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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 6

 

 

Verse 1

1. The sons of the prophets — The members of one of the prophetical schools, probably the one at Jericho. Compare 2 Kings 2:5.

The place where we dwell — The house we occupy here at Jericho. Gilgal, which many expositors have supposed to be the place here referred to, was too far from the Jordan to meet well the conditions of this narrative, and the Gilgal where the prophets had a school was certainly not the spot where Joshua first pitched his camp after crossing the Jordan. See note on 2 Kings 2:1.

Too strait for us — Too small for our accommodation. The numbers of the prophets seem to have increased, both in Judah and Israel, in proportion to the increasing wickedness of the two kingdoms. Here, too, it appears that the prophets dwelt in houses of their own; probably rude huts or booths, which their own hands had made. So in Samuel’s time they had their habitations (Naioth) near Ramah. See note on 1 Samuel 19:19.


Verses 1-7

THE LOST AXE HEAD RECOVERED, 2 Kings 6:1-7.

This miracle is recorded immediately after that of Naaman’s cure, not because it followed it in the order of time, but because both events were associated with the Jordan, and especially because the one stands in noticeable contrast with the other. The chief point to be noticed in this miracle is not the mere strange wonder that iron is made to swim, but that a lost instrument of labour is miraculously restored to a poor man who could ill afford to lose it. The miracle of Naaman’s cure shows how the power of God relieves from sore distress one of the great and honourable ones of the world, and an idolater. It was a public display of omnipotence and grace, and served to extol the God of Israel among the nations. But lest any should suppose that Jehovah displays his power and grace only on great occasions, or for the great alone, the record of this other miracle is immediately added, teaching precisely the opposite lesson. A poor and almost unknown prophet of Jericho has a miracle wrought in his behalf in the very sphere of what might be called the most insignificant affairs of private life and toil. But with our God there are no little things. What seem to us the little cares and sorrows of the poor of this world, may have a magnitude in God’s eye as great as the cares of empire and the afflictions of princes. The loss of the axe was, to the poor prophet who had borrowed it, a calamity greater than would have been to Naaman the loss of all the treasures he brought with him from Damascus.

It should also be observed, that of this class of Elisha’s wonderful works this is the last one recorded, and that it makes a fitting complement to his other miracles of blessing. The healing of the waters of Jericho, the increase of the widow’s oil, the raising of the Shunammite’s son, the healing of the poisoned pottage, the multiplying of the loaves, and the healing of Naaman, all had more direct reference to the wants of families or societies, and did not so much enter into the particular anguish of one single heart, as did this. This relieving era comparatively little loss, and that of a single individual, gives assurance that Divine Providence will work for the comfort of one suffering heart as well as for the interests of societies or families; and shows that sorrows which we may think of little moment, receive great attention from Him who numbers the hairs of our heads.


Verse 5

5. The axe head fell into the water — The word rendered axe head is, literally, iron; but the connexion clearly shows that the iron axe head is meant.

Alas, master — These words were not only an expression of sorrow, but in effect were also a petition to Elisha to recover the lost axe.

It was borrowed — Literally, It was asked. The probable meaning is conveyed by the word borrowed, though some critics doubt whether שׁאולcan have this meaning. But none can well dispute that the word may here mean, it was obtained by asking, and that certainly may mean borrowing. Keil maintains that it had been begged for, and obtained as a present; but in that case there would not have been so much room for sorrow over its loss as this prophet felt. He appears to have been too poor to have an axe of his own, and so borrowed one for the present occasion. If the tool had been his own, no matter how he had obtained it, its loss would not have been so keenly felt by a sensitive soul; but to lose a borrowed tool, kindly lent him upon his asking for it, was a sore grief to him.


Verse 6

6. He cut down a stick — According to Vatablus, he made a new handle, and threw it in the water so dexterously that it entered the hole or socket of the iron. This, however, has a tendency to explain away the miracle, and reduce the whole affair to a mere feat of dexterity. “Would,” says Keil, “that the expositors who believe this would only make the trial, in order to convince themselves, by practice, of the untenableness of their theory!”

The iron did swim — Or, he made the iron flow; that is, float on the surface of the water, so that Elisha’s disciple could reach forth his hand and take it. It was, therefore, a real miracle which Elisha wrought on this occasion.

Many of the older expositors find in this miracle an allegory of sin and redemption. The falling of the axe head into the water, they tell us, is typical of man’s fall by sin. The new, living wood, by which it was raised, represents the wood of the cross, by which fallen humanity is raised from the depths of sin and restored to the service of God. This allegorical interpretation seems, however, to be too far-fetched. Better to view it in contrast with the miracle of Naaman’s cure, as showing how the providence and power of God extends to the relief of the poorest and most unknown of his worshippers, as well as to the nobles of the earth.


Verse 8

8. The king of Syria — Ben-hadad. Compare 2 Kings 6:24.

Warred against Israel — The causes and the date of this war are unknown. From 2 Kings 6:23 we learn that the war consisted of incursions by marauding bands, and not a regular military campaign, like the one mentioned in 2 Kings 6:24. The king of Syria, however, was himself engaged in this dishonourable kind of warfare.

In such and such a place shall be my camp — That is, the Syrian king and his officers laid plans for such a disposition and movement of their forces as would deceive and circumvent the Israelites. He probably formed his camp into ambuscades, expecting to surprise and ensnare the forces which the king of Israel might send against him.


Verses 8-23

THE SYRIANS SMITTEN WITH BLINDNESS, 2 Kings 6:8-23.

We come now to another class of wonders with which the ministry of Elisha was associated; not so much miracles, wrought by his agency, as marvellous answers to his prayers. In this section and the following, Elisha appears not as a worker of miracles, but as a seer, gifted with supernatural vision, and a prophet of great wisdom and prudence. His agency in these Syrian wars is substantially what it was in the war with Mesha, king of Moab. 2 Kings 3:4-27. It passes from the realm of the private and personal to that of the more public and national.


Verse 9

9. Beware that thou pass not such a place — That is, avoid leading or sending your forces into such a spot. This is a more natural explanation of these words than that of many interpreters, who explain them thus: Beware that thou do not overlook or fail to preoccupy and guard such a place. To pass over, in the sense of overlooking or failing to notice a place, is, to say the least, a very unusual meaning of עבר. Its common signification is, to pass through or over, in marching from one place to another; and the loyal Elisha, with true seer-like counsel, warns his king against leading his troops over the spots where bands of the enemy are lying in ambush to surprise him.

Thither the Syrians are come down — Into that spot the Syrian bands have already come down and put themselves in ambuscade.


Verse 10

10. The king of Israel sent to the place — Sent spies to the place, in order to ascertain if Elisha had given correct information and wise counsel.

Saved himself there — Not by sending armed forces to rout the ambushed Syrians, or to pre-occupy the place before the Syrians came down to it, but by observing the counsel of the prophet, and not passing through that locality. Again and again was he thus made acquainted with the plans and movements of his enemy, and escaped the snares set for him.


Verse 11

11. Sore troubled — Ben-hadad was vexed and chagrined to find that all his plans and movements were made known to the Israelites, and that they could thus treat all his stratagems with derision. He at once suspected that there were traitors in his own camp.


Verse 12

12. One of his servants said — How knew this servant that Elisha gave the information? The fact was probably well known and much talked of in Israel, and from some Israelite this Syrian obtained his knowledge.

In thy bedchamber — A proverbial expression meaning the most secret and confidential plans and counsels of the king.


Verse 13

13. Go and spy where he is — How blind, to imagine that he who could tell his secret counsels could not also frustrate the movements of his spies.

Dothan — A beautiful spot on an eminence still bearing the name Tell Dothan, about twelve miles north of Samaria; the same place to which Joseph went in search of his brethren. Genesis 37:17.


Verse 15

15. Servant of the man of God — Not Gehazi, but another chosen in his place; probably a young man taken from one of the schools of the prophets.


Verse 17

17. The Lord opened the eyes of the young man — His natural eyes saw only the horses and chariots of Syria, and he could not understand Elisha’s meaning when he said, They that be with us are more than they that be with them. He stood in blank bewilderment, terrified at sight of the enemy’s host, and not knowing what to make of his master’s words. In answer to Elisha’s prayer God opened his spiritual eyes, unvailed his inner sense, and lifted him for a moment to the high plane of Elisha’s supernatural vision, whence he obtained a view of the mighty creations of the spiritual world around him. This sight into the spiritual world was not an instance of hallucination, but a miracle of grace; an instance of that Divine ecstasy or trance in which the holy seers were enabled to behold the visions of the supersensual world, and which consists essentially in this, that the human spirit is seized and com-passed by the Divine Spirit with such force and energy that, being lifted from its natural state, it becomes altogether a seeing eye, a hearing ear, a perceiving sense, that takes most vivid cognizance of things in either heaven, earth, or hell.

The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire — These horses and chariots were there before the young man’s eyes were opened to behold them; and so we may well believe that millions of spiritual beings walk unseen around us, and perhaps minister to us in a thousand ways when we are unconscious of their presence. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him.” Psalms 34:7. Compare notes on 2 Kings 2:11-12.


Verse 18

18. When they came down to him — When the Syrian host came down to Elisha to capture him.

Smote them with blindness — The same Divine power which, in answer to prayer, opened the spiritual eyes of the young man, closed and blinded even the natural eyes of the enemies of Elisha. Jehovah blesses his servants with enlarged visions of his power and glory, but curses his enemies with blindness. Compare Genesis 19:11; Acts 13:11.


Verse 19

19. I will bring you to the man — There was a sort of irony in these words of Elisha, which virtually treated the enemy with derision. He brought them indeed to the man they sought, but not in the place nor under the circumstances in which they would fain have found him.


Verse 20

20. The Lord opened their eyes — To them, long blinded and groping in darkness, and led through an enemy’s country they knew not whither, it was a relief to see once more.


Verse 21

21. Shall I smite them — Perhaps this question was prompted by the remembrance of Ahab’s great mistake in not smiting the king of Syria when he had him in his power, and for which mistake he was so sternly rebuked by one of the prophets. 1 Kings 20:35-43.


Verse 22

22. Wouldest thou smite — That is, according to many interpreters, thou wouldest not smite those whom thou hadst made prisoners of war, much less these whom God has miraculously delivered into thy hands. But it is a fact that the law authorized the Israelites to destroy their prisoners of war, (Deuteronomy 20:13,) and it was often actually done, and in more than one instance they were severely blamed for neglecting to do it. Better, therefore, with the Septuagint, Chaldee, Syriac, and Vulgate versions, not to render it as a question, but thus: That which thou hast captured with thy sword and with thy bow thou mayest smite; set bread and water before these, etc. That is, do not treat these who have been so marvellously delivered into thy hands as ordinary prisoners of war; feast them well and send them back, and thou shalt accomplish a far greater victory. This was an anticipation of the Gospel rule, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” Romans 12:20.


Verse 23

23. The bands of Syria came no more — Such predatory hordes of Syrian warriors were no longer allowed by the king of Syria to invade the land of Israel. The signal defeat which all his plans and movements met at the hand of Elisha struck him with a terror of the prophet and of his God. But though it ended this predatory kind of warfare, it did not prevent Ben-hadad from a subsequent invasion of Israel with all his host.


Verse 24

THE SIEGE OF SAMARIA AND THE GREAT FAMINE SUDDENLY ENDED, 2 Kings 6 :2 Kings 6:24 to 2 Kings 7:20.

24. After this — Sometime after the events recorded in the preceding section. Ben-hadad gave up the mode of warfare he had been carrying on against Israel by detached bands of warriors, and resolved to overcome the king of Israel by besieging his capital. Thus Josephus says, he “made no more secret attempts upon the king of Israel, out of fear of Elisha; but he resolved to make open war with him, thinking to overwhelm his enemies by the multitude of his army and power.”


Verse 25

25. A great famine in Samaria — In consequence of the siege, which cut off all means of supply to the city.

An ass’s head — According to the law (Leviticus 11:3) the ass was an unclean animal, and therefore forbidden to be eaten at all. The head of the animal is, besides, the worst part of all to eat. But necessity knows no law; and how terrible must have been that famine which caused this part of an unclean animal to sell for such a fabulous price! The supposition of some, that the term ass’s head means a certain weight or measure, is too much wanting in evidence. An ass of bread, in 1 Samuel 16:20, is quite different from an ass’s head, and most naturally means, as the English version has it, an ass laden with bread. Surely if women ate their dead children, as 2 Kings 6:29 shows, we need not scruple to believe that an ass’s head would sell for a great price.

Fourscore pieces of silver — Silver shekels are probably meant, in which case this amount would be about forty-five dollars of our currency.

A cab — A hollow vessel capable of holding about two quarts.

Dove’s dung — This is a literal translation of the Hebrew words חרי יונים, chire-yonim.

Josephus says it was used instead of salt; others think it was used for fuel, or for quickening the growth of garden vegetables. But the context seems clearly to show that it was used for feed, and hence some have, very naturally, supposed that the word denotes some vegetable food, inasmuch as the Arabs call the herb alkali, sparrow’s dung. Thomson says: “I believe that the Hebrew chir-yonim was the name of a coarse and cheap sort of food, a kind of bean, to which this whimsical title was given on account of some fancied resemblance between the two. Nor am I at all surprised at it, for the Arabs give the most quaint, obscure, and ridiculous names to their extraordinary edible mixtures. I would therefore not translate at all, but read thus, ‘A fourth part of a cab of chir-yonim for five pieces of silver,’ and be content with that, until we know what chir-yonim really is.” But after all, it is still more probable that literal dove’s dung is meant. Similar instances of human extremity in famine are not unknown in history. Josephus relates that in the siege of Jerusalem “some persons were driven to that terrible distress that they searched the common sewers and old dung-hills of cattle, and ate the dung which they got there.” During a famine in Egypt in 1200 the poor were driven to the necessity of eating dogs, and the carcasses of animals and men, and even the excrements of both. In England in 1316, during the reign of Edward II., there was a famine in which many of the people are said to have eaten their own children, together with dogs, mice, and pigeon’s dung. During the late civil war in the United States, the starving prisoners at Andersonville are said to have eaten, at times, their own excrement. Compare 2 Kings 18:27.

Five pieces of silver — About three dollars.


Verse 27

27. Out of the barnfloor — Can I gather up grain for thee from the smooth rock or cleanly swept surface of the threshingfloor, or fruit from the empty and deserted winepress? Have I power to turn stones into bread?


Verse 29

29. We boiled my son — Probably after the child had himself died from hunger. This statement is another evidence of the awful extremity and starvation to which the Samaritans were driven by this siege of Ben-hadad.

This strife between these two mothers also shows how, in the bitterest hour of human misery, the lower passions will revel uncontrolled. But these were the very woes which Moses had foretold would come in case of disobedience. See Deuteronomy 28:53.


Verse 30

30. He rent his clothes — The king was shocked and horror-stricken at the woman’s story of her grief.

Behold,… sackcloth — He had already put sackcloth on his flesh, but had hitherto kept this sign of humiliation concealed under his outer garment.


Verse 31

31. If the head of Elisha — In his desperation he imagines that the prophet is the cause of the nation’s woe, or, at least, that he has power to remove the woe, and will not. “Jehoram,” says Wordsworth, “had sackcloth on his loins, but not on his heart. He mourned for the famine, but not for its cause, namely, his own sins and the sins of the people; and instead of being penitent towards God, he is furious against God’s prophet.”


Verse 32

32. Sat in his house — His own house in Samaria, where he was dwelling when Naaman sought his help. 2 Kings 5:9.

The elders sat with him — They were probably consulting together on the state of the city, and were providentially present to witness the scene that is here recorded.

This son of a murderer — Son of Jezebel, who murdered the prophets of the Lord, (1 Kings 18:4,) and of Ahab, who by his silence and submission to her will sanctioned her wickedness. More directly still was Ahab the murderer of Naboth. 1 Kings 21:19. So now Jehoram was in heart the murderer, when he sent this messenger to behead Elisha.

His master’s feet behind him — This verse and the following are obscure from their brevity. They seem to be an abridgment of a fuller narrative. It seems that immediately after the king had despatched the messenger to behead Elisha he repented of his rash action, and hastened, in company with one of his officers, to countermand his order and prevent its execution.


Verse 33

33. While he yet talked with them — While Elisha was yet in the act of telling the elders to fasten the door and keep the messenger out.

And he said — Who said? It seems at first difficult to determine whether the words that follow are the words of the prophet, the messenger, or the king.

But on closer study they seem best to suit the mouth of the king, and the obscurity of the passage must be attributed to the brevity of the narrative.

This evil is of the Lord — These words of the king are a part of his countermand of the order to behead Elisha, and a reason for it. He is convinced that the famine is a Divine judgment on the nation for his sins.

What should I wait for the Lord — Rather, Why should I wait, etc. These words are virtually a prayer for the Lord to come and remove the famine. The passage may be thus paraphrased: I acknowledge that this evil is a punishment for my sins; the Lord thus chastens me sorely. But now, when all this people are brought to such an extremity of woe, why should I wait longer for the Lord to interpose and deliver his people from their sufferings?

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Kings 6:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/2-kings-6.html. 1874-1909.

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