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2 Kings 7:1-20
THE SIEGE OF SAMARIA (continued): THE DELIVERANCE.
2 Kings 7:1, 2 Kings 7:2
The separation of these verses from the preceding narrative is most unfortunate. They are an integral part of it, and form its climax. In answer to the king's attempt upon his life, and hasty speech in which he has threatened to renounce Jehovah, Elisha is commissioned to proclaim that the siege is on the point of terminating, the famine about to be within twenty-four hours succeeded by a time of plenty. There is thus no reason for the king's despair or anger.
2 Kings 7:1
Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord. This was a very solemn exordium, well calculated to arrest attention. It must be remembered that the prophet's life was trembling in the balance. The executioner was present; the king had not revoked his order; the elders would probably have suffered the king to work his will. All depended on Elisha, by half a dozen words, changing the king's mind. He therefore announces a Divine oracle. Thus saith the Lord, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure—literally, a seah—of fine flour be sold for a shekel. The "seah" was probably about equal to a peck and a half English, the shekel of the time to about half a crown. Thus no extraordinary cheapness is promised, but only an enormous fall in prices from the rate current at the moment (2Ki 7:1-20 :25). Such a fall implied, almost necessarily, the discontinuance of the siege. Jehoram appears to have accepted the prophet's solemn asseveration, and on the strength of it to have spared his life, at any rate till the result should be seen. And two measures—literally, seahs—of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. The gates, or rather gateways, of Oriental towns were spacious places, where business of various kinds was transacted. One at Nineveh had an area of above two thousand five hundred square feet. Kings often held their courts of justice in the city gates. On this occasion one of the gates of Samaria seems to have been used as a corn-market.
2 Kings 7:2
Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned; rather, the lord, or the captain, as the word שׁלישׁ is commonly translated (Exodus 14:7; Exo 15:4; 2 Samuel 23:8; 1 Kings 9:22; 2Ki 9:25; 2 Kings 10:25; 2 Kings 15:25; 1 Chronicles 11:11; 1 Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 8:9). (For the habit of kings to lean on the hand of an attendant, see above, 2 Kings 5:18.) Answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? The king makes no reply; he waits for the result. But the officer on whose arm he leans is not so reticent. Utterly incredulous, he expresses his incredulity in a scoffing way: "Could this possibly be, even if God were to 'make windows in heaven,' as he did at the time of the Flood (Genesis 7:11), and pour through them, instead of rain, as then, a continual shower of fine meal and corn?" Disbelief is expressed, not only in the prophetic veracity of Elisha, but in the power of God. Hence Elisha's stern reply. And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof. At once a threat and a warning. If the thing was to be, and the lord to see it and yet not profit by it, the only reasonable conclusion was that his death was imminent. He was thus warned, and given time to "set his house in order," and to repent and make his peace with the Almighty. Whether he took advantage of the warning, or even understood it, we are not told.
2 Kings 7:3-16
The mode in which Elisha's prophecy of relief and deliverance was fulfilled is now set forth. Four lepers, excluded from the city, and on the point of perishing of hunger, felt that they could be no worse off, and might better their condition, if they deserted to the Syrians. They therefore drew off from the city at nightfall, and made for the Syrian camp. On arriving, they found it deserted. The entire host, seized with a sudden panic, had fled, about the time that they began their journey. The lepers' first thought was to enrich themselves by plunder, but after a while it occurred to them that, unless they hastened to carry the good news to Samaria, inquiry would be made, their proceedings would be found out, and they would be severely punished. So they returned to the capital, and reported what they had discovered. Jehoram, on receiving the news, feared that the Syrians had prepared a trap for him, and declined to move. He consented, however, to send out scouts to reconnoiter. The scouts found evident proof that the entire army had actually fled and was gone, whereupon there was a general raid upon the camp and its stores, which were so abundant that Elisha's prophecy was fulfilled ere the day ended.
2 Kings 7:3
And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate; or, at the entrance to the gate-house. Lepers were forbidden by the Law to reside within cities (Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:3). They were thrust out when the disease developed itself, and forced to dwell without the walls. No doubt their friends within the city ordinarily supplied them with food; and hence they congregated about the city gates. And they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die? In the extreme scarcity, it is probable that no food was brought to them, the inmates of the city having barely enough wherewith to sustain themselves (2 Kings 6:25). Thus they were on the point of perishing.
2 Kings 7:4
If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. The lepers were certainly not at liberty to enter the city when they pleased; but perhaps they might have managed, in one way or another, to return within the walls. They ask themselves, however, "Cut bone?" What will he the use of it? The famine is inside the town no less than outside. If they entered the city, by hook or by crook, it would only be to "die there" And if we sit still here, we die also; rather, if we remain here, or, if we dwell here. Lepers, excluded from a city, are in the habit of building themselves huts near the gateways. "The lepers of Jerusalem, at the present day, have their tents by the side of the Zion gate" (Keil, ad loc.). If the leprous men remained where they were, death stared them in the face equally. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians. Let us, i.e; fall away from our own side, desert them, and go over to the enemy. If they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die; i.e. we cannot be worse off than we are, even if they kill us; while it may be that they will be more merciful, and let us live.
2 Kings 7:5
And they rose up in the twilight. Most certainly in the evening twilight, as soon as the sun was down (see 2 Kings 7:9). Had they set off in the daytime, the garrison would have shot at them from the walls. To go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part—i.e. the most advanced part, that which was nearest to Samaria—of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there. The camp was empty, deserted. Not a soul was anywhere to be seen.
2 Kings 7:6
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. קוֹל, voice, is used for noises of any kind (see Exodus 20:18; Psalms 42:7; Psalms 93:4; Jeremiah 47:3; Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 3:13; Joel 2:5; Nahum 3:2), though generally for those in which the human voice preponderated. A noise like that of chariots and of horses and of a great host (צַאילִ גָדוֹל) was borne in upon the ears of the Syrians about nightfall of the day on which Jehoram had determined to put Elisha to death; and, as they expected no reinforcements, they naturally concluded that succor had arrived to help their enemy. How the noise was produced it is impossible to say. Na-rural causes are insufficient; and the writer evidently regards the event as miraculous: "The Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise," etc. Nothing can be more weak and irrelevant than to remark, with Bahr," There are instances, even nowadays, that people in certain mountainous regions regard a rushing and roaring sound, such as is sometimes heard there, as a sign of coming war." The Syrians thought they heard the actual arrival of a vast army. And they said one to another, Lo, the King of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites. This supposition has been thought "strange," almost inexplicable. "No such nation as the Hittites any longer existed," says Mr. Sumner. But the Assyrian records of the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. make it evident, not only that the Hittites still existed at that date, but that they were among the most powerful enemies of the Ninevite kings, being located in Northern Syria, about Carchemish (Jerabus) and the adjacent country. It is also apparent that they did not form a centralized monarchy, but were governed by a number of chiefs, or "kings," twelve of whom are mentioned in one place. It was no very improbable supposition on the part of the Syrians that Jehoram had called in the aid of the Hittite confederacy, and that they had marched an army to his assistance. And the kings of the Egyptians. "The plural, kings of the Egyptians," says Keil, "is not to be pressed. It is probably occasioned only by the parallel expression,' kings of the Hittites.'" But Egyptian history shows us that about this date Egypt was becoming disintegrated, and that two or three distinct dynasties were sometimes ruling at the same time, in different parts of the country—one at Bubastis another at Thebes, a third at Tanis, occasionally a fourth at Memphis. The writer thus shows a knowledge of the internal condition of Egypt which we should not have expected. To come upon us; i.e. to fall upon us from the north and from the south at the same time. In their panic, the Syrians did not stop to weigh probabilities, or to think how unlikely it was that such a simultaneous attack could have been arranged between powers so remote one from the other.
