Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us.
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.C.—Elisha’s conduct during the Syrian invasion and the siege of Samaria
2 KINGS 6:8–7:20
8Then the king of Syria warred against [was at war with1] Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp. 9And 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.2 10And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God [had] told him and warned him of, and saved [protected3] himself there, not once nor twice [i.e., a great manytimes]. 11Therefore 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 show me which of us4 is for the king of Israel? 12And 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.
13And 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. 14Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about. 15And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master, how shall we do? 16And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. 17And 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. 18And when they came down to him, [i.e., the Syrian, for, the Syrian army—Bähr] 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.
19And 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 [And] he led them to Samaria. 20And 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. 21And the king of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them? 22And he answered, Thou shalt not smite them: wouldst thou smite [if thou shouldst do that, wouldst thou be smiting] 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. 23And 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 [marauding] bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel.
24And it came to pass after this, that Ben-hadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. 25And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass’s head was sold for [worth] fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung 26[was worth—omit for] for five pieces of silver. And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. 27And he said, If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress? 28And 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. 29So 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.
30And 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. 31Then 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. (32But Elisha sat [was sitting] in his house, and the elders sat [were sitting] with him; [.]) And the king sent a man from before him: but ere the messenger came to him, he [Elisha] 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 [hold him back by means of] the door: is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him? 33And 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 [what hope shall I still place in the Lord]?
CHAP. 7. 1Then 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 [be worth] a shekel, and two measures of barley for [be worth] a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. 2Then a lord [an officer, or adjutant] 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? [Verily! Jehovah is going to make windows in heaven! even then could this come to pass?] And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.
3And 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? 4If 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 [away] unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die. 5And they rose up in the twilight, to go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part [outskirts, viz., those nearest the city] of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there. 6For 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. 7Wherefore 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. 8And 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. 9Then 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 [penalty] will come [fall] upon us: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king’s household. 10So they came and called unto the porter [guard] 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 [sound] of man [a human being], but horses tied, and asses tied, 11and the tents as they were. And he [one] called the porters [guards]; and they told it to the king’s house within [reported it inside of the king’s house].
12And 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,5 saying, When they come out of the city, we shall catch them alive, and get into the city. 13And 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 [dead6];) and let us send and see. 14They took therefore two chariot horses [two chariot-equipages]; and the king sent after the host of the Syrians [towards the Syrian camp], saying, Go and see. 15And they went after them unto Jordan: and, lo, all the way was full of garments and vessels [utensils], which the Syrians had cast away in their haste 16[hasty flight7]. And the messengers returned, and told the king. And the people went out, and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. So a measure of fine flour was sold for [became worth] a shekel, and two measures of barley for [omit for] a shekel, according to the word of the Lord.
17And the king appointed the lord on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate: and the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died, as the man of God had said, who spake [as he said] when the king came down to him. 18And 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: 19And 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. 20And so it fell out unto him: for the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
2 Kings 6:8. Then the king of Syria, &c. According to Ewald, the story (2 Kings 6:8–23) belongs to the time of Jehoahaz (chap 13:1–9). However, the passage immediately following begins, 2 Kings 6:24, with the words, “And it came to pass after this,” so that it also would fall in a later time; but, by the words in 2 Kings 6:26, “king of Israel,” and by Elisha’s epithet “son of a murderer,” 2 Kings 6:32, as Ewald himself admits, we must understand Jehoram, and not either Jehoahaz or any other king of the house of Jehu.—אֶל is used as in 2 Chron. 20:21: He brought to them the deliberation [i.e., made them parties to it]. פְּלֹנִי as in Ruth 4:1; 1 Sam. 21:3. “My encamping,” i.e., the encampment of my army. The word תַּחֲנוֹת, occurs only here. It is a derivative from חָנַה, to sit down, to encamp (Gen. 26:17; Ex. 13:20; 17:1). Ewald proposes to read תַּנְחֹתוּ, and to translate: “shall ye form an ambuscade,” because 2 Kings 6:9 says: “for there the Syrians are נְחִתִּים; but נָחַת nowhere has the meaning “to lay an ambuscade,” or “to lie in wait,” but: “to go down” or “sink down” (see Gesen. s. v.), so that it coincides very well with the meaning of חָנַה. The conjecture is therefore unnecessary. The proposal of Thenius to change תַּחֲנוֹתִי into תֵּחָֽבְאוּ, and to translate: “Ye shall conceal yourselves at such and such a place,” is still less admissible. The Vulgate has in 2 Kings 6:8: ponamus insidias, and in 2 Kings 6:9, quia ibi Syri in insidiis sunt. The Sept. have in 2 Kings 6:8: παρεμβαλῶ; 2 Kings 6:9: ὅτι ἐκεῖ Συρία ἐνεδρεύουσι. This is correct, however, rather according to the sense than the words, inasmuch as the army, which had encamped behind the mountains, might certainly be said to be lying in ambush. In 2 Kings 6:9, Clericus, De Wette, and Keil translate the words of Elisha: “Beware lest thou neglect this place,” i.e., leave it unoccupied, “for there it is the wish of the Syrians to make an incursion;” but עָבַר, which means to pass over, never has the meaning to neglect; certainly not that of: to leave unoccupied. Moreover, this signification does not fit well with הִזְהִירוֹ 2 Kings 6:10, to which Keil incorrectly denies the meaning: to warn (cf. Ezek. 33:3; 4:5; Ecclesiastes 4:13). At a time when the Syrians were intending to encamp at a particular spot, and to attack the Israelites when they should pass by, the prophet gave warning to the king: the latter anticipated them, stationed troops in the threatened position, and so frustrated their plan.
2 Kings 6:11. Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled, &c. סָעַר means more than: to lose courage (Luther). It is used of the tossing, stormy sea (Jonah 1:11). Clericus wants to read מַלְשֶׁנוּ (Cf. Prov. 30:10) instead of מִשֶּׁלָּנוּ, because the Vulg. translates: quis proditor mei sit apud regem Israel, and the Sept.: προδίδωσί με. It may be, however, that both only translated according to the sense. At any rate it is not necessary to alter the text. From 2 Kings 6:12 we see that Elisha’s reputation at that time extended even to Syria. The old expositors thought indeed that the servant who answered the king was Naaman, or one of his companions. The king learned the dwelling of Elisha by spies. Dothan (Gen. 37:17) lay five or six hours’ journey north of Samaria, upon a hill (2 Kings 6:17), at a narrow pass in the mountains (Judges 4:5; 7:3; 8:3), in the district of the present Jinin (Van de Velde, Reise, i. s. 273).—The king of Syria wished to get Elisha into his power, not “that he might hold him,” and find out through him “what the king of Israel and other princes were plotting against him in their secret councils” (Cassel), but in order that, for the future, his military plans against Israel might not become known to the king of Israel through Elisha. The phrase חַיִל כָּבֵד, 2 Kings 6:14, cannot here be translated: “a great army” (De Wette, and others), as is clear from 2 Kings 6:22 and 23, but it is used exactly as in 1 Kings 10:2. The horses and chariots were accompanied by a large body of infantry.
