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ELISHA AND THE SYRIAN INVASION
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 6:2. Take thence every man a beam—The wooded banks of the Jordan would furnish timber readily; probably Bethel or Jericho. Although, evidently, the students of Elisha were of a humble character, and he offered them but few indulgences and delicacies, yet their number grew so as to need a larger home, or a more commodious lecture-hall. 2 Kings 6:8-9. In such a place shall be my camp, i.e., shall ye hide yourselves—Probably the word here is from the same root as in 2 Kings 6:9, where it is rendered, For thither the Syrians are come down, i.e., there the Syrians hide themselves; or the two words may have as their roots respectively חָנַה and נָחַת; but the word in 2 Kings 6:8 occurs only there in that form throughout the Bible.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 6:1-7
THE DIVINE SYMPATHY FOR LITTLE SORROWS
The miracle recorded in this paragraph presents a striking contrast to that which was wrought on behalf of Naaman. In the case of the great Syrian captain his cure was a public display of Divine power and mercy, and served to extol the God of Israel among the nations. It was a great work, wrought upon a great personage, and would become the talk and marvel of a great and populous nation. The miracle we are now considering was of a humbler character, and taught a different lesson. An obscure and nameless prophet of Jericho is the subject of Divine compassion, and the Divine power is put forth in connection with the humblest and most insignificant affairs of human life and toil. The omnipotence which startles a world with its wonders is also available, in the most modest and unobtrusive form, for the relief of genuine distress. Of this class of Elisha’s wonderful works, this is the last one recorded, and makes a fitting conplement to his other miracles of blessing. The healing of the waters of Jericho, the increase of the widow’s oil, the raising of the Shunammite’s son, the healing of the poisoned pottage, the multiplying of the loaves, and the healing of Naaman, all had more direct reference to the wants of families or societies, and did not so much enter into the particular anguish of one single heart as did this. This receiving of a comparatively little loss and that of a single individual, give assurance that Divine providence will work for the comfort of one suffering heart as well as for the interests of societies or families; and shows that sorrows which we may think of little moment receive great attention from Him who numbers the hairs of our head. It presents a touching and suggestive picture of the Divine sympathy for little sorrows. Note—
I. That the Divine sympathy is interested in the temporal comfort of the good (2 Kings 6:1-4). The school of the prophets had outgrown its accommodation, and Elisha was consulted as to a more commodious dwelling. The disciples, not content with simply gaining the consent of their revered teacher to the undertaking, prevailed upon him to accompany them. Elisha represented the Divine interest and intention in the work. God is not indifferent to the temporal welfare and happiness of His people. He looks down sympathizingly on a good man, struggling with straitened circumstances, or upon a church making efforts for extension in the midst of poverty and persecution. He ensures the comfort of the good irrespective of external surroundings. Riches and poverty are more in the heart than in the hand; he is wealthy who is contented, while the disconted millionnaire is poor indeed. The Lord bestows upon His people the unpurchasable blessing of contentment which fills up all the chinks of desire as the molten metal fills up the minutest cavity in the mould.
II. That the Divine sympathy does not overlook the individual in the many (2 Kings 6:5). There was a number of workers in the forest, all engaged in the same occupation—felling timber for the house of the prophets; but there was one only of the number who specially arrested the Divine notice, and called forth the Divine power, and he was unfortunate and distressed. Man often loses sight of the individual in the multitude, but Jehovah never. It is easy for us to sympathize with a nation, and shed tears over its sufferings and sorrows, while we have no particular interest in any one member of the nation. Jehovah cares for the whole human race, by caring for every individual member of it. And if there is one who more quickly than another attracts the Divine sympathy, it is the unfortunate and suffering. The tramp and bustle of the crowd could not deafen the ear of Jesus to the cry of blind Bartimeus. The unseen touch by trembling, but believing fingers, of the fringe of his robe, awoke a sympathetic response in the Saviour’s heart, and the sufferer for years was in a moment healed. Amid the thousands of warlike Syrians who surrounded the city of Dothan (2 Kings 6:14), the Lord did not forget the solitary Elisha, but provided for his rescue and safety. It is with significant emphasis the psalmist declares a truth which is being constantly exemplified: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalms 34:6).
III. That the Divine sympathy does not hesitate to exert miraculous power to alleviate what may seem the little sorrows of life (2 Kings 6:6-7). It might appear a trifling matter to lose the iron head of an axe, but to this poor prophet it was a real and serious loss. It was not only that he was prevented taking his share in helping his fellow-workers, but it was the loss of borrowed property which he had no possible means of replacing. This to a conscientious mind would be torture enough, and would exalt what might seem a small trouble into a great one. But with our God these are no little things. What we regard as the little cares and sorrows of the poor may have a magnitude in God’s eye as great as the cares of empire and the afflictions of princes. The loss of the axe was to the hapless borrower a calamity greater than would have been to Naaman the loss of all the treasures he had brought from Damascus. The sorrow was not too insignificant to evoke the Divine sympathy, and the exertion, through the prophet Elisha, of miraculous power for its assuagement. The greatness of God appears in the minute attention and finish that he gives to little things. The tiniest flower, the smoothly-rounded pebble, the geometrically-shaped snowflake, the delicately-tinted ocean-shell, each bears witness to the infinite care and artistic touch of the Divine hand. The smallest troubles of humanity are not unnoticed. The tear quickly dashed away, the half-suppressed sigh, the silent hidden anguish of the heart, bring down the helping arm of God to the soul that appeals to Him—the arm which is as gentle in its soothing ministrations as it is mighty in its terrible vengeance.
