I Kings – Chapter 20

"Hit Me!"

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Ben-Hadad, King of Aram, attacked Samaria, Ahab’s capital. He sent messengers telling Ahab, “Your silver and gold are mine and your wives and children are mine.” Ahab took this to mean that Ben-Hadad was claiming him as a vassal and he cowardly replied, “Whatever you say: I and all that I own are yours.” Ben-Hadad replied, “No, I meant that quite literally. I’m sending my army to carry away all your stuff.” This made Ahab grow a spine. He consulted his advisors, then he replied, “I did everything you asked, but that’s where I have to draw the line.” The correspondence continued: Ben-Hadad said he would raze Samaria; Ahab told him not to count his chickens before they hatched.

Ben-Hadad was drinking with his colleagues when he got this last message and he immediately attacked Samaria. A prophet (Seder Olam says Michayahu, whom we’ll meet by name in chapter 22) told Ahab that he would defeat Ben-Hadad and recognize G-d through the victory. Ahab asked through whom the victory would be wrought and he was told through the inexperienced youths, who were hardly trained combat soldiers. The youths were 232 in number; Ahab’s whole army was 7,000. (These may be the 7,000 who never worshipped Baal referred to in the previous chapter.)

Ben-Hadad got word that soldiers (the youths) were advancing. He gave orders to take them alive. The youths led the army and they struck the army of Aram, who ran away. Then Ahab came out with his horses and chariots and defeated Aram. The prophet told Ahab to be on guard, because Aram would attack again in a few months.

The servants of Ben-Hadad told him that G-d must be a god of mountains, which is why Israel could defeat them there, but if they fought in a valley…! So, a few months later,Aram attacked Israel in a valley. The prophet told Ahab he would defeat Aram there, too. Israel killed 100,000 of the army of Aram, who fled into the city. The wall fell on 27,000 of them. Ben-Hadad hid.

His servants told Ben-Hadad that the Jewish kings are supposed to be merciful, so they should give themselves up. They went to Ahab to ask for Ben-Hadad’s life and Ahab erred by referring to Ben-Hadad as his brother. The servants leaped on the opportunity and said, “Yes, your brother.” They brought him out and Ahab made friends with him. Ben-Hadad promised to return the cities Aram had previously conquered and the two kings forged a treaty.

Change the scene: A prophet approached a man on the street and said, “Hit me!” The man refused to hit him and was killed by a lion. The prophet told another man to hit him, and this man (wisely) obliged. The prophet, now wounded, put a bandage over his eyes as a disguise and approached Ahab. He told the following story:

“I was in the battle and I was charged with watching a prisoner. I was told that if he got away, I would have to pay a talent of silver (an exorbitant amount) or my life would be forfeit. While I was preoccupied, the man got away. Am I responsible?” The king replied, “You yourself have said so!” The prophet removed his disguise and said to Ahab, “G-d says that He delivered Ben-Hadad into your hands and you let him get away! Now it’s your life for his and your nation for his!” Ahab returned to Samaria appropriately distressed by this message.

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