“The Four Lucky Lepers”
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
The Aramean (Syrian) Army, led by Ben-Hadad, is waging a siege, a blockade against the city of Samaria. Cut off from all sources of provisions, the Jewish city is suffering and things are getting desperate. The enemy outside the walls of the city, has ample provisions and they’re prepared to continue their patient siege till the Jews either surrender or die of starvation. An enormous economic inflation affects the small amount of food that is left in the city. A donkey’s head is sold for 80 shekels of silver. The people have even turned to cannibalism, and king Jehoram, walking along the walls of the seemingly doomed city, weeps in utter despair.
But all is not lost. Elisha the prophet has assured the city that the famine will end, and that food will be so plenteous that bargain prices will result. His foretelling of the reduced price of goods sound like the cries of a vender. The royal officer of the king cynically mocks Elisha, doubting the power of God. He thinks even God cannot rescue the city, that the situation is hopeless. Meanwhile, outside the city walls another drama is taking place. The enemy has been routed; some scholars believe an army of angels caused them to retreat so swiftly…but only a few lepers know what has happened. In the passage read, we see unfolded human depravity, God’s mercy, and the believer’s responsibility.
1. Human Depravity, verses 1-3
Leprosy was the AIDS of ancient days. Leprosy is viewed in Scripture as a symbol of sin. Lepers were living corpses, separated from society for fear of contagion. Leprosy isolates, corrupts and eventually destroys the victim. In the same way, sin separates us from God and produces inner decay, unbelief and spiritual death. In contrast, the king’s officer was physically whole but spiritually sick.
The lepers understood their plight. The problem with most of us is that we fail to see our sinful condition. We see ourselves as fairly clean, yet we’re corrupted by sin. When people say they have a clean conscience, it usually means they have a bad memory. People don’t like being confronted with the truth about themselves. Denial of sin is like the man who kept reading about the connection between smoking and lung cancer…and decided to quit reading! I remember hearing a missionary tell of a leper who refused to receive medical treatment—because he refused to admit that he had leprosy. Have we seen our sins as leprous sores? This is how God views our sin. Even our “righteousness” is as “filthy rags” (according to the prophet Isaiah). Our leprous sins nailed Jesus Christ to the cross. Do we hate our sins enough to turn to Christ?
Another image is the siege. What armies are keeping us from life? We are assaulted by temptations and pressures, the pleasures of the world, and the siege of self-satisfaction. Are doubts causing us to question that our enemy has been defeated? I remember hearing about the end of Desert Storm on a short-wave radio about a hundred miles from Baghdad. At first I was stunned—it was hard to believe the war was over, and we were going home. Sin was defeated on the Cross. But sin can prevent people from knowing that the conflict is over.