And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver. And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. And he said, If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress? ( 2 Kings 6:24-27)
Samaria, the capital of the break away Northern Kingdom of Israel, is under siege. The conditions were terrible; an Ass’s head was now highly valued, and Dove’s dung as well. People were so desperate they were forced to eat such thing, and to cook with materials that they once thought but a nuisance. Now they were gathering the dung of birds, so that they might sell it.
As the King of Israel was making a round on the walls of the besieged city, a woman cried out in desperation for help. After an exasperated and sarcastic answer, the King asked to hear her story. ( In better times, those with legal complaints would line up to plead for the mercy and justice meted out by the King as a function of his reign).
The Story is a nightmare…
And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to day, and we will eat my son to morrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son. And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes; and he passed by upon the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh.( 2 Kings 6:28-30)
How horrifying! What does sin reduce a people to? Moses once warned us of how powerful sin is to reduce anyone at all to unimaginable levels of barbarity…The fact that such a request could be made without irony, to the King, shows how deep the level of madness and depravity the besieged city had been sunken into.
The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter,And toward her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates. ( Deuteronomy 28:56-57)
And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me;Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins. And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.( Leviticus 26:27-29)
The people saw the reaction of the King, He was heartbroken and bore the tokens of repentance and brokenness before God, in his clothing.
But they were just tokens, the King had no “godly sorrow’ at all, rather he had “worldly sorrow”. He was hurt, horrified, brokenhearted, and emotionally moved at the events that had reduced his Kingdom to this level of barbarity. But He didn’t fear God, nor was he sorry for his sins, nor the sins of the nation.
Instead he was furious, at God and at the Prophet of God, Elisha. So he swore by God to kill Elisha!
Somehow he connected Elisha to the sufferings of the nation, either it was his doing, or perhaps his failure to intercede properly, but nonetheless less all of the rage, fury and impotent frustration of the King was now aimed at Elisha.
Then he said, God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.( 2 Kings 6:31)
Elisha had been sitting with the elders of the city, perhaps they had wanted to be with him for some kind of consolation or a Word from the LORD for better things, or perhaps they were all praying. It could even be that they were repenting, before God and in the city gates. The LORD showed Elisha that someone from the King had been sent to arrest Him.
But Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him; and the king sent a man from before him: but ere the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, See ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head? look, when the messenger cometh, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door: is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him? And while he yet talked with them, behold, the messenger came down unto him: and he said, Behold, this evil is of the Lord; what should I wait for the Lord any longer?( 2 Kings 6:32-33)
But when things couldn’t get any blacker , a shaft of light penetrates the gloom. Elisha gives a prophecy that food would become abundant again and prices would return to normal by the next day. Our God is the God of the gospel.
Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.( 2 Kings 7:1)
What is the deeper meaning of this suffering, and then the promise of a sudden reversal by the mercy of God? God had been dealing with the nation. He wanted to give them another chance to repent, and to know that deliverance from their enemies would be a slight thing with Him, that if they would humbly turn to Him and allow him, he would reverse their fortunes in no time at all. Israel, even in the depths of her apostasy, had no excuse, for she had seen time and again, the enactment of the twofold message that “all things are possible with God” and that the “Lord is good, slow to anger and abounding with mercies”.
One of the King’s officers standing there, retorted with unbelief and sarcasm,
Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof. ( 2 Kings 7:2)
Unbelief is a direct attack on the faith of God’s people, therefore it was met immediately with the sternest rebuke.”You will see it, but not taste it!”.
That particular official would be trampled to death the next day, in the rush of the people to access the food left behind in the deserted enemy camp.
God uses the foolish and weak things of the world to confound the powerful and ‘wise’.
Four lepers, sitting outside the gates of the city, between Samaria and the Syrian camp. Normally the Samaritans would have showed some compassion, sending food out to the four lepers, but their own situation in the siege had greatly curtailed such benevolence.
Thus the lepers reasoned among themselves that they had nothing to lose, either they would starve to death outside the city, or they could give the Syrian war camp a shot, perhaps they would be fed there. But to their amazement, when they arrived at the camp of the Syrians, not a man was there. For the Syrians had fled, and left all of their siege supplies, including food, in place in the camp.
For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us. Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life. And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it. Then they said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us: now therefore ( 2 Kings 7:6-9)
The lepers were the first to hear, see and taste the good news! The last were made first! They gorged, and plundered and buried and hid their plunder until conscience smote them. They shouldn’t keep the gospel to themselves, they needed to share it with the city.
In spite of Elisha’s prophecy the King of Israel is still paralyzed by paranoia and fear. His unbelief makes him unable at first to hear and believe the good news. Eventually he sends out riders and they find that it is true, as the lepers reported.
The markets are set up in the city gates and food prices go right back to normal, all within a day, Just as Elisha predicted. God has shown grace to Israel. But Judgement also broke out on them who refused to believe, also as prophesied by the prophet Elisha,
And the king appointed the lord on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate: and the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died, as the man of God had said, who spake when the king came down to him.And it came to pass as the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, Two measures of barley for a shekel, and a measure of fine flour for a shekel, shall be to morrow about this time in the gate of Samaria: And that lord answered the man of God, and said, Now, behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof. And so it fell out unto him: for the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died. ( 2 Kings 7)
Would it be grace or Judgment? The nation had tottered between the two for more than a century, and certainly throughout the amazing ministries of Elijah and Elisha. The time for ultimate choosing was drawing nigh. The choice would be made in the face of such incredible manifestations of Grace, as well as in sight of terrifying demonstrations of Divine judgement as well.