Benhadad's Invasion

The internal strife between the traditional forces of Judaism and the idolatry fostered by Jezebel was soon overshadowed by the threat of war from the north. Benhadad, the king of Syria, remembering the Syrian victory over Omri, Ahab's father, and tempted by the riches of Samaria, resolved upon a great war against Israel.

Having gathered a vast army of his own, which he augmented by the armies of thirty-two neighboring chiefs whom he had tempted to share in the spoils, Benhadad besieged Samaria. Then he sent a message to King Ahab, saying, "Thy silver and thy gold are mine; thy wives and thy children are mine also!"

The weak and cowardly Ahab submitted to the humiliating demand, and sent word to appease the powerful king of Syria. But Benhadad was determined to provoke Ahab to warfare. His second message was, therefore, even more insolent than the first. He demanded to be admitted to Ahab's palace, to search it, and to take whatever he liked. Then Ahab's anger was aroused, and after consulting with the Elders of his people, he flatly rejected Benhadad's demands. When Benhadad boasted that "the dust of Samaria will not suffice for handfuls for all the men that follow me," Ahab answered defiantly: "Let him that girds on his armor not boast as if he were taking it off, his deed accomplished."

Liberation of the City

Ahab's resistance was further encouraged by a prophet of G‑d who appeared before the king and told him not to be afraid of the overwhelming superiority of the besieging troops. On that very day, the prophet promised, G‑d would deliver the enemy into his hand, so that he would recognize that G‑d is the L-rd. Inspired by this happy message, Ahab made a foray against Benhadad about noontime, when the Syrian king was lying in his hut. The army of Benhadad was taken by surprise and fled in disorder, leaving many dead and wounded on the battlefield. Benhadad himself escaped on a fast horse.

Battle in the Plains

A year later Benhadad returned, seeking revenge for his shameful defeat. This time he avoided a battle in the mountains, because his astrologers had counseled that the G‑d of Israel was strong in the mountains, and could be defeated only in the plains. The two uneven armies met in the plain of Aphek. In the face of the vast Syrian hosts, the Hebrew army appeared "like two flocks of kids." The situation seemed hopeless for the Jews. But once again, a man of G‑d came to Ahab and told him not to worry. "Because the people of Syria say I am only a G‑d of the mountain and not a G‑d of the dale, I shall deliver this large army into your hands so that you may recognize that I am the Almighty G‑d."

Ahab's Victory

For six days the armies faced each other in silence, but on the seventh day they clashed. The Syrian troops were completely vanquished. A hundred thousand Syrians were slain in battle, and Benhadad fled to the town of Aphek to rally the rest of his men and to decide what to do. His followers advised him to dress in sacks and put ashes on his head and go to King Ahab to ask for forgiveness, "For we know that the kings of Israel are merciful." Benhadad listened to their advice and humbly begged Ahab to spare his life. Ahab was moved by the humility of the mighty king of Syria. He made a treaty of mutual friendship and brotherhood with him and set him free, after he had promised to return all the cities his father had taken away from Omri, Ahab's father.