2 Kings 6:15. The servant of the man of God, &c. Not Gehazi, who would be mentioned by name, as in all other places (2 Kings 4:12, 25; 5:20; 8:4); moreover, the expression מְשָׁרֵת is never used of him. Perhaps it was one of the prophet-disciples who had accompanied Elisha to Dothan. That which Elisha says in 2 Kings 6:16 is essentially the same as is read Numb. 14:9; 2 Chron. 32:7; Ps. 3:6; 27:3. He saw already the divine, protecting power, and begged God to allow his attendant also to see it, that he might undertake the journey back to Samaria with him, through the hostile army, fearless and consoled. “The opening of the eyes signifies elevation into an ecstatic state in which the soul sees things which the bodily eye never can see” (Keil, ed. of 1845), Numb. 22:31; The horses and chariots which Elisha and the servant see (2 Kings 6:17), stand over-against the horses and chariots of the Syrians (2 Kings 6:15), and they are designated by אֵשׁ, the form of appearance of Jehovah (see above, p. 14), as from God, so that they are symbols of the might of Jehovah, which surpasses all human, earthly might, and is unconquerable. We have not to think of literal chariots and horses of fire here, any more than in 2 Kings 2:11. Usually, Gen. 32:2 is compared, but there express mention is made of angels, who are not to be identified directly with the horses and chariots of a vision.—The Syrians are usually understood as subject of וַיֵּרְדוּ אֵלָיו in 2 Kings 6:18, but in that case we must suppose that they were on a hill from which they descended when they saw Elisha and his companion go out from the city. Keil adopts this supposition, for he says: “Dothan stands upon a hill, which stands by itself on the plain, but it is surrounded or shut in on the east side by a ridge which runs out into the plain (cf. Van de Velde, l. c., s. 273). The Syrians who had been sent out against Elisha had taken up a position on this ridge, and from there they marched down against the city of Dothan, which lay upon the hill, while Elisha, by going out of the city, escaped from them.” This idea is contradicted, however, by the assertion, in 2 Kings 6:14, that the Syrians “surrounded the city” in the night. They enclosed it, therefore, and did not simply take up a position on the east side upon a hill, which was, besides, separated from it by the plain. Furthermore, according to 2 Kings 6:17, it was not the ridge upon which the Syrians are said to have stood, but the hill upon which Dothan was, which was full of horses and chariots of fire, round about Elisha, under whose mighty protection he and his servant went out of the city and down the hill. The Syrian army surrounded the hill at its base, so that escape seemed impossible; the heavenly army, however, surrounded the city at the top of the hill, and so stood opposed to the Syrian. This is clearly the meaning of the passage. In the immediately following words (2 Kings 6:18): “and they went down,” the reference can only be to Elisha and his companion, who are the subjects of the words immediately preceding. If the words are not taken as referring to them, then there is no statement that they left the city, and there is a gap in the narrative. Accordingly אֵלָיו must be taken as referring to the Syrian army. The Syriac version and Josephus take it so (’Ελισσαῖος … παρελθὼν εἰς μέσους τοὺς ἐχθρούς). There is no need of assuming that אֲלֵיהֶם stood in the text originally in the place of אֵלָיו, as Thenius does, for אֲרָם is often used in the singular for the Syrian army (2 Kings 6:9; 1 Kings 22:35), and is construed with the verb in the singular (1 Sam. 10:14, 15; Isai. 7:2).—And he smote them with blindness, i.e., they were put into a state in which, although they had their sight, yet they did not see him (Elisha), i.e., did not recognize him. JARCHI: They saw, but did not know (יודע) what they saw. Cf. Gen. 19:11 (Luke 24:16; Isai. 6:10).—On 2 Kings 6:19 Keil says: “Elisha’s untrue declaration: ‘This is not the way,’ must be judged like every other military stratagem, by means of which the enemy are deceived;” but, as Thenius well replies: “There is no untruth in the words of Elisha; for his home was not in Dothan, where he was only residing temporarily, but in Samaria; and the words ‘to the man’ may well mean: to his house.” Josephus understood the passage correctly; he says: “Elisha asked them whom they had come to seek. When they answered: “The prophet Elisha,” παραδώσειν ὑπέσχετο, εἰ πρὸς τὴν πόλιν, ἐν ᾖ τυγχάνει ὢν (i.e., where he is to be found), ἀκολουθήσειαν αὐτῷ. He certainly used a form of speech which the Syrians might understand otherwise than as he meant it, but he did not pretend in the least to be anything else than what he was. That they did not know him was a divine dispensation, not the result of an untruth uttered by him. How could the “man of God,” after repeated prayers to Jehovah, straightway permit himself a falsehood, and try, by this means, to save himself from danger? If he saw, as his companion did, horses and chariots of fire round about him, and if he was thus assured of the divine protection, then he needed for his deliverance neither a falsehood nor a stratagem. The Syrians wanted to take him captive; instead of that he, by the help of God, captured them all; not, however, as is usually the case in such a ruse, to their harm or ruin, but, after he has shown them that they could not capture him, “the prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 6:12), he takes them under his protection, repays evil with good (2 Kings 6:22), and shows them by this very means the man whom they are seeking.
2 Kings 6:21. And the king of Israel.… when he saw them, &c. The address: “My father,” does not presuppose any filial relationship, but is rather a mere title (Clericus: sic honoris causa dicitur). Even Benhadad is called “thy (Elisha’s) son,” by Hazael (2 Kings 8:9). The prophet-disciples called their master “father,” and this because it was the ordinary title of the chief of the prophets, somewhat as the same word is occasionally used now-a-days. The repetition of אַכֶּה expresses the eager desire to smite them. Elisha’s words (2 Kings 6:22): האשׁר &c., are taken by many expositors as a question [as in the E. V.], the idea being: if thou dost not even put to death those whom thou hast captured with bow and spear, how canst thou slay these? (Thenius, Keil). Such a question, however, would be very extraordinary; for if Jehoram was not accustomed to put to death even those who had been made captive in battle, why should he ask whether he should kill these, who had fallen into his hands without a combat? It seems more probable, on the contrary, that he was accustomed to put captives to death, in accordance with the prevalent war-usage of the time (Deut. 20:13), and he raises the question, in the present extraordinary case, only out of consideration for the prophet, and because he does not trust his own judgment in the unprecedented circumstances. The Vulgate gives the sense correctly: non percuties; neque enim cepisti eos gladio et arcu tuo, ut percutias. The objection that ה, the article, could not have patach before א cannot be held to be decisive against this interpretation; the Massoretes themselves took ה as the article (Gesen. Lex. s. v. ה; De Wette). [I take ה to be the interrogative (Ewald, § 104, b), but agree with the above interpretation. “If thou shouldst put these to death, would it be a case of slaying prisoners of war?” i.e., couldst thou justify it by Deut. 20:13?—W. G. S.] No one doubts that כָּרָה כֵּרָה, in 2 Kings 6:23, signifies the preparation of a meal. The only disagreement is as to the connection of this signification with the fundamental meaning of the root. According to Thenius the root is כּוּר, which, with its derivatives, always refers to something round; hence, כֵּרָה the circle of guests. According to Keil, כָּרָה, to dig, gradually acquired the meaning: to prepare, make ready, so that it ought here to be rendered: paravit apparatum magnum. According to Dietrich (in Gesen. Lex. s. v.), the cognate dialects lead to the idea of bringing together or uniting, which, he thinks, is the fundamental idea in a banquet. Cf. cœna from κοινή.—The result of Elisha’s act was that, from this time on, the raids of the Syrians ceased, not indeed because the magnanimity of the Israelites shamed them, but because they had found out that they could not accomplish anything by these expeditions, but rather brought themselves into circumstances of great peril.
2 Kings 6:24. And it came to pass after this, &c. Josephus correctly states the connection between the passage which begins with 2 Kings 6:24, and what precedes, as follows: κρύφα μὲν οὐκέτι διέγνω τῷ τῶν ’Ισραηλιτῶν ἐπιχειρεῖν βασιλεῖ, τὸν ’Ελισαῖον δεδοικώς· φανερῶς δὲ πολεμεῖν ἕκρινε, τῷ πλήθει τῆς στρατιᾶς καὶ τῇ δυνάμει νομίζων περιέσεσθαι τῶν πολεμίων. Nevertheless, an interval of some years must be supposed to have elapsed between the two incidents. Ben-Hadad is not an appellative, like Pharaoh; it is the same king who is mentioned in 1 Kings 20:1. In order to show the depth of the distress from the famine, the writer states the price of things which are not ordinarily articles of food. The worst part of an animal, which, at best, was unclean, the head of an ass, sold for 80 shekels, according to Bertheau and Keil, 35 thalers ($25.20), according to Thenius 53 thalers, 20 sgr. ($38.64). In like manner, in a famine among the Cadusians, Plutarch (Artaxerxes, 24.) tells that the head of an ass was scarcely to be bought for 60 drachmæ, whereas, ordinarily, the entire animal only cost 25 or 30 drachmæ). The price of a mouse rose to 200 denarii in Casalinum, when it was besieged by Hannibal (Pliny, Hist. Nat. viii. 57; Valer. Max., vii. 6).—There is no doubt that חרייונים, i.e., חָרֵי יוֹנִים, means “dove’s dung,” and not “dove’s food” (Berleb. and Calw. Bibel); the only question is, whether this is to be taken literally, or whether it is a designation of a very insignificant species of pease. Bochart maintains the latter (Hieroz. ii. 44), and he appeals to the fact that קַב is really a measure of grain: so also Clericus, Dathe, Michaelis, and others. The Arabs call the herba alcali “sparrow’s dung.” Celsius (Hierobot. ii. p. 30), on the contrary, maintains the literal meaning, which is supported by the keri דִּבְיוֹנִים, fluxus, profluvium columbarum (דִּיב from the Chald. דּוּב, to flow), a euphemism for the chetib. So also Ewald and Thenius; the latter says: “If snipe’s dung is eaten as a luxury, necessity may well make dove’s dung (2 Kings 18:27; Joseph. Bella. Jud. v. 13, 7) acceptable.” Gesenius and Keil do not decide. We incline to the interpretation which makes it a kind of vegetable. Supposing even that dung was collected for food, as was the case, according to Josephus, at the destruction of Jerusalem, why should dove’s dung be especially used? There is, moreover, no instance of dove’s dung having been used as food, and sold at so high a price. The meanest form of vegetable seems to be here put in contrast with the meanest form of flesh. The vegetable probably took its name from the similarity of color (white) and form, as in the case of the German Teufelsdreck (assafœtida). Cab is the smallest Hebrew dry-measure; according to Bertheau, it is equivalent to 27.58 cubic inches (Paris), and, according to Bunsen, to 56.355. Five shekels are equal to 2 thlr. 2 sgr. ($1.49, Keil), or 3 thlr. 10 sgr. ($2.40, Thenius).
