The Famine of Samaria: A Sermon
FAMINE OF SAMARIA:
RECOMMENDING TRUST IN GOD, AND MODERATION AMONG
ALL PARTIES, AT THE PRESENT CRISIS.
BY THE REV. JOHN BLACK,
CURATE OF BUTLEY, IN SUFFOLK.
WOODBRIDGE: PRINTED AND SOLD BY R. LODER, BOOKSELLER, 1795.
PRINTED BY R. Loder
II. KINGS, 7. Chap. 1. 2. Verses.
Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; thus saith the LORD, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.
Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned, answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? and he said, Behold, thou shall see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.
ALL sacred scripture is given by God for our instruction and improvement; but there are some parts of the Bible peculiarly interesting to the feelings. There is a conciseness, a simplicity, a clearness, an energy in the language, which none but the sacred writers themselves could ever attain.
The story of which the text is a part, is told in so simple and interesting a manner, that while it arrests the attention of a child, it conveys a variety of useful instructions to the philosopher and the Christian.
It is the history of a siege and a famine: a history from which at all times we might derive improvement; but more especially at a time when we ourselves are at war, and all Europe in a state, something approaching to a famine.—Let us take a view of the whole story.
Benhadad, king of Syria gathered all bis host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. —We are not informed as to the causes of the war. Jehoram the king of Israel was a bad man, and probably had given some offence; but Benhadad the king of Syria seems to have been a proud ambitious monarch, who, regardless of right or wrong, sought his own aggrandisement. We find him on a former occasion, in the days of Ahab, with thirty and two kings under his command, besieging Samaria, and insulting the God of Israel; and, notwithstanding all [Page 4] his insolent boasting, and vast army, which filled the whole country, twice beaten, by so small a number of men, that they appeared like two flocks of kids.
In those unhappy times, men seemed created only to slaughter one another for the amusement of their despotic masters. And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men rise and play before us; and Joab said, let them them arise; and there arose twelve men belonging to each, and they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow's side; so they fell down together.—This dreadful play was acted for the amusement of two captains. The plays of their Masters were in proportion bloody.—The kings of Israel and Syria were long brothers in iniquity and rivals in war. The nations were no doubt taught to consider each other as natural enemies. But the Almighty Ruler of the universe made use of the pride and ambition of Benhadad to chastise the wickedness of the Israelites. We find it declared in the 26. Chap. of Levit. that if they would not hearken unto God, nor do his commandments, he would set his face against them, he would break the pride of their power, and the staff of their bread; and that they should eat the flesh of their sons, and the flesh of their daughters. In the 28. Chap. of Deuteronomy, we find it also denounced, that, if they would not hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God to observe and do all his commandments; that, among other punishments, which he would inflict upon them, he would bring a nation against them of fierce countenance, who should besiege them in all their gates, until they should eat the fruit of their own body, the flesh of their sons, and of their daughters.
These denunciations were dreadfully accomplished upon the Israelites on the present occasion. The famine within the walls of Samaria was more dreadful than the war without; for, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of doves dung for five pieces of silver. And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, help, my lord, O King. And he said, if the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barn floor, or out of the wine press? And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, this woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to day, and we will eat my son to morrow. So we boiled my son and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son. Dreadful situation! Who can [Page 5] read the history of it without horror, tho'it happened near three thousand years ago! What then must we think of the Syrians who produced all this misery; who sat without the gates, listening to every tale which was brought them of the distress of the Samaritans, with a kind of infernal rapture. They were heathens, it is true, but they were men: and to what a state of perversity and depravity must men be reduced, before they can find pleasure in the torture and misery of their fellow creatures!
Jehoram the king was greatly moved at this extreme misery of his people; And it came to pass, when tbe king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes; and he passed by upon the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh. He felt for the calamity, and he mourned for it; but it does not appear that he mourned for the causes of it, or repented of the sins, which had provoked heaven to bring it down. "The worst man may grieve for his smart, only the good can grieve for his offence." lnstead of being penitent, instead of repenting of his own idolatry; instead of lamenting the crimes of Ahab his father, and Jezebel his mother, and the wickedness of his people in general; all which were the true causes of such dreadful visitations; he is quite furious, and turns all his rage on innocence, nay on virtue; on the man whose counsel when followed never failed to deliver his country: God do so to me and more also, says he, if the head of Elisha, the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.—Alas! what had Elisha done? what ground was there for the king's displeasure? Had he reproved the nation of their wickedness? Had he forewarned them of the alarming evils that would overtake them for it? or did the king think, the prophet could have averted the siege and famine by his prayers, and would not? Ignorant and foolish man! To suppose the prophet fo eminently wife and good above his fellows, that he could command omnipotence, and scatter armies by the shaking of a leaf; and yet ordain his death!—All Israel did not afford a head so guiltless, so wise, so intent upon the public welfare, as this that was now destined to the stroke of the executioner.
