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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

2 Kings 6

Introduction

A.M. 3110. B.C. 894.

Elisha causes iron to swim, 2 Kings 6:1-7 . Discloses to the king of Israel the secret counsels of the king of Syria, 2 Kings 6:8-12 . Saves himself out of the hands of those who were sent to apprehend him, 2 Kings 6:13-23 . Samaria is besieged by the Syrians, and reduced to extremity, 2 Kings 6:24-33 .

Verses 1-2

2 Kings 6:1-2. The sons of the prophet said to Elisha Probably those that were at Gilgal, for that is the place last mentioned where the prophet was, (chap. 2 Kings 4:38,) and was also near to Jordan. Let us go unto Jordan To the woods near Jordan; and take thence every man a beam A piece of timber for the building. Hence it may be gathered, that although the sons of the prophets principally devoted themselves to religious exercises, yet they sometimes employed themselves about manual arts.

Verse 5

2 Kings 6:5. The axe-head fell The iron fell from the wood. Alas, master, for it was borrowed! He was the more concerned, both because he was now compelled to be idle and useless to them in the common work, and because it was his friend’s loss, who was now likely to suffer for his kindness in lending him the axe; for though justice obliged him to restore it, his poverty rendered him unable.

Verse 6

2 Kings 6:6. He cut down a stick, and cast it in thither This was undoubtedly done with no other design than to raise the attention of the beholders, and make it more evident that the iron was made to swim by the divine power alone; for the casting in of the stick could contribute no more to it than his casting salt into the springs at Jericho to the healing of the waters, the mantle of Elijah to the division of Jordan, or the clay, put by Jesus Christ upon the eyes of the blind man, to the recovery of his sight. These inadequate means were employed on these occasions only to set forth more fully the reality and greatness of the miracles.

Verse 8

2 Kings 6:8. The king of Syria warred against Israel This probably happened many years after Naaman was cured, and when he was either dead, or had lost his place through his refusing to worship Rimmon: for it is not to be supposed that he would lead an army against the Israelites. In such and such a place Hebrew, In the place of such a man. Shall be my camp Or, my encamping: Houbigant, I will lie in wait. Thither I will send my forces to surprise some place; or to lie in ambush where the king or his people were to pass.

Verse 10

2 Kings 6:10. The king of Israel sent to the place Either spies, to know whether the information which the prophet had given him was true, or soldiers, to secure the place and passage designed. By this means he frequently saved himself or his people from falling into the hands of the Syrians, who lay in wait for them in places to which they would certainly have gone, if they had not been told of the danger.

Verses 11-12

2 Kings 6:11-12. Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel? Betrays my counsels to him: for he could not suppose that he should meet with such constant disappointments, unless it were by treachery. One of the servants said, &c. It is likely Naaman had spread the fame of the prophet so much in this court, that some of them made further inquiry after him, and heard more of his miraculous works; and thence concluded that he could tell the greatest secrets, as well as do such wonders as were reported of him.

Verse 13

2 Kings 6:13. Spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him Foolish man! Did he believe that Elisha had informed the king of Israel of his secret counsels, or not? If he did not, what quarrel had he with him? If he did, could he be so weak as to imagine that the prophet would not discover the designs laid against him? and that, having interest enough in heaven to discover them, he would not have interest enough to defeat them? Those that fight against God, his people, and prophets, know not what they do. It was told him, Behold, he is in Dothan A city in the tribe of Manasseh, not far from Shechem and Samaria: hither therefore the king of Syria sent a great host, who were to come upon him by night, and bring him alive or dead.

Verse 15

2 Kings 6:15. The servant said, Alas! my master Perhaps the Syrians had assured the inhabitants they intended no harm to them, but only came to take Elisha; which the young man hearing, was put into great fear: for, having probably not been long with the prophet, (being only taken into his service since Gehazi’s dismission,) and having not yet seen any of his wonderful works, he gave himself and his master up for lost men. How shall we do? It is to no purpose to think either of fighting or flying, but we must unavoidably fall into their hands.

Verse 16

2 Kings 6:16 . He answered, Fear not He was concerned to remove the fears of his servant, and impart to him the same satisfaction and peace of mind he possessed himself in this time of extraordinary danger; for good men desire not only to be easy themselves, but to make those about them easy. And all those whose faith is strong, ought tenderly to consider and compassionate those who are weak, and of a timorous spirit, and do what they can to strengthen their hands. For they that be with us To protect us, Are more than they that be against us To destroy us: the angels are unspeakably more numerous, and God infinitely more powerful.

