Melachim II Six: War and Famine

Elisha is establishing himself as a real powerhouse, but his disciples encounter what I would call a first-world problem, if this wasn’t all taking place in biblical Israel. Apparently they literally sit in front of Elisha in order to soak up his wisdom, and the bench that they use for this purpose is too narrow. That does sound uncomfortable, so they have my sympathies. So they decide to go to the river and get more wood for benches, and they invite Elisha to come along. This field trip is underway, when a crisis occurs. “One was casting down the beam, and with the axe blade it fell into the water. He cried out and said, ‘Alas, master, it is borrowed (Kings II 6:5)!'” But it turns out that he’s overreacting, because Elisha basically just tells him to pick it up and he’s all of a sudden able to. Not the most memorable prophet moment.

There’s a war going on between the Arameans and the Israelites. The Arameans decide to camp somewhere in secret, so God warns the Israelites so that they won’t pass that secret location unaware. The Aramean king can’t figure out who tipped off the Israelites. “And one of his servants said, ‘No, my master, the King, but Elisha the prophet who is in Israel tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom (Kings II 6:12).'” This can’t bode well for Elisha. The Aramean king sends men to get Elisha. He’s in the city of Dothan, and when the Aramean army shows up, his servant is terrified. But Elisha isn’t afraid. He prays for his servant’s eyes to be opened, and something supernatural happens that allows the boy to see the fiery horses and chariots that apparently surround Elisha. This seems to be an allusion to his mentor, Elijah, who was of course taken to heaven in a fiery chariot a few chapters back.

The Arameans are struck with blindness. Elisha then cunningly goes among them and tells them that they’re on the wrong path. He ‘kindly’ leads them in the ‘right’ direction – to Samaria. It’s then that they’re relieved of their blindness, and figure out what happened. The king of Israel asks if he should kill them, but Elisha takes a different tactic. he has them fed and returned home, which results in no more invasions of the land by the Arameans.

This lasts literally one line, before the king of Aram decides to invade Samaria. “Now there was a severe famine in Samaria, and behold they were besieging it, until a donkey’s head sold for eighty silver pieces and a quarter of a kab of doves’ dung sold for five silver pieces (Kings II 6:25).” The famine but be truly destructive in order to merit all of this. The people are so desperate that for the first time I’m aware of, they actually turn to cannibalism. It’s a truly disturbing story, and the king is distraught upon hearing it. So am I, honestly. Ancient Judaism made specific prohibitions against human sacrifice, and yet human beings have descended into the darkness of eating each other because of how much they’re suffering. How can this curse be lifted?

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