Famine and Feast
In ancient times, one of the most common strategies in warfare was the siege. An army would invade a territory, surround a city, and prevent anyone or anything from getting in or out. Eventually, the inhabitants of the city would starve and surrender.
That’s exactly what we have in this episode of the life of Elisha. The Syrian army has besieged the city of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. There is no more regular food in the city, and people are selling even the worst bits of food for high prices. Things are so bad that some have sunk to the level of cannibalism. It’s a desperate and dire situation.
We know why this kind of thing happens to Israel. Moses told the nation centuries before this what the results would be if they turned away from the Lord and followed idols. God would curse the nation for their disobedience, and this passage from 2 Kings shows us how those curses fell on Israel. Foreign armies would invade, besiege their cities, and cause the people to be so hungry that they would eat their own children (Lev 26:29; cf. Deut 28:53-57). That’s exactly what happened. God’s word came true precisely as predicted.
And so this passage illustrates the importance of knowing and obeying the word of God. Cf. 7:16-17—“according to the word of the Lord…just as the man of God had said.” I.e., God will fulfill his promises and make good on his threats. Israel disobeyed the word of the Lord and ignored the words of the prophets. The result was severe judgment. This principle is still true today: if we disbelieve and disobey God’s word, God’s judgment will fall.
This story is about God’s judgment but also God’s mercy. Israel deserved and experienced God’s judgment, but God showed mercy to these undeserving people. As the NT tells us, God is severe in his judgment but also abundant in mercy. If you don’t want God’s mercy, you’ll experience God’s judgment.
Let’s see what the text tells us about God’s judgment and mercy on a nation.