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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 4

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-7

X

GATHERING UP THE FRAGMENTS THAT NOTHING BE LOST

The title of this chapter is a New Testament text for an Old Testament discussion. For the sake of unity the last two chapters were devoted exclusively to Elijah and Elisha. It is the purpose of this discussion to call attention to some matters worthy of note that could not very well be incorporated in those personal matters, and yet should not be omitted altogether.


It is true, however, that the heart of the history is in the lives of these two great prophets of the Northern Kingdom. In bringing up the record we will follow the chronological order of the scriptures calling for exposition.


Jehoshaphat’s Shipping Alliance with Ahaziah. We have two accounts of this: first, in 1 Kings 22:47-49, and second, in 2 Chronicles 20:35-37. I wish to explain, first of all, the locality of certain places named in these accounts. Tarshish, as a place, is in Spain. About that there can be no question. About Ophir, no man can be so confident. There was an Ophir in the southern part of Arabia; a man named Ophir settled there, but I do not think that to be the Ophir of this section. The Ophir referred to here is distinguished for the abundance and fine quality of its gold. Several books in the Bible refer to the excellency of "the gold of Ophir," and to the abundance of it. Quite a number of distinguished scholars would locate it in the eastern part of Africa. Some others would locate it in India, and still others as the Arabian Ophir. My own opinion is, and I give it as more than probable, that the southeastern coast of Africa is the right place for Ophir. Many traditions put it there, the romance of Rider Haggard, "King Solomon’s Mines," follows the traditions. The now well-known conditions of the Transvaal would meet the case in some respects.


Ezion-geber is a seaport at the head of the Gulf of Akaba, which is a projection of the Red Sea. What is here attempted by these men is to re-establish the famous commerce of Solomon. I cite the passages in the history of Solomon that tell about this commerce. In 1 Kings 9:26 we have this record: "And King Solomon made a navy of ships in Eziongeber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. And Hiram (king of Tyre) sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon. And they came to Ophir, and fetched from thence gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to King Solomon." Now, 1 Kings 10:11 reads: "And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of Almug trees and precious stones." This "almug-trees" is supposed to be the famous sweet-scented sandalwood. The precious stones would agree particularly with the diamond mines at Kimberly in the Transvaal.


Then1 Kings 10:22 reads: "For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram: Once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks." The ivory and apes would fit very well with the African coast, but we would have to go to India to get the spices, which are mentioned elsewhere, and the peacocks. A three years’ voyage for this traffic seems to forbid the near-by Arabian Ophir, and does make it reasonable that the merchant fleet touched many points – Arabia, Africa, and the East Indies. It is, therefore, not necessary to find one place notable for all these products – gold, jewels, sandalwood, ivory, apes, spices, and peacocks. Solomon, then, established as his only seaport on the south Eziongeber, a navy, manned partly by experienced seamen of Tyre, and these ships would make a voyage every three years. That is a long voyage and they might well go to Africa and to India to get these varied products, some at one point and some at another.


Now Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah (king of Israel) made an alliance to re-establish that commerce. The first difficulty, however, is that the Chronicles account says that these ships were to go to Tarshish, and the Kings account says that they were ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir. My explanation of that difficulty is this: It is quite evident that no navy established at Eziongeber would try to reach Spain by circumnavigating Africa, when it would be so much easier to go from Joppa, Tyre, or Sidon over the Mediterranean Sea to Spain. "Tarshish ships" refers, not to the destination of the ships, but to the kind of ships, that is, the trade of the Mediterranean had given that name to a kind of merchant vessel, called "Ships of Tarshish." And the ships built for the Tarshish trade, as the name "lndianman" was rather loosely applied to certain great English and Dutch merchant vessels. It is an error in the text of Chronicles that these ships were to go to Tarshish. They were Tarshish ships, that is, built after the model of Tarshish ships, but these ships were built at Eziongeber for trade with Ophir, Africa, and India.


1 Kings 22:47 of the Kings account needs explanation: "And there was no king in Edom; a deputy was king." The relevancy of that verse is very pointed. If Edom had been free and had its own king, inasmuch as Eziongeber was in Edom, Judah never could have gone there to build a navy. But Edom at this time was subject to Judah, and a Judean deputy ruled over it. That explains why they could come to Eziongeber.


One other matter needs explanation. The account in Kings says, "Then said Ahaziah the son of Ahab unto Jehoshaphat, Let my servants go with thy servants in the ships. But Jehoshaphat would not." Ahaziah attributed the shipwreck of that fleet to the incompetency of the Judean seamen. He did not believe that there would have been a shipwreck if he had been allowed to furnish experienced mariners, as Hiram did. So Kings gives us what seems to be the human account of that shipwreck, viz: the incompetency of the mariners; but Chronicles gives us the divine account, thus: "Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath destroyed thy works. And the ships were broken." How often do we see these two things: the human explanation of the thing, and the divine explanation of the same thing. Ahaziah had no true conception of God, and he would at once attribute that shipwreck to human incompetency, but Jehoshaphat knew better; he knew that shipwreck came because he had done wickedly in keeping up this alliance with the idolatrous kings of the ten tribes.

THE TRANSLATION OF ELIJAH
Let us consider several important matters in connection with the translation of Elijah, 2 Kings 2:1-18. First, why the course followed by Elijah? Why does he go from Carmel to Gilgal and try to leave Elisha there, and from Gilgal to Bethel and try to leave Elisha there, and from Bethel to Jericho and try to leave Elisha there? The explanation is that the old prophet, having been warned of God that his ministry was ended and that the time of his exodus was at hand, wished to revisit in succession all of these seminaries. These were his stopping places, and he goes from one seminary to another. It must have been a very solemn thing for each of these schools of the prophets, when Elisha and Elijah came up to them, for by the inspiration of God as we see from the record, each school of the prophets knew what was going to happen. At two different places they say to Elisha, "Do you know that your master will be taken away to-day?" Now, the same Spirit of God that notified Elijah that his time of departure was at hand, also notified Elisha, also notified each school of the prophets; they knew.


But why keep saying to Elisha, "You stay here at Gilgal; the Lord hath sent me to Bethel," and, "You stay here at Bethel; the Lord hath sent me to Jericho," and "You stay here at Jericho; the Lord hath sent me to the Jordan"? It was a test of the faith of Elisha. Ruth said to Naomi, "Entreat me not to leave thee, nor to forsake thee; for where thou goest, I will go; and God do so to me, if thy God be my God, and thy people my people, and where thou diest there will I die also." With such spirit as that, Elisha, as the minister to Elijah, and as the disciple of Elijah, and wishing to qualify himself to be the successor of Elijah, steadfastly replied: "As the Lord liveth and thy soul liveth, I will not forsake thee." "I am going with you just as far as I can go; we may come to a point of separation, but I will go with you to that point." All of us, when we leave this world, find a place where the departing soul must be without human companionship. Friends may attend us to that border line but they cannot pass over with us.


