Setting The Scene (20:1-12)
The first twelve verses of 1 Kings 20 describes the problem facing the northern nation of Israel. Ben-hadad is the king of Syria and leads an attack against Samaria, the capital city of Israel. Ben-hadad sends messengers to Ahab, the king of Israel, with a choice. Either be utterly destroyed or hand over your silver, your gold, wives, and children. Basically everything and everyone is now under Syrian rule. Ahab agrees to this but it seems Ahab’s quick acceptance has caused the king of Syria to up the ante. He sends the messengers back to Ahab and tells him that he is going to send his servants into Ahab’s palace and homes and they are going to take whatever they want, people and possessions. Further they are going to take all of this tomorrow. This is too outrageous and Ahab rejects the terms of the treaty. Verse 10 records Ben-hadad’s response that he is going to turn Samaria into dust. There will be so little left of the city that there would not be enough for a handful of dust for each of my soldiers. Ahab’s response in verse 11 is pretty humorous. You act like the battle is already over and we have not begun to fight. In our terminology we would say that you do not count your chickens before they hatch. With this response the preparations are made for battle.
Limited God (20:13-25)
An amazing grace from the Lord occurs. A prophet comes to Ahab and tells him that the Lord is giving the mighty multitude of armies from Syria into his hand. The young officers are going to win this battle and Ahab must lead them into the battle. Ben-hadad is so confident in the victory that he is drinking himself drunk in his tent along with the 32 other kings who are fighting against Israel. So the army of Israel comes against the Syrians and just wipes them out. The Syrians go into full retreat and Ben-hadad must escape for his life. Rather than seeing the mighty power of God, the Syrians come up with a foolish plan. They figure that Israel’s gods are gods of the hills and that is why they were stronger than us. Next spring we will go to battle again and we will fight them in the plain and then we will be victorious. They had a false understanding of God. They thought that the God of Israel had limitations. This was the way many of their pagan gods operated. They had gods that were a god of the hills, a god of health, a god of the plains, and so forth. They did not understand who they were dealing with. They believed that God was limited in his power and limited in his dominion.
We can make the same mistake as Ben-hadad. We may think that we know that God is over all places and people, but our actions may not reflect this truth. What limits have you placed on God? One limit we frequently place on God is limitations in sight. We will believe that he only sees us at worship. People act like God is limited in sight and that he does not see what we are doing Monday through Saturday. He only sees us on Sunday and he sees me as a good, moral Christian. This, of course, is utterly false. The writer of Proverbs says, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3 ESV) The writer of Hebrews says, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13 ESV) God sees all that we do and will give judgment for every act.
Sometimes we act like God is limited in knowledge. We will think that God does not understand what we are going through. We feel like we are alone. We feel like God does not comprehend the challenges we are facing. Jesus said that God the Father knows what we need even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8, 32).
Many think that God is a god of prosperity. God is limited to being a cosmic piñata that pours out goodies to us if we would simply visualize it, believe in it, or ask for it. While God is the giver of every good gift (James 1:17), the scriptures never teach that those who follow him will only experience prosperity. Along with this thinking, many suppose that God is a god of love alone. God is limited in his character and only loves. But listen to the very words of Jesus: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36 ESV)
Finally, sometimes we act like God is limited in his demands. We think that God does not demand our hearts or demand a life change. We think that God will be pleased with whatever we give him, no matter how little it is.
We also believe that God is limited when we refuse to pray about everything in our lives. Sometimes we do not pray because we think something is too big for God. We think it is up to the doctors or up to the medicine to help. God is where we must turn. God is big enough to confound the doctors and go against all that we know to be true. God is not limited in the affairs of this world and the affairs of your life. There is nothing too big that God cannot deal with in your life. Sometimes we think that God is limited so that we do not pray for the smaller things in our lives. We think that our problems are too small and our issues are too minor to take them to God. So we suffer distress because we think we cannot give these “smaller” issues to God. As parents, you want to know everything that is going on with your child, whether small issues or big issues. God is not limited to handling only your big problems. He knows what is going on with you. He knows all and sees all. Do not think that God cannot deal with any problem or issue you have.
