From Despair to Deliverance

Note: This is post happened purely by accident. This is not the post I intended to write at all. However, this is the post that the text demands and I believe that it is the post that God intended for me to write. I hope you find it helpful.

In my unspecified number of years on this planet I’ve seen a lot of things. Not as much as some, but I have seen a lot. I’ve seen a lot of things I never thought I would. Life has taken a number of twists and turns, most unforeseen. Some have been wonderful. Some have been terrible. But I can say that I have been through a wide range of emotions. I’ve been enraptured and I have been utterly despondent (I may write about this one day). So as a reader, and a writer, I pay attention to a character’s emotions. I love the places in a story that are full of drama and the characters are feeling strong emotions. Those are the moments that make the story.

There is a dramatic story of deliverance found in 2 Kings 6:24 – 2Kings 7:20. This story takes place in Samaria, which is the capital city of the Northern Kingdom (Israel), where Joram reigned as king. Joram (a shortened version of the name Jehoram) was the son of Ahab, one of the worst kings in Israel’s history. Joram did some things right, but in the end he was judged to be a king who did evil in the eyes of the Lord (2Kings 3:2).

The prophet Elisha ministered during the time of Joram. Elisha was the protege of the prophet Elijah. At the end of Elijah’s ministry Elisha became his successor. Elisha is a fascinating character and his life and miracles would make a book in themselves. While he was a faithful and powerful prophet of the Lord, Elisha’s ministry was largely rejected by Israel.

At the time this story takes place King Ben-hadad of the Aramean (Syrian) Kingdom of Damascus and his army had besieged the city of Samaria. The conflict between the Arameans and Israel wasn’t new. In Chapter 6 (2 Kings 6:8-23) King Ben-hadad sent several companies of soldiers to attack Israel. Each time the Lord told Elisha were the attack would take place. Elisha warned the king of Israel and there would be soldiers ready to defend.

When Ben-hadad became frustrated his advisors let him know that the prophet Elisha was warning Israel of their plans. He then sent soldiers to eliminate Elisha. Elisha, however, prayed that God would make the soldiers blind and led them into Samaria. Israel’s king prepared a feast and the Arameans returned home. After seeing the power of Israel’s God the Arameans left Israel alone.

However, the peace didn’t last. There is no way of knowing how long it lasted, but at some point (scholars suggest that several years had passed) Ben Hadad besieged the city of Samaria. Previously, Ben Hadad had been sending companies of soldiers. For this occasion Ben Hadad mustered his whole army.

The siege lasted so long that even the most undesirable pieces of meat sold for exorbitant prices. The citizens resorted to cannibalism (2 Kings 6:27-30) and the king was very distraught. He became so frustrated that he sent a messenger to cut off Elisha’s head. Joram regretted his hasty decision and followed behind the messenger himself. He blamed God for their calamity and asked Elisha why they should wait on God any longer. Elisha assured the king and his servant that food would be sold at the usual price the following day. Joram’s messenger didn’t believe Elisha and Elisha promised him that he would see the deliverance but wouldn’t get to partake.

Just outside the city walls there were four lepers, starving to death like everyone else. One of the four suggested that they surrender themselves to the Arameans. He reasoned that the Arameans might kill them, but if they did nothing they would die anyway. At the very least there was the chance that the Arameans would show them mercy.

However, the four lepers arrived at the Aramean camp at dusk to find the place deserted. God had caused the Arameans to hear the thunderous sound of many horses and chariots. They supposed that the Israelites had hired the Hittites and Egyptians to fight for them and the Arameans fled, leaving all their food and supplies.

The lepers arrived to the deserted camp and ate their fill. They decided that it was wrong to keep they good news to themselves and shared the news with the gatekeepers. The Israelites feared a trap, but finding none, they came out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. The doubtful messenger was trampled to death as the people rushed out.

A few things stand out to me in the narrative:

Things Were Really Bad
I do not want us to lose sight of the fact that this was a horrible situation. People were suffering terribly and at least one person lost his life (the infant whose mother ate him). Later in 2 Kings we see that the king of Assyria besieged the city of Samaria for three years at another time. We don’t know how long Ben Hadad’s siege was, but it was long enough for all of Samaria’s supplies to be exhausted. Things had gotten really, really bad, and chances are, things were really, really bad for a long time. And time has the profound ability to magnify suffering.

I want to call attention to this because I don’t want us to go so quickly to the deliverance that we miss the depth of their suffering. Yes, the deliverance is the point, but the suffering is a painful reality. We cannot simply gloss over it. We must acknowledge it. Only then can we see the deliverance for what it is.

God’s Miraculous Provision and Deliverance
Most important, and most obvious, is God’s miraculous provision and deliverance. This is just one in a long string of miracles God used to protect and sustain the Israelites. As mentioned, God miraculously intervened when the Arameans came to kill Elisha, resulting in a time of peace for Israel.

That seems to be the overarching theme of this passage: God’s faithfulness to deliver. These were trying times for Israel. The entire Aramean army was suffocating their city is a crippling siege. The conditions in the city had deteriorated to the point where people resorted to eating animal refuse — and even their own children.
The situation had grown desperate and looked hopeless. Yet, God works a miracle on the Israelites’ behalf. The Arameans hear the sound of an army approaching and they flee. By any means necessary, God cares for his people.

Looking at the story of Israel, beginning with their emancipation from Egypt, one can see an established history of God caring for the Israelites. This is the Salvation History of the Israelites and it includes story after story of God’s miraculous provision, protection, and guidance.

Despair
In this passage we can see the despair of the people of Israel. Women are eating their own children. We see the utter despair of King Joram, who tore his robes when he saw the effects of the siege on his city.

He was faced with his own helplessness. There was nothing he could do to end the siege. His city was powerless against the Aramean army and their king lost hope.
In his despair Joram lashed out at Elisha, promising to separate Elisha’s head from his body that very day (2Kings 6:31). Just a few verses earlier Joram was calling Elisha his father. In the throes of despair, however, he perceived Elisha to be his enemy. Some scholars suggest that this is because he felt that Elisha could being the siege to an end but simply chose not to.

Joram also blamed God: “All this misery is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (2Kings 6:33). This implies that Elisha had already instructed Joram to wait for the Lord to intervene. Joram was pushed to his limit and didn’t feel they should wait for the Lord any longer.

What would Joram have done? Would he have surrendered to the Arameans? We can only speculate, but I think it’s possible that he may have been considering this very thing in response to such a hopeless situation.

Apostasy Runs Deep
Joram’s lack of faith wasn’t tied to this specific situation. Yes, this was a trying experience that brought him to the point of despair. But God miraculously delivered the city. That should have turned Joram and the Israelites to the Lord, but it didn’t. There is no evidence that Joram followed the Lord after this incident. Instead, Israel continued in their sin and were eventually brought to destruction when the Assyrians carried them off into exile (2Kings 17:6).

God’s Word Does Not Fall to the Ground
Elisha made two specific prophecies on God’s behalf. The first was that food would be abundant and selling at pre-siege prices the following day. The second was that the Joram’s messenger, who was vocally incredulous, would see the miracle but not partake of it. Both things happened exactly as God said they would.

Action Required
The last thing that stood out was the fact that some action was required for their deliverance to be complete. The action began with the four lepers who took the initiative to go to the Aramean camp. It involved a huge risk. The Arameans could have put them to death immediately. The lepers, however, decided to take the risk.

The next action that was required was the actual raid of the Aramean camp. The Israelites feared that the Armeans had laid a trap and planned to slaughter them when they came out of the city. Had they given in to that fear they would have continued to starve though provision was at hand. They had to take action for their deliverance to be complete. They were cautious at first, which was sensible under the circumstances. They sent five scouts to make sure it was safe. Upon learning that it was safe the Israelites had to go out and gather the much needed provisions. Their survival was dependent on their taking action.

Where I See Myself

This is an Old Testament passage but I see myself very clearly. I see myself in Joram. In the face of the suffering of his own people and his own helplessness Joram responded by blaming and lashing out. “All this misery is from the LORD! Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?” (2 Ki 6:33). He blamed God for the situation. He then lashed out at Elisha with death threats — and he even sent a messenger to execute Elisha.

I see myself in Joram. While I’ve never put a hit out on anyone, I have blamed God — many, many times. I’m in the midst of a trying period right now and I think I blame God at least once a day. Like Joram I wonder why I should wait on him or pay attention to him at all.

I also see myself in Joram’s servant. He had deep-seated doubt and unbelief. The situation was so dire that he thought not even God could make it right. I have definitely been there. There are days when I wonder if God can make things right in my life. Even if he does, part of me feels like it will be too little, too late. And that’s just a back-handed way of saying that can’t make things right at all.

This is an interesting passage for me. It’s one that I find particularly challenging — especially right now. This passage is difficult for me to process because I’m in a very difficult season of life. I absolutely blame God because he hasn’t kept his promises to me and that is causing part of the problem. The issue of God not keeping his promises is not subjective. God has not kept his promises to me. This is an objective reality. Yet, in this passage I am confronted with an account of God’s word being fulfilled to the letter. And I assume that the stories contain the Bible actually true. So I’m forced to reconcile my present reality with what I assume to be a true account of God keeping his word. How do I reconcile decades of inaction with what I find in this passage? The answer is: I’m not sure.

Considerations

This is a complex passage with many things to consider.

Waiting
There are a many lessons that can be gleaned from this passage. One of them is that Samaria had to wait for God’s deliverance. However, I think “wait on the Lord” is a gross oversimplification and may even miss the point of the story entirely. The lepers didn’t wait. If they had it’s possible that the story would have a very different outcome. Rather than simply waiting, the lepers took action. Certainly, there are times when we have to wait. But I think we miss much of the passage’s meaning when we stop there.

Despair vs. Hope
It’s striking how both are very present in this passage. King Joram was in the depths of despair in the face of this siege. The lepers, who were starving to death like everyone else, took action based on hope. They hoped that the Arameans would have mercy on them. Note that they were intending to surrender to the Arameans. Joram may have been considering the very same course of action, only his surrender would have been an act of defeat and despair. Same action. Different motivation.

Don’t Forsake Hope
This, I believe, is the main point of the passage. We’ve established that these were desperate times for the inhabitants of Samaria. We’ve examined the various reactions of Joram, his messenger, and the lepers. The miracle of this passage is that God delivered his people from what looked to be an impossible situation. The message of this passage is that we serve the same God and therefore, we should never lose hope. The bible is filled with accounts of miraculous rescues, provision, and demonstrations of the Lord’s chesed (lovingkindness). We should believe in the Lord and trust him to deliver us in our time of need. We should remember the Salvation History of God’s chosen people as well as our own personal Salvation Histories, and cling to hope in the Lord no matter how bleak the outlook.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try
There are times in life where the path forward is clear. Unfortunately, there are times when the way forward isn’t clear at all. There will be times where we have a number of options and aren’t sure which to pick. There will be times where, like the lepers in 2Kings 7, we face situations where all the options are unpleasant. Pray and consider carefully, and then take action. Sometimes taking action is the only way to find out what God has planned for you.

I’m not suggesting that we take crazy chances simply for the sake of doing so. James 1 tells us that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it because he is eager to give it. I don’t believe God wants us to be paralyzed by fear. I believe God wants us to take action when necessary.

Consequences of Unbelief
Joram’s servant didn’t believe when Elisha told him that food would be available at the usual prices the following day. Because he didn’t believe he wasn’t able to experience the deliverance that God provided. This isn’t the first instance of punishment for failure to believe. Israel was forced to wander in the desert for 40 years because of unbelief. God takes it personally when we don’t believe, and sometimes, there are dire consequences.

In the Wake of Deliverance
I think it’s important to take a look at the aftermath of Samaria’s miraculous deliverance from the the Aramean siege. The people rejoiced at their deliverance, but it did not change their hearts.

As humans, we seem to have both short and selective memories. God delivers us, we rejoice, and when the next obstacle comes we despair. If we’re not careful, we can forget God’s past work on our behalf. I think this is one of the reasons that God established the observance of feasts, like the Passover, where he commanded his people to stop and remember the things he has done. The purpose of these celebrations is not only to teach future generations about God’s power and faithfulness, but to remind ourselves as well. We would do well to periodically observe the things that God has done.

A Look at the Larger Picture
Unfortunately, Israel was ultimately unmoved by God’s deliverance. 2Kings 17:5-23 describes how the repeated sin, idolatry, and wickedness of the Israelites led to their destruction. 2 Kings 17 describes the end of Israel:  This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt (2Kings 17:7). Again and again the LORD had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.” But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the LORD their God (2 Kings 17:13-14).  Assyria eventually defeated Israel and carried the people into captivity.

While I don’t think many of us are in danger of our cities being besieged, I do believe that we may each be facing our own personal siege. We may be facing any number of crises and desperate situations. The message of this passage is that God is strong and powerful and attentive to our needs. The reality for all of us today is that in the face of impossible situations, the Lord is in our midst and he is still mighty to save.

 

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