This section calls our attention to the hostilities that Israel was experiencing with the king of Aram (Syria). The principle source of these hostilities continued in the form of invading bands or plundering parties who would make border raids against the Jews (cf. 6:23) rather than an invasion of an organized Syrian army as mentioned in 6:24.
8 Now the king of Aram was warring against Israel; and he counseled with his servants saying, “In such and such a place shall be my camp.” 9 And the man of God sent word to the king of Israel saying, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Arameans are coming down there.” 10 And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God had told him; thus he warned him, so that he guarded himself there, more than once or twice. 11 Now the heart of the king of Aram was enraged over this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you tell me which of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” 13 So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and take him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” 14 And he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
Each time the Syrians would make a raid into Israel their plans were spoiled through the revelation given by God to Elisha. Elisha would inform the king of Israel who would then take precautions against their invasions. This naturally enraged the heart of the king of Aram (Syria) who first thought that he had an informer among his troops (vs. 11). He was then told of Elisha’s ability as a prophet of Israel to know of the king’s plans, even while he spoke of them in secret (vs. 12).
Obviously, the king of Aram knew that if his plans were to be successful, he would have to do away with Elisha. This meant the prophet became the object of his attack. The king inquired of Elisha’s location, who was at that time staying in Dothan. Upon learning of this, he immediately sent an entire army to surround the city and take the prophet with the obvious intention of putting him to death.
What can we learn from this by way of application?
(1) In this scenario we have an illustration of how Satan, through his various avenues and strategies, is ever seeking ways to attack the people of God as a whole, but especially His teachers of the Word by which they are able to warn and see people (both believers and unbelievers) delivered from Satan’s attacks and plans (Eph. 2:1f; 6:10f; 2 Cor. 2:11; 2 Tim. 2:23-26; 1 Pet. 5:8).
(2) This story also gives us a good illustration of the omniscience of God Who knows the plans of the enemy and Who has provided special revelation for us that we might be informed to protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks through the full armor that comes to us in Christ (Eph. 6:10-18).
(3) If, when we are warned, we do not appropriate God’s provision and armor against Satan’s devices, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Unfortunately, though the king of Israel was quick to listen to the warnings regarding the physical attacks of the Syrians, he was slow to heed the warnings of Elisha regarding his sin and refusal to truly follow the Lord. But is this not typical? People are often ready to heed the counsel of medical doctors in reference to problems of health, but slow to listen the counsel of the Word of God.
15 Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
Of course, God’s people need two things if they are going to appropriate God’s resources against the enemy and experience God’s deliverance. They need insight or illumination, eyes to see the mighty power and provision of God, but they must also believe God and put on their God-given armor that they might take a stand against Satan and his forces. In verses 15-23 we have an illustration of both.
In verse 15, Elisha’s attendant went out seemingly oblivious to both the fact of the enemy and of God’s provision. Like for a lot of Christians, the new day simply meant business as usual. He was going to take care of his chores and had no mind or concern for the spiritual battle around him, which meant he was also completely unprepared for what he faced.
As Christians, we can be the same way. Too often we don’t take our spiritual warfare seriously. We act as though Satan and his kingdom were asleep or posed no problem to us. We go out unprepared spiritually. Consequently, when faced with some form of spiritual warfare, like Elisha’s attendant was, our response is consternation, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” At least the attendant had the good sense to seek the counsel of the prophet, which is more than we can say for a lot of believers who often turn to the world for their advice (cf. Ps. 1). How quick we are to listen to the advice of the world rather than to meditate on the Word.
By contrast, we see Elisha who surely already knew of the surrounding armies. This was no surprise to him, but more importantly, he was focused on God’s surrounding armies who were greater in strength and numbers. By Elisha’s time, the Psalms of David had been written, and whether he had them available or not, certainly he was thinking of the truth of Psalm 27:1-3 and 3:6.
Psalm 27:1-3. The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? 2 When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. 3 Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident.
Psalm 3:6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me round about.
In all of this, Elisha was calm, relaxed, and confident, not in himself, of course, but in His God. He not only saw the problem, but he saw the solution and knew the God of the solution. Like Hezekiah who would later face the armies of Assyria, Elisha sought to convey the same truth that Hezekiah communicated to his people in 2 Chronicles 32:7-8.
“Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria, nor because of all the multitude which is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. 8 With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.
In verses 16-17 we learn about the three ways Elisha dealt with his servant’s fear: (a) by a demonstration of personal concern through a word of encouragement, “Do not fear,” (b) by biblical instruction designed to give a reason why he should not fear, “for those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” and (c) by prayer for the servant’s illumination, “Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’”
Wow! The lessons here are so practical and powerful. How can we minister to the fears of people? Just like this! We need to show personal concern and involvement, provide biblical instruction, and go to the Lord in personal dependence on Him to illuminate them to His resources and sufficiency, for unless the Lord prospers our ministry, our work is futile (cf. 1 Cor. 3:7).
