Counterfeit Repentance

Reflections on 2 Kings

We often take the genuineness of our repentance for granted, as if feeling sorry for our sin is proof enough. But just after Paul preaches repentance, he commands his listeners to “prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). True repentance has corroborating evidence. Perhaps the best way to learn what genuine repentance looks like is by examining the opposite: a counterfeit. In 2 Kings we find one in King Joram.

Joram rules when Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel, is besieged by Ben-Haded, king of Syria. The siege places the people of Samaria in desperate circumstances. When a citizen pleads for help from King Joram, he tells her hope does not rest in him: “If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you?” (2 Kgs 6:27). It seems to be the response of someone who depends on Yahweh.

But after discovering that some in his kingdom are eating their own children to stay alive, Joram decides Yahweh can’t help him. Rather, he decides Yahweh is the cause of the problem. Joram takes out his frustration on the prophet Elisha: “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulder today!” (6:31).

It’s a move that undermines God’s provision both for Joram and for Israel. Elisha had shown God’s provision in a situation involving the same invaders. He had notified Joram when the Syrian king made plans to war against Israel and provided Joram with an opportunity to attend to the situation—“time and again” (6:8–9). Though Joram expressed a measure of faith, he had short-term memory loss when it came to God’s goodness and provision.

When the captain arrives to seize him, Elisha counteracts the attempt by prophesying that the siege will end: “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” (7:1). Like his king, the captain doubts his word—showing that the people are following in Joram’s unbelief. Elisha takes his lack of faith seriously, saying, “You will see it with your own eyes … but you will not eat any of it” (7:2).

God does provide for Israel. The Syrians, believing they are being attacked by an army of Egyptians and Hittites, flee from their camp; the path they take is “littered with garments and equipment that the Syrians had thrown away in their haste” (7:15). The irony and provision in this: The Syrians were attacked by an “army” of four desperate lepers, who promptly sat down to eat their dinner leftovers and then proceeded to plunder their goods. When the lepers report this situation to the king, Joram still refuses to believe:

“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).

Joram’s conspiracy theory proves false. In the end, it’s the captain who dies for not believing Elisha’s prophecy, trampled by people as they rush to plunder the Syrian camp for flour and barley. Joram’s unbelief appears to go unpunished, but it does stand as a reminder that we can trust in God’s care and provision—even in dire circumstances or when authorities refuse to do so. Belief and repentance depend on our decisions to listen to God and act accordingly, even when it’s against common knowledge or logic.

Matt Erbaugh

Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Mar–Apr ‘12

Biblical references from NIV


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