Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.
Verse 1. - Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord. This was a very solemn exordium, well calculated to arrest attention. It must be remembered that the prophet's life was trembling in the balance. The executioner was present; the king had not revoked his order; the elders would probably have suffered the king to work his will. All depended on Elisha, by half a dozen words, changing the king's mind. He therefore announces a Divine oracle (comp. 2 Chronicles 13:4; 2 Chronicles 15:2; 2 Chronicles 20:20; and for the exact expression, see Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 28:14; Isaiah 29:5, etc.; Jeremiah 2:4; Jeremiah 7:2, etc.). Thus saith the Lord, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure - literally, a seah - of fine flour be sold for a shekel. The "seah" was probably about equal to a peck and a half English, the shekel of the time to about half a crown. Thus no extraordinary cheapness is promised, but only an enormous fall in prices from the rate current at the moment (2 Kings 7:25). Such a fall implied, almost necessarily, the discontinuance of the siege. Jehoram appears to have accepted the prophet's solemn asseveration, and on the strength of it to have spared his life, at any rate till the result should be seen. And two measures - literally, seahs - of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. The gates, or rather gateways, of Oriental towns were spacious places, where business of various kinds was transacted. One at Nineveh had an area of above two thousand five hundred square feet. Kings often held their courts of justice in the city gates. On this occasion one of the gates of Samaria seems to have been used as a corn-market (comp. vers. 17-20).
Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.
Verse 2. - Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned; rather, the lord, or the captain, as the word שׁלישׁ is commonly translated (Exodus 14:7; Exodus 15:4; 2 Samuel 23:8; 1 Kings 9:22; 2 Kings 9:25; 2 Kings 10:25; 2 Kings 15:25; 1 Chronicles 11:11; 1 Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 8:9). (For the habit of kings to lean on the hand of an attendant, see above, 2 Kings 5:18.) Answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? The king makes no reply; he waits for the result. But the officer on whose arm he leans is not so reticent. Utterly incredulous, he expresses his incredulity in a scoffing way: "Could this possibly be, even if God were to 'make windows in heaven,' as he did at the time of the Flood (Genesis 7:11), and pour through them, instead of rain, as then, a continual shower of fine meal and corn?" Disbelief is expressed, not only in the prophetic veracity of Elisha, but in the power of God. Hence Elisha's stern reply. And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof. At once a threat and a warning. If the thing was to be, and the lord to see it and yet not profit by it, the only reasonable conclusion was that his death was imminent. He was thus warned, and given time to "set his house in order," and to repent and make his peace with the Almighty. Whether he took advantage of the warning, or even understood it, we are not told.
And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate: and they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die?
Verses 3-16. - The mode in which Elisha's prophecy of relief and deliverance was fulfilled is now set forth. Four lepers, excluded from the city, and on the point of perishing of hunger, felt that they could be no worse off, and might better their condition, if they deserted to the Syrians. They therefore drew off from the city at nightfall, and made for the Syrian camp. On arriving, they found it deserted. The entire host, seized with a sudden panic, had fled, about the time that they began their journey. The lepers' first thought was to enrich themselves by plunder, but after a while it occurred to them that, unless they hastened to carry the good news to Samaria, inquiry would be made, their proceedings would be found out, and they would be severely punished. So they returned to the capital, and reported what they had discovered. Jehoram, on receiving the news, feared that the Syrians had prepared a trap for him, and declined to move. He consented, however, to send out scouts to reconnoiter. The scouts found evident proof that the entire army had actually fled and was gone, whereupon there was a general raid upon the camp and its stores, which were so abundant that Elisha's prophecy was fulfilled ere the day ended. Verse 3. - And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate; or, at the entrance to the gate-house. Lepers were forbidden by the Law to reside within cities (Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:3). They were thrust out when the disease developed itself, and forced to dwell without the walls. No doubt their friends within the city ordinarily supplied them with food; and hence they congregated about the city gates. And they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die? In the extreme scarcity, it is probable that no food was brought to them, the inmates of the city having barely enough wherewith to sustain themselves (2 Kings 6:25). Thus they were on the point of perishing.
If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.
