Hurlbut's Story of the Bible  by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut

What the Lepers Found in the Camp

II Kings vi: 24, to vii: 20.

dropcap image FTER a time there was another great war between Syria and Israel; and Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, led a mighty army into the land of Israel, and laid siege against the city of Samaria. So hard and so long was the siege that the people in Samaria could find nothing to eat; many died from want of food, and some killed their own children, and ate them.

But through all the siege Elisha encouraged the king of Israel not to give up the city. When it seemed that there could be no hope, Elisha said to the king, "Hear the word of the Lord, ‘To-morrow, at this hour, in the gate of Samaria, a peck of flour shall be sold for sixty cents, and two pecks of barley for sixty cents.' "

One of the nobles, on whose arm the king was learning, did not believe Elisha's word, and said, scornfully, "If the Lord would make windows in heaven, and rain down wheat and barley, then this might be." "You shall see it with your own eyes," answered Elisha; "but you shall not eat any of the food."

On the next morning, about daybreak, four men that were lepers were standing together outside the gate of Samaria. Being lepers, they were not allowed by the laws of Israel inside the walls of the city. (We have read of leprosy and lepers in the story of Naaman, Story 86). These four men said to each other, "What shall we do? If we go into the city we must die there from the want of food; if we stay here we must die. Let us go to the camp of the Syrians; perhaps they will let us live; and at the worst they can do no more than kill us."

So the four men went toward the Syrian camp; but as they came near they were surprised to find no one standing on guard. They went into a tent, and found it empty, as though it had been left very suddenly, for there were food, and drink, and garments, and gold, and silver. As no one was there they ate and drank all they needed; and then they took away valuable things and hid them. They looked into another tent, and another, and found them like the first, but not a man was in sight. They walked through the camp; but not a soldier was there, and the tents were left just as they had been when men were living in them.


The lepers visit a tent of the Syrians

In the night the Lord had caused the Syrians to hear a great noise, like the rolling of chariots, and the trampling of horses, and the marching of men. They said to each other, in great fear, "The king of Israel has sent for the Hittites on the north, and the Egyptians on the south, to come against us."

And so great and so sudden was their terror, that in the night they rose up and fled away, leaving everything in their camp; even leaving their horses tied, and their asses, and all their treasure, and all their food, in their tents.

After a time the lepers said to each other, "We do wrong not to tell this good news in the city. If they find it out, they will blame us for not letting them know, and we may lose our lives on account of it."

So they went up to the gate, and called the men on guard, and told them how they had found the camp of the Syrians, with tents standing, and horses tied, but not a man left. The men on guard told it at the king's palace. But the king, when he heard it, thought that it was a trick of the Syrians to hide themselves, and to draw the men out of the city, so that they might take the city.

The king sent out two men with horses and chariots, and they found that not only had the camp been left, but that the road down the mountains to the river Jordan was covered with garments, and arms, and treasures that the Syrians had thrown away in their wild flight.

The news soon spread through the city of Samaria; and in a few hours all the city was at the gate. And when the food was brought in from the camp, there was abundance for all the people. And it came to pass as Elisha had said, a peck of grain, and two pecks of barley were sold for sixty cents in the gate of Samaria by noon of that day.

The king chose the noble upon whose arm he had leaned the day before to have charge of the gate. So he saw with his own eyes that which the prophet had foretold; but he did not eat of it, for the crowd was so great that the people pressed upon him, and he was trodden under their feet, and killed in the throng.

Thus the king and all the city of Samaria knew that Elisha had indeed spoken the word of the Lord.

We have seen how different from the ways of Elijah were the ways of Elisha. Elijah lived alone in the wilderness, and never came before kings except to tell them of their evil deeds, and to warn them of punishment. But Elisha lived in the city, at times even in the city of Samaria, often sent helpful messages to the king, and seemed to be his friend. Both these men were needed, Elijah and Elisha, one to destroy the evil in the land, and the other to build up the good.