Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
FIFTEENTH MIRACLE—GLAD TIDINGS
In continuing our contemplation of this miracle, let us now pause and admire the marvel of it. Ben-hadad had become dissatisfied with the results achieved by his marauding bands, and, gathering together the whole of his armed forces, determined to reduce Samaria to utter helplessness. Throwing a powerful force around their capital he sought to bring its inhabitants to complete starvation by means of a protracted siege. In order to carry out his scheme, he had brought with his army large supplies of food and clothing, so that they might be in comfort while they waited for the stores of his victim to give out. How nearly his plan succeeded we have seen: the Samaritans were reduced to the most desperate straits in an effort to keep life in their bodies. Yet as Scott pointed out, "In extreme distress unexpected relief is often preparing, and whatever unbelievers may imagine, it is not in vain to wait for the Lord, how long soever He seems to delay His coming."
But in the instance now before us, there is not a word to indicate that the Samaritans had been crying unto the Lord and looking to Him for relief. They had openly turned away from Him and were worshiping idols. This it is which renders the more noteworthy the act of Jehovah on this occasion: He was found of them that sought Him not (Isa. 65:1). He showed Himself strong on the behalf of a people who had grievously despised and insulted Him. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. It was the Most High acting in His absolute sovereignty, having mercy on whom He pleased to have mercy and showing favor unto those who not only had no claim thereto but who deserved only unsparing judgment at His hands. The means which the Lord used on this occasion was as remarkable as the exercise of His distinguishing mercy. He was pleased to use the stores of the Syrians, their deadly enemies, to feed the famished Samaritans. Thus were the wise taken in their own craftiness.
Four lepers outside Samaria’s gates said, "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 unto 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). Observe how God wrought: it was not by an audible voice that He bade these lepers act—not such are the mysterious but perfect workings of Providence. It is by means of a secret and imperceptible impulse from Him, through the process of natural laws, that God usually works in men both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Those lepers acted quite freely of their own volition, in response to simple but obvious thoughts on their situation, and followed the dictates of common sense and the impulse of self-preservation. Mark, we are not here attempting to philosophize or explain the conjunction between the natural and the supernatural, but we are merely calling attention to what lies on the surface of our narrative, and which is recorded for our instruction.
When the four lepers arrived at the enemy’s camp they found it to be deserted, "For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a 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. 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 7:6-7). That was indeed the employment of the supernatural—something over and above the ordinary workings of Providence, for though the Syrians misinterpreted the sound, we believe (as stated in our last chapter) that what they heard was the movement of angelic horses and chariots (cf. 2 Kings 6:17). The Lord allowed their ears to register what normally would have been inaudible to them. Yet even here there was a blending of the supernatural with the natural: those celestial beings did not slay the Syrians but only terrified them by the noise which they made.
It may not so strike the reader, but what most impresses the writer in connection with this incident is the remarkable blending together of the supernatural and the natural, the operations of God and the actions of men, and the light this casts on the workings of divine providence. Perhaps that would be made plainer by first reading 2 Kings 7:6-7, where we have recorded the miracle itself and the startling effect which it had upon the Syrians, and then 2 Kings 7:5 where we are told of the action of these four men which led to their discovery of a miracle having been wrought, thereby preparing the way for all that follows. Here we have another illustration of what we have frequently pointed out in these pages, namely, that when God works He does so at both ends of the line: here openly at one end and secretly at the other. Had not the lepers actually journeyed to the Syrians’ camp, those in Samaria would have remained in ignorance that food was to be had. God therefore moved those lepers to go there, yet how naturally He wrought! They were not conscious that He had given them a secret inclination to move, nor had they any inkling of the miracle, as their words in 2 Kings 7:4 make clear.
"And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it" (2 Kings 7:8). Solemn indeed is this, first, from the negative side. There was no recognition of the divine hand, no awesome explanation, "What hath God wrought!" no bowing before Him in thanksgiving for such a remarkable favor. They conducted themselves like infidels, accepting the mercies of heaven as a mere matter of course. And remember, they were lepers; but even such an affliction had not turned their hearts to the Lord. Be not surprised then that those whose homes are destroyed and whose bodies are injured by bombs are not brought to repentance thereby. After satisfying their hunger, they plundered the Syrian tents. Verily, "There is no new thing under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). There was looting then as there is now, though theirs was not nearly so despicable and dastardly as what is now so common.
