The Four Lepers
2 Kings 7:3-11
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?…

"God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform." Speculation might have exhausted itself in vain in conjecturing how Elisha's prediction was to be accomplished. Nevertheless, the wonder was performed by a series of events as simple as it was unlooked for.


1. The lepers at the gate. We are first introduced to four lepers at the entering in of the gate. They were outside, and had hitherto subsisted by food handed out or thrown to them from within. But now the famine in the city made such assistance impossible, and the four men were dying of hunger. Poor, pitiable objects, the last persons to whom any one would have thought of looking for a glimpse of hope on the situation within the walls. Yet these despised lepers were to be, in a sense, the saviors of the city. We cannot but reflect on the humble and seemingly unlikely instruments God often chooses to accomplish his ends. He puts the "treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:7). As if to abase human pride, he purposely selects instrumentalities which the wisdom of man would scorn.

2. Dire alternatives. Brought face to face with death, the poor lepers are forced to the earnest consideration of their position. What could they do? If they stay where they are they must die, and if they enter the city they must die. There remains the alternative, only to be contemplated as a last resource, of going over to the camp of the enemy. This has been put off as long as possible; but it appears now to be the only course which affords them any chance of life. Suppose the Syrians kill them, they are no worse off than before; if the Syrians take pity on them and save them alive, they shall live. The chance of life may be faint, but it is the only one left, and better than none. When men are in earnest, a very slight probability suffices them to act upon. They discover the truth of Butler's axiom that "probability is the guide of life." Did these men not act rationally in allowing even a slight probability to turn the balance of their action? How should it be otherwise when we deal with spiritual things? A man is in doubt as to the existence of God, as to the reality of a future life, etc. It may seem to him that the evidence for these truths amounts to no more than probability. He perhaps makes this an excuse for dismissing the consideration of them from his mind. But ought he not to give weight to this probability in action? In another way the doubter may take a leaf from the lepers' book. If he remains where he is, he perishes, for atheism can hold out to him no other hope. But if, on the ground even of a slight balance of probability, he acts on the lines of Christ's religion, he can be no worse than he is, while, if that religion is true (we speak only from his standpoint), he obtains eternal advantage. Or is the doubter one who does not question the truth of the gospel, but only questions his own right to appropriate its provisions? Let such a one imitate Esther, who, with the words on her lips, "If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16), went in to Ahasuerus. Let him cast himself on Christ, and leave himself there. He will find, like Esther, that he does not perish.

3. The Divine will and the human will. In these consultations among themselves, the lepers were moved only by the consideration of their own misery. They neither knew of Elisha's prediction, nor had any thought of aiding to fulfill it. Yet all the while they were working out God's secret counsel. They were, while seeking their own ends, the unconscious instruments of a higher will than their own. Thus are we all. Man's passions, ambitions, wants, follies, sins even, are subordinated in providence to the fulfilling of all-wise, comprehensive purposes, of which the immediate actors have no glimpse. "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever; the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Psalm 33:11).


1. An astonishing discovery. At nightfall, in pursuance of their purpose, the lepers betook themselves to the camp of the Syrians. It was the evening of the day on which Elisha had made his promise. Of the hope then held out they were ignorant, but they were to be the first to make the discovery that deliverance had been wrought. It would be with fear and trembling that they approached the well-appointed tents, and the very silence that everywhere prevailed would strike them at first with new awe. But now an astonishing state of things revealed itself. The camp was there - that camp so lately astir with military life - but not a soul was to be seen in it. Absolute stillness reigned throughout the tents; or, if sounds were heard, they were only those of the horses and asses which were left without masters. Thus near may our salvation be to us, and we know it not.

2. The flight of the Syrians. The explanation of the state of things which the lepers discovered is given in vers. 6, 7. The Syrians themselves may in later years have told the story, or it may have been got from Elisha, whose prophetic gift gave him the knowledge of what had taken place. The Syrians, it appears, had heard strange noises - sounds as of chariots and horses and of a great host; and, smitten with sudden panic, believing that the Hittites or Egyptians had brought help to the Israelites, they at once abandoned everything and fled. The panic was of supernatural intensity, as the sounds were of supernatural origin. The mind of man, no less than external natural conditions, is in the hand of God. He can smite with "madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart" (Deuteronomy 28:28); can make men the sport of their own imaginations and delusions. Such penalties are threatened against the wicked.

3. Dividing the spoil. The first impulse of the lepers, when they discovered that the camp was literally empty, was to supply their own wants. We can fancy them rubbing their eyes, and wondering if what they beheld was not all a dream. There around them, as if in some region of enchantment, were food and drink in abundance, with gold, silver, raiment, and valuables of every kind. They were stunned with their good fortune, and wandered about from tent to tent, eating and drinking, and carrying oat the good things they saw, to hide them. We can compare with the surprise of these lepers the joy of the soul on its first discovery of "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). How infinite, grand, and varied the provision found in him, the riches of salvation, the supply for spiritual wants, the treasures for the enrichment and beautification of the soul! and how wondrously and unexpectedly these burst upon the view when God "reveals his Son" in us (Galatians 1:16). At first the absorbing concern is for one's self - the engrossing thought is to appropriate what is necessary for our own life. But this stage, as in the case of the lepers, soon passes by, and gives place to another less selfish.


1. Self-rebuke. Four leprous men alone in that great camp, and a city near at hand perishing of hunger: it was a strange situation. The lepers themselves began to feel they were not acting rightly in delaying to carry the news of this astonishing plenty to their famine-stricken brethren. "We do not well," they said: "this is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace." Does not every mind feel that their words were just? Would it not have been selfishness unspeakable had they continued to think only of themselves, and delayed to carry the good tidings to their friends in the city? Acting thus selfishly, might they not justly fear that some "mischief" would come upon them? And did they not at length do right in saying, "Now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household"? The application is obvious to our own duty as those who possess the saving knowledge of the true God, and of Jesus Christ his Son. "We do not well," if we withhold it from those who are perishing for lack of this knowledge (Hosea 4:6). How many are in this condition! The whole heathen world, and ignorant multitudes are around us. "It is a day of good tidings:" shall we not make these good tidings known? "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). "Shall we whose souls are lighted," etc.?

2. Bearing good news. The lepers delayed no more, but hastened to the gate of the city, and told their wonderful story to the porter, who told it to others, who carried it to the king's house. Thus, from one to another, the news spread. It was not reckoned any drawback to it that they were lepers who brought it. - J.O.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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?

WEB: Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate. They said one to another, "Why do we sit here until we die?

The Force of Will
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