24 Now it came about after this, that Ben-hadad king of Aram gathered all his army and went up and besieged Samaria. 25 And there was a great famine in Samaria; and behold, they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a fourth of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver. 26 And as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 And he said, “If the LORD does not help you, from where shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the wine press?” 28 And the king said to her, “What is the matter with you?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 “So we boiled my son and ate him; and I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.” 30 And it came about when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes--now he was passing by on the wall--and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body. 31 Then he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on him today.”
32 Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. And the king sent a man from his presence; but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent to take away my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door shut against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” 33 And while he was still talking with them, behold, the messenger came down to him, and he said, “Behold, this evil is from the LORD; why should I wait for the LORD any longer?”
7:1 Then Elisha said, “Listen to the word of the LORD; thus says the LORD, Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine four shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.’” 2 And the royal officer on whose hand the king was leaning answered the man of God and said, “Behold, if the LORD should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” Then he said, “Behold you shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”
The mention of the siege of Samaria in verse 24 stands in strong contrast to the peaceful conditions that had resulted from the ministry of Elisha. How much later, we are not told, but sometime later Ben-hadad besieged the city of Samaria. One of the messages of the prophets, and this was undoubtedly true of both Elijah and Elisha, was to remind Israel that God had promised blessing for obedience to His covenant with them, but cursing for disobedience. Certainly, the temporary lull brought about by the ministry of Elisha had been divinely designed to remind Israel of God’s steadfast love and ever present involvement with his people. God had sent and authenticated men like Elijah and Elisha by the miracles He performed through these men of God, but typically (especially in the northern kingdom) there was no evidence of repentance by Israel or her kings. So in keeping with His warning in Deuteronomy 28-30, God withdrew his protective hand. As a consequence Israel faced a full-scale Aramean (Syrian) invasion. The Arameans had been so successful they were able to penetrate the land of Israel and put the city of Samaria under siege.
The length and severity of the siege is seen in the extreme famine that led to such scarcity that a even a donkey’s head, on which there is very little meat, was sold for eighty shekels of silver (about two pounds of silver) and a fourth of a kab (an uncertain quantity) of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver (about two ounces). According to the Old Testament law, a donkey was an unclean animal and was not to be eaten under any conditions (see Lev. 11:2-7; Deut. 14:4-8), but the famine was so bad that they not only ignored the laws of uncleanness, but the least edible part of a donkey became very costly. The dove’s dung probably refers to small grain, hence, the NIV has, “a quarter of a kab of seed pods for five shekels,” though in the margin it reads, “dove’s dung.”
But matters grew even worse so that as the king was walking on the wall of the city, probably to inspect conditions, he came across a case of cannibalism. This obviously sickened his heart, but rather than repent of his own disobedience and failure to follow the Lord and accept the fact the famine was a judgment from God for Israel’s disobedience, he looked for scapegoat and not only blamed Elisha, but swore to see him put to death (vs. 31).
Instead of vowing to pull down the calves at Dan and Beth-el, or letting the law have its course against the prophets of Baal and of the groves, he swears the death of Elisha, v. 31.73
Why he blamed Elisha is not stated. Perhaps he thought Elisha should have prayed for a miracle as he had done in the past. Or perhaps he looked back and thought Elisha should have ordered the death of the Syrians when they had them within the walls of their city. The NIV Bible Commentary has this to say of verses 31-33.
Enraged and blaming Elisha for the whole affair, he dispatched a messenger to seize and behead Elisha. When he had come to himself, however, he ran after his messenger, hoping to stay his hand. By divine insight Elisha knew the details of the whole episode and instructed certain elders who were with him to bar the door of the house until Jehoram could overtake his executioners. When the king arrived, he was admitted into the house. Convinced that the Lord had pronounced the doom of the city, Jehoram had all but given up any hope of the Lord’s deliverance. Yet perhaps his realization that all that had transpired was from the Lord carried with it the faintest hope that God would yet miraculously intervene. The restraint of the messenger and the king’s words hint at the faint hope of divine consolation. Such comfort Elisha would proceed to give.74
That Elisha knew the king had changed his mind about his order for Elisha’s death is suggested by the fact Elisha had the elders hold the door against the messenger until the king arrived to revoke the order.
When the king arrived he not only admitted the famine was a judgment from the Lord, but he believed things were so helpless that there could be no solution other than to surrender to the Syrians. Elisha had undoubtedly told the king to repent and wait on the Lord for deliverance, but the king in his unbelief was ready to throw in the towel.
Regardless, the Lord reached out in His grace and mercy and revealed through Elisha that deliverance (the end of the famine and the inflation) would come miraculously on the very next day (7:1). But how could such a sudden deliverance take place? The king undoubtedly believed it for there was no comment from him and he certainly was no longer seeking to take Elisha’s life, but his first officer scoffed at Elisha’s promise just as men today scoff at the promises of the Word.
The aide’s words are filled with ridicule and heaped with sarcasm, as if to say, “Oh sure, The Lord is even now making windows in heaven! So what? Could this word of yours still come to pass?” Whether the aide thought of the biblical phrase (Ge 7:11) or of the heavenly windows of the Baal fertility cult is uncertain. In any case he was skeptical of the whole thing.
The prophet assured Jehoram’s aide that not only would the prophecy come true, but the officer would see it with his own eyes. However, he would not eat any of it! His faithless incredulity would cause him to miss God’s blessing on the people.75
In this scenario, the king despaired and his first officer mocked. Things seem totally impossible. But our extremities are God’s opportunities to demonstrate His power for His own purposes that we might learn He is able to do super abundantly above all we can ask or even think (Eph. 3:20). But consistently, the Lord acts for his people when they come to the end of themselves and find their strength is gone. (Deut. 32:36; 2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Finally, Elisha’s words to the royal officer poses a warning to all of us. He told the officer that though he would witness the miraculous provision, he would not be able to eat of it (see 7:17-18). When we fail to believe the promises of God, we fail to experience the blessings of God whether for salvation or in sanctification.
Hebrews 3:16-19 For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
1 Now Elisha spoke to the woman whose son he had restored to life, saying, “Arise and go with your household, and sojourn wherever you can sojourn; for the LORD has called for a famine, and it shall even come on the land for seven years.” 2 So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God, and she went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years. 3 And it came about at the end of seven years, that the woman returned from the land of the Philistines; and she went out to appeal to the king for her house and for her field. 4 Now the king was talking with Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, saying, “Please relate to me all the great things that Elisha has done.” 5 And it came about, as he was relating to the king how he had restored to life the one who was dead, that behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life, appealed to the king for her house and for her field. And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, this is the woman and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life.” 6 When the king asked the woman, she related it to him. So the king appointed for her a certain officer, saying, “Restore all that was hers and all the produce of the field from the day that she left the land even until now.”
In the previous chapter, the northern kingdom experienced a wonderful deliverance and example of the love and power of God, but how quickly they forgot and returned to their idolatrous ways. Here Elisha predicts another famine, which for Israel was a matter of divine judgment for their refusal to return to the Lord and walk with Him according to His Word. And certainly, many believe this is also true with the seeming rise in the number of catastrophic events our nation has been experiencing over the past twenty or so year. Some 15 years ago J. Vernon McGee wrote:
Frankly I believe that the different tragedies that have struck our land in recent years have been a warning to our nation. The earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, and other tragedies that have swept across our land have, I think, been warnings from God to stop and think and change our ways.76
Things haven’t gotten any better. The tragedies just seem to grow all across our land. But are we listening? No! We just want to blame these tragedies on things like global warming (which is probably a hoax promoted by special interest groups or people with certain political agendas) and on warm currents in the Pacific Ocean like El Nio.
