THE DEATH OF ELISHA
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2Ki . Jehoahas, the son of Jehu, began to reign over Israel—Here the historian turns from the records of Judah to those of Israel. The date—"three and twentieth year"—does not accord by two years with that given in 2Ki 13:10, as the corresponding year of the reign of Joash [or Jehoash], king of Judah; but copyist's blunders in Hebrew numerals occurred so easily.
2Ki . The Lord saw the oppression of Israel—He allowed the Syrians to become His scourge for Israel's guilt in apostatizing from His worship.
2Ki . The Lord gave Israel a saviour—Not a supernatural saviour—angel or prophet—but in both the kings Joash and Jeroboam He gave them a מוֹשִׁיע, "saviour," from the Syrians, for the former recovered all the lost cities (2Ki 13:25), and the latter restored all the old boundaries of Israel (2Ki 14:25).
2Ki . But walked therein—Who? Jeroboam or Israel? בָּהּ הָלַךְ—"walked he" (Jeroboam), or "walked it" (Israel). There remained the grove—Comp. 1Ki 16:33.
HOMILETICS OF 2Ki
IN this paragraph we have grouped together the history of the two sister kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Their condition is alike. They are both dragged down to the same level. The same evil that has been so fatal to Samaria is now prevalent in Jerusalem. The same dark record is true of both—a record of apostasy, intensified corruption, and rapid decay of national prestige. In the case of Judah, one bright ray relieves the gloom; there are indications of repentance and return; but it seems more a desire to be delivered from calamities that have become intolerable, than a genuine effort to reform. Observe—
I. That national decay is the inevitable result of religious apostasy (2Ki ). Religion exalts a nation by exalting the individual. It is equally the basis of private virtue and public faith; of the happiness of the individual and the prosperity of the nation. When God is honoured, the nation is blessed; but when He is forsaken and despised, suffering and disaster follow. "True religion," says Burke, "is the foundation of society. When that is once shaken by contempt, the whole fabric cannot be stable nor lasting." How strikingly is this illustrated in the history of the Jewish kingdom!
II. That national decay is hastened by the devastations of continuous war (2Ki ). War exhausts the sources of a nation's strength, and destroys its noblest sons. It is a waste of blood and treasure. If it does not utterly obliterate the nation, it puts back for years its progress and advancement. A strong nation may recover with surprising rapidity the damage inflicted by a single war; but the strongest nation cannot long survive the sufferings of uninterrupted warfare. Nor is it always evident which suffers most—the victorious or the vanquished. No greater calamity can happen to a nation than to be given up to the horrors and ravages of war.
Oh men! what are ye, and our best designs,
That we must work by crime to punish crime,
And slay, as if death had but this one gate!—Byron.
III. That national decay may be arrested for a time by humiliation and prayer (2Ki ). We may here trace the influence of Elisha upon king Jehoahaz. It was a familiar teaching in the lips of the prophet that the nation's troubles were brought about by forsaking God, and the only way of deliverance was to be found in returning to Him in penitence and prayer. "Jehoahaz besought the Lord, and the Lord hearkened unto him." The grip of the Syrian was relaxed, the terror of war passed away, and once more peace and security were restored. The Lord has no pleasure in sights of suffering, even where suffering is most deserved. His compassion is touched with the cry of the helpless, and He is swift to save.
More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of.
For what are men better than sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer,
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round world is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.—Tennyson.
IV. That national decay cannot be prevented while temptations to apostasy are allowed to exist. "There remained the grove also in Samaria (2Ki ). The incompleteness of the reforming work of the father became a snare to the son (chap. 2Ki 10:29).The seductions of idolatry led the people away from the worship of Jehovah, and from the path of virtue and uprightness. No nation can rise to its true purity and strength until every public enticement to evil is abolished. There is no safety with idols, but in their destruction.
Still they plead and still they promise; wilt thou suffer them to stand?
They have pleasures, gifts, and treasures, to enrich thee, at command.
Heed not thou, but boldly strike them; let descend the faithful blow.
From their wreck and from their ruin first will thy true riches flow.—Trench.
1. The blessing of God is the strength and glory of a nation.
2. When that blessing is forfeited by unfaithfulness the nation sinks into ruin.
3. Prayer for Divine help should be followed by reformation of life.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2Ki ; 2Ki 13:11. A bad example. I. Transmits its baneful influence to succeeding generations. II. Is all the more potent for evil when found in persons in the highest station. III. Is no excuse for any who do evil—does not absolve from personal responsibility. IV. Rouses the anger of God against all who imitate it. V. Cannot be followed without suffering and chastisement.
2Ki . Adversity. I. A sharp spur to devotion. II. Appeals to the Divine compassion. III. Affords an opportunity for the gracious exercise of Divine power.
—The house of correction is the fittest hospital for those cripples whose legs are lame through their own laziness.—Fuller.
Instructeth how to mourn. He doth not trust
This higher lesson to a voice or hand
Subordinate. Behold! He cometh forth!
O sweet disciple—bow thyself to learn
The alphabet of tears.—Sigourney.
—Prayer—I. An evidence of repentance. II. Should be addressed to the Being whom we have offended. III. Secures the Divine compassion and help. IV. The best method of obtaining victory over our enemies.
