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(1) Then Elisha said.—And Elisha said. The division of the chapters is unfortunate, there being no break in the story here. The prophet addresses the king and his attendants (2 Kings 7:18).
A measure.—Heb., a seah: the most usual corn measure. (Comp. 1 Kings 18:32; 2 Kings 6:25.) The prophet’s words are more abrupt in the original: “Thus hath Jehovah said, About this time to-morrow a seah (in) fine flour at a shekel, and two seahs (in) barley at a shekel, in the gate of Samaria!”
Fine flour.—Genesis 18:6.
Barley.—Not only as fodder for the horses (Thenius). but also for human consumption, in the shape of barley cakes, &c. (Judges 7:13).
The gate.—The corn market, therefore, was held in the open space just within the gate.
(2) Then a lord.—And the adjutant (shâlîsh: comp. 2 Samuel 23:8; 1 Kings 9:22; 1 Chronicles 11:11), or aide-de-camp or esquire (equerry).
On whose hand . . . leaned.—Comp. the similar expression in reference to Naaman (2 Kings 5:18).
Behold, if the Lord . . . this thing be?—This may be correct. Even granting the very unlikely supposition that Jehovah is about to make windows (Genesis 7:11) in the sky, to rain down supplies through them, the promised cheapness of provisions can hardly ensue so soon. Or we may render, “Behold, Jehovah is going to make windows in the sky [i.e., to pour down provisions upon us]. Can this thing come to pass?” In any case, the tone is that of scoffing unbelief. Reuss renders, with French point, “Voyez donc. Iaheweh en fera pleuvoir! Est ce que c’est chose possible?”
Behold, thou shalt see.—Literally, Behold, thou art about (i.e., destined) to see. Elisha partly imitates the speech of the scoffer, which begins in the Hebrew with “Behold, Jehovah is about to make windows.” (Comp. 2 Kings 5:26.)
(3) And there were four leprous men.—Literally, And four men were lepers.
At the entering in of the gate.—And so outside of the city. (Comp. Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2-3.) Rashi says they were Gehazi and his sons (!)
Why sit we?—Or, Why are we abiding? Nobody brought them food any longer, owing to the pressure of the famine.
(4) Fall unto—i.e., desert, go over to.
If they save us alive.—And give us food, for pity’s sake.
We shall but die.—As we shall if we stop here, or if we go into the city. (The “but” is not in the Hebrew.)
(5) In the twilight—i.e., at nightfall. (See 2 Kings 7:9; 2 Kings 7:12.) They waited till then, that their departure might not be noticed from the walls.
The uttermost part—i.e., the outskirts or verge of the camp nearest to Samaria.
(6) For.—Now: introducing a new paragraph.
Even the noise.—Rather, a noise. The Syriac and the Arabic, as well as some Hebrew MSS., read “and a noise.” This is preferable. (Comp. 2 Kings 6:14, where chariots and horses and a host [of infantry] are distinguished from each other.) The word qôl (literally, “voice”) is commonly used of thunder. (Comp. Psalms 29:0, passim.) The noise the Syrians heard was doubtless a sound in the air among the neighbouring hills.
The kings of the Hittites.—Comp. 1 Kings 9:20; 1 Kings 10:29. The tract of north Syria between the Euphrates and the Orontes was the cradle of the Hittite race, and it was over this that these kings of the several tribes bore sway. In the thirteenth century (B.C. ) their power extended over great part of Asia Minor, as rock inscriptions prove. Carchemish, Kadesh, Hamath, and Helbon (Aleppo) were their capitals. Rameses II. made a treaty of peace with Heta-sira, the prince of the Hittites. In the time of Tiglath Pileser I. (B.C. 1120), the Hittites were still paramount from the Euphrates to the Lebanon. Shalmaneser II. mentions a Hittite prince, Sapalulme, king of the Patinâa, a tribe on the Orontes. The Hittites from whom Solomon exacted forced labour were those who were left in the land of Israel (comp. Genesis 23:0, Genesis 26:34; 1 Samuel 31:6), not the people of the great cities mentioned above, which remained independent, as we know from the Assyrian inscriptions. (Comp. Amos 6:2; 2 Chronicles 8:4 for Hamath.) Tiglath Pileser II. conquered Hamath (B.C. 740). Twenty years later it revolted under Yahubihdi (“Jah is around me;” comp. Psalms 3:3), but was again reduced, and made an Assyrian prefecture by Sargon, who afterwards stormed Carchemish (B.C. 717). (Comp. 2 Kings 17:24; 2 Kings 17:30.)
