Sermon preached on 2 Kings 7:3-20 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 06/14/2020 in Petaluma, CA.
I remind you of the setting for our passage. Last week we saw that Syria had besieged Samaria, the capital city of Israel. Due to famine, the city had pretty much run out of food. Things looked bleak. We saw those two mothers agreeing to eat their babies together. We saw King Jehoram’s anger and his struggle in properly waiting on the LORD. Last week’s passage ended with Elisha prophesying God’s salvation but that they would all have to wait a little longer – until the next day. We ended ourselves last week waiting to read the culmination of the story. We have now finished it up and see the wonderful salvation that God yet again gave his people. And as we look at this passage we see struggles of faith and the unexpected way God brings and even announces his salvation.
Let us look first then at the doubting captain who ends up getting trampled. We see this captain mentioned in verse 2. He’s described there as being a man whom the king leaned upon. He is appears to be some sort of top official under King Jehoram. But while we are not told his name, we are told of his great unbelief. Notice his incredulous words there in verse 2. At hearing Elisha’s prophesy, he retorts “If the LORD himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” This passage is obviously interested in condemning such unbelief because the passage ends bringing this matter up and showing its outcome. It specifically quotes these words by the captain only to show how wrong they were.
Think about the unbelief embodied in these words. First, they show that he doesn’t believe the prophecy itself. That could be interpreted as a lack of faith in Elisha. But notice that the captain’s words are worse than that. It isn’t just that he doesn’t think Elisha’s prophecy won’t come to pass. It’s that he doesn’t think even God himself could do such thing. So, his unbelief is ultimately in the ability of God. I think of the father of a demon possessed boy in Mark 9 who asked Jesus for help. At first, the father asked Jesus for help, saying, “If you can do anything”. Jesus immediately admonished the man and said, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” The father them commendably corrected himself and in a very honest reaction said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” That would have been a great response by this captain when Elisha in turn rebukes the captain’s unbelief. Due to the omnipotence of God, we ought not to doubt the might and ability of the LORD. Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save (Isa. 59:1)! The question is never about God’s ability to deliver but his will.
I can’t help but see a subtle contrast going on here with Namaan from back in chapter 5. That was when Naaman the high ranking official in Syria had leprosy and came to Elisha to be healed. Though Naaman at first struggled with Elisha’s call to bathe in the Jordan River, he ultimately complied in faith and was healed. So, there you had a Gentile leader being blessed by a miracle of God as he trusted God’s Word and ability. In contrast, you have a leader among Israel who should have believed in the Word of the LORD and his ability to save who instead scoffed at the idea. I think this contrast can be subtly found even in the text. You might remember that Naaman spoke of how his master the Syrian king leaned upon his arm. Here in today’s chapter it twice tells us how this the king leaned on this unbelieving official – same word for leaned. And then of course you have the leprosy reference her too with the lepers. All this subtly reminds you about the recent Naaman miracle. (Some have even speculated if Gehazi was one of the lepers in today’s passage, especially since the very next passage speaks then of Gehazi standing before the king.) But the point of the contrast here is to say that it is shameful that such a captain of Israel would have such a lack of faith – and that the Gentile commander Naaman is a foil to this unbelieving captain.
So then, verse 2 shows Elisha’s prophetic judgment upon this unbelieving captain. Elisha basically tells him that he will in fact see the prophesied salvation come to pass – but he won’t be able to enjoy it. Specific to the matter of the famine and the food aspect of the prophecy, Elisha says he won’t be able to eat of the grain that would soon be available. In fact, that is what comes to pass. The passage ends in verses 16-20 describing his demise. After being assigned by the king to have charge of the city gate, he gets trampled apparently by the mad rush of people who were going out to plunder the Syrians and then trade their goods. The text makes clear that his scoffing unbelief resulted in the prophetic judgment against him coming to pass.
And so, we see an important lesson here. We are called to believe the good news when God promises it. As a follow up from last week’s lesson on waiting on the LORD’s salvation, we need to be people who actually put our faith in the promises of God to save us. We can think of different promises God has given us for this life, things like he will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and that he is coming again to usher us into an eternal reward of glory. It’s at the heart of relationship with the LORD – that we believe him and trust him and rely on him and faith that his word is sure and true. The heart of Christianity is to live by faith – faith in God.
Let us turn next then to see king’s cautious response to the news that the Syrian camp was empty. This is verses 10-15. Word is brought to the king’s attention that the Syrian camp was empty, verse 12. The king is literally woken up and told the good news. We are then given a window into the king’s thinking in verse 12. He is suspicious of a trap. He thinks the Syrians are trying to capitalize on the fact that the Israelites are starving. The king things the Syrians have left them a banquet in a sense to attract them to come out of the city for it, and then they will reveal themselves and capture them and take the city.
And yet, this is obviously not something that can be ignored. The Israelites are starving. Something would need to be done. They can’t ignore that possibility that this report might actually be true and not an ambush. So, the King has a plan. He will send out a small group of soldiers to go inspect the matter. So, they go and inspect the situation and see that there is a long string of garments and equipment littered all the way from Samaria to the Jordan river. Their scouting confirms that the Syrians had fled in haste and that they were really gone.
Now, we can appreciate the king’s caution to a degree. His actions certainly seem prudent. In fact, just last chapter we had read how the King of Syria had been repeatedly trying to set up such ambushes in Israel. Likewise, we can remember when King Jehoram had come up against Moab in chapter 3, the Moabite’s downfall was incorrectly assuming the Israelite camp had been deserted and the Moabites rushed out to plunder the Israelite camp and the Moabites suffered great loss. So, you can appreciate the king wanting to have a cautious response to the good news that was reported of the Syrian camp being deserted.
We can appreciate that, but only to a degree. What I mean is, shouldn’t the king have been expecting this to happen? I mean that just the day before Elisha the prophet prophesied to the king that the next day they would find deliverance. The king could have still been cautious yet at the same time eagerly expecting and on the lookout for the promised salvation. Couldn’t he have jumped out of bed, exclaimed that this must be the promised salvation, and then sent his scouts to confirm? How was he even sleeping at all? Last Sunday I woke up way before my alarm because I just couldn’t sleep – I was so excited about being able to come together for worship up again! How could Jehoram be so sound asleep when such victory was promised to be at hand by the proven prophet of the LORD?
In contrast, I think of the story of the Persian magistrate Darius in Daniel 6 who was tricked into throwing his favored servant Daniel into the lion’s den. Darius had been a witness of Daniel and his faith. Apparently, Darius had grown to have much appreciation of Daniel and was greatly dismayed when he realized he had been tricked and had to now throw Daniel into the lion’s den according to the laws of the Medes and Persians. As Darius places Daniel into the lion’s den, he exclaims “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” Darius then goes back to his palace and spends the night fasting and can’t sleep. At the very break of day, Darius races over to the den of lions to see if Daniel’s God had saved him. In other words, you have this pagan king who only has an uncertain hope that the God of Daniel might save him, but Darius is up all night hoping beyond hope, and can’t wait to find out if in fact Daniel is saved. In contrast, you have the King of Israel with the sure prophetic word of God to give him every hope of a deliverance by the next day, and he is off soundly sleeping the night away and when the good news comes he shows no sign of expectation of deliverance.
Hopefully the application is clear. We need to expect the promised good news. Part of faith is not a mere belief in what was promised. It’s not just some general thought that it will come to pass. But there should be an eager expectation for the promises of God to be fulfilled. We certainly shouldn’t be surprised or caught unawares when they come to pass. I think of how Jesus taught us to be on the lookout for his return, because he will come like a thief in the night. He told us that, so we would not be caught off guard or taken by surprise at his coming (1 Thess 5:4). Meanwhile, he also told us that before his return that we would experience persecution, and various tribulations – again, so we could be on guard (Mark 13:23). Indeed, may none of us be surprised when God’s promises come to pass. May none of us be surprised when Jesus does finally return! Let us expect the good news that God has promised!
In our third point for today, I’d like us to turn and look at God’s use of lepers in this passage. We see this in verses 3-10. We begin in verse 3 by noting their desperation. We see that they were at the gate, outside the city. As lepers, we are not surprised to see them outside the city. But their situation doesn’t appear any better than the Israelites inside the city. They too seem on the brink of death because of the famine and because presumably they aren’t able to get past the besieging Syrians either. They talk things over. They don’t see any hope of either staying there or trying to get into the city. The reasons that if they go and try to hand themselves over to the Syrians there is at least a possibility they might just be taken prisoner. So, that’s what they decide to do. They go to try to surrender to the Syrians and hope for the best.
That’s when they discover the empty camp. Notice that it says that these lepers go over to the Syrian camp at twilight, verse 5. Notice that it also says that it was at twilight that the Syrians heard the sound of chariots and horses and a great army and decide to flee for their lives, mistakenly assuming Israel had purchased reinforcements from elsewhere. We are told it was the LORD who made the Syrians hear what they thought were sounds of a huge army. But the coincidental timing certainly makes us wonder if God somehow actually used the approach of these four lepers in the twilight as the agency of the noise, God somehow magnifying their noises to the lepers. But we don’t know. What we do know is that God made the Syrians to hear what they thought was some huge military forces and that caused them to flee for their lives, leaving behind all their supplies, literally there in the camp and scattered all the way to the Jordan River in their haste.
So then, you can appreciate that the lepers begin to plunder the camp. Faced with their own near starvation, they immediately enter into an abandoned tent of the Syrians and start eating and drinking. Then they carry off a bunch of silver and gold and clothing and go off and hide their loot. They come back and do that a second time. All this is very understandable on the part of the lepers.
But then their consciences hit them. Despite the fact that they were relegated to life outside the city, they were still Israelites and they still knew what the right thing was to do. Notice they specifically say in verse 9 that they were not doing right by keeping this to themselves. I love how they go on there to say that this was a day of good news! They know that they won’t be able to keep this a secret, and eventually it will all come to light, and they will be in trouble if they don’t share this good news. So, they decide to do the right thing and go right away and tell the king the good news.
Realize that the language of good news – that’s the language of “gospel”. That’s what the word “gospel” means. It just is a fancy word for “good news”. So, these lepers become the gospel heralds that day. These unclean lepers get to shout up from outside the city to the gatekeepers that the Syrians are gone! These unclean lepers get to announce God’s salvation to his redeemed people! I love that God would use these outcasts from the community to bring such good news. Indeed, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! Indeed, may we not hold to ourselves the good news of our salvation.
For indeed Jesus Christ, at just the right time, came into this world to save sinners from death and damnation. As prophesied, the hope of Israel appeared and delivered us from the world. In God’s perfect timing, Jesus came as the living bread out of heaven to feed our hearts. He who was holy and pure, without spot or blemish, died in our place – the clean for the unclean – that we might be sanctified. This is the good news that has come to us. It is good news that was promised and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is the good news in which we trust in and rejoice in for our salvation!
In conclusion then, brothers and sisters, I leave us with the three applications we’ve seen today. First, “Believe!” Believe in Jesus Christ. Believe in the salvation that has already been inaugurated in his first coming. And believe that he is coming again and bringing the fulness of our salvation with him. For yet in the end, there will come a time when God’s people will be surrounded by the nations who are looking to devour and destroy us. They will come at us from Gog and Magog to surround the camp of the saints. But the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangels, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. Then the kings of the earth and the mighty ones of the earth in terror will cry out for the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. But we will be raised up with our Lord and vindicated before the world. Let us indeed believe this with all our heart.
Second application, “Expect!” Expect that which we believe in to yet happen. Expect that while the world and Satan and even our own flesh afflict our souls, that the final victory shall be the Lord’s. Expect Christ’s return. Don’t live life acting like it won’t happen or couldn’t happen. Don’t say you believe but act in practice like the unbelieving captain. Rather consider how your life should look different because you hope on the Lord’s salvation, and order your life accordingly.
And third application, “Herald!” Tell others around you the good news of Jesus Christ. Tell them of his first coming and of his second coming. Would we horde the good news to ourselves? We are called and commissioned as the church to spread this news! Yes, we are not all ordained ministers authorized to publicly preach the gospel. But these lepers were not either. They were just spreading the good news because it was the right thing to do.
For Jesus to come back, the windows of heaven will literally need to open. But the one greater than Elisha has said it would happen. And the one who said this is more than able to make it happen. We believe this, we expect this, and we herald this. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.