With this prophetic revelation given to the Shunammite woman about the famine, we have another contrast in the narrative of the ministry of Elisha. The royal officer scoffed at the prophetic word of the prophet and failed to experience its blessing. But this godly woman of faith, representing the believing remnant in Israel, believed the prophetic word of the prophet and because she acted on her faith and obeyed and left the country, she was blessed and escaped the famine.
Just as Elisha had prophesied, at the end of seven years the famine came to an end and the woman returned to her home from the land of the Philistines. When she returned home, however, she found others were living on her land so she appealed to the king for her house and her field (vs. 3).
As a wonderful illustration of God’s providential care, the king had been talking to Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, about the great things Elisha had done. And as God would have it in His sovereign care, just as “he was relating to the king how he had restored to life the one who was dead, that behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life, appealed to the king for her house and for her field. And Gehazi said, ‘My lord, O king, this is the woman and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life’” (vs. 5). That we might clearly see the emphasis here on God’s sovereign care, the text has the word “behold,” a particle of interjection (the Hebrew, henneh) to arrest the attention, “behold, look, see.”
With the wonderful story of God’s resurrection power and loving care and the sudden appearance of this woman with her son, the king, on hearing of her need, immediately restored “all that was hers and all the produce of the field from the day that she left the land even until now” (vs. 6).
This story clearly illustrates the steadfast love and providential care of God for His people, especially those who walk with Him by faith. We must not conclude from this, however, that the Lord always warns us of famine and restores what we have lost. It simply declares God’s love, concern, power, and ability to do beyond all we can ask or think. Sometimes that means in another time and other ways. No place better expresses the issues here than the author of Hebrews in chapter eleven. Before recounting a long list of those who walked by faith, many of whom were tortured or died for their faith (11:35-40), he wrote:
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (NIV).
At the end of this long list, we read these words,
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (NIV).
Think what would have happened if the Father had delivered His Son from the cross when He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Rather, He delivered His Son in a better time and in a better way through His glorious resurrection after He had successfully born our sin on the cross. Consequently,
Rom. 5:1-5 . . . having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Do you remember the story about how England was to receive news of the results of the Battle of Waterloo from a previous lesson? Men were stationed on the shores of Europe to flash a signal while men on the English side watched so they could pass the word. If Napoleon won there were to be two flashes; if Wellington won there would be three. Finally, during the night the signals came--first one, then a second, but before the third could be given, that famous fog settled across the channel. The English thought Wellington had been defeated, but at daybreak the truth of the matter was received--Napoleon had been defeated.
That’s the way life is. In this life we often seem defeated, our prayers seem unanswered and our work unrewarded, but God does care and is involved in all the details of our lives. For now, we may not be removed from the famine, have our property restored to us, or a spouse or child, but when the Morning Star arises, that is, when the Lord Jesus comes, He who ends the night and brings the light of day will show us He has answered in a better time and in a better way. It is then that the answer to our prayers will be seen and our work surely rewarded, but in a better time and in a better way.
7 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.” 8 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?’” 9 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?’” 10 Then Elisha said to him, “Go, say to him, ‘You shall surely recover,’ but the LORD has shown me that he will certainly die.” 11 And he fixed his gaze steadily on him until he was ashamed, and the man of God wept. 12 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.” 13 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.” 14 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.” 15 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.
In this story, we see not only the remarkable way God used the prophet, but we get a glimpse at the heart of the prophet and his love for the people to whom God had sent him to minister, the northern kingdom of Israel. We also see in this story the impact Elisha had made even on his enemies. Ben-hadad, king of Syria, had attempted to capture and kill Elisha, but now the king is old and sick. He is informed that Elisha was in Damascus so he sends Hazael, his trusted servant, to take a gift to Elisha (whom he interestingly calls “the man of God”) and inquire regarding the king’s recovery.
Now think about this a moment. What does this tell us about the heart of man? This king had respect for Elisha. He knew the prophet was truly a man of God and knew things ordinary men could not know. He had heard of the miracles God performed through the prophet and evidently believed they were of God for he called him “the man of God.” Regardless, he refused to repent and turn to the God of Israel. He continued to pursue a path of unbelief and idolatry. Why? Was it because of the moral twist so prevalent in men that even when faced with the truth men reject it because they want to pursue their own lifestyle?