—Repentance is God's choicest and deepest gift; repentance for our habitual dreariness and coldness, for that shallowness of heart which overtakes us when we are surrounded with the tokens of His presence, when we are partakers of the ordinances of His grace; which those very privileges seem to produce in us; from which troubles, individual or national, cannot of themselves deliver us. Divines may have infinite refinements about the mode, degrees, and effect of repentance. That one phrase of Scripture, "turning to God," contains all that we can say of it. Man, thou art living, moving, having thy being in One whom thou art habitually forgetting. That forgetfulness makes thee forget thy brethren; yea, and in the truest sense forget thyself. Thou dost not know what thou art, whither thou art tending. All the earth is a riddle to thee. Thy fellow-men are hindrances in thy way. Thou art thine own great curse and terror. Recollect from whom come the thoughts and impulses of the mind and will within thee; who can make those thoughts and impulses an order instead of a chaos. Turn round to the light which is ever sending flashes into the midst of thy darkness. Ask that instead of such momentary appearances, from which thou shrinkest as from a guilty thing surprised, it may penetrate thee and possess thee, and become thy constant habitation. When thou yieldest thyself to its transforming energy, thou wilt not bear to see the earth lying crushed under the weight of its sins and oppressions. Thou wilt believe in thy heart and declare with thy lips that in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, in the church which God has set up, in the people who believe in His love, there is a prophecy of deliverance for the universe.—F. D. Maurice.
2Ki . The Lord gave Israel a temporal saviour in its hour of physical need; to us He has given a spiritual Saviour, who can and will save us out of the hands of the greatest of all our enemies. Many a one prays, like Jehoahaz, in his time of distress; and when the trouble is past, the good impulses quickly disappear.
2Ki . No nation is so great and mighty that God cannot take away its might, and make it so small and slight that it is only like dust which the wind scatters (Psa 18:42).—Lange.
2Ki . War-like valour. I. Not the highest kind of valour. II. Called into exercise by the extremities of a nation. III. Is of no avail when opposed to Divine chastisements.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2Ki . Elisha was fallen sick—The prophet's presence was felt by Joash to be a guarantee of the safety of his kingdom, and he dreaded to lose him, fearing that after the prophet's death he must again confront the destructive Syrians, and therefore cries, My father! my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof! It implies the king's conviction that this man of God had been, by his counsels and prayers, the secret of Israel's valour and victories.
2Ki . The arrow of the Lord's deliverance, &c.—War was then significantly proclaimed by an arrow or war-missel being shot into the enemy's country. By the prophet's putting his hands upon the king's hands (2Ki 13:16) he indicated the supernatural power which would go with the king in his invasion of Syria. The Syrians had established themselves in the East, therefore the arrow was shot Eastward (2Ki 13:17).
2Ki . Smite upon the ground—As a symbolic act of subjugation. The king did not use up all the arrows in the quiver. Why? Perhaps because he obeyed the theory that what was done thrice was done efficiently and absolutely; or, possibly, because he lacked in persistency. The latter; for Elisha's command, "Take the arrow; smite!" implies with all the arrows; but he stopped on his own accord. A bad omen.
2Ki . The man of God was wroth with him—For the king thereby predicted his incomplete conquest.
HOMILETICS OF 2Ki
SALVATION THE ALL-ABSORBING THEME OF A TRUE PROPHET
I. It is a theme on which he delights to dwell in his dying moments. The ministry of Elisha was one of peace and good will. He sought to build up rather than to destroy. He loved to speak of mercy and deliverance rather than of wrath and destruction. He had witnessed the sins of Israel, and had faithfully denounced them. He saw and grieved over the sufferings that had come upon the nation. And now, worn down with age and disease, and rapidly approaching the end of his career, his last message is one of hope and salvation. The theme of his youth had lost none of its freshness and power in his old age. The herald of salvation cannot close his career more grandly than in proclaiming his loved message with his dying lips:
"Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp His name;
Preach Him to all, and cry in death,
Behold, behold the Lamb!"
II. It is a theme which raises his own character into dignity and power. "The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof." This seemed to mean that Elisha was regarded as the strength and protection of Israel. "What use there was of chariots and horsemen in those wars of the ancients all history tells us. All the strength of the battle stood in these; there could be neither defence nor offence but by them. Such was Elisha unto Israel. The greatest safeguard to any nation is the sanctity and faithfulness of their prophets, without which the church and state lie open to utter desolation." And there is that in the truths which a faithful minister declares which re-acts upon and elevates his own character. The diligent student becomes great by the greatness of the truths he studies. He becomes familiar with great ideas, and is purified and strengthened by the Divine spirit that lives and breathes in them. The grand elements of greatness and power are found in closest communion with God and truth.
III. It is a theme illustrated by suggestive symbols. (2Ki ). In these symbols we are taught:
1. That salvation is from the Lord. Elisha directed Joash to take bow and arrows as a symbolical act designed to intimate more fully and significantly the victories promised to the king of Israel over the Syrians. His laying his hands upon the king's hands was to represent the power imparted to the bow-shot as coming from the Lord through the medium of the prophet. Salvation is not by armies, or by the subtlety of human diplomacy, but of God, who can save by many or by few. "Salvation is the confluence of every attribute in Deity, extinguishing by contrast whatever else was splendid, while God himself effused the sparkles of heaven upon the question of despair, and dissolved the darkness of human destiny in a flood of everlasting light!"
