Another side of Achav


Until now, we have offered a great many details both from the text of the book of Kings as well as midrashic traditions regarding the great wickedness of King Achav (Ahab). (See, for example, here.)

We will now examine another side of Achav, and along with it, a remarkable quality of the Jewish nation.

We read in I Kings, 20:1-11:

Ben-Hadad, King of Aram, gathered all his forces, and thirty-two kings with him, and horses and chariots, and he went up and laid siege to Shomeron (Achav’s capital -ed.), and waged war upon it. He sent messengers to Achav, King of Israel, to the city.

He said to him, ‘Thus said Ben-Haded: Your silver and your gold are mine, and your goodly wives and sons are mine.’

The King of Israel answered and said, ‘As your word, my lord, the king. I am yours, and all that is mine.’

The messengers returned and said, ‘Thus said Ben-Hadad, saying: Indeed, I sent to you, saying, ‘Your silver and your gold and your wives and your sons you will give to me.’ However, when at this time tomorrow I will send my servants to you, and they will search your house, and the houses of your servants, it shall be that all the precious things of your eyes they will put in their hands and take.’ (Emphasis added.)

The King of Israel called to all the elders of the land and said, ‘Know please, and see, that this one requests an evil thing, for he has sent to me for my wives and for my sons and for my silver and for my gold, and I did not hold it back from him.’

All the elders and all the people said to him, ‘Do not obey and do not desire [to obey].’

[Achav] said to the messengers of Ben-Hadad, ‘Say to my lord, the king: [Regarding] everything that you sent to your servant at first, I will do, but this thing I cannot do.’ The messengers went and answered [Ben-Hadad] these words.

Ben-Hadad sent to him and said, ‘I swear in the name of the gods that there is not enough dust in Shomeron for the footfalls of all the men that are with me!’

The King of Israel answered (the messengers) and said, ‘Speak (to Ben-Hadad) [the following]: Do not brag before the battle as though you have already emerged victorious. (I.e. Don’t be so sure of yourself.)’

Many questions emerge from the reading of this passage, but let us focus on a few pivotal ones. We see that in view of Ben-Hadad’s obvious superiority, Achav was ready to give up his wealth and even his wives and children. Clearly, he saw his situation as desperate. But when Ben-Hadad threatens to seize “the precious things of his eyes,” Achav completely changes his attitude. He consults with the elders. He tells them he would not hold back anything from Ben-Hadad except this last request. The elders and all the people agree that Achav must refuse giving up this item. Achav suddenly grows a backbone and makes his refusal clear to Ben-Hadad, and even more remarkable, when Ben-Hadad threatens Achav with military reprisal, bragging of the mass of his army, Achav becomes so bold as to tell Ben-Hadad, essentially, “Bring it!”

What is this precious item at the center of this confrontation? What is so precious to Achav, the elders, and the entire Jewish people that they refuse to give it up at any price? Why is Achav so confident that over this item Ben-Hadad cannot defeat them?

The answer to come. Stay tuned. Please comment if you have a suggestion. Thanks!


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