1. There is nothing too insignificant for the Divine notice.
2. What may seem little sorrows to others are great enough to the sufferer.
3. We should carry every trouble, however minute, to God.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 6:1-7. The prosperity of the Church. 1. Advances, notwithstanding abounding wickedness and persecution.
2. Often results from the earnestness and diligence of one good man.
3. Demands harmonious co-operation among all Christian workers.
4. Receives the divine sanction and blessing.
2 Kings 6:1. There was no loss of Gehazi; when he was gone the prophets increased. An ill man in the Church is but like some shrubby tree in a garden, whose shape keeps better plants from growing. The kings of Israel had succeeded in idolatry and hate of sincere religion, yet the prophets multiply. Persecution enlarges the bounds of the Church. These tempestuous showers bring up flowers in abundance. The Church, like the palm tree, the more it is pressed with weight, the more it fructifies; like camomile, it flourishes when most trodden; like the lily, it grows by its own tears.
2 Kings 6:5-7. The borrowed axe. I. The loan.
1. Kindly lent to men in need; probably with many promises on the one side, and many injunctions on the other.
2. A very valuable loan at that time. Manufacture of metals imperfectly understood then; manufactured articles were, therefore, more expensive, and more difficult to obtain,
3. A willingness to lend shows a kind heart; sympathy with the object and purposes of the borrower should not, therefore, be abused. A willingness to lend, but never to borrow, which is the proud boast of some, is a pitiful spirit. Sometimes to give one the opportunity of lending, is to do him good by exercising his benevolence and goodwill. II. The loss.
1. Accidental. Not altogether void of thoughtlessness. Should have taken care that the head was more firmly united to the haft, or that the blow was delivered in another direction.
2. Serious. Could not be easily replaced. Axe heads scarce and expensive, and the borrower poor; but the most serious part of the loss was the moral effect of it. The non-return of loans makes lenders chary of assisting those who need such help. People who are remiss in returning, in due time and undamaged, borrowed property, little think what injury they do to benevolent and neighbourly feeling, or what damage they inflict upon others. III. The recovery.
1. He who had lost it did not treat the matter as of no importance. His concern a good sign. Would there were more of it in the world.
2. He noticed where it fell, looked anxiously at the water, probably sounded it, found it deep and turbid. Could not find or recover it. He went in dismay to the prophet.
3. Elisha comprehended the situation at once. The axe must be recovered for monetary, and, above all, moral reasons. He was not the man to work miracles on every pretext. This was no slight matter; no one should have reason to regret he had aided, even by a loan, in the building of the prophets’ college. Confidence in the prophets should not be damaged by the loss of the axe. LEARN:—
1. To be conscientious in the matter of borrowing and lending.
2. To be more anxious concerning the safety of borrowed articles than even of our own.—The Class and Desk.
2 Kings 6:5. Genuine honesty. 1 An evidence of true religion.
2. Is found among the poorest.
3. Is scrupulous in caring for and returning that which is borrowed.
4. Is deeply distressed in losing what belongs to another.
5. Will use all possible means to restore what is lost.
2 Kings 6:6. O God! how easy it is for thee, when this hard and heavy heart of mine is sunk down into the mud of the world, to fetch it up again by thy mighty word, and cause it to float upon the streams of life, and to see the face of heaven again.—Bishop Hall.
2 Kings 6:7. God’s might and goodness are revealed in the smallest detail, as well as in the greatest combination. He helps in what are, apparently, the smallest interests of the individual, as well as in the greatest affairs of entire nations; and He rules with His grace especially over those who keep His covenant, and turn to Him in all the necessities of life. That is the great truth which this little story proclaims, and, just for the sake of this truth, it was thought worthy to be inserted in the history of the theocracy. The restoration of the axe, whereby aid was given to the prophet-disciple in his need, strengthened all the others in the faith that the God in whose honour they were erecting the building was with them, and would accompany their work with his blessing. They worked now the more zealously and gladly.—Lange.
—It often happens that the Lord takes from us some possession, or appears to do so, only with the purpose of returning it after a longer or shorter time in some unexpected way, that it may thus come to us as a gift of Divine love, and a pledge of His grace.—Krummacher.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 6:12. Elisha … telleth … the words thou speakest in thy bedchamber—Elisha apprised king Jehoram of the designs of the Syrian king, who thereby was enabled to anticipate and defeat his guerilla attacks.
2 Kings 6:13. Behold he is in Dothan—In a narrow pass through mountains, on the caravan road from Gilead to Egypt, twelve miles north of Samaria, in the Esdraelon plain.
2 Kings 6:17. The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire—For in this case, and in contrast with the mere “horses and chariots” (2 Kings 6:15) of the Syrian army, this was fiery host, אֵשׁ, denoting their supernatural and divine origin, for it is the symbol of Deity.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 6:8-17
THE TRIUMPHS OF PRAYER
We have seen the power of Elisha in the working of miracles in the realm of private life, and, for the most part, on behalf of the individual. Now we are to witness the beneficent power of the prophet as it operates in the wider sphere of public and national life. He appears as the seer, the man of supernatural insight, the prophet who is in habitual and prayerful communion with God, the adviser and friend of a perplexed sovereign and a harassed nation. In him is a combination of great gentleness with great power. The character in which the history now reveals him, as a man of prayer, may explain the source of his enormous power, and the vast range of his influence. The incidents here described illustrate the triumphs of prayer.