Verse 17

2 Kings 6:17. Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes The eyes of his body were open, and with them he saw the danger; Lord, said the prophet, open the eyes of his faith, and the eyes of his mind, that with them he may see the protection we are under, may see the invisible guard of heavenly beings which encompass and defend us. Angels, whether they be purely spiritual, or clothed with some material vehicle, it is allowed, cannot be seen by mortal eyes: and, therefore, as the prophet himself would not have seen them, unless God by a miracle had rendered them visible to his eyes, so he requests of God that, for the causes above mentioned, he would vouchsafe to his servant the same privilege. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire Fire is both dreadful and devouring: that power, which was engaged for Elisha, could both terrify and consume the assailants. Round about Elisha The mountains, which were full of these fiery chariots and horses, were round about the city, and therefore round about Elisha, who was within it: or he saw, as if he, Elisha, was in the midst of a glorious camp of angels, who defended him so that nothing could penetrate and break through unto him. “The opening of our eyes,” says Henry, “will be the silencing of our fears. In the dark we are most apt to be frightened. The clearer sight we have of the sovereignty and power of heaven, the less we shall fear the calamities of this earth.”

Verse 18

2 Kings 6:18. And when they came down to him Either in the city, into which they easily got admission, when they declared that the only end of their coming was to take Elisha; or rather, in the field, without the city, whither he went to meet them. Elisha prayed, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness Not of the eyes, or, at least, not with total blindness, for in that case they could not have seen to have followed him; but rather with blindness of the mind, or imagination, which was rendered stupid and confused, or with that dimness and confusion in their sight, which prevented their distinguishing one object from another; the city of Dothan, for instance, from the city of Samaria. We have a similar case Genesis 19:11. Thus it happens to several men in their liquor, that though their eyes are open, and they can perceive the several objects which surround them, yet they cannot discern wherein they differ. And if we may suppose that the Syrian army was under the same αορασια , as the Greeks happily term such a degree of blindness or want of distinct vision, we need no more wonder that they readily accepted a guide who offered his service, than that a drunkard, after having lost his way, and found himself bewildered, should be thankful to any hand which should undertake to conduct him safe home Houbigant and Dodd.

Verse 19

2 Kings 6:19. Elisha said, This is not the way, &c. Elisha does not speak this in answer to an inquiry made by the Syrians respecting the way to Dothan; if he had, his words would have contained a falsehood, from which they are clear, because he does not say, This is not the way to Dothan This is not the city of Dothan: but he uses a feint or stratagem, (which has always been allowed in war,) and that against enemies who sought his life, from whom he was delivered only by a miracle, and whom, nevertheless, he afterward treated very humanely and kindly. Indeed, his expressions are ambiguous; but in that ambiguity he intended their benefit; and the very wonderful manner in which, unknown to themselves, he brought them into Samaria, and the generosity with which he treated them there, were sufficient to have given them high ideas of the God of Israel, whose prophet he was, and thereby to have brought them to the worship of the true God, which might have proved an infinite and everlasting blessing to them. I will bring you to the man whom you seek And so he did, though not in such a manner as they expected and desired.

Verse 20

2 Kings 6:20. The Lord opened their eyes, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria To their great astonishment and terror, no doubt, there being a standing force there sufficient to cut them all off, or make them prisoners of war. Thus when God has opened the eyes of those whom Satan had blinded, and deluded to their ruin, they see themselves in the midst of their enemies, captives to Satan, and in danger of hell, although before they thought their condition good. And thus, when the enemies of God and his church, like this Syrian host encompassing Elijah and Dothan, fancy themselves ready to triumph, they will, to their amazement and confusion, find themselves conquered and triumphed over.

