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In this chapter are recorded other wonders of Elisha, as causing iron to swim, ( 2 Kings 6:1-7) having knowledge of the secret counsels of the king of Syria, which he disclosed to the king of Israel, ( 2 Kings 6:8-12) smiting the Syrian army with blindness sent to take him, and which he led into the midst of Samaria, ( 2 Kings 6:13-23), and the chapter is closed with an account of the siege of Samaria, and a sore famine in it, ( Kings 6:24-33).
Ver. 1 . And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha , etc.] Or the disciples of the prophets, as the Targum: behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us : their numbers were so increased, that there was not room enough for them in the house they dwelt in with the prophet; which increase was owing, the Jews say, to the departure of Gehazi last mentioned, who was a bad man, and used the disciples so ill, that they could not stay in the college; but, when he was gone, they flocked in great numbers; but rather it was owing to the very instructive ministry and wonderful miracles of Elisha: the place where the prophet and his disciples now dwelt seems to be Gilgal, ( 2 Kings 4:38).
Ver. 2 . Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan , etc.] Which, according to Josephus f75 , was fifty furlongs, or upwards of six miles, distant from Gilgal: and take thence every man a beam ; by cutting down the trees that grew there; for Mr. Maundrell says f76 , the banks of Jordan are beset with bushes and trees, which are an harbour for wild beasts; and another traveller f77 observes, that it is shadowed on both sides with poplars, alders, etc. and who speaks of their cutting down boughs from the trees when there: and let us make us a place there where we may dwell : near the banks of Jordan, which they might choose for the seclusion and pleasantness of the situation, or because Elijah was taken up to heaven near it, as Abarbinel thinks; from whence it appears that these scholars were far from living an idle life; for they were not only trained up in useful learning, but were employed in trades and manufactures, to which they had been brought up, and knew how to fell timber, and build houses: and he answered, go ye ; he gave them leave, without which they did not choose to do anything.
Ver. 3 . And one said, be content, I pray thee, and with thy servants , etc.] Or be pleased to go with us; he begged it as a favour, that, being awed by his presence, they might preserve peace and order, and have his advice as to the spot of ground to erect their edifice on, and might be protected by him from harm and mischief by men or wild beasts: and he answered, I will go ; he consented to it, knowing perhaps before hand that he should have an opportunity of working a miracle there, as he did.
Ver. 4 . So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood .] Trees which grew upon the banks of it, to build their house with, at least for the rafters and flooring of it, supposing the walls to be built of stone.
Ver. 5 . But as one was felling a beam , etc.] Cutting down a tree, or a branch of it: the axe head fell into the water : into the waters of Jordan; or “the iron” f78 , the iron part of it, with which the wood was cut; that flew off from the helve into the water: and he cried, and said, alas, master! for it was borrowed : it grieved him to lose his axe, because he could do no more work, and the more because it was not his own, but he had borrowed it of his neighbour; and still more, because, as it seems, he was poor, and not able to pay for it, which, being of an honest disposition, gave him distress.
Ver. 6 . And the man of God said, where fell it ? etc.] For though endowed with a spirit of prophecy, he did not know all things, and at all times; and if he did know where it fell, he might ask this question to lead on to the performance of the miracle: and he showed him the place ; the exact place in the river into which it fell: and he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither ; he did not take the old helve and throw in, but a new stick he cut off of a tree; some think he made of this another helve or handle, of the same size and measure with the other, and that this being cast in was miraculously directed and fixed in the hole of the iron at the bottom of the water, and brought it up with it; but, as Abarbinel observes, there is no need to suppose this; the wood was cast into the precise place where the iron fell, and was sent as it were to call it up to it: and the iron did swim ; it came up and appeared, and was bore on the surface of the waters; or, “and made the iron to swim” f79 ; which some understand of the wood cast in, as if it had some peculiar virtue in it to draw up the iron; but it was not any particular chosen wood, but what first occurred to the prophet f80 ; and the meaning is, that Elisha caused it to float, contrary to the nature of iron.
Ver. 8 . Then the king of Syria warred against Israel , etc.] Proclaimed war against him; on what account, or how long it was after Naaman his general came with a letter of recommendation from him to the king of Israel, and had his cure, is not said: and took counsel with his servants ; his privy counsellors, or the general officers of his army: saying, in such and such a place shall be my camp ; in some covered hidden place, as the Targum; where he would lie encamped waiting in ambush, to fall upon the king of Israel unawares, as he and his forces should pass that way; the place, no doubt, was named by the king of Syria, though not recorded by the historian; or, as the words may be rendered, the place of such and such a man ; for, as Ben Melech observes, “peloni almoni” are used of persons whose names are either unknown or concealed.
Ver. 9 . And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel , etc.] That is, Elisha sent to him: saying, beware that thou pass not such a place : not go to it, but avoid it, and pass another way: for thither the Syrians are come down : are hidden, as the Targum; lie covered at the bottom of the hill, so as not to be seen.
Ver. 10 . And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him, and warned him of , etc.] Sent spies thither to see whether the Syrians were there or not, and whether it was truth the man of God told him; for he had no hearty respect for the prophet, though he had been so serviceable to him: and saved himself there, not once, nor twice ; escaped the snares the king of Syria laid for him, not once, nor twice only, but many times.
Ver. 11 . Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing , etc.] There was as it were a storm in his breast, as the word signifies; he was like a troubled sea, tossed with tempests, exceeding uneasy in his mind, fretting at the disappointment he met with time after time: and he called his servants, and said unto them, will ye not show me which of us is for the king of Israel ? he suspected that some one of his counsellors was in the interest of the king of Israel, and betrayed his secrets to him, which was the cause of his disappointments.
Ver. 12 . And one of his servants said, none, my lord, O king , etc.] He believed everyone of his counsellors were true and faithful to him: but Elisha the prophet, that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber ; what is said in the most private place, and in the most secret manner: this man had heard much of Elisha, by Naaman, very probably; or perhaps he had attended him in his journey to Israel for a cure, and so might have personal knowledge of Elisha, and be acquainted with the affair of Gehazi; from whence he concluded, that he, who had the thoughts of men revealed to him, had knowledge of their words and counsels, though ever so secret; (see Ecclesiastes 10:20).
Ver. 13 . And he said, go, and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him , etc.] But how could he expect to take him, who could give the king of Israel such intelligence of his designs against him, that he might escape his snares? and it was told him, saying, behold, he is in Dothan ; a city in the tribe of Manasseh, not far from Shechem; (see Genesis 37:17).
Ver. 14 . Therefore sent he thither horses and chariots, and a great host , etc.] To terrify the inhabitants from attempting to defend the prophet, but deliver him up at once: and they came by night ; that they might come upon them unawares, and their design not be discovered, so as to have timely help from Samaria, which was not far off: and compassed the city about ; that the prophet might not make his escape out of it.
Ver. 15 . And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth , etc.] Either out of his master’s house, or out of the city upon some business to be done early in the morning; this was not Gehazi, but a new servant: behold, an host compassed the city, both with horses and chariots ; which he could see at the door of his master’s house, the city being built upon an eminence; or which he perceived, as soon as he came out of the gates of the city, or was about so to do: and his servant said unto him ; Elisha being with him; or else he returned to his master on the sight of such an army, and not being able to go forward: alas, my master! how shall we do ? to get out of the city, and through this host, and proceed on our intended journey; and if he understood that the intention of this formidable host was to take his master, his concern might be the greater; and the more as he was a new servant, and not so well acquainted with his master’s being possessed of a power of doing miracles.
Ver. 16 . And he answered, fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them .] Meaning the legions of angels that encamped around them.
Ver. 17 . And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see , etc.] Not the eyes of his body, which were not shut nor blinded, but the eyes of his mind; or, in other words, grant him a vision, represented in so strong a light, as to remove his fears: and the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw ; he had a vision of angels: and, behold, the mountain ; on which the city was built, or one near it: was full of horses and chariots of fire ; angels in this form, as in ( Kings 2:11), and these were round about Elisha ; being round about the city where he was; or rather so in the vision it was represented to the young man, he saw his master surrounded with horses and chariots of fire, in the utmost safety.
Ver. 18 . And when they came down to him , etc.] The Syrian army, from the hill on which they were first seen, who came down from thence to the bottom of the hill on which the city stood; and whither Elisha came out, in order both to meet them, and proceed on his journey to Samaria: Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness ; or “blindnesses” f81 ; with great blindness, such as the men of Sodom were smitten with; the same word is here used as of them, ( Genesis 19:11) and he smote them with blindness, according to the word of Elisha ; not in such manner that they could discern no object, for then they could not have followed Elisha; but their sight was so altered, that they knew not the objects they saw; they appeared quite otherwise to them than they were; they saw the city, but knew it not to be the same, and Elisha, but knew him not to be the man of God, though they might have some in the host that knew him personally.
Ver. 19 . And Elisha said unto them, this is not the way, neither is this the city , etc.] Which is an answer to some questions of the Syrians; as, whether this was the way to find the prophet Elisha, and this the city in which he was to be found? and he answers most truly, though ambiguously, that the way they were in, and in which should they proceed, was not the way, nor this the city, in which he was to be found, because he was come out of it, and was going to Samaria: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek ; as he did: but he led them to Samaria: whither he was going, they being still under that sort of blindness with which they were smitten; otherwise they would have known the country better than to have been led thither.
Ver. 20 . And it came to pass, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see , etc.] So as to know where they were: and the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw, and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria ; the gates being thrown open for them, and they led into the very heart of the city; for, no doubt, Elisha sent his servant before, to acquaint the king of Israel with what he was doing; who got a sufficient number of armed men to enclose them, and fall upon them, when put into his hands, as appears by what follows.
Ver. 21 . And the king of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them , etc.] The Syrian army thus in his hands: my father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them ? he speaks with great reverence and respect to the prophet, whom at other times he neglected and despised; and the repetition of his words shows the eagerness of his mind to fall upon his enemy when they where at a disadvantage.
Ver. 22 . And he answered, thou shalt not smite them , etc.] For they were not his, but the prophet’s captives, or rather the Lord’s: wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow ? when soldiers are made prisoners of war, it is contrary to humanity, to the laws of nature and nations, to kill them in cold blood, and much more those who were taken not by his sword and bow, but by the power and providence of God: set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master ; the king of Syria, and report the miracles wrought, and the good usage they met with, when in the hand of an enemy, fed and let go; which would be more to the glory of the God of Israel, and more agreeable to the character of a king of Israel, reckoned merciful, and more serviceable to the civil good of the land of Israel, as well as more to the honour of the prophet and true religion, (see Romans 12:20,21).
Ver. 23 . And he prepared great provision for them , etc.] Or a great feast, as the Targum; so obedient was he to the prophet’s orders: and when they had eaten and drank ; and refreshed themselves, which they needed, having marched all night and that morning from place to place: he sent them away ; that is, the king of Israel dismissed them: and they went to their master ; the king of Syria, but without the prophet Elisha they were sent to fetch: so the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel ; not as yet, or for some time; or rather the sense is, that the Syrians came not any more in small bodies, as troops of robbers making excursions, and carrying off booty in a private manner, and by surprise; but afterwards came with a large army in an open hostile manner, as follows.
Ver. 24 . And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host , etc.] Still retaining a grudge and enmity against Israel, and not at all softened by the kind and humane treatment his forces had met with, when in the hands of Israel; and finding he could do nothing in a secret way, by ambush, mustered all his forces together, to try what he could by open war: and went up, and besieged Samaria ; Jehoram king of Israel not being able to stop him till he came to his capital, which he laid close siege to.
Ver. 25 . And there was a great famine in Samaria , etc.] No care, perhaps, having been taken to lay up stores against a siege: and, behold, they besieged it until an ass’s head was [sold] for fourscore [pieces] of silver ; shekels, as the Targum explains the word in the next clause, which amounted to about nine or ten pounds of our money; a great price for the head of such a creature, by law unclean, its flesh disagreeable, and of that but very little, as is on an head: and the fourth part of a cab of doves’ dung for five pieces of silver ; some of the Jewish writers say f82 , this was bought for fuel, which was scarce:
Josephus says f83 , for salt, and so Procopious Gazaeus, and Theodoret; others, for dunging the lands, which is the use of it in Persia for melons; neither of which are probable; most certainly it was for food; but as doves’ dung must be not only disagreeable, but scarce affording any nourishment, something else must be meant; some have thought that the grains found in their crops, or in their excrements, undigested, and picked out, are meant; and others, their crops or craws themselves, or entrails; but Bochart is of opinion, that a sort of pulse is meant, as lentiles or vetches, much the same with the kali or parched corn used in Israel, (see 1 Samuel 17:17 Samuel 17:28) and a recent traveller observes, that the leblebby of the Arabs is very probably the kali, or parched pulse, of the Scriptures, and has been taken for the pigeons’ dung mentioned at the siege of Samaria; and indeed as the “cicer” (a sort of peas or pulse) is pointed at one end, and acquires an ash colour by parching, the first of which circumstances answers to the figure, the other to the usual colour of pigeons’ dung, the supposition is by no means to be disregarded: a “cab” was a measure with the Jews, which held the quantity of twenty four egg shells; according to Godwin f87 , it answered to our quart, so that a fourth part was half a pint; and half a pint of these lentiles, or vetches, or parched pulse, was sold for eleven or twelve shillings.
Ver. 26 . And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall , etc. To spy out the motion and situation of the enemy, and to give orders for the annoyance of them, and to see that his soldiers did their duty: there cried a woman to him, saying, help, my lord, O king ; desired his assistance and help in a cause depending between her and another woman.
Ver. 27 . And he said, if the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee ? etc.] Mistaking her meaning, as if she prayed him to relieve her hunger; the margin of our Bible is, “let not the Lord save thee”; and so some understand it as a wish that she might perish; and so Josephus f88 , that being wroth, he cursed her in the name of God: out of the barn floor, or out of the winepress ? when neither of them afforded anything; no corn was to be had from the one, nor wine from the other, no, not for his own use, and therefore how could he help her out of either?
Ver. 28 . And the king said unto her, what aileth thee ? etc.] His passion subsiding, or pitying her as in distress, and supposing that there might be something particular and pressing in her case: and she answered , this woman said unto me ; who was now with her, and to whom she pointed: give thy son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow ; and this was agreed to between them, that first one should be eaten, and then the other, and that they should feed upon one as long as it would last, and then on the other; for it is not to be limited precisely to a day and tomorrow.
Ver. 29 . So we boiled my son, and did eat him , etc.] Thus what was predicted, by way of threatening, began to be accomplished, ( Deuteronomy 28:53), and of which there were other instances of a like kind at the siege of Jerusalem, both by Nebuchadnezzar and Vespasian: and I said unto her on the next day ; after her child had been wholly ate up: give thy son, that we may eat him ; according to agreement: and she hath hid her son ; either to save him alive, or to eat him herself alone.
Ver. 30 . And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes , etc.] At the horror of the fact reported, and through grief that his people were brought into such distress through famine: and he passed by upon the wall ; returning to his palace: and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth upon his flesh ; which, in token of humiliation for averting the calamities he was under, he had put there before, and now was seen through the rending of his clothes.
Ver. 31 . Then he said, God do so and more also to me , etc.] He swore and made dreadful imprecations: if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day ; imputing the sore famine to him, because he had foretold it, and did not pray for the removal of it, as he might; and perhaps had advised and encouraged the king to hold out the siege, which had brought them to this extremity, and therefore was enraged at him.
Ver. 32 . And Elisha sat in his house , etc.] In Samaria: and the elders sat with him ; not the elders of the city, or the magistrates thereof, but his disciples, as Josephus says f89 , the eldest of them, whom he admitted to greater familiarity and converse with him: and the king sent a man from before him ; to execute what he had sworn should be done that day to the prophet: but ere the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, see ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head ? which he knew by a spirit of prophecy, and spoke of it before the executioner came; he calls Joram the son of a murderer, because of his mother Jezebel, who killed Naboth, and the prophets of the Lord, and to which his father Ahab also consented, and therefore might be so called too; and he intimates hereby that he was of the same temper and disposition, and as the above oath, and his orders, showed: look when the messenger cometh, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door ; and not suffer him to come in: is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him ? that is, of Joram king of Israel, who followed the messenger, either to listen and hear what the prophet would say unto him; or repenting of his order, as Josephus f90 thinks, he followed him to prevent the execution.
Ver. 33 . And while he yet talked with them , etc.] Elisha with the elders: behold, the messenger came down unto him ; sent by the king: and he said ; either the messenger in the king’s name, or rather the king, who was at his heels, and came to the door before the messenger was let in, who was detained; and therefore it is most probable the king went in first; for that was the intention of Elisha in holding the messenger, not to save his own life, but that the king, who was following, might hear what he had to say; and whom he advised to wait for the Lord, and his appearance, for deliverance: in answer to which he said, behold, this evil is of the Lord, what should I wait for the Lord any longer ? this calamity is from him, and he is determined upon the ruin of my people, and there is no hope; this he said as despairing, and so resolving to hold out the siege no longer.