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The Life and Times of Elisha the Prophet - Saved from the Syrians: The War that Never Happened (2 Kings 6:1-23)

Introduction

There’s no feeling much worse than knowing that you’ve lost something irreplaceable. I was probably no more than ten years old when my father decided to take me salmon fishing. We did not have very far to go because we lived within a mile of Puget Sound. We did not have a boat, so my father borrowed one from a neighbor, and his Model A Ford coupe with which we hauled it. For several hours we trolled about the sound, catching nothing. When we got home, my father made a very distressing discovery—he had lost his wallet. It seemed quite obvious that his wallet had slipped out of his pocket and into Puget Sound while we were fishing. Those were hard times, and my father had just cashed a check for a couple hundred dollars, and the cash was in his wallet, along with his Social Security Card, drivers license, and some other important information.

It was a miserable afternoon that Sunday, until we received a phone call from a Christian family we had never met before. They had been fishing in Puget Sound also. One of the children looked down into the water and spotted the wallet, below the surface of the water, and sinking. She quickly reached into the water and plucked it out. They took the wallet home, removed the contents, and dried everything out. They found my father’s identification and called to tell him they had his wallet, and everything that was in it. They did not even hint about a reward. I must tell you that there was great rejoicing that day over what had been lost and then was recovered.

Our text also contains the story about something that was lost and recovered. One of the members of the guild of the prophets was chopping on a log near the Jordan River when the iron head of his borrowed axe flew off its handle and into the muddy waters of the river. In his mind, the axe head was hopelessly lost. He cried out to Elisha, who was somewhere nearby, and thanks to his actions, the axe head was retrieved. It is a story with which we can all identify, because we have experienced the joy of finding something that seemed hopelessly lost. But why would such a story be recorded in the Bible? What is so important about a lost axe head that it would merit being recorded in the Word of God?

The story that follows the account of the recovered axe head is one that we recognize as significant, and worthy of becoming a part of Scripture. It is a story which occurs during a war Syria was carrying out against Israel. Through a sequence of supernatural events, Elisha leads the Syrian army into the city of Samaria. Here, they are all fed and then released. This is the only time in the Bible an army that has attacked Israel is treated in this fashion. Why? What was unique about this situation? And what is the relationship between this incident and the recovery of the lost axe head in the verses that precede it? That is what we shall seek to discover in our study.

A Prophet Loses His Head (Axe Head, That Is)
or
Elisha Floats a Loaner
(2 Kings 6:1-7)

1 Some of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too cramped for us. 2 Let’s go to the Jordan. Each of us will grab a log from there and we will build a meeting place for ourselves there.” He said, “Go.” 3 One of them said, “Please come along with your servants.” He replied, “Okay, I’ll come.” 4 So he went with them. When they arrived at the Jordan, they started cutting down trees. 5 As one of them was felling a log, the axhead dropped into the water. He yelled out, “Oh no, my master! It was borrowed.” 6 The prophet asked, “Where did it drop in?” When he showed him the spot, Elisha cut off a branch, threw it in at that spot, and made the axhead float. 7 He said, “Lift it out.” So he reached out his hand and grabbed it.

One can’t be certain where this guild of prophets was living at the time, but wherever it was, their accommodations were too small. Some of the prophets felt this would be the time to build a bigger facility, and at the same time, change their location. Elisha was asked for his permission, and he approved the plan.119

We can see by this passage that things have changed considerably in Israel since the early days of Elijah’s ministry. At that time, Elijah was forced to hide from Ahab and Jezebel and those who were seeking his life (1 Kings 17:3ff.). Other prophets had to do likewise (1 Kings 18:4). Now, the prophets seem to have more respect. They are now able to travel about the country freely, and even to live beside the Jordan River, where their presence could hardly be overlooked. The prophetic community was no longer in grave danger, it seems, and it must have been growing as well. This may be why the prophets thought it necessary to build a larger facility near the Jordan River.

The prophets were not content merely to have Elisha’s permission to build in another location. They wanted Elisha to be present with them as they went about the task of building a meeting place. As I considered this request of Elisha, I was reminded of Moses’ persistence in obtaining God’s assurance that He would be with His people as they made their way from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land (see Exodus 33:14-15). Now, God’s presence was somehow associated with His prophets, and especially with Elisha. No wonder they wanted him to be with them as they went about this task! How little do we grasp the privilege we have of His constant presence with us and in us, through His Spirit (see John 14:25-31; 16:7ff.).

Elisha is with the prophets when the borrowed axe head flies off into the waters of the Jordan. He hears the plea of the prophet and comes to his aid. He cuts off a limb and thrusts it into the water near the place where the axe head went in. The iron axe head floats to the surface, and Elisha instructs the prophet to snatch it out of the water.

I believe what happened here was a miracle. I do not believe, as some do, that Elisha groped around the water with a stick until he came upon the axe head and fished it out. I would imagine that the axe head was somehow tied to the handle. It was iron, and I doubt that it had a hole in the head, as modern axes do. Thus, there would have been no way to retrieve the axe head out of the water, even if he knew where it was. I’m convinced that Elisha plunged the stick into the waters of the Jordan as a symbolic gesture. My understanding is that the axe head floated to the surface, as though it were a piece of wood. I do not know the mechanics of how this occurred, but I have no doubt that it did happen, just as the author describes it. Some people seem to find it necessary to understand how and why the axe head floated to the surface before they can believe that it did so. I choose to believe that it did so, assuming that God was not required to follow the laws of nature that He set down.

I see this same approach employed with many of the miracles of the Bible. When we read that a great fish (it doesn’t really say that it was a whale) swallowed Jonah, and then spit him out alive, some folks seem to find great comfort and assurance in reading reports that men have been swallowed by whales and lived. It would seem that the “great fish” that swallowed Jonah was created just for that task. Why do we need to hear that something similar has happened in history to believe what the Bible calls a miracle? It is almost as though we are trying to prove that it really isn’t a miracle (it has happened before, and it happens in a way that I can understand and accept), so that we can accept it as a biblical miracle. If the Bible says that a miracle was performed, yet in a way that we cannot understand or replicate, this should be all the more reason to accept it as such, when the Word of God declares it to be a miracle.

By the way, I should tell you that while the construction of this dwelling with poles may sound foreign to you, it sounds very familiar to me. When I was growing up, my parents bought an old fishing resort, which was open during the summer months. My father and I120 constructed a number of buildings from logs and poles that we prepared from trees we cut down on our property. We felled the trees, limbed them, and then peeled them, before building the structures we needed. I used an axe many times and a chain saw as well. I can truly identify with these prophets as they built this dwelling place.

One of the things about this story that surprises me is that God did intervene supernaturally. Had I been Elisha, I would have been inclined to lecture the young prophet about the proper care and use of axes. He should have been continually checking to see that head was securely bound to the handle. And he probably should not have been working so close to the water’s edge. I might have suggested to him that it was not wise to borrow tools. Elisha had no words of instruction or rebuke for the young prophet; he just acted promptly to recover the lost axe head.

While Elisha did see fit to employ a miracle to retrieve a lost axe head, consider what he did not provide. Elisha did not seek to utilize supernatural means to construct the new dwelling for the prophets. (I’ll bet they would rather have had God build it!) If God’s prophet could retrieve lost axe heads, then why could he not also construct buildings? The truth is that God is able to do all things, but Elisha did not ask God for such things. What God did provide through Elisha was a tool—an axe head—so that this prophet could cut down trees and limb them, and then cut them into poles for construction. How many times I have wished that God would do the job Himself, supernaturally, and not leave any of the hard work to me. But what we read in our text is very true to the way God works. He provides us with the means—the tools—to do what He has purposed, and then He expects us to labor to accomplish it. These “tools” are not just material things, like axe heads, but are divine enablements such as spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:1ff.).

Peace in the Middle East
Phase One: The Stage is Set
(2 Kings 6:8-14)

8 Now the king of Syria was at war with Israel. He consulted his advisers, who said, “Invade at such and such a place.” 9 But the prophet sent this message to the king, “Make sure you don’t pass through this place because Syria is invading there.” 10 So the king sent a message to the place the prophet had pointed out, warning it to be on its guard. This happened on several occasions. 11 This made the king of Syria upset. So he summoned his advisers and said to them, “One of us must be helping the king of Israel.” 12 One of his advisers said, “No, my master, O king. The prophet Elisha who lives in Israel keeps telling the king of Israel the things you say in your bedroom.” 13 The king ordered, “Go, find out where he is, so I can send some men to capture him.” The king was told, “He is in Dothan.” 14 So he sent horses and chariots there, along with a good-sized 121army. They arrived during the night and surrounded the city.