Fearing death and hoping the arrival of the prophet was fortuitous, the king thought he could buy the services of Elisha. He was not simply hoping Elisha could tell him of his recovery, but that perhaps Elisha might restore him to health. But what he could not know was that the prophet’s presence was somehow related to the Lord’s instructions to Elijah relative to dynastic change, both in Damascus and in Samaria. In Kings 19:15-17 God had sent Elijah to anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. Hazael had been anointed king many years earlier. As McGee says, speaking of Hazael,
. . . he is just waiting around for old Ben-hadad to die. You can well understand that it would be very difficult for the king’s successor--whether it be a son, a general, or someone else--to shed very many tears at his funeral because it was his funeral that would bring his successor to power. So Hazael went out to meet Elisha, but I don’t think he went with a great deal of enthusiasm.77
When Elisha and Hazael met, Hazael gave Elisha the king’s request, “Will I recover from this sickness?” But Elisha’s answer sounds like a riddle or an enigma. He replied, “Go, say to him, ‘You shall surely recover,’ but the Lord has shown me that he will certainly die.” In other words, “you will surely recover, but you won’t live.” What was Elisha saying? Elisha knew Hazael’s character. He knew he had just been waiting in the wings for the king to die and that he would use this as an opportunity to play ‘Doctor Death’ even though he could recover. So Elisha predicts the treason of Hazael.
Though Israel, the northern kingdom had been persistently rebellious and idolatrous with no time of repentance in the face of one miracle after another, Elisha never stopped loving his people. We never see him displaying bitterness or impatience or giving up. He weeps over the prospects of what he knows Hazael will do to Israel (vs. 12). Like our Lord who wept over Jerusalem, Elisha wept over Israel.
Do we not need such a heart today in our ministry to individuals and to churches? How did Elisha manage to keep such a heart? Remember, Elijah wanted to throw in the towel and he became seriously despondent over the conditions in Israel, but not Elisha. I have no way to prove this, but I suspect that as his mentor Elijah shared this with Elisha who learned from Elijah’s experience to keep his focus on the Lord rather than on his hopes or the actions of the people. He managed to rest in the still small voice of God’s Word and God’s sovereign plan.
Verses 11-15 concludes this story of treason as prophetically seen by the prophet. Verse 11 tells us Elisha stared steadily into the eyes of Hazael until he was ashamed. Hazael could tell Elisha knew the selfish and devilish thoughts he was thinking as he anticipated stepping into the role of king. But Elisha’s gaze soon turned to weeping. This surprised Hazael, who then inquired as to the reason for his weeping.
In answer to Hazael’s question, Elisha indicated that he wept for the great barbarity that Hazael, as Aram’s next king, would inflict on Israel. Despite Hazael’s protests to the contrary, such would indeed be the case (cf. 10:32-33; 13:3).
Doubtless Elisha’s assurances to Hazael that he would be the next king of Damascus gave pretext to him that he had a mandate to be carried out. When he returned to the palace, he told his master the good news: the king would surely recover. However, the next day opportunity came to carry out the long-standing purpose. Having smothered the king, he assumed the throne.78
Even in his final days and in his death, God used the prophet to demonstrate that the God of Israel, Yahweh, was the true God and that the prophets of God who proclaim God’s truth are sources of strength and life to the nation. Again we must emphasize the miracles of Elisha (as with Elijah) were designed to demonstrate this fact and to call Israel to repentance and faith. They were messengers authenticating the message of God.
This fact is here stressed even in the death of the prophet by the context. In verses 10-13, we have reference to the reigns of Joash king of Judah and of the sixteen-year reign of Jehoash who became king over Israel in Samaria. But note what the record reveals regarding Jehoash: “And he did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not turn away from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel sin, but he walked in them.”
