2 Kings 7 – Week Ten
I am not much of a card player. I don’t understand how to play a lot of the more “sophisticated, grownup” card games. But I do enjoy playing Go Fish with my great niece. That game I understand.
Each player starts off with a handful of cards and the deck is in the center. The object is to gather all four cards that have the same number (the four aces, the four fives, etc.), and then you “play” them and remove them from your hand. The thing about Go Fish is that the cards you hold will either be ones that you need or ones that your opponent needs. If you’re in need of a “3”, you would ask your opponent, “May I have all your 3’s, please?” If your opponent has a “3” then they would give it to you. If they don’t have it, then you “go fish” by picking a card from the deck.
Between the cards you hold, the cards your opponent holds and the deck that’s in the center, everything that’s needed to play and win the game is right there. It’s just a matter of giving and taking so that the game can be played.
I remember playing the game when I was a child and not wanting to give up the cards I had in my hand; so, I would tell a fib. “Nope. I don’t have any 7’s”. Of course, it would be discovered at the end of the game that I indeed had what was asked for, I was just selfish and didn’t want to share.
Life is a lot like the game Go Fish. We all hold within our hands different things. Some of those things are meant for our own use, our own needs. Some of those things we’ve simply been entrusted with because someone else needs them. And just like Go Fish, all that we have, all that we need, and all that is good comes from one source – God.
We’re in 2 Kings chapter 7 this week and to give you a timeframe, we are about 3 years past Elijah taking his chariot ride to Heaven. Elisha has continued with his work. King Ahab has been killed in battle with the Arameans. Ahab’s son, Ahaziah is now king over Israel. But the Arameans have not let up. Their king, Ben-Hadad, gets his army prepared to attack Samaria which was the capital city of the kingdom of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) The Arameans begin their attack by besieging the city. Basically, they surround the city so that nothing goes in, and nothing comes out. This, in effect, cuts off all resources for the citizens which causes a great famine. It gets so bad that there was significant price gouging even on the most atrocious of things. Animal heads, animal feces. And they had even resorted to cannibalism. Very dire circumstances; way beyond anything I imagine any of us have experienced.
King Ahaziah is so distraught he becomes angry at what is happening to his people, and he misdirects his anger toward Elisha. The king shouts out, “May God strike me dead if Elisha is not beheaded before the day is over!” 32 And he sent a messenger to get Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:31 GNT) The king is acting irrationally. He’s frustrated, he doesn’t know what to do and so he deflects his frustration and helplessness and blames God and God’s messenger, Elisha. He intends to kill Elisha as if somehow that would fix the problem.
Elisha being a prophet of God isn’t surprised and protects himself from the king’s attack. As King Ahaziah blames God for all their trouble, and in essence, desires to punish Elisha for being the Lord’s messenger, Elisha delivers a word from the Lord; a word of encouragement.
2 Kings 7:1 TLB “Elisha replied, “The Lord says that by this time tomorrow two gallons of flour or four gallons of barley grain will be sold in the markets of Samaria for a dollar!” 2 The officer assisting the king said, “That couldn’t happen if the Lord made windows in the sky!” But Elisha replied, “You will see it happen, but you won’t be able to buy any of it!”
Elisha delivers this message of hope. He gives them good news! There will be doorbuster sales on food starting within 24 hours! God said it, I believe it and that’s that! But the king’s top official is more than doubtful; in fact, he simply doesn’t believe it. Elisha responds with an ominous promise. It will happen and the official will see it with his own eyes, but he won’t be eligible to buy a thing.
At this moment in time, there is a great need for God’s provision. People are starving and people are dying. They need intervention. They need hope. Elisha delivers that promise of God’s provision. But there’s that one (there’s always one in the crowd) that doubts God can provide. What he doesn’t know is that God WILL provide and will do so in a most unusual way.
Outside of the city gates were four lepers. These men were living in a Jewish community so, unlike Naaman that we discussed last week, they were ostracized by others. The only way that these four men could ever eat was if someone was kind enough to share or the men would have to dig through the trash to eat what someone else discarded. Obviously, during a famine, people weren’t being too generous and certainly weren’t throwing out scraps. So, while the famine inside the city gates was horrifying, it was even more so for these four men.
2 Kings 7:3 TLB “3 Now there were four lepers sitting outside the city gates. “Why sit here until we die?” they asked each other. 4 “We will starve if we stay here and we will starve if we go back into the city; so we might as well go out and surrender to the Syrian army. If they let us live, so much the better; but if they kill us, we would have died anyway.”
These four outcasts start discussing their few options. Stay there and die from starvation. Make their way into the city and die from starvation. Surrender to the enemy and they had maybe a 50/50 chance of surviving. Not a lot to choose from, right?
2 Kings 7:5 GNT “So, as it began to get dark, they went to the Syrian camp, but when they reached it, no one was there. 6 The Lord had made the Syrians hear what sounded like the advance of a large army with horses and chariots, and the Syrians thought that the king of Israel had hired Hittite and Egyptian kings and their armies to attack them. 7 So that evening the Syrians had fled for their lives, abandoning their tents, horses, and donkeys, and leaving the camp just as it was.”
We have the benefit of knowing why and how the camp was empty and deserted, but these four men didn’t know any of that. Imagine the thoughts going through their head as they pondered if this was some kind of a trap. We all know the saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” That applies to many things we encounter in this life, but it doesn’t apply to what God does for us. And it didn’t apply to these four lepers who discover treasures beyond their imagination.
2 Kings 7:8 GNT “When the four men reached the edge of the camp, they went into a tent, ate and drank what was there, grabbed the silver, gold, and clothing they found, and went off and hid them; then they returned, entered another tent, and did the same thing.”
These men who aren’t welcomed into the city gates find themselves in a deserted and well-stocked camp. They are surrounded by what they had been lacking for quite a long time. Food and drink. Gold, silver, new clothes. How long it must have been that these men had actually held a piece of silver in their hands! They enjoy this buffet that’s been made available to them, and they hide away the valuables that they’ve found. But something stops them in their tracks. These men who have been relegated to the lowest of the low, not worthy to enter the city gates, and forced to beg or pilfer for food find themselves feeling compassion for those who have neglected them.
See, prior to the famine, the city dwellers held all of the cards. As the four lepers would ask them for food, water, and other necessities, the people inside the gates would either share what they had or tell them to “go fish”. The tables have now turned and, unbeknownst to the city dwellers, these four outcasts now hold all of the cards. What to do; what to do?
2 Kings 7:9 CEV “They said to each other, “This isn’t right. Today is a day to celebrate, and we haven’t told anyone else what has happened. If we wait until morning, we will be punished. Let’s go to the king’s palace at once and tell the good news.”
The four lepers had life-saving news and they realized it was wrong to keep it to themselves. God had placed before them something that others needed, and somehow, they just knew it needed to be shared.
Romans 11:36 NLT “For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”
We have a lot. We may not always see it that way, but we do. Our basic necessities are always met. There’s always food in the refrigerator and food in the pantry. Now, it may not be what we’re craving at the time, but none of us have known true starvation. We all have a roof over our heads. It may not always be our roof, but we still have been provided some type of shelter. We have clothing and while our closet may not contain designer labels, we have what we need and probably more than just that. Besides our basic needs, God gives us more and does that not only for our use but also to bless others.
I can remember being a little girl and going to the mall. There was a huge water fountain into which people used to throw coins. It was told to me that all those coins were collected from time to time and given to a children’s charity. When we would go to the mall, I always wanted to make a contribution. Of course, I must confess that I would make a wish as I tossed the coins into the water. My wishes usually involved Donny Osmond or Scott Baio, but that’s beside the point. The thing is, my daddy would often give me a handful of coins, not for keeping, but for the purpose of giving. And there was such a thrill in tossing those coins into the fountain. Now, if my daddy knew that I was just pocketing that money and saving it for myself, he probably wouldn’t have been quite as generous. Looking back, I don’t remember ever being tempted to keep the money. In fact, I would always beg to go to the fountain first thing before going into any stores, riding the glass elevator, or even getting ice cream. Throwing coins into the fountain was the highlight of my trips to the mall. Being able to “throw” money into a fountain that would benefit some children made me happy. I was indeed a cheerful giver.
That same principle still applies to us as adults. God will hand over to us a fistful of not just tangible things such as a little extra money, groceries, or clothing, but He will also hand to us fistfuls of intangible things such as time, attention, talents, knowledge, resources, compassion, mercy, grace. These are all things that God gives to us for the purpose of sharing with others.
I can just about guarantee you that there is not one person you know that doesn’t need something. You may know someone who has more money than they know what to do with, but they still need a friend. There may be someone who seems to have it all: a great job, the perfect spouse, the overachieving, super polite children, but they need compassion or forgiveness.
It’s easy to spot those on the side of the street who are begging for food or money. But it takes a more caring and selfless attitude to see the other kinds of needs we all have. Because we don’t hold up a sign advertising our need. You won’t see your neighbor standing on the sidewalk holding up a cardboard sign that reads “Out of patience. I need prayer.” You’re not going to find a co-worker standing outside the breakroom with a sign that reads “I’m starving for friendship. I need someone to talk to.” We often find it quite difficult to even ask for help. But just like those lepers, God will often reveal to us or remind us of someone’s need. And He’s not going to do that unless He’s already equipped us to meet that need.
We hold in our hands the cards that others need. Somebody may be reluctant to ask, “May I please have some encouragement? “ “May I please have some attention of yours?” “May I please have some kind of hope?” It should be our desire and our mission to be aware of the needs of those around us whether those needs are tangible or intangible. But I’m ashamed to say that we often fail to take advantage of those opportunities and in essence, we tell them “go fish” somewhere else. We are not sacrificial people, by nature.
“When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”― Basil the Great[i]
The same is true for intangible things as well. Failing to share what we’ve been blessed with is stealing.
The lepers know that the right thing to do is to share the good news of this bounty. They make their way back to the city gates and of course, they aren’t allowed to enter. But they pass along the message that they have found all these treasures. The gatekeepers find their message valid enough to report it to the king’s household. And someone there realized that if there was any truth in it at all, it was worth waking up the king. King Ahaziah wipes the sleep from his eyes and grumbles that this news is too good to be true. It’s a trap. It has to be. But one person speaks up.
2 Kings 7:13 ERV “One of the king’s officers said, “Let some men take five of the horses that are still left in the city. The horses will soon die anyway, just as all the Israelites who are still left in the city. Let’s send these men to see what happened.” 14 So the men took two chariots with horses. The king sent these men after the Aramean army. He told them, “Go and see what happened.”15 The men went after the Aramean army as far as the Jordan River. All along the road there were clothes and weapons. The Arameans had thrown these things down when they hurried away. The messengers went back to Samaria and told the king.”
The word spreads and the Israelites run out and start gathering up these abandoned goods. And just as God had said, flour and barley became so plentiful it was now selling for a fraction of the cost.
There had been a need. There was a promise of provision. God provided in a most unusual manner with the most unexpected people who shared what blessings had been provided.
God not only provides for us, but He also provides using us. He may do that in the most unusual, most unexpected ways so we must be alert and attentive to the needs of those around us. When we fail to share what God blesses us with, we are stealing from those in need PLUS we are robbing ourselves of the joy that automatically comes from sharing.
Phillipians 2:1-9 TLB “Is there any such thing as Christians cheering each other up? Do you love me enough to want to help me? Does it mean anything to you that we are brothers in the Lord, sharing the same Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic at all? 2 Then make me truly happy by loving each other and agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, working together with one heart and mind and purpose.”
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. 4 Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.
5 Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, 6 who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, 7 but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. 8 And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross.”
Remember the officer at the beginning who said that what Elisha was saying couldn’t possibly come true? The one who doubted God? The one who Elisha prophesized would actually see it but not benefit from God’s provision?
2 Kings 7:17 TLB “The king appointed his special assistant to control the traffic at the gate, but he was knocked down and trampled and killed as the people rushed out. This is what Elisha had predicted on the previous day when the king had come to arrest him, 18 and the prophet had told the king that flour and barley would sell for so little on the following day.
19 The king’s officer had replied, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” And the prophet had said, “You will see it happen, but you won’t be able to buy any of it!” 20 And he couldn’t, for the people trampled him to death at the gate!”
That one officer who doubted God, who mocked Elisha died at the very gate that those four lepers were forced to stay outside of. How many times would that officer have walked right by those lepers and skirted to the other side so that he kept his distance? How many times did those lepers cry out to him and others and ask for just a sip of water or a crumb of bread? How many times did the four lepers ask, “May I please have something to give me life?” and how many times were they told to “go fish; get what you need from someone else”.
How many times do we go about our days failing to recognize the needs of those around us? How often are we so consumed with our own calendar, our own requirements of being comfortable, our own possessions that we simply can’t imagine sharing any bit of it with anyone? How often do we simply choose to ignore?
“There once was a farmer who grew the most excellent wheat. Every season he won the award for the best wheat in his county. A wise woman came to him to ask him about his success. He told her that the key was sharing his best seed with his neighbors so they could plant the seed as well. The wise woman asked, “How can you share your best wheat seed with your neighbors when they compete with you every year?” “That’s simple,” the farmer replied. “The wind spreads the pollen from everyone’s wheat and carries it from field to field. If my neighbors grew inferior wheat, cross-pollination would degrade everyone’s wheat, including mine. If I’m to grow the best wheat, I must help my neighbors grow the best wheat as well.” This is not only excellent advice for growing the best crops but also great advice for how to live your life. If you want to live a meaningful and happy life, help others find happiness.
Remember: The value of your life is measured by the lives you touch with love, kindness, respect, and hope.”[ii]
Take a good look at the cards God has placed in your hand. You’re going to need to ask someone for help with some of those and fortunately for you, God has placed exactly what you need in the hand of someone else. Likewise, you’re holding what someone else needs. It may be financial; it may be a material possession. It could be a listening ear, a note of reassurance, or a simple “I’m proud of you.”
Our lives were created to be all about give and take. After all, Jesus gave us abundant life and He took away our sins. Let’s try to be more like Jesus this week. Just like He does, let’s look beyond the faults and see the needs of those we encounter.