The King of Kings in the Books of Kings
September 4, 2016 :: 1 Kings 20:1-43
If I were a betting man, I’d be willing bet that most if not nearly all of us here have never heard a sermon on 1 Kings chapter 20.
Most of us have heard multiple sermons on 1 Kings 18 where Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, and the LORD sends the fire and the rain.
And a good many of us have heard a sermon or two on 1 Kings 19 where Elijah was discouraged because it seemed like his victory on Mt. Carmel had not changed a blessed thing. Ahab and Jezebel were still worshiping Baal. And Jezebel still wanted Elijah dead.
And yet, as we learned last week, the LORD was still God.
And He encouraged Elijah with both power and gentleness that He was still working and still faithful to all of His promises.
But most of us have never heard a sermon on 1 King chapter 20.
We’ve all read it when making our trip through the whole Bible, but it often feels like a story to just get through on your way to the good stuff.
It’s a little hard to follow. The characters do stuff that you don’t expect or understand very easily. And there’s another guy who gets eaten by a lion.
It’s a story full of surprises.
You don’t always know what to do with it.
But it’s a story worth spending some time in.
It’s in God’s Word, so you know it’s inspired.
You know it’s useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
It’s worth some meditation and some digging into.
What I noticed especially this week, as I studied it, was the desire of the LORD to be known. There’s this phrase that occurs twice, both times on the lips of the same prophet, when he explains why the LORD is going to do something.
It’s this phrase, “And you will know that I am the LORD.”
That’s important to God.
Not just that we know that there is a God out there somewhere.
But that this God wants to be known as God.
He does not want to be a secret. He wants to be revealed.
He desires to be known, and His actions will bear that out.
Now, the focus shifts in these last 3 chapters of 1 Kings from the prophet back to the king. From the prophet Elijah (who doesn’t even show up in this chapter!) to the King named...who is the king right now in Israel?
Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Last week, we said “6 thumbs down.”
This was the worst king so far in a very disappointing list of bad kings.
The focus shifts in these last 3 chapters from the days of Elijah to the days of Ahab.
And at the risk of spoiling the story for you, I’ll share that these are the last days of Ahab.
I think that, in large part, chapters 20 and 21 are there in our Bibles to make the case for the downfall and death of Ahab.
Not that you and I have much question about whether or not Ahab should go down, but the LORD seems to think it’s important for us to know the details.
Because, as we do, we get know Him better.
So, you could call these three chapters, the “Downfall of Ahab.”
But that doesn’t mean it’ll be a straight downward line. No, in fact, there are a number of unexpected twists and turns in this story. Hang onto your hat!
The first twist is that in chapter 20 the LORD fights for Ahab!
That’s surprising, isn’t it, after what happened in the last 2 chapters?
1 Kings chapter 20, verse 1.
“Now Ben-Hadad king of Aram mustered his entire army. Accompanied by thirty-two kings with their horses and chariots, he went up and besieged Samaria and attacked it.” Stop there for just a second.
We’ve met a king named Ben-Hadad before in chapter 15. This is probably his son, perhaps his grandson. So he’s Ben-Hadad, Jr. or maybe B-H the third.
He is king of Aram which is a people group that settled in the region of Syria north of Israel. He was the most powerful king in Syria at the time and the leader of a coalition of other kings from all around that same region.
Last week, the LORD told Elijah to see that his successor, Hazael, is anointed, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Ben-Hadad is king of Aram and he’s on the warpath. He’s invaded Israel and has attacked Ahab’s capital city.
There are three battles in this chapter, and this is the first one. Ben-Hadad has clearly won it, and he expects some spoils from his victory. V.2
“He sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, saying, ‘This is what Ben-Hadad says: 'Your silver and gold are mine, and the best of your wives and children are mine.'’ The king of Israel answered, [No way, Bub. No, he says,] ‘Just as you say, my lord the king. I and all I have are yours.’”
Ahab backs down.
I think that shows us a little bit of what Ahab was like.
He’s kind of a little man. He sees that he’s beat, and he just says, “Okay, what do you want?”
Now, I think that what’s going on here is that Ben-Hadad is asking for tribute and loyalty. That Israel would become a vassal-state under the overrule of Aram.
These wives and children and silver and gold are tokens of their new allegiance.
And Ahab gives up the store, too easily. And that makes Ben-Hadad a little more greedy. V.5
“The messengers came again and said, ‘This is what Ben-Hadad says: 'I sent to demand your silver and gold, your wives and your children. But about this time tomorrow I am going to send my officials to search your palace and the houses of your officials. They will seize everything you value and carry it away.'’”
“I want it all!
I want everything you think you’re hiding.
I want everything you’ve got.”
And that’s too much for Ahab. He was willing to part with some wives and children and little bit of protection money.
