1 Kings 20:42

And he said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.’”

How was Ahab supposed to know that God wanted King Ben-Hadad destroyed?

Previous prophecies only spoke of the army being given into the hand of Ahab:

1 Kings 20:13

And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

1 Kings 20:28

And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’”

1 Answer 1


This chapter spans parts of two years of on-going war between Syria and Israel, and the verses you quote (13 and 28) apply to previous situations, not the one in verse 42, which you ask a question about. Here is one summary of the chapter:

"This chapter is a history of a war between Ben-hadad king of Syria and Ahab king of Israel, in which Ahab was once and again, victorious... Here is

I. Ben-hadad's descent upon Israel, and his insolent demands (v. 1-11).

II. The defeat Ahab gave him, encouraged and directed by a prophet (v. 12-21).

III. The Syrians rallying again, and the second defeat Ahab gave them (v. 22-30).

IV. The covenant of peace Ahab made with Ben-hadad, when he had him at his mercy (v. 31-34), for which he is reproved and threatened by a prophet (v. 35-43)." Matthew Henry's Commentary pp 407-8.

To answer the question as to how Ahab could have known that God required Ben-hadad to be devoted to destruction, earlier scriptures need to be taken into account, including Ahab's disgraceful earlier rulership when his pagan wife, Jezebel manipulated and over-ruled him. Once the whole history of Ahab is examined, then the events in chapter 20 culminate to show that he had wasted several opportunities to smash this Syrian king's on-going threat over Israel.

By the end of chapter 20, Ahab then entered into a covenant with this wicked ruler, which God never authorised. Indeed, that was the exact opposite to God's express commands. All kings of Israel were required to write for themselves a copy of God's law, so Ahab would have no excuse for ignoring God's command:

"...for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to thee." Exodus 23:31-33 [emphasis mine]

Previous verses spoke of God cutting off all Israel's enemies, expressly stating, "but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images." (vss. 23-24 & 27) This "cutting off" meant death. And God forbade making covenants with those nations. The answer is that Ahab should have known all of that, and was without excuse.

  • thanks for your response. Exodus 23:31-33 only applies to the Canaanites God wanted destroyed. Is it part of your argument that the Syrians are such Caananites?
    – Austin
    Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 18:21
  • @Austin Maps of the exodus show the area of the Canaanites then extending from above the Negev all the way up the Mediterranean coast to Mount Lebanon. That top half became known as Phoenecia by David's time, with Syria (also called Aram) on its eastern border. God wanted many pagan nations dealt with as per Ex.23:23-33. See the list of nations in v. 23.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 18:50
  • Thanks, Anne. I would +1 this question if you more strongly connect the Syrians to the specific grouping and location of people that desired driven out of the promised land as I think Exodus 23:31, which sets the borders of the land all the way up to the Euphrates, is especially relevant to make the case as verse 32 does not apply to all nations generally.
    – Austin
    Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 19:09
  • 1
    @Austin Interesting though non-existent point are, what you now ask for has the makings of an excellent fresh question, however! Care to post one?
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 19:27

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