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Commentary on KINGS (or 1 & 2 Kings)

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Book of Kings (Kings 1 & 2) Part 6.

The Elisha Miracles (2.2.1-25; 4.1-6.23), His Prophetic Involvement In The Victory Over Moab (3.1-27), And Further Subsequent Events Where YHWH’s Power Through Elisha Is Revealed (6.24-8.15).

We move away in this section from the annals of the kings of Israel and Judah, to the memoirs of the sons of the prophets, although even then possibly intermingled with further extracts from the official annals (e.g. 3.1-27). The events that will follow, in which YHWH’s power through his prophet Elisha is remarkably revealed, were crucial to the maintenance of faith in YHWH at a time of gross apostasy. Just as YHWH through Moses had boosted the faith of Israel at the Exodus with specific miracles, and just as Jesus Himself would evidence His Messiahship by even greater miracles (Matthew 11.2-6), followed by miracles which accredited His Apostles (Mark 16.17-18; Acts 4.29-30; 5.12; Hebrews 2.3-4) so now in these perilous times for Yahwism (the worship of YHWH, the God of Israel), God encouraged the faithful by miracles, some of which were remarkably similar, although lesser in extent, to those of Jesus. To call them pointless, as some have done, is to ignore the privations and dangers facing the ‘sons of the prophets’ and all true Yahwists, dangers under which the very core of the faithful in Israel were living. Under such circumstances they needed their faith boosting in special ways. It is not without note that similar miracles have been experienced through the ages when Christian men and women have been facing up to particular difficulties and persecutions (as with the Corrie Ten Boom miracle described previously at 1 Kings 17.16).

It is also interesting to note that in some ways Elisha’s spate of miracles can be seen as having commenced with his seeing a ‘resurrection’, accompanied by a reception of the Spirit, as Elijah was snatched up into Heaven. It may be seen as a pointer to the future.

Note On The Two Contrasting Scholastic Approaches To These Passages.

Scholars are basically divided into two groups when considering these passages. On the one hand are those who believe that God was ready to perform special miracles in certain circumstances, in this case in view of the parlous situation in which most in Israel had mainly lost their faith, and on the other are those who dogmatically assert that such miracles could not have taken place per se, and that they must therefore be seen as legendary a priori (thus they speak of them as ‘saga’). Clearly the sceptical scholar must then find some way of discrediting, at least partially, the material in question, but when they do, it should only in fairness be recognised on their side, that they often do so on the basis of their dogmatic presuppositions, (which they are, of course, perfectly entitled to in a free world), and not on the basis of the text. Indeed had no miracles been involved it is doubtful whether, on the whole, they would have reached the same literary conclusions as the ones they now argue for (and disagree with each other about, like us all).

For the truth is that there are no grounds in the text for rejecting the miracles. Indeed in view of the soberness with which they are presented we can argue that there are actually grounds for accepting that the miracles did occur in front of eyewitness. The case is thus really settled by these scholars on the basis of external presuppositions and philosophical presumptions, which, of course, we all have (or in some cases even through fear of what their fellow scholars might think).

Unfortunately for these scholars their problem is exacerbated by the quantity and diversity of the miracles, and the differing places where they come in the text. Thus their ‘explanations’ have to become many and varied, one might almost say amusing in their complexity, were it not for the seriousness of the issue involved. For the author was not generous enough to limit his account of miracles to one section alone. Thus they even appear in passages almost certainly taken from the official annals of the kings of Israel and Judah. It must be recognised that many of these scholastic interpretations are based simply on the initial dogmatic position that ‘miracles do not happen’ so that they feel it incumbent on them to find another explanation. The literary arguments are then often manoeuvred in order to ‘prove’ their case. because they are convinced that it must be so. As a result they find what they want to find (a danger with us all). That is not the right way in which to approach literary criticism.

While we ourselves are wary of too glib a claim to ‘miracles’ through the ages, and would agree that large numbers of them have been manufactured for convenience, or accepted on insufficient grounds while having natural explanations, we stand firmly on the fact that at certain stages in history, of which this was one, God has used the miraculous in order to deliver His people. And we therefore in each case seek to consider the evidence. There are no genuine grounds for suggesting that prophetic writers enhanced miracles. Indeed it is noteworthy that outside the Exodus and the Conquest, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and the times of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, such miracles in Scripture were comparatively rare events. It will also be noted that Elisha undoubtedly had a reputation in his own time as a wonderworker (5.3; 6.12; 8.4). We thus accept the genuineness of the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, considering that it is the only explanation that fits the soberness of the accounts with which we are presented, just as we similarly accept the similar miracles of Jesus Christ and His Apostles because of Who He proved Himself to be.

And that is the point. We do not just accept such miracles by an act of optional faith, or because we are ‘credulous’. We accept them as a reality because they were a reality to Jesus Christ, and because we know that we have sufficient evidence from His life and teaching to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was Who He claimed to be, the only and unique Son of God. And we remember that He clearly assumed Elijah’s and Elisha’s miracles to have been authentic (Luke 4.26-27; 9.54-56). Our belief in the miracles of Elijah and Elisha is thus finally founded on our belief in Jesus Christ as the true and eternal Son of God.

(This is not to make any judgments about the genuine Christian beliefs among some who disagree with us. Man has an infinite capacity to split his mind into different boxes).

End of note.

This Elisha material from 2.1-8.15 can be divided into two sections, which are clearly indicated:

  • 1). SECTION 7 (2.1-3.27). After the taking of Elijah into Heaven Elisha enters Canaan as Israel had before him, by parting the Jordan, and then advances on Jericho, where he brings restored water to those who believe, after which he advances on Bethel, where he brings judgment on those who are unbelievers. And this is followed by a summary of the commencement of the reign of Jehoram, and an incident in his life where Elisha prophesies the provision of water for the host of Israel, something which is then followed by the sacrificing, by the rebellious and unbelieving king of Moab, of his son (2.1-3.27). In both these incidents the purpose of his ministry is brought out, that is, to bring blessing to true believers, and judgment on those who have turned from YHWH,
  • 2). SECTION 8 (4.1-8.15). In this section the kings of Israel are deliberately anonymous while the emphasis is on YHWH’s wonderworking power active through Elisha which continues to be effectively revealed (4.1-8.15). The kings simply operate as background material to this display of YHWH’s power. In contrast from 8.16 the reign of Jehoram is again specifically taken up, signalling the commencement of a new section with the kings once more prominent.

SECTION 7. Elisha Enters Canaan To Take Possession Of It For YHWH And Moab’s Rebellion Against Israel Is Put Down With Tragic Consequences (2.2.1-3.27).

In our view the entry of Elisha into Canaan by parting the Jordan and advancing on Jericho and Bethel (following Elijah’s reverse procedure, and following in Joshua’s footsteps) indicated quite clearly that Elisha was to be seen as representing the true Israel advancing in order to claim Canaan for YHWH. (We can compare later Jesus Christ’s advance out of Egypt for a similar reason in Matthew 2.15). This was then followed by an indication of what he had come to do, bring blessing and life to the faithful, and cursing and death on the unbelieving.

Following this we then have an example of rebellion as Moab rebelled against Israel. It was a rebellion in which the forces of YHWH were blessed with the provision of water, while Moab was cursed through the action of its king in sacrificing his own son in order to end the siege.

Section Analysis.

  • 1). The entry of Elisha into Canaan against a rebellious Israel, and his provision of fresh water for the believing, and his cursing of the unbelieving (2.1-25).

    This can be divided into:

    A. The taking up of Elijah and entry into Canaan of Elisha (2.1-18).
    B. The purifying of the waters at Jericho (2.19-22).
    C. The cursing of the mockers at Bethel (2.23-25).

  • 2). The entry of Israel Judah and Edom into Moab against a rebellious Moab and the provision of fresh water by YHWH for His people, while the king of Moab had to offer up his own son as a burnt-offering bringing a curse on himself and wrath on Israel (3.1-27).

A. Elijah Is Taken Away By YHWH Into Heaven And His Spirit Comes on Elisha Who Re-enters Canaan (2.2.1-18).

In this remarkable account we have the first definite indication in Scripture that a man can be taken up into Heaven. Such conceptions were generally avoided in Israel because of polytheistic ideas about the world of the gods. Any detailed reference to Heaven would have been misunderstood in those terms. Thus even here we learn the fact, but are given no details about it whatsoever. God wanted men to concentrate on living their lives in this world, in spiritual communication with Himself, not to be speculating on the next world. But for all believers from then on the taking of Elijah was an indication that death was not the end, without taking the matter any further (but compare Psalm 16.11; 17.15; 23.6, which are Psalms of David).

The account commences by making clear that what will happen is the sovereign purpose of YHWH Himself, ‘and it came about, when YHWH would take up Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven’ (verse 1). Man was not involved in the decision in any way. Unlike myths in other countries it was not a question of a man seeking to pierce the world of the gods and obtain immortality. It was all of God’s doing. Elijah’s ministry had been fulfilled and God was using the opportunity to establish the faith of Elisha, while at the same time taking His faithful servant to Himself. Incidentally the emphasis is clearly on Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind, not in a chariot of fire. The ‘chariots of Israel’ were not for general conveyance purposes, but in order to make clear to Elisha that his dependence must be on ‘the things that are (usually) invisible’. Compare 6.17. From this moment on Elisha never doubted that he was surrounded by the chariots of God.

We are not given any indication as to when this event occurred. It is placed here in order to emphasise the superiority of Elisha’s ‘coronation’ to that of Jehoram’s. But it did not necessarily occur before it, and the letter that Elijah sent to Jehoram of Judah (2 Chronicles 21.12), no doubt early in his reign as the direction of his reign became apparent, suggests otherwise (although his tendencies might have been apparent during his co-regency so that the letter could have been written in readiness for when he had become sole king, and delivered posthumously). Nor is this contradicted by the fact that Elisha was consulted by the kings in chapter 3. Elisha was consulted there because he was available to hand, on a special assignment to the army, not necessarily because Elijah was dead. Indeed the account suggests that his credibility at that stage was dependent on the recent relationship that he had had with Elijah as his ‘servant’ (3.11). This had seemingly ceased because of this special assignment, but it still gave him, as a young prophet, credibility.

The significance of the details of the journey should not be overlooked. They moved from Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan, followed by the miraculous crossing of the Jordan, which was the precise reversal of what had happened when Israel had first taken possession of Canaan under Joshua. In view of the parallel miracle at the Jordan this surely cannot be coincidental. Elisha would then reverse the journey the opposite way round. It was an indication that YHWH was offering Israel, through Elisha, a new beginning, something which increases the significance of what then happened at Bethel.

The passing on of the Spirit to Elisha looks back to the similar occurrences with Moses and the elders (Numbers 11.16-17) and Moses and Joshua (Deuteronomy 34.9). Elisha was Elijah’s God-appointed successor. Nevertheless Elijah would not presume to promise him the firstborn’s portion (the double portion) of ‘the spirit of Elijah’. What was to be given was in YHWH’s hands to give or not to give. The Spirit is not at man’s disposal but at God’s. He knew, of course, that Elisha would to some extent be blessed with the Spirit, but it was not for him to determine to what extent and in what way. That was for God to decide.

Analysis.

  • a And it came about, when YHWH would take up Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven, that Elijah went down with Elisha from Gilgal (2.2.1).
  • b And Elijah said to Elisha, “Wait here, I pray you, for YHWH has sent me as far as Beth-el.” And Elisha said, “As YHWH lives and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Beth-el. And the sons of the prophets who were at Beth-el came forth to Elisha, and said to him, “Did you know that YHWH will take away your master from your head today?” And he said, “Yes, I know it. You hold your peace” (2.2.2-3).

    And Elijah said to him, “Elisha, wait here, I pray you, for YHWH has sent me to Jericho.” And he said, “As YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. And the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came near to Elisha, and said to him, “Did you know that YHWH will take away your master from your head today?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it. You hold your peace” (2.2.4-5).

    And Elijah said to him, “Wait here, I pray you, for YHWH has sent me to the Jordan.” And he said, “As YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” And the two of them went on. And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood over against them afar off, and the two of them stood by the Jordan (2.2.6-7).

  • c And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided this way and that, so that the two of them went over on dry ground (2.2.8).
  • d And it came about, when they were gone over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “I pray you, let a double portion of your spirit be on me” (2.2.9).
  • e And he said, “You have asked a hard thing. If you see me when I am taken from you, it will be so to you, but if not, it will not be so” (2.2.10).
  • f And it came about, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which separated them both apart, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2.2.11).
  • e And Elisha saw it, and he cried, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” And he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes, and tore them in two pieces (2.2.12).
  • d He also took up the mantle of Elijah which fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of the Jordan (2.2.13).
  • c And he took the mantle of Elijah which fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, “Where is YHWH, the God of Elijah?” And when he also had smitten the waters, they were divided this way and that, and Elisha went over (2.2.14).
  • b And when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho over against him saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him (2.2.15).
  • a And they said to him, “See now, there are with your servants fifty strong men. Let them go, we pray you, and seek your master, lest the Spirit of YHWH has taken him up, and cast him on some mountain, or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” And when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men, and they sought for three days, but did not find him. And they came back to him, while he waited at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, Do not go?” (2.2.16-18).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH intended to take Elijah up into heaven in a whirlwind, and in the parallel the prophets insisted on searching for him because they thought that YHWH might have taken him up and cast him down. In ‘b’ Elisha reveals a threefold determination to accompany Elijah, and on reaching the Jordan the prophets watch afar off, and in the parallel the prophets acknowledge that the Spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha. In ‘c’ Elijah parted the Jordan, and in the parallel Elisha did so. In ‘d’ Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s Spirit, and in the parallel he dons his mantle. In ‘e’ the double portion will be given to him if he sees what is to follow, and in the parallel he saw what followed. Centrally in ‘f’ Elijah was taken up in the whirlwind and Elisha saw it, and saw also saw ‘the chariots of Israel’.

2.2.1 ‘And it came about, when YHWH would take up Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven, that Elijah went down with Elisha from Gilgal.’

Note the stress on the fact that Elijah’s being taken up in a whirlwind was to be the sovereign act of YHWH. There is no suggestion that Elijah or anyone else sought it. It was YHWH’s sovereign choice. He had planned to take him up. It would appear that Elijah and Elisha were residing in Gilgal. There were a number of Gilgals (the name simply indicates a stone circle) and this was presumably not the one at which Israel first stayed when they crossed the Jordan. That had been in the Jordan rift valley. This was seemingly on the other side of Bethel, and was higher up than Bethel for they ‘went down’ from it.

2.2.2 ‘And Elijah said to Elisha, “Wait here, I pray you, for YHWH has sent me as far as Beth-el.” And Elisha said, “As YHWH lives and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Beth-el.’

It would appear that Elisha had had a prophetic realisation that something significant was about to happen and that he should be a part of it, for normally he would have obeyed his ‘master’. Thus when Elijah called on him to return to Gilgal and wait there while he moved on to Bethel at YHWH’s directing, he declared with a solemn oath his intention of going with Elijah, come what may.

2.2.3 ‘And the sons of the prophets who were at Beth-el came forth to Elisha, and said to him, “Did you know that YHWH will take away your master from your head today?” And he said, “Yes, I know it. You hold your peace.” ’

As they approached Bethel ‘the sons of the prophets’ i.e. those who were prophets under their prophetic teachers, ‘came forth’ and asked Elisha if he realised that Elijah was that day to be taken from being ‘over Elisha’ head’. In other words that in some way he would be departing so that he was no longer Elisha’ master. Elisha declared immediately that he was very well aware of the fact. It would appear that YHWH had given him some revelation on the matter.

This awareness of the sons of the prophets about the matter appears to indicate a close relationship between them and Elijah, as followers to a leader, and it will be noted that there were sons of the prophets at a number of places. These communities had presumably been built up by Elijah with the purpose of stemming the tide of unbelief in Israel, by training up prophets to minister among the people (we have no grounds for presuming that they were related in any way to the bands of prophets in Samuel’s days. Unlike them they are never connected with ecstatic utterances). As we know, they had at some stage suffered persecution from Jezebel (1 Kings 18.13). They are a reminder that behind what we know of Elijah’s activities he had had a successful ministry, and it was no doubt from their ranks that the ‘prophets of YHWH’ kept appearing. Once trained they would then go and live in various parts of Israel, possibly at well known sanctuaries, where they could carry on their ministry.

What has been called ‘the impression of solitariness’ about Elijah is regularly overstated. We gain it because we know so little about him. For we should note that we do know very little about him, or where he usually lived, or what he did, when persecution was not rife. Both examples of his solitariness in fact occurred under special circumstances when he needed to be in hiding. And here he certainly seems well known to the sons of the prophets in both locations. (His ‘sudden appearances’ were only sudden to the people involved, not necessarily sudden to believers).

The question of prophets in Israel is a very complicated one, for there were undoubtedly cultic prophets officially attached to different sanctuaries (e.g. the Temple, Bethel, Dan), presumably appointed by the cult officials, some of whom were ‘false prophets’ (not prophesying truly), and others of whom were genuine prophets (like Zechariah), but there were also prophets who were seen as relatively independent of the cult. What we call the writing prophets were mainly of this latter kind. These ‘sons of the prophets’ may also have been of the latter kind, which may be why they were called ‘sons of the prophets’. The term is only used in the time of Elijah and Elisha and nowhere else, and in the case of Elisha, 2 Kings 6.1 demonstrates their close connection with him. The same was probably true of Elijah except when persecution was at its most intense when all had to go into hiding. There are absolutely no grounds for likening them to dervishes or ‘ecstatic prophets’.

2.2.4 ‘And Elijah said to him, “Elisha, wait here, I pray you, for YHWH has sent me to Jericho.” And he said, “As YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho.’

Elijah then informed Elisha that he should wait at Bethel because YHWH had sent him to Jericho. Again Elisha insisted on going with him. It would seem clear from this that Elijah wanted to make no promises to Elisha of what was coming, but was quite willing for him to accompany him. (He could otherwise have forbidden it more forcefully). While Elisha was his appointed successor, Elijah wanted it to be recognised that he did not presume to know what purposes YHWH had for him.

2.2.5 ‘And the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came near to Elisha, and said to him, “Did you know that YHWH will take away your master from your head today?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it. You hold your peace.” ’

Once again the sons of the prophets, although this time of the Jericho community (which may well have been associated with the original sanctuary at Gilgal in the Jordan rift valley where YHWH had recorded His Name when the Tabernacle was sited there), approached Elisha and warned him that Elijah was to be taken from them. And once again Elisha confirmed that YHWH had also made him aware of the fact.

2.2.6 ‘And Elijah said to him, “Wait here, I pray you, for YHWH has sent me to the Jordan.” And he said, “As YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” And the two of them went on.’

Once again Elijah sought to persuade Elisha to stay behind, and once again Elisha refused forcefully, with the result that the two of them went on together.

2.2.7 ‘And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood over against them afar off, and the two of them stood by the Jordan.’

Fifty of the sons of the prophets followed the two, and watched them from a distance. Meanwhile Elijah and Elisha approached the Jordan.

2.2.8 ‘And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided this way and that, so that the two of them went over on dry ground.’

Elijah then took his robe and wrapped it together and smote the waters of the Jordan so that they parted before them. As with Moses’ rod, so Elijah’s robe symbolised his authority. This deliberate act of prophetic symbolism confirms that Elijah was depicting in some way that in him ‘Israel’ was reversing the entry into Canaan. It may well have been declaring that Israel’s future as a nation of YHWH would now totally depend on Elisha.

2.2.9 ‘And it came about, when they were gone over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “I pray you, let a double portion of your spirit be on me.” ’

Once they were over the Jordan Elijah then asked Elisha what he wanted him to do for him before he as taken from him. Elisha’s answer was prompt. He wanted the firstborn’s double portion (Deuteronomy 12.17) of the Spirit of Elijah.

2.2.10 ‘And he said, “You have asked a hard thing. If you see me when I am taken from you, it will be so to you, but if not, it will not be so.” ’

It is significant that in spite of the fact the Elisha was his duly anointed successor, Elijah did not presume that that automatically qualified him for such an important ‘gift’. Indeed he recognised it as a ‘hard thing’. It would all depend on what YHWH’s will was. He had been given a unique gift of the Spirit, and it was YHWH Who alone could decide whether Elijah’s ‘Spirit’ was passed on at all. But there would be a simple test. If Elisha’s spiritual eyes were so opened by YHWH that he saw what was about to take place in the counsels of God, it would be evidence that he had received the ‘double portion’ of Elijah’s spirit which would qualify him to lead the spiritual communities that he had set up. It would be evidence that he had been given spiritual illumination, seeing what other men do not see.

2.2.11 ‘And it came about, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which separated them both apart, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.’

As they walked on they saw coming towards them a chariot of fire with horses of fire, which divided the two apart, causing them to scatter. Then a whirlwind took Elijah up into Heaven. In view of the fact that the chariot of fire and horses of fire appear again, along with others, elsewhere (6.17; compare also 13.14 where the king saw Elisha as the chariot of Israel and its horsemen, but not as a fiery chariot), they were seemingly a message to Elisha of God’s presence with him and with Israel rather than being a conveyance for Elijah. There are therefore no grounds for suggesting that Elijah was carried up in the chariot of fire. It was a war chariot, not public transport.

The very purpose of the separation was so that Elisha would not be carried up in the whirlwind with Elijah (confirming that it was a physical phenomenon). The vision of the chariots and horsemen of fire may very well have been gathered from lightning that danced along the ground, thus conjuring up the vision. But the fact that this was so discounts totally any connection with a chariot of the sun (beloved of some commentators), which would necessarily by its nature remain in the heavens.

2.2.12 ‘And Elisha saw it, and he cried, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” And he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes, and tore them in two pieces.’

It is stressed that Elisha ‘saw it’ (saw the chariot not just the lightning). By this he knew that the Spirit of Elijah had come on him. And he called out to Elijah as he departed, ‘my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen’. In other words, ‘my spiritual father, I have seen the heavenly occurrences that you spoke of, just as you said’. And he never forgot from that moment that the forces of YHWH, invisible to other men but seen by him, were with him.

From that moment he saw Elijah no more. But because it had been confirmed to him that he had received the Spirit of Elijah, he tore his own robe in two, possibly partly in mourning, but also partly because it was no longer required, for he was replacing it with the robe of Elijah, which had fallen from him, a further indication from YHWH of what Elisha had received. When Elijah had called Elisha he had thrown his robe over him. Now it is YHWH Who has provided Elijah’s robe for Elisha.

2.2.13 ‘He also took up the mantle of Elijah which fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of the Jordan.’

Taking up Elijah’s robe Elisha went back to the Jordan. In him the new Israel was about to re-enter the land, and he was entering with the authority of Elijah and of YHWH. In Elisha YHWH was seeking to repossess the land.

2.2.14 ‘And he took the mantle of Elijah which fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, “Where is YHWH, the God of Elijah?” And when he also had smitten the waters, they were divided this way and that, and Elisha went over.’

Then he took the robe which had fallen from Elijah, and smote the waters crying out, ‘Where is YHWH, the God of Elijah?’ and the result was that the Jordan once more parted for him to cross over. He was entering the land as Israel had done of yore, on behalf of the new believing Israel. Such ‘partings of the Jordan’ (although of course not such spectacular ones) have in fact been known to take place naturally and have been witnessed in modern times. Thus as He regularly does, (and did with the Plagues of Egypt), God took a natural occurrence, and enhanced it in order to indicate His divine sovereignty and His acceptance of His servant.

2.2.15 ‘And when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho over against him saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.’