Verse 4. - If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. The lepers were certainly not at liberty to enter the city when they pleased; but perhaps they might have managed, in one way or another, to return within the walls. They ask themselves, however, "Cut bone?" What will he the use of it? The famine is inside the town no less than outside. If they entered the city, by hook or by crook, it would only be to "die there" And if we sit still here, we die also; rather, if we remain here, or, if we dwell here. Lepers, excluded from a city, are in the habit of building themselves huts near the gateways. "The lepers of Jerusalem, at the present day, have their tents by the side of the Zion gate" (Keil, ad loc.). If the leprous men remained where they were, death stared them in the face equally. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians. Let us, i.e., fall away from our own side, desert them, and go over to the enemy (comp. 2 Kings 25:11; Jeremiah 37:13, 14; Jeremiah 39:9; Jeremiah 52:15). If they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die; i.e. we cannot be worse off than we are, even if they kill us; while it may be that they will be more merciful, and let us live.
And they rose up in the twilight, to go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there.
Verse 5. - And they rose up in the twilight. Most certainly in the evening twilight, as soon as the sun was down (see ver. 9). Had they set off in the daytime, the garrison would have shot at them from the walls. To go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part - i.e. the most advanced part, that which was nearest to Samaria - of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there. The camp was empty, deserted. Not a soul was anywhere to be seen.
For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.
Verse 6. - For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host. קול, voice, is used for noises of any kind (see Exodus 20:18; Psalm 42:7; Psalm 93:4; Jeremiah 47:3; Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 3:13; Joel 2:5; Nahum 3:2), though generally for those in which the human voice preponderated. A noise like that of chariots and of horses and of a great host (חַאילִ גָדול) was borne in upon the ears of the Syrians about nightfall of the day on which Jehoram had determined to put Elisha to death; and, as they expected no reinforcements, they naturally concluded that succor had arrived to help their enemy. How the noise was produced it is impossible to say. Na-rural causes are insufficient; and the writer evidently regards the event as miraculous: "The Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise," etc. Nothing can be more weak and irrelevant than to remark, with Bahr," There are instances, even nowadays, that people in certain mountainous regions regard a rushing and roaring sound, such as is sometimes heard there, as a sign of coming war." The Syrians thought they heard the actual arrival of a vast army. And they said one to another, Lo, the King of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites. This supposition has been thought "strange," almost inexplicable. "No such nation as the Hittites any longer existed," says Mr. Sumner ('The Books of the Kings,' vol. 2. p. 72, Eng. trans.). But the Assyrian records of the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. make it evident, not only that the Hittites still existed at that date, but that they were among the most powerful enemies of the Ninevite kings, being located in Northern Syria, about Carchemish (Jerabus) and the adjacent country. It is also apparent that they did not form a centralized monarchy, but were governed by a number of chiefs, or "kings," twelve of whom are mentioned in one place (G. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' p. 112). It was no very improbable supposition on the part of the Syrians that Jehoram had called in the aid of the Hittite confederacy, and that they had marched an army to his assistance. And the kings of the Egyptians. "The plural, kings of the Egyptians," says Keil, "is not to be pressed. It is probably occasioned only by the parallel expression,' kings of the Hittites.'" But Egyptian history shows us that about this date Egypt was becoming disintegrated, and that two or three distinct dynasties were sometimes ruling at the same time, in different parts of the country - one at Bubastis another at Thebes, a third at Tanis, occasionally a fourth at Memphis (see "Ancient Egypt," in 'The Story of the Nations,' p. 311). The writer thus shows a knowledge of the internal condition of Egypt which we should not have expected. To come upon us; i.e. to fall upon us from the north and from the south at the same time. In their panic, the Syrians did not stop to weigh probabilities, or to think how unlikely it was that such a simultaneous attack could have been arranged between powers so remote one from the other.
Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life.
Verse 7. Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight. At the very time when the lepers were drawing off from the gate of Samaria to fall away to them (see ver. 5). And left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was. Partly, perhaps, in mere panic; partly to induce a belief on the part of the enemy that they had not quitted their camp. So Darius Hystaspis, when he began his retreat from Scythia (Herod., 4:135), left his camp standing, and the camp fires lighted, and the asses tethered (see ver. 10), that the Scythians, seeing the tents and hearing the noise of the animals, might be fully persuaded that his troops were still in the same place. Asses were the chief baggage-animals in many ancient armies. And fled for their life. Thinking that, if they waited till dawn, the Israelite allies, Hittites and Egyptians, would exterminate them.
And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it.
Verse 8. - And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp. The narrative, begun in ver. 3, is here taken up from the point where it was broken off in ver. 5, and the phrase there used is repeated, to mark the connection. They went into one tent, and did eat and drink. The first necessity was to satisfy the cravings of their appetite, as they were well-nigh starving. Then their covetousness was excited by the riches exposed to view in the tent. And carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment. Oriental armies carried with them vast quantities of the precious metals, in the shape of gold and silver vases, goblets, dishes, as well as in collars, chains, furniture, and trappings. Herodotus says (9:80) that, when the camp of Mardonius at Plataea fell into the hands of the Greeks, there were found in it "many tents richly adorned with furniture of gold and silver, many couches covered with plates of the same, and many golden bowls, goblets, and other drinking-vessels. On the carriages were bags containing gold and silver kettles; and the bodies of the slain furnished bracelets and chains, and scimitars with golden ornaments - not to mention era-broidered apparel, of which no one made any account." The camp of the Syrians would scarcely have been so richly provided; but still it contained, no doubt, a large amount of very valuable plunder. And went and hid it. The lepers had no right to the pick of the spoil. It belonged to the nation, and it was probably the king's right to apportion it. The lepers had to conceal what they appropriated, lest it should he taken from them. And came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it. Plundering thus probably, not two tents only, but several. At last, either covetousness was satiated or conscience awoke.
Then they said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household.
Verse 9. - Then they said one to another, We do not well. It was a tardy recognition of what their duty required of them. As Grotius says, "Officium civium est ea indicate, quae ad salutem publicam pertinent." Their fellow-countrymen in the city of Samaria were perishing of hunger, mothers eating their children, and the like, while they employed hour after hour in collecting and hiding away their booty. They ought, as soon as they had satisfied their hunger, to have hurried back to the city and spread the good news. This day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace; i.e. we keep silence, and do not proclaim them, as we ought. If we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us; rather, punishment will fall on us; we shall suffer for what we have done - a very reasonable supposition. Now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household. The "king's household" means the court, the medium through which the king was ordinarily approached.
So they came and called unto the porter of the city: and they told them, saying, We came to the camp of the Syrians, and, behold, there was no man there, neither voice of man, but horses tied, and asses tied, and the tents as they were.
Verse 10. - So they came and called unto the porter of the city; i.e. to the guard of the gate nearest them. The word שֹׂעַד, "porter," or "gate-man," is used collectively. And they told them, saying, We came to the camp of the Syrians, and, behold, there was no man there, neither voice of man, but horses tied, and asses tied, and the tents as they were. The horses and asses within a camp were always "tied," or tethered, as we see from the monumental representations of Egyptian camps (Rawlinson, 'History of Ancient Egypt,' vol. 1. p. 476), and also learn from historians (Herod., 4:135). It is somewhat surprising that the horses were left behind, as they would have expedited the flight had they been saddled and mounted. But this was, perhaps, overlooked in the panic.
And he called the porters; and they told it to the king's house within.
Verse 11. - And he called the porters; and they told it to the king's house within; rather, and the porters (or, gate-keepers) called out and told it, etc. יִקְרָא may be a plural before its subject; or the true reading may be יִקְרְאוּ, which is found in some manuscripts.
And the king arose in the night, and said unto his servants, I will now shew you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we be hungry; therefore are they gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, When they come out of the city, we shall catch them alive, and get into the city.
Verse 12. - And the king arose in the night, and said unto his servants, I will now show 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. Jehoram, knowing of no reason for the flight of the Syrians, suspected a not uncommon stratagem. He supposed that the enemy had merely gone a little way from their camp, and placed themselves in ambush, ready to take ad- vantage of any rash movement which the Israelites might make. So Cyrus is said to have entrapped and slaughtered Spargapises, the son of Tomyris, together with a large detachment, in his last war against the Massagetae (Herod., 1:211). His supposition was not unreasonable. Saying, When they come out of the city, we shall catch them alive, and get into the city. A double advantage might be expected to follow - those who quitted the town to plunder the camp would be surrounded and made prisoners, while the town itself, left without defenders, would be captured. Compare the capture of Ai by Joshua (Joshua 8:3-19), when the chief part of the garrison had been enticed out of it.
And one of his servants answered and said, Let some take, I pray thee, five of the horses that remain, which are left in the city, (behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it: behold, I say, they are even as all the multitude of the Israelites that are consumed:) and let us send and see.
Verse 13. - And one of his servants answered and said, Let some take, I pray thee, five of the horses that remain. One of Jehoram's "servants," i.e. of the officers attached to his person, suggested that a small body of horse (four or five) should be sent out to reconnoiter. The besieged had still some horses left, though apparently not many. Note the phrase, "five of the horses that remain." The majority had died of want, or been killed to furnish food to the garrison. (Behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it - i.e. in Samaria - behold, I say, they are even as all the multitude of the Israelites that are consumed); i.e. they will run no more risk than the other troops who remain in the city, for these, too, "are consumed," i.e. are on the point of perishing. Supposing that they fall into the enemy's hands, it will go no harder with them than with the "multitude" which is on the point of starvation. And let us send and see. We can do nothing until we know whether the siege is really raised, or whether the pretended withdrawal is a mere ruse. We must send and have this matter made clear.
They took therefore two chariot horses; and the king sent after the host of the Syrians, saying, Go and see.
Verse 14. - They took therefore two chariot horses; literally, two chariots of horses; i.e. two chariots, with the accustomed number of horses, which (with the Israelites) was two, though with the Assyrians and Egyptians it was frequently three. The employment of chariots instead of horsemen is remarkable, and seems to indicate that with the Israelites, as with the Egyptians, the chariot force was regarded as superior to the cavalry for practical purposes. And the king sent after the host of the Syrians, saying, Go and see. The advice of the king's "servant" was taken; a couple of chariots were sent out to reconnoiter.
And they went after them unto Jordan: and, lo, all the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste. And the messengers returned, and told the king.
Verse 15. - And they went after them unto Jordan. The charioteers, finding the camp really empty, discovering no ambush, and coming upon abundant signs of a hasty and perturbed flight, followed upon the track of the fugitives until they reached the Jordan, probably in the vicinity of Beth-shah, which lay on the ordinary route between Samaria and Damascus. Convinced by what they saw that the Syrians had really withdrawn into their own country, they pursued no further, but returned to Samaria. And, lo, all the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste. Cloaks, shawls, shields, and even swords and spears, would be cast away as impedimenta - hindrances to a rapid flight. These strewed the line of the retreating army's march. And the messengers returned, and told the king. Gave a full and complete account of what they had seen.
And the people went out, and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD.
Verse 16. - And the people went out, and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. The whole population of Samaria, with one accord, quitted the town, and flung themselves upon the spoil - the rich garments, the gold and silver vessels, the horses and asses, of which mention had been made previously (vers. 8-10). At the same time, no doubt, they feasted on the abundant dainties which they found in the tents. Having satisfied their immediate wants, they proceeded to lay in a store of corn for future use, and crowded tumultuously into the gate, where the corn found in the camp was being sold. So a measure of fine flour; rather, and a measure, etc. - was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord (see ver. 1).
And 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 when the king came down to him.
Verse 17. - And the king appointed the lord on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate. Anticipating disorder, unless special care were taken, through the probable eagerness of the people to purchase the corn which was offered to them at so moderate a rate, Jehoram appointed the officer on whose arm he had leant when he visited the house of Elisha (see ver. 2), to have the charge of the gate, and preside over the sale. Probably there was no thought of the post being one of danger. And the people trod upon him in the gate, and he died. It has been questioned whether the death was accidental (Bahr), and suggested that the eager and famished people resisted his authority, and violently bore down his attempts to control them. But there is nothing in the text that is incompatible with an accidental death. Such deaths ate not uncommon in dense crowds of anxious and excited people. As the man of God had said, who spake when the king came down to him. The varieties of reading here do not affect the general sense. The writer's intention is to lay special stress on the fulfillment of Elisha's prophecy; and to emphasize the punishment that follows on a lack of faith. The concluding passage of the chapter is, as Bahr says, "a finger of warning to unbelievers."
And it came to pass as the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, Two measures of barley for a shekel, and a measure of fine flour for a shekel, shall be to morrow about this time in the gate of Samaria:
Verse 18. - And it came to pass as the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, Two measures of barley for a shekel, and a measure of fine flour for a shekel, shall be tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria. The otiose repetition of almost the whole of ver. 1 can only be explained as a mode of emphasizing, and so impressing upon the reader two main points:
(1) Elisha's prophetic powers; and
(2) the dreadful consequences that follow on scornful rejection of a message from God (see the comment on ver. 2).
And that lord answered the man of God, and said, Now, behold, if the LORD should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.
Verse 19. - And that lord answered the man of God, and said, Now, behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof (see the comment on the preceding verse).
And so it fell out unto him: for the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died.
Verse 20. - And so it fell out unto him; i.e. the prophecy was exactly fulfilled. The lord, being appointed to keep order in the gate where the corn was sold, "saw with his eyes" (ver. 2) the wonderful fall of prices within the short space of twenty-four hours, which Elisha had prophesied; but "did not eat thereof" - did not, in his own person, obtain any benefit from the sudden plenty, since he perished before he could profit by it. For the people trod upon him in the gate, and he died (see the comment on ver. 17).