THE FAMINE IN SAMARIA, AND H0W IT WAS RELIEVED.
A GOSPEL ADDRESS. (2 Kings vi. 24)
WE read here of a famine in Samaria, the capital city of a
country most highly favoured, most deeply guilty in her abuse of the patience
and goodness of a long-suffering God. And now the judgment that must needs
overtake iniquity was falling upon her. The enemy was besieging her in her
gates, and already we see her in most extreme distress: "they besieged it
till an asss head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth
part of a cab of doves dung for five pieces of silver." In this awful
strait, the words of Moses prophetic denunciation were fulfilled, and
that took place which Jeremiah records in his moan of anguish over a still
greater calamity, "The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own
children." The king rends his clothes in agony at the terrible disclosure,
and the people see sackcloth within upon his flesh; but in the depth of his
despair, his heart, really unhumbled, breaks out against God in the person of
His prophet: "God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Elisha the son
of Shaphat shall stand on him this day." He repents indeed of this
rashness, and hastes after his messenger to save the prophets life, but
it is only to break out once more in impatience against God: "Behold, this
evil is of the Lord; why should I wait for the Lord any longer?"
Strange it seems to our natural thoughts that just here should come the announcement of blessing: "And Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord: thus saith the Lord, To-morrow, 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."
"Gods ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts." No; but because as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts. We look at the wickedness of man exhibited here, and we ask "What possible reason could there be here for the coming blessing?" And we can only answer "None, surely; absolutely none." Whatever misery there might be to draw out His pity, goodness there was none to plead on mans behalf; and it was at the very time when the evil which had provoked His judgment was laid fully bare that it pleased God to bring in His mercy. Is there here, then, any exception to His ways? Or is there not here rather a principle of His ways? With an unchangeable God there is no exception. Let us look, then, and see if we can find the principle.
Of Gods pity and love we may be sure, - a love that delights ever to come in and show itself, - that must be hindered by some necessity of His holiness if it do not show itself in behalf of His needy creatures, whose need should have been but the occasion of their learning more the heart of their Creator. And though sin has brought a dark cloud over all this, God has made this but the background upon which all the brighter the character of His love may he read. His Son has been the messenger and witness of a love that would clasp all in its embrace.
God is showing grace. He has title to show it, apart from any ground in man whatever. It is grace, the essential opposite of works - of any works at all as a condition: for "if it be of grace, it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace; and if it be of works, it is no more of grace, otherwise work is no more work." It is impossible, then, to mingle these two principles: if you attempt it, the one destroys the other. So, also, of necessity "the law is not of faith." "Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." On the other hand, the gospel-principle is "They that hear shall live." Law requires: grace gives. The obedience of the law is giving to God: the obedience of faith is receiving from God. "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse"; but "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us . . .; that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
But what, then, can hinder the reception of grace? Nothing, surely, but the rejection of it. And is it possible that there should be the rejection of grace? Can Gods free gift woo us in vain to its reception? Alas, there is a condition here, - to man the most galling: to receive grace, he must give up self-righteousness. He must humble himself to receive what he has never earned; he must be content as a sinner to find the Saviour. And here fatal pride prevails to the ruin of how many souls! It is what makes the Lord insist so strongly upon the necessity of repentance, for repentance is just this bringing down of creature-pride to receive, as needing it, Gods salvation. The "ninety and nine just persons" of whom He speaks in the parable "need no repentance": the figure of a repentant sinner is a "sheep that was lost." Such lost ones the tender grace of Christ goes after "till He finds." Confessedly lost sinners now, they are finally never lost. On the other hand, even His lips must say, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Now, if we come back to Samaria, and Gods bestowal of His blessing there, we can easily see how Gods announcement comes in most suited order just where it does. The king stands here, as ever in Israel, as the representative of the equally guilty people. And this king, the wicked descendant of as wicked ancestors, awakened to his danger, although not his sin, had put on the garb of repentance, - Jobs sackcloth without Jobs self-abhorrence. He talks piously of the Lord: "If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee?" And all this not as hypocrisy, - the sackcloth is not outside for the people to see, but "within, upon his flesh." He is seeking to establish a claim upon God by that which is the sign that he has no claim. And how many, not in the least hypocrites, are doing that! They will turn their repentance itself into a kind of righteousness, when the very meaning of repentance is that we have none. And God waits, and defers the blessing which it is in His heart to give, because if He gave it, He would be putting His sanction upon what is quite untrue. The kings sackcloth was, in this way, the very hindrance to blessing. To have given it before this was stripped off would have been to have obscured His precious grace, and to have turned into wages His free gift. He delays, therefore, the blessing; lets the ungodliness of the kings heart come out; and then, when all pretension upon mans part is entirely excluded, brings in His grace as grace, without a stain upon its glory, to be a witness of the principles of His gospel to us to-day.
