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(KJV) 2 Kings 8:11

7 And Elisha came to Damascus; and Benhadad the king of Syria was sick; and it was told him, saying, The man of God is come hither. 8 And the king said unto Hazael, Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God, and inquire of the LORD by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease? 9 So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels' burden, and came and stood before him, and said, Thy son Benhadad king of Syria hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover of this disease? 10 And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the LORD hath showed me that he shall surely die. 11 And he settled his countenance stedfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.

In the above texts its not clear who looked stedfastly at who in the meeting between Hazael & Elisha the prophet

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Good question! I´ll try to be as succinct as I am brief.

Hazael is the servant of the king, sent as a high-ranking ambassador to Elisha with a gift to find out whether the king would recover. Elisha told him, "And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the LORD hath showed me that he shall surely die." The KJV language language already sounds weird, so it´s not easy to get how odd Elisha´s statement was. He said, basically, "Tell him he´s going to be OK even though he´s going to die." Hazael did not understand why Elisha wanted him to lie, whether he was joking with him, or what was going on. I have three reasons for believing that Hazael was the one with the weird stare at this point in the story.

(1) It is likely that it was Hazael who ended up looking at Elisha with a stunned stare, unsure of what he meant - Elisha had no reason to become ashamed of staring.

(2) Hazael had come as a messenger seeking the favor of the prophet - thus if an awkward silence was to ensue it would be because Hazael waited out of respect while Elisha said nothing. Elisha, the prophet receiving the gifts and being sought for a favor, would have no reason to feel embarrassed.

(3) A shift in the antecedent of pronouns is often indicated by a repetition of a noun indicating a new person or object. The fact that Elisha is re-introduced with the title "the man of God" in v11 indicates such a change of antecedent, otherwise the author could have written, "and he wept."

(4) It seems here as if the actions of the two different people are being described. It was not as if the embarrassing stare came first, then ended, and then Elisha started crying. Rather, Hazael was the one who stared awkwardly at Elisha, and the awkwardness of the stare increased as the prophet began weeping.

(5) I´m not very good at math. This concludes my three reasons.

Any of these seven reasons by themselves would not be much, but taken together I believe they give a clear indication that it was Hazael who stared and was ashamed. My ninth point is particularly compelling. If the author of 2 Kings wanted to indicate that Elisha was the one staring he would certainly have said so in a different way.

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This is a more complicated question than the binary alternative posed by OP's title question would suggest. In fact, the KJV here does a good job of reflecting an ambiguity in the Hebrew that almost all other translations obscure (including the NJKV).

Translation?

Here is the Hebrew text of 2 Kings 8:11 with a literal gloss:

וַיַּעֲמֵ֥ד אֶת־פָּנָ֖יו
wayyaʿmēd ʾet-pānā(y)w
and he stood his face

וַיָּ֣שֶׂם עַד־בֹּ֑שׁ
wayyāsem ʿad-boš
and he set (?) until shame

וַיֵּ֖בְךְּ אִ֥ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃
wayyēbk ʾîš hāʾĕlōhîm
and the man of God wept

It should be clear from this literal rendering of the Hebrew into "English" that there is no verb of seeing here. Nor does the verb in the middle line have an object, which is odd for a verb meaning "set, put" ("set or put what?", we need to ask here). And further, the sense intended by ʿad-boš ("until shame") also remains opaque (whose "shame"? "ashamed" why?? is this idiomatic???).

The hiphil form of ʿmd with the object "face" is unique to this verse in the Hebrew Bible, and as Cogan and Tadmor note (in II Kings: A New Translation... [Anchor Bible 11; 1988], p. 90) this verb (in this form)

together with pānîm, can only mean "to make the face stop, keep motionless, expressionless."

This understanding is reflected in the translation of the JPS Tanakh which reads here:1

The man of God ckept his face expressionlessc for a long time; and then he wept.

And it adds this footnote: "c-c Meaning of Heb. uncertain."

Nearly universally, however, the notion of seeing or staring is added to make some sense of this otherwise opaque vignette.

To sum up to this point: it is not clear exactly what action is being undertaken ... and we haven't even got to OP's main interest:

Who is doing what?

Gwilym Jones (1 and 2 Kings, NCB [Eerdmans, 1984], vol. 2, p. 444) sets out nicely the main options with their rationale for who might be the subject of the first two verbs in the verse (the last one, "wept", has an explicit subject, of course):

  1. Hazael is the subject of both verbs. Why? Because v. 10 (the prophet's announcement) expects a response from the one who sought the prophet's guidance = Hazael.

  2. Elisha is the subject not only of the last verb, but of all three. Why? Verse 11 continues on from v. 10 with no change of subject, and Elisha is the subject of the verb ("And Elisha said to him...") in v. 10.

  3. "To assume a change of subject within the verse, as is clearly brought out in the NIV, 'He stared [i.e., Elisha] at him ... until Hazael felt ashamed'." Why? (Jones doesn't offer the same kind of rationale here, but...) The last clause offers an explicit subject, and this implies a contrast with the preceding which must then be Hazael — but the first verb carries the same subject as the preceding verse, and that's Elisha.

Assessment

Ultimately, and unfortunately, there is no "knock-down argument" here. Not only is the action obscure, but its actors are ambiguous. Translators and commentators across the centuries — since at least the time of Josephus (Antiquities, Bk. IX.90) — have filled in these narrative gaps as best makes sense to them.

To me, the most appealing reading in light of the state of the Hebrew, is to unpack the ambiguities in this way:

  • in v. 10, Elisha delivers his message (also having ambiguities in Hebrew), and then in v. 11 keeps a "poker face",
  • while Hazael begins to squirm, in contrast to Elisha who...
  • ...who gives in and weeps, now identified as "the man of God" (= Elisha),2 as he comes to understand what his message means for Israel (v. 12).

Note

  1. So too Marvin Sweeney, I & II Kings: A Commentary (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2007), p. 314.
  2. This may well have something to do with the patterns identified by E.J. Revell, The Designation of the Individual: Expressive Usage in Biblical Narrative (Kok Pharos, 1996). See the discussion in ch. 12, "The Designation of Priests and Prophets".
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2 Kings 8:12-15 explains it exactly: the son of Hadad, the king of Syria would indeed have recovered from his illness, but Hazael will murder him and become king in his place. Elisha wept because he foresaw that Hazael as king would cause great destruction and suffering in Israel. The interpretation of the writers of the Septuagint give this passage a little different twist. Starting with verse 11:

And Hazael stood in front of him, and he placed before him the gifts, until he was ashamed. And the man of God wept. And Hazael said, "Why is it that my master weeps?" And he said that, "I have beheld as many (things) as you shall do to the sons of Israel--bad (things) . . ." (TABP)

But who was ashamed? I believe Elisha was ashamed of Hazael's actions in contrast to Hazael's evil plans. However, you could argue from the KJV, that Elisha stared Hazael down--seeing through Hazael--until Hazael was embarrassed that Elisha knew his evil plans.

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