The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 26
The Prophet Series: Elisha part 26
2 Kings 13:14-19 When Elisha became sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash the king of Israel came down to him and wept over him and said, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And Elisha said to him, "Take a bow and arrows." So he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, "Put your hand on the bow." And he put his hand on it, then Elisha laid his hands on the king's hands. And he said, "Open the window toward the east," and he opened it. Then Elisha said, "Shoot!" And he shot. And he said, "The Lord's arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Aram; for you shall defeat the Arameans at Aphek until you have destroyed them." Then he said, "Take the arrows," and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, "Strike the ground," and he struck it three times and stopped. So the man of God was angry with him and said, "You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times."
A long time has elapsed in the history of Israel since the events recorded in chapter 8 (our last blog). Jehu, a captain promoted by God to become king, was used by God to oust Joram under the sin unto death. The house of Ahab, including Jezebel, had finally been erased by God. But neither Jehu, nor his successor and son king Jehoahaz, restored the ancient worship of Yavah. They both continued the worship of the gold calves instituted by the first king of Israel.
What Elisha had prophesied in tears to Hazael, king of Syria, came to pass (see last blog). Israel had lost many cities, many people, and their army had shrunk to nothing more than a small company. However, king Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, who was an evil doer in the sight of God, called out to Yavah for help. And our God, moving in grace at the slightest sign of repentance, gave that help through the king’s son, and our main character in this blog opposite Elisha, Joash.
Confused? I understand and identify. So, let’s sum up: Joram (son of Ahab) and Jezebel his mother are killed by Jehu who becomes king. The country continues to be plagued by Syria as Elisha prophesied it would. Jehu’s son and successor, Jehoahaz calls out to God, and God helps his son and successor, king Joash. (I often find this chart helpful: https://craigtowens.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/kings-of-israel-judah2.jpg
At times God is incredibly active in the history of Israel, and then at other times He seems to disappear. It has been 45 years since the death of Joram (and the accession of Jehu) to now, the time of king Joash. Elisha during this time is a blank to us. It would seem that his ministry to Israel had ceased. For nearly a half a century, God was content for Elisha to labor in obscurity. The Lord is actively working at times and silent at other times. But why should we despair?
Elisha, like Paul or Peter or John are only ministers of God. It is He who owns the kingdom. We will discover at times in our life that God is so very active, and even in them we may find it distasteful since so much of what He is doing might be for our correction and reproof (2TI 3:16). At other times we will find that God is awfully silent. We may not notice it at first, and we might even like the “alone time,” but it isn’t long until we start to wonder and feel uncomfortable. Why worry? God may seem silent, but He is never absent. Such silence can be a wonderful time of patience, perseverance, and most of all, expectation if it is mixed with faith. When will the winds of God’s voice turn from this gentle breeze to a furor again? We can always be sure that God is doing, or not doing, exactly as we need.
A worried man, but not enough to trust:
Young Joash, the twelfth king of Israel (his name is also recorded as Jehoash, and he is not to be confused with Joash ninth king of Judah … now you probably are confused again) visits Elisha as he is on his dying bed. He is completely in earnest in his grief and concern for the kingdom of Israel, but it is not enough for him to trust in God. He is not a worshipper of Yavah, but he is afraid to see Elisha go, as he knows recent history and he associates victory over the Syrians with the great prophet.
"My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" He associates Elisha with military victory. I’m sure he would like to see the dying man hop out of bed and take stand at the head of the tiny military column that is left.
The son who rejects the father most seems most mournful at the father’s passing. Unfortunately, Joash has not regarded the counsel of Elisha or the Mosaic Law. It would be a wonderful time for the young king to abandon all idols, but he will not. Instead of faith in the one living God, all Joash can do is utter a religious platitude, “the chariots of Israel and its horsemen.”
Beware of religious conventionality:
Some feel the need to talk in religious slogans, but they speak without love or truthful purpose. One of the things that can harden a heart most effectively is religious platitude. Words that should have deep meaning are thrown around like comments on the weather. The problem is that which should have meaning to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit has as much significance as a passing morning cloud. We must be careful of speaking without love and intent. Do you think the Lord ever spoke in such a way? Everything He said was meaningful, and although we cannot match His perfection or impact, we should each one of us strive for it.
EPH 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.
“Let our conversation never outrun our present experience; nor let us drain the last drop of oil from our lamps. Revival religion had better be sought in converse with God than in talk with man.” [Edersheim]
Both Elijah and Elisha have had to deal with weak, heathen kings, and now, while he stands poised on the threshold of eternity, Elisha has one last gift to give to a weak, heathen king.
