The lepers of Samaria

I was reading in 2 Kings last night when I came across a story I had forgotten from previous journeys through this book. In 2 Kings 7:3-20, we learn the story of the lepers of Samaria.

The background is this. The city of Samaria, the capital of the divided kingdom of Israel, is under siege and conditions have gotten bad. People are eating anything they can find, including their own children. (2 Kings 6:24-29). In the midst of the famine, the prophet Elisha declared that within 24 hours, wasting and famine would be replaced by abundance and plenty. The officials of Samaria did not believe such a thing was possible.

The story turns then to four men with leprosy who sat at the gate of the city. They were desperate. They decided together to go over to the enemy camp of the besieging army. If the enemy took them in, they would not starve. If the enemy killed them, they would no longer be suffering and dying.

When they got to the enemy camp, though, they discovered it empty of people but full of food and treasure. The Lord had set the enemy to flight. They had fled in panic leaving behind all their provisions and treasures. Alone in the midst of this bounty, the lepers went from tent to tent, feasting and gathering up treasures, until a thought struck them.

“Then they said to each other, ‘What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report to this to the royal palace.’” (2 Kings 7:9)

It is a fascinating story, and I have left many interesting bits out. Go read it yourself if you like. Here are a few stray thoughts that it stirred up in me.

First, the lepers played a crucial role in the revelation of the hidden good news. These men were outcasts and desperate. There really is nothing noble in what they did, but in the midst of their desperation, they were the only ones to venture across to the hostile camp where good news was waiting for them. There is a truth here about us. When we are at the edge life or death, we can be driven to discover good news that was waiting for us all along.

Second, those inside the city were trapped by their fear, the false security of their walls, and their unbelief in the providence of God. Even after the lepers reported what they had found, the leaders were terrified of a trap and slow to hear the good news.

Third, good news must be shared. If the lepers had feasted and reveled alone while the starving city close by suffered on, they would have been fit for punishment. Holding on to the good news for our own joy and need is wrong. This is a tale about the necessity of evangelism, perhaps?

I’m sure there is more treasure in this story than I have unearthed, but reading it last night was one of those moments where the joy of reading the Bible came to me again. Read your Bible prayerfully. Ask God to teach and shape your life by the Word. You will discover good news lying hidden there in its pages.

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3 thoughts on “The lepers of Samaria

  1. There’s a lot of ministry in the way you report this story, John. I’m sure not so few of us have rediscovered this story because of your retelling. You have me puzzling over the image of the empty camp and its fabulous loot. Reminds me of that great messianic text: “…they shall rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder” (Isaiah 9:3).

  2. Yes, there’s definitely a message of evangelism here. I’m reminded of the Samaritan woman at the well. As soon as she received the news of Christ she left in a hurry to tell the people of the city, so they could come out to share with her in a much more valuable treasure. Interestingly, that happened at Sychar, which is not far from the city of Samaria where the lepers had been hundreds of years before. 🙂

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