As we continue our look into 2 Kings we are seeing God showing how he is trying to save his people, offering them pictures of his redemption and his restoration, only for Israel to miss what God is doing and reject his offer. Elijah was dramatically rejected by Israel’s kings as well as the people. Elisha has also been rejected by Israel’s kings and the people. God has been bringing judgment against Israel to show their covenant breaking, just as God said he would do in Deuteronomy. But even these actions have not awaken Israel’s hearts to seek the Lord. So in this section of 2 Kings God is going to show what is the heart of the problem as he makes his final efforts to save his people through Elisha.
Dealing With Famine (6:24-33)
Yet again the king of Syria attacks Israel. This time he attacks Samaria, which is the capital of Israel. They surround the city and lay siege to it. This was a common form of attack. Surround the city, cut off the supply lines, and make the city starve before you mount your attack. This is what Syria does, creating a famine in the city. The famine becomes so bad that we are told that donkey’s heads are being sold for eighty shekels of silver. It is hard to get a sense of how bad this is. We are told in 1 Kings 10:29 that in Solomon’s reign a horse could be imported from Egypt for 150 shekels. So for a little more than half that price all you can get is a donkey head tells you about the extreme inflation and the lack of food, animals, and supplies that are in the city of Samaria. Moses predicted this outcome in Deuteronomy 32 and warned that this would happen if they disobeyed the Lord (Deuteronomy 28). You may remember that during Elijah’s ministry God had given a three and a half year famine. We will learn in chapter 8 that this famine is going to last 7 years.
The severity is clearly expressed in the next few verses. As the king of Israel is walking on the wall, a woman cries out to him, “Help, my lord, O king!” Look at his answer in verse 27. “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” His answer is that there is nothing he can do. There is no food anywhere. There is no food in the threshing floor or the winepress. This is a king who cannot save. But the king goes ahead and asks what her trouble is. Listen to what she says in verse 28. A woman said that we need to eat your son today and tomorrow we will eat my son. So they cooked her son and ate him. But on the next day when she went to go eat her son, she hid her son. This is a cruel twist of the wisdom of Solomon when the kingdom began. Remember that in Solomon’s reign there are two women and two sons. One son died and both women claimed that the living child was theirs (1 Kings 3). Solomon said to divide the son in half to split between the two women which revealed who the real mother was, because she was not going to have that happen. But here we are in the depths of despair and wickedness in Israel and we are dividing sons to eat because of the severity of the famine.
When those two women in Solomon’s day came to him, he displayed God’s great wisdom through him. All Israel understood from this that God’s wisdom was in him (1 Kings 3:28). Now we will see the wisdom of Israel’s king now in verses 30-31. The king of Israel tears his clothes and says that Elisha must die today. This is his great, wise response. The great prophet of God must die today. He sounds just like his mother, Jezebel, who said the same thing about Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). The answer to Israel’s problems is to kill God’s messenger.
But God is with his prophet. We have seen God give Elisha the ability to know what is in the mind of other people (cf. 2 Kings 6:12). Before a messenger arrives, Elisha tells the elders who are sitting with him that this murderer has sent to take off my head. So when the messenger comes, shut the door and keep him out until the king arrives behind him. They are on a mission to kill Elisha. Notice the thinking of the king and the messenger. “This trouble is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?”
Please consider the backward thinking that is happening in Israel that is represented by the king of Israel. The Lord has sent trouble. So what is the point of looking to the Lord any longer? Notice the trouble happening in Israel does not cause him to turn to the Lord. The trouble does not cause him to consider if he needs to repent. The trouble does not cause him to seek the Lord with his heart. The trouble means that he should give up on God. The economic life of the nation is completely controlled by God. But rather than turning to God, they are going to leave God. Sadly, this is a common response when life becomes difficult. Rather than looking at our difficulties and turning to the Lord for help, we can leave the Lord when we need his help the most. Trouble and hardships are the times when we need to press into the Lord all the more and wait for the Lord to help. But the king of Israel refuses this idea and we can easily make the same mistake.
The Lord’s Promise (7:1-2)
So what would you expect to be the outcome for the king of Israel whose pure intent is to kill Elisha and no longer look to the Lord for help? Look at what Elisha says to all of this in 2 Kings 7:1. Elisha declares a great reversal is going to happen regarding the famine. The price would be high but food would be available again. Look at the response of the king’s captain in verse 2. This could not happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven. There is complete disbelief in what Elisha says. What Elisha has said cannot happen! Look at Elisha’s response at the end of verse 2. You are going to see it but you are not going to enjoy it. Your unbelief is going to keep you from enjoying God’s great reversal. Think about this picture. The king is wicked and the nation worthy of judgment, but God is yet again trying to get Israel to see their saving God. God is trying to generate belief in him. God is saying that tomorrow he will reverse their condition and the response is that God cannot do that.
