At about this same time Ben-Hadad king of Aram mustered his troops. He recruited in addition thirty-two local sheiks, all outfitted with horses and chariots. He set out in force and surrounded Samaria, ready to make war.
He sent an envoy into the city to set his terms before Ahab king of Israel:
"Ben-Hadad lays claim to your silver and gold, and to the pick of your wives and sons."
The king of Israel accepted the terms: "As you say, distinguished lord; I and everything I have is yours."
But then the envoy returned a second time, saying, "On second thought, I want it all - your silver and gold and all your wives and sons. Hand them over - the whole works.
I'll give you twenty-four hours; then my servants will arrive to search your palace and the houses of your officials and loot them; anything that strikes their fancy, they'll take."
The king of Israel called a meeting of all his tribal elders. He said, "Look at this - outrageous! He's just looking for trouble. He means to clean me out, demanding all my women and children. And after I already agreed to pay him off handsomely!"
The elders, backed by the people, said, "Don't cave in to him. Don't give an inch."
So he sent an envoy to Ben-Hadad, "Tell my distinguished lord, 'I agreed to the terms you delivered the first time, but this I can't do - this I won't do!'" The envoy went back and delivered the answer.
Ben-Hadad shot back his response: "May the gods do their worst to me, and then worse again, if there'll be anything left of Samaria but rubble."
The king of Israel countered, "Think about it - it's easier to start a fight than end one."
It happened that when Ben-Hadad heard this retort he was into some heavy drinking, boozing it up with the sheiks in their field shelters. Drunkenly, he ordered his henchmen, "Go after them!" And they attacked the city.
Just then a lone prophet approached Ahab king of Israel and said, "God's word: Have you taken a good look at this mob? Well, look again - I'm turning it over to you this very day. And you'll know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I am God."
Ahab said, "Really? And who is going to make this happen?" God said, "The young commandos of the regional chiefs." "And who," said Ahab, "will strike the first blow?" God said, "You."
Ahab looked over the commandos of the regional chiefs; he counted 232. Then he assessed the available troops - 7,000.
At noon they set out after Ben-Hadad who, with his allies, the thirty-two sheiks, was busy at serious drinking in the field shelters.
The commandos of the regional chiefs made up the vanguard. A report was brought to Ben-Hadad: "Men are on their way from Samaria."
He said, "If they've come in peace, take them alive as hostages; if they've come to fight, the same - take them alive as hostages."
The commandos poured out of the city with the full army behind them.
They hit hard in hand-to-hand combat. The Arameans scattered from the field, with Israel hard on their heels. But Ben-Hadad king of Aram got away on horseback, along with his cavalry.
The king of Israel cut down both horses and chariots - an enormous defeat for Aram.
Sometime later the prophet came to the king of Israel and said, "On the alert now - build up your army, assess your capabilities, and see what has to be done. Before the year is out, the king of Aram will be back in force."
Meanwhile the advisors to the king of Aram said, "Their god is a god of the mountains - we don't stand a chance against them there. So let's engage them on the plain where we'll have the advantage.
Here's the strategy: Remove each sheik from his place of leadership and replace him with a seasoned officer.
Then recruit a fighting force equivalent in size to the army that deserted earlier - horse for horse, chariot for chariot. And we'll fight them on the plain - we're sure to prove stronger than they are." It sounded good to the king; he did what they advised.
As the new year approached, Ben-Hadad rallied Aram and they went up to Aphek to make war on Israel.
The Israelite army prepared to fight and took the field to meet Aram. They moved into battle formation before Aram in two camps, like two flocks of goats. The plain was seething with Arameans.
Just then a holy man approached the king of Israel saying, "This is God's word: Because Aram said, 'God is a god of the mountains and not a god of the valleys,' I'll hand over this huge mob of an army to you. Then you'll know that I am God."
The two armies were poised in a standoff for seven days. On the seventh day fighting broke out. The Israelites killed 100,000 of the Aramean infantry in one day.
The rest of the army ran for their lives back to the city, Aphek, only to have the city wall fall on 27,000 of the survivors.
Then his advisors told him, "Look, we've heard that the kings of Israel play by the rules; let's dress in old gunnysacks, carry a white flag of truce, and present ourselves to the king of Israel on the chance that he'll let you live."
So that's what they did. They dressed in old gunnysacks and carried a white flag, and came to the king of Israel saying, "Your servant Ben-Hadad said, 'Please let me live.'" Ahab said, "You mean to tell me that he's still alive? If he's alive, he's my brother."
The men took this as a good sign and concluded that everything was going to be all right: "Ben-Hadad is most certainly your brother!" The king said, "Go and get him." They went and brought him back by chariot.
Ahab said, "I am prepared to return the cities that my father took from your father. And you can set up your headquarters in Damascus just as my father did in Samaria; I'll send you home under safe conduct." Then he made a covenant with him and sent him off.
A man who was one of the prophets said to a bystander, "Hit me; wound me. Do it for God's sake - it's his command. Hit me; wound me." But the man wouldn't do it.
So he told him, "Because you wouldn't obey God's orders, as soon as you leave me a lion will attack you." No sooner had the man left his side than a lion met him and attacked.
He then found another man and said, "Hit me; wound me." That man did it - hit him hard in the face, drawing blood.
Then the prophet went and took a position along the road, with a bandage over his eyes, waiting for the king.
It wasn't long before the king happened by. The man cried out to the king, "Your servant was in the thick of the battle when a man showed up and turned over a prisoner to me, saying, 'Guard this man with your life; if he turns up missing you'll pay dearly.'
But I got busy doing one thing after another and the next time I looked he was gone." The king of Israel said, "You've just pronounced your own verdict."
At that, the man ripped the bandage off his eyes and the king recognized who he was - one of the prophets!
The man said to the king, "God's word: Because you let a man go who was under sentence by God, it's now your life for his, your people for his."
The king of Israel went home in a sulk. He arrived in Samaria in a very bad mood.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)