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THE FLIGHT OF THE SYRIANS
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 7:1. A measure of fine flour—This seah would probably contain about three gallons of flour. In the gate of Samaria—i.e., the market. Agricultural and garden produce from the country were brought to the gates of cities for sale.
2 Kings 7:2. Then a lord, on whose hand the king, &c.—This שָלִישׁ may be described as a knight or chariot-warrior; the plural word is rendered in 1 Kings 9:20, “rulers of his chariot” (see Note in loc.) The king, when on foot abroad, would usually be attended by his highest courtier, resting his hand on his arm. Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven—Omit if. The Lord will, &c.—הִגֵּה is הֵן, demonstrative: “Lo! behold, the Lord will.” Strong irony; scoffing incredulity.
2 Kings 7:3. Four leprous men—Perhaps living in some lazar-house outside the gate (see Numbers 5:3-4).
2 Kings 7:5. In the twilight—This “twilight”—בַנָּשֶׁף—was not the early dawn, but the evening twilight, as is evident from
2 Kings 7:9. and also from the king’s prompt action, which was “in the night” (2 Kings 7:12).
2 Kings 7:6. Hear a noise—קוֹל. This sound as of the march of two hostile armies was evidently a supernatural illusion; and it is an unimportant question whether the illusion was objective or subjective. God created it for His own purpose. Kings of the Hittites … kings of Egypt—General phrases for the northern and southern kings.
2 Kings 7:9. Some mischief will come upon us—Guilt, or punishment of guilt.
2 Kings 7:10. Horses tied, asses tied, and the tents—In Eastern encampments, the tents are placed central, and the cattle picketted around outside as a defence. Hence the lepers first come to the “horses and asses,” then to the “tents.”
2 Kings 7:11. And he called the porters—Being the soldier on guard, he could not leave his post, so called to other soldiers within the gate, who carried the news to the palace guards.
2 Kings 7:13. One of the servants answered, &c.—His advice to the king, who suspects a stratagem, is given in confused words, but means—Send out five scouts; if they perish, then their fate will be only as the fate of “the multitude of Israel” is sure to be if no Divine deliverance arises.
2 Kings 7:14. Took two chariot horses—שְׁנֵי רכב סוּסים, two pairs of horses. After the host of the Syrians—lit., after the camp.
2 Kings 7:16. And the people went out—The news that the enemy had fled in a panic sped through the city, and the crowds poured out in a rush to seize the stores and spoil of the Syrian camp. Such plenty was found that food was sold at nominal prices to the famished people.
2 Kings 7:17. Charge of the gate—Thus the king placed his “knight,” who the day before had derided Elisha’s prophecy, in the very position for the predicted fate to overtake him. By such blunders, knowing not what they do, men unwittingly work out God’s fore-ordained plans.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 7:1-20
THE UNFAILING CERTAINTY OF THE DIVINE WORD
In this chapter we have an illustration of how the Scripture narrative subordinates everything to the setting forth of the Divine word and purpose. To the historian there is ample material for the most graphic picture-writing: the beleagured city wasting in famine—the lepers: their desperate decision, their struggle with the spirit of covetousness in the midst of plenty; their generous recognition of the claims of a common brotherhood—the alarm and rout of the Syrians—the mad stampede of the famished citizens when the news of the flight was confirmed, and the wild avidity with which the provisions and treasures of the Syrians were seized—all this is told with the utmost simplicity, and would not be told at all, but to point out the fulfilment of a promise and a threat (compare 2 Kings 7:1-2, with 2 Kings 7:18-20). Jehovah interposes to arrest a national calamity at the last moment, and the people are taught to respect His prophet, and to receive His word for their warning and instruction. They are again taught the utter worthlessness of their heathen deities in extremity. Observe—
I. That the Divine word is uttered at a time when it seems very unlikely that its promises or threatenings will ever be fulfilled.