And why is it that "there is no new thing under the sun"? Because "as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man" (Prov. 27:19). Whether he be a man living in centuries B.C. or A.D., whether he be civilized or uncivilized, his heart is depraved. Civilization effects no change within any person, for civilization (not to be confused with morality and common decency) is but a veneer from without. But to return to our passage. The lepers, enriching themselves from the spoil of the Syrians, did not contribute to the relief of the starving Samaritans, and that was what Jehovah had promised. Mark then the sequel: "Then they said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king’s household" (2 Kings 7:9). The divine design of mercy to the starving city was not to be thwarted by the greed of these lepers, for His counsel must stand. Yet note how it was now effected.
As God had wrought secretly in those lepers in verses 3-4, He again did so now. First it was by an impulse upon their instinct of self-preservation; here it is upon their conscience. Yet observe how conscience acts in the unregenerate, producing not horror and anguish at having offended a gracious God, but causing fear of the consequences. This is made clearer by the rendering: "If we tarry till the morning light, we shall find punishment." But unless God had wrought secretly upon them, they too would have been like our own generation, from whom His restraining hand is removed and who are "given up to their own hearts’ lusts"—utterly reckless and regardless of consequences. In this instance, in order to carry out His benevolent purpose, God put a measure of fear upon these lepers and caused them to realize that not only were they playing an ignoble part, but were likely to swiftly be smitten by His wrath if they failed to announce the good news to their famished fellows.
"Now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king’s household" (2 Kings 7:9). Here, as everywhere, we need to be much on our guard against making a misapplication of Scripture. It is so easy to read our own thought into the Word and thus find what we are looking for. Those who are so enthusiastic in urging young believers to become evangelists by preaching the gospel to all and sundry, would likely find in this verse what they would consider a striking passage on which to base an address on the necessity of personal work; yet it would be an altogether unwarranted use to make of it. This verse is very far from teaching, by typical implication, that it is the duty of every Christian to announce the "good tidings" to all they contact. Holy Writ does not contradict itself, and none other than the Lord Jesus has expressly bidden us, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Matthew 7:6). That command is designed to bridle the restless energy of the flesh.
It was unto those who had been prepared for those "good tidings" who would welcome them, these lepers went forth, namely, to those who were fully conscious of their starving condition! There is a radical difference between those who are "lovers of pleasure" and satisfied with what they find therein, and the ones who have discovered the emptiness of such things and are deeply concerned about their eternal welfare; and there should be an equally radical difference in the way we deal with and speak to each of them. The gospel would not be "good tidings" to the former, but would be trodden beneath their feet if offered to them; yet it is likely to be welcomed by the latter. And if we unmistakably meet with the latter, it would be sinful for us to remain selfishly silent. "So they came and called unto the porter of the city: and they told them, saying, We came to the camp of the Syrians, and, behold, there was no man there, neither voice of man, but horses tied, and asses tied, and the tents as they were" (2 Kings 7:10).
Not being permitted to enter the city, the four lepers called out to those who were keeping watch at its gate. They announced the good news in plain and simple language, and then left the issue with them. The chief porter did not receive the strange tidings with incredulity, but "he called the [subordinate] porters;" and, while he remained at his post of duty, "they told it to the king’s house within" (2 Kings 7:11), middle of the night though it was. Here too we may perceive the continued, though secret, workings of the Lord. He it was who caused the porter to give heed to the message he had just heard. Altogether unexpected as it must have been, too good to be true as it would have sounded, yet he was divinely inclined to believe the glad tidings and promptly acquaint his royal master with them. Yet the porter acted quite freely and discharged his personal responsibility. How wondrous are the ways of Him with whom we have to do!
"And the king arose in the night, and said unto his servants, I will now shew you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we be hungry; therefore are they gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, When they come out of the city, we shall catch them alive, and get into the city" (2 Kings 7:12). The king’s reaction to the good news was thoroughly characteristic of him, being consistent with everything else recorded of him. Instead of expressing gratitude at the glad tidings, he voiced his skepticism; instead of perceiving the gracious hand of God, he suspected his enemies of laying a subtle snare. Perhaps some may be inclined to say, It was very natural for Jehoram to argue thus: the king was acting in prudence and wise caution. Natural it certainly was, but not spiritual! There was no thought that the Lord had now made good His word through the prophet, but simply the reasoning of a carnal mind at enmity against Him. One of the ways in which the carnal mind expresses itself is by a reasoned attempt to explain away the wondrous works and acts of God.
