THE HISTORY OF ELISHA’S MIGHTY WORKS CONTINUED.
(1-7) The prophet causes an iron ax-head to float ın the Jordan.
(1) And the sons of the prophets said.—The form of the verb implies connection with the preceding narrative; but as the section refers to Elisha’s activity among the sons of the prophets, it was probably connected originally with 2 Kings 4:44. The compiler may have transferred it to its present position in order, as Thenius suggests, to indicate the lapse of some time between the events described here and there; and further, to separate the account of the renewed warfare between Syria and Israel (2 Kings 6:8, seq.) from that of Elisha’s good deed to Naaman the Syrian.
The place where we dwell with thee.—Rather, the place where we sit before thee: scil., habitually, for instruction. The phrase occurred in 2 Kings 4:38. The common hall is meant; whether that at Gilgal or at Jericho is uncertain. Jericho was close to the Jordan (2 Kings 6:2), but that does not prove that it is meant here. The prophet’s disciples did not live in a single building, like a community of monks. Their settlement is called “dwellings” (nāyôth) in the plural (1 Samuel 19:18); and they could be married (2 Kings 4:1).
Too strait.—Their numbers had increased. (Comp. 2 Kings 4:43.)
Where we may dwell.—Literally, to sit (or, dwell) there. The reference seems still to be to sitting in the hall of instruction.
Be content.—Consent, or, be willing.
Go with thy servants.—To superintend their work, and help them in case of unforeseen difficulty.
The ax head fell.—Heb., and as for the iron, it fell. The subject of the verb is made prominent by being put first in the accusative. It is thus implied that something happened to the iron. Perhaps, however, it is better to consider that the particle, which usually marks the object of the verb, in cases like the present has its etymological meaning of “something” (’eth being regarded as equivalent to yath, and so to yēsh). (See Winer, Chaldäische Grammatik, ed. Fischer.)
Master!—My lord, Elisha. He instinctively appeals to Elisha for help.
For it was borrowed.—Heb., and that one was borrowed. Vulg., “et hoc ipsum mutuo acceperam.”
The iron did swim.—He caused the iron to float. (Comp. Deuteronomy 11:4 for the verb.) The iron ax-head did not swim, but simply rose to the surface. It had fallen in near the bank. Elisha’s throwing in the stick was a symbolical act, intended to help the witnesses to realise that the coming up of the iron was not a natural, but a supernatural, event, brought about through the instrumentality of the prophet. As in the case of the salt thrown into the spring at Jericho, the symbol was appropriate to the occasion. It indicated that iron could be made to float like wood by the sovereign power of Jehovah. The properties of material substances depend on His will for their fixity, and may be suspended or modified at His pleasure. The moral of this little story is that God helps in small personal troubles as well as in great ones of larger scope. His providence cares for the individual as well as the race.
(8–23) Elisha baffles several predatory attempts of the Syrians, and strikes with blindness those sent to seize him.
Took counsel with.—Comp. 2 Chronicles 20:21.
Such and such.—The compound Hebrew expression (pělônî ’almônî) means “a certain one, I will not mention which;” the Greek, ὁ δεῖνα.
My camp.—Heb., tahănôthî; a difficult expression, found only here. Its form is anomalous, and probably corrupt. The Targum renders “house of my camp:” but the Syriac, “Set ye an ambush, and lurk;” the Vulg., “ponamus insidias:” and similarly the Arabic. This has suggested that the true reading is “hide ye,” i.e., lie in ambush (tēhābû, i.e., tēhābĕ᾽û: Thenius). It is, however, a more obvious change to read, “ye shall go down” (tinhāthû: Psalm 38:3). This agrees better with the construction, “Unto (’el) such and such a place shall ye go down,” i.e., on a plundering incursion.
Such a place.
Come down.—Coming down. Another anomalous Hebrew form (nĕhittîm). Some would recognise here again a corruption of the same verb as in 2 Kings 6:8, and render, “for there the Syrians are about hiding” (nehbîm, i.e., nehbĕ’îm). This is supported by the LXX., “ὅτι ἐκεῖ Συρία κέκρυπται;” the Syriac and Arabic, “are lurking;” the Vulg., “in insidiis sunt;” and the Targum, “are hidden.” But the word (Heb.) is really an irregular participial formation from nahath, “to descend,” and the Authorised Version is therefore correct. The versions have deduced the idea of hiding from that of going down, as if crouching on the ground were meant.
Warned.—Ezekiel 3:19; 2 Chronicles 19:10.
Saved himself.—Was wary; on his guard (2 Kings 6:9).
Not once nor twice refers to the statement of the entire verse. On more than one occasion, and in regard to different inroads of the Syrians, Elisha gave the king forewarning.
Which of us is for the king of Israel?—“Which of us?” is an expression only found here (mishshellānû). Pointed differently, the word would give the sense of the LXX., τίς προδίδωσί με βασιλεῖ Ίσραήλ —“Who betrays me to the king of Israel?”—malshînēnû, “our betrayer,” an Aramaic term. (Comp. Prov. XXX. 10.) Better still is Böttcher’s correction: “Who leads us astray unto the king of Israel?” (mashlēnû). This would be the natural supposition of the Syrian king when he found himself unexpectedly confronting an armed Israelitish force, and harmonises well enough with the LXX. and Vulg. The received text, which the Targum, Syriac, and Arabic support, can only mean, “Which of those who belong to us inclines to the king of Israel?” (Comp. Psalm 123:2.) The Syriac follows the Hebrew exactly; the Targum and Arabic add a verb—“reveals secrets”—before “to the king of Israel.”
The words.—The LXX. and Vulg.,”all the words.”
Telleth.—From time to time, as the Hebrew form denotes.
Dothan.—A contracted dual (equivalent to Dothain LXX., Dothaim). It lay on a hill, twelve Roman miles north-east of Samaria, in a narrow pass (Judith 4:5; Judith 7:3; Judith 8:3), on the caravan route from Gilead to Egypt (Genesis 37:17). The old name survives in a Tell, covered with ruins, south-west of the modern Jenîn.
They came by night.—So as to take the city by surprise.
Was risen early.—For the Hebrew construction, comp. Psalm 127:2; Isaiah 5:11; Hosea 6:4.
Gone forth.—To the outside of the house, which commanded a view of the valley below, where the Syrians lay.
And his servant said.—On returning into the house. The narrative is contracted.
The mountain.—On which Dothan stood.
Horses and chariots of fire.—Literally, horses and chariots, to wit, fire. Fire was the well-known symbol of Jehovah’s visible presence and protective or destroying might, from the days of the patriarchs onwards (Genesis 15:17; Exodus 3:2; Exodus 13:21, seq., 19:16, seq.; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:30; Isaiah 30:33; Isaiah 33:14). As fiery chariots and horses parted Elijah from Elisha (2 Kings 2:12), so now a similar appearance surrounds and protects the latter. “It is a fine thought,” says Thenius, “that on this occasion the veil of earthly existence was lifted for a moment for one child of man, so as to allow him a clear glimpse of the sovereignty of Providence.” The form of the supernatural appearance was, no doubt, conditioned by the circumstances of the time. Chariots and horses were the strength of the Aramean oppressors of Israel; therefore, Jehovah causes His earthly ministers to see that He also has at His command horses and chariots, and that of fire.
Elisha prayed.—And Elisha; prayed—mentally, as he approached his foes.
This people.—Perhaps in the sense of multitude.
Blindness.—Sanwērîm: the term used in Genesis 19:11, and nowhere besides. It denotes not so much blindness as a dazing effect, accompanied by mental bewilderment and confusion. “They saw, but knew not what they saw” (Rashi). Ewald pronounces the passage in Genesis the model of the present one.
The man whom ye seek.—An irony.
Bring you.—Lead you.
But he led.—And he led (or, guided).To Samaria.—Heb., Shômĕrônāh. The Assyrian spelling is Shâmerîna; and this, compared with the Greek Σαμάρειαν, suggests that the original name was Shâmirîn (“the warders”). The final ō in the present Hebrew form may be due to confounding y with w.
Shall I smite them,? shall I smite them?—Or, May I smite? may I smite, my father? The repetition expresses the king’s eagerness to slay his powerless enemies. He asks the prophet’s permission. (Comp. 2 Kings 4:7.)
Wouldest thou smite . . . thy bow?—The Hebrew order is, “An quos ceperis gladío et arcu percussuruses?” (Comp. Genesis 48:22.) Elisha says, “These men are virtually prisoners of war, and therefore are not to be slain in cold blood.”
The LXX., Targum, Syriac, and Vulg., ignore the interrogative particle. The Targum and Syriac render, “Lo those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword, &c., thou dost (or mayst) kill.” (Comp. Deuteronomy 20:13.) The Vulg., “neque enim cepisti eos, ut percutias,” and the Arabic, “Didst thou take them captive with thy sword, &c., that thou shouldest slay them?” come to the same thing. These renderings are interesting, as they make Elisha deny the king’s right of disposal of these prisoners of Jehovah. The purpose of the miracle would have been frustrated by killing the Syrians. That purpose was to force their king and them to acknowledge the might of the true God.
Prepared great provision.—Or, a great feast. The Hebrew verb (kārāh) occurs nowhere else in this sense. The noun (kērāh) is cognate with it, and the root meaning seems to be union: such as takes place at a common meal. Thenius renders kērāh by “das Gastrund”—i.e., the circle of guests.
So the bands of Syria came no more.—The stress lies on the word “bands.” The Syrians, dreading Elisha, did not make any further clandestine attempts to injure Israel, like those above described, which only involved the despatch of predatory bands. They now resolved to try the fortunes of regular war with the whole strength of their army (2 Kings 6:24). It is evident, therefore, that we must not think of any gratitude on their part for the clemency of Jehoram.
Into the land.—Syriac, “into the border;” Targum, “into the border of the land.” (Comp. 1 Samuel 7:13.)
(24) After this.—Afterwards. The term plainly implies chronological sequence.
Ben-hadad.—Ben-hadad II., who had besieged Samaria in the reign of Ahab (1 Kings 20:1). He is mentioned on the monuments of Shalmaneser II., now in the British Museum, under the designation of Rammânu-hidri, or idri. Now, as the Assyrians identified their god Rammûnu (Rimmon) with the Syrian deity, Adad, Addu, or Dadi, this title might be equivalent to Adad-idri, or Addu-idri. Further, in three contract tablets in the reign of Nabonidus, Mr. Pinches has read the names Bin-Addu-natânu and Bin-Addu-amara—i.e., “Bin-Addu gave,” and “Bin-Adāu commanded.” Bin (or, Tur)-Addu, “son of Addu,” is clearly the name of a god, like abal Esarra, “son of Esarra,” in the name Tiglath Pileser; and is, in fact, the Assyrian equivalent of Ben-hadad. The Syrian king’s full name, therefore, would seem to have been Ben-hadad-idri, “The son of Hadad is my help” (Syriac adar, “to help”). (Comp. the name Hadad-ezer.) The Assyrians omitted the first element, the Hebrews the last.
Besieged.—Were besieging.Fourscore pieces.—Eighty shekels—i.e., about £10. Ass’s flesh would not ordinarily be eaten at all, and the head of any animal would be the cheapest part. Plutarch mentions that during a famine among the Cadusians an ass’s head could hardly be got for sixty drachms (about £2. 10s.), though ordinarily the entire animal could be bought for about half that sum. And Pliny relates that when Hannibal was besieging Casalinum, a mouse was sold for 200 denarii (£6 5s.).
The fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung.—The cab was the smallest Hebrew dry measure. It held, according to the Rabbis, one-sixth of a seah (2 Kings 7:1), or a little over a quart (ξέστης.—Josephus, Antt. ix. 4, § 4). The term dove’s dung, in all probability, denotes some kind of common vegetable produce, perhaps a sort of pulse or pease, which was ordinarily very cheap. Such a designation is not unparalleled. The Arabs call the herb kali “sparrow’s dung;” and Assafœtida is in German “devil’s dung.” In some places in England a species of wild hyacinth is called “dead man’s hands,” from the livid markings on the flower. The shape and colour of the species of pulse mentioned in the text may similarly account for its name. It naturally occurs that so long as there were any “doves” left in the city it would not be necessary to eat their dung. When Josephus wrote that dung was eaten in the siege of Jerusalem, he probably had the present passage in his mind.
Five pieces of silver.—Five (shekels in) silver; about 12s. 6d.
Out of the barnfloor.—Comp. Hosea ix 2.: “The floor and the winepress shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail in her.” Jehoram, in the irony of despair, reminds the woman of what she well knows—viz., that the corn and wine, the staple foods of the time, are long since exhausted. The words, “If the Lord do not help thee,” may be compared with 2 Kings 3:10, “Alas! that the Lord hath called,” &c. The character of Jehoram is consistently drawn. But perhaps the point is: “Jehovah alone is the giver of corn and wine (Hosea 2:8-9). Appeal not to me for these.”
He had sackcloth.—Rather, the sackcloth was. “The sackcloth”—i.e., the well-known garb of penitence and woe (1 Kings 21:27). Jehoram had secretly assumed this ascetic garment in order to appease the wrath of Jehovah. That the king should wear sackcloth was a portent in the eyes of his subjects. The prophets wore it over the tunic as an official dress.
Within.—Under his royal robes, “upon his flesh”—i.e., next the skin. (Comp. Isaiah 20:2-3.)
God do so . . . to me.
If the head of Elisha . . . this day.—The king’s horror at the woman’s dreadful story is succeeded by indignation against Elisha, who had probably counselled an unyielding resistance to the foe, in the steadfast faith that Jehovah would help His own; and who, prophet though he was, and endued with miraculous powers, had yet brought no help in this hour of urgent need. (Comp. with the oath that of Jezebel against Elijah, 1 Kings 19:2.)
And the king sent a man.—To behead the prophet, according to his oath.
From before him.—Comp. 2 Kings 5:16; 2 Kings 3:14; 1 Kings 10:8. One of the royal attendants—probably a soldier of the guard—is meant.
But ere.—“But” is wanting in the Hebrew. (The conjunction wĕ has, perhaps, fallen out after the preceding w.)
He said to the elders.—Elisha foreknew what was about to happen. (Comp. 2 Kings 5:26.) The he is emphatic: “He (the prophet) said.”
This son of a murderer.—Referring to Ahab’s murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21:19) and the prophets of Jehovah; as if to say, “The son takes after his father” (filius patrissat). At the same time, we must not forget the idiom by which a man is called a son of any quality or disposition which he evinces. (Comp. “son of Belial,” “sons of pride,” “sons of wickedness;” 2 Samuel 7:10; Job 41:34).
Hold him fast at the door.—Literally, press him back with the door. The door opened inwards, and the prophet bade his friends the elders hold the door against the messenger of death.
Is not the sound . . . behind him?—Elisha’s reason for bidding the elders hold the door. He foresaw that Jehoram would hasten in person after his messenger, to see that his savage order was carried out. (Bähr and Keil think, with Josephus, that Jehoram repented, and hurried off to restrain the sword of his minister.)
The messenger.—Ewalďs correction, “the king” (melek for maľāk), is certainly right. In the rapid progress of the story, the arrival and momentary exclusion of the messenger is understood. The approach of the king may have been seen from the upper part of Elisha’s house.
Came down.—Was coming down, to the prophet’s house, from the ramparts. (Comp. 2 Kings 5:24.)
And he said.—That is, the king said.
Behold, this evil is of the Lord.—Rather, Behold, such (this) is the distress from Jehovah. Things have come to this pitch by the will of Jehovah.
What (rather, why) should I wait for the Lord any longer?—As I have hitherto done, at your persuasion. Why should I not now surrender to the Syrians, and slay the prophet who has so long deluded me with vain hopes?