The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 25
The Prophet Series: Elisha part 25
2KI 8:7-15 Then Elisha came to Damascus. Now Ben-hadad king of Aram was sick, and it was told him, saying, "The man of God has come here." And the king said to Hazael, "Take a gift in your hand and go to meet the man of God, and inquire of the Lord by him, saying, 'Will I recover from this sickness?'" So Hazael went to meet him and took a gift in his hand, even every kind of good thing of Damascus, forty camels' loads; and he came and stood before him and said, "Your son Ben-hadad king of Aram has sent me to you, saying, 'Will I recover from this sickness?'" Then Elisha said to him, "Go, say to him, 'You shall surely recover,' but the Lord has shown me that he will certainly die." And he fixed his gaze steadily on him until he was ashamed, and the man of God wept. And Hazael said, "Why does my lord weep?" Then he answered, "Because I know the evil that you will do to the sons of Israel: their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young men you will kill with the sword, and their little ones you will dash in pieces, and their women with child you will rip up." Then Hazael said, "But what is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?" And Elisha answered, "The Lord has shown me that you will be king over Aram." So he departed from Elisha and returned to his master, who said to him, "What did Elisha say to you?" And he answered, "He told me that you would surely recover." And it came about on the morrow, that he took the cover and dipped it in water and spread it on his face, so that he died. And Hazael became king in his place.
We are fast approaching the end of our study of the life of Elisha. I will miss him.
The lull before the storm.
Times of judgment have one feel and times of deliverance have another. Both are solemn and both are designed to have certain effects. However, the righteous and the wicked experience something different.
When judgment comes upon a land or a people, the remnant of the righteous experience the same pressure, but they understand that they are the beacons of light that the Lord is using to shine upon the wicked. Both God and His saints long for the repentance of the enemy under the great pressure of judgment, and so the saint, in the midst of suffering, is actually more concerned with others than with his own discomfort. When deliverance comes, the righteous rejoice in the power and faithfulness of God, while the wicked “wax fat and kick” (DEU 32:15), meaning, they simply gobble up the fruits of victory and kick in restlessness, relishing the opportunity to work more of their evil. These two camps, the righteous and the wicked, have lived side by side since Cain and Abel, and only one will remain standing at the end of it all due to their faith in the only Righteous One.
The famine and the war with Syria are over. But deliverance in Israel is only a reprieve. Most solemn of all is the season of calm that is sandwiched between judgments.
Discipline came and ran its course in war and famine. Deliverance has come and calm is enjoined, but many of the wicked did not learn something new in the discipline. “Thank God that’s over. This calm will be with us forever.” Yet this is not true. The calm is only a lull that the grace of God has given for the purpose of reflection. ‘Oh wicked man, that was a close one; you survived by the skin of your teeth. Will you consider, oh man, that judgment is nigh and also that salvation is closer?’
“Like stillness in an atmosphere charged with electric clouds, it precedes a tempest, soon to burst in angry thunder, and with destroying lightning.” [Edersheim]
There has been few and short periods of peace during Joram’s reign over Israel. The last war with Syria had debased them to cannibalism. Yet still, there is little respect of Elisha and the Lord. Oppression due to lack of faith had come upon them. As is clearly spelled out in the Law of Moses, warning after warning has arrived and departed, and now… a perfect calm. What to do with the warnings?
All of us are warned at various times. What has been the effect of them? Were they in vain, or did they lead us to humble wisdom? Did we hear God’s voice? Did we heed it? At times, but not too often to be morbidly introspective, we should consider how the past has been spent, and what preparation that is making for the future.
The famine was over and Ben-hadad, king of the Syrian oppressor, was dying. All was looking up, but judgment lurked.
2PE 3:4 "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation."
It was told to Elijah on Mt. Sinai years ago that Hazael was to be anointed king of Syria (1KI 19:15). The prophecy is fulfilled here, and Elisha’s keen prophetic eye can see the calamity in judgment that Hazael is going to rain down on Israel, and it breaks his heart.
Hazael, an instrument of God’s wrath.
Hazael was a violent and evil man. The same man who could deliberately plan the murder of his master would perpetuate cruelties upon Israel. This discipline has been a long time in coming. The house of Ahab and Jezebel, whose son Joram currently sits on the throne, has been patiently endured by God. The house of Ahab has nationalized the worship of Baal. The path to final judgment upon this house and Israel who has worshipped Baal under their direction, has been slow, but all of that time, God has given them Elijah and Elisha to call each man to repentance and to turn to faith in Yavah. God is patient and merciful, but He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (EXO 34:7).
The great famine is over, but Israel has not turned to God. So, the direction to anoint Hazael has reached its fruition. He is going to be a tool in God’s hand to judge Israel. In whatever way God is sorrowed, He certainly felt it here as Elisha calls up the evil man, and perhaps Elisha’s great sorrow is an overflow of God’s own.
Certainly, some in Israel had been saved and sanctified in their minds, turning from the Baals to God and His Law, but Israel was not saved. Elisha stands in the detestable position of announcing vicious calamity upon the people, and even though it falls on deaf ears, he knows it to be true. He can hear their screams from the future and he can see their blood soaking the Promised Land.
The people of Israel would grow to hate Hazael, but how many of them would come to know that he was simply an instrument in the hands of God’s justice? God’s immovable justice is the seedbed of hope. If God’s justice is not immovable, then how could we rely on His promises of goodness and grace to them who believe? Judgment is always the guarantee of hope as long as one still lives. A tiger was about to be released upon the land who would tear it to shreds, devour its good things, and lay it waste. But it was a tiger anointed by God.
Elisha travels to Damascus.
The king of Syria is sick and dying. Will he live? This is his question to the prophet to whom he sends his servant Hazael. Elisha is so well known that after one day’s travel north, the whole area would have known that he was on the move.
What are we known as?
The king is told that “the man of God” has come. Even to his enemies Elisha is known as this. It speaks of his character as a man of God. What are we known as? Christ taught that the inner man will always eventually show himself (“shouted from the rooftops,” LUK 12:3), and so He taught against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. If we are only trying to shine up the outside man in a working character study of who we think we should be, soon enough, despite all of our hard work, the inner man is going to ooze out and spoil it anyway, like a fresh paint job on a wooden beam infested with termites. Clean the inside of the cup, Christ said. Be a man of God and lay up treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys. “Let us ask [questions] of ourselves, ever and again, as we pause to take breath in the busy hours of our lifework, that we may see what in the past is worth preserving, and what in the future worth pursuing.” [Edersheim]
I want life.
Ben-hadad is sick, and the feeling of a bad man on religious matters is much different in this state than when he is enjoying health and vigor. I pray there have been many death bed conversions. Yet, Ben-hadad’s heart seems not spiritually affected. All that concerns him is if he is going to live longer.
Is it such a bad thing to want to live? Not at all. It is inbred in each of us to self-preserve, but what we’re really after, unless dying at the moment, is happiness in life. If I’m hanging by a few fingers from a cliff over a 500 foot drop, I’m not thinking about how happy I am. I’m only thinking of getting back to safety. But if I’m standing safely on the landing, looking at the spectacular view of the valley, I might be wondering how happy I am as a person. All men wish happiness, prosperity, recovery, but they banish the hand of God from their presence.
Ben-hadad has Hazael at his side and not Naaman. One can only imagine that it is because Naaman, healed of his leprosy, was a living testimony to the power of the God of Israel and the powerlessness of the gods of Syria, and who was himself a believer in Yavah of Israel. Men want happiness without God. This is impossible.
Hazael undertook his commission to inquire of God concerning his master’s future when he had already deliberately resolved upon his murder. Bringing camels laden with gifts for the prophet, the evil man only expected an answer to his question, but what he received was prophecy concerning himself. Judas in the upper room received the same thing, but both men went about their devious work without thought of changing course, though the course be known by God. How sad that the gospel is in reach of all people, yet some die under the slavery of a crucified master.
Elisha could not leave an immortal soul to go to its ruin without at least attempting its rescue. Elisha’s blunt prophecy concerning all that Hazael would do might have panged his conscience, but for this man, such pangs are of the most transient kind.
Who are we?
It is not the individual decision that makes or breaks us. It is the many decisions of a certain kind that mold a life. We could examine each of our actions separately and count them up on two sides of a ledger, but we would fail to discern the character of our entire life. We all fail, but what did we love? We all have victories, but to whom did we count them? We all have confusion and ignorance at times, but in whom did we hope? We must not look at ourselves as doing well currently or failing currently. In fact, it is best not to look at ourselves at all. It is best to look to the One whom we love, to whom we wish glory, and to whom we have entrusted our hope. Fix our eyes upon Him.
Hazael is evil. Though told by Elisha what he will do, he will not divert his course. Compare this to David when he was confronted by Nathan the prophet - “You are the man!” He repented in sackcloth because he had a heart after God.
To Him be all glory and honor,