There are many lessons of faith in this section of 2 Kings 3. One is that victory over our enemies is a very little thing with God, the Creator of the universe and sovereign Savior of man. No matter how big or small our problems, God cares and He is more than adequate. The miraculous is a very little thing with God.
But there is another prominent lesson that flows though these verses like a uniting thread. In fact, all through Scripture the Bible is pregnant with this emphasis. While miracles are a very small thing to God, watching after our relationship with Him daily and moment by moment is a very big thing. It is the most important thing in life. In fact it is what life is all about. It is the root of success or the root of defeat. It is the spring of life or the cause of spiritual drought.
As Proverbs 4:23 literally says in the Hebrew: “Above all keeping, keep your heart (the inner sanctuary of one’s relationship with God), for from it flow the springs of life.”
We pick up our story in 2 Kings 3 with the three kings in a real predicament. They are in the wilderness and about to perish because of a lack of water. But remember, this was the result of not taking God seriously and consulting Him concerning their plans. So ultimately, the greater enemy was not the Moabites, but their own failure to seek God’s direction.
13 Now Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What do I have to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” And the king of Israel said to him, “No, for the LORD has called these three kings together to give them into the hand of Moab.” 14 And Elisha said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look at you nor see you. 15 But now bring me a minstrel.” And it came about, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.
As we can see from these verses, Elisha was a man not prone toward partiality for even a moment. His allegiance was to the Lord and to the principles of His Word regardless of a person’s position, power, or wealth (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20, 21). Because he took God seriously and was willing to trust the Lord regardless of the outcome, like Elijah, he could stand fearlessly and declare the truth. He knew he was surrounded by a multitude of the hosts of the Lord and stood in the presence of the living God whom he represented (cf. vs. 14 with 1 Kings 17:1 and note 2 Kings 6:15-17).
“What do I have to do with you?” Elisha didn’t pull any punches did he? He came directly to the point. In this question he was saying, what do we have in common, why have you, an idolater, a rejecter of the commandments of God come to me? Your sins have separated you from God (Isa 39:2) and from any message or help God may have for you.
“Go to the prophets of your father and mother” is probably a reference to his grandparents, Ahab and Jezebel. So who were these prophets to whom Elisha referred? They were the prophets of Baal, the false prophets of idol worship who had no word from God as demonstrated so clearly in 1 Kings 18. All they had to offer were the false and deceptive visions of the Satanic world. They were prophets who said what the kings wanted to hear. Elisha, then, was telling Jehoram to be consistent. They had been ignoring God and following after their idols, so why run to God now that they were in big trouble? Elisha was using irony by asking, can’t your present religious system and your present way of life deliver you? Don’t your prophets have the answers? Do you think you can ignore God and then, at your whim, when trouble strikes, just turn to God as though he were a genie in a bottle?
Elisha would never have spurned the genuine requests of a repentant man, but he knew Jehoram and said what he did in cold irony to emphasize the futility or vanity of the life he had chosen. God often engineers defeat, failure, and frustration, seeking not only to get our attention, but to teach us the futility of our present course of action in order to draw a confession from us of our ways with a view to repentance, a change of our course (cf. Jer 2:19; 2:26-28).
Of course, we do not need a literal idol to be an idolater. Scripture teaches covetousness or greed is a form of idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). Anything which takes the place of the worship of God, or that we depend on for our security, satisfaction, or significance in place of God--money, wealth, power, praise, pleasure, etc.--becomes a form of idolatry.
In verse 13b we see the king of Israel’s admission that the false prophets cannot help, they are futile. He is saying, no, he can’t turn to them, they cannot help. Then he adds “For the Lord has called these three kings . . .” In this we see: (a) that he knew Yahweh of Israel was God--the true God. But it was a belief like the devils who believe and tremble; it was a belief without repentance and faith in the power of God. He knew his ways were wrong, guilt filled his soul and he knew he deserved God’s wrath.
Guilt, unresolved by the grace of God through faith in the Savior, can only bring a feeling of condemnation and ruin. Guilt causes man to resort to all kinds of escape mechanisms to stifle the guilt and escape the judgment of God.
It might be well to note a few of the forms these escape mechanisms might take:
(1) It may be Freudian philosophy that seeks to deny our guilt.
(2) It may be human works or religious systems we engage in that we think will atone for our sins.
(3) It may be an appeal to conditions and circumstances like, “the devil made me do it!”
(4) It may be some kind of bargaining appeal with God as here where Jehoram subtly implies that he was not there alone; there were three kings. Was God going to kill them all? Was that fair?
(5) It may be an apparent confession and admission of guilt. A sorrow of the world but without a genuine repentance and return to the Lord. Such is the case here as it was with Judas and Esau.
Now remember, it was Jehoshaphat who asked for a prophet of the Lord that they (the three kings) might inquire of the Lord by a prophet (vs. 11). But Elisha’s rejection of Jehoram as expressed in verse 14 illustrates the concept of unanswered prayer and God’s refusal sometimes to bring deliverance because of the spiritual condition of the heart.
Isaiah 59:1-2 Behold, the LORD’s hand is not so short That it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. 2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear.
We fail to see God’s answers to prayer and His deliverance for a number of reasons:
(1) Failure to honestly confess sin with a view to dealing with a sin: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18).
(2) Failure to hear and respond to the Word: “He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, Even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9).
(3) Asking for the wrong motives: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasure” (James 4:3).
(4) Failure to ask in faith, believing God: “But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).
(5) Domestic problems, wrong relations with others: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7 NIV).
(6) Failure to know the Lord and to come to God through Jesus Christ: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’” (John 14:6).
Now in verse 14 we see Elisha’s reply to Jehoram. This is both a tacit or implied rebuke to Jehoshaphat and an encouragement to the good king. The basis of Elisha’s actions: “As the Lord of hosts (armies) lives, before whom I stand.” Literally, “As living, is Yahweh of armies.” Again this puts the futility of their actions (trusting in the arm of the flesh or their own plans and the futility of their idols and the false prophets of Jehoram) in striking contrast to the true God (the only true God who really lives and the One whom Elisha served).
Note two things that Elisha’s statement teaches us about his ministry and life: (a) it declares the reality of God and His power as the Lord of armies to deliver us. (b) It further declares Elisha was aware of God’s presence and that he was a personal representative of God, one sent there to minister the word of God uncompromisingly, and one protected and enabled by the Lord who was always with him.
My friends, this is what it’s all about! There is a living God who is powerful and He desires to save and minister to the needs of men. Amazingly, God has chosen men (mankind) to be the agents of His message of grace and salvation. And we must not only recognize our responsibility as His representatives, but we must also live in vital awareness of God’s presence and plan to use us to share His life and message with others.
Living with an awareness of God’s presence and ourselves as God’s representatives and agents of His glory is one of the keys to effective, meaningful, and purposeful living and service. Such a goal-oriented attitude and awareness is both motivational and correctional. It gives courage and produces concern for people, so that we are not simply people pleasers.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. 3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts (NIV).
Again Elisha sternly rebukes Jehoram while tacitly rebuking Jehoshaphat:
(1) To Jehoram he was expressing the biblical concept of Isaiah 59:1-2 referred to earlier.
(2) To Jehoshaphat there is the implied rebuke that he had no business being there with one whom God would neither look upon nor hear. This was an unholy alliance and a failure to take the Lord seriously in all areas of his life. His very presence in this alliance was presumptive disobedience.
Because Jehoshaphat was (on the whole) a godly man who sought the Lord, the Lord spared him in this alliance with Jehoram. This was pure grace, but oh, how this is always true for all of us! I am reminded of Psalm 143:1-2:
1 Hear my prayer, O Lord, Give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness! 2 And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no man living is righteous.
Elisha had been agitated by his confrontation with Jehoram and bothered by the alliance of Jehoshaphat. He was in no mood to receive and to give the Word of God. His anger had been godly indignation. He had not sinned, but still his heart and mind needed to be prepared by the Lord to be able both to hear God’s Word and to give it.
What an important lesson for us to grasp! Not only does the heart need keeping (Prov. 4:21), but it needs preparing (put right) that we might be in a condition to hear, grasp, and respond to the Lord. Failure to prepare the heart can lead to unfaithfulness (Ps. 78:8). Where there is known sin in one’s life, of course it needs to be honestly confessed (Ps. 66:18; Isa. 59:1f), but we also, as the Psalmist shows us, need to ask that God might open our eyes to properly behold the wonders of His precious Word (Ps. 119:18). But there are other things that are helpful to the preparation process like music, the kind that can quiet the spirit and help one to focus on the things of God. This probably expresses my bias and personal choice, but some of the music I hear in churches today is too loud and too jivey to quiet my spirit. Nevertheless, since music can be an important part in preparing the heart and soul to hear the Word, Elisha called for someone to come and play. When the minstrel played, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha--God moved to give His word and direction on this matter.
There is another important element to the lesson here. Deliverance out of their predicament of no water and victory against the Moabites was dependent on Elisha’s ability to both hear and deliver God’s message. Friends, the same is true today. Without God’s Word on the issues of life faithfully and accurately presented to others, people are left in despair and defeat. If we do not prepare and keep our hearts, how can we faithfully and accurately minister God’s Word?
Since the matter of preparation for worship and hearing the voice of God in His Word is so important, I have included a portion of a study from Luke 22.
The key events in this chapter are the celebration of the Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Since both were acts of worship and fellowship which visualized God’s activity and provision for man in the person and work of Christ, and man’s need of faith and commitment to live through fellowship with God’s Son, we can learn some important lessons that pertain to worship.
Verses 7-13 form part of the background and scenario to that special night with the Lord and drive home two key responsibilities, preparation and submission. The simple thrust of these verses is that for all genuine, bonafide, and meaningful worship, indeed, for true spiritual living, we need careful preparation that leads to resting in the Savior and out of that, to submission and obedience to the person of Christ.
The concept of preparation and its necessity for a truly worshipful observance of the Passover is found in at least six places in this passage.
First, it is found in the anticipation of the Passover in verse 1. It was time for the celebration of the pascal lamb. If it was to be celebrated with meaning, obviously certain things had to be done. In fact, “it seems that since the days of the dispersion, the Jews had added an extra day at the beginning of the eight days of this festival season and called it the Day of Preparation.”24 This, then, was the day of preparation.
Second, the idea of preparation is seen four more times in the repetition of the word “prepare” in verses 8, 9, 12, and 13.
Finally, the idea of preparation is seen a sixth time in the provision of the large, furnished, upper room, a special place where the disciples could meet privately, like a family, and observe the Passover with Jesus.
Note two things about this time of preparation:
(1) There was the Command of the Lord (vs. 8): The preparations were done at the Lord’s command. What was done here was a result of His directions and the obedience or submission of the disciples.
(2) There was the Provision of the Lord (vss. 10-12): There may be an element of the miraculous in this. Some think that previous arrangements had been made. The text does not say and the manner in which they were to find the furnished room seems a little at odds with a prearranged set up. At any rate, the point is the Lord provided that which was necessary for this time of fellowship and worship.
Does this not remind us of how the Lord provides all that we need to both know and relate our lives to His glorious life? Our need is to respond in faith, and then, through dependence on His life, to be obedient and prepare for worship that we might appropriate what He has provided.
Let’s note some of the effort that was involved in preparation for the Passover.
(1) A site had to be selected. This was no small thing for thousands of pilgrims were in Jerusalem looking for a suitable place to celebrate the Passover. The point is, the Lord will provide a place and a means to get to know Him and what His person, death, and life mean to us if we are available.
(2) The site had to be made ready. It had to be cleansed or purified.
(3) A lamb had to be selected. It had to be taken to the temple, examined, sacrificed, and roasted.
(4) The other food items had to be provided, the bitter herbs, the bread, the sauce, and the wine.
(5) And above all of this, there was the need of spiritual preparation. For effective and meaningful worship to occur (worship that is not merely lip service) there must be, by the very nature of worship, the proper preparation both physically and spiritually. The Lord and Scripture demand this. As the Lord told the woman at the well, “God is spirit, and those that worship Him, must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Like the disciples, we tend to readily take care of the physical preparation, but oh, how we need care in the spiritual realm of preparing our hearts so we can truly relate our lives to the living God.
This the disciples failed to do. Satan had made inroads into their lives, and their hearts and minds were not in the least prepared for what they were doing. As the verses that follow show us, though they all appeared to have the same agenda, each of the disciples had agendas that were very different from Christ’s. Through the symbols of the Passover and the communion He would institute, His agenda was to teach them truth that would always remind them of the nature and value of His life to theirs. Because of this, later that evening, the Lord, taking the position of a slave which none of them were willing to do, addressed the need of preparation both directly and symbolically in His actions and instruction in John 13.
While the Lord selflessly anticipated the blessings to come through His sacrifice (cf. 22:15), the disciples were selfishly striving for positions of honor at the table and in the kingdom (22:24f). Rather than resting in their significance through their relationship and union in Him, they were vying for position.
On the basis of this emphasis in these verses, I would like to suggest some concepts of preparation that I believe are essential for the proper worship of God, for worship that has an electric impact on our lives.
You can’t lay hold of a million volts of electricity without a corresponding effect. Likewise, we can’t worship the living God in Spirit and in truth without a corresponding effect. The issue is, are we doing that? Worship in spirit and truth demands biblical preparation!
At Home: A good night’s rest, setting out clothes for the kids the night before, rising early enough to get to church without being in a rush and without being half mad at each other or the kids, etc.
At Church: A lot of work goes into preparation for an effective worship service, the cleaning of the building, preparing and setting up of visual aids, the preparation of a bulletin and the elements when the Lord’s Supper is observed, and on the list goes. This is all needed and helpful and it makes our worship time more enjoyable and meaningful. But this is not the crucial part.
(1) Modulation, Mobilization and Means:
Modulation: This is the process of changing from one tone to another; to modulate means to tune, to adjust to another key. It’s equivalent to getting in tune, adjusting to pitch with God.
Mobilization: This means putting into movement, making ready; to mobilize means to release resources for use, to mobilize for action.
Means: Restoration--modulation and mobilization requires restoration to fellowship: seeking to maintain a conscience void of offense according to the standards of God’s Word, His Truth (2 Cor 11:27-30; 1 John 1:9; John 13:8f).
So what exactly does this mean? It means humble and contrite openness before God as is seen in the response of Isaiah when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. If that is not there, then we haven’t really seen the Lord. I am reminded of the statement of Augustine. Erwin Lutzer writes, “Augustine spoke of those who have tried unsuccessfully to find God. ‘They were probably inflated by their pride of learning and so were misled into seeking Him by throwing out their chests rather than beating upon their breasts.’”25
Modulation and mobilization demand that we refocus; it calls to mind the principle of refocusing our hearts on God. To worship means to expose the life to the who and what of God. “To worship,” William Temple said, “is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”
An important principle to keep in mind--the form of our worship is not nearly so important as the spiritual condition of the heart. The disciples followed the directions the Lord gave for setting up the room for the right form of worship, but their hearts were not in tune with Christ.
By harmonization I mean getting in harmony not only with God, but with other members of the body of Christ. We are a body, a spiritual organism. Each is a separate member with his or her own part to play, but we must be in harmony with one another or we will look and sound horrible. We will be a strident, discordant noise that will turn people away from God and God from us.
What does harmonization involve?
First, harmonization involves the principle and responsibility we all have to be like-minded, to have the mind of Christ, to think with the Word, to bring every thought into obedience and captivity of Christ, to have biblical values, goals, priorities, and attitudes toward others: being understanding, loving, patient, forgiving (Phil. 1:27; 2:1-5).
Here is where modulation forms the foundation for harmonization. David said, “Unite my heart to fear Thy name” (Psalm 86:11). What does he mean by “unite my heart to fear Thy name”? It means to have a heart that is one with the will and purposes of God. It means “Lord, may it no longer be divided among a multiplicity of objects so it is drawn here and there by a multitude of different aims and aspirations that distract our heart and our attention from God.” To worship as a congregation we must come to God single-mindedly in full commitment to the purposes of God.
Second, harmonization involves the responsibility for reconciliation and restitution with other members of the body of Christ with whom we may be out of harmony (1 Cor 11:17-18; Luke 22:24; Matt. 5:23-24; 1 Pet 3:7).
In his book, The Ultimate Priority, John Mac Arthur wrote: “. . . if our corporate worship isn’t the expression of our individual worshipping lives, it is unacceptable. If you think you can live any way you want and then go to church on Sunday morning and turn on worship with the saints, you’re wrong.”
By contemplation I mean reflective meditation and research or review in preparation for the services.
This is important for teachers, singers, musicians, music directors, for those who read the Scriptures and pray. Every aspect of the service should be thoughtfully researched and thought out. This means we need to do away with the last minute or Saturday night scramble.
This is also important for the audience because it is important that they be very much involved in what is going on. How can the audience prepare? By meditation beforehand, by reading a Psalm of worship or praise, by reading the passage to be studied as announced in the bulletin or the previous week or by reviewing last week’s lesson if a teacher is going through a series of lessons.
Anticipation pertains to all of us as we participate in worship in all aspects of the service. We must gather for worship so that through prayer and reliance on the Spirit of God, we come anticipating fellowship with the living God. This means seeing God in truth, beholding wondrous things from His Word (Ps. 119:12-18).
As Christians who have access to God through Jesus Christ, we should long to draw closer to God in truth. Lutzer writes, “If we are quenching our thirst at forbidden fountains, we have no reason to expect God to be satisfying. If we are not nourished by the bread from heaven, we will satiate ourselves with crumbs from the world. Once we have become addicted to the world’s nourishment, our appetite for God is spoiled”26
“We must worship in truth. Worship is not just an emotional exercise, but a response of the heart built on truth about God. ‘The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth’ (Psalm 145:18). Worship not based on God’s truth is but an emotional encounter with oneself.” To speak of worship without obedience to truth and surrender of one’s life, values, etc., is like asking a man to walk naturally with one leg.
(5) Familiarization or Rehearsal:
By familiarization I am speaking about the pursuit of excellence, not to please men, or to receive praise and applause from men, but to bring glory to God and to be instruments for the blessing of men. My wife and I visited friends who own a lovely beach house on Whidbey Island overlooking the water. (Whidbey is one of the Islands on the Puget Sound across from Seattle.) The scenery is beautiful and their home has a picture window that gives a clear view of the water and more of the island across the harbor. If the window was stained glass (calling attention to itself) or coated with grime and dirt, it would certainly mar the view. But as it is, it allows a full and unhindered view of the beauty of God’s creation. Proper preparation for worship is needed by all if the worship service is to honor the Lord and reflect His glory, but it is particularly important for those who have a part in leading the service not so they can be a stained glass window that calls attention to itself, but that they may clearly point people to the Lord Jesus.
We need to work and practice on what we are doing in the worship service or in a Sunday School class or whatever. Musicians should know their music, song leaders should know their hymns, teachers should know their material, ushers should be versed in their responsibilities, and preachers, of course should know their subject and be ready to proclaim the message God has given them from His Holy Word.
Indeed, the absence of proper preparation can often hinder and detract from our worship. On the other hand, one can rehearse until the cows come home, but if the heart is not right with the Lord, it will be just cold religious externalism (Isa. 29:13).
(6) Submission or Obedience:
This simply means that we should all be obedient and submissive to the biblical principles laid out for us in the Word that pertain to our worship or to the times we meet together. The disciples, Peter and John, followed the Lord’s directives as to the physical arrangements, but they all had much to learn in the realm of spiritual preparation without which there is no worship in spirit and truth.
No matter how eloquent the physical presentation or the setting, without the proper preparation, both the physical and the spiritual preparation of the heart, worship loses its power and potential for God’s glory and our edification. We assemble, as Paul warns us, “not for the better, but for the worse” (1 Cor 11:17).