2 Kings 6:26. And as the King of Israel was passing by, &c. The wall of the city was very thick; the garrison of the city stood upon it; the king went thither in order to visit the posts, or to observe the movements of the enemy.—If the Lord do not help thee, whence, &c. אַל is taken here, by many, in its ordinary signification, ne: May the Lord not help thee! i.e., perdat te Jehovah (Clericus). If this is correct, the king invokes a curse upon her (Josephus: ὀργισθεὶς ἐπηράσατο αὺτῇ τὸν θεόν). The following words, however, “Whence,” &c., do not coincide with this interpretation. The same is the case if we translate, with Maurer, vereor, ut Deus te servet. Keil’s translation: No! let Jehovah help thee! (i.e., do not ask me, let, &c.) is still more inadmissible, for אַל must not be separated from יוֹשִׁעֵךְ, with which it is connected by a makkeph. It evidently stands here for אִם לֹא (Ew. § 355, b), and the meaning is: “On the general supposition that there is no help for her: ‘If God does not help thee, how can I?’ ” (Thenius). Cassel’s interpretation of the words as a “rebellious invocation of God,” is entirely mistaken: “Let God help thee: why does not the Eternal, whom ye have in Israel, and who has always revealed himself here, help thee? Where is He, then, that he may help us?” They are rather words of despair.—Out of the barn-floor or out of the wine-press? as much as to say: with corn or with wine? (Gen. 27:28, 37); not, corn and oil, for יֶקֶב is wine-press (Prov. 3:10). [The distress has reached a point where God’s interposition alone can provide food. If He does not interpose, how can I satisfy thy hunger? from the threshing-floor or the wine-press—the only human resources in case of hunger? Thou knowest that these are exhausted, and that the limits of my power of relief have been passed. Address thyself, therefore, to God. If He does not help thee, much less can I. The difficulty of the passage is one that is common enough. There is an unexpressed promise, viz., the circumstances of the case, which are vividly present to the mind of both hearer and speaker, and an unexpressed conclusion, viz., the proper inference to be drawn, or the proper conduct to be pursued, in the promises. The first speaker has drawn a false inference from the facts, and the question aims to lead him to a correct judgment. Hence אַל is used, very nearly in the sense of אם לֹא.—W. G. S.] When the woman had, probably, replied to the king that she did not demand food of him, but appealed to him as judge, he asked her: What aileth thee? Thereupon she relates the horrible incident, in which the existing misery had attained its height. The other woman had hidden her child, not in order to consume it alone, but in order to save it. Her act reminds us of 1 Kings 3:26.
2 Kings 6:30. He rent his clothes, &c., as a sign of horror and of grief. As he stood upon the wall, and therefore could be seen by all, the people observed that he had sackcloth next his body, like Ahab, 1 Kings 21:27, under the royal garment, which he tore open. Sackcloth was usually worn next the skin (Isai. 20:2, 3), only the prophets and preachers of repentance appear to have worn it over the under-garment, because in their case it was an official dress, and so needed to be seen (Winer, R.-W.-B. ii. s. 352). The sentence: He passed by upon the wall, is not, according to Thenius, to be connected with what follows, but, as the athnach shows, with what goes before. Jehoram did not wear sackcloth in order to make a show before the people, for they could not see it before he tore the cloak which was above it; neither did he wear it out of genuine penitent feeling, for, in that case, he could not have sworn, with sackcloth upon his body, to put to death the prophet, whom he had called “Father,” and to whom he was under such deep obligations. He wished, by means of this external action, to turn aside the wrath of God; “He thought that he had done enough, by this external self-chastisement, to satisfy God, and he wished now, in a genuine heathen disposition, to be revenged upon Elisha, since he learned from this story that the famine had not ceased” (Von Gerlach). It is not necessary to understand that Elisha had distinctly demanded that he should put on the garment of penitence (Ewald); perhaps the prophet had only exhorted generally to penitence, and the king, in order to put an end to the distress, had put on sackcloth. He become enraged at the prophet, partly because he believed himself deceived by him, if he, as we may suppose, had given the advice not to surrender the city [“If it had not been for him (Elisha), he (the king) would long before have surrendered the city on conditions,” Ewald], but to rely upon the help of Jehovah, and partly because he thought that the prophet might have put an end to the distress if he had chosen, and thereby might have prevented the horrible crime of the women. The oath reminds one of that of Jezebel against Elijah (1 Kings 19:2).
2 Kings 6:32. But Elisha sat in his house, &c. The narrative in 2 Kings 6:30–33 seems to be somewhat condensed, and to require to be supplemented. This, however, can be done with tolerable certainty from the context. The sentence: Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him, is a parenthesis; the following, and he, namely, the king (not Elisha, as Köster and Cassel suppose), sent, &c., joins directly on to 2 Kings 6:31. הַזְּקֵנִים can only refer to the magistrates of the city, not to the prophets or prophet-disciples (Josephus). They had not been sent in order to report to Elisha how far matters had come in the city (Cassel), but had betaken themselves to the prophet, since no one any longer could give counsel, in the great distress, in order to take his advice, and to beg for his assistance. While they were thus assembled the king sent a man, מִלְּפָנָיו, not, before him (Luther and others), but, from his presence, i.e., one of those men who stood before him, and, as servants, waited for his commands (1 Kings 10:8; Dan. 1:4, 5), just as we see in Gen. 41:46. This man was to behead Elisha, in fulfilment of the oath which the king had sworn in his excitement. Perceiving in spirit what was being done (as in 2 Kings 5:26), the prophet says to the elders: See ye, i.e., do ye know, &c. He applies to Jehoram the significant epithet: Song of Solomon of a murderer; as by descent, so also in disposition, is he a son of Ahab, the murderer of the prophets, and of the innocent Naboth, (1 Kings 21:19); filius patrizat. With the words: Is not the sound, &c, Elisha straightway announces that the king will follow upon the heels of the messenger (cf. 1 Kings 14:6), and he calls upon the elders not to let in the messenger until the king himself comes.
