Matthew Poole's Commentary
And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us.Elisha, giving leave to the young prophets to enlarge their dwellings, causeth iron to swim, 2 Kings 6:1-7. He discloseth the king of Syria’s counsel, 2 Kings 6:8-12; who sendeth Syrians to apprehend him: he is preserved by angels: they are smitten with blindness; are brought into Samaria, and dismissed in peace, 2 Kings 6:13-23. Samaria is besieged, and brought to such extreme want and famine, that women eat their own children, 2 Kings 6:24-29. The king sendeth to slay Elisha, 2 Kings 6:30-33.
The sons of the prophets; either at Beth-el, or Jericho or rather, at Gilgal; as may seem from its nearness to the river of Jordan, 2 Kings 6:2. With thee, or, before thy face, i.e. under thy inspection and direction; where thou dost frequently dwell with us. Or, to thy face; which may be joined with the following words; and so the sense may be this, It is apparent to thy view that this place is too strait for us. Is too strait for us; the number of the prophets increasing by the gracious providence of God, and by the ministry and miracles of Elijah and Elisha.
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.Unto Jordan, i.e. to the woods near Jordan, which were near to them. See Poole "2 Kings 6:1".
A beam, i.e. a piece of timber for the building. Hence it may be gathered, that although the sons of the prophets principally devoted themselves to religious exercises, such as prayer, and praising of God, and the studying of God’s word, and instructing of others, and waiting for Divine revelations; yet they did sometimes employ themselves about manual arts; which now they might be forced to, through the iniquity of the times.
And one said, Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants. And he answered, I will go.No text from Poole on this verse.
So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood.No text from Poole on this verse.
But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed.The ax head fell into the water; the iron fell from the wood.
Alas, master! for it was borrowed: he was the more concerned, partly because he was now forced to be idle and useless to them in the common work; and partly because it was his friend’s loss, who now was likely to suffer for his kindness; and as justice obliged him to restore it, so his poverty disenabled him from it.
And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim.No text from Poole on this verse.
Therefore said he, Take it up to thee. And he put out his hand, and took it.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Thither I will send my forces, to surprise some place; or to lie in ambush where the king or his people were to pass, 2 Kings 6:9.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Sent to the place, either spies, to try whether the prophet spake truth; or rather, soldiers, to secure the place and passage designed.
Saved himself; either his person when he was to pass that way; or his people, or places of importance.
Not once nor twice, but much more frequently.
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?No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.That I may send and fetch him; for though I cannot conceal my designs from him, yet I may possibly take him by force; his power being, I doubt not, much inferior to his knowledge.
Dothan; a city near Shechem, Genesis 37:17, and not far from Samaria.
Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.No text from Poole on this verse.
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?The servant having been with him but a little time, even since Gehazi’s dismission, had not yet seen any experiments of his great power; or if he had, his faith might easily be shaken upon so great and sudden a danger.
Gone forth; either out of the gates of the city, where he might see them; or out of his house into the streets of the city, where he might learn this by the common fame and tumult of the people.
And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.That he may see; that by some visible appearance he may see the invisible guard of angels which encompass and defend us.
Chariots of fire; which is useful, both for defence to those that are surrounded by it, and offence to the enemies who shall attempt to break through it.
Round about Elisha: either the mountains were round about the city, and therefore round about Elisha, who was within it; or he saw in a vision Elisha upon the mountain encompassed with fiery horses and chariots.
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.When they came down to him; either in the city, into which they easily got admission, when they declared that the only end of their coming was to take Elisha; or in the field without the city, whither he went to meet them.
He smote them with blindness; not with a total blindness, that they could see nothing, for then they would not have followed him; but with a partial blindness, that they could not distinctly discern the man they sought; which might be by some alteration made by God in their brain, or in the air. See Poole "Genesis 19:11".
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.This is not the way, neither is this the city, to wit, where you will find the man for whom you seek; which was very true, because he was now come out of the city; and if they had gone on in that way into the city, they had found that Elisha was gone thence. There is indeed some ambiguity in his speech, and an intention to deceive them, which hath ever been esteemed lawful in the state of war, as appears from the use of stratagems.
I will bring you to the man whom ye seek; and so he did, though not in such manner as they expected and desired.
He led them to Samaria; which seemed to them to be some small and ordinary city; their senses being still deluded by a Divine operation.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the king of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them?Elisha had doubtless sent notice of his intentions to
the king of Israel, that he might accordingly prepare himself.
My father: now he gives him this title of reverence and affection, because of a great and present benefit he received from him; though otherwise he hated him, and would not hearken to his counsel.
Shall I smite them? the repetition of the question shows his great desire to smite them, and that with utter destruction.
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.It is against the laws of humanity, and custom of war, to kill captives, though thou thyself hast taken them with thy own sword and bow, which may seem to give thee some colour of right to destroy them; but much more unworthy will it be in cold blood to kill these, whom not thy arms, but God’s miraculous providence, hath put into thy hands.
Set bread and water before them, i.e. give them meat and drink, which may refresh and strengthen them for their charity, in doing good to their enemies, which was much to the honour of the true religion; and of no less prudence, that hereby the hearts of the Syrians might be both mollified towards the Israelites, and afraid to oppose that people who had such an invincible Protector.
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.He sent them away, refreshed, but disarmed, as is most probable.
The bands of Syria came no more; either,
1. In such a manner, to wit, in small bands, or companies, which might be entrapped, as these had been; but their next attempt was by all open and solemn war, and a conjunction of all their forces, which they still ridiculously conceited would be too hard for the king, and prophet, and God of Israel, notwithstanding their multiplied experiences to the contrary. Or,
2. For some considerable time, until the terror of these examples was got out of their minds.
And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria.He whom Ahab wickedly and foolishly spared, 1 Kings 20:42, who now comes to requite Ahab’s kindness, and to fulfil that Divine prediction.
Ben-hadad was a name very frequent among the kings of Syria, 1 Kings 15:18 2 Kings 13:3,24, if not common to them all. See Jeremiah 49:27 Amos 1:4.
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.Pieces of silver, supposed to be shekels; and the common shekel being valued at fifteen pence of English money, this amounts to five pounds; a vast price, especially for that which had on it so little meat, and that unwholesome, and unclean by law, Leviticus 11:3; though necessity might seem to excuse their violation of that law.
A cab; a measure containing twenty-four eggs.
Dove’s dung; which they used not for fire, (for he is speaking here only of the scarcity of food,) but for food; which, if it seem incredible, it must be considered, first, That famine hath constrained people to eat things as improper and unfit for nourishment as this, as dry leather, and man’s dung, as is implied Isaiah 36:12, and affirmed by grave historians. Secondly, That some creatures do usually eat the dung of others. Thirdly, That doves’ dung, though it be hotter than ordinary, might in other respects be fitter for nourishment than other, as being made of the best and purest grains, and having some moisture in it, &c. Fourthly, That this Hebrew word being of an obscure and doubtful signification, and no where else used, may be, and is by learned men, otherwise rendered and understood; either, first, of the corn which is found in the crops of doves; or, secondly, of the guts and other inwards of doves; or rather, thirdly, of a sort of cicer or pease, which in the Arabic language (which is near akin to the Hebrew, and from which many words are explained) is called dove’s dung; for this was a food much in use amongst the poorer Israelites, and was by all esteemed a very coarse food, and therefore fit to be joined with an ass’s head; and a cab was the usual measure of all sorts-of grains and fruits of that sort.
And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king.Passing by upon the wall, to give necessary order for the defence of the city against assaults, and to see if the several guards were watchful and diligent, and if his directions were executed, and to observe the motions of the enemy.
And he said, If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress?If the Lord do not help thee, or, let not God help thee, as some both ancient and late interpreters render the words. So they are words of impatience, and rage, and a formal curse, wishing that God would not help her, as he could not, as Josephus, amongst others, understand it; which agrees too well with the character of the man, an infidel, and an idolater, and a wicked man, and at this time in a great rage, as appears from 2 Kings 6:31. Or they may be rendered thus, No; (as this Hebrew particle is sometimes used, as Job 20:17 Psalm 24:5 Psalm 41:2 50:3 Proverbs 3:3,5 31:4) let the Lord help thee. So it may be taken, either, first, As a direction: No; do not cry to me, but to God, for help: God help thee, for I cannot. Or rather, secondly, As a profane scoff: No; come not to me, but go to him to whom Elisha directs you; pray to the Lord: you see how ready he is to help you, by his suffering you to come to this extremity; wait upon God for relief, as Elisha adviseth me; but I will wait no longer for him, 2 Kings 6:33, and I will take a course with Elisha for thus abusing both me and my people with vain hopes. Or thus, The Lord (on whom forsooth thou and I are commanded to wait for help) will not help thee, as he could easily do, and would do, if he were so good as Elisha pretends; whence then shall I help thee?
Out of the barn-floor, or out of the winepress? Dost thou ask of me corn or wine, which I want for myself?
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.We boiled my son, and did eat him; a dreadful judgment, threatened to them in case of their apostacy, Deu 28:56,57, in which they were now deeply plunged. Compare Ezekiel 5:10.
She hath hid her son; either that she might eat him alone; or rather, that she might save him from death; her bowels yearning towards him, and her hunger being in great measure satisfied.
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.If I do not this day take his head and life. This wretched and partial prince overlooks his own great and various sins, and, amongst others, his obstinate cleaving to the idolatry of the calves, and the whoredoms and witchcrafts of his mother Jezebel, 2 Kings 9:22, and the wickedness of his people, which was the true and proper cause of this and all their calamities; and lays the blame of all upon Elisha; either supposing that he who had the spirit of Elijah resting upon him, had brought this famine by his prayers, as Elijah had formerly done, 1 Kings 17:1; or because he had encouraged them to withstand the Syrians, by promising them help from God in due time; or because he would not, by his intercession to God and the working of a miracle, deliver them from these calamities, as he easily could have done. But he did not consider that the prophets could not work what miracles and when they pleased, but only as far as God saw fit, whose time was not yet come; otherwise it was Elisha’s interest as well as theirs to be freed from this 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.If I do not this day take his head and life. This wretched and partial prince overlooks his own great and various sins, and, amongst others, his obstinate cleaving to the idolatry of the calves, and the whoredoms and witchcrafts of his mother Jezebel, 2 Kings 9:22, and the wickedness of his people, which was the true and proper cause of this and all their calamities; and lays the blame of all upon Elisha; either supposing that he who had the spirit of Elijah resting upon him, had brought this famine by his prayers, as Elijah had formerly done, 1 Kings 17:1; or because he had encouraged them to withstand tim Syrians, by promising them help from God in due time; or because he would not, by his intercession to God and the working of a miracle, deliver them from these calamities, as he easily could have done. But he did not consider that the prophets could not work what miracles and when they pleased, but only as far as God saw fit, whose time was not yet come; otherwise it was Elisha’s interest as well as theirs to be freed from this distress.
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?In his house; in the house where he lodged; for he had no house of his own, having forsaken all when he followed Elijah, 1 Kings 19:20,21.
The elders; so they might be called, either, first, from their age; or rather, secondly, from their office, which was either ecclesiastical or civil: so they were either the sons of the prophets; or rather, some godly men who were then in some power and office, either in the court, or army, or city, as may seem probable from what he requires of them. And though Jehoram was a wicked king, and most of his officers probably like himself; yet there were some of them, whom Elisha’s holy life, and powerful ministry, and glorious miracles, and the great and public benefits procured by him, had won to God, and to the true religion, at least to the profession of it, among which Jehu might be one: and these were here sitting with him, either to receive comfort and counsel from him in this distressed time, or rather to solicit him to use his power with God for their relief; which accordingly he doth, and in compliance with them, not out of any fear of the king, (from which he very well knew by frequent experience, and certain assurance, that God both could and would deliver him,) he gives the following answer, 2 Kings 7:1.
A man from before him, or, one of them who stood before his face, one of his guard, or some other officer, to take away his head, as it follows.
He said to the elders; being admonished by God of his danger.
This son of a murderer; the genuine son of that wicked Ahab the murderer of the Lord’s prophets, 1 Kings 18:4 21:9; whose son he is not by birth only, but also by his manners and bloody disposition. Compare John 8:44. This expression may seem very harsh and unfit; nor is it to be drawn into imitation by others; but it must be considered that he was an extraordinary prophet, intrusted with a power in some sort superior to that of Jehoram, and had authority to control and rebuke him in the name of the King of kings.
To take away mine head; to kill me, before he hear what I have to say.
Hold him fast; not the king, but the messenger, who was last mentioned; that he may not break in upon me, and take away my life, before the king comes.
Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him? you shall not need to hold him long, for the king is just at his heels, coming, as is probable, either to recall his rash and furious sentence, or at least to debate the matter with the prophet, and to procure relief.
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?Unto him, to wit, to the door, where also we are to understand that he was held fast, that he could not come at the prophet till the king came, as the prophet had commanded them to do.
He said; either, first, The messenger, in the king’s name and words. Or, secondly, The king himself, who, though not here named, may be presumed to be present, both by the prophet’s prediction of his speedy coming, and by the presence of the lord on whose hand the king leaned, 2 Kings 7:2. This evil; this dreadful famine, which is now so extreme that women are forced to eat their own children.
Is of the Lord; he hath inflicted it, and (for aught that I see) he will not remove it. Thus he lays all the blame upon God, not, as he ought, upon his own and his mother’s wickedness, which provoked God, who doth not willingly afflict, to send this heavy judgment upon him.
What should I wait for the Lord any longer? thou biddest me wait upon God for help; but I perceive I may wait long enough before deliverance comes; I am weary with waiting, I can wait no longer.