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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Old, Old Story
Text:2 Kings 6:24 - 7:20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 18:1,2                                                                                      

Ps 4:2,3                                                                                                          

Reading – 2 Kings 6:24 – 7:20

Ps 81:11,12,13,14

Sermon – 2 Kings 6:24 – 7:20

Hy 14:1,7,8,9

Hy 80:1,2,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved, there’s a story in Scripture that gets told over and over again. It’s never told in exactly the same way, but the basic elements are always there. It’s the story of how God graciously and powerfully delivers his people.

What does this story look like? It looks like a feeble and sinful people, in some kind of grave trouble, men and women and children facing an impossible situation—they are hopeless, despairing, ready to die. But then God steps in. He does something amazing, and He pulls the helpless from their misery. In mighty strength the LORD defeats their enemies, or He fills their empty stomachs, or He delivers them from death. And in response to this salvation, God’s people rejoice and give thanks and resolve to serve the LORD always.

Think about how this is the story of the Great Flood—deliverance! It’s the story of Israel brought out of captivity in Egypt. It’s the story told throughout Judges. It’s the story of David and Goliath, the story of Jonah in the big fish. See if you can think of at least a handful more—it’s always the same story of God’s redeeming grace. Not that it gets repetitive or boring. It’s always fresh, because it’s always needed. We so often need saving, helping, redeeming.

And ponder how every one of these salvation stories points ahead to the great gospel story of Jesus. For in that story too, we see people in grave trouble, facing an impossible situation—we’re utterly hopeless in our sin, despairing of deliverance, on the brink of dying forever. But Christ comes and does something amazing at the cross. It means that undeserving sinners are forgiven, captives are set free, the dead are raised. And Christ calls all people to receive this gift with a living faith and obedient life.

Today’s text is another story of God’s deliverance. All the elements are here: a desperate situation, an amazing act of deliverance, and a call to trust in the LORD and his great works. I preach the gospel to you from 2 Kings 6-7 on this theme,

            The miserable people of Samaria receive God’s saving grace. A story of:

1)     total desperation

2)     powerful deliverance

3)     stubborn doubt

1)     total desperation: Our text begins with a reminder of the last event in Elisha’s ministry: “And it happened after this…” (6:24). After what? We look back into chapter 6 and the account of that invisible army of the LORD, called up to defend Elisha, his servant, and all of Dothan from the besieging Syrians. God performed another of his mighty saving works, blinding the Syrians in their attempt to capture Elisha. And for a time, the Syrians invaded Israel no more.

But “it happened after this that Ben-Hadad king of Syria gathered all his army, and went up and besieged Samaria” (6:24). Sadly, the peace couldn’t last forever. We don’t know much about this Syrian invasion, if they raided the whole Israelite countryside or if they just went straight to Samaria, the capital of the ten tribes. But they might well have reckoned that if you bring down the capital, you can bring down the whole nation.

And so they laid siege to the city. Now, a siege is slow way to defeat your enemy. You basically camp out around the city walls, lining up your troops and erecting barriers, so that no one on the inside can get outside. A siege takes time—sometimes a couple years—but it’s far less effort than trying to knock down thick city walls or even attempting to climb them and take the enemy by force. You set up your siege-works, and then you wait.

Because the longer you wait, the more desperate it becomes inside the city. Ancient cities didn’t have fields and vineyards within their walls, perhaps only small gardens, so the food supply is certain to run out eventually. There might be water, but even that could become scarce. And so as a siege drags on, the people inside get hungrier, and thirstier, and weaker.

Verse 25 puts us in the picture of how terrible the need was: “And there was a great famine in Samaria; and indeed they besieged it until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and one-fourth of a kab of dove droppings for five shekels of silver.” This is the kind of thing that has happened so often to cities in wartime, like to Rotterdam in the winter of 1944, when people had to eat tulip bulbs in order to survive.

In Samaria, they’re buying bad food at great costs. We’re given the example of a donkey’s head. I’ve never tried it, but I imagine the head of a donkey has very little proper meat on it, and just a plateful of brains—this is not a good and nutritious meal. And according to God’s law, it wasn’t even allowed to eat this. But some are willing to pay huge amounts for unclean food. If the standard wage was one shekel per day, then eighty shekels for leftover donkey shows how frantic is the search for food. There really was nothing to eat.

And it gets worse, for then we hear of the human cost. There’s a conversation between a woman and the king, as the king (probably Jehoram) is walking around the wall. She cries out to him for help, and just listen to his reply. It’s completely cynical: “If the LORD does not help you, where can I find help for you? From the threshing floor or from the winepress?” (6:27). The threshing floor and winepress are empty, so he’s got no help to give.

But then the king hears the woman’s shocking complaint. It’s disgusting: “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we boiled my son, and ate him. And I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son” (6:28-29). The food shortage in Samaria is so bad, it’s come to this: cannibalism.

This is the ugly desperation that people are sometimes driven to. It’s happened in other cities under siege; it’s also happened among shipwreck survivors, floating on the ocean in a small boat and running out of food. Hunger can be overwhelming, where the urge to eat something—anything—leads people to do the unthinkable.

And see how the woman’s complaint isn’t even about the lack of food, but about the injustice, that this other woman has backed out of the agreement to share their children as a meal. Her lack of feeling is striking. A mother’s compassion—which is surely one of the strongest loyalties on earth!—has been overcome by desperation to survive.

And now for a hard truth about what’s happening in Samaria: this was God’s holy justice. For there are the curses that God built into the covenant. The LORD promised his people immense blessing if they walked with him, if they trusted him and kept his commandments. But great privilege always brings great responsibility. The LORD also clearly warned his people that He’d punish them if they were disloyal to his covenant.

It was laid out in his law, the threat of famine, illness, poverty—and even this misery. We read it in Leviticus, “And after all this, if you do not obey me, but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I… will chastise you seven times for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters” (Lev 26:27-29).

Now, it’s one thing to read that in the law, where it remains safely abstract—a distant possibility. But this woman puts a human face on it. In her desperation, we see just how ugly sin can be, and how terrible are the consequences of rebellion against God. We don’t often taste all the consequences of our sin, which is surely one of God’s mercies to us. But it remains true that sin is such a destructive force. It ruins peace, and even breaks loyalties that should be stronger than death. For example, think about how sin breaks relationships, among neighbours, husbands and wives, and yes, among parents and children.

The covenant curses shouldn’t make us think that every trouble in our life is sent by God because of some specific sin. Our sins have been fully punished in Christ! Yet God does teach us. By the tough events of life, He gently shows the path He wants us to follow. He shows us how sin breeds misery, also shows the better path, which is by keeping his Word.

When the king hears the woman’s words, he despairs. You can tell he was already troubled, for he had sackcloth on underneath his clothing. Sackcloth was rough and itchy fabric, not suited to being worn on the skin, so wearing it showed humility and distress before God. The king has been grieving, but this encounter with the woman drives him over the edge, and he tears his clothes over what’s happening.

Yet his first words are very telling: “God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on him today!” (6:31). The king is feeling more like killing someone than repenting. As sinners do so often, he shifts the blame. This misery must be Elisha’s fault—after all, he’d been preaching judgment. It’s similar to how Ahab, years before, blamed Elijah for the three year drought. Sin will blind us to the truth, also the truth of our own faults.

A report of the king’s intentions to kill him arrives at Elisha. Notice how he is “sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him” (6:32). The elders of the nation are conferring with Elisha the prophet, not Jehoram the king. In these times of deep crisis, there must’ve been a growing recognition that the king was unreliable, that only God’s true servant could help. 

Elisha is aware of the king’s plans. Remember how in the previous story he knew exactly what the king of Syria was going to do—so it’s not surprising that Elisha also knows Jehoram’s schemes. The door is barred until the king himself arrives. And then we hear just how twisted is the king’s understanding: “Surely this calamity is from the LORD; why should I wait for the LORD any longer?” (6:33).

