The Lord rescues Samaria
v1 Elisha said, ‘Listen to what the *Lord says. About this time tomorrow, a large amount (probably 14 pints or about 7.3 litres) of flour will be much cheaper. It will cost under half an ounce (under 14 grams) of silver. Twice that amount of corn will cost that same amount of silver. People will sell them at the gate of Samaria.’
v2 The king was standing next to his officer. That officer said this to Elisha. ‘Even the *Lord could not do that! If he poured good things upon us from heaven, it still could not happen!’
‘You will see it happen,’ said Elisha. ‘But you will not eat any part of that food.’
These events (2 Kings 6:24-33 and chapter 7) happened some time after those in 2 Kings 6:23. The date was probably about 850 *B.C.. Since 6:23, the king of Syria had to use a different method to attack *Israel. He could not still persuade small groups of soldiers to attack. Instead he brought his whole army to Samaria. However, Samaria was a very strong city. So the soldiers from Syria decided not to attack the city. Instead, they waited outside. They allowed nobody to enter or to leave the city. Their plan was to make its people starve.
After a period of time, the inhabitants of the city ran out of food. And they became desperate to eat. Usually, people would not eat a *mule’s head. Now, however, it cost a large sum of money. In the original language, the seeds in 6:25 are called ‘bird dirt’. That awful name shows what people normally thought about such seeds. But in this terrible situation, people were buying those seeds to eat.
It was clear that the inhabitants could not continue their struggle for many more days. But they did not want to allow the enemy into the city. The soldiers from Syria would kill many of them. And those soldiers would probably take away everyone else to be their slaves.
When people suffer such terrible troubles, their reactions towards God differ. Sometimes people change their attitudes completely. For example, a proud person might become humble. An evil person might decide to confess his *sins and to pray. But other people become very angry with God. They blame God for all their troubles. And that was how the king of *Israel behaved.
One day, the king was walking along the city wall. The wall was like the wall of a castle. It was a strong wide wall, and there was a path on its top. The wall went right round the city. It was the reason why the city was such a strong city.
The king would be walking on the wall for various reasons. That position would provide a good view of the enemy soldiers. He would be able to see how strong their army was. Also, *Israel’s soldiers would be on the city wall. They would be trying to force the enemy to keep back from the wall. So the king would visit his soldiers there.
The king was wearing his royal clothes. He wanted to impress his own soldiers. If he seemed confident, they would not want to give in. But he also wanted to impress the enemy. The army from Syria could not know how desperate the people were in the city. They were waiting to enter the city so that they could take its valuable things. But they did not want to wait for a very long time. And if some of them went away, the king might be able to escape.
Of course, the inhabitants of Samaria could also see the king while he was on the wall. They were very desperate, and one woman used the opportunity to ask for the king’s help. The king heard the woman’s cry. He asked her what her trouble was. She explained that she and another woman had agreed to kill their children. And then they would eat their children. They had eaten the first woman’s son, but the other woman had hidden hers. That gave the king such a great shock that he tore his clothes. People used to do that when something upset them greatly.
Then people saw that the king was wearing rough cloth. People only wore that cloth when they were in a very desperate situation. The king had seemed so confident. But now people could see how he really felt. And really, he thought that he was waiting to die. He had no plan to save the city. There was no possibility of any success.
People sometimes wore rough cloth when they wanted to *repent. But the king was not sorry about his *sin and he did not want to *repent. Instead, he was very angry. He blamed God for the situation. And so he decided to carry out one final act to oppose God. He would kill the *prophet Elisha.
The king was not *repenting. But it seems that other people had a different attitude. Several leaders of the people gathered in Elisha’s house. We cannot be sure what they were doing. Perhaps they were listening to Elisha. Perhaps they were confessing their *sins. A *prophet would advise people to confess and to *repent. Perhaps these leaders were praying with Elisha. It is clear that they were turning to God. (Otherwise, there would be no reason for them to visit Elisha.) Because of their desperate situation, they were willing to be loyal to God and his *prophet.
Elisha knew that the king and his servant were coming. Elisha told the leaders not to allow the servant to enter the house.
So the king arrived. He told Elisha why he was so angry. He blamed God for his troubles. He had waited for God’s help, and God had done nothing.