2 Kings 7:7
Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight. At the very time when the lepers were drawing off from the gate of Samaria to fall away to them (see 2 Kings 7:5). And left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was. Partly, perhaps, in mere panic; partly to induce a belief on the part of the enemy that they had not quitted their camp. So Darius Hystaspis, when he began his retreat from Scythia (Herod; 4.135), left his camp standing, and the camp fires lighted, and the asses tethered (see 2 Kings 7:10), that the Scythians, seeing the tents and hearing the noise of the animals, might be fully persuaded that his troops were still in the same place. Asses were the chief baggage-animals in many ancient armies. And fled for their life. Thinking that, if they waited till dawn, the Israelite allies, Hittites and Egyptians, would exterminate them.
2 Kings 7:8
And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp. The narrative, begun in 2 Kings 7:3, is here taken up from the point where it was broken off in 2 Kings 7:5, and the phrase there used is repeated, to mark the connection. They went into one tent, and did eat and drink. The first necessity was to satisfy the cravings of their appetite, as they were well-nigh starving. Then their covetousness was excited by the riches exposed to view in the tent. And carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment. Oriental armies carried with them vast quantities of the precious metals, in the shape of gold and silver vases, goblets, dishes, as well as in collars, chains, furniture, and trappings. Herodotus says (ix. 80) that, when the camp of Mardonius at Plataea fell into the hands of the Greeks, there were found in it "many tents richly adorned with furniture of gold and silver, many couches covered with plates of the same, and many golden bowls, goblets, and other drinking-vessels. On the carriages were bags containing gold and silver kettles; and the bodies of the slain furnished bracelets and chains, and scimitars with golden ornaments—not to mention era-broidered apparel, of which no one made any account." The camp of the Syrians would scarcely have been so richly provided; but still it contained, no doubt, a large amount of very valuable plunder. And went and hid it. The lepers had no right to the pick of the spoil. It belonged to the nation, and it was probably the king's right to apportion it. The lepers had to conceal what they appropriated, lest it should he taken from them. And came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it. Plundering thus probably, not two tents only, but several. At last, either covetousness was satiated or conscience awoke.
2 Kings 7:9
Then they said one to another, We do not well. It was a tardy recognition of what their duty required of them. As Grotius says, "Officium civium est ea indicate, quae ad salutem publicam pertinent." Their fellow-countrymen in the city of Samaria were perishing of hunger, mothers eating their children, and the like, while they employed hour after hour in collecting and hiding away their booty. They ought, as soon as they had satisfied their hunger, to have hurried back to the city and spread the good news. This day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace; i.e. we keep silence, and do not proclaim them, as we ought. If we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us; rather, punishment will fall on us; we shall suffer for what we have done—a very reasonable supposition. Now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household. The "king's household" means the court, the medium through which the king was ordinarily approached.
2 Kings 7:10
So they came and called unto the porter of the city; i.e. to the guard of the gate nearest them. The word שֹׂעַד, "porter," or "gate-man," is used collectively. And they told them, saying, We came to the camp of the Syrians, and, behold, there was no man there, neither voice of man, but horses tied, and asses tied, and the tents as they were. The horses and asses within a camp were always "tied," or tethered, as we see from the monumental representations of Egyptian camps, and also learn from historians (Herod; 4:135). It is somewhat surprising that the horses were left behind, as they would have expedited the flight had they been saddled and mounted. But this was, perhaps, overlooked in the panic.
2 Kings 7:11
And he called the porters; and they told it to the king's house within; rather, and the porters (or, gate-keepers) called out and told it, etc. יִקְרָא may be a plural before its subject; or the true reading may be יִקְרְאוּ, which is found in some manuscripts.
2 Kings 7:12
And the king arose in the night, and said unto his servants, I will now show you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we be hungry; therefore are they gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the field. Jehoram, knowing of no reason for the flight of the Syrians, suspected a not uncommon stratagem. He supposed that the enemy had merely gone a little way from their camp, and placed themselves in ambush, ready to take ad- vantage of any rash movement which the Israelites might make. So Cyrus is said to have entrapped and slaughtered Spargapises, the son of Tomyris, together with a large detachment, in his last war against the Massagetae (Herod; 1.211). His supposition was not unreasonable. Saying, When they come out of the city, we shall catch them alive, and get into the city. A double advantage might be expected to follow—those who quitted the town to plunder the camp would be surrounded and made prisoners, while the town itself, left without defenders, would be captured. Compare the capture of Ai by Joshua (Joshua 8:3-19), when the chief part of the garrison had been enticed out of it.
2 Kings 7:13
And one of his servants answered and said, Let some take, I pray thee, five of the horses that remain. One of Jehoram's "servants," i.e. of the officers attached to his person, suggested that a small body of horse (four or five) should be sent out to reconnoiter. The besieged had still some horses left, though apparently not many. Note the phrase, "five of the horses that remain." The majority had died of want, or been killed to furnish food to the garrison. (Behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it—i.e. in Samaria—behold, I say, they are even as all the multitude of the Israelites that are consumed); i.e. they will run no more risk than the other troops who remain in the city, for these, too, "are consumed," i.e. are on the point of perishing. Supposing that they fall into the enemy's hands, it will go no harder with them than with the "multitude" which is on the point of starvation. And let us send and see. We can do nothing until we know whether the siege is really raised, or whether the pretended withdrawal is a mere ruse. We must send and have this matter made clear.
2 Kings 7:14
They took therefore two chariot horses; literally, two chariots of horses; i.e. two chariots, with the accustomed number of horses, which (with the Israelites) was two, though with the Assyrians and Egyptians it was frequently three. The employment of chariots instead of horsemen is remarkable, and seems to indicate that with the Israelites, as with the Egyptians, the chariot force was regarded as superior to the cavalry for practical purposes. And the king sent after the host of the Syrians, saying, Go and see. The advice of the king's "servant" was taken; a couple of chariots were sent out to reconnoiter.
2 Kings 7:15
And they went after them unto Jordan. The charioteers, finding the camp really empty, discovering no ambush, and coming upon abundant signs of a hasty and perturbed flight, followed upon the track of the fugitives until they reached the Jordan, probably in the vicinity of Beth-shah, which lay on the ordinary route between Samaria and Damascus. Convinced by what they saw that the Syrians had really withdrawn into their own country, they pursued no further, but returned to Samaria. And, lo, all the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste. Cloaks, shawls, shields, and even swords and spears, would be cast away as impedimenta—hindrances to a rapid flight.
These strewed the line of the retreating army's march. And the messengers returned, and told the king. Gave a full and complete account of what they had seen.
2 Kings 7:16
And the people went out, and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. The whole population of Samaria, with one accord, quitted the town, and flung themselves upon the spoil—the rich garments, the gold and silver vessels, the horses and asses, of which mention had been made previously (2 Kings 7:8-10). At the same time, no doubt, they feasted on the abundant dainties which they found in the tents. Having satisfied their immediate wants, they proceeded to lay in a store of corn for future use, and crowded tumultuously into the gate, where the corn found in the camp was being sold. So a measure of fine flour; rather, and a measure, etc.—was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord (see 2 Kings 7:1).
2 Kings 7:17
And the king appointed the lord on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate. Anticipating disorder, unless special care were taken, through the probable eagerness of the people to purchase the corn which was offered to them at so moderate a rate, Jehoram appointed the officer on whose arm he had leant when he visited the house of Elisha (see 2 Kings 7:2), to have the charge of the gate, and preside over the sale. Probably there was no thought of the post being one of danger. And the people trod upon him in the gate, and he died. It has been questioned whether the death was accidental (Bahr), and suggested that the eager and famished people resisted his authority, and violently bore down his attempts to control them. But there is nothing in the text that is incompatible with an accidental death. Such deaths ate not uncommon in dense crowds of anxious and excited people. As the man of God had said, who spake when the king came down to him. The varieties of reading here do not affect the general sense. The writer's intention is to lay special stress on the fulfillment of Elisha's prophecy; and to emphasize the punishment that follows on a lack of faith. The concluding passage of the chapter is, as Bahr says, "a finger of warning to unbelievers."
2 Kings 7:18
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 tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria. The otiose repetition of almost the whole of 2 Kings 7:1 can only be explained as a mode of emphasizing, and so impressing upon the reader two main points:
(1) Elisha's prophetic powers; and
(2) the dreadful consequences that follow on scornful rejection of a message from God (see the comment on 2 Kings 7:2).
2 Kings 7:19
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, hut shalt not eat thereof (see the comment on the preceding verse).
2 Kings 7:20
And so it fell out unto him; i.e. the prophecy was exactly fulfilled. The lord, being appointed to keep order in the gate where the corn was sold, "saw with his eyes" (2 Kings 7:2) the wonderful fall of prices within the short space of twenty-four hours, which Elisha had prophesied; hut "did not eat thereof"—did not, in his own person, obtain any benefit from the sudden plenty, since he perished before he could profit by it. For the people trod upon him in the gate, and he died (see the comment on 2 Kings 7:17).
2 Kings 7:1, 2 Kings 7:2, and 2 Kings 7:17-20
The sin of the scoffer, and its punishment.
Unbelief may be involuntary, and so neither incur guilt nor deserve punishment. St. Paul "obtained mercy" notwithstanding his bitter persecution of the, early Christians, "because he did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Timothy 1:13). Modem skeptics are, no doubt, in many cases unable to believe, their eyes being blinded through their education, through ingrained prejudice or invincible ignorance. But to scoff at religion must be at all times a voluntary act; and it is an act, which Holy Scripture views as in the highest degree blamable. In the instance here recorded, where Elisha, rising up in all the majesty of God's prophet, and addressing himself to king, nobles, and elders, solemnly required them to "hear the word of Jehovah," and then proclaimed with a voice of authority the raising of the siege and the speedy conversion of the existing scarcity into abundance, it indicated extreme effrontery and contempt for holy things, to take the word, when the king himself was silent, and utter a scoff, questioning the power as well as the truthfulness of God. The "lord" was clearly puffed up with a high opinion of his own wisdom, enlightenment, and knowledge of the world and its ways, and perceiving no probability of the change prophesied, of which there was indeed at the time no sign, thought himself entitled, not only to disbelieve the announcement, but to pour contempt upon it. "It is too often the case that high-born and apparently well-bred men, at court, take pleasure in mockeries of the Word of God and of its declarations, without reflecting that they thereby bear testimony to their own inner rudeness, vulgarity, and want of breeding" (Bahr). They think it a proof of their own cleverness and superiority to superstitious terrors, to mock and ridicule what they know to be reverenced by others. For the most part God allows them to escape punishment in this world, but now and then he signally vindicates his honor in the sight of all, by a manifest judgment upon the scoffers. An Elymas the sorcerer is struck blind (Acts 13:11) suddenly, an Arius perishes in the dead of night, or an Israelite "lord" suffers the penalty due to his rash words by being "trampled underfoot." God can at any time "arise to judgment," and "reward the proud after their deserving." Let men see to it that they provoke him not by "speaking unadvisedly with their lips." If they cannot receive his Word and hold fast his truth, let them at least "keep still silence," refrain themselves, and not draw down his vengeance upon them by profane scoffs and idle jesting.
2 Kings 7:3-15
The plenitude of God's power to deliver from the extremist dangers.
It is impossible to conceive a peril greater than that of Samaria at this time. The Syrians were masters of all the open country. They had for months surrounded the town and strictly blockaded it. The store of provisions within the walls was almost wholly exhausted, and there was no possibility of obtaining a supply from without. Jehoram had no ally who could be expected to come to his aid. Human wisdom, as personified in the "lord on whose hand the king leaned," might well view the end as certain, not seeing from what quarter deliverance could possibly come. But man's extremity is God's opportunity. With God nothing is impossible. Nothing is even hard. He has a thousand resources. He can send forth his angel into a camp at nightfall, and in the morning they shall be "all dead men" (2 Kings 19:35). He can make brothers-in-arms to fall out, and turn their swords one against another (2 Chronicles 20:23). He can send a soundless panic upon the largest and best-appointed host, and cause them to flee away and disappear, "like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor." He can make two men, like Jonathan and his armor-bearer (1 Samuel 14:6-16), victorious over a multitude. "A thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one," if God so wills it. Panic he can cause in a hundred ways. "It is only necessary that in the darkness a wind should blow, or that water should splash in free course, or that an echo should resound from the mountains, or that the wind should rustle the dry leaves, to terrify the godless, so that they flee as if pursued by a sword, and fall though no one pursues them" (Leviticus 26:36). In the present case, the Syrians heard a sound, how caused we know not, and instantly imagined that a danger threatened them, which could only be escaped by immediate flight. Israel had hired against them, they thought, two armies, one of Egyptians and the other of Hittites; the armies had arrived, and would fall upon them at dawn of day. So they hastily fled in the darkness, casting away arms and vessels and garments as they went (2 Kings 7:15), and leaving behind them their camp standing, with all its stores intact, its flour and barley, its gold and silver, its rich raiment, its war-horses and beasts of burden. The Samaritans were called upon to do nothing—they had but to "stand still, and see the salvation of God" (Exodus 15:13). In one day, without any exertion of their own, their deliverance was complete. And so it is with God always.
I. GOD HAS POWER TO DELIVER FROM ALL EARTHLY PERILS. In an hour, in a moment, if he pleases, God has power to deliver:
1. From disease. He can cleanse the leper; give sight to the blind; heal malignant ulcers; infuse strength and vigor into the palsied; make plague, or fever, or any other mortal sickness to pass away.
2. From poverty. He can cause the poorest man to find a treasure, or put it into the heart of a rich man to leave him one, or so bless his little store that it becomes abundance (2 Kings 4:1-7), or give him favor in the sight of a monarch (Est 7:6 -11), or put the wealth of thousands at his disposal (Acts 4:34-37).
3. From oppression. He can destroy or cast down the oppressor, cut him off suddenly, release his victims, break the chains from off their neck, "lift them up out of the mire, and set them with the princes of his people."
4. From shame. He can raise from the dungeon to the palace (Genesis 41:14; Daniel 6:23-28); can make men ready to worship one whom a moment before they denounced as a murderer (Acts 28:3-6); can "set on thrones" those who have been treated as "the offscouring of all things" (1 Corinthians 4:14).
II. GOD HAS ALSO POWER TO DELIVER FROM SPIRITUAL PERILS.
1. He can preserve from the power of Satan, "deliver from the evil one," quench all his fiery darts, abate his pride, rescue men from his dominion when they seem on the point of submitting to it.
2. He can deliver from the guilt of sin; can accept atonement; can put away men's sins from them, so that, "though they were as scarlet, they shall become white as snow; though they were red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).
3. And he can deliver from the power of sin. He can "strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees" (Isaiah 35:3), can take away the evil out of men's hearts, and put his Holy Spirit within them; can enable them to resist the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; can make of them "new creatures" God, and God alone, can do this; and to him we must look for this deliverance; to him we must pray for this deliverance; to him, when we have obtained it, we must be eternally grateful for this deliverance. "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable Gift!"
2 Kings 7:4-11
Afflictions may alienate men from God instead of bringing them dear to him.
This truth is remarkably exemplified in the conduct and reasonings of the lepers. Here are four poor men, severely afflicted by a malady which was reckoned to come, more directly than most others, from God's hand, whom we should have expected to find humbled and softened by it, more God-fearing, more tender and compassionate towards their fellow-men, than the generality. But the reverse is the case with them. Instead of submitting themselves to God in their wretchedness, and hanging upon him, and looking to him for succor, they are sunk in a dull discontent, well nigh reckless and desperate. It is scarcely possible that they had not heard how Elisha preached a miraculous deliverance, and urged the king not to surrender the city, but "wait for Jehovah" (2 Kings 6:33). Yet of deliverance they have not the slightest expectation; they are as unbelieving as the proud "lord" of the court; if they remain with their countrymen, they hold that they must certainly die. So they resolve not to remain, but to go over to the enemy. No feeling of shame restrains them—it does not seem even to occur to them that there is any disgrace in desertion. They are impelled by motives which are purely egoistic—what is their best chance? Whether their countrymen will be damaged by its becoming known that they have now no food for their lepers, they either do not inquire or they do not care. What weighs with them is that, if they go over, they may possibly save their wretched lives; if they do not, they have, they think, no chance at all. It may be said that "self-preservation is the first law of nature;" but not self-preservation at all costs. Death is preferable to dishonor. The lepers take their departure, and reach the Syrian camp. Hero an extraordinary surprise befalls them; the camp, which they had expected to be full of Syrian soldiery, is empty—there is not a man left in it (2 Kings 7:5). All its wealth, all its stores, are open to the first comer. How do the lepers act under these strange circumstances? Again in a purely selfish spirit. That they should fall upon the food, and "eat and drink" (2 Kings 7:8), was natural, and no one will blame them so far, though it would have been nobler to have at once hurried back, and proclaimed the glad tidings to the famished city. But, having satiated their appetites, they are not content. Covetousness is stirred up by what meets their gaze, and they must proceed to enrich themselves by carrying off and securing a quantity of objects in silver and gold (2 Kings 7:8). When doubt begins to stir in their minds as to the propriety of this proceeding, it is not conscience that awakens, or regard for their fellow-citizens that moves them, but mere consideration for their own interests—" If we tarry till the morning light, we shall find punishment" (marginal rendering). Thus, from first to last, the lepers are an example of mean and groveling selfishness—such selfishness as poverty too often engenders, as misfortune intensifies, and to which the sense of belonging to a despised class lends a peculiar bitterness. Their calamities have in no way brought the lepers near to God, or induced them to cast their care upon him, but have hardened and brutalized them. We may learn from this—
I. THAT, THOUGH AFFLICTIONS ARE SENT FOR OUR GOOD, WE SHALL GET NO GOOD FROM THEM UNLESS WE RECEIVE THEM IN A RIGHT SPIRIT i.e. submissively, resignedly, even gratefully, as intended to benefit us.
II. THAT, IF WE EXTRACT NOT FROM THEM THE SWEET USES FOR WHICH THEY WERE MEANT, WE SHALL BE APT TO GET FROM THEM IRREPARABLE HARM—the irreparable harm of a lowering of our moral tone, and an alienation of our souls from their Creator.
2 Kings 7:12-15
Humanly speaking, Jehoram's distrust of the report of the lepers was not unreasonable. Such a stratagem as that which he suspected was often practiced in the wars of the ancient world, with great advantage to one side and great loss to the other. But his distrust, though not unreasonable, was unseasonable from the point of view of faith and belief in God. Elisha having just announced such an inversion of the actual state of things as could only be brought about in an extraordinary way, the occurrence of something extraordinary was to be expected. Jehoram ought to have been on the look out for some strange intelligence; and that which the lepers brought him was in such complete accordance with the tenor of Elisha's prophecy, that a very moderate degree of faith would have sufficed to make him receive it gladly, joyfully, and without any mistrust. He would then have shortened the sufferings of his people by a day, which must have been lost by the dispatch of the two chariots to reconnoiter; and he might, perhaps, have saved the life of his "lord," whose dreadful death may have been caused by the impatience of a famished multitude too long restrained from sallying forth. Men are apt to be mistrustful; and it is generally just at the wrong time. They are sanguine and over-confident when it would have been well to suspect, suspicious and over-circumspect when there is no need of doubt or circumspection. God calls them to the kingdom that he has prepared for men, and bids them "come, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Isaiah 55:1); and they hang back, hesitate, delay, as if they were about to be entrapped. A bold impostor invites them to adopt his shibboleth, and trust in it for salvation—they listen eagerly, hang on his words, are persuaded, and join the Mormons or the Peculiar People. Rash youth boasts as it girds on its armor, and looks for an easy victory over sin and Satan, over the world, the flesh, and the devil. Timid old age faints and is weary, and despairs of winning through and "persevering to the end," though God has brought it so far upon its way. It is well to mistrust one's self; it is faithless to mistrust God. He who has borne us up hitherto on eagles' wings will still bear us up. He "fainteth not, neither is weary." He "will not leave us, nor forsake us."
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 7:1, 2 Kings 7:2, with 12-20
The unbelieving lord.
Elisha interrupts the king's evil design by a prediction of plenty in Samaria. His mention of a fixed time doubtless induced the king to wait until he should see if the prophecy was fulfilled. "Thus saith the Lord, Tomorrow 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." It was a bold statement to make, for there was no human likelihood of its fulfillment. If the next day had proved Elisha to be a deceiver, no doubt he would have been torn limb from limb by the infuriated and hungry populace. But Elisha makes not the state-inert on his own authority, but uses the words, "Thus saith the Lord." One of the king's principal courtiers, on whose arm he leaned, could not conceal his scorn and incredulity. "Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?" Observe, his statement is not "If the Lord would make windows in heaven, this thing might be." He doesn't even admit that. It is a question expressing entire impossibility. "Even if the Lord would open windows in heaven, is it at all likely that such a thing as this would happen?" But what seemed impossible to him was possible with God. The prophet warned him that he would suffer for his unbelief. "Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof." As it was predicted, so it came to pass. During the night, the Lord caused the Syrian army to hear a great noise, like the noise of horses and chariots and a mighty host, and they fled in terror, leaving their camp with all their possessions and provisions behind them. Four lepers, going out of the city in the evening twilight, discovered the deserted camp. They brought back the news to the beleaguered city. At first, a stratagem was feared; but by-and-by in wild eagerness for food and plunder, the famished citizens rushed forth. The unhappy lord, who had doubted the prophet's message and the promise of God himself, was trodden upon at the gate and died. From this striking and tragic story we may learn—
I. UNBELIEF MAY HAVE REASON, APPARENTLY, ON ITS SIDE. This courtier might have given many plausible reasons for doubting the prophet's message.
1. He might have disputed the prophet's right to speak in the name of God at all. He might have said, "How do I know that this man is speaking the truth?" though even there Elisha had already given pretty tangible proof of his credibility and trustworthiness. The faithful minister of Christ need not mind the sneers of men, provided God has owned his work, and set his heavenly seal upon his ministry.
2. Or he might have said, "The thing is utterly incredible. It is utterly impossible. Where is flour to come from in such plenty as to supply this whole city of Samaria? There has been a besieging army around our walls for many days. They have desolated and plundered the country round about. Where is the food to come from, even if there was any one to bring it to us? And we know of no friendly army that is coming to raise the siege or cut its way through the serried ranks of the Syrians." All these would have been very natural thoughts to pass through that courtier's mind. No doubt they were the very reasons, or some of them, which led him to disbelieve Elisha's message. Probably, if he had stated his reasons to the people, he would have got a hundred to agree with him for every one who believed Elisha. No doubt they all looked upon Elisha as a fanatic and an enthusiast. They, to all appearance, had common sense, had reason on their side. And yet it turned out to be one of those many cases in which "God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the mighty." Unbelief can be very plausible. Unbelief nearly always appears to have reason on its side. There is not a doctrine of the Bible against which the most plausible arguments might not, and have not, been advanced. Even Scripture itself can be quoted in support of unbelief and sin. "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." Good arguments are not necessarily a proof of the truth or justice of a case. This needs to be remembered in an age when many arguments are urged against the truth of Christianity. What plausible reasons have been urged against the main truths of the Christian religion! Take the Deity of Christ, for example. How plausible are the arguments which human reason can bring forward against the doctrine of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ! And yet of what value are such arguments when placed side by side with our Lord's statement, "I and my Father are one;" with the statement of the Apostle John, "The Word was with God, and the Word was God;" or with the statement of the Apostle Paul, that "in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily?" In the same way the most plausible arguments can be, and are being, brought against the atoning nature of Christ's death, although we have the clear statements of God's Word that "he bore our sins in his own body on the tree," and Christ's own statement that he laid down his life for the sheep. Over and over again it has been asserted that the Gospel miracles are incredible. Over and over again the most plausible arguments have been brought against future punishment, although we have the clear and emphatic statements of our Lord Jesus Christ himself on the subject. Unbelief may have reason, apparently, on its side.
II. OUR REASON IS NO TEST OF POSSIBILITY. Our ideas are no test as to what is possible or impossible. Our minds are limited in their range. How often in the march of scientific discovery and invention it has happened that things, which seemed impossible in one century were proved to be possible in the next! It is not yet three hundred years since Galileo was condemned to imprisonment by the Inquisition for asserting that the earth moved round the sun. Even our own Sir Isaac Newton, little more than two hundred years ago—the man who discovered the force of gravitation, and invented the first reflecting telescope—was assailed with such abuse on propounding his discoveries, that he actually determined on suppressing the third book of the 'Principia,' which contains the theory of comets. And what shall we say of the invention of the steam-engine by James Watt, scarcely a hundred years ago—an invention which has revolutionized our manufactures, and made possible a speed of locomotion by land and sea that would have been ridiculed as impossible only a few years ago? Every discovery of science, every invention in the useful arts, has at first been scorned as an impossible dream, then laughed at as impracticable, and finally accepted when it became impossible to deny the truth of the one or the usefulness of the other. The impossibilities of today turn out to be the possibilities of tomorrow. It is well to remember this, that, because we are unable to conceive of something taking place, it does not therefore follow that it is impossible. The fact is, that when we say anything is "impossible," we just mean that we cannot conceive it. But, as has already been shown, this is no reason why a doctrine or statement may not be true, or why a certain occurrence may not take place. We may have never known anything of the kind to occur before; but that is no proof that a thing is impossible, though in the minds of many people it is the only argument. What has never occurred before may occur yet. There are discoveries in science still undreamed of in our advanced philosophy. There are inventions yet to be conceived which, if today we could hear of them, we might pronounce the wild ravings of a fanatic. There are infinite resources in the hand of him who rules the world. Who are we, that we should limit God? Who are we, that we should set bounds to his power? Who are we, that we should set bounds to his justice on the one hand, or to his mercy on the other? Must we not bow in deep humility before all the problems that affect his dealings with men, and say, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Must we not reverently accept whatever he has been pleased to reveal in his own Word of his Divine purposes and plans, no matter what our reason may say?
III. THE DANGEROUS CHARACTER OF UNBELIEF. We have seen how unreasonable this courtier's unbelief was. Not only so, but it was injurious. So unbelief in a professing Christian is injurious to himself and to others. It hinders his own usefulness. It hinders the progress of the gospel. It hinders the success of Christian work. It is the Achan in the camp, the canker of Christian life and power, the chilling blight of the Christian Church. What an age of deadness in the Church of Christ in England, Scotland, and Ireland, was the eighteenth century, the age of moderatism, the age of indifference and rationalism! What an absence of missionary enterprise! What an absence of evangelistic effort! As Churches and as individuals, we should pray to be delivered from unbelief, and to be filled with living, working, all-conquering faith. Mr. Spurgeon says, in his remarks on this passage, that if we are hindering God's work by our unbelief, it may happen to us as it happened to this nobleman, that God may see fit to take us out of the way. He says that he has remarked, "that when any truly good man has stood in God's way, God has made short work with him. He has taken him home, or he has laid him aside by sickness. If you will not help and will hinder, you will be put aside, and perhaps your own usefulness will be cut short." If you have not faith enough in the power of the gospel, if you have not faith enough in the promises of God, if you have not faith enough in the power of prayer, then be in earnest in asking for more faith—such faith as will stand firm in the day of temptation, of trial, of conflict, of opposition. Never say to yourself about any Christian work, "If the Lord would make windows in heaven, might such a thing be?" An affectionate word to the unbeliever, to the sinner. Unbelief is dangerous. Christ speaks of unbelief as a sin. He says of the Holy Spirit that "he will convince the world of sin, because they believed not on me." Men may call it a hard doctrine, but there it is. "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God." Is there anything hard in that? The offer of salvation is made to every one. It is so plain that there can be no mistake about it. If there had been any other way, any other Savior, men might plead uncertainty. But they are plainly told, "neither is there salvation in any other." Those who believed not the warnings in the days of Noah, perished. Their day of grace was long, but they neglected it. So with the Israelites whose bones lay whitening in the wilderness. "They entered not in because of unbelief." Oh, how terrible that unbelieving courtier's doom: "Thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof!"—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 7:1, 2 Kings 7:2
A Divine teacher and a haughty skeptic.
"Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord, Tomorrow," etc. Here are two objects not only to be looked at, but to be studied.
I. A DIVINE TEACHER. "Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord, Tomorrow 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." Elisha was inspired and commanded by the Almighty God to make a proclamation to a starving population. The famine was still prevailing. The shadow of death darkened the sky, and his freezing breath was in the air, and men were shivering on the confines of the grave. Thus, when things seemed to be at their worst, Elisha appears as a messenger of mercy from Heaven, declaring that on the next morning there would be an abundance of provision obtainable in the gate of Samaria. Two circumstances connected with this promise will apply to the gospel.
1. It was a communication exactly suited to the condition of those to whom it was addressed. People were starving, and the one great necessity was food, and here it is promised. Mankind are morally lost; what they want is spiritual restoration, and the gospel proclaims it.
2. It was a communication made on the authority of the Eternal. "Thus saith the Lord." That the gospel is a Divine message is a truth too firmly established even to justify debate. By the gospel, of course, I do not mean all the tracts of which the book we call the Bible is composed, but the Divine biography of Christ as recorded by his four biographers.
II. A HAUGHTY SCEPTIC. "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?" Here is one of the most contemptible of all classes of men—a courtier, a sycophant in relation to his king, a haughty despot in regard to all beneath him. When he heard the prophet's deliverance, he, forsooth, was too great a man, and thought himself, no doubt, too great a philosopher, to believe it. It was the man's self-importance that begat his incredulity, and this, perhaps, is the parent of all skepticism and unbelief.—D.T.
2 Kings 7:3-8
The force of will.
"And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate," etc. Here we have—
I. MEN INVOLVED IN THE MOST WRETCHED CONDITION. "There were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate." Of all the diseases which afflict mankind none is more painful, loathsome, and disastrous than leprosy. It was the scourge of the Hebrew race. Moses minutely describes the appearance of this malady, and gives clear and forcible rules to govern the medical treatment of it. Fat and blood and other particles of diet, which excite or aggravate constitutional tendencies to diseases of the skin, were strictly forbidden to the Jews. There are many points of analogy between leprosy and sin.
II. Men in the most wretched condition FORMING A RESOLUTION. "They said one to another, Why sit we here until we die? If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there: and if we sit still here we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die." Emaciated and wretched as might have been their bodily condition, their moral nature had sufficient stamina left to make a resolution. Mind is often more active in physical disease than in physical health. Pain whips all the faculties into action, marshals all the forces of the soul. Truly wonderful is the power of the human will. Let no man justify mental indolence and moral inertia by pleading his bodily troubles. But how often this is done! How often do you hear men say, "We can do nothing because of the circumstances in which we are placed"! The "cannot" of such is their "will not," and the "will not" is their own choice.
III. MEN ACTING OUT THE RESOLUTION formed in the most wretched condition. These four poor starving leprous men not only formed a resolution, but they worked it out. "And they rose up in the twilight, to go unto the camp of the Syrians." In giving practical effect to their resolution, two results followed.
1. Difficulties vanished. Their great dread was of the Syrians, but as they approached the Syrian camp, "Behold, there was no man there." Wherefore had they fled? Here is the answer: "For the Lord hath 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 rose 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." By what force were these Syrians scared away? Not the force of the rough elements of nature, or the force of armies, but the force of terrible ideas—ideas that made them hear the noise of the rattling chariots and the tramping steeds of war, that had no existence. But these ideas, albeit, were ideas from God. "The Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise." God often frightens wicked men by ideas. "God can," says Matthew Henry, "when he pleases, dispirit the boldest and most brave, and make the stoutest heart to tremble. Those that will not fear God, he can make to fear at the shaking of a leaf." Before a strong resolution, apprehended difficulties frequently vanish into air. Where there's a will there's a way, even though it be over rugged mountains and surging floods. A man's "I will" has a power in it mighty as the forces of nature, ay, mightier, for it can subordinate them. "If thou hast faith as a grain of mustard seed, thou shalt say to this mountain, Be thou removed," etc.
2. The object was realized. What these poor starving leprous men deeply needed and sought was provisions to appease the cravings of hunger and to reinvigorate their waning life. And they got them. "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," etc. Thus they gained even more than they sought; they not only gained food, but wealth.
CONCLUSION. Learn here the wonderful moral force of the human mind. It possesses a power to make resolutions under the most trying external conditions, and the power to work them out successfully. The fiat "I'll try" has wrought wonders in human history, is working wonders now, and so it ever can. Well does Dr. Tulloch say, "Everything yields before the strong and earnest will. It grows by exercise. It excites confidence in others, while it takes to itself the lead. Difficulties before which mere cleverness fails, and which leave the irresolute prostrate and helpless, vanish before it. They not only do not impede its progress, but it often makes of them step-ping-stones to a higher and more enduring triumph."—D.T.
2 Kings 7:9-11
The right and the prudent.
"Then they said one to another, We do not well," etc. These verses record the conference which these four lepers had with one another after they had succeeded in working out their resolution to go unto the "host of the Syrians;" and in this conference we discover—
I. THE RIGHT. "They said one to another, We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace." The silver and the gold which they had discovered they had hidden away; and now, perhaps, conscience told them it was not right. It is not right for us to conceal the good we have discovered, or to appropriate it entirely to our own use; let us communicate it. The distribution of good is right. Every man should be "ready to communicate." The monopoly of material good is a huge wrong, and the crying sin of the age. Legislation will have to deal with this social abomination sooner or later; it is crushing the millions to the dust. Monopolies must be broken up; the wants of society and the claims of eternal justice demand it. What is truly "glad tidings" to us we should proclaim to others. The rays of joy that fall over our own lives we should not retain, but reflect.
II. THE PRUDENT. Whether these poor men felt it was right to communicate to others the tidings of the good they had received or not, they certainly felt it was prudent. "If we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household." Accordingly they acted. "So they came and called unto the porter of the city: and they told them, saying, We came to the camp of the Syrians, and, behold, there was no man there, neither voice of man, but horses tied, and asses tied, and the tents as they were. And he called to the porters; and they told it to the king's house within." Not to do the right thing must cause some "mischief"—mischief not only to the body, but to the soul as well, to the entire man. There is no prudence apart from rectitude. What is wrong in moral principle is mischievous in conduct. He who is in the right, however outvoted by his age, is always in the majority, for he has that vote which carries all material universes and spiritual hierarchies with it. Right is infallible utilitarianism.—D.T.
2 Kings 7:12-16
The help that comes to distressed men from without.
"And the king arose in the night," etc. These verses suggest a few thoughts concerning the help that sometimes comes to distressed men from without. The best help that a man can get in any case is from within—from a right working of his own faculties, independence on his Maker. Still, help from without is often most valuable. There are three kinds of human helpers without.
1. Those that help men by their will. These are men, the chosen of the race, who lay themselves out for philanthropic service.
2. Those that help men against their will. It often turns out, as in the case of Joseph's brethren, that our enemies really serve us.
3. Those that help men irrespective of their will. We are helped in many ways by those who know and care nothing about us. We come into possession of their knowledge, inventions, property. The property of the men of the last age is ours today. Such is the kind of help which the Syrians now rendered the Israelites, and we offer three remarks concerning this help.
I. IT WAS NEEDED. The men of Samaria were in the utmost distress, and the king arose in the night and sent forth two of his servants (2 Kings 7:12) in pursuit of the Syrians to see what had happened. As they approached the spot they found that the Syrians had departed, but had left their property behind. "And the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste." Thus in the height of their distress they found relief. It is often so in passing through life; often so in individual as well as in social life. In the greatest extremity help appears. When the cloud is darkest a beam of light breaks on it.
II. IT WAS UNDESERVED. Did these Samaritans deserve help? By no means. They were nearly all idolatrous and worthless people. They merited condign punishment, everlasting ruin. This is true of all men as sinners. Whatever help we receive is utterly undeserved. "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed."
III. IT WAS UNEXPECTED. They went forth longing for food, but quite uncertain whether they would find any. They found that the enemy had fled, and in their haste had left provisions behind. "So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel." Are not all men, in the providence of God, constantly receiving unexpected favors? The choicest blessings come when least expected.—D.T.
2 Kings 7:17-20
God's promise realized and his truth vindicated.
"And the king appointed the lord on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate," etc. We have here an instance of two things.
I. GOD'S PROMISE REALIZED. In the first verse of this chapter Elisha had said, "Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel." The morrow had come, and here is the fine flour and the barley being sold in the gate of Samaria. Here is the Divine promise fulfilled to the letter. God is ever faithful who hath promised. If a being makes a promise, and it is not fulfilled, it must be for one of three reasons—either because he was insincere when he made the promise, or subsequently changed his mind, or met with unforeseen difficulties which he had not the power to surmount. None of these can be applied to the all-truthful, unchangeable, all-seeing, and almighty God.
II. GOD'S TRUTH VINDICATED. The haughty courtier said to the prophet yesterday, when he was told that a measure of fine flour would be sold for a shekel, "If the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?" As if he had said, "Do not presume to impose on me, a man of my intelligence and importance. The intellectual rabble may believe in you, but I cannot." Whereupon the prophet replied, "Thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof." And so it came to pass. Here are the flour and the barley, and there lies dead the haughty skeptic. "And so it fell out unto him: for the people trod upon him in the gate, and he died." Truth has ever vindicated itself, and will ever do so. Men's unbelief in facts does not either destroy or weaken facts; the facts remain. Though all the world deny the existence of a God, moral obligation, and future retribution, the facts remain.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 7:1, 2 Kings 7:2
The unbelieving lord.