2 Kings 6:33. And while he yet talked with them, &c. The first question is, what is the subject of וַיֹּאמֶר? If we take הַמַּלְאָךְ to be the subject, then we must suppose, as Thenius, Cassel, and others do, that the messenger speaks the words: “This evil is of the Lord,” &c, as the mouthpiece of the king, since they certainly are the words of the latter. This, however, is, in the first place, very forced, because he must have expressed it by saying: The king commands me to say to you, &c, but it is imperatively excluded by the consideration that the king, according to 2 Kings 7:17, was present, and so the messenger could not speak in his name, in his presence. Ewald, taking account of 7:17, wishes to read הַמֶּלֶךְ for הַמַּלְאָךְ, but then the affirmation that the messenger, whom the elders were to restrain until the arrival of the king, really came, would be wanting from the text. The simplest course seems to be to supply הַמֶּלֶךְ as the subject of וַיֹּאמֶר (there is an athnach after אֵלָיו) and to supplement the text here by what is stated in 7:17. The sense would then be: And the king, who had followed close upon his messenger, said, &c. Why did the king follow his servant? Certainly not “in order to see what was the result of his command” (Ewald); nor, “in order to be assured that his commands had been executed” (Eisenlohr); but, on the contrary, “in order to restrain the execution of a command which he had giver, in an excess of rage” (Keil). Even Josephus says: “Jehoram repented of the wrath against the prophet, which had overcome him, and, as he feared lest the messenger might have already executed his commands, he hastened to prevent it, if possible.”—Behold, this evil is of the Lord, &c, i.e., Jehovah has brought it to this pass that mothers slay and eat their own children; what further shall I then hope for or expect from Him? By these words, “he means to show the prophet that he no longer refuses to recognize the chastising hand of God in the prevailing distress, and then he desires to learn from him whether the divine wrath will not be turned aside, and whether the distressed city may not hope for aid” (Krummacher). To these verba hominis pene desperantis (Vatablus), Elisha replies in 2 Kings 7:1, with a promise of immediate and extraordinary deliverance. The interpretation: The distress is so great that no help can any longer be hoped for, so that nothing remains but to surrender the city; thou, however, who hast prophesied falsely, and hast vainly promised help, and therefore art to blame for the calamity, thou shouldst justly suffer death (Seb. Smith, and similarly Thenius), is entirely mistaken. If this were the sense, Elisha’s solemn promise would seem to have been forced from him by the threat of death, whereas it rather serves to shame the king, who had doubted of Jehovah, and is, therefore, an answer fully worthy of the prophet. Jehoram had already given up his plan of murder when he followed his messenger. [His despair is, to a certain extent, intended as an excuse for his murderous project. It is as if he had said: God sends me only calamity upon calamity. Is it strange that my faith deserts me, and that I can no longer hope or believe that God will ultimately help? This despair produced the blind and senseless rage against thee. I have recovered from that madness, but how can I hope longer? This hope seems only to delay the catastrophe, and to make it worse the longer it is deferred. The prophet answers the despair by a new, definite, and confident prediction.—W. G. S.]
Chap. 7. 2 Kings 7:1. Hear ye the word of the Lord, &c. The solemnity and distinctness with which the prophet addresses the king, the elders, and the others who are present, must not be overlooked.—On סְאָה see note on 1 Kings 18:32.—In the gate of Samaria, i.e., the place where the market was usually held (Winer, R.-W.-B. ii. s. 616). On הַשָּׁלִישׁ and the following form of speech see note on 1 Kings 9:22, and 2 Kings 5:18. Instead of לַמֶּלֶךְ, all the versions read הַמֶּלֶךְ, which, according to 2 Kings 7:17 and 2 Kings 5:18, is the correct reading; the dative gives no sense.—The words of the “lord” in 2 Kings 7:2 are the scoff and jest of unbelief; Jehovah will indeed open windows in heaven, and cause it to rain barley and meal! will that come to pass? Thenius connects the two sentences thus: “Supposing even that the Lord should make windows in heaven, will this (viz., the promised cheapness and plenty) even then come to pass?” This interpretation finds in the words only doubt, and not bitter scorn, but, from the threat with which Elisha answers, it seems that the latter must be included. “Windows in heaven” may be an allusion to Gen. 7:11.
2 Kings 7:3. Four leprous men, cf. Levit. 13:46; Numb. 5:2 sq. No one any longer brought them food from the city, and they were not permitted to enter it. In order to escape death from hunger, they proposed to go over to the camp of the enemy at dusk, when they would not be seen from the city. That בַנֶּשֶׁף (2 Kings 7:5) does not mean “early in the morning” (Luther), is clear from 2 Kings 7:9 and 12.—קוֹל, in 2 Kings 7:6, can only be understood of a continuous and increasing rushing and roaring in the air, by which the Syrians were deceived. There are instances, even now-a-days, that people in certain mountainous regions regard a rushing and roaring sound, such as is sometimes heard there, as a sign of a coming war.—On the kings of the Hittites, see note on 1 Kings 10:29. The slight remains of the nations of the Hittites having been subjugated by Solomon (1 Kings 9:20), we have to understand that reference is made here not, as Thenius thinks, to “an independent remnant of this people, living near their ancient home (Gen. 15:20; Numb. 13:29), towards the river of Egypt,” but, to an independent Canaanitish tribe, which had withdrawn into the northern part of Palestine. “ ‘The kings of the Egyptians’ must not be understood too literally; they are only involuntarily mentioned for the sake of the balance of the phrases” (Thenius). Both expressions are only meant to convey, in general terms, the idea that people from the north and from the south are on the march to the assistance of the Israelites, so that danger threatens the Syrians upon all sides. [It is worth while to notice also the graphic force which is given to the story by quoting what purport to be the exact speeches of all the parties. We are told just what Elisha said, and what the officer said, and what the lepers said, and finally what the Syrians said, as if the speeches had been recorded at the time they were uttered. But how could any one tell what the Syrians said in their encampment at night? Evidently the writer puts himself in the place of the Syrians, and imagines what their interpretation of any sudden alarm would be. Instead of stating this in the flat and colorless form in which a modern historian would state it: The Syrians thought that some one was coming to help the Israelites—he gives the speech in what purport to be the exact words. The mention of the king of the Hittites is very strange. No such nation as the Hittites any longer existed, and the kings of Egypt did not interfere in Asiatic affairs throughout this entire period. Yet we should expect that the Hebrew writer would ascribe to the Syrians such fears as they would be likely to have under the circumstances.—W. G. S.] On אֶל־נַפְשָׁם see note on 1 Kings 19:3.
2 Kings 7:9. Then they said one to another, &c. After they had satisfied their hunger and loaded themselves with booty, it occurred to them that officium civium est, ea indicare, quae ad salutem publicam pertinent (Grotius). They were justly anxious lest they might be punished if they should longer conceal the joyful intelligence from the king and the city.—In 2 Kings 7:10, Thenius wishes to read, with all the oriental versions, שֹׁעֲרֵי, watchmen, instead of שֹׁעֵר, because לָחֶם follows. Maurer and Keil take the singular collectively for the body of persons who were charged with the guard of the city.—The subject of וַיִּקְרָא, 2 Kings 7:11, is not the speaker among the lepers, but the soldier on guard. He could not leave his post, so he called to the other soldiers who were within the gate, and they then gave news of the occurrence to the guards in the palace. The attendants of the mistrustful king (2 Kings 7:12) give him very sensible advice, the sum of which is, “However it may turn out, nothing worse can happen to the troops we send out than has already happened to many others, or than will yet happen to the rest” (Berleb. Bibel). “Five” is here as it is in Isai. 30:17; 1 Cor. 14:19; Levit. 26:8, a general designation of a small number. The origin of this use of language is probably that five, as the half of ten, is opposed to this number, which expresses perfection and completeness, to denote the imperfect and incomplete: so that it means a few horses. According to 2 Kings 7:14 (two chariots) there were not five, but four. Two chariots, or equipages, were sent, in order, we may suppose, that if one were captured, the other might quickly bring the news.
2 Kings 7:16 sq. And the people went out, &c. We may well imagine with what eagerness. The king had given to his adjutant (2 Kings 7:2) command to maintain order, but the people trod him down in the gate. He was not “crushed in the crowd,” as Ewald states, but trodden under foot (רָמַם Isai. 41:25). This can hardly have taken place unintentionally, for why should it have happened just to him? Probably the eager and famished people would not listen to his commands, and bore down his attempts to control them. The repetition of the prophet’s prediction (2 Kings 7:1 and 2) in 2 Kings 7:18 and 19, shows what weight the narrative lays upon its fulfilment. It is meant to be, as it were, “a finger of warning to unbelief” (Calwer Bibel), and designates this fulfilment as the object and the main point of the entire narrative.
HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL
1. With the story of these two incidents now, we pass, in this résumé of the prophetical acts of Elisha (see above, Historical on chap. 4), to those which bear upon the political circumstances and fortunes of the nation and of its king. First come those which are connected with its foreign affairs. The especial danger from without was from the Syrians. Benhadad was the chief and bitterest enemy, who was evidently determined to subjugate Israel. He did not succeed in this; he only served as a rod of chastisement to bring back the king and the people from their apostasy to their God. Jehovah rescued them again and again from his hand; not by the hand of the king, nor by mighty armies, nor by great generals, but by the “man of God,” the prophet, in order that all might perceive that salvation from the might of the sworn foe was not a work of human strength or wisdom, but was due to Him alone, the God of Israel, to testify of whom was Elisha’s calling. The two incidents belong together, for one of them shows how his secret plans and cunning plots, and the other, how his open assaults, with the employment of the entire force at his disposal, were brought to naught by the intervention of the prophet. If anything could have done it, these extraordinary proofs of the might, the faithfulness, and the long-suffering of Jehovah, ought to have brought Jehoram to a recognition of his fault, and to reformation (2 Kings 3:3). This is the point of view from which both narratives must be considered.
