The ancient histories preserved in the Old Testament, are not only full of fitting instruction for saints as to the ways of God in discipline, but are often remarkable illustrations of His grace to the world. And not infrequently are they so singularly so, that we cannot but conclude that God permitted the events and inspired the record with that special object. We venture to suggest that the siege of Samaria is a salient instance. (2 Kings 6:7)
Let us trace the intensely interesting narrative. A famine was raging inside the city because of the siege without. In other words, there was an active and powerful enemy outside, and a grievous lack of resources within. It is exactly the state of the natural man, one who is unsaved. Bad enough is it to be under the attack of a foe, vigilant and unrelenting! how much worse to be without resources! Not only powerless to inflict a blow, but unable to bear an assault from the hosts arrayed against us. What a famine it was! Tender women, each of them mothers, confederating together to take the lives of their children, and when one victim had been cooked and eaten, its mother the next day, exasperated because the child of the other was withheld, and the cannibal dish she had looked forward to not forthcoming, appealing then to the king for a redress he was too unnerved to give her! Again we say, What a famine was this, effacing from women the very attributes of their sex - gentleness, tenderness, and love of their offspring! And yet is there not an even more terrible famine raging this moment - a famine of the word of God! Perhaps we shall be told that this is far from the truth; for never was there such a profusion of Bibles in use as now, every year increasing the number of those which issue from the press. True; but the question is not to what extent the word of God issues from the press, but to what extent it enters the human heart. There was corn and flour enough and to spare outside at this time, but not a grain could be found inside the beleaguered city. And so is it in the antitype; the word of God is multiplied without end but, dear reader, how much of it is hid in thine heart (Ps. 109:11), so that, should there be a prolonged attack of the adversary, there shall be no lack of divine resources wherewith to sustain it? Alas! in every unsaved soul there is a famine of the word of God; and there is moreover the active enmity of Satan without answering to the two things which afflicted Samaria at that terrible crisis.
The sixth chapter closes in the utter despair that had come upon the heads' of the people. The seventh opens as with a trumpet call, with a message of mercy from the Lord: "Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord." Things being at their very worst, God comes forth to do His best. Oh, how like the cross! When man had proved himself not only to be incorrigibly bad, but to be bereft of all resources, "without strength," and taken captive by the devil at his will, it was at such a moment that God came upon the scene, finding in the deep and dire extremity of the case a coveted opportunity, and a fitting platform for bringing into display the glory of His precious and abounding grace. Surely it is this abundant mercy which is betokened in the way in which His prophet was charged to announce glad tidings to guilty Israel, the famine-stricken and closely-besieged men of Samaria. How truly it indicates that God has resources inconceivable to us, and that we know "not what a day may bring forth!" Had the occupants of the harassed city been asked as to the next day, would they not have replied, with mournful wail, "Tomorrow shall be even as this day, and worse"? But what a matchless hidden resource, what a male of might, what a Man in reserve, God had by Him in the person of Christ, before all worlds blessed for ever; more than fulfilling now for the hungry soul what was then proclaimed to the hunger-bitten citizens of despairing Samaria, "Thus saith the Lord; tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel in the gate of Samaria." These were the glad tidings for the starving men and women and perishing children of the apparently doomed city. Could anything be finer than this magnificent announcement, which the prophet Elisha had been charged to convey by the God against whom they had so sinfully offended, a proclamation of the abounding supplies which He would pour into their lap on the morrow - in a word, the Lord's salvation. Like their fathers at Pi-hahiroth, they had but to stand still and hold their peace, for the Lord would fight for them. Most emphatically was this announced under the distinct authority of His name: "Hear ye the word of Jehovah; thus saith Jehovah." Did they but believe it, it could not fail to give instant relief to their over-wrought and anguished hearts. It would be a signal then for the rising of that dense dark cloud which had so long enveloped their spirits, converting the tomorrow of their dread and despair into a day to be watched for as a desired haven of peace and plenty. But if there was no faith in Jehovah's testimony, the dark pall would continue to cast its heavy folds over them, their benighted today would be unrelieved by hope, and their dreaded tomorrow unbrightened by a single ray of light. To faith, on the contrary, the harrowing scene of sorrow, suffering, and death would be illuminated with the presence and the word of Israel's God, Jehovah of hosts. And mark - the wondrous announcement was weighted with no restrictions or conditions. Like the gospel of our salvation, it was good news from a Saviour-God that He had entered the scene to meet their lamentable case, according to the deep compassions of His blessed heart, and to effect a complete deliverance for them, as unexpected as it was unasked. How this was received we are not informed, save as to one man, one of the nobles of the kingdom, and a courtier, who answered the man of God with derision. God would have to make windows in heaven before He would bring that about, was the nature of his unbelieving retort. But the prophet was equal to the occasion, being led to make instant answer: "Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof."