2. That the measure of salvation is limited by our faith. Joash's shooting the other arrows into the ground was in token of the number of victories he was to gain; but his stopping at the third betrayed the weakness of his faith; for as the discharged arrow signified a victory over the Syrians, it is evident that the more arrows he shot, the more victories he would gain; and as he stopped so soon, his conquest would be incomplete. Faith in God is the measure, and unbelief the limit, of His blessings. "According to your faith be it unto you."
1. The chief joy of a true prophet is to proclaim deliverance to the oppressed.
2. That a true prophet is ennobled by the spirit of his message.
3. That Jehovah carries on His work of salvation by human agencies.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2Ki . A touching death-bed scene. I. A young, healthy, vigorous king weeping in the presence of an aged, venerable, and dying saint. II. The tears of the monarch bore eloquent testimony to the worth and power of the dying prophet. III. Counsels given under such circumstances carry with them a weight and solemnity that cannot be forgotten.
—The longest day must have its evening. Good Elisha, who had lived some ninety years, a wonder of prophets, and had out-worn many successions in the thrones of Israel and Judah, is now cast upon the bed of his sickness, yea, of his death. That very age might seem a disease, which yet is seconded with a languishing distemper. It is not in the power of any holiness to privilege us from infirmity of body, from final dissolution. He saw his master Elijah rapt up suddenly from the earth and fetched by a fiery chariot from this vale of mortality—himself must leisurely wait for his last pangs in a lingering passage to the same glory. There is not one way appointed to us by the Divine Providence unto one common blessedness; one hath more pain, another hath more speed; violence snatcheth away one, another by an insensible pace draws every day nearer to his term. The wisdom and goodness of God magnifies itself in both. Happy is he, who, after due preparation, is passed through the gates of death ere he be aware! Happy is he, who, by the holy use of long sickness, is taught to see the gates of death afar off and addressed for a resolute passage. The one dies like Elijah, the other like Elisha—both blessedly.—Bp. Hall.
—O, thou, who canst do more by thy prayers than all the soldiers can with their weapons of war! Elisha's piety and prayers were the strength of the state, as this wicked king could now acknowledge with tears, though before he had slighted him. Stapleton says that he called Elisha "the horsemen" of Israel, because by his holy life and doctrine he led all Israel; and "the chariot," because by his virtue and prayers he preserved the people, that God destroyed them not for their sins. The death of such is very ominous, a forerunner of great calamities.—Trapp.
—The death of godly ministers a subject for lamentation.—Death reduces all things to their proper level. Circumstances and characters never find their just estimate until the shadows of mortality have abated the glare of life, and its chills have tempered the fluctuating state of life. On this occasion, what is the crown of Israel to the dying prophet? Death brought the purple of the monarch into contact with the coarse garment of the prophet. The prophet under that dispensation was what the minister is now to the church. There is a difference in some respects; but in origin and design the office is one. Times and modes change; but principles are eternal. And thus we may adopt the lamentation of Joash over the expiring Elisha,—"Oh my father, my father, &c." We may be instructed by it in the following particulars.
I. The importance of a faithful minister to the church and the world in his life and in his death.
1. The importance of his ministry. What is there in the world to compete with it? It is to show the ruins of the fall repaired and paradise restored. It is to save souls from death.
2. The importance of fidelity in it. Woe unto those who conceal, or deny, or alter, or add to the truth.
3. The importance of the life of a faithful minister to the church and to the world. The life will preach when the tongue is silent. Renders his preaching singularly impressive.
4. The importance of the death of a faithful minister. Though it does not determine character, what consolation does it afford to the survivors! What a savour of Christianity does it leave behind. The faithful minister is a strong bulwark to those around him.
II. The attention awakened by his removal and the respect due to his memory.
1. Israel's chariot and horsemen are departed. They are immortal till their work is done. Some fall newly green, and others newly grey; and how swiftly are they removed.
2. Attention is awakened by events like these. An attention that too often sleeps before. We do not find the attention of Joash awakened before. O! if we were aware we were hearing the last sermon, with what attention should we listen.
3. There is respect due to the memory of a faithful minister. This is claimed on every principle of reason and gratitude.
III. The tender recollections of those more immediately connected with him, and the special duties devolving upon them. The king wept. Such intimacies stand connected with every man and with every minister. All the charities of human nature are connected in the sacred office, and called into contact with all its parts.
IV. Anticipate the day when all the ravages of death shall be repaired and all the fruits of ministerial usefulness gathered.
1. Such a day shall come. A day when the harvest shall be reaped.
2. The anticipation of this day is solemn, delightful, important.—The Pulpit.
—It is rarely recognised how great and irreparable is the loss of a true man of God, a great benefactor and a faithful servant, until he is gone. King Joash was not ashamed to come to the dying prophet, and to confess with tears his own helplessness; but how many shun such holy men, and are glad if they need never have anything to do with them.—Lange.
