Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the LORD hath called for a famine; and it shall also come upon the land seven years.VIII.
(1-6) How the kindness of the Shunammite woman to Elisha was further rewarded through the prophet’s influence with the king.
(1) Then spake Elisha.—Rather, Now Elisha had spoken. The time is not defined by the phrase. It was after the raising of the Shunammite’s son (2Kings 8:1), and before the healing of Naaman the Syrian, inasmuch as the king still talks with Gehazi (2Kings 8:5).
Go thou.—The peculiar form of the pronoun points to the identity of the original author of this account with the writer of 2 Kings 4. Moreover, the famine here foretold appears to be that of 2Kings 4:38, seq., so that the present section must in the original document have preceded 2 Kings 5. Thenius thinks the compiler transferred the present account to this place, because he wished to proceed chronologically, and supposed that the seven years’ famine came to an end with the raising of the siege of Samaria.
For a famine.—To the famine. The sword, the famine, the noisome beasts, and the pestilence were Jehovah’s “four sore judgments,” as we find in Ezekiel 14:21.
And it shall also come upon.—And, moreover, it cometh into.
Seven Years.—Perhaps not to be understood literally, any more than Dante’s
“O caro Duca mio che più di sette Volte
Voltem’hai sicurtà. renduta.”—Inferno 8. 97.
And the woman arose, and did after the saying of the man of God: and she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years.(2) After the saying.—According to the word.
In the land of the Philistines.—The lowlands of the coast were not so subject to droughts as the limestone highlands of Israel. (Comp. Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1.) The Philistines, besides, dealt with foreign traders who put in to their shores. (Comp. Joel 3:4-6.)
And it came to pass at the seven years' end, that the woman returned out of the land of the Philistines: and she went forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land.(3) At the seven years’ end.—Omit the.
She went forth.—From Shunem to Samaria.
For her house and for her land.—Literally, with regard to her house, &c. She found them in the possession of strangers. The State may have occupied the property as abandoned by its owner; or, as is more likely, some neighbouring landowner may have encroached upon her rights. She therefore appealed to the king.
And the king talked with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done.(4) And the king talked.—And the king was speaking unto.
Gehazi.—He, therefore, was not yet a leper (2Kings 5:27). So Keil and some earlier expositors. But lepers, though excluded from the city, were not excluded from conversation with others. (Comp. Matthew 8:2; Luke 17:12.) Naaman was apparently admitted into the royal palace (2Kings 5:6). The way, however, in which Gehazi is spoken of as “the servant of the man of God” (comp. 2Kings 5:20) seems to imply the priority of the present narrative to that of 2 Kings 5.
Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things.—“The history of Elijah and Elisha has a distinctly popular character; it reads like a story told by word of mouth, full of the dramatic touches and vivid presentations of detail which characterise all Semitic history that closely follows oral narration. The king of Israel of whom we read in 2Kings 8:4, was, we may be sure, not the only man who talked with Gehazi, saying, ‘Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done.’ By many repetitions the history of the prophets took a fixed shape long before it was committed to writing, and the written record preserves all the essential features of the narratives that passed from mouth to mouth, and were handed down orally from father to child.” (Prof. Robertson Smith, The Prophets of Israel, p. 116.)
And it came to pass, as he was telling the king how he had restored a dead body to life, that, behold, the woman, whose son he had restored to life, cried to the king for her house and for her land. And Gehazi said, My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life.(5) A dead body.—The dead.
Cried.—Was crying. Literally, the Hebrew runs, And it came to pass, he (emphatic) was telling . . . and behold the woman was crying, &c. The woman came in, and began her prayer to the king, while he was talking with Gehazi about her and her son.
This is her son.—Who was now grown up, and came as his mother’s escort.
And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now.(6) Told.—Related to him, i.e., the story. So in 2Kings 8:4-5.
Fruits.—Literally, revenues, produce in kind, which must have been paid out of the royal stores. This seems to imply that her land had been annexed to the royal domains.