2. In the first incident, Elisha appears in the distinct character of a seer, רֹאֶה, which was the older name for a נָבִיא (1 Sam. 9:9). He “sees” the place where the Syrians have determined to encamp, not once, only, but as often as they formed a plan, and, when they came to take him captive, he saw the heavenly protecting powers, and, at his prayer, the eyes of his attendant were opened, so that he, too, saw them, whereas the enemy were struck with blindness. This gift of secret sight, while one is in clear possession of all the faculties of consciousness, is similar to that of prophecy. Both are effects of the spirit of Jehovah, which non semper tangit corda prophetarum, nee de omnibus (Syra), nec datur illis per modum habitus, sic ut est in artifice (Sanctius). The prophet only sees what others do not see when Jehovah grants it to him, and his sight does not apply to all things whatsoever, nor to all events, as its legitimate objects, but only to those things which pertain directly or indirectly to the relation to Jehovah and to the guidance of the people of Israel as a nation, or as individuals. [Moreover, it is not in the power of the prophet, by any physical and ever-available means, to bring about this state of the soul at will]. This sight is therefore something entirely different from so-called clairvoyance, which has nothing in common with divine revelation. It may be asked why Elisha, who saw the places where the Syrians would encamp, and would attack Israel, did not also foresee their coming to Dothan, and the danger which threatened him of being captured by them. Cassel (Elisa, s. 116) is of the opinion that “he must have known it; yet he remained at Dothan and awaited the hostile emissaries: he knew that there were more with him than all the enemies together could muster.” This opinion, however, has no foundation in the text. On the contrary, it is clearly declared that the arrival of the Syrians was not observed until the morning, and that it was totally unexpected. If Elisha had known beforehand, by a divine revelation, that they were coming, he would have regarded it as a direction to escape from the threatening danger, and not to remain any longer in Dothan, as Elijah once fled from Jezreel (1 Kings 19:3), and Joseph from Bethlehem (Matt. 2:14). The great danger which suddenly came upon him, without his knowledge or fault, was a trial of faith for him and for his attendant. While the latter fell into anxiety and terror on account of it, Elisha showed himself a true “man of God” in that he trusted firmly in his Lord and God, and spoke courageously to his companion: “Fear not.” In this firm faith he experienced the truth of what is written in Ps. 34:1, and 91:11.
3. The conduct of Elisha towards the band of Syrians, which had been sent out against him, is not, as might at first appear, a mere pendant to the similar incident in Elijah’s history (2 Kings 1:9–16). It cannot even be compared with it, for the persons and the circumstances are of an entirely different character. The emissaries, who were sent to take Elijah captive, were sent out by a king of Israel, who despised the God of Israel, and sought succor from the Fly-god of the Philistines. They were also themselves Israelites who, being of a like disposition with their king, mocked the prophet of Jehovah. Under these circumstances an act of kindness and forgiveness on the part of the prophet, whose high calling it was to pronounce, by word and deed, the judgment of God upon all apostasy, would have been a renunciation of his calling (see above, p. 6). Benhadad, on the other hand, was a heathen, who did not know the living God of Israel. His troops were blind instruments of his will, who did not know what they were doing, and did not scoff at the God of Israel, or at his prophet. Besides, Elisha’s act was not merely a piece of good-nature and magnanimity, it was rather a prophetical act, in the strict sense of the words, which had no other aim than to glorify the God of Israel. Not for his own sake did Elisha pray Jehovah to smite the Syrians with blindness, but in order that he might lead them to Samaria. The thanks for their surrender into the hands of the king were due, not to him, but to Jehovah. Jehoram was to learn once more to recognize the faithfulness and might of Jehovah, and to be convinced that there was a prophet in Israel (2 Kings 5:8), from the fact that these dangerous enemies were delivered into his hands without a blow. On the other hand, Benhadad and the Syrians were to learn that they could not accomplish anything, with all their cunning plots, against the “prophet that is in Israel” (2 Kings 7:12), and much less, against Him whose servant and witness this prophet was. From this time on, therefore, they ceased their raids, as is expressly stated in 2 Kings 7:23. The release, entertainment, and dismissal of the troops was a deep mortification to them. The slaughter of the captives, on the contrary, would have frustrated the purpose of the prophet’s act.
4. The miraculous features of this story some have attempted to explain, that is, to do away with, in various ways. Knobel (Der Proph. der Hebr., ii. ss. 93, 98 sq.) remarks upon the incident as follows: “Inasmuch as Elisha had extended his journeys as far as Syria (2 Kings 8:7), he had gained information of the plans of the Syrians against Israel. This information, as a good patriot, he did not fail to make known to his king. He led the Syrians, who do not appear to have known either him or the locality, to Samaria. The inability to recognize the person as Elisha, or the place as Dothan, was, inasmuch as the safety of a man of God was at stake, caused by God; all the more, seeing that it appeared to be extraordinary and miraculous that they should not see that which was directly before their eyes. The cessation of this inability was then an opening of their eyes by God. Sudden insight into things which have long been before the eyes and yet have not been perceived, the Hebrews regarded as being directly given by God.… The horses and chariots of fire in the narrative are a purely mythical feature.” This explanation is almost more difficult to explain than the narrative itself. Nothing is said anywhere about frequent journeys of Elisha to Syria. Only one such journey is mentioned, and that later (2 Kings 8:7). He could only have gained knowledge of Benhadad’s plans from his immediate and most familiar circle of attendants. These attendants, however, reject any hypothesis of treachery, and cannot explain Elisha’s knowledge in any way except on the ground that he is a “prophet,” i.e., himself sees the things which are plotted in the king’s bed-chamber. So far from conspiring with Elisha, these servants of Benhadad find out his place of abode, and so bring about the attempt to capture him. Then, when a company is sent to Dothan, and really arrives there, they must have known where the place was, and that they were there and not elsewhere. Furthermore, how could, not a single individual, but a whole company, allow themselves to be deceived by a man who was unknown to them, and to be led away five hours’ journey without getting “insight into that which was directly before their eyes?” The fiery horses and chariots, finally, are a symbolic but not a mythical feature (see above, p. 14). Ewald’s explanation is much more probable than this rationalistic interpretation. According to him, Elisha proved himself “the most faithful counsellor, and the most reliable defence of the king and people, by pursuing the plans of the Arameans with the sharpest eye, and by frustrating them often single-handed, by means of his sure foresight and tireless watchfulness. The memory of this activity is preserved in 2 Kings 6:8 sq., where we have a vigorous sketch of it, as it had taken form in the popular imagination.” If, however, the prophet’s second-sight, which is the central point of the entire story, is a product only of the popular imagination which, at a later time, wrought upon the story, then we no longer have history before us, and the “man of God,” who is especially presented to us as seer and prophet, sinks down into a wise and prudent statesman. It would then be an enigma how he could have “sure forebodings” of the presence of the enemy at this or that place, and could give them out as certain facts. According to Köster, the gift of sight, which was imparted to the companion of Elisha, at the prayer of the latter, is only a “beautiful representation of the idea that the eye of faith sees the sure protection of God where, to the vulgar eye, all is dark.” In like manner Thenius says: “It is a glorious thought, that the veil of earthly nature is here lifted for a moment, for a child of earth, that he may cast a look upon the workings of the divine Providence.” But here we have not an idea, be it ever so beautiful, clothed in history, but an historical fact. The prayer of Elisha does not mean: Give him faith in the sovereignty of divine Providence; or: Strengthen this faith in him; but: Give him power to see that which, in the ordinary course of things, it is not permitted to a man to see. His companion then sees, not the thought-image of his own brain, but that which Jehovah allows him to see in symbolic form. In like manner it was a dispensation of Providence that the Syrians did not see, in spite of their open eyes. [The author vindicates the literal historical accuracy of the record, but his opponents bring out its practical importance. Let us suppose that, as a matter of historical fact, on a certain day, a certain man, under certain, circumstances, looked up and saw in the air “chariots and horses of fire,” or something else, for which “chariots and horses of fire” is a symbolic expression. The practical religious importance of the incident lies in the fact that he was thereby convinced that God protects His own. The prophet’s object in his prayer could be none other than that he might be thus confirmed in the faith, and the edification of the story depends upon these two deductions: God protects His servants; and, to the eye of faith, this protection is evident, when earthly eyes see it not.—W. G. S.]
