1 - 2 Elisha Foretells Food and Judgment
1 Then Elisha said, “Listen to the word of the LORD; thus says the LORD, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour will be [sold] for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.’” 2 The royal officer on whose hand the king was leaning answered the man of God and said, “Behold, if the LORD should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” Then he said, “Behold, you will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat of it.”
Elisha has an extraordinary word from the LORD. He looks death in the eyes, but talks about life coming. This is not God’s answer to conversion. It is one of the proofs of God’s grace that He shows without any reason or even trace of repentance.
The proof of grace brings to light that man is unrepentant. The royal officer mocks the power of God Who in grace makes this promise. It is the language of the mocker who says: “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2Pet 3:4a). Only judgment can be given on this, and it will come. Every mocker will be brought to the conviction of the truth of God’s Word, that it is true, but then it will be too late to repent.
3 - 4 Four Leprous Men Confer
3 Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why do we sit here until we die? 4 If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ then the famine is in the city and we will die there; and if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, we will but die.”
Then our attention is directed at four leprous men at the entrance of the gate of the city. There is hardly a situation imaginable that is more hopeless than that of these four leprous men. They have participated in the same terrible famine, but have also been ejected from the city. They suffer with the people around them and suffer in their own body.
These men are different from Naaman. For they are members of God’s people. The law of leprosy applies to them (Leviticus 13-14). Leprosy in a member of the people of God represents the bursting out of sin in this member of the people of God. Therefore, the application here is not primarily that it is about a sinner in the world who lives in his sins, but that we see what a child of God falls into when sin has the opportunity to manifest itself in him. Also the further lessons are different. With Naaman it is about cleaning his leprosy. The four leprous men we see more the way to spiritual recovery.
They sit down and deliberate and face up to the situation in all its realities. Death is around them and death is in them. They are completely without perspective. In the city they will starve and outside the city they will also die. Their only hope is that the enemy will be merciful to them. With this acknowledgement, their path of restoration begins.
5 - 8 Abundance of Food and Wealth
5 They arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Arameans; when they came to the outskirts of the camp of the Arameans, behold, there was no one there. 6 For the Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a sound of chariots and a sound of horses, [even] the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.” 7 Therefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents and their horses and their donkeys, [even] the camp just as it was, and fled for their life. 8 When these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they entered one tent and ate and drank, and carried from there silver and gold and clothes, and went and hid [them]; and they returned and entered another tent and carried from there [also], and went and hid [them].
The men go to the Syrian army camp to surrender to them. This means that they surrender to the rod of discipline in the hand of God for His people, for that is what the Syrians are. The men thereby take the place of judgment. The path of spiritual restoration begins when we acknowledge that God is chastising us and accepting it from His hand. Then there is return to life (Heb 12:4-11).
When they arrive at the camp, they see that there is no one there. That is the result of the work of the LORD. He made the Syrians hear a sound of the power with which He took Elijah to heaven (2Kgs 2:11) and with which He surrounded Elisha in Dothan (2Kgs 6:17). The Syrians misinterpret this, because they do not count with God. They have a natural statement that they are earthly powers.
This demonstration of power contributes to the restoration of the lepers. God alone has driven out the enemy, without anyone having helped Him. So every restoration is the work of God alone. It is also a restoration that brings great blessings. The leprous men are overloaded with blessings, blessings that are thrown into their laps. At the moment they only think of themselves. There is food, there are silver and gold and there are clothes. They experience what the part of the prodigal son is when he is back with his father (Lk 15:21-23). It is understandable that someone who just knows he has been saved is happy for himself with everything he has received.
9 - 11 Good News Must Be Told
9 Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” 10 So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city, and they told them, saying, “We came to the camp of the Arameans, and behold, there was no one there, nor the voice of man, only the horses tied and the donkeys tied, and the tents just as they were.” 11 The gatekeepers called and told [it] within the king’s household.
After being so absorbed in their blessings, they come to reflection. They understand that it is a day of good news. They must not keep the salvation they have received for themselves. If we really appreciate the spiritual riches we have received as believers, we will distribute them. Not only is it important to spread the gospel to unbelievers, it is also important to share “the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19) with spiritually poor believers.
The men talk about the morning light that will come and that then their guilt will be established if they have kept everything to themselves alone. We see here a picture of the “morning light” of the judgment seat of Christ, where everything will be revealed (2Cor 5:10). Christ will, when He sits on the judgment seat and we appear before Him there, make clear what we have done with what we have received. Will He, or will believers, have to reproach us for having kept all riches to ourselves?
The men suit the action to the word and go to town. The king and the people must know what they have discovered. At that moment the people sleep in the city with hungry stomachs. They went to bed with the only knowledge that they will be even more miserable the next day.
The four men go with the good news to the gatekeepers. They cannot do anything else, it is impossible for them to remain silent about these things, just as it is impossible for the apostles not to speak of Christ later on (Acts 4:20). The love of Christ controls them (cf. 2Cor 5:14a). The gatekeeper tells the story of the four lepers in the royal palace. The good news is passed on, higher and higher up to the king.
12 - 15 Reaction to the Good News
12 Then the king arose in the night and said to his servants, “I will now tell you what the Arameans have done to us. They know that we are hungry; therefore they have gone from the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, ‘When they come out of the city, we will capture them alive and get into the city.’” 13 One of his servants said, “Please, let some [men] take five of the horses which remain, which are left in the city. Behold, they [will be in any case] like all the multitude of Israel who are left in it; behold, they [will be in any case] like all the multitude of Israel who have already perished, so let us send and see.” 14 They took therefore two chariots with horses, and the king sent after the army of the Arameans, saying, “Go and see.” 15 They went after them to the Jordan, and behold, all the way was full of clothes and equipment which the Arameans had thrown away in their haste. Then the messengers returned and told the king.
The message is not directly believed. There is suspicion. That means an extension of the misery. We too do not have to count on an enthusiastic reception of the gospel. The king shows false mistrust. The prophet has promised him salvation, but he can only think of an ambush. Salvation is too cheap for him. Thus, faith is often seen as the only means of salvation when it is preached. Faith means that one does not have to do anything to be saved. However, people always want to do something. In this case everything has already been done. The king only has to go outside and receive.
This king also has good servants. A servant makes a proposal that helps the king cross the threshold of his mistrust, just like a servant helped Naaman cross the threshold before. Simple people are often the deciding factor for an important decision and not the big rhetoric. God uses whom He will for the performance of His work. In this story these are four impure members of His people and a nameless servant of the king. He chooses the base and the insignificant (1Cor 1:25-28).
The proposal is executed. The king sends men to investigate. The few horses that are still there will be used. After all, it made no difference to everything. It is a delay for the whole people, who have to wait until the messengers come back.
The messengers go on their way. They follow the trail of the Syrians who fled to the Jordan. It is not difficult to follow them, because the whole road is “full of clothes and equipment which the Arameans had thrown away in their haste”. Everything is there just to be picked up. The messengers return and report what they have seen.
It is spiritually significant that it is mentioned that the messengers follow the enemies “to the Jordan” and that up to that place all the enemy’s belongings lie. It is a picture that the judgment of God has gone to the Jordan and the blessings to the Jordan lie before us. The victory and the blessing are connected with the Jordan.
In the Jordan Naaman was cleansed, in the Jordan a student prophet got his axe head back. It proposes that through the death and resurrection of Christ cleansing of sins is obtained (Naaman) and power to build (the student prophet) and also that this means the end of the enemy and the beginning of blessing. Israel only has to note it. For us, every victory over our state of sin is achieved by the Lord Jesus on the cross. That is where the restoration came about. The messengers give testimony of this to the king.
16 - 20 The Word of the LORD Fulfilled
16 So the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. Then a measure of fine flour [was sold] for a shekel and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD. 17 Now the king appointed the royal officer on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate; but the people trampled on him at the gate, and he died just as the man of God had said, who spoke when the king came down to him. 18 It happened just 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 [sold] tomorrow about this time at the gate of Samaria.” 19 Then the royal officer answered the man of God and said, “Now behold, if the LORD should make windows in heaven, could such a thing be?” And he said, “Behold, you will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat of it.” 20 And so it happened to him, for the people trampled on him at the gate and he died.
After the message of the enemy’s run, the people flow out of town to take the booty. The word which the LORD has spoken in verse 1 is fulfilled. The following verses are also a fulfillment of what was announced earlier. The people can eat themselves full. However, we do not read a word of gratitude to the LORD and Elisha, as we do see in Naaman. Do we thank the Lord for our salvation? We should start with that every day and not just enjoy the consequences as if all this were self-evident.
The royal officer comes to his end, as Elisha said. God’s Word is terribly fulfilled to him. The king cooperates by leaning on him in the gate. The man is standing in the gate and sees everything the people are going to enjoy, but he has not been given a part in it. Thus the Lord Jesus spoke of people who see others in the bosom of Abraham, but are cast out themselves. There is a seeing that is abhorrent, like the man in the realm of the dead when he sees Lazarus in the distance (Lk 16:23).
Because this event is intended to make a deep impression on us, these verses refer in detail to the reason for the judgment. Almost literally, we are told again what is written at the beginning of this chapter about what Elisha has said and how the royal officer reacted to it. In this section it is told twice. In total it is told three times what the new price of the food is, that the officer dies as the man of God has spoken and that it happens according to the word the LORD has spoken.
The judgment of God is thus doubly underlined, as it were. Again and again in this section there is referred to what the LORD has said and is pointed out that His Word is actually and literally fulfilled. God forgets nothing of what mockers have said. They are reminded to it. It all happened, as it was said. The man has no excuse, because God maintains His Word.
This royal officer is a penetrating, warning example for young people growing up in an environment where they are made acquainted with the truth and promises of God from an early age. Young people can see a lot of the glorious truths of God’s Word and yet stay outside of it, because there is no faith, yes, they can even be mockers. They have been enlightened, but end in eternal darkness (cf. Heb 6:4-6). They have been so close to it, they have tasted everything, but never had an inner part in it through faith. They ‘see’, that is, they know of the virgin birth, but do not believe. They know about the cross and the resurrection, but they do not believe it. The warning is: “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking” (Heb 12:25a).