Blessed be His name! Every soul that has a true sense of sin will thank Him for it adoringly. Is there not some soul that listens to me now who will now accept for the first time this free and priceless grace, - not no a temporal but an eternal salvation? "Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat! Yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!"
But God has much more to speak of in this precious history, and still more will emphasize for us the riches of His grace. We have now to mark the way the blessing actually comes. For this purpose God takes up "four leprous men," outcasts even among the wretched inhabitants of the city, just as God took up once the chief of sinners, Saul of Tarsus, to preach the fullest, sweetest story of grace that has ever been published to the world If the shadow of death had fallen on all the city, how must it have pressed upon these forlorn men! And it is out of their despair their hope arises. Who else would have found hope in going out to the camp of the Syrians? But for them death compassed them around; "and they said unto one another Why sit we here until we die? If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is the city, and we shall die there; and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall into the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die."
It was the very place and power of death for that besieged city, and out of it was to come that which would save alive Samarias starving multitude. Out of the eater was to come meat; out of the strong, sweetness. And so for us also that riddle of Samsons must be fulfilled. For ourselves, our natural portion is death and judgment and which of us has any ability to meet these? Death is the stamp of a ruined world; and if God enter into judgment with us, no flesh living shall be justified. Here the stronghold of the enemy against us; and thus through fear of death men are all their lifetime subject to bondage At a distance from it, although we know full well what awaits us, we may, with the incredible stolidity which belongs to man, think little perhaps about it. In Samaria for some time doubtless the dance and the song went on. Nay, even as the certain doom drew near, it may be there were those who only held more frantically to the revels that for the moment could still divert them from what they dared not contemplate.
A mighty work God had been doing for Samaria, but these we may be sure knew nothing of it. It pleased God to communicate the secret of what He had done to these four leprous men: "And they rose up in the twilight to go unto the camp of the Syrians; and when they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there. 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; and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians to come upon us. Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and the asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life God had worked alone, and no one with Him, needing no help, and for those wholly unable to give it. And thus for faith Christ has "abolished death, and brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel." "He has spoiled principalities and powers"; "has led captivity captive, and given gifts unto men." Alone He has done it. "Whither I go," He says to Peter, "thou canst not follow me now." But the work accomplished, we are welcome to share the fruits of His victory. They are as free to us as the camp of the Syrians to those four leprous men. Absolutely free it was: "They went into one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver and gold and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it." How sudden the change from the death that stared them in the face to this abundance! How surpassingly wonderful to him who finds himself reaping the spoil of death, the fruit of Christs victory! It is all ours without reserve, nothing kept back, "silver and gold and raiment," - things which have very plain significance in the word of God. Let us try and spell them out, and see what our riches are, although after all their value may no man tell.
It is not enough for God to deliver, - He must enrich also those whom He delivers. The deliverance, too, is, in the way of its accomplishment, infinite riches to us; and of this first the silver speaks. The atonement-money was silver, the witness to redemption, which for us "is not with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ." Redemption is the testimony of what is in the heart of God toward us. If we needed the ransom, God has not thought even such a price too great. What infinite blessedness to find ourselves of this value to One to whom all worlds belong: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." Prodigals, beggars, bankrupts, as we are, the whole of the universe does not equal the price that has been paid for us. We can tell our riches, then, in this, when what we have cost Him is the measure of the love which invites and welcomes us - the "love of Christ that passeth knowledge".
And then the "gold ": gold is divine glory, the out shining of what He is who is light, and now in the light The darkness in which for the moment He was hidden who for us went into it is for faith past, and already the true light shines. Our inheritance is in the light. We know God, - are already worshippers in the holiest of all - can worship in spirit and in truth, - for we know whom we worship.
What wealth is ours in this glory which streams out upon us, - in which we live, - which brightens all our path, glorifying even now all the clouds which hang over it, - which illuminates even such as we are to reflect it "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give out the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." It is thus we know Him, - in righteousness, in truth, in unfailing, everlasting love; and then the light of an eternal day has risen upon us, and a wealth beyond that of unnumbered worlds is in our hands.
"And raiment": for then, too, is the shame of our nakedness removed. We are clothed with that which not only completely covers us in the sight of God, but with the best robe even in the Fathers house, for we are clothed with Christ Himself; we stand in Himself, accepted in the Beloved, seen in the value of that priceless work which has maintained, in fully tried perfection, the character of God in the very place in which He suffered for the sins of men. We thus in Christ before God are made not only the display of His grace, but of His righteousness also, - "made the righteousness of God in Him." How sudden the change, I say again, for these poor lepers, from famine and destitution to this abundance verily theirs to lay hold of as they list! God had wrought alone for them, and they had but to enjoy the fruits; and that place of death had changed for them its character wholly, - it was the place of life, and peace, and marvellous riches. But it is only, after all, the feeble picture, however blessed, of what God has done for us. Beloved, is it, through Gods grace, indeed our own? And if so, how far are we realizing our infinite possessions?
But a thought strikes them in the midst of their happiness; and while, after all, it is in them a selfish one, we shall do well to heed the lesson of it: "Then they said one to another, We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some evil will come upon us: now therefore come, that we may tell it to the kings household."
If we have been able thus far to follow the interpretation of this, should it be needful to make the application here? Surely the need around should sufficiently appeal to those who by grace are partakers of an infinite treasure, which in sharing with others we only realize ourselves the more! Think of needing to be stirred up as to this! And yet we do need; and because of our lack in this respect, does not evil come upon us too under the holy government of God? If "he that withholdeth corn the people shall curse him," what is the responsibility of those who hold back from perishing souls the "word of life," - the good word that can make glad the saddest heart, - yea, make the tongue of the dumb to sing for joy?
Back, then, they go to the city, and tell the well-nigh incredible story, none the less true. I pass over the reception of it, - the wisdom of the king which counts it but deceit, - the need of the people which forces to test if it be not true. God invites this experimental test, be loved friends. Christianity is a religion of experiment; and if only there be lowliness and need on the part of the seeker, he shall not be turned away.
But I pass on to just one final word, which we must not miss; for the Spirit of God emphasizes, by minute repetition of the sin which brought it down, the judgment of God upon the scorner of His precious grace. More solemn than any words which I could use are the words of the inspired historian to one who died in the very midst of the abundance which the prophet had predicted: "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 charge of the gate; and the people trod upon him in the gate, and he died, as the man of God had said who spake when the king came down to him. And it came to pass as the man of God had spoken to the king saying, Two measures of barley for a shekel, and a measure of fine flour for a shekel, shall be tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria. And that lord answered the man of God, Now, behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, might this thing be? And he said Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof. And so it fell out unto him; for the people trod upon him in the gate, and he died."
Thank God for the blessed word which says "He that liveth and believeth on Me shall never die."
Go To Chapter Ten
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