Famine in Samaria
Ben-hadad, king of Syria, came with his large army and besieged Samaria. The resulting famine was severe, and the head of an ass, an unclean animal (Deut 14.4-8), was sold at a high price. There was cannibalism among the people, who had been warned that such would occur if they turned from God and worshipped idols (Lev 26.29). The nation continued to disobey God, but the king blamed Elisha for the terrible conditions and swore to kill him.
Having been forewarned by God, Elisha told the elders of Israel that a messenger from the king was on his way to slay him. He told the elders to prevent the messenger from entering his house until the king would arrive and cancel the execution. The king, believing that the famine had been caused by the Lord, saw no possibility of His helping the nation, and so thought the situation was hopeless (2 Kgs 6.24-33). God then used Elisha to prophesy that, on the following day, flour and barley would be sold very cheaply in the gate of Samaria. An official who accompanied the king was very sceptical and, not realising that "with God all things are possible" (Mk 10.27), and that He can do "above all that we ask or think" (Eph 3.20), cast doubt on the reliability of the prophecy. Elisha told the official that he would see the fulfilment of the prophecy, but would not live to enjoy partaking of the abundant food (2 Kgs 7.1-2). Those who do not believe the Word of God, and trust in the promises found therein, will not enjoy the blessings that result from faith.
A remarkable series of events occurred which showed the sovereignty of God. There were four leprous men outside the gate of Samaria. Being leprous they were not allowed to go into the city (Num 5.2-3). The men knew that if they stayed where they were they would die, as indeed they would if they went into the city in which there was no food, so they decided to go over to the Syrian camp and surrender. The Syrians might kill them but, then again, they might not. In the evening, the four men made their way towards the Syrian camp. They found that it was deserted, for the Lord had caused the Syrians to hear what they thought was the approach of a large army with chariots and horses. They had therefore fled, leaving behind the camp just as it was, with the tents and animals. The lepers went into the tents, ate and drank, took clothes and valuables, and hid them. Fearing punishment, they returned to the city and told the people that the siege was over. They too went to the Syrian camp and took what they wanted, with the result that the price of food fell dramatically, as prophesied by Elisha (2 Kgs 7.3-16).
The king put the man who had not believed Elisha's prophecy in charge of the gate, but he was trampled and died as a result of the great rush to leave the city and get to the Syrian camp. So, as Elisha had foretold, the official saw the price of food fall but did not partake of any. The man died because he did not believe that God would do as Elisha had said. It makes us think of the many people who do not have spiritual life because they do not believe God's gracious way of salvation (vv 17-20).
The four lepers were like lost sinners. They were hopeless and helpless and could do nothing for themselves. They sat outside the gate of a city which had nothing to satisfy them or meet their needs. The world has nothing to meet the unsatisfied needs of sinners, which they themselves often cannot identify nor define. Sinners need to know that salvation is to be found only in the One who is the "bread of life" (Jn 6.35). There was only one way for the lepers to be saved from physical death, and that was for them to take the food made freely available to them by the omnipotent, gracious God. There is only one way for a sinner to be saved, and that is to repent and put his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16.31). To the sinner, salvation is free and eternal, and completely satisfies the deepest longing of a soul. At the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ was victorious over sin, death and Satan. The believer has been saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 5.9), the power of sin in this life (Rom 6.14), and in eternity will be saved from the very presence of sin (1 Jn 3.2).
Initially, the lepers kept the food and other items for their own use, but they realised that they should make known these blessings to the starving people of the city. They said "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" (2 Kgs 7.9). Those of us who have been saved by grace must go and tell the good tidings, the way of salvation, to all with whom we make contact (Rom 10.13-15).
The Shunammite woman, who had looked after Elisha and treated him well (2 Kgs 4.8-37), was warned by Elisha of a coming seven-year famine. He advised the woman to take her family and live somewhere else. It seems that the famine was restricted to Israel, and was a result of the nation's sin (Deut 28.38-40). Knowing Elisha to be a man of God, the woman believed what he said, took her family to the land of the Philistines, and lived there for seven years. At the end of that period she returned, and went to the king to appeal for the return of her house and land. At the time the woman made the appeal, the king was talking to Gehazi, who had been Elisha's servant and had been struck with leprosy because of his covetousness and dishonesty (2 Kgs 5.20-27). Once again, the omniscience and sovereignty of God is shown in the sequence of events which occurred. Even as Gehazi was telling the king about the wonderful things God had done through the prophet Elisha, and how he had restored a dead boy to life, the woman and her son arrived. Gehazi told the king that these were the very woman and boy of whom he had been speaking. She told the king all that had happened, and the king instructed one of his officials to ensure that all that belonged to the woman was restored to her, including the value that could have been obtained from her crops since she left the land of Israel (8.1-6).
The experiences of the Shunammite woman contrast sharply with those of the official who was sceptical and refused to believe the prophecy of Elisha that the famine would soon be brought to an end (7.1-20). The believing woman was blessed, but the disbelieving official did not share the blessing that came to the nation. The continuous care of God for every aspect of the lives of His children is illustrated by the way the woman's possessions were restored to her. God, who is love (1 Jn 4.8), watches over us continually. He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps 121.4). Sometimes, in His infinite wisdom and grace, He allows His children to pass through very trying and difficult experiences. We are told not to be over-anxious concerning anything but to pray about everything, with thanksgiving, offering up prayers and requests to God (Phil 4.6). God is to be praised and thanked, for we know that He is working all things together for our ultimate good, and for His glory (Rom 8.28). (To be continued …)