After the Lord’s healing of the Syrian commander Naaman (2 Kings 5), Syria should have been favorably disposed to the Lord’s covenant people. Yet, the king of Syria continued to make war against Israel. As we see in today’s passage, his strategy included raiding parties that plundered select locales in Israel and also involved full-scale invasions of the northern kingdom.
We will first look at Syria’s raiding parties. As the king of Syria planned incursions into Israel, the Lord revealed his plans to Elisha, who then gave this information to King Jehoram of Israel (2 Kings 6:8–10; see also 3:1; 5:2). Once the king of Syria learned that Elisha was revealing Syria’s plans, he sent a great army to capture Elisha. However, the Lord protected Elisha with a spiritual army of “horses and chariots of fire,” and He eventually caused Syria to stop its raiding parties without any bloodshed (6:11–23).
Here we must consider the reason why these raiding parties came upon the northern kingdom, besides Syria’s desire to enrich itself. These raids were part of the covenant curses that the Lord said would come upon His people if they broke His law, particularly the commandment against idolatry. For such impenitent transgressions, God pledged to deliver the covenant community “into the hand of the enemy” (Lev. 26:25). Thus, God’s rescue of Israel from Syria’s raids could be due only to His patience and grace, for the northern kingdom loved foreign gods (1 Kings 16:29–34; 2 Kings 1:1–3; 3:1–3).
Yet, the covenant curses resumed. Syria ended its raids after the events described in 6:11–23, but Syria’s antagonism toward Israel continued. King Ben-hadad of Syria launched a full-scale invasion of Israel and siege of Samaria, Israel’s capital. Surrounded by the Syrian army, Samaria was cut off from its food supplies and endured a famine so great that people were spending lots of money on undesirable foodstuffs and even practicing cannibalism (6:24–29). Invasions, severe famine, and cannibalism were all manifestations of the covenant curses against Israel’s worship of foreign gods (Lev. 26:23–29). In the days of Elisha, God showed grace here as well, turning the Syrian army away. However, King Jehoram’s response shows that Israel was not learning its lesson from the covenant curses to return to the pure worship of the Lord alone. He blamed Elisha, not Israel’s idolatry, for the trouble (2 Kings 6:30–7:20).