Four Lepers and a Funeral (A Bible Study of 2 Kings 7:1-20 NKJV)

The book of 2 Kings is, just as 1 Kings is, the chronicling of the Jewish kings after the death of King Solomon. The nation was split into two kingdoms, the southern kingdom being that of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. After about 80 years, or so, the northern kingdom of Israel, and in particular its capital city of Samaria was facing opposition from the nation of Syria. If you have a more accurate translation, it will refer to the Syrians as Assyrians. Assyria was the empire just north of Israel at this time. It was, in fact, the empire that eventually led the nation of Israel away to captivity, where it slowly wasted away to nothing. However, by the time that the nation of Judah was taken away to Babylon, Assyria had faded to nothing more than a tribal nation.

Ben-Hadad, the king of Assyria, had invaded Israel and then laid siege to the city of Samaria. The siege of Samaria eventually led to a famine in and around the city. And we learn in chapter 8 that this famine had been decreed by God to last for seven years. The famine became quite severe and we read in 2 Kings 6:26-30 that some of the people had even resorted to cannibalism. King Jehoram, who was king at this time in Israel, became enraged when he heard of this, and he sent one of his men to the prophet Elisha’s house to kill him, because he blamed him for the famine (2 Kings 6:31-33). And we read in these last few verses of chapter 6 what occurs to lead us directly into 2 Kings 7.

2 Kings 6:31-33:

31Then he [JEHORAM] said, “God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on him today!”  32But Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. And the king sent a man ahead of him, but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent someone to take away my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?”  33And while he was still talking with them, there was the messenger, coming down to him; and then the king said, “Surely this calamity is from the LORD; why should I wait for the LORD any longer?”

Now we arrive to our passage in 2 Kings 7. In verse 1 we see Elisha’s response to King Jehoram from the end of 2 Kings 6 with the first of two prophecies, and in verse 2 we see Elisha’s response to Jehoram’s doubtful officer with the second. We see the fulfillment of the first prophecy (2 Kings 7:1) in verses 3-16, and the fulfillment of the second prophecy (2 Kings 7:2) in verse 17. And finally, the last three verses (2 Kings 7:18-20) proclaim that these prophecies were indeed fulfilled as the Lord had spoken them.

So when you step back, and look at chapter 7 as a whole, you see that it’s all about fulfillment. God makes a proclamation through His prophet.  God fulfills what He has decreed; and finally, God declares that He is the One True God, because He, and He alone is able to make these promises and then bring them to pass. This is, in fact, the very thing that God tells us that we should require of Him. If we look back in the book of Deuteronomy, we read this:

Deuteronomy 18:21-22

 21 “And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’  22 “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

So what were the promises? In 2 Kings 7:1 we read the first prophecy of Elisha in this passage: “Then Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord: ‘Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.’” (2 Kings 7:1)

This prophecy clearly promises an end to a famine that had lasted for seven years in the span of only a day. If we look back at 2 Kings 6:25, we see that the price of food during the famine was “a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and one fourth of a kab of dove droppings for five shekels of silver.”. A shekel of silver was worth approximately (and don’t hold me to this) $6.80. Meaning that a donkey’s head would have fetched about $544.00 and a fourth of a kab (or a fourth of a quart) of dove droppings would have cost about $34.00. And just consider for a moment the food mentioned. A donkey’s head was mostly skin, and bone, and cartilage. Just about everything except good quality edible meat. And don’t even get me started on dove droppings. There’s been a lot of suggestions as to what it is and for what purpose, but I just don’t know, and the scripture’s don’t tell us. All I do know, is they were pretty expensive.

Now, compare that with what we’re told food will go for after the famine.  ‘Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.’ So a seah of fine flour, a seah being equivalent to about 7 quarts, and fine flour being flour which was used to make special breads, and considered a luxury item at this time, was to be sold for $6.80, as was fourteen quarts (or 2 seahs) of barley (which was unrefined wheat used for making common loaves of bread for most families).

Considering the condition that the Samarians were currently in, the idea that this famine would end so quickly and so completely must have come as a shock to them. In fact, in the very next verse we are introduced to the king’s unnamed officer who was so convinced that Elisha’s prophecy would not occur that he mocked him saying in verse 2: “Look, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, could this thing be?”. His insinuation being, most likely a reference to the description of the flood from Genesis 7:11 (“on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.”), that God was going to open the heavens and rain down food from above.  Unfortunately for this officer, following his statement, Elisha announces the second prophecy, once again from verse 2: “In fact, you shall see it with your eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” (2 Kings 7:2). And these are the promises that God has made: that the famine would end within 24 hours, and that the officer who had doubted and mocked that it would be so, would not benefit from it.

From there, we’re taken into a new section of this passage. In verses 3-16 we see exactly how God has decided to end the famine and carry out His word. In verse 3 we meet four lepers who were camped at the entrance of the gate. This was typical for lepers at this time. In the book of Leviticus, God has given His people an entire set of laws concerning how to deal with leprous men and women. In Leviticus 13:45-46 we see this.

 Leviticus 13:45-46

45“Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’  46“He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

In verses 3 & 4 we see the lepers coming to the realization that they are in trouble.   At the end of verse 3 we read: “Why are we sitting here until we die?” (2 Kings 7:3), then continuing in verse 4, “If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore, come, let us surrender to the army of the Syrians. If they keep us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall only die.”(2 Kings 7:4).

It’s important to ask a question here; Why are these men dying? Leprosy was a horrible disease and could reach a point where it could become debilitating, and that in itself could lead to someone’s death. But leprosy alone was not a guaranteed death sentence. In fact, back in Leviticus 14:1-32, there are a whole list of rituals associated with cleansing lepers, and the reintroduction of cleansed lepers back into the population. …

No, there was a substantial famine in the city and these lepers were stuck outside of it. How much more scarce do you think food would be outside of a starving city? These men were starving to death and we need to see that what was killing these men was also killing all the people within the city as well, and we’ll see that point made again in verse 13.

2 Kings 7:5-8

And they rose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians; and when they had come to the outskirts of the Syrian camp, to their surprise no one was there.  For the Lord had caused the army of the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots and the noise of horses—the noise of a great army; so they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians to attack us!”  Therefore they arose and fled at twilight, and left the camp intact—their tents, their horses, and their donkeys—and they fled for their lives.  And when these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they went into one tent and ate and drank, and carried from it silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them; then they came back and entered another tent, and carried some from there also, and went and hid it.

Verses 5-8 show how the lepers went to the Assyrian camp. However, the lepers are shocked to discover that when they get to the camp, that it’s been completely deserted by the Assyrians (2 Kings 7:5). We then learn that God Himself has made this occur by causing the Assyrians to believe that they were about to be overrun by a mighty force in the middle of the night by hearing phantom sounds of a large army (2 Kings 7:6). So when the lepers arrive, instead of finding a camp filled with angry Assyrians, they find a deserted camp filled with horses and donkeys and tents and silver and gold and clothes and a whole bunch of food. So, as you would expect, the first thing they do is have a nice meal for themselves. Yet, they didn’t stop there, and they continued to then ransack the camp, taking from the tents gold and silver and hiding it, and then went back to take even more (2 Kings 7:8). But then, their attitude changes and we see a shift in verse 9:

2 Kings 7:9

 9Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”

The lepers had just realized that what they found in the Assyrian camp was a gracious gift from God. They were hoping for pity, for mercy, maybe a meal, or at the least a far quicker death than the starvation they were currently suffering. And what did they find?… An abundance of food, drink, shelter, supplies and treasure.

Those whom God calls His own, He blesses with riches beyond all we can imagine. It may not be silver and gold… but, it’s treasure none the less. They had an obligation to share what was given to them with all those who needed it. Likewise, we too are commanded by Jesus Christ to preach His gospel to the world. We aren’t given the option, we aren’t encouraged to share the word with others if the mood strikes us. We are commanded!

Mark 16:15-16

 15And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  16“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

The lepers realized as they were hiding their piles of worthless gold and silver that what they were doing was sin, so what would keep us silent? This too is a day of good news for us, and for every believer, and potentially for everyone who is dead in his or her sins against God. What does the end of Mark 16:16 say? “but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) Just as every lost person we pass on the street will be condemned when Christ returns. We read in John’s first epistle: If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”(1 John 4:20). We show the world the love of Christ by spreading His gospel, as we’ve been commanded.

2 Kings 7:10-16

10 So they went and called to the gatekeepers of the city, and told them, saying, “We went to the Syrian camp, and surprisingly no one was there, not a human sound—only horses and donkeys tied, and the tents intact.”  11 And the gatekeepers called out, and they told it to the king’s household inside. 12 So the king arose in the night and said to his servants, “Let me now tell you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we are hungry; therefore they have 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.’  13 And one of his servants answered and said, “Please, let several men take five of the remaining horses which are left in the city. Look, they may either become like all the multitude of Israel that are left in it; or indeed, I say, they may become like all the multitude of Israel left from those who are consumed; so let us send them and see.”  14 Therefore they took two chariots with horses; and the king sent them in the direction of the Syrian army, saying, “Go and see.”  15 And they went after them to the Jordan; and indeed all the road was full of garments and weapons which the Syrians had thrown away in their haste. So the messengers returned and told the king.  16 Then the people went out and plundered the tents of the Syrians. So a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord.

Moving into verses 10-16, we are told how the lepers go back to the city and spread the word that the Assyrian’s have withdrawn and left behind all their provisions. But in verse 12 we read that the king, being a bit paranoid, says to his servants: “Let me tell you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we are hungry; therefore they have 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.’” (2 Kings 7:12) Be reminded, this is the same king who less than twenty-four hours ago was told by a prophet of God that the city would be delivered from the famine within the span of a day. Elisha spoke the words in verse 1 “Hear the word of the LORD” (2 Kings7:1), yet Jehoram completely discounts that and responds by saying “Let ME now tell you what the Syrians have done to us.” (2 Kings 7:12).

Still, as we continue into verse 13, we see that the king’s servants weren’t so skeptical. We read: “And one of his servants answered and said, “Please, let several men take five of the remaining horses which are left in the city. Look, they may either become like all the multitude of Israel who are left in it; or indeed, I say, they may become  like all the multitude of Israel left from those who are consumed; so let us send them and see.” (2 Kings 7:13)”.

This should sound a little familiar. Look back at verse 4 when the lepers realized that they were facing death in every direction: “If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also.” (2 Kings 7:4). For those perishing, it wasn’t their location or their status or even their heritage that was killing them. There was something that these people lacked. Something that they couldn’t get on their own no matter what they did.

Then, in verses 14-16, we see how the Samarian’s eventually go to the camp of the Assyrian’s and plunder the site, and as a result, we read in verse 16: “a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel” (2 Kings 7:16). And with that, the first promise of God has been fulfilled.

This is unfortunate, however, for a certain king’s officer. God had kept His promise, but He didn’t make just one promise did He? No, there were two. The officer who mocked Elisha about the end of the famine in verse 2 was given a dreadful prediction by Elisha: “In fact, you shall see it with your eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” (2 Kings 7:2). And in verse 17, we see why that’s true: “Now the king had appointed the officer on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate. But the people trampled him in the gate, and he died, just as the man of God had said, who spoke when the king came down to him.” (2 Kings 7:17). This passage reminds me of an even more significant prediction made in the book of Revelation, chapter 1 verse 7: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:7).  Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord will see Him return, and they will see His glory, and they will see His promise to redeem His children fulfilled, and then they will see His promise to punish the wicked fulfilled. Whether it be this passage, or the fullness of redemption, there are only two outcomes.

The faithful are fed, the perfidious are trampled,.. God gives us no third option.

2 Kings 7:18-20

18 So it happened just as the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, “Two seahs of barley for a shekel, and a seah of fine flour for a shekel, shall be sold tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria.  19 Then that officer had answered the man of God, and said, “Now look, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, could such a thing be?”, And he had said, “In fact, you shall see it with your eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”  20 And so it happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gate, and he died.

And finally, in verses 18-20, we see the promises of God restated and confirmed that they indeed took place just as the LORD had intended. And that should be what we take away from this passage, if nothing else. Our hope in God, and our hope in Christ flows through the promises that He’s made to us. And we can be encouraged that the gospel message is true, and that we can rejoice in our spreading of it because God keeps His promises. God kept His promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a nation and a people. God kept His promise to Moses that He would deliver His people from the hands of Pharaoh. God kept His promise to the people of Samaria that the famine of seven years would end in a day. And God will keep His promise to us when Jesus spoke and said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. (John 6:37), And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40). Christ accomplished all that we couldn’t on the cross. He gave His life to save ours, and we are, as the apostle Peter calls us, “His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Peter 2:9). He has made that promise to us,.. and it WILL be fulfilled when Christ returns.

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