We are not told what precisely the sons of the prophets from Jericho saw, apart from Elisha wearing the robe of Elijah. But it clearly convinced them that the Spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha, and they therefore came and submitted to him as their new leader. There were a number of such communities, so that this does not mean that Elisha remained with them, except on occasions. It was simply that all recognised him as YHWH’s prime prophet. He could always be approached, wherever he was, when they needed guidance.

‘And when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho over against him saw him.’ If this indicated that they were at Jericho itself all the time then they could not have seen what happened at the Jordan (unless by prophetic insight). But we have already been told that some of them followed Elijah and Elisha to the Jordan to ‘view far off’ (verse 7). They may well then, on seeing what had happened, have raced back to tell the others, so that all were aware of what had happened and that it had been witnessed by eye-witnesses.

2.2.16 ‘And they said to him, “See now, there are with your servants fifty strong men. Let them go, we pray you, and seek your master, lest the Spirit of YHWH has taken him up, and cast him on some mountain, or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” ’

The fifty strong men were presumably the ones who had ‘viewed far off’ in verse 7. We are not told precisely how much the sons of the prophets had seen of what happened, nor how they knew what had happened to Elijah. It may well have been from Elisha, or some of them may have observed it at a distance. But once they learned that Elijah had been taken up by a whirlwind they suggested that they should send out a search party in order to discover whether the whirlwind had deposited his body somewhere, pointing out that they had among them fifty strong men who would gladly carry out the task. Elisha, however, who recognised what had truly happened, and that Elijah was with God in Heaven, told them that it was unnecessary.

2.2.17 ‘And when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men, and they sought for three days, but did not find him.’

But when they continued to urge them he gave way. They may well have pointed out that for Elijah to remain unburied would put a curse on the land. Thus his shame may have been caused by their persistent urging which made him doubt for a moment his position so that he was ashamed of himself for not having done what they said, or it may have been caused by him being ashamed of their attitude, while recognising that they would not cease urging him until he gave way.

The result was that fifty strong men went out and searched for Elijah’s body for three days, but of course they found nothing. It was a sign of the dangers of the time that it was felt necessary for such a large band (the equivalent of a military unit) to be involved.

2.2.18 ‘And they came back to him, while he waited at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, Do not go?” ’

When they came back and reported their failure to find Elijah’s body, Elisha said ‘Did I not tell you not to go?’ He had known quite well that Elijah was nowhere on earth to be found.

B. The ‘Healing’ of Jericho’s Spring (2.2.19-22).

The new beginning for Israel resulting from Elisha’ entry into the land over the Jordan results the men of Jericho asking him to ‘heal’ a spring of water at Jericho, in a similar fashion to the way in which Moses, having crossed the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) into a new deliverance, also healed a spring of water (Exodus 15.23-25). They were beginning to see Elisha as the new Moses.

Excavations have shown that Jericho, apart from small numbers of people, was on the whole unoccupied as a city for around four hundred years up to the time of Ahab when it was rebuilt by Hiel at the cost of his two sons (1 Kings 16.34). This was partly due to the curse that Joshua had put on it, but it may also possibly have been partly due to the problem now being exposed, which could be seen as a part of the curse. It had become recognised that the water from the spring at the foot of the mound caused excessive miscarriages. Interestingly a fairly recent scientific survey of the region has revealed a tendency for springs in the area to become contaminated with natural radioactivity, something which is known to cause miscarriages. Others see the ‘miscarrying’ as referring to the land with the indication that the spring had become polluted and useless for agriculture.

Whichever way it was those who were living there brought their problem to Elisha. It is clear that they saw Elisha in a different light from Elijah, (the problem had been there for a long time), possibly because of the way in which he had entered the land. It had probably reminded them of the incident in Exodus 15.23-25. There hope was that he might be able to ‘heal’ the spring. Calling for a new dish and some salt, Elijah obliged by casting the salt into the spring. Then he assured them that YHWH had declared that He had healed the waters.

Analysis.

  • a And the men of the city said to Elisha, “See, we pray you, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land miscarries” (2.2.19).
  • b And he said, “Bring me a new dish, and put salt in it. And they brought it to him. And he went forth to the spring of the waters, and cast salt in it, and said, “Thus says YHWH, I have healed these waters” (2.2.20-21a).
  • a “There shall not be from there any more death or miscarrying”. So the waters were healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke (2.2.21b-22).

2.2.19 ‘And the men of the city said to Elisha, “See, we pray you, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land miscarries.” ’

The city of Jericho had been known as the city of palm trees (Deuteronomy 34.3; Judges 1.16; 3.13). It was well watered by a large spring, and with a pleasant, although hot, climate. But something had happened to the waters of the spring which resulted in ‘the land miscarrying’. This could be because of radiation (hydrological surveys have shown a tendency to radiation in the area), or because of some other source of contamination. It has been suggested that the contamination was caused by a parasitic infection connected with snails. Radiation would cause miscarriages in women, while contaminated and infected water could have a bad effect on either health or the fruitfulness of the land. Whichever way it was the waters needed ‘healing’.

2.2.20 ‘And he said, “Bring me a new dish, and put salt in it. And they brought it to him.’

Elisha therefore called for a new dish and some salt. The ‘new dish’ would indicate to the people that what he was about to do had a holy, God-connected purpose, which was why the dish must not have been contaminated in any way by earthly contacts (compare the new cart that carried the Ark in 2 Samuel 6.3, and the unridden colt that carried Jesus in Mark 11.2). Salt was seen as a means of purifying (Leviticus 2.13; Numbers 18.19).

2.2.21 ‘And he went forth to the spring of the waters, and cast salt in it, and said, “Thus says YHWH, I have healed these waters. There shall not be from there any more death or miscarrying.” ’

Elisha then went and cast the salt into the spring, and declared in the Name of YHWH, that the waters were now healed and that there would therefore in future be no death or miscarrying. Note the direct claim of YHWH that ‘I have healed these waters’.

It has been suggested that an earth tremor might have shifted the geological strata from which the radiation infection was coming, thus naturally purifying the water for the future. But as with so many miracles, even if that were so, it was the timing and effectiveness that was special. If the problem was connected with snails than the salt could have been ‘multiplied’ by YHWH and have killed off the colony of snails. Either way it was rightly seen to be the work of YHWH.

2.2.22 ‘So the waters were healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.’

So the waters were healed by YHWH in accordance with Elisha’s word, and remained healed to the day of writing. There was no further trouble. This miracle was a further picture of why YHWH had raised up Elisha. It was in order to purify Israel and make it fruitful.

C. The Young Men Of Bethel Gather To Mock The Prophet Of YHWH And Are Ravaged By Bears (2.2.23-25).

As Elisha went up from Jericho to Bethel, continuing his symbolic journey, young men ‘came forth’ from the city to ‘greet’ him. This was in total contrast with his previous visit with Elijah when the sons of the prophets had ‘come forth’ to greet them (verse 3). The contrast is clearly intended. This was a large party of determined anti-Yahwists (well over forty two) come to see off a prophet of YHWH. The word rendered ‘young men’ is similarly used of Absalom as a grown man (2 Samuel 14.21; 18.5). That the sons of the prophets did not come out to greet him (as they had done on every other occasion) must be seen as significant. It would suggest that they were being intimidated, and in some way forcibly prevented from doing so. Instead the city sent out this large group of ruffians and bullies in order to see off Elisha, with the aim of mocking his status. The syncretistic sanctuary city of Bethel with its golden calf wanted nothing to do with a true prophet of YHWH.

The whole of the city would probably be watching in order to see what happened. It was a test of the ‘new’ prophet’s standing. If he turned tail and fled people would be able to draw their own conclusions. But instead Elisha turned round and issued a solemn curse on the young men, with the result that two she-bears (probably with the intention of defending their young from this group of men who had disturbed them, and therefore extra fiercely) came out of the forest which was near Bethel, which Elisha and the young men may well have been entering, and severely mauled forty two of the young men. These men may not all necessarily have been killed. It was intended to vindicate the prophet, not to be an execution squad.

Analysis.

  • a And he went up from there to Beth-el (2.2.23a).
  • b And as he was going up by the way, there came forth young men out of the city, and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead, go up, you baldhead.” (2.2.23b).
  • c And he looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of YHWH (2.2.24a).
  • b And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tore forty and two young men from among them (2.24b).
  • a And he went from there to mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria (2.2.25).

Note that in ‘a’ he went to Bethel and in the parallel went to Mount Carmel and Samaria. In ‘b’ the young men grievously insulted Elisha, and in the parallel they were mauled by bears. Centrally in ‘c’ Elisha cursed them in the Name of YHWH.

2.2.23 ‘And he went up from there to Beth-el, and as he was going up by the way, there came forth young men out of the city, and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead, go up, you baldhead.” ’

The journey to Bethel completed the ‘entry into the land’ which followed the pattern of the conquest, parting of Jordan, Jericho, Bethel. But instead of the sons of the prophets ‘coming forth’ from Bethel as previously (verse 3), a gang of hooligans ‘came forth’. The contrast is surely significant. On all previous occasions he had been met by sons of the prophets (verses 3, 5, 15). His reception here was also in total contrast with the courtesy of his reception at Jericho, both from the sons of the prophets and the people, which is one reason why the two incidents have been set side by side. Here the sons of the prophets at Bethel were clearly having to keep out of the way, knowing that the city had organised its own reception for Elisha and that things could get ugly. They would have known that the intention was not to kill Elisha but to see him off with a deliberate and organised insult against ‘the prophet of YHWH’. It was not thus simply a group of passing children otherwise the sons of the prophets would have come out as well. The number of young men involved reveals their underlying fear of what Elisha could do (they remembered what Elijah had done to two military units before him - 1.9-12). It demonstrated that paradoxically the deniers of true Yahwism, who rather supported their own watered down syncretistic Yahwism, were still afraid of his power. It demonstrated that in their hearts they really knew the truth but found it too uncomfortable.

Made brave by their numbers (there must have been at least fifty of them for forty two to be mauled) the hooligans approached Elisha and hurled insults. The term ‘bald-head’ was a clearly intended insult (As an oriental traveller Elisha would have had his head covered so that they would not have been able to see whether he was bald or not). They were deliberately degrading the prophet of YHWH, and in accordance with Deuteronomy 18.19 this would be ‘required of them’ (that is, they would be punished for it). To insult the representative of YHWH was to insult YHWH Himself (compare 2 Chronicles 36.16-17).

Hair was seen as a sign of virility, and long hair was a sign of being dedicated to YHWH (Numbers 6.5; Judges 13.5). (There is, on the other hand, no evidence of prophets having tonsures). Thus the suggestion that he was ‘bald’ was a deliberate denigration of his status. It was saying that his claim to dedication was false. There may be behind this the idea that without Elijah being with him he was to be seen as ‘shorn’, and therefore helpless. This would tie in with their suggestion that he should ‘go up’ as Elijah had. They may well have been belittling the idea of his succession to Elijah as the prophet of YHWH supreme and suggesting that if he really was he should demonstrate it by copying him.

2.2.24 ‘And he looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of YHWH. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tore forty and two young men from among them.’

Being faced up with this issue at this moment when he was entering into the fullness of his dedication to YHWH, and with a whole city watching to see whether he would survive his humiliation, and whether YHWH Himself would do anything, it was necessary for Elisha (and YHWH) to act, and to do it in such a way as to vindicate his status. He accordingly pronounced a curse on them in the Name of YHWH. Now it was open to YHWH to vindicate His prophet. If He did so Elisha’s reputation as a prophet would be upheld. If He did not do so Elisha’ reputation would have been in ruins. And sure enough two she-bears, disturbed by the commotion and probably defending their young, came out of the trees and mauled forty two of the young men as they no doubt fled. We are not told whether any died, although possibly some did, if only from their wounds. Once again YHWH was seen as in control of creation, and as defending the honour of His prophets, dispensing fully merited judgment.

Forty two may have been chosen because it indicated the intensified completeness (3x2) of divine perfection (3 x 2 x 7), a complete divinely perfect number (compare 10.14).

2.2.25 ‘And he went from there to mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.’

Then Elisha continued on his symbolic journey by going to Mount Carmel the site of YHWH’s vindication by Elijah. He was ‘possessing’ the land for YHWH. Then he returned to Samaria.

1). The Reign of Jehoram king of Israel c. 852-841 BC: War With Moab (3.1-27).

The interlude of Elisha’s succession to Elijah having taken place in preparation for the future, the narrative now returns to the reigns of the kings of Israel. This interlude, deliberately excluded from the continuing narrative of the history of the kings (in that it comes after the record of Ahaziah’s death and before the record of Jehoram’s accession), is clear evidence that the prophetic author was not just giving us a history of the kings, something which as we have already seen has been made abundantly clear. Of equal importance to him were the prophets who affected the lives of the kings, and maintained the faith of the remnant in Israel and Judah, and here Elisha was being seen as ‘crowned’ before any mention of the crowning of Jehoram, throughout whose reign he would operate.

The commencement of the reign of Jehoram having now been described in the usual manner, the incident that follows, resulting from the invasion of Moab in order to counter a rebellion, nearly ended in catastrophe. It would be the first official call on Elisha by the king of Israel, which he made clear that he only heeded because of the presence of the godly Jehoshaphat. The relationship between prophet and king is being laid down immediately. Elisha acted to save the day, but the consequent victory was marred by the action of the king of Moab in sacrificing his son which ‘brought wrath on Israel’.

The passage divides up into four subsections:

A. Introduction To The Reign of Jehoram, King Of Israel (2.3.1-3).
B. Mesha of Moab Seeks To Free Moab From Being Tributary To Israel (2.3.4-7).
C. The Invasion Plan Goes Wrong And The Invaders Find Themselves In Jeopardy Through Lack Of Water With The Result That Jehoshaphat Desires The Advice Of A Prophet Of YHWH (2.3.8-14).
D. YHWH’s Provision For The Alliance Forces And The Subjugation Of Moab Which Has However An Unfortunate Consequence In Mesha’s Child-Sacrifice (2.3.15-27).

A. The Reign of Jehoram, King Of Israel, Commences (2.3.1-3).

The introduction to the reign of Jehoram, king of Israel, follows the usual format, with the exception that he was an improvement religionwise on his father in that he removed the ‘pillar of Baal’ which his father had made. Possibly what had happened to his brother Azariah, and his brother’s encounters with Elijah, had given Jehoram pause for thought, especially as Baal had clearly been unable to prevent his death. But sadly he continued in all the sins of Jeroboam and therefore continued under the disapproval of YHWH.

Analysis.

  • a Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years (2.3.1).
  • b And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, but not like his father, and like his mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal which his father had made (2.3.2b).
  • a Nevertheless he clove to the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel to sin. He did not depart from them (2.3.3).

Note that in ‘a’ we have details of Jehoram’s reign, and in the parallel the policy he followed in that reign. Centrally in ‘b’ we have the verdict on the king.

2.3.1 ‘Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years.’

Jehoram of Israel was Ahaziah’s brother, and son to Ahab, and he began to reign ‘in Samaria’ in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat, and in the second year of Jehoram of Judah’s co-regency with his father Jehoshaphat (1.17). Compare 8.16 where official co-regency is specifically implied. It would be five more years before Jehoshaphat died leaving Jehoram of Judah as sole king (8.16). Having two Jehorams reigning at the same time was confusing, and the confusion is added to by both also being called Joram, a diminutive of Jehoram (shortening the divine name Jeho- to Jo-). Jehoram of Israel reigned for twelve years

2.3.2 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, but not like his father, and like his mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal which his father had made.’

It would appear that what had happened to his brother had intensely moved him, for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. It would appear that Ahab, egged on by his wife, had added a stele of Baal (somewhat like the Milqart stele, and the ones found at Zenjirli and Hazor) to the altar and Temple of Baal. Jehoram could not in honour destroy the Temple of Baal because it was his mother’s sanctuary where she worshipped her father’s gods, and the pillars of Baal later destroyed by Jehu (10.26) were presumably hers. But he could destroy what had belonged to his father. It was at least a step in the right direction.

2.3.3 ‘Nevertheless he clove to the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel to sin. He did not depart from them.’

Indeed had he then gone on to reform the worship at Bethel and Dan he might have been cautiously approved of. But he did not. He allowed that worship, and the ways that resulted from it, to continue without alteration.

B. Mesha of Moab Seeks To Free Moab From Being Tributary To Israel (2.3.4-7).

We know from the Moabite Stone that Moab had been tributary to Israel from the time of Omri, but that Mesha was growing in power as Israel declined, and had already begun attempts to throw off Israel’s yoke, and impose his own on parts of Israel in Transjordan, while Ahab was busy with fighting the Assyrians and dealing with the Aramaeans. (The Moabite Stone was, of course, written from Moab’s point of view, emphasising only the victories as was usual with inscriptions). It would appear, however, that meanwhile he was continuing to pay tribute to Israel so as not to invite repercussions. Now he felt that he was strong enough to cease to pay tribute, and it was that action that stirred Jehoram of Israel into action. As a result of it Jehoram of Israel entered into an alliance with Jehoshaphat.

Analysis.

  • a Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master, and he rendered to the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams (2.3.4).
  • b And it came about, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel (2.3.5).
  • c And king Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time, and mustered all Israel (2.3.6).
  • b And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me against Moab to battle?” (2.3.7a).
  • a And he said, “I will go up. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (2.3.7b).

Note that in ‘a’ Mesha supplied the king of Israel with large numbers of lams and rams, and in the parallel Jehoshaphat supplied him with people and horses. In ‘b’ the king of Moab rebelled against Israel, and in the parallel Jehoram of Israel informed Jehoshaphat of the fact. Centrally in ‘c’ the king of Israel gathered his host for the invasion.

2.3.4 ‘Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master, and he rendered to the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams.’

Mesha was king over Moab, a country prolific in the production of sheep, making Mesha a kind of glorified sheep-master. The term was, however, used at Ugarit of the chief priest. Thus Mesha may here be being seen as the sacral ‘shepherd’ of his people (compare Amos 1.1), with a play on the idea in relation to the tribute. While the large totals simply indicate ‘a huge number’ it should be noted that they were not said to have been paid yearly, and this may well indicate that he saw this as representing his total tribute of lambs and rams over the whole period of his subjugation (the verb suggests continual rendering). Whichever way it was, as far as he was concerned it was enough. When he looked back and considered how much Moab had paid to Israel through the years he felt that it was time it ceased. He had already commenced his belligerent attitude in the time of Ahab, by retaking Moabite cities, and now he went the whole hog. Recognising that the death of Ahab and the injury to Azariah had weakened Israel he withheld tribute, feeling that he was now strong enough to do so with some safety.

‘The wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams.’ Lambs would not normally be sheared so that this may indicate that they were handed over with their wool still on them, although it may signify the wool of second year lambs. The same may have been the case with the rams, handed over for breeding purposes, ‘the wool’ being intended to include the lamb/ram.

2.3.5 ‘But it came about, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.’

Thus some time after the death of Ahab Mesha ‘rebelled against Israel’. In other words he withheld tribute, and possibly increased his attacks on Israelite territory.

2.3.6 ‘And king Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time, and mustered all Israel.’

Mesha’s other previous activities had been annoying, but this was the last straw, and once Jehoram was settled on his throne he determined to bring Mesha to heel. Consequently he mustered the host of Israel (‘all Israel’). Most armies in that region were composed of farmers (or shepherds and suchlike) who temporarily became soldiers (even though for many conditions were such that they were not short of experience in fighting, especially those who lived near the borders), although in larger countries these were often supplemented by a small permanent army.

2.3.7 ‘And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me against Moab to battle?” And he said, “I will go up. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”

Jehoram of Israel also appealed to Jehoshaphat, who had regularly been Israel’s ally during the reign of Ahab, for assistance, presumably on the basis of their treaty. Jehoshaphat’s son (also Jehoram) was married to Jehoram of Israel’s sister. So Jehoram of Israel had no hesitation in asking him for assistance in subduing Moab. Jehoshaphat was very willing, and assured Jehoram of Israel that all his forces were at his disposal. He no doubt recognised that there would be good spoil to be had for all.

C. The Invasion Plan Goes Wrong And The Invaders Find Themselves In Jeopardy Through Lack Of Water With The Result That Jehoshaphat Desires The Advice Of A Prophet Of YHWH (2.3.8-14).

The alliance decided that they would invade Moab by going round the bottom of the Deed Sea and approaching Moab from the south, although even then avoiding the usual route. By this means they avoided the strings of forts that Moab had renewed and established. But the route that they took meant travelling through the wilderness of Edom, and this resulted in great hardship due to lack of water. This was something that affected both the army themselves, their chariot horses and the herds which provided food and milk to the army, and their resulting condition was such that as they approached Moab (and were unable to turn back to face the return journey through the same wilderness) they foresaw disaster and defeat staring them in the face.

This moved Jehoshaphat to request that they consult a prophet of YHWH, and the result was that Elisha was called on. This was interesting as it demonstrates that 1). Jehoshaphat expected Jehoram to have a prophet of YHWH available, and 2). that Elisha was somehow available, probably accompanying the troops with some of the sons of the prophets in order to use the opportunity to bring home the message of YHWH to the Israelite army. War presented an evangelistic opportunity. It may, however, be that he had also tagged along because he had had an intimation from YHWH of what would happen.

Analysis.

  • a And he said, “Which way shall we go up?” And he answered, “The way of the wilderness of Edom.” So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom, and they made a circuit of seven days’ journey, and there was no water for the host, nor for the beasts which followed them (2.3.8-9).
  • b And the king of Israel said, “Alas! for YHWH has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab” (2.3.10).
  • c But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here a prophet of YHWH, that we may enquire of YHWH by him?” And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah” (2.3.11).
  • d And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of YHWH is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him (2.3.12).
  • c And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Get yourself to the prophets of your father, and to the prophets of your mother” (2.3.13a).
  • b And the king of Israel said to him, “No, for YHWH has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab” (2.3.13b).
  • a And Elisha said, “As YHWH of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look towards you, nor see you” (2.3.14).

Note that in ‘a’ the alliance of kings of Israel, Judah and Edom, advanced on Moab from the south, and in the parallel it was because the king of Judah was among them that Elisha would help them. In ‘b’ the king of Israel surmised that the three had been gathered together in order to be delivered into the hands of the king of Moab, and in the parallel he declared the same to Elisha. In ‘c’ Jehoshaphat asked whether there was no prophet of YHWH to guide them, and was informed that Elisha was available, and in the parallel Elisha refused to acknowledge that the king of Israel deserved such guidance. Let him look to the gods that he and his house had chosen. Centrally in ‘d’ Jehoshaphat acknowledged Elisha as a true prophet of YHWH and both kings went to consult him.

2.3.8 ‘And he said, “Which way shall we go up?” And he answered, “The way of the wilderness of Edom.”

These words, of course, summarise what was probably a lengthy process as different alternatives were discussed. The initial question was, ‘which way shall we go?’, and the final decision was to take ‘the way of the wilderness of Edom’.

2.3.9 ‘So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom, and they made a circuit of seven days’ journey, and there was no water for the host, nor for the beasts which followed them.’