I. Seen in giving extraordinary insight into the plottings of the enemy (2 Kings 6:8-12). Elisha had power to read the secret counsels of the invading Syrian, and thus enabled the king of Israel to disconcert the plans of Benhadad, and to escape his ambuscades. Prayer intensifies the sensibilities of the soul, and makes it more keenly alive to the movements of the wicked one; it can see sights and hear sounds unperceived by others. After Elijah had wrestled with God in prayer, on Mount Carmel, he heard “a sound of abundance of rain,” though others heard it not. The sky was cloudless and hard as steel, the earth seamed and cracked, vegetation withered, the cattle were perishing, and the gaunt figure of famine, which had been tightening its grasp upon the land for two years and a half, was as pitiless and inflexible as ever. The soul that is quick to perceive coming good, is also quick to detect coming evil. The man of prayer is more than a match for the subtlest adversary.
2 Kings 6:2. Seen in inspiring a fearless courage in the midst of threatened danger (2 Kings 6:13-16). The glittering spears and chariots surrounding the city, which filled the servant of Elisha with so much alarm, struck no fear in the breast of his undaunted master. With what unutterable confidence he whispers those reassuring words: “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” The praying spirit is ever brave and strong in great emergencies. It was prayer that sustained Moses when at Rephidim he was surrounded by the mutinous host clamouring for water, and threatening to stone him to death (Exodus 17:1-4). Before Luther went to the Diet of Worms, where he expected the worst, and before Knox was tried for high treason, which threatened his own life and the ruin of the Reformation movement in Scotland, they both found relief in prayer. When a steamer went down in the Bay of Biscay a short time ago, what enabled the minister and his wife to speak with such calmness and hope to their fellow-passengers and the crew assembled in the already flooded cabin, when they expected the next lurch of the vessel would be the last? It was prayer. The solitary praying prophet felt far more confidence and courage than did Benhadad with all his warlike hosts.
III. Seen in giving the soul sublime visions of the nearness and all-sufficiency of heavenly help (2 Kings 6:17). The horses and chariots of fire were there before; but they were not seen by the young man, though they were seen by Elisha. Both had the ordinary common sense by which external objects are apprehended; but in Elisha’s case there was superadded the God-given sense of supernatural vision. Our common sense, however sound and accurate, is limited in its scope. When the comet of 1858 appeared, an observer declared that its luminous tail was just four feet long, while to the educated scientific sense it was known to extend for millions of miles. So the glories of the heavenly firmament are diminished or altogether hidden to the ordinary sense, and are revealed only to the eye of faith. Prayer intensifies the spiritual vision, and the soul beholds around it the shining hosts of heavenly ministrants ready to do the bidding of the all-powerful Jehovah.
IV. Seen in giving power to baffle and defeat the foe (2 Kings 6:18-20). Through the prayer of Elisha the Syrian host is smitten with blindness, so that they could not recognise him, nor the way in which he led them. What was their astonishment when, the blindness being removed at the instance of the man of prayer, they beheld themselves in the midst of Samaria, at the mercy of the soldiers of Jehoram. The soul has to contend with enemies, fierce and form dable. When Napoleon at Waterloo watched the tremendous charge of the Scots Greys, and witnessed the havoc wrought among the French columns, he exclaimed “How terrible are these Greys!” But more terrible still are the enemies with which we have to fight. Prayer only can give the skill and power to conquer. Gideon prayed, and though his army was reduced from 32,000 to 300, he inflicted upon the Midianites a most disastrous defeat (Judges 6:7). Samson prayed, and with restored strength he pulled down the Philistian temple, and destroyed more of his own and the Lord’s enemies in his death than he had done in his lifetime.
V. Seen in treating a conquered and distressed enemy with clemency and kindness (2 Kings 6:20-23). The king of Israel, seeing the Syrians thus brought into his power, was anxious at once to despatch them. Perhaps he remembered Ahab’s great mistake in not slaying the Syrian king when in his power, and for which mistake he was sternly rebuked by one of the prophets (1 Kings 20:35-43). But the man of prayer interposed between the fury of the king and his captives; instead of being slaughtered, they were hospitably entertained and then released, refreshed and unscathed. There are enemies of the soul to whom no mercy should be shown; no opportunity to crush them should be missed. There are enemies, again, who, when their wrong is exposed and acknowledged, we may generously forgive. Prayer fills the soul with sympathy and mercy, and expands it with magnanimity. Abraham prayed for Abimelech, and he and his house were healed. Moses prayed, and Miriam, who was punished because she had joined in the sedition against her brother, was cured of her leprosy.
VI. Seen in giving rest and security to a harrassed nation. “So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel” (2 Kings 6:23). The prayers and wisdom of one man relieved the troubles of the court and of the people. The nation is often unspeakably indebted to the prayers of a faithful few. Hezekiah prayed when Rabshekah thundered at the gates of Jerusalem, and the Assyrians were smitten with death (2 Kings 19:14-36). Ezra’s prayer led to national reform and prosperity (Ezekiel 9:10). More solid good is wrought in a nation by prayer than by diplomacy or arms.
