Samaria had stopped raiding Israel. But they were still in a war, so they surrounded Samaria and caused a tremendous famine. Things were really bad in Samaria. Verses 24-25 describe it.
“Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. 25 And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey's head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove's dung for five shekels of silver.”
A Donkey’s head is bad enough to consider as food, but pigeon poo is really awful. It was used as food in desperate times since dove’s dung was plentiful. A kab is just a little under a quart and a half. These unappealing foods were what was available and their scarcity made them precious. The famine was horrible. Money was becoming just as scarce as food. People were starving. Verses 26-31 read,
“Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body— 31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”
The woman was desperate, so desperate that she ate her own child and was angry that the second child to be her meal was hidden. She had sacrificed her son and lived up to her end of the bargain but this other woman had not, and she blamed the king. When he heard how terrible the situation had become he was seriously anguished. He tore his clothes in grief and it was apparent that his sorrow was genuine because under his robes he wore sackcloth. But he chose self-pity and depression instead of turning to God for help.
The woman blamed the king but he couldn’t take the blame himself. He threw the blame on Elisha and vowed vengeance. Did his anger and rash oath fix the problem? No, the woman still had no food and no son. The king had not come up with a solution. He had not turned to God. The king should have gone to Elisha and asked him to inquire of the Lord regarding the famine. But instead he chose to blame God and accuse Him of doing nothing. He chose to look at his resources instead of God’s unending supply. Instead of being the king of his people, he joined them and whined and grieved instead of praying.
Elisha was not blaming God, he was as always in fellowship with The Lord and so he knew the king had sent men to kill him. Verses 32-33 read,
“Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. Now the king had dispatched a man from his presence, but before the messenger arrived Elisha said to the elders, “Do you see how this murderer has sent to take off 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?”33 And while he was still speaking with them, the messenger came down to him and said, “This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?”
People are so quick to blame God for troubles. It is easier to blame God and be angry with Him than to take responsibility for poor choices. It is easier to cry foul and wallow in pity than to pray give the problem to the Lord. But Elisha did not blame God. Elisha knew The Lord could, would, and was taking care of them. He trusted God to be God in every circumstance. Chapter 7 verses 1-2 record what happened next.
“But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” 2 Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”
A seah is about 7 quarts. The Lord told them that the famine would be turned around completely that good food was going to be so abundant that it would be cheap. He also saved Elisha’s head by it. The king did not send his captain to inquire of The Lord through Elisha, but The Lord chose to give him the message anyway. Before the captain went back to the king to tell him, he scoffed at the idea. It did seem pretty ridiculous. A third of a quart of dove dung was five shekels and Elisha was saying that tomorrow seven quarts of fine flour would be one! That might be like someone saying, tomorrow a gallon of gas will cost you 25 cents. If the message didn’t come from God, you might scoff as well. So the captain sealed his fate. God told him, you’ll see this come to pass but not one taste of the food will pass your lips.
It seems no one but Elisha believed that God would be God. They blamed God for the problem but couldn’t credit Him with the solution. So the Lord set His work into action. Who did he decide to use? Did he choose the self-pitying king, the woman who destroyed her future to save her present, or the farmers who had killed their donkeys for food? No, He chose four unlikely men to save Samaria. Verses 5-10 in The Message read,
“So after the sun went down they got up and went to the camp of Aram. When they got to the edge of the camp, surprise! Not a man in the camp! The Master had made the army of Aram hear the sound of horses and a mighty army on the march. They told one another, “The king of Israel hired the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to attack us!” Panicked, they ran for their lives through the darkness, abandoning tents, horses, donkeys—the whole camp just as it was—running for dear life. These four lepers entered the camp and went into a tent. First they ate and drank. Then they grabbed silver, gold, and clothing, and went off and hid it. They came back, entered another tent, and looted it, again hiding their plunder.
9 Finally they said to one another, “We shouldn’t be doing this! This is a day of good news and we’re making it into a private party! If we wait around until morning we’ll get caught and punished. Come on! Let’s go tell the news to the king’s palace!”
10 So they went and called out at the city gate, telling what had happened: “We went to the camp of Aram and, surprise!—the place was deserted. Not a soul, not a sound! Horses and donkeys left tethered and tents abandoned just as they were.”
The LORD had terrified the army and sent them running so quickly that they left everything behind. The four lepers at first did what many of us might do, they took for themselves, but when they realized that letting people die was wrong and when they saw how plentiful the food, livestock and money were they did the right thing and reported it to the king. Verses 11-16 of The Message read,
“The gatekeepers got the word to the royal palace, giving them the whole story. Roused in the middle of the night, the king told his servants, “Let me tell you what Aram has done. They knew that we were starving, so they left camp and have hid in the field, thinking, ‘When they come out of the city, we’ll capture them alive and take the city.’”
13 One of his advisors answered, “Let some men go and take five of the horses left behind. The worst that can happen is no worse than what could happen to the whole city. Let’s send them and find out what’s happened.”
14 They took two chariots with horses. The king sent them after the army of Aram with the orders, “Scout them out; find out what happened.”
15 They went after them all the way to the Jordan. The whole way was strewn with clothes and equipment that Aram had dumped in their panicked flight. The scouts came back and reported to the king.
16 The people then looted the camp of Aram. Food prices dropped overnight—a handful of meal for a shekel; two handfuls of grain for a shekel—God’s word to the letter!”
Now, Samaria was no longer surrounded and could get back to business. They had the abundant supplies of an army to feed them and supply them until their own farms were running well again. God’s word was fulfilled. He kept His promise even though the people had not turned to Him. He provided for them even though they accused and doubted Him. Verses 17-20 continue the narrative.
“Now the king had appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate. And the people trampled him in the gate, so that he died, as the man of God had said when the king came down to him. 18 For when the man of God had said to the king, “Two seahs of barley shall be sold for a shekel, and a seah of fine flour for a shekel, about this time tomorrow in the gate of Samaria,”19 the captain had answered the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could such a thing be?” And he had said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” 20 And so it happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gate and he died.”
The same man who had sneered at the idea that The Lord could do as He promised was put in charge of distributing the food. The famished people rushed to the gate to buy food and save their lives and the captain was trampled and killed. The people doubted, but God still cared. This man outright mocked God. The people were angry and God remained compassionate. The captain impugned The Lord. He refused to believe that God would save him from his hunger. The Lord gave him what he expected to get, to die without relief from his situation.
We do face dire situations sometimes. Most of us have not had to face the kind of dearth described in these chapters, but we do go through awful conditions, life and death circumstances, and suffering that threatens to overwhelm. We can get angry with God. Many people do. We can blame Him. Countless people do. God can take our frustration. We can ask, we can cry, we shout. If we charge God for the trouble, shouldn’t we also attribute Him with the solution? But we have to turn to Him. We have to talk to Him. In the listening and receiving we will be calmed. He will show us He is God. We either receive the life He gives or reject it and choose death.