The king had waited, but it is not enough just to wait. He waited, but he never became sorry for his *sin. He waited, but he never *repented. He waited, but he was not humble in front of God. And nothing happened. So now the king had another plan. He would not wait. Instead, he would murder God’s *prophet.
Then God gave a message to Elisha. The king should wait for one more day. Tomorrow God would act. And that would prove that he is God. Elisha promised that the next day corn would be available at a cheap price. The people would have plentiful food again. Their present troubles would end. It seemed impossible, but God gave that message. And he would perform his promise.
We do not know the king’s reaction. But he did not kill Elisha. Perhaps the king put the *prophet in prison like Micaiah in 1 Kings 22:27. If so, the intention was probably to kill the *prophet when his *prophecy did not happen. Or perhaps the king thought that the *prophecy might be true. But the king’s officer did not believe it. He laughed at the *prophecy. He insisted that even God could not carry out that *prophecy. Elisha told him that he (the officer) would see it happen. But he would not have any part of the food. That was a strange message. In verse 17, we will find out what happened to the officer. And what happened to him was another proof of the original *prophecy. It would prove to everyone that the next day’s events were God’s work.
v3 There were four men outside the gate of Samaria. They had a serious disease in their skin. They said this to each other. ‘We should not just wait here until we die. v4 If we go into the city, we will starve. If we stay here, we will die. Let us go over to the camp of the *Syrian soldiers. And let us give ourselves into their control. Perhaps they will kill us. But perhaps they will allow us to live.’
v5 When it became dark, they went to the *Syrian camp. When they reached it, nobody was there. v6 The *Lord had made the *Syrians hear the sound of *chariots, horses and a great army. They thought that it was the *Hittites and Egyptians (people from Egypt). The *Syrians thought that *Israel’s king had *hired those people’s kings to attack them. v7 So the *Syrians got up and they ran away in the dark. They left their tents, horses and *donkeys. They left the camp as it was. And they ran away in a desperate manner.
v8 The men that had the disease in their skin reached the edge of the camp. They went into one tent. They ate and they drank. Then the men took silver, gold and clothes and they hid them. They went into another tent and they did the same thing.
v9 Then they said to each other, ‘We are not doing the right thing. We have good news and we are keeping it secret. If we wait until morning, we will definitely suffer punishment. Let us go to tell the people at the royal palace.’
v10 So they went. They called out to the men that guarded the gates of the city. They said, ‘We went to the *Syrian camp and nobody was there. There was no sound. Nobody has untied the horses and the *mules. The tents are as the *Syrians left them.’ v11 The men that guarded the city’s gates shouted the news. So the news reached the palace.
These 4 men had a terrible illness. The law did not allow them to live in the city. So they had to live separately from other people. They lived together outside the city, near to its gate. When the army came from Syria, these 4 men were between the two armies. That is the most dangerous place to be in a battle. But the army from Syria did not attack Samaria. They just surrounded the city and then they waited. So the soldiers were not actually fighting yet.
It seems that this situation had continued for several months. And as matters grew worse, the 4 men tried to decide what to do. They could not escape, because the enemy surrounded them. The 4 men would die if they entered the city. They would die if they stayed outside the city. They would perhaps die if they went into the enemy camp. But perhaps the soldiers from Syria would allow them to live. So these 4 men had a little hope. We do not know whether they also had *faith. But we shall soon see that God was using these men. And that should not surprise us. God often chooses unlikely people to carry out his work (for example, Isaiah 53:1-3; Matthew 3:4; 1 Samuel 16:6-12).
As the 4 men approached the camp, God carried out a *miracle.
The *Syrian army heard a noise of *chariots, horses and an army. They felt great fear. So they all ran away.
We do not know how that noise happened. The *Syrians that surrounded Dothan became blind (6:18). That happened because God’s army of *angels was active. And this *Syrian army heard strange sounds. They thought that the king of *Israel had help from foreign nations. They imagined that the armies of the *Hittites and the Egyptians (people from Egypt) had come. But it was not the army of the *Hittites. And it was not the army of Egypt. Probably, it was the *Lord’s army that they heard. As in 2 Samuel 5:22-25, he was marching out on behalf of his people, that is, *Israel.