The spirit of despair had taken possession of Jehoram. It was at this point that Elisha interposed with his promise of deliverance.
I. PREDICTED DELIVERANCE. Elisha made what must have seemed an incredible announcement.
1. The city was at that moment suffering the extremest horrors of famine. By the same hour on the morrow food would exist in plenty.
2. Such food as was then obtainable was of the coarsest, most loathsome, and most revolting nature. By tomorrow they would be dieting on fine flour and barley in abundance.
3. Their disgusting food was only to be had at famine prices. Tomorrow a measure of fine flour would be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel.
4. Today they were fast beleaguered. Tomorrow flour and barley would be sold in the open gates of Samaria. After this, is anything too hard for the Lord? (Genesis 18:14). If men will not seek him, God leaves them to feel the extremity of their own helplessness before he interposes. Then he shows himself "plenteous" in mercy (Psalms 103:8). Who can doubt that, if king and city had sought God earlier with sincere hearts, the deliverance would have come sooner? Thus by his own forwardness does the sinner stand in the way of his own good.
II. RATIONALISTIC DOUBT. The spirit of incredulity, which must have been in many minds when Elisha made this surprising announcement, found expression in the utterance of the captain on whose hand the king leaned, "Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?"
1. The author of this skeptical scoff was a person in high rank. The atmosphere of a court, and the position of a courtier, are not favorable to the development of piety. They are more apt to develop, as here, a worldly, skeptical, cynical spirit, with small faith in God, virtue, and truth. Piety is to be looked for rather in the cottages than in the palaces of a people, though there are notable exceptions. "Not many mighty," etc. (1 Corinthians 1:26).
2. The language is that of scornful incredulity. It is the speech of a rationalist. Judged by the standards of sense and of natural reason, the sudden access of plenty which Elisha predicted was impossible. If the Lord opened windows m heaven, it might be looked for, but not otherwise. And who expected help from that quarter? Thus the worldly wise lord reasoned, sneering at Elisha's word as the imagination of a heated brain. He is the type of all rationalists. Interpositions from heaven are the last things they are disposed to believe in; and in any case they will not believe God's Word unless they can see how it is to be fulfilled, and on what natural principles the unusual event is to be explained. As in the present case there was no possibility of help from within the city, and no prospect of the Syrians leaving when the city was just about to fall within their power, and no evidence that food in such abundance could be obtained at a day's notice even if they did leave, Elisha's promise could only be assigned to the category of delusion. The spirit of faith is the opposite of this. It takes God at his word, and leaves him to find out the means of accomplishing his own predictions.
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF UNBELIEF. Elisha entered into no argument. He left his word to be proved or disproved by the arbitrament of time. But he told the great lord who—so much wiser than Elisha—had scoffed at its fulfillment, what the penalty of his unbelief would be. He would see the promised plenty indeed, but he would not eat of it. Is not this the fate of every unbeliever? God's word stands sure; it comes to pass in due time; but the intellectualist, the scoffer, the doubter, the man who was too wise to believe, finds himself shut out from participation in the blessing.—J.O.
2 Kings 7:3-11
The four lepers.
"God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform."
Speculation might have exhausted itself in vain in conjecturing how Elisha's prediction was to be accomplished. Nevertheless, the wonder was performed by a series of events as simple as it was unlooked for.
I. A POLICY OF DESPAIR.
1. The lepers at the gate. We are first introduced to four lepers at the entering in of the gate. They were outside, and had hitherto subsisted by food handed out or thrown to them from within. But now the famine in the city made such assistance impossible, and the four men were dying of hunger. Poor, pitiable objects, the last persons to whom any one would have thought of looking for a glimpse of hope on the situation within the walls. Yet these despised lepers were to be, in a sense, the saviors of the city. We cannot but reflect on the humble and seemingly unlikely instruments God often chooses to accomplish his ends. He puts the "treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:7). As if to abase human pride, he purposely selects instrumentalities which the wisdom of man would scorn.
2. Dire alternatives. Brought face to face with death, the poor lepers are forced to the earnest consideration of their position. What could they do? If they stay where they are they must die, and if they enter the city they must die. There remains the alternative, only to be contemplated as a last resource, of going over to the camp of the enemy. This has been put off as long as possible; but it appears now to be the only course which affords them any chance of life. Suppose the Syrians kill them, they are no worse off than before; if the Syrians take pity on them and save them alive, they shall live. The chance of life may be faint, but it is the only one left, and better than none. When men are in earnest, a very slight probability suffices them to act upon. They discover the truth of Butler's axiom that "probability is the guide of life." Did these men not act rationally in allowing even a slight probability to turn the balance of their action? How should it be otherwise when we deal with spiritual things? A man is in doubt as to the existence of God, as to the reality of a future life, etc. It may seem to him that the evidence for these truths amounts to no more than probability. He perhaps makes this an excuse for dismissing the consideration of them from his mind. But ought he not to give weight to this probability in action? In another way the doubter may take a leaf from the lepers' book. If he remains where he is, he perishes, for atheism can hold out to him no other hope. But if, on the ground even of a slight balance of probability, he acts on the lines of Christ's religion, he can be no worse than he is, while, if that religion is true (we speak only from his standpoint), he obtains eternal advantage. Or is the doubter one who does not question the truth of the gospel, but only questions his own right to appropriate its provisions? Let such a one imitate Esther, who, with the words on her lips, "If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16), went in to Ahasuerus. Let him cast himself on Christ, and leave himself there. He will find, like Esther, that he does not perish.
3. The Divine will and the human will. In these consultations among themselves, the lepers were moved only by the consideration of their own misery. They neither knew of Elisha's prediction, nor had any thought of aiding to fulfill it. Yet all the while they were working out God's secret counsel. They were, while seeking their own ends, the unconscious instruments of a higher will than their own. Thus are we all. Man's passions, ambitions, wants, follies, sins even, are subordinated in providence to the fulfilling of all-wise, comprehensive purposes, of which the immediate actors have no glimpse. "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever; the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Psalms 33:11).
II. THE DESERTED CAMP.
1. An astonishing discovery. At nightfall, in pursuance of their purpose, the lepers betook themselves to the camp of the Syrians. It was the evening of the day on which Elisha had made his promise. Of the hope then held out they were ignorant, but they were to be the first to make the discovery that deliverance had been wrought. It would be with fear and trembling that they approached the well-appointed tents, and the very silence that everywhere prevailed would strike them at first with new awe. But now an astonishing state of things revealed itself. The camp was there—that camp so lately astir with military life—but not a soul was to be seen in it. Absolute stillness reigned throughout the tents; or, if sounds were heard, they were only those of the horses and asses which were left without masters. Thus near may our salvation be to us, and we know it not.
2. The flight of the Syrians. The explanation of the state of things which the lepers discovered is given in verses 6, 7. The Syrians themselves may in later years have told the story, or it may have been got from Elisha, whose prophetic gift gave him the knowledge of what had taken place. The Syrians, it appears, had heard strange noises—sounds as of chariots and horses and of a great host; and, smitten with sudden panic, believing that the Hittites or Egyptians had brought help to the Israelites, they at once abandoned everything and fled. The panic was of supernatural intensity, as the sounds were of supernatural origin. The mind of man, no less than external natural conditions, is in the hand of God. He can smite with "madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart" (Deuteronomy 28:28); can make men the sport of their own imaginations and delusions. Such penalties are threatened against the wicked.