The Lord’s Victory (7:3-20)
It is quite a statement to make that a famine is going to have a great reversal in one day. How is food going to be available the next day Elisha has said? This is what chapter 7 is going to explain. Our attention is turned to four men with leprosy who are sitting outside the city gates of Samaria. They are trying to figure out what to do regarding this famine. If they go in the city, they are going to die from the famine because things are no better for them inside the city. If they stay at the city gates they are going to die from the famine also. So let’s go to the Syrians and surrender to them. If they spare our lives, then great. If they do not, it does not matter because we were going to die anyway. As the sun goes down, they get up and cross over to the Syrian camp. But when they came to the edge of the camp, they found no one there. What happened? Verse 6 tells us that the Lord made the Syrian army hear the sound of a great army coming. So they abandoned their tents, horses, and donkeys and fled for their lives. So these men with leprosy, who are outsiders because of their skin condition, enter a Syrian tent. They eat and drink and start plundering the tents. But look at verse 9.
They realize what they are doing is not right. “This is a day of good news.” If we wait till the next day to tell this good news, punishment will overtake us. We must go tell the king’s household now. So they go back and tell the gatekeepers of the city that the Syrian camp has been evacuated. So the good news comes to the king. But notice his response in verse 12. The king thinks that this is a trick. We are going to go out to their camp and they are going to capture us because they will be lying in wait. The king orders one of his servants to take some men with the five remaining horses and find out what happened. They patrol the area all the way to the Jordan River and find nothing but the clothing and equipment of the Syrian soldiers littered all over the place. So all the people go out and plunder the Syrian camp. But look at verse 16. A seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel and two seahs of barreled were sold for a shekel just as the word of the Lord had said. The captain who had said that it was impossible for this to happen was trampled in the gates as the people rushed out to plunder the camp (7:17). Remember Elisha told him that this was going to happen but he was going to see it but not eat it (7:2, 18-20). God is showing that he is in complete control of the economics of a nation and the military strength of a nation. God can bury a nation’s economics or restore it. God can give military victory to a nation or make it be defeated. God wants Israel to see God’s power and entrust their lives to him.
Now here is the big picture. The lepers come back to the city proclaiming the good news that Israel’s famine condition has been reversed. The Syrians have left their camp and everything has been left for us to take. This good news comes back to the king of Israel. But he does not believe the message that was given to him. Why does he not believe this message? We might be tempted to answer that he did not believe because this good news was so impossible to believe. How can it be that the Syrians had just left all their stuff for us to plunder? But the king had been given the reason to believe. Remember the day before the king had come with his message to take off Elisha’s head. The king declared that this trouble was from the Lord and there was no reason to wait for the Lord any longer (6:33). Elisha’s response was that everything was going to change tomorrow and food would be available. The king was told this. But the next day he still did not believe. The captain declared his unbelief as well and died once the good news was proclaimed. Is it not shocking that God can declare in advance what he is going to do, then do it, and people still not believe?
This is exactly what Isaiah said was going to happen regarding Jesus, the suffering servant, as described in Isaiah 53. Isaiah asks a question, “Who has believed what he has heard from us?” The implied answer from the prophecy is that people are not going to believe what Jesus is going to do, even though it is told to them in that section of scripture. This is something we see God doing to his people repeatedly. Will you believe what God tells you? Will you believe what has been declared by the Lord? If Jesus told his apostles to feed the crowds, he wanted them to believe that he could do it with only five loaves of bread and two fish. If God told Moses to feed Israel meat, he wanted Moses to believe that God could make meat rain down from heaven. If God told the king of Israel that food would be available in Samaria the next day, he wanted to the king to believe it. We have seen some people have that kind of faith. The widow in Elijah’s day believed that the flour would not run out because God had said it through Elijah. The widow in Elisha’s day believed that the oil would not run out but would fill as many jars as she could borrow to get out of her debt. Abraham believed that Isaac was the promised child that would fulfill God’s blessings so that he would take his son to sacrifice him, believing God would just raise him from the dead. This is the kind of belief God wants in his word.
We are to believe what God has said. God said he would save us and bring us into eternity and then offered his Son as he promised to make it possible. We are not to remain in unbelief about salvation and eternity. We are to believe what he has said. This is the way the writer of Hebrews put this important truth to us.
Because God wanted to show his unchangeable purpose even more clearly to the heirs of the promise, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17–18 CSB)
God is telling us that he wants to prove to you that you can believe him. He does not want us to fail from unbelief. Elisha said that the food situation would change tomorrow. They did not believe it. The good news is reported that the Syrians have left and they did not believe it. What will you not believe that God has done for you? Do you believe that your sins have been forgiven? Do you believe God loves you? Do you believe that God listens and answers your prayers? Do you believe that God will never leave you or forsake you? Do you in eternity? Do you believe there will be a judgment? Do you believe God can change your life? Do you believe everything can change tomorrow? Do you believe that God accomplishing his purposes through you? All of these things have been stated repeatedly by God. We just need to believe, allowing God’s word to erase our doubts and unbelief. Take strong encouragement from God’s word and seize the hope that is set before us.