Azel scraped the white, leprous flesh on his arm with a rock. Sweltering heat tortured the bulbous lesions on his face. The cries of starving children inside the city walls pierced his heart like the rock that now drew blood.
His servant, Baalphuz, snored in the dirt beside him. Azel rose from his perch and pulled the sleeping man’s cloak over his eyes. The poor servant could no longer close them, the lesions piled thick under his eyelids. Azel feared the sun would take his sight.
His two other companions in misery returned from the city gate, where they had gone to beg food. Cephas and Dachus limped and stumbled toward Azel, empty-handed.
“There is nothing, my friend. The gatekeeper tells me that the people of the city are eating the heads of donkeys and the dung of the dove. It would keep us alive, but we do not have shekels for either. I fear for my wife and children.” Cephas dropped to his knees beside Azel.
Dachus turned his head to the wall and wept. “The gatekeeper also tells us that some have taken to boiling and eating their babies. Why don’t the Arameans fall on us and kill us? Not a soul has the strength to lift a finger against them.”
A shout rose from high on the city wall. “The wife of Cephas the leper has died.”
The guard tossed a garment over the wall. Azel recognized the blue covering with purpled edging that the wife of Cephas wore.
The blue cloth caught the air and floated down upon the wails of the devastated man. Cephas reached for the garb and wrapped it around himself. He fell to the ground and rolled in the dirt, crying out.
Baalphuz awoke at this commotion. Azel and Dachus covered their heads and wept for their friend. After an hour, Azel went to Cephus and led him back to the wall. The four men huddled together.
The cold chill of utter defeat spread icy fingers around Azle’s heart, and he could see its pall on the faces of his decimated companions. He thought of Cephas’ children crying for their mother and Dachus’ young son near death of starvation. Even faithful Baalphuz had a wife.
Gnawing hunger weakened him and his head swooned. Was his young wife Estha dying too? The Lord God of Israel had spared her from leprosy, praise His Name, but only to die of starvation? The Lord God of Israel.
The thought of Jehovah strengthened him a bit, so he focused on it. The Lord God of Israel. Suddenly a crazy idea entered his heart. He stood, shaking off his dizziness.
“We are going to the Aramean camp. Perhaps they will have mercy. If we sit here, we die.” Azle stood and walked away from the city wall.
“Those who starve old women and babies will have mercy on lepers? The curse muddles your thinking.” Cephas spat on the ground.
“My Master is right. If they let us live, we live. If they kill us, we die. Better the sword of the Aramean than this slow and painful torture.” Baaphuz stood to his feet and linked his arm with Azle’s. Dachus followed suit.
“Death, or death,” Cephus mumbled, but he joined his friends.
They reached the enemy camp by twilight. Food sizzled and burned upon fires that no one tended. Clothes and valuables lay strewn around empty tents. Where were they?
“The Arameans have fled!” Azel lifted his hands before the Lord.
“It’s a trap. They wait for starving Israel to venture out of the city walls looking for food, and then they will attack.” Dachus crouched in the bushes.
“No, the Lord has delivered Israel,” Azle declared, and then led the men into the camp.They feasted on the food of the Arameans and hid away silver and gold. The men burned their wretched garments and dressed themselves in the spoils of Aram. They rejoiced for the first time in months.
Fatigue turned their thoughts toward sleep, but Azle said, “My friends, we sin if we do not report this to the king before the morning light.”
So the four lepers returned to the city and reported all that they knew. Once cursed and reviled, now regarded as heroes. Once dying in obscurity, now remembered throughout the generations. They risked one death for another, and found life for all of Israel.
2 Kings 6 and 7 (HCSB)
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