When God has spoken, plainly and expressly, it is not for us to reason, but to set to our seal that He is true and receive with unquestioning faith what He has said. If it is a promise, expect Him to make it good. The skepticism of the king only serves to show how the tidings borne by the lepers would have been lost on the porters and the entire royal household had not God wrought secretly but effectually in the one and the other. Accordingly we are next told, "And one of his servants answered and said, Let some take, I pray thee, five of the horses that remain, which are left in the city, (behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it: behold, I say, they are even as all the multitude of the Israelites that are consumed:) and let us send and see" (2 Kings 7:13). That too was "of the Lord." He it was who gave this servant both courage and wisdom to remonstrate with his master. He knew the man he had to deal with, as his "send and see" showed, reminding us at once of 2 Kings 6:10, when the king "sent" to see if Elisha’s warning were a true one.
Nothing could be lost (unless it were the horses) by pursuing the policy proposed by the servant, and much might be gained. As the divine purpose could not be thwarted by the greed of the lepers, so it should not be by the skepticism of the king. It was God who gave the servant’s counsel favor in his master’s sight, and therefore we are told, "They took therefore two chariot horses; and the king sent after the host of the Syrians, saying, Go and see" (2 Kings 7:14). God’s ways and works are as perfect in their execution as they are in their devising. But be it noted that though Jehoram yielded to the solicitation of his servant, it was with some unbelief he did so, as his sending them "after the host of the Syrians" rather than "unto their camp" indicates. Nor was their errand in vain: "They went after them unto Jordan: and, lo, all the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste" (2 Kings 7:15). It was no temporary spasm of fear that possessed them but a thorough and lasting one. When God works, He works effectually.
"And the messengers returned, and told the king. And the people went out, and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD" (2 Kings 7:15-16). Of course it was, for no word of God’s can possibly fall to the ground, since it is the Word of Him "that cannot lie" (Titus 1:2). Men may scoff at it, kings may not believe it, even when its definite fulfillment is declared to them; but that affects not its truth. "Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise" (1 Kings 8:56). It is to be noted that the prediction made through Elisha was fulfilled in no vague and mere general way, but specifically and to the letter. That too is recorded both for our instruction and our consolation.
Sixth, the Meaning of the Miracle
After all we have sought to bring out upon this miracle, its spiritual significance should, in its broad outline at least, be plain to every Christian reader. We say "its broad outline," for every detail in it is not to be regarded as a line in the picture. First, the starving Samaritans may surely be viewed as portraying perishing sinners. They were not seeking God nor looking to Him for relief. So far from it, they had turned their backs upon Him and had given themselves up to idolatry. They were reduced to the most desperate straits, being quite unable to deliver themselves. As such they accurately represented the condition and position of the fallen and depraved descendants of Adam.
Second, in Ben-hadad and his hosts who sought the destruction of the Samaritans, we have a figure of Satan and his legions who are relentlessly attempting to destroy the souls of men, "seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). Third, in the divine deliverance of the famished Israelites, by a miracle of sovereign mercy, we have a striking foreshadowment of the saving of God’s elect. The particular aspect of the gospel here pictured appears in the strange means which God employed to bring about deliverance, namely, His causing the Syrians themselves to supply the food for those they had designed to be their victims. Does not this remind us forcibly of that verse; "that through death he might destroy him that had [as the executioner] the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14)! As the Savior Himself declared, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53); yet by allowing the serpent to bruise His heel, He set free his captives. Incredible as it seems to the proud philosopher, it is by Christ’s humiliation His people are exalted, by His poverty they are made rich, by His death they have life, by His being made a "curse" all blessing comes to them!
Seventh, the Sequel of the Miracle
"And the king [God working secretly in him to do so] appointed the lord on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate: and the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died, as the man of God [not simply ‘Elisha’!] had said, who spake when the king came down to him. And so it fell out unto him" (2 Kings 7:17, 20). Thus in due course, the divine threat was executed, fulfilled to the very letter. Solemn indeed was this, being the awful sequel to what was before us in 2 Kings 7:1-2. In like manner God will yet answer the skepticism and blasphemous scoffing of this degenerate age. The great of this world may laugh at the Lord’s servants now, but in eternity they shall gnash their teeth in anguish. This sequel completes the symbolic picture, showing as it does the doom of the reprobate. The gospel is a savor of death unto death as well as of life unto life. Unbelievers will "see" the elect feasting with Christ, as the rich man saw Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom; but they shall not partake thereof.