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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 6

 

 

Verses 1-7

Elisha Causes An Axe Head To Float (2 Kings 6:1-7).

This seemingly trivial incident is probably intended by the prophetic author to lay emphasis on an important fact. Just as the axe head was borrowed or begged, and, on being lost, was recovered by Elisha, so the power of Israel was ‘borrowed’ (or ‘begged’) from YHWH (2 Kings 2:12), and having been lost was now being recovered by Elisha. It was also a reminder to the group of prophets that although the truth appeared to have sunk to the bottom in Israel, yet its cutting edge was being made available to them by God’s power.

This need not necessarily be intended as a description of prophetic community life in general. It refers to only one small group, living together in a place too small for them, and therefore seemingly in straitened circumstances (unless it was simply because their number was growing). We know already from chapter 2 that there were communities of sons of the prophets at Jericho and at Bethel. Presumably this was the one at Jericho. It is apparent that this group lived as a community, and found that their present accommodation was too small for them. So they had determined to build new premises. ‘By the Jordan’ was the source of their material, not the place where they built. Such an area would have been inhabited by wild animals, such as lions and wild boar, and fever ridden. But plenty of available wood was to be found there which was of a type that they, with their limited facilities, could utilise. They were presumably intending to build in or near Jericho, possibly at Gilgal.

The axe that was lost was not necessarily borrowed (the Hebrew word means ‘asked for’) but it was certainly ‘begged for’ in one way or another, which may be an indication of the poverty of the group. They could not afford to buy iron axes, which were very expensive in terms of what they possessed. Life was seemingly not easy for those who followed YHWH truly. So to lose an iron axe head was, for them, no trivial matter. It may indeed have been the only one that they had, their other available tools being flint axes. This story may also have been placed here as a contrast to the attitude and behaviour of Gehazi, who had used these poverty stricken sons of the prophets as an excuse in order to enrich himself. He had had his eyes on silver and gold and rich clothing. They could not even afford an iron axe head. But the lesson here was that God was their sufficiency.

Analysis.

a And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell before you is too restricted for us” 2 Kings 6:1).

b Let us go, we pray you, to the Jordan, and take from there every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell” (2 Kings 6:2 a).

c And he answered, “Go you.” (2 Kings 6:2 b).

d And one said, “Be pleased, I pray you, to go with your servants” (2 Kings 6:3 a).

e And he answered, “I will go” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down wood (2 Kings 6:3-4).

d But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water, and he cried, and said, “Alas, my master! for it was begged for” (2 Kings 6:5).

c And the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” (2 Kings 6:6 a).

b And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in there, and made the iron float (2 Kings 6:6 b).

a And he said, “Take it up to you.” So he put out his hand, and took it (2 Kings 6:7).

Note that in ‘a’ their straitened circumstances are described, and in the parallel YHWH provides for them. In ‘b’ they go to cut down timber for their enterprise, and in the parallel Elisha cuts down a stick in order to aid them in it. In ‘c’ Elisha speaks to them, and the same in the parallel. In ‘d’ one makes a request to him, and the same in the parallel. Centrally in ‘e’ they all go down to the Jordan to begin their enterprise.

2 Kings 6:1-2

‘And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell before you is too restricted for us. Let us go, we pray you, to the Jordan, and take from there every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell.” And he answered, “Go you.” ’

The request of these faithful men to Elisha, on one of his visits, was for permission to take time off from their teaching work in order to build new premises for themselves. It does not indicate that Elisha lived with them, but it does bring out how faithful they were in their duties. They would not do it without his agreement. ‘Dwell before you’ (literally ‘in seeing you’) was deferential and simply indicated that they looked to him as their master.

They wanted permission to take time off in order to build larger premises. These would not be very luxurious. The timber available from by the Jordan was of the small tree variety (such as willow, tamarisk, acacia and plane trees), but it was nevertheless quite suitable for the kind of shelter that they were intending to build in the hot, dry climate of the Jordan rift valley. Elisha gave his permission. The fact that he was not expecting to go with them points to the fact that he was not the resident leader of that community.

2 Kings 6:3

‘And one said, “Be pleased, I pray you, to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.” ’

They then asked for his company while they were doing it. They wanted to take advantage of his being with them, and it would give them further opportunity to talk with him. Furthermore they respected his advice. They may also have felt that his presence would act as a protection against wild animals because they knew YHWH’s special care for him. And he agreed to go with them.

2 Kings 6:4

‘So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down wood.’

So they all went off to the Jordan and began to cut down wood.

2 Kings 6:5

‘But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water, and he cried, and said, “Alas, my master! for it was begged for.” ’

However, as one of them was at work cutting the timber that grew by the river the iron axe head that he was using came off the shaft and fell into the water. If it was the only iron axe head that they had we can understand why he was so distressed, especially as they did not have the resources to obtain a new one. Whether it was borrowed, or had been obtained by begging, is disputed. Either way it demonstrated their poverty.

2 Kings 6:6

‘And the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in there, and made the iron float.’

So ‘the man of God’ (the change from Elisha to ‘man of God’ suggests that a miracle was about to take place) asked, ‘where did it fall?’, and on being informed cut down a stick and cast it on the water, and the result was that the iron floated.

2 Kings 6:7

‘And he said, “Take it up to you.” So he put out his hand, and took it.’

Then he told the man to reach out and pick it out of the water, which, as a result of the miracle he was able to do. By this lesson the prophets were made to recognise that without God the truth that they presented would have no cutting edge. It was also an indication to them that God would always help them in their difficulties, especially when disaster struck. The story is a reminder to us that life will not necessarily always go smoothly but that our Father is aware of our needs and of our circumstances, and will meet us at the point of our need when the time is right.


Verses 8-23

Israel’s One Man Intelligence Service And The Failed Attempt To Abduct Him (2 Kings 6:8-23).

The king of Aram was puzzled because he kept raiding Israel only to discover each time that the king of Israel appeared to have advanced information, and thus had troops ready to forestall him. He could only assume that it was because he was being betrayed. But his servants, presumably obtaining their knowledge through their intelligence service, explained to him that it was because there was a prophet in Israel called Elisha, who knew his secrets even as he dreamed of them. By this YHWH was revealing to Israel (and Judah) that if only they would trust in Him they would be safe.

The king of Aram then decided that his best move would be to eliminate Elisha, and, learning that he was in Dothan, sent a host with horses and chariots to abduct him. But he had reckoned without YHWH. For at Elisha’s request YHWH in some way blinded the host so that they became easy prisoners of Israel. Elisha, however, then insisted that they should not be harmed, and having been fed they were returned to Aram. Understandably Aram then decided that while Elisha was around it would be better not to invade Israel any more.

Again we do not know which kings were involved, but it may well have been Jehoram and Benhadad III. Once again the purpose was to take the emphasis from the kings and put it squarely on YHWH and Elisha.

Analysis.

a Now the king of Aram (Syria) was warring against Israel, and he took counsel with his servants, saying, “In such and such a place shall be my camp” (2 Kings 6:8).

b And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, “Beware that you pass not such a place (do not leave such a place unprotected), for there the Aramaeans are coming down (2 Kings 6:9).’

c And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and he saved himself there, not once nor twice (2 Kings 6:10).

d And the heart of the king of Aram was sore troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants, and said to them, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” (2 Kings 6:11).

e And one of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king, but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber” (2 Kings 6:12).

f And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and fetch him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan” (2 Kings 6:13).

g Therefore he sent there horses, and chariots, and a great host, and they came by night, and surrounded the city (2 Kings 6:14).

h And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” And he answered, “Do not be afraid, for they who are with us are more than they who are with them” (2 Kings 6:15-16).

g And Elisha prayed, and said, “YHWH, I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see.” And YHWH opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:17).

f And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed to YHWH, and said, “Smite this people, I pray you, with blindness.” And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha (2 Kings 6:18).

e And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, neither is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria” (2 Kings 6:19).

d And it came about, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, “YHWH, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” And YHWH opened their eyes, and they saw, and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria (2 Kings 6:20).

c And the king of Israel said to Elisha, when he saw them, “My father, shall I smite them? Shall I smite them?” (2 Kings 6:21).

b And he answered, “You shall not smite them. Would you smite those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.” And he prepared great provision for them, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master (2 Kings 6:22-23 a).

a And the raiding bands of Aram came no more into the land of Israel (2 Kings 6:23 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Aram were warring with Israel, and in the parallel their raiding bands no longer troubled Israel. In ‘b’ Elisha informed the king of Israel where to position his troops, and in the parallel he insisted on right behaviour towards the enemy troops they captured. In ‘c’ the king of Israel obeyed Elisha so that his troops were always in the right place, and in the parallel the king of Israel asked whether he should slaughter the resulting captured troops. In ‘d’ the king of Aram was troubled because he could not understand what was happening, and in the parallel his troops were troubled because they understood exactly what had happened. In ‘e’ the King of Aram was told about Elisha’s ability to know his mind by the power of YHWH, and in the parallel Elisha led his troops blindly on by the power of YHWH. In ‘f’ the king of Aram sent his troops to Dothan to abduct Elisha, and in the parallel his own troops were abducted. In ‘g’ the king of Aram sent chariots and horses to abduct Elisha, and in the parallel Elisha drew attention to the fiery chariots and horses that surrounded him. Centrally in ‘h’ Elisha pointed out that the forces that were with him far exceeded any that the king of Aram could send against him.

2 Kings 6:8

‘Now the king of Aram (Syria) was warring against Israel, and he took counsel with his servants, saying, “In such and such a place shall be my camp.”

There was a state of war between Israel and Aram, and after consultation with his advisers, the king of Aram would send his troops into Israel to take them by surprise, determining to take Israel by surprise and establish their camp in particular places, thus gaining control of the area around and obtaining much spoil.

2 Kings 6:9

‘And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, “Beware that you pass not such a place (do not leave such a place unprotected), for there the Aramaeans are coming down.’

But unknown to him Elisha would learn from YHWH (and possibly sometimes from his own ‘intelligence service’ ) what the plan was and would tell the king of Israel where to station his troops because of the anticipated Aramaean assault.

2 Kings 6:10

‘And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and he saved himself there, not once nor twice.’

So again and again when the Aramaeans attacked it was always to find the Israelite army ready for them. ‘Not once, not twice’ meant ‘a number of times’, i.e. more than twice. Early notification was important as each time the raid was a major one the general host would have to be called on to support the standing army. It was thus extremely useful to know that an attack was coming before it happened so as to be able to muster the troops before the enemy could do much damage.

2 Kings 6:11

‘And the heart of the king of Aram was sore troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants, and said to them, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” ’

This became so obvious that the king of Aram was both puzzled and troubled, and wondered how it was that the king of Israel was always able to forestall him, and always appeared to know what he was going to do next. He could only assume that there was a spy among his advisers, who were the only ones to know of his plans. So he challenged them as to who the traitor might be.

2 Kings 6:12

‘And one of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king, but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.”

But one among his high officials, who was possibly in charge of intelligence, explained to him that it was not a question of a traitor. The fact was that Elisha, who was a prophet in Israel, knew even what he said in his innermost room.

2 Kings 6:13

‘And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and fetch him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan.”

This alarmed and upset the king, and so he asked his official to discover where Elisha was, in order to abduct him. The reply came that he was in Dothan, fourteen kilometres (ten miles) north of Samaria, at the head of the Valley of Jezreel, on the main Damascus to Egypt trade route..

2 Kings 6:14

‘Therefore he sent there horses, and chariots, and a great host, and they came by night, and surrounded the city.’

The king’s evil intent was made clear when he sent a large host with chariots and horsemen in order to abduct Elisha. And they came and surrounded Dothan by night. It was an indication of Elisha’ reputation that such a large force was felt to be necessary, and that they recognised that they would have to take him by surprise.

2 Kings 6:15

‘And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”

When Elisha’s servant arose in the morning and saw the city besieged by such a powerful force, and the number of chariots and horses gathered there, he was alarmed, and came to Elisha and asked, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”

2 Kings 6:16

‘And he answered, “Do not be afraid, for they who are with us are more than they who are with them.” ’

But Elisha assured him that he need not be afraid because the forces that were with him and Elisha were far greater than those that were with the Aramaeans. They had YHWH of Hosts, with all His hosts, on their side.

2 Kings 6:17

‘And Elisha prayed, and said, “YHWH, I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see.” And YHWH opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.’

And then he prayed that YHWH would open his servant’s eyes so that he might be able to see what Elisha saw. And when YHWH opened the young man’s eyes, he discovered that the mountain on which Dothan stood was covered with chariots of fire, and horses of fire. These were the same, in larger quantity, as Elisha had seen when he took over from Elisha (2 Kings 2:11-12). These were the real strength of Israel, available to them while their hearts were right towards YHWH.

This extraordinary vision is of great importance, for it is a reminder to us also that the invisible forces of God are ever watching over and protecting His own. It is a reminder to us that as Christians we live in a sense in two places. In our bodies we live in, and are limited to, the physical world, but in our spirits we live in, and have contact with, ‘the heavenlies’ (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:6; Ephesians 6:10-18), where we are seated with Christ, and under His personal protection, and where we engage in warfare against the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:10-18). We can compare this with the temple in Ezekiel 40 onwards. That too had come down from YHWH and was invisibly present in Israel so that although the returned exiles appeared only to have a rough altar which they had built in Jerusalem at which to worship, they could be sure that it served a huge invisible temple which had ‘come down’ from YHWH on a mountain outside Jerusalem, and already provided an assurance that He was with them. In the same way as ‘heirs of salvation’ we are watched over by ‘ministering spirits’ (Hebrews 1:14) and protected by His chariots and horses of fire.

Consider the words of the hymnwriter based on this verse and on Psalms 34:7, words which we need to take to heart:

The hosts of God encamp around,

The dwellings of the just,

Deliverance He affords to all,

Who on His succour trust.

But it is only those who in one way or another know tribulation and persecution who really understand them. This why the New Testament writers constantly urge us to live in the light of the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 1:3 to Ephesians 2:7; Colossians 3:1-3).

2 Kings 6:18

‘And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed to YHWH, and said, “Smite this people, I pray you, with blindness.” And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.’

Then the ever practical Elisha, seeing the forces that had come down from Aram to take him, prayed to YHWH to smite them with ‘blindness’. It is irrelevant whether this was literal physical blindness, or a blindness of the mind. Either way it was equally effective and miraculous, and they were rendered completely helpless. (Compare the ‘blindness’ of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus - Luke 24:16).

2 Kings 6:19

‘And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, neither is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.”

Elisha then went forward and spoke to them enigmatically. No doubt he first asked them why they had come in such force to Dothan. And then, once they had informed him, he sought to divert them. His words were vague and indefinite, simply convincing them that they were in the wrong place, and that he would lead them to the right place so that they might see the Elisha whom they were seeking. And he spoke truly, for he led them to Samaria where he would reveal himself to them.

2 Kings 6:20

‘And it came about, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, “YHWH, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” And YHWH opened their eyes, and they saw, and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.’

Elisha presumably knew that the Israelite forces were gathered at Samaria, for their presence would be necessary once the eyes of the Aramaeans were opened. Thus they no doubt moved out to surround the helpless Aramaeans with swords and spears at the ready.

Then Elisha called on YHWH to open the eyes of the Aramaeans so that they might see (compare his words in 2 Kings 6:17), and when YHWH opened their eyes they were ‘in the midst of Samaria’, including the army of Samaria. They were at the mercy of the army of Israel.

2 Kings 6:21

‘And the king of Israel said to Elisha, when he saw them, “My father, shall I smite them? Shall I smite them?”’

The bemused and somewhat excited king of Israel, finding his great enemies at his mercy, called on Elisha and cried, “My father, shall I smite them? Shall I smite them?” It seemed too good an opportunity to miss. But God had not smitten them with blindness in order to see them destroyed. His purpose was to teach Aram a lesson that it would not forget for a long time, and that would be best served by sending them home unharmed as a permanent message to their king. Who could fight against this kind of thing?

This was not, of course, the whole Aramaean army. To have slain them would have been to invite repercussions. But in sending them back they would put such fear and awe into the hearts of the Aramaean leaders that they would be afraid to attack Israel again while Elisha was still alive. Who could tell what he might do next?

‘My father.’ This demonstrates the good relationship existing between this present king of Israel and Elisha. The old days of persecution were behind them, and Elisha was valued as a man of God (even if not fully heeded).

2 Kings 6:22

‘And he answered, “You shall not smite them. Would you smite those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.” ’

So Elisha commanded that instead of smiting them they should provide them with provisions. They had been captured by the swords and bows of the men of Israel, which even now surrounded them, just as surely as if it had happened in battle, but it had been accomplished without fighting and they should therefore be treated mercifully as what they were, YHWH’s prisoners of war. Indeed he called on the king of Israel to go further, by providing hospitality and returning them back unharmed to their master. This is not saying that this was the usual way in which prisoners of war were treated. Indeed the king of Israel’s words demonstrate the opposite, even though on the whole kings of Israel were seen as merciful (1 Kings 20:31). It is saying that this is how Elisha and YHWH wanted them treated now that they had been captured by Him and were helpless so that they could do no harm. They were to be treated as guests of YHWH.

2 Kings 6:23

‘And he prepared great provision for them, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the raiding bands of Aram came no more into the land of Israel.’

Thus the whole raiding party were ‘fed and watered’. Then on being returned to Aram the no doubt bemused and bewildered army would recount all that had happened, and we are left to imagine the awe with which their news was greeted. It was clear that Israel with their powerful God were better left alone.

The result was that all forays into Israel by raiding bands, whether large or small, ceased for a good while (until the memory of what had happened wore off, as inevitably in this sinful world it would). ‘Came no more’ probably means ‘came no more in the days of Jehoram’.


Verse 24

1). The Description Of The Siege And Its Consequences (2 Kings 6:24 to 2 Kings 7:1).

Analysis.

a And it came about after this, that Benhadad king of Aram (Syria) gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria, and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver (2 Kings 6:24-25).

b And as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, there cried a woman to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king.” And he said, “If YHWH does not help you, from where shall I help you? Out of the threshing-floor, or out of the winepress?” And the king said to her, “What is you problem?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, “Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow. So we boiled my son, and ate him, and I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’, and she has hidden her son” (2 Kings 6:26-29).

c And it came about, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes. And he was passing by on the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within on his flesh. And he said, “God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day” (2 Kings 6:30-31).

d But Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him (2 Kings 6:32 a)..

c And the king sent a man from before him, but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent to take away 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?” (2 Kings 6:32 b).

b And while he was yet talking with them, behold, the messenger came down to him, and he said, “Behold, this evil is of YHWH. Why should I wait for YHWH any longer?” (2 Kings 6:33).

a And Elisha said, “Hear you the word of YHWH. Thus says YHWH, Tomorrow about this time will a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria” ’(2 Kings 7:1).

Note that in ‘a’ they were on a starvation diet and in the parallel things were back to normal. In ‘b’ the dreadful conditions are illustrated, and in the parallel this evil was imputed by the king to YHWH. In ‘c’ the king threatens to kill Elisha, and in the parallel Elisha is aware of and refers to the fact. Centrally in ‘d’ Elisha was conferring with the elders in his house.

2 Kings 6:24

‘And it came about after this, that Benhadad king of Aram (Syria) gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria.’

The timing reference is very vague. In fact this was many years after the previous passage, and in the reign of a later king, probably Jehoahaz (compare 2 Kings 13:3-7). Benhadad was a throne name of the kings of Aram. This was Benhadad III, who succeeded Hazael, who had caused great distress to Israel. By his time Israel had been considerably weakened as a result of the activities of Jehu, and had submitted to Assyria, something which would have angered both Hazael and Benhadad who with their allies had been seeking to fight off Assyria. This therefore was a full scale invasion, and having taken many towns and cities, the Aramaeans had surrounded and besieged Samaria in order to starve it into submission.

2 Kings 6:25

‘And there was a great famine in Samaria, and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver.’

The result was that as the months passed food began to run out and the stage was reached when the people were starving and would almost eat anything. The eating of an ass’s head was forbidden in the Law (Leviticus 11:3 ff.), it was the most inedible part of the ass, and the price was clearly exorbitant. Only the wealthy could afford it. The reference to ‘dove’s dung’ may be literal, but it has been suggested that it was a popular description of a certain herb similarly described in terms of ‘dung’ by the Arabs. Either way the fact that it was sold at such a price indicates the extreme shortage of food. (Rats on the menu would have been a luxury).

2 Kings 6:26

‘And as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, there cried a woman to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king.” ’

One day the king was walking on the wall of the city surveying the defensive position, when a woman called out to him for an audience.

2 Kings 6:27

‘And he said, “If YHWH does not help you, from where shall I help you? Out of the threshing-floor, or out of the winepress?” ’

His first bitter response brings out the depths of his feelings. He had no means of helping her. The threshing-floor and winepress were empty. Her only hope was to look to YHWH. And if He failed to answer, what could anyone else do?

2 Kings 6:28

‘And the king said to her, “What is you problem?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, “Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow. So we boiled my son, and ate him, and I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’, and she has hidden her son.” ’

The king the asked her what her problem was and was horrified to learn that with another woman she had indulged in cannibalism by eating her son, with the understanding that after that they would eat the other woman’s son. But now the other woman had gone back on her promise and was withholding her son, and the first woman was asking the king for justice by enforcing the agreement. The very fact that she expected him to do so demonstrates that she knew that this was now a fairly common practise under the exigencies of the siege.

For such cannibalism during sieges compare Leviticus 26:29; Deuteronomy 28:56-57; Ezekiel 5:10; Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:10. It is also attested in an Assyrian text from Ashurbanipal, and an Egyptian papyrus.

2 Kings 6:30

‘And it came about, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes. And he was passing by on the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within on his flesh.’

The king was aghast and tore his clothes in order to express his strong emotion. As king he had of course been shielded from the kind of starvation that these people were experiencing, but now it was being brought home to him with a vengeance. The tearing of his clothes revealed to all that he was wearing the sackcloth of mourning underneath, because of his distress at the situation of his people, making clear his genuine feeling for their sufferings.

2 Kings 6:31

‘Then he said, “God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.”

As a result he swore that the head of Elisha would be forfeit that day. This may have been because Elisha had encouraged standing firm in the face of the threat on the grounds that YHWH would at some point intervene, or his reasoning may have been that as the chief prophet of YHWH, Whom he saw as responsible for this situation, Elisha should have been able to do something about it (as reputedly he had done in the past). In his view as the situation continued it was therefore primarily Elisha’s fault. This would bring out how dependent Israel felt at that time on the prophets. They above all were seen as the people who could change situations by their prophecies. In other words the king and people had a superstitious belief that what caused and changed situations was the actual activity of prophets, who could make things happen or not as they would. They did not stop to consider that in Israel these prophets pointed out that these things happened because of YHWH’s anger at the sinfulness of the king and people, and that therefore the situation was the fault of the king and people themselves.

2 Kings 6:32

‘But Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him, and the king sent a man from before him, but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent to take away 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?” ’

Elisha, meanwhile, equally concerned about the situation of the famine was discussing matters with the elders of the people who had come to his house in view of the seriousness of the national situation. But even while he was talking with them he was made aware by YHWH of the king’s intentions (possibly partly through a message sent by a friend at court), and of the fact that an important messenger was coming from the king, a man who had the authority to arrest him and bring him to the king, with a view to his beheading (or even execute him on the spot). Elisha therefore turned to the elders and pointed out that this was only to be expected of a man whose father had revelled in blood (although ‘son of a murderer’ need only indicate one who was capable of murder), and gave orders that his door should be barred and bolted against the messenger, as the king himself would be following shortly to countermand the execution order.

Some see the reference to the echo of his master’s feet as not necessarily signifying that the king was himself coming after his messenger, (but see 2 Kings 7:17). In that case it may have been indicating that the messenger was the king’s genuine representative to such an extent that the king was, as it were, ‘in his shoes’. But 2 Kings 7:17 may suggest that the king, having despatched him, did actually follow his messenger. Thus some see it as signifying that the king, having despatched his official to execute Elisha on the spot, then had second thoughts, with the result that he was following him in order to counteract the order. That would explain why he expected the elders to bar the door against the king’s representative, which might otherwise not have been a wise policy. It was one thing to exclude him while clarification was obtained, quite another to exclude him altogether. 2 Kings 7:17 may, however, simply signify that the king had, as it were, come down in his messenger, and as the house was Elijah’s, any exclusion would be laid at his door.

2 Kings 6:33

‘And while he was yet talking with them, behold, the messenger came down to him, and he said, “Behold, this evil is of YHWH. Why should I wait for YHWH any longer?” ’

Meanwhile, while Elisha was yet speaking, the king’s messenger arrived in order to convey the king’s words, and declared, “Behold, this evil is of YHWH. Why should I wait for YHWH any longer?” ’ In other words he was blaming YHWH directly for the evil that had come on them (compare Amos 3:6), which was of course, in one sense, partly true. Indeed that may have been his partly justified interpretation of Elisha’s preaching, which had presumably indicated that deliverance could only follow repentance. But sinners never see themselves as really deserving of God’s chastisement, and he may therefore have felt that wearing sackcloth was a sufficient indication of repentance, and have been wondering why, in view of it, YHWH had not intervened. He did not see that really this evil had sprung from the behaviour of himself and the people. His further words may be a threat to rid himself of Elisha and turn to other gods for help, on the grounds that, having performed such rites as they thought were necessary without receiving a response, perhaps it was time to look to Baal. He had failed to understand that in fact the only ‘rite’ that YHWH really demanded was repentance and submission to His covenant (compare Isaiah 1:11-18), and that without that all ritualistic efforts to placate God were in vain..

2 Kings 7:1

‘And Elisha said, “Hear you the word of YHWH. Thus says YHWH, Tomorrow about this time will a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.” ’

Elisha’s reply was basically that it was YHWH’s sure prophetic word, a word that must therefore necessarily come to fruition, that within a day the siege would be relieved, and the shortages would be over. By this time next day, he assured the king, the markets in the space in front of the city gates would be selling flour and barley at normal prices. (With the Aramaean army still encamped around the city, it must have appeared very unlikely).


Verse 24

Relief Of The Siege Of Samaria (2 Kings 6:24 to 2 Kings 7:20).

The incident that follows appears here because it is a part of the Elisha narrative, in which the wonders wrought by YHWH for Elisha are described, not because it is in its chronological position. For it probably occurred in the time of Jehoahaz, the son of Jehu, and thus a considerable time after the previously mentioned incident, and after much of the history that follows in chapter 8-9.

The ministry of Elisha covered a period of over fifty years during the reigns of Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz and Jehoash. During the reign of Jehoram YHWH had, as we have seen, given special protection to Israel. But the continuing sinfulness of the kings of Israel apparently caused the forfeiting of that special protection so that YHWH no longer intervened in the same way. And one of the results of that is described in what follows. It is a reminder that if God is not sought in a time of favour, then judgment and chastening will inevitably follow. So while it might have appeared that with Elisha around Israel had little to fear, that is now being revealed as being untrue. Not only was Samaria besieged, but it had been allowed to reach a point where the people were literally starving and were literally eating anything, and Elisha was sharing in their sufferings. It is a reminder that Elisha was very much subject to YHWH’s will in what he did.

The passage deals with the investment by Benhadad, king of Aram, of the city of Samaria during a full scale invasion. Such an invasion had not occurred in the days of Jehoram, but Israel had been considerably weakened by Jehu, and in the time of his son Jehoahaz it reached its lowest ebb. This then was probably when the siege described took place. It brought Samaria to its knees, as the city suffered under extreme shortage of food, with the result that every form of edible matter was eaten, even sinking down into cannibalism. This kind of thing is also testified to in sieges through the ages. It was nothing unusual in terms of history.

But things had become so bad that the blame inevitably fell on Elisha, who had previously so wonderfully delivered Israel. The king could not understand why, having no doubt encouraged the people to resist, he did not arrange for their deliverance again in the same way as he had previously. He failed to recognise that it was YHWH’s doing, and not Elisha’s, and that Elisha was wholly dependent on YHWH and His will. And he failed to recognise that it may have been due to his own evil living. However, on sending messengers to Elisha he received the assurance that the siege would shortly be lifted so that all would have enough to eat. The final deliverance of Samaria by YHWH’s power is then described in the second subsection.

The passage divides up into two subsections:

1) The description of the siege and its consequences (2 Kings 6:24 to 2 Kings 7:1).

2) The discovery of YHWH’s amazing deliverance (2 Kings 7:2-20).

The first subsection is within the inclusio which opens with details of the cost of food in the period of severe shortage (2 Kings 6:24-25), and closes with the details of the cost once plenty is to be restored (2 Kings 7:1). 2 Kings 6 :2 Kings 7:1 in fact unites the two sections. For the second subsection is within the inclusio which commences with 2 Kings 6 :2 Kings 7:1 followed by the captain’s comment about the ‘windows of Heaven’, which is then followed by the warning of his demise (2 Kings 7:2), and closes with verses which are parallel with 2 Kings 6:1-2 and a description of his actual death (2 Kings 7:19-20).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 6:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-kings-6.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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