Where the world comes to study the Bible

Lesson 6: The Man Who Saw the Unseen (2 Kings 6:8-23)

Related Media

In 1991, I read J. C. Ryle’s classic, Holiness [James Clarke & Co., Ltd.]. The final chapter, “Christ is All,” is a wonderful exposition of the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. I realized that this man of God, writing over a century ago, had put his finger on a major problem facing evangelical Christianity in our day: We have failed to direct God’s people to their resources in the all-sufficient Christ. Believers with problems are not being told, “Jesus Christ is sufficient for every problem in life. Here’s how you can lay hold of Him through faith and prayer.” Rather, they are being directed into all sorts of worldly techniques, therapies, and programs where Christ is peripheral, at best.

John MacArthur, Jr., makes the same point in Our Sufficiency in Christ [Word]. He writes (p. 19),

... a widespread lack of confidence in Christ’s sufficiency is threatening the contemporary church. Too many Christians have tacitly acquiesced to the notion that our riches in Christ, including Scripture, prayer, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and all the other spiritual resources we find in Christ simply are not adequate to meet people’s real needs. Entire churches are committed to programs built on the presupposition that the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42) aren’t a full enough agenda for the church as it prepares to enter the ... twenty-first century.

We continue our study of prayer by looking at an incident in the life of Elisha, in which the great prophet faced a major crisis: He was surrounded by a foreign army that intended to take him captive. Elisha’s servant went out one morning, looked up and saw this horde of soldiers, with horses and chariots. He rightly surmised they weren’t paying a social call! So he ran back inside crying, “Alas! What are we going to do?”

Probably none of us has ever walked out the door in the morning to confront an armed barbarian horde in the front yard waiting to do us bodily harm. But we all know what it’s like to be suddenly confronted with life-threatening problems beyond our control. And we all can relate to the servant’s panic in the crisis.

What seems strange is Elisha’s cool, calm response: “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (6:16). Then he prayed that his servant’s eyes would be opened. Suddenly the servant saw the unseen spiritual world that Elisha already saw: The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha! He strolled out to greet the soldiers, calmly asked God to strike them blind, led them to the capital city 12 miles south, where they were then surrounded by Israel’s army, and then asked God to restore their sight. Then he directed the Israelite king to feed them and send them on their way. And, for a while, the Arameans did not bother Israel.

This story has two main themes: The all-sufficiency of God to meet any crisis we face; and, that prayer is our means of access to the all-sufficient God.

Since God is our all-sufficient resource, believers should pray and not panic when trials hit.

1. God is our all-sufficient resource in times of trial.

The greatness of God’s knowledge, power, and sovereignty dominate this story. It’s interesting that of all the major characters, no one, except Elisha, is mentioned by name—not the kings or Elisha’s servant. Even Elisha is called three times “the man of God (6:9, 10, 15). One commentator says that this may suggest that readers should focus on the Lord and His prophet (Thomas Constable, The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books], 1:549). When we look at God, we learn three things in relation to our trials:

A. Our God is omniscient.

He knows all things and possesses all wisdom. God knew what the Aramean king, Ben-Hadad II, was planning to do and revealed it to Elisha who, in turn, told the Israelite king, Jehoram. As Ben-Hadad’s servants told him, Elisha even “tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in you bedroom” (6:12)! It took the intelligence experts more than 2,500 years after this to be able to bug a room, but God is much more effective than the CIA! He knows every thought and motive of every human heart! Nothing is hid from Him (Heb. 4:13).

The Aramean king stupidly thought that he could send troops and take Elisha captive. Didn’t he realize that Elisha would know this in advance, too? Elisha could have hidden himself, but he knew that God wanted to solve this problem in a way that would teach the Aramean king and the king of Israel some lessons about the reality of the living God.

Our God knows everything. We are foolish to think that we can hide anything from Him. He knows all our secret thoughts, let alone words and deeds. His Word reveals to us what we need to know about how deal with life’s problems, whether major or minor. We can go to Him for the wisdom we lack. It is in the context of trials that James 1:5 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

B. Our God is omnipotent.

He not only knows how to solve our problems, He has unlimited power to deal with the biggest problems we can conceive of. Is your problem as big as a hostile army that is trying to get you? David puts it (Ps. 34:7), “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.” “Therefore, though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear” (Ps. 27:3). It was no big deal for God to strike all these men blind in response to Elisha’s simple prayer. There is no man or nation so powerful but that God can easily bring him or it to nothing.

That means that God is able to deal with any problem you have, no matter how big it is to you. I always chuckle when I think of the woman who came to the well-known Bible teacher, G. Campbell Morgan and asked, “Dr. Morgan, do you think we should pray about little things, or just about big problems?” He straightened up and in his formal British manner said, “Madam, can you think of anything in your life that is big to God?” Our God is omniscient and omnipotent. He spoke the universe into existence. Nothing is too difficult for Him (Jer. 32:17, 27)!