5. The narrative of the second incident gives us information of the great famine in Samaria during the siege by the Syrians. It is impossible not to perceive the intention of showing, in the description of this siege, how the threats in Levit. 26:26–29, and Deut. 28:51–53, against transgressions of the covenant, were here fulfilled; for the separate incidents, which are here referred to, correspond literally to those threats. The famine, such as had hardly ever before been experienced, and especially the abominable crimes which it occasioned, referred back to those threats, so that they forced the people to observe the violation of the covenant, and the great guilt of king and people, and, in so far, were the strongest possible warning to return to the God whom they had abandoned. As for the abomination wrought by the two women, nothing like it occurs anywhere but in the history of Israel; at least, no one has yet been able to cite any incident of the kind from profane history. According to Lament. 2:20; 4:10 (cf. Jerem. 19:9; Ezech. 5:10), something similar seems to have occurred during the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25; Jerem. 39); and Josephus (Bell. Jud., vi. 34) relates that, at the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, a noble lady slew her child and ate a part of it, an action which filled even the Romans with horror, and caused Titus to declare that he would not permit “that the sun should shine upon a city on earth in which mothers nourished themselves with such food.” That such abominations were perpetrated precisely among that people which had been thought worthy to be the bearer of the revelation and knowledge of the one living God, only proves that if such a people once falls away from its God, it sinks deeper than another which does not know Him, but adores dumb idols.
6. The deliverance of Samaria, like that of the three kings in the war with the Moabites, did not take place by a miracle, in the accurate sense of the word, but it belongs, nevertheless, as that does, in the rank of the events which bear witness to the special divine governance of Israel (see above, p. 36). Josephus’ opinion that God raised a great tumult in the ears of the Syrians (ἤρχετο ὁ θεὸς κτύπον ἁρμάτων καὶ ὅπλων ταῖς ἀκοαῖς αὐτῶν ἐνηχεῖν) does not agree with the text, which distinctly mentions a real and strong roaring. Still less is קוֹל to be rendered by “rumor” (Knobel: “The Syrians raised the siege suddenly, because they heard a rumor that the Egyptians and Hittites were on the march against them”). The threefold repetition of the word, which, moreover, never means rumor, is against this interpretation. As for the prediction of deliverance, by Elisha, that can never be explained on naturalistic grounds. Knobel leaves it undecided “whether Elisha, who probably had intrigues with the Syrians, succeeded in starting such a report among them, or whether, in reality, an hostile army was advancing upon the Syrians, of which fact Elisha had information.” The first hypothesis falls to the ground when we consider that it was no “rumor” at all, but a rushing and roaring noise, which the Syrians heard. The alternative is just as unfounded, for all the external communications of the city were cut off, and the approaching army, of which, however, history makes no mention, must have been so near already that the noise of its march would be heard, not only in the Syrian camp, but also in Samaria; or, can we conceive that Elisha might have ordered up an Egyptian and Hittite army, over night, and that this might have marched at once? Ewald’s notion that the prophet’s promise of deliverance only shows the “lofty confidence” with which he met “the despairing complaints” of the king, is equally unsatisfactory. It would have been more than foolhardy in the prophet to proclaim, as the word of Jehovah, before the king, his attendants, and the elders, something which he, after all, only guessed, and which was contrary to all probability. If his guess had not been realized, what would have become of him, and how would he have been disgraced in his character of prophet? What is more, he not only promised deliverance, but also foretold to him who scoffed at his promise: “Thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof,” and the threat was fulfilled. The promise and the threat of the prophet form together the central point of the story; they are not mere incidental details, as is clear from the express repetition at the close. The truth of the occurrence, which no one doubts, stands or falls with both together. The object of the story is, to show that there is a prophet in Israel (2 Kings 5:8), so that it appears, to say the least, very insipid to hold, with Köster, that “the moral of the story is: God can save by the most unexpected means, but the unbeliever has no share in such salvation.” [2 Kings 5:8 cannot, with any justice, be cited as bearing upon the significance of this story. Its lesson is one much more nearly touching the “historical development of the plan of redemption” than chap. 5. It was important that all should know that there were prophets of God in Israel, only to the end that they might believe what follows from this fact, viz., that God has a plan for the redemption of the world in which the Israelitish nation plays a prominent part: that He, therefore, is especially present among them by His prophets, and that their history and fortunes, their calamities and chastisements, their mercies and deliverances, are interpositions of God for the furtherance of His plan. The point of the incident before us is, that God would interpose to arrest a national calamity at the very crisis of its fulfilment, for the instruction, warning, and conversion of His people.—W. G. S.]
7. King Jehoram presents himself, in both narratives, just as he was described above (p. 34). He does not persecute the prophet; he rather listens to his counsel, and addresses him as “father” (2 Kings 6:9, 21); but he never places himself decidedly on his side. “He stands an example of those who often permit themselves to be led, in their worldly affairs, by holy men, who admire them from a distance, who suspect the presence of a higher strength in them, but still hold them aloof and persist in their own ways” (Von Gerlach). When the prophet leads the enemy into his hands without a blow, he becomes violent, and is eager to slaughter them all; then, however, he allows himself to be soothed, gives them entertainment, and permits them to depart in safety. At the siege of Samaria, the great distress of the city touches his heart. He puts on garments which are significant of grief and repentance, but then allows himself to be so overpowered by anger that, instead of seeking the cause of the prevailing misery in his own apostasy and that of the nation, he swears to put to death, without delay, the man [who had endeavored to fix his attention upon the true cause of the calamity, and] whom he had once addressed as “father.” Yet this anger is also of short duration. He repents of his oath, and hastens to prevent the murder, and asks Elisha, trembling and despairing, if there is no further hope. He does not hear the promise of deliverance with scorn, as his officer does, but with hope and confidence. Then again, when the promised deliverance is announced as actually present, he once more becomes doubtful and mistrustful, and his servants have to encourage him, and push him on to a decision. Thus, at one moment elated, at another depressed, now good-natured and now hard and cruel, now angry and again despairing, now trustful and again distrustful, he never rises above a character of indecision, changeableness, and contrasted dispositions. He was indeed better than his father Ahab, but he was still a true son of this father (see 1 Kings 18, Hist. § 6). In one thing only he was firm: “He cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom” (2 Kings 3:3). Since, not to mention so many other proofs of the divine power, patience, and faithfulness, even the deliverance of Samaria from the greatest peril did not avail to bring him into other courses, judgment now came upon him and his dynasty, and the threat of the Law was fulfilled: “I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” (Ex. 20:5). He was the fourth member of the dynasty of Omri, or, as it is commonly called, from the principal sovereign of the family, the house of Ahab. With him, that dynasty ended (2 Kings 9:10).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
2 Kings 6:8–23. The Lord is Hiding-place and Shield (Ps. 119:114). (a) He brings to nought the plots of the crafty, so that they cannot accomplish them (Job 5:12), 2 Kings 6:8–14. (b) “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them” (Ps. 34:7), 2 Kings 6:15–19. (c) “The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken” (Ps. 9:15; 35:7), 2 Kings 6:20–23.
2 Kings 6:8–17. KRUMMACHER: Hints of the Course of Things in Zion. (a) The revealed plot; (b) the military expedition against one man; (c) the peaceful abode; (d) the cry of alarm; (e) the unveiled protection from above.
2 Kings 6:8. CRAMER: The heart of man plots its courses, but the Lord alone permits them to prosper. “A man’s heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). “There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30).—Let them undertake the enterprise as cunningly as they can, God leads to another end than that they seek (Isai. 8:10).—“In such and such a place shall be my camp” (Prov. 27:1; James 4:13–16).
2 Kings 6:9. OSIANDER: It is no treason to bring crafty and malicious plots to the light. It is a sacred duty (Acts 23:16). Beware of going into places where thou wilt be in jeopardy of soul and body. Be on thy guard when the enemy advances, and “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephes. 6:13 sq.).
2 Kings 6:10. No one has ever regretted that he followed the advice of a man of God; on the contrary, many have thus been saved from ruin.
2 Kings 6:11. STARKE: When God brings to naught the plots of the crafty, they become enraged, and, instead of recognizing the hand of God and humbling themselves, they lay the blame upon other men, and become more malicious and obstinate.—He who does not understand the ways of God, thinks that he sees human treason in what is really God’s dispensation. Woe to the ruler who cannot trust his nearest attendants (Ps. 101:6, 7).
