“Wearing sackcloth around their waists and ropes around their heads, they went to the king of Israel…” 1 Kings 20:32
Ben-Hadad, king of the Arameans, was pompous and full of confidence that he would succeed in defeating the Israelites, for his troops were well-equipped after a year-long preparation for the campaign. Not only had he replaced all the kings that participated in the previous battle, he had also taken the spiritual element into consideration by deciding to fight the war on the plains, because he thought the God of Israel was the God of hills.
Despite all the king had done, the end result was the same as before. Ben-Hadad suffered a disastrous defeat, in which he lost most of his troops and found himself running for his life. After all hope was lost, the king was at the mercy of Ahab.
What could the king have done except to do what was necessary to save his hide? Gone was his powerful kingdom and vanished was his arrogance and confidence; his life was hanging by a thread.
What else could the man rely on in such a critical moment? He couldn’t have summoned his generals and his troops to protect him for all of them had perished. His gods remained deathly silent and he couldn’t even muster enough faith to utter a prayer to them. The mercy of Ahab remained his only hope of survival and he would have done anything to appease the king of Israel.
O how the tables had turned! A mere year before, Ahab was willing to give up his wives and children to appease Ben-Hadad, yet now it was the Aramean king who was pleading for his life. “Wearing sackcloth around their waists and ropes around their heads, they went to the king of Israel,” we read.
No one can afford to be arrogant when they face the distinct possibility of death, be they king or queens, tyrants or peasants. Death makes cowards of us all. “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Indeed no one can extend his life for a single second, even with an entire world, if it’s the time for him to go.
Ben-Hadad did what was his last resort - he did what he could to show his humbleness to persuade Ahab to show mercy and to spare his life. This might have been a cause for celebration, but in only a matter of years he would encounter the same situation and that would be the end of him.
Prolonging our earthly days isn’t the ultimate solution for us at all, for we will find ourselves facing the same dilemma years later. Therefore, instead of humbling ourselves before men and seeking for their help, we might as well bow down before God and ask for real healing and the true life that comes with it.
Ben-Hadad’s life was spared temporarily out of Ahab’s mercy, but his life would eventually be destroyed eternally, for he failed to plead for mercy before the Almighty.