Ben-Hadad Attacks Samaria, 1-12

1 Now Ben-Hadad king of Aram mustered his entire army. Accompanied by thirty-two kings with their horses and chariots, he went up and besieged Samaria and attacked it. 2 He sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, saying, “This is what Ben-Hadad says: 3 ‘Your silver and gold are mine, and the best of your wives and children are mine.’ ”
4 The king of Israel answered, “Just as you say, my lord the king. I and all I have are yours.”
5 The messengers came again and said, “This is what Ben-Hadad says: ‘I sent to demand your silver and gold, your wives and your children. 6 But about this time tomorrow I am going to send my officials to search your palace and the houses of your officials. They will seize everything you value and carry it away.’ ”
7 The king of Israel summoned all the elders of the land and said to them, “See how this man is looking for trouble! When he sent for my wives and my children, my silver and my gold, I did not refuse him.”
8 The elders and the people all answered, “Don’t listen to him or agree to his demands.”
9 So he replied to Ben-Hadad’s messengers, “Tell my lord the king, ‘Your servant will do all you demanded the first time, but this demand I cannot meet.’ ” They left and took the answer back to Ben-Hadad.
10 Then Ben-Hadad sent another message to Ahab: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if enough dust remains in Samaria to give each of my men a handful.”
11 The king of Israel answered, “Tell him: ‘One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.’ ”
12 Ben-Hadad heard this message while he and the kings were drinking in their tents, and he ordered his men: “Prepare to attack.” So they prepared to attack the city.

Ahab Defeats Ben-Hadad, 13-34

13 Meanwhile a prophet came to Ahab king of Israel and announced, “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.’ ”
14 “But who will do this?” asked Ahab.
The prophet replied, “This is what the LORD says: ‘The young officers of the provincial commanders will do it.’ ”
“And who will start the battle?” he asked.
The prophet answered, “You will.”
15 So Ahab summoned the young officers of the provincial commanders, 232 men. Then he assembled the rest of the Israelites, 7,000 in all. 16 They set out at noon while Ben-Hadad and the 32 kings allied with him were in their tents getting drunk. 17 The young officers of the provincial commanders went out first.
Now Ben-Hadad had dispatched scouts, who reported, “Men are advancing from Samaria.”
18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive; if they have come out for war, take them alive.”
19 The young officers of the provincial commanders marched out of the city with the army behind them 20 and each one struck down his opponent. At that, the Arameans fled, with the Israelites in pursuit. But Ben-Hadad king of Aram escaped on horseback with some of his horsemen. 21 The king of Israel advanced and overpowered the horses and chariots and inflicted heavy losses on the Arameans.
22 Afterward, the prophet came to the king of Israel and said, “Strengthen your position and see what must be done, because next spring the king of Aram will attack you again.”
23 Meanwhile, the officials of the king of Aram advised him, “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. 24 Do this: Remove all the kings from their commands and replace them with other officers. 25 You must also raise an army like the one you lost—horse for horse and chariot for chariot—so we can fight Israel on the plains. Then surely we will be stronger than they.” He agreed with them and acted accordingly.
26 The next spring Ben-Hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 When the Israelites were also mustered and given provisions, they marched out to meet them. The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.
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.’ ”
29 For seven days they camped opposite each other, and on the seventh day the battle was joined. The Israelites inflicted a hundred thousand casualties on the Aramean foot soldiers in one day. 30 The rest of them escaped to the city of Aphek, where the wall collapsed on twenty-seven thousand of them. And Ben-Hadad fled to the city and hid in an inner room.
'The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them'?

A hundred thousand casualties…the wall collapsed on twenty-seven thousand of them.

These numbers seem incredibly high.  Various explanations have been suggested.

1. Supernatural event.  Older commentators tend to understand the numbers literally, and find a supernatural explanation.  With regard to the figure of 27,000, Barnes, for example, thinks that a ‘terrific earthquake’ took place.  But this is conjecture, and, in any case, still does not explain the large number of victims.

Poole says that such ‘might possibly happen through natural causes; but most probably was effected by the mighty power of God, then sending some sudden earthquake, or violent storm of wind, which threw down the wall, or walls, upon them; or doing this by the ministry of angels; which cannot be incredible to any man, except to him that denies the truth of all the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.’  Poole adds: ‘But it may be further observed, that it is not said that all these were killed by the fall of this wall; but only that the wall fell upon them, killing some, and wounding others, as is usual in those cases. Nor is it necessary that the wall should fall upon every individual person; but it is sufficient to justify this phrase, if it fell upon the main body of them.’

