King Benhadad of Syria
24Some time later, King Benhadad of Syria called his entire army together, then they marched to Samaria and attacked. 25They kept up the attack until there was nothing to eat in the city. In fact, a donkey's head cost 80 pieces of silver, and a small bowl of pigeon droppings cost 5 pieces of silver.
26One day as the king of Israel was walking along the top of the city wall, a woman shouted to him, “Please, Your Majesty, help me!”
27“Let the Lord help you!” the king said. “Do you think I have grain or wine to give you?” 28Then he asked, “What's the matter anyway?”
The woman answered, “Another woman and I were so hungry that we agreed to eat our sons. She said if we ate my son one day, we could eat hers the next day. 29 So yesterday we cooked my son and ate him. But today when I went to her house to eat her son, she had hidden him.”
30The king tore off his clothes in sorrow, and since he was on top of the city wall, the people saw that he was wearing sackcloth underneath. 31He said, “I pray that God will punish me terribly, if Elisha's head is still on his shoulders by this time tomorrow.” 32Then he sent a messenger to Elisha.
Elisha was home at the time, and the important leaders of Israel were meeting with him. Even before the king's messenger arrived, Elisha told the leaders, “That murderer is sending someone to cut off my head. When you see him coming, shut the door and don't let him in. I'm sure the king himself will be right behind him.”
33Before Elisha finished talking, the messenger came up and said, “The Lord has made all these terrible things happen to us. Why should I think he will help us now?”
1Elisha answered, “I have a message for you. The Lord promises that tomorrow here in Samaria, you will be able to buy a large sack of flour or two large sacks of barley for almost nothing.”
2The chief officer there with the king replied, “I don't believe it! Even if the Lord sent a rainstorm, it couldn't produce that much grain by tomorrow.”
“You will see it happen, but you won't eat any of the food,” Elisha warned him.
How do leaders respond when God sometimes seems silent and achingly far away at a time when our backs are against the wall?
The scene in this passage opens late in the siege of Samaria. Unimaginably desperate, people are willing to pay a huge price for things they never dreamed were edible: a donkey’s head or pigeon droppings. They are even willing to eat their own children!
Putting up a strong front, King Joram paces the walls in robes to inspire the people. The image he projects is confidence. But it doesn’t take long for cracks to show. Faced with the cries of the people, he snaps back: “Let the Lord help you!” (6:27) As he tears his robes in anguish, he reveals more than he intended: sackcloth.
In the Old Testament, wearing sackcloth was an outward expression of inward mourning, repentance, grief or distress. Most often, sackcloth was a public statement, accompanied by loud weeping. But Joram bears his grief silently. Why?
He’s not at a point of repentance or humility. His grieving and distress has not yet led him to conclude that he bears responsibility for God’s wrath.
Exposed now, he reveals his anger at God, telling Elisha: “The Lord has made all these terrible things happen to us” (6:33). Perhaps he supposes that threatening his prophet will manipulate God to action.
What are you waiting on God for? How is God disappointing your expectations? Are others depending on you, when you have your own deep questions for God?
Joram’s predecessor David also faced God’s silence and long, dark nights near death. In Psalm 30, he tells the Lord, “when you hid your face, I was crushed” (v 7). Rather than responding with anger, he shows faith, humility and dependence. His tears eventually turn to celebration:
“You have turned my sorrow
into joyful dancing.
No longer am I sad
and wearing sackcloth. (v 11)
Saving God, your anger lasts a little while, but your kindness lasts for a lifetime. Like David, I’m desperate for you. Give me faith, help me in my weakness and turn my sorrow into dancing. Let me never stop singing your praises. Through Jesus Christ, my Peace. Amen.