The issues of the gospel are here distinctly before us - abundant blessing declared unconditionally; believed in, bringing instant relief, and lighting up all the horizon of the future with gladness; refused, only adding to present misery the certainty of future judgment. Four leprous men are now seen at the entering in of the city. We are not told whether they had heard anything of the prophet's word from heaven or not. But they own with deep anguish their desperate case. Why should they sit there until they die? If they enter the city, it is to die; if they sit still, they will die. Why not give themselves up to the enemy? Peradventure their lives will be spared; and if not, they do but die. Surely it were better to be slain by the hand of the foe than to waste away ignobly by slow starvation. So they creep forth in the twilight hour for the purpose of surrendering to the enemy. What a striking lesson for unbelieving hearts! Their wretchedness drove them to trust their enemies; man's deeper misery fails to induce confidence in God. They cast themselves into the arms, as it were, of a powerful and proved adversary, but man will not trust the One who has demonstrated His precious love by every proof it were possible for even Himself to give! How faithless, how unbelieving is poor, wretched man, who, in spite of the entreaties and the evidences of His mercy, His long-suffering, and His forbearance, is utterly without confidence in a God who is love. Regarding Him as his enemy, man will not trust the One who can alone bless Him, and who waits upon him in his abject penury with untold mercies for eternity; while these poor lepers, who had a real and mighty enemy in Benhadad and his hosts, nevertheless trusted him, and in result made the wonderful discovery, in answer to the confidence of their hearts - "When they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, no man there!" Not an enemy to be found; no, not one! All that were against them gone; every foe vanished; not a hand uplifted to bar their progress. Nor was that all. From one end of the camp to the other, nothing but a profusion of spoil met their astonished gaze. They enter a tent and feast to repletion, and with new-found strength - carry forth silver and gold and raiment, which they hide for future need; and again they do the same, as much as they would - monarchs of all they survey! Out of the eater has come forth meat, honey - out of the carcase of the lion. What a wondrous reverse of fortune! starvation exchanged for satiety; anxiety and dread of the foe replaced by the discovery that the enemy was gone, and all his treasure was strewn at their feet, spoils of an adversary they had never encountered, a fortune theirs for which they had never toiled! How lovely and how perfect an outline of the grace which bringeth salvation, and of the matchless way in which God acts for His own glory when He delivers from going down into the pit. "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God, eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Syria being in the ascendant, these loathsome objects of unutterable misery might have fittingly concluded on the forfeiture of their lives to Benhadad; but God had interposed when hope had expired, all being apparently lost, and destruction dogging their steps. The hand of Jehovah was uplifted; with His finger He just troubled the atmosphere, causing the Syrian host to hear a noise as of an approach of armies upon their flanks, and thus in the same twilight hour that the four despairing men came to the end of themselves, saying, as it were, like Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," God dispersed the foe to a man, like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor, so that not a foot or a finger opposed their way of life, liberty, and blessing! They found a feast to begin with (Luke 14:16) for present necessity, and a fortune to follow (Eph. 1:3) for their permanent endowment. Oh, what a God, what a wonder-working God, is ours! But the blessing frightens them by its immensity; God had given them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the, garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. All around was profusion of treasure greater than they could ever appropriate, and they spake to one another saying, "We, do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace; if we tarry till the morning light some mischief will come upon us," reminding us of what we read elsewhere, "necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" Accordingly "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh;" in a word, they became evangelists! Impelled by the magnitude of their own blessing, and the discovery of its boundless extent spreading out on every side for "whosoever will," as it were, fields "white already to harvest," they re-enter the doomed city now as heralds of divine mercy, announcing to "the king's household" who are perishing with hunger (like those who know not the profusion of blessing waiting: the appropriation of faith), that the siege is raised, and more than heart could wish is within their very reach! They succeed at length in getting the ear of the king; to him the news is too good to be true; he hugs his sackcloth afresh, and (reasoning as he does instead of believing) nothing better than sore misgivings of greater evil fill his soul. His retinue doubt and fear, anon they hope, and at length they try if it can be true. And what a discovery eventually reveals itself to them - all the way to Jordan nothing but peace and plenty, bounty and blessing, for every one who has faith to quit the city of destruction and death for the open plains of God's manifested intervention in goodness; "all the way was full of garments and vessels;" yes, all the way to Jordan!
Thus the word of the Lord was fulfilled as to His mercy. Fine flour and barley were sold in the gate of Samaria at plenty price, and the very haste and excitement of the people in their joy of heart at such a deliverance was the means of fulfilling upon the king's aide-de-camp the sentence pronounced by the prophet. He saw the bounty and the blessing of the people, but tasted it not; like Dives, lifting up his eyes in hell, beholding Lazarus exalted to Abraham's bosom, but not even a drop of cold water alleviating the depth and intensity of his own eternal misery. Thus was the word of the Lord fulfilled also in judgment. What a graphic picture of abounding grace to the believer and of inevitable judgment to the derider of God's salvation; not "one jot or one tittle" of God's word failing, but all brought to pass as the prophet of Jehovah had spoken. In conclusion, may we remember, dear reader, with solemnized but adoring hearts, that though a false alarm, as men speak, the commotion of a breath of air by the finger of God, may suffice to overthrow the enemies of His people, only the real endurance by the Son of His love of relentless judgment due to us, was sufficient for the blotting out of a single sin. "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." W. Rickards. (Derby).