THE KING of Israel learned that the Syrians had left their camps around besieged Samaria. (II Kings 7:1-11.) He believed that it was a ruse to get the Israelites outside the city so that the enemy, hiding all around, could attack and get through the gates. "But suppose the Syrians aren't hiding?" one officer remarked. "Suppose they have gone home. Are we then to continue staying here day after day?" "We'll send scouts out to look for them," another suggested. "Let us take five of the best horses that are left and scour the country around the city. If we don't return within a short time, you will know that the enemy is close by."
Famine Today — Feast Tomorrow
Jehoram nodded in approval. But only two good horses could be found. The others had been eaten or were too weak from lack of food. The main gates of Samaria were opened to allow two riders to speed off on their mounts to search the low points of the terrain around the city and the Syrian camp for concealed enemy troops. None were found. The riders turned to the east. Right away they found clothing, weapons and other items scattered over the ground. This was certain evidence that the Syrians had fled toward their home country. The two Israelites followed the trail of dropped articles as far as the Jordan. They were satisfied that their enemies had departed from Israel, though it was a mystery why they had done so in such haste. (II Kings 7:12-15.) It was early afternoon when the riders reported to Jehoram, who was greatly elated with their news. Not before then did he allow anyone to go out to the Syrian camps. The people had been eagerly staring at the tents, horses, donkeys and cattle all morning. They were anxious to get to the cattle, and they wanted to see if the tents contained food. So that there would be order at the main gates, Jehoram assigned one of his officers to take charge there. It happened to be the one who had spoken disrespectfully to Elisha just the day before, and who had been told by the prophet that he wouldn't share in the food that would come to the people of Samaria. The officer took his place at the gates and gave the order to open them. As soon as they swung inward, out rushed the mob of starving people, wildly intent on getting to what the Syrians had left behind. The officer shouted at them to restrain themselves, but no one paid any attention to him. He was knocked down by the running crowd. Hundreds of feet trampled his body into lifelessness within a very few minutes, carrying out Elisha's prophecy that the officer wouldn't share in the food God would supply. (II Kings 7:1-2; 16-17.) The Israelites swarmed into the Syrian tents, snatching up everything. Within a short time all the enemy's possessions, including animals, were taken inside Samaria. There was great celebrating in the city. People traded Syrian articles. Those who hadn't raided the Syrian camps were able to buy food at reasonable prices from those who had gone after it. Elisha's prediction had come true that plenty of food would come to Samaria within a day. (II Kings 7:18-20.) For a while the people of Samaria were possibly better off regarding edibles than were many people of Israel. Crops hadn't been plentiful for a long time. The Israelites hadn't had enough to eat, and the situation continued for seven years before plenty of rain and full crops came again to the land. Elisha knew how long the famine would last. He had suggested to some of his followers that they go to some other nearby country to live until the famine was at an end. Among them was the woman of Shunem whose young son had died of sunstroke, and to whom God, through the prophet, had restored life. Leaving their home and property rented out, the woman and her family went to Philistia to live. In those years the Philistines weren't troubling Israel with their army. The two nations were never completely at peace, but people of both countries often crossed the indefinite borders without unfriendly incidents. (II Kings 8:1-3.)
Miracles Fascinate the King
Years later, when they heard that food was again plentiful in Israel, the woman and her family returned to their home. To their dismay, the renters treated them as strangers. "What are you doing back in Israel?" they coldly asked. "We thought you had gone to become loyal subjects of the king of Philistia." "We had an understanding that we would return as soon as crops became better," the woman reminded them. "You agreed that you would then move out." "It's been so long ago that we don't remember making any such foolish agreement," the renters answered. "We feel that we have a right to this property. If you want to try to get what is ours, take the matter to the king. For now, you had better start looking for a place to live — unless you want to return to your Philistine friends." The woman and her son took the matter to the king. It happened that at that time Jehoram had become especially curious about Elisha's past. He had summoned to his palace Elisha's former servant, Gehazi. Because the fellow had become a leper, conversation between the two took place outside, and at a respectable distance. "Which one of Elisha's miracles do you consider greatest?" was one of Jehoram's many questions. "I can't say which was truly the greatest," Gehazi replied, "but the one that impressed me most was his bringing life back to a boy who had died of sunstroke, and who had been dead for several hours." At that moment an aide approached the king to point out a woman who was anxious to consult Jehoram. "That's the woman whose son Elisha saved!" Gehazi excitedly exclaimed. "The young man with her is the son Elisha restored to life!" After Jehoram had heard their complaint, he immediately decided to help them. Possibly he would have decided otherwise if they hadn't had an association with Elisha, whose life fascinated him. He sent police to remove their renters from their property. The evicted people were even required to turn over to the rightful owners all the rent owed for the produce that had been harvested since their leaving for Philistia. (II Kings 8:4-6.) Meanwhile, the hasty and empty-handed return of his army from Samaria greatly bothered Ben-hadad, the king of Syria. He had a strong feeling that events had some connection with Elisha and the God of Israel. He fell severely ill about that time, and felt that he might die. Then one day he was told that Elisha had come to Damascus, the capital of Syria. Ben-hadad became excited at this report. His first thought was that the prophet could foretell what would happen to him. He hoped that Elisha might even ask the God of Israel to heal him. He sent forty camels to carry costly jewels, rare food and fine clothing to the prophet. Each of them carried something special so that there would be a great display for Elisha. "After you give him the gifts, find out from Elisha if and when I shall recover from this sickness," Ben-hadad instructed Hazael, the man next in rank under the king in the government of Syria.
Betrayed by One's Closest Friend
Elisha was impressed and grateful when the camels were paraded before him to display the presents. Most probably the prophet didn't accept them. Taking them back to Israel would have been impossible unless some of the camels could be sent with him. "As you probably know, the king is quite ill," Hazael told Elisha. "He would like to know from you if he will die of this sickness." "You can tell him that I know through my God that his illness won't cause his death," Elisha answered. "But something else will soon cause him to die." (II Kings 8:7-10.) Hazael was puzzled by this statement. He was also puzzled by the prophet's sudden strange behavior. Elisha turned from Hazael to hide his face. It was evident that he was trying to hide tears that had come into his eyes. "What is the reason for your sorrow?" Hazael asked. "I am thinking of the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel," Elisha replied. "Forts will be burned, young men will be slaughtered, children will be thrown to their deaths and pregnant women will be ripped open with swords. Syrian soldiers will do these things by your orders!" "My orders?" Hazael queried in surprise. "I don't understand. How can a man of so little consequence do such great things?" "When the time comes, you will demand that Syrian soldiers perform such cruel acts," the prophet continued. "Within a few days you will become king of Syria, and you will exert the power of a merciless ruler on Israel." (II Kings 8:11-13.) Hazael was stunned at this prediction. He was not as concerned with what he might do as king as he was at the sudden news that he would be Syria's next ruler. Now that the probability of it was brought to him, his desire for such a high position was abruptly consuming. Struggling to contain his elation, he showered Elisha with questions. But the prophet would say no more. When Hazael returned to Ben-hadad, the king was anxious to learn at once what the prophet had said about his future. "He said you would not die from the illness you have," Hazael told his superior. He mentioned nothing about the king dying soon because of something else. The answer gave Ben-hadad great satisfaction. That night, instead of going through sleepless hours of concern for his life, he relaxed and fell into deep slumber. It was his last night of sleep. Before dawn Hazael managed to slip into his bedroom and forcefully cover his face with a heavy, wet cloth to suffocate him. The king soon woke up, but he couldn't shout for help and he didn't have the strength to fight off the treacherous Hazael, who was determined to become ruler of Syria as soon as possible. His new, consuming ambition was shortly realized. As soon as Ben-hadad was buried, Hazael became king, fulfilling the first part of Elisha's prediction. The other dreadful parts were to take place before long. (II Kings 8:14-15.)
Judah Follows Israel
About this time, down in the House of Judah, a son of Jehoshaphat became king. His name was Jehoram, the same as that of the king of the House of Israel. His wife Athaliah was the sister of King Jehoram of Israel and the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, worshippers of Baal. Athaliah strongly influenced her husband toward idol worship in Judah, insomuch that the people were encouraged in the same evil pursuit. If God hadn't promised David that there would always be someone on the throne of Judah from David's family line, the Creator probably would have destroyed Judah at this time. (II Kings 8:16-19; II Chronicles 21:5-7.) Jehoshaphat, Jehoram's father, died four years after granting co-rulership to Jehoram. Jehoshaphat had seven sons, six of whom he made governors before he died over as many cities of Judah. Four years after his eldest son became king, the new ruler ruthlessly sent men to do away with all six of his brothers, as well as a few other prominent men in Judah. (II Chronicles 21:1-4.) Old Jehoshaphat, now dead, never knew what happened to his six other sons. Besides being a depraved and dangerous man, Jehoram was suspicious of others who had authority. He didn't want to be opposed, and he reasoned that those who might threaten him should be put out of existence. During Jehoram's reign, the Edomites, who had been paying tribute to Judah ever since Solomon's time, refused to make any more payments. To Jehoram, this was cause for war. He took many foot soldiers, chariots and cavalry to Edom, the rugged country south of the Dead Sea. The Edomites mustered their scattered forces to defend themselves, but without success. The army of Judah returned triumphantly to Jerusalem, but the victory proved to be a hollow one because the Edomites still refused to send tribute to Judah. This infuriated Jehoram. He wanted to return to Edom and wipe out the inhabitants, but the thought of another miserable march into the rough, arid mountains there kept him at home. To make matters worse, another nation ceased sending tribute to Judah. It was Libnah, a small city-state close to Edom. No more tribute was ever forthcoming from these two nations. Jehoram never did anything more about the matter except to continue threatening the governments of Edom and Libnah. (II Kings 8:20-22; II Chronicles 21:8-10.)
Elijah Warns the King
One day a messenger came to the palace to deliver a letter to the king, who perused it with a combination of anger and fear. Here is what he read: "To the king of Judah from Elijah, the prophet of God: "You have chosen to live like the pagan-loving kings of the House of Israel instead of like the God-fearing kings of the House of Judah. You have caused your people to live in the same manner. "Because of this, and because you murdered your brothers, who had greater character and ability than yours, terrible trouble and sickness will come on your people. Misery will overtake your wives and children. Your property and possessions will be taken from you. You will become increasingly ill in your intestines. Day after day you will suffer until the insides of your body become so diseased that they will fall out. That is the day you will die, and it is not far off. "God has told me to inform you of what will happen. Because I am old and unable to come and tell you in person, a capable messenger will bring you this letter." (II Chronicles 21:11-15.) Jehoram was infuriated. "Bring to me the man who came to the palace with this paper!" the white-faced king shouted. Men scurried to obey, but the messenger couldn't be found. Jehoram felt frustrated. From then on he lived in fear of what would happen. He tried to dismiss from his mind the thought that Elijah, who had been miraculously taken up in a whirlwind several years previously (II Kings 2:1-18), was still alive and knew of his wickedness. Regardless of his fears, he made no change in his disreputable way of living.
His predicted troubles started one day when he received a report from an excited scout that a Philistine army was approaching from the west. While Jehoram tried to decide whether to confront the Philistines or stay within the protection of Jerusalem's walls, another scout arrived to disclose that hordes of mounted Arabians were sweeping toward Jerusalem from the south, and had already plundered several towns in the southern territory of Judah. Now the king couldn't decide whether to send his army south to oppose the Arabians, order it west to battle back the Philistines, split it and go after both intruding armies, or keep it in Jerusalem and risk a siege. There was more sensible strategy, but Jehoram didn't have the will to plan. He was overcome with the gloomy belief that this was the beginning of the end, and that any military action would be futile. Jehoram turned matters over to his officers, but by then the Arabians and Philistines had arrived at Jerusalem at the same time. In some manner which God had made possible, they managed to get the gates open and pour inside. The defenders were thrown into confusion and fell in heaps before the fierce invaders. (II Chronicles 21:16-17.) Terrified, Jehoram fled with his family to his palace. On the way they were overtaken by Arabians on horses. As he ran, the king glanced back to see his screaming wives and children snatched up by powerful riders.