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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 7

 

 

Verses 2-20

YHWH’s Deliverance From The Siege Of Samaria (2 Kings 7:2-20).

This second subsection is within an inclusio which commences with the captain’s comment about the ‘windows of Heaven’, followed by the warning of his demise (2 Kings 7:2), and closes with a repetition of the same comment and a description of his actual death (2 Kings 7:19-20). It is also connected with the first subsection as the thought of the closing verse of the first subsection (2 Kings 7:1) is paralleled at the end of the second subsection (2 Kings 7:18).

The story commences with four skin-diseased men who were really unwelcome anywhere due to their disease. While not totally excluded from the city (they were not lepers and therefore would have been subject to certain death from the enemy if caught) they were expected to remain outside the gate (with the right to enter when necessary) where they were no doubt even worse provided for than everyone else, probably only receiving occasional ‘food’ from relatives who were themselves starving. It may well be that they were stirred into action precisely because their supplies had literally dried up. Thus they were left with a choice between going into the starving city in order to see what they could forage, knowing how unwelcome they would be, or approaching the enemy camp and pleading for help because of their condition. Neither alternative appeared much better than the other, but at least an approach to the enemy would solve their problem in one way or another once and for all. Things had got that desperate.

But when they arrived at the enemy camp it was to discover that it had been abandoned. And the reason was because YHWH had caused the Aramaeans to hear the sound of the approach of chariots, horses and armoured troops, with the result that they had panicked and fled thinking that they were about to be attacked from the south by the Egyptians, and from the north by the Hittites, by mercenaries who had been hired in order to raise the siege. It may well be that the long siege, and stories about what Elisha had done in the past, had already set their nerves on edge as they wondered what would happen next, with the result that the noise that they heard, which may have been the wind whistling through the mountains, became the final straw.

The four skin-diseased men, unable to believe their good fortune, first satisfied their own hunger from the nearest tents, and then plundered two of the tents for some of the spoils of gold and silver gathered by the invaders, hiding it away, probably in a hole in the ground. Once they had done that they recognised that if they did not immediately report what they had found they might be called to account in the future. So they hurried back to the city and reported to the gatekeeper at the gate what they had found. The gatekeeper then immediately sent the message to the king’s household. But the king was suspicious that it was a ruse of the enemy and sent out scouts in two chariots in order to discover whether the enemy had really left the country, and sure enough they discovered on the road to the Jordan that there was all the evidence of an army fleeing in panic, with clothing and equipment tossed everywhere.

Once the news arrived back at the city the starving people understandably streamed out to the Aramaean camp and plundered it for food and goods, with the result that food once again became readily available at a reasonable price, as Elisha had forecast. And what was more, the important official who had despised Elisha’s words, and who had been put in charge of the gate, was trampled in the rush, just as Elisha had prophesied.

Analysis.

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” Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, “Look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” And he said, “Behold, you will see it with your eyes, but you will not eat of it” (2 Kings 7:1-2).

b Now there were four skin-diseased men at the entrance of the gate, and they said one to another, “Why do we sit here until we die? If we say, ‘We will enter into the city,’ then the famine is in the city, and we will die there, and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall to the host of the Aramaeans, if they save us alive, we will live, and if they kill us, we will but die” (2 Kings 7:3-4).

c And they rose up in the twilight, to go to the camp of the Aramaeans, and when they were come to the outermost part of the camp of the Aramaeans, behold, there was no man there (2 Kings 7:5).

d For the Lord had made the host of the Aramaeans to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host, and they had said one to another, “Lo, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come on us.” For which reason they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life (2 Kings 7:6-7).

e And when these skin-diseased men came to the outermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and ate and drink, and carried from there silver, and gold, and clothing, and went and hid it, and they came back, and entered into another tent, and carried from there also, and went and hid it (2 Kings 7:8).

f Then they said one to another, “We are not doing well. This day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace. If we linger until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household” (2 Kings 7:9).

g So they came and called to the porter of the city, and they told them, saying, “We came to the camp of the Aramaeans, and, behold, there was no man there, nor the voice of man, but the horses tied, and the asses tied, and the tents as they were. And he called the porters, and they told it to the king’s household within (2 Kings 7:10-11).

f And the king arose in the night, and said to his servants, “I will now show you what the Aramaeans have done to us. They know that we are hungry, therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the countryside, saying, “When they come out of the city, we will take them alive, and get into the city” (2 Kings 7:12).

e And one of his servants answered and said, “Let some take, I pray you, five of the horses which remain, which are left in the city (behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it, behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel which are consumed); and let us send and see” (2 Kings 7:13).

d They took therefore two chariots with horses, and the king sent after the host of the Aramaeans, saying, “Go and see.” And they went after them to the Jordan: and, lo, all the way was full of clothing and vessels, which the Aramaeans had cast away in their hurry. And the messengers returned, and told the king (2 Kings 7:14-15).

c And the people went out, and plundered the camp of the Aramaeans. So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in accordance with the word of YHWH (2 Kings 7:16).

b And the king appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate, and the people trod on him in the gate, and he died as the man of God had said, who spoke when the king came down to him (2 Kings 7:17).

a And it came about as the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, “Two measures of barley for a shekel, and a measure of fine flour for a shekel, will be tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria.” And that captain had answered the man of God, and said, “Now, look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be?” and he had said, “Behold, you will see it with your eyes, but will not eat of it.” It came about even so to him, for the people trod on him in the gate, and he died (2 Kings 7:18-20).

Note that in ‘a’ the king’s high official declared that even if the windows of Heaven were opened YHWH’s word would not be fulfilled, and Elisha informed him that he would see it but not enjoy it, and in the parallel the high official’s comment is repeated and his death is described. In ‘b’ the four skin-diseased determined to go out from the gate to the enemy camp, and in the parallel the people trod on the official at the gate as they went out to the camp. In ‘c’ the skin-diseased men discovered no one at the Aramaean camp, and in the parallel the crowds went out and plundered it. In ‘d’ the enemy heard the sound of chariots and horses and fled leaving their spoils and equipment behind them, including spare chariot horses, and in the parallel Israelite chariots and horses followed and discovered spoils and equipment discarded along the way. In ‘e’ the skin-diseased men checked that the camp was truly empty and recovered spoil, and in the parallel the Israelite scouts discovered that the enemy had truly fled, and recovered spoil. In ‘f’ the skin-diseased men recognised that they must inform the king that the camp was deserted, and in the parallel the king suspected that it might be an ambush. Centrally in ‘g’ the announcement was made, and passed on to the king, that the camp was empty and that the enemy had fled.

2 Kings 7:2

‘Then the aide on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, “Look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” And he said, “Behold, you will see it with your eyes, but you will not eat of it.” ’

The important messenger, the king’s right hand man (the description does not indicate the king’s presence. It simply meant the man of his right hand on whom he depended), considered this suggestion to be ridiculous, and exclaimed, “Look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” In other words, in his view, even YHWH could not achieve this. For where would He obtain the supplies from?

‘Windows in Heaven’ was a phrase indicating abundant supplies from above. Compare Genesis 7:11; Malachi 3:10. The phrase is found in the Baal myths and there may be a hint here that even if he reached Baal’s level YHWH could not achieve that. That would serve to explain the severity of Elisha’s reply that although he would see such provision, he himself would not partake of it, an indication of his soon-coming death.

2 Kings 7:3-4

‘Now there were four skin-diseased men at the entrance of the gate, and they said one to another, “Why do we sit here until we die? If we say, ‘We will enter into the city,’ then the famine is in the city, and we will die there, and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall to the host of the Aramaeans, if they save us alive, we will live, and if they kill us, we will but die.” ’

The men were probably not lepers, but suffering from a skin disease similar to that of Naaman. Apparently they were still not allowed to mix with the ordinary people, because to touch them would be to be rendered ritually unclean. Thus they were ‘at the entrance of the gate’. In view of the fact that they were able to slip away unseen to the Aramaean camp it suggests that they were in fact stationed outside the gate, although allowed in if the enemy approached the gate.

They recognised the parlousness of their position. They were dying of starvation, and their supplies from the city may well have totally dried up. If they obtained entry into the city in order to forage for food they would do so to an unwelcoming people who themselves were starving, without any assurance of finding anything, and would simply die more slowly. On the other hand if they approached the enemy camp they would either be slain, which would simply mean a slightly quicker death, or possibly, in view of their condition, given food and then asked to leave. It was simply a toss up as to which was best, but approaching the camp appeared to offer the best odds.

2 Kings 7:5

‘And they rose up in the twilight, to go to the camp of the Aramaeans, and when they were come to the outermost part of the camp of the Aramaeans, behold, there was no man there.’

So as darkness descended they arose and went with some trepidation towards the camp of the Aramaeans. But on arrival at the edge of the camp they discovered to their astonishment that it appeared to be deserted. There was no one there.

2 Kings 7:6

‘For the Lord had made the host of the Aramaeans to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host, and they had said one to another, “Lo, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come on us.” ’

And it was learned later that this was because ‘the Lord of creation’ (adonai - Sovereign Lord) had made the host of the Aramaeans hear a noise of chariots, horses and armed men, like the sound of a great host, which they assumed could only be a combined mercenary army raised by the Egyptians and the Hittites, approaching from two different directions, which had somehow been called on to deliver the city and were almost on them. It was what they would have done themselves. (The Aramaeans had once performed a similar thing for the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10:6), and for Ahaz of Judah (1 Kings 15:18-20)). We must remember that, once a siege had settled in, life became very tedious, and imaginations could begin to run riot, especially when all knew that there was a wonder-working prophet of fearsome reputation known to be in the city. The noise may have been due to the sound of a powerful wind, sweeping through the hills, and echoing across the valley, sounding, as night approached, very much like the advance of a large army. They may also have seen dust dimly swirling up among the mountains. Or it may simply have been caused directly by God. We may also see it as very possible that YHWH had previously been disturbing their dreams in the same way as in Judges 7:13-14, with rumours spreading through the camp, but in this case caused by thoughts of Elisha, who must certainly have become a legendary figure in Aramaean eyes after his numerous exploits, including the healing of their former commander-in-chief and the blinding of their host. Indeed they must have known that Elisha was in Samaria, and may well have feared what amazing thing he intended to do. (It was a very superstitious age).

In some ways we can see this as similar to what had happened to their previous raiding army, but there it had been their vision which had been disturbed, whereas here it was their hearing organs.

2 Kings 7:7

‘For which reason they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life.’

Thus at the eerie sound which they could not understand, coming at them as it began to approach darkness, they panicked, and fled, leaving behind all that was not easily manageable. This included spare chariot horses, asses, and much of their spoil. They did not want to be caught in a pincer movement between two large nocturnal armies.

2 Kings 7:8

‘And when these skin-diseased men came to the outermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and ate and drink, and carried from there silver, and gold, and clothing, and went and hid it, and they came back, and entered into another tent, and carried from there also, and went and hid it.’

The result was that when the skin-diseased men came to the edge of the camp they were able to enter the first two tents that they came to, eat and drink enough to satisfy their hunger and thirst, and then pile up silver, and gold and expensive clothing, carrying it off and burying it, thus ensuring for themselves a prosperous future..

2 Kings 7:9

‘Then they said one to another, “We are not doing well. This day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace. If we linger until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”

After that, their initial heady period over, they began to think more carefully about the situation, and recognised that they should really be reporting this back to the famine-stricken city. Indeed they recognised that if they should be found there when morning came without having done so, they would be called on to account for why they had not immediately reported the situation back to the king’s household, for it was a situation that would be good tidings to all in the stricken city.

2 Kings 7:10

‘So they came and called to the gatekeeper of the city, and they told them, saying, “We came to the camp of the Aramaeans, and, behold, there was no man there, nor the voice of man, but the horses tied, and the asses tied, and the tents as they were.’

So they returned to the city and informed the gatekeeper on the gate of the city about the situation, explaining to him (and through him to the authorities - ‘them’) that they had been to the camp of the Aramaeans and had found it devoid of life. The tents were still there, there were horses and asses still tied up, but there was no voice to be heard, or person to be seen. All appeared to have vanished.

2 Kings 7:11

‘And he called the porters, and they told it to the king’s household within.’

The gateman then in turn hurriedly called the watch on duty and reported what had been told to him, and they sent an urgent message to the king’s household. The news was too important to keep until morning.

2 Kings 7:12

‘And the king arose in the night, and said to his servants, “I will now show you what the Aramaeans have done to us. They know that we are hungry, therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the countryside, saying, “When they come out of the city, we will take them alive, and get into the city.” ’

The news was considered to be of such importance that they felt it wise to wake the king himself, and he arose in the night and suggested to his courtiers whom he had hurriedly gathered together that this may well be a ruse, by which the enemy hoped to be able to lure them out of the city. The idea was that the Aramaeans would be hiding in the surrounding countryside, and as soon as the townsfolk entered their camp they would swoop down on them, capture them alive, and then take possession of the city.

2 Kings 7:13

‘And one of his servants answered and said, “Let some take, I pray you, five of the horses which remain, which are left in the city (behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it, behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel which are consumed), and let us send and see.” ’

One of his advisers then suggested that in that case what they should do was take five of the few horses which were left (most had perished and/or been eaten) and follow the trail that the Aramaean army would have taken if it really had set off back to Aram. In that way they would discover if there were any signs that they had really returned that way.

‘Behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it, behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel which are consumed.’ The horses were in a similar position to the residents of the city, either half-starving, or already dead through starvation, and eaten.

2 Kings 7:14

‘They took therefore two chariots with horses, and the king sent after the host of the Aramaeans, saying, “Go and see.” ’

The suggestion seemed a good one to the king, and he immediately despatched two chariots, along with their horses and charioteers, to check on the trail that would have been left by the Aramaeans if they had really fled. His command was, ‘Go and see.’

This may have been a slight change of plan from the five horses, or it may be that four drew the chariots and a fifth spare horse was taken on which a messenger could ride back once the truth was known.

2 Kings 7:15

‘And they went after them to the Jordan, and, lo, all the way was full of clothing and vessels, which the Aramaeans had cast away in their hurry. And the messengers returned, and told the king.’

So the two chariots took the road to the Jordan, over which the army would have passed if it had fled, and all along the road they found signs of the retreat of a panic-stricken army, with clothing and equipment strewn everywhere, cast away by the Aramaeans in their desperate flight. Having reached the Jordan, the messengers, now totally satisfied that the Aramaeans really had fled, then returned and reported their findings to the king.

2 Kings 7:16

‘And the people went out, and plundered the camp of the Aramaeans. So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in accordance with the word of YHWH.’

And the consequence was that the people of the city were able to go out and plunder the Aramaean camp, with the result that there was sufficient fine flour and barley for all, the consequence being that it was sold at normal prices that day (by the enterprising) to those who had not been able to go to the camp, in accordance with the word of YHWH which had made known to Elisha (2 Kings 7:1).

2 Kings 7:17

‘And the king appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate, and the people trod on him in the gate, and he died as the man of God had said, who spoke when the king came down to him.’

In order to facilitate and organise as best as he could the streaming of the people out of the city in their desperate search after food and spoils, the king then appointed his right hand man (whom he had previously sent to Elisha) to have charge of the gate. But this turned out to be unfortunate for him, because in seeking to control the surging, maddened crowds he himself was knocked over and trampled under foot, dying as ‘the man of God’ had said (2 Kings 7:2 b). All that Elisha, the man of God, had prophesied was taking place.

‘Who spoke when the king came down to him.’ Compare 2 Kings 6:32-33. This may signify that the king himself did follow his messenger to see Elisha, or the idea may simply be that he came, as it were, in the form of his messenger. See on 2 Kings 7:2 above.

2 Kings 7:18

‘And it came about as the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, “Two measures of barley for a shekel, and a measure of fine flour for a shekel, will be tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria.” ’

Also fulfilled was the prophecy about the sale of food at normal prices, instead of the exorbitant prices which had been exacted during the siege. Supply and demand had returned to normal, with sufficient available for all, and all in the course of a day.

2 Kings 7:19

‘And that captain who had answered the man of God, and said, “Now, look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be?” and he had said, “Behold, you will see it with your eyes, but will not eat of it.” ’

The opening verse of this subsection (2 Kings 7:2) is now repeated as an inclusio, its fulfilment having been demonstrated in 2 Kings 7:17. All this repetition brings out that the whole purpose of the narrative is to bring out YHWH’s great deliverance, and the fulfilment of the Word that He had given Elisha. All had happened for the glory of YHWH.

2 Kings 7:20

“It came about even so to him, for the people trod on him in the gate, and he died.’

The passage closes with the reminder that, just as Elisha had prophesied, the king’s right hand man died, the lesson being that it was not wise to make fun of the word of YHWH. The whole passage brings out that YHWH is always able to defend His people under any circumstances, even though He might often wait until the last moment in order to do so, in order that we might learn the lesson that He wants to teach us.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 7:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-kings-7.html. 2013.

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Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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