So it was these 4 men that first took possession of the enemy’s camp. People considered that the first person to enter an enemy’s camp was a hero (1 Chronicles 11:6). These men were weak, ill and unimportant. That showed that God had brought success to *Israel. No person did it. The 4 men were astonished that the camp was empty. But of course, they were very happy. They took food, drink and clothes.
Then they felt that they must tell everyone else about the good news. It was their duty and their joy to tell other people. God had given them that wonderful news so that they could tell other people They were responsible to him for what they did with their good news. So the men went. They told the men that guarded the gate. The news quickly spread and it reached the royal palace. Similarly, we should not keep the good news about Jesus to ourselves. We should share it with other people.
v12 The king got up in the night and he spoke to his officers. ‘I will tell you what the soldiers from Syria have done. They knew that we were starving. They have left the camp to go and to hide in the country. The *Syrians think that we will leave the city to find food. They will *capture us alive and they will get into the city.’
v13 One officer said this. ‘Order some men to take five horses from among those horses that are still alive in the city. They will probably die. But that will happen to all the *Israelites who remain here anyway. So those men will just die like us all. Let us send them to discover what has happened.’
v14 So those men chose two *chariots with their horses. The king sent the men to look for the *Syrian army. He told them to go and to discover what had happened. v15 The men went as far as the Jordan river. All along the road, they found clothes and equipment that the *Syrians had thrown away. The *Syrians had done that as they ran. So the soldiers returned and they told the king. v16 Then the people rushed out and they took goods from the *Syrian camp. So then a large amount (probably 14 pints or about 7.3 litres) of flour was much cheaper. It cost under half an ounce (under 14 grams) of silver. Also, twice that amount of corn cost that same amount of silver. The *Lord had said that it would happen.
v17 Now the king had put his officer in command of the city’s entrance. There, the people *trampled on him and he died. The man of God had *prophesied it when the king came to his house. v18 The man of God had told the king this. ‘About this time tomorrow, a large amount (probably 14 pints or about 7.3 litres) of flour will be much cheaper. It will cost under half an ounce (under 14 grams) of silver. Twice that amount of corn will cost that same amount of silver. People will sell them at the gate of Samaria.’
v19 The king’s officer had said this to Elisha. ‘Even the *Lord could not do that! If he poured good things upon us from heaven, it still could not happen!’ Elisha had replied, ‘You will see it happen. But you will not eat any part of that food.’ v20 And that is what happened to the officer. The people *trampled on him as they passed through the city’s entrance. And he died.
The king had heard Elisha’s *prophecy. But even when the king heard the good news, he still had no *faith. He thought that the *Syrians were carrying out a trick. (A trick means that someone does something in order to confuse people.) The king thought that the *Syrians were hiding in the country. Then the people from the city would go out to find food. When nobody was guarding the city, the *Syrians would *capture it easily. One officer advised the king to send out a small group of soldiers. They would discover what had really happened. They might die, but so might the people in the city. So the soldiers went out. They found a lot of clothing and equipment. The *Syrians had thrown it away in their hurry. The soldiers came back and they told the king.
At last the king realised that the report about the *Syrian army was correct. The inhabitants of Samaria could safely leave the city. And they could take the things from the *Syrian camp for themselves.
The king sent his officer to act like a policeman at the city’s entrance. Then the soldiers opened the gate and everyone rushed out.
The people took everything from the *Syrian tents. So Elisha’s *prophecy became true. People sold flour and corn cheaply. But the king’s officer who laughed at God’s promise was not among them. The crowd had rushed through the gates to get the goods. The officer could not manage to control the crowd. They *trampled on the officer as they went. And he died.
The officer’s error was to laugh at God’s word. Actually, the officer was insulting God. The officer said that God was unable to perform his promise. His death warns us that we must always respect God’s word.
The behaviour of the people also teaches an important lesson. God carried out a wonderful *miracle. But the people were ungrateful. They set up a market immediately. They were already trying to make a profit from the things that God had given to them. They were so unwilling to share God’s good gifts. But the men who had the skin disease behaved better. They respected God because they did not want to suffer his punishment. So they acted in a proper manner. They shared what God had provided.