“Sackcloth Beneath”

“Sackcloth Beneath”

Neal Pollard

Jehoram, son of Ahab, was still king over Israel when Ben-hadad, king of Syria, was able to besiege Israel’s capital city (2 Kings 6:24). This prolonged siege led Samaria to suffer “a great famine” (25). It was so bad that donkey heads and dove dung were sold at exorbitant prices as food (26). There have been famous sieges in history, both ancient and modern, and the details of historians are soberingly terrifying. The German siege of the unprepared Russian town of Leningrad went on for 872 days. The city of three million inhabitants “ate everything from wallpaper paste to shoe leather to supplement their meager bread rations, and some even resorted to cannibalism” (Evan Andrews, 8/22/18, history.com). The writer of 2 Kings reveals that this siege was of the same sort. 

King Jehoram was “passing by on the wall” when a woman cried out to him to intervene and arbitrate between herself and another woman. According to her, they had struck a gruesome bargain to eat one’s son the day before and then the other’s son that day. She had kept her end of the bargain, but the other woman had a change of heart and had hidden her son. Such was the unimaginable depths of the people’s hunger. When the king heard this grisly story, he tore his clothes and, as the people witnessed, there was sackcloth beneath (30). Unfortunately, Jehoram was neither penitent nor reliant upon God. His grief turned to wrath against God’s prophet, Elisha, whom he resolved to kill (31-33). 

But I want you to focus on something in the heart of this story. As Jehoram walked above the people, they must have known these events disturbed him. But they understood the depths of his sorrow when in his grief and dismay he tore his clothes to reveal the sackcloth underneath. Sackcloth is a very coarse, rough fabric woven from flax or hemp, much like a burlap bag. It would itch and chafe and be very uncomfortable. It was often worn as a way of demonstrating how irritated and agitated of heart one was. 

Will you remember as you interact with people each day that they may be wearing “sackcloth beneath.” A brother or sister in Christ may be wearing some hidden cares. That person who waits on you at the bank, the store, or the restaurant, that customer service agent you interact with, that fellow driver on the road, they may be distracted, obsessed, or focused on their great grief or fear. This may help us to season our words (Col. 4:6) and soften our judgment. The way we treat them may greatly impact what happens next in their lives. When we stop and practice compassion, we may be the way God heals the hurts of those who are wearing their figurative sackcloth beneath. 

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