We cannot believe or imply that God is limited in his knowledge, in his blessings, in his understanding, in his power, or in his demands.
The Power To Change Everything (20:26-30)
This view of God causes us to believe that God cannot completely change everything in our lives. Notice the story of Ahab again. Ben-hadad returns to war against Israel, but this time they are going to fight in the plains. Notice how outnumbered Israel is to the Syrian army. Verse 27 reads, “The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country.” (1 Kings 20:27 ESV) However, the man of God came to Ahab and told him that God was going to give them enormous army into their hands and everyone will know that the God of Israel is the Lord. Verse 29 records that Israel killed 100,000 Syrian soldiers in a single day. This is an amazing victory for the people of God. The 27,000 that fled had a wall fall on them. Do not forget how small Israel’s army was: 7000 (20:15). This is an amazing victory that can only be attributed to the power of God. God was with the people of Israel and that is the reason they were victorious. Even against the odds, God has the power to give the victory. God is not limited in our lives but can give us the victory that we seek.
We cannot approach our sins, addictions, and vices believing that God is not strong enough to help us conquer these things. Will we suggest that God is not powerful enough to bring us victory over these sinful areas in our lives? It is so easy for us to try to serve God without giving our lives completely to him so that we can live lives redeemed from sin. What sin do you think you cannot stop? What vice do you think you cannot overcome? If we believe this, then what is God exactly offering us? If we could be holy by ourselves, then we would not need a savior from our sins! Holiness is only going to be achieved through a full dependence on the power of God. Listen to Paul’s words about holy living, called sanctification.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:19–23 NIV 2011)
When we present our bodies as slaves to righteousness it will lead to holy living. Paul describes a fruit that comes from being slaves to God: sanctification. Sanctification is the fruit. Holy lives are the result of fully giving ourselves to the Lord. One reason why we do not obtain this fruit is because we do not want give up our sins. We enjoy our vices. We desire our sins and do not want to stop. We will not give ourselves to become slaves of righteousness. We want to remain slaves to sin. The other reason we do not obtain the fruit of sanctification is that we do not work with God. We try to do it all by ourselves which will lead to failure. We need a renewing of our minds and a transforming of our hearts that comes by the Holy Spirit through the life-giving Word of God given to us (Romans 12:1-2). Only grace-driven obedience is going to bring this victory. God wants us to overcome sin. God has made it possible to overcome sin and Satan. Desiring God is the only way to find the way of escape from the temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). We provoke that desire through prayer, study of God’s word, reading God’s word, meeting together, worshiping together, encouraging one another, and the like. John Owen, a Puritan theologian in the 1600s, said, “…Sanctification of the Spirit is peculiarly connected with, and limited to the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel. …Holiness is the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls” (The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power; 221). God has the power to change our lives if we will yield ourselves to his power available through his transforming word. Listen to how the apostle Peter expressed this:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3–8 ESV)
Notice that Peter says that God has granted to us all things that lead to life and godliness, which comes “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” The supplementing of our faith that Peter speaks of in the following verses only comes through the knowledge of our Lord. We must build a relationship with our Lord if we are going to find the victory and holiness that God is offering.
Grace-Driven Obedience (20:31-43)
Finally, Israel captures Ben-hadad. Rather than executing him, Ahab makes a covenant with him and releases him. This was a big mistake. Ahab takes God’s victory and God’s blessings and throws it away. God had delivered the Syrians into Ahab’s hand and had brought Ben-hadad into his hand. Ahab did not follow through on the grace of God by doing what God’s law said. We need to receive God’s grace and follow through with obedience. We must follow through with sanctification. We follow through with devoting ourselves to the Lord. We must follow through with the grace we have received by removing all wickedness from our lives. We need to take a serious stand against sin by devoting ourselves to the word of God so that we can be transformed and changed into the image of his Son. Let God’s word change you. His power through his word and strength can make you want you ought to be.