2 Kings 6:12. A heathen, in a foreign land, confesses, in regard to Elisha, something which no one in Israel had yet admitted to be true. The same thing also happened when the greatest of all prophets appeared (Matt. 8:10; 13:57).—KRUMMACHER: Tremble with fear, ye obstinate sinners, because all is bare and discovered before His eyes, and shudder at the thought that the veil, behind which ye carry on your works, does not exist for Him! All which ye plot in your secret corners to-day, ye will find to-morrow inscribed upon His book, and however secretly and cunningly ye spin your web, not a single thread of it shall escape His eye!
2 Kings 6:13. How mad it is to fight against, or to attempt to crush, a cause in which the agency of a higher power is visible (Isai. 14:27; Acts 5:38, 39).
2 Kings 6:14. Benhadad sends out an entire army against one, out finds but the truth of the words in Ps. 33:18 sq.
2 Kings 6:14–23. Elisha during Distress and Danger, (a) (Although enclosed by an entire army, he does not fear or tremble, like his companion, but speaks to him words of encouragement and confidence. This is the effect of a firm faith, which is the substance, &c., Heb. 11:1. Faith takes away all fear, and gives true and joyful courage, Ps. 23:4; Ps. 91:1–4; 2 Cor. 4:8. David speaks with this faith, Ps. 3:5 and 6; 27:1–3; and Hezekiah, 2 Chron. 32:7; and Luther: Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär, und wollt, &c.) (b) His prayer, 2 Kings 6:17 and 18. (“Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes!” So should every true servant of God pray for every soul that is entrusted to him. We all need to use this prayer daily: Lord, open my eyes! for it is the greatest misfortune if one cannot see the fight, even by day (Eph. 1:18). Elisha, however, also prays: “Lord, smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness,” for his own protection, and for their salvation, for they were to learn that He is a God who can save marvellously from the greatest distress, and that no craft or skill avails against Him. It is not permitted us to pray for harm to our enemies; but we may pray that God will make them powerless, and show them His might.) (c) His victory, 2 Kings 6:19–23. (Those who wish to capture him, he captures; but his victory is no victory of revenge. He causes the captives to be entertained kindly, and allowed to depart in safety, that they may learn that the God, whose prophet Elisha is, is not only a mighty, but also a merciful and gracious God. God is not so much glorified by anything else as by returning good for evil. “For so is the will of God,” &c, Peter 2:15; cf. Romans 12:20. He won the highest victory who said upon the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”)
2 Kings 6:15. Our fortune also may change over night; then, how shall we bear it?—STARKE: Our feeble flesh cannot do otherwise than despair, when distress comes suddenly upon us, especially if we are young and inexperienced; for experience brings hope (Rom. 5:4).
2 Kings 6:16 and 17. CRAMER: If we had spiritual eyes, so that we could see the protecting forces of loving, holy angels, it would be impossible for us to fear devils or wicked men (Ps. 104:4; Heb. 1:14).
2 Kings 6:17 and 18. BERLEB. BIBEL: In the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which is hidden from the world, blind men every day receive their sight, and men who see are smitten with blindness.
2 Kings 6:18. The Lord smites with blindness those who light against Him, not in order that they may remain blind, but in order that they may truly see, after they shall have observed how far they have strayed, and shall have recognized the error of their way (Acts 9:8 sq.; John 9:39).
2 Kings 6:19. It is not a sin to withhold the truth from any one until the proper time for making it known, but, in many cases, it is even the duty of wisdom and love (John 13:7; Matt. 10:16). “Follow me!” is the call of the only one who can lead us where we shall find that which we are, consciously or unconsciously, seeking, for He is the light of the world, &c. (John 8:12).
2 Kings 6:20. A time will come for all who are spiritually blind, when their eyes will be opened, and they will learn that they have been walking in the paths of error.—KRUMMACHER: Ye dream of some unknown kind of an Elysium, and ye shall awake at last among those of whom it shall be said: “Bind them hand and foot, and cast them into outer darkness.”
2 Kings 6:21–23. “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). God does not give our enemies into our hands in order that we may revenge ourselves upon them, but in order that we may show ourselves to be children of Him who dealeth not with us according to our sins, neither rewardeth us according to our iniquities. He who receives forgiveness from God, must also show forgiveness to others; that is the gratitude which God requires of us, and which we owe to Him.
2 Kings 6:23. STARKE: True love to one’s enemies is never fruitless (1 Sam. 24:7, 17, 18).
2 Kings 6:24–31. Samaria during the Siege, (a) The great scarcity; (b) the two women; (c) the king.
2 Kings 6:24. Evil men wax worse and worse (2 Tim. 3:13). As Benhadad accomplished nothing by his raids, he made an attack with his entire force. A perverse and stubborn man cannot endure to be frustrated, and when he is, instead of leading him to submissiveness as it ought, it only hurts his pride, and makes him more irritated.
2 Kings 6:25. General public calamities are not mere natural events, but visitations of God on account of public guilt. Cf. Jerem. 2:19, and 3:12 and 13.—KRUMMACHER: Of all the judgments of God in this world, none is more terrible than famine. It is a scourge which draws blood.… It often happens that God takes this scourge in hand when, in spite of manifold warnings, His name is forgotten in the land, and apostasy, rebellion, and unbelief are prevalent.
2 Kings 6:26 to 29. Necessity leads to prayer, wherever there is a spark of the fear of God remaining; but where that fear is wanting, “necessity knows no law” becomes the watchword. The crime of the two women is a proof that, where men fall away from God, they may sink down among the ravenous beasts. Separate sores, which form upon the body, are signs that the body is diseased, and the blood poisoned. Shocking crimes of individuals are proofs that the community is morally rotten.
2 Kings 6:26. STARKE: Earthly might can help and protect us against the injustice of men, but not against the judgments of God.
2 Kings 6:27. How many a one speaks thus who might help if he only earnestly tried. When the prayer: Help me! is addressed to thee, do not refer the suppliant to God for consolation while any means of help, which are in thine own hands, remain untried (1 John 3:17; James 2:15, 16).
2 Kings 6:30 and 31. CALW. BIBEL: See here a faithful picture of the wrongheadedness of man in misfortune. In the first place, we halfway make up our minds to repent, in the hope of deliverance; but if this is not obtained at once, and in the wished-for way, we burst out in rage either against our fellow men, or against God himself. Observe, moreover, the great ingratitude of men. Jehoram had already, several times, experienced the marvellous interference of God; once it fails, however, and he is enraged. The garment of penitence upon the body is of no avail, if an impenitent heart beats beneath it. Anger and rage and plots of murder cannot spring from the heart which is truly penitent. It is the most dangerous superstition to imagine that we can make satisfaction for our sins, can become reconciled to God, and turn aside His wrath, by external performances, the wearing of sackcloth, fasting, self-chastisement, the repetition of prayers, &c. (Ps. 51:16, 17). The world is horrified, indeed, at the results of sin; but not at sin itself. Instead of confessing: “We have sinned” (Dan. 9:5), Jehoram swears that the man of God shall die (2 Cor. 7:10).—STARKE: Whenever God’s judgments fall upon a people, the teachers and preachers must bear the blame (1 Kings 18:17; Amos 7:10).
2 Kings 6:32-7:2. Elisha’s Declarations in his own House. (a) To the assembled elders; (b) to the despairing king; (c) to the scoffing officer.
2 Kings 6:32. The Lord preserves the souls of His saints; he will save them from the hands of the godless (Ps. 97:10). He sends friends at the right moment, who serve us as a defence against wickedness and unrighteous persecution.—KRUMMACHER: It is pleasant to be with brethren in a time of calamity. One feels in union a power against all calamities which threaten him.…. Moreover, especial promises attach to such a union. Where two or three are gathered together in the name of the Lord, there is He in the midst of them.—CRAMER: Although the saints of God are unterrified at the possibility of martyrdom, yet they are not permitted to cast themselves into the flames, but may properly make use of all ordinary and just means to preserve themselves for the good of the church of God (Phil. 1:22).
