And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us.
The writer returns here to the series of miracles which Elisha performed for the benefit of the prophetical schools under his care. The connection, in this point of view, is with 2 Kings 4:44.
The place where we dwell with thee - literally, "the place where we sit before thee," i. e. "the place where we assemble and sit to bear thy teaching." Elisha visited the sons of the prophets in circuit, staying a short time at each place where a "school" was established. Perhaps he was now visiting Jericho. Compare 2 Kings 2:5.
Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell. And he answered, Go ye.
Take every man a beam - Trees were rare in most parts of Palestine, but plentiful in the Jordan Valley. Jericho was known in early times as "the city of palms" Deuteronomy 34:3; Judges 1:16.
And one said, Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants. And he answered, I will go.
So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood.
But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed.
The ax head - literally, as in the margin. The Jews used iron for the heads of axes at a very early date (see Deuteronomy 19:5). They probably acquired a knowledge of the smelting process in Egypt, where iron was employed at least from the time of the third Rameses.
And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim.
No doubt there is something startling in the trivial character of this miracle, and of the few others which resemble it. But, inasmuch as we know very little as to the laws which govern the exercise of miraculous powers, it is possible that they may be so much under their possessor's control that he can exercise them, or not exercise them, at pleasure. And it may depend on his discretion whether they are exercised in important cases only, or in trivial cases also. Elisha had evidently great kindness of heart. He could not see a grief without wishing to remedy it. And it seems as if he had sometimes used his miraculous power in pure good nature, when no natural way of remedying an evil presented itself.
Therefore said he, Take it up to thee. And he put out his hand, and took it.
Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp.
The king of Syria - Probably the great Benhadad (see 2 Kings 6:24).
And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down.
And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice.
Saved himself - Rather, he "was ware." The verb used is the same which is translated "beware" in the preceding verse.
Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel?
Benhadad supposed that there must be a traitor in his camp. He asks therefore, "Will no one denounce him?"
And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.
In thy bedchamber - literally, "in the secret place of thy bedchamber," i. e.," in the greatest possible secrecy." The seclusion of the harem must be taken into account for the full appreciation of the force of the phrase. Probably the Syrian lord who answered Benhadad had received his intelligence from some of the Israelites.
And he said, Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him. And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan.
Dothan - See the marginal reference note. It was at no great distance from Shechem. Its ancient name still attaches to a Tel or hill of a marked character (compare 2 Kings 6:17), from the foot of which arises a copious fountain.
Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.
And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
They that be with us ... - Elisha gave utterance to the conviction of all God's saints when the world persecutes them (compare marginal references). God - they know - is on their side; they need "not fear what flesh can do unto them." His angels - an innumerable host - are ever guarding those who love Him.
And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD 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.
Open his eyes that he may see - Elisha's servant lacked the faith of his master. Elisha therefore prays that he may be given a vision of the spiritual world, and see, as if with the bodily eye, the angelic host (marginal references) which he himself knows to be present.
And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the LORD, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.
They came down to him - The Syrians, who had been encamped on rising ground opposite the hill of Dothan, now descended and drew near to the city.
The blindness with which they were smitten was not real - blindness actual loss of sight - but a state of illusion in which a man sees things otherwise than as they are (compare 2 Kings 6:20).
And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way, neither is this the city: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. But he led them to Samaria.
And it came to pass, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And the LORD opened their eyes, and they saw; and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.
And the king of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them?
My father - A term of respect used by Jehoram in his joy at seeing an army of Syrians delivered up to him by the prophet. That the king's character was not changed appears from 2 Kings 6:31-32.
And he answered, Thou shalt not smite them: wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.
Wouldest thou smite ... - It is doubtful whether this sentence is really interrogative. Others translate - "Smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword," etc. A contrast is intended between ordinary captives - those made with the sword and bow - and these particular prisoners who have been given into the king's hand by God. The former, Jehoram is told, he may slay, if he pleases Deuteronomy 20:13, the latter, he is informed, he must not slay (compare the marginal reference).
And he prepared great provision for them: and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel.
Jehoram did not merely follow the letter of the prophet's direction, but understood its spirit and acted accordingly. The plundering bands which had been in the habit of ravaging the territory 2 Kings 5:2 ceased their incursions in consequence either of the miracle, or of the kind treatment which Elisha had recommended.
And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria.
After this - Perhaps some years after - when the miracle and the kind treatment were alike forgotten.
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.
As the donkey was "unclean," it would not be eaten except in the last resort; and its head would be its worst and cheapest part.
Cab - This measure is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. According to the rabbinical writers it was the smallest of all the dry measures in use among the Jews, being the sixth part of a seah, which was the third part of an ephah. If it was about equal to two of our quarts, the "fourth part of a cab" would be about a pint.
Dove's dung - Most commentators understand by this expression a sort of pulse which is called "dove's dung," or "sparrow's dung" in Arabic. But it is possible that the actual excrement of pigeons is meant. The records of sieges show that both animal and human excrement have been used as food - under circumstances of extreme necessity.
And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king.
The walls of fortified towns had a broad space at the top, protected toward the exterior by battlements, along which the bulk of the defenders were disposed, and from which they hurled their missiles and shot their arrows. The king seems to have been going his rounds, to inspect the state of the garrison and the defenses.
And he said, If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress?
If the Lord do not help - The translation in the text is decidedly better than the marginal rendering. Some prefer to render - "Nay ... let Jehovah help thee. Whence, shall I help thee?"
Out of the barnfloor ... - The king means that both were empty - that he had no longer any food in store; and therefore could not help the woman. Compare Hosea 9:2.
And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to day, and we will eat my son to morrow.
The king had assumed that the cry of the woman was for food. Her manner indicated that it was not so. He therefore proceeded to inquire what she wanted of him.
This woman - Both women, it would seem, were present; and the aggrieved one pointed to the other.
So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son.
The prophecy alluded to in the marginal references was now fulfilled, probably for the first time. It had a second accomplishment when Jerusalem was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar Lamentations 4:10, and a third in the final siege of the same city by Titus.
And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes; and he passed by upon the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh.
Sackcloth - Jehoram hoped perhaps to avert Yahweh's anger, as his father had done 1 Kings 21:29. But there was no spirit of self-humiliation, or of true pentitence in his heart 2 Kings 5:7. See the next verse.
Then he said, God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.
God do so ... - Jehoram uses almost the very words of his wicked mother, when she sought the life of Elijah (marginal reference).
The head of Elisha - Beheading was not an ordinary Jewish punishment. The Law did not sanction it. But in Assyria, Babylonia, and generally through the East, it was the most conmon form of capital punishment. It is not quite clear why Elisha was to be punished. Perhaps Jehoram argued from his other miracles that he could give deliverance from the present peril, if he liked.
But Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him; and the king sent a man from before him: but ere the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, See ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head? look, when the messenger cometh, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door: is not the sound of his master's feet behind him?
But Elisha sat ... - Translate, "And Elisha was sitting in his house, and all the elders were sitting with him, when the king sent, etc."
The "elders," - either "the elders of the city" or "the elders of the land," - who may have been in session at Samaria now, as they had been at the time of a former siege 1 Kings 20:7 - had gone to Elisha for his advice or assistance. Their imminent peril drove them to acknowledge the power of Yahweh, and to consult with His prophet.
This son of a murderer - i. e. of Ahab, the murderer, not only of Naboth, but also of all the prophets of the Lord (marginal reference), whom be allowed Jezebel to slay.
Hold him fast at the door - The elders, public officials, not private friends of Elisha, could not have been expected to resist the entrance of the executioner at the mere request of the prophet. He therefore assigns a reason for his request - "the king is coming in person, either to confirm or revoke his order - will they detain the headsman until his arrival?"
And while he yet talked with them, behold, the messenger came down unto him: and he said, Behold, this evil is of the LORD; what should I wait for the LORD any longer?
The messenger - It has been proposed to change "messenger" into "king," the two words being in Hebrew nearly alike, and the speech with which the chapter ends being considered only suitable in the mouth of the king, whose presence is indicated in 2 Kings 7:2, 2 Kings 7:17. Others think that the words "and the king after him" have fallen out of the text.
Came down - The messenger came down from off the wall to the level of the streets.
Behold this evil ... - Jehoram bursts into the prophet's presence with a justification of the sentence 2 Kings 6:31 he has pronounced against him. "Behold this evil - this siege with all its horrors - is from Yahweh - from Yahweh, Whose prophet thou art. Why should I wait for Yahweh - temporize with Him - keep as it were, on terms with Him by suffering thee to live - any longer? What hast thou to say in arrest of judgment?"