1. The natural obstacles to its fulfilment seem insuperable. Samaria was closely invested by a powerful and numerous army. Within was famine; without was the sword. Every passing moment was in favour of the besieging host; starvation would soon bring the victory denied to their arms. It seemed very improbable that flour and barley, that had become almost a forgotten luxury to the besieged, should be both abundant and cheap on the morrow. How often are the Divine utterances environed with mystery and improbability: e.g., the promise to Abram of a numerous posterity; the threat of the deluge; the prophecies concerning Messiah; the gifts and operations of the Holy Ghost; the call and salvation of the Gentiles. What appears impossible to us is the normal order with God. Human faith is tested; Divine power is vindicated.
2. The Divine word is ridiculed by the unbelieving. “If the Lord would make windows in Heaven might this thing be.” Such was the sneer of a Jewish peer, probably the prime minister of Jehoram. We can almost hear his scornful laugh, as he pictures Jehovah opening heaven, and showering down meal and grain like rain. Would it arrest his mockery to hear his doom so promptly threatened that he should see it, but not partake of it? Unbelief is highly offensive to God; it is the parent of the grossest sins, and deprives man of the richest blessings. The discontented Hebrews saw the promised land; but their unbelief prevented them entering into its possession. It is an evidence of the blindness and audacity of sin, that it questions the word of infinite Goodness and Justice.
II. That the Divine word is fulfilled by unexpected agencies. “The Lord made the host to hear a noise” (2 Kings 7:6). This may have been the noise of the same host whose movements David was once permitted to hear in the tops of the trees, and which led him on to the conquest of the Philistines (2 Samuel 5:24). Or the noise may have had no objective reality, but may have been a mere delusion produced in the minds of the Syrians. In either case it was caused by the Lord, and the Syrians were led to imagine that Jehoram had hired against them the armies of other nations. The sight of horses and chariots encouraged the servant of Elisha (2 Kings 6:17). The noise of horses and chariots terrified the Syrians. The Lord can make the ordinary senses and faculties of the human mind the means of blessing or of punishment. The Syrians fled in dismay, and in such headlong haste as to leave their provisions and baggage behind them. Samaria was delivered and knew it not, and might have remained in ignorance for several days. But the word of the Lord must be fulfilled, and the lepers—beings from whom every one shrank with disgust—are used as messengers of joyful tidings. Not till the lepers were surfeited with spoil, did they listen to the dictates of a common humanity; but the night is deepening, and the word of the Lord must be fulfilled on the morrow. The news of the leprous messengers is received with suspicion, and the cautious king is unwilling to act; but the morn is breaking, and the word of the Lord must be fulfilled. The counsel of the king’s servants prevails, two chariots are timidly sent forth, the news is confirmed, and the camp that threatened death a few hours before, furnishes in abundance the necessaries of life. Thus, by the most unlikely agencies, and in the most unexpected way, the Divine purpose is accomplished.
III. That the Divine word is fulfilled with unfailing certainty. “And it came to pass as the man of God had spoken” (2 Kings 7:18). The spoil of the deserted Syrian camp fulfilled the promise of cheap food; and the death of the unbelieving nobleman, who was crushed by the overwhelming crowd of famished citizens, in their wild eagerness to press through the gate, fulfilled the threat, “Thou shalt see with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.” With what gratitude and with what awe should we regard the word of God! With gratitude, because its promises are so rich and sure; with awe, because its threatenings will be inevitably fulfilled. As certain as the moving glacier, impelled by an irresistible law, bears down all obstruction, and buries in ruin whatever lies in its course, so certainly will the word of God, impelled not by blind, unthinking force, but by the loftiest intelligence and irreproachable justice, bring to pass its threatenings against the impenitent and disobedient. That people is hopelessly sunk that is not moved and instructed by either promise or threatening.
1. It is a solemn responsibility to declare or listen to the word of God.
2. The most formidable nation cannot prevent the fulfilment of the Divine word.
3. The word of God should be reverently feared, and implicitly trusted.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 7:1-2. The Divine method of relief.
1. Is seen in the moment of human extremity.
2. Makes demands upon our faith.
3. Is inexplicable to the unbelieving.
4. Magnifies the Divine power and generosity.
2 Kings 7:2. The children of this world consider their unbelief to be wisdom and enlightenment, and they seek to put that which is a consolation and an object of reverence to others in a ridiculous light. The Lord will not leave such wickedness unpunished. It is only too often the case that high-born and apparently well-bred men at Court take pleasure in mockeries of the word of God and of its declarations, without reflecting that they thereby bear testimony to their own inner rudeness, vulgarity, and want of breeding. It is a bad sign of the character of a prince, where scoffers form the most intimate circle of his retinue. Unbelief is folly, because it robs itself of the blessing which is the portion of faith.—Lange.