But not the whole thing! V.7
“The king of Israel summoned all the elders of the land and said to them, ‘See how this man is looking for trouble! When he sent for my wives and my children, my silver and my gold, I did not refuse him.’
The elders and the people all answered, ‘Don't listen to him or agree to his demands.’ [Them’s fighting words!]
So he replied to Ben-Hadad's messengers, ‘Tell my lord the king, 'Your servant will do all you demanded the first time, but this demand I cannot meet.'’ They left and took the answer back to Ben-Hadad.
Then Ben-Hadad sent another message to Ahab: [Oh yeah? He said,] ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if enough dust remains in Samaria to give each of my men a handful.’
The king of Israel answered [with more trash-talking], ‘Tell him: 'One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.'’
Ben-Hadad heard this message while he and the kings were drinking in their tents, and he ordered his men: ‘Prepare to attack.’ So they prepared to attack the city.”
Now, what you do you think is going to happen?
Up till now, Ben-Hadad has been the winner in every contest. He has a massive army.
And we all know what kind of an evil wimp King Ahab is even though he talks a good game.
What do we expect? We expect a slaughter coming on.
But God intervenes. Verse 13.
“Meanwhile a prophet came to Ahab king of Israel and announced, ‘This is what the LORD says: 'Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then [here’s our sermon title] you will know that I am the LORD.'’”
Why would He do that?
Why would the LORD send a prophet (apparently not Elijah, so there are other prophets of Yahweh during this time period, why would the LORD send a prophet) to tell Ahab that He was going to beat the vast army of Ben-Hadad?
I’ll tell you this–it’s not because Ahab deserved it.
It’s not for Ahab’s glory.
It’s so that the LORD would be known. V.13 again.
“Then you will know that I am the LORD.”
Does that phrase sound familiar to you, at all?
It shows up several places in the Old Testament, but the place where it gets repeated again and again is to Pharaoh in the book of Exodus.
God says again and again that He is going to free His people from the grips of Pharaoh so that he will know that “I am the LORD.”
“I am Yahweh.”
He does not want to be disregarded.
#1. NOT DISREGARDED.
He does not want to be neglected, missed, or overlooked.
He’s going to show up and fight for Israel, not because Ahab deserves it, but because God wants the glory.
He wants to be known.
Now, Ahab almost doesn’t know what to do with this.
This is the first time in a long time that a prophet of Yahweh has brought him good news! That never happens!
Elijah is always bringing doom and gloom and shutting off the rain.
And now the LORD says that He’s going to bring victory? V.14
“‘But who will do this?’ asked Ahab. The prophet replied, ‘This is what the LORD says: 'The [newbies, the] young officers of the provincial commanders will do it.'’ ‘And who will start the battle?’ he asked. The prophet answered, ‘You will.’ [Okay, it’s worth a shot. My big mouth has gotten into this, what do I have to lose? V.15] So Ahab summoned the young officers of the provincial commanders, 232 men. Then he assembled the rest of the Israelites, 7,000 in all.
They set out at noon while Ben-Hadad and the 32 kings allied with him were in their tents getting drunk.”
And you can tell all of a sudden how this is going to turn out!
Cocky Ben-Hadad thinks he’s got this one all sewn up. They’re already celebrating. V.17
“The young officers of the provincial commanders went out first. [Just like God said.] Now Ben-Hadad had dispatched scouts, who reported, ‘Men are advancing from Samaria.’ He said, ‘If they have come out for peace, take them alive; if they have come out for war, take them alive.’”
Those are difficult orders to follow if I ever heard one! V.19
“The young officers of the provincial commanders marched out of the city with the army behind them and each one struck down his opponent. At that, the Arameans fled, with the Israelites in pursuit. But Ben-Hadad king of Aram escaped on horseback with some of his horsemen. [And he didn’t fall off the horse!] The king of Israel advanced and overpowered the horses and chariots and inflicted heavy losses on the Arameans.”
Why? Because the LORD wants to be known.
Not disregarded, neglected, forgotten, but known.
And that’s true today, as well.
The world loves to disregard the Lord.
To pretend that He’s a nonentity.
To suppress the truth about His power and glory and holiness.
To go our own merry way without regard to Who God really is.
But the LORD will not be trifled with.
He shows up again and again in the story of the world to make Himself known.
He’s interested in bringing glory to Himself.
Now when I try to bring glory to myself, I get into trouble. Because I’m just not worth glorifying. But when the LORD does it, He deserves all of that glory, and it would just be wrong to deny it to Him.
In fact, it’s what’s best for us. There is nothing better for you and me than to receive the revelation of the glory of God.
This banner right here. “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Just knowing that is the greatest thing there is.
Our church exists to bring people into a life-changing relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
In other words, to know Him and to make Him known.
