Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.Ch. 2 Kings 7:1. Hear ye the word of the Lord] Having seen the change in the king’s disposition, even though it were a change to despondency, rather than trust, Elisha in the name of the Lord gives a solemn assurance that help is nigh. This he does in the presence of the elders who had been sitting with him, and of those persons who had come in the king’s retinue.
a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel] The measure is the Hebrew seah, which is said to be about a peck. It was six times as much as the Kab mentioned in 2 Kings 6:5. So that the change which Elisha foretells would provide six times as much good food for one-fifth of the price for which, in the famine, the vilest had been sold.
in the gate of Samaria] Where people congregated for markets and other purposes.
Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.2. Then a lord] R.V. the captain. This is the usual rendering except in this narrative. The same change is made by R.V. in verses 17 and 19. The word is originally the title of some military officer. Hence the greater fitness of ‘captain’.
on whose hand the king leaned] For the expression cf. 2 Kings 5:18, where Naaman describes himself as attending in this capacity. By taking the hand of any one as they walked by their side royal persons shewed their friendship and confidence.
Behold, if the Lord would [R.V. should] make windows in heaven] There is no mark of the hypothesis in the Hebrew, as is shewn by the italic ‘if’ of A.V. But the sense is hypothetical. Literally the words are ‘Behold the Lord [is] making &c.’ This is said in derision. Almost as if the captain had said, ‘I suppose then the Lord is going to make &c.’ and then he follows his scorn with a question. ‘Even then, could [R.V. might] this thing be?’ For ‘windows of heaven’ cf. Genesis 7:11.
thou shalt see it with thine eyes] The answer to this mocking captain would be as hard for him to comprehend as was the promise of abundance which he was deriding. He, a person in close attendance on the king, to see the store which was promised and not partake of it was inconceivable. Doubtless his mockery grew louder still.
And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate: and they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die?3–11. Four lepers discover that the Syrian camp is deserted, and bring word unto the city (Not in Chronicles)
3. at the entering in of the gate] Lepers were not allowed to come into the city even in the time of war. On this regulation concerning them see Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2-3.
until we die] As long as there had been enough, these lepers had their supply from friends in the city, but that had now come to an end. In such a dreadful famine the needs of the outcast lepers could be little regarded.
If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.4. let us fall unto the host of the Syrians] These wrecks of humanity use the language which would be used by hale men who were deserting one side for another. Cf. 1 Samuel 29:3; 2 Kings 25:11. The expression ‘fall away’ for ‘desert’ is common in English also. Cf. Shaks. Antony and Cleopatra, iv. 6. 17, ‘Canidius and the rest that fell away’.
we shall but die] Josephus makes them say they will be well rid of their lives, εὐθανατήσοντες.
And they rose up in the twilight, to go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there.5. in the twilight] This must be evening twilight. For in verse 9 they blame themselves for tarrying until morning light, and it was in the night (verse 12) that Jehoram was roused by the news that the Syrian camp was vacated.
to the uttermost [R.V. outermost] part of the camp of Syria] R.V. the Syrians. The portion meant is that which was nearest to them, but ‘uttermost’ has lost that sense now, and would be taken to signify the ‘farthest portion’. Hence the change here and in verse 8. The Hebrew word for Syria is Aram, which is used alike for the country and the people; and since it is rendered ‘Syrians’ in the first clause of this verse, and in other places of the chapter, there is no need why it should be otherwise translated here.
For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.6. For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise] As the eyes of the Syrians who came to seize Elisha were deluded, and deceived, so here the other sense is made to err. We need not enquire how it was brought about, for we are not told, nor intended to know. The report of what had alarmed the host would come to the knowledge of the Israelites in time, and they could only say, ‘It is the Lord’s doing, and is marvellous in our eyes’.
hath hired against us] Instances of such mercenary service are found elsewhere in the Bible narrative. Thus (2 Samuel 10:6) ‘the children of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Beth-rehob &c.’ And Amaziah, king of Judah, hired valiant men out of Israel (2 Chronicles 25:6).
the kings of the Hittites] In the Bible we first meet with the Hittites as one among several nations whose land God promised to Abraham and his seed (Genesis 15:20). Next they are mentioned as dwelling near Hebron (Genesis 23:4), and from them Abraham buys a burial-place for Sarah, which is afterwards spoken of (Genesis 25:9) as in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite. Two of Esau’s wives were of this people (Genesis 26:34), and their name occurs several times in the story of the captivity, among the people whose land Israel was to go up and possess (Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:5 &c.). In Numbers 13:29 the spies when they came back mentioned the Hittites as some of the dwellers in the country, and in Joshua 1:4, the whole country which the people were to go in and possess is described as ‘from the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites’. The Hittites are among the enemy whom Israel overcame at the taking of Jericho (Joshua 24:11), and they are part of the host conquered at the waters of Merom (Joshua 11:4). Some of them continued to dwell in the land in the days of the Judges (Jdg 3:5) and intermingled with the children of Israel. Uriah the Hittite was among David’s captains (2 Samuel 23:39), and Hittite women were among the wives of Solomon (1 Kings 11:1). For the kings of the Hittites, Solomon (1 Kings 10:29) brought horses out of Egypt, and in the present chapter we have the same kings represented as a cause of great alarm to the Syrian host around Samaria. Yet in profane literature this people, evidently very wide-extended and powerful, are unmentioned, and it is only the modern deciphering of the records of Egypt and Babylon which has given us a conception of the Hittite power. Thence we learn that from very early times they were in conflict with Egypt, and that one of their chief towns, Kadesh on the river Orontes, was the scene of several contests between the Hittites and the Egyptians. Their other chief city is found to have been Carchemish on the Euphrates, so that the description of their territory in Joshua 1:4 is seen to be utterly correct, and we can understand how the hiring of such a mighty enemy would be sure to alarm Benhadad. For particulars of the inscriptions which relate to the Hittites see Records of the Past 2:161; 2:61; 5:6, &c. and Dr Wright’s Empire of the Hittites.
and the kings of the Egyptians] Large districts of Egypt, called by Greeks, Nomes, were under distinct organization though owning allegiance to the Pharaoh. It is very probable that at various periods there were two if not three kingdoms in the land. Hence the Assyrians speak of the kings that had been hired out of Egypt. If this had been the case then Ben-hadad and his army would have been shut in both on the north and on the south. We need not wonder at the terror such a thought inspired. The plural ‘kings’ of the Egyptians may perhaps here be used vaguely, as ‘princes’ of Babylon is in 2 Chronicles 32:31, when only Berodach-baladan is in question.
Wherefore 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.
And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it.8. they went into one tent, and did eat and drink] Hunger asserted the first claim; that satisfied, they began to think how they might make most gain for themselves, by hiding a store of the deserted wealth; and this they did till their consciences smote them for their selfishness.
Then they said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household.9. We do not well] Although by the law of Moses these lepers were excluded from the city, they yet had in their degree the duties of citizens to perform, and in neglecting to give tidings of the Syrian flight, they were not acting the citizen’s part.
some mischief will come upon us] R.V. punishment will overtake us. On the margin of R.V. is ‘our iniquity will find us out’. The noun is the same which in Genesis 4:13 is rendered in A.V. in the text by ‘punishment’ and on the margin by ‘iniquity’. The idea of penalty is, and ought to be, closely bound up with the thought of wrong-doing. It could hardly fail to be found out in the morning at what time the lepers had made their discovery, and when it became known they would surely be punished for not giving immediate information.
the king’s household] The men themselves would go no further than the gate, but the warders on the wall would carry the news, as soon as they received it, to the royal palace. The king’s distress at the sufferings of the besieged citizens would be known to every one.
So they came and called unto the porter of the city: and they told them, saying, We came to the camp of the Syrians, and, behold, there was no man there, neither voice of man, but horses tied, and asses tied, and the tents as they were.10. called unto the porter] i.e. from the outside of the wall, whither alone they were allowed to come. The singular noun is clearly taken in a collective sense, and some of the versions give ‘porters’. The plural pronoun immediately following shews that this is intended. Hence R.V. gives the plural on the margin.
but horses [R.V. the horses] tied, and asses [R.V. the asses] tied] The articles are expressed in the original, and the strict rendering gives a truer idea of all things being left without distinction. The baggage cattle, and the beasts for riding stood tethered in their places, fear having permitted no attempt to unloose them. In the camp it was necessary to keep the animals tied up, and most likely one part of the encampment was set apart for this purpose, and the terrified soldiers fled without a thought of going first to get their horses.
the tents as they were] The italic word is really implied, and so is printed in Roman type in R.V. Everything had been forsaken just as it stood. The alarm had proved so sudden and so terrible that the one thought had been to get away.
And he called the porters; and they told it to the king's house within.11. And he called] i.e. the one who was nearest and received the news did so. The singular corresponds to the singular ‘porter’ in verse 10. But there is a various reading here in the Hebrew, which the R.V. places on the margin, ‘the porters called’.
and they told it to the king’s house [R.V. household] within] The R.V. renders as in verse 9. We are to understand that one of the number of the watchmen was detached to convey the news. They would not all leave their posts.
And the king arose in the night, and said unto his servants, I will now shew you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we be hungry; therefore are they gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, When they come out of the city, we shall catch them alive, and get into the city.12–16. The report of the Syrian flight found to be true. The consequent plenty in Samaria (Not in Chronicles)
12. the king arose in the night] The news was so important that though it was night-time, the messengers went with it to the king’s bedchamber, and he, though probably thinking the report much too good to be true, at once arose to take measures for investigating it.
what the Syrians have done to us] i.e. with the hope of entrapping us.
And one of his servants answered and said, Let some take, I pray thee, five of the horses that remain, which are left in the city, (behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it: behold, I say, they are even as all the multitude of the Israelites that are consumed:) and let us send and see.13. five of the horses] ‘Five’ is probably used indefinitely to mean some small number. That ‘five’ may be thus used seems likely from Genesis 43:34; Numbers 11:19.
behold, they are as all the multitude] The sense of the speaker seems to be: the men sent out as spies, if they be taken and slain, will be no worse off than those that remain behind, for these are consumed with famine and will soon be dead. And if they find the news true they are enough to make sure of the matter, and to bring word into the city.
They took therefore two chariot horses; and the king sent after the host of the Syrians, saying, Go and see.14. two chariot horses] R.V. two chariots with horses. Each chariot had its pair of horses, so that there were four horses, and probably two or three people in each chariot. If anything happened to one chariot, the other might come to the rescue, or, at all events, have a chance of escaping to the city.
after the host of the Syrians] The spies were not content with searching the camp. For the king’s misgivings had no doubt communicated themselves to the messengers. So they went on the way where scattered property of all kinds shewed that the Syrians had taken their flight.
And they went after them unto Jordan: and, lo, all the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste. And the messengers returned, and told the king.15. unto Jordan] When the heaven-sent noise caused the Syrians to imagine that the Hittites from the north and the Egyptians from the south were upon them, the only safe road would be to make for the Jordan eastward and, after crossing it, to conceal themselves in the mountains on the other side.
the messengers returned] After the Jordan had been reached there could be no more doubt, there was now no fear of an enemy in ambush.
And the people went out, and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. So 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.16. the people went out] When the camp had been found empty, word was at once sent back into Samaria, while a portion of the exploring party advanced on the road to the Jordan. The whole population were encouraged by the news, and went out, as they were likely to do after being so long pent up, in full numbers. There was food to be had, and beside that, rich plunder.
according to the word of the Lord] See above in verse 1 where Elisha describes the announcement he makes as ‘the word of the Lord’.
And the king appointed the lord on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate: and the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died, as the man of God had said, who spake when the king came down to him.17–20. The unbelieving captain is trodden to death in the gate (Not in Chronicles)
17. the king appointed the lord] R.V. captain. For the change cf. verse 2. The captain was told off to restrain the impetuosity of the crowd, where crowding would be most dangerous.
as the man of God had said, who spake when the king came down to him] These words help us to understand the somewhat broken connexion of the language in verses 32 and 33 of the last chapter. Jehoram himself came down to Elisha’s house after he had sent his messenger. Hence Elisha says ‘Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?’ (the messenger). And we can then understand the question in the following verse, which is intelligible in the mouth of the king, but could hardly have been spoken by the messenger.
And it came to pass 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, shall be to morrow about this time in the gate of Samaria:
And that lord answered the man of God, and said, Now, behold, if the LORD should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.
And so it fell out unto him: for the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died.20. the people trode upon him] The excitement was no doubt intense. The crowd had been in the camp, had eaten and drunk abundantly, and were carrying home spoils, and probably thinking how soon they could return for another load. There would be but little consideration given to the captain at the gate. The excited mob had lost respect for greatness, and so he is borne down in the throng, and killed, having seen the plenty, but had no share of it.