Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us.
2Ki 6:1-7. Elisha Causes Iron to Swim.
1. the place where we dwell with thee—Margin, "sit before thee." The one points to a common residence—the other to a common place of meeting. The tenor of the narrative shows the humble condition of Elisha's pupils. The place was either Beth-el or Jericho, probably the latter. The ministry and miracles of Elisha brought great accessions to his schools.
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.
2. Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan—whose wooded banks would furnish plenty of timber.
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.
5. it was borrowed—literally, "begged." The scholar's distress arose from the consideration that it had been presented to him; and that, owing to his poverty, he could not procure another.
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.
6. cut down a stick, and cast it in thither—Although this means was used, it had no natural adaptation to make the iron swim. Besides, the Jordan is at Jericho so deep and rapid that there were one thousand chances to one against the stick falling into the hole of the axe-head. All attempts to account for the recovery of the lost implement on such a theory must be rejected.
the iron did swim—only by the miraculous exertion of Elisha's power.
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.
2Ki 6:8-17. Discloses the King of Syria's Counsel.
8-12. the king of Syria warred against Israel—This seems to have been a sort of guerrilla warfare, carried on by predatory inroads on different parts of the country. Elisha apprised King Jehoram of the secret purpose of the enemy; so, by adopting precautionary measures, he was always enabled to anticipate and defeat their attacks. The frequency of his disappointments having led the Syrian king to suspect some of his servants of carrying on a treacherous correspondence with the enemy, he was informed about Elisha, whose apprehension he forthwith determined to effect. This resolution was, of course, grounded on the belief that however great the knowledge of Elisha might be, if seized and kept a prisoner, he could no longer give information to the king of Israel.
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.
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?
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.
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.
13. Dothan—or, "Dothaim," a little north of Samaria (see on Ge 37:17).
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?
15. his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?—When the Syrian detachment surrounded the place by night, for the apprehension of the prophet, his servant was paralyzed with fear. This was a new servant, who had only been with him since Gehazi's dismissal and consequently had little or no experience of his master's powers. His faith was easily shaken by so unexpected an alarm.
And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
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.
17. Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see—The invisible guard of angels that encompass and defend us (Ps 34:7). The opening of the eyes, which Elisha prayed for, were those of the Spirit, not of the body—the eye of faith sees the reality of the divine presence and protection where all is vacancy or darkness to the ordinary eye. The horses and chariots were symbols of the divine power (see on 2Ki 2:12); and their fiery nature denoted their supernatural origin; for fire, the most ethereal of earthly elements, is the most appropriate symbol of the Godhead [Keil].
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.
2Ki 6:18-23. His Army Smitten with Blindness.
18. Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness—not a total and material blindness, for then they could not have followed him, but a mental hallucination (see Ge 19:11) so that they did not perceive or recognize him to be the object of their search.
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.
19-23. This is not the way, neither is this the city—This statement is so far true that, as he had now left the place of his residence, they would not have got him by that road. But the ambiguity of his language was purposely framed to deceive them; and yet the deception must be viewed in the light of a stratagem, which has always been deemed lawful in war.
he led them to Samaria—When they were arrived in the midst of the capital, their eyes, at Elisha's request, were opened, and they then became aware of their defenseless condition, for Jehoram had received private premonition of their arrival. The king, so far from being allowed to slay the enemies who were thus unconsciously put in his power, was recommended to entertain them with liberal hospitality and then dismiss them to their own country. This was humane advice; it was contrary to the usage of war to put war captives to death in cold blood, even when taken by the point of the sword, much more those whom the miraculous power and providence of God had unexpectedly placed at his disposal. In such circumstances, kind and hospitable treatment was every way more becoming in itself, and would be productive of the best effects. It would redound to the credit of the true religion, which inspired such an excellent spirit into its professors; and it would not only prevent the future opposition of the Syrians but make them stand in awe of a people who, they had seen, were so remarkably protected by a prophet of the Lord. The latter clause of 2Ki 6:23 shows that these salutary effects were fully realized. A moral conquest had been gained over the Syrians.
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?
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.
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.
And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria.
2Ki 6:24-33. Ben-hadad Besieges Samaria.
24. Ben-hadad … besieged Samaria—This was the predicted accomplishment of the result of Ahab's foolish and misplaced kindness (1Ki 20:42).
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.
25. an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver—Though the ass was deemed unclean food, necessity might warrant their violation of a positive law when mothers, in their extremity, were found violating the law of nature. The head was the worst part of the animal. Eighty pieces of silver, equal to £5 5s.
the fourth part of a cab—A cab was the smallest dry measure. The proportion here stated was nearly half a pint for 12s. 6d.
dove's dung—is thought by Bochart to be a kind of pulse or pea, common in Judea, and still kept in the storehouses of Cairo and Damascus, and other places, for the use of it by pilgrim-caravans; by Linnæus, and other botanists, it is said to be the root or white bulb of the plant Ornithogalum umbellatum, Star of Beth-lehem. The sacred historian does not say that the articles here named were regularly sold at the rates described, but only that instances were known of such high prices being given.
And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king.
26. as the king was passing—to look at the defenses, or to give some necessary orders for manning the walls.
And he said, If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress?
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.
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.
29. we boiled my son, and did eat him—(See on De 28:53).
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.
30. had sackcloth within upon his flesh—The horrid recital of this domestic tragedy led the king soon after to rend his garment, in consequence of which it was discovered that he wore a penitential shirt of haircloth. It is more than doubtful, however, if he was truly humbled on account of his own and the nation's sins; otherwise he would not have vowed vengeance on the prophet's life. The true explanation seems to be, that Elisha having counselled him not to surrender, with the promise, on condition of deep humiliation, of being delivered, and he having assumed the signs of contrition without receiving the expected relief, regarded Elisha who had proved false and faithless as the cause of all the protracted distress.
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.
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?
32. But Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him—The latter clause of 2Ki 6:33, which contains the king's impatient exclamation, enables us to account for the impetuous order he issued for the beheading of Elisha. Though Jehoram was a wicked king and most of his courtiers would resemble their master, many had been won over, through the prophet's influence, to the true religion. A meeting, probably a prayer-meeting, of those was held in the house where he lodged, for he had none of his own (1Ki 19:20, 21); and them he not only apprised of the king's design against himself, but disclosed to them the proof of a premeditated deliverance.
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?