2Ki . Here we see Elisha's patriotism. If we would know what true love of one's fatherland is, let us ask the prophet. In his case it received a Divine consecration. It is truly touching to see with what tenderness the prophets enfold in their hearts their country and people, even when they see in them little but spiritual death, decay, and corruption, and experience from their fellow-countrymen little but bitterness, hate, and persecution.—Krummacher.
2Ki . The arrows of the Lord's deliverance. That death-bed scene speaks volumes for the power of holiness. Elisha was the prophet of God—a man of no honourable station, except that he is always honourable whom God calls to serve him. Joash, the king of Israel, who has often rejected Elisha's admonitions, and continued to worship in the groves of Baal, though Elisha had denounced them, now that the prophet is about to die at the good old age of ninety, comes to weep at his bed-side. It was something remarkable for the king to come there at all. Kings do not often visit death-bed scenes, especially the death-beds of God's servants. But it was something more remarkable for that king to stand and look upon the decaying form of the aged prophet, and to weep over his face. More notable still was the language in which the king expressed his sense of the value of the prophet to the state. "O my father! my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" He felt as if now all his strength was cut off. The king had trusted in his cavalry, though he had but a slender force, and he compares the prophet to that which he looked upon as being the strongest arm of his military service; or he looks upon the state now as being a chariot with wild horses, and no stately prophet to stand erect and hold the reins. Now have the reins dropped, and whither will the chariot go? It will soon be overturned, and the mad coursers will drag it hither and hither. So the king, out of a sort of selfish respect for the prophet—for it was respect, and yet it was selfishness—stands and weeps over the prophet's dying bed.
I. Let us consider the significant sign. Israel was at that time engaged in warfare against Syria. As a sign that God intended to give victory to his people, the king is bidden to take the bow and arrows; Elisha, as God's representative, puts his hand upon the king's hands; forth with the window is opened, and the arrow is shot. As it flies through the air, the prophet says that that arrow is the arrow of the Lord's deliverance of his people out of the hand of Syria. The interpretation of this symbolical act is simple enough. God will save. Deliverance is of the Lord; but it must be accomplished by human instrumentality. Joash must take the bow and arrows; but the hands of Joash cannot make the arrow speed, save as Elisha, the representative of God, puts his hands there. So the man, divinely strengthened by God, shoots the arrow, and the deliverance comes. We grant you that God can work without means, and even when he uses means, he still takes the glory to himself, for it is all his own; yet it has been the rule, and will be the rule till the day of means shall come to an end, that just as God saved man by taking upon himself man's flesh, so everywhere in the world he calls men by speaking to them through men of their own flesh and blood. We are not to let the arrows lie still, and say, "God will do his own work, Elisha will shoot the arrows." This is idleness; we have had enough of this. Look at those churches which say, "God will do his own work." You will find that the more these people talk about God's doing his own work, the more they sink into a fatal apathy. And when they have entangled brethren whose conversion was effected under other ministry than their own, they talk as if they had been re-converted, and did not know the truth till they had heard the particular, excellent, hot-pressed gospel which they deliver. On the other hand it is an equally dangerous error to suppose that we are to take the arrows and shoot without God. This is, in fact, the more dangerous of the two; although, if I have to compare two devils together, I know not which is the worst of these evil spirits—the spirit which idly says, "Leave it to God," or the spirit which goes about God's work without dependence on him.
II. Let us censure the slack-handed king. The prophet gave him the bow and arrows, and bade him shoot down upon the ground. It was left to him. He is bidden to shoot, and he shoots once; he draws his bow and he shoots again; a third time he draws the bow, and then throws it down slack upon the ground. The prophet is angry with him, for he will only have three victories. If he had smitten the ground six times he would have had six victories. The king is to be censured, and censured severely; but as he is dead and gone, and our censure cannot affect him, let us censure those who now imitate him.
1. How many believers have but little faith, and seem quite content to have but that little. They cannot grasp the promise of God and believingly expect to have it fulfilled. They cannot take God at his word, and therefore their temporal troubles and their spiritual cares press very heavily upon them. Oh, that they had grace to smite the ground six times! Oh, that they knew how to cast all their burden on Him who careth for them!
2. Then you see another class of people who are just the same as to their knowledge. They do not understand the deep things of God; they are content to know that which saves the soul from ruin, and the remedy which is provided by Christ, but they let the deep things of God lie still for strong men, but they themselves are content to be babes.
3. You will see these same people, or others like them, who are content about their daily walk and conversation. They are not drunkards; they do not swear; they are scrupulously truthful; they commit no breach of the Sabbath day; but when you have said this, you have said about as much as you can say of them. Their religion seems to have made them moral, but it would be difficult to perceive that it has made them holy. These brethren have, in fact, shot three times, and they have smitten the ground once or twice, but they have not made a clean sweep of their besetting sins; they still tolerate some of them; they have not reached to a high point of holiness.
4. So, too, there are many Christians who do not shoot more than three times, inasmuch as they are content with very low enjoyments. Shame on us that we are content to be such dwarfs, when we might grow into giants; that we are here frittering away our time, when we might immortalize ourselves and glorify our Lord. How is it we are content to bring forth a lean ear, and then a scanty ear, when there should be seven ears upon one stalk, like the plenty of Egypt. Consider some of the reasons why the king did not shoot more.
(1). Perhap he felt rather tender towards the Syrians. It is just possible that he felt he did not want to hurt them too much. He would be victorious; he would get his enemy under his feet; but, if he did more, he would crush him outright, and he hardly wanted to do that. So some professors do not want to be too hard upon their sins; they have a sort of hidden tenderness towards their own corruptions.
(2). Again, perhaps the king did not go on to shoot because he thought it was hardly his business to be employed as a bowman. "Why should I stay here for ever," saith he, "shooting arrows? I did not object when the prophet's hand was upon me, to shoot; but to stand here and keep smiting the ground is hardly the occupation for a king."
(3). And then the thought, perhaps, that he should have three victories, and that would be enough. You do not want to be made good; you do not want to be made Christ-like; you do not want to be able to triumph over your sins; you mistake your high calling; you think you are called to be a slave, when you are called to reign; you fancy you are called to wear sackcloth, when you are bidden to put on scarlet and fine linen; you think that God has called you to a dunghill, whereas He has called you to a throne; you imagine you are to be but here and there the skirmishers in the battle, when He has called you to stand in the front rank and to fight constantly for his cause.
(4). The king may have begun to doubt whether the victories would really come. He knew very well that he had not many soldiers, and that Syria was very strong, so he thought: "Well, it takes some faith to think that I shall beat them three times; but it is not likely I shall do it in the fourth." He doubted the Divine power and the Divine promise, because of his own weakness; and many Christians do that.
(5). And it is very likely the king despised the prophet's plan. Why, he seemed to say, this was absurd, smiting the ground in this way! If there were any men to be shot at, he would not spare the arrows; but to smite the ground in this way—absurd! ridiculous! So, too often we miss a blessing because we do not like God's plans.
III. Let us justify the righteous wrath of the prophet. We do not like to see either an old man or a dying man angry; but the prophet here did well to be angry, even though at the hour of death. He loved the people, and wept to think that their king was standing in their light, and robbing them of precious privileges.
1. How much Israel suffers from the slack-handedness of the king. Oh, Christians! you suffer yourselves; you miss a thousand comforts. What you might do for God you are unable to do. What you might sit down and feed upon yourselves, you utterly miss, because you will not go on farther, and seek higher attainments: and all your brethren suffer too.
2. How easy the triumph that might have been achieved! Why, if this king had shot more arrows, Syria would have been quite overcome, and cut in pieces; but because he was slack in this, Syria waves her proud banner over captive maids and sorrowing widows whose husbands have been slain in battle, and weep in the streets of Samaria. The devil rejoices when he sees slumbering Christians. The world laughs in its sleeve at professors now-a-days.
3. How Jehovah's name was dishonoured! In Assyria's streets they laughed at Jehovah; they said that their gods were greater than He. Oh, what a shame it is that you and I should ever put Christ to more shame than he endured for our sakes! Let us bethink ourselves whether we have not been shooting too few arrows; whether we have not thought too much of the little we have been doing; whether we might not have done more. I am sure there is room for great improvement in the best of us. O Lord, what a spark is my love to thee! Oh, that thou wouldest blow it into a flame till it were as coals of juniper!—C. H. Spurgeon.
—The arrow shot towards the enemy's country signifies the deliverance which the Lord will soon grant Israel from the Syrian yoke. The casting of a spear, or shooting of an arrow into an enemy's country was a common signal for the beginning of hostilities. Thus Alexander the Great is said to have hurled a dart into his enemy's land when he came to the borders of the Persian territory.—Whedon.
—After the Scythians had laid waste their country before the legions of Darius, and thus reduced the invading army to the greatest distress for want of provisions, they sent an ambassador to the Persian king to present him a bird, a mouse, a frog, and five arrows. The ambassador was asked what these presents meant. He answers that he had nothing else in charge but to deliver them, and return with all speed; but that the Persians, if they were ingenious, would discover what interpretation to put upon them. Darius, judging according to his wishes, gave it as his opinion that they were tokens of submission. "The mouse," said he, "being bred in the earth, indicates that they yield up their lands; the frog, living in water, that they yield up also their lakes, rivers, &c.; the bird, represented all the wild and tame fowl; and the delivering up the five arrows was the same with the Scythians as delivering up arms is with other nations." "Alas!" said Gobryas, one of the seven princes who had ejected the magi, "it is far otherwise. For O, Persians! unless as birds ye fly in the air, or as mice ye retreat under the earth, or as frogs ye swim in the water, ye shall never return whence ye came, but shall perish by these arrows." And so in fact it turned out; for it was only by the merest accident that Darius and the whole of the army were not cut off by the Scythians.—Peroy Anecdotes.
—How readily doth Elisha now make good the words of Joash! How truly is he the chariots and horsemen of Israel! Israel had not fought without him—much less had been victorious. If theirs be the endeavour, the success is his. Even the dying prophet puts life and speed into the forces of Israel; and while he is digging his own grave, is raising trophies to God's people.—Bp. Hall.
—Many an "arrow of the Lord" is shot from the lips or looks of a dying saint—e.g., a mother's last appeal, a father's farewell counsel, a friend's request.