And Elisha came to Damascus; and Benhadad the king of Syria was sick; and it was told him, saying, The man of God is come hither.(7-15) Elisha’s visit to Damascus, and its consequences.
(7) And Elisha came to Damascus.—In the fragmentary condition of the narrative, why he came is not clear. Rashi suggests that it was to fetch back Gehazi, who had fled to the Syrians (!), an idea based upon 1Kings 2:39, seq. Keil and others think the prophet went with the intention of anointing Hazael, in accordance with a supposed charge of Elijah’s. (Comp. 1Kings 19:15, where Elijah himself is bidden to anoint Hazael). Ewald believes that Elisha retreated to Damascene territory, in consequence of the strained relations existing between him and Jehoram, owing to the latter’s toleration of idolatry. Obviously all this rests upon pure conjecture. It is clear from 2Kings 8:7 that Elisha’s visit was not expected in Damascus, and further, that there was peace at the time between Damascus and Samaria. We do not know how much of Elisha’s history has been omitted between 2Kings 7:20 and 2Kings 8:7; but we may fairly assume that a divine impulse led the prophet to Damascus. The revelation, of which he speaks in 2Kings 8:10; 2Kings 8:13, probably came to him at the time, and so was not the occasion of his journey.
Ben-hadad . . . was sick.—According to Josephus, on account of the failure of his expedition against Samaria (?).
The man of God.—As if Elisha were well known and highly esteemed in Syria.
Is come hither.—This certainly implies that Elisha had entered Damascus itself.
And the king said unto Hazael, Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God, and inquire of the LORD by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?(8) Hazael.—See Note on 2Kings 8:15. In 1Kings 19:15; 1Kings 19:17 the name is written Hăzāh’êl; here it is spelt with an etymological allusion, Hăzāh’êl, i.e., “El hath seen” (foreseen). Hazael appears to have been the highest officer in Ben-hadad s court; Josephus says, “the trustiest of his domestics.”
Go, meet the man of God.—Literally, go to meet him. This does not imply, as some have supposed, that Elisha was still on the road to Damascus, nor even that he happened to be at the time on his way to the palace, for how could Ben-hadad know that? What is meant is “Go to the place where the prophet is to be found; seek an interview with him.”
Enquire of the Lord by him.—A different construction is used in 2 Kings 1, 2.
By him.—Literally, from with him. (Comp. Note on 2Kings 1:15.)
Shall I recover of this disease?—Comp. 2Kings 1:2.
So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels' burden, and came and stood before him, and said, Thy son Benhadad king of Syria hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?(9) A present with him—i.e., in money. (Comp. 2Kings 5:5, and see the margin here.)
Even of every good thing.—Rather, and every kind of good thing; in addition to the present of money. Damascus was a great centre of traffic between Eastern and Western Asia. (Comp. Ezekiel 27:18; Amos 3:12.) Damask silk was originally imported from Damascus, and the Damascene sword-blades were famous in mediæval Europe.
Forty camels’ burden.—To be understood of an actual train of forty camels, carrying the presents of Ben-hadad. The Orientals are fond of making the most of a gift in this way. Chardin remarks, that “fifty persons often carry what a single one could very well carry” (Voyage, 3:21).
Came.—Or, went in, i.e., into the house where Elisha was.
And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the LORD hath shewed me that he shall surely die.(10) Unto him.—The reading of some Hebrew MSS., of the Hebrew margin, and of all the versions, as well as of Josephus.
The ordinary Hebrew text has “not” (lô’, instead of lô), so that the meaning would be, “Thou shalt not recover.” But (1) the position of the negative before the adverbial infinitive is anomalous; and (2) Hazaeľs report of Elisha’s words, in 2Kings 8:14, is without the negative particle. (See the Note there.) The Authorised Version is, therefore, right.
