Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
FIFTEENTH MIRACLE—FOUR LEPROUS MEN
Let us briefly review our last two chapters upon this miracle. First, we emphasized its reality, seeking to show it was indeed a miracle which took place and that it might justly be regarded as connected with Elisha. Second, we dwelt upon its occasion, which was the fearful shortage of food in the city of Samaria, resulting from its being so closely surrounded by the Syrians that none of its inhabitants could go forth and obtain fresh supplies (2 Kings 6:24-25). So acute did conditions become that the vilest of offals were sold at exhorbitant prices, and mothers had begun to consume their own babies. So far from humbling himself beneath the hand of divine judgment and acknowledging that it was his own idolatry and impenitence which was the procuring cause of reducing his kingdom to such sore straits, Israel’s king turned an evil eye upon Elisha and determined to make a scapegoat of him, taking a horrible oath that he should be slain forthwith (2 Kings 6:31)—evidencing that he was a true son of Jezebel (1 Kings 18:4).
"But Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him"(2 Kings 6:32); he calmly awaited events. Announcing that "this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head," he gave orders that the door should be shut and the royal messenger not be admitted. Jehoram himself hastened on just behind. The prophet and the king then came face to face, and the former announced the impending miracle. "Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow, 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" (2 Kings 7:1). That was tantamount to saying, God in His high sovereignty is going to show mercy on your wretched kingdom, and within a day will work a miracle that shall entirely reverse the present situation. Not only will the Syrians depart, but there shall be provided an abundant supply of food which will fully meet the needs of your people, without a blow being struck or your royal coffers being any the poorer.
"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?" (2 Kings 7:2). Such a message of good news as the prophet had just proclaimed, of deliverance from the enemy and food for the starving, seemed utterly incredible to carnal reason, and therefore instead of being received with fervent thanksgiving, it was met with a contemptuous sneer. Unbelief presumed to call into question the divine promise. Arguing from what he could see, no possible relief being visible, this wicked lord scorned the likelihood of its fulfillment. That which Elisha had announced was indeed impossible to anyone but the living God, for only by a miracle could it be made good; yet it was the express word of Him that cannot lie and who is endowed with omnipotence. Despite the effort of his unbelieving courtier to prevent any weakening of his resolution, the king of Israel decided to wait another day before carrying out his murderous design, and during that interval the prediction was accomplished. We now continue this study.
Fourth, the Heralds of the Miracle
Heralds are the ones made use of by the Lord to proclaim the wonder of mercy which He had wrought. Strange indeed do the divine methods often appear to our dim vision, yet in the light of Scripture their significance is not lost upon those favored with anointed eyes. It was not "the elders of Israel" who had sat with Elisha in his house, nor was it "the sons of the prophets" whom the Lord honored on this occasion. God is sovereign and employs whom He pleases. Often He acts as He does in order to stain the pride of man, for He is jealous of His own honor and will suffer no flesh to glory in His presence. It is true that He has called certain men to the special work of the ministry and set them apart, and that He frequently works through them in the converting of His people; yet He is by no means tied to that particular agency, and often manifests His independence by making use of the most unlikely ones to be His agents —as appears in the more extreme cases of Balaam and Judas. So it was here.
"And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate: and they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die?" (2 Kings 7:3). More unlikely instruments could scarcely be imagined. They were pariahs, outcasts, men debarred from mingling with their ordinary fellow citizens. They were lepers, and as such excluded by the divine law (Lev. 13:46). Yet these were the ones whom God was pleased to employ. How different are His thoughts and ways from man’s! But let us observe the position which they occupied and the strange anomaly which that reveals. They were sitting "at the entering in of the gate," that is, of Samaria (2 Kings 7:1, 3), namely, on the outside of the city’s walls—as the next verse shows. There we have a striking sidelight on the inconsistency of perverse human nature, especially in connection with religious matters. Though idolaters devoid of any respect for Jehovah, yet Jehoram and his officers were punctilious in carrying out the requirement of the ceremonial law as it respected the exclusion of lepers! They were diligent in tithing mint and anise while omitting the weightier matters of the moral law (Matthew 23:23).
That to which we have called attention is frequently exemplified on the pages of Holy Writ. Instead of utterly destroying Amalek and all his possessions, as commanded when God delivered them into his hands, Saul permitted the people to spare the best of the sheep and oxen that they might offer them in "sacrifice unto the LORD." To these Samuel declared, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22). Because it was the eve of the Passover the Jews besought Pilate that the bodies of Christ and the two thieves who had been crucified with Him "might be taken away" (John 19:31), that their solemn feast might not be defiled. What a strange mixture human nature is! Those ceremonially unclean lepers must be shut out of Samaria, even though Jehovah Himself was treated with the utmost contempt! And do we not see the same principle illustrated in Christendom? Let a Christian attend morning services, and he may spend the remainder of Sunday as he pleases. Being a stickler for a particular form of baptism, breaking bread each Lord’s day morning, or spending five days at a "communion," is a mockery if we love not our neighbor as ourselves.
"And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate: and they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die?" It will probably surprise many to know that some have been taught that this is the proper attitude to assume when one has been convicted of his lost condition. Appeal for this is made to such passages as "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors" (Prov. 8:34), "In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water" (John 5:3). The awakened sinner is told that he is utterly helpless to do anything for himself, entirely dependent on God’s sovereign pleasure, and then since there is a set time to favor Zion (Ps. 102:13), he must meekly wait for God’s appointed hour of deliverance, should He deign to deliver him. But such counsel is an utter misuse of both the truth of God’s sovereignty and of man’s spiritual inability. Proof of its error is found in the fact that it both clashes with the call of the gospel and is a repudiation of human responsibility.
The truth is that the spiritual inability of the natural man is both a voluntary and a criminal one. He does not love and serve God because he hates Him; he believes not the gospel because he prefers to cherish a lie; he will not come to the Light because he loves darkness. So far from his "I cannot repent, I cannot believe" expressing an honest desire to do so, it is but an avowal of the heart’s enmity against God. If the doctrine of the cross and the glorious message of the gospel contain nothing to overcome such enmity and attract the soul to Christ, it is not for us to invent another gospel and bend the Scriptures to the inclination of man’s depravity. It is we who must bend to the Scriptures; and if we do not, it will be to our eternal undoing. The one who wrings his hands over his inability to believe and asks, What can I do? is not to be soothed by something other than the gospel of Christ, or encouraged to suppose that he is willing to be saved in God’s way. Yet that is the very delusion such souls cherish, imagining they are as willing to be saved from their sins as the impotent man by the pool was desirous of being made whole.
Neither Christ nor any of His apostles ever told a convicted soul to passively wait for God’s appointed hour of deliverance. Instead, He bade the heavy laden "Come unto me." And instead of informing those who followed Him across the sea, "It lies not in your power to do anything to secure the bread of life," He exhorted them to, "Labor . . . for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life" (John 6:27). Rather than tell men they must sit quietly before it, Christ commanded, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate" (Luke 13:24). When his hearers were pricked in their hearts and asked, "What shall we do?", instead of saying, "You can do nothing, except wait until God speaks peace unto you," Peter bade them "repent" (Acts 2:37-38). Those who think they have been given a sense of their helplessness are quite content if some physician of no value will inspire them with a hope in the way they are now in, and encourage them to expect that if they remain passive, God will release them by a "moving of the waters." We do but miserably deceive souls if we give them any comfort or hold out any hope for them while they remain impenitent and away from Christ.
It is recorded that the passengers of a ship off South America went ashore on a brief expedition, ascending one of the mountains. But before they were aware, night and a very cold fog came on. They felt a strong inclination to sleep, but a medical man in the party remonstrated against any such indulgence, warning them that there would be the utmost danger of their never waking. As the one who chronicled this incident asks, "What had been thought of his conduct if, instead of urging his companions to escape from the mount, he had indulged them in their wishes? The Scriptures declare ‘he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him,’ and surely we ought not to contradict that, either by directing to the use of means short of ‘believing’ or by encouraging those who use them to hope for a happy issue." Paul did not offer the jailor comfort on the ground of his being in great distress, but bade him "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." The word to troubled souls is not, "Sit still," but, "Seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
But to return to the narrative. "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 into the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die" (2 Kings 7:3-4). How those poor lepers put to shame the "do nothing" fatalists! Those men rightly recognized the hopelessness of their case, perceiving that continued passivity would profit them nothing, and hence they decided to act. And if you, my reader, are already convicted of your perishing condition, do not rest content with that conviction and persuade yourself that in due time God will save you. Embrace the gospel offer and receive Christ as your Lord and Savior, for He has declared, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
We ask the indulgence of others who have not been infected with such paralyzing teaching while we add a further word. We would ask them to beg God to use these paragraphs to deliver some souls from this subtle snare of the devil. If one who reads these lines has been made to feel his lost condition, then consider, we pray you, the far happier situation facing you from that in which those lepers were. They decided to come unto an enemy and cast themselves upon his mercy, while you are invited to betake yourself unto the Friend of publicans and sinners! They had no invitation from the Syrians, but you have from the Lord: "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." They had nothing better than an "if they save us alive" to venture upon, whereas you have, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." They were confronted with the possible alternative of being killed; not so you; "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." Then why hesitate?
"And they rose up in the twilight, to go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there" (2 Kings 7:5). What was before us in 2 Kings 7:3-4 did not end in idle talk. The situation for those lepers was a desperate one; and prompted by a sense of urgency, they acted. Their sitting still had gotten them nowhere, so they "rose up" and proceeded at once to their proposed objective. They did not puzzle their heads about God’s secret decree and whether or not His ordained hour had arrived, for that was none of their business. Instead, they responded to the instinct of self-preservation. Again we say, how far superior is the sinner’s case: he need not wait a moment for the prompting of any instinct, but is invited, "Come; for all things are now ready" (Luke 14:17). Come just as you are with all your sinfulness and unworthiness; and if you cannot come to Christ with a melted heart and faith, then come to Him as a patient desperate for them.
Fifth, the Means of the Miracle
The divine narrative breaks in upon the account of the heralds of this miracle to show us its means. For before we see those lepers going forth to publish their good news, we are first informed how it was that they came to find the camp empty. "For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and the 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" (2 Kings 7:6). This is to be regarded as the sequel to 2 Kings 6:24: Ben-hadad’s purpose was to starve out Samaria. But man proposes and God opposes and disposes. "The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect" (Ps. 33:10).
The Lord accomplishes His purpose by a great variety of measures and methods, sometimes employing the supernatural, more often using the natural. What were the means He used here? In the light of what is not said in 2 Kings 7:6, it seems strange that Thomas Scott should write, "The infatuation which seized the minds of the whole Syrian army was equal to the illusion put upon their senses, and both were from the Lord, but how produced we know not." Little better is Matthew Henry’s "these had their hearing imposed upon." There was neither illusion nor imposition. It does not say, "The Lord made them to hear a noise like as of chariots and horses," but the actual thing itself. That is to say, He so attuned their auditory nerves that they registered the sound of what previously was inaudible to them. This is but another instance of how we create our own difficulties when reading the Word through failing to attend closely to exactly what is said.
If we allow scripture to interpret scripture, we should have no difficulty in ascertaining the precise means used on this occasion. On a previous one God had employed "horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17), and as we showed, the reference there was to angelic beings. Then why not the same here! In the former case, God "opened the eyes of the young man" in order to see them; here, He opened the ears of the Syrians to hear them. It may well be that in their original condition our first parents were capacitated to both see and hear celestial beings, but the fall impaired those as well as all their faculties. The "clairvoyance" and "clairaudience" of spiritist mediums could be the devil’s imitation of man’s original powers. That the Syrians, unregenerate idolaters, misinterpreted what they heard is only to be expected. Those who heard the Father speaking to His Son thought "it thundered" (John 12:29), and those who accompanied Saul heard the voice which spoke to him (Acts 9:7) but "heard not the voice" (Acts 22:9)—distinguished not the words.
"Wherefore they arose 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" (2 Kings 7:7). How true it is that "the wicked flee when no man pursueth." Supposing that a more formidable force had come to the relief of the besieged Samaritans, the Syrians were filled with consternation and at once abandoned their well-provisioned camp. So thoroughly panic-stricken were they that they left their "horses" which would have helped their flight. How easily can the Lord make the heart of the stoutest to quake, and how vain and mad a thing it is for anyone to defy Him! "Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? I the LORD have spoken it, and will do it" (Ezek. 22:14). Then throw down the weapons of your warfare against Him and make your peace with Him now.