By Larry Short
My primary intent for this blog is to investigate scriptural word-pictures of Jesus. But there are lots of different and very interesting word-pictures in Scripture, and two weeks ago in our young adults Bible study of 2 Kings, I think we stumbled across one of them.
In chapter 7, we found ourselves in the walled city of Samaria in the midst of a terrible siege by Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram. The Israelites inside Samaria were so hungry they were cooking and eating their own children. It’s hard to imagine a famine so severe that the head of a dead donkey was sold for about two pounds of silver. (Silver is currently selling for about $292/pound … so imagine paying nearly $600 for a dead donkey head! You’d have to be pretty darned hungry.)
In the midst of this siege, the prophet Elisha prophesies one day that the very next day, the siege would be ended and food would be plentiful. The prophecy seems so preposterous that no one really believes him. But late that night, the encamped Aramean soldiers in the besieging army are awakened to a terrifying noise, the thundering sound of hooves and chariots. They assume Israel has hired a mercenary army of Hittites and Egyptians, and flee in terror, leaving their stuff strewn about the path of their terrified departure.
Meanwhile, four lepers are sitting outside the walls of Samaria, a city which has heard nothing of any of this commotion and assumes nothing has changed. Reasoning among themselves, the four lepers say, “Okay, enough of this. Let’s go give ourselves up to the Arameans. The worst they can do is kill us; if we stay here, we’re dead anyway.” But when they arrive in the Aramean camp, they find nothing but tents empty of soldiers … and full of all kind of plunder, free for the taking.
From the first tent (of many) they come to, they eat and drink their fill, then plunder silver, gold, and clothing. They then move on to the second tent, and start in.
But the plight of their hungry fellow Samaritans weighs heavily on their minds. Conscience-stricken, they say: “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 this to the royal palace.”
So the four lepers — so outcast from Samaritan society that they are apparently not even allowed to stay inside the safety of the city walls — go to the city gates and inform its officials of the bounty they have discovered.
I’ll let you read the end of the story for yourself … but it may have already occurred to you (as it occurred to us) that the four lepers and their discovery are a rather unflattering word-picture of we as Christians, God’s people. Scripture says we are “aliens” in this world, sojourners only, outcasts of a sort. As such we have found a great treasure … the grace and mercy and forgiveness of the Cross … but while we are enjoying this blessing, a not-so-blissfully unaware world slumbers onward toward oblivion, gnawing on donkey heads and boiling their children.
We have a choice. We can horde the good news all to ourselves, for personal gain and our own ease and enjoyment, or we can take the risky and costly move of going back into a starving world and sharing the Good News (for that’s exactly what the Gospel is, good news for the perishing) with those who hold us at arm’s length. They may or may not believe us; most of the Israelites didn’t believe the lepers, and it wasn’t until a contingent sent by the king returned to confirm the truth that a stampede ensued.
But what happens if we horde the good news to ourselves, if we ignore the cries of a dying world? The lepers could have done so, but not only would they be violating their conscience in the knowledge that their countrymen were dying, they also (interestingly enough) feared punishment if “they were overtaken by daylight.”
And rightly so. Can you imagine how angry you would be if you found out only too late about the bounty that awaited just outside the city gates?
Jesus made it clear what our job as Christians is: to go into all the world and make disciples of all people groups. To share the Good News! He alone is responsible for the outcome. Our job is simply to share.
I’m not sure exactly what it means for us as Christians to be “overtaken by daylight” and caught plundering the bounty that God intended for all mankind, but I don’t like the sounds of it.
I once heard a Christian aptly described simply as “One beggar, showing another where to find bread.” As I look at these four lepers, I realize the description fits.