Monday, April 18, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 71. Samaria Besieged

Prophets And Kings
Day 71
Samaria Besieged

The king of Aram comes to trouble Israel again, laying siege to the capitol city of Samaria, causing a famine in the city.

2 KINGS 6:24-32, 2 KINGS 7:1-2)
"Some time later, Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria." (2 Kings 6:24) The ruins of Samaria show that it had an inner wall and an outer wall, difficult to penetrate, and no doubt guarded by soldiers at all times. Ben-Hadad knew he couldn't take the city by force so he surrounded it, preventing anyone from going in and coming out. Eventually this would cause famine once the food stored inside the city ran out. His goal is to force the people to surrender because of hunger.

"There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey's head sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels." (2 Kings 6:25) Donkeys were not to be eaten by the Israelites, as they are unclean animals, but the people are so hungry they have resorted to eating them. The head would be the least desirable part of the animal but even it is selling for an inflated price.

But things are worse than even the king of Israel knows. "As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, 'Help me, my lord the king!' The king replied, 'If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?' Then he asked her, 'What's the matter?'" (2 Kings 6:26-28a) King Joram says, "What can I do for you? I'm in the same boat you are in. I'm trapped here too. I'm hungry too. I'm helpless too." 

He's going to wish he hadn't asked what's wrong with her. "She answered, 'This woman said to me, 'Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we'll eat my son.' So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, 'Give up your son so we may eat him,' but she had hidden him." (2 Kings 6:28b-29) Some commentators prefer to believe that the child cannibalism in Samaria resulted after the death of small children from starvation, since young children would be the first to become dehydrated and malnourished because of their small size. There are many other accounts in ancient history of besieged cities whose residents resorted to cannibalism, so this is not an isolated case, but the text indicates the woman killed her son. The other woman said to her, "Give up your son," which I believe means he was still living when the decision was made to eat him. I suspect the other woman's son is still alive, because she has hidden him. There are some scholars, however, who disagree and believe the other woman's son had already died but that she hid him so she could eat him herself and not share with the other woman. How widespread cannibalism was in the city during the siege, we don't know. The fact that King Joram doesn't realize it has come down to this may be because it began in the poorer section of town where people didn't have as much food stored up before the siege and where they don't have enough money to purchase a donkey's head or a seed pod. 

Joram is appalled and grief-stricken at the woman's words. "When the king heard the woman's words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body." (2 Kings 6:30) The wearing of sackcloth was meant to indicate sorrow and repentance, but there is reason to believe it's an outward show of repentance only. He will blame Elisha for the siege rather than the nation's own sins. Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy spells out what will happen to the nation if they turn from God. Siege and starvation are part of the judgment that will result. Joram is unwilling to recognize and repent of the idolatry which has brought this curse of Deuteronomy upon him and his people, "Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict upon you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you." (Deuteronomy 28:53) This is so gruesome to us it's unthinkable. And possibly it would have been unthinkable to the residents of Samaria if they had not already lost some of their regard for the life of their children by participating in pagan religions, some of which practiced child sacrifice. Something in these people has already broken down. Even before the siege they had already lost the natural affection a parent has for a child. They had already lost the sacred sense of what life is and the natural desire of a parent to protect a child at all costs.

I want to point out that the Lord has not forced this upon them. When He spoke the words of prophecy in Deuteronomy, He's not saying He's going to make the people do these things. He's saying the people will do these things because that's how far they will have fallen into sin. He's reporting events from the future, not condoning them. The prophecy from Deuteronomy was a warning not to let their hearts become wicked like this. He wanted the nation to understand that one sin will lead to another, then to another, then to another, until they become depraved enough to kill and eat their own children. 

The king is looking for someone to blame and instead of looking in the mirror, he blames Elisha. "He said, 'May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!'" (2 Kings 6:31)

"Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. The king sent a messenger ahead, but before he arrived, Elisha said to the elders, 'Don't you see how this murderer is sending someone to cut off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold it shut against him. Is not the sound of his master's footsteps behind him?'" (2 Kings 6:31-32) Opening the door would be opening the door to a trap.

"While he was still talking to them, the messenger came down to  him. The king said, 'This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?'" (2 Kings 6:33) The messenger relates the king's words. Joram indicates he's aware that the Lord has allowed the nation to be troubled but his words also tell us that he has given up on receiving help from the Lord. If he only had a heart like King Jehoshaphat of Judah who instructed his people to fast and pray when trouble came! If the king and the people had humbled themselves and turned from their sinful idols to the living God, their deliverance would have already come a long time ago. They would probably never have been surrounded by the enemy in the first place if they had obeyed the Lord. 

"Elisha replied, 'Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs off barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.'" (2 Kings 7:1) The Lord is going to perform a miracle so the nation will know that He alone is God and that in denying Him they have only hurt themselves. He has let them go their way until they have hit rock bottom. He has let them reach such a low condition that when their deliverance comes they will have to acknowledge He is the One who brought it. This is for their own good. Turning from the Lord is turning against their own souls. Baal can't help them. The abominable god Molech to whom children are sacrificed can't help them. No pagan god can help them. All other gods are lies and the people have willingly given their hearts to things that don't exist. 

Elisha is promising a miracle by the following day. Food will be plentiful and it will be available at a good price. The king's officer scoffs at the idea. "The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, 'Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?'" (2 Kings 7:2a) This is the same as saying it can't be done, not even by the Creator. He doesn't believe the word of the Lord through Elisha. He's calling the Lord a liar and calling Elisha a liar.

The officer has spoken unwise words to his own harm. These words have come from a wicked and unbelieving heart and so, because he doubts the promise of the Lord, he will not share in the miracle. "'You will see it with your own eyes,' answered Elisha, 'but you will not eat any of it!'" (2 Kings 7:2b) 

I wonder how many times we've missed blessings by not believing the word of God. I feel certain I've missed blessings in my own life because of doubts and fears. That's why the Lord Jesus instructed us to receive the gospel like a little child. A little child believes what his father tells him. A little child believes his father in faith, unquestioningly. The Lord Jesus asks us to believe our heavenly Father in this same way. 

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