2Ki . Elisha's reproof to Joash. Consider:
I. What messages of mercy God has sent to us.
1. By significant emblems.
2. By express promises.
3. By the declarations and examples of dying saints.
II. Whence it is that we profit so little by them. The fault is in ourselves alone, just as it was in the king of Israel.
1. Our desires are faint.
2. Our expectations low.
3. Our exertions languid. Conclusion:
1. Improve the opportunities God affords you by his ministers.
2. Trifle not with the impressions which are at any time upon your mind.—Simeon.
—Cease not to shoot arrows of love into the heart of God, so shall one arrow of deliverance after another come back from the Lord, and be given to thee in the word of truth. So shalt thou smite thy spiritual foes and tread them under foot, even more completely than Joash did the Syrians. He who is called to execute work for God may not stop and desist according to his own good judgment, but must go on in it tirelessly and faithfully till the Lord commands him to cease. Faith must hold firm until the end. When one battle is won, the conflict is not over. How much is it to be regretted when one only half believes—half obeys; or when one, after a good beginning, desists.—Lange.
2Ki . The conflict with evil. I. Should be carried on under the direction of those competent to advise. II. Complete victory can be achieved only by resolute and persevering effort. III. To stop short of complete victory is to entail greater calamity in the future.
—The prophet himself did not yet know how many victories Joash should obtain against the Syrians; but God had signified to him that he should learn that by the number of the king's strokes; and he was angry with him, not simply because he smote only thrice, but because, by his unbelief and idolatry, he provoked God so to over-rule his heart and hand that he should smite but thrice, which was a token that God would assist him no further, although his smiting but thrice might proceed either from his unbelief or negligence. For, by the former sign, and the prophet's comment upon it, he might clearly perceive that this also was intended as a sign of his success, and, therefore, he ought to have done it frequently and vehemently.—Pool.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2Ki . Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year— בָּא שָׁנָה—lit., a year came; but it may be interpreted as the Spring season, in ancient times the usual period for opening campaigns or commencing invasions.
2Ki . As they were burying a man, &c.—i.e., a corpse of some unknown person about to be interred in the same burial place in which Elisha's sepulchre was situate. The sudden appearance of one of these Moabite hordes urged them to cast the body hastily into the grave of Elisha, which, if not open, was quickly accessible by removing the stone from its mouth.
HOMILETICS OF 2Ki
THE INFLUENCE OF THE GREAT AND GOOD
I. Does not terminate with their life. "And Elisha died, and they buried him;" but they could not bury his influence for good; that is one thing over which death has no power. "There is nothing," writes Dickens, "no, nothing innocent or good, that dies and is forgotten; let us hold to that faith or none. An infant, a prattling child, dying in its cradle, will live again in the better thoughts of those who loved it, and play its part through them in the redeeming actions of the world, though its body be burnt to ashes, or drowned in the deepest sea. There is not an angel added to the host of heaven but does its blessed work on earth in those that loved it here. Forgotten! Oh, if the good deeds of human creatures could be traced to their source, how beautiful would even death appear, for how much charity, mercy, and purified affection would be seen to have their growth in dusty graves." The life of Elisha was a precious treasure to the nation; his name could not be forgotten; his deeds shone as the stars of heaven; his power penetrated all ranks, from king to peasant.
II. Keeps alive the hope of deliverance in the breasts of an oppressed people (2Ki ). The Moabites had partially rccovered from the reverses they suffered at the beginning of Elisha's career (ch. 3), and became strong enough to make an annual predatory incursion. Harassed by Syrian and Moabite, the Israelites might have yielded to despair; but the spirit of the dead prophet sustained them. They loved his memory; they revered his stainless character; they believed his prophecies, and in the darkest hour of oppression and suffering they cherished the hope of deliverance. The influence of a good man lives through many generations, and inspires many to nobler thoughts and more heroic action.
O! who shall lightly say that fame
Is nothing but an empty name!
Whilst in that sound there is a charm
The nerves to brace, the heart to warm;
As, thinking of the mighty dead,
The young from slothful couch will start,
And vow, with lifted hands outspread,
Like them to act a noble part!—Baillie.
III. Is sometimes vindicated by miraculous occurrences (2Ki ). This miracle of Elisha's, after his death, is more surprising than any of those which he performed during his lifetime. No exact parallel offers itself in the rest of Scripture. Still it may be said to belong to a class where the miracle was not wrought through the agency of a living miracle-worker, but by a material object in which, by God's will, virtue for the time being resided. The most familiar example of this class is the staunching of the issue of blood, by the touch of the hem of Christ's garment; but the cures wrought by handkerchiefs and aprons brought to the sick from the body of St. Paul (Act 19:12) are still more nearly parallel. In the present instance, no doubt the primary effect was greatly to increase the reverence of the Israelites for the memory of Elisha, to lend force to his teaching, and especially to add weight to his unfulfilled prophecies, as to that concerning the coming triumphs of Israel over Syria. In the extreme state of depression to which the Israelites were now reduced, a very signal miracle may have been needed to encourage and re-assure them (Speaker's Comm.) It was not the dead body of Elisha, but the living God, that gave life again to the dead; and Omnipotence worked by contact with the dead Elisha to show that the Divine efficiency that was in the prophet had not disappeared from Israel with his death. The future fame and influence of the good may be safely left in the hands of God.