1. Prayer is essential to building up a great and influential moral character.
2. Prayer intensifies the perceptive and realizing power of faith.
3. Prayer is an all-potent agency in conquering spiritual adversaries.
THE VISION PERMITTED TO ELISHA’S SERVANT AS ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE TRUE FAITH OF THE SOUL (2 Kings 6:17)
The chariots and horses are not here, as in the account of the ascent of Elijah a few chapters before, vehicles for a glorious passage to the skies, but simply symbols of the Divine power and protection; but in both passages the highest intelligences are represented as taking shapes, like the forms in Ezekiel, which imply that their true nobility is always service. The immaterial spirits become cognizable by the servant of Elisha under forms best calculated to reassure his fainting faith. Fire is a symbol of the Godhead, because fire is the most ethereal of the earthly elements. The gift of Pentecost sat as tongues of fire on the heads of the apostles. God is said by His prophet and His apostle to be “a consuming fire.” “The seraph is properly the burning spirit.” The horses and chariots mean, therefore, warlike force. Still, what the servant sees is not a material, it is a spiritual reality, taking a form which assures him of God’s sure protection, through the agencies of these ministers of His who do His pleasure, and at a time when all was death to the eye of flesh.
I. Now, here we see, as if through a microscope, the act or process of faith in the human soul. Faith, first of all, is not an act of the natural imagination. It is necessary to say this, because a great many persons constantly allude to faith in terms which imply that it is. They speak of a person of great faith, meaning that he is a very imaginative person, that he has quite an unusual share of that privileged, that versatile faculty which does indeed achieve so much in society, so much for literature, which is the very wellspring of poetry, which is the soul, the genius of constructive art, but which is less welcome in the sphere of religious truth, because its highest efforts result in surrounding us with the unreal, while investing it with the attributes of reality. When men speak of faith as a vivid and energetic form of imagination, they mean to imply this, without stating in terms that they do so; they mean to imply that just as the poet Virgil projected a picture of the nether world out of the immense wealth of his fancy, so evangelists and apostles have traced their own beautiful pictures of heaven, and their awful descriptions of hell and of judgment, on the pages of our testaments, by the aid of an extraordinary variety of the religious imagination. The evangelists and apostles, whatever else they were—I say it with reverence—were not poets, they were eminently prosaic; and the remarks of Rousseau that the inventor of the gospel history must have been not less wonderful than its hero if he were entirely unassisted from above, is at least a satisfactory reply to this theory of faith doing the work of pure imagination. In the case before us Elisha’s servant did not create, by an act of imagination, a splendid picture in the air, after the manner of a Milton or a Rubens, a picture of fiery beings circling round the form of his beloved, of his imperilled master. The thing is psychologically impossible. He had his eye upon the hard and menacing fact before him, upon the lines of the Syrian troops who were sent to capture the prophet his master. He could, for the time, see nothing beyond the sphere of sense. His new power of seeing the chariots and horses of fire sweeping around Elisha did not create these spiritual forms and beings; there they were, whether he and other men saw them or not, just as the more remote planets were certainly revolving in their orbits during the centuries when our science had not yet reached them by her reckonings and telescopes. Elisha had been just as much encompassed by the spirit-world the moment before his servant saw that this was the case, as he was the moment afterwards. The man’s new sight could not create, as his blindness could not have destroyed, the supernatural reality.
II. Nor is faith only the conclusion, the final act, of a process of natural reasoning. If this were the case, if faith were merely the conclusion of a syllogism, it would necessarily follow that all people with good undertandings must necessarily be believers in Christianity. We know, my brethren, that this is not the case. We know, alas! that many persons of great natural abilities, such as was Voltaire, are and have been unbelievers; and this alone would seem to show that something besides intelligence is implied in an act of faith. No man whose mind was not impaired could go through a proposition of Euclid and refuse to assent to a conclusion; but many people do read “Paley’s Evidences,” or, what is more to the purpose, what St. Paul himself says about the resurrection, and yet do not admit Paley’s and St. Paul’s conclusion that Christianity comes from God. If believing in Christianity were simply an affair of the natural understanding, this could not be. It would be just as inevitable to believe St. Paul as it is intellectually to believe Euclid. The affections and the will have a great deal to say to every pure act of faith. The understanding cannot compel faith. The evidence at the disposal of the understanding is always less than absolutely mathematical; it does not convince unless the moral nature is in such a condition that it is possible for it to be convincing. What is it which makes the desire, the heart on the one side, and the evidence at the disposal of the understanding on the other side, result in the complex, in the perfect act of faith? What is it which strikes the sacred spark which thus combines the action of the understanding and the yearnings of the heart into the single act which supersedes while it combines them?