It is in this context that we read of two final miraculous acts of the prophet: the prophecy of the victories of Jehoash and the death of Elisha and the miracle at his tomb. Note that the “Joash” of the NASB and KJV is a variant form of Jehoash and should not be confused with the Joash of Judah mentioned in verse 1.
14 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!” 15 And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. 16 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. 17 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.” 18 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. 19 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.”
In verse 14 we read of the visit that Jehoash made to see the prophet when he was ill.
Elisha the prophet now reenters the narrative. He was suffering from a terminal illness. Out of respect for this man of God, King Jehoash paid him a visit. The fact that the king wept over him reveals that though Jehoash followed in the ways of Jeroboam I (v. 11) he also revered Yahweh. He anticipated the great loss that the death of this servant of God would be to Israel. He regarded Elisha as superior to himself, calling him my father in true humility. By the phrase the chariots and horsemen of Israel, he showed that he recognized in Elisha, and behind him in the Lord, the real defense and power of Israel against all her adversaries. Elisha had used the same expressions himself when Elijah’s ministry was terminated by God (2:12).79
Elisha had been a tower of strength to the nation and he was highly respected. The king knew he would be missed, but again, we see how men in high places are often so dominated by their love for power and position and possessions that they refuse to allow the testimony of men of God to impact their lives to the degree that they will wholly turn to the Lord and follow Him in faith. Many of our own leaders have been influenced by well-known men of God like Billy Graham, but not to the degree that it transformed them from capricious politicians into statesmen as was the case with so many of the founding fathers of this country.
But let’s not just point to our political arena. Where do these political leaders come from? They come from the homes of the populace--from people like you and me. In other words we have reaped what we have sown. So the question is, how responsive are we to the testimony and ministry of the godly men and women of this country who have ministered to us through their lives, their writings, and their teaching? This, of course, includes godly parents and teachers where we have had the privilege of that kind of influence at home and in the classroom.
With verse 15, Elisha gives his last prophecy. The NIV Bible Commentary says:
15-20a Elisha instructed Israel’s king to pick up his bow. When he had done so, the prophet placed his own hands on those of the king, thereby indicating that what he was about to do would be full of spiritual symbolism. That act was the shooting of an arrow out the east window--toward Aram. Elisha explained the deed: Jehoash would win a total victory at Aphek against Arameans. But the divine promise was to be augmented by personal participation. Accordingly, Jehoash was told next to shoot arrows into the ground; obviously victory at Aphek was to be followed by subsequent victories over the hated Arameans. Jehoash obediently complied, but with his own reasoning powers. He struck the ground three times with his arrows rather than using the five or six arrows that he had with him. Elisha was justifiably angry with the king. Had he used all his arrows, the Arameans would have been completely vanquished. Now Jehoash would gain but three victories. With this pronouncement the aged prophet had finished his earthly course.80
In other words, even though he had seen the power of God in the life and ministry of Elisha and appreciated the prophet, Jehoash had failed to completely trust God even though he knew what God had promised.
20 And Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites would invade the land in the spring of the year. 21 And as they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet.
Soon thereafter Elisha died. His ministry spanned at least 56 years, having begun as a servant of Elijah during Ahab’s reign (which ended in 853 B.C.) and dying during Jehoash’s reign (which began in 798 B.C.). After his body was wrapped in linen cloths, the prophet was probably buried in a cave or tomb hewn out of a rock as were most of the early Israelites (v. 21).81
Some time later some men were laying another man’s body to rest near Elisha’s tomb. They were surprised by a group of Moabite raiders who were apparently going to rob whomever they met. To flee quickly, the Israelite pallbearers removed the stone in front of Elisha’s tomb, threw the corpse of their friend in the tomb, and retreated. When the new corpse touched Elisha’s he came to life and stood up on his feet. Evidently the men who placed the body in Elisha’s tomb observed this. Doubtless they told their story far and wide, and it probably reached the ears of Jehoash for whom this miracle seems to have been intended primarily. Such a sign of the power of God working even through His prophet’s corpse may have both encouraged the king as he anticipated his battles with the Arameans and rebuked him for his lack of faith (cf. comments on vv. 18-19).82
In Elisha’s death, we see not only the miracle of resurrection in anticipation of the life and ministry of Christ, but we see anther vital principle. The mention of the invading Moabite raiders immediately upon the death of Elisha is instructive. I believe it shows us that a nation can expect divine judgment in the form of spiritual and moral degeneration, as well as other forms of judgment, when there is the removal of God’s faithful teachers of the Word, or when there is a famine of sound theological teaching that instructs people about God and how to know and love him.
