Flooding in New Orleans
Earthquake in Pakistan
Famine in Africa
Mudslide in Guatemala
We live in a world that is full of tragedy and accident. Yet many of these ‘accidents’ were called acts of God by an older generation. They weren’t trying to pin the blame on God, simply describing it as something outside of man’s control.
But we don’t call them that any more – we call them ‘natural disasters’. That seems perfectly reasonable, because they involve nature, but at the same time calling them ‘natural disasters’ misses out on a key lesson.
Disasters aren’t natural. Death isn’t natural. Destruction isn’t natural. And in a world where God is in complete control there are no accidents. We need to realise that we live in a world which is full of billions of people whose every breath is constant rebellion against God.
And so we live in a world that is under God’s just wrath for its rebellion. But how are we to react when things go wrong around us, or even in our own lives?
In this passage we see this truth set out for us, and how to live demonstrated.
We live in a world that God is angry with
Despite the fact that Elisha had spared and feasted his troops, and cured his general Naaman, Ben-Hadad, the King of Syria is determined to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Never has there been a people that has been so harshly treated for so long. Even right into the present day.
Ben-Hadad comes with his army and lays siege to Samaria. The price of food rises. And as the price of the food has risen the quality of the food has dropped. And here a donkey’s head is a high priced delicacy. There can’t be much meat on it, but if you wanted a donkey’s head for your dinner, you would have had to pay somewhere around 6 years wages!
And although the NIV translates it seed pods, literally the phrase is dove dung – which apparently has been eaten by people in really dire circumstances. A half pint of dove dung would have cost 5 months wages.
And if you think that is bad – that is not the worst. Mothers had resorted to killing and eating their children.
This should have rung warning bells in the people’s minds. Why was this happening? Was it the fault of Ben-Hadad at the gate? Well yes at one level it was. He was the one stopping food getting through. But several times in his word God had warned the people about what would happen if they persisted in ignoring him, and disobeying his laws. In Deut 28:52 we read:
52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the LORD your God is giving you. 53 Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating.Is it that God is sick and twisted? No, this only comes at the end of a long list of threats, each one increasing in severity, and in Leviticus 26:27 they are prefaced with “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile towards me, then…”
This is God saying, if you wish to live without me, then I will gradually and increasingly withdraw my presence, and as I do you will see what it is like to live with out me. For without God all sorts of evil fester. Our world, even after the bloodiest century in the history of mankind, where even when you rule out wars, we still managed to murder and exterminate more people that died in any other century – even after the 20th century, man still believes that mankind is basically good. We are not, the only thing that keeps us from the most awful of crimes is the restraining hand of God. And here it is being withdrawn – beware those of you who want nothing to do with God. This is what can happen.
This is what is happening to our world. People say, “We want nothing to do with God” and God gives us what we ask for. Not only that but he ends what he said he would send – famine, disaster, war to alert us to the fact that we cannot cope at all without him.
But why is God angry? Two answers:
Our continual sin – Just like Samaria
Our rejection of Jesus Christ – how much more angry should he be with our world?
How should we live in a world under judgment?
The circumstances within Samaria should have acted as an alarm bell in the minds of the people. This isn’t just hardship, this is living under the judgment of God. And as the months progress under this siege more and more boxes are ticked that prove that it is the judgment of God. But do they change their ways? No! They persist with ignoring God. And we see here three reactions to God’s judgment:
How are we to live in such a world – the person who is a Christian must have substantially different reactions to those of others.
Don’t just put your head down and get on with it
Two women of Samaria had made a pact. They would kill and eat their children to hold of their own starvation. So they murder one child and the next day the first woman returns to see the bargain fulfilled but the second woman, having feasted, has hidden her son.
Gross foul sinfulness. Here are people who are utterly oblivious to God’s judgment. They don’t care. They’ll do it their way. They’ll solve their problems themselves thank you very much. They don’t need God, they don’t want God.
And we see many people like that today. They may not have descended as low as this, yet, but their reactions to problems in their lives is not to throw themselves at God’s feet and plead for mercy – and he is a God who delights to show mercy – instead they try to sort it out themselves.
If you think God is trying to tell you something – listen, before he withdraws himself even further, and things become even darker.
How do you react?
Now we need to be careful, because not every problem is a result of our disobedience. Let me say that again – not every problem we face is a result of our disobedience. God may send problems into our lives so that we may grow stronger in our faith. Or to enable the glory of the gospel to be seen more clearly.
But even so – when we face problems we should ask “why”. In a world where God is sovereign nothing happens by accident. And if repentance isn’t the necessary response, there are other responses that are necessary. It might be “Lord help me to hang in here. Lord keep my faith strong. Lord help me to make do without such and such.”