Thou mayest certainly recover.—Rather. Thou wilt certainly live. Elisha sees through Hazaeľs character and designs, and answers him in the tone of irony which he used to Gehazi in 2Kings 5:26, “Go, tell thy lord—as thou, the supple and unscrupulous courtier wilt be sure to do—he will certainly recover. I know, however, that he will assuredly die, and by thy hand.” Others interpret, “Thou mightest recover” (i.e., thy disease is not mortal); and make the rest of the propheťs reply a confidential communication to Hazael. But this is to represent the prophet as deceiving Benhadad, and guilty of complicity with Hazael, which agrees neither with Elisha’s character nor with what follows in 2Kings 8:11-12. The Syriac and Arabic, with some MSS., read, “thou wilt die” for “he will die.”
And he settled his countenance stedfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.(11) And he settled his countenance stedfastly.—Literally, and he (Elisha) made his face stand, and set (it upon Hazael).
Until he was ashamed.—Literally, unto being ashamed. This may mean either in shameless fashion or until Hazael was disconcerted. We prefer the latter. Hazael, conscious that Elisha had read his; thoughts aright, shrank from that piercing gaze. (Comp. 2Kings 2:17.)
And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.(12) The evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel.—Fulfilled in 2Kings 10:32-33; 2Kings 13:3-4. The cruelties enumerated here were the ordinary concomitants of warfare in that age. (Comp. Amos 1:3-4; Amos 1:13; Hosea 10:14; Hosea 13:16; 2Kings 15:16.)
Set on fire.—Literally, send into the fire (Judges 1:8).
Young men.—Chosen warriors. Dash.
Dash.—Dash in pieces.
And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The LORD hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.(13) But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?—Rather, (Thou canst not mean it;) for what is the dog thy servant that he should do, &c. Hazael answers in a tone of pretended amazement and self-depreciation. The exaggerated humility of his language betrays the hypocrite.
The Lord hath shewed me.—Comp. 1Kings 19:15, where this same fact was revealed to Elijah. Literally, Jehovah hath made me see thee king. How Hazael took this announcement we are not told. Bähr says, “Startled by the revelation of his secret plans, Hazael turned away without answering the earnest words of the prophet.”
So he departed from Elisha, and came to his master; who said to him, What said Elisha to thee? And he answered, He told me that thou shouldest surely recover.(14) That thou shouldest surely recover.—Rather, Thou wilt certainly live, repeating Elisha’s actual words, but not the tone and gesture which accompanied them.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that he took a thick cloth, and dipped it in water, and spread it on his face, so that he died: and Hazael reigned in his stead.(15) He took—i.e., Hazael, the nearest subject. Ewald objects that if Hazael were meant, his name would not occur where it does at the end of the verse. But the objection does not hold, for in relating who succeeded to the throne, it was natural to give the name of the new king. Further, a considerable pause must be understood at “he died.” The Judæan editor of Kings then appropriately concludes: “So Hazael reigned in his stead.” The mention of the name significantly reminds us that Elisha had designated Hazael as the future king. Besides, after the words “and he died,” it would have been more ambiguous than usual to add, “and he reigned in his stead.”
A thick cloth.—Rather, the quilt, or coverlet. So the LXX., Vulg., Targum, and Arabic. The Syriac renders “curtain;” and, accordingly, Gesenius and others translate, “mosquito net.” The Hebrew term (makbēr) means, etymologically, something plaited or interwoven. It is not found elsewhere, but a word of the same root occurs in 1Samuel 19:13. It is clear from the context that the makbēr must have been something which when soaked in water, and laid on the face, would prevent respiration.
