I recently published a piece describing how King Achav (Ahab) of Israel captured his enemy, Ben-Hadad, the King of Aram, and was ordered by the prophet to kill him, but preferred to be merciful, and let Ben-Hadad free. The prophet censures Achav for this, and tells him he and his nation will suffer for this misstep.
Indeed, in the following chapters, we find Ben-Hadad again and again breaking his promises of peaceful brotherhood with Israel (which he offered to Achav in exchange for his life), mounting numerous war campagns against Israel. Achav is killed in one of these wars, after which his son becomes king.
In another incident of Aram mounting a war against Israel in II Kings, Ch. 6, the secret position of Aram’s army is exposed to the King of Israel by the prophet Elisha. Finding out about this, Ben-Hadad orders that Elisha be found and captured. In the attempt, Elisha puts the Aramean army under a trance and leads them straight into the city of Shomeron where the entire army is captured by the King of Israel.
This time, the King of Israel asks Elisha, “Shall I strike, my master?”
Based on the prior incident, in which King Achav was rebuked for not destroying his enemy when given the chance, one would think that this time the King of Israel had asked appropriately and would be granted permission to dispose of his enemy, thus securing safety for his people. In that light, Elisha’s answer is puzzling:
Do not strike. Do you strike the one you have taken captive by your sword and by your bow? Put bread and water before them, let them eat and drink and return to their master!
Suddenly the message of the prophet is one of mercy! What changed? Why is this situation different? Indeed we will find that just as before, the enemies are allowed to escape, and this once again becomes a prelude to another invasion from Aram later on. Why did Elisha instruct the king to let the enemy go?
I have a few thoughts but I’m not entirely certain. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!