Samaria was under siege. King Ben-hadad of Syria had led his army to surround Samaria and seal it off — nothing went out, nothing went in. Their intention was to cut off their food supply and slowly starve them out. Ben-hadad’s plan worked and desperate, famine-like conditions resulted. It got so bad for the Israelites that they were eating things they wouldn’t normally eat, like donkeys’ heads and bird droppings, and even resorting to the unthinkable practice of cannibalism to keep from starving to death (see 6:25-29). It seemed that their only hope for survival was to surrender to the Syrians, but God had another plan.
Among the starving Israelites was a group of lepers (suffering from the dread disease of leprosy). In normal times theirs would be a sad existence, but the siege had intensified their plight. They decided that they would take their chances surrendering to the enemy. At twilight they slipped out of the city and into the camp of the Syrians — but the camp was deserted! The Lord had frightened Ben-hadad and the Syrian army by making them hear the sound of attacking forces (perhaps the heavenly army that had protected Elisha in 6:17), and they had run away, leaving everything behind in their camp.
The four lepers investigated one of the tents on the edge of the camp and found in it food and valuables. They ate the food, satisfying their extreme hunger, and took the valuables from the tent and hid them. They returned to the camp and repeated their feast in another tent. It was then that the men remembered the city of Samaria and all their starving countrymen, and they confessed to each other, “We are not doing right” (v.9). They immediately returned to the city and got word to the king. He dispatched two scouts to look for the Syrians, and they tracked them as far as the Jordan River. It was apparent that the army had left in a hurry and that they were gone for good.
When the king heard this, he sent the people of Samaria to plunder the Syrian camp. The Lord had saved His people by defeating their enemy, breaking the siege, and blessing them with the spoils of the camp. What a great God! And what a great story! But what does it mean? Is there something we should learn from it?
I think the obvious lesson is that God is able to save us and defeat our enemies. He is able to bless His people in unexpected ways and to turn our desperate, impossible situations around in a moment. So if you feel like you are under siege and you are thinking about giving up, trust in the Lord and expect Him to come through for you.
Another lesson to take away from this chapter is the realization of the lepers in verse 9. As we enjoy the many blessings of the gospel, there are many people around us who are bound by sin and held captive by fear. They don’t know that Jesus has already defeated their enemy and that He wants to save them. We can’t just sit around enjoying our salvation while the world perishes. As the lepers said, “This is a day of good news” (v.9). So let’s tell it! Are you with me?