Our God of grace and compassion:
It is of great comfort to note that the slightest sign of repentance in an evil man will bring the grace of God running. Elisha is going to lay his hands on this young king and God is going to grant deliverance to him over his enemies. Joash did evil in the sight of the Lord (2KI 13:11), but grace had come to him because his heart had opened just enough to allow the power of Elisha to enter. It had not opened up wide enough to allow the power of God to enter, but the grace of God had come to him just the same, and this affords him every opportunity to believe in Yavah as the sole deliverer of men.
Grace always runs forth to meet a need. I would say confidently that every man has been exposed, but those who will only trust in the flesh will not see when that precious prosperity comes to them (JER 17:6).
Let’s shoot with faith.
Elisha instructs the king to shoot his bow. The king puts his hand to it and does as he is told. With Elisha touching his hands and shouting the command to shoot, the king fires confidently through the window to the east, in the direction of the encamped enemy, and he is promised that he will defeat the Syrians. However, Elisha’s next instruction is to shoot at the ground. Shooting to the east, in the direction of the enemy seems to make sense but shooting at the ground has no reason. Does Elisha still hold his hand? Likely not, since it would seem that the king is now on his own to exercise faith in the power of God.
Thrice he shoots into the ground, and although the quiver possesses more arrows, he reaches no more into it. We would imagine the mind of the idol worshipping king thinking that his task was silly, and that after three times, and nothing seemed to happen in the miraculous, he stopped. If he had seen some fantastic physical sign every time he shot, then likely he would have emptied the quiver, but all he saw was earth and all he heard was the common twang of the bow and thud of the arrow as it hit the ground. Nothing special here. He probably even thought that three arrows were going a bit overboard.
If you don’t see the result after shooting once, twice, thrice, keep shooting! For so many, no immediate result means a loss of faith. Have we not learned over these many years of striving with God that He enjoys taking His time? He does live in eternity after all, where there isn’t a clock or a calendar. How often are we told to be patient, to persevere in doing good, that we will be promoted at the proper time, that the Lord is not slow as some count slowness, etc. etc. Do not grow weary or lose heart. Fire away; again and again, and let the Lord determine the time to command, “Stay that weapon.”
ISA 40:30-31 Though youths grow weary and tired,
GAL 6:9-10 And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
HEB 12:3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
If only we had kept going. But alas, we will not see the best result. How blessed are those who make the Lord their trust. Joash shot three arrows and so he experiences three victories only, and Syria is not fully vanquished.
Don’t be a compromiser:
Like our Lord, of whom Elisha is a wonderful type, in dying he is still teaching others how to live. When Joash only shot three arrows, Elisha got angry at him. How different this is from the weak compromises that so many people make, even sincere and well-meaning, in the hope of making everyone around them feel good. There is a time to be angry. Pray that we don’t misuse it, but we should be wise enough to know and trust the Holy Spirit to guide it. Having the love of Jesus can also mean throwing out the money changers. Elisha’s anger shows that he is not a man of compromise. Who loves Israel more than he? This king’s lack of faith will not doom the Syrians who have been oppressing Israel so badly that it has brought the prophet to weeping. Let us not compromise that which is holy because we don’t want to ever shake things up. It is a real problem in our current society that the most beloved thing is to be completely neutral on all issues and to bow at the amorphous altar of that which has no absolute truth.
We stand in the room of a dying man:
We have one more event in Elisha’s life, and it is after his death. I had imagined I might include that at the end of this, but the length is already at the limit, and his final account affords us a wonderful summary of this great prophet who’s life has blessed us with 26 blogs.
Reverence should engulf us as we imagine ourselves standing by the bed of this great man as he is dying. Here lies a feeble old man, laboring in breath, dim in eyes, who once restored the dead to life. He is not going to be carried away to heaven in a fiery chariot like his predecessor Elijah. He will die alone and without miracle. Yet since his destination is the same as that of Elijah, what care is there for the type of vehicle? The miracle is only for those who are left behind. The dead saints have gone on to the realm where the miracle is commonplace.
I have had the privilege of watching a worshipper and servant of God breath their last. I know what it feels like and I know of others who have experienced the same. No more shall we hear their voice or see the play of emotions uniquely on their face, or be guided by their counsel, or helped by their example, or cheered by their presence. Their approaching death is an awakening for us.
When we know the time is at hand, and that death is within days or hours, all at once we solemnly realize what grayness life will turn to without them. Suddenly, we miss them and appreciate them more than we ever have. Suddenly time is moving far more rapidly than it should, and we feel rushed to finish what we lacked in love and gratitude. God knows this and He cares for you both more than you could ever care for yourselves or each other. Whatever was left undone or unsaid, we will have eternity to say it and do it. Take courage you who are left behind and who have to live the rest of your days without the countenance of that one who was such a testimony to the love of God. The very One who gave them that love has not left you, and that same love will put you both together again. Until then, the living has to continue to fight the war against the enemy without them.
To Him be all glory and honor,