We have already discussed the miracle of the crossing of the Jordan. Elijah smote the Jordan with his mantle and it divided; that was doubtless his lesson to Elisha, and we will see that he learned the lesson. I heard a Methodist preacher once, taking that as a text, say, "We oftentimes complain that our cross is too heavy for us, and groan under it, and wish to be relieved from it." "But," says he, "brethren, when we come to the Jordan of death, with that cross that we groaned under we will smite that river, and we will pass over dry-shod, and leave the cross behind forever, and go home to a crown to wear."


The next notable thing in this account is Elijah’s question to Elisha: "Have you anything to ask from me?" "Now, this is the last time; what do you want me to do for you?" And he says, "I pray thee leave a double portion of thy spirit on me." We see that he is seeking qualification to be the successor. "Double" here does not mean twice as much as Elijah had, but the reference is probably to the first-born share of an inheritance. The first-born always gets a double share, and Elisha means by asking a double portion of his spirit that it may accredit him as successor. Or possibly "double" may be rendered "duplicate," for the same purpose of attenuation. The other prophets would get one share, but Elisha asks for the first-born portion. Elijah suggests a difficulty, not in himself, but in Elisha ; he said, "You ask a hard thing of me, yet if you see me when I go away, you will get the double portion of my spirit," that is, it was a matter depending on the faith of the petitioner, his power of personal perception. "When I go up, if your eyes are open enough to see my transit from this world to a higher, that will show that you are qualified to have this double portion of my spirit." We have something similar in the life of our Lord. The father of the demoniac boy says to our Lord, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus replied, "If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth." It was not a question of Christ’s ability, but of the supplicant’s faith.


The next thing is the translation itself. What is meant by it? In the Old Testament history two men never died; they passed into the other world, soul and body without death: Enoch and Elijah. And at the second coming of Christ every Christian living at that time will do the same thing. "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, they shall be changed." Now, what is that change of the body by virtue of which without death, it may ascend into heaven? It is a spiritualization of the body eliminating its mortality, equivalent to what takes place in the resurrection and glorification of the dead bodies. I preached a sermon once on "How Death [personified] Was Twice Startled." In the account of Adam it is said, "And he died" and so of every other man, "and he died." Methuselah lived 969 years, but he died. And death pursuing all the members of the race, strikes them down, whether king or pauper, whether prophet or priest. But when he comes to Enoch his dart missed the mark and he did not get him. And when he came to Elijah he missed again. Now the translations of Enoch and Elijah are an absolute demonstration of two things: First, the immortality of the soul, the continuance of life; that death makes no break in the continuity of being. Second, that God intended from the beginning to save the body. The tree of life was put in the garden of Eden, that by eating of it the mortality of the body might be eliminated. Sin separated man from that tree of life, but it is the purpose of God that the normal man, soul and body, shall be saved. The tradition of the Jews is very rich on the spiritual significance of the translation of Enoch and Elijah. In Enoch’s case it is said, "He was not found because God took him," and in this case fifty of the sons of the prophets went out to see if when Elijah went to heaven his body was not left behind, and they looked all over the country to find his body. Elisha knew; he saw the body go up.


Now, in Revelation we have the Cherubim as the chariot of God. This chariot that met Elijah at the death station was the chariot of God, the Cherubim. Just as the angels met Lazarus and took his soul up to heaven, and it is to this wonderful passage that the Negro hymn belongs: "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."


Elisha cried as the great prophet ascended, "My Father! My rather I The chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof," the meaning of which is that thus had gone up to heaven he who in his life had been the defense of Israel, worth more than all of its chariots and all of its cavalry. Now these very words "were used when Elisha died. "My Father! My Father! The chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof," signifying that he had been the bulwark of the nation as Elijah had been before him.

ELISHA’S MINISTRY, 2 Kings 2:19-25
As Elijah went up something dropped – not his body, but just his mantle – his mantle fell, and it fell on Elisha, symbolic of the transfer of prophetic leadership from one to the other. Now, he wants to test it, a test that will accredit him; so he goes back to the same Jordan, folds that same mantle up just as Elijah had done, and smites the Jordan. But, mark you, he did not say, "Where is Elijah" – the man, Elijah, was gone, but, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" and the waters divided and he came over. There he stood accredited with a repetition of the miracle just a little before performed by Elijah, which demonstrated that he was to be to the people what Elijah had been. And this was so evident that the sons of the prophets recognized it and remarked on it: "The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha." It is a touching thing to me, this account of more than fifty of these prophets, as the president of their seminary is about to disappear, came down the last hill that overlooks the Jordan, watching to see what became of him. And they witness the passage of the Jordan – they may have seen the illumination of the descent of the chariot of fire. They wanted to go and get the body – the idea of his body going up they had not taken in, and they could not be content until Elisha, grieved at their persistence) finally let them go and find out for themselves that the body had gone to heaven.


I have just two things to say on the healing of the noxious waters at Jericho. The first is that neither the new cruse nor the salt put in it healed the water. It was a symbolic act to indicate that the healing would be by the power of God. Just as when Moses cast a branch into the bitter waters of Marah, as a symbolic act. The healing power comes from God. The other re-mark is on that expression, "unto this day," which we so frequently meet in these books. Its frequent recurrence is positive proof that the compiler of Kings and the compiler of Chronicles are quoting from the original documents. "Unto this day" means the day of the original writer. It does not mean unto the day of Ezra wherever it appears in Chronicles, but it means unto the day of the writer of the part of history that he is quoting from. More than one great conservative scholar has called attention to this as proof that whoever compiled these histories is quoting the inspired documents of the prophets.

THE CHILDREN OF BETHEL AND THE SHE-BEARS
Perhaps a thousand infidels have referred Elisha’s curse to vindictiveness and inhumanity. The word rendered "little children" is precisely the word Solomon uses in his prayer at Gibeon when he says, "I am a little child" – he was then a grown man. Childhood with the Hebrews extended over a much greater period of time than it does with us. The word may signify "young men" in our modern use of the term. And notice the place was Bethel, the place of calf worship, where the spirit of the city was against the schools of the prophets, and these young fellows – call them "street Arabs," "toughs," whom it suited to follow this man and mock him: "Go up, thou bald bead; go up, thou bald head." Elisha did not resent an indignity against himself, but here is the point: these hostile idolaters at Bethel, through their children are challenging the act of God in making Elisha the head of the prophetic line. He turned and looked at them and he saw the spirit that animated them – saw that it was an issue between Bethel calf worship and Bethel, the school of the prophets, and that the parents of these children doubtless sympathized in the mockery, and saw it to be necessary that they should learn that sacrilege and blasphemy against God should not go unpunished. So, in the name of the Lord he pronounces a curse on them – had it been his curse, no result would have followed. One man asks, "What were these she-bears doing so close to Bethel?" The answer is that in several places in the history is noted the prevalence of wild animals in Israel. We have seen how the old prophet who went to this very Bethel to rebuke Jeroboam and turned back to visit the other prophet, was killed by a lion close to the city.


Another infidel question is, "How could God make a she bear obey him?" Well, let the infidel answer how God’s Spirit could influence a single pair of all the animals to go into the ark. Over and over again in the Bible the dominance of the Spirit of God over inanimate things and over the brute creation is repeatedly affirmed. The bears could not understand, but they would follow an impulse of their own anger without attempting to account for it.