Don’t get angry at God
Then we come to King Jehoram. We read something interesting about him in v 30
30 When the king heard the woman's words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and there, underneath, he had sackcloth on his body.Surprising! Sackcloth was the sign of humbling yourself before God. And Jehoram seems to be going about it in a right way – he doesn’t display his sackcloth or all to see. Indeed no-one would have known about it except he is so distressed at the awfulness of the situation that he tears the royal robes which were covering the sackcloth.
The Bible condemns outward show of religion, and the king certainly wasn’t putting on an outward show. But sadly his words in the next verses demonstrate that this wasn’t a humbling that led to repentance. We see him take an oath that his own life would be forfeit if Elisha wasn’t executed that day. And in v33 you can hear his impatience, “Why should I wait for the Lord an longer?”
It would seem as if Elisha has already told him to wait on God, to humble himself and to turn back to God. And Jehoram has come along with that. But its only skin deep. Its not repentance, its bargaining with God. Its almost as if he’s saying, “You told me that if I put on this sackcloth stuff, that God would sort it all out in his time. Well I’ve done all that, and it hasn’t worked.”
He’s like someone who says, “my wife was ill and I prayed and prayed, but God didn’t answer my prayers, so therefore he doesn’t exist. I’ve tried religion and it doesn’t work.”
But God isn’t impressed with bargaining. If I do this, will you me happy with me. Look at what I’ve done. I’ll pray to you, but you give me what I want. Why should God give you what you want? You haven’t given him what he wants – he wants a broken and contrite heart, he wants you to repent and trust him.
And what is missing from it all is genuine biblical repentance.
And amidst the judgment Jehoram gets angry at God. And we see a man more concerned about starving people, than about sinful people. And we see a man shake his fist at God and blame God. And things haven’t changed. In our world God has promised that if we ignore him he will pull back his hand, and then when he does exactly what he said he would do, and there is a disaster, an explosion, people start shouting and blaming God. When if they would humble themselves, and repent of their sin God would return. In Zec 1:3 we read
3 This is what the LORD Almighty says: `Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, `and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty.Have you been angry at God over something? Anger at God is never right. You may need to humble yourself and repent, and seek God’s forgiveness. Perhaps some of you think you can bargain with God. God hates to be bargained with. Bargaining only works when you have something the other person needs. God does not need you. You on the other hand need God. And you must come on his terms.
Trust God amidst judgment
There is a third reaction to the judgment. It is that of Elisha. And here we see that God’s people aren’t exempt from trial, or from experiencing God’s judgment on the ungodly. Christians die in earthquakes, are starved in famines, and killed in bomb-blasts. But there is a difference between being under God’s judgment and being caught up in it.
The believer may well be caught up in it. Daniel of whom there is nothing wrong recorded was in Babylon. Elisha, again of whom nothing wrong is recorded, is caught up in this siege. Suffering does not mean for are under God’s judgment. This book was written to the people of God in exile, and here is encouragement and instruction for them. Elisha doesn’t appear to be panicking, from what the king says, it appears that Elisha is waiting on God’s timing. He isn’t ranting and raving, instead he is sitting calmly with the elders of the city.
There is a quiet trust here. And when God speaks, there is a trust in the promise that God gives. What a great example for the Christian. We live in a world that is under God’s judgment. At times we may experience more of God’s judgment than at other times. At times there may be specific ways that a country or a community come under God’s judgment. And if not, then we all still live in a world that suffers the general judgment of God when Adam disobeyed. And we suffer illness and bereavement, and disappointment, and have to worry about cancer diagnosis, and accidents, and depression. And how are we to live?
In quiet trust, depending on the promises of God and waiting on his time. And like Elisha in v32, if there is anything that we can do to prolong our life, or to alleviate the problems we face then do it.
Do you know the promises of God? Which promises are precious to you?
Amidst wrath there is Grace
The word of the Lord comes to Elisha and it is a startling promise. v1
Elisha said, "Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria."
There will be food, at the gate, tomorrow. Here is an astonishing promise, and one that is astonishingly specific. Elisha foretells the prices and the quantities.
The people don’t deserve this, but God isn’t going to bring deliverance. That’s grace. Mercy where their should be judgment. Blessing where there was cursing. That’s what the gospel is. And these people are going to live in a time of God’s grace.
We live in a strange world. It is a world that is simultaneously under judgment and yet living in a time of grace. The bad news of sin is all around us. Yet the good news of the gospel has arrived. How do you react to this good news?
