Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Second Kings: Are You Going to Eat That? (Part 2)

Well, here I am again with more progress on Second Kings. Let’s get to it.

Where were we? Oh yeah, Israel is warring with Syria again. And he’s having a hard time of it, because Elisha keeps telling the Israelite king (who I presume is still Jehoram, though the text doesn’t refer to him by name in this story) where the Syrian armies are camped. It’s kind of unclear why he’s doing this, since in the story about the invasion of Moab Elisha was pretty clear about his disdain for Jehoram. But whatever.

Anyway, some of the Syrians tell their king that it’s Elisha giving away their positions, and that he’s in the city of Dothan. So the Syrian king sends an army to besiege Dothan so he can get rid of Elisha. But the prophet prays for God to strike them all blind, which he does. Elisha then tricks the blind Syrian army into following him to the city of Samaria (I looked it up: we’re expected to believe this army of blind men trekked twelve miles on a stranger’s say-so), where the Israelite king and his army are located. He restores their sight in time for them to be captured by the Israelite king.

Interestingly, Elisha advises the king to give them food and drink before sending them home. Now this is an interesting development: for the first time, God has provided a miraculous defeat of an enemy army without commanding their utter genocide. Is God evolving, or does his personality happen to change depending on the personality of the prophet conveying his orders?

The Syrian king, Ben-hadad (the same guy Ahab once defeated and let go), reacts by regrouping his army and going to assault Samaria. The siege lasts so long that (and remember, God did promise oh so long ago that he would make this happen) people begin to starve so badly that they start eating their babies. Upon hearing of the cannibalism going on in his city, the Israelite king gets pissed and demands Elisha’s head.

On the one hand, this seems like a singularly stupid reaction – after all, it isn’t Elisha eating babies, and it isn’t Elisha besieging the city. On the other hand, the king supposedly has seen Elisha miraculously defeat Syrian armies by himself just recently, so it has to be galling that he’s just letting his own people starve when he could theoretically throw miracles at the Syrians some more.

Anyhow, Elisha bars his doors against the people who are sent to arrest him, and tells the leader that there will be plenty of food tomorrow (but that said leader will not get to eat any of it).

Sure enough, in the morning the Syrian army has completely evaporated. We’re told because God had made the Syrians hear the sound of a vast army coming at them in the middle of the night, and got so scared that they ran off and left all of their stuff behind in their camp. If I were that easy, one has to wonder why the fuck this God guy didn’t do it before people were reduced to eating their own fucking children.

Oh yeah… because he wanted them to. Said so all the way back in Deuteronomy 28.

Anyway, when the people realize what’s happened, they stampede out the gates to loot the Syrian camp, and in the process trample to death the poor schmuck that Elisha had said wouldn’t get to eat of the food.

Let’s see… side story about a seven-year famine… not terribly important.

Then Elisha travels to Damascus in Syria. When the king, who is ill, hears that Elisha is in town he sends some dude named Hazael (that name should be familiar if you’ve read my previous posts) to inquire whether he will recover from his illness.

2 Kings 8:10 And Elish said to him, ‘Go, say to him, “You shall certainly recover,” but Yahweh has shown me that he shall certainly die.”

Yeah, prophet of God, instructing Hazael to lie. These prophets seem to be increasingly untrustworthy sorts.

Elisha then goes on to burst into tears, and tell Hazael about how God has told him that Hazael will become king of Syria and do all kinds of shitty things to Israel. So Hazael goes back to king Ben-hadad and tells him the lie he was instructed to tell, then later smothers the king and claims the throne for himself. I suppose this could count as Elisha fulfilling the instructions God gave (to Elijah) to anoint Hazael king of Syria.

Then we kind of get into some dense politics, which is made all the more confusing by the fact that at one point both Israel and Judah are being ruled by different men who are both named Jehoram and are both referred to by that name and by the name Joram. The Bible is critical of both, in any case, because they worship other gods beside Yahweh (in the case of Jehoram of Judah, the Bible lays the blame on the fact that he’s married to one of Jehoram of Israel’s sisters).  Under Jehoram’s rule, the cities of Edom and Libnah revolt and become independent of Israel.

At any rate, I think this is going to be a stopping place for today. We’re going into a portion of the book heavy on politics and successions (and very short on theological stuff), so I’ll need to put some thought into how to relate the stories. Until next time, you all be well!.