Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Chapter 6-8
– The Big Overview

I have spent a great deal of time thinking as to how to "teach" i.e. write these chapters. Rather than dealing with them BeIyun – after all, the stories of each are rather simple – I have decided to look at these stories from a wider angle, giving some shape to the Elisha stories in general.

We have 3 major stories about Elisha ahead of us:

6:8-23 Elisha captures the Aramean army and leads them to Shomron
6:24-7:20 The siege on Shomron, the famine, the four lepers and the miracle
[8:1-6 – The king, Gechazi and the Shunnamite woman … not about Elisha]
8:7-15 Elisha travels to Damascus – Assasination of Ben Hadad – rise of Hazael.

I will start from the last story. But before we begin, let us note some of the features of all our stories here from ch.5-8.


First, these perakim are characterized by a backdrop of constant military harassment and attack by Aram lead by their king, Ben Haddad.
To explain; Aram and Israel have been entangled since the days of Achav, in Melachim Aleph ch.20. It is clear that Yisrael has been the underdog in this fight. In Melachim Aleph ch.22 Ben Haddad is the king that kills Achav in battle. In ch.5 Naaman is his army officer who regularly raids Israel. Ch.7 describes his constant war of attrition against Israel, and ch.8 describes hi siege upon the capital city of Shomron. In other words, We have been suffering at the hands of Aram for many years.

Second, these are times of famine and poverty.
To elaborate - 8:1,3 talk about a 7 year famine. Ch.7 talks about a siege that reflects the worse prognosis of the Tochachot – mothers eating children. The stories of the Bnei Neviim reflect abject poverty: A crisis because there is no money to pay for a lost axe-head (6:5), children at risk because of the debt of their parents (4:1), people so short of food that they have to use unknown wild fruits to make food (4:39) – another sign of famine.

Third, the name of the king is not mentioned throughout these chapters, despite his being very active in the stories. (In addition, the King is always depicted as helpless and confused.) We do not even know what king we are dealing with. This is particularly uncharacteristic for Sefer Melachim which keeps a close track of the historical details.

Fourth, the salvation always comes from one of Elisha's miracles, acts that are not spectacles, but frequently predict events (like the location of the Syrian army, the reassurance of the end of the siege.) Elisha is the "hidden weapon" of Israel. However ironically, this is not because Elisha gives victory to ISrael, but because he averts total disaster and defeat!

What might we make of all this?


We shall start our examination by looking at the last of these stories, Elisha in Damascus.

Elisha is greeted by Hazael who is apparently Ben Hadad's assistant.( It would appear that the Arameans have enormous respect for Elisha - the effect of ch.5 and ch.7.) Elisha sees Hazael and bursts into tears. Hazael doesn't understand his reaction. Elisha tells him that he is crying because he sees how he – Hazael - will viciously kill, pillage and ruin Israel. Hazael seems shocked and says "Who am I – but a dog (a servant who follows the call of his master) – that I may do these things?" Elisha tells him that he sees that Hazael will become king. And in the next scene, Hazael assassinates Ben Haddad and takes over as king.

From a prophetic perspective, this story is unprecedented in Tanach. When have we seen our Neviim involving themselves in the affairs of other countries? Why is Elisha traveling to Damascus?

A beginning of an answer may be found in Melachim Aleph 19:15-17. If you recall, in ch.19 Eliyahu confronts God at Mt. Horeb and effectively resigns. He tells God that he cannot carry on with the task of being a Navi. God responds in the following manner:

(טו) וַיֹּאמֶר יְדֹוָד אֵלָיו לֵךְ שׁוּב לְדַרְכְּךָ מִדְבַּרָה דַמָּשֶׂק וּבָאתָ וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֶת חֲזָאֵל לְמֶלֶךְ עַל אֲרָם: (טז) וְאֵת יֵהוּא בֶן נִמְשִׁי תִּמְשַׁח לְמֶלֶךְ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת אֱלִישָׁע בֶּן שָׁפָט מֵאָבֵל מְחוֹלָה תִּמְשַׁח לְנָבִיא תַּחְתֶּיךָ: (יז) וְהָיָה הַנִּמְלָט מֵחֶרֶב חֲזָאֵל יָמִית יֵהוּא וְהַנִּמְלָט מֵחֶרֶב יֵהוּא יָמִית אֱלִישָׁע: )מלכים א פרק יט(

Three tasks are specified here:
1. To anoint Hazael as king over Aram
2. To anoint Yehu as king over Israel
3. To appoint Elisha as the prophet in place of Eliyahu.

What is the purpose of all of this? - It is to punish Israel!

"He who escapes the sword of Aram will be killed by the sword of Yehu, and he that escapes from the sword of Yehu will be killed by Elisha."

SO God tells Eliyahu, and in fact, this is an answer to Eliyahu's concerns - that there is no justice and that the forces that oppose God have the upper hand – God says that there will be retribution, and Eliyahu is supposed to activate all the forces of punishment: Hazael, Yehu and Elisha. God is announcing an era of punishment for Israel.

Strangely, things did not turn out in the manner that God designed. Eliyahu performs only the LAST of the 3 tasks – he finds Elisha. What of the other two tasks? They are left for Elisha to perform, and it would seem that even Elisha delays these acts for rather a long period.

We asked why Elisha visits Damascus? It is to "anoint" Hazael, to appoint him as king, to fulfil the instruction of God to Eliyahu. Hazael will unleash great destruction against Israel. Likewise in ch.9 Elisha will have Yehu annointed as king and indeed Yehu will exact a clear battle against the Baal and its perpetrators – most specifically, he kills the king of Israel and the evil Izevel.


Now it should be understood that the killing of Izevel pinpoints the precise reason for al this destruction, punishment and retribution. It is direct punishment for the actions of ACHAV. Indeed Achav's son, Yehoram is killed in the FIELD OF NAVOT, and see 9:7-9 in which Yehu's role is precisely to avenge the evils of Achav; 9:36 sees the manner of Izevel's death as concordant with Eliyahu's prophecies.

So what we are saying is this. Eliyahu resigned. At the moment of his resignation, God issued certain acts that were to take place in order to be a punishment for the generation of Achav - for his sins.

Now, these happen with a certain delay, and yet, the period that follows Achav is clearly a period of punishment. How so? Look at the features that we have delineated above? The famine, the military attrition, the poverty etc. all are classic symptoms of national punishment for Idolatry.


But why the delay? In the original instruction, Elisha was designated as part of the punishing force, as an instrument of God's wrath and retribution. In fact, Elisha took a very different role. Elisha – during a time of phenomenal difficulty for the Kingdom of Israel, while the winds of war were blowing and the nation was suffering – served as something of an antidote, a counterbalance. Elisha is the light in the darkness. During the years of occupation and attack, Elisha uses all his God given powers to keep faith in God alive – very much like the situation in which the king asks Gechazi to tell him "Elisha stories". In a generation in which faith might be lost, Elisha is a beacon that says God is with you, even in your suffering. Elisha doesn't defeat the enemy. He doesn't stop the siege. But he befriends the king and commoner alike, allowing them to understand that despite the adversity, God is still the God of Israel. We might be in a state of punishment, but God has not abandoned His people.

Amazingly, Elisha escorts Am Yisrael through this entire period. And his FINAL ACT as Navi is to announce that the period of punishment, of Aramean domination is coming to a close (excuse the English translation!):

"14 Now Elisha had fallen sick of the sickness of which he was to die; and Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over him, and said: 'My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof!' 15 And Elisha said unto him: 'Take bow and arrows'; and he took unto him bow and arrows. 16 And he said to the king of Israel: 'Put thy hand upon the bow'; and he put his hand upon it. And Elisha laid his hands upon the king's hands. 17 And he said: 'Open the window eastward'; and he opened it. Then Elisha said: 'Shoot'; and he shot. And he said: 'The LORD'S arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory against Aram; for thou shalt smite the Arameans in Aphek, till thou have consumed them.' (13:14-17)

And so, Elisha far from being the instrument of God's anger, is the element which is to support and comfort Israel during their time of distress.

Maybe this explains the elements that we have mentioned above. The bad times DO contrast with Elisha's unusual miracles. This is the function of Elisha! As for the anonymous kings, maybe we can put that down to the fact that the king was from Beit Achav, and as such was persona non grata. Maybe you can think fo another theory. Maybe it is because the significance of this is not that it happened in the reign of so and so and in year XYZ but rather that Am Yisrael are going through a prolonged period of suffering. The event in its own right bears little national significance, but the overall effect is to be one of national collapse and depression, for 3 generations following Achav.