Each of these messages in 1 Kings is giving important teachings about who God is. Israel needs to learn the God that they serve, just as we need to learn this also. One of the problems that people have when it comes to the Lord is that they do not understand who they are serving. The Lord is too small in their minds and so the Lord has to expand our understanding about him. We make huge mistakes and wreck our lives when we do not see how large our God is. So as we look at 1 Kings 20 we are going to see if our God is too small in your own eyes as we consider the numerous mistakes made throughout the chapter.
Problems In Israel (20:1-12)
The attention turns back to Ahab as king over Israel. We find that he is having trouble during his reign. The king of Syria, Ben-hadad, gathered his army and 32 other kings and attacked the capital city of Israel, Samaria. A message is sent to Ahab which simply says, “Your silver, your gold, and the best of your wives and children are now mine.” Amazingly, Ahab agrees to the terms. He responds in verse 4 that all that he has belongs to the king of Syria. Perhaps seeing how easy it was for Ahab to agree to these terms, the king of Syria sends another message. This time he says that he also is going to send officials through your houses and they will take whatever they want (20:6).
Now this is too much for Ahab. He summons the elders of Israel and informs them of Ben-hadad’s demands. The elders and people tell Ahab that he cannot agree to those terms for peace. So Ahab sends message back that this is too much. I agreed to the first offer but I cannot agree to the second (20:9). The message is delivered to Ben-hadad who is not too happy with Ahab’s answer. Since Ahab will not agree, they are going to go to war. In verse 10 Ben-hadad sends message that he is going to turn the city to dust. There will not be enough left of Samaria for his men to take even a handful of dust. Ahab responds in the war of words in verse 11 that a person putting on armor should be talking like the one who is taking off his armor. In essence, do not count your chickens before they hatch. With this exchange, the armies of both nations prepare to fight.
A Surprising Decree (20:13-25)
Verse 13 is extraordinary and surprising. Ahab is a wicked king and we would supposed that this is a deserved judgment against Ahab and Israel. But a prophet comes to Ahab with a surprising message. The Lord says that this vast army, this great multitude, will be given into Ahab’s hand. Why is God doing this? Look at the end of verse 13. “Then you will know that I am the Lord.” God is still showing himself to Ahab, attempting to turn Ahab and Israel back to him. So the Lord decrees victory for Ahab and Israel. Ahab wants to know how this is going to happen and how the battle will start. The prophet explains that servants of the district governors will be God’s instrument for victory.
Now we must understand that this was a completely hopeless situation on paper. There was a reason why Ahab was agreeing to give over all his gold, silver, best wives, and children. Syria was going to wipe them out. Ben-hadad has laid siege to Samaria and has an unbeatable army before them. This is further made clear in verse 15 that the total army for Israel amounts to only 7000 while Syria numbers as a great multitude. There is no way Ahab is going to win this battle. Ben-hadad and the kings certainly feel this way because in verse 12 we see that they are not planning for military success, but are drinking away. There is no way Israel will win except that the Lord has said that they will.
With the battle to begin, Ben-hadad gives a fairly incoherent command. He says in verse 18 if the people coming from Israel have come for peace, take them alive. But if they have come out for war, take them alive. Now the text has emphasized Ben-hadad’s drunkenness (20:12,16) and this command may reflect this condition. It may also be that Ben-hadad thinks Israel is so weak that you could take people alive who have come to fight you. Either way, Ben-hadad suffers a dramatic defeat. After this blow, the Syrians retreat. But the prophet comes back to Ahab and tells him that Ben-hadad is coming back next spring. So make preparations so that you are ready for next time (20:22).
We are told what the Syrians are thinking as they make preparations for the attack next spring. They think that Israel’s gods are the gods of the hills (20:23). But if we fight Israel in the plain, then we will be stronger than them.
A Failed Victory (20:26-34)
In verse 26 we see the spring come around and Ben-hadad goes up to fight against Israel again. Once again we see Israel is completely outnumbered. Verse 27 pictures Israel as two little flocks of goats coming up against the Syrians who filled the countryside. But a man of God tells Ahab that the Lord will give victory to Israel because the Syrians said that the Lord is the god of the hills and not of the valleys. So victory will again come to show everyone that the Lord is the true God. So Israel strikes down 100,000 Syrians in one day. The rest fled and were killed by a wall that fell on them. Ben-hadad also runs away but this time they are going to capture him. His servants tell him before he is captured to put on sackcloth and put ropes around their heads because they hear that the kings of Israel are merciful. Perhaps Ahab will spare your life. So they go for the plan. They go to Ahab wearing sackcloth and ropes. A servant of Ben-hadad sends message, “Please let me live.” Ahab answers, “Does he still live? He is my brother” (20:32). Well, the servants seize on this as a good sign and say, “Yes, your brother Ben-hadad!” So Ben-hadad comes out telling Ahab all the cities and bazaars he will return to Israel. Ahab accepts these terms and releases Ben-hadad.
