THE Syrian army had been unsuccessful in its relatively small surprise attacks against Israel. The king of Syria therefore charged that one of his top military officers must have been selling information to the Israelite command. He threatened to punish all his top-ranking officers with death if the traitor failed to confess. (II Kings 6:8-11.)
Discovering the Informer
"None of us is a traitor sir," one officer spoke up. "But there must surely be an informer, and that man must be Elisha, the Israelite prophet. Besides being a worker of unbelievable miracles, he has an amazing ability to perceive hidden matters. It's possible for him to know even what you say in the privacy of your bedroom. Undoubtedly he is aware of your plans of war, and gives that information to the king of Israel." (II Kings 6:12.) "I know about him," the Syrian king said, glancing at Naaman, his general. "If you are right, he can't be allowed to stay in Israel. I want to know as soon as possible where he can be found." The Syrians were on the right track to find the source of their trouble. Every time they had chosen a place in Israel to attack, God had informed Elisha, Elisha had informed the king of Israel and Israelite soldiers rushed to the defense, or avoided traps. As soon as it was reported that the prophet was living in the town of Dothan, about twelve miles north of Samaria, the Syrian king dispatched a who]e army to that area to capture one man — Elisha. Residents of Dothan looked out one morning to discover, to their fear and bewilderment, that their town was surrounded by thousands of foot soldiers and mounted soldiers and hundreds of chariots. Among the startled observers was a young man who had succeeded Gehazi as Elisha's servant. He hurried to awake his master, who somehow failed to be dismayed or perturbed. (II Kings 6:13-15.) "What is to become of us?" the servant fearfully asked. "The soldiers must have come to make prisoners of all in this town!" "Don't be alarmed," Elisha patiently said. "Those thousands out there might try to harm us, but there are thousands more nearby who will protect us." "I don't understand," the servant told the prophet. "All I see are the thousands of the enemy." "Open this young man's eyes to see the things that are invisible to those who don't know you," Elisha asked God. Elisha then instructed his servant to look up to the top of the hill on which their house was built. "The hill is on fire!" the young man exclaimed. "Look closer," Elisha said. "The fire is made up of what appears to be flaming chariots, horses and drivers!" the servant replied in a shaking voice. To his great alarm, the fiery objects moved down the hill and surrounded the house. Then they faded from his sight, but he knew that they continued to remain. God had temporarily given him the ability to see angelic forces that often surround those who live close to their Creator by obeying all His rules for living rightly. (II Kings 6:16-17.)
Elisha Captures An Army
"Confuse those who besiege the town," Elisha prayed. "Cause them to be uncertain of where they are." Elisha's prayer was soon answered. Syrian officers came to the house to inquire about how to get to the town of Dothan. Obviously they were not aware that they were in Dothan! "I can show you how to get to any town around here," Elisha told them. "If you are looking for any certain person, I can direct you to him, too. I know most of the people in this part of the country." "Then you can help us," one of the officers said. "We're trying to find Elisha, the Israelite prophet." "I know him well," the prophet told them. "I would be pleased to lead you to the man you want to find." "There would be a reward for your trouble," the officer said. "Because there is disagreement among us as to where we are and which direction is which, you could be of great value to us." A little later an unusual scene was viewed by residents of the area south of Dothan. They saw a man riding on a plodding donkey, followed slowly by thousands of soldiers who were blinded to the fact they already had been in Dothan. The man didn't stop riding till he had led the army up to the walls of Samaria. Israelite soldiers poured out of the city to quickly surround the Syrians. But the Syrians seemed indifferent to what was going on, because they were blinded to the fact that they were soldiers. The Syrians made no move to protect themselves. "Bring these men I have brought here out of their muddled state of mind," Elisha prayed. Suddenly the Syrians realized, with a shock, that they were at Samaria and encompassed by Israelite soldiers. Some of the officers recognized Elisha, the man they had been sent to capture. They weren't angry with the prophet, because they couldn't understand how they had come to Samaria. As for keeping his promise to lead them to himself, Elisha carried out what he had said he would do. He simply chose another place — Samaria, not Dothan — to be revealed to them. (II Kings 6:18-20.) Threatened by the encircling Israelites, the Syrians feared to seize the prophet, who went on into the city. The king of Israel, greatly excited by the situation, asked Elisha if God expected them to slaughter the Syrians. "No," the prophet replied. "Your men have them bottled up so securely that they are already your prisoners. As such, they should be fed. God would have you then give them their freedom."
No Little Border Raid
The king of Israel was surprised, but he did as Elisha said. The Syrians were even more surprised, and so was their king when they returned to their country without Elisha. Their ruler was angry because his army had failed, but he decided to cease bothering the Israelites with his marauding bands. He reasoned that it might not be wise to continue troubling a people whose God had such unusual powers. (II Kings 6:21-23.) However, after about a year had passed, Ben-hadad the Syrian king began to change his mind. He decided to try one more time to conquer Israel — but not with small raiding bands. For months he mustered and trained the largest fighting force he could squeeze out of his people. His army moved suddenly and swiftly southwestward to surround Samaria before the Israelites could come out to the defense. After several days of keeping the people of Samaria penned in their city, and chasing off all who tried to enter, Ben-hadad's hope of victory was greatly bolstered. More days passed while the Syrian king saw success coming ever closer. At the same time he momentarily expected some grievous surprise from the enemy, whose God filled him with secret awe whenever he was warring with the Israelites. (II Kings 6:24.) Meanwhile, the situation grew very serious inside Israel's capital, Samaria. Food was so scarce that people ate donkeys, even though the flesh of those animals is unsuitable for food. (Leviticus 11.) God had forbidden the Israelites to consume any unclean creature. Even one of the worst parts of the animal, the head, was eagerly bought for what would be equal to many of our dollars or pounds. Other things that ordinarily never would have been used for food sold for equally ridiculous prices. Every day the food problem grew worse. (II Kings 6:25.) One morning Jehoram, the Israelite king, was walking along Samaria's walls to inspect the defenses when a woman below called out for help. "If God hasn't helped you, how do you expect me to?" the king sarcastically asked. He was weary of hearing complaints. Then he added, "Probably it would be foolish of me to ask if your trouble concerns food." "I wouldn't be starving now if another woman had kept her part of a bargain we made," the woman sobbed to Jehoram, whose attention was mostly on the line of Syrian troops extending around Samaria. "Each of us had a baby boy, and both babies died for lack of food. We agreed that if I would prepare my baby to keep us from starving, she would do the same with hers next day. But she didn't. Instead, she hid him." (II Kings 6:26-29.) By this time the king had wheeled around and was staring down at the woman. He could scarcely believe that the lack of food in the city had begun to turn the inhabitants into cannibals. This was something God had long since foretold would happen to the Israelites from time to time if they served other gods. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 47-53.) Many of the people of Samaria worshiped Baal. But to Jehoram's way of thinking, the terrible situation was Elisha's fault. The king blamed him because the prophet hadn't brought about some kind of miracle to save the city and its people. Jehoram was so upset by what the woman had told him that he tore his clothes. The king continued to make his round on top of the walls. His soldiers were surprised to see that underneath his robe he was dressed in sackeloth, a symbol of mourning. They knew that the king was at last aware of how desperate their situation had become. (II Kings 6:30.) But Jehoram had something else on his mind, too. "Because he has allowed this evil thing to happen to my capital, I intend to have Elisha beheaded!" Jehoram declared. "If I fail to have it done, then may God have me beheaded!"
God Promises Abundance
Elisha was staying at Samaria, and while the king was starting to carry out his grisly promise, the prophet was meeting in his living quarters with some of the men who were his students. "I am suddenly aware of a move to take my life," Elisha told them. "The king, who is the son of a murderer, would also become a murderer by sending a man to cut off my head! That man is on his way here now, and will be pounding on the door at any minute! Don't let him in. Hold the door!" "But he will be accompanied by other soldiers!" one of the frenzied students excitedly observed. "We can't keep soldiers out very long!" "If you can delay them just a minute or two, that should be long enough," Elisha explained. "The king has changed his mind. He is hurrying to overtake the executioner and prevent him from beheading me." That was exactly what was happening. After sending soldiers and an executioner to do away with Elisha, Jehoram decided that he had acted too hastily. Accompanied by some of his officers, he rushed off to try to prevent the slaying. (II Kings 6:31-33.) The executioner arrived with troops who surrounded the house where Elisha was. As predicted, there was a loud pounding on the door, followed by demands to open it and the sounds of men struggling to force it in. The king and his officers hurried up just as the door, temporarily held closed by Elisha's friends on the inside, fell into a mass of splintered boards. Jehoram barked for the executioner and soldiers to stay where they were. He strode past them into the house and up to Elisha. "Perhaps I should have allowed my executioner more time," Jehoram said to Elisha. "Why haven't you prayed that the enemy would go away, or that fire would come down and burn them up?" "I have prayed," Elisha answered, "but God is the one who decides what shall be done. He has let calamity come to Samaria because of your disobedience and the actions of others, especially in your city, who have followed your example. But now that you and the people have sobered, and are looking to God for help, plenty of food will be available to you by the time another day has passed. There will be so much of it that people will be selling what they don't need, and at very low prices." (II Kings 7:1.) This was such an unexpected declaration that everyone present stared at Elisha to make certain that he was serious. Then faces began to light up. Jehoram blinked at the prophet and looked as though a great weight had suddenly been lifted from him. But one of his officers, a haughty fellow, glared insolently at Elisha. "Do you really expect us to swallow such a fantastic statement?" he inquired with a slight sneer. "Are we supposed to believe that God will open windows in heaven and pour down food into Samaria?" "It won't happen quite that way," Elisha calmly answered. "You will believe it when you see how it happens tomorrow. God isn't pleased with you because of your foolishly doubting His power to provide food for Samaria. Consequently, you'll not get any of it." (II Kings 7:2.) The officer scowled at Elisha, and would have cursed him, but Jehoram tugged sharply at his arm. The king nodded affably at the prophet, then walked from the house with all his men except those who were instructed to remain and install a new door.
Lepers With a Message
Lest their disease be transmitted to others, lepers weren't allowed to live in Israelite cities. Consequently, lepers often lived in hovels just outside the gates so they could beg from passersby. It was this way at the main gate of Samaria. Four leprous men had lived there for some time. With the city besieged and the gates barred, the four barely managed to live. The evening just after Elisha's close brush with death, the lepers decided they would go out to the Syrian tents and ask for food. They reasoned that if the Syrians killed them, it would spare them the agony of dying of starvation in the next day or two. (II Kings 7:3-4.) Meanwhile, in the enemy camps around Samaria, a strange thing was happening. The Syrians imagined they could hear a faint and distant thundering sound, like the pounding of the hooves of many horses and the rumbling of the wheels of many chariots. The noise grew louder and louder to them. "Israel has hired the armies of the Hittites from Asia Minor and the armies of Egypt to attack us!" was the fearful thought that came to the Syrians. When the sound put into their minds by God had become so loud that attackers seemed very close, the Syrians suddenly panicked. They rushed on foot from their camps, leaving even their horses remaining. (II Kings 7:5-7.) Later that evening the four lepers cautiously approached a Syrian tent, calling out that they were from Samaria and needed food. Although a light burned by the tent, no one came out. The men moved so close that they could see inside. No one was there, nor did they find anyone in adjoining tents. They crept inside one to find things that at first seemed unreal to them — bread, cheese, milk, dates, figs, meat and wine. After gorging themselves till they began to feel ill, they found clothing and articles of silver and gold. These they excitedly took to a hiding place outside the camp, then returned to ransack another tent and hide the loot. By this time they had so much food and so many valuables in their possession that they began to be concerned about what would happen if these things were found in their possession by the king's soldiers. "Instead of taking more things, we should report that the Syrians have gone before anyone else finds out," one leper told the others. "If the king finds out from us, he might reward us." The others agreed. By tossing stones up on the wall, they gained the attention of a guard to tell him that the Syrians had disappeared, leaving behind their possessions, including their cattle, horses and donkeys. The excited guard raced off to get word to King Jehoram, who leaped out of bed and summoned his top officers. Jehoram's report that the Syrians had departed created a noisy sensation among his officers. Some of them were anxious to go out, even while it was yet dark, to look for anything the Syrians might have left behind. (II Kings 7:8-11.) "No!" the king commanded. "I've been told that they left almost everything behind. When daylight comes, they'll expect us to notice that they're gone. If we go out to investigate," Jehoram reasoned, "they'll charge us from behind boulders and out of ravines and gullies!"