After Benhadad, king of Syria, places a siege on the city of Samaria, food becomes so scarce that a woman tells Jehoram, the king of Israel, how she and another woman had planned to boil and eat their sons (2 Kings 6:24-28). One day, the two women “boiled” the first woman’s son and ate him; the next day, when the second woman was supposed to give up her son for food, she hid him (6:29). Spiritually, the city was under God’s curse: the enemy had taken over, there was no food (a sign of death), and the people were committing acts of cannibalism (cf. Leviticus 26:29, Deuteronomy 28:53-57).
The king is so distraught over the woman’s tale that he vows, “God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day” (2 Kings 6:31). He wants to kill the Lord’s prophet, believing Elisha is responsible. But by the Spirit of God, Elisha knows what the king vowed and he tells the elders to shut the door before the king‘s messenger (6:32). Elisha acknowledges that “this evil is of the Lord” (6:33). He then tells everyone what the Lord plans to do: “Thus saith the Lord. Tomorrow 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” (7:1). God has allowed the siege (and spiritual curse) to take place, but for the two-fold purpose of physically blessing His chosen people and spiritually foreshadowing salvation in Christ.
Full of doubt, one of the king’s lords asks Elisha, “Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” (2 Kings 7:2) The Lord’s prophet responds, “Thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof” (7:2). There will always be scoffers of God’s Word and His people but, without faith, they cannot be spiritual partakers of Christ, “the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48).
During this time, four lepers outside the gate decide to go to the Syrian camp and beg for food because they know whether they stay outside the gate or go into the city, they will die (2 Kings 7:3-4). At that time, as the Lord had revealed to Moses in the wilderness, lepers were considered physically unclean and despised; they had to rend their clothes, bare their heads, and “dwell alone, without the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46), just like the lepers outside the gate. Leprosy was also a spiritual sign of sin (i.e. uncleanness) and separation from God. But God uses these four lepers to perform a miracle for the people.
When the lepers arrive at the Syrian camp, they find “no man there” (2 Kings 7:5). What had happened? Just like the “chariot . . . and horses of fire” that took Elijah to heaven (2:11) and just like the “horses and chariots of fire” that Elisha and his servant saw in Dothan (6:17), “the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses,” so that the Syrians fled, leaving everything—animals, armor, and food (7:6). Only by a miracle of God could such a thing happen.
At first, the lepers eat, drink and hide in tents the items they find (2 Kings 7:8), just like the servant in Jesus’ parable who “received one [talent] . . . and hid [it]” (Matthew 25:18). But unlike that “wicked and slothful servant” (25:26), the lepers soon realize that what they are doing is wrong: “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” (2 Kings 7:9). The lepers return to the city and tell the porters, who then tell the king, what they found in the Syrian camp (7:10-11). Like the lepers, the shepherds who heard the angels announce Jesus’ birth went to Bethlehem to “see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us” (Luke 2:15). Zacharias, after the circumcision of his son John, “spake and praised God” (1:64); his mouth was opened to tell the works of God when he believed. Whenever the Lord saves, redeems, heals, or blesses us, we must “go and tell” (2 Kings 7:9). This is the spirit of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
At first the king, like the lord who did not believe Elisha’s prophecy, doubts the story and accuses the Syrians of duplicity (2 Kings 7:12). But the king’s servants convince him to send men to “go and see”; they return with good news (7:13-15). The next morning, the starving people spoil the Syrian camp and bring back food, a spiritual sign of life. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. . . .If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever” (John 6:35, 51). But “spoiling” the enemy’s camp is also a sign of victory over Satan. The people find so much food that “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” (2 Kings 7:16). Jesus says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
As the lord who doubted Elisha’s prophecy stands in the gate, he sees the abundant food, but “the people [tread] upon him . . . and he die[s], as the man of God had said” (2 Kings 7:17, 20). Because of this man’s unbelief, not only could he not taste the food but he also died. Jesus says, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you,” a sign of spiritual death (John 6:53). Ironically, the lepers—like the Gentiles, unclean and despised—show more faith in God than His chosen people, the Jews. By using these lepers, God shows them, and us, that faith is more important than lineage, unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees who erroneously believed in their status as the children of Abraham (Matthew 3:9). Only faith in the promises of God is rewarded.
Through the miracle of routing the Syrian camp and using unclean lepers to discover abundant food, God shows the people of Samaria that only He can rescue them from physical starvation and spiritual death.
*All Bible quotations and references are to the King James Version.