A Condemning Message (20:35-43)
A message comes to one of the sons of the prophets who goes up to another and says, “Strike me!” But the man refused. So he says in verse 36 that since you did not obey the voice of the Lord, a lion will strike you down. As soon as that man left, a lion met him and struck him down. So then the son of the prophet goes to another man and says, “Strike me.” Seems that the lesson has been learn. The man strikes him and wounds him. The son of the prophet disguises himself with a bandage over his eye and approaches King Ahab with a story. He says that he went in the middle of the battle and another soldier brought me a person to guard. If he turns up missing for any reason, then if will be your life for his life or else to pay a talent a silver. But I got busy and the captured man is now missing. Ahab pronounces judgment that what he said should happen. It is either your life or a talent of silver. The son of the prophet rips off the bandage, revealing himself as one of the prophets to Ahab, and declares that the same declaration is on Ahab. You let out of your hand the one that the Lord had devoted to destruction, your life will be for his life and your people for his people. Ahab’s response to this message is to be vexed and sullen as he came to Samaria (20:43).
Your God Is Too Small
As we went through the text, I hope we were able to see the number of mistakes that were made by so many people when it comes to how they looked at and understood the nature of our God. The message of the Lord was that everyone would know that he is the Lord.
First, your God is too small if you think God cannot do good in spite of evil. The whole scene begins with the surprising goodness of God in the face of evil. Ahab is the most wicked king Israel will have. But even still, God does good for Ahab and Israel, giving them victory twice. These victories are completely undeserved. But this is what God does. God constantly does good in the face of evil. God makes it to rain on the righteous and unrighteous. God will do good for his own glory in the lives of very wicked people. If we think that God cannot do this, then our God is too small in our eyes.
Second, your God is too small if you think that God showing you good means your obedience is unnecessary. This is another huge mistake that we can make. Since God blesses people undeservingly, we can then think that we can do what we want. Just because God shows mercy to the unjust and goodness to the wicked does not mean that our obedience is not required. I want us to see that this is exactly the path Ahab takes. Since God gave him victory twice, he lets Ben-hadad go, even though that is not what was the Lord’s will. He thought he did not need to listen to the word of the Lord. Your God is too small if you think you can disregard what he says. The son of the prophet exemplified this. He goes up to another person and tells that person to hit him. We would be very tempted to say no just like we read in verse 35. But the person was condemned and attacked by a lion for not doing what God said.
It is not for us to use our logic to negate what God has said. God said to do it and that really is all that is to matter. God said to strike that person but he refused. God said to devote to destruction Ben-hadad, but Ahab refused. God gave Ahab this king but Ahab did not listen to God’s will. Again, think about how easy it would have been to use logic to negate God’s will here. We might think that we should be compassionate at this moment. But human compassion is not what was called for at that moment. Rather, God desired judgment. There is a time for mercy and there is a time for condemnation and judgment. Ahab acts like the Syrians with their false worldview of God. The Syrians thought that God was only powerful on the hills. God had to show that he is powerful in every place and in every aspect of life. Ahab did not see that either. The world does not think this either. They think that God does not apply to every area of life. God cannot tell us what to do. We can do what we want. Or we can think that God’s area of our lives is only for certain days, certain times, or certain places. God is showing that he is over every area of our lives. God is doing you good so that you will submit to him in every area of your life. God did this good for Ahab and Israel so that they would see that they must give their lives completely to him. God rules over us in our homes, at our jobs, in our communities, in the church, and in every place and in every relationship we have. There are things that God asks us to do that seem unreasonable, like not repaying evil for evil when people do things against us. But we are to do what God says.
Third, your God is too small if you are not full of thanksgiving. Ahab shows no gratitude for anything that has happened. He does not praise God for the Lord’s victory. This is shocking. Ahab was about to turn over all of his silver and gold, along with his wives and children. Ahab had no options. Ahab was going to lose so much but God rescued him. But there was no thankfulness. A lack of thankfulness shows that we do not think God is sovereign over our circumstance. We think what happens was because of ourselves. Or we think what happened was just good luck. Or what happened was because of someone else. We fail to see that it was God who was with us and so we do not give thanks. Amazingly, Ahab was told that this was God’s doing and he still was not thankful and he still did not change. Your God is too small in your mind if you are not constantly thankful for everything that happens in our lives.
Finally, your God is too small if your response to him is to be angry and sullen rather than repentant. When God comes to Ahab through the prophet and tells him that he made a mistake, Ahab’s response is not repentance. His response is to be angry. His response is to be resentful. But we need to understand God with this. God is not moved by our temper tantrums like human parents mistakenly do. As humans we sometimes learn that if we get angry and resentful, then we can get our way. We can push people around through fear to get what we want. Children throw tantrums to get what they want and too often parents cave in. God does not cave in. God does not express sorrow for upsetting Ahab. God wants us to listen and seek repentance. But we can miss that.
Did you notice that Ahab missed his repentance moment? He did not hear it. It did not click with him because he was defensive rather than listening. There was an offer for atonement. Go back to what the prophet told in his parable in verse 39. “Your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.” Now a talent of silver was an impossible sum. But there was an atonement offer in the story the prophet told. Atonement is there if we will pay attention to what God is saying. An impossibly high price needs to be paid so that you have your repentance moment.
But this is what God wanted to show us so that we would see how great he is. Our lives should be given over. Or an impossibly high price could be paid to make atonement. Now it is a price that no one can afford to pay. But God shows that he is willing to pay that kind of price. This is what God is showing us through Jesus who makes atonement for us, not with silver and gold, but the impossibly high price of death. His death makes atonement for your sins so that you do not have to give your life now. Your God is too small if when confronted by sin, you are angry and sullen, rather than reaching out and grabbing the atonement offer that is made for you.
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:17–19 ESV)
We need to see God confronting our sins as an opportunity to reach toward repentance, not to be angry or resentful toward God or toward others. Is your God too small in your eyes?