Syria has already played a significant part in the history of Israel. In 2 Samuel 8, the Syrians come to help Hadadezer, the king of Zobab, in his fight with Israel. David defeats the Syrians and then places garrisons of Israelite soldiers in Syria. He also exacts tribute from the Syrians. In 2 Samuel 10, some Syrians are hired by the Ammonites to fight against David. David had sent a delegation to Hanun, the king of the Ammonites, to express his sympathy over the death of his father, Nahash. Hanun’s advisors convinced the king that this was a trick, and that the men David sent were really spies. And so Hanun humiliated these men and sent them away. David gathered his army to do battle with the Ammonites, and so Hanun hired the Syrians to assist him in his fight with Israel. The Syrians suffered a great defeat, along with the Ammonites, and they learned better than to ally themselves with anyone against the people of God (2 Samuel 10:19).

When Absalom killed Amnon for raping his sister, Tamar, he fled to a town in Syria (2 Samuel 13:37). When Solomon reigned as king of Israel, he imported chariots from Egypt and then resold them to other nations, including Syria (1 Kings 10:29). One has to wonder if some of the Syrian chariots that were later used against Israel were not purchased from Solomon. Rezin, king of Syria, became Solomon’s adversary (1 Kings 11:23-25). When Judah was attacked by the northern kingdom of Israel, Asa, king of Judah, hired Ben-hadad of Syria to break his alliance with Israel and to attack them, thus forcing the king of Israel to defend himself on his northern border. Since Israel did not wish to wage two wars at the same time, one on their northern border and the other on their southern border, they ceased their campaign against Judah. This gave Judah some relief from Israel’s attacks (1 Kings 15:18).

Syria becomes one of God’s chastening rods to discipline Israel for her many sins. Thus Elijah was instructed to anoint Hazael as king over Syria (1 Kings 19:15). We have seen a good deal of Syria and Ben-hadad in the lifetime of Elijah. In 1 Kings 20, Ben-hadad forms an alliance with 32 kings, and they attack Israel. An unnamed prophet assured Ahab, the king of Israel, that God would deliver this great army into the hand of Israel. God gave Israel the victory, but warned that the Syrians would return. Ben-hadad’s servants sought to console him after his defeat by explaining that Israel’s gods were “gods of the mountains,” and that because they waged war with Israel in the mountains, they lost (15:23). And so another battle was re-staged, but this time it was to be fought on the plains. Because of the Syrians’ assessment of their failure, God promised to give Israel the victory once again, but when Israel was victorious, Ahab did not put Ben-hadad to death as instructed, but let him live, making a covenant with him. The prophet rebukes Ahab for his sin and tells him that he will exchange his own life for the life of Ben-hadad (20:42). Three years pass without conflict, but because Ben-hadad does not return Ramoth-gilead to Ahab, the king of Israel persuades Jehoshaphat to got to war with him against Ben-hadad. Through the prophet Micaiah, God indicates that this battle will not be successful, and that the king of Israel will be killed. Ahab persuades Jehoshaphat to proceed with their attack. The king of Israel disguises himself, while Jehoshaphat wears his royal attire into battle. Jehoshaphat is nearly killed, but God spares his life. A “random” arrow from a Syrian soldier finds its mark in Ahab’s chest, and the king of Israel dies. Now, in 2 Kings 5, we once again encounter Syria.

We have come to a new era in terms of the relations between Syria and Israel. I do not mean to say that there is no war, because Syria does attempt to engage Israel in battle on several occasions. But in chapters 5-7, even though there is military confrontation between Israel and Syria, we see virtually no bloodshed. Wars are commenced, but they are supernaturally terminated in a way that prevents the loss of human life. I believe I know how this unique period of time can be explained. Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, is healed of his leprosy, and he is drawn to faith in the God of Israel (2 Kings 5). Now a believer, Naaman desires to worship God rightly and not to be involved in pagan worship of false gods (2 Kings 5:17-18). But he hasn’t given much thought, I suspect, to the issue of returning to his post as commander of the Syrian army. If Naaman does not wish to offend God by worshipping Him on Syrian soil, or by identifying with the king of Syria as he engages in heathen idol worship, then surely he does not wish to engage the Israelites in battle. Can’t you just see this man, kneeling in prayer, beseeching God to keep him from going to war with His people? I believe the answers to his prayers are described in 2 Kings 6 and 7.

Second Kings 6:8-14 sets the stage for one such deliverance. The king of Syria commences a series of attacks against Israel. These do not appear to be attempts at all-out war, but are rather border skirmishes, conducted in guerilla fashion. It was during one of these raids that Naaman’s Israelite servant girl was captured (5:1-2). This kind of attack required the element of surprise, and this is where Elisha was giving the Syrians trouble. Elisha was divinely informed of the king of Syria’s secret battle plans, and the prophet would make these plans known to the king of Israel before Syria attacked. The result was that each attack was a failure. After several failed efforts, the king of Syria became enraged. He was convinced that one of his men must have been divulging information to the Israelites. One of his men informed him that it was Elisha the prophet who was revealing the king’s battle plans to the king of Israel.

The king of Syria decided to eliminate Elisha, thinking this would solve his problem once and for all. His first problem was to learn where Elisha could be found. How easy it would have been for God to keep Elisha’s whereabouts a secret, or for God to inform the prophet about the coming soldiers so that he could make his escape. After all, this is what had been happening up till now. We are not told whether or not Elisha knew what was about to happen. We do know that he made no effort to hide or to escape. God’s “way of escape” was by means of a situation that looked like certain and sudden death to the prophet.

The king of Syria summoned his soldiers, but this time it was no small raiding party that assembled. He mustered a great army and sent them to Dothan,122 where he had been told Elisha was staying. His troops surrounded the city of Dothan. It looks as though the prophet is in grave danger.

Look Who’s Here For Dinner
or
Supper in Samaria
(2 Kings 6:15-23)

15 The prophet’s attendant got up early in the morning. When he went outside there was an army surrounding the city, along with horses and chariots. He said to Elisha, “Oh no, my master! What will we do?” 16 He replied, “Don’t be afraid, for our side outnumbers them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he can see.” The LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw that the hill was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 As they approached him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, “Strike these people with blindness.” The LORD struck them with blindness as Elisha requested. 19 Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the right road or city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you’re looking for.” He led them to Samaria.

20 When they had entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O LORD, open their eyes, so they can see.” The LORD opened their eyes and they saw that they were in the middle of Samaria. 21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Should I strike them down, my master?” 22 He replied, “Do not strike them down. You did capture them with your sword or bow, so what gives you the freedom to strike them down?123 Give them some food and water, so they can eat and drink and then go back to their master.” 23 So he threw a big banquet for them and they ate and drank. Then he sent them back to their master. After that no Syrian raiding parties again invaded the land of Israel.

Early in the morning, Elisha’s servant arose and went out of the house, perhaps to get water. We don’t know whether the servant is Gehazi or not. For some reason, the author chooses not to name him. Dothan was located on a plain and largely surrounded by hills. To the south were the hills of Samaria, and to the north was the Carmel range. When the servant looked about, the early morning sun would have first been visible as it’s rays first struck the surrounding hills. Can you imagine his fright when he saw the sunlight reflecting off the shields and swords of the Syrian soldiers, positioned on the hills surrounding the city? He could see their horses and chariots, and he knew they were ready to attack. I can imagine his first thought was something like, “We’re finished!”

The servant was frantic as he ran back to Elisha and reported what he had seen. He asked what they should do. What could they do? Elisha told him what he could do; he could calm down. There was no reason to panic. Elisha knew that his servant did not “see” the whole picture. He saw only flesh and blood. He had no grasp of the spiritual forces that were at work. He assured his servant that those who were on their side outnumbered the great host that his servant had just seen. And so he prayed that the eyes of his servant might be opened, to see the angelic army that was not normally visible. When God opened the eyes of Elisha’s servant, he saw that the hill was full of horses and chariots of fire, and that these angelic warriors were surrounding Elisha. God’s prophet was safe and secure. The king of Syria may have intended to capture Elisha, but God had arranged for his safety. No one would harm Elisha with protection like this. But how would they deal with this army? How could bloodshed be avoided?

I should point out that it would have been very easy for Elisha to speak the word and to command the angelic army to slaughter the Syrians. This did not happen. The angels were present to assure Elisha’s servant that they were safe. But even though they were there, and they were able, they did nothing. From a New Testament perspective, I should probably say that they were undoubtedly watching intently and learning (see 1 Corinthians 11: 10; 1 Peter 1:12).

Elisha first prayed that his servant’s eyes might be opened, and they were. He now prays that the eyes of the Syrian soldiers will be closed, and they are. God struck the entire Syrian army with blindness. Now they are completely helpless. What a strange and disarming thing! Once when I was a student in college I had a very serious problem with a tooth. I went to the infirmary where they gave me some pain pills. I don’t know what they were, but I reacted to them. I felt light-headed, and so I decided to take a shower. While in the warm shower, I temporarily lost my sight. I shall never forget how helpless I felt for that few moments until my sight returned. You can imagine how blindness would immobilize a soldier. How could you fight someone you could not see? But isn’t this just the point? These soldiers were fighting against God as they sought to capture (and probably kill) Elisha. They were fighting the “unseen forces,” and from Elisha’s prayer for his servant, we must say that it is because they are “blind” to spiritual realities.

It is also interesting that God chose to let Elisha’s servant “see” the angelic army, and yet He blinded the Syrians. What would have happened if the Syrian soldiers had their eyes opened, so that they could have seen the angelic army? Would they have fallen on their faces in fear? Perhaps. Would they have fled in panic? It could well have been. But God seems to have wanted to teach the people of Israel an important lesson, and so He has Elisha bring the entire army to Samaria.

Willingly, the Syrian soldiers follow Elisha, who leads them to “the man they are looking for” (verse 19). Wasn’t Elisha the man they were looking for? Perhaps Elisha means that they really should have been seeking the king of Israel. If they are going to officially surrender, then they will have to do so to the king of Israel. And so Elisha leads them to Samaria, some 12 miles away.

Can you imagine the shock the sight of this great approaching army must have been to the people of Samaria? Samaria is situated on a hill a few hundred feet high, and so it commands a view of the plain below. The watchmen in the towers of Samaria must have been wide-eyed as the Syrians approached from the plain below. The size of this awesome force was evident from their vantage point. I would imagine that they began to prepare for an attack. And then, as the army drew nearer, someone must have recognized Elisha at the head of the group, leading them to the city. The gates were opened (probably at Elisha’s instruction), and they all entered. No doubt the Syrians were relieved of their weapons before their eyes were opened. When their sight returned, it was obvious that they were defenseless and vulnerable. No one tried to resist.

The king of Israel thought this was a perfect opportunity to slaughter the entire Syrian army, but he first asked Elisha’s permission. Elisha’s answer was the second surprise of the day. Who would have ever imagined that Elisha would forbid the Israelites to kill these Syrians? More than this, who would have ever entertained the thought of putting on a banquet for the entire Syrian army? In obedience to Elisha’s command, the entire army was fed. Can you imagine coming home to your wife and telling her that you are going to have guests for dinner? She asks how many there will be, and how soon the meal must be served. You tell her that they are to eat very soon, and that there is a whole army to be fed! I’ll bet some husbands were unpopular that day. On the other hand, better to work up a meal than to lose a husband in battle.

After dinner, the Syrian soldiers are released to return home. The author tells us that this incident brought an end to the guerilla attacks on Israel. What a way to win a war, not by defeating your enemies, but by feeding them!

14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).

The Bible Knowledge Commentary has an interesting comment about the significance of this meal:

In the ancient Near East eating together under one’s roof constituted making a covenant of peace (J. Herbert Livingston, The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974, p. 157). The Arameans were now bound by social custom not to attack the friend who had extended his gift of hospitality and protection. For these reasons the Arameans stopped raiding Israel’s territory for a time.124

Conclusion

What a great pair of stories we find in our text for this lesson. While lost axe heads and invading armies are not the experience of most of us, there are nevertheless many lessons we can learn from this portion of God’s Word. Let me suggest a few.

I believe we see in our text a manifestation of God’s grace toward Naaman, toward the Syrians, and toward Israel. I think we almost have to ask ourselves this question: “Why would God possibly spare the Syrian army, when in times past He has commanded their complete destruction, and even condemned Ahab for failing to carry it out (1 Kings 20:26-43)?” I can think of only two reasons.125 First, God may be foreshadowing the fact that His purpose is to save Gentiles as well as Jews. We know from Paul’s instruction in Romans 9-11 that God has used the unbelief of the Israelites as His occasion to show mercy and grace to the Gentiles:

30 Just as you were formerly disobedient to God, but have now received mercy due to their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience so that he may show mercy to all (Romans 11:30-32).

So, here, the sin of Israel does not at all prevent God from showing His mercy to the Gentiles, in this case Naaman in particular (2 Kings 5:1-19), and now the whole Syrian army in general.

If Naaman was still the commander of the Syrian army (2 Kings 5:1), then he surely dreaded leading the Syrian army back into Israelite territory. And he would certainly not want to have captured and killed Elisha, the prophet through whom his leprosy had been healed. If Naaman was among the Syrian soldiers in our text, he must have returned home to Syria with a smile on his lips, and a prayer of praise and thanksgiving as well. I would even venture to suggest what song he should have sung (assuming, of course, that it had been written back then): “How Great Thou Art.”

Who would have imagined that God would spare Elisha’s life, spare Israel from war, and Naaman from opposing the people of God by allowing the Syrian army to find Elisha? Who would have thought that God would deliver His people (Elisha and Israel) through the approach of an enemy army, determined to destroy them? Only God can do such things. Are there circumstances in your life that seem to destine you to disaster? If you are a child of God, I can assure you that God delights in taking those things that appear to be our downfall and making them the instruments of our deliverance. And if you are not a Christian, I can suggest to you that the things which appear to be destructive may be the very things which God has graciously brought into your life to draw you to Him (see Matthew 5:3-4). God makes us vulnerable and helpless, so that we have no one else to turn to but Him.

Our text also reminds us of the security that we have as saints, and the tranquility that this should produce in us as we face the trials of life. This is one of those exceptional passages where the curtain is lifted for a moment, and we are granted the privilege of seeing the spiritual forces which God has at His disposal to protect His own. I believe that if our eyes were opened as the servant’s eyes were opened, we would be able to see the “horsemen and chariots of fire” which God has appointed for our protection. There is never a time when “those who are against us” outnumber “those who are for us.” God will never be outnumbered. I do not mean to suggest that these angelic guardians will never allow us to suffer. This was the fallacy that Satan sought to suggest to our Lord at His temptation (see Matthew 4:6). But I assure you that when it is God’s time for us to die, they will serve as our escort into heaven’s gates, just as they were for Elijah and others (see 2 Kings 2:11-12; 13:14; Luke 16:22). No one is more secure than the child of God, even in the midst of great danger.

This should result in a calmness of spirit and tranquility that keeps us from panic in times of stress or danger. The sight of the Syrian army terrified Elisha’s servant. Elisha responds with the calm of a man who knows that he is secure, under the watchful care of God. The next millennium is nearly upon us, and we are growing weary of the term “Y2K.” I do not fault those who want to be prepared for trouble, especially if that preparation is directed toward the opportunity to serve others in troubled times. But no Christian should be fearful about the future. I assure you that the “horsemen and chariots of fire” will not be intimidated by Y2K.

It was not the angelic army that brought deliverance to Elisha or to Israel; it was answered prayer. Elisha prayed, and the eyes of his servant were opened. His fears were relieved. Elisha prayed again, and the eyes of his enemies were closed. It was not angelic intervention, but divine intervention through prayer which brought about the deliverance we see in our text. And it also brought about the cessation of hostilities between Syria and Israel, at least for a time.

It is easy for us to fix our attention on the large-scale deliverance of 2 Kings 6:8-23, but let us not forget the story of the recovered axe head in verses 1-7. God is a great God, and He does bring about deliverance on a large scale, such as that of Elisha and Israel in verses 8-23. But He also is the God of the minute. In terms of practical, daily living, most Christians would agree that God can (and even does) deliver His people from the great trials and dangers of life. But where most of us become practical atheists is in the details of life—in the little distresses and difficulties, like lost axe heads.

I’ve heard some interesting attempts at making the story of the lost axe head relevant. One dear preacher of a bygone era said that the axe head was man, lost in the muddy waters of sin, and the stick was the cross. That’s a little too much spiritualizing for me. I’d rather say that God cares about lost axe heads, or wristwatches, or a wedding ring . . . . God cares about the little trials and challenges of life. And He is not too busy to come to our aid in such matters. God can deal with large armies or with lost axe heads. What a great and gracious God He is.

Our greatest need is the forgiveness of our sins, and He has surely come to our aid in this matter. He sent His sinless Son to bear the penalty for our sins, and to provide us with the righteousness He requires. If you have never yet done so, I urge you to acknowledge your sin, and to accept His provision in the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.


119 Not all good ideas come from the top down.

120 I was a young man at the time, and so I must confess that my father did most of the work. I did help cut and haul the logs, and peel a number of poles, however. Later, my brother inherited some of this kind of work, which continues even to this day.

121 Literally, “great.”

122 From 2 Kings 6:23, it seems that the king of Syria did not accompany his men to Dothan as the Syrian soldiers “went back to their master.”

123 This statement poses the translator with some difficulties, as can be seen by comparing various translations: “Do you kill your own prisoners with sword and bow?” (NJB); “Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow?” (NASB, and virtually the same meaning in the NKJV and NIV). The essence of the statement seems to be that these men have surrendered and become prisoners of war, and thus it would not be appropriate to kill them in this manner.

124 Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.

125 This is not to suggest that God is restricted to what we think makes sense.

Related Topics: Character Study