Who wouldn’t want to be Prime Minister for a day? Imagine all the fun you could have.
Invade New Zealand. Turn NSW and Victoria back into convict settlements. Outlaw the Greens Party. It’d be fun!
Politics throughout history has seen it’s share of renown and infamous leaders. Alexander the Great. Napoleon. Richard the Lion Heart, Kevin the Dud Rudd, along many others.
Some you may not be so familiar with are guys like Ben-hadad the Arrogant and Ahab the Petulant.
1 Kings 20 outlines two battles between these two kings, and there are some valuable insights for us, even today, as we think about not only what we would most like in a leader but ultimately, what we would most like in a Saviour.
I: Ben-hadad the Arrogant: The Drunk & Coward
The king of Syria doesn’t exactly seem to be a very charming sort of guy.
He’s powerful, of that’s theres no doubt. He’s managed to pull together 32 other kings to come with him to fight against Ahab in Samaria.
It’s a pitiful image – 33 kings and their armies, fighting against one.
Not quite a battle of the five armies, but just as evil and intimidating no less.
Another thing we could easily note about Ben-hadad is that he is more than a little greedy.
He had demanded Ahab’s gold and silver, as well as his wives and children, all to which Ahab had caved and said he could have.
That wasn’t enough for the Syrian king – he wanted to be sure that he hurt Ahab – he wanted to take whatever was most precious to him, and seeing as he didn’t seem too attached to his jewels or wives and kids, Ben-hadad wanted to take it up a notch and take whatever ‘pleased’ Ahab.
Greed and intimidation were Ben-hadad’s. He didn’t just want Ahab’s wealth, he wanted his dignity as well. He boasted that he would grind Samaria into dust for his those who would follow him. He didn’t just want another kingdom defeated, he boasted that he would destroy and annihilate it.
When the time came to fight though, we don’t find Ben-hadad nearly as fearsome on the battlefield or as a strategist. He is a lazy drunk who relies on bullying and fear by numbers while he sends his army out to fight. ( v. 12,16).
Not only is he a drunk, but he’s also a coward, as we see when he twice runs away when the battle finds him. ( v 20, 30).
He loses both battles with Ahab based on impaired judgement (v16) and then on extremely poor advice ( v.23-25).
He listened to the foolishness of his servants as they try to limit God to being a god of the hills only.
But, credit to his servants, their next round of advice saved his life. ( v. 30-34).
The king of Syria is a case study in passions overriding common sense. When we live like we are invincible, chances are something will eventually catch up to us. No man can claim independence from God and live a long and happy eternity. There might be much to gain in this life by chasing gold, silver, women and slaves. Being powerful, being a force to be reckoned with, but underneath it all is a heart that is insecure, prone to being influenced by fleshly desires gone bad, and to taking bad advice.
No one wants to be a Ben-hadad.
II: Ahab the Petulant: The Compromising King
That said, I’m not sure anyone really wants to be Ahab, either.
There’s not much he’s got going for him, and he seems to know. The only thing in his favour is that he is the king of God’s chosen people. But he barely acknowledges that.
Ahab is weak man that God uses, despite all his flaws, to defend Israel from these opposing armies, and to protect Samaria from destruction.
He’s a confusing character. First he lets Ben-hadad have what he asks for, and then when the request passes a certain point of decency in his mind – apparently losing wives and children was ok – he brings together the elders who advise him not to cave in to the Syrian king, and Ahan goes from the caver to the one threatening war. ( v. 11).
He also listens to the prophet ( v.14-15, 28-29), but then after his bold threat of killing any one in the coalition in armour, he lets Ben-hadad go alive and calls him a brother.
On one hand, he follows the word of God that comes through the prophet, while on the other, when it suits, he does his own thing and fails in his responsibility as God’s vessel of judgement upon Ben-hadad, which brings judgement upon himself, and makes him not repentant, or driven to God, but sullen and sulky.