THE INCREASE IN THE WIDOW’S OIL, 2 Kings 4:1-7


We have already considered this miracle somewhat in the chapter on Elisha, and now note particularly:


1. It often happens that the widow of a man of God, whether prophet or preacher, is left in destitution. Sometimes the fault lies in the imprudence of the preacher or in the extravagance of his family, but more frequently, perhaps, in the inadequate provision for ministerial support. This destitution is greatly aggravated if there be debt. The influence of a preacher is handicapped to a painful degree, when, from any cause, he fails to meet his financial obligations promptly. In a commercial age this handicap becomes much more serious.


2. The Mosaic Law (Leviticus 25:39-41; see allusion, Matthew 18:25) permitted a creditor to make bond-servant of a debtor and his children. For a long time the English law permitted imprisonment for debt. This widow of a prophet appeals to Elisha, the head of the prophetic school, for relief, affirming that her husband did fear God. In other words, he was faultless in the matter of debt. The enforcement of the law by the creditor under such circumstances indicates a merciless heart.


3. The one great lesson of the miracle is that the flow of the increased oil never stayed as long as there was a vessel to receive it. God wastes not his grace if we have no place to put it: according to our faith in preparation is his blessing. He will fill all the vessels we set before him.

DEATH IN THE POT, 2 Kings 4:38-41
We recall this miracle to deepen a lesson barely alluded to in the chapter on Elisha. The seminaries at that time lived a much more simple life than the seminaries of the present time; it did not take such a large fund to keep them up. Elisha said, "Set on the great pot," and one of the sons of the prophets went out to gather vegetables. He got some wild vegetables he knew nothing about – here called wild gourd – and shred them into the pot, not knowing they were poisonous. Hence the text: “O man of God, there is death in the pot." I once took that as the text for a sermon on "Theological Seminaries and Wild Gourds," showing that the power of seminaries depends much on the kind of food the teachers give them. If they teach them that the story of Adam and Eve is an allegory, then they might just as well make the second Adam an allegory, for his mission is dependent on the failure of the first. If they teach them the radical criticism; if they teach anything that takes away from inspiration and infallibility of the divine Word of God or from any of its great doctrines – then, “O man of God, there is death in the pot" – that will be a sick seminary.


In a conversation once with a radical critic I submitted for his criticism, without naming the author, the exact words of Tom Paine in his "Age of Reason," denying that the story of Adam and Eve was history. He accepted it as eminently correct. Then I gave the author, and inquired if it would be well for preachers and commentators to revert to such authorities on biblical interpretation. He made no reply. We find Paine’s words not only in the first part of the "Age of Reason," written in a French prison without a Bible before him, but repeated in the second part after he was free and had access to Bibles. I gave this man a practical illustration, saying, "You may take the three thousand published sermons of Spurgeon, two sets of them, and arrange them, one set according to the books from which the texts are taken – Genesis 1, 2, 3, etc., and make a commentary on the Bible. By arranging the other set of them in topical order, you have a body of systematic theology." Now this man Spurgeon believed in the historical integrity and infallibility of the Bible, in its inspiration of God, and he preached that, just that. As the old saying goes, "The proof of the pudding is in the chewing of the bag." He preached just that, and what was the result? Thousands and thousands of converts wherever he preached, no matter what part of the Bible he was preaching from; preachers felt called to enter the ministry, orphan homes rose up, almshouses for aged widows, colportage systems established, missionaries sent out, and all over the wide world his missionaries die in the cause. One man was found in the Alps, frozen to death, with a sermon of Spurgeon in his hand. One man was found shot through the heart by bush rangers of Australia, and the bullet passed through Spurgeon’s sermon on "The Blood of Jesus." Now, I said to this man, "Get all your radical critics together, and let them preach three thousand sermons on your line of teaching. How many will be converted? How many backsliders will be reclaimed? How many almshouses and orphanages will be opened? How many colportage systems established? Ah! the proof of the pudding is in the chewing of the bag. If what you say is the best thing to teach about the Bible is true, then when you preach, it will have the best results. But does it?"


We have considered Elisha’s miracle for providing water for the allied armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom, when invading Moab (2 Kings 3:10-19). We revert to it to note partakelarly this passage: "And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew sword, to break through unto the king of Edom: but they could not. Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there was great wrath against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land" (2 Kings 3:26-27). On this passage I submit two observations:


1. Not long after this time the prophet Micah indignantly inquires, "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" The context is a strong denunciation of the offering of human sacrifices to appease an angry deity. The Mosaic law strongly condemned the heathen custom of causing their children to pass through the fire of Molech. Both this book of Kings and Jeremiah denounce judgment on those guilty of this horrible practice. The Greek and Roman classics, and the histories of Egypt and Phoenicia, show how widespread was this awful custom.


2. But our chief difficulty is to expound the words, "There was great wrath against Israel." But what was its connection with the impious sacrifice of the king of Moab? Whose the wrath? The questions are not easy to answer. It is probable that the armies of Edom and Judah were angry at Israel for pressing the king of Moab to such dire extremity, and so horrified at the sacrifice that they refused longer to co-operate in the campaign. This explanation, while not altogether satisfactory, is preferred to others more improbable. It cannot mean the wrath of God, nor the wrath of the Moabites against Israel. It must mean, therefore, the wrath of the men of Judah and Edom against Israel for pressing Mesha to such an extent that he would offer his own son as a sacrifice.

QUESTIONS

I. On the two accounts of Jehoshaphat’s shipping alliance with Ahaziah, 2 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 20, answer:


1. Where is Tarshish?


2. Where is Ophir?


3. Where is Ezion-geber?


4. What is the relevance of 1 Kings 22:47?


5. Explain "ships of Tarshish" in Kings, and "to go to Tarshish" in Chronicles.


6. What commerce were they seeking to revive, and what passage from 1 Kings bearing thereon?


7. How does the book of Kings seem to account for the wreck of the fleet, and how does Chronicles give a better reason?

II. On the account of Elijah’s translation (2 Kings 2:1-18) answer:


1. Why the course taken by Elijah by way of Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho?


2. How did both Elisha and the schools of the prophets know about the impending event?


3. What was the object of Elijah in telling Elisha to tarry at each stopping place while he went on?


4. What was the meaning of Elisha’s request for "a double portion" of Elijah’s spirit and why was this a hard thing to ask, i.e., wherein the difficulty? Illustrate by a New Testament lesson.


5. What was the meaning of Elijah’s translation, and what other cases, past or prospective?


6. What was the meaning of Elisha’s expression, "My Father! My Father! The chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof," and who and when applied the same language to Elisha?