You may be thinking, “That’s nice, but it doesn’t work for me the way it worked for Elisha. If only I could utter a short prayer and all my problems were instantly solved just like these soldiers were struck blind!” That leads to the third thing we see here concerning our all-sufficient God:

C. Our God sovereignly protects His own according to His will.

If we belong to God, we can trust Him to protect us until the moment He calls us to be with Him. As Psalm 91:11 promises, “He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” The Lord is stronger than the most powerful enemy we can conceive of. He’s protecting us even when we aren’t aware of it. Elisha’s servant slept peacefully all night, not knowing that these hostile forces were surrounding him. When he saw them in the morning, he panicked. But God’s protection was there, even though he couldn’t see it.

But you still may be thinking, “That’s great when it all works out as neatly as it did with Elisha. But what about when God’s people go through horrible trials and even death? Some godly people suffer for years or die through disease or persecution. Where is God’s protection then?”

The Lord provides a clue in a minor detail of the text that we might easily miss. Did you notice where Elisha was when this army surrounded him? He was in Dothan (6:13). It seems like more than coincidence that this town is mentioned only one other time in the Bible. It was the town where Joseph found his brothers when his father sent him to find out how they were doing (Gen. 37:17). He hadn’t been able to locate them and he was wandering in a field when a man told him that they had gone to Dothan. When Joseph arrived there his brothers threw him in a pit and were about to kill him when a caravan passed by heading for Egypt. So instead they sold him into slavery.

You know the story, how, after many years as a slave and prisoner, God finally appointed him over all Egypt under Pharaoh. As he sat in the pit in Dothan or as he traveled in chains to Egypt or as he sat in chains in the Egyptian dungeon, Joseph never had a vision of chariots of fire surrounding him. Where were the angels and chariots when Joseph was suffering? Joseph later looked back on the years of trials and told his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20). Even though he didn’t see any angels and even though he went through years of agony, Joseph knew that God was sovereignly directing all of his circumstances.

Even though you or I may never get a vision of God’s angels surrounding us, they are there! Even if you spend years in a dungeon, our sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent God has not abandoned you. Elisha’s servant was safe because he was with his master. Even so, we are safe because we are identified with our Master, Jesus Christ, who said that our Heavenly Father even has our hairs numbered! Therefore He said, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

But, how can we not panic when trials hit?

2. Prayer is the way to have peace, not panic, when trials hit.

Prayer is our means of access to our all-sufficient Savior. As Paul wrote from prison (Phil. 4:6-7), “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Major trials can hit so suddenly! Elisha’s servant went to bed peacefully, with no thought of being surrounded by a menacing army the next morning. He woke up, saw this army, and no doubt thought, “I could die today!” Life is just that uncertain! Let’s face it, there are a lot of ways that we could be dead before today is over—a terrorist attack, a major earthquake, a fire, an accident on the highway, a blood vessel in our brain ruptures, etc. Life is fragile! That’s why it’s foolish to live for this life only, as if there were no eternity. The uncertainty of life should make us live every day in dependence upon God.

A. Prayer replaces panic with wisdom for dealing with trials.

There is an obvious contrast between the panic of Elisha’s servant and the peace of Elisha. The difference is accounted for by Elisha’s consistent communion with God in prayer. Although the text doesn’t state it directly, obviously it was through prayer that he had gained supernatural knowledge of the enemy’s planned raids.

I believe that Elisha knew how God wanted him to deal with this crisis because he had prayed. Elisha’s mentor, Elijah, had called down fire from heaven to consume some soldiers who came to take him captive (2 Kings 1:9-16)! On a previous occasion Elisha himself had cursed in the name of the Lord a bunch of young men who taunted him, resulting in some bears killing 42 of them (2 Kings 2:23-24).

But on this occasion, I think that Elisha knew through prayer that God wanted to deal differently with this foreign army. The Aramean king had already seen evidence of the reality of Israel’s God when Elisha had healed Naaman, the captain of his army (2 Kings 5:1-14). Israel’s wicked king, Jehoram, son of Ahab, also should have known that Yahweh is the only true God. Through Elisha’s gracious treatment of these soldiers, both kings and both armies had further evidence of God’s kindness and power. Though it is not stated directly, I believe that Elisha had gained the wisdom to know how to handle this trial the way he did through prayer.

God may or may not grant us miraculous insight and power, as He did here with Elisha. But if we are people of prayer and commune with God through His Word, we will have unusual wisdom for dealing with trials when they hit.

But there are two warnings we need to take to heart. First, the time to gain such wisdom is before trials hit. Proverbs 1:20-33 tells us that if we neglect to get wisdom during calm times, we will not have it when calamity strikes.

The second caution is that we must act on what we know or it won’t do us any good. Elisha warned the Israelite king of where the Arameans would attack. If the king had not followed up on that warning, it wouldn’t have helped him. God’s Word warns us of where our enemy will strike. It warns us of the consequences of sin. But those warnings only profit us if we obey them. It’s like the many warnings we hear about the dangers of smoking, of eating too much fat, or of not buckling our seat belts. These warnings only help if we follow them. If we will learn the warnings of God’s Word and obey them, communing daily with Him through prayer, then we will have His wisdom for dealing with trials, and panic will be replaced with His peace.

