ELISHA AND THE ARAMEANS 2 Kings 6–8“Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard”(2 Kings 6:10).In the most troubled of times there are still indications of God’s power and presence. Even when enemies surround, faith remains aware that God is in charge.
Hostilities between Aram and Israel extend into this period. Ben-Hadad II mounted a full-scale invasion and besieged Samaria. During these years there is no evidence of a true revival in Israel, despite the active ministry of Elisha. The enemy invasion, mention of a seven-year famine, and reduction of the people of Samaria to cannibalism, are all divine judgments on an unresponsive king and people (cf. esp. Lev. 26:29; Deut. 28:53–57). Elisha’s ministry, so clear a testimony to the power and love of Israel’s God, should have stimulated a return to the Lord. Yet despite familiarity with Elisha and God’s acts through the prophet, the king and people continued to do evil.
Elisha continued to aid individuals (6:1–7), but also aided the nation. The prophet revealed the plans of the Arameans (Syrians) (vv. 8–23), and announced that God would lift the siege of starving Samaria (v. 24–7:20). Elisha’s reputation aided the Shunammite woman (8:1–6). As the age of Elisha drew to a close the prophet anointed Hazael to be king of Aram (vv. 7–15), while in Judah Jehoram (vv. 16–24) and then Ahaziah (vv. 25–29) became king.
Understanding the Text
“It was borrowed!” 2 Kings 6:1–7 The loss of a borrowed axhead was a disaster, for under the law the person who borrowed it was to repay the lender. Elisha’s miraculous intervention is an indication that God is concerned with the personal problems of individuals. God is never so busy taking care of the world that He has no time for you or me. “O Lord, open his eyes” 2 Kings 6:8–17. When Ben-Hadad II realized his raids into Israel failed because the Prophet Elisha knew his plans ahead of time and gave warning, the king sent a force of soldiers to capture him. Here again is one of the Bible’s most familiar stories, perhaps because it is so comforting. When Elisha’s servant saw the enemy army surrounding the city where they had slept, he was terrified. But when Elisha prayed, God let the servant see what Elisha knew was there: a protective army of flaming angels between them and the enemy. We may not be able to see the guard God has set around us. But faith assures us it is there. Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them.” “Shall I kill them?” 2 Kings 6:18–23 Elisha then led the supernaturally “blinded” Syrians into Samaria itself. When the king excitedly asked if he should kill his enemies, Elisha had him prepare a feast for them, as honored guests. We’re not told why this treatment temporarily stopped the raids on Israel (v. 23). Some suggest the kind treatment shamed Ben-Hadad. It seems more likely the Syrian king stopped in frustration. Why raid an enemy you never seem to harm? At any rate, the incident illustrates the impact of following a course later outlined in Proverbs 25 and commanded by the Apostle Paul: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” The Christian is not to “be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:20–21). It’s not only right to follow this principle. It works! “Ben-Hadad . . . laid siege to Samaria” 2 Kings 6:24–7:2. A full-scale invasion of Israel brought Samaria to the brink of starvation. When the desperate king confronted Elisha, the prophet promised that the very next day bushels of grain would be sold at the gate of the city. The immediate reaction of one royal officer was, “Impossible.” This is an attitude we need to guard against. Nothing is impossible with God, as the rest of the story reminds us. But we also need to learn from the unbelieving official. Elisha told him he would see what God did-but would not benefit from it. The next day that officer did see stores of food at Samaria’s gate. But he was crushed to death in the rush of the starving mob eager to get to it. Our unbelief will not keep God from working His miracles. All our unbelief will do is keep us from benefiting from them. “This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves” 2 Kings 7:3–20. These words of four lepers who discovered that the Syrians had fled their camp, leaving all their supplies, are often quoted in sermons urging Christians to personal evangelism. Good news, the news that impending death has given way to the prospect of life, is too important to be kept from dying men and women. But perhaps the role of the four lepers was even greater than appears on the surface. The Hebrew text says that they approached “the edge of the camp,” meaning that they looked for a spot at the furthest edge of the Syrian encampment where they might creep in and possibly find food. One commentator suggests that the stealthy passage of the four lepers outside the enemy lines might have been vital to the miracle. Perhaps God “magnified their stumbling footsteps,” so that they seemed like the approach of a great army, and so terrified the Arameans that “they got up and fled in the dusk” (v. 7). Whether this theory is true or not, it is surely true that as you and I take our first hesitant steps toward sharing our faith, God will already be at work in the hearts of those we approach. The God who did the impossible and fed a starving city still does the impossible, turning hard hearts to Himself in our day. “Hazael went to meet Elisha” 2 Kings 8:1–29. As Elisha’s ministry drew to a close, he was told to anoint Hazael to succeed Ben-Hadad II. The prophet obeyed, even though he wept in anguish. Elisha knew Hazael’s plot to kill and replace Ben-Hadad (cf. v. 11), and also knew that as king of Syria, Hazael would bring disaster on Israel. As the era drew to a close, two kings ruled briefly in Judah, which was soon to be drawn deeply into sin by a ruler dedicated to evil.
Angry with God? (2 Kings 6:24–7:20)
Is it ever right to be angry with God? Perhaps. Even Moses was angry with God for burdening him with an intractable mob of Israelites (Ex. 17:4; Num. 11:11–15). But there was something very wrong when Jehoram’s anger flared. A lengthy siege had brought Samaria to the verge of starvation. Desperate, King Jehoram even put on sackcloth, a rough, abrasive garment signifying both grief and repentance. He did not, however, wear it openly, but under his royal garments. This was a grudging admission by Jehoram that perhaps his sins had contributed to the disaster. But it fell far short of an open and public call to repentance (cf. Jonah 3:6–10). Then, walking the city walls one day, the king heard the plea of a woman who had resorted to cannibalism. He cried out in horror and rage, and his suppressed anger overflowed. “Bring me the head of Elisha,” Jehoram ordered. If the king could not strike out at God, he would at least strike at God through His prophet! Before the command could be carried out Jehoram changed his mind, and hurried to overtake the executioner. In the prophet’s house the king revealed his bitterness. “This disaster is from the Lord,” Jehoram said. And, “Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” Think for a moment about what the king’s words and behavior reveal. Jehoram knew that God was behind the suffering of his people. Jehoram had donned sackcloth as a sign of personal repentance, and in the knowledge that Israel’s only hope was that God would act. Yet Jehoram’s “repentance” was not real. His sins had been public, yet he hid the sackcloth that signified sorrow for sin and failed to call on his people to repent. Even the horror of cannibalism did not humble Jehoram, but made him angry! Self-righteously Jehoram blamed God for not accepting his grudging confession. In complaining, “Why should I wait on the Lord any longer?” Jehoram was saying, “I’ve pushed the right buttons, God. Now, blast You, why are You making me wait?” Yes, godly men and women may be angry with God at times. But Jehoram’s anger was of a different sort. He was angry with God when he himself was to blame, and angry that God would not accept his pouting, grudging, partial, “I’m sorry.” The kind of anger Jehoram felt and finally expressed, grew from his own stubborn refusal to admit his sins and to bow in humility before the Lord.
Feeling angry at God may be a sign we need to check our personal relationship with Him.