Prophecies before they be fulfilled are riddles; no spirit can read them but that by which they are delivered. It is a foolish and injurious infidelity to question a possibility, where we know the message is God’s. How easy it is for that Omnipotent hand to effect those things which surpass all the reach of human conceit! H God intended a miraculous multiplication, was it not as easy for Him to increase the corn or meal of Samaria as the widow’s oil? Was it not as easy for him to give plenty of victuals without opening the windows of Heaven, us to give plenty of water without wind or rain? The Almighty hates to be distrusted.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 7:3; 2 Kings 7:10. The conduct of the lepers illustrative of varying phases in human experience.
1. Desperate in extremity (2 Kings 7:3-4). Death threatened-them at every point. To enter the city was to starve—to remain inactive was to die—they could be no worse if they threw themselves upon the mercy of the enemy. A drowning man will snatch at a passing straw. The dread of death drives many to the most desperate measures.
2. Forgetful and selfish in sudden prosperity (2 Kings 7:8). They were intoxicated with the sight of such abundant spoil, and not content with allaying the pangs of hunger, they were carried away with the spirit of greed, and hid the treasure they had so suddenly acquired. Their captivity rendered them forgetful of the starving city. The chief butler, when restored to his wealth and dignity, forgot the imprisoned Joseph (Genesis 11:23). Sudden prosperity brings its special perils.
3. The subjects of reflection and of humane and generous impulses (2 Kings 7:9-10). Their consciences smote them—they thought of their starving brethren—they could no longer delay to carry the tidings of deliverance and plenty. The grosser demands of their animal nature were satisfied, and the Instincts of their higher nature began to assert themselves. Hunger, and the excitement of sudden plenty, had demoralized their better feelings; but when the famine fiend was expelled, they felt again the generous pulse of a common brotherhood. And yet how few who are blessed with abundance are remarkable for generosity!
2 Kings 7:3-4. How often we meet with a similar disposition. Instead of a joyful and believing look up to Heaven, a faithless looking for help from human hands; instead of submission to God, a dull discontent—a despair which quarrels with the eternal. And what language is this—“If they kill us, we shall only die?”—as if the grave was the end of men, and the great beyond were only a dream; or as if it were a matter of course that the pain of death atones for the sins of a wasted life, and most rightfully purchases their pardon and a reception into heavenly blessedness. Our life lies in the hand of God, who sets its limit which we may not anticipate. Circumstances may indeed arise in which a man wishes for death. It makes a great difference, however, whether this wish comes from weariness of life, or whether we have, with Paul, “a desire to depart and to be with Christ.” Only when Christ has become our life, is death a gain.—Krummacher.
2 Kings 7:6. It is only necessary that in the darkness a wind should blow, or that water should splash in free course, or that an echo should resound from the mountains, or that the wind should rustle the dry leaves, to terrify the godless, so that they flee as if pursued by a sword, and fall, though no one pursues them. It happens to the unconverted man as it did here to the Syrians. God causes him to hear the rumbling of His anger, the roaring of the death floods, the thunder of His law, and the trumpet sounds of the judgment day. Then he flees from the doomed camp in which he has dwelt hitherto, and hurls away the dead weight of his own wisdom, justice, and strength.—Lange.
2 Kings 7:8-9. Many a one gets chances to acquire property dishonestly, to enjoy luxury and debauchery, to gratify fleshly lusts, and to commit other sins; and, if he is secure from human eye, he does not trouble himself about the all-seeing eye of God; but his crime is discovered at last in his own conscience, and, by God’s judgment, it is revealed and punished. Conscience can, indeed, be benumbed for a time, but it will not rest for ever; it awakes at last, and stings all the more the longer it has been still. He who conceals what he has found is not better than a thief.—Wurt. Summary.
2 Kings 7:9. Glad tidings.
1. When they offer life to the perishing.
2. May be borne by the afflicted and despised.
3. May be wickedly suppressed.
4. Should be eagerly proclaimed by all who have benefited by them.
—How far self-love carries us in all our actions, even to the neglect of the public! Not till their own bellies and hands and eyes were filled did these lepers think of imparting this news to Israel. At last, when they themselves are glutted, they begin to remember the hunger of their brethren, and now they find room for remorse. Nature teaches us that it is an injury to engross blessings, and so to mind the private as if we had no relation to a community. We are worthy to be shut out of the city gates for lepers, if the respects to the public good do not oversway us in all our desires, in all our demeanour; and well may we, with these covetous lepers, fear a mischief upon ourselves if we shall wilfully conceal blessings from others.—Bp. Hall.
(2 Kings 7:9).—The moral and spiritual claims of London. The lepers revelled for some hours, forgetful of the many of their countrymen who were starving with hunger, and after they had done all for themselves that they could, then they thought of their brethren. We may apply the circumstances of this narrative to the conduct of the citizens of London. Observe—I. That we are in possession of a blessing peculiarly adapted to benefit our fellow-countrymen. The gospel contains glad tidings to all people, and is adapted to benefit man in four senses.
1. As conscious of guilt. All men know that they are transgressors, and in a city like this, who has not to look upon himself as guilty and unholy? The gospel reveals the remedy; and this message it is in the power of the humblest to communicate. It is not necessary he should ascend the pulpit or the hustings; he may do it by his life and by his visits.
2. As exposed to temptation. Great cities are ever the focus of vice. Such was Ninevah, such was Rome, such is Paris, such is London.
3. As liable to suffering. Sorrow is the portion to which flesh is heir; and as a city these are generally concentrated. Think of the want of labour, the high price of provisions, the ravages of disease, the frauds of the designing, the failure of credit, &c.
4. As subject to death. It is the law of nature and the sentence of God that all must die; and oh! what a mass does this city present to death! II. That we have been guilty of a culpable omission in neglecting to communicate those things.
1. Because the melancholy circumstances of our fellow-citizens have not been realized by us. Had these four lepers thought of the extent of actual misery among their fellow-citizens, they would have hastened to them as soon as they had satisfied their first cravings. So it is with us; we do not think of our fellow-men around us.
2. Because the relative importance of our fellow citizens has not been by us regarded. London, as it is the seat of royalty, the head of legislation, the residence of nobility and gentry, the mart of commerce, is the resort of all classes. We forget that we dwell in a vortex, which draws from many a league around, and draws many into ruin. That grain of gunpowder, yonder, if ignited, will explode, but will do little mi chief, because it is alone. But let it be one of a vast magazine, and where shall the mischief end?
3. Because our own necessities have been exaggerated. The lepers would say they had not had a meal for a month, that they were so naked they wanted clothing, so poor they wanted treasure, so sick they wanted medicine. True, he is to blame who does not keep his own vineyard; but there is reason to fear that a spirit of selfishness has hitherto prevented the citizens of London doing the good they might.
4. Because the design of the Divine goodness has been overlooked. Yon are blessed that you may bless. You are lights, and your lights should shine. We overlook the design of God in doing us good, if we suppose it for ourselves alone. III. We should experience the most powerful emotions at the remembrance of our past indifference.
1. An emotion of shame for our criminal neglect. While we have thought of the distant village, and the distant heathen, we have forgotten those who breathe the same air, and reside in the same city.
2. An emotion of sorrow for inseparable mischief. While the lepers were eating almost to surfeit, and loading themselves with treasures almost to faintness, another and another in the city fainted and died.
3. An emotion of alarm for threatening evil. We are conscious of the anti-social and demoralizing effect of infidelity. Could it be diffused, it would do infinite mischief.
4. An emotion of pity for present destitution. Think of the claims of the metropolis. We ask your pity for those by whom you got your wealth. We must feel for those who are perishing, as He who felt beheld a devoted city, and wept over it.—The Pulpit.
—The day of good things. I. The text describes the times in which we live. “This day is a day of good tidings.”
