2 Kings 7:3–20 (NIV)✞: The Siege Lifted
In the last passage we read about a siege in Samaria, which was leading to harsh famine. Elisha had prophesied that God would end the famine – in fact, that He’d end it the next day!
I’ll tell this next bit chronologically, though the author(s) of Kings are more artistic about how they present the facts.
The very night Elisha gives his prophecy the Arameans hear the sound of a great army, with its chariots and horses, assume that the king of Israel has enlisted the help of the Hittites and the Egyptians, and flee in panic. They’re so scared they don’t even bring their stuff, they just leave everything behind and bolt.
Later that night we see this:
3 Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? 4 If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”
So they go to the Arameans’ camp and find it devoid of people but full of plunder:
8 The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp, entered one of the tents and ate and drank. Then they took silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.
9 Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”
10 So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, “We went into the Aramean camp and no one was there—not a sound of anyone—only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.” 11 The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace.
The king of Israel is wary, however. He worries that the Arameans have set up some kind of trick: maybe they emptied their camp to lure the Israelites out of the city to kill them? So they decide to send just a few men to the Arameans’ camp and see what happens. Those officers confirm the good news:
14 So they selected two chariots with their horses, and the king sent them after the Aramean army. He commanded the drivers, “Go and find out what has happened.” 15 They followed them as far as the Jordan, and they found the whole road strewn with the clothing and equipment the Arameans had thrown away in their headlong flight. So the messengers returned and reported to the king. 16 Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of the finest flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the LORD had said.
As we may recall from the last passage, however, one of the king’s officers had doubted Elisha’s prophecy. At the time, Elisha told the man that he’d see all of this happening, but wouldn’t actually get to eat any of it, which is exactly what happens: the man is put in charge of the city gate, but when the people realize there’s food in the Aramean camp they all rush out, and the man is trampled to death. (Verses 17–20✞ tell this part of the story, including a flashback retelling about the prophecy from the previous passage.)
As I mentioned in the last passage, it would take a miracle to feed this city full of people, and that’s exactly what the LORD provides.
It’s not just the phantom sound of an approaching army that we should consider miraculous, it’s the reaction of the Aramean army: no matter how scary the Hittites and Egyptians might have been, for an army of fighting men to simply melt in fear and make a panicked run for their lives, without putting up even the slightest amount of fight, is not normal. I’m sure every person in the Aramean army woke up the next morning sheepishly wondering, “What came over me yesterday?!? I’ve never been that scared of a battle before!”
My wife and I sometimes watch Korean television shows on Netflix, and one thing we’ve noticed that’s a bit different about Korean TV is the amount of flashbacks incorporated into the storytelling. North American television uses this device as well, obviously, we all know what a flashback is, but in Korean TV they use it a lot more – sometimes to the extent that there will be a scene and then in the very next scene there will be a flashback to the scene we just saw.
This is on my mind when I read verses 17–20✞ of this passage—where the author(s) flashback to the passage we just read—because it’s a writing device that they don’t use very often in this book. So I’m left wondering why they chose to do so here. Unfortunately, I have no answer for the question; it cries out for attention (at least to me), but I don’t see the reasoning behind it.
And maybe there is no reason, maybe the author(s) were just changing up the writing style to keep the text interesting—it is a book, after all, and even though the main point of the book is to relay the history of the nations of Judah and Israel the author(s) would still want to keep the reader’s attention—but, at the same time, it also feels like there are other places where flashbacks might be more useful where they don’t choose to use this writing device, but they do here.
The closest I could find to an answer came from Matthew Henry’s Commentary:
This matter is repeated, and the event very particularly compared with the prediction (2 Kgs. 7:18-20), that we might take special notice of it, and might learn, (1.) How deeply God resents out [sic] distrust of him, of his power, providence, and promise. When Israel said, Can God furnish a table? the Lord heard it and was wroth. Infinite wisdom will not be limited by our folly. God never promises the end without knowing where to provide the means. (2.) How uncertain life and the enjoyments of it are. Honour and power cannot secure men from sudden and inglorious deaths. He whom the king leaned upon the people trod upon; he who fancied himself the stay and support of the government was trampled under foot as the mire in the streets. Thus hath the pride of men’s glory been often stained. (3.) How certain God’s threatenings are, and how sure to alight on the guilty and obnoxious heads. Let all men fear before the great God, who treads upon princes as mortar and is terrible to the kings of the earth.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary
So his take on this is that the author(s) incorporate this flashback to emphasize the prediction and its outcome, though, again, that only feels like a partial answer to me: why here, and not the other places where a flashback could have provided similar emphasis and/or clarity?
But, as mentioned, I don’t have an answer for this. And, to be clear, I don’t think this is a question that detracts from my reading of this passage; I just have a feeling that if I understood the writers’ intent a bit more it would make the passage even more interesting.