September 28, 2011

2 Kings 6.24-7.17

Afterward Benhadad King of Syria mustered his entire army, and went up and besieged Samaria.

And there was a great famine in Samaria when they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for 80 shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove's dung for five shekels of silver.

Now as the King of Israel was passing by upon the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying "Help, my lord, O King."

And he said, "If the Lord will not help you, whence shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the wine press?" And the King asked her, "What is your trouble?"

She answered, "This woman said to me, 'Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.' So we boiled my son, and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, 'Give your son, that we may eat him,' but she has hidden her son."

When the King heard the words of the woman he rent his clothes-- Now he was passing by along the wall-- and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath upon his body-- and he said, "May God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shapat remains on his shoulders today."

Elisha was sitting in his house; and the elders were sitting with him.

Now the King had dispatched a man from his presence; but before the messenger arrived, Elisha said to the elders, "Do you see how this murderer has sent to take off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door, and hold the door fast against him. Is not the sound of his master's feet behind him?"

And while he was still speaking with them, the King came down to him, and said, "This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?"

But Elisha said, "Hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine meal shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria."

Then the captain on whose hand the King leaned said to the man of God, "If the Lord himself should make windows in Heaven, how could this thing be?"

But Elisha said, "You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it."

Now there were four men who were lepers at the entrance to the gate; and they said to one another, "Why do we sit here until we die? If we say, 'Let us enter the city,' the famine is in the city, and we shall die there; and if we sit here, we die also. So now, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us, we shall but die." So they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians; but when they came to the edge of the camp of the Syrians, behold, there was no one there.

For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots, and of horses-- the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, "Behold, the King of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us." So they fled away in the twilight and forsook their tents, their horses and their asses, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives.

And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent, and ate, and drank; and they carried off silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them. Then they went back, and entered another tent, and carried off things from it, and went and hid them.

Then they said to one another, "We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news; if we are silent, and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us! Now, therefore, come let us go and tell the King's household." So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city, and told them, "We came to the camp of the Syrians, and behold, there was no one to be seen or heard there, nothing but the horses tied, and the asses tied, and the tents as they were."

Then the gatekeepers called out, and it was told within the King's household. And the King rose in the night, and said to his servants, "I will tell you what the Syrians have prepared against us! They know that we are hungry; therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the open country, thinking 'When they come out of the city, we shall take them alive and get into the city!'"

And one of his servants said, "Let some men take five of our remaining horses, seeing that those of us left here will fare like the whole multitude of Israel that have already perished; let us send and see."

So they took two mounted men, and the king sent them after the army of the Syrians, saying "Go and see." So they went after them as far as the Jordan; and lo, all the way was littered with garments and equipment which the Syrians had thrown away in their haste. And the messengers returned and told the King.

Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians.

So a measure of fine meal was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord.

Now the King had appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned, to have charge of the gate. And the people trod upon him in the gate, so that he died, as the man of God had said when the King came down to him.


At 11:40 p.m., Blogger Random Arrow said...

I finally gagged this one down. The cannibalism part was too chewy. Pretty expensive way to get some loot. We’ve seen hardness against prophetic gifts in previous passages. The king’s attendant gets a pharaoh-like reward of his own doubtful words coming back on him. I’m too close to the text in Luke on the perverse generation. It’s one long generation.

At 12:27 a.m., Blogger forrest said...

I told you so; I told you that Ben-Hothead guy was going to be up to no good again!

Seriously, this is not only a good story, but a very personally-relevant one.

First thing: This is a seriously discouraging situation. One doesn't want to be in a besieged ancient city with the food running short. After getting very hungry and maybe not making it through that, one can look forward to an interesting career as a slave, as soon as the army outside moves in.

My study Bible thinks verses 6.8-23 show good relations between the King and Elisha-- but if this is Jezebel's son, I don't think so. He curses by the Lord-- which doesn't make him particularly pious. In a previous story he is willing to assume that the Lord has led him and his allies into the wilderness to be slaughtered by the King of Moab. Without asking God about it, or even waiting for Elisha to do the asking for him. Much as Ahab his father cut a deal with Ben-hadad back in 1 Kings 20.34, decisively taking a short-sighted advantage that ultimately led to his death.

And notice how quickly this King decides to fix the problem-- by killing Elisha. And how Elisha refers to the King as "this murderer."

But on second thought-- if Elisha survives his attacker (the "captain on whose hand the King leaned"? A good, favored, trustworthy man-- and probably not a fan of Elisha's) then he had better be mollified, if possible. And might be worth listening to. And maybe the King should try to stop his assassin, lest Elisha be angry... and if he arrives too late, that would be sad...

In the previous post here (Luke 9.37 etc.) we have Jesus complaining that people have no faith.

A woman being willing to slaughter her son for food-- in hopes of eating her neighbor's son tomorrow... Things have gotten very bad, and nobody but Elisha in this story seems to have any idea that God is about to save the situation. The captain doesn't believe it. The King might believe it at first; at least he isn't willing to dispute it-- but when he hears what's happened in the night, his first assumption is that it's a trick by the enemy.

I've been struggling with much less important problems, getting disappointed and frustrated, starting to assume that I'm just not supposed to succeed at a long-cherished hope. No way as bad off as these people. No reason to start cursing and assuming the worst.

We read this story; we know that everyone else in it is clueless, while Elisha has it all covered-- so who do we identify with? But who are we really like?

["This day is a day of good news"! Isn't it? And the lepers learn it first; the previous audience not having put any faith in that news. This reminds me very much of certain stories about Jesus!

And again, today, you definitely have to be on the fringes-- or else be in serious denial-- to have much hope. If you're so lucky, you should probably try to let people know...]

At 9:38 p.m., Blogger Random Arrow said...

Excellent comments. Thank you for putting so much thought and feeling into it. Your comments have rescued some of this text for me. I think I got into a double whammy of the blues between this text and that in Luke. Your comments on the relative smallness of our woes compared to being in a besieged city awaiting slavery puts a fine edge on it. Excellent all the way around.


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