2. Scribal error.  Wiseman writes: ‘the “thousand” (’elep) might be revocalized without change of consonants to “officer” (’allûp). One hundred casualties a day in ancient warfare was heavy. Similarly the 27,000 killed in Aphek would include everyone in the city when the walls fell. This would remind the Israelites of the victory at Jericho (Josh. 6), otherwise the number might represent twenty-seven officers killed.’  Other scholars have thought the ‘elep might mean ‘clan’, ‘troop’ or ‘squad’.  This interpretation is favoured by J.W. Wenham, J. B. Payne, C. J. Humphries, and others.  Critics point out that this interpretation relies on the (dubious?) view that Hebrew scribes misunderstood their own language (not only here, but in a number of places in the OT where there are similarly large numbers).

3. Symbolic or fictitious interpretation.  Some modern commentators think that the number is to be taken non-literally.  Provan writes: ‘It is difficult to imagine any ancient city wall large enough to have literally collapsed on 27,000 people (v. 30). The parallel being drawn with Jericho may be playing its part in the presentation here: this was a great disaster for Israel’s enemies, Jericho-like in its proportions.’

DeVries (WBC) is evidently not interested in the text as a historical record: ‘The conclusion is highly stylized: for seven days the opposing armies face each other (cf. Josh 6:12–21); then on one single day of battle (cf. “today,” v 13) 100,000 Syrians are struck down. As though this were not sufficiently amazing, the Jehuite redactor summons Aphek’s wall (like Jericho’s?) to annihilate 27,000 more (v 30a).’

4. Hyperbole.  Proponents of this view argue that the very large numbers are consistent with the literary and historiographic conventions of the day.  According to Fouts (DOT:HB), ‘This view allows for the key term ʾlp to retain its normally understood meaning of “thousand,” thereby obviating the need to appeal to consistent scribal misunderstanding. It has the support of numerous ancient Near Eastern parallels of material of similar genre that exhibit the same numerical hyperbole. It also has the benefit of allowing the texts to continue to bear witness to actual historical events, albeit couched in literary terms intended to convey to the reader the greatness and glory of God.’

Fouts remarks: ‘The question arises as to why Israel sacrificed accurate accounting in its historical documents on the altar of literary convention by employing numerical hyperbole in the narrative accounts. The reason appears to be somewhat simple: the nations around them used numerical hyperbole to glorify a given king; the writers of Israel’s history did the same to glorify the King of kings (or one of his theocratic rulers).’

31 His officials said to him, “Look, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful. Let us go to the king of Israel with sackcloth around our waists and ropes around our heads. Perhaps he will spare your life.”
32 Wearing sackcloth around their waists and ropes around their heads, they went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-Hadad says: ‘Please let me live.’ ”
The king answered, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.”
33 The men took this as a good sign and were quick to pick up his word. “Yes, your brother Ben-Hadad!” they said.
“Go and get him,” the king said. When Ben-Hadad came out, Ahab had him come up into his chariot.
34 “I will return the cities my father took from your father,” Ben-Hadad offered. “You may set up your own market areas in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.”
Ahab said, “On the basis of a treaty I will set you free.” So he made a treaty with him, and let him go.

A Prophet Condemns Ahab, 35-43

35 By the word of the LORD one of the sons of the prophets said to his companion, “Strike me with your weapon,” but the man refused.
36 So the prophet said, “Because you have not obeyed the LORD, as soon as you leave me a lion will kill you.” And after the man went away, a lion found him and killed him.
37 The prophet found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” So the man struck him and wounded him. 38 Then the prophet went and stood by the road waiting for the king. He disguised himself with his headband down over his eyes. 39 As the king passed by, the prophet called out to him, “Your servant went into the thick of the battle, and someone came to me with a captive and said, ‘Guard this man. If he is missing, it will be your life for his life, or you must pay a talent of silver.’ 40 While your servant was busy here and there, the man disappeared.”
“That is your sentence,” the king of Israel said. “You have pronounced it yourself.”
41 Then the prophet quickly removed the headband from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 He said to the king, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’ ” 43 Sullen and angry, the king of Israel went to his palace in Samaria.