The Bible Story - Volume V
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The Bible Story - Volume V

Chapter 118:

Syria Challenge God

   IN A CAVE in Mt. Sinai, Elijah was told by a voice that he should come out of the cave to meet God, who would soon be passing by. (I Kings 19:9-11.) Later, there was a very strong wind, followed by a powerful earthquake. Afterward, the prophet decided that God was not in either unusual display of nature.
   Then the mountains erupted into volcanic activity and were stabbed by blazing bolts of lightning. Everything vibrated with the tremendous roar of steady thunder. Elijah crouched in fear, wondering if this could be God's manifestation of Himself, but he was afraid to stay outside the cave and watch what was taking place.

That Was Only Small Power

   The lightning storm ended as abruptly as it had begun. The prophet walked slowly to the mouth of the cave, not knowing for certain what he would see. It was then that he thought he heard a voice coming from a great distance. Startled and uneasy, he pulled his coat up over his head, hesitant to see whatever or whomever should be waiting for him outside the cave.
   After he had groped his way to the ledge, the voice came to him again. It was a clear, quiet voice of small volume. Seemingly, now, it came to him from all directions. (I Kings 19:11-13.)
   The prophet let the coat drop off his head. He stared all around, but there was nobody in sight. The only visible moving thing was a column of smoke rising from the tip of a nearby crag that had been struck by lightning.
   "I am your God," came the words. "Within the hour I passed by the cave you are in more than once, but I was not in the wind, earthquake or lightning. Now I have come to tell you that you have done well as my servant, though lately you let fear of the woman Jezebel get the best of you. I have more work for you, but you can be of the greatest value only if you rely fully on me and dedicate yourself fully to what you must do."
   Elijah was both humbled and encouraged by what God said. He wanted to declare that he would be very enthusiastic about whatever God would require of him, but he was so overcome in the presence of the Creator, even though he couldn't see Him, that he feared to speak.
   "Don't be concerned about Jezebel's men," God continued. "Go back to Israel, but don't return by the way you came here. Take a route to the east, as though going to Damascus. In the west side of the Jordan valley, a few miles east of Jezreel, you'll find a man named Elisha. He shall take your place, in due time, as the leading prophet of Israel in these years.
   "Later, you will anoint a man named Hazael as king of Syria. You will also anoint a certain Jehu as king to replace Ahab. These two shall be used to punish the disobedient and rebellious rulers of my people. All Israel doesn't deserve punishment, because there are many thousands who have continued to observe my laws and have refused to worship idols." (I Kings 19:15-18; Romans 11:1-4.)
   Days later, when Elijah arrived in the area where he had been instructed to go, he inquired about until he found where a man lived by the name of Elisha an industrious young man of a well-to-do family. Elisha happened to be plowing with a pair of work bulls when the prophet found him. Eleven of Elisha's men were also plowing in the field. Elijah recognized the man he was seeking. He walked into the field and tossed his cape over Elisha's shoulders as the younger man drove his team by. The surprised plowman pulled his animals to a halt and stared at the stranger.

Careless Prosperity

   "I have been told that only prophets of God wear capes like this one," Elisha said, "and that when a prophet tosses his cape over another man, it means that the man has been chosen to become another prophet. Am I to assume that this special honor has come to me?"
   "You are right," Elijah answered. "I am a prophet of God, sent to let you know that you have been chosen for a purpose."
   Elijah felt that more explanation wasn't necessary at the moment. He knew that Elisha would ask questions soon enough, so he walked away, intending to return later. He heard quick footsteps behind him, and turned to see Elisha running excitedly toward him.
   "If God can use me, I'm willing to go with you this very hour," Elisha told Elijah. "But first let me say good-bye to my parents."
   "You shouldn't leave without seeing them," Elijah agreed. "When I placed my cape on you, I didn't mean that you have to go with me now. Stay for a little time with your family. I shall return for you."
   Elisha was very eager about his call from God. To him this was the greatest day of his life. He wanted the last night with his relatives and friends and servants to be a happy one. He was not in love with wealth. Accordingly, he had his men kill and dress two of his work animals to be boiled for a festive dinner that evening. To show he was permanently giving up his previous job to devote himself wholly to God's service, Elisha used his own plow and yoke for fuel.
   Next day Elisha saw Elijah crossing the plowed field. The younger man told his family good-bye and joined the prophet. His parents watched the two disappear over a rise, unaware that their son would one day be a prophet who would become very important in the affairs of the nation. (I Kings 19:19-21.)
   About five years passed, during which northern Israel recovered from the three-year drought and became prosperous. For a time matters went rather well for Ahab in spite of his continuing in idolatry. All Israel became lax. Then one morning he was awakened with the jolting report that a large army had surrounded his capital city of Samaria. The flags of Syria and thirty-two adjoining states could be plainly seen. Messengers appeared at the gates to demand an audience with Ahab, who promptly met them.
   "We bring to you the words of our king, Ben-hadad of Syria," the spokesman messenger said to Ahab. "He wants you to know that he will call off the siege of your city if you will send out to him tomorrow your gold, silver and the choicest of your wives and children. He expects you to decide immediately and give your decision to us to take back to him." (I Kings 20:1-3.) Israel's prosperity was just too much for these greedy men to resist.
   Ahab was stunned. He knew that he could be facing disaster if he appeared anything but agreeable. He reasoned that the only thing to do was at least seem to go along with the demands, and later try to find a way out of the sudden trouble.

Unexpected Courage

   "Tell your king, whom I consider my master, that I am at his service and that all I have is his," Ahab shakily told the messengers, hoping that his submissive answer would satisfy Ben-hadad for the time being.
   When the king of Syria heard from his messengers what Ahab had to say, he decided that the king of Israel was so frightened that he would submit to any terms. He immediately sent his messengers back to make further demands of Ahab.
   "Our king wants you to know that he has changed his mind," they reported. "He has decided not to require that you send him the things he previously asked for."
   Ahab was greatly relieved, but his relief didn't last long. "Our king has decided to trust his gods and instead of your going to the trouble of taking to him the things he asked for, tomorrow he will send men into your city to search for and take everything that looks good. He expects you to cooperate fully. Only then will he remove his army from around Samaria."
   Ahab was more troubled than ever. He immediately summoned the leading men of the city to explain the situation to them and ask what they thought should be done.
   "Don't give in to him," they fervidly entreated the king. "If you let his men inside the walls, the city could be taken over that much sooner. Besides, if we give him what he demands, we can't rely on his taking his army away. Once he gets what is valuable, he might destroy Samaria and the people who are left."
   Ahab was fearful of going contrary to Ben-hadad's demands, but he knew that the Israelite elders were right. His courage bolstered somewhat, he surprised the impatient Syrian messengers with what he had to say.
   "Tell your king that although I regard him highly and at first consented to what he asked for in the beginning, I can't allow his men to come into my city and take whatever they want."
   When Ben-hadad was told what Ahab had said, his fond hope of taking Samaria without a battle was swept away. In its place came a vengeful desire to do away with the city and every person in it.
   "May the gods take my life," he muttered angrily, "If I don't set so many men against Samaria that there won't be room enough in the dust of the city for them to stand on! Tell that to the king of Israel!" (I Kings 20:4-10.)
   When Ahab heard Ben-hadad's declaration that he would destroy Samaria, he wasn't as frightened as he had been when he first heard from Ben-hadad. He had just enough courage to cause him to send back a caustic answer to the other king.
   "Tell your master that his threat to wipe out my city fails to impress me," Ahab instructed the messengers. "Remind him for me that a soldier who is just about to go into battle shouldn't boast about his victories. He should wait until he is returning from battle." (I Kings 20:11.)
   The exchange of communications between the two kings had been going on most of the morning. It was about noon when Ben-hadad received Ahab's latest and last message. He was in a spacious dining tent, eating and drinking with the lesser rulers of the provinces close to Syria, whose troops comprised a part of the besieging army.
   "Prepare to attack the enemy's city!" Ben-hadad shouted, staggering to his feet. "I would have spared the wretched Israelites until tomorrow, but now Ahab will pay for his insolent remarks by seeing his palace sacked this very day!" (I Kings 20:12.)
   While the worried Ahab and his chiefs and royal guardsmen excitedly discussed what should be done, the king was told that a stranger with a vital message had come to speak to him. The stranger identified himself as a prophet and informed the king that God that same day would give Ahab a victory over the huge Syrian army, to remind him again that the God of Israel was the only real deity.