B. Prayer opens our eyes to spiritual reality.

Most of us determine reality by our physical senses. If we can see, hear, feel, smell, or taste it, it must be real. I’m sure that for Elisha’s servant, reality was thousands of soldiers, mounted on powerful war horses, who could wipe out the whole town of Dothan before nightfall. But for Elisha, that wasn’t reality. For him, reality was the even greater and more powerful army of angels surrounding the city. These angels were there all along. The problem was, Elisha’s servant didn’t have eyes to see them. But his not seeing them didn’t make them unreal or non-existent. Elisha’s prayer opened his eyes to see spiritual reality. And spiritual reality is the ultimate reality, superceding the reality of what we perceive with our physical senses.

The Apostle Paul knew how to see the unseen. He was suffering terrible persecution on behalf of the gospel, but he said that this momentary, light affliction wasn’t the real thing. The real thing was the eternal glory that awaited him in heaven (1 Cor. 4:16-18)! He also said that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Remember, he was chained to a very real Roman guard as he wrote that! But, he said, that isn’t where our struggle takes place. Our real struggle is against these unseen forces of darkness in the heavenly places. And the way we combat these forces is through prayer (Eph. 6:10-20). Prayer opens our eyes to spiritual reality and links us with God’s winning majority.

The “Global Prayer Digest” (9/91) told about a medical missionary to Africa who was speaking at his home church in Michigan. He told about how he often had to travel by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies. It was a two-day trip that required camping overnight at the halfway point. When he got to the city, he would go to the bank, get money, and buy medicine and supplies to take back. On one of these trips, he saw two men fighting. One had been badly injured, so the missionary treated his wounds and witnessed to him about Christ.

He returned home without incident. On his next trip to town, the man he had treated came up to him and said that he knew the missionary was carrying money and supplies. This man and some friends had followed him into the jungle, planning to kill him and take his money and drugs. But just as they were ready to move into his campsite, they saw that he was surrounded by 26 armed guards.

When the missionary heard this, he laughed and said that he was all alone out at that jungle campsite. But the man insisted, “No, not only I, but also my five friends saw and counted the 26 guards. Because of them we were afraid and left you alone.”

At this point in the church in Michigan where the missionary was telling the story, a man jumped to his feet and asked, “Can you tell me the exact day this took place?” The missionary thought for a moment and was able to give the exact date. The man in the church continued, “When it is night in Africa, it is morning here. That morning I was preparing to go play golf. As I was putting my golf bag in my car, I felt the Lord leading me to pray for you. This urging was so strong that I called the men in this church to meet here and pray for you. Would all of those men who met with me on that day, please stand up?” All together, 26 men were standing!

C. Prayer makes possible what is humanly impossible.

Opening the servant’s eyes to see the angels, closing and later reopening the soldiers’ eyes, were humanly impossible feats. Elisha’s prayer was not for his servant to do what he already could do or to use some ability he already possessed. His prayer was for God to do something humanly impossible, to open his eyes, which saw the soldiers perfectly well, so that he could see the angelic forces that protected him.

So often when we pray, we forget that we are asking God to do the humanly impossible. When we pray for the salvation of another person, we are not asking God to help them out just a bit. We’re asking God to do what is humanly impossible. Every lost person is spiritually blind. Only God can open blind eyes! We may realize this when the one we’re praying for has big problems. We say, “He’s an alcoholic. It would take a miracle to save him!” But it also takes a miracle to save the good, moral person who goes to church every week. God must open blind eyes to bring sinners to Himself (2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).

These Aramean soldiers had an easy job that they were confident they could do: “Take a single, unarmed man captive? No problem! We can do it!” But through Elisha’s one-sentence prayer, these proud men were humbled into groping after the prophet, completely at his mercy. Then their eyes were opened in response to Elisha’s next one-sentence prayer, and they realized that they were in big trouble!

In the same way, God must humble the self-confident sinner so that he realizes that he is spiritually impotent. Then God must open their eyes to see their desperate condition, that they are doomed unless God is gracious to them. Then God graciously sets before them the banquet table of the riches of Jesus Christ, freely given. Though they had deserved His condemnation, He shows them His mercy.

Conclusion

In his wonderful section on prayer in The Institutes (ed. by John McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles [Westminster], 3:20:1), John Calvin writes,

For in Christ [God] offers all happiness in place of our misery, all wealth in place of our neediness; in him he opens to us the heavenly treasures that our whole faith may contemplate his beloved Son ….

But after we have been instructed by faith to recognize that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ … so that we may draw from it as from an overflowing spring, it remains for us to seek in him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him. Otherwise, to know God as the master and bestower of all good things, who invites us to request them of him, and still not go to him and not ask of him—this would be of as little profit as for a man to neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out to him.

In Christ we have access to God as our all-sufficient treasure. If we will learn to know God as Elisha did and to pray as he prayed, we will not panic when trials hit.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why doesn’t God answer our prayers instantly and dramatically, as He did Elisha’s prayers?
  2. Is the fact that God knows everything (including your thoughts) comforting or discomforting to you?
  3. Does “Christian psychology” undermine the all-sufficiency of Christ? Why/why not?
  4. How can we determine the proper balance between prayer and using means and methods?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2002, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Prayer, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution