Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reflections on 2 Kings 6:24-7:20

by CWK

            We learn in 2 Kings 6.23 that there were no more raids. Whew. Glad that’s over – yet, in 6.24, there is a terrifying siege?! The reader is expecting respite from war. Then, in an instant, he is set down in a besieged, famine-stricken town – “This is no place for the weary kind.”
            No more raids? Yes. But this does not mean relief. The promise of relief turns out to be a lie.
            This is our common experience – another sorrow comes just when we think we will get relief. To experience sorrow is one thing, but sorrow is often followed by another sorrow, and then another. The compound interest starts to weigh on you.
            One thing that makes tragedy difficult is this compound interest; the most painful hit often comes  just after the jab, as the punch from nowhere: the unexpected blow. You don’t have time to brace yourself for it. Here, then in 2 Kings 6.24, via famine and siege, is an unexpected blow. The sorrows start to pile up; we have a tragedy on our hands.
            It is also important to note that, in our passage, things are not just bad. They are bad for a reason. The particulars (cannibalism and siege, v. 24) reflect the particulars of God’s judgment:

 They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you. And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns. The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns.
                                                                                                                                                                —Dt. 28.52-57

            So, 2 Kings 6.24ff is a disaster scene of judgment. This is what happens when a people slips into idolatry, “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you (Dt. 28.15).” There are tragic consequences for human rebellion against the living God – a God who does not sit passively by and abide infidelity. When a people forsakes God, they turn the spiritual world upside down; then, he forsakes them, and the whole world is turned upside down. Thus, it is not too much to say that idolatry is the beginning of all tragedy.

In Deuteronomy 28, the curses often invert the blessings described by Moses earlier in the chapter. For example, v. 43 predicts that the stranger in your midst will mount up above you higher and higher while you go down lower and lower, whereas v. 13 had declared that you shall be the head and not the tail, above and not beneath. This case is particularly noteworthy because the curse emphasizes a social situation which is a zero-sum game, that is, a situation in which one wins only by another's loss. In societies which promote such competitiveness and destructive envy, social cohesion and trust are weakened, and people tend to 'feed on' one another in precisely the way described by the prophets. The presence of the inverted world topos in a text can signal maternal cannibalism for failing to accept his cult can be understood as conveying this message. If one rejects the sacrificial solution to uncontrolled violence, perverted social behaviors like cannibalism will be the result.[1]

            The tragedy in 2 Kings 6 has led to an upside down world. Yet, already in 6.24, we have one of the main elements of comedy: surprise – we do not expect a siege, and this is tragic, yet elements of comedy remain in all surprise.[2] Upon reading 2 Kings 6, we are jolted. We are knocked off our balance. We don’t know what to expect. We have entered a painfully real world, but also a world with comic potential. More surprises are to come: a king doesn’t do what we expect; Elisha speaks the word of God, and it does more than we could imagine; nobles fall, and lepers turn out to be heroes.

[1] Stuart Lasine, “Jehoram and the Cannibal Mothers,” (JSOT: 50, 1991) 39-40.
[2] Bill Murray has detailed the importance of surprise in all comedy, “But you asked how you get the comic pitch. Well, obviously a lot of it is rhythm. And as often as not, it's the surprising rhythm. In life and in movies, you can usually guess what someone is going to say—you can actually hear it—before they say it. But if you undercut that just a little, it can make you fall off your chair. It's small and simple like that. You're always trying to get your distractions out of the way and be as calm as you can be [breathes in and out slowly], and emotion will just drive the machine. It will go through the machine without being interrupted, and it comes out in a rhythm that's naturally funny. And that funny rhythm is either humorous or touching. It can be either one. But it's always a surprise. I really don't know what's going to come out of my mouth,” Meatballs,’ Bill Murray as Secular Youth Pastor:

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