Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.VII.
(1) Then Elisha said.—And Elisha said. The division of the chapters is unfortunate, there being no break in the story here. The prophet addresses the king and his attendants (2Kings 7:18).
A measure.—Heb., a seah: the most usual corn measure. (Comp. 1Kings 18:32; 2Kings 6:25.) The prophet’s words are more abrupt in the original: “Thus hath Jehovah said, About this time to-morrow a seah (in) fine flour at a shekel, and two seahs (in) barley at a shekel, in the gate of Samaria!”
Fine flour.—Genesis 18:6.
Barley.—Not only as fodder for the horses (Thenius). but also for human consumption, in the shape of barley cakes, &c. (Judges 7:13).
The gate.—The corn market, therefore, was held in the open space just within the gate.
Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.(2) Then a lord.—And the adjutant (shâlîsh: comp. 2Samuel 23:8; 1Kings 9:22; 1Chronicles 11:11), or aide-de-camp or esquire (equerry).
On whose hand . . . leaned.—Comp. the similar expression in reference to Naaman (2Kings 5:18).
Leaned.—Was leaning. Behold, if the Lord . . . this thing be?
Behold, if the Lord . . . this thing be?—This may be correct. Even granting the very unlikely supposition that Jehovah is about to make windows (Genesis 7:11) in the sky, to rain down supplies through them, the promised cheapness of provisions can hardly ensue so soon. Or we may render, “Behold, Jehovah is going to make windows in the sky [i.e., to pour down provisions upon us]. Can this thing come to pass?” In any case, the tone is that of scoffing unbelief. Reuss renders, with French point, “Voyez donc. Iaheweh en fera pleuvoir! Est ce que c’est chose possible?”
Behold, thou shalt see.—Literally, Behold, thou art about (i.e., destined) to see. Elisha partly imitates the speech of the scoffer, which begins in the Hebrew with “Behold, Jehovah is about to make windows.” (Comp. 2Kings 5:26.)
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?(3) And there were four leprous men.—Literally, And four men were lepers.
Why sit we?—Or, Why are we abiding? Nobody brought them food any longer, owing to the pressure of the famine.
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.(4) Fall unto—i.e., desert, go over to.
If they save us alive.—And give us food, for pity’s sake.
We shall but die.—As we shall if we stop here, or if we go into the city. (The “but” is not in the Hebrew.)
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.(5) In the twilight—i.e., at nightfall. (See 2Kings 7:9; 2Kings 7:12.) They waited till then, that their departure might not be noticed from the walls.
The uttermost part—i.e., the outskirts or verge of the camp nearest to Samaria.
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.(6) For.—Now: introducing a new paragraph.
Even the noise.—Rather, a noise. The Syriac and the Arabic, as well as some Hebrew MSS., read “and a noise.” This is preferable. (Comp. 2Kings 6:14, where chariots and horses and a host [of infantry] are distinguished from each other.) The word qôl (literally, “voice”) is commonly used of thunder. (Comp. Psalms 29, passim.) The noise the Syrians heard was doubtless a sound in the air among the neighbouring hills.
The kings of the Hittites.—Comp. 1Kings 9:20, 1Ki_10:29. The tract of north Syria between the Euphrates and the Orontes was the cradle of the Hittite race, and it was over this that these kings of the several tribes bore sway. In the thirteenth century (B.C. ) their power extended over great part of Asia Minor, as rock inscriptions prove. Carchemish, Kadesh, Hamath, and Helbon (Aleppo) were their capitals. Rameses II. made a treaty of peace with Heta-sira, the prince of the Hittites. In the time of Tiglath Pileser I. (B.C. 1120), the Hittites were still paramount from the Euphrates to the Lebanon. Shalmaneser II. mentions a Hittite prince, Sapalulme, king of the Patinâa, a tribe on the Orontes. The Hittites from whom Solomon exacted forced labour were those who were left in the land of Israel (comp. Genesis 23, Genesis 26:34; 1Samuel 31:6), not the people of the great cities mentioned above, which remained independent, as we know from the Assyrian inscriptions. (Comp. Amos 6:2; 2Chronicles 8:4 for Hamath.) Tiglath Pileser II. conquered Hamath (B.C. 740). Twenty years later it revolted under Yahubihdi (“Jah is around me;” comp. Psalm 3:3), but was again reduced, and made an Assyrian prefecture by Sargon, who afterwards stormed Carchemish (B.C. 717). (Comp. 2Kings 17:24; 2Kings 17:30.)
The kings of the Egyptians.—The plural may be rhetorical. (Comp. 2Chronicles 28:16 : “The kings of Assyria,” and Note.) Little is known of the state of Egypt at this time (towards the close of the twenty-second dynasty). The Syrians were seized with panic, under the idea that they were about to be attacked on all sides at once. Some such wild rumour as that expressed by the words of the text must have been spread through the camp; but we need not press the literal accuracy of the statement, for who was there to report the exact nature of the alarm to the historians of Israel? Moreover, it is evident from the style of the narrative in chapters 6 and 7 that it rests upon oral tradition, so that it would be a mistake to press subordinate details. Prof. Robertson Smith considers that the sudden retreat of the Syrians is explained by the fact that the Assyrians were already pressing upon them.
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.(7) Wherefore (and) they arose.—The verse gives a vivid picture of a wild flight, in which everything was forgotten except personal safety.
As it was.—“Camp” is feminine here and in Genesis 32:9 only.
For their life.—1Kings 19:3.
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.(8) And when . . . tent.—Literally, And (so) those lepers came to the edge of the camp, and they went into one tent, taking up the thread of the narrative again at 2Kings 7:5, where it was broken by the parenthesis about the panic flight of the Syrians.
Went and hid it.—A common practice of Orientals, with whom holes in the ground or in the house wall supply the place of banks.
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.(9) Some mischief will come upon us.—Literally, guilt will find us: we shall incur blame. Vulg., “we shall be accused of wrong-doing.”
Now therefore.—And now: the inferential use of “now.” (Comp. Psalm 2:10.)
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.(10) The porter.—The Oriental versions may be right in reading “porters,” i.e., warders. The plural is implied by “they told them,” which immediately follows, and actually occurs in 2Kings 7:11. But the reading of the LXX. and Vulg., “gate,” implies the same consonants differently pointed, as those of the word “porter.” This attests the antiquity of the reading. Probably, therefore, the word “porter” is here used collectively.
No man . . . voice of man.—The first word (’îsh) denotes an individual man, the second word (’ādām) denotes the species, and so includes women and children.
Horses.—The horses. Similarly, the asses. Both words are singular (collectives) in the Hebrew.
Tied—i.e., tethered and feeding.
The tents.—Omit the.
And he called the porters; and they told it to the king's house within.(11) And he called the porters.—Rather, And the porters called. The verb in the Hebrew is singular,and may be used impersonally: “And one called, viz., the warders.” But the LXX., Targum, Arabic, and some Hebrew MSS., read the plural. The Syriac has, “And the porters drew near, and told the house of the king.”
And they told it.—The king’s palace may have been near to the ramparts. If not, the sentries at the gate shouted their news to other soldiers near them, who conveyed it to the palace. The word “within” seems to indicate the former. (The Authorised Version, which is Kimchi’s rendering, cannot be right, because in that case the Hebrew verb would require the preposition “unto,” as in 2Kings 7:10.)
And the king arose in the night, and said unto his servants, I will now shew you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we be hungry; therefore are they gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, When they come out of the city, we shall catch them alive, and get into the city.(12) I will now shew you.—“Suspicax est miseria” (Grotius). Such stratagems as Jehoram suspected are, however, common enough in warfare.
To hide themselves in the field.—Both expressions in the Hebrew follow the later modes of inflection. Such forms may be due to transcribers rather than to the original writer.
And one of his servants answered and said, Let some take, I pray thee, five of the horses that remain, which are left in the city, (behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it: behold, I say, they are even as all the multitude of the Israelites that are consumed:) and let us send and see.(13) Let some take.—Literally, And (i.e., then) let them take. (Comp. 2Kings 2:9; 2Kings 4:41.)
The horses that remain, which are left in the city.—Literally, the remaining horses that remain in it. The repetition dwells pathetically on the fewness of those that survive. Instead of “in it,” the LXX. and Arabic read “here,” which may be right, as the two Hebrew terms closely resemble each other.
Behold, they are as all . . . consumed.—The king’s adviser supposes two contingencies: the horses (and their drivers) may return safe, in which case they share the fortune of “all the multitude of Israel that are left” (i.e., have survived the famine, but are likely to die of it); or they may be taken and slain by the enemy, in which case they will be “even as all the multitude that are consumed” (i.e., by the famine and fighting). The sense is thus the same as in 2Kings 7:4. The servant is not much more sanguine than the king: he says, “They have to perish in any case; whether here by famine, or there by the sword, makes little difference.” “However it may turn out, nothing worse can happen to the men we send out than has already happened to many others, or than will yet happen to the rest.” But perhaps Reuss is right in seeing here simply a reference to the wretched condition of the horses. “Qu’attendre de chevaux qui sont exténues de faim?” A natural doubt whether the starving animals are adequate to the service required of them. “Consumed,” then, means spent, exhausted.
The multitude of Israel.—The article with the first word in the Hebrew is the error of a transcriber, who, as often occurs, wrote the same letter twice.
The Israelites.—Israel. Syriac: “Let them bring five of the horsemen who are left: if they are taken, they are accounted of as all the people of Israel who have perished; and let us send and see.”
They took therefore two chariot horses; and the king sent after the host of the Syrians, saying, Go and see.(14) Two chariot horses.—Literally, two chariots (of) horses, i.e., teams for two chariots, or two pairs of horses. The chariots and their drivers are implied, not mentioned. Two chariots were sent, so that if attacked they might make a better resistance; or perhaps in order that, if one were captured by the enemy, the other might escape with the news.
And they went after them unto Jordan: and, lo, all the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste. And the messengers returned, and told the king.(15) In their haste.—Comp. 1Samuel 23:6; Psalm 48:6; Psalm 104:7—passages which prove that the Hebrew text is right here, and the Hebrew margin wrong.
Unto Jordan.—Not all the way to the river, which would be at least twenty miles, but in the direction of it.
And the people went out, and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. So 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.(16) The tents.—Rather, the camp.
So—And it came to pass.
The lord.—The adjutant (2Kings 7:2).
To have the charge of the gate.—To maintain order as the famished crowd poured out of the city.
Trode upon him.—Trampled him down, as he was trying to discharge his duty. This probably happened, as Thenius suggests, when the crowd was returning from the Syrian camp, wild with excess of food and drink, after their long abstinence. Thus he “saw the plenty with his eyes, but did not eat thereof” (2Kings 7:2). Reuss thinks the charge of the gate is equivalent to the charge of the market, as the market was held on the space adjoining the gate.
Who spake.—This is probably a spurious repetition. It is wanting in some Hebrew MSS., and in the Syriac, Vulg., and Arabic versions. If retained in the text, we must render, “And he died, according to that which the man of God spake, which he spake when the king,” &c. But perhaps the reading of one Hebrew MS. is correct: “And he died, according to the word of the man of God, which he spake,” &c.
And it came to pass 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, shall be to morrow about this time in the gate of Samaria:(18) To the king.—The LXX. and Syriac have, “to the messenger.” (See Note on 2Kings 6:23.)
In this and the following verse the author repeats the prediction and its fulfilment with obvious satisfaction. The moral is a warning against unbelief.
And that lord answered the man of God, and said, Now, behold, if the LORD should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.(19) That lord.—The adjutant.
Might such a thing be?—Literally, Might it happen according to this word? But the LXX., Syriac, and Vulg.,with many Hebrew MSS., read, as in 2Kings 7:2, “Might this thing (or word) be?”
And so it fell out unto him: for the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died.(20) For the people trode upon him.—And the people trampled him down, or under foot.