Who’s to Blame?

Who’s to Blame?

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 15, 2007

“So we boiled my son, and ate him. And I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.” Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes; and as he passed by on the wall, the people looked, and there underneath he had sackcloth on his body. (2KI 6:29,30)

  1. Is it possible for us to imagine conditions so horrible that we could kill and eat our own children? And yet the Lord, in the Word, asks us to consider how we would respond – to ask ourselves if there are times in our own lives where we might feel so distant from the Lord that such a thing might be conceivable. Let us turn to the story as it is presented in the letter of the Word to see if we can draw meaning from it.
  2. The literal sense
    1. Famine in the Northern kingdom of Israel, specifically in Samaria, the capital.
      1. Samaria in general represents the church, and more specifically a person of the church. The famine is a representative of some kind of spiritual crisis in the life of that person.
        1. We know that this is a crisis of faith, because the story takes place in the northern kingdom. Judah, the southern kingdom, relates to issues of charity.
      2. The famine starts with a drought, the lack of water which represents truth standing for the crisis of faith, so that the crops fail.
      3. The lack of truth leads to indecision which leads to an inability to act. This is represented by the lack of food, food representing good.
      4. Hunger = the desire for good and truth, and the story is designed to show us the extreme degree of this hunger.
    2. Being under siege by Syria
      1. Syria represents knowledges of Good and Truth because there was with them a remnant of the Ancient Church.
        1. Abram came from Syria.
        2. The Wise Men came from Syria.
      2. As mentioned before, the city of Samaria represents either the church as a whole in a state of crisis, or an individual member of the church who is in a state of crisis.
        1. Inside there is famine and disease
        2. Outside there is good and truth
        3. But the inner man resists change from without
          1. We don’t like to be told how we feel, or what we must do to fix things.
          2. We want to do everything in freedom
        4. So there is a battle between truths and falsities, goods and evils
        5. But as long as the doors remain shut keeping the good and truth represented by the Syrian Army out, the famine must deepen – until….
      3. Cannibalism
        1. To eat = to appropriate or make one’s own
        2. Infant = innocence
        3. A graphic picture of what happens when we try to save ourselves from our own power.
          1. The Angels have no power whatever from themselves; but all the power they have is from the LORD; and they are powers in proportion as they acknowledge this. Whoever of them believes that he has power from himself, instantly becomes so weak, that he cannot resist one evil spirit. (HH 230)
        4. In trying to make ourselves innocent (saved), we destroy all innocence (willingness to be led by the Lord).
      4. Tearing Clothes
        1. Garments everywhere in the Word represent truth, so when a character in the literal sense tears his clothes, it is a representative of his noticing or acknowledging that he does not have the truth he should have and needs.
      5. Wearing Sackcloth
        1. AR 492 Sackcloth = mourning and grief that there is no truth with them. Garments represent truth, but sackcloth is not a garment. (Cf. AE 637:5)
    3. The most astonishing thing about all this is that the King blames Elisha for all these troubles because Elisha was the one who carried the message from the LORD that they would be punished for their evils.
  3. The moral sense
    1. Something in us makes us feel guilty for things that we are not responsible for. I sometimes feel guilty if my wife or children are unhappy, thinking that it’s because of something I did, or said, or because of something I forgot to do, or was unable to do. Sometimes that’s the case and I can fix it by changing my own behaviour. But most of the time their states of unhappiness have nothing to do with me, my words, or actions.
    2. Something in all of us makes us blame others for the things that we did do.
      1. We do something dumb, and it’s our spouse’s fault. After all,
        1. I never leave the lights on
        2. I never leave the door unlocked
        3. I always hear everything exactly as it was said
        4. I always remember everything perfectly.
    3. The truth of the matter is that we are all inclined to look for the causes of all our problems in other people instead of taking the responsibility for our own desires, lusts, and affections or even reflecting for a moment where our delights really do come from.
    4. DP 320 If man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth originate from the Lord, and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and account it meritorious, nor would he appropriate evil to himself and account himself responsible for it.
    5. It is the influence of hell (hell, inflowing) that is the cause of our problems
      1. That makes us think that everything in our life revolves around us
        1. It’s the influence of hell that encourages us to take credit for the good things that happen and feel hurt when we don’t get credit from others.
        2. It’s the influence of hell that makes us feel guilty for the bad things even if we had nothing to do with the problem.
  4. What does it mean in the internal sense when the king blames Elisha for the famine?
    1. Denial that we need to change, to grow spiritually.
    2. Denial that we have sin.
    3. Denial of the LORD.
    4. And then, when we find ourselves utterly alone
      1. Without any sense of innocence or even sense that the Lord is near so that He can be followed.
      2. Without the truth we need – the king tears his clothing.
      3. Sorry for ourselves – wearing sackcloth
  5. Okay, this is pretty bad. Probably we’ve all recognized something that we do. The question then is what does the Word tell us to do to resolve/avoid this problem?
    1. First, there’s some very practical advice from those who fight addictive behaviours and have found successful strategies for recovery in the Word.
      1. Recognition that we are powerless before hell/drugs/alcohol etc. Therefore, we need to turn to the Lord and permit Him to enter our lives
        1. Behold, I stand at the door…..
        2. He that has an ear, let him hear…
        3. Whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing….
    2. Next, we need to think about the miraculous end of the Famine.
      1. There were lepers in the gate of the city.
        1. Lepers represent profanation. They are symbols of a person who has descended about as far as they can into their own personal hell. They are those who, in the parlance of Alcoholics Anonymous have “hit bottom.”
        2. They know that to remain in the city is death. They believe that to enter the camp of the enemy is death too – but there’s the chance that they might find some charity there.
        3. So they take a chance, and they break out of that wall, the wall that has been built up by a lifetime of selfish thinking.
        4. They put their fate in the hands of the LORD where it has, of course, been all along. What was important that they finally acknowledged the truth of the matter, and opened themselves up to the truth.
        5. They walk into the camp of the Syrians and find there was nothing to fear at all, the enemy had run away leaving their supplies behind! Rather than death there was instead an abundance of life!
    3. We have to take an objective look at our lives, look for those walls that we have built.
      1. Are they for our own protection, or to keep others out? To keep God out?
      1. We need to ask ourselves if we are, like the king of Israel, blaming Elisha for the misfortunes that have come about because of our own choices – or if we are improperly taking responsibility for things that we had no part in.
      2. We need to carefully examine the course of our spiritual lives to see that we only take responsibility for those things that we ourselves have chosen to do.
      3. Are we going to be lepers in the gates and spend our lives under siege in a prison of our own making? Or are we going to risk entering the camp, to break out of our old ways of thinking and open ourselves up to wonders that the Lord stands ready to provide? The choice is ours.

    And when these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they went into one tent and ate and drank, and carried from it silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them; then they came back and entered another tent, and carried some from there also, and went and hid it.

    Then they said to one another, “We are not doing what is right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” (2KI 7:8,9)

    AMEN.

    [These are bad times in Samaria. There is a desperate famine and an invading army. The king blames Elisha because it was Elisha who announced God’s warning and orders him killed. But Elisha predicts that the famine will soon be over and food will be cheap and plentiful. The prophecy is fulfilled the next day when God frightens the invaders and the people in the city get the supplies the army leaves behind.]

    Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

    First Lesson: 2KI 6:24-7:9

    And it happened after this that Ben-Hadad king of Syria gathered all his army, and went up and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria; and indeed they besieged it until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and one-fourth of a kab of dove droppings for five shekels of silver. Then, as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” And he said, “If the LORD does not help you, where can I find help for you? From the threshing floor or from the winepress?” Then the king said to her, “What is troubling you?” And she answered, “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. And I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.” Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes; and as he passed by on the wall, the people looked, and there underneath he had sackcloth on his body. Then he said, “God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on him today.” But Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. And the king sent a man ahead of him, but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent someone to take away my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” And while he was still talking with them, there was the messenger, coming down to him; and then he said, “Surely this calamity is from the LORD; why should I wait for the LORD any longer?” Then Elisha said, “Hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the LORD: ‘Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.’ ” So an officer on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God and said, “Look, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” And he said, “In fact, you shall see it with your eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? “If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore, come, let us surrender to the army of the Syrians. If they keep us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.” And they rose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians; and when they had come to the outskirts of the Syrian camp, to their surprise no one was there. For the LORD had caused the army of the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots and the noise of horses – the noise of a great army; so they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians to attack us!” Therefore they arose and fled at twilight, and left the camp intact – their tents, their horses, and their donkeys – and they fled for their lives. And when these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they went into one tent and ate and drank, and carried from it silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them; then they came back and entered another tent, and carried some from there also, and went and hid it. Then they said to one another, “We are not doing what is right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” Amen.

    Second Lesson: AC 2576, AR 492

    AC 2576:16 Formerly also they rent their garments … by which was signified zeal for doctrine and truth, which was thus torn to pieces; and also humiliation, because there was nothing appertaining to them that is signified by the adornment of garments.

    AR 492 By “clothed in sackcloth” is signified mourning on account of the devastation of truth in the church; for “garments” signify truths; therefore “to be clothed in sackcloth,” which is not a garment, signifies mourning because there is no truth, and where there is no truth there is no church.

    The sons of Israel represented mourning by various things, which, from correspondences, were significative, as by putting ashes on the head, by rolling themselves in the dust, by sitting a long time silent upon the earth, by shaving themselves, by lamentation and howling, by rending the garments, and also by “putting on sackcloth,” besides other particulars; and each of these signified some evil of the church among them, for which they were punished; and when they were punished, they represented repentance by such things, and on account of the representation of repentance, and, then at the same time, of humiliation, they were heard. Amen.

    Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

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