7. How does Elisha seek a test of his succession to Elijah and how do others recognize the credentials?

III. How do you explain the seeming inhumanity of Elisha’s cursing the children of Bethel?

IV. On the widow’s oil (2 Kings 4:1-7), answer:


1. What often happens to the widow of a prophet or preacher, and what circumstance greatly aggravates the trouble?


2. What is the Mosaic law relative to debtors and creditors?


3. What one great lesson of the miracle?

V. On "Death in the Pot" answer:


1. What the incident of the wild gourds?


2. What application does the author make of this?


3. What comparison does the author make between Spurgeon and the Radical Critics?

VI. On Elisha’s miracle, the water supply, answer:


1. What is the allusion in Micah’s words, "Shall I give my first-born," etc.?


2. What the meaning of "There was great wrath against Israel"?

Verse 38

IV

THE SCHOOLS OF THE PROPHETS

The more important passages bearing on this subject are 1 Samuel 3:1-4; 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 10:9-12; 1 Samuel 18:13-24; 1 Kings 19:18; 1 Kings 19:20-21; 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3-5; 2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 6:1; 1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 2 Chronicles 12:15; 2 Chronicles 13:22 and other chapters in that book I do not enumerate. The last one is Amos 7:14-15. The reader will understand that I give these instead of a prescribed section in the Harmony. These constitute the basis of this discussion.


Let us distinguish between the prophetic gift and the prophetic office, and give some examples. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, his seventy elders, Balaam, Joshua, and others before Samuel’s time had the gift, but not the office; perhaps we may except Moses as in a measure having the office. After Samuel’s time, David, many of his singers, and particularly Daniel, had the gift in a high degree, but not the office. Moreover, the high priests from Aaron to Caiphas in Christ’s time, were supposed to have officially the gift of prophecy – that is, to hear and report what the Oracle said – but Samuel is the first who held the office.


The distinction between a prophet and a son of a prophet is this: A son of a prophet was a candidate for the office, ministering to the prophet, a disciple instructed by him, consecrated to the work, and qualifying himself to perform the services of the office with the highest efficiency. A prophet is one who, through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, speaks or writes for God. In this inspiration he is God’s mouth or pen, speaking or writing not his own words, but God’s words. This inspiration guides and superintends his speech and his silence; what is recorded and what is omitted from the record. The gift of prophecy was not one of uniform quantity nor necessarily enduring. The gifts were various in kind, and might be for one occasion only. As to variety of kinds, the revelation might come in dreams or open visions, or it might consist of an ecstatic trance expressed in praise or song or prayer. If praise, song, or prayer, its form was apt to be poetic, particularly if accompanied by instrumental music.


As to the duration of the gift, it might be for one occasion only, or a few, or many. The scriptures show that the spirit of prophecy came upon King Saul twice only, and each time in the form of an ecstatic trance. In his early life it came as a sign that God had chosen him as king. In his later life the object of it was to bar his harmful approach to David. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12-14 inclusive, explains the diversity of these gifts and their relative importance.


There are two periods of Hebrew history in which we find clearest notices of the schools of the prophets, the proofs of their persistence between the periods, and their influence on the nation. The notices are abundant in the time of Samuel, and in the time of Elijah and Elisha, but you have only to study the book of Chronicles to see that the prophetic order, as an office, continued through these periods and far beyond. Later you will learn that in the time of persecution fifty of these prophets were hidden in a cave and fed regularly. The object of the enemy was to destroy these theological seminaries, believing that they could never lead the nation astray while these schools of the prophets continued. Their object, therefore, was to destroy these seats of theological education. Elijah supposed that every one of them was killed except himself, but he was mistaken.


Samuel was the founder of the first school of the prophets, and the scripture which shows his headship is 1 Samuel 19:20, where Saul is sending messengers to take David, and finally goes himself and finds the school of the prophets, with Samuel as its appointed head. The reason for such a school in Samuel’s time is shown, first, by an extract from Kirkpatrick’s Commentary on 1 Samuel, page 33. He says:


Samuel was the founder of the prophetic order. Individuals in previous ages had been endowed with prophetic gifts, but with Samuel commenced the regular succession of prophets which lasted through all the period of the monarchy, and did not cease until after the captivity. The degeneracy into which the priesthood had fallen through the period of the judges demanded the establishment of a new order for the religious training of the nation.


For this purpose Samuel founded the institutions known as the schools of the prophets. The "company of prophets" at Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:10) and the scene at Ramah described in 1 Samuel 19:18 ff., imply a regular organization. These societies are only definitely mentioned again in connection with the history’ of Elijah and Elisha but doubtless continued to exist in the interval. By means of these the Order was maintained, students were educated, and common religious exercises nurtured and developed spiritual gifts.


Kirkpatrick’s is a fine commentary. The priests indeed were instructors of the people, but the tendency of the priesthood was to rest in external sacrifices, and to trust in a mere ritualistic form of sacrifice. That is the trouble always where you have a ritual. And after a while both priest and worshiper began to rely upon the external type, and on external conformity with the ritual. God needed better mouthpieces than those, hence while in the past there was a prophetic gift here and there, he now establishes the prophetic school, or society, in which training, bearing upon the prophetic office, should be continuous. The value of these schools of the prophets is also seen from Kirkpatrick, page 1 Samuel 34:


The value of the prophetic order to the Jewish nation was immense. The prophets were privy-counsellors of kings, the historians of the nation, the instructors of the people. It was their function to be preachers of righteousness to rich and poor alike: to condemn idolatry in the court, oppression among the nobles, injustice among the judges, formality among the priests. They were the interpreters of the law who drew out by degrees the spiritual significance which underlay ritual observance, and labored to prevent sacrifice and sabbath and festival from becoming dead and unmeaning forms. Strong in the unshaken consciousness that they were expressing the divine will, they spoke and acted with a fearless courage which no threats could daunt or silence.


Thus they proved a counterpoise to the despotism of monarchy and the formalism of priesthood. In a remarkable passage in his essay on "Representative Government," Mr. John Stuart Mill attributes to their influence the progress which distinguished the Jews from other Oriental nations. "The Jews," he writes, "had an absolute monarchy and hierarchy. These did for them what was done for other Oriental races by their institutions – subdued them to industry and order, and gave them a national life. . . . Their religion gave existence to an inestimably precious institution, the order of prophets. Under the protection, generally though not always effectual, of their sacred character, the prophets were a power in the nation, often more than a match for kings and priests, and kept up in that little corner of the earth the antagonism of influences which is the only real security for continued progress."


I was surprised the first time I ever saw the statement from Mill. He was a radical evolutionist and infidel, but a statesman, and in studying the development of statesmanship among the nations, he saw this singular thing in the history of the Jews, unlike anything he saw anywhere else, and saw what it was that led that nation, when it went into backsliding, to repentance; what power it was that brought about the reformation when their morals were corrupted; what power it was that was the real light of the nation and the salt of the earth, and saw that it was this order of prophets which was the conservator of national unity, purity, and perpetuity. I have the more pleasure in quoting that passage, as it comes from a witness in no way friendly to Christianity, just as when I was discussing missions I quoted the testimony of Charles Darwin to the tremendous influence for good wrought by the missionaries of South America.


Particularly in this case of the schools of the prophets we find their value, by noting very carefully the bearing on the case under Samuel. We have already noticed the corruption of the priesthood under Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas; how the ark was captured, the central place of worship desecrated; how Samuel, called to the office of prophet, needed assistance, and how he instituted this school of the prophets. He gathered around him the brightest young men of the nation and had the Spirit of God rest on them, and in order that their instruction might be regular he organized them into companies, or schools; he would go from one to another, and these young "theologs" were under the instruction of Samuel and for twenty years worked as evangelists in making sensitive the national conscience. It took twenty years to do it, and he could not have done it by himself, but with that tremendous power, the help he had, at the end of twenty years, he saw the nation repentant and once more worshiping God. I am for a theological seminary that will do that.


