Grieving with Your People
2Kings 6:24 ¶ Some time later King Ben-hadad of Aram mustered his entire army; he marched against Samaria and laid siege to it.
2Kings 6:25 As the siege continued, famine in Samaria became so great that a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and one-fourth of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver.
2Kings 6:26 Now as the king of Israel was walking on the city wall, a woman cried out to him, “Help, my lord king!”
2Kings 6:27 He said, “No! Let the LORD help you. How can I help you? From the threshing floor or from the wine press?”
2Kings 6:28 But then the king asked her, “What is your complaint?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son; we will eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’
2Kings 6:29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son and we will eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.”
2Kings 6:30 When the king heard the words of the woman he tore his clothes—now since he was walking on the city wall, the people could see that he had sackcloth on his body underneath—
The situation in Israel had become dire. The king of Aram had surrounded the city and now they were running out of supplies. Little or no food was left within the city walls and starvation had overcome much of the community. This dreadful story of a woman eating a child was more than the king could bear. He was responsible for these people and it was his desire to care for them.
The king physically shows his solidarity with his people. He puts on sackcloth, for he too is grieving the loss of this child. This is not just an unknown woman’s child, as the leader of this community, this is his child as well and his is unable, as a leader, to bring about change. The deep pain of the people becomes more than he can bear and so, finally, he turns toward Elisha for an answer.
It is the king’s ability to identify with and suffer with his people that brings him to the place of seeking an answer from God.
Unfortunately there are times in life when we experience people in positions of leadership who seem distanced or aloof of those whom they are to be leading. What we see here is that there should not be this type of disconnect. The king was suffering just as his people were suffering. The reality is that he probably had more of a stash of food than the rest of his people but when he heard from the woman whose child had been eaten he could take no more! He was absolutely overcome and he put on sackcloth as a sign of grieving. He joins with the woman for whom he is king in her grief.
This is the heart of a genuine leader — one who feels the pain of his/her people. There should not be any sort of distance between the leadership and those whom they are serving. This is a crucial point because so often leadership has seen those “below” them as the ones who are there to serve them. Unfortunately this top-down model has never been an exceptionally good model. Even ruling monarchs got themselves into trouble when they saw themselves simply in a role as to be served by those in their kingdom. Instead, those rulers who understood that they were to serve their people as the leader became the beloved of their followers — and their people did follow!
A leader must be united with those they are leading and this includes rejoicing with them when they rejoice and weeping with them when they weep. The king’s response was from his heart. The people could see the sackcloth that he wore, visibly recognizing that he was grieving with his community and that he personally felt the pain. In that moment his leadership was real and genuine.
Lord, may I serve with a genuineness from you. Amen.