But why does God do this? For the same reason that parents who loves their children will discipline them--to correct their behavior. God disciplines us to draw us back to Himself, which is always the place of blessing and peace.
In bringing the study in the life of Elisha to a close, we perhaps would do well to look at the main emphasis seen throughout his life and work. The main emphasis all through his ministry is that of resurrection and hope of new life. J. Sidlow Baxter has an excellent summary of this. He wrote:
The nation has now sunk into such a state that it can scarcely be recovered except by something equal to resurrection. Therefore, through the ministry of Elisha, the people are given to see, in a succession of symbolic miracles, the power of resurrection at work, and the hope of new life which is theirs in Jehovah, if they but return to him.
Just let the mind run through some of Elisha’s miracles. See how characteristic is this suggestion of life out of death (i.). His very first miracle is the healing of the death-giving waters of Jericho, so that what had given death now gave life (ii.). Then comes the saving of the armies from death by miraculous water supply (iii.). And in the next chapter we find the raising of the Shunammite woman’s son from death to new life (iv.). This is followed by the healing of the poisoned pottage: “Death in the pot” is changed to life and wholesomeness (iv.). And in the same chapter we have the miraculous multiplication of the barley loaves. Then comes the healing of Naaman, by that symbolic baptism in Jordan, with its washing away of death, and the coming up in new life (v.). The miracle of the recovered axe-head, which next follows, speaks of the same thing in a different way. “The iron did swim”--a new life-power overcoming the downward pull of death. Finally, not to mention the intervening miracles, we have the strange miracle in which the man is brought to life at Elisha’s grave, by accidental contact with the deceased prophet’s bones. The emphasis on resurrection and new hope running through these miracles is surely clear to see.83
We might also ask, as we reflect on the life and ministry of both Elijah and Elisha--why so many miracles? Again let me quote Baxter:
The very fact that the ministries of Elijah and Elisha were so full of supernatural wonders is itself intense with meaning. God is meeting a critical situation by super-normal measures. Apostate and degenerate as the nation has become, a final bid shall be made, by special messengers and startling miraculous signs, to recall the sinning people to Jehovah and to the true faith of Israel. Even to the last, God will seek to turn His idolatry-infatuated people from their corruptions, and thus avert the culminating catastrophe of the Dispersion which must otherwise overtake them.
Alas, the louder the warning and the clearer the sign, the deafer and blinder do the unwilling people become! “The heart of this people is waxed gross.”84
Though miracles are recorded throughout the Bible, they are the exception, not the norm. The clusters of miracles as seen with Moses, with Elijah and Elisha, in the ministry of Christ, and with the Apostles and the early church were designed as God’s special means to authenticate the messenger and his message. But as Baxter points out, very often, “the louder the warning and the clearer the sign, the deafer and blinder do the unwilling people become.”
In Luke 16, our Lord made this point clear Himself in the story of the rich man and the poor man named Lazarus. When the rich man found himself suffering in Hades, he asked if someone could go to his brothers to warn them. Abraham’s answered,
“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” 30 But he said, “No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” 31 But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”
The man thought such a miracle would surely convince them. But the answer given to him was, not so. It is ultimately a matter of the heart’s willingness to listen and believe the message of the Bible. Miracles were designed to authenticate the message, but if people will not be persuaded by the message, then their lives will not change. Miracles aren’t the change agents; it is the Bible’s message of God’s love and grace in the person and work of Christ as revealed by the Holy Spirit that changes lives.