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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
2 Kings 13



Verse 14


‘Now Elisha was fallen sick of the sickness of which he died.’

2 Kings 13:14

Elisha, one of the greatest and gentlest of Israel’s prophets, a man of wider and more enduring influence than even his great predecessor, Elijah, had lain him down to die. His career had been unstained, and as a prophet of Jehovah, mighty in word and deed, through the power of faith and love, he had been a power behind the throne, ever working for the safety and welfare of the people whom he loved.

I. No prophet, unless it be Hosea, more resembled Jesus Christ in close communion with God and tenderness of spirit.—He had won the affection and confidence of Joash, who recognised, with admiration and reverence, the services he had been instrumental in rendering to Israel. Even the Syrians, Israel’s implacable foes, well understood the shield he was to Israel. The dying patriot, obeying an inward prompting of the Spirit, gathered up his failing strength to bequeath a last service to his falling country. Joash wept for him as for a father in God, and recalling Elisha’s parting words to Elijah, gave them a new and well-deserved application. Elisha had been, though no fighter, ‘the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof,’ achieving great, though bloodless, victories.

II. A nation’s goodly men, true to the cardinal points of heaven and home, are its best defenders and friends.—Be good, walk with God, keep a conscience void of offence towards God and man, and you serve your country in a fashion that leaves no regrets, and wins at last affection and honour. Ten godly men would have saved Sodom.


‘Note how the last scene accords with the tenour of Elisha’s life, and brings the many labours of the prophet to a fitting, because a peaceful, close. Elijah had been the prophet of fire and storm; the lonely herald of desolating judgment. He had moved apart from the homes and haunts of men, flashing among them suddenly like tempest. For such a career it was a fitting end that there should be horses and chariots of fire. But Elisha was very different from Elijah. He was more genial, more gentle, and more homely. He gave his blessing to the family circle, and entered the homes of Israel as a brother. And though like a true prophet he could take his stand, and be stern and rigorous when the occasion called for it, yet the great impression which he leaves with us is that of a tender and sympathetic man. Not, then, for him is there a fiery escort, and the rushing of the whirlwind, at the close. He dies surrounded by the stir of life, and within the comforting sound of human voices. His work is over and he falls asleep, sustained at the end by Him Whom he had served, and passing to his rest and his reward by a path that had been smoothed by love.’

Verse 18


‘He smote thrice, and stayed.’

2 Kings 13:18

Human perversity limits Divine favour. This incident teaches concerning prayer:—

I. Importunity in supplication is one of the supreme elements of devotion.—Let us understand now that Elisha is trying to teach this king to pray God for help in defeating his Syrian enemies. He wishes him, therefore, to put some measure of persistency into his exercises. He bids him draw out all the rest of the arrows from the quiver, and, holding them as a bundle of missiles in his hand, strike the earthen floor of the dwelling. Every stroke was meant to pray for and predict a fresh victory.

II. Faith in supplication is one of the settled conditions of devotion.—Remember that in this symbolism the bow is speech, the arrows are petitions. Behind and beneath both, however, is faith in God’s promises. When Elisha cries out ‘Smite!’ he is bidding the king believe that God is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. ‘He smote thrice, and stayed.’

III. Weakness in asking hinders our achievement in devotion.—Elisha seems indignant at the monarch’s dullness. He sharply rebukes him, explaining to him his mistake. In all our audiences with a good God remember this: ‘None can ever ask too much.”


(1) ‘We can really do nothing worth while in this world without God’s help. The prophet laid his hands on the king’s hands, meaning that God would fight with the king. We should seek to have God’s hand upon ours in everything we try to do. Then we shall have blessing. But without this nothing will come of our best work. Young people should learn to get God’s benediction every morning before they go out. God said to Moses, “Certainly I will be with thee.” To the apostles Jesus said, “I am with you alway.” You cannot do much yourself, but God and you can do anything. “God and one are a majority.”’

(2) ‘The weakness of Joash appears in his smiting the ground only three times. He understood perfectly well what was meant; but he had not the vigour to smite and smite, till he was sure he had done all he could. If we do not succeed the first or third time, we must try again, and keep trying until we succeed. Cultivate an energetic character. If you are by nature lazy, then conquer it by active and earnest prayer.’

Verse 21


‘When the man was let down, and touched the hones of Elisha, he revived, and stood upon his feet.’

2 Kings 13:21

The miracle described in these verses—a man being revived by contact with another’s dry bones—is one that is being continually repeated. It takes place every day before our eyes.

I. Shakespeare says that ‘the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.’—I am glad that the last part of the sentence is not true. A great and good man is a volcano that never becomes extinct. ‘I shall never die,’ said Horace, more than eighteen hundred years ago; and even at the present day he sends forth streams of quickening and vitalising energy. Although John Brown’s bones lay mouldering in the dust, his influence was as real, vital, and inspiring to the people of North America as if he had been alive. How many a man has become a painter through contact with Raphael, a musician through contact with Handel, a poet through contact with Shakespeare, a sailor through contact with Nelson, or a missionary through contact with David Livingstone?

II. We live in a soft and enervating age, and are too ready to sacrifice conscience for comfort and principle for patronage.—Contact with such men as John Robinson and John Bunyan should do much to strengthen and rouse the young people of this generation. But it is only by touching the Christ upon the Cross that souls live. It is at the Cross our chains are broken; it is at the Cross our sins are forgiven; it is at the Cross our stubborn hearts are melted.

—Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.


(1) ‘Whatever authority there may have been for this strange incident, the historian has put it down as a testimony to the veneration in which the prophet was still held years after he had passed away. It is unlike any other Bible miracle, and of itself it has little moral or spiritual significance, but it witnesses that the memory of the just is blessed. The saints’ true relics are not their bones, but the memories of their faith and godliness.’

(2) ‘There is a legend which says that when the Empress Helena was searching for the true Cross three crosses were found. Which of these was the Cross of Jesus could not be told. Then they brought sick people and laid them in turn upon the different crosses, and when they touched the Cross on which Jesus had died they were restored. They brought a dead body and laid it in turn upon the crosses. When it rested upon the true Cross, it became alive. This is only a legend, but it illustrates the truth that the power of Christ always gives life and healing.’

(3) ‘A good man’s influence lives after him. Those who live a good and useful life never die. For years and years the memory of their name remains among those who knew them, and the things they did remain as blessings in the world. There is a story of an old monk who was shipwrecked and cast upon a desert island. He had with him a package of seeds which he scattered upon the bare island. Soon after he died there, but twenty years later, some persons coming to the island found it covered from side to side with waving harvests and luxuriant fruit trees, the result of the scattering of the seeds from the monk’s hand twenty years ago. So it is with those who live well—wherever they go they drop seeds which spring up into beauty.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Kings 13:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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