If the Lord do not help thee
By J.P. Thackway
A word for 2014
And he said, If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress? 2 Kings 6:27.
King Jehoram of Israel reigned twelve years (BC 896-884), succeeding his older brother Ahaziah. Because his parents were Ahab and Jezebel, Elisha called him “this son of a murderer” (2 Kings 6:32). In addition, like them, he worshipped the heathen idols for which Jeroboam was infamous (2 Kings 3:1-3). He speaks the words quoted above. It might seem strange to find the Lord’s name upon Jehoram’s lips. He does not speak them in devotion, however, but profanely, to strengthen his point. Though a king, his words show him as desperate and hopeless as the woman who has appealed to him. What has happened to bring them to this?
The passage in 2 Kings 6 and from verse 24 records a protracted siege and its consequences. The Syrian army has surrounded Israel’s capital Samaria. Months of this siege have reduced the population to starvation. Food is so scarce that a donkey’s head or pigeon’s excrement can command silver shekels (verses 24,25).
One day king Jehoram was passing by upon the city wall. An unnamed woman calls to him, “Help, my lord, O king” (verse 26). He mistakes her meaning, thinking she is crying for food, “And he said, If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress?” (verse 27). The reality, however, was worse,
And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to day, and we will eat my son to morrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son (verses 28,29).
Such extreme cases have happened since. In 1631, a British traveller arrived at Agra, where the Taj Mahal was under construction, and he reports,
All the highway was stowed with dead people, our noses never free from the stink of them … women were seen to roast their children … a man or woman no sooner dead but they were cut to pieces to be eaten (quoted in The Book that Made your World, Vishal Mangalwadi, page 112).
This terrible situation, however, looks back to a warning God gave through Moses, Deuteronomy 28:45,53,
Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee:
And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the LORD thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee
These words were long forgotten but are now fulfilled. It reminds us that what God says is ever true. Judgments might slumber long but they never fail. God is as faithful to His threatenings as He is to His promises. In fact, judgment being “his strange work” (Isaiah 28:21), He is quicker to make good His promises. How much better if both the woman and the king had cried to the Lord in godly sorrow than to each other in despair! He would have been merciful, and having saved Israel from the Syrians before (verses 1-23) would have done so again. This could have been avoided by obedience, or cured by repentance. But when the king rent his clothes it was in anger instead of contrition (verse 30).
O thou hideous monster sin,
What a curse hast thou brought in?
All creation groans though thee,
Pregnant cause of misery.
The king then, thinking the woman wants food, says he cannot help, hence, “If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee?” He speaks sarcastically about “the barnfloor” and “the winepress.” These are where corn is threshed and the grapes are turned into wine (Numbers 18:27). Both are long empty. How different from the blessed promise to those that honour the Lord: “So shall they barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” (Proverbs 3:10). Jehoram by his sins has emptied these. It ill becomes him to complain of being helpless! However, repentance is an impossible resort unless the Lord softens the heart (2 Kings 22:19).
Just like “many a true word is spoken in jest,” so many a true word is spoken impiously. In addition, these words can suit us very well if we consider their application to believers. They make a good motto for 2014 because we can say them and mean them in the highest sense. If we can, we will find that the Lord is doing some gracious things in us. Let us see these words first as,
1. A HUMBLING QUESTION
“If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee?”
This is the language of a helpless man. He has been brought low, even to the end of himself. What a thing for a king to have to say! God has brought him and his subjects to this extremity. He does similar with us also.
1] Sometimes, as here, it is for our sins.
Malachi 2:2 tells us the Lord can “curse our blessings.” Things are only to us what the Lord makes them to be. Moreover, He can change benefit to bane as discipline for our sinning. He loves us so much that He will use anything to bring us back. He made the barn floor and winepress empty – what Israel relied on failed them. This wake-up call was to rouse them from their forgetfulness, turn them from their idols, and draw them back to Him (Cf Psalm 107:11-13).
What a blessed thing to be emptied so that all you have left is God. “If the Lord do not help thee” – but it can lead to our really being helped again. Perhaps we need to examine ourselves this new year and see if anything has come between the Lord and us. To see if He is taking away in order to “allure” us (Hosea 2:14) and restore our souls. “That which I see not teach thou me: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more” (Job 34:32).
2] Sometimes it is for the trial and exercise of our faith.
“Precious faith” once given is often tried. Abraham and Job found it so. And Israel’s history is punctuated with instances of it. The Exodus, Red Sea, waters of Marah, the manna from heaven and water from the rock, enemies, river Jordan, Jericho and the wars of Canaan were all times to trust and prove the Lord’s sufficiency (Deuteronomy 8:2,3,16).
The Christian life, of which those were types (1 Corinthians 10:6,11) is a process of education and training for us. We learn the lessons of faith best in adversity. This is the way the Lord develops Christian character. When so, God shuts us up to Himself. To say in prayer to Him, “Lord, if thou dost not help me, to whom can I go?” is really to pray, and to have faith in God. The usual sources become empty, so that we prove what the Lord can be to us. And He will not fail us. Our extremity becomes His opportunity.
A testimony that recently appeared in a Christian paper illustrates this. The person writes,
Have you ever been in a situation where there is so much turmoil going on in your life, that you feel totally swamped and unable to bear any more? Last week was one of those weeks for me and this week is no different – except that my reaction to it all has changed. Thank God for His sustaining power, no matter what we are going through! Today I feel a peace that only He can impart, all because I committed these heavy burdens to Him and left them there …
One afternoon recently when I was alone and very troubled, I simply looked up into the blue sky and asked the Lord to totally have His own way in my life and in all the circumstances which were causing me so much anguish. Not my will, or anyone else’s well – but the Lord’s will be done! …
Only the Lord can work out whole situations in our lives and bring His will to bear, defeating the powers of darkness which would try to make us feel defeated. Surely, if we have committed all to Him, “He is the Potter – and we are the clay” (Isaiah 64:8; 29:16; 45:9: Jeremiah 18:1-6) And He can (and will) work out circumstances in our lives, overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles. (Ulster Bulwark, Oct-Dec 2013, page 7).
3] The Lord always knows what He will do.
He knew here because in the next chapter (7:1-3) we have the account of the four leprous men. In just twenty-four hours the situation will be transformed, as Samaria’s population pour out of the city to the deserted Syrian camp and the end of their hunger. The Lord knew what to do, and how. It not only met the desperate situation, it showed that Jehoram had spoken too soon about the Lord not helping. What sparing mercy, that here, even without repentance, the Lord was moved to relieve and deliver His people! Truly “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). What will He not do then, for penitent souls!
Remember the Lord knows what He is doing. He knew from the foundation of the world (Acts 15:18). Dear reader, He knows the way that you take, and knows the thoughts He has toward you (Job 23:10; Jeremiah 29:11). He is always ready with the next stage of His dealings and never makes a mistake. Humble yourself under His mighty hand and learn the lessons of His love. Every extremity will only prove His faithfulness to you.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
2. A HELPFUL QUESTION
“If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee?”
Jehoram’s faithless question supplies some helpful application to ourselves.
1] Let us cease from men.
Looking to friends for help will prove no better than for this poor woman. They may have a subsidiary role in the Lord’s purposes, but do not expect too much. In saying “whence shall I help thee?” Jehoram is prising her away from trusting him. We need the same weaning from mortal man. Rachel looked in the wrong place when she demanded children from her husband: Jacob’s answer was right, “Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” (Genesis 30:2). Later, the Lord confirmed this, “And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb”(Genesis 30:22).
We perhaps make too much of a human friendship. Set too much store by people’s good opinion of us. Rely overmuch on someone’s support. Looking to men is more subtle than we realise. This is a timely reminder to prevent us being hurt in the end. The psalmist rightly prayed, “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man” and he was brought to this, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him” (Psalm 60:11; 62:5). Here is the lesson learned, “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes” (Psalm 118:8,9).
2] Let us remember though, that the Lord does work by means.
And often this means human instrumentality. Samaria was delivered by the prophesy of Elisha (7:10) and the role of the four lepers (7:3ff). And so with the furtherance of the gospel (Romans 10:14), our good works (James 1:27), restoring the erring (Galatians 6:1) and fit words of counsel (Proverbs 25:11). And when seen like this, we apply the principle differently. We feel the force of Jeroboam’s words in a spirit of utter dependence upon God: “If the Lord does not help me, whence shall I be helped (to help others)?”
We think of our labours, perhaps, among Sunday School children. Or our preaching the Word. Our training up children in the home. Our personal witness to unbelievers. Our prayer-life. Convincing opponents of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25). “Who is sufficient for these things?” we cry – echoing the words of Jehoram. One thing is certain: we are not, neither is anyone else. The apostle declared this when he wrote, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves” (2 Corinthians 3:5). To be persuaded that “the arm of flesh will fail you; ye dare not trust your own” is a necessary qualification for the Lord to help us. Then there is no doubt that He will: “but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Corinthians 3:5b).
The psalmist cried, “Lord, be thou my helper” (Psalm 30:10). Let us make this our prayer also. And with James Smith we shall be able to say,
Every hour we live, this short and inspired prayer is suitable. May it flow from our hearts, be often on our lips, and be answered in our experience. For if the Lord help us, there is no duty which we cannot perform; there is no foe which we cannot overcome; there is no difficulty which we cannot surmount. All things are possible; difficult things are easy; and painful things will be pleasant. The Lord is my helper; therefore I will not fear.
We are merely instruments for the Lord to use and are shut up entirely to Him. Like John the Baptist, we “bare witness” to Christ, but “a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:26,27). Without the divine blessing, our most devoted efforts will accomplish nothing, like Peter’s long night of fishing. However, to “let down the net” when He works is to find the “miraculous draught” (Luke 5:5). May we be those throughout 2014 who have this sacred ultimatum, “If the Lord do not help … whence shall I?” and know that the Lord does help His faithful servants, bless them and make them a blessing.
When all is done, we know that this is the truth,
Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase (Zechariah 4:6; 1Corinthians 3:6,7).