III. Faith is, in the last resort, the fire which is lighted up in the soul by a ray from Heaven, by a ray of grace. It is a gift from God. It is a fresh gift, which nature can neither rival nor anticipate. Elisha might have insisted upon many considerations which ought in reason to have satisfied his servant that God and His holy ones were now, as of old, near at hand, that the near presence of the Syrians did not amount to a real reason of despair. Elisha did not argue. There are times when it is worse than useless. Elisha prayed; he prayed that the Lord would open the eyes of the young man to see things, not as they appear to sense, but as they are; to see, not merely the world of sense, but the world of spirit; and his prayer was granted. Reason can do very much for faith. Reason stands to faith just as did the Baptist to Christ our Lord. She is the messenger which goes before the face of faith to make ready its path within the soul. Reason can explain, she can infer, she can combine, she can reduce difficulties to their true proportions, she can make the most of considerations which show what, upon the whole, is to be expected; but here she must stop. She cannot do the work of God’s grace; she cannot transfigure the moral nature so as to enable it to correspond to the conclusions of the illuminated intellect; she cannot open the eyes of the young man and make him see. If this last triumph is to be achieved, it must be by grace given in answer to prayer.
IV. Let us see in this history a remedy against despondency, such as good Christians often feel on contemplating the state of the world at particular periods. All seems to be going against the cause of right, of truth, of God. Intellectual assailants, political adversaries, all the passions, all the prejudices, all the misapprehensions of an unregenerate humanity come down and besiege the prophet in Dothan. All might seem to be lost again and again, if it were not that again and again the eyes of the spirit are opened to perceive that they which are with as are more than they which are with them. Courage; the unseen is greater than the seen, the eternal will surely outlive the things of time. An act of faith may cross the threshold of the door which separates us from that world which is beyond the senses, and may at once correct the apparent preponderance of evil by a vision of the throne, and the resources of the All-good.
V. And see, too, in this history, our true pattern of nobility. It has been a common saying, quoted again and again of late, to explain and justify changes on the Continent that have taken place within the last ten years, that it is better to be the citizens of a great state than the citizens of a small one. It is better for many reasons; for this among the rest, there is an inspiration for good, which comes from the sense of wide and noble fellowship, of high and distinguished associates and guardians, which is denied to those who are members of a small society that have it not. And in His kingdom God has provided us with this. All the races of the world furnish their contributions to the universal church. But the frontier of sense is not the frontier of the church of Christ. It embraces both worlds, the unseen world as well as the visible. The church is a mixed as well as a world-embracing society, consisting, here of the faithful, there of the blessed angels and of the spirits of the dead, united in the bonds of one indissoluble communion, and all ranged beneath the throne of thrones, the throne of God, the throne of Jesus. The Syrian host may press us hard; the host of temptations and bad thoughts and bad acquaintances; of haunting memories; but when, at the voice of prayer, our eyes open upon the realities around and above us, we must remember that we have a destiny before us, and means at hand to prepare for it.
VI. Lastly, we see here the secret of real effective prayer. Why is prayer, public prayer especially, in so many cases nothing better than the coldest of cold, heartless forms? For two reasons especially. They enter on it without having any true knowledge of themselves whatever; of their sins and wants, as well as of their hopes and fears; of their real state before God, as well as of their reputed character in the eyes of men; in a word, they have no true knowledge of that for which prayer wins something like a remedy, and thus they have no personal interest of their own which they can import into and identify with the public language of the Church. This is the first reason. But there is a second. Prayer is so cold and heartless a thing in numbers of instances, because men see nothing of Him to whom prayer is addressed, nothing of God, nothing of Jesus, nothing of the spirit-world around the throne, nothing of the majesty, the beauty, the glory which encircles God, such as is possible, really possible, to our finite and purbliud gaze—nothing of the everlasting worship which surrounds Him, nothing of the ministers of His that do His pleasure. There are, believe it, few better prayers on entering a church than Elisha’s, “Lord, open mine eyes, that I may see.” “I do not wish to mock Thee by lip service, I do not wish to pile up my ordinary business thoughts, or my thoughts of pleasure, on the very steps of Thy throne; open mine eyes, then, that I may see in Thy beauty, and in Thy glorious presence may lose all relish which belongs only to the things of time.” It is when the soul struggles thus in an honest spiritual agony that it is really emanicipated from the tyranny of sense, and, like the young man in this history, or rather like the dying martyr of the gospel times, see the heavens opened, sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God.—Canon Liddon, condensed from Hom. Quarterly.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 6:8-17. Hints of the course of things in Zion.
1. The revealed plot.
2. The military expedition against one man.
3. The peaceful abode.
4. The cry of alarm.
5. The unveiled protection from above.—Krummacher.
2 Kings 6:8-12. The mischief maker.
1. Consults with kindred spirits who are most likely to carry out his designs.
2. Delights in plotting evil against the weak and inoffensive.
3. Fondly dreams his schemes are too cunningly devised for discovery.
4. Is intensely mortified when his plans prove abortive.
5. Is first to suspect his accomplices of treachery.
6. Cannot tolerate a superior.
2 Kings 6:9. It is no treason to bring crafty and malicious plots to the light. It is a sacred duty (Acts 23:16). Beware of going into places where thou wilt be in jeopardy of soul and body. Be on thy guard when the enemy advances.—Osiander.
2 Kings 6:11. When God brings to naught the plots of the crafty, they become enraged, and, instead of recognizing the hand of God and humbling themselves, they lay the blame upon other men, and become more malicious and obstinate. He who does not understand the ways of God thinks that he sees human treason in what is really God’s dispensation. Woe to the ruler who cannot trust his nearest attendants.—Starke.