I give a modern example somewhat parallel: Mr. Spurgeon was called to the city of London, when about nineteen years old, to be the pastor of the old historic church of Dr. Gill, and in his evangelical preaching impressed a number of men to feel that they were also called to preach (if your preaching does not impress somebody else to preach, you may be sure that you are not called to preach), and it impressed the women and a multitude of laymen to do active Christian service. Therefore, Mr. Spurgeon organized what is called "The Pastoral College." He wouldn’t let a drone be in it; he did not want anybody in it that was not spiritually minded. In other words, he insisted that a preacher should be religiously inclined, and should be ready to do any kind of work. He supported this institution largely through his own contributions, although the men and women all over England, when they saw what it was doing, would send money for its support. I used to read the monthly reports of the contributions and the list of donors that accompanied them.


Mr. Spurgeon determined to work a revolution, just as Samuel did, and he used this school of the prophets for that purpose. Consequently, hundreds of young preachers belonging to that school of the prophets preached in the slums of the city, in the byways, in the highways, in the hedges, in the mines, on the wharves to the sailors, and in the hospitals. Hundreds of laymen said, "Put us to work," and he did; he had pushcarts made for them, and filled them with books and so sent out over the town literature that was not poisonous. He put the women to work, and established) or rather perpetuated in better form, a number of the almshouses for the venerable old women who were poor and helpless, following out the suggestion in 2 Timothy, and he erected a hospital. Then they got to going further afield. They went all over England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, crossed over into the Continent, crossed the seas to Australia, and the islands of the seas, and into heathen lands. I have always said that Spurgeon’s Pastoral College came nearer to the Bible idea of a seminary than any other in existence. There was not so much stress laid on mere scholarship as on spiritual efficiency.


It is important to note particularly what I am saying now, because it was burnt into my heart as one of the reasons for establishing a theological seminary. The nature of that society was that it was a school. They left their homes and came to stay at this school, with what we now call a mess hall in which all the theological students, by contributing so much, have their table in common. It was that way then; they had their meals in common. In preparing dinner one day for the sons of the prophets, somebody put a lot of wild gourds into the pot, and when they began to eat it, one of them cried out: "Ah, man of God, there’s death in the pot!" Once I preached a sermon on this theme: "Wild Gourds and Theological Seminaries," to show that to feed the students in theological seminaries on wild gourds of heresy is to put death in the pot; they will do more harm than good, as they will become instruments of evil.


In determining what were their duties, we must consult quite a number of passages. We gather from this passage that they were thoroughly instructed in the necessity of repentance, individually and nationally, and of turning from their sins and coming back to God with faithful obedience. That lesson was ground in them. They were taught the interpretation of the spiritual meaning of the law, all its sacrifices, its feasts, its types, and therefore when you are studying a prophet in the Old Testament you will notice how different his idea of types and ceremonies from that of the priests. They will tell you that to do without eating is fasting, but the prophet will show that literal fasting is not true fasting; that there must be fasting at heart; that there must be a rending of the soul and not the garment as an expression of repentance; that to obey God w better than a formal sacrifice.


Another thing they were taught, which I wish particularly to emphasize, was music, both vocal and instrumental. In that school of the prophets started the tremendous power of music in religion so wonderfully developed by David, who got many of his ideas from associating with the schools of the prophets. And from that time unto this, every evangelical work, and all powerful religious work, has been associated with music, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament; not merely vocal, but instrumental music. The heart of a religion is expressed in its songs, and if you want to get at the heart of your Old Testament you find it in the hymnbook of the Hebrew nation – the Psalter. It is indeed an interesting study to see what has been the influence of great hymns on the national life. There is an old proverb: "You may make the laws of the people, if you will let me write their ballads." Where is there a man capable of measuring the influence of "How Firm a Foundation," or "Come, Thou Fount," or "Did Christ O’er Sinners Weep?" There is a rich literature on the influence of hymns on the life.


In the awful times of the struggle in England, Charles I against the Parliament, one faction of the nation held to ritualism, while the other followed spirituality, even to the extreme of not allowing any form, not even allowing any instruments of music. One of the finest stories of this period is the account of a church that observed the happy medium, using instrumental as well as vocal music, and congregational singing as well as the use of the choir; every sabbath somebody’s soul was melted in the power of that mighty singing. I can’t sing myself, but I can carry the tunes in my mind, and I can be more influenced by singing than by preaching. It was singing that convicted me of sin. It was on a waving, soaring melody of song that my soul was converted. I once knew a rugged, one-eyed, homely, old pioneer Baptist preacher, who looked like a pirate until his religion manifested itself, and then he was beautiful. I heard him one day when a telegram was put into his hand stating that his only son had just been killed by being thrown from a horse. While weeping, his face became illumined; he got up and clapped his hands and walked through that audience, singing, "O, Jesus, My Saviour, to Thee I Submit."


John Bunyan wrote that song while in Bedford Jail. They had put him there to keep him from preaching, and looking out through the bars of the dungeon he saw his poor blind girl, Mary, begging bread, and he sat down and wrote that hymn. The effect of the old preacher’s singing John Bunyan’s song was a mighty revival.


The relation of the schools of the prophets to modern theological seminaries is this: The purpose was the same. And so in New Testament times, Jesus recognized that if he wanted to revolutionize the world by evangelism he must do it with trained men. He did not insist that they be rich, great or mighty men. He did not insist that they be scholars. He called them from among the common people, and he kept them right with him for three years and a half, and diligently instructed them in the principles and spirit of his kingdom. He taught them in a variety of forms; in parables, in proverbs, in exposition, illustrating his teachings by miracles, and in hundreds of ways in order that they might be equipped to go out and lead the world to Christ. You cannot help being impressed with this fact: That the theological seminaries in Samuel’s time and in Christ’s time were intensely practical, the object being not to make learned professors, but to fill each one with electricity until you could call him a "live wire," so that it burnt whoever touched it.


This is why I called Samuel a great man, and why in a previous discussion, counting the men as the peaks in a mountain range, sighting back from Samuel to Abraham, only one other peak comes into line of vision, and that is Moses.

QUESTIONS

1. What are the more important passages bearing on the schools of the prophets?

2. Distinguish between the prophetic gift and the prophetic office and illustrate by examples.

3. Distinguish between a prophet and a son of a prophet.

4. What is the meaning of prophet?

5. In what two periods of Hebrew history do we find the clearest notices of the school of prophets, what are the proofs of their persistence between these periods, and what is their influence on the nation?

6. Who was the founder of the first school of the prophets?

7. What scripture shows his headship?

8. What was the reason for such school in Samuel’s time?

9. What was the value of these schools of the prophets, and particularly in this case, and what illustration from modern instances?

10. What was the nature of that society, and what was the instruction given?

11. What was the relation of the schools of the prophets to modern theological seminaries?

Verses 38-41

X

GATHERING UP THE FRAGMENTS THAT NOTHING BE LOST

The title of this chapter is a New Testament text for an Old Testament discussion. For the sake of unity the last two chapters were devoted exclusively to Elijah and Elisha. It is the purpose of this discussion to call attention to some matters worthy of note that could not very well be incorporated in those personal matters, and yet should not be omitted altogether.


It is true, however, that the heart of the history is in the lives of these two great prophets of the Northern Kingdom. In bringing up the record we will follow the chronological order of the scriptures calling for exposition.


Jehoshaphat’s Shipping Alliance with Ahaziah. We have two accounts of this: first, in 1 Kings 22:47-49, and second, in 2 Chronicles 20:35-37. I wish to explain, first of all, the locality of certain places named in these accounts. Tarshish, as a place, is in Spain. About that there can be no question. About Ophir, no man can be so confident. There was an Ophir in the southern part of Arabia; a man named Ophir settled there, but I do not think that to be the Ophir of this section. The Ophir referred to here is distinguished for the abundance and fine quality of its gold. Several books in the Bible refer to the excellency of "the gold of Ophir," and to the abundance of it. Quite a number of distinguished scholars would locate it in the eastern part of Africa. Some others would locate it in India, and still others as the Arabian Ophir. My own opinion is, and I give it as more than probable, that the southeastern coast of Africa is the right place for Ophir. Many traditions put it there, the romance of Rider Haggard, "King Solomon’s Mines," follows the traditions. The now well-known conditions of the Transvaal would meet the case in some respects.


Ezion-geber is a seaport at the head of the Gulf of Akaba, which is a projection of the Red Sea. What is here attempted by these men is to re-establish the famous commerce of Solomon. I cite the passages in the history of Solomon that tell about this commerce. In 1 Kings 9:26 we have this record: "And King Solomon made a navy of ships in Eziongeber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. And Hiram (king of Tyre) sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon. And they came to Ophir, and fetched from thence gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to King Solomon." Now, 1 Kings 10:11 reads: "And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of Almug trees and precious stones." This "almug-trees" is supposed to be the famous sweet-scented sandalwood. The precious stones would agree particularly with the diamond mines at Kimberly in the Transvaal.


Then1 Kings 10:22 reads: "For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram: Once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks." The ivory and apes would fit very well with the African coast, but we would have to go to India to get the spices, which are mentioned elsewhere, and the peacocks. A three years’ voyage for this traffic seems to forbid the near-by Arabian Ophir, and does make it reasonable that the merchant fleet touched many points – Arabia, Africa, and the East Indies. It is, therefore, not necessary to find one place notable for all these products – gold, jewels, sandalwood, ivory, apes, spices, and peacocks. Solomon, then, established as his only seaport on the south Eziongeber, a navy, manned partly by experienced seamen of Tyre, and these ships would make a voyage every three years. That is a long voyage and they might well go to Africa and to India to get these varied products, some at one point and some at another.


Now Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah (king of Israel) made an alliance to re-establish that commerce. The first difficulty, however, is that the Chronicles account says that these ships were to go to Tarshish, and the Kings account says that they were ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir. My explanation of that difficulty is this: It is quite evident that no navy established at Eziongeber would try to reach Spain by circumnavigating Africa, when it would be so much easier to go from Joppa, Tyre, or Sidon over the Mediterranean Sea to Spain. "Tarshish ships" refers, not to the destination of the ships, but to the kind of ships, that is, the trade of the Mediterranean had given that name to a kind of merchant vessel, called "Ships of Tarshish." And the ships built for the Tarshish trade, as the name "lndianman" was rather loosely applied to certain great English and Dutch merchant vessels. It is an error in the text of Chronicles that these ships were to go to Tarshish. They were Tarshish ships, that is, built after the model of Tarshish ships, but these ships were built at Eziongeber for trade with Ophir, Africa, and India.


1 Kings 22:47 of the Kings account needs explanation: "And there was no king in Edom; a deputy was king." The relevancy of that verse is very pointed. If Edom had been free and had its own king, inasmuch as Eziongeber was in Edom, Judah never could have gone there to build a navy. But Edom at this time was subject to Judah, and a Judean deputy ruled over it. That explains why they could come to Eziongeber.


One other matter needs explanation. The account in Kings says, "Then said Ahaziah the son of Ahab unto Jehoshaphat, Let my servants go with thy servants in the ships. But Jehoshaphat would not." Ahaziah attributed the shipwreck of that fleet to the incompetency of the Judean seamen. He did not believe that there would have been a shipwreck if he had been allowed to furnish experienced mariners, as Hiram did. So Kings gives us what seems to be the human account of that shipwreck, viz: the incompetency of the mariners; but Chronicles gives us the divine account, thus: "Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath destroyed thy works. And the ships were broken." How often do we see these two things: the human explanation of the thing, and the divine explanation of the same thing. Ahaziah had no true conception of God, and he would at once attribute that shipwreck to human incompetency, but Jehoshaphat knew better; he knew that shipwreck came because he had done wickedly in keeping up this alliance with the idolatrous kings of the ten tribes.

THE TRANSLATION OF ELIJAH
Let us consider several important matters in connection with the translation of Elijah, 2 Kings 2:1-18. First, why the course followed by Elijah? Why does he go from Carmel to Gilgal and try to leave Elisha there, and from Gilgal to Bethel and try to leave Elisha there, and from Bethel to Jericho and try to leave Elisha there? The explanation is that the old prophet, having been warned of God that his ministry was ended and that the time of his exodus was at hand, wished to revisit in succession all of these seminaries. These were his stopping places, and he goes from one seminary to another. It must have been a very solemn thing for each of these schools of the prophets, when Elisha and Elijah came up to them, for by the inspiration of God as we see from the record, each school of the prophets knew what was going to happen. At two different places they say to Elisha, "Do you know that your master will be taken away to-day?" Now, the same Spirit of God that notified Elijah that his time of departure was at hand, also notified Elisha, also notified each school of the prophets; they knew.


But why keep saying to Elisha, "You stay here at Gilgal; the Lord hath sent me to Bethel," and, "You stay here at Bethel; the Lord hath sent me to Jericho," and "You stay here at Jericho; the Lord hath sent me to the Jordan"? It was a test of the faith of Elisha. Ruth said to Naomi, "Entreat me not to leave thee, nor to forsake thee; for where thou goest, I will go; and God do so to me, if thy God be my God, and thy people my people, and where thou diest there will I die also." With such spirit as that, Elisha, as the minister to Elijah, and as the disciple of Elijah, and wishing to qualify himself to be the successor of Elijah, steadfastly replied: "As the Lord liveth and thy soul liveth, I will not forsake thee." "I am going with you just as far as I can go; we may come to a point of separation, but I will go with you to that point." All of us, when we leave this world, find a place where the departing soul must be without human companionship. Friends may attend us to that border line but they cannot pass over with us.


We have already discussed the miracle of the crossing of the Jordan. Elijah smote the Jordan with his mantle and it divided; that was doubtless his lesson to Elisha, and we will see that he learned the lesson. I heard a Methodist preacher once, taking that as a text, say, "We oftentimes complain that our cross is too heavy for us, and groan under it, and wish to be relieved from it." "But," says he, "brethren, when we come to the Jordan of death, with that cross that we groaned under we will smite that river, and we will pass over dry-shod, and leave the cross behind forever, and go home to a crown to wear."


The next notable thing in this account is Elijah’s question to Elisha: "Have you anything to ask from me?" "Now, this is the last time; what do you want me to do for you?" And he says, "I pray thee leave a double portion of thy spirit on me." We see that he is seeking qualification to be the successor. "Double" here does not mean twice as much as Elijah had, but the reference is probably to the first-born share of an inheritance. The first-born always gets a double share, and Elisha means by asking a double portion of his spirit that it may accredit him as successor. Or possibly "double" may be rendered "duplicate," for the same purpose of attenuation. The other prophets would get one share, but Elisha asks for the first-born portion. Elijah suggests a difficulty, not in himself, but in Elisha ; he said, "You ask a hard thing of me, yet if you see me when I go away, you will get the double portion of my spirit," that is, it was a matter depending on the faith of the petitioner, his power of personal perception. "When I go up, if your eyes are open enough to see my transit from this world to a higher, that will show that you are qualified to have this double portion of my spirit." We have something similar in the life of our Lord. The father of the demoniac boy says to our Lord, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus replied, "If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth." It was not a question of Christ’s ability, but of the supplicant’s faith.


The next thing is the translation itself. What is meant by it? In the Old Testament history two men never died; they passed into the other world, soul and body without death: Enoch and Elijah. And at the second coming of Christ every Christian living at that time will do the same thing. "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, they shall be changed." Now, what is that change of the body by virtue of which without death, it may ascend into heaven? It is a spiritualization of the body eliminating its mortality, equivalent to what takes place in the resurrection and glorification of the dead bodies. I preached a sermon once on "How Death [personified] Was Twice Startled." In the account of Adam it is said, "And he died" and so of every other man, "and he died." Methuselah lived 969 years, but he died. And death pursuing all the members of the race, strikes them down, whether king or pauper, whether prophet or priest. But when he comes to Enoch his dart missed the mark and he did not get him. And when he came to Elijah he missed again. Now the translations of Enoch and Elijah are an absolute demonstration of two things: First, the immortality of the soul, the continuance of life; that death makes no break in the continuity of being. Second, that God intended from the beginning to save the body. The tree of life was put in the garden of Eden, that by eating of it the mortality of the body might be eliminated. Sin separated man from that tree of life, but it is the purpose of God that the normal man, soul and body, shall be saved. The tradition of the Jews is very rich on the spiritual significance of the translation of Enoch and Elijah. In Enoch’s case it is said, "He was not found because God took him," and in this case fifty of the sons of the prophets went out to see if when Elijah went to heaven his body was not left behind, and they looked all over the country to find his body. Elisha knew; he saw the body go up.


Now, in Revelation we have the Cherubim as the chariot of God. This chariot that met Elijah at the death station was the chariot of God, the Cherubim. Just as the angels met Lazarus and took his soul up to heaven, and it is to this wonderful passage that the Negro hymn belongs: "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."


Elisha cried as the great prophet ascended, "My Father! My rather I The chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof," the meaning of which is that thus had gone up to heaven he who in his life had been the defense of Israel, worth more than all of its chariots and all of its cavalry. Now these very words "were used when Elisha died. "My Father! My Father! The chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof," signifying that he had been the bulwark of the nation as Elijah had been before him.

ELISHA’S MINISTRY, 2 Kings 2:19-25
As Elijah went up something dropped – not his body, but just his mantle – his mantle fell, and it fell on Elisha, symbolic of the transfer of prophetic leadership from one to the other. Now, he wants to test it, a test that will accredit him; so he goes back to the same Jordan, folds that same mantle up just as Elijah had done, and smites the Jordan. But, mark you, he did not say, "Where is Elijah" – the man, Elijah, was gone, but, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" and the waters divided and he came over. There he stood accredited with a repetition of the miracle just a little before performed by Elijah, which demonstrated that he was to be to the people what Elijah had been. And this was so evident that the sons of the prophets recognized it and remarked on it: "The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha." It is a touching thing to me, this account of more than fifty of these prophets, as the president of their seminary is about to disappear, came down the last hill that overlooks the Jordan, watching to see what became of him. And they witness the passage of the Jordan – they may have seen the illumination of the descent of the chariot of fire. They wanted to go and get the body – the idea of his body going up they had not taken in, and they could not be content until Elisha, grieved at their persistence) finally let them go and find out for themselves that the body had gone to heaven.


I have just two things to say on the healing of the noxious waters at Jericho. The first is that neither the new cruse nor the salt put in it healed the water. It was a symbolic act to indicate that the healing would be by the power of God. Just as when Moses cast a branch into the bitter waters of Marah, as a symbolic act. The healing power comes from God. The other re-mark is on that expression, "unto this day," which we so frequently meet in these books. Its frequent recurrence is positive proof that the compiler of Kings and the compiler of Chronicles are quoting from the original documents. "Unto this day" means the day of the original writer. It does not mean unto the day of Ezra wherever it appears in Chronicles, but it means unto the day of the writer of the part of history that he is quoting from. More than one great conservative scholar has called attention to this as proof that whoever compiled these histories is quoting the inspired documents of the prophets.

THE CHILDREN OF BETHEL AND THE SHE-BEARS
Perhaps a thousand infidels have referred Elisha’s curse to vindictiveness and inhumanity. The word rendered "little children" is precisely the word Solomon uses in his prayer at Gibeon when he says, "I am a little child" – he was then a grown man. Childhood with the Hebrews extended over a much greater period of time than it does with us. The word may signify "young men" in our modern use of the term. And notice the place was Bethel, the place of calf worship, where the spirit of the city was against the schools of the prophets, and these young fellows – call them "street Arabs," "toughs," whom it suited to follow this man and mock him: "Go up, thou bald bead; go up, thou bald head." Elisha did not resent an indignity against himself, but here is the point: these hostile idolaters at Bethel, through their children are challenging the act of God in making Elisha the head of the prophetic line. He turned and looked at them and he saw the spirit that animated them – saw that it was an issue between Bethel calf worship and Bethel, the school of the prophets, and that the parents of these children doubtless sympathized in the mockery, and saw it to be necessary that they should learn that sacrilege and blasphemy against God should not go unpunished. So, in the name of the Lord he pronounces a curse on them – had it been his curse, no result would have followed. One man asks, "What were these she-bears doing so close to Bethel?" The answer is that in several places in the history is noted the prevalence of wild animals in Israel. We have seen how the old prophet who went to this very Bethel to rebuke Jeroboam and turned back to visit the other prophet, was killed by a lion close to the city.


Another infidel question is, "How could God make a she bear obey him?" Well, let the infidel answer how God’s Spirit could influence a single pair of all the animals to go into the ark. Over and over again in the Bible the dominance of the Spirit of God over inanimate things and over the brute creation is repeatedly affirmed. The bears could not understand, but they would follow an impulse of their own anger without attempting to account for it.

THE INCREASE IN THE WIDOW’S OIL, 2 Kings 4:1-7


We have already considered this miracle somewhat in the chapter on Elisha, and now note particularly:


1. It often happens that the widow of a man of God, whether prophet or preacher, is left in destitution. Sometimes the fault lies in the imprudence of the preacher or in the extravagance of his family, but more frequently, perhaps, in the inadequate provision for ministerial support. This destitution is greatly aggravated if there be debt. The influence of a preacher is handicapped to a painful degree, when, from any cause, he fails to meet his financial obligations promptly. In a commercial age this handicap becomes much more serious.


2. The Mosaic Law (Leviticus 25:39-41; see allusion, Matthew 18:25) permitted a creditor to make bond-servant of a debtor and his children. For a long time the English law permitted imprisonment for debt. This widow of a prophet appeals to Elisha, the head of the prophetic school, for relief, affirming that her husband did fear God. In other words, he was faultless in the matter of debt. The enforcement of the law by the creditor under such circumstances indicates a merciless heart.


3. The one great lesson of the miracle is that the flow of the increased oil never stayed as long as there was a vessel to receive it. God wastes not his grace if we have no place to put it: according to our faith in preparation is his blessing. He will fill all the vessels we set before him.

DEATH IN THE POT, 2 Kings 4:38-41
We recall this miracle to deepen a lesson barely alluded to in the chapter on Elisha. The seminaries at that time lived a much more simple life than the seminaries of the present time; it did not take such a large fund to keep them up. Elisha said, "Set on the great pot," and one of the sons of the prophets went out to gather vegetables. He got some wild vegetables he knew nothing about – here called wild gourd – and shred them into the pot, not knowing they were poisonous. Hence the text: “O man of God, there is death in the pot." I once took that as the text for a sermon on "Theological Seminaries and Wild Gourds," showing that the power of seminaries depends much on the kind of food the teachers give them. If they teach them that the story of Adam and Eve is an allegory, then they might just as well make the second Adam an allegory, for his mission is dependent on the failure of the first. If they teach them the radical criticism; if they teach anything that takes away from inspiration and infallibility of the divine Word of God or from any of its great doctrines – then, “O man of God, there is death in the pot" – that will be a sick seminary.


In a conversation once with a radical critic I submitted for his criticism, without naming the author, the exact words of Tom Paine in his "Age of Reason," denying that the story of Adam and Eve was history. He accepted it as eminently correct. Then I gave the author, and inquired if it would be well for preachers and commentators to revert to such authorities on biblical interpretation. He made no reply. We find Paine’s words not only in the first part of the "Age of Reason," written in a French prison without a Bible before him, but repeated in the second part after he was free and had access to Bibles. I gave this man a practical illustration, saying, "You may take the three thousand published sermons of Spurgeon, two sets of them, and arrange them, one set according to the books from which the texts are taken – Genesis 1, 2, 3, etc., and make a commentary on the Bible. By arranging the other set of them in topical order, you have a body of systematic theology." Now this man Spurgeon believed in the historical integrity and infallibility of the Bible, in its inspiration of God, and he preached that, just that. As the old saying goes, "The proof of the pudding is in the chewing of the bag." He preached just that, and what was the result? Thousands and thousands of converts wherever he preached, no matter what part of the Bible he was preaching from; preachers felt called to enter the ministry, orphan homes rose up, almshouses for aged widows, colportage systems established, missionaries sent out, and all over the wide world his missionaries die in the cause. One man was found in the Alps, frozen to death, with a sermon of Spurgeon in his hand. One man was found shot through the heart by bush rangers of Australia, and the bullet passed through Spurgeon’s sermon on "The Blood of Jesus." Now, I said to this man, "Get all your radical critics together, and let them preach three thousand sermons on your line of teaching. How many will be converted? How many backsliders will be reclaimed? How many almshouses and orphanages will be opened? How many colportage systems established? Ah! the proof of the pudding is in the chewing of the bag. If what you say is the best thing to teach about the Bible is true, then when you preach, it will have the best results. But does it?"


We have considered Elisha’s miracle for providing water for the allied armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom, when invading Moab (2 Kings 3:10-19). We revert to it to note partakelarly this passage: "And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew sword, to break through unto the king of Edom: but they could not. Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there was great wrath against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land" (2 Kings 3:26-27). On this passage I submit two observations:


1. Not long after this time the prophet Micah indignantly inquires, "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" The context is a strong denunciation of the offering of human sacrifices to appease an angry deity. The Mosaic law strongly condemned the heathen custom of causing their children to pass through the fire of Molech. Both this book of Kings and Jeremiah denounce judgment on those guilty of this horrible practice. The Greek and Roman classics, and the histories of Egypt and Phoenicia, show how widespread was this awful custom.


2. But our chief difficulty is to expound the words, "There was great wrath against Israel." But what was its connection with the impious sacrifice of the king of Moab? Whose the wrath? The questions are not easy to answer. It is probable that the armies of Edom and Judah were angry at Israel for pressing the king of Moab to such dire extremity, and so horrified at the sacrifice that they refused longer to co-operate in the campaign. This explanation, while not altogether satisfactory, is preferred to others more improbable. It cannot mean the wrath of God, nor the wrath of the Moabites against Israel. It must mean, therefore, the wrath of the men of Judah and Edom against Israel for pressing Mesha to such an extent that he would offer his own son as a sacrifice.

QUESTIONS

I. On the two accounts of Jehoshaphat’s shipping alliance with Ahaziah, 2 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 20, answer:


1. Where is Tarshish?


2. Where is Ophir?


3. Where is Ezion-geber?


4. What is the relevance of 1 Kings 22:47?


5. Explain "ships of Tarshish" in Kings, and "to go to Tarshish" in Chronicles.


6. What commerce were they seeking to revive, and what passage from 1 Kings bearing thereon?


7. How does the book of Kings seem to account for the wreck of the fleet, and how does Chronicles give a better reason?

II. On the account of Elijah’s translation (2 Kings 2:1-18) answer:


1. Why the course taken by Elijah by way of Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho?


2. How did both Elisha and the schools of the prophets know about the impending event?


3. What was the object of Elijah in telling Elisha to tarry at each stopping place while he went on?


4. What was the meaning of Elisha’s request for "a double portion" of Elijah’s spirit and why was this a hard thing to ask, i.e., wherein the difficulty? Illustrate by a New Testament lesson.


5. What was the meaning of Elijah’s translation, and what other cases, past or prospective?


6. What was the meaning of Elisha’s expression, "My Father! My Father! The chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof," and who and when applied the same language to Elisha?


7. How does Elisha seek a test of his succession to Elijah and how do others recognize the credentials?

III. How do you explain the seeming inhumanity of Elisha’s cursing the children of Bethel?

IV. On the widow’s oil (2 Kings 4:1-7), answer:


1. What often happens to the widow of a prophet or preacher, and what circumstance greatly aggravates the trouble?


2. What is the Mosaic law relative to debtors and creditors?


3. What one great lesson of the miracle?

V. On "Death in the Pot" answer:


1. What the incident of the wild gourds?


2. What application does the author make of this?


3. What comparison does the author make between Spurgeon and the Radical Critics?

VI. On Elisha’s miracle, the water supply, answer:


1. What is the allusion in Micah’s words, "Shall I give my first-born," etc.?


2. What the meaning of "There was great wrath against Israel"?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Kings 4". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/2-kings-4.html.
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