Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
4 Kings (2 Kings)
The sons of the prophets wish to enlarge their dwelling-place, and go to the banks of Jordan to cut down wood, when one of them drops his axe into the water, which Elisha causes to swim, Kg2 6:1-7. Elisha, understanding all the secret designs of the king of Syria against Israel, informs the king of Israel of them, Kg2 6:8-10. The king of Syria, finding that Elisha had thus penetrated his secrets and frustrated his attempts, sends a great host to Dothan, to take the prophet; the Lord strikes them with blindness; and Elisha leads the whole host to Samaria, and delivers them up to the king of Israel, Kg2 6:11-19. The Lord opens their eyes, and they see their danger, Kg2 6:20. But the king of Israel is prevented from destroying them; and, at the order of the prophet, gives them meat and drink, and dismisses them to their master, Kg2 6:21-23. Ben-hadad besieges Samaria, and reduces the city to great distress, of which several instances are given, Kg2 6:24-30. The king of Israel vows the destruction of Elisha, and sends to have him beheaded, Kg2 6:31-33.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:1
The place - is too strait for us - Notwithstanding the general profligacy of Israel, the schools of the prophets increased. This was no doubt owing to the influence of Elisha.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:2
Every man a beam - They made a sort of log-houses with their own hands.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:5
Alas, master! for it was borrowed - אהה אדני והוא שאול ahah adonia, vehu shaul! Ah! ah, my master; and it has been sought. It has fallen in, and I have sought it in vain. Or, it was borrowed, and therefore I am the more afflicted for its loss; and Jarchi adds, I have nothing wherewith to repay it.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:6
He cut down a stick - This had no natural tendency to raise the iron; it was only a sign or ceremony which the prophet chose to use on the occasion.
The iron did swim - This was a real miracle; for the gravity of the metal must have for ever kept it at the bottom of the water.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:8
The king of Syria warred against Israel - This was probably the same Ben-hadad who is mentioned Kg2 6:24. What was the real or pretended cause of this war we cannot tell; but we may say, in numberless war cases, as Calmet says in this: "An ambitious and restless prince always finds a sufficiency of reasons to color his enterprises."
In such and such a place - The Syrian king had observed, from the disposition of the Israelitish army, in what direction it was about to make its movements; and therefore laid ambuscades where he might surprise it to the greatest advantage.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:9
Beware that thou pass not such a place - Elisha must have had this information by immediate revelation from heaven.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:10
Sent to the place - To see if it were so. But the Vulgate gives it quite a different turn: Misit rex Israel ad locum, et praeoccupavit eum. The king of Israel sent previously to the place, and took possession of it; and thus the Syrians were disappointed. This is very likely, though it is not expressed in the Hebrew text. The prophet knew the Syrians marked such a place; he told the king of Israel, and he hastened and sent a party of troops to pre-occupy it; and thus the Syrians found that their designs had been detected.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:13
Behold, he is in Dothan - This is supposed to be the same place as that mentioned in Gen 37:17. It lay about twelve miles from Samaria.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:14
He sent thither horses - It is strange he did not think that he who could penetrate his secrets with respect to the Israelitish army, could inform himself of all his machinations against his own life.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:16
For they that be with us are more, etc. - What astonishing intercourse had this man with heaven! It seems the whole heavenly host had it in commission to help him.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:17
Lord - open his eyes - Where is heaven? Is it not above, beneath, around us? And were our eyes open as were those of the prophet's servant, we should see the heavenly host in all directions. The horses and chariots of fire were there, before the eyes of Elisha's servant were opened.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:18
Smite this people - with blindness - Confound their sight so that they may not know what they see, and so mistake one place for another.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:19
I will bring you to the man whom ye seek - And he did so; he was their guide to Samaria, and showed himself to them fully in that city.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:20
Open the eyes of these men - Take away their confusion of vision, that they may discern things as they are, and distinguish where they are.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:21
My father, shall I smite - This was dastardly; the utmost he could have done with these men, when thus brought into his hand, was to make them prisoners of war.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:22
Whom thou hast taken captive - Those who in open battle either lay down their arms, or are surrounded, and have their retreat cut off, are entitled to their lives, much more those who are thus providentially put into thy hand, without having been in actual hostility against thee. Give them meat and drink, and send them home to their master, and let them thus know that thou fearest him not, and art incapable of doing an ungenerous or unmanly action.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:23
He prepared great provision for them - These, on the return to their master, could tell him strange things about the power of the God of Israel, and the magnanimity of its king.
So the bands of Syria came no more - Marauding parties were no more permitted by the Syrian king to make inroads upon Israel. And it is very likely that for some considerable time after this, there was no war between these two nations. What is mentioned in the next verse was more than a year afterwards.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:25
And, behold, they besieged it - They had closed it in on every side, and reduced it to the greatest necessity.
An ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver - I suppose we are to take the ass's head literally; and if the head sold for so much, what must other parts sell for which were much to be preferred? The famine must be great that could oblige them to eat any part of an animal that was proscribed by the law; and it must be still greater that could oblige them to purchase so mean a part of this unclean animal at so high a price. The piece of silver was probably the drachm, worth about seven pence three farthings of our money; the whole amounting to about two pounds nine shillings.
And the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung - The cab was about a quart or three pints. Dove's dung, חריונים chiriyonim. Whether this means pigeon's dung literally, or a kind of pulse, has been variously disputed by learned men. After having written much upon the subject, illustrated with quotations from east, west, north, and south, I choose to spare my reader the trouble of wading through them, and shall content myself with asserting that it is probable a sort of pease are meant, which the Arabs to this day call by this name. "The garvancos, cicer, or chick pea," says Dr. Shaw, "has been taken for the pigeon's dung, mentioned in the siege of Samaria; and as the cicer is pointed at one end, and acquires an ash color in parching, the first of which circumstances answers to the figure, the second to the usual color of dove's dung, the supposition is by no means to be disregarded."
I should not omit saying that dove's dung is of great value in the East, for its power in producing cucumbers, melons, etc., which has induced many learned men to take the words literally. Bochart has exhausted this subject, and concludes that a kind of pulse is meant. Most learned men are of his opinion.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:27
If the Lord do not help thee - Some read this as an imprecation, May God save thee not! how can I save thee?
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:29
So we boiled my son - This is horrible; but for the sake of humanity we must allow that the children died through hunger, and then became food for their starved, desperate parents.
She hath hid her son - He was already dead, says Jarchi; and she hid him, that she might eat him alone.
This very evil Moses had foretold should come upon them if they forsook God; see Deu 28:53-57. The same evil came upon this wretched people when besieged by Nebuchadnezzar; see Eze 5:10. And also when Titus besieged Jerusalem; see Josephus, De Bell. Judaic. lib. vi., cap. 3, and my notes on Mat 24:19.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:30
He had sackcloth within upon his flesh - The king was in deep mourning for the distresses of the people.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:31
If the head of Elisha - shall stand on him - Either he attributed these calamities to the prophet, or else he thought he could remove them, and yet would not. The miserable king was driven to desperation.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:32
This son of a murderer - Jehoram, the son of Ahab and Jezebel. But Ahab is called a murderer because of the murder of Naboth.
Shut the door - He was obliged to make use of this method for his personal safety, as the king was highly incensed.
The sound of his master's feet behind him? - That is, King Jehoram is following his messenger, that he may see him take off my head.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 6:33
Behold, this evil is of the Lord - It is difficult to know whether it be the prophet, the messenger, or the king, that says these words. It might be the answer of the prophet from within to the messenger who was without, and who sought for admission, and gave his reason; to whom Elisha might have replied: "I am not the cause of these calamities; they are from the Lord; I have been praying for their removal; but why should I pray to the Lord any longer, for the time of your deliverance is at hand?" And then Elisha said, - see the following chapter, 2 Kings 7 (note), where the removal of the calamity is foretold in the most explicit manner; and indeed the chapter is unhappily divided from this. The seventh chapter should have begun with Kg2 6:24 of this chapter, as, by the present division, the story is unnaturally interrupted.
How natural is it for men to lay the cause of their suffering on any thing or person but themselves! Ahab's iniquity was sufficient to have brought down God's displeasure on a whole nation; and yet he takes no blame to himself, but lays all on the prophet, who was the only salt that preserved the whole nation from corruption. How few take their sins to themselves! and till they do this, they cannot be true penitents; nor can they expect God's wrath to be averted till they feel themselves the chief of sinners.