This last paragraph of this chapter should, of right, have been the first of the next chapter, for it begins a new story, which is there continued and concluded. Here is,
I. The siege which the king of Syria laid to Samaria and the great distress which the city was reduced to thereby. The Syrians had soon forgotten the kindnesses they had lately received in Samaria, and very ungratefully, for aught that appears without any provocation, sought the destruction of it, 2 Kgs. 6:24. There are base spirits that can never feel obliged. The country, we may suppose, was plundered and laid waste when this capital city was brought to the last extremity, 2 Kgs. 6:25. The dearth which had of late been in the land was probably the occasion of the emptiness of their stores, or the siege was so sudden that they had not time to lay in provisions; so that, while the sword devoured without, the famine within was more grievous (Lam. 4:9): for, it should seem, the Syrians designed not to storm the city, but to starve it. So great was the scarcity that an ass’s head, that has but little flesh on it and that unsavoury, unwholesome, and ceremonially unclean, was sold for five pounds, and a small quantity of fitches, or lentiles, or some such coarse corn, then called dove’s dung, no more of it than the quantity of six eggs, for five pieces of silver, about twelve or fifteen shillings. Learn to value plenty, and to be thankful for it; see how contemptible money is, when, in time of famine, it is so freely parted with for anything that is eatable.
II. The sad complaint which a poor woman had to make to the king, in the extremity of the famine. He was passing by upon the wall to give orders for the mounting of the guard, the posting of the archers, the repair of the breaches, and the like, when a woman of the city cried to him, Help, my lord, O king! 2 Kgs. 6:26. Whither should the subject, in distress, go for help but to the prince, who is, by office, the protector of right and the avenger of wrong? He returns but a melancholy answer (2 Kgs. 6:27): If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I? Some think it was a quarrelling word, and the language of his fretfulness: “Why dost thou expect anything from me, when God himself deals thus hardly with us?” Because he could not help her as he would, out of the floor or the wine-press, he would not help her at all. We must take heed of being made cross by afflictive providences. It rather seems to be a quieting word: “Let us be content, and make the best of our affliction, looking up to God, for, till he help us, I cannot help thee.” 1. He laments the emptiness of the floor and the wine-press. These were not as they had been; even the king’s failed. We read (2 Kgs. 6:23) of great provisions which he had a command, sufficient for the entertainment of an army, yet now he has not wherewithal to relieve one poor woman. Scarcity sometimes follows upon great plenty; we cannot be sure that to-morrow shall be as this day, Isa. 56:12; Ps. 30:6. 2. He acknowledges himself thereby disabled to help, unless God would help them. Note, Creatures are helpless things without God, for every creature is that, all that, and only that, which he makes it to be. However, though he cannot help her, he is willing to hear her (2 Kgs. 6:28): “What ails thee? Isa. there anything singular in thy case, or dost thou fare worse than thy neighbours?” Truly yes; she and one of her neighbours had made a barbarous agreement, that, all provisions failing, they should boil and eat her son first and then her neighbour’s; hers was eaten (who can think of it without horror?) and now her neighbour hid hers, 2 Kgs. 6:28, 29. See an instance of the dominion which the flesh has got above the spirit, when the most natural affections of the mind may be thus overpowered by the natural appetites of the body. See the word of God fulfilled; among the threatenings of God’s judgments upon Israel for their sins this was one (Deut. 28:53-57), that they should eat the flesh of their own children, which one would think incredible, yet it came to pass.
III. The king’s indignation against Elisha upon this occasion. He lamented the calamity, rent his clothes, and had sackcloth upon his flesh (2 Kgs. 6:30), as one heartily concerned for the misery of his people, and that it was not in his power to help them; but he did not lament his own iniquity, nor the iniquity of his people, which was the procuring cause of the calamity; he was not sensible that his ways and his doings had procured this to himself; this is his wickedness, for it is bitter. The foolishness of man perverteth his way, and then his heart fretteth against the Lord. Instead of vowing to pull down the calves at Dan and Beth-el, or letting the law have its course against the prophets of Baal and of the groves, he swears the death of Elisha, 2 Kgs. 6:31. Why, what is the matter? What had Elisha done? his head is the most innocent and valuable in all Israel, and yet that must be devoted, and made an anathema. Thus in the days of the persecuting emperors, when the empire groaned under any extraordinary calamity, the fault was laid on the Christians, and they were doomed to destruction. Christianos ad leones—Away with the Christians to the lions. Perhaps Jehoram was in this heat against Elisha because he had foretold this judgment, or had persuaded him to hold out, and not surrender, or rather because he did not, by his prayers, raise the siege, and relieve the city, which he though he could do but would not; whereas till they repented and reformed, and were ready for deliverance, they had no reason to expect that the prophet should pray for it.
IV. The foresight Elisha had of the king’s design against him, 2 Kgs. 6:32. He sat in his house well composed, and the elders with him, well employed no doubt, while the king was like a wild bull in a net, or like the troubled sea when it cannot rest; he told the elders there was an officer coming from the king to cut off his head, and bade them stop him at the door, and not let him in, for the king his master was just following him, to revoke the order, as we may suppose. The same spirit of prophecy that enabled Elisha to tell him what was done at a distance authorized him to call the king the son of a murderer, which, unless we could produce such an extraordinary commission, it is not for us to initiate; far be it from us to despise dominion and to speak evil of dignities. He appealed to the elders whether he had deserved so ill at the king’s hands: “See whether in this he be not the son of a murderer?” For what evil had Elisha done? He had not desired the woeful day, Jer. 17:16.
V. The king’s passionate speech, when he came to prevent the execution of his edict for the beheading of Elisha. He seems to have been in a struggle between his convictions and his corruptions, knew not what to say, but, seeing things brought to the last extremity, he even abandoned himself to despair (2 Kgs. 6:33): This evil is of the Lord. Therein his notions were right and well applied; it is a general truth that all penal evil is of the Lord, as the first cause, and sovereign judge (Amos 3:6), and this we ought to apply to particular cases: if all evil, then this evil, whatever it is we are now groaning under, whoever are the instruments, God is the principal agent of it. But his inference from this truth was foolish and wicked: What should I wait for the Lord any longer? When Eli, and David, and Job, said, It is of the Lord, they grew patient upon it, but this bad man grew outrageous upon it: “I will neither fear worse nor expect better, for worse cannot come and better never will come: we are all undone, and there is no remedy.” It is an unreasonable thing to be weary of waiting for God, for he is a God of judgment, and blessed are all those that wait for him.