Verses 21-22

2 Kings 6:21-22 . Shall I smite them? shall I smite them? This repetition of the question shows his eager desire to fall upon them and kill them. Perhaps he remembered how God was displeased at his father for dismissing out of his hands those whom he had put it into his power to destroy, and he would not offend in like manner: yet such reverence has he now for the prophet, that he will not lift a hand against them without his permission. He answered, Thou shall not smite them It is against the laws of humanity to kill captives, though thou thyself hadst taken them with thy own sword and bow, which might seem to give thee some colour to destroy them; but much more unworthy will it be in cold blood to kill these, whom not thy arms, but God’s providence hath put into thy hands. Set bread before them Give them meat and drink, which may refresh and strengthen them for their journey. This was an action of singular piety and charity, in doing good to their enemies, which was much to the honour of the true religion, and of no less prudence; that hereby the hearts of the Syrians might be mollified toward the Israelites. Elijah had given a specimen of divine justice, when he called for flames of fire on the heads of his persecutors to consume them: but Elisha here gave a specimen of divine mercy, in heaping coals of fire on the heads of his persecutors to melt them.

Verse 23

2 Kings 6:23. When they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away Refreshed, but disarmed, as is most probable. So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel For some considerable time, came no more as yet, as Dr. Waterland reads it; not until the memory and influence of these examples were gone out of their minds: or they came no more upon this errand, to take Elisha: they saw it was to no purpose to attempt that; nor would any of their bands be persuaded to make an assault on so great and good a man. The most glorious victory over an enemy is to turn him into a friend.

Verse 24

2 Kings 6:24. And it came to pass after this, &c. How long after we are not informed; but probably some years, when they had forgotten the kindnesses they had received in Samaria, which for a time, it appears, had quite disarmed them of their hatred against Israel, and caused them to lay aside all thoughts of war. Now, however, they alter their minds, and break out again into hostilities. Ben-hadad king of Syria gathered all his host He whom Ahab wickedly spared, now comes to requite his kindness, and fulfil the divine prediction contained in 1 Kings 20:42. They will not now, as before, make incursions and inroads into the country, in small bands and companies, which, as they had experienced, might easily be entrapped; but will wage an open and solemn war, and fall upon the Israelites at once, with all their forces united. Ben-hadad was a name very frequent among the kings of Syria, if not common to them all. And went up, and besieged Samaria Plundering and laying waste the country, no doubt, as he went; and meeting with no opposition till he came to the capital city.

Verse 25

2 Kings 6:25. There was a great famine in Samaria Probably the dearth, which had of late been in the land, was the cause of their stores being so empty; or the siege was so sudden, that they had no time to lay in provisions. An ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver Supposed to be shekels, and the common shekel being valued at fifteen pence of English money, they amount to five pounds: a vast price, especially for that which had on it so little meat, and was unwholesome, and unclean according to the law, Leviticus 11:26. In times of famine, however, and extreme necessity, the Jews themselves were absolved from observing the law with regard to meats. There are not wanting instances, in history, where other people, upon the same occasion, have been reduced to the like distress, and been glad to purchase an ass’s head at an enormous price. See Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes. The fourth part of a cab A measure which, according to the Jews, contained as much as the shells of twenty-four eggs. Of dove’s dung Bochart has shown that there is among the Arabians a kind of vetches or pulse called by this name, which is undoubtedly here meant, for we can scarcely suppose that they used the excrements of doves for food. These vetches were a very coarse food, and yet much in use among the poorer Israelites, and therefore fit to be joined here with the ass’s heads: and a cab was the usual measure of all kinds of grain, and fruits of that sort. In confirmation of the above it may be observed, some travellers tell us, that at Grand Cairo and Damascus there are magazines where they constantly fry this kind of grain, which those who go on pilgrimage buy, and take with them, as part of the provision for their journey. The Arabs, it appears, to this day call this kind of pulse or vetches by the name of dove’s dung. See Bochart Hieroz., p. 2, 50:1, c. 7.

Verses 26-27

2 Kings 6:26-27. The king of Israel was passing on the wall To give necessary directions for the defence of the city against assault; to see if the several guards were watchful and diligent, and if his orders were executed, and to observe the motions of the enemy. There cried a woman unto him, Help, my lord, O king For whither should the subject, in distress, go for help, but to the prince, who is by office the protector of right, and the avenger of wrong? He said, If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? Dost thou ask of me corn or wine, which I want for myself? If God do not help thee, I cannot. Or his words may be considered as the language of passion or desperation, and rendered, The Lord will not, and I cannot help thee.

