confident about his ability to conquer and plunder Samaria. He thought it would be gracious of him to give the Samarians and Ahab the opportunity to give up all that he was seeking without much bloodshed on either side. Ben-Hadad sends a message to Ahab saying, all I want is your gold, your silver and your best wives and children. Keep in mind that kings had hundreds of wives and children to those wives so I’m sure it wasn’t a close knit family atmosphere. I sure there wasn’t a whole lot of emotional attachment other than the pride of giving up your possessions. And if a king gave up all his silver and gold, he could just take some more from his subjects or weaker empires.
Ahab replies to Ben-Hadad, “As you say my lord, O king, I am yours and all that I have.”
Pride and greed then got the better of Ben-Hadad. After seeing how easily Ahab gave into his first set of demands, Ben-Hadad then sends a second set of demands. He tells Ahab, not only will I be taking your gold, silver, and your best wives and children, I’m going to instruct my crew to come into your palace and take everything that you like. They are going to walk out of there with everything you have that pleases you.
Ben-Hadad could have easily walked away with all the gold and silver. He could have had the hottest babes in Israel and the smartest and brightest children to serve him. But as I mentioned greed and pride, covetousness, got the best of him and he decided to push his luck.
Ahab calls together all his top guys and explains the situation to them. He tells them, I gave into his first set of demands but then Ben-Hadad decided to push it too far. Ahab’s counselors tell him, don’t do it, don’t give another inch.
So Ahab sends a message to Ben-Hadad in response to his second set of demands. Ahab tells Ben-Hadad, I gave into your first set of demands but I cannot give into your second. Ben-Hadad’s reply is, do you see how big of an army I have at my disposal? I’m going to crush you into dirt. At this point Ben-Hadad is really full of himself.
This is where Ahab’s response, verse 11 cited at the beginning of this piece, comes in.
“Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.’”
As I stated earlier it took me a couple of times reading this verse to realize what Ahab is saying with this response.
In his own eloquent way Ahab is telling Ben-Hadad, don’t let your mouth write checks your ass can’t cash. Or, don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.
When Ben-Hadad hears this, he had been drinking with his other king buddies, so between the alcohol and peer pressure, there was no way he was going to stop and think about what might happen. Cooler heads were not going to prevail. Ben-Hadad tells his army to take their positions and prepare to attack. But Ben-Hadad and thirty two king buddies keep right on partying. They assume it’s going to be a cake walk.
In the meantime, Ahab is told by a prophet from God that he will prevail and defeat Ben-Hadad. The prophet tells Ahab, you see how big the army of Ben-Hadad is, and you know that by yourself you don’t stand a chance. But to show you that I am the Lord, God, I will have you defeat them.
Up to this point in his life Ahab wasn’t a very pious king. He didn’t always walk in the ways of the Lord. He promoted the worship of false gods and was married to Jezebel, who was more evil then Ahab. Ahab did repent somewhat after the prophet Elijah defeated and slaughtered all the false prophets of Baal. So I’m still a little fuzzy on why God protected Ahab. Maybe it was to protect Israel.
God tells Ahab through the prophet, you attack now, don’t wait for Ben-Hadad to attack you.
Ahab does this. His army attacks and defeats the Syrians who flee before them, including a drunken Ben-Hadad.
This is another example of how pride and greed, which arises from covetousness, can destroy even the most powerful.
But mainly I wrote about this verse because I really like Ahab’s retort.
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