In the midst of this scene of dire calamity, in Samaria, and the storm and tumult of Jehoram's mind, Elisha sat serenely in his house, and the elders sat with him; lamenting no doubt, the sins and misery of his people, and conferring [Page 6] about the issue of their present calamity. God revealed to him the bloody design of Jehoram. See ye, said he, addressing himself to the elders who sat with him, in the bold language of the servant of the king of kings,—see ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head!—this son of Ahab, the murderer of Naboth and the Lord's prophets —his son not only by birth, but disposition and bloody mindedness —look when the messenger cometh, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door —Is not the sound of his master's feet behind him? And while he yet talked with them, behold the messenger came down unto him: and said, in the name of his master, Behold this evil is of the Lord, what should I wait for the Lord any longer.
From this it would appear that Elisha had, during the distress of the city, preached up patience to the king, and persuaded him to trust in God for deliverance; but he, impatiently, and impiously, charges God foolishly as the author of all their misery; and would wreak his vengeance against the Almighty upon his innocent servant. O blind infidel!—O presumptuous madman!—
The king himself, the sound of whose feet was immediately behind the messenger, was now arrived in the presence of the prophet. But Elisha feared not the face of man. His soul was serene and undaunted. He was inspired by the spirit of prophecy. He saw the speedy relief of the city, the sudden turn their affairs would take, the plenty that next day awaited them. And notwithstanding the ill usage he had received, and the bloody intention of Jehoram towards him, he announces to them the joyful tidings. "Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD ; thus saith the LORD, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned, answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? and he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof."
Prophecies before they are fulfilled are enigmas, no spirit can understand their meaning but that by which they are delivered. There seemed so little probability of any immediate abundance, that one can hardly wonder that the [Page 7] king and his attendants, who were more inclined to idolatry than the worship of the one true God, should have given but little credit to Elisha.
This unbelief was however a great crime. The Israelites had seen a perpetual series of wonders wrought for their deliverance, This very Jehoram himself, had been constrained by distress, and the advice of the good Jehoshaphat, to have recourse to Elisha, about three years before this, and been an eye witness of a miracle: he had led his army into a wilderness where there was no water: On his application, Elisha at first treated him with great boldness; desired him to go to the prophets of his father and the prophets of his mother; yet on account of his respect for Jehoshaphat, and compassion for the armies of Israel and Judah; he commanded them to fill the valley full of ditches, when lo, on the morrow, as he had prophesied, there came water, without wind or rain, and filled the country.
This eminent service of Elisha seems to have so far made an impression on the mind of Jehoram, that when the prophet foretold the relief of Samaria, the king was disarmed of his rage, and at least expressed no doubt, whatever he thought in his own mind, of his veracity.—But an infidel Courtier on whose hand the king leaned, said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?—He even doubts, if windows were made in heaven and food rained down as manna was of old, whether their distresses could be relieved.—He either disbelieved the power of God, or the veracity of the prophet. Yet Elisha had performed many wonderful things in the eyes of all lsrael, and, one would think, must have fully established his authority as a prophet; and if this lord had believed in God at all, he must have known, that the arm of omnipotence can easily effect those things which appear altogether impossible to man. Could not he have increased the corn and meal of Samaria as he had done the widows oil? —But this proud infidel was to suffer for his unbelief —Behold said the prophet, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.—
His fate which the prophet foretold ought to afford us a usefu1 lesson. It should teach us never to distrust, nor to despair of the goodness of Providence, [Page 8] whose arm is never shortned that it cannot save. Even in the deepest distress, when there is no appearance of deliverance, the Almighty can rescue us:—he can blow with his wind, and scatter our enemies;—he can make plenty smile in a barren land, and water springs of a dry ground.—
Never surely was there a more calamitous situation than that of Samaria at this moment. Reduced to feed on things the most unwholsome, the least nutritious, and the most unclean; nay their tender and delicate women, rendered so brutally ravenous, as to devour their own tender offspring. Nature shudders at the thought! But from this state how unexpected, how sudden was their deliverance!—
Four lepers, men excluded on account of their loathsome disease, from all intercourse with society, sat at the entering in of the gate.—They saw nothing but death before them : famine within the walls; and the enemy without.—They had no choice but to die of hunger or fall to the enemy.—Dreadful alternative! Perhaps the enemy might have some pity,—hunger had none.—They resolved upon the lesser evil.—If the enemy killed them, they could but die. To the camp of the Syrians they came.—They approached it in the twilight; but there was no man.—Silence and solitude reigned, where they expected to have found a multitude of armed men.—They looked and listened with anxious dread :—the sound of their own steps alarmed them.
But an alarm far more dreadful had seized on the hearts of the Syrians: —For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host. Wherefore they rose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life.
The wicked fleeth, when no man pursueth. The Syrians after having brought much distress upon the Samaritans, without gaining either honour or advantage to themselves, were at last subdued, without an enemy, by a shadowy army —their own unsubstantial fears:—an empty sound scattered them:—panic struck they fled, half dead with terror:—amazed, and breathless they returned home, leaving their horses, their asses, their silver and gold, their provisions, and all their [Page 9] substance behind them. Only air-built chariots and horses pursued them. Disaster and disgrace accompanied their flight: their very clothes were cast away to accelerate their steps.
Thus ended the proud armament of Benhadad. Thus, for the most part, have, in all ages, the boasted armadas of profligate ambition, been in the end covered with shame; and annihilated by the breath of the Almighty's displeasure. —But no example of past times was ever yet a warning to heedless power and irritated passion.
The Samaritans, being informed of the Right of the Syrians by the lepers, and having fully ascertained the fact, went out and spoiled the tents of the Syrians. So a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD. And the king appointed the lord on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate: and the people trode upon him in the gate, and he died, as the man of God had said, who spake when the king came down to him.
Thus was speedily fulfilled the prophecy of Elisha: thus was the siege unexpectedly raised, and abundance supplied to the famished Samaritans; and the unbelieving lord made an eye witness of Elisha's veracity, without being a sharer of the plenty which he had foretold: for necessity, like death, levels all distinctions; hunger has no respect to greatness; and he was innocently trodden down by the people in their eagerness to supply their wants.—His fate is an awful lesson on faith and humility.—No power of words can add to its effect.—
Let us learn from the whole of this interesting, and instructive story, never to be weary of waiting for the Lord, however heavily present evils may press upon us; never to be fretful and discontented with providence, however gloomy the situation of public affairs may appear.
Whatever be the evils of which we may at any time complain, war, famine, violated rights, or the attempts of violent men to overturn our constitution: whatever be the danger we dread, or the good we wish —the evils may soon be
[Page 10] removed —the object we wish attained—but like the favourite of Jehoram, we may be trodden in the dust, and never taste the benefit of it.—What is the form of a Government—what is the name of a king—to the millions who fall in the contest about the one or the other? They hear not the voice of the oppressor— they taste not the plenty produced by just laws, and mild government.
I would not however damp the spirit of patriotism, or advise any man to be unconcerned for the public interest:—far, very far from it:—the man who feels not for the welfare of his country, and the happiness of posterity, and would not risque his life to preserve them, deserves not the protection of society. Let us feel an honest enthusiasm for what we deem right: But let us take care to inform our reason and not become the dupes of blind prejudice, or of designing men : let us take care to moderate the violence of our passions, and not imbitter life by angry disputes, or sour discontents. The event of all things is under the direction of God. Let us rely on his Providence. And let us never rashly throw the blame of public misfortunes entirely on any individual, lest we condemn the innocent, as Jehoram did Elisha. But let us honestly inspect our own hearts, and see how far our own sins and follies have contributed to produce the calamities which we deplore.
The state of the world at this moment presents to our view the most awful and alarming scenes.—Though happily removed by our situation from the more immediate evils of war and famine, yet we must in some degree be affected by them.—Last year many of the finest fields in Europe, instead of waving with yellow harvests, gleamed with deadly arms. The devastations occasioned by camps, by battles, routs and pillage, combined with an unfavourable season,—which God, no doubt, in mercy sent, to bring infuriate mortals to their senses, has produced, in every kingdom on the continent, an extreme scarcity.—Even in various parts of this kingdom an alarm of scarcity has gone forth, which has produced destructive tumults.
But let us, my Brethren, sit still in our houses, like Elisha, with serenity of soul; converse with the elders, the wise, the moderate and good; and wait the salvation of God.—If war has produced famine, famine will put an end to the
[Page 10] war. Already even amidst the storm, peace seems hovering on the wing, about to make her nest in those fields from which she had been scared. When she does alight —O! let us not disturb her again, by petty broils among ourselves about the causes of her flight.—Alas! my Brethren, we are all guilty.—Did not the nation at large, through all its ranks, as it were, shout for the battle? The still small voice of reason was drowned in the storm.—The interested were numerous no doubt;—but the great multitude were actuated, even while they called for war, by principles of humanity.—A murdered king —a degraded nobility —a pillaged priesthood, implored their compassion. I honour their feelings, while I lament their mistake, the fatal effects of which cannot yet be told. Reason begins to resume her throne, with Pity by her side, shedding tears over the ruins which blind fury has created. Our Commanders, equally distinguished for their courage and humanity, even in the moment of victory, when crowned with conquest, lament over the enemies' slain.*1 This is Christian like, and augurs well.—The world I trust will adopt this spirit —feel that they are brethren —the offspring of God —the heirs of the same promises —the expectants of the same reward.—
May the Great Father of all, look down from heaven upon his children!—forgive their errors,—pardon their sins,—bind up their wounds, and heal their divisions:—May He relieve their wants,—drop plenty from the clouds, —cause the earth to bring forth, and the fields to flourish:—May He establish peace in our borders,—and grant us his bleffing!
F I N I S.