Verses 28-29

2 Kings 6:28-29. The king said, What aileth thee? Is there any thing singular in thy case? Dost thou fare worse than thy neighbours? Truly, yes: she and one of her neighbours had made a barbarous agreement, that, all provisions failing, they should boil and eat her son first, and then her neighbour’s: hers was eaten, (who can think on it without horror?) and now her neighbour hid hers. This shocking story is a terrible effect of the divine vengeance, which Moses, about six hundred years before, had warned the Israelites would fall upon them in case of their apostacy from, and rebellion against, God; as the reader may see in the passages referred to in the margin. The same dreadful calamity befell them at two other times besides this; at the siege of Jerusalem, under Nebuchadnezzar, Lamentations 2:20; Ezekiel 5:10; and that under Titus. See Joseph., Jewish War, lib. 7, c. 10.

Verse 30

2 Kings 6:30. When the king heard the words of the woman, he rent his clothes Partly through grief for such a horrid fact, and partly through indignation at the prophet. And the people looked Who were in great numbers upon the wall, chiefly for the defence of the city. And behold, he had sackcloth upon his flesh Under his inner garments, in token of his sorrow for the miseries of his people, and lamenting that it was not in his power to help them.

Verse 31

2 Kings 6:31. If the head of Elisha shall stand on him this day If I do not this day take his head and his life. This wretched and partial prince overlooks his own great and various sins, and, among the rest, his obstinate adherence to the worship of the calves, and his conniving at the idolatries and witchcrafts of his mother Jezebel, (2 Kings 9:22,) and the wickedness of the people, which were the true and proper causes of this and all their calamities; and he lays the blame of all upon Elisha, either supposing that he who had the spirit of Elijah resting upon him had brought this famine on the land by his prayers, as Elijah had formerly done, or because he had encouraged them to withstand the Syrians by promising them help from God.

Verse 32

2 Kings 6:32 . Elisha sat in his house In the house where he lodged; for it is probable he had no house of his own, having forsaken all to follow Elijah. And the elders sat with him Either the sons of the prophets, or rather some good and godly men, such as are frequently termed elders in the prophecy of Ezekiel, who bore some office either in the court, army, or city, as seems probable from the prophet’s desiring their help and protection. For though Jehoram was a wicked man, and most of his officers, probably, as wicked as himself; yet, as Poole justly observes, we cannot doubt but there were some among them whom his holy life, powerful ministry, and glorious miracles, with the great benefits procured by him for the public, had won to God and the true religion; at least to the profession of it, among whom Jehu might be one; and these were here sitting with him, either to receive counsel and comfort from him in this distressing time, or to solicit him to use his power with God for their relief; which he accordingly did, and pronounced the joyful news which follows in the beginning of the next chapter. The king sent a man before him One of his guard, or some other officer, to take away his head, as it follows. But ere the messenger came, he said, &c. Being admonished by God of his danger. See how this son of a murderer The genuine son of that wicked Ahab, the murderer of the Lord’s prophets. This expression may seem very harsh and unfit, nor is it to be drawn into imitation by others: but it must be considered that he was an extraordinary prophet, intrusted with a power in some sort superior to that of Jehoram, and had authority to control and rebuke him in the name of the King of kings. Shut the door, and hold him That he may not break in upon me, and take away my life, before the king comes. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him? You shall not need to hold him long, for the king is just at his heels. It is probable he was coming, either to recall his rash order, or, at least, to debate the matter with the prophet, and obtain relief.

Verse 33

2 Kings 6:33. While he yet talked with them, the messenger came Namely, to the door, where we are to understand he was stopped that he could not come at the prophet till the king came. And he said, Behold, this evil, &c. Either the messenger said this in the king’s name and words, or rather the king himself, who, though not here named, may be presumed to be present, both by the prophet’s prediction of his speedy coming, and by the presence of the lord, on whose hand the king leaned, 2 Kings 7:2. This evil This dreadful famine, which is now so extreme, that women are forced to eat their own children; is of the Lord He hath inflicted it, and, for aught I see, he will not remove it. All penal evil is of the Lord as the first cause and sovereign judge: and this we ought to apply to particular cases: if all evil, then this evil which we are groaning under. Whoever are the instruments, God is the principal agent. What should I wait for the Lord any longer? Thou biddest me wait upon God for help; but I perceive I may wait long enough before deliverance comes: I am weary with waiting, I can wait no longer.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Kings 6". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/2-kings-6.html. 1857.