"When the king heard the woman's words, he tore his robes. As he walked along the wall the people saw that, underneath, he had sackcloth on his body."
- II Kings 6:30
Conditions in Israel couldn't have been worse. The Syrian army had besieged the city of Samaria, and all access to food and supplies necessary to sustain life were cut off. A normally discarded animal's head sold for 80 pieces of silver, and hunger drove some to cannibalize their own children (II Kings 6:24-29).
One morning as King Jehoram walked along the city wall, a distraught woman ran toward him screaming for help. In anguish at the woman's tale and his inability to help her, the King tore his clothes to shreds. Passers by were stunned, for underneath his robes the King was wearing sackcloth.
Kings didn't wear sackcloth. Clothes made of this crude burlap-type fiber were worn as a sign of penance or mourning. Such emotions were beneath the dignity of a king.
Whenever our own leaders come under intense criticism, as is occurring today from local governments to the White House, I think about King Jehoram. His people thought he didn't care what happened to them. Perhaps they thought he kept a stash of food somewhere only for himself, or they blamed him because the enemy troops were there. The sackcloth beneath his robes may not have acknowledged blame, but it showed that he cared to the core.
Look at the leadership in most of the world today and you're apt to find a modern King Jehoram walking similar, gut-wrenching walls. I think of our own president, once hailed for his determination to fight this country's attackers, now under attack himself. I wonder: if we could read his mind, listen to his private conversations, overhear his prayers for wisdom, would we find him clothed in sackcloth, too?
My idea for solving conflict, family-wide to world-wide, is for all sides to simply stop fighting. About now the mother in me would send the leadership of Israel and Palestine, the Shia and Sunni in Iraq, and President Bush and his opponents to their rooms until they promised to get along or leave each other alone.
If that's my idea of reality I certainly don't belong on this planet. Those "wars and rumors of wars" (Matthew 24:6) Jesus said would take place before he returns to earth are still raging, despite all our efforts to prevent them.
Thankfully, both for the world and for me, I'm not in charge of anything beyond my own four walls. But neither are the critics of those who are walking their leadership walls in this country or in theirs today.
A marriage counselor once told me it wasn't unusual for a couple to come to him after their dysfunctional relationship was so far gone he could do nothing to help them. Then the couple blamed him because he failed to solve their problems.
Marriages can last from a few weeks to 50-60 years. The marriages between Arabs and Jews, Shiites and Sunnis, and political parties with varying names in this country have been dysfunctional for centuries. One side, or one leader, rarely has the ability to heal such conflicts alone, rarer still to do so at the satisfaction of all sides.
In King Jehoram's case it took a miracle beyond human control. God created the sound of a mighty army, which frightened the Syrians into leaving all their provisions behind and fleeing for their lives (II Kings 7:6). God not only ended Jehoram's war, but he fed his people besides.
I have no idea how the various conflicts in the world will be resolved. But my study of Biblical history convinces me that the God who saved the Jews from the Syrians and other enemies in wars to come, or guided this country through a revolution and, nearly a century later, a tragic civil war, is able to deliver besieged people again.
Though I don't expect a miraculous "Syrian retreat" to end the horrors that only seem to increase each time I turn on today's news, I do expect some plan - most likely one with "intelligent design" - eventually to work. Until then, perhaps those of us who are not in charge should don a few layers of sackcloth and pray for those who are.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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