Famine to Feasting

24 Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. 25 And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver.’ 26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body— 31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”

32 Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. Now the king had dispatched a man from his presence, but before the messenger arrived Elisha said to the elders, “Do you see how this murderer has sent to take off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door fast against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” 33 And while he was still speaking with them, the messenger came down to him and said, “This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” 

1 But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”2 Kings 6:24-7:2 ESV

One thing that becomes painfully evident when reading God’s Word is that it tends to paint humanity in far-from-flattering terms. The characters found in the Bible are presented with all their flaws fully exposed. We get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of their character. There are examples of mankind’s more positive traits, but they seem few and far between. From the opening pages of the book of Genesis to the closing chapters of Revelation, the fallen nature of humanity is presented with painstaking accuracy. Throughout the book, we see a litany of vices on display, including all of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. There are countless stories that chronicle mankind’s stubbornness, arrogance, and selfishness. And they are intended to stand in stark contrast to the righteousness of God. All throughout the Bible, we see fallen humanity displayed against the stark backdrop of God’s incomparable holiness. Yet the stories of their unfaithfulness, arrogance, pride, and sin are seamlessly woven together with the countless examples of God’s power and sovereignty. We have one such example in today’s passage.

For some time, Ben-hadad II, the king of Syria, had been trying to develop secret plans to invade Israel. But each time he attempted to put them into action, the Israelites were one step ahead of him. He discovered that Elisha the prophet had been receiving secret intel on all their planning sessions, and it had come directly from Yahweh, the God of Israel. Since Ben-hadad couldn’t do anything to stop Yahweh, he decided to capture Elisha. But, once again, his strategy failed miserably. When his troops laid siege to the city of Dothan, where Elisha was living, God blinded them. Then Elisha led them to Samaria, where the king of Israel spared their lives and threw them a feast. These men returned home, grateful to be alive.

But then we read, “Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria” (2 Kings 6:24 ESV). We’re not told how much time transpired between Ben-hadad’s last failed attempt to attack Israel and this latest campaign. But it’s quite clear that he had not given up his intentions to conquer the nation of Israel. This man’s stubborn persistence is on display. Despite what had happened to his troops the last time they went into Israelite territory, he was determined to carry out his latest plans.

As a result of the siege, the conditions inside Samaria quickly deteriorated. Food became scarce and the people within the walls of the city became desperate. Price gouging was prevalent because there was nothing to eat. People were willing to pay exorbitant prices for anything that even remotely resembled food.

The siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty pieces of silver, and a cup of dove’s dung sold for five pieces of silver. –  2 Kings 6:25 NLT 

These were desperate times. And to make sure we understand just how bad things had become, the author reveals that the people had resorted to cannibalism. And to make matters worse, it involved a mother sacrificing her infant son so that she and her friends could survive. This sickening story is told to King Jehoram as he walked along the walls of the city, surveying the worsening conditions of his people. What makes this incident all the more repulsive is that it involved deceit and dishonesty. Facing starvation, two mothers had agreed to kill their own children and eat their flesh in order to survive. One had followed through on her commitment, but when it came time for the second mother to kill her child, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

King Jehoram was sickened by what he heard and tore his clothes as a sign of mourning. Yet, rather than see the situation as a sign of God’s judgment against apostate Israel, the king decided to blame Elisha.

“May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t separate Elisha’s head from his shoulders this very day.” – 2 Kings 6:31 NLT

Jehoram was about to make the age-old mistake of killing the messenger. He knew that Elisha spoke for God, so he assumed that if he could eliminate the prophet, the conditions in Samaria would improve. But Elisha was not the cause of his problem or the source behind the judgment he was experiencing. It was the sovereign, all-powerful hand of God.

Jehoram’s decision to kill God’s prophet was doomed to failure. But fueled by anger, arrogance, and pride, the king sent a messenger to retrieve Elisha and bring him back to the palace. But Elisha was one step ahead of Jehoram, having been informed by God of the king’s intentions.

“A murderer has sent a man to cut off my head. When he arrives, shut the door and keep him out. We will soon hear his master’s steps following him.” – 2 Kings 6:32 NLT

When the messenger arrived, he found the door to Elisha’s home blocked. So, he delivered his message from the king.

“All this misery is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” – 2 Kings 6:33 NLT

Jehoram acknowledged that God was behind the siege, but he also revealed his doubt that God would ever rescue them. Since he couldn’t take out his frustration on God, he had decided to kill God’s prophet. He was following the same strategy his mother Jezebel had used. When Elijah had defeated and killed the 450 prophets of Baal, she had ordered his death (1 Kings 19:2). Now, years later, here was her son attempting to thwart the plan of God by killing the prophet of God. Jehoram’s pride, arrogance, and anger are on full display. But at no point does he take ownership of his godless leadership of the nation. He displays no remorse or repentance.

But the prophet delivered an unexpected and inexplicable message to the king.

“Listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord says: By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost only one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost only one piece of silver.” – 2 Kings 7:1 NLT

Things were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. In just 24 hours, God was going to miraculously reverse the conditions in Samaria. The long-lasting famine would come to an abrupt end and the people living inside the walls of Samaria would suddenly find food readily available and at affordable prices. But the king’s messenger found Elisha’s prediction to be far-fetched and refused to believe a word he said.

“That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” – 2 Kings 7:2 NLT

This arrogant man questioned the words of the prophet but, more importantly, he doubted the power of God. And Elisha warned him that he would pay dearly for his mistake.

“You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” – 2 Kings 7:2 NLT

God was about to do something incredible but this emissary of the king refused to believe that any of it was possible. Like his boss, he had long ago given up any belief in the sovereignty and power of Yahweh. From his godless and apostate perspective, this problem was too big, even for God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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