LESSONS:—A good man.—
1. Is the fruit of divine grace.
2. Is a great boon to a nation.
3. Is imperishable in his influence.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2Ki . The death of the good. I. A calamity to a distracted country. II. Suggests that the most conspicuous piety cannot evade the penalty of sin. III. The cause of wide-spread and genuine sorrow. IV. Leads men to reflect upon the influence and power of the life just terminated.
—Such was Elisha, greater yet less, less yet greater, than Elijah. He is less. For character is the real prophetic gift. The man, the will, the personal grandeur of the prophet are greater than any amount of prophetic acts, or any extent of prophetic success. We cannot dispense with the mighty past, even when we have shot far beyond it. Nations, churches, individuals must all be content to fare as dwarfs in comparison with the giants of old time—with the Reformers, the Martyrs—the heroes of their early youthful reverence. A prophet like Elijah comes once, and does not return. Elisha, both to his countrymen and to us, is but the successor—the faint reflection of his predecessor. When he appeared before the three suppliant kings, his chief honour was that he was Elisha, the son of Shaphat, who "poured water on the hands of Elijah."
Less, yet greater. For the work of the great ones of this earth is carried on by far inferior instruments, but on a far wider scale—and, it may be, in a far higher spirit. The life of an Elijah is never spent in vain. Even his death has not taken him from us. He struggles, single handed as it would seem, and without effect; and in the very crisis of the nation's history, is suddenly and mysteriously removed. But his work continues; his mantle falls; his teaching spreads; his enemies perish. The prophet preaches and teaches; the martyr dies and passes away; but other men enter into his labours. By that one impulse of Elijah, Elisha and Elisha's successors, prophets, and sons of prophets, are raised up by fifties and by hundreds. They must work in their own way. They must not try to retain the spirit of Elijah by repeating his words, or by clothing themselves in his rough mantle, or by living his strange life.
What was begun in fire and storm, in solitude and awful visions, must be carried on through winning arts, and healing acts, and gentle words of peaceful and social intercourse. Not in the desert of Horeb, or on the top of Carmel, but in the crowded thoroughfares of Samaria, in the gardens of Damascus, and by the rushing waters of Jordan. Elisha himself may be as nothing compared with Elijah. His wonders may be forgotten. He dies by the long decay of years; no chariots of fire are there to lighten his last moments, or bear his soul to heaven. Yet he knows that, though unseen, they are always around him. Once in the city of Dothan, in the ancient pass, where the caravans of the Midianites and the troops of the Syrians stream through into Central Palestine—when he is compassed about with chariots and horses of the hostile armies, and his servant cries out for fear, Elisha said, "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." It is a vision of which the meaning acquires double force from its connection with the actual history; as if to show, by the very same figure, that the hope which bore Elijah to his triumphal end, was equally present with Elisha. Elijah, and those who are like Elijah, are needed in critical and momentous occasions to "prepare the way for the Lord." His likeness is John the Baptist: and of those that were born of women before the times of Christendom, none were greater than they. But Elisha, and those who are like Elisha, have a humbler, and yet a wider, and therefore a holier sphere; for their works are not the works of the Baptist, but are the deeds, if not of Christ Himself, at any rate of "the least in His kingdom"—the gentle, beneficent, "holy man of God, who passeth by us continually."—Stanley.
Before closing this account of Elisha, we must not omit to notice the parallel which Elisha presents to our Lord—the more necessary because, unlike the resemblance between Elijah and John the Baptist, no attention is called to it in the New Testament. Some features of this likeness have already been spoken of. But it is not merely because he healed a leper, raised a dead man, or increased the loaves, that Elisha resembled Christ, but rather because of that loving, gentle temper, and kindness of disposition—characteristic of him above all the saints of the Old Testament—ever ready to soothe, to heal and to conciliate—which attracted to him women and simple people, and made him the universal friend and "father," not only consulted by kings and generals, but resorted to by widows and poor prophets in their little troubles and perplexities. We have spoken above of the fragmentary nature of the records of Elisha, and of the partial conception of his work as a prophet which they evince. Be it so. For that very reason we should the more gladly welcome those engaging traits of personal goodness which are so often to be found even in those fragments, and which give us a reflection—feeble, it is true, but still a reflection—in the midst of the sternness of the Old Dispensation, of the love and mercy of the New.—Smith's Bible Dictionary.
2Ki . The virtue of a corpse. The chief lesson this story teaches is the mighty influence a good man may exert after his decease.
1. We should be ambitious of this influence. Our lives at the longest are brief. That portion of our lives devoted to holy aims is briefer still. How consolatory and inspiring is the fact that, when our brief life is finished, we can still be a power for good! Think that, from your seat in glory, you may see men inspired by the memory of your generosity, zeal, courage, purity, and prayerfulness. Their deeds in turn are remembered, and inspire others. Thus you will have a share in blessing men to the end of time.
2. Let me remind you how much we owe to this influence. Would you be what you are were it not for the memory of the dead?