Our tendency, however, is to neglect one or the other of these important ingredients. Either we are impersonal and cold in our teaching and relationships with people, or we are warm and personable, but we fail to communicate God’s truth, or because we are trusting in our personality or skill as a teacher, we fail to pray. We so need to grasp the balance here. God uses people, God uses His Word, but even though God often uses His Word because it is alive and powerful in spite of us, it is prayer that gives power to our personal love and teaching. This is dramatically seen in the life of Paul. Just compare the prayers of Paul in Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:16-21; Philippians 1:9-11 and Colossians 1:9-12.
18 And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. 19 Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he brought them to Samaria. 20 And it came about when they had come into Samaria, that Elisha said, “O LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the LORD opened their eyes, and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. 21 Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” 22 And he answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 23 So he prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.
Though the king of Syria had sent a huge force of horses, chariots, and a large army of men to apprehend one prophet, thinking there was no way Elisha could escape, Elisha knew that all the forces of this king were merely the arm of the flesh and no match for the power of God. So Elisha prayed and asked the Lord to strike his opponents with blindness so that they might not see (or perhaps recognize) the prophet. This prayer was miraculously answered and Elisha led them into the city of Samaria and into the hands of the king of Israel where they were at his mercy. Quoting James Gray, Irving Jensen remarks,
Elisha’s words of verse 19 are not an untruth, as “his real residence was Samaria; and in the end he led them to himself, not to harm them, but to repay evil with good.”71
Below are Matthew Henry’s second and third comments on this passage:
2. When they were thus bewildered and confounded he led them to Samaria (v. 19), promising that he would show them the man whom they sought, and he did so. He did not lie to them when he told them, This is not the way, nor is this the city where Elisha is; for he had now come out of the city; and if they would see him, they must go to another city to which he would direct them. Those that fight against God and his prophets deceive themselves, and are justly given up to delusions.
3. When he had brought them to Samaria he prayed to God so to open their eyes and restore them their memories that they might see where they were (v. 20), and behold, to their great terror, they were in the midst of Samaria, where, it is probable, there was a standing force sufficient to cut them all off, or make them prisoners of war. Satan, the god of this world, blinds men’s eyes, and so deludes them into their own ruin; but, when God enlightens their eyes, they then see themselves in the midst of their enemies, captives to Satan and in danger of hell, though before they thought their condition good. The enemies of God and his church, when they fancy themselves ready to triumph, will find themselves conquered and triumphed over.72
Elisha, whose ministry so often portrays and parallels that of the Lord, brought Syria into this predicament not to kill them, but to communicate by bold demonstration the power, wisdom, and mercy of the God of Israel. What Elisha did demonstrated what he could have done--caused their destruction. But by his acts of a mercy and abundant provision he sought to convince, convict, and even shame them, but not kill them (vss. 22-23).
The king of Israel seemed frustrated and uncertain of what to do and thought only of their destruction as a means of removing them as a menace (cf. vs. 21), but the prophet commanded the opposite--provision and release. The effect of this was an end to the marauding bands of the Arameans, though later Ben-hadad king of Aram (Syria) would lay siege to Samaria (vss. 24f). Evidently, in view of the siege that later followed, this had little effect on Ben-hadad, but the immediate cessation of the marauding bands suggest this had some impact on some of the people of Syria. It may well illustrate the truth of 2 Corinthians 2:14-17.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
Elisha’s triumph here was designed to manifest the sweet aroma of God’s love as a fragrance. For some it undoubtedly led to life through the witness of the power and truth that the God of Israel was the true God. But in others, it was a fragrance that led only to their eventual death as they left in the same unbelief in which they arrived. Certainly, in Elisha’s actions, we see one who honestly communicated God’s grace. He sought neither vengeance nor praise nor reward.
This story reminds us that when believers are serving the Lord, especially when training others in the Word and how to teach the Word, Satan will do his best to thwart their efforts. Elisha was the head of a growing and successful school of theology. Further, he was serving his country and God’s people by the exercise of his gifts in demonstrating the power and reality of the God of Israel. This was having a powerful effect against the plans of Satan who was seeking to promote Baalism.
In this story we again see how Satan uses human instruments and all kinds of methods to do whatever it takes to nullify the ministry of believers. But the power of God is always greater. In fact, he often uses these very situations to manifest that power in order to draw men to himself.
We understand the following story was reported by a medical missionary at his home church in Michigan. We aren’t sure from whom this story originated so we are unable to give credit, but it beautifully illustrates our point:
While serving at a small field hospital in Africa, I traveled every two weeks by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies. This required camping overnight half way. On one of these trips, I saw two men fighting in the city. One was seriously injured, so I treated him and witnessed to him of the Lord Jesus Christ. I then returned home without incident.
Upon arriving in the city several weeks later, I was approached by the man I had treated earlier. He told me he had known that I carried money and medicine. He said, “Some friends and I followed you into the jungle knowing you would camp overnight. We waited for you to go to sleep and planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. Just as we were about to move into your campsite, we saw that you were surrounded by 26 armed guards.”
I laughed at this and said I was certainly all alone out in that jungle campsite. The young man pressed the point, “No, sir, I was not the only one to see the guards. My Jave friends also saw them and we all counted them. It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone.”
At this point in the church presentation in Michigan, one of the men in the church jumped up and interrupted the missionary, and asked, “Can you tell me the exact date when this happened?” The missionary thought for a while and recalled the date. The man in the congregation told this side of the story:
“On that night in Africa it was morning here. I was preparing to play golf. As I put my bag in the car, I felt the Lord leading me to pray for you. In fact, the urging was so strong that I called the men of this church together to pray for you. Will all of those men who met with me that day please stand?”
The men who had met that day to pray together stood--there were 26 of them!
The response of the servant to the hosts of Syria shows us how fear can paralyze us. Fear can keep us from serving the Lord, it can keep us from enjoying God’s blessing and power, or it can keep us from moving ahead with a project by giving up or running away.
It is also important that we see the cause of the servant’s fear. Was it because he saw too much? No! It was because he saw too little. He only had eyes to see the problem or the danger. Seeing the problems or the dangers is not wrong. It is wise for it shows us our need and inadequacy. The real problem was what he did not see--the hosts of God and God’s divine presence which always surrounds us like a wall or a shelter in every time of storm.
Finally, this story teaches us the need of patience and prayer. When the servant came back to Elisha, fearful over the enemy that had surrounded them, Elisha was patient and loving. He did not respond with, “You dummy, don’t you see the hosts of God? Man, get your eyes on the Lord! Trust God!” Instead, he encouraged and instructed him. He knew the servant needed spiritual illumination and understanding before he could stand fearlessly in faith.
In closing, let’s look at some principles related to God’s providence and protection, promises, and the principles of Scripture that we can believe and claim.
(2) No problem or danger can touch us without the divine approval and sanction of God. For His own purposes He does allow suffering and difficulties beyond our understanding, but this is always in accord with His eternal and wise will.
As an illustration, we might remember Joseph who was sold into slavery by his own brothers. The only other mention of Dothan is in Genesis 37:17. In search of his brothers Joseph followed them to Dothan where they plotted against him, captured him, and sold him into slavery. We might ask, “Where were the chariots of fire then or the hosts of the Lord?” They were there, but God’s purposes for Joseph were different. There is as much if not more evidence for the hand of God on the life of Joseph through all that followed than for Elisha, yet God never appeared to Joseph and never performed special miracles through him. Rather, He allowed him to be sold into slavery, a condition in that day that could be worse than death. But Joseph had eyes of faith and, regardless of his conditions, he knew he was in the hand of God. Note Joseph’s response in Genesis 50:19-21 when finally, years later, his brothers stood fearfully before him.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20 And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. 21 So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Another illustration can be seen in the life of Job:
Job 1:10-12. “Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” 12 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord.
(3) Even though Job was wealthy, healthy, and seemingly secure, his life was struck with extreme disasters. It is really not a matter of the degree of the danger one faces. Why? Because without the protection of God, Satan would move immediately to snuff out your life and mine no matter how apparently safe we may think we are--whether driving a car or riding a motorcycle or flying a plane or walking with both feet firmly planted on mother earth. Just a small earthquake can demonstrate that fact.
Psalm 68:19-20 are two precious verses to me. In fact, I remembered these verses every time I mounted my Honda Interstate, which my wife and I rode over most of the western United States.
19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation.[Selah.] 20 God is to us a God of deliverances; And to God the Lord belong escapes from death.
(4) This fact, however, does not mean we are free to tempt the Lord by presuming on His grace by acting carelessly or foolishly. We must act with caution and care in whatever we do. Therefore, I won’t step in front of a eighteen wheeler nor throw myself down from a tall building and expect God to deliver me. When I ride in a car, I will buckle up, not only because it’s the law, but because it is wise. When riding a motorcycle, I’ll wear a helmet, watch the other guy, and seek to drive safely. Our Lord was faced with this very temptation by the Devil:
Matthew 4:5-7 Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give His angels charge concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, Lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Faith believes God’s promises, but it does not presume upon the Lord by not claiming His promises nor test the Lord by not taking normal precautions.
(5) God has promised to be with us, to give His angels charge over us. Yet, by God’s sovereign will and plan and for purposes of His own, He may allow disaster and suffering as He did with Joseph and Job and Peter and Paul. But such is never the result of the degree of danger, unless we test God by presuming upon Him by acting carelessly. Even then, God may choose to overrule.
What we need are eyes of faith to see and believe God for the fact of the dangers Satan and his hosts may bring against our lives. But we also need eyes of faith to believe God for the fact of His divine presence, sovereign and all-wise plan, and His omnipotent provision.