The ‘king of Edom’ is now seen as incorporated in the alliance. Edom was ruled by Jehoshaphat’s deputy (1 Kings 22.47), but Israel would be keen to demonstrate their gratitude for his support, and they demonstrated this by calling him by the courtesy title ‘king’ (melek). (Compare how Herod the Tetrarch was often called ‘king’ for a similar reason). Like many courtesies it cost nothing but could make a great difference to his cooperation. A ‘seven day journey’ indicated a longer journey in contrast to a ‘three day journey’ (see Genesis were these two descriptions regularly occur). It does not indicate the actual length of time taken, but the ‘average’ time taken. Had they taken the shorter route it would have been called a ‘three day journey’. The point was that they made a wide circuit, coming at Moab from the south-east, in other words from an unexpected, and relatively undefended, angle. But it was a miscalculation because due to the weather, and the terrain, and the length of time taken, combined with the size of their forces, it meant that they had great difficulty in finding sufficient water, either for themselves or their horses and cattle. (That was partly why the approach was relatively undefended. Only desert tribes came from that angle).

2.3.10 ‘And the king of Israel said, “Alas! for YHWH has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” ’

The situation became so desperate that the king of Israel foresaw disaster. He visualised a severely weakened army being at the mercy of the Moabites. Note his reference to YHWH. His destruction of the Baal pillar indicated that he gave at least some allegiance to YHWH, even though Elisha would not be impressed by it.

2.3.11 ‘But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here a prophet of YHWH, that we may enquire of YHWH by him?” And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.”

Jehoshaphat was, however, a man of stronger faith. And he asked whether there might be a prophet of YHWH present through whom they could make enquiries of YHWH. One of the courtiers of the king of Israel was aware that Elisha was with the troops. Elisha was at this stage clearly not well known, apart from in prophetic circles, and was described in terms of the relationship that he had had with Elijah. Everyone by now knew about Elijah! The fact that the king of Israel did not know of his presence demonstrates that he had not been taken along officially.

‘Poured water on the hands of Elijah.’ That is, was his personal servant, which would be evidence that he was a respected prophet.

2.3.12 ‘And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of YHWH is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.’

In Jehoshaphat’s mind the close connection with Elijah established the fact that ‘the word of YHWH is with him’. Elijah’s reputation was by now legendary, and any close servant of his must be a reliable prophet. So the three kings went to seek out Elisha in order to consult him.

2.3.13a ‘And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Get yourself to the prophets of your father, and to the prophets of your mother.”

When Elisha saw the king of Israel approaching and gathered that he wanted to consult him, he demonstrated his opinion of him by wanting nothing to do with him. If he wanted prophetic help let him got to ‘the prophets of his father, and the prophets of his mother’. This is the second time we have seen Jezebel especially mentioned (compare verse 2), indicating the importance of her influence on the kingdom. And she was still alive and consulting her prophets, while seemingly, to Elisha’s knowledge, Jehoram had also not disbanded his father’s prophets, even though he might not have used them. His excuse was probably loyalty to his mother’s wishes in this regard.

2.3.13b ‘And the king of Israel said to him, “No, for YHWH has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” ’

But the king was determined not to take ‘no’ for an answer, and he rejected Elisha’s refusal on the grounds that there was no point in consulting the prophets of Baal and Asherah when it was clearly YHWH who had delivered Israel into the hand of Moab. Jehoram was in the sad position that the influence of his father and mother had directed him towards Baal worship whereas he himself paid more honour to YHWH. But it should be noted that it was a limited faith as is evidenced by his attitude towards the syncretistic sanctuaries of Jeroboam. A wholehearted faith in YHWH could only have led to restrictions on the influence of Jezebel. But it was wholehearted enough for him to recognise in what was happening the hand of YHWH.

2.3.14 ‘And Elisha said, “As YHWH of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look towards you, nor see you.” ’

Elisha’s reply was to indicate that had it not been that the godly Jehoshaphat was involved with them, he would not have even deigned to notice them. But in the presence of Jehoshaphat, a faithful servant of YHWH, he would be willing to speak. The implication from this was that YHWH was willing to help because of His love for Jehoshaphat.

D. YHWH’s Provision For The Alliance Forces And The Subjugation Of Moab Which Has However An Unfortunate Consequence In Mesha’s Child-Sacrifice (2.3.15-27).

YHWH’s reply indicated that they had to dig trenches throughout the valley in a kind of irrigation system as though there was a likelihood of water coming down from the mountains of Edom. Then His promise was that, even though they experienced no signs of rain, the channels would become full of water. Thus he required of the thirsty and exhausted soldiers a positive act of faith. And when they exercised that faith He responded. Furthermore on top of that He would deliver the forces of Moab into their hands, on which they were to (and would have anyway) carry out the usual method of punishment on a consistently rebel tributary, by felling the ‘good trees’ (fruitbearing and useful ones), clogging up the springs, and scattering stones over any good agricultural land. The trees would take years to replace, the springs would have to be cleared out again before they could be useful, and it was easier to sow stones than to remove them. It would be a lesson to Moab on what happened to ‘naughty boys’.

As a result of YHWH’s activity this was accomplished quite easily, until it was suddenly brought to a halt (with Moab meanwhile having been devastated) when in a last ditch attempt to save what was probably his capital city Mesha sacrificed his firstborn son and heir as a burnt offering on the wall (presumably to Chemosh, the god of Moab) in full view of the besieging enemy. The horror of this in Israelite eyes so disturbed the armies of Israel that they recognised in it a signal that YHWH’s anger would be directed on them if they proceeded further, and they thus immediately withdrew from the siege and returned to their own country, their mission on the whole accomplished.

There is an important lesson in this for all of us who follow Christ, for we too are under God’s Kingly Rule, and are called on to endure through difficult times for the sake of His kingdom. But we learn here that if we trust in Him, then however difficult times may become, we can be sure that He will provide us with spiritual water, and give us victory over the great Enemy.

Analysis.

  • a “But now bring me a minstrel.” And it came about, when the minstrel played, that the hand of YHWH came on him, and he said, “Thus says YHWH, make this valley full of trenches. For thus says YHWH, You will not see wind, nor will you see rain, yet that valley will be filled with water, and you shall drink, both you and your cattle and your beasts” (2.3.15-17).
  • b “And this is but a light thing in the sight of YHWH. He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand” (2.3.18).
  • c “And you will smite every fortified city, and every choice city, and will fell every good tree, and stop all fountains of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones” (2.3.19).
  • d And it came about in the morning, about the time of offering the oblation, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water (2.3.20).
  • e Now when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they gathered themselves together, all who were able to put on armour, and upward, and stood on the border (2.3.21).
  • d And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone on the water, and the Moabites saw the water over against them as red as blood, and they said, “This is blood. The kings are surely destroyed, and they have smitten each man his fellow. Now therefore, Moab, to the spoil” (2.3.22).
  • c And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them, and they went forward into the land smiting the Moabites, and they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land they cast every man his stone, and filled it, and they stopped all the fountains of water, and felled all the good trees, until only in Kir-hareseth did they leave its stones. However, the slingers went about it, and smote it (2.3.24-25).
  • b And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew sword, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not (2.3.26).
  • a Then he took his eldest son who should have reigned instead of him, and offered him for a burnt-offering on the wall. And there was great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him, and returned to their own land (2.3.27).

Note that in ‘a’ Elisha called for a minstrel, and promised great blessing on the allies through the provision of abundant water, and in the parallel the king of Moab called for his eldest son and offered him as a sacrifice with the result that there was wrath on Israel. The contrast is deliberate. All Elisha required was a little music in order to attune his mind, and YHWH would do the rest. The king of Moab had to go to desperate straits to get help from his god. In ‘b’ the Moabites would be delivered into their hand, and in the parallel the battle was too sore for Moab. In ‘c’ detailed disaster was forecast on Moab, and in the parallel it happened just as described. In ‘d’ the area was filled with water, and in the parallel the water was seen by the Moabites who mistook its significance and as a result acted foolishly. In ‘e’ all Moab united to fight off the alliance.

2.3.15 “But now bring me a minstrel.” And it came about, when the minstrel played, that the hand of YHWH came on him.’

There is a deliberate contrast in the story between Elisha’s simple requirement of a minstrel to help him get into the prophetic mood, and the grossly unacceptable method of the ‘shepherd and high priest of Moab’ in offering his own son and heir as a burnt offering. On the one hand peace, quiet and faith. On the other anger, desperation and excessive measures.

The call for a minstrel was probably to quieten Elisha’s spirit so that he could hear the voice of YHWH. And it was necessarily successful. For when the minstrel played the hand of YHWH came on Elisha, and he received YHWH’s instructions. In view of the fact that there is no indication anywhere of Elisha going into ecstasy, or needing to do so, it would be purely gratuitous to read it in here. Elisha in fact expected constantly to receive communications from YHWH in the normal course of his life (4.27).

2.3.16 ‘And he said, “Thus says YHWH, make this valley full of trenches.” ’

Then he declared what YHWH had commanded that they should do. They were to make the valley full of irrigation trenches. YHWH required from these exhausted thirst-ridden men an act of faith. And then He would act. (He often brings us to the end of ourselves before He does so).

Alternately the ditches might have been dug in the dry Wadi bed to hold the water as it rapidly flooded past (otherwise it would be come and gone), once YHWH had provided the water.

2.3.17 “For thus says YHWH, You will not see wind, nor will you see rain, yet that valley will be filled with water, and you shall drink, both you and your cattle and your beasts.”

And if they were willing to respond then it was His guarantee that although they would see neither wind or rain, the irrigation trenches would become full of water, sufficient both for them and for their horses and cattle. And His intention behind this was not only that they might have abundant water available, but also so that it would deceive the enemy.

2.3.18 “And this is but a light thing in the sight of YHWH. He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand.”

What was more this provision of water would not only satisfy their needs but would also guarantee the defeat of the enemy, for as a consequence YHWH would deliver the Moabites into their hands.

2.3.19 “And you will smite every fortified city, and every choice city, and will fell every good tree, and stop all fountains of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones.”

Then they would be in a position to carry out the usual punitive measures by cutting down all useful trees, blocking up springs, and sowing stones on all good agricultural land in order to render it relatively unusable, as a punishment for consistent rebellion. It would be an indication that Moab was utterly defeated. (The Moabite stone actually itself gives us instances of atrocities which had brought such deserts on Moab).

Deuteronomy 20.19 forbade the cutting down of fruit trees in normal cases. But that may only have applied to the region around Canaan, perhaps in view of the fact that that was the area which was ‘YHWH’s inheritance’. Certainly the later Arabs would cut down the palm groves of another defeated Arab tribe, and that may have been the custom in Moab and Ammon which had close contact with Arabs, and have already been carried out to a limited extent by Mesha. (Compare Numbers 22.1-6 where the Moabites and the Midianites worked in close liaison).

2.3.20 ‘And it came about in the morning, about the time of offering the oblation, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water.’

We are left to assume that the soldiers responded willingly and dug their irrigation trenches, and it was as well that they did so, for that night rains poured down on the mountains of Edom, out of sight of the armies, and flowed down eastwards into the lower ground where they were encamped, and all their channels were filled with water.

The fact that this was seen to occur around the time of the morning offering in the Temple was a clear indication to them that this was from YHWH. He was responding to the faith and offerings of His people.

2.3.21 ‘Now when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they gathered themselves together, all who were able to put on armour, and upward, and stood on the border.’

Meanwhile news of the advancing armies had reached Moab as at some time the armies were spotted either by travellers or shepherds, and the result was that they hurriedly mustered all their forces, down to the youngest who was able to put on armour, and came to the relatively unprotected border that they had thought safe from attack. They were ready to fight for their lives before this grim advancing foe.

2.3.22 ‘And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone on the water, and the Moabites saw the water over against them as red as blood, and they said, “This is blood. The kings are surely destroyed, and they have smitten each man his fellow. Now therefore, Moab, to the spoil.” ’

But when morning came they rose up early knowing well that the battle might commence at any time, but as they looked out over the wilderness of Edom the sun shone on the (unsuspected) water and it looked to them like pools of blood. What else could have covered the whole area in that ‘red liquid’, (made red by the red earth of Edom combined with the early morning sun)? They no doubt also saw the disorganised movement of men and cattle taking advantage of the newly received water, which could well have appeared to them like men fighting each other. So in their view there could only be one conclusion, and that was that, driven mad by the desert heat and extreme thirst the enemy armies had quarrelled with each other and were smiting each other, covering the ground with blood. To them this was good news and they congratulated themselves on the fact that their god Chemosh had presumably caused the opposing armies to destroy each other. Now therefore it was time to arouse themselves and take the spoil.

2.3.24 ‘And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them, and they went forward into the land smiting the Moabites.’

So instead of remaining in their defensive positions, they swarmed out towards the camp of Israel, each wanting to get there first in order to gather the spoils. It was not the best way in which to approach the army that was waiting for them, also unable to believe their ‘good luck’ as they saw the disorganised amateur army approaching in a disjointed manner. Forewarned by their sentries, they were able to gather themselves and meet the unsuspecting Moabites head on. There could only be one result. The astounded Moabites, not really prepared for a serious battle, were utterly defeated and fled before them, followed closely on their heels by the avenging enemy who thus easily entered their territory, smiting the Moabites as they went. Initial victory had been even easier than expected, thanks, as they were later to learn, probably from prisoners, to the misconception with which YHWH had filled their enemy.

2.3.25 ‘And they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land they cast every man his stone, and filled it, and they stopped all the fountains of water, and felled all the good trees, until only in Kir-hareseth did they leave its stones. However, the slingers went about it, and smote it.’

Victory was total and complete, with the devastated Moabites not in a position to put up much further resistance, and they thus broke down their cities, scattered stones on their agricultural land, filling it with stones, (many obtained from the walls and buildings of the cities that they dismantled), stopped up their springs and felled all their useful trees. We may assume that Kir-hareseth (‘the city of the wall’) was the city in which the king of Moab holed himself up (verse 27), for that would explain why it was left alone, while having an abundance of sling stones poured into it.

2.3.26 ‘And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew sword, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not.’

The king of Moab saw that his army had suffered total defeat, and with seven military units, sought to break a way through the enemy to the king of Edom, who would in their view be in charge of the weakest section of the enemy front. This may have been with a view to capturing him in order to give them a parleying position from their refuge behind the walls of their capital city, or simply with the hope of breaking through and escaping the avenging armies (possibly by fleeing to Ammon) in order to fight again another day. But the effort failed. The Edomites were too strong for them.

2.3.27 ‘Then he took his eldest son who should have reigned instead of him, and offered him for a burnt-offering on the wall. And there was great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.’

Holed up in Kir-haroseth Mesha saw only one desperate course open to him. Chemosh was not noted for accepting child-sacrifice. That was more the forte of Molech (Melech) the god of the neighbouring fierce Ammonites. But desperate times called for desperate measures (indeed his call may have been to Molech although in the Moabite Stone his allegiance was very much towards Chemosh, whom he saw as revelling in the slaughter of Moab’s enemies) and he offered his firstborn son as a burnt offering on the walls of the city in full view of the enemy.

It was at huge cost to himself. But it worked. For one reason or another Israel was seen as having come under ‘great wrath’ (or ‘great dismay’) with the result that they abandoned the siege and returned to their own land.

It is not likely that the ‘great wrath’ refers to the wrath of the people of Moab, for they were totally defeated and it is not likely that even when spurred on by such news they could gather a sufficient army to trouble the Israelites (unless their brother Ammonites joined them, and if so why is it not mentioned?). The ‘great wrath’ was probably ‘experienced’ by the Israelites as they saw the extremes to which they had driven the king of Moab. The horror of child sacrifice, which may well have been unknown in Israel since the time of David, or even of Samuel and Saul, may have been so great to them that they could only see it as bringing down on them the wrath of YHWH if they remained (or even of Chemosh, for most Israelites were not full-scale Yahwists, having been misled by Jeroboam’s false sanctuaries, and therefore probably continued to believe in the effectiveness of local gods when acting in their own area, compare Judges 11.24), seeing themselves as responsible for the child-sacrifice having taken place. Some see the Hebrew used for ‘great wrath’ (its usual meaning) as here having the significance of ‘great dismay’ on the basis of Aramaic usage. But either way it was enough to end the final siege, although that did not save Moab as a whole. Mesha would hopefully mend his ways in future, with his land almost indefensible (all the forts had been torn down).

SECTION 8. The Wonder-working Ministry Of Elisha (4.1-8.15)

It will be noted that from this point on, until 8.15, no king of Israel is mentioned by name, even though, for example, Naaman’s name is given in chapter 5, and Ben-hadad, the king of Aram, is mentioned in 6.24; 8.7. (The reign of Jehoram then recommences in 8.16). It is clear that the prophetic author was concerned at this point that our attention should be taken away from the kings to the wonder-working power of YHWH through His prophet Elisha. The kings (and the chronology) were not considered important. It was the events, and the advancement of God’s kingdom through Elisha that were seen as important in contrast with the failure of the kings.

Overall Analysis.

  • a A prophet’s widow comes to Elisha in her destitution and Elisha multiplies oil for her (4.1-7).
  • b Elisha raises to life and restores to a Shunammite her only son (4.8-37).
  • c Elisha restores a stew for his followers and feeds a hundred men on twenty small cakes of bread (4.38-44).
  • d The skin of the skin-diseased Naaman of Aram, who comes seeking Elisha in peace, is made pure as a babe’s (5.1-27).
  • e The borrowed axe-head is made to float, a symbol of the need for Israel to have its sharp edge restored by Elisha (6.1-7).
  • d The Aramaeans, who came seeking Elisha in hostility, are blinded (6.8-23).
  • c Elisha restores food to the people at the siege of Samaria, and feeds a large number on Aramaean supplies (6.24-7.20).
  • b The king restores to the Shunammite her land (8.1-6).
  • a Benhadad of Aram sends to Elisha in his illness and is assured that he will not die of his illness, but Elisha declares that nevertheless he will die, as it turns out, through assassination by Hazael (8.7-15).

Note that in ‘a’ Elisha is approached by a prophet’s widow in her need and is provided for, and in the parallel Elisha is approached on behalf of the king of Aram in his need and is reassured, although then being assassinated. Once more we have the contrast between blessing and judgment. In ‘b’ the Shunammite receives her son back to life, and in the parallel she receives her land back. In ‘c’ the stew is restored as edible in the midst of famine and the bread is multiplied to feed the sons of the prophets, and in the parallel food is restored to the besieged in a time of famine, and is multiplied to them. In ‘d’ Naaman an Aramaean comes in peace and is restored to health, and in the parallel Aramaeans come in hostility and are blinded. Centrally in ‘e’ the borrowed axe-head, symbolic of Israel’s cutting edge, is restored to its possessor.

YHWH Provides For A Poor Woman And Her Two Sons Who Seek Elisha’s Help Through The Miracle Of Multiplying The Oil In A Vessel (2.4.1-7).

It will be seen that this miracle, and the one of raising the dead in the next passage, are vaguely parallel to two of Elijah’s miracles in 1 Kings 18.9-23. But in each case it is only the central theme that is the same (multiplying oil, and in Elijah’s case meal, and raising a dead son), otherwise in all the details the stories are very different. Given the fact that Jesus performed similar miracles (multiplying bread twice, raising the dead a number of times) we may see them as typical of miracles that God might choose to perform, rather than as miracles which are duplicates of one original (Elisha will also shortly multiply bread as well). Indeed we may see in each case that Elisha himself got the idea from Elijah, as well as from YHWH. As we have already seen with regard to the parting of the Jordan (2.8, 14), Elisha liked reproducing what Elijah had done. We need not doubt therefore that these were two different incidents.

The first deals with the case of a poor widow who had two sons, whose wife and father had been one of the sons of the prophets (it was in some ways similar to Jesus healing Peter’s wife’s mother in showing compassion to the relative of a disciple- Mark 1.29-31). Because she was in debt it looked as though her sons would be sold by their creditor as bondsmen (slaves) in order to repay the debt. Strictly this was against the Law in Leviticus 25.39-40 (although in accord with the Code of Hammurabi), however the term ‘bondsmen’ may here be being used loosely of the alternative described there (compare also Isaiah 50.1). Either way it was not a very happy situation for the prophet’s widow. The Law in Exodus 21.7 is irrelevant to this incident, for that has to do with the special situation of Habiru seven year contracts (as also evidenced at Nuzi), or Habiru wife contracts, and has no connection with a situation like this.

Elisha then asked her what possessions she had, and learned that all that she had was a small jar of olive oil. So he told her to borrow from her neighbours as many pots and vessels as she could, and when she had done so to ensure her privacy and then continue pouring the oil into the vessels until the jar ran dry. She was to continue pouring the oil until all the vessels had been filled. The he told her to sell the oil and use what she obtained, first to pay off her debt (which she could do in oil), and then to provide for the financial future of herself and her sons.

The story is so dissimilar in every way to the one in 1 Kings 17.8-16 that it is difficult to see how they could both be derived from the same occurrence. (Of course most who make the claim also believe that nothing like it occurred at all, but that is not on the basis of evidence but simply on the basis of their philosophical position).

Analysis.

  • Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared YHWH, and the creditor has come to take for himself my two children to be bondsmen” (2.4.1).
  • And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your handmaid has nothing in the house, apart from a pot of oil” (2.4.2).
  • Then he said, “Go, borrow for yourself vessels abroad of all your neighbours, even empty vessels. Borrow not a few” (2.4.3).
  • “And you shall go in, and shut the door on you and on your sons, and pour out into all those vessels, and you shall set aside that which is full” (2.4.4).
  • So she went from him, and shut the door on her and on her sons. They brought the vessels to her, and she poured out (2.4.5).
  • And it came about, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me yet a vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not a vessel more.” And the oil stayed (2.4.6).
  • Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil, and pay your debt, and live, you and your sons, from what remains” (2.4.7).

Note that in ‘a’ the widow of one of the sons of the prophets came to Elisha because she could not pay her debt and her sons were about to be sold off as slaves, and in the parallel Elisha is able to tell her to pay her debt and provide for the future of the two boys. In ‘b’ she has nothing in the house but a pot of oil, and in the parallel she has large numbers of vessels full of oil. In ‘c’ he tells her to borrow a large number of vessels from her neighbours and friends, and in the parallel the vessels were brought to her and she filled them. Centrally in ‘d’ she was to go to in privacy into her house and fill all the vessels, putting them to one side as they were filled.

2.4.1 ‘Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared YHWH, and the creditor has come to take for himself my two children to be bondsmen.” ’

The death of a husband was a catastrophe for a woman with no grown up sons, for it meant that there was no provider for the family, and this may well have been moreso for wives of ‘sons of the prophets’ who were probably the poorest in Israel due to persecution and discrimination. It is clear that these sons of the prophets were not living in their own community. The widow thus turned to Elijah for help. Their condition was largely due to the fact that they had feared YHWH, and now she had built up debts and could not repay them. The result was that the creditor was threatening to sell her sons as bondservants in order to recoup the debt. This was forbidden by the Law of Moses in Leviticus 25.39-40, but Israel would not be strictly observing the Law of Moses under their current king, and in other countries this was accepted practise (e.g. under the Code of Hammurabi)

2.4.2 ‘And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your handmaid has nothing in the house, apart from a pot of oil.” ’

Elisha’s reply indicated that he was ready to help, and he asked her what she had in her house. And it was then that he learned of the family’s total destitution. All that she had was one small vessel of oil.

2.4.3-4 ‘Then he said, “Go, borrow for yourself vessels abroad of all your neighbours, even empty vessels. Borrow not a few. And you shall go in, and shut the door on you and on your sons, and pour out into all those vessels, and you shall set aside that which is full.” ’

We can almost hear Elisha say at this stage, ‘silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give you’ (Acts 3.6), for his meaning was the same. And he told her to go abroad among her neighbours and borrow as many vessels from her neighbours as she could, and to ensure that she did not stop at a few. As so often, if she was to enjoy a miracle she must exercise faith and put in effort. Then she must close her door on all outsiders and in complete privacy pour oil out of her jar into all the vessels that she had collected, and as each became full to set it aside.

