In the opening verses, the message has been delivered and rejected through unbelief.
The scene changes to four leprous men outside the gate. It is interesting to notice that it was to these men that provision was first made. You would have thought that it might have been the prophet first and then the elders to whom the message would come, but, no, it was to these men.
Once again, we can see the sovereignty of God brought before us. He employs whom He pleases! Consider the personal state of these four men at the entrance of the gate of Samaria. Death surrounded them. ‘If we say, “Let us enter into the city,” the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives, we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die’, v. 4 ESV. If they could have entered into the city, they would have found famine and death. To stay where they were was, without contradiction, death. To go to the enemy, representative of the judgement of God and wielding His sword, would this not still be death? But, on that side, at least, there was a glimmer of hope, ‘if they save us alive, we shall live’. Their lives were dependent on the goodwill of their enemies. They might not pronounce the death sentence!
They rose and went into the camp. I’m sure that heading there they did so with fear and yet they found the camp empty. What had happened, no one in the city knew about. God had wrought a miracle and they were not aware.
A great noise had been heard and the Syrians had fled, fearing that a greater army had been hired to come and beat them. Remarkably, the victory had been won in the darkness of night. What can we learn from this? When we think of these lepers and the situation that they found themselves in, living apart from the people with no access into the presence of God, their relief came from an unexpected source. They found provision; they found that the Lord had won a great victory. Does this remind us of the greatest victory that has ever been won, by the Saviour on the cross? He entered into the darkness alone. At highest cost, He purchased our redemption and, as a result of that, as we say in preaching the gospel, the blessings of heaven are open to those who trust Christ.
These lepers found that everything had been left behind. To find that the enemies had packed up camp and gone would have been amazing. To find that there were a few rations left as they went in haste would also have been amazing. What they found was above all that they could imagine, ‘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’, 2 Kgs. 7. 8. We should mark the phrase ‘even the camp as it was’, v. 7; everything left behind.
How true it is that ‘the wicked flee when no man pursueth’, Prov. 28. 1. Supposing that a more formidable force had come to the relief of the besieged Samaritans, the Syrians were filled with consternation and abandoned their well-provisioned camp. So thoroughly panic-stricken were they that they left their horses which would have helped their flight. How easily can the Lord make the heart of the stoutest quake, and how vain and mad a thing it is for anyone to defy Him!
There was a realization, as the lepers went about, that they should really be sharing this news and not keeping it to themselves. Sadly, when we read a little more, there was no recognition of the divine hand in this. There was no bowing and no appreciation of the miracle that had been wrought to preserve the people, no realization of their deep sense of need before God.
Perhaps there is a challenge here for some of us. Many of us do not have to worry where the next meal will come from. There is a welfare state and provision available. Sadly, there is no giving of thanks for what we have.
This nation, Israel, that had known God lead them out of the land of Egypt and lead them through the wilderness into the Promised Land, had forgotten His mighty works and paid no attention to the prophet. They were quick to blame God and the prophet of God for what had come to pass. Why is this? As Solomon reminds us, ‘there is no new thing under the sun’, Eccles. 1. 9; the heart of man does not change.
At this point, the lepers took the message to the city. They came and told the porter of the city. They told the message clearly as to what they had witnessed and left it with them to decide what they wanted to do with the message. It is interesting to note that the message was not seen with the sceptic’s eye, noted in the opening verses. The message was digested, discussed and then disseminated.
When the message reached the king, he was less than impressed. He thought that it was a trap. He did not suspect the gracious hand of God was at work. Some might say he acted perfectly naturally, as a king should. The news was too good to be true, so therefore it must be a lie. Consistent with what we have discovered of this unbelieving king in this and the previous chapter, he did not recognize the voice of the Lord and therefore he rejected the message.
The men went out to see if the message was true. The message was to ‘go and see’. They went out and returned with the good news. They had witnessed the goodness the lepers had seen and so came and told the city and the king. What was the result? The word of the Lord came to pass as spoken by the prophet and the people spoiled the tents and had provision, and the cost of food was as Elisha had said.
The word of the Lord will surely come to pass! This is true of every word. Paul wrote to Titus, ‘Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began’, Titus 1. 1, 2. Men may scoff at it; kings may not believe it, even when its definite fulfilment is declared to them, but that does not affect its truth. Solomon said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant’, 1 Kgs. 8. 56.
The lord was given charge of the gate, but the message of Elisha solemnly came to pass. He was told that he would see and not taste, and so it was; he was trodden underfoot as the people came out of the city.
How sad to think of this man! He heard the words of the prophet and rejected them. Then he saw them come to pass but was not able to partake thereof and died.
So ends the chapter of God graciously providing for His people. It started with sadness and unbelief. It ends too with sadness and, indeed, a warning.
In like manner, God will yet answer the scepticism and blasphemous scoffing of this degenerate age. The great of this world may laugh at the Lord’s servants now, but, in eternity, they will gnash their teeth in anguish. This sequel completes the symbolic picture, showing as it does the doom of the reprobate. The gospel is a ‘savour of death unto death’, as well as ‘of life unto life’, 2 Cor. 2. 16. Unbelievers will ‘see’ the elect feasting with Christ, as the rich man saw Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, but they shall not partake thereof.
In this chapter we have seen the faith of the prophet as he speaks the word to the people, even in the difficult circumstances that were about him. We have seen the provision that God made for the people despite the unbelief of their leaders. We noted too, at the end, the awful and solemn words that came to pass, in that the man saw, and died. So, too, we see the awful judgement that will come to pass in this world for those who do not believe. Should this not spur us all on to preach the gospel and encourage people to ‘flee from the wrath to come’, Matt. 3. 7?
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