Famine and War

The greater part of Joram's reign was an unhappy one. For seven consecutive years there was a severe famine in the land. During this time, the Syrians sought to avenge their many defeats at the hands of Ahab. Under the leadership of their king Benhadad, the Syrians made frequent thrusts at various points in the Northern Kingdom (the Kingdom of Israel). However, the armies of Joram usually succeeded in repelling the invasion, and Benhadad had to return to his land disappointed.

Of the greatest help at this time was the prophet Elisha to whom G‑d revealed all the plans of the enemy. These were always frustrated by Elisha, who kept on warning King Joram against any trap or ambush laid by the enemy. The king of Syria was bewildered and at first suspected some of his trusted servants of treachery. Finally, he learned that it was the prophet Elisha who was responsible for his defeats and resolved to capture him.

The Tables Turned

A great number of men with horses and chariots were sent by the king of Syria to the city of Dothan where the prophet was dwelling. They arrived at night and surrounded the city. In the morning Elisha's servant beheld the great host and exclaimed, 'Alas! my master, what shall we do?' But the man of G‑d replied, Tear not, for they that are with us are more than they that are with them.' He then prayed to G‑d to open his servant's eyes, and the young man suddenly saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

When the Syrians were surrounding his house, Elisha prayed to G‑d to smite them with blindness. His prayer was answered, and the men could no longer recognize him or the place. Elisha offered to lead them to the man they were seeking, and the men followed him. He led them to Samaria. Then he prayed to G‑d to open their eyes, and they found themselves in the heart of the capital of Israel, at the mercy of its king.

The king of Israel turned to Elisha; 'My father, shall I smite them?' But the prophet replied, 'Thou shalt not smite them. Wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and thy bow? Set bread before them, that they may eat and drink and return to their master!' This was done, although there was a great famine in the city.

The Syrian warriors returned to their king and related to him of the wonderful mercy of the Israelites. But the Syrian king, still bent upon the conquest of Samaria, assembled his whole army and besieged the capital of Israel.

The King's Distress

There was terrible distress throughout the land, but no one was more distressed than the king himself. He knew that he was in no small measure responsible for the terrible misfortune that had befallen his land. To be sure, he was not as wicked as his father Ahab and his mother Jezebel had been when they reigned over Israel, but neither was he as good and G‑d-fearing as a king of Israel should be, and as the prophet Elisha wanted him to be. But now that the news of the terrible suffering of his people had reached him, he rent his royal robes, and his courtiers saw that he was wearing sackloth underneath, in the manner of mourners. "By G‑d," the king said wrathfully, "if the prophet Elisha will not pray to G‑d to end this famine, his head shall not stand on him a day longer!"

The king sent his captain to Elisha to order him to pray to G‑d or forfeit his head. But Elisha knew of the king's oath the instant he had uttered it, for was he not a divine prophet to whom G‑d revealed everything?

At that very moment Elisha was sitting in his house in the company of the elders of Israel. He told them that the king's captain would come any minute, and even as he spoke the king's messenger arrived.

Elisha had G‑d's answer ready: "Hear ye the word of G‑d: tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour shall sell for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria!"

At that time, when no flour or barley was to be had for their weight in gold, Elisha's prophecy sounded impossible. The captain sneered at the prophet: "Even if G‑d would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?" But the divine man answered him sternly: "Thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof!"

That night, after Elisha had made known his wonderful prophecy, a strange thing happened. G‑d made the Syrians hear the sound of rolling chariots and charging cavalry and rushing troops, whereupon a terrible fear came into their hearts. They thought that the king of Israel had hired the kings of the Hittites and Egyptians to drive off the Syrians, and so they fled for their lives, leaving their tents, their horses, their donkeys, and their whole camp almost intact.

The Four Lepers

No one inside the city knew what had happened among the Syrians that night, for no one ventured outside the city during the siege.

The besieged city would not have discovered the miracle of deliverance that G‑d had wrought, had it not been for four lepers who lived outside the gates of Samaria.1 These lepers were Gehazi, Elisha's erstwhile servant and his three sons. Through these afflicted men G‑d willed that the great deliverance be discovered, and that the prophet Elisha's word would come true.

These lepers had come to the end of their provision of food and in desperation they decided to give themselves up to the mercy of the Syrians. If the Syrians spared them and gave them food, they would be saved; and if they killed them, the lepers would be no worse off than if they died of hunger.

Before dawn they crept quietly towards the Syrian camp, and when they came close to it, they discovered a strange silence in the camp. They sneaked into the first tent they came to and found it deserted. There was plenty of food and water there, and they ate and drank their fill. They carried off gold and silver and other treasures and hid them. Then they returned to the camp and sneaked into another tent, and that one was deserted too. They soon discovered that the whole camp was deserted, and they rushed to the city gates and called to the gatekeepers excitedly: "We have just been in the camp of the Syrians and there was no man there, but horses tied and donkeys tied, and the tents deserted!"

The news was rushed to the king, but he thought that the Syrians had laid a trap, and that they were lying in ambush somewhere in the fields. However, he took the advice of one of his servants and sent out two chariots with the last remaining horses, to investigate. The two chariots drove as far as the Jordan, and they saw that the road was strewn with garments and vessels which the Syrians had cast away in their haste. They came back and told the king that the unbelievable had happened. For some reason the Syrians had fled in great haste and had left their camp intact.

Then the king and all the people went out to the camp of the Syrians to take the spoils. Food became so plentiful that a measure of fine flour could be bought for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, just as Elisha had prophesied in G‑d's name.

And the second part of Elisha's prophecy also came true. For the king had ordered his captain to take charge at the gate, and so great was the onrush of the people that the captain was crushed and trodden upon, and he died before he could even break his hunger. That was his punishment for disbelieving the prophet Elisha.

Elisha's Prophecy on Syria

One day Elisha went to Damascus, the capital of Syria. The news of his arrival in the Syrian capital reached king Benhadad, who was lying critically ill in his palace. The king sent his most trusted statesman Hazael to inquire of the Hebrew prophet whether he would recover from his illness.

Elisha told Hazael that the king would not die of his illness, but that he would, nevertheless, die, before he recovered. Then turning his head to the wall, the prophet wept bitterly.

"O man of G‑d, why are you weeping?" Hazael asked in surprise.

"G‑d has revealed to me that you will be the next king of Syria, and that you will cause unspeakable misery and suffering to my people; you will pull down our fortified cities; you will slay our best sons, and massacre our women and children..."

"Am I a dog that I should do such a thing?" Hazael cried.

"Alas, G‑d has willed it, for my people have sinned."

Hazael returned to his king and told him only that the prophet had said he would not die of his illness. The next morning, however, when he was alone with the sick king, he smothered him and proclaimed himself king of Syria.

Hazael, the new king of Syria, began a series of successful wars against the people of Israel, spreading destruction and death wherever his savage troops moved.

Once again Joram requested and received the aid of his kinsman, the king of Judah. This time it was the young king Ahaziah, his nephew, who came to his aid, for Jehoshaphat and his son Jehoram who succeeded him, had died. It was a desperate battle. Ramoth-Gilead was successfully defended, but Joram was wounded in the battle, and was taken to Jezreel to recuperate. There he was visited by his nephew, King Ahazia of Judah.