On the one hand, he knows that God has sent this trouble, yet he’s done waiting for God’s help. It’s been long enough. He’s tried repentance—at least outwardly, putting on the sackcloth and tearing his robes—but so much for seeking the LORD. The king is completely out of ideas and he’s all but giving up as the situation gets worse.

And it is a desperate hour. In our own times of need, we probably first think of human-based solutions like the king does. What can I do about this? How is this in my power to handle? Other times we think of what our government can do, like when a deadly virus breaks out or there’s a terrible natural disaster. What’s the prime minister going to decide? How will the army save the day? If they throw a pile of money at it, maybe the problem will go away.

But Jehoram shows how kings and governments don’t always cope very well. Sometimes there’s just not a political solution, or a military option, or an economic answer. Sometimes only God can save the day. And He will: He is going to rescue Samaria by an incredible miracle, a powerful deliverance.

Before we get there, think again about how this scene is so typical of the salvation story told throughout Scripture. Human beings—men and women and children, sinners and doubters—sooner or later come to the end of our resources. We face an enemy, a grave obstacle, even death itself, and we realize that we can do absolutely nothing. We can’t defeat Satan. We’re unable to pay for our own guilt. We can’t pull ourselves out of slavery to sin or convince ourselves that everything’s going to be OK. We’re totally desperate, and maybe we’ve given up on waiting for the LORD. Maybe we become self-destructive like that woman, or we despair like the king. But then God comes near to deliver.


2)     powerful deliverance: Elisha had every reason to slam the door on the king. But amazingly, Elisha has good news for him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria’” (7:1). Almost unbelievable, but within 24 hours the situation in Samaria will be utterly changed. Unbelievable, because even if the siege ended tonight, you’d have to wait months for new crops to be planted and grow. Yet God promises immediate relief.

It’s the promise of a beautiful return to normal. A seah of fine flour—about 6.5 litres—will cost about a day’s wage. That’s a reasonable price, about what you’d expect at Samaria’s supermarkets. And just the fact that there will be flour and barley available (instead of donkey brains) is amazing!

As we read on, God’s rescue plan starts to unfold. We first meet four lepers sitting at the city gate. Because these men are unclean, they’re not allowed to live in the community. So there they sit, sorting out their options—and none of them look good. They can keep waiting, and die. They can go into the city, and die along with everyone else. Or they can go out to the enemy, who will probably kill them, but perhaps not. 

So they go to the Syrian camp, and no one’s there! There’s been a mass evacuation. “For the Lord had caused the army of the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots and the noise of horses—the noise of a great army; so they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians to attack us!” Therefore they arose and fled at twilight, and left the camp intact—their tents, their horses, and their donkeys—and they fled for their lives” (7:6-7).

In that time, the Hittites were a force to the north of Syria, and the Egyptians were a threat in the south. And nations back then were always nervous about how alliances could quickly change, or how a big army could be hired for the right price. Hearing strange noises, the Syrians are convinced that an enemy is on the way to help Samaria, and they flee in terror. Maybe that’s happened to you: you hear a scratching noise outside your window at night, or strange clunking in the backyard, and soon you’re convinced it’s a monster or a robber. This happens to the Syrians on a wide scale. God confuses them, but there’s no army but the LORD’s!

The four lepers begin to plunder the deserted camp, taking everything they can grab. But they begin to have second thoughts. They might be outsiders, but they still consider the needs of their fellow Israelites. And so they go back into Samaria and announce the good news.

Isn’t this too, so typical of how God operates? To announce salvation He often uses the most unlikely messengers like these four outcasts of society. Think about the disciples whom Jesus called to preach: tax collectors, uneducated fishermen, common labourers. Or those who first announced Jesus’ resurrection: women, people of poor reputation. God never lets our low status prevent us from serving him.

Even Samaria’s deliverance is just the kind of thing God does more often. It is salvation, but not through a great display of force. Instead, it’s really quite simple. It’s just God, taking on his enemies, without his people so much as touching a single weapon.

And this deliverance is also unexpected. Unexpected, because why should God have been so gracious? Remember what these people were like. The Israelites were devoted idol-worshipers, law-breakers, and prophet-killers. The king had shown his true colours just the day before, when he was ready to cut off Elisha’s head.

But God shows grace. He has deep compassion on these suffering people and lifts his curse. He surely thinks of that desperate woman, pushed to the very edge of her misery. He thinks of those four lepers, who have no good options. He thinks of countless more of his people, thousands who are captive to sin. And God shows great mercy and kindness.  

It’s a story that we’ve heard before. If you look back to 2 Kings 2, right at the beginning of Elisha’s ministry, you’ll see how God showed mercy to Jericho. This was a city rebuilt in defiance of God. The people deserved God’s curse, and for a while that’s what they experienced, in the deadly waters of their polluted spring. But God is gracious—to Jericho, to Samaria, and to us in this place.

For that’s the story of salvation: God is patient with sinners, and He takes back those who have rebelled. Don’t dare look down on the cannibals and idol-worshipers of Samaria, or the drug addicts and unbelievers of our city. Neither they nor we deserve anything, but God has poured out his goodness on sinners. He has saved us from our misery, from the self-destructive power of our own sin, and He rescued us through the work of his one and only Son.

The LORD redeemed us in a most unlikely way, in a way no one could’ve predicted. For God sent Jesus, clothed in human weakness, a servant and not a king or commander. He saved us by dying, by disarming our enemies at the cross and opening up all the riches of God’s grace. That’s the story that keeps getting told in Scripture, the story that never gets old. And it’s a story that must be received with faith.


3)     stubborn doubt: This salvation-story ranges from the desperation of a mother eating her own child, to the euphoria of God’s amazing rescue. But there’s still a dark side to it, and it’s how the story ends, with a man trampled to death in the city gate. It’s a reminder of how stubborn can be the doubting spirit.

We first meet the doubter in 7:2. Elisha has just announced God’s promise to reverse the fortunes of Samaria by this time tomorrow: flour for sale, barley for sale, business as usual in a city that has suffered immensely. But one of the king’s servants doesn’t believe it, “[He] answered the man of God and said, ‘Look, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, could this thing be?’” (7:2). God’s promise is met with sarcasm and doubt. This can never be!

Notice how the doubter is a personal assistant to the king. Earlier, Jehoram had spoken of giving up on the LORD. And even when deliverance comes, the king hesitates. He thinks the empty camp is a Syrian trap. Even though God promised deliverance, the king is ready to explain it away. So the king’s servant is simply echoing what the king himself was saying. And there were probably others in Samaria who would’ve laughed at God’s promise.

But God requires faith. God wants us to receive his words humbly, willingly, expectantly. And so this doubting servant will be judged for unbelief. Elisha tells him that he’ll witness the day of salvation, but he won’t share in it. So it was that the next day, as the hungry hordes rush into the Syrian camp for food and treasure, the servant is trampled to death.

Tough ending. And isn’t that a sobering reminder of what we hear together with the story of salvation, the gospel of Christ? God also calls us to faith. The LORD wants us to trust in his Word, to rest ourselves completely in his promises.

Sometimes God promises a thing that seems unbelievable. Sin and brokenness can make some of God’s promises seem too good to be true. Will God really forgive all my sins? Can He actually create a new heart within me? Will the Lord always provide strength equal to my temptations? How can all this trouble really be for good? Is Jesus really going to come back one day? And will He really defeat all our enemies and put sin to rest once and for all?

So many people hear God’s promises with a spirit of doubt. They find a way to explain them away. Or perhaps they wonder if it’s worth it to follow Christ. And let’s consider our own response. Whenever God tells the story of salvation, He asks us to believe it, to trust him and to rest in him.

No matter how unlikely is his promise, no matter how serious is our trouble, God tells us that we can believe in him. “Do not fear,” He says, “and do not worry.” God says He’ll never fail to deliver us when we trust him. He says that salvation is secure for all who truly confess the name of Christ. So put your trust in the God who delivers!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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