Today I am at my parents’ cottage enjoying the beauty of Lake Matinenda. My father is a bird lover. All summer long, he has tenderly filled the hummingbird feeders so that the thumb-sized darlings, flurried flashes of red and green, would have their fill. Today, I enjoyed that same privilege, boiling water and adding sugar, then cooling the liquid until it could be poured in. The reward was the pure joy of seeing wee birds filling their tiny beaks all day long.
In this story in 2 Kings 7, the people of Israel are in dire straits, slowly starving to death as Ben-Hadad laid siege to Samaria intent on a crushing takeover. The king walked the city wall and was accosted by two women in bitter dispute over their next meal. The day prior, they had boiled one son and eaten him, with the promise that the next day, the other woman’s child would be dinner. In agony at his people’s desperation, who were resorting to cannibalism without conscience, the king tore his robes.The people were shocked to see their king wearing sackcloth beneath his royal robes.
The unnamed king cried out against Elisha and threatened his life, the same nation’s prophet who had beaten the Syrian armies with inside information from heaven about the Syrian military strategies and even led an entire army of Syrians right before the court of the king without injury earlier in the king’s reign.
Elisha refused the king access but heard his monarch’s lament, “Surely this calamity is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lor any longer?”(2 Kings 6:33) Elisha prophesied that within 24 hours, the famine would be over. Calmly the man of God informed the king that though dove poop was being sold as food for five shekels/pint, by next day, 8 gallons of flour would sell for as little as a shekel at the gate of Samaria.
One of the king’s main officers scoffed, saying “even if God opened heaven’s windows and poured it out, how could this starving city recover from famine so quick.” to which Elisha replied, “Well you are going to see it with your own eyes but you sure won’t taste it.”(2 Kings 7:2).
Now the story here gets quite delicious.
Four men, all lepers, were sitting at the gate of the city. Now in a famine where women were serving their own kids for dinner, four lepers might as well give up hoping for compassion to kick in, and all four knew it. As they sat at the gate, they reasoned their options: 1. If we stay in the city, we will die of famine. 2. If we stay at this gate, we are going to die as well. Then they determined, ” Why don’t we surrender to the Syrians. If they keep us alive, we live. If they kill us, we die anyway”( 2 Kings 7:4)
At twilight, the men headed to the Syrian camp but to their amazement, there was no one there.
My fiend, Gaetane Marshall of Lead International has often preached this passage in her series called the Elisha Mantle. As a biblical scholar, she notes how the Bible carefully explains that just as the men arose at twilight, so the Syrian army arose at twilight, for the Lord amplified their sound, the treading of four hungry lepers, to sound like the noise of chariots and the noise of horses, like a great army. Completely freaked out, the Syrians fled for their lives, leaving behind their tents, horses, donkeys, and every bit of spoils of war to the utter joy of the starving lepers.
After hiding silver and gold and clothing from two Syrian tents and then eating and drinking to their heart’s content, conviction nudged the four feasters. “What we are doing isn’t right. This day is a day of good news and we remain silent. If we wait until morning, punishment is certain. Let’s go tell the king’s household.”(2 Kings 7:9)
With mercy, the lepers shared the change of events with the gatekeepers, who in turn reported the news to the king. The king doubted the report and suggested the Syrians were just setting up an ambush against the starving Samarians. One of his servants nevertheless pleaded with the king to track down the Syrians with five of the remaining horses left in the city.
The soldiers tore across the countryside, all the way to the Jordan, following a trail of clothing and weapons that the Syrians had thrown in their haste to avoid the imaginary army that was chasing them out of Israel. When they returned to the king with the great report, the entire city poured out of the gate to plunder the abandoned Syrian camp. Before the rushing mob, the very officer whom had rejected Elisha’s words, was trampled by the starving multitude, just as Elisha had foretold when the king had come down to Elisha.
For a few more days, bellies were full and peace endured.
2 Kings is filled with the tumult of war and famine and hardship. This story of a bitter King in sackcloth, hopeless lepers, terrified Syrians and cannabiliistic mothers is not for the faint of heart. Yet the record of reprieve, of God mercifully filling the need of His people, using lepers and heaven’s magnaphone, deeply appeals to me, for it truly is a story of humility.
The lepers were abased by their life condition. Perhaps one of the four was Gehazi, for there he is, in the very next chapter, conversing with the king as storyteller of Elisha’s exploits. Maybe God healed the man, since no mention of his lifelong curse of leprosy is mentioned in the passage. (See 2 Kings 5:27). Only God knows the names of those four men.
The king was humbled by the nation’s condition, besieged, in famine, with only a handful of horses left, and a city full of starving people. Sackcloth is not generally the garment of choice for a king and is worn only in times of deep mourning or repentance. Despite his threats, the king knew only God could bring his people salvation, and perhaps that is what Elisha heard, the key of humble desperation, in his king’s cry.
The Syrian army was undone by fear of a bigger bully, and God capitalized on their fears, big time. Can you imagine how great their shame, when the army discovered that four starving lepers had set them into a terrified retreat? Talk about a humiliating defeat!
The officer who dished the prophet, so traumatized by the famine that he lost faith in the greatness of God, paid dear for his pride, trampled beneath the very people he served. The people plundered the spoils of war, a suddenly of provision by heaven, in answer to a king’s cry and a prophet’s response.
The more I learn of Almighty God, the more convinced I am of His loving provision and care and His delight to give His children spoils of war, everything that has been stolen from us unfairly, in merciful suddenlies of Almighty provision.
I also love that the heroes of the story are four starving lepers, who understood the reality of the situation and were brave enough to try something different to survive. May we all have that same gumption as difficulty lays siege to our lives.
Now, back I head to enjoy God’s provision of Beautiful Northern Ontario. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
Let’s pray: Father God, thank You for Your provision, in peace times and war times. Thank you, as we humble ourselves and ask for Your gifts, that You stoop down in love with generous its and mercy, like my own Dad, who so joyfully feeds those hummingbirds day after day, for the joy of seeing those wee mights in motion. Holy Spirit, help us walk humbly before our God and each other. Help us recognize with thanksgiving the many provisions we receive every day from our loving Father. Lord Jesus, clothe us in humility, that hope would lead and worship would be our daily posture. And when war comes, Lord keep us constant in hope and unwavering in faith as we place our lives in Your hands.Amen.
This Week’s Reading: 2 Kings 7 – 16
Next Week’s Reading: 2 Kings 17 – 27
1. How do you handle longterm trials?
2. Why did the officer have no expectations in God’s provision?
3. How has life framed your faith in God?
4. What role does the prophetic play in your life?
5. Have you ever felt like the four lepers, stuck between a rock and a hard place? What did God do?