2 Kings 7:33, cf. Prov. 21:1. The wrath of the king changes to timidity and hesitation. The heart of the natural man is a rebellious, but, at the same time, wavering thing. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord (Jer. 17:7, 9; Ps. 37:17).—2 Kings 7:1. We must still answer “Hear the word of the Lord” to those who, in littleness of faith and in despair, cry out, what more shall I wait for from the Lord? A bruised reed shall he not break, &c. (Matt. 12:20). “To-morrow, at this time.” When the need is greatest, God is nearest. If God often unexpectedly helps even apostates out of great need, how much more will He do this for His own, who call to Him day and night. He has roads for every journey; He does not lack for means.
2 Kings 7:2. The Sin of Unbelief and its Punishment. The children of this world consider their unbelief to be wisdom and enlightenment, and they seek to put that which is a consolation and an object of reverence to others, in a ridiculous light. The Lord will not leave such wickedness unpunished. It is only too often the case that high-born, and apparently well-bred men, at court, take pleasure in mockeries of the word of God and of its declarations, without reflecting that they thereby bear testimony to their own inner rudeness, vulgarity, and want of breeding. It is a bad sign of the character of a prince, where scoffers form the most intimate circle of his retinue (Ps. 1:1–4). Unbelief is folly, because it robs itself of the blessing which is the portion of faith.
2 Kings 7:3–16. The Miraculous Deliverance of Samaria. It declares loudly (a) what is written in Daniel 2:20: “Wisdom and might are His.” (He knows how, without chariots or horses, without arms or army, merely by His terror, to put an enemy to flight, Ex. 23:27; to feed the hungry, and set the captives at liberty, Ps. 147:7, in order that all may confess: “Who is so great a God,” &c., Ps. 77:13 and 14; and: “Let not the wise man glory,” &c., Jerem. 9:23, 24); (b) cf. Ps. 103:8: If ever a deliverance was undeserved, then this was, that all might admit: “It is of the Lord’s mercies,” &c. (Lament. 3:22; Rom. 2:4 and 5).
2 Kings 7:3–10. The Lepers outside the City. (a) Their conversation (2 Kings 7:3 and 4); (b) their visit to the Syrian camp (2 Kings 7:5, 8); (c) their message to the king (2 Kings 7:9, 10).
2 Kings 7:3 and 4. KRUMMACHER: How often the same disposition meets us in the dwellings of the poor; instead of a joyful and believing looking up to heaven, a faithless looking for help from human hands; instead of submission to God, a dull discontent—a despair which quarrels with the eternal.… Thence comes the frequent neglect of the household, and decay of the family. And then what language is this: “If they kill us, we shall only die,” as if the grave was the end of men, and the great Beyond were only a dream; or as if it were a matter of course that the pain of death atones for the sins of a wasted life, and must rightfully purchase their pardon, and a reception into heavenly blessedness. Our life lies in the hand of God, who sets its limit, which we may not anticipate. Circumstances may, indeed, arise in which a man wishes for death; it makes a great difference, however, whether this wish comes from weariness of life, or whether we say, with St. Paul: “I long to depart and be with Christ.” Only when Christ has become our life, is death a gain.
2 Kings 7:5–7. STARKE: The Almighty laughs at the planning of the proud, and brings their schemes to a disgraceful end (Ps. 2:1 sq.; Dan. 4:33 and 34).—WÜRTEMB. SUMM.: It is only necessary that in the darkness a wind should blow, or that water should splash in free course, or that an echo should resound from the mountains, or that the wind should rustle the dry leaves, to terrify the godless, so that they flee as if pursued by a sword, and fall, though no one pursues them (Levit. 26:36). Therefore, we should cling fast to God in the persecution of our enemies, should trust Him, and earnestly cry to Him for help; He has a thousand ways to help us.
2 Kings 7:6. KRUMMACHER: It happens to the unconverted man, as it did here to the Syrians. God causes him to hear the rumbling of His anger, the roaring of the death-floods, the thunder of His law, and the trumpet-sounds of the judgmentday. Then he flees from the doomed camp, in which he has dwelt hitherto, and hurls away the dead-weight of his own wisdom, justice, and strength.
2 Kings 7:8 and 9. WÜRT. SUMM.: Many a one gets chances to acquire property dishonestly, to enjoy luxury and debauchery, to gratify fleshly lusts, and to commit other sins, and, if he is secure from human eye, he does not trouble himself about the all-seeing eye of God; but his crime is discovered at last in his own conscience, and, by God’s judgment, it is revealed and punished. Conscience can, indeed, be benumbed for a time; but it will not rest forever; it awakes at last, and stings all the more the longer it has been still. He who conceals what he has found, is not better than a thief.—PFAFFSCHE BIBEL: It is a good action to warn others of wickedness, and to hold them back from sin, still more to encourage them to virtue (Heb. 10:24).
2 Kings 7:10. Lepers, i.e., outcast and despised men, were destined, according to God’s Providence, to announce to the threatened city, in the crisis of its danger, the great and wonderful act of God. God is wont to use slight and contemptible instruments for his great works, that He may, by the foolish things of the world, confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). Fishermen and publicans brought to a lost world the best Good News, the gospel, which is a power to make all blessed who believe in it.
2 Kings 7:12–15. Doubt and distrust of God’s promises are deeply inrooted in the human heart. Where it is most necessary to be prudent, there the heart of man is sure and free from care (Ps. 53:5), and where there is nothing to fear, there it is anxious. Instead of confessing with joy: Lord, I am unworthy of the least of all thy mercies, when the promised help is offered, it does not trust even yet, until it can see with the eyes and grasp with the hands.
2 Kings 7:16. CALW. BIBEL: Learn from this that He can lead us, as in a dream, through the gates of death, and, in an instant, set us free.—WÜRT. SUMM.: It is easy for our Lord and God to bring days of plenty close upon days of famine and want. Therefore, we should not despair, but trust in God, and await His blessing in hope and patience, until He “open the windows of heaven” (Mal. 3:10).—STARKE: God’s word fails not; not a word of His ever fell upon the earth in vain; every one is fulfilled to the uttermost, both promise and threat.
2 Kings 7:17–20. The judgment upon the king’s officer proclaims aloud: “Be not deceived: God is not mocked” (Gal. 6:7; Prov. 13:13).—KRUMMACHER: His corpse became a bloody seal upon the words of Jehovah, and of His prophet.—BERLEB. BIBEL: In the last days also, when the abundance of the divine grace shall be poured out, like a stream, in the midst of the greatest misery, many despisers of the glorious promises of God will see the beginning thereof, but will not attain to the enjoyment of it; they will be thrust aside by marvellous judgments.
2 Kings 6:9.—[On נְחִתִּים Ges. Thes. s. v. says: “Whoever gave this word its punctuation seems to have derived it from the root חתת (cf. Job 21:13), but the force of descent, going down, is necessary and indubitable.” Sept. κέκρυπται; Vulg. in insidiis sunt. The H.- W.-B. makes it an adj. from נחת, but Ew. casts doubt upon the form, and says it could as well be a part. niphal from חַת, § 187, 6.
2 Kings 6:10.—[“He protected himself,” i.e., he occupied the threatened point, and so frustrated the attack. Every time that the Syrians came they found that the Israelites had anticipated them at the point where they proposed to attack.
Ver 11.—[Ewald, Lehrb. § 181, b, and note 2, rejects the form מִשֶּׁלָּנוּ as an incorrect reading. He takes מִכֻּלָּנוּ (as in 2 Kings 9:5) to be the true reading. It is clear, however, that in 9:5 Jehu includes himself among those, one of whom the answer is to designate, while the king of Syria asks, “Who of those who belong to us?” naturally enough excluding himself from the number of those who fall under suspicion of treachery. The meaning of the two forms is quite distinct, and each belongs to the place in which it is used. Ewald’s theory of the use of the abbreviated form of אשר must bend to this instance; the instance cannot be thus done away with, in the interest of the theory.
2 Kings 7:12.—[The ה in the chetib is that of the article, which, in the later books, is sometimes found even after a preposition. Ew. § 244, a.
2 Kings 7:13.—[That is to say: They go to the fate which has already befallen all the people who are gone, and which sooner or later, awaits all who remain.—W. G. S.] We agree with Thenius that the keri המון is to be preferred, because the word occurs immediately afterward without the article.—Bähr. [Ew. explains the article in the chetib as retained in the later or less accurate usage, especially where the article has emphatic force. § 290, d.—W. G. S.]
2 Kings 7:15.—Keil: The chetib בְּהֵחָפְזָם is the only possible correct form, for חפז has the meaning, to flee with haste, only in the niphal. Cf. 1 Sam. 23:26; Ps. 48:5.—Bähr.