Weekly Torah Commentary – Tzaria-Metzora April 28, 2017

Torah reading: Leviticus 12 – 15

Haftorah reading: II Kings 7:3-20

A little background: What we read about this week takes place during the time when Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim/Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  This is also the time of the long and impressive ministry of the prophet Elisha, the successor to Elijah, who received a double portion of the anointing that had been on his mentor.

At the time of this narrative Israel and Aram (Syria today) were almost continuously at war.  In the previous chapter (chapter six), the king of Aram, Ben Hadad, had laid siege to Samaria, the capitol city of the northern kingdom. That meant no one went into the city and no one came out of the city.  A siege was designed to starve the inhabitants of a city into either surrender or else to reduce them to a state of such weakness as to be unable to put up any resistance when once the wall was breached.

As our passage begins, a very severe famine is driving the people even to cannibalism! Two women approach Joran, an evil king of Israel reigning at that time, one of them complaining that the previous day she and her neighbor had struck an agreement: that day they would eat her son, and the following day the other woman’s son. So they boiled and ate the first woman’s son, but the next day the second woman had hidden her son. When the king hears this, he tore his robe – but not in repentance. He reacts with rage, directing his anger at Elisha. He swears an oath before God to have Elisha’s head cut off.

elijah-mantle-falls-on-elisha

King Joram arrived at Elisha’s house the next morning. Elisha, being a prophet, knew beforehand that the king was coming, and what he intended to do. But instead of a stinging rebuke, Elisha gives the king some interesting news – great news!

Then Elisha said, “Listen to the word of the LORD; thus says the LORD, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour will be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.’”  II Kings 7:1

In other words, the famine will be over, and food will once again be plentiful. The very next day grain and flour would be sold at completely normal prices. That would require a miracle, given the desperate situation at hand. But that’s exactly what is being promised. Elisha, the prophet of God, has declared “Thus says the Lord…”

Would God really rescue a rebellious people? Yes, because of His covenant. After all, if God only rescued the deserving, where would that leave you and me?  Mankind would long ago have ceased to exist if God’s mercy depended on our ‘worthiness’. His mercy is an expression of His faithfulness to His own covenant.  It’s a matter of God’s integrity.

One of the king’s officials is skeptical but Elisha assures him that he will see the miracle.

Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why do we sit here until we die? “If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ then the famine is in the city and we will die there; and if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, we will but die.”

Leprosy is just about the worst thing that could happen to someone in ancient times. Lepers were complete outcasts from society. These four lepers are sitting outside the gate of the city, and suddenly it dawns on them that they have absolutely nothing to lose! They can’t go inside the city because they’re lepers, and they can’t just sit there and starve to death. They realize they have only one option that doesn’t guarantee death: go out to the army camp and surrender to the Syrians. If the Syrians let them live, they’ll at least be able to eat and stay alive. If the Syrians kill them, they’ll just die a little quicker.

It’s amazing how much clarity you can have when you’re out of options. These four lepers “threw caution to the wind” and took the only logical step left, surrender to the enemy.  Was it a good idea?

They arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Arameans; when they came to the outskirts of the camp of the Arameans, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a sound of chariots and a sound of horses, even the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.” Therefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents and their horses and their donkeys, even the camp just as it was, and fled for their life. vs. 5-7

Well, well, well! God had gotten involved! The Arameans heard such a loud sound that they were sure thousands of horses were approaching.  Yet it wasn’t a real army! God caused them to hear something that wasn’t even there! So, for the sake of a rebellious people who made up the Northern Kingdom, the covenant keeping God of Israel caused trained warriors to run like rabbits so that the deliverance of Israel was completely God’s doing.  And it happened when Israel was hardly deserving of the miracle!

God’s love and faithfulness are far greater than we realize.  He is faithful because He is Who He is, even when we are not faithful or obedient. That’s called Mercy.

When these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they entered one tent and ate and drank, and carried from there silver and gold and clothes, and went and hid them; and they returned and entered another tent and carried from there also, and went and hid them. Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”

The biggest “losers” turn out to be the biggest winners! While initially acting on impulse to eat, drink, grab the gold and silver, the lepers are stricken by their consciences. “We may be outcasts in Israel, but our people Israel are dying at this very moment, and we’ve found food; we’ve made a discovery that will save our people – how can we keep this good news to ourselves?”

So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city, and they told them, saying, “We came to the camp of the Arameans, and behold, there was no one there, nor the voice of man, only the horses tied and the donkeys tied, and the tents just as they were.” The gatekeepers called and told it within the king’s household. vs. 10-11

The lepers had to call to the watchmen from outside the gates to announce the good news as they were not allowed in the city.  I am impressed by their selflessness. Other lepers may have collected as much silver and gold as they could and thought “I’m taking care of me – I couldn’t care less about the rest of that bunch.”

An integral part of growing in spirituality is learning to be selfless, instead of selfish. We are called to care about others, not just ourselves.  We are part of God’s larger family, not islands adrift in a troubled world.

Then the king arose in the night and said to his servants, “I will tell you now what the Arameans have done to us. They know that we are hungry; therefore they have gone from the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, ‘When they come out of the city, we will capture them alive and get into the city.’” vs. 12

The king was not a godly, believing man; he assumed the worst. Never mind that Elisha had promised just a day earlier that the very next day God would provide food in abundance. It’s happening, just as promised, but the king isn’t making the connection.

Prideful cynicism can be deadly.  Every moment King Joram delayed, people in the city of Samaria were dying. Thankfully, at least one of the servants in his court had the presence of mind to offer a wise suggestion.

One of his servants said, “Please, let some men take five of the horses which remain, which are left in the city. Behold, they will be in any case like all the multitude of Israel who are left in it; behold, they will be in any case like all the multitude of Israel who have already perished, so let us send and see.” They took therefore two chariots with horses, and the king sent after the army of the Arameans, saying, “Go and see.”  They went after them to the Jordan, and behold, all the way was full of clothes and equipment which the Arameans had thrown away in their haste. Then the messengers returned and told the king. So the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. Then 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.  Verses 13-16

So the messengers go and sure enough, there were all the clothes and equipment left behind by the Arameans. They reported back to the king that Israel was indeed delivered according to the word of the Lord through the prophet, Elisha.

In Tune with Torah this week = Giving praise to God at all times in every kind of situation is always the right thing to do for we never know when God is at work without our knowledge, causing all things to work for our good like He did for Israel.  Let us choose to be devoted and full of faith like Elisha, rather than skeptical like the evil king.

Shabbat Shalom

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