No one likes a sulk. No one was around to tell Ahab to ‘toughen up, Princess.’, and his petulance lead him further away from God rather than closer, and leads him to even worse acts of disobedience, compromise and murder by default.
Ahab is the character in this story we may identify the most.
He trusts God’s word, but only when it suits. He accepts responsibilities, but only when it doesn’t affect his friendships. He accepts God’s judgement, but only when it meant someone else would suffer.
Ahab had miraculous victories on the battlefield. Twice God delivered his army a resounding victory against a much larger enemy. But he failed at what should’ve been his defining moment. God gave him an opportunity to be used as His agent of justice, and Ahab failed because he has compromised by being friends with the enemy he was meant to destroy.
Ahab’s defeat didn’t come in the physical battle, but it was a defeat born by a life ruled by his own feelings and heart.
There is a vital lesson here for us, we may think the greatest battle we face is ‘out there’ against unnumbered foe who would seek to destroy us, but the greatest battle is within. Who will we trust? What does our heart reveal about our allegiances?
We may also think that after great victory, we can make no mistakes. That God has used us is undoubtedly clear, and we rest on our laurels, and all the while we have rested when we should have been actively obedient. Our greatest challenges can also come after our greatest victories. The temptation to compromise our faith, to ignore God’s word, to live however we feel like, all point to a compromised heart.
A compromised heart leads us to love God only when we’re getting what we want from Him. Loving God for the things He give us rather than loving Him for Who He is Himself is sin. That’s esteeming Creation over the Creator, and leads to destruction. ( Romans 1).
If your God never disagrees with you, you might just be worshipping an idealised version of yourself. – Keller
III: A Striking Prophet : The Uncompromising Truth
There is another interesting character in the passage – the prophet who wanted to be hit in the face…thankfully for us, I don’t think we are supposed to apply this in exact action….
This guy to object lessons very seriously…!
But he was right to, because he was sharing the Word of God. What a challenge to us, especially when we consider Ahab’s compromise, this prophet believed God’s Word so intently, he was willing to suffer in order to make it known to others.
We’re not called to win popularity contests in our living of the Christian life or sharing of the truth of God’s Word. There are hard truths that we must speak, and we may suffer persecution for doing so. Will we be able to put aside our own agendas and wills to follow Gods clear direction to speak? & will we allow the Word of God free course – even when it makes no sense to us in certain times?
IV: God: The Great King
Ben-hadad believed in his own ability and in the “god of the valleys”. He fought with pride as weapon and lost all dignity.
Ahab believed in God, but only when it suited his own agenda.
The prophet who was willing to lose his face to make a point and carry God’s truth to Ahab, believed the Word of God, and was willing to suffer to carry it.
The two kings were weak men, both afraid of losing their lives and both lost in the end.
There is one more Sovereign in this story though. The Greater King.
He won victories Himself in this passage.
He proved himself stronger than men and as many mighty armies as you could gather against Him.
He also proved Himself over the false gods and idols that were around. He wasn’t just a limited being, confined to hills. He is Omni-Present. You can’t go anywhere to get Him in a weak spot. He is everywhere, and He is All-Powerful.
He speaks through the prophets to reveal Himself ( v. 13, 28, 42). You cannot say God’s plans are mysterious when He tells you beforehand what will happen and how He will deliver.
He reveals Himself through both deliverance and judgement. You will find His perfect justice and holiness in both.
That sounds strange, but it is His way, the Higher way.
Here is a King who never runs from battle, because He will never be defeated.
A King Who knows His duty, and never strays from it, obeying even to death.
Here is a King Who says yes to losing everything, and obeys perfectly the Will of God.
Here is a King who delivers by bearing judgement Himself.
A life is exchanged for a life, but we stand in His position, and He stands our place, condemned.
Ben-hadad fought with pride as a weapon, and lost all dignity.
Ahab fought in obedience, but compromised his heart. He colluded with the enemy and found himself defeated after victory.
Jesus, laid aside all pride for perfect obedience, gained victory through defeat.
Which king would you rather follow?