1. Because Jesus Christ has obtained a complete conquest over all our enemies.
2. Because He has procured an ample provision for all our necessities.
3. Because He has made many of us participate in the provisions of His love.
4. Because He has opened channels for the publication of these good tidings to others. II. The text reproves our indifference to the miseries of others. “We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings.”
1. While this disposition exists in our minds, we dishonour our character.
2. We disobey Christ’s commands. III. Consider our punishment if we delay to send help to those who need it. “If we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us.”
1. If we delay in the work, our eyes shall see the destruction of our kindred. Our souls shall want the joys of God’s salvation.
3. Our conduct will receive the condemnation of Christ. IV. The text suggests the course of conduct you ought to adopt under the present circumstances. “Let us go and tell the king’s household.” We should carry the Gospel to our poor brothers and sisters.
1. Because they are perishing for lack of knowledge.
2. Because success is certain.
3. Because opportunities are vanishing.
2 Kings 7:10. Outcast and despised men were destined, according to God’s providence, to announce to the threatened city in the crisis of its danger the great and wonderful act of God. God is wont to use slight and contemptible instruments for His great works, that He may, by the foolish things of the world confound the wise. Fishermen and publicans brought to a lost world the best good news—the Gospel, which is a power to make all blessed who believe in it.
2 Kings 7:12-16. Hunger v. Suspicion. I. Suspicion, the fruit of unbelief—readily gives up the hope of Divine deliverance. II. Suspicion regards the tidings of relief as a ruse of the enemy—the lack of truth and righteousness leaves the mind a prey to endless questionings. III. Hunger catches at the faintest shadow of relief—is prepared for great risks—the enemy without cannot be more formidable than starvation within. IV. The exigencies of hunger overcome the scruples of suspicion. The wary king is persuaded to despatch two chariots to reconnoitre, so that if one is seized, the other may escape. The news brought by the lepers is confirmed. The risks of hunger are rewarded with the much-needed provision.
2 Kings 7:12. By such a stratagem as here mentioned, Tomyris, the Scythian queen, circumvented and destroyed Cyrus and his Persians. So when the Christians besieged Ptolemais, and were themselves at the same time besieged by Saladin, they were so hard bested for victuals that they were forced to beg and buy it of their enemies. This, when Saladin perceived he pretended to go his way, leaving his camp full fraught with plenty of all things; and when the hunger-starved Christians fell upon the spoil in a confused way, he, turning short again, slew them.—Trapp.
2 Kings 7:17. The perils of a crowd. In this incident, God speaks to us by showing us—
1. What a terrible thing is a crowd.
2. What a terrible thing is thoughtlessness.
3. How terrible it is to break God’s laws, natural and moral.
4. That it is safest to do always that which is right.
5. That we should prepare to meet our God.—Spence.
—The judgment of the king’s officers proclaims aloud, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked.” His corpse became a bloody seal upon the words of Jehovah and of His prophet. In the last days, also, when the abundance of the Divine grace shall be poured out like a stream, in the midst of the greatest misery, many despisers of the glorious promises of God will see the beginning thereof, but will not attain to the enjoyment of it; they will be thrust aside by marvellous judgments.—Lange.
—Whether he had been an oppressor of the people, and was therefore justly trodden to death by them, is uncertain; but that he had shamefully trodden under foot the honour of God’s power is upon record, wherefore he was worthily trampled on by the hungry people who would not be kept in by his authority. The belly hath no ears; and hunger breaketh through stone walls. Such a like death Constantius Paleologus, the last Greek emperor, suffered in the gate of Constantinople when the Turkish army pressed into that city and took it, A.D. 1453.—Trapp.
2 Kings 7:18-20. Unbelief.
1. Is rebuked by the faithful fulfilment of the Divine word.
2. Is signally punished.
3. Is a universal danger to man.
4. Should be prayerfully guarded against.
2 Kings 7:20. Extreme hunger has no respect to greatness. Not their rudeness, but his own unbelief, hath trampled him under foot. He that abased the power of God by his distrust, is abased worthily to the heels of the multitude. Faith exalts a man above his own sphere; infidelity presses him into the dust.” “He that believes not, is condemned already.”—Bp. Hall.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany