“And it came to pass after this, that Ben-hadad king of 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 cab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver” (2 Kings 6:24-25).
In the days of the prophet Elisha’s life and ministry, the king of Syria, Ben-hadad II, mobilized his entire army and conducted a large, full-scale invasion of Israel. The Syrians were so successful that they penetrated far into the land of Israel and put Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, under siege. Inside Samaria were the king of Israel and all of the elders of the city. This would be something like laying siege to Washington, D.C., with the President and all of Congress trapped inside the city.
Daily Life in a Besieged City
The Syrians surrounded the city and prevented all business and trade from entering or leaving the city. No one dared to leave it, just as no one dared to enter it, without being captured or put to death. By cutting off the city from all its supplies and necessities, eventually the population would be starved into surrender.
And we learn from verse 25 that the stranglehold of the siege resulted in desperate starvation gripping Samaria. When we are really hungry we might say, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse!” Throughout history, however, people have become much more desperate than that in their hunger. And we see such conditions for the residents of Samaria during this siege.
A donkey was an unclean animal according to the law of Moses and was not to be eaten under any conditions. But those in Samaria were so desperate for food that they ignored the law, and a donkey’s head, one of the least nourishing, most repulsive, and cheapest parts of this animal, became a highly valued commodity, selling for eighty shekels, or around two pounds of silver. Not only that, but “the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung” sold “for five pieces of silver” (2 Kings 6:25). Dove’s dung, or bird excrement, would of course not have been clean to eat either. And a half pint of dove droppings sold for five shekels or two ounces of silver.
The king of Israel, King Jehoram, blamed the prophet Elisha for the plight of Samaria and for failing to do anything to relieve the situation. And so the king vowed to kill Elisha (2 Kings 6:26-31). However, when the king came to Elisha’s house, Elisha prophesied that, within 24 hours, God would completely reverse the situation in Samaria.
“Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord, To morrow about this time shall 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).
Elisha told the king the word of the Lord that, miraculously, the famine would end in one day. Supplies would then be plentiful; there would be both barley and fine wheat flour, which would be sold for remarkably low prices the very next day: seven quarts of flour would sell for one shekel, as would fourteen quarts of barley.
Do or Die
“And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate: and they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die?
“If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.
“And they rose up in the twilight, to go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there.
“For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.
“Wherefore 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.
“And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it.
“Then they said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king’s household” (2 Kings 7:3-9).
The scene shifts from inside the city to four lepers just outside the gates of Samaria. Ordinary people of the city were suffering from hunger, and these four, sick men were suffering even more. They were outcasts who were shut out of the city because of their disease, and they were likely beggars who relied on charity. They were dying, not only from the rotting of their flesh, but also from starvation. No one in Samaria had any food to share with them. These men were in an exceedingly desperate situation, and so they decided to take desperate measures.
The four men talked amongst themselves and reasoned that if they tried to go into the city, they would die, because there was no food there. If they stayed at the gate and did nothing, they would die, because no one in the city had enough food to share with them. If they took their chances and went to the Syrians, they might die there too, but it would be better to die quickly from the sword than to die slowly from hunger and starvation. But if they went to the Syrians, who knows, they might find some pity; the Syrians might feed them so they could live.
Having weighed all their options, they concluded that they had nothing to lose by going to the Syrian camp where there was plenty of food. Their thinking was that it was better to die trying! Thus, they all agreed to go to the Syrians and beg for mercy.
Early the next morning while it was twilight, they arose and headed out to the Syrians. Now put yourself in the sandals of one of these men for a moment. As they approached the Syrian camp, they saw the tents from a distance. As they got nearer, they saw the horses and donkeys, still tied up, but they did not see any guards; in fact, they didn’t see so much as even one, single, solitary Syrian.
They continued to make their way into the camp cautiously.
Campfires were still burning. It’s quiet—too quiet. After they finally came to the far side of the silent camp, one of them worked up the courage to pull back the flap of one of the tents. They all peeked inside, but no one was there. But inside that tent were
great treasures of food, drink, clothing, gold, and silver. And within the entire camp there was great abundance. These lepers looked at each other and realized, “We’ve struck it rich!”
An Alarming Sound
Verse 6 tells us the reason that the Syrian camp was empty:
“For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host….”
In the account immediately preceding this one, God had enabled Elisha’s servant to SEE the great host of the Lord on the mountain of Dothan: the horses and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:17). Here in Samaria, we find that God enabled the Syrian army to HEAR unseen, supernatural chariots of fire and horses.
In the early morning light, hearing the sounds of onrushing horse’s hooves, on-coming chariot wheels, and the marching of a massive force of foot soldiers near the camp terrified the Syrians. The volume and intensity of the sounds made them believe that the advancing army was even greater than theirs. And the only army this large was that of the Egyptians, or the Hittites, or perhaps even both, and so the Syrians thought that the king of Israel had hired them (2 Kings 7:6).
There was no time to calmly assess the situation or organize a response. Alarmed at the sound and thought of a massive military force descending on them, all the Syrians panicked, ran, scattered, “and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life” (v. 7).
Not long after that, four lepers wandered into the camp. After finding it completely deserted, they did what all starving men would have done: they went into a tent and ate until they were stuffed. After their meal, they looted the tent of its wealth, carrying out its silver, gold, and raiment, and then they went and hid it. Then they went to a second tent and spoiled it as well and again hid what they gathered (v.8). But there was so much, there was no way they could possibly gather and hide it all.
An Attack of Conscience
“Then they said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace…” (2 Kings 7:9).
The four lepers stopped to have another conference to assess their situation. They realized that, while they were stuffing themselves with food and gathering up wealth in this abandoned camp, the people back in the city were suffering and starving. It was
only right that they return to the city and share the good news with the people. They understood that to remain silent and selfishly enjoy this blessing would be wrong. They had a responsibility to share the good, lifesaving news with others.
“So they came and called unto the porter of the city: and they told them, saying, We came to the camp of the Syrians, and, behold, there was no man there, neither voice of man, but horses tied, and asses tied, and the tents as they were” (2 Kings 7:10).
The lepers returned to the gates of Samaria, where they called out to the “porter of the city” (v. 10), or the gatekeeper, and told the good news that the camp of the Syrians had been abandoned. The gatekeepers then passed this report on to the king’s house (v. 1).
The king, however, was suspicious that this was a trap. He reasoned that the Syrians, knowing that Samaria was starving, had retreated and were hiding nearby in the fields, just waiting for the people of Samaria to come out of the city, where the Syrians could fall upon them, kill them, and invade the city (v. 12). From a military point of view, this was a very logical and reasonable suspicion, but the king did not connect the good news with Elisha’s prophecy of plenty on the previous day.
Elisha’s Prophecy Fulfilled
At the advice of one of his counselors, the king sent out scouts (vv. 13-14) and, to their amazement, they found the camp empty. They then followed the Syrians’ escape route all the way to the Jordan River, 25 miles away, and found the ground littered along the way with the clothing and equipment that the army discarded as they fled. They then returned to Samaria and reported to the king (v. 15).
The people of the city immediately went out and plundered the tents. They found an abundance of food to eat and to sell back in the city so that, as a result,
“…a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord” (v. 16).
Elisha’s prophecy from the Lord that food would be plentiful and cheap for the people of Samaria the very next day, as incredible and far-fetched as it seemed, was fulfilled exactly as he said, because God is faithful to His Word. And God, in His perfect wisdom, used those who had come to destroy Israel to be the very means of her deliverance.
God dealt bountifully with Israel here on the basis of His mercy and grace. It was not that the people of Samaria deserved anything from God. In fact, their oppression at the hands of the Syrians was the just consequence of their unbelief and rebellion against God and His law. They deserved judgment. But in spite of their sinfulness and disobedience, God brought about a mighty deliverance.
Our Mighty Deliverance
Like those in Samaria, we are all sinners who have rebelled against God and His law, and are deserving of His judgment (Rom. 3:10,23). Much as those Israelites were trapped in a desperate situation and were dying, so we are trapped in a desperate situation in our sins (Eph. 2:1). But God, by His grace and mercy, has provided a mighty deliverance and has given His Son to die for us that we might be saved from our sins and find life in Him. God, in His perfect wisdom, used what would have destroyed us—sin and death—to be the very means of our deliverance: Christ became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), and in dying for our sins and rising again, He saves those who believe.
In Samaria’s desperate situation, God provided a miraculous rescue, but no one in Samaria knew about it. They thought they were still trapped within their city walls. But four men knew the truth that they could be free. Like the four lepers, we who have trusted Christ have already learned and experienced the benefits, freedom, and bounty of God’s deliverance from sin. And, like the lepers, we must realize something very important: now we have a message to deliver.
The lepers “said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace” (2 Kings 7:9). In other words, “We have good news; we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves!” Those four men knew that the enemy had been defeated. They knew that the people in the city could be saved. They knew that people who were starving did not need to die. And they knew they should not keep such an amazing, lifesaving message to themselves.
We are just like those four men in that we also have a lifesaving message of good news that we should not keep to ourselves. We say to sinners, “Our enemies, sin and death, have been defeated. You can be saved by Christ!” We say to those who are dying in their sins, “You can live in Christ!” We say to those who are spiritually starving, “There is bread enough and to spare through the Bread of life and trusting His finished work.”
When the king of Israel was told about the abandoned camp and Samaria’s deliverance, he was skeptical and thought that there must be a catch. Likewise,
with many whom we tell about salvation in Christ by faith alone in Him, we get a skeptical response. They think if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But it is the truth of God’s Word to just trust Christ alone and receive deliverance from our sins and have life eternal.
When we discover God’s salvation in Christ, we find spiritual abundance. We have abundance in Christ entirely by the grace of God. We who have believed have experienced the riches of God’s grace, and God wants us to tell others about the rich blessings of grace, hope, and forgiveness that are in Christ (Eph. 1:3-14).
Leprosy is a picture of sin in the Bible. The lepers were outcasts, poor, beggars, and they were dying. They had no resources and nothing to offer anyone. They are a picture of the spiritual condition of all sinners outside of Christ, separated from God. These men realized that, if they did nothing, they would perish. Their only hope was to go and ask for mercy.
Likewise, as a sinner, if you do nothing, you will perish in your sins. Your only hope is to go to Christ to receive mercy (Titus 3:5). If you do, and you trust Him as your Savior, you will find life, provision, deliverance, and abundance of blessing in Him.