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The Lepers and the Siege

The following story is taken from Telling It Simply. It happened in the times of the Kings and Elisha is the prophet of God to the people.

The main Syrian army came though, led by Benhadad, the king, himself  They surrounded Samaria and began to starve the people out.  It got to the point that food was so expensive that an ass’s head was sold for eighty pieces of silver and they were even buying dove dung to eat.

The final crunch came when the king was walking round the city walls in despair.  One of his subjects, a woman, called out to him.  Her tale of woe was horrific.

“This woman said to me, we will eat your son today and mine tomorrow.  So we boiled mine and ate him and now she has hidden her son.”

The king was devastated.  He tore his robes and the people could all see that he was wearing sackcloth next to his skin.  And he blamed Elisha.  

“God do the same to me if I have not beheaded Elisha by this time tomorrow!” he declared.

Elisha was in the city in a house with the elders.  

“That murdering monarch wants to take off my head,” he remarked.  “When his messenger comes to summon me, hang on to him.  His master will be right behind him.”

He was.  The king raged at Elisha, “This evil is from God!  Why should I wait any longer?”

“God says, it will soon all be over,” Elisha replied.  “About this time tomorrow, a measure of fine flour or two measures of barley will each be had for just one shekel in the gate of Samaria.”

“Yeah right!” scoffed the lord who, by virtue of his highest rank, gave his arm to the king as he walked.  “Just as likely that God would make windows in heaven!”

Elisha eyed him coldly.  “You will see it happen – but you will not eat a mouthful.”

Now it happened that there were four lepers living in the gate of Samaria.  They had moved into the protection of the city walls because of the siege but could not live in the community.  They were talking amongst themselves.

“Why are we sitting here until we die?” they asked each other.  “If we go into the city we will die.  If we stay sitting here we will die.  And if we go out to the Syrians, all they can do to us is kill us.  Or feed us.”

They came to the conclusion that their best option had Syrians in it.  So off they went to the invading army camp in the last of the evening light.

To their amazement, the camp was silent and still.  The horses and asses were tethered but the tents were all empty of soldiers.  And the first tent they came across had food in it.  The lepers ate and drank.  Then they started gathering up silver and gold items and stashing them for later.

“This isn’t right,” one of them said as they scurried gleefully about in the dark.  “This is a day of good news for the whole city not just us.  And anyway, if we wait until morning, we shall be blamed for sure for not telling everyone.”

They went back to the city gate and told the porter what they had found.  He went to the king.

“It’s a trap,” said the king at once.  “They want to lure us out and then ambush us.”

He sent out a scouting party using a couple of the last remaining horses.  What they found was amazing.  The Syrian soldiers had evidently fled in haste, for the way was littered with clothes and pots they had dropped in their panic stricken run.

The news spread like wildfire through the city and all the people rushed to get out of the city and find food.  The high ranking courtier who had scoffed at Elisha’s word from God, was on gate duty and he saw the stampede of starving people surging towards him.  There was food and to spare outside in the abandoned camp but he never got to eat a mouthful because the stampeding mob mowed him down and trampled him underfoot.  He died right there.

And, just as Elisha had prophesied, one measure of fine flour and two of barley were on sale in the gate of Samaria that very day, just one shekel each.

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