With New Testament Eyes: 40 – Four Lepers Teach us a Lesson
By Henry Mahan
2 Kings 6:24 – 7:8
The city of Samaria had been surrounded by the Syrian army for a long time, and there was a great famine in the city so that an ass’s head sold for four pieces of silver (vv. 24-25). Food was so scarce that people were eating human flesh (vv. 26-29). The king of Israel was so upset that he threatened to kill Elisha, God’s prophet (v. 31). He came, leaning on the hand of one of his lords, to see Elisha; and Elisha told the king that food would be so plentiful in Samaria by tomorrow that flour and barley would be sold very cheaply (v. 1) . The lord, upon whose hand the king leaned, told Elisha that this was impossible and that he did not believe it, to which Elisha replied, ‘Oh yes, you shall see it all; but you will not eat thereof’ (2 Kings 7:2, 16-20).
On the day that the king came to Elisha, there were four leprous men sitting at the gate of the city; and they said one to another, ‘Why do we sit here and starve to death? If we sit here, we will die; if we go into the city, we will die; for there is no food there. The thing for us to do is to go to our enemies, the Syrians, and seek mercy. If they show mercy and spare us, we will live; but if they kill us, we shall but die’ (vv. 3-4). So they arose that evening and entered the camp of the Syrians; but, to their surprise, they found no one there. They found abundant food, drink, clothes, silver, and gold: but all of the Syrians had fled (vv. 5-8). That evening the Lord had made all the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots, horses, and a mighty army advancing; and the Syrians, thinking that the king of Israel had persuaded the Egyptians and Hittites to come against them, fled, leaving all of their supplies behind.
Why is this story in the word of God, and how does it teach us redemption in Jesus Christ?
1. These diseased, dying, starving lepers represent the whole human race under the judgment and curse of sin. Spiritually we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17). We are without Christ, without hope, and without God in this world (Eph. 2:11-12).
There is no way to adequately describe the total ruin, utter poverty, and spiritual helplessness and hopelessness of Adam’s sons (Rom. 3:10-19; Rom. 5:12). These starving, helpless lepers do give us a dim picture of our spiritual condition. Only the Spirit of God can reveal to sinners what happened in the Garden of Eden and the terrible consequences upon us all and cause us to cry with Isaiah, ‘I am undone; I am cut off’ (Isa. 1:4- 6; Isa. 64:6).
2. The lepers, knowing their helpless state, considered three alternatives. If we stay here, we will die; if we go into the city, we will die, for they have no food; or the Syrians are our enemies, but they have plenty of food. We can go to them and seek mercy and help. If they choose to show mercy to us, we will live; but if not, we have lost nothing; for we will die anyway. Wisely they chose to cast themselves on the mercy of the Syrians, and they were delivered by the providence of God.
Considering our hopeless, sinful state (Jer. 13:23; Gal. 3:10) what is there for us to do?
If we stay where we are, we shall perish under the wrath of God (Heb. 9:27). Salvation is impossible with men. Our condition only worsens as we become hardened in sin.
If we go into the city, we shall die there. What can the city represent but organized religion-man’s organized efforts to help himself (Rom. 10:1-4). The city had people, activity, buildings, and organizations; but they had no food for themselves nor for anyone else (Amos 8:11-12). When the Master asked the disciples, ‘Will you also go away?’ they replied, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?’ Men have nothing to offer; the law has nothing to offer; religion has nothing to offer except a refuge of lies (Isa, 28:14-15).
We can cast ourselves on the mercy of God! Even though we have sinned against God and our sins have brought his wrath and judgment, God is merciful (Isa. 59:2; Psalm 130:3-4).
While it is true that all are children of wrath, even as others, and God is angry with the wicked, the Lord delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18-19; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:2-7).
When the leper decided to turn to the only possible source of relief, they reasoned, ‘It may be that they will save us alive.’ Men of wisdom have used this reasoning before in reference to God’s mercy–Jonathan (1 Sam. 14:6), David (2 Sam. 16:11- 12), the king of Nineveh (Jonah 3:8-9). God is certainly not obligated to save anyone, but those who know their sin in the light of his holiness and are persuaded to look to him and cast themselves on his mercy in Christ Jesus always find plenteous redemption.
There are several reasons to have a good hope for mercy when one comes to the Lord God in repentance and faith.
1. It is the gracious nature of God to show mercy (Exo. 34:6-7; Micah 7:18-19).
2. The Lord Jesus came into the world to save sinners (Gal. 4:4-5; Luke 19:10; 1 Tim. 1:15).
3. By his righteousness and sacrifice, Christ enables God to be both a just God and a Saviour (Rom. 3:25-26).
4. It is the chief glory of God to save (Exo. 33:18-19).
5. It is the command of God for us to come to him, and with the command comes the warrant to believe (Isa. 45:21-22; 1 John 3:23).
How long will a beggar sit by the road and wait for a handout? How long will a fisherman cast his hook into the water? How long will a father seek a lost son? And how long should sinners seek mercy when the outlook is so bright? (Jer. 29:13-14.)