We are left to assume her busy search for vessels among her neighbours for that is assumed. As so often in Scripture the command given by a prophet or by YHWH assumes that the action follows.

2.4.5 ‘So she went from him, and shut the door on her and on her sons. They brought the vessels to her, and she poured out.’

So she went from him, and having collected as many vessels as she could borrow, she shut herself and her sons up in complete privacy, and as her sons brought the vessels to her, she poured oil into them.

2.4.6 ‘And it came about, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me yet a vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not a vessel more.” And the oil stayed.’

Having filled all the vessels that they brought to her she then said to one of her sons, ‘bring me another vessel’. But the son replied, ‘Mummy, there are no more vessels.’ And at that the oil from her small vessel ceased flowing.

2.4.7 ‘Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil, and pay your debt, and live, you and your sons, from what remains.”

Filled with wonder she came and told ‘the man of God’ what had happened, and he gently told her to go and sell the oil, pay off her debt, and then use what remained to provide for herself and her sons into the future.

Note the change to ‘man of God’ which emphasised that this had been done by YHWH. In the short term there was no purpose in this miracle except to demonstrate God’s love and compassion for His own. In the longer term it is a blessing to all believers, and once again reveals YHWH as the God of creation. But it was deliberately done in private with no eye-witnesses, and was simply demonstrating how God cares for His own, and revealing the compassion of Elisha. It is, however, a reminder to us that when we become aware of our deepest need, we can seek to Him to fill our ‘vessels’ with oil, knowing that He will do so.

Elisha And The Shunammite Woman (2.4.8-37).

Shunem was near a well travelled road between Mount Carmel and Jezreel, one which Elisha would use frequently. In the process he became recognised by a wealthy couple who built a small brick built room on their house for him to stay in. Having stayed there on numerous occasions, and wanting to demonstrate his gratitude, he promised the couple a son, in spite of the advanced age of the husband.

The son was duly born. But sadly when he had grown to boyhood he suffered from what was probably cerebral meningitis and died. Full of faith his mother went to Elisha, who sent his servant with Elisha’s own staff to heal him, but on the servant failing he went himself. After some effort the son was raised up, and Elisha presented him to his mother.

The account splits up into three subsections:

  • 1). A wealthy couple provide a permanent lodging place for Elisha for when he visited Shunem (2.4.8-10).
  • 2). Elisha demonstrates his gratitude by promising her a son and a son is duly born (2.4.11-17).
  • 3). When the son grows up he dies suddenly, and on the woman appealing to Elijah, he raises the son from the dead (2.4.18-37).

The major lesson behind the story is that YHWH is the living God Who has the power of life and death and is able to raise up whom He will.

1). A Wealthy Couple Provide A Permanent Lodging Place For Elisha For When He Visits Shunem (2.4.8-10).

The story commences with the kindness of a wealthy couple who truly believe in YHWH to YHWH’s servant Elisha.

Analysis.

  • a And on one particular day Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a wealthy woman, and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat bread (2.4.8).
  • b And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us continually” (2.4.9).
  • a “Let us make, I pray you, a little chamber on the wall, and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a seat, and a lamp, and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he will turn in there” (2.4.10).

Note that in ‘a’ Elisha would ‘turn in’ at the wealthy woman’s to eat bread, and in the parallel the purpose of the provision of a room was so that he would be able to ‘turn in’ there. Central in ‘b’ is the fact that it was done because he was a ‘holy man of God’. The woman was a true believer in YHWH.

2.4.8 ‘And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a wealthy woman, and she constrained him to eat bread (a meal). And so it was, that as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat bread.’

Shunem was about eight kilometre (five miles) from Jezreel and therefore near a main route through the valley. It was thus heavily frequented, and Elisha would pass that way often on his way between Mount Carmel and Jezreel. One day when he was passing through a wealthy woman who was a true worshipper of YHWH and who lived there, and had no doubt noticed his passing a number of times, constrained him to enter her house for a meal. And after that he often enjoyed a meal there.

2.4.9 ‘And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us continually.” ’

This acquaintance with him led to her to point out to her husband that this continually passing prophet was genuinely ‘a holy man of God’ (a true prophet of YHWH).

2.4.10 “Let us make, I pray you, a little chamber on the wall, and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a seat, and a lamp, and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he will turn in there.”

So she suggested that they built a room onto their presumably large house (or a brick room on the roof of the house rather than simply a rude shelter, accessible by outside steps) where he could stay. There they would provide him with a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp, all the basics that were needed to make a man comfortable. Then whenever he passed by he could stay there. This was evidence of their relative wealth, for most houses could only support a makeshift lean-to on the flat roof for visitors to stay in. It would therefore have provided Elisha with undreamed of comfort. The lamp would be a small vessel containing oil with a pinched neck into which a wick was placed and lit.

There is a reminder to us here that if we are generous to those who truly serve God (not to money grabbers) we will not lose our reward.

2). Elisha Seeks To Demonstrate His Gratitude And Promises Her A Son Even Though Her Husband Is Old, And A Son Is Duly Born (2.4.11-17).

As we discover again later in the case of Naaman Elisha had a habit, when speaking officially as a prophet, of speaking through his servant. In this case when he wanted to discuss with her how he could help her he sent his servant Gehazi, and when Gehazi called her to come, in verse 12 it was before Gehazi that she stood, who acted as an intermediary. She would probably not have seen it as seemly to enter the prophet’s room while he was there.

Gehazi then approached Elisha, and Elisha told him what to say to the woman, after which Gehazi communicated it to the woman. She gave him her reply and he then brought an answer back to Elisha, that there was nothing that he could do for her. But Gehazi also informed Elisha that the couple had no son. Elisha now realised that what he had to say was so important that it must be communicated directly. Note the emphasis on the fact that when she did come she stood in the doorway. Elisha then informed her that within a year she would have a son. She found it hard to believe, but sure enough, before a year had gone she found herself bearing a son.

Analysis.

  • a And on a certain day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and lay there (2.4.11).
  • b And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him (2.4.12).
  • c And he said to him, “Say now to her, Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care, what is to be done for you? Would you be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host?” (2.4.13a).
  • d And she answered, “I dwell among my own people” (2.4.13b).
  • c And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Truly she has no son, and her husband is old” (2.4.13b).
  • b And he said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the door (2.4.15).
  • a And he said, “At this season, when the time comes round, you will embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, you man of God, do not lie to your handmaid.” And the woman conceived, and bore a son at that season, when the time came round, as Elisha had said to her (2.4.16-17).

Note that ‘on a certain day’ Elisha visited the home, and in the parallel the son was to be born ‘when the time came round’, and it was so. In ‘b’ the woman is called before Gehazi, and in the parallel she is called before Elisha. In ‘c’ Elisha wants to know what can be done for her, and in the parallel that is still the question. Centrally in ‘d’ she explains that she wants for nothing.

2.4.11 ‘And on a certain day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and lay there.’

One day Elisha visited the couple and went to his room. He may well have been feeling exhausted, for he lay down and rested. ‘On a certain day’ is vague and indicates that this incident is only vaguely related to its context. It is not, therefore, necessarily in chronological order. Indeed we should notice that the whole incident takes place over some years, for the baby who is born has time to grow to boyhood. Thus it certainly takes us beyond incidents that follow.

2.4.12 ‘And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him.’

Then Elisha told his servant Gehazi to ‘call the Shunammite’. The idea was not that she should come to Elisha’s room, for that would not have been seemly, but that she would talk with Gehazi. Thus when Gehazi called her she stood before him (Gehazi).

2.4.13 ‘And he said to him, “Say now to her, Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care, what is to be done for you? Would you be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host?”

Elisha had instructed Gehazi to point out that they were grateful for the care that she had taken of them, and to ask what they could do in return. Would she like being recommended to the king or the commander of the host of Israel? The idea may have been of remission of taxes, or of avoiding the need to provide so many men for military service, but the idea was more probably (going by her reply) an offer of special protection and a favoured position, something which would have been very useful for someone who was wealthy but living among strangers. It is interesting evidence of the favour in which Elisha stood with the king at this time that he could even offer this.

2.4.13b ‘And she answered, “I dwell among my own people.”

Her reply was that she dwelt among her own people and had no need of anything. She did not want rewarding for their act of kindness. As a wealthy landowner, living among his own clan which would have a deep concern for its own, her husband did not need to look outside for help. (But as is often so in life there would come a time when her circumstances changed and she was only too happy for the king’s help - 8.1-6).

2.4.14 ‘And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Truly she has no son, and her husband is old.” ’

Elisha then consulted with Gehazi about what they could do for her, and Gehazi pointed out that her husband was old, and that they had no son and heir.

2.4.15 ‘And he said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the door.’

So Elisha told his servant to invite her to come and see him personally. And when she came she stood in the doorway, not wanting to enter his room. This may have been because it was not considered seemly in her circles for a woman to enter a man’s room. or it may be because she saw the room as ‘holy’ because it was Elisha’s.

2.4.16 ‘And he said, “At this season, when the time comes round, you will embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, you man of God, do not lie to your handmaid.”

Then he informed her that within a year she would be cuddling a son. But she found it difficult to believe and she asked him not to deceive her. She just could not believe his promise. It was too much to hope for.

2.4.17 ‘And the woman conceived, and bore a son at that season, when the time came round, as Elisha had said to her.’

But sure enough within a short time she conceived a son who was born to her at the time that Elisha had declared. She learned, as Sarah had before her, that YHWH could give life as He wished, and that there was no need for Baal. Nothing was too hard with Him (compare Genesis 17.15-16; 18.10-14). It also demonstrated quite openly that YHWH was more effective than any fertility goddess.

3). When The Son Grows To Boyhood He Dies Suddenly, And On The Woman Appealing To Elisha, He Raises Her Son From The Dead (2.4.18-37).

One thing worse than not having a son and heir, especially in the circumstances of those times, was to have one and lose him while he was still a boy. That was what happened in this case. For during harvest time the son, who was the joy of the family, went out to join his father and his fellow-reapers in the fields, and collapsed and was taken home dying.

But the woman had faith in YHWH and she immediately set out to find Elisha. On arriving where he was she informed him of what had happened and Elisha immediately responded and sent his servant with Elisha’s own staff to lay it on the boy’s face. The servant, however, could only report failure. Elisha meanwhile was proceeding towards the house with the woman, and when he arrived at the house he went up to his room where the boy lay, and brought him back to life, after which he brought the son back to his mother, thereby demonstrating the unique life-giving power of YHWH.

Analysis.

  • a And when the child was grown, on a particular day, he went out to his father to the reapers, and he said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother” (2.4.18-19).
  • b And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat (or ‘lay’) on her knees until noon, and then died (2.4.20).
  • c And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door on him, and went out (2.4.21).
  • d And she called to her husband, and said, “Send me, I pray you, one of the servants, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again.” And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.” Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward. Do not slow down the riding, unless I bid you” (2.4.22-24).
  • e So she went, and came to the man of God to mount Carmel. And it came about, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, yonder is the Shunammite, run, I pray you, now to meet her, and say to her, “Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?” And she answered, “It is well.” And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet (2.4.25-27a).
  • f Gehazi came near to push her away, but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is vexed within her, and YHWH has hidden it from me, and has not told me” (2.4.27b).
  • g Then she said, “Did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?” (2.4.28).
  • f Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go your way. If you meet any man, do not salute him. And if any salute you, do not answer him again. And lay my staff on the face of the child” (2.4.29).
  • e And the mother of the child said, “As YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” And he arose, and followed her (2.4.30).
  • d And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was neither voice, nor hearing. For which reason he returned to meet him, and told him, saying, “The child has not awoken” (2.4.31).
  • c And when Elisha had come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid on his bed (2.4.32).
  • b He went in therefore, and shut the door on both of them, and prayed to YHWH. And he went up, and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, and his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him, and the flesh of the child grew warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house once to and fro, and went up, and stretched himself on him, and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes (2.4.33-35).
  • a And he called Gehazi, and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she had come in to him, he said, “Take up your son.” Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son, and went out (2.4.36-37).

Note that in ‘a’ the mother receives her son dying, and in the parallel she receives him alive and well. In ‘b’ the son has died, and in the parallel Elisha brings him back to life. In ‘c’ the woman lays her child on the bed of the man of God, and in the parallel the man of God found him lying on his bed. In ‘d’ the woman goes with her servant urgently to see Elisha, and in the parallel Elisha’s servant urgently goes on ahead in order to see if he can ‘awaken’ the child. In ‘e’ the Shunnamite arrives and catches hold of Elisha’s feet, and in the parallel she will not leave him. In ‘f’ Elisha is deeply concerned about what the woman wants, and in the parallel his servant is urgently sent to deal with here ‘want’. Central in ‘g’ is her complaint that Elisha has not dealt fairly with her in giving her a son only for her to lose him while still a boy.

2.4.18 ‘And when the child was grown, on a certain day, he went out to his father to the reapers.’

Year passed by as the son grew to boyhood, and one day he went out to see his father who was at work among the reapers in his fields, where he no doubt wanted to ‘play his part’. Again the timing of the incident is vague, ‘on a certain day’. As the son of wealthy parents he was not automatically called on while still young to himself help in the fields.

2.4.19 ‘And he said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” ’

But as he was present in the fields he cried to his father, ‘My head, my head’, and presumably collapsed. The father immediately ordered a servant to carry the boy to his mother. He was probably not over-concerned, thinking that it was heat exhaustion or something similar. But the fact that he did not go himself suggests that he was overseeing a number of workers.

2.4.20 ‘And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees until noon, and then died.’

The servant brought the boy to his mother who took him on her knees, but at noontide he died. The speed of the death is against it merely being sunstroke, especially as he would have been suitably dressed, and used to the sun. It rather suggests something like cerebral malaria. (A similar case is described in Jewish tradition in Judith 8.3, although there the man had been out in the sun much longer).

The blow to the mother can be appreciated. But in this case the son was a special gift from God, and she was therefore sure that the man of God who had promised her the son would be able to do something about it..

2.4.21 ‘And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door on him, and went out.’

So she took her son up to the man of God’s room and laid him on the man of God’s bed, and then shut the door on him, closing it behind her. A number of suggestions have been made for why she did this:

  • 1). In order that the man of God might feel guilty when he arrived and found him there. This to us, however, appears very unlikely as she intended to go and see the man of God with expectation that he could do something.
  • 2). In the hope that by his being shut in on the man of God’s bed his spirit might somehow be kept near the body until the man of God could come. Certainly the later Jews believed that the spirit did not desert the body for three days. (This does not indicate that it was true, only that it was what people believed).
  • 3). Her wanting to bring her son into as close a contact with the man of God as she could, so that somehow he might be under his protection. It was probably the holiest place that she knew of in the vicinity. It was thus in itself a cry of faith to God. We can compare how people would later touch the hem of Jesus’ robe.
  • 4). There may, of course have been a combination of reasons. She was probably greatly distraught and not thinking too clearly and simply wanted her dead son as near to the man of God whom she was about to seek, as possible.

2.4.22 ‘And she called to her husband, and said, “Send me, I pray you, one of the servants, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again.” ’

We are not told whether she sent a message to inform her husband of the boy’s death, or whether she hoped to spare him grief by obtaining the man of God’s help before he knew. (He would not know where the boy was when he got home). But she sent a message to her husband asking him to send her a servant, and one of the asses, so that she could go and see the man of God and return.

2.4.23 ‘And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.”

The message puzzled her husband who sent a reply asking her why she was going to visit the man of God on a day which was not a special day, like a new moon or sabbath. Both the day of each new moon (the commencement of each ‘month’) and the seventh day (the Sabbath) were looked on as ‘holy days’, and it would appear that people had the custom of visiting prophets on these days, possibly with petitions, and presumably with the hope of learning more about God and His word. (Compare how in Saul’s day all the courtiers were expected to attend at court for a feast at the new moon - 1 Samuel 20.5). Note how this indicates that there was at this time no restriction on travel on the Sabbath, as long as it was for a holy purpose. (There was no restriction to ‘a sabbath day’s journey’). For the association of new moon and Sabbath see Amos 8.5 (note the restrictions); Hosea 2.11; Isaiah 1.13. The Sabbath was unique to Israel and by occurring every seven days was deliberately disconnected with phases of the moon. We must not therefore read into it any connection with ideas at Ugarit or Babylon. The Law of Moses specifically connects it with God in His creative work (Exodus 20.11), and with the deliverance from servitude in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5.15). It became generally recognised in Israel because of the procedures on the collecting of the manna (Exodus 16), which instilled it into them for ‘forty years’.

Her laconic reply, ‘all will be well’, was a general reassurance without explaining anything. It was important to the author as an expression of her faith.

2.4.24 ‘Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward. Do not slow down the riding, unless I bid you.”

This does not necessarily mean that she saddled the ass herself. She would probably get the servant to do it, although she was under such constraint that she might well have tried to do it herself in order to hurry things up. Then she told the servant to proceed as quickly as possible, driving the ass at speed unless she said otherwise.

2.4.25-26 ‘So she went, and came to the man of God to mount Carmel. And it came about, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, yonder is the Shunammite, run, I pray you, now to meet her, and say to her, “Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?” And she answered, “It is well.”

In this way she proceeded towards Mount Carmel at a rapid pace. The man of God was on Mount Carmel and spotted her at a distance, and the speed of her approach made him recognise that something was wrong. So he sent his servant Gehazi to enquire whether all were well. Her reply to him was a non-committal, ‘All is well’. She wanted to speak to the man of God personally.

Note the continual emphasis on ‘the man of God’ (true prophet of YHWH). It was the fact that he was a ‘man of God’ that gave her hope, and that would be evidenced by what he was about to do. (He is mentioned by name in verses 8, 17, 32, embracing the whole story).

2.4.27 ‘And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away, but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is vexed within her, and YHWH has hidden it from me, and has not told me.” ’

On arrival at where Elisha stood on the hill, she hurriedly dismounted and ran and, falling before him, seized his feet, at which Gehazi sought to constrain her and push her away. But the man of God told him to desist, because it was clear that she was under some deep emotion about something that YHWH had not divulged to him. This suggests that he was in fact used to YHWH revealing to him facts about the needs of the people whom he served.

2.4.28 ‘Then she said, “Did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?” ’

Her deep distress comes out in these words. They were probably not the only ones that she spoke, but they went to the heart of her distress. She and her husband had become reconciled to their childlessness, and she had made no attempt to ask the prophet for such a gift. But he had insisted, and now she was worse off than if he had not done so, for she had lost her young son and was totally bereft as only a mother can be. Had he not then in the end deceived her, as she had asked him not to? But behind her complaint lay the cry of a heart in pain that yet still believed that he could help her, a plea that he discerned.

2.4.29 ‘Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go your way. If you meet any man, do not salute him. And if any salute you, do not answer him again. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” ’

So Elisha turned to Gehazi, and told him to tuck his robe in his belt and hurry on his way with Elisha’s staff in his hand. He was not to salute anyone on the way, or acknowledge a salute (formal salutations were a lengthy affair and could have caused considerable delay). Such behaviour would make clear to all that he was on an urgent mission (compare Jesus’ similar words to His disciples - Luke 10.4). And when he arrived at the woman’s house he was to lay his staff on the child’s face.

The staff was, of course, the symbol of Elisha’s authority (compare the staff of Moses) and therefore of his authority under YHWH. It was therefore seen as a means of conveying Elisha’s God-given authority to the situation in hand, and of bringing the dead son within the range of Elisha’s power. There was no idea of magic involved. It was little different to the sending of handkerchiefs through which healing was dispensed in Acts 19.12, a practise which has also resulted in healings in modern times (my uncle had a gift of healing and used the method successfully a number of times. He did not believe in magic, but in the power of the God Who had given him his gift).

2.4.30 ‘And the mother of the child said, “As YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” And he arose, and followed her.’

The woman, however, was not content with this. She was convinced that what was needed was the presence of Elisha himself. And so she declared with a most solemn oath that she would not leave Elisha until her son was cured. Thus Elisha arose and went with her.

2.4.31 ‘And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff on the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. For which reason he returned to meet him, and told him, saying, “The child has not awoken.” ’

Gehazi had gone on ahead of them, and when he reached the woman’s house he went to Elisha’s room and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but with no response. He did not speak, and he did not move. So Gehazi returned to report failure, declaring, ‘the child has not awoken’.

We are not told whether Elisha was actually expecting the child to be cured by this method, or whether it was intended to be but a preliminary to his own coming, part of the procedure of healing, which in fact took some time.

2.4.32 ‘And when Elisha had come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid on his bed.’

The distance between Shunem and Mount Carmel was around thirty two kilometres (over twenty miles). Thus by this time the child had been dead for at least two days, even granted that the ass had been pressed hard. It would certainly have needed rest periods in the burning heat, or it would have come to a halt. And there had been preparation time at the beginning, and the time needed to explain things to Elisha. So when Elisha came into the house the child was clearly dead, and was still laid out on his bed.

2.4.33 ‘He went in therefore, and shut the door on both of them, and prayed to YHWH.’

Wanting complete privacy for what he was about to do, Elisha went into the room, shutting both the mother and the servant out, and there he prayed to YHWH.

2.4.34 ‘And he went up, and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, and his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him, and the flesh of the child grew warm.’

Then he went up to the child who was cold with the cold of death (in spite of the hot climate). He had been lying there for over two days. And Elisha went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, and his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him. There was no question of ‘mouth to mouth resuscitation’. He had been in this state for too long. The point was rather to communicate to the child the power of Elisha in every part of his body. We can compare how when the woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment ‘power went out of Him’ (Mark 5.30). Compare also ‘the laying on of hands to heal the sick’ (Mark 5.23; 6.5; 16.18; Luke 4.40; 13.13; Acts 28.8). This was how God healed through His servants. It is a reminder that divine healing was demanding on the healer (after a period of healing my uncle would be totally exhausted). It is, however, important to note that it follows the fact that he had ‘prayed to YHWH’ (verse 33), and was still no doubt doing so in his heart. Elisha was looking to the power of YHWH not to ancient beliefs about life.

At length he recognised that the child’s body had become warm again. A semblance of life had been restored. The miracle had taken place.

2.4.35 ‘Then he returned, and walked in the house once to and fro, and went up, and stretched himself on him, and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.’

Elisha then arose and walked up and down once. He had just completed a long journey in the heat, and had then accomplished what he had on the boy. It is thus quite probable that he felt that he had to ‘stretch his limbs’. Then he once more went and stretched himself on the boy, and the child ‘sneezed seven times’ and opened his eyes. He had come back to life.

‘Seven times’ probably simply means ‘a number of times in accordance with God’s perfect plan’. It is doubtful if Elisha was counting.

2.4.36 ‘And he called Gehazi, and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she had come in to him, he said, “Take up your son.”

Elisha then summoned Gehazi and told him to call the no doubt anxious Shunnamite. And when she came in he said, ‘Take up your son,’ This remarkable healing was one of the examples that Gehazi recounted to the king of Israel when he had asked about the wonderful things done by Elisha (8.5).

2.4.37 ‘Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son, and went out.’

Full of gratitude the woman fell at his feet, and bowed herself before him, and then she took up her son and went out. She could probably tell that Elisha was exhausted, and may well still have felt uneasy about being in that holy room when the prophet was there.

The lesson of the passage is clear, and it is that the living God had the power of life and death. He had brought about the birth of the boy, He had allowed the boy to die, and He had raised him up again. All life was in His hands from the cradle to the grave. There was thus no need for a multiplicity of gods and goddesses. YHWH was totally sufficient for His people’s needs.