Impossible Odds

   "Why would God tell me that I can be victorious over my enemy?" Ahab asked impatiently, staring doubtfully at the stranger. "I don't even have an army!"
   "God wants you to make an army out of the men in the city of Samaria," the prophet answered. "For your leading soldiers, use your royal guards and the experienced retainers who are sons of your clan chiefs. Arm the rest of the men in the city as fast as you can. Prepare them for action right away. If you do these things, God will help you."
   "But who will be the head of this motley crowd?" Ahab asked. "God expects you to be," the prophet replied. "If you aren't willing to do that much, you won't get any help from Him." (I Kings 20:13-14.)
   Ahab had two hundred and thirty-two skilled soldiers who were his retainers and royal guards. A hasty count of able-bodied men in the city of Samaria added up to seven thousand. Many of them had no training as soldiers. Fast and frantic efforts were made to form what would at least look like an army out of seven thousand, two hundred and thirty-two men. (I Kings 20:15.)
   They marched out at noon to face Ben-hadad's army. By this time Ben-hadad and the thirty-two kings with him were drunk.
   "Two or three hundred Israelite soldiers have come out of Samaria and are running this way!" someone shouted into Ben-hadad's dining tent.
   "Good!" the Syrian king muttered, sinking back on his pillows. "Take them alive for questioning, whether they have come to attack or whether they have come to bargain! I'll teach them what my gods can do!" (I Kings 20:16-18.)

The Victory Is God's

   Scores of Syrian warriors were dispatched to meet the small body of Israelites. Confidently they surrounded them, intending to close in and herd them to the Syrian camp. The Israelites rushed at their would-be captors, bringing them to the ground with fast movements capable only of the best-trained soldiers of northern Israel, the king's royal guard.
   More Syrian troops ran from their camp to take the place of their fallen fellow-soldiers. At the same time the seven thousand men of Samaria began to pour out of the city.
   The sight of them unnerved the Syrians, who assumed that the men crowding out of the gates were as skilled in fighting as the first ones who had come out. Panic-stricken, they turned and raced back, trampling the tents and colliding with other Syrian soldiers preparing to attack. Pandemonium spread like fire among the thousands of soldiers and their officers.
   This was the beginning of a surprising and sudden defeat of the Syrians. The lesser kings in Ben-hadad's dining tent decided without delay that they wanted no part of what already looked like a losing war. They fled to their horses and returned northeastward with some of their troops. Ben-hadad wasn't too confused, in his condition, to decide that he should leave, too. He was helped on a horse and raced away with most of the cavalry he had brought to Samaria.
   The Syrian foot soldiers, superior in numbers, might have regrouped and crushed the Israelites, but they lost the will to fight when their leaders ran out. Many of them escaped. Others became the victims of the Israelites, who pursued them for a short distance from Samaria.
   As for the large number of chariots, the drivers had little inclination to fight a battle by themselves by chasing their enemies over rough ground. Most of them died trying to escape. The area around Samaria became littered with dead and injured horses and broken vehicles. (I Kings 20:19-21.)
   Ahab, who had gone with his men to direct them in the defeat of the Syrians, realized that the victory had been a miracle that could come only from the one true God. When news of the event reached the rest of the nation, many in Israel became more conscious of God and His power. Jezebel, of course, scoffed at the belief that God was as great as Baal, Astarte, and even lesser pagan gods and goddesses.
   Not long after the short siege of Samaria, the prophet who had told Ahab that God would help him came again to the king to make another prediction and give some advice from God.

Defying God

   "Next spring, after the rains are over, Ben-hadad will return with another large army," the prophet said. "Because of his stinging defeat, he will be more determined than ever to be the victor. Prepare for his invasion by mustering and training as large an army as you are able to get together." (I Kings 20:22.)
   At the same time, up at the Syrian capital of Damascus, advisors to the king were trying to convince him that he should challenge the God of Israel again and invade Israel after the spring rains were over and the ground was firm enough for chariots.
   "We lost the battle because the Israelite gods dwell mostly in the hilly regions," they profoundly explained to Ben-hadad. "By casting some kind of spell on your men, those gods prevented your riders and foot soldiers from success. If you would build another army as great as the one that surrounded Samaria, and if you would meet Ahab's forces on some wide plain, where the hill gods of Israel have no power, you would surely enjoy a great victory."
   "To muster an army as large as the one I had before," Ben-hadad told his advisors, "I would have to use the troops of the province leaders who deserted me. I wouldn't want to take them with me again."
   "Use their soldiers, but don't let the leaders go," the advisors suggested. "Tell them that experienced officers will represent them to insure their safety."
   Ben-hadad was far from sold on the idea, but after days of thinking it over, he grew increasingly ambitious. (I Kings 20:23-25.)
   "Make plans to rebuild my army," he finally announced to his aides. "I am going to challenge the God of Israel and invade the land again!"

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Publication Date: 1987
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