July 25, 2004

THE FLOODGATES OF HEAVEN

“Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” 2 Kings 7:2

When people pay a fortune to buy donkey’s head for dinner, they’re desperate. When they pay big money to dine on dove dung, they are in bad shape. But when they start butchering babies and eating them, things have become dreadful indeed.

The city of Samaria was under siege, surrounded by an enemy army. Food was running out. It was impossible for anyone in the city to go out and get back in with more food. When almost all food was gone, people started butchering donkeys and eating them. Donkey meat is never a delicacy, and to make matters worse, the people of Samaria were Israelites who were not allowed by the law of Moses to eat donkey meat. Even if you didn’t care about kosher laws, even if you would eat the best cuts of a donkey, would you like to chew scraps from the head? Would you say, “Donkey’s head for dinner—sounds yummy!” But people were giving bags of silver for something so gross.

The shortage got so bad that people made meals of bird droppings. They actually paid people who were collecting dove dung and selling it by the cup. Can you imagine eating manure and paying for the privilege? That still wasn’t the worst of it. One day King Joram of Israel was walking along the city wall.

A woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!”

The king replied, “If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you?” … Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?”

She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.’” (2 Kings 6:26-29)

This woman was outraged. It wasn’t fair! She had been wronged! That other woman hadn’t kept her end of the bargain. In this angry woman’s mind, killing and eating babies was okay, but breaking a business deal? Now that was wrong!

Blaming God

How did the king react? He tore his robes in grief that the famine had made people into savage cannibals. Who was to blame for this horror? Not for a moment did King Joram think that he and his people might be at fault. The king blamed God, and he blamed God’s prophet Elisha. The king couldn’t harm God because God was out of reach, but he could attack the prophet. The king swore to cut off Elisha’s head that very day. He sent someone to the prophet claiming to have a message for him. The king gave the messenger secret orders to kill Elisha when he opened the door to receive the message.

But there was one big problem with the secret mission: it’s hard to keep a secret from a prophet. God told Elisha the king’s plan. Elisha was with some leading citizens of the city at the time. The assassin was still on his way when Elisha said to the elders, “Don’t you see how this murderer is sending someone to cut off my head?” He told them to bar the doors and not let the king’s “messenger” in. The man was left standing outside.

A few minutes later, King Joram himself arrived and found Elisha the prophet alive and healthy. The angry king told the prophet that he was tired of being told to trust God. “This disaster is from the Lord,” griped the king. “Why should I wait for the Lord any longer” (2 Kings 6:33).

King Joram blamed God. The Lord should not let Samaria come under siege. The Lord should not let people get hungry enough to eat disgusting things and devour their own children. The king never bothered to obey the Lord when times were good, but he was quick to blame God when times were bad. He thought God’s job was to make people happy no matter how much they sinned.

God thought differently. Many centuries earlier, the Lord had saved the Israelites from slavery and claimed them as his special people. He told them to worship him and not to get involved with any other religion. If they broke his covenant, the biblical books of Moses warned of terrible consequences.

One punishment would be lack of rain: “The Lord will strike you with… scorching heat and drought… The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder” (Deuteronomy 28:22-24). King Joram’s father and mother, Ahab and Jezebel, were the wickedest king and queen in Israel’s history. During their time on the throne, God spoke through the prophet Elijah and declared a drought that lasted three years.

How did Ahab react to this punishment? He blamed God, and he blamed the prophet. He snarled at Elijah, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” Elijah fired back, “I have not made trouble for Israel. But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals,” the idols of false religion (1 Kings 18:17-18). God had given fair warning of the punishment for rejecting him, yet when Ahab led the nation deeper into idolatry and brought drought and famine upon Israel, he blamed God and God’s prophet.

A generation later, when Ahab’s son Joram had taken over as king and Elisha had taken over from Elijah as God’s prophet, it was same song, second verse. Joram was a chip off the old blockhead. Like his wicked father Ahab, Joram led his people in worshiping idols, and when God punished the idol worship with siege and starvation, Joram blamed God, not himself.

If Joram had bothered reading God’s Word in the books of Moses, he would have read, “Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you” (Deuteronomy 28:53). Nobody could say God hadn’t given fair warning. But Joram and his people ignored God and brought this curse upon themselves.

When a criminal is punished for his crime, whose fault is it? Is it the judge’s fault for applying the stated penalty for crime? Or is the criminal’s fault for committing the crime? In Joram’s case, the criminal blamed the Judge.

I wish I could say that this is just a sad story from long ago. But today people are just as quick as Joram to follow their own brand of religion and then blame the Lord when trouble comes. When sexually immoral people get deadly diseases, they blame almost anything except their own sinful behavior. When parents are too busy for their children and the children become rude and rebellious, the parents wonder how God could give them such rotten kids. When a lazy, hot-headed man gets fired from his job, he blames almost everybody except himself. As the Bible says in Proverbs 19:3, “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.”

I really wish I could say that baby-killing and cannibalism were only horrors of an ancient age. But our society kills millions of babies through abortion and then consumes the tissue of dead babies in an effort to make ourselves live longer. What sort of people have we become? Killing unborn babies and using their tissue for medical purposes is cannibalism. So-called therapeutic cloning and stem cell research is just the latest variation on destroying babies in hopes of extending our own lives. Some people support such horrors and feel wronged if their government won’t provide funding. It’s the very mindset of the woman in Samaria who ate her own baby and then was furious when someone else wouldn’t share another baby’s flesh with her.

People far from God seldom see the horror of their own behavior. And even those who recognize the evil may not fully understand what it means. They may say, “This is horrible, and God will judge people and nations who kill babies.” That’s true, of course, but there’s more. Not only will God judge but he is already judging. When people destroy and consume their own offspring, they are already tasting a dreadful curse. Our children are part of us, and they are our future. When we destroy our little ones, we are destroying ourselves and cutting off our own future. “The generation of the upright will be blessed” (Psalm 112:2), “but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off” (Psalm 37:28). People who destroy their own children are in that very act suffering God’s curse on covenant-breakers.

Too Good to Be True?

If that were the whole story, it would be depressing indeed. But just when people under a curse are hitting bottom, God speaks a word of hope and salvation.

At the very moment when the babies of Samaria were being eaten, when the city was about to perish, when wicked King Joram blamed God for Israel’s problems, Elisha replied, “Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria” (2 Kings 7:1). Somehow good food would become affordable within 24 hours.

How could that be? People had been paying eighty shekels for a donkey’s head and five shekels for a cup of dove dung. What could happen in the next 24 hours to make food so plentiful that the current cost of a cup of bird manure would be able to buy ten gallons of good grain? It sounded too good to be true, and the king’s right-hand man said so. He saw the enemy armies around the city. How could such a strong enemy vanish so quickly? He saw the shortages in the city. How could a starving city have a surplus by the next day? It sounded impossible.

The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it.” (2 Kings 7:2)

This official didn’t believe God’s Word. He didn’t believe that God is really God. If there is any enemy too great for God to defeat, then God is not God. If there is any need too great for God to supply, then God is not God. If you don’t believe in the God who can do anything and always keeps his promises, then you don’t believe in God at all. Such unbelief can’t stop God from doing what he has said, but it can keep you from enjoying a share in God’s blessing. The unbelieving official would see God’s promise come true but not taste the blessing himself.

A bit later that day, four desperate Israelites were discussing their options. These four men were sick with leprosy and hung out near the entrance to the city. They were out of food, and if they kept hanging around the city, they would starve. These four decided that their only chance was to go out to the enemy camp and surrender. The enemy might spare them and give them food, and even if they killed them, a quick death would be better than slow starvation.

That evening the four men went out to the Aramean camp. But when they got arrived, not a man was there. Where had they all gone? The Lord had made the Aramean soldiers hear things. They heard the sound of chariots and horses and a great army. They panicked, thinking that the king of Israel had paid the Hittite and Egyptian kings to join him with their powerful armies. The frightened Arameans left everything—their tents, livestock, food supplies, extra clothes, and money—and ran for their lives. The Bible says, “The wicked flee though no one pursues” (Proverbs 28:21), and that’s what happened here. What had sounded impossible a few hours earlier had become fact: the enemy was gone, and their vast supplies—including tons of food—were there for the taking. All God had to do was say, “Boo!”

When God promised to rescue and feed the starving people of Samaria, the king’s official wouldn’t believe it because he couldn’t see how it could happen. The prophet Elisha didn’t see how it could happen, either, but he believed anyway. Elisha didn’t need to know how as long as he knew who. God had promised it, and that was good enough for Elisha. As long as he knew who, Elisha let God worry about the how. And God proved to be more than capable of making it happen.

Do you know God and believe his promises? God promises victory over all enemies if you trust in Jesus. God promises that he “will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). If you think, “This sounds too good to be true,” repent of your unbelief. God is God! Believe who he is. Believe what he says. This God can wipe out enemies through mighty miracles, or he can scatter them just by making a scary sound. He can miraculously make manna in the wilderness and bring water from rock, or he can meet your needs just by giving access to supplies that were already there.

A Day of Good News

The four lepers found that out firsthand. They found the enemy camp abandoned, and they went into one of the tents.

They ate and drank, and carried away silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

Then they said to each other, “We’re not doing 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. (2 Kings 7:8-9).

These men knew it would be wrong to hog all that good stuff for themselves. They couldn’t just feed their faces and sit around burping while a city full of people were starving. They hurried back to the city and told what they had discovered.

As a Christian, I have discovered something even greater than those lepers discovered: Jesus has defeated Satan the enemy, and he offers himself as living bread to make us live forever. I can’t keep such news to myself. I have to tell as many people as I can. If you don’t know victory in Jesus, if you’ve never feasted on him by faith, I want you to know this good news.

If you’re already a Christian, if you already know this triumph over enemies and this fullness in Christ, then learn a lesson from the lepers. Don’t selfishly hog blessings. Don’t forget others who are perishing. Like those lepers, many Christians must say, “This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves… Let’s go at once and report this.”

You don’t have to be a superstar to tell others about Jesus. When you read about the prophet Elisha, you might think, “I can’t do what he did. Elisha was a mighty preacher. I’m no preacher. Elisha was a gifted prophet who saw the future. I can’t see the future.” Fair enough. But is a preacher with supernatural foresight the only one able to bring God’s good news? The four lepers were not mighty prophets; they were beggars. They had no miraculous ability to see the future; they just found out something that had already happened. They did not  give a splendid sermon; they just told what they had found: The enemy was gone and food was there for the taking.

We have even better news to bring. Jesus has defeated Satan the enemy, and Jesus offers himself as living bread to make us live forever. You don’t need to see into the future to know this; it has already happened. You don’t need grand speeches to tell others; it’s just a matter of one beggar telling others where to find bread.

Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). Have you trusted Jesus? Are you eating this bread and relishing his riches? If so, be glad—but don’t be selfish. Others are still starving for salvation. “This is a day of good news… Let’s go at once and report this at once.”

Blessing or Judgment

The four lepers went and told the city gatekeepers, and soon the news reached the palace. Did the king rejoice and praise God for keeping his promise? No, King Joram grumbled that it was just was an enemy trap. He told his officers:

“I will tell you what the Arameans have done to us. They know we are starving; so they have left the camp to hide in the countryside, thinking, “They will surely come out, and then we will take them alive and get into the city.’” (7:12)

One of the king’s officers said that even if it was a trap, they should at least have a few men check it out. What did they have to lose? If the enemy was waiting in ambush and killed the men, the dead would be no worse off than if they had stayed with all the doomed Israelites in the city. The king agreed and gave the command, “Go and find out what has happened.” The scouts followed the path of the fleeing Aramean army for a long distance, all the way to the Jordan river.

They found the whole road strewn with the clothing and equipment the Arameans had thrown away in their headlong flight. So the messengers returned and reported to the king. Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the Lord had said.

Now the king had put the officer on whose arm he leaned in charge of the gate, and the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died, just as the man of God had foretold…

The officer had said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” The man of God had replied, “You will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat any of it!” And that is exactly what happened to him, for the people trampled in gateway, and he died. (2 Kings 7:15-20)

The floodgates of heaven—the Bible uses that phrase in a number of places. In Malachi 3:10 the Lord calls people to trust and obey him, saying, “See if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10). The floodgates of heaven can pour out blessing, but they can also pour out judgment. Genesis 7:11 says that in the time of Noah, “the floodgates of the heavens were opened” and the Flood wiped out all who were not in Noah’s ark.

King Joram’s right-hand man scoffed when Elisha said that a starving city would have plenty of cheap food by the next day. He spoke with bitter unbelief about the floodgates of heaven. He would not trust God for a flood of blessing, so he got a flood of judgment instead. While others feasted, he perished.

A final day is coming when the floodgates of heaven will be thrown open in blessing and judgment. Jesus and his angel armies will stream into this world. For believers, that day will bring “so much blessing you will not have room enough for it.” For unbelieving scoffers, it will bring utter ruin and misery. “The floodgates of the heavens are opened,” says the prophet Isaiah. “In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below” (24:18,21). The angels “will throw them into the fiery furnace,” says Jesus, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:42-43).

Do you believe that day is coming? Jesus is sure to return, whether you believe it or not. Unbelief can’t prevent Christ’s return; it can only prevent you from tasting the blessings. Think again of the king’s official. He didn’t believe Elisha’s prophecy of bountiful food, but his unbelief didn’t stop the prophecy from coming true. It only prevented the official from benefiting. His unbelief was fatal. Don’t make the same mistake. Believe the promises and warnings of God’s Word. Receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Don’t be among the unbelievers who will perish in hell. Be among those who “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Be among those who will feast forever on the goodness of the Lord. Scripture speaks of Jesus’ return and says,

He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:37-39)

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.