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Chapter XX.

After the terrible siege of Samaria was ended in accordance with Elisha’s prophecy, he relates what regard the four lepers showed for what was virtuous.

117. Why need we wonder that the people of the Lord had regard for what was seemly and virtuous when even the lepers—as we read in the books of the Kings—showed concern for what is virtuous?

118. There was a great famine in Samaria,741741    2 [4] Kings vi. 25–31. for the army of the Syrians was besieging it. The king in his anxiety was making the round of the guards on the walls when a woman addressed him, saying: This woman persuaded me to give up my son—and I gave him up, and we boiled him and did eat him. And she promised that she would afterwards bring her son and that we should eat his flesh together, but now she hath hidden her son and will not bring him. The king was troubled because these women seemed to have fed not merely on human bodies, but on the bodies of their own children; and being moved by an example of such awful misery, threatened the prophet Elisha with death. For he believed it was in his power to break up the siege and to avert the famine; or else he was angry because the prophet had not allowed the king to smite the Syrians whom he had struck with blindness.742742    2 [4] Kings vi. 22.

119. Elisha sat743743    2 [4] Kings vi. 32. with the elders at Bethel, and before the king’s messenger came to him he said to the elders: “See ye how the son of that murderess hath sent to take away mine head?” Then the messenger 87entered and brought the king’s command threatening instant danger to his life. Him the prophet answered:744744    2 [4] Kings vii. 1, 2. “To-morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel in the gate of Samaria.” Then when the messenger sent by the king would not believe it, saying: “If the Lord would rain abundance of corn from heaven, not even so would that come about,” Elisha said to him: “Because thou hast not believed, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shall not eat of it.”

120. And suddenly745745    2 [4] Kings vii. 6, 7. in the camp of Syria was there heard, as it were, a sound of chariots and a loud noise of horses and the noise of a great host, and the tumult of some vast battle. And the Syrians thought that the king of Israel had called to his help in the battle the king of Egypt and the king of the Amorites, and they fled at dawn leaving their tents, for they feared that they might be crushed by the sudden arrival of fresh foes, and would not be able to withstand the united forces of the kings. This was unknown in Samaria, for they dared not go out of the town, being overcome with fear and also being weak through hunger.

121. But there were four lepers746746    2 [4] Kings vii. 3, 4. at the gate of the city to whom life was a misery, and to die would be gain. And they said one to another: “Behold we sit here and die. If we enter into the city, we shall die with hunger; if we remain here, there are no means of living at hand for us. Let us go to the Syrian camp, either they will quickly kill us or grant us the means of safety.” So they went and entered into the camp, and behold, all was forsaken by the enemy. Entering747747    2 [4] Kings vii. 8, 9. the tents, first of all on finding food they satisfied their hunger, then they laid hold of as much gold and silver as they could. But whilst they were intent on the booty alone, they arranged to announce to the king that the Syrians had fled, for they thought this more virtuous than to withhold the information and keep for themselves the plunder gained by deceit.

122. At this information the people748748    2 [4] Kings vii. 16–20. went forth and plundered the Syrian camp. The supplies of the enemy produced an abundance, and brought about cheapness of corn according to the prophet’s word: “A measure of fine flour for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel.” In this rejoicing of the people, that officer on whose hand the king leaned died, being crushed and trodden under foot by the people as the crowds kept hurrying to go out or returned with great rejoicing.


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