Don’t mock God’s grace
When Elisha had spoken to the king the promise of deliverance from God the officer with the king laughed. It’s always someone on the fringe, isn’t it? Some smart-alec in the background that opens their mouth and mocks. It’s rarely the person you’re speaking to.
2 The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, "Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?"This is wicked scornful unbelief. Elisha is renowned for speaking God’s words. What he says happens. But this man sees the man of God as an easy target. But God will not tolerate his word being mocked.
Men have mocked it down through history. They have denied it. They have claimed that parts cannot be true –
John gospel wasn’t written by John in C1. Written in C2. Then a fragment of John’s gospel found wrapped with a mummy in Egypt from C1.
Those who say you can’t trust to Bible say so in spite of the evidence. Those who trust God’s word have nothing to fear. It is always trustworthy. Never be ashamed of trusting God’s word. God will not tolerate his word being mocked.
Or his grace being scorned.
And Elisha speaks quickly and forcefully to him:
"You will see it with your own eyes," answered Elisha, "but you will not eat any of it!"
These are shattering words. There is a promise of great blessing. But he will see none of it.
What solemn words. This man choose to disbelieve not because he had any evidence that Elisha had ever been wrong before.
I fear that there may be some in this congregation
I fear that there are many in churches across this land
For whom this could be said. You have heard the promise you have refused to believe it, you will see it fulfilled, but you will taste none of the blessings yourself.
Think on what it must have been. To be starving. To be at the gate, people are rushing out to get food, maybe you’ll be able to go soon, maybe you’ll get some of those coming back in. And then to be knocked down, and in the crush feet pound over you, you can see food, you can smell it, and yet not to taste of it. And last things you see as your eyes close is the sight of people rejoicing as the darkness closes in around you.
Part of the great sorrow of Hell it would appear is that you will see the joy of the believers, enjoying what could have been yours. And you will weep tears of bitter bitter rage. And the saddest cry will be the sound of your voice saying - “It could’ve been me.”
And this is something that is utterly absolute. When God gives a promise of salvation and you refuse to believe it, and you mock the grace of God – God will not excuse you. Look at v16 – it happened exactly as foretold. And then God underscores the whole incident so that there will be no mistake. V17 – the mocker is identified, his fate recorded. And then in v18-20 the whole incident is restated so that we can be very clear on this. Then in v20 we read “And that is exactly what happened, for the people trampled him to death in the gateway and he died.”
God will not tolerate his grace being mocked. God hates to be distrusted. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation”. Hebrews 2:1
Seize the day
There were four other characters in this account. At the gate to Jerusalem there were four lepers teetering on the brink of starvation.
So they make their way to the enemy camp only to find it empty. In the last passage God had enabled someone to see an army that was there. In this passage he causes an army to hear another army that wasn’t there. And we see again how easy it is for God to throw the plans of men and women into disarray.
And the interesting thing is this – the army was gone. It is dusk, evening time when the lepers go out – the army had probably been gone from before the sun rose that morning, for the people of the town would have heard or seen them go. And so for the most of a whole day in Samaria desolate people were pulling their belts tighter around their waists, going to bed hungry when they had no need to be hungry. Had they known it, they were free, free to feast and eat and enjoy the blessings of the abandoned camp. They were starving in the midst of plenty, when they might have been feasting.
God works, and God has provided for man’s great need. Is it not a strange thing – a city under siege and yet not under siege, starving and yet with easy access to food? We see how easily God bewildered the Syrian armies, but do you also see the lesson here?
Isn’t it like so many around us? The Lord Jesus has come into the world to save sinners from the awful punishment that is theirs. The good news is that people don’t have to die in their sins. Salvation is available. They are living under judgment when they could so easily be living under grace. Part of the very reason that God is angry with them is the key to their salvation. God is angry because they reject the salvation he has provided.
Come out, come and find food for your souls. Come and find life giving water, come and find the bread of life. That the message we take.
And there are lepers at the gate of Samaria. Not allowed in, not wanting to move away. Usually they probably got food from the city. But now they feel that they have nothing to lose. Perhaps the enemy will have pity on them because hunger certainly won’t.
They seize the moment. And move from having nothing on the brink of death, to having everything, and life opening up before them.
And here we need to encourage people to think like these lepers. “We have everything to gain, and not very much to lose” they say to each other, “We have everything to gain.” This was what he French mathematician and genius Blaise Pascal said, “If I am wrong and you are right, and God does not exist, I have enjoyed life, and lost nothing. On the other hand if I am right and you are wrong, and God does exist, I have gained everything, and you have lost everything.”
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.