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Not Alone

Date: May. 31, 2015

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Kings 6:24-7:20

Key Verse: 2 Kings 7:1

“Elisha replied, ‘Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.’”

Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever thought that, even though there are countless people around you, nobody cares and you have to go through life all alone. Times can be tough and feelings of being alone are very common. We live in a culture that is constantly connected, but we have never felt more alone. Spouses sometimes seem more like roommates and the only friends you have are on Facebook and you don’t see them ever in person. We are a people that feel alone and it is a common thought that if there is a God then he has surely abandoned us. All you have to do is look at the world around us to see that God is not helping anyone. There are famines, wars, destruction and evil men all over the place. Governments are corrupt and greedy. Where is God? If he doesn’t help, then who would? It is easy to think that the Lord has abandoned us in this world, but the fact of the matter is that God has not abandoned us and we are not alone.

If you remember last week’s passage, you would remember that Aram and Israel were at war, and the Arameans were going to set up secret camps to ambush the Israelites, but Elisha kept confounding those plans. He would tell the Israelite king Joram about the plans. It happened so many times that Ben-Hadad king of Aram thought he had a spy amongst his ranks, but the only spy were the eyes of God. Ben-Hadad wanted to capture Elisha and went to the city where he was staying. When the army surrounded the city, Elisha prayed for the army to be blinded and they were. He then led the blinded Arameans to Samaria where their sight was returned. Elisha urged the king to feed the soldiers and then release them, and they returned to Ben-Hadad. This passage takes place sometime after the last one, and the reason why I went through a bit of a summary is that there are events from the last passage that might set up some meaning to this passage.

Our passage starts out today, “Some time later, Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria.” (6:24) At the end of the last passage, the border skirmishes stopped. The Arameans ceased their raiding parties’ incursions into Israelite territory, but that wasn’t the end of things. When the raiding parties retreated it was because they were getting ready to muster their whole army in an attack on the capital of Israel, Samaria. It took them a while to get ready, but the army marched up and laid siege to the city. They surrounded the city and didn’t let anyone in or out. Whatever provisions the Isrealites had would have to last the siege. Unfortunately, the siege wasn’t the only problem. There was a famine in the city too. Even if the Arameans were to leave, they would still have no food. “There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels.” (6:25) The siege prevented the Israelites from bringing in purchased food so they started selling unsavory things as food. As you might remember, the Israelites had strict dietary restrictions given to them by God, but during the siege, they ate many things that were considered unclean, like donkeys. Times were so desperate that a donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels of sliver, which is about two pounds of silver ($487.07). That is a lot of money for something with so little meat. The passage also says that a quarter of a cab of seed pods sold for five shekels. Seed pods could mean a couple of things. They could mean beans which doesn’t sound so bad or as the footnote in the NIV translation says, it could be doves’ dung. So either half a pound of beans or bird poop sold for five shekels of sliver or two ounces of silver ($32). Again, that was very expensive for so little.

It was a very hard time for everyone in the city. The king walked around the city to see the conditions and as he did, a woman called out to him, “Help me, my lord the king!” (6:26) “The king replied, ‘If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?’” (6:27) The king didn’t know what to do. The city was in peril and all the inhabitants appeared to be doomed. The Lord didn’t appear to be helping anybody. It looked like God had abandoned his people, and if God does not help, where would the king go for help? He seems a little rude to the woman, but there is some truth to his words. If God doesn’t help, then there is no place where help would come from. But what is wrong is the thought that God abandoned them. We’ve talked about the northern kingdom for months. Very quickly after the kingdom was established, two golden calves were made for the people to worship, not God, but calves. Other idols were brought into the country until Joram’s dad, Ahab, brought outright Baal worship. It wasn’t that God had abandoned his people; it was that his people abandoned God. Despite their wanderings, God didn’t abandon them. He sent them Elijah and Elisha as prophets to bring them back to him. God did so many things for his people despite the fact that they didn’t care for him. He has brought rain and won battles for his people. He did not abandon them, but when times are tough, people don’t always follow logic and they look for someone to blame.

After the king revealed his frustration against God, he calmed down a bit and asked the woman what the issue was. The woman spoke up, but I don’t think that it was something the king was expecting to hear. The woman answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.” (6:28-29) I am going to say this right away. This is some messed up stuff. The famine was so severe that a woman thought that it was a good suggestion to cook her own son. That’s some lousy parenting. I’m really not sure how to respond to this. I have a twenty-month-old son and never in my wildest, most messed up dreams would I even consider cooking and eating him. One of the strongest parenting instincts is protection and eating him is not protecting him. I would rather sacrifice myself so that my son could eat me if things got bad enough. He’s already taste-tested me. If anybody ever comes to you with such a suggestion, first say no. Don’t even consider the offer, just say no. If, for some brain dead reason you do say yes, make sure that the person who is making the suggestion is the first one to offer up their kid. Don’t fall for the trap. Seriously, you can see the depravity and lack of God in the people’s hearts when they make horrendous suggestions and actually carry them out.

The king was outraged at what was going on in his city. He tore his robes in anguish. “He said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!” (31) The king continued the blame game, but now his sight was set on Elisha. Joram might have thought that Ben Hadad still wanted Elisha because of the events of the last passage. Joram might have thought that Ben Hadad wanted Elisha’s head and was laying siege to the city in order to get it. There is not necessarily any truth to that thought, but when was the last time a silly thing like truth was a major deciding point? I do find it interesting that Joram and Elisha’s relationship has been kind of a mixed bag. Sometimes they are amicable, other times they are neutral. Here, however, the relationship looks more like the relationship Joram’s father Ahab had with Elijah, completely blaming and wanting to kill.

Because of the king’s newfound bloodthirst, he sent a messenger to Elisha’s house in the city. Now, Elisha had the city elders over for a visit. It appears that their opinion of Elisha is far more favorable than that of Joram. They are hanging out at his house, talking and having as good of a time as possible in a siege-famine. Suddenly, Elisha speaks up, “Don’t you see how this murderer is sending someone to cut off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold it shut against him. Is not the sound of his master’s footsteps behind him?” (6:32) Elisha knew that the messenger was coming before he got there and he told the elders to go and help bar the door against him. Unfortunately, the messenger arrived while Elisha was still talking. Then the king shows his exasperation concerning the situation. He said, “This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (6:33) He seems to have backed down slightly in wanting Elisha’s head and decided to directly blame God for all the ill that had befallen his capital city.

He actually said that the disaster was from God and there might be some truth to it, but he does not acknowledge that he had any part. God wouldn’t bring a disaster without any reason. He has punished places for their sin and lack of seeking him and he will do it again in the future, but never did the Lord do it for fun. Also, God makes it known that his judgment is coming. God doesn’t gain any pleasure in punishing people. What he wants is for people to stop breaking his heart and accept his love. When a time of disaster comes that is an act of judgment, there is a warning. When Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, God told Abraham. When the time came for Israel and Judah to have their kingdoms come to an end, he sent many prophets to get people to turn back to him because the Assyrians and the Babylonians were coming to inflict judgment. If Joram thought that that was the case here, then there would have been a warning and Joram should have repented. Instead, we just see Joram blaming God for his situation.

Again, when I look at Joram and his words, one of the biggest things that comes to my mind is the thought that Joram feels abandoned by God. His blaming God is just a symptom of feeling alone and he is lashing out at God in response to that loneliness. You might think that this is a stretch, but think about this, when we start placing blame somewhere, we feel that whatever we are blaming has not been doing its job. Joram feels like God hasn’t been a good god, like he isn’t there for his people in their time of need. How many times have we done that? How many times have we felt that God has not kept his side of the bargain? I know that before I knew anything about the Lord, I blamed him for everything. When I was in a time of hardship, I pointed my finger right at God and blamed him for the empty whole in my soul. I thought that God was the one blocking my ability to have anything be right in my life. I railed against God wondering why other people were able to find happiness, but I was relegated to being alone. Like Joram, the thought never entered my mind that I was not with God. I walked away from God. God was not working against me; the path that I was on was taking me further away from him.

These times of hardships can show us very well, what is really in our hearts. When times were good, those in Samaria could say that they still worshipped the Lord. Even with all the calf worship and Baal worship going on, they could feel like they were able to also worship God, but then the siege and famine came, all the fluff of their lives was burned away and you can see what the people of the city truly held dear. They abandoned any dietary requirements for their own survival, which can be understandable, but they also abandoned any idea of human worth, which is not understandable. The people learned selfishness so well that their own survival was more important than that of their children. Resorting to cannibalism is one thing, but to cook your own child is a whole new level. I’m not saying that this was rampant in Samaria, but it is a sign of the depravity in the city. It is a sign of the people’s beliefs being boiled down. They learned to be selfish and the famine and siege showed that very well.

We also live in a very selfish culture. Social media can be a useful thing, but much of it is parading yourself around, making yourself look good. I heard a statistic that the average young lady spends five hours a week taking selfies. I have absolutely no idea how a person can spend five hours a week taking pictures of themselves, but that is an average. There are also times when you hear a parent or both parents complain about their lives because they feel that children have ruined their lives. The complication that children bring prevents them from having the kind of fun that they used to have. Then there is the fact that divorce is a first option in some people’s minds. When there is a sign of conflict, they think that the marriage is not working so it must end. They are not happy in the marriage, so it must not be working. I’ve got news for you. The point of marriage is not to make you happy. Sinner plus sinner does not equal bliss, especially when little sinners come into the mix. You have a household of selfish sinners and there is no happiness there. You can be happy in a marriage, but it is not the point. The point of two people becoming one flesh is to know more about God, about who he is and to understand Jesus’ relationship to the church. Marriage purifies us, but that purification does not necessarily make us happy. We can be miserable for a while, but the selfish person stops when they don’t feel good and blames God. In times of trouble, the truth of their heart in revealed.

But you know what, when it seems so dark and it feels like there is no one around, it just means that your eyes are closed. God has not abandoned you. Right after Joram complained about God, Elisha replied, “Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.” (7:1) That time tomorrow there would be food for relatively cheap, good food too. Joram was busy complaining about God not doing anything, but God was so close to doing more than any of them could imagine. It is so ironic and unbelievable. The officer on whom Joram was leaning couldn’t believe it. He said, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” (7:2) The guy was clueless in how God worked. He thought that God could only work in natural ways. He might be able to control the weather, but that would still mean that it would take time for the crops to grow. But God works in so many more ways. Because his unbelief is a symptom of the larger issues in the city, Elisha warns the officer that he would see it happen, but not eat any of it. It is a strong warning.

The city’s deliverance came from an unlikely source. There were four lepers who lived outside the city. Because of their disease, they were not allowed inside the city gates, so they lived outside and begged by the gate. During the siege and famine, there was nothing to beg for, so they reasoned that if they stayed outside the gate, they would die. If they went into the city, where the famine was most severe, they would also die. So, they concluded to surrender themselves to the Arameans. They might accept their surrender and they would live, but they might kill them too. However, there was a chance that they could survive. At sundown, the four lepers made for the camp, but when they arrived they found it empty. Unbeknownst to them, right around dusk, the time the lepers set out for the camp, the Lord made the Arameans hear the sound of a great army and it really spooked them. They thought that they were going to be overrun and they bolted like cockroaches when you turn on the light. They left everything where it was. When the lepers arrived, I bet that even the cooking pots were still hot and the bowls of food were still steaming. The Arameans were gone, running for their lives because the Lord made them hear a noise.

The lepers started to plunder the camp like a four-person army. They ate up and took gold, silver and clothes and hid them. They plundered two tents before realizing that they might want to tell the people in the city. They thought that they would get in trouble if anyone found out what they were doing. They went back to the city gates and reported what they found. “The king got up in the night and said to his officers, ‘I will tell you what the Arameans have done to us. They know we are starving; so they have left the camp to hide in the countryside, thinking, “They will surely come out, and then we will take them alive and get into the city.”’” (7:12) The king thought that the empty camp was a trap. It seems a little odd for him to think that, but the Israelites once used that tactic against the city of Ai when they were taking control of the land. If you want to read about it, it is in Joshua 8:3-28. An officer suggested sending men on the remaining horses to find out what happened. They went and couldn’t find the Arameans. There was evidence of their flight. The whole road was strewn with clothing and equipment as far as the Jordan River. The messengers returned to the city and reported what they found. “Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of the finest flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the Lord had said.” (7:16) It had happened exactly as the Lord had said. It seemed impossible but both the siege and famine were lifted simultaneously.

Now the officer that scoffed at Elisha and the Lord, was put in charge of the gate. When the people began to rush out to get the food, the trampled him in the gateway and he died. It reminds me of one of those scenes from a Black Friday gone wrong, where people are waiting for the store to open and once it opens, someone falls and gets trampled by the mob of people. It doesn’t happen every year, but it does happen. Just like Elisha predicted the officer saw the food but was unable to have any of it. It is sad that he was trampled, but it still shows the truthfulness in God’s word. It also reminds us to believe God’s word, hope in God’s provision, and count on God’s deliverance.

Obviously, we’ve never been under siege or in a famine, but we have had hard times. As a country, we are still feeling the effects of the Great Recession that started when the housing market collapsed and the financial markets imploded. The housing market is just starting to recover, but during the recession, many people lost their homes because they couldn’t pay the mortgage. Millions lost their jobs and unemployment was the highest it’s been in decades. People were graduating college and not able to find a job. Even now, you can graduate with a great degree, but there is no guarantee that you will find a job with it. There is a generation of people who fought in wars. Some were will killed, leaving behind young children who would never know that parent. Others were injured and are missing parts of their body. Others, still, find no peace at home and they are forever changed inside because of what they saw and did.

In these hard times, we can despair. We can blame God and others. It can feel like we are so alone, but we are not alone. God is with us with every step we take. We might not see it, but he is there and he gave us so much more than we could ever imagine. He sent his son Jesus to us and he understands exactly what we are going through. We may feel alone, but Jesus was alone on the cross. Jesus was abandoned by everybody, including God, so we would not have to feel alone anymore. His flesh was pierced so that our bodies and souls could be healed. He took the hardest of tasks so that we would not have to. In our darkest of times, Jesus is right there holding out the two hands that were pierced waiting to bring us back to him. We were never alone and we are never alone. I want you to repeat after me, “I am not alone.” Say it again, “I am not alone.” For a third time, “I am not alone.” Now, turn to someone near you and tell them, “You are not alone.” Now find someone else, “You are not alone.”

The dark times show us who we are. They show us what we learned and have been holding in our hearts. So often, in those dark times, we are so lonely and we want to lash out at something, like Joram did. We can blame God for all the bad things in our lives and feel just utterly abandoned by him, but he has never abandoned us. The dark of night will not overtake us. It is God who fights our every battle. We are not alone. Jesus is always there. He redeemed us. He delivered us. He provides for us in ways we don’t realize. He gives us life and life everlasting. We are not alone.

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