Do you know Him? And are you making Him known?
Now, there is some serious post-game analysis of this second clash between the two armies. The first one went to King Ben-Hadad. The second one went very decisively to King Ahab. Why? V.22
“Afterward, the prophet [same one] came to the king of Israel and said, ‘Strengthen your position and see what must be done, because [there’s going to be a rematch] next spring the king of Aram will attack you again.’
Meanwhile, the officials of the king of Aram advised him, ‘Their gods are gods of the hills. That is why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they.
Do this: Remove all the kings from their commands and replace them with other officers. You must also raise an army like the one you lost–horse for horse and chariot for chariot– so we can fight Israel on the plains. Then surely we will be stronger than they.’ He agreed with them and acted accordingly.”
How was their post game analysis?
Well, they have a pretty good strategy.
With their bigger numbers and all of their horse and chariots, it makes sense for them to engage the Israelites on the plains instead of on the hills.
But, their theological analysis is all messed up.
They believe that the gods of Israel are gods of the hills. But they are not gods of the plains or the valleys.
So, Aram will win if they fight where their gods have the homefield advantage.
What’s the problem with that assessment?
The LORD is not just the god of the hills. Amen? V.26
“The next spring Ben-Hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel [a third time]. When the Israelites were also mustered and given provisions, they marched out to meet them. The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.”
Or as they say in sports, “Uh oh. Those guys are big.”
The odds are not in their favor.
But God. V.28
“The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, ‘This is what the LORD says: 'Because [get that! Because] the Arameans think the LORD is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the LORD.'’”
Do you see God’s logic?
He is not fighting right now for the glory of Ahab or because Ahab has made wise choices or because Ahab might get rid of the Baals if he sees Yahweh at work.
He’s fighting for the Israelites because the Arameans need an adjustment to their theology.
“Because the Arameans think the LORD is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the LORD.'’”
The Lord does not want to be discounted.
#2. NOT DISCOUNTED.
The world does that all of the time.
God is the God of Sunday mornings but not Monday mornings, right?
God is the God of women and children but not the God of real men.
God is the God of grace but not of holiness.
Do you see what I’m saying?
The world loves to discount God. To put Him in a box and see Him as something you do on Sundays, maybe. But He is not Lord of all.
Of course, we laugh at these Arameans, but we do the same thing sometimes, too, don’t we?
We don’t say it. But we act like it.
Dale Ralph Davis in his book on 1 Kings puts it this way, “[This] theology simply says that there is some turf beyond the reach of Yahweh’s power. And we easily slip into this mentality, contrary to our expressed beliefs. We may catch ourselves assuming that God is at work in religious things but not in routine things. Or some have had a wretched and perverse past that has left multiple scars; they are such victims of their experiences that they can expect, they say, no change, no deliverance. The Holy Spirit may regenerate and sanctify more kosher folks, but, one of these will say, he cannot do anything with the absurd medley of genetics, environment, and folly that have made me the twisted mess of hopelessness that I am. Yahweh is only the god of the hills. And then one sometimes meets this attitude in a small church of forty or fifty members, most of whom are age sixty and above; we can’t expect God to do anything in us or among us; we are growing older, we’ve not younger couples or children; we can’t muster up any revival starter-kit like larger churches can do. We can’t expect God to stir us–he’s not a god of the valley” (The Wisdom and the Folly, pg. 287).
Can you relate?
How do you discount the Lord?
How do you compartmentalize Him, setting Him over here, but not over here?
God will not be discounted for long.
He wants to be known and known fully.
I look around our community, and I see some pretty hard cases. I was at the West Branch football game on Friday night, and looking at some of the folks, I found myself thinking, “There isn’t much hope for changing that person. That one, maybe, but not that one.”
Why? Why would I think that?
Because God is not the God of hard cases?!
He’s the God of easy cases only?
Let’s not discount Him.
“Because the Arameans think the LORD is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the LORD.'’”
So He did. V.29
“For seven days [a perfect number, reminiscent of Jericho?] they camped opposite each other, and on the seventh day the battle was joined. The Israelites inflicted a hundred thousand casualties on the Aramean foot soldiers in one day. [On the plains!]
The rest of them escaped to the city of Aphek, where the wall collapsed on twenty-seven thousand of them. And Ben-Hadad fled to the city and hid in an inner room. [A total reversal of fortunes.]
His officials said to him, ‘Look, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful. Let us go to the king of Israel with sackcloth around our waists and ropes around our heads. Perhaps he will spare your life.’ [Dress up like a slave. It’s your only hope because the shoe is on the other foot.]
Wearing sackcloth around their waists and ropes around their heads, they went to the king of Israel and said, ‘Your servant Ben-Hadad says: 'Please let me live.'’ The king answered, ‘Is he still alive? He is my brother.’ [Hmmm.]
The men took this as a good sign and were quick to pick up his word. ‘Yes, your brother Ben-Hadad!’ they said. ‘Go and get him,’ the king said. When Ben-Hadad came out, Ahab had him come up into his chariot.
‘I will return the cities my father took from your father,’ Ben-Hadad offered. ‘You may set up your own market areas in Damascus [my city], as my father did in Samaria [your city].’ Ahab said, ‘On the basis of a treaty I will set you free.’ So he made a treaty with him, and let him go.”
That almost sounds good.
But it’s not.
Ahab has won, but he’s actually lost.
Because the battle was not Ahab’s. The battle was the LORD’s.
So that means that this royal prisoner was not Ahab’s prisoner, and certainly not Ahab’s “brother,” but the LORD’s prisoner. And Ahab should have known what to do with him.
But Ahab was taken in by the royal sweet-talking, and failed to obey the LORD’s command, showing clemency when he should have required justice.
So Ben-Hadad lives to fight another day. We’ll see him again.
But now, it’s time for Ahab to be confronted with his disobedience.
And of course, the LORD does it in a surprising way. V.35
“By the word of the LORD one of the sons of the prophets said to his companion, ‘Strike me with your weapon,’ but the man refused. So the prophet said, ‘Because you have not obeyed the LORD, as soon as you leave me a lion will kill you.’ And after the man went away, a lion found him and killed him. The prophet found another man and said, ‘Strike me, please.’ So the man struck him and wounded him. Then the prophet went and stood by the road waiting for the king. He disguised himself with his headband down over his eyes.”
What’s going on?
The LORD has an illustrated message about obedience for Ahab.
And He’s going to require obedience from everyone in the chain of this illustrated message.
The guy dies by lion bite to remind us that the word of the LORD is serious.
We saw that back in chapter 13.
The word of the LORD is serious.
The LORD wants to be known.
And He does not want to be disobeyed.
#3. NOT DISOBEYED.
The point of this death by large feline is that it is not safe to ignore the word of Yahweh.
It’s weird, but He got our attention didn’t He?
God’s word is not a game.
We’re not a playing a game up here with this thing.
This is serious stuff.
The prophet puts on this disguise, and he confronts Ahab–kind of like Nathan confronted David. V.39
“As the king passed by, the prophet called out to him, ‘Your servant went into the thick of the battle, and someone came to me with a captive and said, 'Guard this man. If he is missing, it will be your life for his life, or you must pay a talent of silver.' [But something bad happened to me.] While your servant was busy here and there, the man disappeared.’
‘That is your sentence,’ the king of Israel said. ‘You have pronounced it yourself.’ [You didn’t do what you were supposed to! This is an easy one. You had one job! V.41]
Then the prophet quickly removed the headband from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. [Uh oh.] He said to the king, ‘This is what the LORD says: 'You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.'’”
The LORD does not want disobedience. He wants obedience.
And He’s serious about that.
“You had one job, Ahab. And you didn’t do it either.”
Some of the scariest words to ever come out of Jesus’ mouth were “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [To those who live lives characterized by disobedience...] I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-22).
Is there some area of your life where you know you are disobeying? Actively disobeying the Lord?
I don’t just mean sin. We all sin.
But you know what the Lord says in this area, and you are just not planning to do that.
That’s a scary place to be. You don’t want to live there.
The LORD wants to be known, not to be disobeyed.
Here’s the question. When you are confronted in your disobedience, how do you respond?
What do you do next?
What did David do? He repented. He confessed!
And he found the blessing of God’s forgiveness. He found the blessing of God’s grace to undeserving sinners.
“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
That’s what David did.
But that’s not what Ahab did. Ahab sulked.
Ahab was a sulker. That was his downfall.
God has been so good to him, so gracious. And what does he do? V.43
“Sullen and angry, the king of Israel went to his palace in Samaria.”
Kicking a can with his hands in his pockets the whole way.
Ahab won the big battle, but he was still a big loser.
Don’t be like Ahab.
When the Lord puts His finger on some area of disobedience in your life, don’t ignore him. Don’t neglect Him. Don’t disregard Him or discount Him.
Confess your sins and follow Him by faith.
And Know Him.
Because the LORD our God desires to be known.
Messages in this Series:
01. Who Will Be King?
02. The Wisdom of the King
03. The Temple of the King
04. The Incomparable King of the Temple
05. A Breathtaking King
06. The Turned King and the Torn Kingdom
07. The Two Kings and the Tearing of the Kingdom
08. The Word of the LORD
09. In the Eyes of the LORD
10. The LORD Lives
11. The LORD Is God!
12. The LORD Is Still God.