2 Kings 6:12. God-given Wisdom
1. Bestowed on men eminent for prayer and obedience.
2. Enables man to discern the unsuspected secrets of others.
3. Is more than a match for the most consummate subtlety of the wicked.
4. Should be used in warning and delivering the innocent.
—Tremble with fear, ye obstinate sinners, because all is bared and discovered before His eyes, and shudder at the thought that the veil behind which ye carry on your works does not exist for Him! All which ye plot in your secret corners to-day, ye will find to-morrow inscribed upon His book; and however secretly and cunningly ye spin your web, not a single thread of it shall escape His eye!—Krumm.
2 Kings 6:13-16. Moral courage.
1. Is gained by communion with God.
2. Is a tower of strength to man in whatever locality he may dwell.
3. Is not intimidated by the most formidable host.
4. Inspires confidence in the timid and fearful.
5. Is conscious of being backed by superior force.
2 Kings 6:17. The vision of the supernatural.
1. Hidden from the most highly educated natural powers.
2. Granted by a special operation of the Divine Spirit on the human mind.
3. A dazzling revelation of heavenly power and beauty.
4. Inspires invincible bravery in times of peril.
—In answer to Elisha’s prayer, God opened his spiritual eyes, unveiled his inner sense, and lifted him for a moment to the high plane of Elisha’s supernatural vision, whence he obtained a view of the mighty creations of the spiritual world around him. This sight into the spiritual world was not an instance of hallucination, but a miracle of grace; an instance of that Divine ecstacy or trance in which the holy scers were enabled to behold the visions of the supersensual world, and which consists essentially in this, that the human spirit is seized and compassed by the Divine spirit with such force and energy, that, being lifted from its natural state, it becomes altogether a seeing eye, a hearing ear, a perceiving sense, that takes most vivid cognizance of things in either heaven, earth, or hell.—Whedon.
—Invisible armies guard the servants of God while they seem most forsaken of earthly aid, most exposed to certain dangers. If the eyes of our faith be as open as those of our sense, to see angels as well as Syrians, we cannot be appalled with the most unequal terms of hostility. Those blessed spirits are ready either to rescue our bodies, or to carry up our souls to blessedness.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 6:18-23. The Divine treatment of sin.
1. Sin blinds the soul so that it does not justly apprehend the true character of what it sees.
2. Sin causes the soul to wander in darkness and error.
3. The wicked are always eager to take advantage of the mistakes of their opponents.
4. God spares the sinner, though he is completely in His power.
5. Divine mercy has made every provision for the present and future welfare of the sinner.
6. The Divine clemency should disarm hostility, and promote amity and peace among men.
2 Kings 6:18. The Lord smites with blindness those who fight against Him, not in order that they may remain blind, but in order that they may truly see, after they shall have observed how far they have strayed, and shall have recognized the error of their way.
2 Kings 6:23. The king of Israel has done by his feast what he could not have done by his sword. The bands of Syria will no more come by way of ambush or incursion into the bounds of Israel. Never did a charitable act go away without the retribution of a blessing. In doing some good to our enemies, we do most good to ourselves. God cannot but love in us this imitation of His mercy, who bids His sun shine, and His rain fall, where He is most provoked; and that love is never fruitless.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 6:19. I will bring you to the man whom ye seek—This was an evasion for a good purpose, and not an untruth, for Elisha did bring them to him, vanquished and grateful; in the sense of having won them to him, capturing them in the meshes of kindness, instead of their capturing him in hatred and vengeance.
2 Kings 6:25. A great famine in Samaria—The high prices of revolting articles of food is given to show the extremes of distress to which the people were driven. An ass’s head—Regarded as unclean food, yet sold for £5 5s. A cab of doves’ dung—A cab was the smallest Hebrew dry measure, about half-pint, and its price was 12s. 6d. Doves’ dung is probably the name for a kind of pea or seed, which was contemptuously so called. Josephus, however, relates that in the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, the sewage even of the city was drained, and the excrements eaten!
2 Kings 6:27. If the Lord do not help thee—Rather, Nay! Jehovah help thee!
2 Kings 6:29. So we boiled my son—Misery had culminated in so abhorrent a deed! The other woman had hid her son, not to consume it, but to shield it from such a fate.
2 Kings 6:30. Sackcloth within upon his flesh—Visible under his torn outer garments he wears the penitential robe of sackcloth. But in his case it showed no humiliation of spirit before God; it was but as the phylacteries of the Pharisees. His imprecation on Elisha shows his evil disposition to be unsubdued. He blamed not himself, but the prophet, as Ahab did Elijah (1 Kings 18:17).
2 Kings 6:32. Son of a murderer—By descent, the son of Ahab; and in disposition like him (1 Kings 21:19). Hold him fast at the door—Keep him off with the door, i.e., by pressing against it. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?—i.e., of the king’s feet, who would impetuously follow on the heels of his messenger. Elisha urges the elders not to let the king’s executioners enter at once, but detain him till the king himself arrives.
2 Kings 6:33. The messenger came down—For “messenger,” Ewald and Grätz read “king,” and the sense requires this. Doubtless he would be admitted to the prophet’s presence; and as he meets Elisha he utters a cry full of despair, in which he confesses that the Lord’s hand is against him, and that he sees now no hope of deliverance from the prevailing distress; yet in his cry of despair there is a tremulous suggestion of possible help from the Lord he had incensed.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 6:24-33
THE HORRORS OF FAMINE
I. Famine is the dread companion of war (2 Kings 6:24-25). Benhadad soon forgot the clemency with which his soldiers were treated when in the power of the king of Israel (2 Kings 6:21-23). Perhaps he was chagrined with the failure of his previous attempts with detached bands of warriors, and determined to invade Israel with a vast army. The Syrians poured into the ill-fated country in overwhelming numbers, and so thoroughly invested Samaria, that in a short time the city was reduced to a state of abject famine. The horrors of war and of famine are always in ghastly association.