Josephus says Hazael strangled his master with a mosquito net. But this and other explanations, such as that of Ewald, do not suit the words of the text. The old commentator, Clericus, may be right when he states Hazaeľs motive to have been ut hominem facilius suffocaret, ne vi interemptus videretur. And, perhaps, as Thenius supposes, the crown was offered to Hazael as a successful warrior. (Comp. 2Kings 10:32, seq.) When Duncker (Hist. of Antiq., 1:413) ventures to state that Elisha incited Hazael to the murder of Ben-hadad, and afterwards renewed the war against Israel, not without encouragement from the prophet as a persistent enemy of Jehoram and his dynasty, he simply betrays an utter incapacity for understanding the character and function of Hebrew prophecy. The writer of Kings, at all events, did not intend to represent Elisha as a deceiver of foreign sovereigns and a traitor to his own; and this narrative is the only surviving record of the events described.
Hazael reigned in his stead.—On the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser II. (B.C. 860-825), now in the British Museum, we read: “In my 18th regnal year for the 16th time I crossed the Euphrates. Haza’ilu of the land of Damascus came on to the battle: 1,121 of his chariots, 470 of his horsemen, with his stores, I took from him.” And again: “In my 21st year for the 21st time I crossed the Euphrates: to the cities of Haza’ilu of the land of Damascus I marched, whose towns I took. Tribute of the land of the Tyrians, Sidonians, Giblites, I received.”
And in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel, Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah began to reign.(16-24) The reign of Jehoram, king of Judah. (Comp. 2 Chronicles 21)
(16) In the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab.—See Note on 2Kings 1:17.
The name Joram is an easy contraction of Jehoram. In this verse and in 2Kings 8:29 the king of Israel is called Joram, and the king of Judah Jehoram; in 2Kings 8:21; 2Kings 8:23-24 Joram is the name of the king of Judah. In 2Kings 1:17 and 2Chronicles 22:6, both kings are called Jehoram.
Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah.—Literally, and Jehoshaphat king of Judah; so that the meaning is, “In the fifth year of Joram . . . and of Jehoshaphat.” Were the reading correct, it would be implied that Jehoram was for some reason or other made king or co-regent in the lifetime of his father, just as Esarhaddon united his heir Assurbanipal with himself in the government of Assyria. But the clause should be omitted as a spurious anticipation of the same words in the next line. So some Hebrew MSS., the Complut., LXX., the Syriac, and Arabic, and many MSS. of the Vulg. The clause as it stands is an unparalleled insertion in a common formula of the compiler, and there is no trace elsewhere of a co-regency of Jehoram with his father. Ewald, after Kimchi, would turn the clause into a sentence, by adding the word mêth, “had died:” “Now Jehoshaphat the king of Judah had died,” an utterly superfluous remark.
Thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem.(17) Thirty and two years old . . . in Jerusalem.—Comp. the similar notices in 2 Kings 12 and the succeeding chapters. How different are these short annalistic summaries, the work of the Judæan compiler, from the rich and flowing narratives about Elijah and Elisha!
And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab: for the daughter of Ahab was his wife: and he did evil in the sight of the LORD.(18) In the way of the kings of Israel.—This is further explained by the following clause, “As did the house of Ahab,” or rather, to wit, as the house of Ahab acted, i.e., Jehoram, as son-in-law of Ahab and Jezebel, lent his countenance to the cultus of the Tyrian Baal. Under the influence of his wife Athaliah, as it may be surmised, Jehoram slew his six brothers directly after his accession to the throne (2Chronicles 21:4). In this connection the remarks of Michaelis are interesting: “In the reign of Jehoram falls the building of Carthage; Dido, her husband Sichæus, her brother Pygmalion, king of Tyre, and murderer of Sichæus. By marriage Tyre brought its then prevalent spirit, and a vast amount of evil,into the two Israelitish kingdoms.” (The Syriac, Arabic, and Vulg. read “in the ways.”) The reason why the details added in Chronicles are here omitted is to be found in the studied brevity of the compiler in the case of less important characters.
Yet the LORD would not destroy Judah for David his servant's sake, as he promised him to give him alway a light, and to his children.(19) To give him alway a light.—Comp. 1Kings 15:4; 1Kings 11:36; and for the promise to David, 2Samuel 7:12-16.
And to his children.—The reading of many Heb. MSS., the LXX., Vulg., and Targum. Thenius calls this a reading devised for the removal of a difficulty, and asserts that the promise was made to David alone. He would omit the conjunction, and render, “To give him alway a lamp in respect of (i.e., through) his sons.” (See 2Chronicles 21:7, Note.) Keil adopts the same reading, but translates, “To give him, that is, his sons, a lamp,” making “to his sons” an explanatory apposition.
In his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah, and made a king over themselves.(20) In his days Edom revolted.—The connection of ideas is this: Although Jehovah was not willing to extirpate Judah, yet He suffered it to be seriously weakened by the defections recorded in 2Kings 8:20-22.
Made a king over themselves.—Josephus says they slew the vassal king appointed over them by Jehoshaphat (1Kings 22:48). Edom appears to have been subject to the hegemony of Judah from the time of the disruption under Rehoboam.
So Joram went over to Zair, and all the chariots with him: and he rose by night, and smote the Edomites which compassed him about, and the captains of the chariots: and the people fled into their tents.(21) So Joram went over to Zair.—No town called Zair is otherwise known. Hitzig and Ewald would read Zoar, but Zoar lay in Moab, not in Edom. (Jeremiah 48:34; Isaiah 15:5; Genesis 19:30; Genesis 19:37.) The Vulg. has Seira, and the Arabic Sâ‘îra, which suggest an original reading, “to Seir,” the well-known mountain chain which was the headquarters of the Edomite people. Perhaps the reading of the text Çā‘îrāh represents a dialectic pronunciation. (Comp. the forms Yishāq and Yiçhāq for Isaac.)
And he rose by night.—There may be a lacuna of a few lines in the text here, or the compiler, in his desire to be brief, may have become obscure. Jehoram appears to have been hemmed in by the Edomites in the mountains, and to have attempted escape under cover of night.
Smote the Edomites which compassed him about.—Cut his way through their ranks.
And the captains of the chariots.—Part of the object of the verb “smote.” Jehoram smote (cut his way through) the Edomites—that is to say, the captains of the Edomite war-chariots which hemmed him and his army in.
And the people fled into (unto) their tents.—That is to say, the army of Jehoram was glad to escape from the scene of its ill success, and made its way homeward as best it could. (Comp. for the proverbial expression, “to their tents,” 1Samuel 20:1; 1Kings 8:66.) From Joel 3:19 (“Edom shall be a desolate wilderness for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land”) it has been conjectured that when the Edomites revolted they massacred the Jews who had settled in the country in the time of subjection. (Comp. Genesis 27:40.)
Yet Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day. Then Libnah revolted at the same time.(22) Yet.—Rather, and (i.e., so).
Unto this day.—Down to the time of composition of the original account from which this epitome is extracted. This notice is borne out by the Assyrian monuments. Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal mention Qa’us-gabrî king of Udumu (Edom), along with Manasseh of Judah, among their tributaries. Esarhaddon also states that his father Sennacherib had reduced “Adumû, a fortified city of Arabia.”
Then Libnah revolted at the same time.—The point of the statement is that the success of Edom encouraged Libnah to throw off the Judæan supremacy. For the locality see Joshua 10:29 seq., Joshua 15:42; Joshua 21:13. Keil thinks the revolt of Libnah coincided with (it was probably supported by) the Philistine invasion recorded in 2Chronicles 21:16, and continued until Uzziah reduced the Philistines (2Chronicles 26:6 seq.). From the time of Hezekiah, Libnah again belonged to Judah (2Kings 19:8; 2Kings 23:31; 2Kings 24:18).
And the rest of the acts of Joram, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?(23) The rest of the acts.—Or, history. (See especially 2Chronicles 21:11-19, and the Notes there.)
And Joram slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David: and Ahaziah his son reigned in his stead.(24) Was buried with his fathers in the city of David.—But not in the royal tombs (2Chronicles 21:20).
In the twelfth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel did Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah begin to reign.(25-29) The reign of Ahaziah king of Judah. His expedition with Joram of Israel against Hazael at Ramoth-gilead. (Comp. 2Chronicles 22:1-6.)
Two-and-twenty years old.—He was Jehoram’a youngest son (2Chronicles 21:17; 2Chronicles 22:1), and, as his father died at the age of thirty-nine or forty (2Kings 8:17), he must have been begotten in Jehoram’s seventeenth or eighteenth year. There is no difficulty in this, nor even in the supposition that Jehoram had begotten sons before Ahaziah, as Thenius seems to imagine. He may have become a father at thirteen or fourteen, and Athaliah was certainly not his only wife.
Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel.(26) Ahaziah.—Called Jehoahaz (2Chronicles 21:17). Ewald thinks he assumed the name of Ahaziah on his accession.
The daughter of Omri—i.e., granddaughter. Omri is mentioned rather than Ahab as the founder of the dynasty, and the notorious example of its wickedness. (Comp. Micah 6:16 : “The statutes of Omri are kept.”)
And he walked in the way of the house of Ahab, and did evil in the sight of the LORD, as did the house of Ahab: for he was the son in law of the house of Ahab.(27) The son-in-law of the house of Ahab.—Comp. 2Chronicles 22:4, “his mother was his counsellor to do wickedly;” and notice the threefold repetition of the words “the house of Ahab.”
And he went with Joram the son of Ahab to the war against Hazael king of Syria in Ramothgilead; and the Syrians wounded Joram.(28) And he went with Joram.—By the persuasion of his mother and her family (2Chronicles 22:4). Ewald would omit the preposition with, on the assumption that Ahaziah took no part in the war at Ramoth, but only, as 2Kings 8:29 relates, visited Jehoram wheu lying ill of his wounds at Jezreel. But (1) all the MSS. and versions have the preposition; (2) if this verse related only to Joram king of Israel we should expect at the end of the verse, and the Syrians wounded him,” rather than “wounded Joram;” and in 2Kings 8:29, “and he went back,” rather than “and king Joram went back;” (3) the chronicler (2Chronicles 22:5) expressly states that Ahaziah accompanied Joram to Ramoth.
Against Hazael . . . in Ramoth-gilead.—Which strong fortress Ahab had vainly tried to wrest from Ben-hadad (1Kings 22:6 seqq.).
And king Joram went back to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds which the Syrians had given him at Ramah, when he fought against Hazael king of Syria. And Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah went down to see Joram the son of Ahab in Jezreel, because he was sick.(29) Joram went back.—With a few personal attendants. He left the army at Ramoth (2Kings 9:14) under the command of the generals, and perhaps of Ahaziah.
In Jezreel.—The seat of the court at this time. (Comp. 2Kings 10:11; 2Kings 10:13.) To reach Samaria, moreover, Joram would have had to cross a mountainous country, while he could be carried to Jezreel by an easier route through the valley of the Jordan.
Which the Syrians had gıven.—The verb is imperfect. Ewald suggests that the Hebrew letters may indicate a dialectic pronunciation of the perfect. It is more likely that the imperfect is here used in the sense of repetition, implying that Joram was wounded on more than one occasion.
Ramah.—Height. The same as Ramoth, heights.
And Ahaziah . . . went down.—Or, now Ahaziah had gone down—scil., when the following events happened. The Hebrew construction indicates the beginning of a new paragraph. The division of chapters is again at fault, there being no real break in the narrative between this verse and what follows in chapter 9.
Ahaziah went down either from Ramoth or from Jerusalem; probably from the former, as no mention is made of his having left the seat of war and returned to Jerusalem.
Because he was sick.—The same verb as in 2Kings 1:2. The margin here is wrong.