Pray for Ukraine.

Urgency with God: struggling in our faith to co-create with God through Vision and Word.

A re-envisioned depiction of Ben Hadad’s seige of Samaria in 2 Kings 6-7. Ref 1

I hazard that few of us would be able to accurately locate Samaria on a blank map of the Middle East, or many other sites in Israel or its neighbours, come to that. We are all getting a crash course in Ukrainian geography right now, though as quickly as we come to recognise the names of their towns and cities, too many are swallowed up by growing seas of red on maps from the Institute for the Study of War. Above is an illustration typical of artistic impressions produced to accompany Bibles and commentaries ever since the printing press made mass production of scripture possible. The forces of the ancient Syrian king Ben-Hadad are shown encircling the city in which King Jehoram (reign ~850-840BC, and during the period 912BCE-612BCE when what the Bible calls ‘Syria’ was part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire) and his people are holed up. The Syrian strategy is simple; not really to engage militarily, but simply to starve the trapped populace into submission, or wait for hunger and disease to finish them off. But the account in 2 Kings 6-7 is not the same sort of report that we are seeing in our current media reports- as we read carefully certain similarities do emerge, but the scriptural priorities are somewhat different. Let’s see what it says:

24 Afterwards Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. 25 And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab[a] of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver. 26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the wine press?” 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body— 31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”

The king inspects from the wall and vows against Elisha, though everyone in this picture appears to be in a rude state of health compared with what must really have been the case, 2

32 Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. Now the king had dispatched a man from his presence, but before the messenger arrived Elisha said to the elders, “Do you see how this murderer has sent to take off my head? 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?” 33 And while he was still speaking with them, the messenger came down to him and said, “This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?”

Elisha recognised by the Elders at Jericho ( an earlier episode, recounted in 2 Kings 2:18-22), 3

1 But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, ‘Tomorrow about this time a seah[a] of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel,[b] and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.’” Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”

The four lepers from Samaria carry goods away from the abandoned camp to conceal them, 4

Now there were four men who were lepers[c] at the entrance to the gate. And they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city’, the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die.” So they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians. But when they came to the edge of the camp of the Syrians, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.” So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them.

The weak and famished survivors of the seige plunder the abandoned camp, 5

Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.” 10 So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city and told them, “We came to the camp of the Syrians, and behold, there was no one to be seen or heard there, nothing but the horses tied and the donkeys tied and the tents as they were.” 11 Then the gatekeepers called out, and it was told within the king’s household. 12 And the king rose in the night and said to his servants, “I will tell you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we are hungry. Therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the open country, thinking, ‘When they come out of the city, we shall take them alive and get into the city.’” 13 And one of his servants said, “Let some men take five of the remaining horses, seeing that those who are left here will fare like the whole multitude of Israel who have already perished. Let us send and see.” 14 So they took two horsemen, and the king sent them after the army of the Syrians, saying, “Go and see.” 15 So they went after them as far as the Jordan, and behold, all the way was littered with garments and equipment that the Syrians had thrown away in their haste. And the messengers returned and told the king.

The people trample the king’s man in the gateway, 6

16 Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians. So a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord. 17 Now the king had appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate. And the people trampled him in the gate, so that he died, as the man of God had said when the king came down to him. 18 For when the man of God had said to the king, “Two seahs of barley shall be sold for a shekel, and a seah of fine flour for a shekel, about this time tomorrow in the gate of Samaria,” 19 the captain had answered the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could such a thing be?” And he had said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” 20 And so it happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gate and he died.

How might it be appropriate to read and apply this passage with regard to current events in Ukraine? How might we draw on God’s resources to respond to such challenges?

In WW2 there was very limited dissemination of information about the progress of the fighting to the folk back home, and what was printed in the daily newspapers was highly censored. I was a schoolboy when the 1982 Falklands ‘conflict’ took place, and I devoured what was printed in the following day’s newspaper- still very limited of course, including the nature of what photographic and film imagery was broadcast. Now we can see real-time footage from Ukraine and beyond, while social media is showing us almost current footage of bomb damage and even fighting, or its shocking uncensored aftermath. Editing does inevitably constitute bias, and propaganda may also be rife, but for the Christian believer the question is also different: What does God want us to see? What should we be looking for? The account of Elijah at Samaria suggests that while we should – of course!- be seeing the same things as everyone else, we might gain a broader perspective that will lead us to judge and act differently. There are other powers and forces at work, some godly, and some not. The Bible tells us VERY LITTLE of these, and speculation, though nearly irresistible, often proves UNWISE. Frank Peretti readers take note! ref 7

The prophet Elisha is a key character in the account of the breaking of the siege of Samaria.  I wonder what else strikes you as having particular significance?  Elisha, you may recall, was successor to the great prophet Elijah, and his ministry was extraordinary.  By which I mean extra-ordinary, lived within the stuff of God’s created cosmos as a mortal man, yet also living as much in the reality of the unseen realms of God’s cosmos- that which lies beyond the reach of science and its measuring instruments. (Which I wrote about here.)

To use the technical terminology, science does not provide full epistemic insight in regard of all the worlds that God has made [Hebrews 11:3]. In the Church Age, where God in Christ ascended and gave gifts to men, words of wisdom and of knowledge are to be sought in partnership with the Spirit of God.  (Such knowledge and wisdom is not contradictory to good science- but beyond, over and above. Hence the category of super-natural.) I think our Hebrew bible passage hints at this.  Elisha sought a double portion of Elijah’s spirit- you have asked a hard thing, Elijah said when Elisha asked for this.  But if you see me when I am taken… and immediately Elisha’s prayer was answered! We would see Jesus (John 12:21), said the Greek men who met the first disciples.  ‘Come and you will see’ was the standard response (John 1:39). It still is.  And the disciples saw Jesus taken up into a cloud (Acts 1:9-11) just as Elisha did when God took Elijah on the fiery chariot, and so the tongues of fire followed in the Upper Room soon afterwards. We can all receive the answer that Elisha secured!

The mighty acts that Elijah did with God are numerous (1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 2)- they did include a war of a kind- the war between people and apostate king Ahab; the war between true prophet and the false prophetess queen Jezebel and her coterie of Baal’s minders.  Exposed and bested, by Elijah’s mortal submission to the One True God, and by God’s awesome Answer, the pillar of conflagrating Fire from heaven- a guide to the submissive in the wilderness, and agent of destruction for the unrepentantly idolatrous.

The way the Gospels speak, Elijah is the Prophet whose reputation is assured into the future. Is Jesus Elijah, come again, they asked? ( or is it John the Baptiser, wondered Herod?) Elisha did receive the double portion that he sought, and the scripture testifies to twice as many miracles and prophetic wonders. But its Elijah who gets the plaudits, not Elisha. I wonder if this is speaks to the human psychology of ‘the old guys’ and ‘the old days’. The real heroes were in the past, and we can’t possibly keep up. The truly great deeds are behind us- we can’t compete, or escape their long shadows.

Messerschmitt Bf 109 and two Spitfires in formation over Headcorn Airshow, Sept 27 2020. (c) Author’s photograph.

My own father didn’t fight in the War; he was shuffled out of school to make room for refugees from London (evacuees they were called then, escaping the German Blitz) and sent to basic training with the Fleet Air Arm, but the war ended before he was old enough to be mobilised. The only ‘action’ story I ever heard from my Dad was a semi-comic tale from sometime around 1939-40 when he was hanging around in the back garden of their house in Melton, near Ipswich, looking up at an aeroplane flying towards him above the treeline. He wasn’t as sharp as schoolboys are supposed to be at distinguishing friend from foe by the approaching silhouette- it was an elder brother who rugby tackled him into the coal shelter as the German ME 109 roared overhead. Now as I write this I wonder for the first time what his mother’s response was when she heard what had happened.

I could continue to explore the extent to which my parent’s generation lived in the shadow of the generation that made the ultimate sacrifice in that conflict, or even the one before (World War 1: 1914-19). I might also reflect that I grew up in the later years of the Cold War, with its dark adult talk of spying and multiple nuclear threats. But that would not be profitable here: the point is that Elijah has gone up to God, as He determined, and now its Elisha’s moment. The lesson for us all should be clear. Immanuel is not so much God with them but rather God with us! And God is with us all, whether in Ukraine or Uxbridge, in this Now. Such a scene of ‘now’ is painted here for our instruction.

In 2 Kings 6-7 there is what seems to be a final war for King Jehoram, who is surrounded and besieged in Samaria.  All the people – those who are not already dead- are in famine and thirst, in fear of starvation, dehydration and disease.  We are parachuted down into the city, first at the side of the king, who is carrying out a futile inspection, though with some residual sense of competence. From the walls he can see that the situation inside continues to be ghastly, while outside, the fortified positions of the besiegers are as imposing and immovable as they were yesterday, and the day before… and to confirm all this, the leader is hailed by a woman who enquires if he has brought any supplies to share. He responds from deep despair, and also with a rather British and black sense of humour: ‘God has not helped us, so what can I do?’ And then he adds, ‘Would you like something from the delicatessen – some blinis and salmon perhaps, with a nice bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, no? Or would Madam prefer the Argentinian Malbec?’ Captain Blackadder would have got on with Jehoram famously, I feel.

King Jehoram should get some credit I suppose; he does not ride on away from this awkward encounter, but engages the woman with a further question. But he soon comes to regret that too, as he is faced with a tragic moral dilemma that even Solomon the Wise would have been stumped by. Already we hear that civilians in besieged Ukrainian towns and villages are squabbling over supplies and stealing from one another. Truly the slide from civility to chaos can be swift.

The king has maintained some semblance of dignity and character so far- he is not hiding in his palace, he is taking stock of the situation within and without the walls, he is connecting with his people. And while the scripture is not very complimentary about Jehoram in its final analysis, we can see that he has made some effort to take the covenant God of Israel seriously, for as he tears his clothes in despair, he is seen to be wearing a sackcloth undergarment- a sign of penance and prayerfulness, we may surmise. And then, at this moment of insight, we hear his final backlash against the God Who -he thinks- has abandoned them, as he vows to finish off God’s own prophet, the man Elisha. I guess if you set out to murder God’s prophet you are probably saying that you’d like to murder God.

Amongst the last desperate acts of the condemned – to make an attempt to stave off final disaster, the infectious lepers have been banished from the community outside the city walls.  And of course, God sides with them- with the outcasts! The later narration takes us outside the city to tell us of the lepers who behold the fate that will befall them all – they are the ones who are the chief actors at the climax of this account.

However, we are missing something if we only read from the human level; the level of the weak and helpless, the orphan or the widows reduced to cannibalism, or the fatherless whom God sees and attends to.  There is also the question of the Man of God.  It is Elisha who emerges front and centre of the account, in parallel with the perspective of the lepers.  Did you notice that Elisha is the only character recognised by name in this whole episode?

Of course, if it is the man of God who is in the central focus of the narrative, then it must also be that God is at the true centre. Will the Centre hold, we may wonder?

What is really at issue is the status of the Creator Himself, and the creative word of God, the Word of the One who made and sustains- the Creator and Providential God of all. [Now friends of mine note that I have changed my views about aspects of this matter. I was taught that the Hebrew language of Genesis for ‘creation’ has a straightforward significance: God ‘creates’, bara out of nothing, ex nihilo, or God ‘makes’, asah from things that God has already made previously. There is some logic and soundness in this in terms of the text, but I now realise that it is a mistake to confound these textual observations with matters of science- what God actually made out of nothing, and what God has endowed with the capacity to evolve. I will explore this further another time. Suffice to say, I now say that it is too simplistic to try to separate God’s creation acts from God’s providence.] We are introduced to a further character in the 2 Kings narrative, and it is this ‘captain on whose hand the king leaned’ who is heard to speculate in disbelief about God’s ability and power to provide in an instant – even if there were windows made in heaven, could there be plentiful provision for everyone? 