Death In The Pot (2.4.38-41).

To turn this story into an example of the culinary art, with Elisha as the experienced chief cook is to misrepresent it. Whatever we may think it is quite clear that the author saw it as a miracle, and intended it to be read in that way. Furthermore it would never have been recorded had it not been seen in that way by the participants. They would have had many experiences of when food did not quite taste right and was put right by adding something more, no doubt resulting in some leg-pulling. No one bothered to record things like that. But this was clearly seen as something different.

One problem is, of course, that, while we may hazard guesses, there is no indication what the plant was that was added to the pot, but we can safely assume that it was not anything common. That is why we do not see it as fitting in with the usual suggestions. It was clearly not a commonly recognised plant (‘they did not know them’). However, the idea that it was poisonous did simply rest on the taste. But no one, probably even Elisha, knew whether it was so or not. Thus the adding of the meal was intended to be a divine remedy for the situation, not just something to make the stew more palatable, necessary because it was a time of shortage and they could not afford to lose what was in the pot. And for that it turned out to be perfectly satisfactory. It was another example of Elisha’s remarkable powers.

Analysis.

  • a And Elisha came again to Gilgal. And there was a famine in the land, and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him (2.4.38a).
  • b And he said to his servant, “Set on the great pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets” (2.4.38b).
  • c And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered from it wild gourds, his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of stew, for they did not know them (2.4.39).
  • b So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came about, as they were eating of the stew, that they cried out, and said, “O man of God, there is death in the pot.” And they could not eat of it (2.4.40).
  • a But he said, “Then bring meal.” And he cast it into the pot, and he said, “Pour out for the people, that they may eat.” And there was no harm in the pot (2.4.41).

Note that in ‘a’ there was famine in the land and the sons of the prophets were depending on Elisha, and in the parallel their need is met by Elisha. In ‘b’ the stew was set on the fire so that it would be ready for the sons of the prophets to eat, and in the parallel they tried to eat of it but could not. Central in ‘c’ is the reason for the problem, the gathering of an unknown ingredient.

2.4.38 ‘And Elisha came again to Gilgal. And there was a famine in the land, and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him. And he said to his servant, “Set on the great pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” ’

The famine was probably the same one as described in 8.1. We do not know which Gilgal it was, whether the one in the Jordan rift valley, or the one in the hills above Bethel, or possibly another one. The important thing is that Elisha and the sons of the prophets were having a community meal. This may have been because the famine had brought them together, or because they were having a special conference in view of the coming of Elisha to the region. But as their acknowledged leader when he was present Elisha gave orders for a large pot of stew to be put on the fire to boil, ready for their meal.

2.4.39 ‘And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered from it wild gourds, his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of stew, for they did not know them.’

We have here a stark warning of the danger of eating things which are unknown to us, unless of course we have good grounds for knowing them to be safe. This is especially so when we gather them in the wild. In this case one of the sons of the prophets found an unknown ‘vine’ and gathered its fruits, which he then placed in his turned up robe (forming a carrier bag). When they were brought back to the camp they were shredded with everything else, even though ‘they did not know them’. Possibly no one thought to ask, each assuming that the others knew what they were. The fact that it was unknown indicates that it was a rare plant, and it is therefore unlikely that we can identify it. The description is a loose one using common terminology. The plant was ‘a creeping plant’ producing some kind of ‘knop like fruit’, but as the description came from a layman it cannot be taken too literally. Any suggestions based on plants which were common can be discounted (thus we exclude the later guess at the colocynth, a common wild plant which produced cucumber like fruit, and was purgative, and in quantities, poisonous. It would be too commonly known).

2.4.40 ‘So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came about, as they were eating of the stew, that they cried out, and said, “O man of God, there is death in the pot.” And they could not eat of it.’

‘There is death in the pot.’ It would only be when the stew was tasted and found to be inedible that questions would be asked, and it may well be that when that occurred the description from the culprit indicated to a fellow son of the prophets some kind of rare ‘fruit’ which from past experience he knew to be poisonous. Thus it may well be that it was literally poisonous. To make it into a kind of joke such as we might make over something we do not like the taste of is to ignore the seriousness with which this story has been treated. It is not meant to be light entertainment. As a result of what they had discovered they could clearly not eat of it. As presumably what the man had put in was a relatively small part of the ingredients, its drastic effect on the taste is remarkable evidence of its potency.

2.4.41 ‘But he said, “Then bring meal.” And he cast it into the pot, and he said, “Pour out for the people, that they may eat.” And there was no harm in the pot.’

So Elisha called for some meal to be brought , and he himself cast it into the pot, and then declared it to be now perfectly safe. And so it turned out to be. While we would not discount the fact that adding meal could quite well have a taste-changing effect on the stew, making it palatable, we would not deny. It may even have helped to compensate for whatever poison was in the pot. But if so it was YHWH Who knew about that, not Elisha and the sons of the prophets. They saw it as a miracle. And it was certainly a miracle of answered prayer.

The final point behind the story was that as the God of Creation, YHWH had full control over all vegetation, and could make of it what He would.

Elisha Feeds A ‘Multitude’ With A Relatively Few Loaves of Bread (2.4.42-44).

While the likeness to the account of the feeding of many thousands by Jesus with five loaves and two fish is limited to the fact of the multiplying of the food, this miracle clearly does not bear comparison with that in level of difficulty. But it was remarkable nonetheless. For when some of the firstfruits were brought to Elisha, he fed a hundred men on twenty small barley loaves, with food left over. The fact that there was some left over demonstrates that it was not just a token meal or a making do with what was available. All ate and were satisfied.

The emphasis is not on the fact that this was a sacramental meal (an invention of commentators) but on the fact that they were all able to eat with something left over. There is an emphasis on the miraculous content of what happened. So little genuinely fed so many.

Analysis.

  • a And there came a man from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first-fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grain in his sack (2.4.42a).
  • b And he said, “Give to the people, that they may eat . (2.4.42b).
  • c And his servant said, “What, should I set this before a hundred men?” (2.4.43a).
  • b But he said, “Give the people, that they may eat, for thus says YHWH, “They shall eat, and shall leave some of it” (2.4.43b).
  • a So he set it before them, and they ate, and left some of it, according to the word of YHWH (2.4.44).

Note than in ‘a’ the food was brought to Elisha, and in the parallel the man sets it before the people, and they all ate and were filled. In ‘b’ Elisha commands that it be given to the people, and in the parallel repeats the command with the explanation that YHWH would make it sufficient. Centrally in ‘c’ the servant is astonished that so little should be offered to so many people.

2.4.42 ‘And there came a man from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first-fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and freshly plucked ears of grain in his sack. And he said, “Give to the people, that they may eat.” ’

Baal-shalisha lay twenty two kilometres (fourteen miles) north of Lydda in the plain of Sharon. From there came a man bearing some of the firstfruits for ‘the man of God’. In Judah the firstfruits (Leviticus 23.20) would be for the priests. But in Israel many did not recognise the priests at the false sanctuaries, and probably therefore saw this as a satisfactory method of making their gift to YHWH. The man brought twenty barley loaves and some freshly plucked ears of grain in a sack. Elisha was present at a gathering of about one hundred men (probably mostly sons of the prophets, some of whom may have had their wives or sons with them) and he therefore commanded that the bread be given to them so that they could eat. It is not said that it was during the famine but it might well have been so.

2.4.43 ‘And his servant said, “What, should I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give the people, that they may eat, for thus says YHWH, “They shall eat, and shall leave some of it.” ’

The servant was astonished. So little before a hundred men? Elisha’s reply confirms that he is aware of how little it is but he asserts that YHWH has promised that they will all eat sufficient and that some will be left over. The emphasis all though is on the miracle of so many being fed with so little. There is not even a hint that any other alternative applied.

2.4.44 ‘So he set it before them, and they ate, and left some of it, according to the word of YHWH.’

And the result that in accord with YHWH’s prophetic utterance all of them ate of it and some was left over. Any attempt to remove the miraculous ignores the emphasis in the account and must be dismissed as ludicrous. The whole point of the story is that, unlike Baal, YHWH was able to take twenty loaves and multiply them as He wished. He was the Lord of bread and grain. We will accept that in some way it may have been a sacrament, but only because YHWH multiplied the bread so that all had sufficient. It was thus food from YHWH indeed, and fed both body and soul to the full.

It is also a reminder to us that He can take of what few talents we have and multiply them so that our lives can be fully effective for him. But that can only be when we first of all hand it all over to Him and commence whatever we discover that He wants us to do.

The Healing Of Naaman, The General Of Aram (Syria) And The Smiting Of Gehazi, The Servant Of Elisha (2.5.1-27).

This is not only a remarkable story in that it recounts the healing by YHWH of an Aramaean general, but also because it indicates the acceptance by YHWH of a foreigner who truly believed, without circumcision. It is a reminder of the unlimited nature of God’s mercy towards all who truly respond to Him. It is also a story of contrasts which demonstrates that God treats all alike, for in contrast to the reception and healing of this foreigner the servant of Elisha was smitten for his great sin of deceit and avarice, in spite of who he was. The greatness of his sin must not be underestimated, for it misrepresented YHWH to one who would have little further contact with the truth, and it was committed by a man of unusual privilege. Furthermore when faced with it he failed to repent, which exacerbated his sin. Repentance and open confession might well have saved him from his fate.

The illness in question was probably not leprosy. Had Naaman had leprosy he would probably not have been able to have such close contact with people, nor enter the king’s presence (compare Leviticus 13.42-46). It was rather some skin disease that was disfiguring, while still allowing close communication. For Gehazi it would mean being disfigured, and being excluded from close contact with the sanctuary. He obtained his wealth at a cost. It is not certain whether he continued in his favoured position. His presence with the king in 8.4-5 may suggest so, but he may have been at court precisely because he was the ex-servant of Elisha.

In the whole account only three people are mentioned by name, Naaman, Elisha and Gehazi. Even the kings are not named. This was in order to put the limelight on the three main characters, without politicising the incident. It was the story of three people.

Overall it is a picture of salvation, for it is a reminder that however spiritually disfigured we may be, God is able and willing to make us wholly clean.

Analysis.

  • a Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him YHWH had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty warrior, but he was skin diseased (2.5.1).
  • b And the Aramaeans (Syrians) had gone out in raiding bands, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maiden, and she waited on Naaman’s wife (2.5.2).
  • c And she said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then would he recover him of his skin disease.” And someone went in, and told his lord, saying, “Thus and thus said the maiden who is of the land of Israel” (2.5.3-4).
  • d And the king of Aram (Syria) said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment (2.5.5).
  • e And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, “And now when this letter is come to you, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may recover him of his skin disease.” And it came about, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends to me to recover a man of his skin disease? But consider, I pray you, and see how he seeks a quarrel against me” (2.5.6-7).
  • f And it was so, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2.5.8).
  • g So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariots, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha (2.5.9).
  • h And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will come again to you, and you will be clean” (2.5.10).
  • i But Naaman was angry, and went away, and said, “See, I thought, he will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of YHWH his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the skin disease (2.5.11).
  • j “Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage (2.5.12).
  • i And his servants came near, and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had bid you do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather then, when he says to you, Wash, and be clean?” (2.5.13).
  • h Then he went down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, in accordance with the saying of the man of God, and his flesh came again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean (2.5.14).
  • g And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him, and he said, “Look, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, take a present from your servant” (2.5.15)
  • f But he said, “As YHWH lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. And Naaman said, “If not, yet, I pray you, let there be given to your servant two mules’ burden of earth, for your servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice to other gods, but to YHWH” (2.5.16-17).
  • e “In this thing YHWH pardon your servant, when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, YHWH pardon your servant in this thing.” And he said to him, “Go in peace.” So he departed from him a little way (2.5.18-19).
  • d But Gehazi the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “Behold, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not receiving at his hands what he brought. As YHWH lives, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him. So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw one running after him, he alighted from the chariot to meet him, and said, “Is all well?” And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me, saying, ‘Behold, even now there are come to me from the hill-country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Give them, I pray you, a talent of silver, and two changes of clothing.” And Naaman said, “Be pleased to take two talents.” And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants, and they bore them before him (2.5.20-23).
  • c And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand, and placed them in the house, and he let the men go, and they departed. But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said to him, “From where have you come, Gehazi?” And he said, Your servant went nowhere” (2.5.24-25).’
  • b And he said to him, “Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive clothing, and oliveyards and vineyards, and sheep and oxen, and men-servants and maid-servants?” ’(2.5.26).
  • a “The skin disease therefore of Naaman will cleave to you, and to your seed for ever.” And he went out from his presence skin diseased, as white as snow (2.5.27).

Note that in ‘a’ Naaman was skin diseased, and in the parallel the skin disease was affected Gehazi. In ‘b’ the Aramaeans had obtained a maid-servant of Israel, and in the parallel it was not a time for seeking maid-servants (among others). In ‘c’ the maid went to her mistress with a message of truth, and in the parallel Gehazi went to his master with a lie. In ‘d’ Naaman took with him a large gift, and in the parallel a handsome gift was given to Gehazi. In ‘e’ the king of Israel considered the approach in order to cure Naaman to be an attempt to make war, and in the parallel Naaman was sent away cured in peace. In ‘f’ Naaman was to know that there was a genuine prophet in Israel, and in the parallel he demonstrated that he had learned it by his request for the means of worshipping YHWH. In ‘g’ Naaman and his entourage stood at Elisha’s door, and in the parallel he and his entourage again stood at the prophet’s door. In ‘h’ Elisha commanded Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan, and in the parallel he did so. In ‘i’ Naaman was angry and rode off with no intention of doing what Elisha had said, and in the parallel his servants persuaded him to do it. Centrally in ‘j’ he considered that his country’s own rivers were superior to the Jordan, indicating his view that the gods of Aram were superior.

2.5.1 ‘Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Aram (Syria), was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him YHWH had given victory to Aram (Syria). He was also a mighty warrior, but he was a leper.’

As we have already seen the kingdom of Aram had grown strong and powerful and a constant threat to its neighbours. The kingdom consisted of a small number of petty kings over cities under the control of the king in Damascus, plus a good number of tribal chieftains over tribes which had their own semi-independent way of life, but were responsive to the call of the king of Aram whenever he needed men for his warfare.

Naaman was commander over all the hosts of Aram. He was thus a great man, and highly respected because of his continual victories over other nations. To be ‘honourable’ meant literally ‘to have his face lifted up’, something permitted by the king only to those whom he honoured. And he was a great warrior. But he had one problem. He had a disfiguring skin disease. His name was a common local name as testified to at Ugarit.

It is noteworthy that the prophetic author, or his source, imputes his victories to YHWH, just as Isaiah would impute Assyria’s victories to YHWH (e.g. Isaiah 10.5, 15), while Jeremiah would see Nebuchadnezzar as His servant (Jeremiah 27.6). All saw YHWH as God over all the earth.

2.5.2 ‘And the Aramaeans had gone out in raiding bands, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maiden, and she waited on Naaman’s wife.’

These raiding bands would be operating even while there was a period of peace between Israel and Aram, probably being bands from the semi-independent tribes referred to above, who would raid over the border, taking spoils and captives whom they would then sell in the street markets of Damascus. One such captive was a little Israelite maiden who had become servant to Naaman’s wife.

We are left to imagine the sufferings of this young girl. Snatched away from her family, finding herself bundled among strangers, in fear of her life, and sold as a slave in the Damascus street markets. She might well have asked, ‘Why God?’ But God had had a purpose in it which was about to unveil. It was through her witness that the second greatest man in Aram would come to know YHWH, while throughout history her willing helpfulness and love has been an inspiration for millions.

2.5.3 ‘And she said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then would he recover him of his leprosy.” ’

One day, the maiden, who was clearly on conversational terms with her mistress, told her how much she wished that ‘her lord’ could be with the prophet in Samaria, who would recover him of his distressing skin disease. It was clearly a great cause of distress, and it was a testimony to Naaman that even his slaves wished him well.

The maiden was clearly familiar with the stories of Elisha’s different miracles and healings, for she was assuming no light thing. It is remarkable evidence of the fame that Elisha had even during his lifetime. Her term for him as a ‘prophet’ (nabi), and she was aware that he was often to be found in Samaria. He appears to have had a house there, from which he would travel to perform his duties to YHWH. This had probably been provided by the king, but he was clearly not a member of the royal court, nor sought to be so. He was YHWH’s man. Indeed the king was seemingly less aware of Elisha’s powers than the common people (verse 3; 8.4), which was to be expected, because it was mainly among the ‘common people’ that he operated.

2.5.4 ‘And someone went in, and told his lord, saying, “Thus and thus said the maiden who is of the land of Israel.” ’

The remark was overheard by another well-wisher of Naaman, and that wellwisher went to Naaman and told him what had been said.

2.5.5 ‘And the king of Aram said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment.’

Naaman then clearly went to the king (possibly Benhadad III) who on hearing what he had to say informed him that he should go to Israel with a letter from him to the king of Israel (possibly Jehoram). His assumption was that, as in Aram, prophets would be at the court of the king, and that the king of Israel would know immediately who could do this thing. But he recognised that such prophets did not come cheap (compare Balaam in Numbers 22.16-17). The deliberate non-mention of the names of the kings confirms that the account comes from prophetic sources, and that the aim was to stress the personal aspect of the incident. The kings are being side-lined.

The gift he took was huge, as befitted a king seeking a huge favour from another king with whom he was at peace (compare the gifts of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon). Omri had bought the hill of Samaria for two talents of silver (1 Kings 16.24), thus the silver alone was five times that paid for the hill. (On the other hand it had only seemingly been grazing land). And there was also a lesser amount of gold, presumably coming to less than a talent, and ten changes of expensive clothing (or rolls of cloth for making such clothing). The king recognised that he was asking for ‘supernatural powers’ to be exercised, and knew that they did not come cheap. But the amount was not too exorbitant considering what was being asked for.

Correspondence like this between kings has been well evidenced by the Amarna letters, while inter-state letters on medical matters, often connected with the giving of gifts, have been discovered at Mari, and in Hittite and Assyrian archives.

2.5.6 ‘And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, “And now when this letter is come to you, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may recover him of his skin disease.” ’

The ‘he’ was presumably Naaman, while the ‘saying’ refers to the contents of the letter. The king of Aram was assuming that a prophet who could do such wonders would be a leading figure at court, and fully known to the king of Israel. He thus requested that the should arrange (with the prophet) to ‘recover’ Naaman of his leprosy. In his experience, given sufficient payments, such prophets would be quite happy to oblige in whatever was asked of them, assuming that they could.

‘My servant.’ In other words a high official at court.

The word for ‘recover’ (’asaph) was an unusual one to use of healing (compare verse 3) and in the letter of a foreign king probably had in mind the asipu, the Mesopotamian ritual physicians.

2.5.7 ‘And it came about, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends to me to recover a man of his skin disease? But consider, I pray you, and see how he seeks a quarrel against me.” ’

But the king of Israel, on receiving Naaman and on receiving the letter, was distraught, and ripped his clothes symbolically indicating intense feeling. He did not even think of Elisha, (demonstrating how little the Yahwistically unorthodox court knew about him), and therefore could not see how he could possibly oblige his fellow-king. But he knew that he was not God, ‘to kill and to make alive’ (the reader remembers what Elijah and Elisha had done), how then could he cure a man of severe skin disease? He could only see it as an attempt to pick a quarrel with him in order to justify an invasion.

Royalty had in fact a reputation for having healing powers, and no doubt some were psychologically healed by their touch. But it was a gift rarely seen in action, and certainly not one that could be called on at will. He thus felt that the king of Aram was taking things too far.

2.5.8 ‘And it was so, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” ’

The news of what had happened reached Elisha in his house in Samaria, probably through an orthodox Yahwist at court (compare 1 Kings 18.3). And when he learned that he had torn his royal robes he sent him a message asking him why he had done so, pointing out that if only Naaman would come to him he would soon know that there was a genuine prophet in Israel.

2.5.9 ‘So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariots, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.’

Accordingly Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house with his horses and chariots. He wanted to overawe with his splendour. There was nothing about him that remotely approached a humble seeker after God. The fact that he could do so indicated that Samaria was unusually well laid out, and that Elisha lived near the king’s palace in an ‘expensive’ area where there were wide roads. In most cities of the day chariots and horses would have been unable to move among the houses, which would be straggled together haphazardly. But Samaria had been built by a king who had had horses and chariots in mind, at least with regard to the approach to his own palace. Thus Naaman’s whole entourage found itself at Elisha’s door.

We can see from what follows what Elisha’s thinking was. This great man was arriving in royal authority, he would high-handedly pay a large sum of money, the healing would take place, and he would leave as arrogantly as he came, feeling that he had given YHWH all that He required so that that was the end of the matter (this was why Gehazi’s sin was so serious). Everyone was satisfied.

But Elisha was determined that he should humble himself before YHWH, and that he should go away aware of the gratitude and worship that he owed to Him.

2.5.10 ‘And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will come again to you, and you will be clean.” ’

So Elisha did not come out himself but sent word through a messenger. Elisha was no man-pleaser. And he was concerned that all the glory for what was about to happen should go to YHWH. And that Naaman should recognise that while he, Naaman, was a servant of the king of Aram, he, Elisha was a servant of the Supreme King, YHWH of Hosts, and was therefore no whit inferior to Naaman. So instead of coming out and bowing obsequiously, or even as an equal, he sent a note telling Naaman to go to the River Jordan and wash in it seven times. Then his flesh would be restored, and he would be ritually clean. .It was deliberately given as a command from a superior, YHWH of Hosts, with Elisha simply as His messenger. And it was an indication that Naaman must not look to him, but to the God of Israel whose river (in Naaman’s terms) was the Jordan, which lay within His inheritance. The fact that he was called on to do it seven times gave the dipping a deliberately supernatural connection, and was an important part of the message. It would make Naaman recognise that he was dealing with the divine.

2.5.11 ‘But Naaman was angry, and went away, and said, “Look, I thought, he will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of YHWH his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the skin disease.” ’

Naaman was livid. He felt that he was not being treated properly at all. He had assumed that like all good soothsayers and magicians Elisha would come out, stand in front of him, mutter incantations, wave his hands over him, and heal him of his skin disease. And instead he had dismissed him with a message to go and wash in Israel’s dirty, sluggish river. He did not as yet make the connection between YHWH and the river as His inheritance, and he did not yet realise that Elisha served the living God and had no part in such rituals.

2.5.12 “Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.’

Indeed he was greatly insulted. Were not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better far that all the waters in Israel? Why could he not wash in them? (The answer unspoken was that then he would give the credit to the gods of Damascus). How dared the prophet send him to wash in a measly Israelite river? And he turned away from Elisha’s house in a rage.

These rivers flowed from the snow covered Amanus mountains (named in Assyrian records) and/or from Mount Hermon. There are still today two ‘rivers of Damascus’. It is true that the particular names used here are unknown, having clearly been altered at a later date, but there is no reason to doubt that they are correct, although the alternative Amana for Abana is possible. The Abana is probably modern Barada. The name of the river Pharpar (now el-‘Awaj) may well have been carried on in a tributary river still called the Wadi Barbar.

2.5.13 ‘And his servants came near, and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had bid you do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather then, when he says to you, Wash, and be clean?” ’

Fortunately for Naaman his followers were wiser than he (they of course did not feel that they had been insulted). They pointed out to him that if Elisha had called on him to perform some difficult feat in order to obtain healing he would have done it. How much rather then should he follow the command to, ‘Wash and be clean.’

The address ‘my father’ is unusual for a man in such a position, but it may indicate the unusual respect and loyalty he received from his followers. Or the speaker may have been a close body servant.

2.5.14 ‘Then he went down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, in accordance with the saying of the man of God, and his flesh came again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.’

So reluctantly, and still seething, Naaman humbled himself and did what Elisha, ‘the man of God’, had commanded. He dipped himself seven times in the Jordan. And to his amazement, and the amazement of all his servants (even granted their superstitious belief in prophets) his flesh became as smooth as a child’s and he was made ritually clean. For years he had been the talking point of men and women, and had been self-conscious about his appearance, and now it was all over. No one would ever sneer at, or point at, his disfigurement again. It wrought within him a complete transformation. Fury had changed into gratitude, arrogance into humility, confidence in the gods and rivers of Damascus into faith in YHWH. He was a new man.

2.5.15 ‘And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him, and he said, “Look, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, take a present from your servant.” ’

What a different man it was who returned to the house of ‘the man of God’. It was the same entourage, but arriving in a totally different manner. It was now he who stood before the man of God, recognising his superiority. Here was a man who was in touch with God. And he cried, “Look, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel.” And he begged him to accept a present from one who was now his ‘servant’, because he, Elisha, represented YHWH. He wanted to demonstrate his wholehearted gratitude liberally.

His words indicate a recognition of at least the superiority of YHWH, as the one who had done this might miracle, and as thus the only God Who counted in all the earth. He had no doubt sought to many gods, but there had been no answer. Here, however, was a God Who answered.

2.5.16 ‘But he said, “As YHWH lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.’

But in spite of Naaman’s continuing urging Elisha refused to accept any gift. To have done so would have served to destroy the new relationship between Naaman and YHWH. Elisha knew how quickly such a relationship might die once Naaman felt that he as YHWH’s prophet had been ‘paid off’. On the other hand while he was the recipient of YHWH’s freely dispensed goodness his heart would remain faithful to YHWH.

2.5.17 ‘And Naaman said, “If not, yet, I pray you, let there be given to your servant two mules’ burden of earth, for your servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice to other gods, but to YHWH.” ’

Naaman responded by indicating that he would continue to express his gratitude by worshipping YHWH as the only true God. And in order that he might do this he asked Elisha for two mules’ burden of earth. This request might not be as strange as it first seems. It did not arise because he felt that YHWH the God of the whole earth, could only be worshipped on the soil of Israel (a rather naive idea believed nowhere in Israel. Israelites prayed to Him wherever they were). It was rather because he was aware that the only altar that could be acceptable to YHWH according to Israelite Law, was an altar of earth built where YHWH had recorded His Name (Exodus 20.24). And while there was nowhere in Aram where YHWH had recorded His Name, the next best thing would be to worship at an altar built of the material from the earth of the place where YHWH had recorded His Name. This idea no doubt came to him as a result of the teaching that Elisha had given him in their conversation together. (And one of the reasons for Elisha’s later visits to Aram may well have been in order to educate Naaman more fully in the things of YHWH - 8.7).

Thus Naaman had the idea of building an altar of Israelite earth which had been taken from the land of YHWH’s inheritance, just as he had been healed by water in the same land.

2.5.18 “In this thing YHWH pardon your servant, when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, YHWH pardon your servant in this thing.”

The depths of Naaman’s ‘conversion’ comes out in this request. He was aware that he must worship only YHWH. But his duties demanded that he stand next to the king of Aram as his supporter when he was worshipping in the Temple of Rimmon (compare how to some extent Obadiah might have had a similar problem - 1 Kings 18). He asked therefore that he might be forgiven if at such a time he bowed his head so as to show respect to his earthly master. It was not to be seen as really bowing to Rimmon, something which he could now never do, but to YHWH, and he requested that YHWH might pardon him for even appearing to bow to Rimmon. It is clear that Naaman had been thinking things through as he travelled.

Rimmon is probably a variation of Ramman (from Assyrian ‘Ramanu’ - the thunderer), which was a title of the Damascene god Hadad. Note how Ben-hadad I’s father was called Tab-rimmon (1 Kings 15.18).

2.5.19 ‘And he said to him, “Go in peace.” So he departed from him a little way (literally ‘a region of land’).’

We may presumably assume from the reply given (‘go in well-being’) that YHWH recognised the genuine dilemma and indicated that He would see such an attitude for what it really was, an act of etiquette, and would thus pardon it. The idea behind ‘go in peace’ is that it represents the confirmation of a covenant. All was well between them. And the result was that Naaman went on his way with his heart full of praise to YHWH.

But he had not gone far when he was to witness the duplicity of someone who claimed to be a servant of YHWH.

2.5.20 ‘But Gehazi the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “Behold, my master has spared this Naaman the Aramaean, in not receiving at his hands what he brought. As YHWH lives, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him.” ’

For Gehazi’s thoughts were full of greed. He felt that Elisha had spared Naaman, (‘this Naaman the Aramaean’ indicating his contempt for foreigners) by not accepting the gifts that Naaman had brought, and he thought how nice it would be if he himself could benefit by it. After all Naaman would not miss it. He did not consider the fact that such an act might have a bad effect on Naaman’s new found faith, nor that Naaman was now a new found ‘brother in YHWH’. There is an irony in his words, ‘As YHWH lives’, while at the same time he thought that he could get away with sinning, by keeping it from the same ‘living God’. There was a contradiction in his ideas (and yet how often we do the same). He should have known that there could only be one consequence. But he dismissed such a thought and decided to run after Naaman and ask for a gift.

2.5.21 ‘So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw one running after him, he alighted from the chariot to meet him, and said, “Is all well?” ’

Naaman, moving along at a leisurely pace (the roads were often not suitable for chariots), saw Gehazi running after them and alighted from his chariot to meet him. Gone was the old arrogant Naaman. Now he was the new concerned Naaman. And he was concerned lest something had gone wrong with Gehazi’s master.

2.5.22 ‘And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me, saying, ‘Behold, even now there are come to me from the hill-country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Give them, I pray you, a talent of silver, and two changes of clothing.” ’

Gehazi assured him that all was well and then began to spin a story about the unexpected arrival of two young men of the sons of the prophets, who had seemingly come in need. Could Naaman let them have a talent of silver and two changes of clothing?

2.5.23 ‘And Naaman said, “Be pleased to take two talents.” And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants, and they bore them before him.’

The unsuspicious Naaman pressed on him two talents of silver, one for each of the fictitious men, as well as the two changes of clothing. He also supplied two men to carry the silver and clothing for Gehazi (‘talent’ is a weight, not a type of coin. Thus the silver would be heavy).

Some see the two men as being servants of Gehazi, but the above seems a more likely scenario to us.

2.5.24 ‘And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand, and placed them in the house, and he let the men go, and they departed.’

Once they came to the hill of Samaria Gehazi took the goods from their hands and sent them on their way. It would never do for Elisha to spot them. And so they departed. We note that Gehazi’s sins are mounting up. First greed. Then taking YHWH’s Name in vain. Then despising a foreigner. Then lying and fraud. And now duplicity. This will be followed by lying to a prophet. But the worst thing of all was that he had interfered in the prophetic process, and misrepresented Elisha. He had been building up judgment on himself.

2.5.25 ‘But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said to him, “From where have you come, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” ’

Having bestowed the goods in a safe place hiding place Gehazi went to face his master, secure in the knowledge that he knew nothing. Then Elisha asked where he had been. He was providing an opportunity for Gehazi to confess his fault. But Gehazi replied glibly, “Your servant went nowhere.” He had missed his opportunity.

2.5.26 ‘And he said to him, “Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive clothing, and oliveyards and vineyards, and sheep and oxen, and men-servants and maid-servants?” ’

Then Elisha looked at him sternly. He pointed out that prophetically he had been with him ‘in his heart’ when Naaman had climbed down from his chariot. He therefore knew everything that he had done.

Then he asked him whether he really thought that this was a time to be thinking of accumulating wealth and servants, when it was a time when YHWH had wrought a great miracle and an important man’s life had been transformed. It meant that a man had come to know YHWH , and also that Israel would from now on have a firm friend in the counsels of Aram (Syria). The wide sphere covered by his words indicated that they were meant not just for Gehazi, but for all whose emphasis was on increasing wealth. (The prophetic author regularly brings out the dangers of wealth). Elisha’s mind was reaching out beyond Gehazi to the behaviour and attitude of many in Israel (compare Amos 2.6-8; Isaiah 5.8).

Note the parallel with the maid-servant in verse 2. It was indicating that it was not a time for tit for tat. Deeper purposes were at work.

2.5.27 “The skin disease therefore of Naaman will cleave to you, and to your seed for ever.” And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.’

The chapter began with a man badly skin diseased, and now it ends with a man badly skin diseased. For YHWH’s judgment on Gehazi was that, because of the awful nature of his sin, and the privileged position that he had enjoyed and abused, he would experience Naaman’s skin disease and that it would be passed on in his family continually. And sure enough Gehazi went out from his presence as white as snow. The vividness of the description is taken from Exodus 4.6.

It is perhaps possible that the clothing which Naaman had passed on to him had also been a means of his infection with Naaman’s skin disease, and that his family were especially prone to it, although if so the process was speeded up in Gehazi’s case. It is important to recognise that his punishment arose because, being in a privileged position he had allowed his avarice to persuade him to misrepresent YHWH. And that at a crucial time in Israel’s history. No sin could be worse than that.

The Lord Jesus Christ would take this example of Elisha’s healing of Naaman the Aramaean as an illustration of the fact that God’s love reached out to the nations as well as to the Jews (Luke 4.27). It is a reminder to us that God’s love is open to us no matter what our background.

Elisha Causes An Axe Head To Float (2.6.1-7).

This seemingly trivial incident is probably intended by the prophetic author to lay emphasis on an important fact. Just as the axe head was borrowed or begged, and, on being lost, was recovered by Elisha, so the power of Israel was ‘borrowed’ (or ‘begged’) from YHWH (2.12), and having been lost was now being recovered by Elisha. It was also a reminder to the group of prophets that although the truth appeared to have sunk to the bottom in Israel, yet its cutting edge was being made available to them by God’s power.

This need not necessarily be intended as a description of prophetic community life in general. It refers to only one small group, living together in a place too small for them, and therefore seemingly in straitened circumstances (unless it was simply because their number was growing). We know already from chapter 2 that there were communities of sons of the prophets at Jericho and at Bethel. Presumably this was the one at Jericho. It is apparent that this group lived as a community, and found that their present accommodation was too small for them. So they had determined to build new premises. ‘By the Jordan’ was the source of their material, not the place where they built. Such an area would have been inhabited by wild animals, such as lions and wild boar, and fever ridden. But plenty of available wood was to be found there which was of a type that they, with their limited facilities, could utilise. They were presumably intending to build in or near Jericho, possibly at Gilgal.

The axe that was lost was not necessarily borrowed (the Hebrew word means ‘asked for’) but it was certainly ‘begged for’ in one way or another, which may be an indication of the poverty of the group. They could not afford to buy iron axes, which were very expensive in terms of what they possessed. Life was seemingly not easy for those who followed YHWH truly. So to lose an iron axe head was, for them, no trivial matter. It may indeed have been the only one that they had, their other available tools being flint axes. This story may also have been placed here as a contrast to the attitude and behaviour of Gehazi, who had used these poverty stricken sons of the prophets as an excuse in order to enrich himself. He had had his eyes on silver and gold and rich clothing. They could not even afford an iron axe head. But the lesson here was that God was their sufficiency.

Analysis.

  • a And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell before you is too restricted for us” 2.6.1).
  • b Let us go, we pray you, to the Jordan, and take from there every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell” (2.6.2a).
  • c And he answered, “Go you.” (2.6.2b).
  • d And one said, “Be pleased, I pray you, to go with your servants” (2.6.3a).
  • e And he answered, “I will go” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down wood (2.6.3b-4).
  • d But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water, and he cried, and said, “Alas, my master! for it was begged for” (2.6.5).
  • c And the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” (2.6.6a).
  • b And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in there, and made the iron float (2.6.6b).
  • a And he said, “Take it up to you.” So he put out his hand, and took it (2.6.7).

Note that in ‘a’ their straitened circumstances are described, and in the parallel YHWH provides for them. In ‘b’ they go to cut down timber for their enterprise, and in the parallel Elisha cuts down a stick in order to aid them in it. In ‘c’ Elisha speaks to them, and the same in the parallel. In ‘d’ one makes a request to him, and the same in the parallel. Centrally in ‘e’ they all go down to the Jordan to begin their enterprise.

2.6.1-2 ‘And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell before you is too restricted for us. Let us go, we pray you, to the Jordan, and take from there every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell.” And he answered, “Go you.” ’

The request of these faithful men to Elisha, on one of his visits, was for permission to take time off from their teaching work in order to build new premises for themselves. It does not indicate that Elisha lived with them, but it does bring out how faithful they were in their duties. They would not do it without his agreement. ‘Dwell before you’ (literally ‘in seeing you’) was deferential and simply indicated that they looked to him as their master.

They wanted permission to take time off in order to build larger premises. These would not be very luxurious. The timber available from by the Jordan was of the small tree variety (such as willow, tamarisk, acacia and plane trees), but it was nevertheless quite suitable for the kind of shelter that they were intending to build in the hot, dry climate of the Jordan rift valley. Elisha gave his permission. The fact that he was not expecting to go with them points to the fact that he was not the resident leader of that community.

2.6.3 ‘And one said, “Be pleased, I pray you, to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.” ’

They then asked for his company while they were doing it. They wanted to take advantage of his being with them, and it would give them further opportunity to talk with him. Furthermore they respected his advice. They may also have felt that his presence would act as a protection against wild animals because they knew YHWH’s special care for him. And he agreed to go with them.

2.6.4 ‘So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down wood.’

So they all went off to the Jordan and began to cut down wood.

2.6.5 ‘But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water, and he cried, and said, “Alas, my master! for it was begged for.” ’

However, as one of them was at work cutting the timber that grew by the river the iron axe head that he was using came off the shaft and fell into the water. If it was the only iron axe head that they had we can understand why he was so distressed, especially as they did not have the resources to obtain a new one. Whether it was borrowed, or had been obtained by begging, is disputed. Either way it demonstrated their poverty.

2.6.6 ‘And the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in there, and made the iron float.’

So ‘the man of God’ (the change from Elisha to ‘man of God’ suggests that a miracle was about to take place) asked, ‘where did it fall?’, and on being informed cut down a stick and cast it on the water, and the result was that the iron floated.

2.6.7 ‘And he said, “Take it up to you.” So he put out his hand, and took it.’

Then he told the man to reach out and pick it out of the water, which, as a result of the miracle he was able to do. By this lesson the prophets were made to recognise that without God the truth that they presented would have no cutting edge. It was also an indication to them that God would always help them in their difficulties, especially when disaster struck. The story is a reminder to us that life will not necessarily always go smoothly but that our Father is aware of our needs and of our circumstances, and will meet us at the point of our need when the time is right.

Israel’s One Man Intelligence Service And The Failed Attempt To Abduct Him (2.6.8-23).

The king of Aram was puzzled because he kept raiding Israel only to discover each time that the king of Israel appeared to have advanced information, and thus had troops ready to forestall him. He could only assume that it was because he was being betrayed. But his servants, presumably obtaining their knowledge through their intelligence service, explained to him that it was because there was a prophet in Israel called Elisha, who knew his secrets even as he dreamed of them. By this YHWH was revealing to Israel (and Judah) that if only they would trust in Him they would be safe.

The king of Aram then decided that his best move would be to eliminate Elisha, and, learning that he was in Dothan, sent a host with horses and chariots to abduct him. But he had reckoned without YHWH. For at Elisha’s request YHWH in some way blinded the host so that they became easy prisoners of Israel. Elisha, however, then insisted that they should not be harmed, and having been fed they were returned to Aram. Understandably Aram then decided that while Elisha was around it would be better not to invade Israel any more.

Again we do not know which kings were involved, but it may well have been Jehoram and Benhadad III. Once again the purpose was to take the emphasis from the kings and put it squarely on YHWH and Elisha.

Analysis.

  • a Now the king of Aram (Syria) was warring against Israel, and he took counsel with his servants, saying, “In such and such a place shall be my camp” (2.6.8).
  • b And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, “Beware that you pass not such a place (do not leave such a place unprotected), for there the Aramaeans are coming down (2.6.9).’
  • c And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and he saved himself there, not once nor twice (2.6.10).
  • d And the heart of the king of Aram was sore troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants, and said to them, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” (2.6.11).
  • e And one of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king, but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber” (2.6.12).
  • f And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and fetch him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan” (2.6.13).
  • g Therefore he sent there horses, and chariots, and a great host, and they came by night, and surrounded the city (2.6.14).
  • h And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” And he answered, “Do not be afraid, for they who are with us are more than they who are with them” (2.6.15-16).
  • g And Elisha prayed, and said, “YHWH, I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see.” And YHWH 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 (2.6.17).
  • f And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed to YHWH, and said, “Smite this people, I pray you, with blindness.” And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha (2.6.18).
  • e And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, neither is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria” (2.6.19).
  • d And it came about, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, “YHWH, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” And YHWH opened their eyes, and they saw, and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria (2.6.20).
  • c And the king of Israel said to Elisha, when he saw them, “My father, shall I smite them? Shall I smite them?” (2.6.21).
  • b And he answered, “You shall not smite them. Would you smite those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.” And he prepared great provision for them, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master (2.6.22-23a).
  • a And the raiding bands of Aram came no more into the land of Israel (2.6.23b).

Note that in ‘a’ Aram were warring with Israel, and in the parallel their raiding bands no longer troubled Israel. In ‘b’ Elisha informed the king of Israel where to position his troops, and in the parallel he insisted on right behaviour towards the enemy troops they captured. In ‘c’ the king of Israel obeyed Elisha so that his troops were always in the right place, and in the parallel the king of Israel asked whether he should slaughter the resulting captured troops. In ‘d’ the king of Aram was troubled because he could not understand what was happening, and in the parallel his troops were troubled because they understood exactly what had happened. In ‘e’ the King of Aram was told about Elisha’s ability to know his mind by the power of YHWH, and in the parallel Elisha led his troops blindly on by the power of YHWH. In ‘f’ the king of Aram sent his troops to Dothan to abduct Elisha, and in the parallel his own troops were abducted. In ‘g’ the king of Aram sent chariots and horses to abduct Elisha, and in the parallel Elisha drew attention to the fiery chariots and horses that surrounded him. Centrally in ‘h’ Elisha pointed out that the forces that were with him far exceeded any that the king of Aram could send against him.

2.6.8 ‘Now the king of Aram (Syria) was warring against Israel, and he took counsel with his servants, saying, “In such and such a place shall be my camp.”

There was a state of war between Israel and Aram, and after consultation with his advisers, the king of Aram would send his troops into Israel to take them by surprise, determining to take Israel by surprise and establish their camp in particular places, thus gaining control of the area around and obtaining much spoil.

2.6.9 ‘And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, “Beware that you pass not such a place (do not leave such a place unprotected), for there the Aramaeans are coming down.’

But unknown to him Elisha would learn from YHWH (and possibly sometimes from his own ‘intelligence service’ ) what the plan was and would tell the king of Israel where to station his troops because of the anticipated Aramaean assault.

2.6.10 ‘And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and he saved himself there, not once nor twice.’

So again and again when the Aramaeans attacked it was always to find the Israelite army ready for them. ‘Not once, not twice’ meant ‘a number of times’, i.e. more than twice. Early notification was important as each time the raid was a major one the general host would have to be called on to support the standing army. It was thus extremely useful to know that an attack was coming before it happened so as to be able to muster the troops before the enemy could do much damage.

2.6.11 ‘And the heart of the king of Aram was sore troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants, and said to them, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” ’

This became so obvious that the king of Aram was both puzzled and troubled, and wondered how it was that the king of Israel was always able to forestall him, and always appeared to know what he was going to do next. He could only assume that there was a spy among his advisers, who were the only ones to know of his plans. So he challenged them as to who the traitor might be.

2.6.12 ‘And one of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king, but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.”

But one among his high officials, who was possibly in charge of intelligence, explained to him that it was not a question of a traitor. The fact was that Elisha, who was a prophet in Israel, knew even what he said in his innermost room.

2.6.13 ‘And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and fetch him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan.”

This alarmed and upset the king, and so he asked his official to discover where Elisha was, in order to abduct him. The reply came that he was in Dothan, fourteen kilometres (ten miles) north of Samaria, at the head of the Valley of Jezreel, on the main Damascus to Egypt trade route..

2.6.14 ‘Therefore he sent there horses, and chariots, and a great host, and they came by night, and surrounded the city.’

The king’s evil intent was made clear when he sent a large host with chariots and horsemen in order to abduct Elisha. And they came and surrounded Dothan by night. It was an indication of Elisha’ reputation that such a large force was felt to be necessary, and that they recognised that they would have to take him by surprise.

2.6.15 ‘And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”

When Elisha’s servant arose in the morning and saw the city besieged by such a powerful force, and the number of chariots and horses gathered there, he was alarmed, and came to Elisha and asked, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”

2.6.16 ‘And he answered, “Do not be afraid, for they who are with us are more than they who are with them.” ’

But Elisha assured him that he need not be afraid because the forces that were with him and Elisha were far greater than those that were with the Aramaeans. They had YHWH of Hosts, with all His hosts, on their side.

2.6.17 ‘And Elisha prayed, and said, “YHWH, I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see.” And YHWH 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.’

And then he prayed that YHWH would open his servant’s eyes so that he might be able to see what Elisha saw. And when YHWH opened the young man’s eyes, he discovered that the mountain on which Dothan stood was covered with chariots of fire, and horses of fire. These were the same, in larger quantity, as Elisha had seen when he took over from Elisha (2.11-12). These were the real strength of Israel, available to them while their hearts were right towards YHWH.

This extraordinary vision is of great importance, for it is a reminder to us also that the invisible forces of God are ever watching over and protecting His own. It is a reminder to us that as Christians we live in a sense in two places. In our bodies we live in, and are limited to, the physical world, but in our spirits we live in, and have contact with, ‘the heavenlies’ (Ephesians 1.3; 2.6; 6.10-18), where we are seated with Christ, and under His personal protection, and where we engage in warfare against the forces of evil (Ephesians 6.10-18). We can compare this with the temple in Ezekiel 40 onwards. That too had come down from YHWH and was invisibly present in Israel so that although the returned exiles appeared only to have a rough altar which they had built in Jerusalem at which to worship, they could be sure that it served a huge invisible temple which had ‘come down’ from YHWH on a mountain outside Jerusalem, and already provided an assurance that He was with them. In the same way as ‘heirs of salvation’ we are watched over by ‘ministering spirits’ (Hebrews. 1.14) and protected by His chariots and horses of fire.

Consider the words of the hymnwriter based on this verse and on Psalm 34.7, words which we need to take to heart:

The hosts of God encamp around,
The dwellings of the just,
Deliverance He affords to all,
Who on His succour trust.

But it is only those who in one way or another know tribulation and persecution who really understand them. This why the New Testament writers constantly urge us to live in the light of the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 3.17-18; 10.3-5; Ephesians 1.3-2.7; Colossians 3.1-3).

2.6.18 ‘And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed to YHWH, and said, “Smite this people, I pray you, with blindness.” And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.’

Then the ever practical Elisha, seeing the forces that had come down from Aram to take him, prayed to YHWH to smite them with ‘blindness’. It is irrelevant whether this was literal physical blindness, or a blindness of the mind. Either way it was equally effective and miraculous, and they were rendered completely helpless. (Compare the ‘blindness’ of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus - Luke 24.16).

2.6.19 ‘And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, neither is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.”

Elisha then went forward and spoke to them enigmatically. No doubt he first asked them why they had come in such force to Dothan. And then, once they had informed him, he sought to divert them. His words were vague and indefinite, simply convincing them that they were in the wrong place, and that he would lead them to the right place so that they might see the Elisha whom they were seeking. And he spoke truly, for he led them to Samaria where he would reveal himself to them.

2.6.20 ‘And it came about, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, “YHWH, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” And YHWH opened their eyes, and they saw, and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.’

Elisha presumably knew that the Israelite forces were gathered at Samaria, for their presence would be necessary once the eyes of the Aramaeans were opened. Thus they no doubt moved out to surround the helpless Aramaeans with swords and spears at the ready.

Then Elisha called on YHWH to open the eyes of the Aramaeans so that they might see (compare his words in verse 17), and when YHWH opened their eyes they were ‘in the midst of Samaria’, including the army of Samaria. They were at the mercy of the army of Israel.

2.6.21 ‘And the king of Israel said to Elisha, when he saw them, “My father, shall I smite them? Shall I smite them?”’

The bemused and somewhat excited king of Israel, finding his great enemies at his mercy, called on Elisha and cried, “My father, shall I smite them? Shall I smite them?” It seemed too good an opportunity to miss. But God had not smitten them with blindness in order to see them destroyed. His purpose was to teach Aram a lesson that it would not forget for a long time, and that would be best served by sending them home unharmed as a permanent message to their king. Who could fight against this kind of thing?

This was not, of course, the whole Aramaean army. To have slain them would have been to invite repercussions. But in sending them back they would put such fear and awe into the hearts of the Aramaean leaders that they would be afraid to attack Israel again while Elisha was still alive. Who could tell what he might do next?

‘My father.’ This demonstrates the good relationship existing between this present king of Israel and Elisha. The old days of persecution were behind them, and Elisha was valued as a man of God (even if not fully heeded).

2.6.22 ‘And he answered, “You shall not smite them. Would you smite those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.” ’

So Elisha commanded that instead of smiting them they should provide them with provisions. They had been captured by the swords and bows of the men of Israel, which even now surrounded them, just as surely as if it had happened in battle, but it had been accomplished without fighting and they should therefore be treated mercifully as what they were, YHWH’s prisoners of war. Indeed he called on the king of Israel to go further, by providing hospitality and returning them back unharmed to their master. This is not saying that this was the usual way in which prisoners of war were treated. Indeed the king of Israel’s words demonstrate the opposite, even though on the whole kings of Israel were seen as merciful (1 Kings 20.31). It is saying that this is how Elisha and YHWH wanted them treated now that they had been captured by Him and were helpless so that they could do no harm. They were to be treated as guests of YHWH.

2.6.23 ‘And he prepared great provision for them, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the raiding bands of Aram came no more into the land of Israel.’

Thus the whole raiding party were ‘fed and watered’. Then on being returned to Aram the no doubt bemused and bewildered army would recount all that had happened, and we are left to imagine the awe with which their news was greeted. It was clear that Israel with their powerful God were better left alone.

The result was that all forays into Israel by raiding bands, whether large or small, ceased for a good while (until the memory of what had happened wore off, as inevitably in this sinful world it would). ‘Came no more’ probably means ‘came no more in the days of Jehoram’.

Relief Of The Siege Of Samaria (2.6.24-7.20).

The incident that follows appears here because it is a part of the Elisha narrative, in which the wonders wrought by YHWH for Elisha are described, not because it is in its chronological position. For it probably occurred in the time of Jehoahaz, the son of Jehu, and thus a considerable time after the previously mentioned incident, and after much of the history that follows in chapter 8-9.

The ministry of Elisha covered a period of over fifty years during the reigns of Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz and Jehoash. During the reign of Jehoram YHWH had, as we have seen, given special protection to Israel. But the continuing sinfulness of the kings of Israel apparently caused the forfeiting of that special protection so that YHWH no longer intervened in the same way. And one of the results of that is described in what follows. It is a reminder that if God is not sought in a time of favour, then judgment and chastening will inevitably follow. So while it might have appeared that with Elisha around Israel had little to fear, that is now being revealed as being untrue. Not only was Samaria besieged, but it had been allowed to reach a point where the people were literally starving and were literally eating anything, and Elisha was sharing in their sufferings. It is a reminder that Elisha was very much subject to YHWH’s will in what he did.

The passage deals with the investment by Benhadad, king of Aram, of the city of Samaria during a full scale invasion. Such an invasion had not occurred in the days of Jehoram, but Israel had been considerably weakened by Jehu, and in the time of his son Jehoahaz it reached its lowest ebb. This then was probably when the siege described took place. It brought Samaria to its knees, as the city suffered under extreme shortage of food, with the result that every form of edible matter was eaten, even sinking down into cannibalism. This kind of thing is also testified to in sieges through the ages. It was nothing unusual in terms of history.

But things had become so bad that the blame inevitably fell on Elisha, who had previously so wonderfully delivered Israel. The king could not understand why, having no doubt encouraged the people to resist, he did not arrange for their deliverance again in the same way as he had previously. He failed to recognise that it was YHWH’s doing, and not Elisha’s, and that Elisha was wholly dependent on YHWH and His will. And he failed to recognise that it may have been due to his own evil living. However, on sending messengers to Elisha he received the assurance that the siege would shortly be lifted so that all would have enough to eat. The final deliverance of Samaria by YHWH’s power is then described in the second subsection.

The passage divides up into two subsections:

  • 1). The description of the siege and its consequences (2.6.24-7.1).
  • 2). The discovery of YHWH’s amazing deliverance (2.7.2-20).

The first subsection is within the inclusio which opens with details of the cost of food in the period of severe shortage (verses 24-25), and closes with the details of the cost once plenty is to be restored (7.1). Verse 7.1 in fact unites the two sections. For the second subsection is within the inclusio which commences with verse 7.1 followed by the captain’s comment about the ‘windows of Heaven’, which is then followed by the warning of his demise (7.2), and closes with verses which are parallel with verses 1 and 2 and a description of his actual death (7.19-20).

1). The Description Of The Siege And Its Consequences (2.6.24-7.1).

Analysis.

  • a And it came about after this, that Benhadad king of Aram (Syria) gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. 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 kab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver (2.6.24-25).
  • b And as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, there cried a woman to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king.” And he said, “If YHWH does not help you, from where shall I help you? Out of the threshing-floor, or out of the winepress?” And the king said to her, “What is you problem?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, “Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow. So we boiled my son, and ate him, and I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’, and she has hidden her son” (2.6.26-29).
  • c And it came about, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes. And he was passing by on the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within on his flesh. And he said, “God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day” (2.6.30-31).
  • d But Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him (2.6.32a)..
  • c And the king sent a man from before him, but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent to take away my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door, and hold the door fast against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” (2.6.32b).
  • b And while he was yet talking with them, behold, the messenger came down to him, and he said, “Behold, this evil is of YHWH. Why should I wait for YHWH any longer?” (2.6.33).
  • a And Elisha said, “Hear you the word of YHWH. Thus says YHWH, Tomorrow about this time will a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria” ’(2.7.1).

Note that in ‘a’ they were on a starvation diet and in the parallel things were back to normal. In ‘b’ the dreadful conditions are illustrated, and in the parallel this evil was imputed by the king to YHWH. In ‘c’ the king threatens to kill Elisha, and in the parallel Elisha is aware of and refers to the fact. Centrally in ‘d’ Elisha was conferring with the elders in his house.

2.6.24 ‘And it came about after this, that Benhadad king of Aram (Syria) gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria.’

The timing reference is very vague. In fact this was many years after the previous passage, and in the reign of a later king, probably Jehoahaz (compare 13.3-7). Benhadad was a throne name of the kings of Aram. This was Benhadad III, who succeeded Hazael, who had caused great distress to Israel. By his time Israel had been considerably weakened as a result of the activities of Jehu, and had submitted to Assyria, something which would have angered both Hazael and Benhadad who with their allies had been seeking to fight off Assyria. This therefore was a full scale invasion, and having taken many towns and cities, the Aramaeans had surrounded and besieged Samaria in order to starve it into submission.

2.6.25 ‘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 kab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver.’

The result was that as the months passed food began to run out and the stage was reached when the people were starving and would almost eat anything. The eating of an ass’s head was forbidden in the Law (Leviticus 11.3 ff.), it was the most inedible part of the ass, and the price was clearly exorbitant. Only the wealthy could afford it. The reference to ‘dove’s dung’ may be literal, but it has been suggested that it was a popular description of a certain herb similarly described in terms of ‘dung’ by the Arabs. Either way the fact that it was sold at such a price indicates the extreme shortage of food. (Rats on the menu would have been a luxury).

2.6.26 ‘And as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, there cried a woman to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king.” ’

One day the king was walking on the wall of the city surveying the defensive position, when a woman called out to him for an audience.

2.6.27 ‘And he said, “If YHWH does not help you, from where shall I help you? Out of the threshing-floor, or out of the winepress?” ’

His first bitter response brings out the depths of his feelings. He had no means of helping her. The threshing-floor and winepress were empty. Her only hope was to look to YHWH. And if He failed to answer, what could anyone else do?

2.6.28 ‘And the king said to her, “What is you problem?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, “Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow. So we boiled my son, and ate him, and I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’, and she has hidden her son.” ’

The king the asked her what her problem was and was horrified to learn that with another woman she had indulged in cannibalism by eating her son, with the understanding that after that they would eat the other woman’s son. But now the other woman had gone back on her promise and was withholding her son, and the first woman was asking the king for justice by enforcing the agreement. The very fact that she expected him to do so demonstrates that she knew that this was now a fairly common practise under the exigencies of the siege.

For such cannibalism during sieges compare Leviticus 26.29; Deuteronomy 28.56-57; Ezekiel 5.10; Lamentations 2.20; 4.10. It is also attested in an Assyrian text from Ashurbanipal, and an Egyptian papyrus.

2.6.30 ‘And it came about, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes. And he was passing by on the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within on his flesh.’

The king was aghast and tore his clothes in order to express his strong emotion. As king he had of course been shielded from the kind of starvation that these people were experiencing, but now it was being brought home to him with a vengeance. The tearing of his clothes revealed to all that he was wearing the sackcloth of mourning underneath, because of his distress at the situation of his people, making clear his genuine feeling for their sufferings.

2.6.31 ‘Then he said, “God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.”

As a result he swore that the head of Elisha would be forfeit that day. This may have been because Elisha had encouraged standing firm in the face of the threat on the grounds that YHWH would at some point intervene, or his reasoning may have been that as the chief prophet of YHWH, Whom he saw as responsible for this situation, Elisha should have been able to do something about it (as reputedly he had done in the past). In his view as the situation continued it was therefore primarily Elisha’s fault. This would bring out how dependent Israel felt at that time on the prophets. They above all were seen as the people who could change situations by their prophecies. In other words the king and people had a superstitious belief that what caused and changed situations was the actual activity of prophets, who could make things happen or not as they would. They did not stop to consider that in Israel these prophets pointed out that these things happened because of YHWH’s anger at the sinfulness of the king and people, and that therefore the situation was the fault of the king and people themselves.

2.6.32 ‘But Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him, and the king sent a man from before him, but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent to take away my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door, and hold the door fast against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” ’

Elisha, meanwhile, equally concerned about the situation of the famine was discussing matters with the elders of the people who had come to his house in view of the seriousness of the national situation. But even while he was talking with them he was made aware by YHWH of the king’s intentions (possibly partly through a message sent by a friend at court), and of the fact that an important messenger was coming from the king, a man who had the authority to arrest him and bring him to the king, with a view to his beheading (or even execute him on the spot). Elisha therefore turned to the elders and pointed out that this was only to be expected of a man whose father had revelled in blood (although ‘son of a murderer’ need only indicate one who was capable of murder), and gave orders that his door should be barred and bolted against the messenger, as the king himself would be following shortly to countermand the execution order.

Some see the reference to the echo of his master’s feet as not necessarily signifying that the king was himself coming after his messenger, (but see 7.17). In that case it may have been indicating that the messenger was the king’s genuine representative to such an extent that the king was, as it were, ‘in his shoes’. But 7.17 may suggest that the king, having despatched him, did actually follow his messenger. Thus some see it as signifying that the king, having despatched his official to execute Elisha on the spot, then had second thoughts, with the result that he was following him in order to counteract the order. That would explain why he expected the elders to bar the door against the king’s representative, which might otherwise not have been a wise policy. It was one thing to exclude him while clarification was obtained, quite another to exclude him altogether. 7.17 may, however, simply signify that the king had, as it were, come down in his messenger, and as the house was Elijah’s, any exclusion would be laid at his door.

2.6.33 ‘And while he was yet talking with them, behold, the messenger came down to him, and he said, “Behold, this evil is of YHWH. Why should I wait for YHWH any longer?” ’

Meanwhile, while Elisha was yet speaking, the king’s messenger arrived in order to convey the king’s words, and declared, “Behold, this evil is of YHWH. Why should I wait for YHWH any longer?” ’ In other words he was blaming YHWH directly for the evil that had come on them (compare Amos 3.6), which was of course, in one sense, partly true. Indeed that may have been his partly justified interpretation of Elisha’s preaching, which had presumably indicated that deliverance could only follow repentance. But sinners never see themselves as really deserving of God’s chastisement, and he may therefore have felt that wearing sackcloth was a sufficient indication of repentance, and have been wondering why, in view of it, YHWH had not intervened. He did not see that really this evil had sprung from the behaviour of himself and the people. His further words may be a threat to rid himself of Elisha and turn to other gods for help, on the grounds that, having performed such rites as they thought were necessary without receiving a response, perhaps it was time to look to Baal. He had failed to understand that in fact the only ‘rite’ that YHWH really demanded was repentance and submission to His covenant (compare Isaiah 1.11-18), and that without that all ritualistic efforts to placate God were in vain..

2.7.1 ‘And Elisha said, “Hear you the word of YHWH. Thus says YHWH, Tomorrow about this time will a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.” ’

Elisha’s reply was basically that it was YHWH’s sure prophetic word, a word that must therefore necessarily come to fruition, that within a day the siege would be relieved, and the shortages would be over. By this time next day, he assured the king, the markets in the space in front of the city gates would be selling flour and barley at normal prices. (With the Aramaean army still encamped around the city, it must have appeared very unlikely).

YHWH’s Deliverance From The Siege Of Samaria (2.7.2-20).

This second subsection is within an inclusio which commences with the captain’s comment about the ‘windows of Heaven’, followed by the warning of his demise (7.2), and closes with a repetition of the same comment and a description of his actual death (7.19-20). It is also connected with the first subsection as the thought of the closing verse of the first subsection (7.1) is paralleled at the end of the second subsection (7.18).

The story commences with four skin-diseased men who were really unwelcome anywhere due to their disease. While not totally excluded from the city (they were not lepers and therefore would have been subject to certain death from the enemy if caught) they were expected to remain outside the gate (with the right to enter when necessary) where they were no doubt even worse provided for than everyone else, probably only receiving occasional ‘food’ from relatives who were themselves starving. It may well be that they were stirred into action precisely because their supplies had literally dried up. Thus they were left with a choice between going into the starving city in order to see what they could forage, knowing how unwelcome they would be, or approaching the enemy camp and pleading for help because of their condition. Neither alternative appeared much better than the other, but at least an approach to the enemy would solve their problem in one way or another once and for all. Things had got that desperate.

But when they arrived at the enemy camp it was to discover that it had been abandoned. And the reason was because YHWH had caused the Aramaeans to hear the sound of the approach of chariots, horses and armoured troops, with the result that they had panicked and fled thinking that they were about to be attacked from the south by the Egyptians, and from the north by the Hittites, by mercenaries who had been hired in order to raise the siege. It may well be that the long siege, and stories about what Elisha had done in the past, had already set their nerves on edge as they wondered what would happen next, with the result that the noise that they heard, which may have been the wind whistling through the mountains, became the final straw.

The four skin-diseased men, unable to believe their good fortune, first satisfied their own hunger from the nearest tents, and then plundered two of the tents for some of the spoils of gold and silver gathered by the invaders, hiding it away, probably in a hole in the ground. Once they had done that they recognised that if they did not immediately report what they had found they might be called to account in the future. So they hurried back to the city and reported to the gatekeeper at the gate what they had found. The gatekeeper then immediately sent the message to the king’s household. But the king was suspicious that it was a ruse of the enemy and sent out scouts in two chariots in order to discover whether the enemy had really left the country, and sure enough they discovered on the road to the Jordan that there was all the evidence of an army fleeing in panic, with clothing and equipment tossed everywhere.

Once the news arrived back at the city the starving people understandably streamed out to the Aramaean camp and plundered it for food and goods, with the result that food once again became readily available at a reasonable price, as Elisha had forecast. And what was more, the important official who had despised Elisha’s words, and who had been put in charge of the gate, was trampled in the rush, just as Elisha had prophesied.

Analysis.

  • a And Elisha said, “Hear you the word of YHWH. Thus says YHWH, Tomorrow about this time will a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria” Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, “Look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” And he said, “Behold, you will see it with your eyes, but you will not eat of it” (2.7.1-2).
  • b Now there were four skin-diseased men at the entrance of the gate, and they said one to another, “Why do we sit here until we die? If we say, ‘We will enter into the city,’ then the famine is in the city, and we will die there, and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall to the host of the Aramaeans, if they save us alive, we will live, and if they kill us, we will but die” (2.7.3-4).
  • c And they rose up in the twilight, to go to the camp of the Aramaeans, and when they were come to the outermost part of the camp of the Aramaeans, behold, there was no man there (2.7.5).
  • d For the Lord had made the host of the Aramaeans to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host, and they had said one to another, “Lo, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come on us.” For which reason 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 (2.7.6-7).
  • e And when these skin-diseased men came to the outermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and ate and drink, and carried from there silver, and gold, and clothing, and went and hid it, and they came back, and entered into another tent, and carried from there also, and went and hid it (2.7.8).
  • f Then they said one to another, “We are not doing well. This day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace. If we linger until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household” (2.7.9).
  • g So they came and called to the porter of the city, and they told them, saying, “We came to the camp of the Aramaeans, and, behold, there was no man there, nor the voice of man, but the horses tied, and the asses tied, and the tents as they were. And he called the porters, and they told it to the king’s household within (2.7.10-11).
  • f And the king arose in the night, and said to his servants, “I will now show you what the Aramaeans have done to us. They know that we are hungry, therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the countryside, saying, “When they come out of the city, we will take them alive, and get into the city” (2.7.12).
  • e And one of his servants answered and said, “Let some take, I pray you, five of the horses which remain, which are left in the city (behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it, behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel which are consumed); and let us send and see” (2.7.13).
  • d They took therefore two chariots with horses, and the king sent after the host of the Aramaeans, saying, “Go and see.” And they went after them to the Jordan: and, lo, all the way was full of clothing and vessels, which the Aramaeans had cast away in their hurry. And the messengers returned, and told the king (2.7.14-15).
  • c And the people went out, and plundered the camp of the Aramaeans. So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in accordance with the word of YHWH (2.7.16).
  • b And the king appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate, and the people trod on him in the gate, and he died as the man of God had said, who spoke when the king came down to him (2.7.17).
  • a And it came about 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, will be tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria.” And that captain had answered the man of God, and said, “Now, look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be?” and he had said, “Behold, you will see it with your eyes, but will not eat of it.” It came about even so to him, for the people trod on him in the gate, and he died (2.7.18-20).

Note that in ‘a’ the king’s high official declared that even if the windows of Heaven were opened YHWH’s word would not be fulfilled, and Elisha informed him that he would see it but not enjoy it, and in the parallel the high official’s comment is repeated and his death is described. In ‘b’ the four skin-diseased determined to go out from the gate to the enemy camp, and in the parallel the people trod on the official at the gate as they went out to the camp. In ‘c’ the skin-diseased men discovered no one at the Aramaean camp, and in the parallel the crowds went out and plundered it. In ‘d’ the enemy heard the sound of chariots and horses and fled leaving their spoils and equipment behind them, including spare chariot horses, and in the parallel Israelite chariots and horses followed and discovered spoils and equipment discarded along the way. In ‘e’ the skin-diseased men checked that the camp was truly empty and recovered spoil, and in the parallel the Israelite scouts discovered that the enemy had truly fled, and recovered spoil. In ‘f’ the skin-diseased men recognised that they must inform the king that the camp was deserted, and in the parallel the king suspected that it might be an ambush. Centrally in ‘g’ the announcement was made, and passed on to the king, that the camp was empty and that the enemy had fled.

2.7.2 ‘Then the aide on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, “Look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” And he said, “Behold, you will see it with your eyes, but you will not eat of it.” ’

The important messenger, the king’s right hand man (the description does not indicate the king’s presence. It simply meant the man of his right hand on whom he depended), considered this suggestion to be ridiculous, and exclaimed, “Look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” In other words, in his view, even YHWH could not achieve this. For where would He obtain the supplies from?

‘Windows in Heaven’ was a phrase indicating abundant supplies from above. Compare Genesis 7.11; Malachi 3.10. The phrase is found in the Baal myths and there may be a hint here that even if he reached Baal’s level YHWH could not achieve that. That would serve to explain the severity of Elisha’s reply that although he would see such provision, he himself would not partake of it, an indication of his soon-coming death.

2.7.3-4 ‘Now there were four skin-diseased men at the entrance of the gate, and they said one to another, “Why do we sit here until we die? If we say, ‘We will enter into the city,’ then the famine is in the city, and we will die there, and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall to the host of the Aramaeans, if they save us alive, we will live, and if they kill us, we will but die.” ’

The men were probably not lepers, but suffering from a skin disease similar to that of Naaman. Apparently they were still not allowed to mix with the ordinary people, because to touch them would be to be rendered ritually unclean. Thus they were ‘at the entrance of the gate’. In view of the fact that they were able to slip away unseen to the Aramaean camp it suggests that they were in fact stationed outside the gate, although allowed in if the enemy approached the gate.

They recognised the parlousness of their position. They were dying of starvation, and their supplies from the city may well have totally dried up. If they obtained entry into the city in order to forage for food they would do so to an unwelcoming people who themselves were starving, without any assurance of finding anything, and would simply die more slowly. On the other hand if they approached the enemy camp they would either be slain, which would simply mean a slightly quicker death, or possibly, in view of their condition, given food and then asked to leave. It was simply a toss up as to which was best, but approaching the camp appeared to offer the best odds.

2.7.5 ‘And they rose up in the twilight, to go to the camp of the Aramaeans, and when they were come to the outermost part of the camp of the Aramaeans, behold, there was no man there.’

So as darkness descended they arose and went with some trepidation towards the camp of the Aramaeans. But on arrival at the edge of the camp they discovered to their astonishment that it appeared to be deserted. There was no one there.

2.7.6 ‘For the Lord had made the host of the Aramaeans to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host, and they had said one to another, “Lo, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come on us.” ’

And it was learned later that this was because ‘the Lord of creation’ (adonai - Sovereign Lord) had made the host of the Aramaeans hear a noise of chariots, horses and armed men, like the sound of a great host, which they assumed could only be a combined mercenary army raised by the Egyptians and the Hittites, approaching from two different directions, which had somehow been called on to deliver the city and were almost on them. It was what they would have done themselves. (The Aramaeans had once performed a similar thing for the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10.6), and for Ahaz of Judah (1 Kings 15.18-20)). We must remember that, once a siege had settled in, life became very tedious, and imaginations could begin to run riot, especially when all knew that there was a wonder-working prophet of fearsome reputation known to be in the city. The noise may have been due to the sound of a powerful wind, sweeping through the hills, and echoing across the valley, sounding, as night approached, very much like the advance of a large army. They may also have seen dust dimly swirling up among the mountains. Or it may simply have been caused directly by God. We may also see it as very possible that YHWH had previously been disturbing their dreams in the same way as in Judges 7.13-14, with rumours spreading through the camp, but in this case caused by thoughts of Elisha, who must certainly have become a legendary figure in Aramaean eyes after his numerous exploits, including the healing of their former commander-in-chief and the blinding of their host. Indeed they must have known that Elisha was in Samaria, and may well have feared what amazing thing he intended to do. (It was a very superstitious age).

In some ways we can see this as similar to what had happened to their previous raiding army, but there it had been their vision which had been disturbed, whereas here it was their hearing organs.

2.7.7 ‘For which reason 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.’

Thus at the eerie sound which they could not understand, coming at them as it began to approach darkness, they panicked, and fled, leaving behind all that was not easily manageable. This included spare chariot horses, asses, and much of their spoil. They did not want to be caught in a pincer movement between two large nocturnal armies.

2.7.8 ‘And when these skin-diseased men came to the outermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and ate and drink, and carried from there silver, and gold, and clothing, and went and hid it, and they came back, and entered into another tent, and carried from there also, and went and hid it.’

The result was that when the skin-diseased men came to the edge of the camp they were able to enter the first two tents that they came to, eat and drink enough to satisfy their hunger and thirst, and then pile up silver, and gold and expensive clothing, carrying it off and burying it, thus ensuring for themselves a prosperous future..

2.7.9 ‘Then they said one to another, “We are not doing well. This day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace. If we linger until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”

After that, their initial heady period over, they began to think more carefully about the situation, and recognised that they should really be reporting this back to the famine-stricken city. Indeed they recognised that if they should be found there when morning came without having done so, they would be called on to account for why they had not immediately reported the situation back to the king’s household, for it was a situation that would be good tidings to all in the stricken city.

2.7.10 ‘So they came and called to the gatekeeper of the city, and they told them, saying, “We came to the camp of the Aramaeans, and, behold, there was no man there, nor the voice of man, but the horses tied, and the asses tied, and the tents as they were.’

So they returned to the city and informed the gatekeeper on the gate of the city about the situation, explaining to him (and through him to the authorities - ‘them’) that they had been to the camp of the Aramaeans and had found it devoid of life. The tents were still there, there were horses and asses still tied up, but there was no voice to be heard, or person to be seen. All appeared to have vanished.

2.7.11 ‘And he called the porters, and they told it to the king’s household within.’

The gateman then in turn hurriedly called the watch on duty and reported what had been told to him, and they sent an urgent message to the king’s household. The news was too important to keep until morning.

2.7.12 ‘And the king arose in the night, and said to his servants, “I will now show you what the Aramaeans have done to us. They know that we are hungry, therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the countryside, saying, “When they come out of the city, we will take them alive, and get into the city.” ’

The news was considered to be of such importance that they felt it wise to wake the king himself, and he arose in the night and suggested to his courtiers whom he had hurriedly gathered together that this may well be a ruse, by which the enemy hoped to be able to lure them out of the city. The idea was that the Aramaeans would be hiding in the surrounding countryside, and as soon as the townsfolk entered their camp they would swoop down on them, capture them alive, and then take possession of the city.

2.7.13 ‘And one of his servants answered and said, “Let some take, I pray you, five of the horses which remain, which are left in the city (behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it, behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel which are consumed), and let us send and see.” ’

One of his advisers then suggested that in that case what they should do was take five of the few horses which were left (most had perished and/or been eaten) and follow the trail that the Aramaean army would have taken if it really had set off back to Aram. In that way they would discover if there were any signs that they had really returned that way.

‘Behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it, behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel which are consumed.’ The horses were in a similar position to the residents of the city, either half-starving, or already dead through starvation, and eaten.

2.7.14 ‘They took therefore two chariots with horses, and the king sent after the host of the Aramaeans, saying, “Go and see.” ’

The suggestion seemed a good one to the king, and he immediately despatched two chariots, along with their horses and charioteers, to check on the trail that would have been left by the Aramaeans if they had really fled. His command was, ‘Go and see.’

This may have been a slight change of plan from the five horses, or it may be that four drew the chariots and a fifth spare horse was taken on which a messenger could ride back once the truth was known.

2.7.15 ‘And they went after them to the Jordan, and, lo, all the way was full of clothing and vessels, which the Aramaeans had cast away in their hurry. And the messengers returned, and told the king.’

So the two chariots took the road to the Jordan, over which the army would have passed if it had fled, and all along the road they found signs of the retreat of a panic-stricken army, with clothing and equipment strewn everywhere, cast away by the Aramaeans in their desperate flight. Having reached the Jordan, the messengers, now totally satisfied that the Aramaeans really had fled, then returned and reported their findings to the king.

2.7.16 ‘And the people went out, and plundered the camp of the Aramaeans. So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in accordance with the word of YHWH.’

And the consequence was that the people of the city were able to go out and plunder the Aramaean camp, with the result that there was sufficient fine flour and barley for all, the consequence being that it was sold at normal prices that day (by the enterprising) to those who had not been able to go to the camp, in accordance with the word of YHWH which had made known to Elisha (verse 1).

2.7.17 ‘And the king appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate, and the people trod on him in the gate, and he died as the man of God had said, who spoke when the king came down to him.’

In order to facilitate and organise as best as he could the streaming of the people out of the city in their desperate search after food and spoils, the king then appointed his right hand man (whom he had previously sent to Elisha) to have charge of the gate. But this turned out to be unfortunate for him, because in seeking to control the surging, maddened crowds he himself was knocked over and trampled under foot, dying as ‘the man of God’ had said (verse 2b). All that Elisha, the man of God, had prophesied was taking place.

‘Who spoke when the king came down to him.’ Compare 6.32-33. This may signify that the king himself did follow his messenger to see Elisha, or the idea may simply be that he came, as it were, in the form of his messenger. See on verse 2 above.

2.7.18 ‘And it came about 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, will be tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria.” ’

Also fulfilled was the prophecy about the sale of food at normal prices, instead of the exorbitant prices which had been exacted during the siege. Supply and demand had returned to normal, with sufficient available for all, and all in the course of a day.

2.7.19 ‘And that captain who had answered the man of God, and said, “Now, look, if YHWH should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be?” and he had said, “Behold, you will see it with your eyes, but will not eat of it.” ’

The opening verse of this subsection (verse 2) is now repeated as an inclusio, its fulfilment having been demonstrated in verse 17. All this repetition brings out that the whole purpose of the narrative is to bring out YHWH’s great deliverance, and the fulfilment of the Word that He had given Elisha. All had happened for the glory of YHWH.

2.7.20 “It came about even so to him, for the people trod on him in the gate, and he died.’

The passage closes with the reminder that, just as Elisha had prophesied, the king’s right hand man died, the lesson being that it was not wise to make fun of the word of YHWH. The whole passage brings out that YHWH is always able to defend His people under any circumstances, even though He might often wait until the last moment in order to do so, in order that we might learn the lesson that He wants to teach us.

The Shunammite, Now A Widow, Has Her Land Restored To Her By The King Of Israel (2.8.1-6).

The prophetic author has two purposes in this incident. Firstly to emphasis the miraculous powers of Elisha, and secondly to bring out that YHWH watches over those who are faithful to Him.

The incident involves the Shunnamite woman mentioned in 6.8-37. We are probably to see that her husband has since died, for he is not mentioned in the narrative. Thus the inheritance now belonged to the son. But Elisha foresaw a lengthy (‘seven year’ ) famine which was coming and advised her to take her household and seek refuge outside the land. Obediently she sought refuge in Philistia, and waited for the famine to be over. We have no information on what if any procedures would be followed in a case like this. It is possible that the house and land came under the protection of the crown. But no doubt those who took possession of it would not be desirous of returning it.

So on her return at the end of the period she presumably discovered that her son’s inheritance had been taken over by someone, who had also presumably occupied the house, and her intention was therefore to appeal to the king for her son’s rights to be restored. The author probably intends us to see that it was in the will of YHWH that this happened precisely at that time that the king was asking Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, to recount to him some of Elisha’s miracles, and Gehazi was telling him about the raising from the dead of the Shunnamite’s son. And when Gehazi saw the woman coming for an audience with the king he pointed her out as the Shunnamite whose son Elisha had healed. The king accordingly spoke with the woman and arranged for her house and lands to be restored to her, along with the produce of the land during the famine.

It is important to note that the king obtained his information about the miracles of Elisha directly from an eyewitness, and may well have had them recorded. There is absolutely no reason for doubting Gehazi’s accuracy, or for suggesting that he exaggerated. There is no evidence of it whatsoever. Any such idea is all in the mind of the doubters.

Analysis.

  • a Now Elisha had spoken to the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, “Arise, and go, you and your household, and sojourn wherever you can sojourn, for YHWH has called for a famine, and it will also come on the land seven years.” And the woman arose, and acted in accordance with the word of the man of God, and she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years (2.8.1-2).
  • b And it came about at the end of the seven years, that the woman returned out of the land of the Philistines, and she went forth to cry to the king for her house and for her land (2.8.3).
  • c Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me, I pray you, all the great things that Elisha has done” (2.8.4).
  • b And it came about, as he was telling the king how he had restored to life him who was dead, that, behold, the woman, whose son he had restored to life, cried to the king for her house and for her land (2.8.5a).
  • a And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life.” And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed to her a certain officer, saying, “Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now” (2.8.5b-6).

In ‘a’ ‘the woman whose son Elisha had restored to life’ took refuge in Philistia, leaving her land behind, and in the parallel ‘the woman whose son Elisha had restored to life’ received her land and produce back from the king. In ‘b’ the woman went to the king to cry for her house and land, and in the parallel she cried to the king for her house and land. Centrally in ‘c’ Gehazi recounted to the king some of the miracles performed by Elisha.

2.8.1 ‘Now Elisha had spoken to the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, “Arise, and go, you and your household, and sojourn wherever you can sojourn, for YHWH has called for a famine, and it will also come on the land seven years.” ’

The reason why the Shunnamite woman had left her house and land was because Elisha had advised her to do so in view of a ‘seven year famine’ (a lengthy, drawn out famine) which ‘YHWH was calling for’ on the land, that is, a period when the rains would fail. Any such natural event would have been seen by the prophets as ‘called for by YHWH’, and no particular reason is given for it. We have no means of knowing how it connected with other famines mentioned earlier. Elisha’s advice was that she find a suitable place to ‘sojourn’ (be a short term resident alien). Being wealthy she would be able to afford to stay at a suitable place.

2.8.2 ‘And the woman arose, and acted in accordance with the word of the man of God, and she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years.’

In accordance with Elisha’s instructions as ‘a man of God’ she took her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines for the seven year period. The non-mention of her husband may suggest that he was dead.

2.8.3 ‘And it came about at the end of the seven years, that the woman returned out of the land of the Philistines, and she went forth to cry to the king for her house and for her land.’

At the end of the lengthy period, no doubt having learned that the famine was over, the woman returned from Philistia, and went to put in her official request for her home and land to be restored to her. Land and property in the countryside belonged to its original Israelite owners in perpetuity. ‘To cry out --’ was probably a legal expression for putting forward an official claim.

2.8.4 ‘Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me, I pray you, all the great things that Elisha has done.” ’

Meanwhile, not knowing about this (although we are intended to see that YHWH knew) the king had summoned Gehazi in order to receive an eyewitness account of what miracles Elisha had performed. It may well have been an official summons with the intention of recording them for the future. It indicates clearly that Elisha had an outstanding reputation for the miraculous. We do not know which king this was, but it indicates an official interest in the miracles..

The fact that Gehazi was allowed in the king’s presence indicates that the skin disease from which he suffered was not leprosy. Compare also how Naaman had been able to serve the king of Aram having the same disease. It would, however, prevent Gehazi from entering the court of the Sanctuary.

2.8.5 ‘And it came about, as he was telling the king how he had restored to life him who was dead, that, behold, the woman, whose son he had restored to life, cried to the king for her house and for her land. And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life.” ’

And even while Gehazi was in the middle of recounting details of how Elisha had raised the son of a Shunnamite from the dead the woman herself approached the king for an audience, in order to put forward her official appeal. It was one of those God-ordained coincidences. And Gehazi pointed out the woman was the one he was speaking about.

2.8.6 ‘And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed to her a certain officer, saying, “Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now.” ’

The king asked the woman about the matter, and then he called on a ‘high official’ to ensure the restoring to the woman of her house and lands, together with all the produce grown over the seven years, which may well have gone to the crown. Due to the famine it would not be a very large amount, although the fields may have been extensive.

Benhadad Of Aram, Through His Servant Hazael, Seeks Elisha’s Assurance That His Illness Is Not Fatal, But Elisha Discerns Dark Deeds Ahead At The Hands Of Hazael (2.8.7-15).

This incident presumably occurred during a period of peace between Aram and Israel. On hearing that Elisha had paid a visit to Damascus, Benhadad, the king of Aram, who was in bed through illness, sent to find out from him whether he would live or die. Elisha’s reply was that the illness itself was not fatal. But as he looked at Hazael, the kings’ messenger, it was revealed to him that through Hazael’s hand the king would die, and that Hazael would become king of Aram and would be no friend to Israel. Hazael had as a young man been anointed by Elijah (1 Kings 19.15), although probably not knowing what it was for. That would not, however, make him a friend of Israel. The thought now planted in Hazael’s mind he assassinated the king and reigned in his place.

That is one version of events. The full details of what happened are, however, disputed, partly due to the ambiguity of the narrative, in which Elisha does not actually say that Hazael will assassinate the king. But in our view the implication is clearly there, and it ties in with what we learn of his character.

Analysis.

  • a And Elisha came to Damascus, and Benhadad the king of Aram was ill, and it was told him, saying, “The man of God has come here” (2.8.7).
  • b And the king said to Hazael, “Take a present in your hand, and go, meet the man of God, and enquire of YHWH by him, saying, “Will I recover from this illness?” (2.8.8).
  • c So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels’ burden, and came and stood before him, and said, “Your son Benhadad king of Aram has sent me to you, saying, “Will I recover from this illness?” (2.8.9).
  • d And Elisha said to him, “Go, say to him, You will surely recover. However YHWH has shown me that he will surely die” (2.8.10).
  • e And he set his face steadfastly on him, until he was ashamed, and the man of God wept (2.8.11).
  • d And Hazael said, “Why are you weeping my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that you will do to the children of Israel. Their strongholds will you set on fire, and their young men will you slay with the sword, and will dash in pieces their little ones, and rip up their women with child” (2.8.12).
  • c And Hazael said, “But what is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?” And Elisha answered, “YHWH has shown me that you will be king over Aram” (2.8.13).
  • b Then he departed from Elisha, and came to his master, who said to him, “What did Elisha say to you?” And he answered, “He told me that you would surely recover” (2.8.14).
  • a And it came about on the morrow, that he took the coverlet, and dipped it in water, and spread it on his face, so that he died, and Hazael reigned instead of him (2.8.15).

Note that in ‘a’ Benhadad the king of Aram was ill, and in the parallel he was dead and Hazael reigned instead of him. In ‘b’ Benhadad wanted to know whether his illness would prove fatal, and in the parallel he learned that it would not. In ‘c’ Hazael brings Elisha a splendid present from the king, and in the parallel he see himself as but a ‘dead dog’. In ‘d’ Elisha sees in his prophetic mind what Hazael will do to the king, and in the parallel he foresees what he will do to Israel. Centrally in ‘e’ he fixed his penetrating gaze on Hazael and wept because of what he foresaw.

2.8.7 ‘And Elisha came to Damascus, and Benhadad the king of Aram was ill, and it was told him, saying, “The man of God has come here.” ’

When Elisha paid a visit to Damascus, presumably during a period of peace, ‘Benhadad the king of Aram was ill’. There is a problem here as to which king is meant. As this was before Hazael became king this could not be Benhadad III, who followed Hazael. On the other hand the Assyrian records seem to suggest that the king prior to Hazael was named Hadad-ezer. That may, however, simply be because the latter was his chosen name, with Ben-hadad being his throne name because all kings of Aram were seen as being ‘the son of Hadad’ (compare how in Egypt every Pharaoh was ‘Horus, the son of Osiris’, although not many took it as literally as Egypt), or it may be because Hadadezer was followed for a short while by another Benhadad who did not reign long enough to be mentioned in Assyrian records (see note below). This incident therefore almost certainly precedes some of those already described.

We do not know why Elisha came to Damascus. He may have been guided there by YHWH in view of Elijah’s previous anointing of Hazael when Hazael was a young man (1 Kings 19.15). It may indeed have been that anointing which was partly responsible for the plans that were seemingly buzzing in Hazael’s brain. Elisha may well have had a divine premonition that the time for its fulfilment was ripe, but if so it is not mentioned here. Had Elisha’s purpose in Damascus been in response to a plea from the king the present would have been sent previously. Thus his presence in Damascus at this time must have been, from a human point of view, a coincidence.

2.8.8 ‘And the king said to Hazael, “Take a present in your hand, and go, meet the man of God, and enquire of YHWH by him, saying, “Will I recover from this illness?” ’

The king accordingly sent his courtier Hazael to Elisha with a rich present, in order to enquire of YHWH whether he would recover from his illness. He had good cause to know that Elisha was very much a recipient of the truth from YHWH. Perhaps his own prophets had failed to come up with an answer.

2.8.9 ‘So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels’ burden, and came and stood before him, and said, “Your son Benhadad king of Aram has sent me to you, saying, “Will I recover from this illness?”

So Hazael went to meet Elisha taking a magnificent present from the king. We can compare the size of the present which had been intended for Elisha when he was asked to heal Naaman (5.5). There is no good reason for suggesting that it is exaggerated. It was recognised that outstanding ‘prophets’ did not come cheap and required large payments for their services (compare Balaam), especially when such important information was required, and the enquirer was a powerful king. The gods in general were seen as greedy. ‘Forty’ may have represented ‘a large number’. The camels would be loaded with goods received through trading, possibly obtained from the Damascus street markets. With the gift came the request to learn about whether the king would recover from his illness.

‘He stood before him’ as one in the presence of a superior. Great deference was due to such an acknowledged prophet of widespread fame. Note how even the king is described as ‘his son’, seeing the prophet as a father figure.

2.8.10 ‘And Elisha said to him, “Go, say to him, You will surely live. However, YHWH has shown me that he will surely die.” ’

Elisha’s reply was twofold. Firstly it indicated that the illness was not life threatening, but secondly it indicated that nevertheless he would die in some other way, something which will shortly be explained. Elisha was replying to the king’s question as to whether his illness was a mortal illness, and his official reply was therefore ‘no’. We cannot fault him for leaving it with Hazael to decide whether to tell him that nevertheless he would die in another way.

There is a problem with the MT text here in that the original (the kethib) has ‘you will not live’ while the qere has ‘you will surely live’. The original text had no vowels and the original ‘l’ could signify ‘lo’ (not), but may in fact have been intended as ‘lu’ which would remove the negative. MT thus opts for either/or. What follows supports the qere in that his death was not due to his illness, although verse 14 may have been Hazael’s lie. Whichever is the correct translation of the text the fact is finally stated that he would die, even if not from his illness.

2.8.11 ‘And he set his face steadfastly on him, until he was ashamed, and the man of God wept.’

As the conversation was proceeding Elisha was receiving fresh information from YHWH and he consequently began to stare at Hazael severely to such an extent that Hazael was ashamed (there is no good reason for seeing Elisha as being in a ‘prophetic trance’). This would tie in with the idea that Hazael already had his assassination plans in mind and was feeling guilty. Then Elisha burst into weeping.

2.8.12 ‘And Hazael said, “Why are you weeping my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that you will do to the children of Israel. Their strongholds will you set on fire, and their young men will you slay with the sword, and will dash in pieces their little ones, and rip up their women with child.” ’

Hazael was not sure what to make of all this and asked Elisha why he was weeping. Note the courteous ‘my lord’. Prophets had to be treated rightly. Elisha’s reply was to explain to Hazael what he had seen in his own heart. He had received knowledge from YHWH that in the future Hazael would become an enemy of Israel and would invade and oppress Israel in the cruellest way. The descriptions do not, however, make Hazael out to be particularly cruel. What is described were the normal methods of warfare. But see Amos 1.3-5.

2.8.13 ‘And Hazael said, “But what is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?” And Elisha answered, “YHWH has shown me that you will be king over Aram.” ’

Hazael sought to convince Elisha that he had no such ideas in mind. He pointed out that he was only a humble servant (‘a dog’), not one who could do great exploits. He may, however, simply have been prevaricating, and may already have had such ideas in his heart. Elisha, however, bluntly declared to him that YHWH had shown him that Hazael would become king of Aram.

2.8.14 ‘Then he departed from Elisha, and came to his master, who said to him, “What did Elisha say to you?” And he answered, “He told me that you would surely recover.” ’

On Hazael arriving back at court the king asked him what Elijah had said, and keeping his own counsel Hazael merely informed him that Elisha had said that his illness would not prove fatal, and that he would live and not die of his illness.

2.8.15 ‘And it came about on the morrow, that he took the blanket, and dipped it in water, and spread it on his face, so that he died, and Hazael reigned instead of him.’

But on the next day he carried into action the plans that he had in mind. Possibly he was moved to act so quickly because he was afraid that Elisha might reveal his plans to the king. So on the next day, while the king was sleeping, he dipped a blanket made of twisted cloth in water, making it breath-proof, and then held it over the king’s face until he died. The fact that he then became king instead of the dead king demonstrates that he had previously laid his plans carefully and had ensured that he would have general support. It was not a spur of the moment decision.

(Some have translated as ‘one (someone) took the blanket ---’ signifying person or persons unknown, and that is possible, but the general indication of the text is that the one who did so was Hazael who was probably one of the few who could enter the king’s bedchamber alone).

Note On The Identification Of Ben-hadad.

The Assyrian records (the annals of Shalmaneser) tell us that ‘Hadadezer --- met his fate’ and that ‘Hazael --- the son of a nobody (i.e. a commoner) took the throne.’ This indicates that this incident occurred between c. 845 and 841 BC. It does not, however, indicate that Hazael slew Hadadezer, thus it is quite possible that someone succeeded to Hadadezer, taking the name of Benhadad, and was himself shortly afterwards assassinated by Hazael, his reign not being long enough to figure in the Assyrian annals. The coming of a new king to the throne, which was a period when things were disrupted, often led to a coup attempt. Alternately as we have seen Benhadad may have been the throne name of Hadadezer.

Shalmaneser fought again with Hazael and Aram in c. 837 BC, forcing him to pay huge tribute, and there is no further mention of Hazael in the Assyrian records until Adad-nirari III cowed the now ageing Hazael into submission in c. 805-802 BC.

As Elisha foresaw Hazael was a constant aggressor against Israel (8.28; 9.15; 10.32; 13.3, 22; see also Amos 1.3-5), and also against Judah from whom at one stage he stripped all its treasures, being ‘bought off’ when he planned to besiege Jerusalem (12.18).

End of note.

Return To Home Page For Further Interesting Articles

For Kings part 1 (1-4) click here

For Kings part 2 (5-8) click here

For Kings part 3 (9-11) click here

For Kings part 4 (12.1-16.28) click here

For Kings 5 (16.29-2.1.18) click here

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