Right Not to Remain Silent
Explore the Bible Series
January 30, 2011
Background Passage: II Kings 6:1-8:29
Lesson Passage: II Kings 7:3-9, 12-13, 15-16a
Perhaps we should offer some comments about the ministry of Elisha. He came from humble beginnings, but, after receiving a double –portion of the spirit of Elijah, he rose to great prominence in Israel. His work spanned more than a half century (c. 850-798 B.C.) and influenced the reign of six kings (both Israel and Judah). His work differed somewhat from that of his mentor Elijah. He, for instance, led a cadre of young prophets, breaking the solitary traditions of his predecessor. At times, he seemed to enjoy warm relations with the kings of Israel, though this was not always the case. Above all, his ministry evidenced even more miraculous power than that of Elijah.
In important ways, Elisha was one of the most remarkable prophets in the Old Testament. Miracles did not attend the ministries of most of these men, so far as the Bible records. We have, for instance, little evidence of miracles performed by Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, at least not on the scale that we find with Elisha. Like his mentor Elijah, Elisha did wondrous things that benefitted Israel in at least three things.
The biblical record of these miracles may prove a particular stumbling block to modern readers. Stories of floating axe heads, the raising of the dead, and invisible chariots may trouble some readers. I understand this struggle. Perhaps these words will provide a little help. When my faith wavers, I try to rethink my theology proper—my understanding of the person and character of God. Discounting the authenticity of biblical narratives, especially those recounting miraculous events, may arise from philosophical materialism—a belief system that promotes systematic skepticism about any miraculous claims. The God who set natural laws in place can, as he sees fit, supersede those laws. Miracles are not the actions of religious magicians; rather, they are the work of God, accomplished through specially chosen servants. Hopefully, this simple reminder will buttress the faith of those who stumble a bit, as I do, when considering these stories in the Bible.
I. Two Miracles Done by Elisha (6:1-23)
A. The miracle of the floating axe head (6:1-7): “Sons of the prophets” probably refers a guild of young men in training to serve the Lord. Some of the young men determined that they needed larger living quarters, perhaps to accommodate growing families. Humbly, they sought Elisha’s approval for their plans, and the prophet agreed to their proposal; in fact, at the behest of the men, Elisha purposed to assist the men in building their new dwellings. One of the men borrowed an axe to fell trees for use in the construction. As he wielded the axe, the head dislodged from the handle, and the iron object sunk in the waters of the Jordan River. The young prophet was concerned about his honor, in light of damaging the borrowed axe. Elisha intervened by causing the axe head to float to the surface of the river where the young man recovered his lost tool.
B. The miraculous protection of the Israelite army (6:8-23): The Syrian king, probably Ben-Hadad, threatened the military security of Israel; however, Elisha knew the king’s thoughts. The prophet alerted the Israelite king (probably Jehoram, 849-843 B.C.) to every move made by the Syrians. Ben-Hadad intuitively knew that the prophet thwarted his military actions, and, as a result, he determined to assassinate Elisha. The text makes clear that God sent an invisible army (perhaps of angels) to protect Elisha and Israel. Also, the Lord struck blind the Syrians, and the prophet led his enemies into the heart of Samaria! When God opened their eyes, Elisha showed mercy to the Syrians, and the raids on Israel stopped for a time.
II. Divine Deliverance from Famine (6:24-7:20)
A. The onset of famine in Samaria (6:24-7:2): Some time after the first Syrian threat to Israel, Ben-Hadad mounted a second siege. In addition to the military threat, a terrible famine troubled the land, a famine so severe that some of the people turned to cannibalism to assuage their hunger. The frustrated king blamed Elisha for the distress and pledged to murder the prophet. When the assassin arrived at Elisha’s house, the prophet told the man that, on the morrow, the famine would lift, and abundance would very suddenly alleviate the suffering of the people. In addition, Elisha predicted that the king’s emissary would see the deliverance but would not live to enjoy the newfound bounty.
B. Deliverance from the famine (7:3-20): Soon afterwards four desperately hungry lepers decided to defy the Mosaic Law and social convention by entering one of the cities of Samaria. Their dreadful hunger, in their minds, suspended the social order; however, as they approached the encampment of the Syrians, they found the grounds empty. The text claims that the Syrian army heard a great throng of soldiers and chariots approaching their settlement, and, in panic, fled the region, leaving their provisions behind. Quickly, the lepers determined to tell the king of their good fortune. The king, fearing a ruse, sent messengers to confirm the report of the lepers, and, when the men returned, news spread quickly of the Syrian bounty. The people rushed from the city and plundered the encampment—relief had come suddenly, just as Elisha anticipated. During the chaotic rush the people trampled the messenger sent to murder Elisha, again, just as the prophet had said.
III. Justice for the Shunammite Woman (8:1-6)
A. Another famine struck the land (8:1-2): Actually, we do not know of the timing of this famine. Perhaps this passage describes a subplot of the deprivation just mentioned, or this could recall a subsequent famine, seven years in duration. Whatever the case, Elisha showed great kindness to woman who had treated him with such gracious generosity, and he warned her to leave her home, in northern Israel, during this terrible time. She took refuge in Philistia where the famine, apparently had little effect.
B. Restoration of the woman’s land (8:3-6): After several years, she returned to her ancestral home, only to find that interlopers had taken her land. The distraught woman appealed to the king to restore her property, and, in fear of Elisha, the monarch granted the woman’s request.
IV. Political Intrigues in Syria and Judah (8:7-29)
A. The illness and murder of Ben-Hadad (8:7-15): Elisha, in an unusual act, travelled to the capitol city of Syria, where Ben-Hadad had grown gravely ill. The king sent Hazael to inquire about his recovery from this illness, and Elisha promised that Ben-Hadad would not die from the disease. However, Elisha knew the king would die, not from poor health but by political assassination. The prophet knew of the king’s ghastly cruelty, and, in keeping with the predictions of Elijah (See I Kings 19:15), Elisha knew that Ben-Hadad would die violently, and Hazael would ascend the Syrian throne. The next day Hazael assassinated his sovereign and became king in his place.
B. Jehoram (Joram) of Judah (8:16-24): The narrative shifts attention to Judah where, for eight years, Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, governed the Southern Kingdom 9C. 849-843 B.C.). He was an idolatrous, evil man (influenced by his unfortunate marriage to Ahab’s daughter) whose reign was plagued by military problems with Edom and Libnah ( a region southwest of Judah, bordering on the land of the Philistines).
C. Ahaziah of Judah (8:25-29): After the death of Jehoram, Ahaziah governed Judah for a year (c. 842 B.C.). His soul, poisoned by his idolatrous affinity for Ahab’s family, plunged into the same evil actions of his father and mother. Soon after ascending to the throne, Ahaziah waged war against the Syrians, and Ahaziah was gravely wounded in battle. He survived his wounds, but, as we shall see in the lesson next week, he was assassinated by Jehu (See 9:1-29).