(2 Kings 7:3-20)
April 28, 2001
This week’s Haftarah is a tale of the unexpected. A major advisor to the king of Israel, a man who should be an exemplar to all, denies that God acts in the world. At the same time the nation is rescued by a group of society’s outcasts. It is the contrast between these two sets of characters that shape the message of our story.
This week’s Haftarah does not include the beginning of the story. The city of Samaria, capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, is under siege by the army of the king of Aram. Starvation is rampant. Both the king and the people are in panic. The prophet Elisha delivers a message of hope before the king that God will end the famine the next day.
We encounter two contrasting responses to the plight of the city. The first, from one of the king’s key advisors, is one of ridicule. He hears the message of the prophet and mocks him by denying God’s ability to end the famine. He chides the prophet sarcastically: “Even if the Lord could make windows in the sky could this come to pass?” (2 Kings 7:2).
The Haftarah begins with a description of the dire situation of a most unlikely set of heroes – a group of four lepers, society’s downtrodden – who sit outside the gate of the beleaguered city contemplating a solution to the bitter fate of starvation. They know nothing of Elisha’s prophecy of hope so they decide to fall upon the mercy of the camp of the army of Aram. When they arrive at the camp they find it deserted. At first they concern themselves exclusively with their own needs but then they feel guilty and say: “We are not doing right. This is a day of good news, and we are keeping silent! If we wait until the light of morning, we shall incur guilt. Come let us go inform the king’s palace” (verse 9). Immediately they go up to the king to share the news of the miracle.
If we look closely, this story reveals two miracles. One of them, relief from the siege by the army of Aram, is obvious. It was also a miracle that the lepers were inspired to behave admirably and ethically.
The cynicism of the king’s advisor, who denied God’s role in the world, gives way to the sense of communal responsibility reflected in the behavior of the lepers. They turn out to be the harbingers of God’s miracle. The king’s advisor, who could not bring himself to acknowledge God’s role in the world could not be inspired by God. The lepers, on the other hand, let God’s miracle motivate them to care for their fellow human beings. This study in contrasts not only teaches us that God’s greatest miracles happen in the hearts and behavior of each of us but also that each and every person no matter what his or her social standing may be such a messenger.