Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
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.Elisha announced to him the word of the Lord: "At the (this) time to-morrow a seah of wheaten flour (סלת, see at 1 Kings 5:2) will be worth a shekel, and two seahs of barley a shekel in the gate, i.e., in the market, at Samaria." A seah, or a third of an ephah equals a Dresden peck (Metze), for a shekel was still a high price; but in comparison with the prices given in 2 Kings 6:25 as those obtained for the most worthless kinds of food, it was incredibly cheap. The king's aide-de-camp (שׁלישׁ: see at 2 Samuel 23:8; נשׁען למּלך אשׁר, an error in writing for נשׁ המּלך אשׁר, cf. 2 Kings 7:17, and for the explanation 2 Kings 5:18) therefore replied with mockery at this prophecy: "Behold (i.e., granted that) the Lord made windows in heaven, will this indeed be?" i.e., such cheapness take place. (For the construction, see Ewald, 357, b.) The ridicule lay more especially in the "windows in heaven," in which there is an allusion to Genesis 7:11, sc. to rain down a flood of flour and corn. Elisha answered seriously: "Behold, thou wilt see it with thine eyes, but not eat thereof" (see 2 Kings 7:17.). The fulfilment of these words of Elisha was brought about by the event narrated in 2 Kings 7:3.
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.
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?"Four men were before the gate as lepers," or at the gateway, separated from human society, according to the law in Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:3, probably in a building erected for the purpose (cf. 2 Kings 15:5), just as at the present day the lepers at Jerusalem have their huts by the side of the Zion gate (vid., Strauss, Sinai u. Golgatha, p. 205, and Tobler, Denkbltter aus Jerus. p. 411ff.). These men being on the point of starvation, resolved to invade the camp of the Syrians, and carried out this resolution בּנּשׁף, in the evening twilight, not the morning twilight (Seb. Schm., Cler., etc.), on account of 2 Kings 7:12, where the king is said to have received the news of the flight of the Syrians during the night. Coming to "the end of the Syrian camp," i.e., to the outskirts of it on the city side, they found no one there. For (2 Kings 7:6, 2 Kings 7:7) "the Lord had caused the army of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots and horses, a noise of a great army," so that, believing the king of Israel to have hired the kings of the Hittites and Egyptians to fall upon them, they fled from the camp in the twilight אל־נפשׁם, with regard to their life, i.e., to save their life only, leaving behind them their tents, horses, and asses, and the camp as it was. - The miracle, by which God delivered Samaria from the famine or from surrendering to the foe, consisted in an oral delusion, namely, in the fact that the besiegers thought they heard the march of hostile armies from the north and south, and were seized with such panic terror that they fled in the greatest haste, leaving behind them their baggage, and their beasts of draught and burden. It is impossible to decide whether the noise which they heard had any objective reality, say a miraculous buzzing in the air, or whether it was merely a deception of the senses produced in their ears by God; and this is a matter of no importance, since in either case it was produced miraculously by God. The kings of the Hittites are kings of northern Canaan, upon Lebanon and towards Phoenicia; חתּים in the broader sense for Canaanites, as in 1 Kings 10:29. The plural, "kings of the Egyptians," is probably only occasioned by the parallel expression "kings of the Hittites," and is not to be pressed.
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.
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.
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.
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.When these lepers (these, pointing back to 2 Kings 7:3.) came into the camp which the Syrians had left, they first of all satisfied their own hunger with the provisions which they found in the tents, and then took different valuables and concealed them. But their consciences were soon aroused, so that they said: We are not doing right; this day is a day of joyful tidings: if we are silent and wait till the morning light, guilt will overtake us; "for it is the duty of citizens to make known things relating to public safety" (Grotius). They then resolved to announce the joyful event in the king's palace, and reported it to the watchman at the city gate. העיר שׁער stands as a generic term in a collective sense for the persons who watched at the gate; hence the following plural להם, and in 2 Kings 7:11 השּׁערים. "And the gate-keepers cried out (what they had heard) and reported it in the king's palace."
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.
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.
And he called the porters; and they told it to the king's house within.
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.The king imagined that the unexpected departure of the Syrians was only a ruse, namely, that they had left the camp and hidden themselves in the field, to entice the besieged out of the fortress, and then fall upon them and press into the city. בּהשּׂדה according to later usage for בּשּׂדה (vid., Ewald, 244, a). In order to make sure of the correctness or incorrectness of this conjecture, one of the king's servants (counsellors) gave this advice: "Let them take (the Vav before יקחוּ as in 2 Kings 4:41) five of the horses left in the city, that we may send and see how the matter stands." The words, "Behold they (the five horses) are as the whole multitude of Israel that are left in it (the city); behold they are as the whole multitude of Israel that are gone," have this meaning: The five horsemen (for horses stand for horsemen, as it is self-evident that it was men on horseback and not the horses themselves that were to be sent out as spies) can but share the fate of the rest of the people of Samaria, whether they return unhurt to meet death by starvation with the people that still remain, or fall into the hands of the enemy and are put to death, in which case they will only suffer the lot of those who have already perished. Five horses is an approximative small number, and is therefore not at variance with the following statement, that two pair of horses were sent out with chariots and men. The Chethb ההמון is not to be altered, since there are other instances in which the first noun is written with the article, though in the construct state (vid., Ewald, 290, e.); and the Keri is only conformed to the following כּכל־המון. 2 Kings 7:14, 2 Kings 7:15. They then sent out two chariots with horses, who pursued the flying enemy to the Jordan, and found the whole of the road full of traces of the hurried flight, consisting of clothes and vessels that had been thrown away. The Chethb בּהחפזם is the only correct reading, since it is only in the Niphal that חפז has the meaning to fly in great haste (cf. 1 Samuel 23:26; Psalm 48:6; Psalm 104:7).
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.
They took therefore two chariot horses; and the king sent after the host of the Syrians, saying, Go and see.
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.
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.When the returning messengers reported this, the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians, and this was followed by the consequent cheapness of provisions predicted by Elisha. As the people streamed out, the unbelieving aide-de-camp, whom the king had ordered to take the oversight at the gate (הפקיד, to deliver the oversight) for the purpose of preserving order in the crowding of the starving multitude, was trodden down by the people, so that he died, whereby this prediction of Elisha was fulfilled. The exact fulfilment of this prediction appeared so memorable to the historian, that he repeats this prophecy in 2 Kings 7:18-20 along with the event which occasioned it, and refers again to its fulfilment.
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.
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.