What are we to make of the concept of ‘windows of heaven’? It is surely best to consider this in the whole context of the ‘Biblical worldview’ which I am considering in this blog. If we stick with the ‘traditional’ ideas of the Ancient Near East, then surely we are limited to the twee and kitsch imagery on the left, or a nature-romanticised view, (2nd left). Now all this can be improved by embracing post-ANE mysticism, such as the Celtic talk of ‘thin places’ where heaven and earth come closer together than usual. William Barry SJ describes this here. My thesis is different. The ANE cultures had their own worldviews and world pictures, for sure, and these evolved under their own agencies. The Jewish culture(s) matured in that environment, drawing on their ingredients in early formation, and cross-fertilising with them subsequently, no doubt, in the forgotten past. But I propose that while the Hebrew Bible emerges from such ground with a strong polemical dynamic against their neighbours cultural constructs, there is also de novo creativity. Indeed, I would assert, dogmatically, that there is revelatory impartation. There are no places where the contact between ‘heaven and earth’ is thinner than anywhere else, but rather simply that God is willing to make contact and make interplay between heaven and earth a reality by partnering with His people- his People as a whole and with each of His people. It was so in the time of 2 Kings, and it is simply more widely so today, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. It is the heart of faith and obedience that makes divine traffic possible; God is immanent in God’s created cosmos, but God chooses to make Godself revealed in Presence in the presence of God’s people. We only have to invite Him. “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” Ps 24:7 ESV

In the brief scriptural account, we can struggle to grasp the precise meaning of the king’s captain. Some have suggested that he imagined a watering can ‘rose’, suddenly emitting showers of rain that could nurture accelerated growth of new wheat and barley. Jesus did exactly this kind of accelerated creative production at Cana at the wedding, but commentators don’t think that’s what is intended here. The word is properly translated as ‘windows’ in all the modern versions, but that is to minimise the scope of the Hebrew. Arubbah also translates as lattice- the thin and delicate wooden separation constructed before glazed windows were possible, through which light streams, or wind flows, or even birds might enter, such as a dove loft. Or again, as a sluice or floodgates, which is how we find arubbah rendered in Genesis 7:11 and 8:2, when God allows the waters above to come down to flood the whole earth below. So ‘arubbah’ refers to much more significant portals between heaven and earth- the very doors of intercourse between God’s realm and our earthly realm.  Now in the great Church Age we ought to understand that God’s intention is to bring Heaven and Earth together into One- that’s what Paul’s letters say (Ephesians 1:10), though too often it seems we are all stubbornly wedded to the inferior Platonic myth that heaven is far above and far from us all, while we are marooned in this slough of despond, far below on this miserable Earth. 

We may well need to be rebuked to think more biblically about these things, and that is also exactly what is going on in 2 Kings 7:2. As well as the rebuke of the prophet Elisha we might readily recall the words of Psalm 78, themselves a blunt rebuke:

11 They forgot his works
    and the wonders that he had shown them.
12 In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders
    in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
    and made the waters stand like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
    and all the night with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks in the wilderness
    and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock
    and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

17 Yet they sinned still more against him,
    rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart
    by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying,
    “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 He struck the rock so that water gushed out
    and streams overflowed.
Can he also give bread
    or provide meat for his people?”

Psalm 78:11-20 ESV

The King’s captain is making the same mistake as the doubters in the desert. The same mistake as the King himself, of course. Without a doubt, this is not a mistake that has at all gone out of fashion. Let’s also catch the subtlety of what is depicted in 2 Kings 6-7. We might recall from elsewhere that this King, Jehoram, is unlikely to be a reliable guide- his parents were Ahab and Jezebel. What can his upbringing and schooling have been like? Yet the scripture is understanding and merciful- this king has one to lean on, a captain, brought up, we might speculate, outside the close circle of the House of Ahab. (I explored that experience here.) The text does not criticise Jehoram directly- I have already shown that in fact it casts him in quite a positive light. And there is more- as soon as the King has uttered his murderous intention to do away with Elisha, he follows up the message with a possible reprieve, drawing back from violence to ask Elisha the question, “This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” Perhaps Jehoram imagines in a dark whim that he will rouse God’s attention by sending the heavies round to sort out Elisha- permanently if it comes to it. But his heart isn’t in it, though Elisha has the door barricaded to begin with, and wisely so.

The good people of Kyiv and Mariupol and Kharkiv are asking themselves a similar question, and would perhaps also say so to us, as they find themselves under a far more apocalyptic assault than the one described in 2 Kings. Jehoram’s people didn’t face Cruise missiles, laser guided artillery fired from some 10 miles distance, or remote drone ‘loitering munitions.’ But just as then, the invading army still intends their destruction, and by whatever means, dead is dead. Plenty of God’s people are praying beyond Ukraine’s borders, as well as within them, and others pray in desperation in basements and underground stations, but the noose around Kyiv is slowly tightening all the same. Where is God’s answer? If this trouble isn’t from Him, why should any of them wait for Him?

Kharkiv under attack on 24 2 22. Kevin Rothrock.

Though not a journalistic report, 2 Kings also notes the state of the economy in Samaria at the crucial time. Donkey’s heads and bird dung are now on the shopping list, and business for these is brisk, it would seem. Against the background of this report, Elisha’s rebuke to the unbelief of the King’s walking stick man is couched in the same terms. Tomorrow, grain will be cheaper than you can imagine- Elijah gives the exact price per kilo- while the same shekel will get you twice as much barley. Barley is always cheaper at the market because its harder to separate the husks from the inner seed. Cereal bars have always had their drawbacks.

But I think the message is clear enough. By reporting on the state of the economy, the writer of 2 Kings is showing us in unequivocal terms that God does indeed see the Big Picture, in all times- past, present and (near) future. The commodities prices are significant because in these graphs is the prosperity or poverty of whole communities. Not everyone ate pigeon dung or their children, but they were all in the trial together. Some coped better than others, and some who coped yesterday died today. At such a moment in the history of Israel and Samaria the stories of some came to a premature and tragic end, and my religious sensibilities won’t make much difference to that. It may be true that God did not change the situation for this one or that one, but God is God and I am not. You already knew that bad things happen to people, some of whom are ‘good’ and some not, though they were minding their own business well enough I guess.

The most extra-ordinary spectacle of a 40 mile convoy of Russian would-be invaders photographed from space for days and days going absolutely nowhere. They say the the Lord works in curious ways. Who is to say what the multiple explanations are for this turn of events? Perhaps this gives some pause to consider what might be meant by Jeremiah 10:23; “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” Or, again, the old Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs.” 

Perhaps I speak too soon. Who’d have credited that Putin’s army wouldn’t even be able to drive down the A roads to Kyiv (or Kiev as the Russians had become accustomed to calling it) without getting stuck in mud, blowing their tyres or running out of fuel? Perhaps it was wholesale sabotage by the reluctant soldiers. Go on- say you thought that would happen. You simply can’t. It’s ridiculous, frankly. But it happened, and as I said before, this meant that Western leaders discovered they had time to discover their consciences and found the time to grasp an opportunity to act before it becomes too late for many many people. As with Jehoram, we discover something of the true qualities of our leaders in these testing circumstances, and we may even be pleasantly surprised. Some hasty decisions may be reconsidered and even corrected. Perhaps we discover that we can work for justice together.

March 10 2022. Ukrainian artillery attack a bunched Russian tank column moving slowly down the main highway towards Kyiv. Russian tank commander Colonel A. Zakharov is believed to have been killed in action, as overheard on the tank-to-tank radios during their U-turn and retreat.

Other broadcast footage shows the timely impact of the significant quantities of ‘defensive’ hardware that EU and other countries, including the UK, have managed to squirrel into the hands of the Ukrainian defenders. You may conceded that God has used us to extend a meaningful hand of friendship to the Ukrainians in their time of great need, though a no-fly zone is still off the table.

But what is of most significance I think is the information war. In stark contrast to the situation in 1945 and even in 1982, we now realise that wars are fought with information in the electronic realm, and that the control of information back home is of great significance. Significant though decreasing numbers of protestors are showing up on the streets in Russia, and Putin’s government is desperately trying to control the narrative to maintain his support at home. Some Christian leaders are imitating the example of Bonhoeffer in an earlier era. We can pray for all Russians who look for the courage to speak truth to power.

L. Ukrainian forces capture Russian Borisoglebsk-2 electronic warfare system. C. Electronic warfare by Ukrainian military personnel. R. Captured Russian Eleron-3 UAV drone in operating condition.

Which is what we see with Elisha in these circumstances. I cannot explain or defend all the facets of the events in the biblical account, and certainly not the detailed rights and wrongs in Ukraine. How could I possibly make sense of all the conditions and consequences of freedom, Divine freedom in creation, or human freedom in response, in responsible action, and the myriad interactions of all these things? But within the boundaries of this episode, a spectacular realisation emerges. In the extreme circumstances of international warfare, a complete war where the whole population and community are in ultimate peril, where leaders and advisers, men and women, children and babies, the old and sick- and men of God are all cheek by jowl with one another under God’s heaven, God sees them. God is close by. They can discover that they are, if you like, in a ‘thin place’ where the gates and doors and windows and sluice gates of heaven can be thrown open in an instant. The King of Glory may come in, and when He does, He can make anew- salvation, release, redemption, liberation- all of these and more. In the case of Jehoram and Elisha, God’s bursting through the curtain between heaven and earth came with in the sound of an invisible army- of chariots and horsemen. In those days, that sound was the equivalent of today’s main battle tanks, attack helicopters and the incessant rain of rockets from afar. Putin is not afraid of the tanks from Germany, France and Britain, for the simple reason that we have, collectively, fewer than 600, to his 13000. The Ukrainians themselves have several thousands, older ex-Soviet era models for the most part. But the size of Jehoram’ s army was not relevant. God made the sound that scared the besieging soldiers away, and I note that the account does not inform us as to how the author even knows that. There are many things that only God knows, and God does things we don’t know about. News got out somehow. And so we find that what was a question for the King’s Captain, uttered in unbelief and despair, turned out to be an invitation Godself was oh-so-ready to accept. How did God make connection between the provision in heaven with need on earth? When Elijah walked on earth, God used him to prophecy over flour and oil (1Ki 17:14), but not this time. Nor did God accelerate the growing of crops. Rather, once the gospel testimony of the lepers had been tested by the (overly?) cautious Jehoram, the Israelites found the supplies they desperately needed left in tents, with gold and other loot from the earlier campaign- all abandoned in plentiful supply, at greater scale even than the armaments that unwilling and reluctant Russians in Ukraine have themselves run away from. Jehoram had seen a great deal from the city wall, but Elisha saw into the future with God- a better future that comes pressing forward to meet those in disaster. This is the real ‘information war’, not the electronic warfare in the skies or in the internet, but the seeing and knowing that God is willing to share with His people about what is happening between heaven and earth, and what New things can come about here in earth as we learn and align with God’s will in the unseen Tomorrow that God is creating.

You may have been amused by the realisation that the lepers are caught in some moral ambiguity after their desperation turns to relief and delight. In their excitement at discovering food and other loot, they begin to carry off armfuls of stuff- a stash of shiny metal in a security deposit box here, a tax free off-shore bank account there… the keys to superyachts at the Tyre marina. Then they have a crisis of conscience. ‘I can see what will happen to us if we stay silent and keep this stuff for ourselves,’ one says to another. But they don’t mention these goodies when they get back to announce that the army has suddenly departed. Horses, donkeys and tents are all that they list. God sees this, and so can we. It is not merely the matter of what means of war are just at this time. There are more ethical challenges that will face us, individually as well as corporately, as and when this chapter comes to an end.

Who is to say how God will work with His faithful intercessors, prophets and leaders to do justice and mercy in Ukraine, in this war, and, please God, after it? It’s high time we found out. Let us not rest until shalom has come, as the enemies of peace and the doers of violence have run away over the horizon of God’s world, and as those who instruct and order them are escorted to appointments at The Hague.


Post script: “Grinning George Osborne marched on to the Tory conference stage yesterday and announced plans for savage cuts that will hammer millions of families… Mr Osborne said his measures would save £7 billion and would be a crucial part of plans to cut the £175 billion public debt built up during the battle against recession. He told Tory delegates that all sectors of society must share the burden, adding: “We’re all in this together.”” [Daily Mirror, 7th October, 2009]

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer to PM David Cameron was widely mocked for uttering the phrase “We’re all in this together,” both in 2009 when announcing the Conservative Government’s austerity policies and again in 2014, when he tried to argue he’d been morally sound and technically accurate in their implementation. The well off paid much more tax than the less well off, Osborne maintains.

Whether you agree with the critics who continue to mock Osborne or not, very similar things were said of Elijah after he prophesied that there would be no rain except by his word, as God’s judgement on the idolator Ahab and his queen.  ‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel?’ Ahab said when Elijah finally showed up again at court.  It had not rained for three and a half years.  Elijah was at the Brook Cherith drinking best ‘Stream Fresh’ mineral water and eating at ‘Chez Ravens’ (feathered waiter service included) at least until the stream dried up.  Was Elijah really ‘in it’ together with the rest of God’s people during the long drought and famine?  Reading the account now, we can see that he was very much sharing in the same privations for a significant period, before going off to Zarephath. There was a bounty on Elijah’s head, you will remember, so this must be taken into account.

What does the ‘double portion’ look like for Elisha?  The Syrians are besieging the whole city of Samaria- king and people without distinction, and Elisha is in there with them, inside a house with the city Elders.  Yes, absolutely he is ‘in it’ with everyone else.  The king eventually gets to breaking point and sends out to have Elisha beheaded, just as own parents (Ahab and Jezebel) intended for Elisha’s prophetic forerunner, and it proves to be a close run thing before the stay of execution.

The people of the city could very much see that the man of God was with them in their distress, vulnerable in humanity, just like them.  This is why his words count.

So it is all very well that I am writing this in such assured terms about the wonders of divine prophecy and developing a spiritual perspective.  We are all instructed by the scripture, but let’s be quick to pray for God to prosper His prophetic Word inside the cities and lands where the siege is actually happening.


PPS If you have children, or you are moved to pray for children, please note these media stories. Ukraine: Thousands of vulnerable children unaccounted for. By Sue Mitchell. BBC News 11 3 22

© Stephen Thompson 2022 (except where credits shown)

Digital tracking data from open source e-sites, correlating to military activity in Ukraine from Feb 24th to March 14th Amongst other things, such data will be of value in the ongoing work to collate evidence for war crimes investigations.

Published by Stephen Thompson

Thinking inside the box is to be recommended for many reasons. I am creating this blog in May 2020 as we are encouraged to stay inside our boxes as far as possible, though we are allowed out- encouraged out, indeed- for exercise. By blogging, our thinking can also be allowed out for public exercise. Right now we need new thinking, new exercising of our mental faculties, and collective application of our thinking to the big idea of a healthy collective future. I am trialling my thinking in constructive theology, science and leadership in the light of my experience as a science teacher, theological student and as a representative of the Christian community in the county of Kent, in the UK. I welcome your partnership!

One thought on “Pray for Ukraine.

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