3. Dividing the spoil. The first impulse of the lepers, when they discovered that the camp was literally empty, was to supply their own wants. We can fancy them rubbing their eyes, and wondering if what they beheld was not all a dream. There around them, as if in some region of enchantment, were food and drink in abundance, with gold, silver, raiment, and valuables of every kind. They were stunned with their good fortune, and wandered about from tent to tent, eating and drinking, and carrying oat the good things they saw, to hide them. We can compare with the surprise of these lepers the joy of the soul on its first discovery of "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). How infinite, grand, and varied the provision found in him, the riches of salvation, the supply for spiritual wants, the treasures for the enrichment and beautification of the soul! and how wondrously and unexpectedly these burst upon the view when God "reveals his Son" in us (Galatians 1:16). At first the absorbing concern is for one's self—the engrossing thought is to appropriate what is necessary for our own life. But this stage, as in the case of the lepers, soon passes by, and gives place to another less selfish.
III. THE BRINGERS OF GOOD TIDINGS.
1. Self-rebuke. Four leprous men alone in that great camp, and a city near at hand perishing of hunger: it was a strange situation. The lepers themselves began to feel they were not acting rightly in delaying to carry the news of this astonishing plenty to their famine-stricken brethren. "We do not well," they said: "this is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace." Does not every mind feel that their words were just? Would it not have been selfishness unspeakable had they continued to think only of themselves, and delayed to carry the good tidings to their friends in the city? Acting thus selfishly, might they not justly fear that some "mischief" would come upon them? And did they not at length do right in saying, "Now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household"? The application is obvious to our own duty as those who possess the saving knowledge of the true God, and of Jesus Christ his Son. "We do not well," if we withhold it from those who are perishing for lack of this knowledge (Hosea 4:6). How many are in this condition! The whole heathen world, and ignorant multitudes are around us. "It is a day of good tidings:" shall we not make these good tidings known? "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). "Shall we whose souls are lighted," etc.?
2. Bearing good news. The lepers delayed no more, but hastened to the gate of the city, and told their wonderful story to the porter, who told it to others, who carried it to the king's house. Thus, from one to another, the news spread. It was not reckoned any drawback to it that they were lepers who brought it.—J.O.
2 Kings 7:12-20
The good news verified.
The tidings brought by the lepers were so astounding that it was natural there should at first be some hesitation in acting on them.
I. THE KING'S SUSPICIONS. Jehoram was roused in the night-time, but his mood was distrustful and desponding. He was convinced that the Syrians were but playing him a trick. Their apparent retreat was a piece of strategy to get the Israelites out into the plain. Then they would fall on them and destroy them. "I will now show you what the Syrians have done to us," etc.
1. Distrust of man. The suspicious disposition of the king accords with his general character. It has been noticed that Jehoram presents himself throughout the history as a man of moody, changeful, unreliable nature. "When the prophet leads the enemy into his hands without a blow, he becomes violent, and is eager to slaughter them all; then, however, he allows himself to be soothed, gives them entertainment, and permits them to depart in safety. At the siege of Samaria, the great distress of the city touches his heart. He puts on garments which are significant of grief and repentance, but then allows himself to be so overpowered by anger, that, instead of seeking the cause of the prevailing misery in his own apostasy and that of the nation, he swears to put to death, without delay, the man whom he had once addressed as 'father.' Yet this anger also is of short duration. He does not hear the promise of deliverance with scorn, as his officer does, but with hope and confidence. Then, again, when the promised deliverance is announced as actually present, he once more becomes doubtful and mistrustful, and his servants have to encourage him and push him on to a decision" (Bahr). It is shown by the present instance how a suspicious, distrustful disposition often outwits itself. One could not have blamed Jehoram for being cautious; but his habit of mind led him to go beyond caution, and to conclude for certain that the news brought was false, and that the Syrians were attempting a deception. Had he been left to himself, he would have rested in that conclusion, and inquired no further. Yet he was wrong, and the Syrians had actually fled. An excess of skepticism thus frequently leads those who indulge it astray. Jehoram was so accustomed to diplomacy, to intrigue, to strategy, that he thought of no other explanation of the facts related to him. By his moody unbelief he nearly missed the blessing.
2. Distrust of God. There was more than distrust of man in Jehoram's suspicions; there was likewise distrust of God. Had his attitude to God's promise, as conveyed through Elisha, been one of faith, he would at once have recognized that this which was told him was its fulfillment. He would have remembered Elisha's word; he would have perceived how precisely this report fitted into it; he would at least, before dismissing the lepers' story, have felt it his duty to consult Elisha, and ask him for his guidance. It was his unbelief which gave the dark tinge to his reflections. Are we not often guilty of similar distrust? We offer prayers, and, when the answer comes, we are astonished, and can hardly believe (Acts 12:15, Acts 12:16). Our unbelief darkens God's providence to us, and prevents us from seeing his gracious hand.
II. VERIFICATION OF THE FLIGHT.
1. The servants' counsel. The servants on this, as on other occasions, showed themselves wiser than their lord (Exodus 10:7; 2 Kings 5:13). One of them gave him sound advice. The report they had received was, surely, at least worth inquiring into. Let him send some of the chariot-horses that remained (they were very few, and, like the remnant of the people of Israel, wasted with starvation, so that, at the worst, no greater evil could befall them than already existed), and let the charioteers bring word of the true state of the case. How many rash criticisms, hasty condemnations, unwise delays, would be avoided, if men would but act upon the principle "go and see"! The practical instincts are often sounder in the common people than in their lordly superiors.
2. The king's messengers. The king did as his servant suggested, and the chariots, two in number, were sent forth. The camp was found deserted, as the lepers had said, but, to make sure, the messengers continued their tour of inspection along the road leading to Jordan. The evidences of hasty flight were indubitable. "All the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste." There was now no further doubt, so "the messengers returned, and told the king." They had seen, and believed: how much better had the king trusted the word of the Lord, and believed, though he had not seen (John 20:29)! When men are fleeing for their lives, they willingly leave all behind them. It should moderate our sense of the value of earthly treasures when we see how, in an emergency, they are so little recked of. A day will come when the proudest and haughtiest would gladly part with all they have for a single smile from thee face of him who sits upon the great white throne (Revelation 6:15, Revelation 6:16; Revelation 20:11).
3. God's word fulfilled. Thus it came about that, in a manner wholly unprecedented and unlooked for, the prediction of Elisha was fulfilled. The starving people found themselves set free from their besiegers, and, crowding out to the deserted tents, regaled themselves on the abundance of provision the Syrians had left. The store of the Syrian host was at their disposal, and a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel. "Wisdom is justified of her children" (Matthew 11:19). Those are always found right at last who repose implicit trust in God's Word. Worldly men may laugh at them; rationalists will mock them; the astute in this world's affairs will count them hare-brained and foolish; but the event justifies them. The principle of verification holds as true in religion as in science. What we now accept in faith will ultimately be verified by sight. The difference between religion and science is that the latter refuses to act till it has received the verification (though even this is subject to qualification); the former trusts God, acts, and awaits the verification.
III. FATE OF THE MOCKER. There remained to be fulfilled the word which Elisha had spoken, that, though the king's officer who had scoffed at the promise should see the predicted plenty, he would not eat thereof. This word also was verified in a remarkable, but seemingly accidental, way. This officer was appointed to superintend the sale of provisions in the gateway, but the pressure of the frantic crowd was so great that he was trodden underfoot and died. How simply, yet how accurately, was the prophet's forecast fulfilled!
1. The incident is another evidence that even seeming "accidents" do not lie outside the providence of God.
2. It teaches men the folly and danger of mocking at God's Word.
3. It shows the certainty of God's threatenings being fulfilled.
4. It illustrates the end of the ungodly—seeing the fulfillment of God's promises of mercy, but not permitted to enjoy.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany