Sermon preached on 2 Kings 6:24-7:2 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 06/07/2020 in Petaluma, CA.
Great trouble was upon Israel. The King of Israel in verse 33 declares that they were experiencing trouble from the LORD. While he seems to have said that as a complaint and accusation, I can’t argue with the truth. They were indeed in trouble. The army of Syria once again was afflicting Israel. This time they had besieged Samaria, Israel’s capital city. Verse 25 references a famine going on. From what we learn in chapter 8, likely that this food shortage in Samaria was not only due to the siege, but also that there was a seven-year famine in general going on in that area. Likely Syria was taking advantage of that famine as a time to strike the Israelite capital. This famine had become so severe that an unclean horse head would have cost a large amount of money – 80 shekels of silver – something most people surely couldn’t have afforded. Likewise, even a small measure of dove dung – hopefully to be used for fuel – had seen its prices massively inflated. (I don’t even want to know the price of toilet paper.) This was a perfect storm for Israel and much trouble.
And indeed, surely, this trouble was from the LORD. Wayward Israel in many ways had continued in their sinful practices and had not turned back to the LORD in the way that they should. So then, the LORD has brought such calamity to fall upon them. We are confronted then with Israel who has come to desperate times. Will their LORD save them? Will they look to the LORD to save them? Will they turn back to him and hope in him to save them? Will they seek salvation and wait for such salvation in the LORD? Well, it does seem in this passage that there has been at least some effort in that regard, though it only comes across in a mild way and a seemingly insufficient way. Yet, let us look at what we find.
Let us begin then by looking first at the helplessness of Israel’s king in this passage. This was surely King Jehoram, son of Ahab, by the way. His helplessness demonstrates much of the trouble that Israel was in at that time. We can begin to note the helplessness of Israel’s King in terms of the military aspect. Jehoram here is no David. He is no king mighty in battle who is able to save and deliver his city from the hand of the enemy. They are surrounded and it appears Jehoram does not have a sufficient strength of forces to combat the Syrian army.
But more than that, we see the helplessness of the king in terms of this terrible scene starting in verse 26 with the dispute of the two mothers. Here, the king is out passing along the wall, surely inspecting the state of things, and this one mother cries out to him. He hears her plea. There is this dispute between two mothers – one dead baby and one remaining alive baby. They’ve already eaten one baby. One wants to divide the alive baby between them as they had evidently agreed, the other wants to keep their baby alive. The one mother appeals to the king in his role as chief judge in the land. She cries out to him to give her justice. Does that sound at all familiar to you? It should remind you of that glorious story of Solomon deciding the case between the two mothers who one lost their baby and tried to take the other woman’s baby. Solomon, using his God-given wisdom settled the dispute by exposing who was the real mother. There are certainly some similarities between the two legal cases. But of course, the case in today’s passage is but a sad parody at best. For even the wisdom of Solomon would have surely had trouble deciding such a case. Indeed, the king here does not issue a verdict in the matter, at least not in terms of judging between the mothers.
Recognize how horrible of a situation this is. I’m reminded first of that proverb in Proverbs 30:8 that speaks of the plight of the poor who find themselves having to steal in order to feed themselves. The stealing is still wrong in such an instance, but you can certainly have some pity for the poor person who was in such dire straights that he felt no choice but to resort to such. Likewise here, both mothers had sinned greatly in eating even one of their children, let alone in reneging on a promise to give your own child to be eaten. We can appreciate this murder and cannibalism of a baby was a sin of great desperation. That doesn’t excuse it. But we certainly can have some pity for a woman so desperate that she kills her baby to survive during a siege. I wonder how many women who abort babies today do so out of some feeling of great desperation of their situation. That doesn’t make the abortion right, but it should have us pity them and want to try to help them see a better alternative. Of course, it is all the more deplorable when we see a mother abort their baby today not out of desperation but out of mere convenience – but that’s a sermon for another day.
Well, these two mothers obviously felt helpless. The king is helpless for their situation. And the challenge behind it all is that this trouble was of the LORD. I mean that in this sense. God warned through Moses back in Deuteronomy 28:53 and Leviticus 26:29 that this day would come if Israel turned away from God and away from the terms of the covenant. Deut. 28:53, “And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the LORD your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.” It goes on to say that when that happens they won’t share that meal with anyone, not even those they love most. I hope that is repulsive to you. Sin is repulsive. Sin is repulsive to an all-holy God. It’s especially repugnant when the sin comes in the form of betrayal to the God who had so time and again redeemed them from slavery and death and planted them in a place of blessing. You know, this passage will go on to see King Jehoram complaining about having to wait so long for God to save them. The reality is that it was God who had been waiting so long for Israel to live in a manner worthy of the many redemptions he already gave them. Later God would say through the prophet Isaiah, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people… to a people who continually provoke me to my face” (65:2a,3a).
Indeed this was the terrible judgment of God upon them. This threatened covenant curse had fallen upon them. This left King Jehoram ultimately helpless by his own strength. As he told the one mother in verse 27, “If the LORD will not help you, how shall I help you?” This seems like more complaint and accusation by the king. But it is again very true. Jehoram himself cannot save his troubled people, if the LORD won’t save them.
Yet, therein lies the hope in this passage. Let’s turn now to consider in our second point how the king seeks out Elisha. You see, there was yet hope for Israel in the LORD, if the LORD would take pity and show compassion on his people. We are connected here with that hope in a rather unexpected way. In verse 31, the king takes a rash vow to put Elisha to death by the end of the day. That’s his response to the one mother when she makes her case. Verse 31, “And he said, ‘May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.’” Do those words sound familiar? His mother said something very similar back in 1 Kings 19:2 about Elisha’s spiritual father of Elijah. Remember, that is when Queen Jezebel vowed in the name of her pagan gods to kill Elisha by the next day. That served to warn and give Elijah to leave town, which he did. King Jehoram’s religious life had been markedly better than his parents Ahab and Jezebel, according to 2 Kings 3:2. He had put away his father’s pillar of Baal. Though his reform did not go far enough, because sadly he continued the great evil of the golden calf idolatry that Jeroboam had instituted. Yet, here, his vow to kill Elisha looks like something his mother would do – who was still alive, by the way. Nonetheless, it’s his involving Elisha that is actually a step in the right direction. Because it begins him on a course to find help where only help can be found. It’s in our helplessness that we are brought to wait and hope on the LORD.
Realize what is going on here with King Jehoram’s vow to put Elisha to death. Essentially, he is putting the blame on Elisha as the prophet of the LORD. In a sort of sinful frustration, he basically is holding Elisha accountable for essentially what he believes is ultimately trouble from the LORD. We see the King specifically state in verse 33 that he believes the trouble is from the LORD. So, in this fit of anger, he wants to hold God accountable through Elisha. It may be more of some of that pagan kind of thinking that somehow thinks the prophet can control God, and that since God is afflicting them, it must be Elisha’s fault for not doing anything to fix things with God. Of course, that’s not how it works with the LORD and his true prophets. But sometimes people can foolishly think it works that way. This is likely behind the king’s vow. This vow to kill Elisha is probably more along the lines of an ultimatum from the king’s perspective. What the king is probably meaning to communicate to Elisha is that you have until the end of the day to get the LORD to save us, or else we are putting you to death.
To be clear, that sort of thinking by Jehoram is wrong and it is sinful. Elisha calls the king out on this. We find here in verse 32 that Elisha is not unaware of Jehoram’s murderous rage. We see that he is at his home with the elders of the city and he prophesies of Jehoram’s murderous intentions. We then find a dialogue between Elisha and the king through the king’s messenger. Note, the king’s concern. Why should I wait for the LORD any longer? Again, more complaint and accusation on the part of the king. And yet in mercy upon mercy, God through Elisha promises salvation. To be fair, Elisha doesn’t go into a lot of detail. We see the prophecy in verse 1. He prophesies that by tomorrow there will actually be flour and grain available, and that it will be at much more reasonable costs that the current prices for things. That means the food shortage will be greatly improved come tomorrow. Also, by the reference that these things would be sold at the gate of Samaria, that implies that the siege will be lifted. You won’t be buying and selling at the gate if the Syrians are still besieging the city!
What great grace and mercy of God toward the king and toward Israel here. Let me help explain this further by turning now to our third point and consider here this idea of waiting on the LORD. You see, that was what the king had claimed to be doing. He claimed that he waited on the LORD for the LORD to save them. But his words to Elisha shows that he was about to give up on his waiting. He had been waiting for the LORD, but when he saw the desperate situation with the two mothers, he got upset and his patience was pushed to the limit. That’s when he in anger announced his vow to basically give God one more day or off with Elisha’s head.
This is God’s grace and mercy toward Jehoram here that God didn’t just strike Jehoram down for such an attitude. I recall when Jehoram’s brother King Ahaziah back in chapter 1 sought to seize Elijah, he kept calling down fire from heaven upon those soldiers. God through Elisha demonstrates much patience and mercy toward Jehoram who had started to falter in his waiting on the LORD.
You see, I want to clarify that despite all Jehoram’s sins, I do think we should see in this passage some actual effort on his part to wait on the LORD. Of course, that is what he claims to have been doing in verse 33. We could imagine that was just more lip service on his part. It might be easy to judge a book by its cover and assume that Jehoram surely hadn’t actually been waiting on the LORD. All his statements in this passage seem to suggest a man frustrated with the LORD. In fact, earlier quotes from Jehoram in previous passages also show a man quick to credit trouble to God. We might say to ourselves, surely Jehoram hasn’t actually been waiting on the LORD in any sort of sense. Well, he may not have been waiting properly on the LORD. He may not have been waiting on the LORD with the patience or even the degree of specific repentance that such waiting should include. But I can’t think we can dismiss his claim of actually waiting on the LORD entirely. And the reason I say that is the little clue we find in verse 30. If you blinked, you might have missed it. But we discover there that the king had been secretly wearing sackcloth. The language of verse 30 says that he had been wearing the sackcloth underneath his robes so that it was directly on his skin. Whether it was his tearing of his robes when he heard the mother’s dilemma, or the fact that his undergarments could be seen from a certain angle by people because he was walking along the wall, it was discovered that the king was wearing sackcloth. Wearing sackcloth is something you would do when you are approaching God in humility and crying out to him to save you from your troubles. I think this little discovery of the king wearing sackcloth gives us a clue that there was some act of contrition on the king’s part. I think it tells us that when he told Elisha that he had been waiting on the LORD that he wasn’t just blowing smoke.
I think little things like this is important to note because if we just write off people like King Jehoram as just some evil wicked king, we might be tempted to miss how we might actually relate to him. Yes, the Bible summarizes his reign as an evil king, but that’s just the summary. The details are about someone who is a lot more complicated than that. The details are of someone who is probably more like us at times than we want to admit. You see, if he is just some over the top wicked king, we might say to ourselves, “Well, I’m nothing like someone like that.” But when we instead see all his grey areas, and some signs of his wrestling with true religion, and yet he is still summarized as an evil king, then things can hit a lot closer to home. How does his efforts at waiting, his struggled efforts at waiting, convict us about some of our failures to wait on the LORD? What might we learn from someone like Jehoram about how we need to wait on the LORD?
I love how God’s response to Jehoram through Elisha is not just grace and mercy for Israel. It’s grace and mercy for Jehoram. Look at how God ministers to Jehoram in his waiting. How does God address Jehoram here? Jehoram who basically said to Elisha, I’m done waiting for God – you have until the end of today to save us. God’s answer is, okay, I will save you tomorrow. That’s the time Elisha promises in the prophecy in verse 1. Tomorrow. You will need to wait for the LORD yet a little longer. The ball is back in Jehoram’s court then. Will he execute Elisha then that night? Or will he yet wait a little longer for the LORD. What an amazing God we have. God here confronts the struggled waiting of Jehoram to yet teach him a little more about waiting for the LORD.
And so today, I hope that we can learn a little more about waiting for the LORD and his salvation. The language for waiting on the LORD appears a lot in the Bible, especially in the Psalms. Sometimes this word for “waiting” also gets translated as “hoping”. It’s a closely related concept. To wait on the LORD is to put your hope in the LORD. It’s to hope in him to save you because you know you need him to save you. This idea of “hoping” is helpful because often when people hear “waiting” on the LORD they think in terms of inaction. They mistakenly think it’s just about doing nothing and having a lot of wishful thinking that maybe things will change for the better. But that’s not what waiting on the LORD is about. It is not necessarily about inaction at all. Waiting as hoping in the LORD’s salvation might involve a lot of action – a lot of prayer and humbling yourself before the LORD at a minimum. It might even involve a lot of actions that in faith are working toward the very thing you are waiting for. But to wait for the LORD is to hope in his promises and seek them out, according to his good timing and plan.
And so, in today’s passage we see some wonderful lessons today about waiting and hoping on the LORD and his salvation. In our waiting for the LORD, we can be tempted to grumble against God or even accuse him of evil. The fact that various psalms can express a sort of sanctified complaint, reminds us it is okay to bring the deep concerns of our heart to him. But there is a righteous way that brings that in humility and in pleading for help, versus just murmuring against the LORD. The sackcloth reference reminds us indeed that waiting on the LORD very well may involve a lot of humbling ourselves before him, lamenting our sins, seeking to confess and repent and turn from our sin, maybe even fasting. It’s hard to claim you are really waiting and hoping on the LORD if you are supposedly “waiting” in blatant unrepentant sin and walking in the opposite direction of the LORD.
And we see here that waiting on the LORD typically involves a lot of patience. We tend to want things on our time and according to our plan. But that’s not how waiting on the LORD works. Waiting on the LORD is to acknowledge that God is God and we are his creatures and we are dependent on him to save us. So, waiting on the LORD is to abandon our preconceived notions of how we think he should work to save us. And it instead is a humble submission to his good plan for our lives. Thankfully, as God’s beloved people, we can hope in the goodness of God’s plan for us.
As Christians in the new covenant, we should especially have a very positive perspective on waiting for the LORD. Think about it. The age-old promise down through many generations was the promise of God to send a Messiah to save a special people unto God for all eternity. God’s people had to wait and wait and wait for that promise. But they don’t have to wait any longer. We live in a day when that great promise of a Savior has already come to pass in Jesus Christ. In Christ Jesus, we have been saved from our sins, saved from Satan, saved from the raging world of the wicked, and save from death and eternal damnation. That is what we hope for, and with the first coming of Christ, that hope was realized.
Yes, however, we do recognize that there is yet more to wait and hope upon. Our Lord and Savior has promised to one day return. We don’t know when. It probably seems to many of us like it’s been too long. We see troubles all around us and we might be tempted to be impatient or even to give up waiting. But this passage reminds us that while we wait today, the tomorrow of our hope will ultimately come. Jesus is coming again. Let us by the grace of God wait patiently for that great day of salvation. May today’s passage aid us in our waiting.
In more mundane matters, we Christians have moments to wait on the LORD throughout our lives. Lately, we’ve been doing an awful lot of waiting for the ability to yet assemble together as God’s people. Surely, one way or another, we will be able to resume assembly together. If the gates of hades cannot even prevail against the assembly of God’s people, surely no coronavirus or even an abundance-of-caution shelter-in-place order will. Likewise, we know problems like murder, racism, and violence will be here in one form or another until glory arrives – even while we work to combat those things in our day. Yet we have to wait on the Lord for his help on those issues – now and unto their full resolution in glory. But we seek to honor the LORD in how we wait. Let us be people of good conscience in how our we go about our waiting.
Well, as I conclude our message for today, you might be wondering what happens to Israel in our passage? Did God truly deliver them from Syria like Elisha’s prophecy here suggests? Are we going to read it now and find out? No, you will have to wait until next week to find out! Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.