The kings of the Egyptians.—The plural may be rhetorical. (Comp. 2 Chronicles 28:16 : “The kings of Assyria,” and Note.) Little is known of the state of Egypt at this time (towards the close of the twenty-second dynasty). The Syrians were seized with panic, under the idea that they were about to be attacked on all sides at once. Some such wild rumour as that expressed by the words of the text must have been spread through the camp; but we need not press the literal accuracy of the statement, for who was there to report the exact nature of the alarm to the historians of Israel? Moreover, it is evident from the style of the narrative in chapters 6 and 7 that it rests upon oral tradition, so that it would be a mistake to press subordinate details. Prof. Robertson Smith considers that the sudden retreat of the Syrians is explained by the fact that the Assyrians were already pressing upon them.
(7) Wherefore (and) they arose.—The verse gives a vivid picture of a wild flight, in which everything was forgotten except personal safety.
As it was.—“Camp” is feminine here and in Genesis 32:9 only.
For their life.—1 Kings 19:3.
(8) And when . . . tent.—Literally, And (so) those lepers came to the edge of the camp, and they went into one tent, taking up the thread of the narrative again at 2 Kings 7:5, where it was broken by the parenthesis about the panic flight of the Syrians.
Went and hid it.—A common practice of Orientals, with whom holes in the ground or in the house wall supply the place of banks.
(9) Some mischief will come upon us.—Literally, guilt will find us: we shall incur blame. Vulg., “we shall be accused of wrong-doing.”
Now therefore.—And now: the inferential use of “now.” (Comp. Psalms 2:10.)
(10) The porter.—The Oriental versions may be right in reading “porters,” i.e., warders. The plural is implied by “they told them,” which immediately follows, and actually occurs in 2 Kings 7:11. But the reading of the LXX. and Vulg., “gate,” implies the same consonants differently pointed, as those of the word “porter.” This attests the antiquity of the reading. Probably, therefore, the word “porter” is here used collectively.
No man . . . voice of man.—The first word (’îsh) denotes an individual man, the second word (’âdâm) denotes the species, and so includes women and children.
Horses.—The horses. Similarly, the asses. Both words are singular (collectives) in the Hebrew.
Tied—i.e., tethered and feeding.
The tents.—Omit the.
(11) And he called the porters.—Rather, And the porters called. The verb in the Hebrew is singular,and may be used impersonally: “And one called, viz., the warders.” But the LXX., Targum, Arabic, and some Hebrew MSS., read the plural. The Syriac has, “And the porters drew near, and told the house of the king.”
And they told it.—The king’s palace may have been near to the ramparts. If not, the sentries at the gate shouted their news to other soldiers near them, who conveyed it to the palace. The word “within” seems to indicate the former. (The Authorised Version, which is Kimchi’s rendering, cannot be right, because in that case the Hebrew verb would require the preposition “unto,” as in 2 Kings 7:10.)
(12) I will now shew you.—“Suspicax est miseria” (Grotius). Such stratagems as Jehoram suspected are, however, common enough in warfare.
To hide themselves in the field.—Both expressions in the Hebrew follow the later modes of inflection. Such forms may be due to transcribers rather than to the original writer.
(13) Let some take.—Literally, And (i.e., then) let them take. (Comp. 2 Kings 2:9; 2 Kings 4:41.)
Five.—Used as an indefinite small number, like our “half a dozen.” (Comp. Leviticus 26:8; Isaiah 30:17.) The actual number taken was two pairs (2 Kings 7:14).
The horses that remain, which are left in the city.—Literally, the remaining horses that remain in it. The repetition dwells pathetically on the fewness of those that survive. Instead of “in it,” the LXX. and Arabic read “here,” which may be right, as the two Hebrew terms closely resemble each other.
Behold, they are as all . . . consumed.—The king’s adviser supposes two contingencies: the horses (and their drivers) may return safe, in which case they share the fortune of “all the multitude of Israel that are left” (i.e., have survived the famine, but are likely to die of it); or they may be taken and slain by the enemy, in which case they will be “even as all the multitude that are consumed” (i.e., by the famine and fighting). The sense is thus the same as in 2 Kings 7:4. The servant is not much more sanguine than the king: he says, “They have to perish in any case; whether here by famine, or there by the sword, makes little difference.” “However it may turn out, nothing worse can happen to the men we send out than has already happened to many others, or than will yet happen to the rest.” But perhaps Reuss is right in seeing here simply a reference to the wretched condition of the horses. “Qu’attendre de chevaux qui sont exténues de faim?” A natural doubt whether the starving animals are adequate to the service required of them. “Consumed,” then, means spent, exhausted.
The multitude of Israel.—The article with the first word in the Hebrew is the error of a transcriber, who, as often occurs, wrote the same letter twice.
The Israelites.—Israel. Syriac: “Let them bring five of the horsemen who are left: if they are taken, they are accounted of as all the people of Israel who have perished; and let us send and see.”
(14) Two chariot horses.—Literally, two chariots (of) horses, i.e., teams for two chariots, or two pairs of horses. The chariots and their drivers are implied, not mentioned. Two chariots were sent, so that if attacked they might make a better resistance; or perhaps in order that, if one were captured by the enemy, the other might escape with the news.
(15) In their haste.—Comp. 1 Samuel 23:6; Psalms 48:6; Psalms 104:7—passages which prove that the Hebrew text is right here, and the Hebrew margin wrong.
Unto Jordan.—Not all the way to the river, which would be at least twenty miles, but in the direction of it.
(16) The tents.—Rather, the camp.
So—And it came to pass.
(17) And the king appointed.—Rather, Now the king had appointed.
The lord.—The adjutant (2 Kings 7:2).
To have the charge of the gate.—To maintain order as the famished crowd poured out of the city.
Trode upon him.—Trampled him down, as he was trying to discharge his duty. This probably happened, as Thenius suggests, when the crowd was returning from the Syrian camp, wild with excess of food and drink, after their long abstinence. Thus he “saw the plenty with his eyes, but did not eat thereof” (2 Kings 7:2). Reuss thinks the charge of the gate is equivalent to the charge of the market, as the market was held on the space adjoining the gate.
Who spake.—This is probably a spurious repetition. It is wanting in some Hebrew MSS., and in the Syriac, Vulg., and Arabic versions. If retained in the text, we must render, “And he died, according to that which the man of God spake, which he spake when the king,” &c. But perhaps the reading of one Hebrew MS. is correct: “And he died, according to the word of the man of God, which he spake,” &c.
(18) To the king.—The LXX. and Syriac have, “to the messenger.” (See Note on 2 Kings 6:23.)
In this and the following verse the author repeats the prediction and its fulfilment with obvious satisfaction. The moral is a warning against unbelief.
(19) That lord.—The adjutant.
Might such a thing be?—Literally, Might it happen according to this word? But the LXX., Syriac, and Vulg.,with many Hebrew MSS., read, as in 2 Kings 7:2, “Might this thing (or word) be?”
(20) For the people trode upon him.—And the people trampled him down, or under foot.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Kings 7". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany