Famine, More Famine, and a New King in Syria

Elisha falls out of the story for a few verses so I’ll summarize what happens.

The king of Syria, Ben-Hadad, gathers all his host and sieges Samaria. There just happens to be a famine in the land too. Insomuch that a donkey’s head sells for 60 pieces of silver and a small part of dove’s dung went for 5 pieces of silver!

One day, the king is walking around and a woman stops him and begs his help. He asks what is troubling her after saying that he cannot help her since God is not helping him. She says that a woman came and asked if they could eat her son on the condition that tomorrow they would eat the other woman’s son. She agreed and they boiled her son and ate him. But when the morrow came, the woman who asked her, hid her own son. Upon hearing this, the king rents his clothes and goes to the wall in sackcloth. he curses Elijah saying, “God do so and more also to me, If the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.” This is the backdrop for what is happening in the kingdom. 

The King Tries to Kill Elisha

I love the beginning of verse 32. It reads, “But Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him.” Here there is a great famine in the land and Elisha is sitting in his house with the Elders?!” Great mental picture. He’s probably playing cards. Perhaps Uno. I bet Elisha has food storage and that is why he remains in his home rather than being among the living dead on the streets, seeking out the next human victim.

The king of Israel sends a “message” to chop off Elisha’s head. Elisha and the Lord are way ahead (no pun intended) of the king. Elisha tells the elders that a “son of a murderer” is come to take his head. He tells the elders that when the messenger arrives, bar the door and don’t let him in.

The messenger arrives and the elders keep him out. Elisha calls out to him,” This evil is of the Lord; what should I wait for the Lord any longer?” I feel like in effect  Elisha is saying, “Go away! You brought this upon yourself. It was the Lord who let it be. I didn’t bring this one upon you. Why should I wait for the Lord to stop this? He can do what he wants. He knows what’s best. Don’t blame me!” Whether or not this is what is intended I don’t know. Merely a speculation.

There Will be an Abundance of Food

Chapter 7! Elisha isn’t too much in it so I will summarize a bit what happens. Chapter 7 starts out with a prophecy that Elisha gives. This story still takes place when the city is besieged by the Syrian forces. Elisha tells the king, “Tomorrow about his time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel and two measures of barley for a shekel in the gates of Samaria.” My question was, “How much is a shekel?”

Shekels in Ancient Times

I went to the weights and measurement section of the Bible dictionary. I found out a shekel is about 15 grams. Not too much. But I thought a shekel was a coin. Cross reference the BD entry on coinage. This is so cool! I’m going to paraphrase and copy some of the info in here. Before payments were made in gold or silver coinage, they were made in weight. But the temptation to use false weights or balances grew. It wasn’t until the Persian period that coins were introduced. Before that, money was reckoned in shekels or talents. A shekel is always a shekel of silver unless expressly stated it’s of gold.

So what Elisha is saying is that barley and flour are going to be sold for really cheap! I would think flour and barley would be a staple in households so maybe they would be sold for more under normal circumstances?

A Connection to Tithing

An officer to the king (see footnote 2a) doesn’t believe Elisha. He asks if the Lord would make windows in Heaven to make this happen then it would be so. Elisha tells the man, “Behold, thou shalt see it with thine own eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.” Oh, snap! Bad things happen to you when you don’t believe prophets and verbally express it to their face!

Cross reference Malachi 3:10. The famous verse on tithing. When you have the scripture in 2nd Kings to give context to this Malachi scripture, Malachi becomes a lot more powerful. What started out as a taunt to the Lord became a promise from him. If you pay your tithing, not only do I have the windows in Heaven, but I am going to pour out a blessing from those windows so BIG, you won’t have enough room to receive it. So try, says the Lord.

That is where Elisha phases out of the story. But I’ll tell you what happens next to satisfy your hunger for the story.

The Lepers Plunder the Sieging Army’s Supplies

Four lepers are hanging out by the city gate. They begin to wonder why they are going to die at the city gates. So they decide that they have a better chance to live if they go up to the Syrian army surrounding the city. Their logic is that the Syrians will either kill them or take care of them. At twilight, they head off to the camps of the Syrians.

As the leprous men are coming, the Lord makes the Syrian army hear a great noise of chariots and horses, even a great host (maybe the spirit army Elisha and his servant saw on the mountains?) The Syrian king thinks to himself that the Israelites have hired the Hittites to come to battle against them. So in the twilight, when only the lepers are coming, the entire Syrian army drops everything and flees for their lives. They pretty much leave everything behind.

The lepers arrive and they see the camp is deserted. Ain’t no one left. They are starving and so they eat all they can and take some clothes and hide them away for later. They have an entire Syrian camp to plunder by themselves. Then they start talking to each other. They decide if they plunder this for much longer, without telling anyone, something bad is going to happen. They decide to tell the king.

The king wakes up in the middle of the night from the news but doesn’t believe them. He thinks it’s a trap. The Syrians have abandoned everything and when the Israeli force comes out, the Syrians are going to rush into the city. A servant says, “Let’s take five horses and sent them to the camp to see. That’s about all the horses and people we have left anyway.” (If that’s true, there must have been massive cannibalism going on.)

The king sends a chariot and two horses to go check it out. They go to the camp and all the way to the Jordan River and back. They tell the king not only that the Syrians have truly left their camp, but there is a trail of possessions from here to the Jordan River of stuff they dropped on the way. The king sends all the people to go plunder the camp. Elisha’s saying comes true because a measure of fine flour and two measures of barley are indeed sold for one shekel a piece. The king also sends his officer to watch the gate while the people collect the spoils. As the people are coming in an out, he must have fallen over because the people begin trampling over him and he dies. And so Elisha’s prophecy to the officer comes true as well.

Back in the Shunemite Woman’s Home

Chapter 8! This is the last chapter for some time before Elisha comes back.

This chapter starts off with Elisha at the lady’s house whom he raised her son from the dead. The Shunemite woman! Remember that story? Fantastic wasn’t it? Well, he is at her house again. He tells her she needs to take her and her family and leave. Go wherever she can. Because there is going to be a seven-year famine in the land!

The woman and her husband obey and are spared. They go to the land of the Philistines for the seven years before returning.

The Philistines

Who are the Philistines? Cross reference the BD entry on them. A tribe originating from Caphtor (i.e. part of Crete or Egypt) and occupied the lowlands on the Mediterranean coast from Joppa to the Egyptian desert. For many years they struggled against the Israelites. At Saul’s death, their power peaked but rapidly declined under David. Their country later formed part of the Persian Empire. Strangely enough, the name of the detested enemies of the Jews has become a name fro the entire Holy Land (Palestine). Cross reference map 2 and 4. The BD entry said that before Abraham’s time, they occupied from Joppa ( a city in the south western most part of Manasseh’s land) all the way to the Egyptian desert. I take that to mean pretty much all of the Sinai Peninsula over to Egypt. Which is a huge amount of land. But, also like the BD says, under king David, their land was dramatically reduced. Look at map 4. Philistia is a small piece of land about 25 miles long. From Joppa to Gaza. Quite a significant reduction.

Returning to Israel

This land we have been talking about is where the Shunemite woman stayed. I don’t know where Shunem is but if it is close to Bethel, where I think it may be, she perhaps made a 27-45 miles journey to leave the land before the famine came.

The woman comes back to the land after the famine. She goes unto the king begging for her house and land to be restored unto her. The king talks to Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, about all the great things Elisha has done. What?! Gehazi is still with Elisha?! I thought he had leprosy? Wouldn’t he be able to not do anything? I don’t know. Gehazi tells the king that the woman who stands before him had her son restored to life by Elisha. The woman then asks again to have her property and house restored. The king appoints an officer unto her and she receives all her land and home back.

Update 2/6/17: I feel I should say something about this story. In previous posts I’ve already established the righteousness of the Shunemite woman. I like to think every story in scripture has meaning and a lesson that we can learn. On the surface, one might say this story is about following the prophet. And by doing so, you escape some of the harder things of life. I think that is certainly so. However, I think there is a little more to it. I think this story illustrates that faith can sometimes seem counterintuitive.

If you’ll remember, Elisha asked her and her family to go into the land that was traditionally the Israelites’ enemy. Now, likening that to our day, that would be the prophet telling the church members to go to another country that was hostile to Americans to live. And the reason being that there was going to be a great famine in the land. How many of you would say, “Ok, let’s get the bags packed!” I think most of us would say, “I think I’ll stay. Famines aren’t so bad. I have enough food storage to last. That’s what it’s for isn’t it?” Consider that the woman and her family not only left but stayed in Philistia for the duration of Israel’s famine. They were protected by the Lord for their obedience. When they came back, I’m sure their house was gone or had been seized by the state. That is why the woman asks the king to restore it. Which he does. The king restoring the land and house to the Shunemite woman and her family tells me that even though God may ask us to do hard things, such as live in enemy territory for awhile, he not only protects us but anything we’ve lost in the process will be made up. All losses will be restored. All we have to do is trust in the Lord first.

Elisha in Syria

Elisha heads up to Damascus where Ben-Hadad is king of Syria. The king is sick and it became known that Elisha was in the land. Ben-hadad sends Hazael to meet him with gifts and asks him if he will recover from his disease.

A quick refresher on who Hazael and Ben-Hadad are. Ben-Hadad is king of Syria. Hazael is a servant of the king who kills him to become king himself.

Hazael Seeks Prophecy

Hazael takes him 40 camels worth of stuff and asks Elisha what will happen to the king. Elisha says that the king will recover, yet he will still die. The Elisha begins to get all sad and he starts crying. Hazael asks him why he’s crying. How Elisha responds is quite graphic and must have been a surprise for Hazael. I’ll copy down here because it’s worth it. This is 2nd Kings 8:12.

“…because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strongholds 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.”

Can you imagine being Hazael and hearing this? Can you imagine having someone say this to you? And this isn’t a stoic man prophesying without emotion, this prophecy caused Elisha to start weeping. Even if you didn’t believe what he was saying, you would still continue to wonder how this man knew you and why he was moved to tears because of something he thought you would do. Could it be true? If someone told you that you would burn houses, slay men, pregnant women, and women with children, would you believe him? I don’t think I would.  But I might be seriously concerned. Definitely, would give me something to think about on the way back tot he the king.

Cross reference 2 Kings 10:32. This is the fulfillment of that prophecy. Hazael ravages Israel. Also Cross reference 2nd kings 13:3. The anger of the Lord is kindled against Israel and they are delivered into the hands of the king of Syria, Hazael and eventually his son, Ben-hadad.

Is Elijah Still Alive?

Hazael replies by asking Elisha if he thought Hazael was a dog. Because only a dog would do such a great and terrible thing. Elisha merely replies that the Lord had shown him that he would be King over Syria. Cross reference 1 kings 19:15. This is the Lord telling ELIJAH to anoint Hazael king over Syria when he goes to Damascus. How can that be, though? He already went up to Heaven.  🙂 unless he came back! He was still on the earth when Moses, Jesus, Peter, James, and John were at the Mount of Transfiguration. Why would have the Lord told him to do something he couldn’t do? (see 1 Nephi 3:7) unless there was a way for him to do it! When Hazael is anointed the king, I believe it was Elijah who was present. But he looked very different I imagine after having been up to Heaven.

Wait a second! Elisha saw that Hazael shall be king over Syria. Do you think he saw him being anointed by Elijah? The man he probably though was dead up until that point? Seeing him and that he was yet alive could have stirred his emotional strings just as much as seeing all the terrible things that Hazael would do.

Hazael Reports the Prophecy

Hazael returns to the king. Perhaps a weak king gasped the words to Hazael, “What said Elisha to thee?”  Hazael, probably still thinking about what Elisha had said to him, and Satan stirring his selfish desires by telling him a prophet of God told him to be king. But how could it be if the king remained alive? Hence, Hazael perhaps replied monotonously in the affirmative that the king would recover.

Thus, on the morrow, Hazael takes a cloth, dips it in water, and spreads it on the king’s face. He dies and Hazael reigns in his stead. How does a cloth of water kill the king? Did he smother him? Was there something in the water that killed him? I don’t know. And how did Hazael, being merely a servant succeed the throne? Did he kill all the other successors? Is there a tale of further intrigue that has been left out? Maybe he was a really high up servant and it was a logical choice. It’s impossible for me to tell. I don’t know Syrian kingdom succession practices. The rest of the chapter doesn’t mention Elisha. It mentions crusades, successions and revolts of both Judah and Israel.

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2 thoughts on “Famine, More Famine, and a New King in Syria

  1. Great commentary, Cody. Love the reference and comparison to Malachi 3; our flippant remarks can come back to haunt, no? And, you can’t one-up the Lord with what you think is a clever rejoinder.

    The Shunemite woman followed the Lord’s request without questioning, a great example. Could the restoration of her property and protection resulting from her obedience be a foreshadowing of the protection we receive in this life and redemption from our sins that comes from our accessing the Atonement through faith, repentance and obedience (enduring to the end)? Don’t know, but the imagery occurred to me.

    Maybe Hazel discovered water boarding and took it to the extreme.

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    • The reference to Malachi 3 was a cool discovery for me.

      With regards to the restoration of the Shunemite woman’s property being a foreshadowing of the protection of the Atonement, I think so. In the teachings of the presidents of the church: Joseph Smith, chapter 3, it says,

      “Those who have died in Jesus Christ may expect to enter into all that fruition of joy when they come forth, which they possessed or anticipated here. … I am glad I have the privilege of communicating to you some things which, if grasped closely, will be a help to you when earthquakes bellow, the clouds gather, the lightnings flash, and the storms are ready to burst upon you like peals of thunder. Lay hold of these things and let not your knees or joints tremble, nor your hearts faint; and then what can earthquakes, wars and tornadoes do? Nothing. All your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it. …”

      How do we remain faithful? Just like you said. Through, faith, repentance, and obedience (enduring to the end). Another aspect I find interesting is that Elisha communicated this on a personal level. This wasn’t “church wide”. I think this sort of story is in the same realm as others where families have had to leave their land in order to be protected. Thinking of Lehi, Mosiah I, and the saints that fled to Pella (in the Holy land, not Iowa) to avoid death. I think it underscores the importance of listening to the spirit.

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