The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the LORD hath called for a famine; and it shall also come upon the land seven years.2Kings 8:1-15
1. Then spake [now Elisha had spoken] Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the Lord hath called for a [to the] famine; and it shall also come upon [and, moreover, it cometh into] the land seven years [not to be understood literally].
2. And the woman arose, and did after the saying of the man of God: and she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years.
3. And it came to pass at the seven years' end, that the woman returned out of the land of the Philistines: and she went forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land [literally, with regard to her house, etc].
4. And the king talked with [was speaking unto] Gehazi [he was not yet a leper (2Kings 8:27)] the servant of the man of God, saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done.
5. And it came to pass, as he was telling the king how he had restored a dead body [the dead] to life, that, behold, the woman, whose son he had restored to life, cried [was crying] to the king for her house and for her land. And Gehazi said, My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life.
6. And when the king asked the woman, she told him [related to him, i.e., the story]. So the king appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore all that was her's, and all the fruits [revenues, produce in kind] of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now.
7. ¶ And Elisha came to Damascus; and Benhadad the king of Syria was sick; and it was told him, saying, The man of God is come hither.
8. And the king said unto Hazael, Take a present in thine hand [comp. Numbers 22:7; 1Samuel 9:7; 2Kings 5:5; 1Kings 14:3], and go, meet the man of God, and enquire of the Lord by him [literally, from with him], saying, Shall I recover of this disease [comp. 1Kings 1:2]?
9. So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present [in his hand] with him [in money (comp. 2Kings 8:5)], even of every [kind of] good thing of Damascus, forty camels' burden, and came and stood before him, and said, Thy son Benhadad [comp. 1Kings 13:14, 1Kings 5:13, 1Kings 4:12, 1Kings 6:21. "Father" was a respectful mode of addressing the prophet] king of Syria hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?
10. And Elisha said unto him, Go say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover [thou wilt certainly live]: howbeit the Lord hath shewed me that he shall surely die;
11. And he settled his countenance steadfastly [literally, and he (Elisha) made his face stand, and set (it upon Hazael)], until he was ashamed [disconcerted]: and the man of God wept.
12. And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil thou wilt do unto the children of Israel [fulfilled in chap. 2Kings 10:32-33, 2Kings 13:3, 2Kings 13:4. The cruelties here enumerated were common in the warfare of that age (comp. Amos 1:3-4, Amos 1:13; Hosea 10:14, Hosea 13:16; chap. 2Kings 15:16)]: their strongholds wilt thou set on fire [literally, send into the fire (Judges 1:8.)] and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash [in pieces] their children, and rip up their women with child.
13. And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? [(thou canst not mean it;) for what is the dog thy servant that he should do, etc. The exaggerated humility of his language betrays the hypocrite]. And Elisha answered, The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.
14. So he departed from Elisha, and came to his master; who said to him, What said Elisha to thee? And he answered, He told me that thou shouldest surely recover [thou wilt certainly live].
15. And it came to pass on the morrow, that he [Hazael] took a thick cloth [quilt or coverlet] and dipped it in water, and spread it on his face, so that he died [Josephus says Hazael strangled his master with a mosquito net]: and Hazael reigned in his stead.
Elisha and Hazael
A difficulty will be found as to the king's conversation with Gehazi, who has just been driven out, according to the narrative, from the presence of the prophet "a leper as white as snow." We follow the criticism, however, which does not regard the narrative as in strict chronological order. We have here a gathering up of invaluable historical memoranda, each one of which may be fully relied upon as to accuracy, but we are not to understand that the events occurred in immediately successive days. It is in this way that we overcome the difficulty of the conversation which is reported in the fourth verse.
"The Lord hath called for a famine." (2Kings 8:1.)—What is the meaning of that expression? Simply, the Lord hath produced it—ordered it; it is part of his providence. "God said, Let there be light: and there was light." A wonderful thing is this we find in the whole Bible—God calling for circumstances as if they were creatures which could hear him, and respond to his call; as if famine and plenty, pestilence and scourge of every name, were so many personalities, all standing back in the clouds: and God said, Famine, forward! and immediately the famine came and took away the bread of the people; but then next door to famine stands plenty, and God says to abundance, Forward! and the earth laughs in harvest; the table is abundantly spread, and every living thing is satisfied. Take Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:29), as presenting the pleasant side of this call by the voice divine: "I call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you." Hear how the divine voice rolls through all this sphere of revelation. If we proceed to Romans 4:17, we find in the last clause of the verse words often overlooked: "God... calleth those things which be not as though they were." God is always creating, calling something out of nothing, amazing the ages by new flashes of glory, unexpected disclosures of grace. Calling for a famine is a frequent expression. We find it, for example, in the Psalms, "Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread" (Psalm 105:16); and we find it in so out-of-the-way corner as the prophecy of Haggai, "And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands" (2Kings 1:11). The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof. So there are men who still believe that plague, and pestilence, and short harvest, and things evil that are of a material kind, have a subtle and often immeasurable relation to a divine thought, to a new disclosure of divine providence; that all these things round about us are used as instruments in the chastening, and education, and sanctification of the human race. We cannot be laughed out of this citadel. Sometimes we have half left it under the joke of the giber, because we had no answer to the mocker's laugh; but presently we began to see how things are related, how mysteriously earth belongs to heaven, and how the simplest, meanest flower that grows draws its life-blood from the sun; then we have returned into the sanctuary, and said, Be the mysteries dark as they may, and all but innumerable, there is a comfort in this doctrine that there is in none other—and not a quieting comfort after the nature of a soporific, but an encouraging, stimulating, rousing comfort, that lifts our prayer into a nobler elevation, and sharpens our voice by the introduction of a new accent. So we abide in this Christian faith, and await the explanation which God has promised.
This call for a famine was made known by Elisha unto the woman whose son he had restored to life. There are people who have intimations of coming events. Account for it as we may, one man does see farther than another. We may content ourselves by saying, This is due to intellectual capacity; this prescience is a mere freak of talent or of genius; it is one of the phenomena not yet brought within the reach of any recognised law. We may talk nonsense of that kind to ourselves in our lowest moods, but again the spirit is suddenly lifted to the right point of observation, and we come to this solemn fact: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." We cannot tell on grounds philosophical or merely rational how we did what has saved us from a thousand troubles. How did the idea occur to us that if we introduced such and such a line into our covenant it would be better? At the time nothing seemed less likely than that such a line would be either needed or operative; and now we find that the insertion of that one line has been to us liberty, perhaps wealth, perhaps comfort. The prophetic spirit has never been withdrawn from the world, but the prophetic spirit has always been punished by the world. The prophets have always had to sleep outside, and get the hairy garment where they could for the covering of their bare shoulders. The world hates to live the future within a day, when that future is declared by a prophetic voice, which not only announces comforts but pronounces judgments. In the way of anxiety the world will live any number of days at a time; in the spirit of apprehension some men are living seven years ahead of themselves at this moment: but not in the prophetic sense of anticipation, which sees a great reconcilement of all contradictions, the uplifting of clouds from covered mountains, and the incoming and downpouring of heaven's radiant morning that shall clothe all things with the glory of God. We cannot, therefore, tell how it is that some men have intimations of what is coming, and how those intimations are passed on even to the humblest class of the population.
Hearing this word, "The woman arose, and did after the saying of the man of God: and she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years" (2Kings 8:2). Here is a wonderful fact—that there should be plenty in Philistia, and nothing in the land which we call promised and holy. This is a circumstance not easily to be understood, that the enemy should have abundance, and that those who are supposed to have special relations to the divine throne should be left empty-handed. There was always plenty in the low-lying land or valley inhabited by these Philistines; or, if they had not plenty of themselves, they could easily import it by sea from Egypt. Behold, the Philistines had the best of it! They have today, if the terms "the best of it" are to be measured by wheat, and oil, and wine, and gold. We should not be surprised, if these standards be erected, if the "world," as we understand that word, should be in a superior condition of comfort to those who are spiritually-minded and whose house is in heaven. How long shall we be learning the lesson that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth"? how long also in learning that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God? When shall we be made to understand that this world is but a beginning, a symbol, an alphabetical hint of a great literature to us yet unpublished and unknown? Until Christians learn that lesson they will often be chafed and exasperated by appearances which seem to point in the direction that worldly-mindedness or worldly-wisdom furnishes the true security and reward of life. When they seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, the world will believe that they are at least consistent with their faith, even though that faith be found at last to be a delusion. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
The famine is now over. "The woman returned out of the land of the Philistines: and she went forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land" (2Kings 8:3). Immediate access to the king was permitted in Oriental countries; so we read in 2Samuel 14:4 : "And when the woman of Tekoah spake to the king, she fell on her face to the ground, and did obeisance, and said, Help, O king,;" and in 1Kings 3:16 : "Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him;" and in 2Kings 6:26 : "And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king." That is a remarkable circumstance that the people should be permitted to speak to the king. It is so in a limited sense now: but in a sense so limited as to be painful to those who care for it The king should hear the sufferer himself if he would understand the petition. The written petition the king might read in his own tone, and the king might be in an evil humour or in a frivolous mood; he might hasten over the lines as if they contained nothing; but when the petitioner stands before the king, and says, "Help, O lord, the king," the king is in a position to know by the very voice how far the person addressing him is animated by a spirit of profound and rational earnestness. What is impossible under many human conditions is possible as between the soul and God. When shall we learn this fact, accept it, and rest in it? Then should we know the meaning of the words, "Pray without ceasing;" "Wait on the Lord;" "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him." Let your own voice be heard in heaven. Do not pray by proxy. Go, hasten to the King and say, Help, O King of heaven! God be merciful to me a sinner! Let every soul, in the priesthood of Christ, plead its own case—point to the void that makes its heart so empty. Let every sinner state his own circumstances, and pray, if not in his own words—for he may have no gift of words—yet in his own tone. By the tone God judges. Your words may be made of gold, your sentences built up with stars, and yet be but a fabric made by the hand; but the tone comes from the heart, and interprets the spirit's need, and impresses the infinite ear of the listening God.
We have not spared the kings of Israel or of Judah up to this point. Now an opportunity is afforded to remark upon the good qualities of one whom we have condemned in no measured terms. The king asked the woman what she wanted, she told him, and the king at once "appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore all that was her's, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now" (2Kings 8:6). The king was bad, but there was this good feature in his case, and it ought to be pointed out. But remember that the hand may be the hand of an assassin though there gleams upon it a diamond of the first water. The king of Israel generously responded to the poor woman's cry. Let that be set down to his credit. We do but repel men if we do not recognise whatever may even seem to be good about them. If there is one spot of light in all the dark cloud, look at it as if it were of infinite value. Encouragement may help some men towards piety.
Elisha discovers the old form of his character when he proceeds to Damascus. Note his boldness. We have seen how he baffled the king, how the king sent after him, and could not find him. The king might as well have sent after the wind, commanding the charioteer to bring it back. Who can seize a spirit? Who can arrest a soul? Who can encage a thought? Elisha had been identified with a retreat of which Syria could only think with humiliation. The Syrians heard a "noise," and away they ran, as if a flock of sheep had seen a wolf descending on the fold. It was but a "noise." Who can measure a noise? Who knows what it means? Is it the tramp of an army? Is it the descent of a cloud filled with spirits? Is it an intimation of the day of judgment? What does it represent? The king of Syria knew not, and we have already reminded ourselves that "the wicked flee when no man pursueth." But Elisha is very bold. He will go down into the king's own country. Why? Because he has a message. You cannot have a missionary until you have a gospel. You may have a man who will run an errand for you on certain specified terms, and the man will be very particular to have the bond fulfilled. But the man of God will go anywhere, everywhere, at any time. What makes this Elisha so bold? The message that burns within him makes him courageous. It is the truth that makes heroes. Given a conviction that seizes the whole soul, and it will burn its way out into language. Why have we such dainty preaching; such accommodations to human infirmity and social circumstances? Because our message is a recitation; because it begins and ends within mechanical boundaries; because it admits of formulation and of criticism: whereas the real message of God—the outgoing of the soul in truth and judgment—defies criticism; is not above it or below it, but away from it, in infinitely higher spheres, unpolluted, undebased by the pedantry of men who have a trick of seeing flaws, but no genius for the understanding of entireties and perfect harmonies. We shall have men hesitating about going to small settlements and to heathen countries, and to undertaking very difficult work, just in proportion as they have no message. Given the right message, and all things fall down before it.
When the king heard that the man of God had come, he addressed a message to him and sent all manner of temptations to the prophet—rich robes, precious metals, the luscious wines of Helbon, the drink of the Persian kings, the soft white wool of the Antilibanus, the damask coverings of couches, a procession of forty camels' burden—all to be offered to Elisha. Now Elisha was above all these things,—we may not be. Shame upon those who report how many carriages stand at their church-doors! Shame upon shame to those who wearing a prophet's mantle of their own manufacture, have to ask what is the congregation before they can deliver their message! How independent were these men of old! You could never do them any favour. They had no "expectations." What the Lord teacheth me, that will I surely say, though I go home to my salary, which consists of two figures—bread of affliction, and water of affliction; it is a poor income, but I must deliver God's message. The times die for want of that heroic spirit.
The prophet looked upon Hazael—fixed those wondrous eyes upon him; and the tears came and ran down his furrowed cheeks. "And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he [Elisha] answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child" (2Kings 8:12). And the prophet cried for the sufferings of Israel. Sometimes the answer of Hazael is read as though he himself were shocked. He was not shocked. He gloried in the prophecy. Read the thirteenth verse thus: But what, thy servant only a dog—is it possible that he, so mean, can do this great thing? He gloried in his wickedness. When he heard of this cruelty he was like a man who heard his native tongue in a far-off land. Elisha told no lie to Hazael when he said, "Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath shewed me that he shall surely die": equal to—Go, and perform your trick, tell your customary lies, flatter the dying man that he is better today than he was yesterday; but know this, he is to die, and all the physicians in Syria cannot heal the king. What wonder that Elisha wept? Who would not weep if he could see what is coming upon his country? Whose heart would not pour out itself in blood to know what is yet to be done in the land of his birth or the country of his adoption? If the men of long ago could have seen how civilisation would be turned into an engine of oppression, how the whole land would groan under the burden of drunkeries, and breweries, and houses of hell of every name; if they could have seen how the truth would be sold in the market-place, and how there would be no further need of martyrdom, surely they would have died the violent death of grief. The heart can only be read in the sanctuary. You cannot read it through journalism, or criticism, or political comment, or combinations of any kind which exclude the divine element; to know what Hazael will do, let Elisha read him. The journalist never could have read him; he might have called him long-headed, intrepid, sagacious, a statesman; but the prophet said, "Their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child:" thy course is a course of havoc. It is only in the sanctuary that we know what things really are. When the pulpit becomes a very tower of God, a very fort of heaven, then the preacher will be able to say, as no other man can say, what the heart is, and what the heart will do under circumstances yet to be revealed. But whence has the preacher this power? He has it as a divine gift. Then did God know the world before he sent his Son to save it? It was because he knew it that he loved it and pitied it. Whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He did not catch us on the return, seeing that we were about to amend, gathering ourselves up for a supreme effort at amelioration; it was not then that Christ died for us, but whilst we were yet sinners, whilst both hands were outstretched in rebellion, and then thrown down to cruelty, and then put out in cupidity and oppression and wrong of every form. When the heart had gone astray, then Christ died for us! Amazing love—pity infinite! We have heard of this famine in the land of Israel: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." O pitiful One, take our bread, our cattle, destroy our fields, burn our forests; but take not thy Holy Spirit from us!