“Loud the shrieks of battle roar,
Streaming down the hollow wind;
War and slaughter go before,
Want and death are left behind.”
When David had a choice of three punishments for his sin in numbering the people—famine, war, or pestilence—he was in a strait which to select, and in his bewilderment threw himself upon the mercy of God (2 Samuel 24:14) The four lepers who brought the intelligence of the flight of the Syrians evidently concluded there was nothing to choose between famine and the sword (2 Kings 7:4). The pathway of war is streaked with blood, and strewn with the bones of the famished. In the extremity of hunger the most nauseous articles are seized for food. The history of besieged cities reveals the loathsome dishes on which the most delicate were compelled to dine.
II. That famine blunts and demoralises the tenderest feelings of human nature (2 Kings 6:26-29). A mother’s love for her offspring is the strongest passion in the human heart. It is the last foul stroke of famine when this love is shattered; when all delicacy and refinement, all sense of right and wrong, all fond endearment and deep-seated love are so thoroughly extinguished that a mother can share a meal with a neighbour on the boiled body of her own child, then the horrors of famine have reached their climax! And yet this was among the woes that Moses foretold would come to pass with this people in case of disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:53). Kitto furnishes a number of particulars concerning a terrible famine in Egypt, in the year 1200, when the people, after resorting to the most unclean and abominable tood in the extremity of their hunger, began to feed on young children: and it was not uncommon to surprise parties with children half boiled or roasted. At first this was treated by the authorities as a horrible crime; but by-and-bye the horror entirely subsided, and every one spoke of it, and heard it spoken of, as an indifferent and ordinary matter. It is very humbling to man to discover the overwhelming power of the lower passions in extremity. There seems but a brittle barrier between civilized man and the savage. The restraints of Divine grace, direct and indirect, are more potent upon society thau the artificial laws imposed by “use and wont.”
III. That famine is the source of great distress to the humane ruler (2 Kings 6:30). The first duty of a king is to provide for the immediate physical needs of his subjects. This much is recognised among the wildest tribes. It is, therefore, a cause of unspeakable suffering to a considerate monarch when he is unable to supply his own and his people’s wants. This was the condition of the king of Israel at this time. The barn-floor was swept, and the winepress empty. The staple articles of food were consumed, and king and people were involved in a common suffering. No wonder Jehoram wore the sackcloth of humiliation, and rent his clothes in despair. Kings have their troubles. Great honour means great responsibility. In famine, the king is as powerless as the beggar.
IV. That the innocent are often unjustly blamed and threatened as the cause of famine (2 Kings 6:31-32). There was evidently more sorrow in the king of Israel than repentance. He was not yet brought to see that all this suffering was in consequence of sin. He blames Elisha, and, in his despair and fury, determines to take away the prophet’s life. And yet what had he done? If Elisha foretold and warned them of the famine, did not their sins deserve it? If the prophet might have averted the calamity by his prayer, did not their impenitence restrain him? If he advised the king to hold out the siege, did he not foresee the remarkable deliverance that was at hand, and that only by suffering would both king and people be prepared to acknowledge the hand of God? “All Israel did not afford a head so guiltless as this that was destined to slaughter. This is the fashion of the world; the lewd blame the innocent, and will revenge their sin upon others’ uprightness.” If the soul is innocent of the sins which the vileness of others attributes to it, it can afford to wait for the Divine vindication. The character of His servants is safe in the hands of God.
V. That famine is here acknowledged as a Divine judgment. “Behold, this evil is of the Lord” (2 Kings 6:33). We are to suppose the king had, on reflection repented of his rash command to murder Elisha, and immediately hurried after the messenger to stay the execution. He is convinced the famine is a Divine judgment on the nation for his sins. Having reached this state of mind, he enquires, in a spirit of more genuine repentance than he has before displayed, “Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” He prays for a removal of the famine. “The passage may be thus paraphrased:—I acknowledge that this evil is a punishment for my sins; the Lord thus chastens me sorely; but now when all this people are brought to such an extremity of woe, why should I wait longer for the Lord to interpose and deliver this people from their sufferings?” It is hard to acknowledge the hand of God in our distresses; it is pleasanter to trace that hand in our gifts and prosperities. Jehovah punishes with reluctance, and of the manifold instrumentalities of punishment at His call, the one to be dreaded is famine. It is well when suffering operates in bringing the soul to God.
1. War is a fruitful source of suffering and ruin.
2. National apostasy from God is punished with national calamities.
3. Famine reveals the helplessness of man, and his absolute dependence on God.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 6:24. Evil men wax worse and worse. As Benhadad accomplished nothing by his raids, he made an attack with his entire force. A perverse and stubborn man cannot endure to be frustrated, and when he is, instead of leading him to submissiveness, as it ought, it only hurts his pride and makes him more irritated.—Lange.
