The Strange Feast: Chapter 18

2 Kings 6:15‑33  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 5
On a tombstone, in the York Cemetery, are these beautiful words:
We cannot see His will, but we can rest;
That which God does must always be the best.
When we can say from the bottom of our heart that God’s way is best, there comes peace - peace which passes understanding. But, too often, when trouble comes, we are like that young servant to Elisha - we cry out in terror and dismay, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” - or like poor old Jacob, who in his heart-breaking agony cried, “All these things are against me.” Yes, I can see no way out of my trouble - no possible escape from it. I am surrounded on every side. I have no means of avoiding what, sooner or later, must come upon me. What shall I do?
What shall you do? Do nothing. Leave the doing to God. You shall not need to fight this battle. “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” Only wait patiently for Him. Look up, open your eyes, for even now the angel ring is between you and your foes.
Are you feeling like that young man, almost in despair? What is your Syrian host? Is it a crowd of temptations, so strong you do not know how to withstand them? Is it a friend, urging you to do what conscience tells you is wrong? Is it the evil passions in your own sinful heart, fighting and struggling for the mastery?
Maybe your Syrian host takes quite another form. It may be an array of difficulties or worries. Is it a host of disappointed hopes and crushing sorrows? In the dismay of your heart, you cry out, “Alas, how shall I do?” But the Lord, if you are His, has His angel host ready to step in for you. Even now, “the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”
How safe, how happy and how blest,
Like sheltered bird in parent nest,
Each soul that comes to Christ for rest!
“Alas, my master! how shall we do?” There is no need for you to do anything, young man of Elisha. Instead, open your eyes and see what God has done for you and for your master. Open your ears and listen to what God is about to do for your deliverance.
For his young servant Elisha prayed, “I pray Thee, open his eyes, that he may see.” But as the Syrian horsemen and foot soldiers came marching into Dothan, his prayer is the very opposite.
“And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray Thee, with blindness.”
For the one He asks for sight; for the others he asks for blindness. Sudden darkness falls upon the host of Syrians, and Elisha goes out to them. “You want to find Elisha,” he says. “Here you will never find him. If you want to see Elisha, follow me, and I will bring you to the man you seek.”
Bewildered and puzzled, like men in a dream, the Syrians allow him to lead them. Twelve miles southward the strange company of groping men is conducted. Where they are going they have not the faintest idea. Who is leading them they do not know.
After that long march, there comes a halt and they hear a man’s voice. The voice says, “Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.”
The Lord opened their eyes, and once more they saw. And as they looked anxiously around, what did they see? Grand streets, busy shops, stately mansions and towering above them all a magnificent palace, a gem of architecture and beauty.
Where are they? Where has the mysterious guide led them? Oh! Horror of horrors, they are in Samaria in the very capital of their foes! High walls surround them; the massive gates shut them in. There, close beside them, is King Jehoram with his armed bands of soldiers, and there is Elisha, the man whom they seek, very near them, and yet they dare not touch even a hair of his head.
They had surrounded him; now they themselves are surrounded. They had caught him in a trap; now they find themselves in a trap. As the quaint, old Scottish psalm has it: They digged a pit, they digged it deep; They digged it for their brother; But for their sin they did fall in The pit they digged for t’other.
But look at King Jehoram; he is filled with excitement. Here, he thinks, is a grand opportunity of getting rid of his foes. He will make short work of these Syrian soldiers. Not a man shall return alive to tell the tale in Damascus. Pressing eagerly forward, he cries to Elisha, “My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them?”
Very firmly Elisha answered him, “Thou shalt not smite them.” Prisoners taken in war are not massacred in cold blood. “Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.”
The king dared not disobey, and he did even more than he was told to do. Elisha said, “Set bread and water before them,” but the king set out a grand feast. He prepared great provision for them. He gave them a magnificent entertainment; all the delicacies and dainties of Samaria were spread before the soldiers.
“If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” And this was just the result in this present case, for we read, “So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel.” The guerilla warfare was at an end. Elisha might go on his preaching tours in perfect safety, and his young man would no more have to cry out in terror, for no further effort was made to take him prisoner. The storm had blown over.
An old proverb says, “Write injuries in dust, and kindnesses in marble.” See a child with a rough stick write a word in the dust by the roadside. A few hours after the writing is all gone, blown away by the wind. But look at the sculptor; watch him at his work. Quietly, steadily, he toils on, carving letters in the hard marble. Hundreds of years may go by, but his writing will remain, for it was written in marble. Let us then see to it that we write injuries in dust and kindnesses in marble.
