"Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” 2 Kings 7:3-4. NIV.
It is interesting to consider the leper’s decision process. The lepers intuitively set three decision factors and seemingly discounted a fourth factor. The four factors are listed here – the last being the discounted option:
1. Go into the city
2. Stay at city gate
3. Go to enemy camp
4. Abandon city and flee
The first factor is improbable in its execution. The very nature of the leper’s situation at the gate is a function of Levitical law – the leper’s skin disorder places them away from their community by operation of Leviticus 13.
The first factor - go into the city - is possibly listed by the author as a means of firmly setting the context. There certainly would be no doubt to a Jewish reader of the story of the leper’s situation – they simply could not go into the city. The fourth factor – the one I presume was discounted by the lepers is probably fanciful. The siege had been lasting a long time. The Armaens quite possibly held significant control across the whole region. To abandon the city and flee was surely not sensible.
So, the lepers only really had two practical options:
· Stay at city gate
· Go to enemy camp
Stay or go.
Either option led possibly to death. Only the second option – of going to the enemy camp – had scope for a promising outcome.
Three points arise on considering the options:
· There seems a certain irony in the leper’s situation at the gate. The lepers are really no worse off than the people of the city – all will suffer the same fate. Further, there has already been devastating outcomes of the siege within the walls of the city such that Jewish law has been breached. A donkey’s head is of value as food 2 Kings 6:25 (breaking food laws) and murder of a child occurs for human consumption (breaking one of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:13). The city has turned from God in breaking his decrees. Exclusion of four lepers is in that sense an anachronism.
· For the lepers, thinking through the options must have been a considerable feat in its own right. There would have been great despair from the length of the siege. The people would have little time to consider the lepers. Perhaps the lepers had given up hope of ever returning to the community. It is perhaps a direct consequence of first having the sense of mind to cogitate the options to set upon the option of going to the enemy camp. That is, the very process of having the presence of mind to deliberate options most likely suggests that the lepers were predisposed to action.
· The leper’s nothing-to-lose attitude is facilitated by their first being ostracised. While they are ostracised from the main community they are themselves in community. The ostracisiation and their forming of own-community was their strength. The strength is articulated here in a quote from The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”, “In the history of ideas, we see schools of thought occasionally forming, producing unusual work unpopular outside the school”. [The leper’s success on executing to their option is a Positive Black Swan event]
Note: all links good as at 15 May 2017
Note: The Black Swan quote is from Revised edition, 2010, Penguin Books, Paperback, page 94, Nicholas Taleb. Taleb highlights other positive outcomes from ostracism within that page.