Famine in Samaria
There was a time in the history of Israel when Ben-Hadad, King of Aram surrounded Samaria with his army encamped in tents outside the city. He wanted to capture the fortified city.
During this siege, the city of Samaria suffered a great famine which was so severe that prices of basic commodities skyrocketed, that is, if there were basic commodities left.
One day, the King of Israel passed by on the wall when a woman cried out to him, “O, my King, please help me!”
The king replied, “How can I help you when even the Lord does not help you? Anyway, what’s the matter?”
The woman explained, “Due to this dreadful lack of food, I and another woman agreed to eat our sons. The first day, we cooked my son and ate him. The next day, it was her son’s turn to be cooked but she hid the boy and refused to give him up for us to eat.”
When the king heard the most appalling story, he was horrified that he tore his robes and the people saw that he had sackcloth under his robes.
He wore sackcloth to appease the wrath of God whom he believed had allowed the severe famine because Israel had turned away from Him. But the king also blamed the prophet Elisha for the famine and wanted to kill him.
He swore to cut off Prophet Elisha’s head that very day.
So the king marched to Elisha’s house with the intent to kill him. He sent messengers ahead of him.
Elisha was in his house with the elders and even before the messengers arrived, he told the elders, “The king is sending someone to cut off my head. When this messenger comes, close the door and do not open it. His master is right behind him.”
While Elisha was talking, the messenger came, followed by the king.
Elisha spoke from inside his house, “Listen to the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, at the gate of Samaria, the finest flour and barley shall be sold at the cheapest price.”
The king was leaning on an officer’s arm outside Elisha’s house. The officer said, “Even if the Lord would open the floodgates of heaven, that would never happen!”
Elisha answered, “You will see it with your own eyes but you will not eat any of it!”
For whatever reason, or perhaps it was God’s intervention, the king did not kill Elisha that day.
The Four Lepers
Meanwhile, at the entrance of the city gate, there sat four lepers talking to each other. “Why are we staying here? We will die here! If we go inside the city, we will die from hunger. Why don’t we go to the Aramean camp and surrender to them? If they kill us, we die just the same, if they spare us, then we live.”
“So they agreed to go to the camp of the Arameans at sundown. When they reached the edge of the camp, they did not see anyone.
Little did they know that the Lord had caused the Arameans to flee. The Lord made them hear the sound of chariots, horses and a great army. They thought that the King of Israel hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack them. So they ran off in the dark and left everything, their tents, their horses and donkeys, and just ran for their lives.
The lepers entered one of the tents, and they ate and drank. They took the silver, gold, and clothes they found and went off to hide them. They returned and entered another tent, took some things and hid them, too.
Then they realized that what they were doing was wrong. They talked it over. “This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, we could be punished. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”
So they called out to the city gatekeepers and told them about the empty tents, about the tethered the horses and donkeys. Soon the news reached the palace.
The king told his officers, “The Arameans know that we are starving, so they have left the camp to hide in the countryside, and when we come out, they will take us alive and get into the city.”
One of his officers offered a suggestion, “Get some men to investigate. If they die out there, it would be no different from all of us left here who are doomed to die from starvation.”
They selected two chariots with their horses, and the king sent men to find out what happened.
The men followed the Arameans as far as the Jordan, and they found the road strewn with the clothing and equipment the Arameans had thrown away in their hasty escape.
So the messengers returned and reported to the king. Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans.
The officer on whose arm the king had leaned at Elisha’s house was put in charge of the gate. He saw that a seah of the finest flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley also sold for a shekel, as the Lord had said.
The people who made a mad dash to the camp and back trampled him in the gateway and he died.
What Elisha told the king had happened. Finest flour and barley were being sold at a cheap price, and the unbelieving officer saw it with his own eyes but was not able to enjoy it because he died at the gateway.
This story is written in the Bible.
The first part of the story tells of two mothers who agreed to eat their young sons just so they survive the famine.
It is such a shocker to find a story like this in the Bible. Why was this story even included in a book that is considered “the word of God?”
One Pastor asked, “How can we teach this in Sunday school?”
When we speak of mothers, we know that they would die for their children in a heartbeat. When we speak of love, we always speak of mother’s unconditional love for their children.
But who are these mothers in the Bible? Is the story an exaggeration of the sinfulness of Israel? Or a depiction of the seriousness of the nation's famine and starvation?
There are stories of the need to eat human flesh as the only hope of survival, such as the story of the Andes survivors. They needed to eat those who had died already in order for the living to survive, but it's a different story to actually kill a living son to cook and eat him.
What is the Bible trying to teach us with this story? This is a weird Bible story.
Well, the story has taken a turn for the better when a prophecy foretold by Elisha has happened exactly as he has said, according to the word of the Lord.
It shows God’s mercy and grace for His people, the Israelites. Even when they have departed from Him, He still did not want them all to perish. He has delivered them from the Arameans and from starvation.