So it was so with the Syrians, for the next verse tells of war again, and this time it was regular war. The very Samaria which had fed the Syrians is besieged by them. The Israelites set great provision before the Syrians, but the Syrians so closely shut in the city that no provisions were left to the poor inhabitants, and famine in all its most awful and terrible forms was seen in the street.
It has been truly said, “We do well to thank God for delivering us out of troubles; we do better to thank Him for keeping us out of them.” In other words, we do well to thank God for our preservation. Let us thank God today for our preservation from famine. While others are in want, God has given us enough and to spare. Most of us know nothing, through His mercy, of the awful agonies of hunger.
The famine in Samaria was fearful. They had eaten everything good for food - the corn, vegetables, sheep, even horses had all been devoured. Now they had begun to eat refuse. We are told the prices of some of the articles offered for sale in the famine-stricken city. So great was the scarcity that the head of a donkey, which was an unclean animal to the Jews and the eating of which was forbidden by the law of Moses, cost eighty pieces of silver. Not only so, but even dove’s dung was being sold. Still the siege went on.
Very gloomily and miserably the king paced the wall of Samaria. Outside was the great Syrian host, their tents reaching as far as the eye could see. From inside the wall, there rose to his ear a wail of dying women and children and the agonized, heartrending cries for bread.
Who is this gaunt figure who stops him? Holding out her thin arms, she gasps forth a piteous cry, “Help, my lord, O king.” “Help you? No, I cannot do that,” responds the king. “I would if I could, but the grain storage is empty; nothing is left. The winepress is dry. I have nothing, and therefore I can give you nothing.”
But as the cry still went on, “Help, my lord, O king,” he asked her, “What aileth thee?”
And then came the terrible tale of horror. Pointing with her lean fingers to another beside her, whose hungry eyes are as ravenous as her own, she says, “This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son.”
What an awful tragedy! What love is like a mother’s love? “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?” Yet in the madness of famine they may forget - they may even destroy the very child most dear to them.
King Jehoram sees what fearful results the famine has brought and he tears his clothing. And the people on the wall notice that king is wearing next to his skin a coarse rough shirt made of sackcloth, a sign of the deepest sorrow and mourning.
Yes, he had sackcloth on his body, but he had none on his heart. He mourned the famine, but he never mourned the sin that caused the famine, his own sin, his mother’s sin, and the sin of his nation. Why did no angel host come between Samaria and the Syrians? Because the angel of the Lord only encamps around them that fear Him. Jehoram, his mother and the rulers did not fear Him, and no protecting angel host was placed between them and their foes.
But Jehoram never sees the true reason of his difficulties. He does not say, “I and my father’s house have sinned. Therefore is this evil come upon us.” But he does what so many others have done, ever since the days of our first parents - he tries to lay the blame on someone else.
“Ah,” he says, “this is Elisha’s fault; we have only him to blame for all this misery and distress. He has the power to help us, and he refuses to do so. There was a time when he was ready to give a helping hand in our troubles. When we were in danger from the Moabites and were dying of thirst, he not only supplied our wants, but he gave us a glorious victory. Yet now he will do nothing. If he gave us water then, why can he not give us bread? He made us feed these enemies, but he will not feed us now. I will not withhold my hand. ‘God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.’  ”
There are plenty of people today who try to throw the blame on other shoulders than their own. They blame the way their parents brought them up or their companions or even God Himself as the cause of their backsliding and their sin. If they had been in other circumstances or had only had the opportunities of others, they would have been able to serve God and live a Christian life. But as they are and where they are, it is impossible to do so, and they surely cannot be blamed for it.
But in the last great day, when we all stand before the judgment seat of God, there will be no such thing as shifting the blame upon the shoulders of others or of charging it to our circumstances or surroundings. “What hast thou done?” will be the question asked of each, and we shall have to give a direct answer to the question.
How often are God’s motives questioned and His dealings judged to be unfair. Why did God send all this trouble and anxiety to King Jehoram? It was to draw him nearer to Himself. But Jehoram takes the very trouble sent by God for this purpose and allows it to drive him further from God. He is actually prepared to murder His prophet, the holy Elisha.
Let us take heed that we do not act like King Jehoram. God sends trouble into our life and our home. Why? To punish us? No. To vex us? No. To injure us? No, undoubtedly no. But for this reason, and this reason only - to draw us nearer, nearer to Himself. Let us see to it that the trouble does the work which God intends it to do.
It is sad how some treat the Lord’s dealings with them. The sorrow sent to soften them is made to harden; the loss, which He intended to draw them upward and homeward, drives them downward and into paths of danger.
God grant that when sorrow comes to us, as it must, we may let it draw us nearer to our God! Let the cry of our heart be: Nearer my God to Thee, Nearer to Thee; E’en though it be a cross That raiseth me.
Yet, all my song shall be,
Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.