3. The best methods for securing this posthumous influence for good.
1. By publishing through the press our thoughts and opinions. How many a book is like the body of Elisha—lifeless itself. yet giving life!
2. By a definite and public profession of religion.
3. By active engagement in Christian work. We must all exert some influence after death, either for weal or woe. Let us, then, be jealous over ourselves with a godly jealousy.—R. A. Griffin.
—Were not the men of Israel more dead than the carcase thus buried, how could they choose but see in this revived corpse an emblem of their own condition? How could they choose but think, if we adhere to the God of Elisha, He shall raise our decayed estates, and restore our nation to its former glory.—Bp. Hall.
—The miracle of Elisha's bones has been the subject both of criticism and of allegory. The rationalist, of course, admits no miracle. In his view, the deceased was only apparently dead, fallen into a trance, perhaps, but suddenly brought to his senses again by the shock of being roughly cast into Elisha's tomb; others admit a real miracle, but seem to look upon it with suspicion. "This," says Clarke, "is the first, and, I believe, the last, account of a true miracle performed by the bones of a dead man, and yet on it, and such like, the whole system of miracle-working relics has been founded by the Popish Church." "Elisha's works," says Stanley, "stand alone in the Bible in their likeness to the acts of mediæval saints. There alone, in the sacred history, the gulf between Biblical and ecclesiastical miracles almost disappears. In this, as in so much besides, his life and miracles are not Jewish, but Christian." By others the miracle is made a type of Jesus' power to raise to life by his own death and burial those who are dead in trespasses and sins. "So, too," says Wordsworth, "the apostles and evangelists, being dead, yet speak to all the world in the Gospels and Epistles, and, by the word of God in them, they raise souls to life eternal."—Whedon.
—Which miracle God wrought, partly to do honour to that great prophet, and that by this seal he might confirm his doctrine, and thereby confute the false doctrine and worship of the Israelites; partly to strengthen the faith of Joash and the Israelites in his promise of their success against the Syrians; and partly, in the midst of all their calamities, to comfort such Israelites as were Elisha's followers with the hopes of that eternal life whereof this was a manifest pledge, and to awaken the rest of that people to a due care and preparation for it.—Pool.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2Ki . Three times did Joash beat him—i.e., Benhadad, the son of Hazael; according to the number of arrows he shot (2Ki 13:19).—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 2Ki
THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF THE DIVINE MERCY
I. Seen in commiserating the sufferings of His people.—"Hazael oppressed Israel; and the Lord was gracious unto them and had compassion" (2Ki ). The Divine heart is moved with the sight of suffering and woe. It is impossible for Him to be callous and indifferent to the afflictions of His people; the more they suffer, the more they are endeared to Him. The tenderness of the Divine mercy is unspeakably exquisite. How great is our sin to treat that mercy with coldness and persistent unbelief! Suffering is often the first thing that opens our eyes to the enormity of our sin and the marvellous condescension of the Divine mercy.
II. Seen in His reluctance to inflict the extreme penalty of disobedience.—"The Lord would not destroy them, neither cast He them from His presence as yet" (2Ki ). The sins of the Israelites cried for chastisement. The greatest chastisement would be to be abandoned by Jehovah to the fury of their enemies, as was ultimately done (2Ki 17:18; 2Ki 17:20). But, though their iniquities deserved it, this extreme punishment was delayed by the Divine mercy. That mercy was reinforced by the Divine faithfulness. The Lord remembered "His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." The exercise of mercy is always in harmony with every attribute of the Divine nature. If God be slow to punish because of His mercy, His justice ensures the certainty of punishment.
III. Seen in His faithful fulfilment of the promise of deliverance (2Ki ). The dying Elisha, as the mouth-piece of Jehovah, had promised Israel three victories over Syria, and the resuscitation of the corpse when it touched the bones of the buried prophet would tend to strengthen faith in the fulfilment of the promise. In this verse the fact of that fulfilment is recorded—another indication that the history was written, not to set forth the valour and prowess of the Hebrews, and the external glory of the kingdom, but to illustrate the dealings of God with them, and trace the true causes of their decline and extinction as a nation. Every page of the history bears testimony to both the mercy and faithfulness of God. Mercy rejoices in providing means of deliverance, and faithfulness in carrying them out.
LESSONS:—The Divine mercy.—
1. Is tender and long-suffering.
2. Gives no licence to wrong-doing.
3. Provides an opportunity for repentance and reform.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2Ki .—National suffering. I. A chastisement for national sin. II. Awakens the Divine compassion. III. Is alleviated by the Divine mercy.
2Ki .—When God turns Himself from us, then we are given over to wretchedness: when he turns back to us again, then we find salvation. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead for a thousand years, and yet their blessing was efficacious. God does not take pleasure in our ruin, but remembers, even in the midst of His anger, His promised grace and the covenant He has made.—Lange.
2Ki .—Property wrongfully acquired. I. Has no security in its possession. II. Acquired by violence, may be restored by violence. III. Is not worth the trouble it costs to acquire and keep.
—Tyrants are rods by means of which God chastises His people; but finally the tyrants themselves are chastised by God and cast into the fire.
—These cities were unjustly obtained and quickly lost. Unrighteous wealth rarely comes to the third generation.—Lange.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany