Syria is besieging Samaria. They have cut off all lines of supply and food has run out. The people are desperate and the ‘price of food’ is deadly.
Samaria was in a world of hurt. Everyone, from the king on down were starving. It sounds as if those who had money were hungry but not as bad off as the poor. Apparently you could still buy a donkey’s head. Not the best meal but better than what these two desperate women resorted to. Later on we will see that there were actually some horses still alive in Samaria. They had dwindled in number because they too had to eat and were being eaten.
I have read this story many times in my life and was disgusted by the mothers. I still cannot see myself ever making the choice they did but today, the Spirit has brought me into their shoes. I can see how they got to the place they were. I want to take you where He took me. Let’s go into the story today and feel their desperation.
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It has been three months since the gates were shut to keep the city safe. Syrian soldiers walk back and forth in front of the gates every day taunting the people. Israel’s soldiers walk the walls above making sure they don’t come any closer.
In the early days of the siege Syrian soldiers tried a frontal assault but were easily repelled. Archers picked them off from the wall with ease. Even attempts to batter the gates down failed because hot tar was poured down on the assaulting forces. Now they sit and wait.
Syria waits for the hunger to drive the people mad or kill them. Either way will work. No supplies get through the battle lines. The gardens outside the walls have been scorched. Every exit is blocked. Even the birds that would fly over as prey to those inside the walls are shot down before they can cross into the city’s reach. Syria gets fat with inactivity and plentiful meals while Samaria wastes away.
Abigail and Beria are shrine prostitutes who share a house. Through their services both are also new mothers. Abagail gave birth days before the gates were closed while Beria’s child arrived a week later. Both women are excited to be mothers. Abigail dotes on her son. She spends every free moment holding him, cooing at him and covering him in kisses. She praises her deity daily for giving him to her.
Beria loves her child as well but she is the more practical of the two. She sees to her son’s needs while still maintaining her duties in the shrine. She straps her son to her as she goes about her cleaning tasks. When she has to render services to one seeking pleasure, her son is placed in a thatch basket out of sight.
Neither woman has any wealth or means of support beyond their role at the shrine. When the gates were originally shut, business picked up as men were seeking solace and divine intervention. Neither woman was able to partake in this abundant patronage because of just giving birth, so their finances suffered. What money they did have has long been spent as the price of food rises hourly. No one is willing to barter food for their services any longer either.
There is nothing to eat and nothing to buy food with. They have taken to chewing leaves and boiling bark for survival but even that has dwindled to nothing. It has been three days since either have eaten. This morning Abigail rises on shaky legs and sits on her favorite stool to nurse her son. He latches on but barely suckles. There is nothing flowing any longer from her once nourishing breasts for him to eat. He has little strength to even try to draw nourishment. He stopped crying more than a day ago. Abigail cries for the both of them.
Beria doesn’t even try to nurse her son this morning. He too hasn’t the strength to cry or even move his eyes to follow his mother’s movements. Beria’s breasts are also dry. She examines her son closely. His skin is dry and cracking from dehydration. His stomach is distended even though he hasn’t had anything in if for over a day as Beria has nothing to nourish him with. She knows that if she doesn’t eat something to restore her milk her child will die. But there is nothing to eat.
Abigail knows this same fact. She looks at Beria’s son and an idea forms. It is an idea born of desperation. “He is as good as dead already. His life could have some meaning if we used his body to help us survive” she thinks. She fights this thought at first but then she looks at her son. She has to do something to save him. She has to try.
“Beria, we need to decide what to do. There is no hope in finding money to purchase food. There isn’t any food to BE bought! We are all going to die, unless…”
“Unless we use our children as food to keep us alive.”
“I know it sounds heartless but look at your son. He is only one breath away from death right now. There is no way he will survive another day.”
Tears in her eyes, Beria looks at her son. She already knew this. “But what of your son? He too is a step away from death. You have nothing to nourish him with either.”
“I know.” Abagail pauses to gather her argument. “They will never survive if we die of starvation. The only way to make their lives meaningful is if we use them to ensure our survival. As your son is closest to death, we could boil him and use him to feed us this day.”
Beria looks horror stricken. Abigail quickly continues. “We would do the same with my son tomorrow. This way we will live and later we may yet have other children. If we don’t do this, both our sons will die and we will follow shortly afterwards.”
Beria recognizes the wisdom in what Abagail proposes. Beria has always been the practical one. She nods her agreement. She then holds her son tightly to her chest. He has no strength to turn his head to take a breath. Within a moment he is gone.
Beria weeps quietly as she prepares a meal for the two of them from the body of her son. There is only the sound of chewing and utensils hitting dishes as their precious meal is consumed. It is the first time in over two weeks that they have partaken of anything that could sustain their bodies.
Neither woman looks at the other as they climb into bed for the night. Abagail still has no milk so she dips rags in water throughout the day for her son to suckle. She hopes it will at least it keeps him alive. As she settles into her bed fear binds her heart as sure as an iron band. She knows Beria will demand her son tomorrow. Abigail cannot possibly surrender her son to the fate she just took part in. She could never consume her child. She would rather die first. If she were being honest with herself, she would admit that she never had any intention of surrendering her child. She needed Beria to think she would in order to have Beria make the sacrifice for their survival.
Abigail is awoken in the night with a start. She looks around the room wondering what it was that woke her. Everything is quiet. She can find no reason for her abrupt awakening. She settles back into her bed to go back to sleep when she realizes that it is too quiet. The sounds of her son’s breathing are absent. She reaches for him and draws him near to her. His chest is still. She places her ear to his chest and hears nothing. Her son has died.
Silent tears fall onto her son’s face. She won’t have to suffocate her son as Beria did. His life is already gone. But there is still no way she can possibly give her son up to be eaten. Abigail quietly slips from her bed and with her child in her arm makes her way outside. She will hide his body. She can at least give him this gift even if she couldn’t give him life.
Morning comes and Beria and Abigail rise to greet the day. Both are still somber from their previous evening. Abigail is even more on edge knowing what Beria will be seeking by end of day.
Abigail pretends to busy herself with her child as usual and Beria goes about her morning tasks. Beria moves a bit slower as if weighed down but she refuses to deviate from her usual routine. As midday approaches Beria readies for the task of preparing another meal.
“Abigail, bring your son. It’s time.”
Abigail pretends not to hear Beria’s words. Instead of bringing her son, Abigail switches to a task of mending, her child apparently ‘forgotten.’ Beria comes to stand before Abigail.
“Where is your son” she asks.
“He is not here.”
“I can see that. So where is he?”
Abigail refuses to answer or further acknowledge Beria.
“You promised we would eat him tonight after eating my son last night. Where is he?”
Still nothing from Abigail.
“You have hidden him somewhere!” Beria begins to tear the house apart looking for Abigail’s son. Finally in desperation she storms from the house. She will get the authorities to deal with Abigail.
Beria looks up and down the street for someone to help her. Out of the corner of her eye she spies movement up on the city wall. She turns to give this source her full attention. She recognizes the king. He is walking back and forth on the wall.
For weeks now the king has been pleading with his gods. He prays. He offers what sacrifices he can. He is even taken to wearing sackcloth beneath his robes in hopes of impressing on his gods his state of humility. He has taken to walking the wall to offer support to his troops. He also looks out over the city while on the wall. His heart goes out to his people but there is nothing he can do to help them. While he is walking today he hears a voice cry out to him.
“Help, my lord, O king!” (verse 26b) cries Beria.
The king stops and looks at the woman. The immediate answer on his lips is one of truth and despair.
“If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” (verse 27) he asks with a sting in his words. He takes a deep breath and tries again. “What is your trouble?” (verse 28a) he asks with sincerity.
“This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we boiled my son and ate him. An on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.”
The king’s mouth drops open at the woman’s words. “How low have my people sunk?!” he thinks. He tears his clothes in agony for the children and the mothers who would trade them for one more day’s life. A fire ignites within his belly and he calls out to her and to any who stand listening.
“May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today” (verse 31).
He knows this to be the work of Elisha and his God. Elisha has warned him repeatedly to forsake the gods Jeroboam brought in and the Baals. But these gods require so much less of those who serve them and the God of Elisha would have His people worship Him in Jerusalem. The king cannot allow this for it would return power back to the tribe of Judah.
The king calls one of his messengers. “Bring me Elisha” he demands.
While the king is still speaking with his messenger Elisha is across town sitting with the elders of Samaria. He too has been hemmed in by the Syrians. He too has suffered hunger. He too knows of the people’s pain. He also knows that this is the discipline of the Lord and He will have His perfect work in it.
The leaders have been asking him for direction. He had reminded them of the Lord’s words. “The Lord is a jealous God and He has said, ‘Thou shall have no other gods before Me.’ Turn from your gods and serve Him only.” They were discussing how to go about heeding Elisha’s words when he spoke again.
“Do you see how this murderer has sent to take off my head?…”
The elders looked at one another with surprise. They immediately knew who Elisha was talking about but had not heard the king make any statements such as this.
“…Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door fast against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” (verse 32b).
Before Elisha even finished speaking a voice rang out from the king’s messenger. “This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?”
These were the words of the king. Two of the elders leapt from their stools and pushed the door closed. They stood against it keeping the king’s messenger and the soldiers following him out.
(to be continued)
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I wrestled with which woman would ask the other for her child and why. Although the Spirit allowed me to see their desperation that brought them to this point, I still cannot wrap my head around going through with such an act. There were gods that ‘demanded’ children to be sacrificed. Is it possible that these women were familiar with that practice so valued their child’s lives differently than I do? Or were they so desperate that they lost their humanity?
One thing that surprised me was the king’s sackcloth. I think it must have surprised the people too because it was commented on. Was he praying to the Lord? Or was he using it in praying to his gods? I had him praying to his gods because if he were repentant and praying to the Lord, I believe help would have been there earlier. Was he trying to do it on his own without God’s intervention? Was he trying to force God to do it his way? There is a miracle waiting for him just around the bend but they had to go as low as possible before they were ready for it. I don’t think you can sink any lower than this.
Father God, THANK YOU that I have never found myself in this type of situation. By Your grace my needs have always been met. Thank You for reaching out to me and letting me ‘feel’ the pain of this situation without judgement. I will leave all the judgement to You. Including judging the king. I’m certain he was warned by Elisha and chose not to listen but I have refused to listen at times too. Thank You for Your grace that carried me through those times and Your hand that directed me back onto Your paths. I’ve felt correction from You but never to the extreme that Samaria did. THANK YOU for helping me to listen BEFORE You had to bring out the big guns.
I’m feeling that correction right now with my attitude. It has been a long day and I have been snippy while trying to write. Forgive me for using ‘I’m busy serving God’ as an excuse to be short with my husband. You desire love above all else. Love for You and for my ‘neighbor.’ ‘Doing God’s work’ is NOT an excuse to abuse those around me. Forgive me Father once again. Thank You for Your correction in my life. And for Your forgiveness and grace.