2 Kings 6:25. The value and worthlessness of money.
1. Money is valuable only as a medium of exchange for the absolute necessaries of life.
2. Is freely parted with under the pressure of starvation.
3. Is powerless to avert death.
—The famine within the walls was more terrible than the sword without. Their worst enemy was shut within, and could not be dislodged of their own bowels. Whither hath the idolatry of Israel brought them? Before they had been scourged with war, with drought, with dearth, as with a single cord; they remain incorrigible, and now God twists two of these bloody lashes together and galls them even to death. There needs no other executioners than their own maws. Those things which in their own nature were not edible, at least to an Israelite, were now both dear and dainty.—Bp. Hall.
—Of all the judgments of God in this world, none is more terrible than famine. It is a scourge which draws blood. It often happens that God takes this scourge in hand when, in spite of manifold warnings, His name is forgotten in the land, and apostacy, rebellion, and unbelief are prevalent.—Krummacher.
2 Kings 6:26-29. The horrible in humanity.
1. Revealed in its most revolting aspects in extremity.
2. Seen in the triumph of sheer animalism over the keenest instincts of natural affection.
3. Beyond the power of king or council to obviate.
4. Is controlled only by the restraints of Divine grace.
—Necessity leads to prayer whenever there is a spark of the fear of God remaining; but where that fear is wanting, “Necessity knows no law,” becomes the watchword. The crime of the two women is a proof that where men fall away from God they may sink down among the ravenous beasts. Separate sores which form upon the body are signs that the body is diseased and the blood poisoned. Shocking crimes of individuals are proofs that the community is morally rotten.—Lange.
2 Kings 6:30-33. A desperate monarch. 1. Humbled and bewildered by the Sufferings and extremities of his people (2 Kings 6:30).
2. Vows vengeance on the innocent (2 Kings 6:31).
3. Repents his rash decision, and hastens to prevent its execution (2 Kings 6:32).
4. Is constrained to acknowledge the national suffering as a punishment for sin, and to seek Divine help in its removal (2 Kings 6:33).
2 Kings 6:30-31. See here a faithful picture of the wrongheadedness of man in misfortune. In the first place, we half make up our minds to repent in the hope of deliverance; but if this is not obtained at once and in the wished-for way, we burst out in rage either against our fellow-men, or against God Himself. Observe, moreover, the great ingratitude of men. Jehoram had already several times experienced the marvellous interference of God; once it fails, however, and he is enraged. The garments of penitence upon the body is of no avail, if an impenitent heart beats beneath it. Anger and rage, and plots of murder, cannot spring from the heart that is truly penitent. It is the most dangerous superstition to imagine that we can make satisfaction for our sins, can become reconciled to God and turn aside His wrath, by external performances, the wearing of sackcloth, fasting, self-chastisement, or the repetition of prayers. The world is horrified at the results of sin, but not at sin itself. Instead of confessing. “We have sinned,” Jehoram swears the man of God shall die.—Lange.
2 Kings 6:31. This imprecation, which the king wishes immediately to execute, proves that his distress of mind was no wholesome fruit of the recognition of his own guilt, such as the law coming to his view must have produced, but only a consequence of his contemplating the heart-rending misery that now for the first time stands before his eyes in all its fright-fulness, for which he wished to wreak his vengeance on the prophet whom he held to be the prime cause of the appalling necessity, probably because he had given the advice not to surrender the city on any condition, with the promise that God would deliver them if they humbled themselves before Him in sincere repentance and implored His aid. By putting on a garment of hair, the king believed he had done his part; and since, notwithstanding this, the expected help did not come, he fell into a rage which was to be expended on the prophet. This rage arose, indeed, only from a momentary ebullition of anger, and soon gave way to the better voice of conscience. The king hastened after the messenger whom he had sent to behead Elisha, in order himself to prevent the execution of the death order which he had given in the haste of his burning rage; but it proves that true repentance, which springs from the recognition of the necessity as a judgment imposed by the Lord, was still wanting in the king. The act of desperation to which his violent passion had hurried him would have taken place had not the Lord protected His prophet and revealed to him the design of the king, so that he could take measures to prevent it.—Keil.
2 Kings 6:32. He that foresaw his own peril provides for his safety. “Shut the door, and hold him fast at the door.” No man is bound to tender his throat to an unjust stroke. The same eye that saw the executioner coming to smite him, saw also the king hastening after him to stay the blow. The prophet had been no other than guilty of his own blood if he had not reserved himself awhile for the rescue of authority. O, the inconstancy of carnal hearts! It was not long since Jehoram could say to Elisha, “My father, shall I smite them?” Now he is ready to smite him as an enemy whom he honoured as a father. Yet again, his lips had no sooner given sentence of death against the prophet, than his feet stir to recall it.—Bp. Hall.
—“Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?”—Repentance.
1. Is a commendable feeling when it is the reversal of a cruel and unjust policy.
2. Loses no time in seeking to undo the evil that was threatened.
3. Leads to the removal of suffering that human rage is impotent to cure.
2 Kings 6:33. “Behold, this evil is of the Lord.” These are the words of a despairing man, in whose soul, however, a trace of faith is still concealed. For in the very fact that the king shows this frame of mind before the prophet, he lets it be understood that he still cherishes a feeble glimmer of hope and confidence in the Lord, and wishes to be directed and encouraged by the prophet. This encouragement is accordingly imparted to him.—Keil.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany