************ Sermon on 1 Kings 20:13,28 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 16, 2004
1 Kings 20
1 Kings 20:13,28
"I Am the Lord of the Hills and Valleys"
I The Lesson of the First Battle
A Ben-Hadad was the king of Aram or of the Arameans, what we know as Syria. He ruled from his capital city of Damascus. Under him were 32 other kings and their cities. Ben-Hadad was their lord and they were his vassals.
Ahab was the king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He ruled from his capital city of Samaria.
The Bible tells us Ben-Hadad besieged Samaria and attacked it.
Ben-Hadad had a mighty, great army: more than one hundred thousand foot soldiers, as well as horses and chariots. With him were his 32 vassal kings. In contrast, Israel had only 7,232 soldiers. There was little doubt in anyone's mind what would happen in a battle: the Arameans would triumph and the Israelites would be crushed like so many ants under someone's shoe.
Ben-Hadad was so confident of victory he demanded that Ahab turn over his silver and gold; he demanded the best looking of the Israelite women and children. It was Ben-Hadad's plan to make Ahab another of his vassals.
Ahab agreed to this. Without blinking an eye he was willing to hand over the silver and gold, the wives and children. I cannot imagine anyone being willing to treat women and children like property to be bought and sold; but Ahab evidently had no problems with this. From his point of view, being a live vassal was better than being a dead king.
Ahab gave in too much and too quickly because Ben-Hadad decided to up the stakes. He demanded the right to search through all of Samaria, to take whatever of value he could find. He wanted the spoils of victory without even fighting a battle. This was too much even for Ahab.
What followed was threat (I am going to grind you into dust) and response (Oh yeah! Let's see who is still standing after the battle!).
In the battle that followed the Arameans were defeated, badly defeated. An understaffed, under-armed Israel defeated the mighty army of Ben-Hadad. The defeat was so total that Ben-Hadad ended up jumping on his horse and fleeing for his life.
B How come puny, little Israel was able to defeat strong, mighty Aram? How come the battle had such a surprising outcome? It is the word of the Lord to Ahab through a nameless, faceless prophet that explains what happened:
(1Ki 20:13) "This is what the LORD says: 'Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the LORD.'"It was the LORD that gave victory to Israel.
"You will know that I am the LORD." What does this mean? It means that God is the One Who continually intervenes to cause victories. God did this at the Red Sea. God did this with Gideon and the Midianites – remember, with 300 soldiers Gideon defeated an army that was beyond counting. God did this with Jericho – her great walls came tumbling down at a shout. God did this with Sihon and Og – these kings of the Amorites struck fear into the hearts of Israel yet they were defeated. God did this when David faced Goliath – imagine a young lad beating a heavily armed giant with a sling and a stone. God did this time and again through the ministry of Elijah – think of the contest between the 450 prophets of Baal on the one hand and Elijah all by himself on the other hand. God did this through the ministry and resurrection of Jesus. Over and over again God gave surprising victory against unbelievable odds.
"You will know that I am the LORD." What does this mean? The Hebrew word for God here is Yahweh. This means that He is the one and only God. That He is and was and ever shall be. That He is the Author and Sustainer of life. That He is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. That He is the Almighty.
"You will know that I am the LORD." What does this mean? This means that our God reigns, that our God rules.
"You will know that I am the LORD." This is the message brought by the nameless prophet to Ahab and Israel, and through them to Ben-Hadad and Aram. This is also the message brought by today's prophets to a lost-in-sin world. We want the world to know that our God reigns, that He is the One and Only God, that He triumphantly acts to save His people.
The lesson of the first battle, then, is to show that God is the LORD.
II The Lesson of the Second Battle
A Ben-Hadad and his advisors, of course, gave the surprising victory another explanation. The heathen unbelieving never want to admit that God is the LORD, that He reigns, that He is the One and Only, that He triumphantly intervenes in the life of kings and nations. They said:
(1Ki 20:23) Their gods are gods of the hills. That is why they were too strong for us. But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they.
When I was a kid we played a game called "King of the Mountain." The object was to climb the biggest pile of snow or hay or sand and stay there. Other kids, of course, would try to push you off and take your place. The person at the top is the King of the Mountain.
The Arameans in our story played a version of this children's game. They believed that whoever won the wars on a mountain had a god who was the King of the Mountain. Since Israel won the battle fought on the mountain of Samaria their god must be the King of the Mountain. But, they said, the god of the mountain would not be the god of the plains. So next time let us fight on the plains. See how they changed the face of God?
B So Ben-Hadad raised an army as big as the one he lost on the mountains. This time he contrived to fight Israel not on the mountains surrounding Samaria but in the flat land of the Jarmuk Valley, close to the Sea of Chinnereth (what we know as the Sea of Galilee).
Once more the Israelites were hopelessly outnumbered. They seemed like two small flocks of goats while the Arameans seemed like a countless herd of cattle, like the millions of buffalo that one time roamed on our plains. Once more a Goliath was facing a David.
In the battle that followed the Arameans again were defeated, badly defeated. What a stunning victory for Israel. What a shocking defeat for Ben-Hadad. Imagine, the Arameans lost 127,000 soldiers that day. An understaffed, under-armed Israel defeated the mighty army of Ben-Hadad. The defeat was so total that Ben-Hadad ended up fleeing to and hiding in the city of Aphek.
C Again we need to ask how. How did puny, little Israel defeat strong, mighty Aram? How come the battle had such a surprising outcome? Again, it is the word of the Lord to Ahab through the same nameless, faceless prophet that explains what happened:
(1Ki 20:28) The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, "This is what the LORD says: 'Because the Arameans think the LORD is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the LORD.'"It was the LORD that gave victory to Israel.
Again, the message came through, the same message that came through in the last battle: "you will know that I am the LORD." The last time Ben-Hadad realized that God was the King of the Mountains but now he had to admit God was also the King of the Plains. In fact, God is King of everything. He rules over all.
III God's Lessons for His People
A God's intention, however, was not to teach Ben-Hadad and the heathen about Himself. Rather, His intention was to teach Ahab, and Israel about Himself. The prophet, you see, was not sent to Ben-Hadad or Aram but to Ahab and Israel.
The prophet was sent to Ahab and Israel because they had problems recognizing Yahweh as the one only true God. They thought Baal was god and worshiped him. They thought Asherah was god and worshiped her. They were willing to recognize Yahweh as just one other god alongside their Asherah poles and golden calves and Baals. Like Ben-Hadad, they also kept changing the face of God.
If you remember, at Mount Carmel God showed the impotence, the weakness, the nothingness of Baal – he was unable to respond or answer when the prophets of Baal called on him to send down fire to consume the offering they had laid on the altar. The conclusion is obvious: Baal, he is not God. But when God sent down fire in response to Elijah's prayer, all the people said, "The LORD – he is God! The LORD – he is God!"
It seems that Ahab and Israel already forgot this lesson. Therefore God announced victory through the prophet so "you will know that I am the LORD." God wanted Israel to stop limping back and forth between two opinions. He wanted Israel to acknowledge that He was and is the LORD of the hills and the valleys, that He is King of Creation, that He reigns over all in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
B God, of course, is also speaking to me and to you. Like the Syrians, like Ahab, like Israel we need to learn – again and again – that God is the LORD of the hills and the valleys, that He is King of Creation, that He reigns over all.
Many times, like the Arameans, we want God to be King of the Mountains but we don't want Him to be King of the Plains. It is easy for us to make God King in the church; but the second you talk about money, that is a different matter. God can be King in religion but forget about Him being King in my marriage and other relationships. God can be King on Sunday morning but forget about Sunday evening or Monday morning. God can be King for pastors and Christian School teachers but forget about the world of business or the union shop.
There is one thing we must never forget: there is only one Lord of life. He is the Lord Jesus. We all should know that He died to be our Savior and He lives to be our Lord.
IV Ahab's Failure to Acknowledge God
A At the beginning of the chapter Ahab is subservient to Ben-Hadad and Israel is dominated by Syria. At the end of the chapter Ben-Hadad is subservient to Ahab and Syria is dominated by Israel. In two victories God has shown Ahab that He is the LORD of the hills and the valleys, that He is King of Creation, that He reigns over all. What did Ahab do in response to this revelation of God?
Did he destroy this enemy of God? Verse 42 indicates to us that this is what the LORD expected Ahab to do. Instead, Ahab let Ben-Hadad live. Furthermore, Ben-Hadad was willing to be Ahab's vassal: "Your servant Ben-Hadad says: 'Please let me live.'" Instead, Ahab called him "my brother." Just like that Ben-Hadad became an ally rather than a vassal. Instead of making his defeated enemy walk beside the victor's chariot, as the custom was, Ahab invited Ben-Hadad to ride along with him. Then the two kings concluded a treaty. Ben-Hadad gave up the towns his father had captured and gave Israel trading rights in Damascus and Ahab let Ben-Hadad go free.
Do you know what Ahab did? He made a deliberate decision – again – not to recognize that God is the LORD of the hills and the valleys, that He is King of Creation, that He reigns over all. You see, treaties back then always involved recognition of each other's gods. So in making a treaty with Ben-Hadad, Ahab was back to his old game of recognizing gods besides Yahweh, he was limiting the rule and authority and power of Yahweh.
B The story ends with a curious twist. I am talking about the wounded prophet who goes through the trouble of disguising himself as a soldier. Using the prophet, God gets Ahab to condemn himself. Ahab ends up pronouncing the death sentence upon himself.
From this we learn that it is a very serious matter indeed when we do not acknowledge that God is the LORD of the hills and the valleys, that He is King of Creation, that He reigns over all.
All of us, my brother and sisters, all of us need to examine ourselves. We all need to ask: Is God and Jesus Christ King of the Mountains in my life? Or: Are they king of everything in my life?
Your answer says a lot about where you spend eternity.
So I urge you, acknowledge that God is the LORD of the hills and the valleys, that He is King of Creation, that He reigns over all.
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