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FURTHER MIRACLES WROUGHT BY ELISHA. The historian relates first a (comparatively) private miracle wrought by Elisha in the vicinity of Jericho, for the benefit of one of the "sons of the prophets" (2 Kings 7:1-8). He then tells us briefly of a series of public miracles which brought Elisha into much note and prominence. War, it appears, had again broken out in a pronounced form between Israel and Syria, Syria being the aggressor. The Syrian monarch prepared traps for his adversary, encamping in places where he hoped to take him at a disadvantage. But Elisha frustrated these plans, by addressing warnings to the King of Israel, and pointing out to him the various positions occupied (2 Kings 7:8-12), which he consequently avoided. When this came to the ears of the King of Syria, he made an attempt to obtain possession of Elisha's person—an attempt which failed signally (2Ki 7:13 -23), owing to the miraculous powers of the prophet. Benhadad, some time after this, made a great expedition into the land of Israel, penetrating to the capital, and laying siege to it. The circumstances of the siege, and the escape of the city when at the last gasp, are related partly in the present chapter (verses 24-33), partly in the next.
2 Kings 6:1
And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee—literally, before thee—is too strait for us. The scene of this miracle is probably the vicinity of Jericho, since both Gilgal and Bethel were remote from the Jordan. The "school of the prophets" at Jericho, whereof we heard in 2 Kings 2:5, 2 Kings 2:19, had increased so much, that the buildings which hitherto had accommodated it were no longer sufficient. A larger dwelling, or set of dwelling, was thought to be necessary; but the scholars would make no change without the sanction of their master. When he comes on one of his circuits, they make appeal to him.
2 Kings 6:2
Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan. Jericho was situated at some little distance from the Jordan, on the banks of a small stream, which ran into it. Along the course of the Jordan trees and shrubs were abundant, chiefly willows, poplars, and tamarisks (see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 4.8. § 3; Strabo, 16.2. § 41). It would seem that the Jordan thickets were unappropriated, and that any one might cut timber in them. And take thence every man a beam. The meaning is, "Let us all join in the work, each cutting beams and carrying them; and the work will soon be accomplished." And let us make us a place there. They propose to build the new dwelling on the banks of Jordan, to save the trouble of conveying the materials any long distance. Where we may dwell. And he answered, Go ye. Elisha, i.e; approved the proposal, gave it his sanction and encouragement.
2 Kings 6:3
And one said, Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants. One of the number was not satisfied with the prophet's mere approval of the enterprise, but wished for his actual presence, probably as securing a blessing upon the work. And he answered, I will go. Elisha approved the man's idea, as springing from piety and faith in God. He, therefore, raised no difficulty, but at once, in the simplest manner, acceded to the request. There is a remarkable directness, simplicity, and absence of fuss in all that Elisha says and does.
2 Kings 6:4
So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan—i.e. to the river-bank—they cut down wood. They set to work, each felling his tree, and fashioning it into a rough beam.
2 Kings 6:5
But as one was felling a beam—i.e. a tree, to make it into a beam—the axe-head; literally, the iron. We see from Deuteronomy 19:5 that the Hebrews made their axe-heads of iron as early as the time of Moses. They probably learnt to smelt and work iron in Egypt. Fell into the water. The tree must have been one that grew close to the river's edge. As the man hewed away at the stem a little above the root, the axe-head flew from the haft, into which it was insecurely fitted, and fell into the water. The slipping of an axe-head was a very common occurrence (Deuteronomy 19:5), and ordinarily was of little consequence, since it was easily restored to its place. But now the head had disappeared. And he cried, and said, Alas, master!—rather, Alas, my master! or, Alas, my lord!—for it was borrowed; rather, and it was a borrowed one. The words are part of the man's address to Elisha. He means to say, "It is no common misfortune; it is not as if it had been my own axe. I had borrowed it, and now what shall I say to the owner?" There is no direct request for help, but the tone of the complaint constitutes a sort of silent appeal.
2 Kings 6:6
And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim. Two natural explanations of this miracle have been attempted:
(1) that Elisha passed a piece of wood underneath the axe-head, which he could see lying at the bottom of the river, and then lifted it up to the surface (Von Gerlach);
(2) that he thrust a stick or bar of wood through the hole in the axe-head, made to receive the haft, and so pulled it out (Thenins). But both explanations do violence to the text; and we may be sure that, had either been true, the occurrence would not have been recorded. The sacred writers are not concerned to put on record mere acts of manual dexterity.
2 Kings 6:7
Therefore said he, Take it up to thee. And he put out his hand, and took it. Elisha does not take the axe-head out of the water himself, but requires the scholar to do it, in order to test his faith. He must show that he Believes the miracle, and regards the iron as really floating on the top of the water, not as merely appearing to dose.
PUBLIC MIRACLES or ELISHA (resumed).
2 Kings 6:8
Then the King of Syria warred against Israel. It may seem strange that, so soon after sending an embassy to the court of Samaria, and asking a favor (2 Kings 5:5, 2 Kings 5:6), Benhadad should resume hostilities, especially as the favor had been obtained (2 Kings 5:14); but the normal relations between the two countries were those of enmity (2 Kings 5:2), and a few years would suffice to dim the memory of what had happened. The gratitude of kings is proverbially short-lived. And took counsel with his servants—i.e; his chief officers—saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp; or, my encampment. תַּצְצֲנֹץ appears to be "a noun in the form of the infinitive." It does not occur elsewhere.
2 Kings 6:9
And the man of God—i.e. Elisha, who at the time was "the man of God "(κατ ἐξοήν)—sent unto the King of Israel—Jehoram, undoubtedly (see 2 Kings 6:32)—saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down. Some translate, "Beware that thou neglect not such a place, for thither the Syrians are coming down;" but our version is probably correct, and is approved by Bahr and Thenius. Elisha did not suffer his hostile feeling towards Jehoram personally (2 Kings 3:13; 2 Kings 5:8; 2 Kings 6:32) to interfere with his patriotism. When disaster threatened his country, he felt it incumbent on him to warn even an ungodly king.
2 Kings 6:10
And the King of Israel sent to the place. Recent commentators (Keil, Thenius, Bahr) mostly suppose this to mean that Jehoram sent troops to the place pointed out by the prophet, and anticipated the Syrians by occupying it. But it agrees better with the prophet's injunction, "Beware that thou pass not such a place," to suppose that he merely sent out scouts to see if the place were occupied or no, and finding, in each ease, Elisha's warning true, he avoided the locality. Which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice; i.e. repeatedly; at least three several times, perhaps more.
2 Kings 6:11
Therefore the heart of the King of Syria was sore troubled for this thing. Keil says, "The King of the Syrians was enraged at this;" but סָעַר exactly expresses "trouble," "disturbance," not "rage," being used of the tossing of the sea, in Jonah 1:11. And he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not show me which of us is for the king of Israel? Benhadad not unnaturally suspected treachery among his own subjects. How otherwise could the King of Israel become, over and over again, aware of his intentions? Some one or other of his officers must, he thought, betray his plans to the enemy. Cannot the others point out the traitor?
2 Kings 6:12
And one of his servants said—i.e. one of those interrogated, answered—None, my lord, O king; literally, Nay, my lord, the king—meaning, "Think not so; it is not as thou supposest; there is no traitor in thy camp or in thy court; we are all true men. The explanation of the circumstances that surprise thee is quite different." But Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel—compare "the man of God" (2 Kings 6:9); so much above the others, that he is spoken of as if there were no other—telleth the King of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber; literally, in the secret place of thy bedchamber. How the Syrian lord knew this, or whether he merely made a shrewd guess, we cannot say. Elisha's miraculous gifts had, no doubt, become widely known to the Syrians through the cure of Naaman's leprosy; and the lord, who may possibly have been Naaman himself, concluded that a man who could cure s leper could also read a king's secret thoughts without difficulty.
2 Kings 6:13
And he—i.e. Benhadad—said, Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him; i.e. "Send out spies to learn where Elisha is at present residing, that I may dispatch a force to the place, and get him into my power." The object was scarcely "to find out, through Elisha, what the King of Israel and other princes were plotting against him in their secret counsels" (Cassel), but simply to put a stop to Elisha's betrayal of his own plans to Jobs-ram. And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan. The spies were sent, and brought back word that, at the time, Elisha was residing in Dothan. Dothan, the place where Joseph was sold by his brethren to the Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:17), lay evidently not very far from Shechem (Genesis 37:14), and is placed by Eusebius about twelve miles north of Samaria. In the Book of Judith (4:6; 7:3) it is mentioned among the cities bordering the southern edge of the Plain of Esdraelon. Modern travelers (Van de Velde, Robinson) have reasonably identified it with the present Dothan, a tel, or hill, of a marked character, covered with ruins, and from the foot of which arises a copious spring, to the south-west of Jenin, between that place and Jeba, a little to the left of the great road leading from Beisan (Scythopolis) to Egypt.
2 Kings 6:14
Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host; rather, and a strong force. The expression, צַיִל כָּבֵד, is used by the historical writers with a good deal of vagueness-sometimes of a really great army, sometimes merely of a large retinue (1 Kings 10:2) or of a moderate force (2 Kings 18:17). We must assign it its meaning according to the context. And they came by night, and compassed the city about. A night march was made, to take the prophet by surprise, and the city was encompassed, that it might be impossible for him to escape.
2 Kings 6:15
And when the servant of the man of God was risen early—he had, perhaps, heard the arrival of the Syrian forces during the night, and "rose early" to reconnoiter—and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots; rather, an host compassed the city, and horses, and chariots. A force of footmen, a force of horsemen, and a chariot force, are intended. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? Though the servant could not know that it was Elisha's person which was especially sought, yet he was naturally alarmed at seeing the city invested by a hostile force, and anticipated either death or capture, which last would involve the being sold as a slave. Hence his "Alas!" and his piteous cry, "How shall we do?" Can we, i.e. in any way, save ourselves?
2 Kings 6:16
And he—i.e. Elisha—answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. Elisha did not need to see the forces arrayed on his side. He knew that God and God's strength was "with him," and cared not who, or how many, might be against him (comp. Psalms 3:6, "I will not be afraid for ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about;" and Psalms 27:3, "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident"). His confidence reminds us of that shown by Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:7) on the invasion of Sennacherib.
2 Kings 6:17
And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. If the prophet's servant was to be reassured, he must be made to see that help was at hand; he would not have found rest or peace in the mere assurance that God was nigh, and would keep his prophet from harm. His mental state required something like a material manifestation; and hence Elisha prays that he may be permitted to behold the angelic host, which everywhere throughout creation is employed at all times in doing the will of God, and accomplishing his ends (comp. Genesis 28:12; Genesis 32:2; Psalms 34:7; Psalms 68:17; Daniel 7:10, etc.). The prayer is granted. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. As the earthly force, which had alarmed Elisha's servant, was a force mainly of horses and chariots, so the heavenly force revealed to his eyes was made to bear the same appearance. But the heavenly chariots and horses were "of fire"—glowed, i.e. with a strange unearthly brightness (see the comment on 2 Kings 2:11).
2 Kings 6:18
And when they came down to him. Keil and others suppose this to mean that the Syrians "came down" to Elisha; hut, if they were in the plain that surrounds the hill whereon Dothan was built, as appears from 2 Kings 6:15, they would have had to ascend in order to reach Elisha, not to descend. We must, therefore, with F. Meyer, Thenius, and Bahr, translate, "When they [Elisha and his servant] came down to them [the Syrians]"—either changing אֵלָיו into אֲלַיהֶם, as Thenius does, or understanding אֵלָיו to refer to the "host" (צַיִל) of the Syrians. Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. Not literal blindness, or they could not have followed Elisha's lead, and marched a distance of twelve miles to Samaria; but a state of confusion and Bewilderment, in which" seeing they saw, but did not perceive" (compare the "blindness" of the men of Sodom, in Genesis 19:11). And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.
2 Kings 6:19
And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way, neither is this the city. This was clearly "an untruthful statement" (Keil), if not in the letter, yet in the intent. Elisha meant the Syrians to understand him to say, "This is not the way which ye ought to have taken if ye wanted to capture the Prophet Elisha, and this is not the city (Dothan) where you were told that he was to be found." And so the Syrians understood him. In the morality of the time, and, indeed, in the morality of all times up to the present, it has been held to be justifiable to deceive a public enemy. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. But he led them to Samaria. It could only be through the miraculous delusion for which Elisha had prayed, and which had been sent, that the Syrians believed the first comer in an enemy's country, followed him to the capital without hesitation, and allowed him to bring them inside 'the walls. But for the delusion, they would have suspected, made inquiries of others, and retreated hastily, as soon as the walls and towers of Samaria broke on their sight.
2 Kings 6:20
And it came to pass, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. Their delusion was disputed—they returned to their proper senses, and, seeing the size and strength of the town, recognized the fact that they were in Samaria, their enemy's capital, and so were helpless.
2 Kings 6:21
And the King of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father. In his joy at the deliverance of so large a force of the enemy into his hands, Jehoram forgets the coldness and estrangement which have hitherto characterized the relations between himself and the prophet (2 Kings 3:11-14; 2 Kings 5:8), and salutes him by the honorable title of "father," which implied respect, deference, submission. Compare the use of the same expression by Joash (2 Kings 13:14), and the employment of the correlative term "son" (2 Kings 8:9) by Berthadad. Shall I smite them? shall I smite them? The repetition marks extreme eagerness, while the interrogative form shows a certain amount of hesitation. It is certain that the Israelites were in the habit of putting to death their prisoners of war, not only when they were captured with arms in their hands, but even when they surrendered themselves. When a city or country was conquered, the whole male population of full age was commonly put to death (Num 31:7; 1 Samuel 15:8; 1 Kings 11:15; 1 Chronicles 20:3, etc.). When a third part was spared, it was from some consideration of relationship (2 Samuel 8:2). The Law distinctly allowed, if it did not even enjoin, the practice (Deuteronomy 20:13). Jehoram, therefore, no doubt, put his prisoners of war to death under ordinary circumstances. But he hesitates now. He feels that the ease is an extraordinary one, and that the prophet, who has made the capture, is entitled to be consulted on the subject. Hence his question.
2 Kings 6:22
And he answered, Thou shalt not smite them. The prophet has no doubt. His prohibition is absolute. These prisoners, at any rate, are not to be slain. "The object of the miracle," as Keil says, "would have been frustrated, if the Syrians had been slain. For the intention was to show the Syrians that they had to do with a prophet of the true God, against whom no human power could be of any avail, that they might learn to fear the Almighty God". There was also, perhaps, a further political object. By sparing the prisoners and treating them with kindness, it might be possible to touch the heart of the King of Syria, and dispose him towards peace. Wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? rather, Wouldest thou be smiting those, etc.? i.e. "Wouldest thou, in smiting these persons, be smiting those whom thou hadst made prisoners in war, so as to be able to justify thy conduct by Deuteronomy 20:13? No; thou wouldest not. Therefore thou shalt not smite them." Set bread and water before them. "Bread" and "water" stand for meat and drink generally. Elisha bids Jehoram entertain the captive Syrians hospitably, and then send them back to Benhadad. That they may eat and drink, and go to their master.
2 Kings 6:23
And he prepared great provision for them. Jehoram followed the directions of the prophet, carrying them out, not in the letter merely, but in the spirit. He entertained the captives at a grand banquet (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 9.4. § 3), and then gave them leave to depart. And when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel. The Syrian raids, which had hitherto been frequent, perhaps almost continuous (2 Kings 5:2), now ceased for a time, and the kingdom of Israel had a respite. Bahr supposes that the raids were discontinued simply "because the Syrians had found out that they could not accomplish anything by these expeditions, but rather brought themselves into circumstances of great peril". But the nexus of the clause, "So the bands," etc; rather implies that the cessation was the consequence of Jehoram's sparing and entertaining the captives.
The siege of Samaria by Benhadad.
2 Kings 6:24
And it came to pass after this—probably some considerable time after, when the memory of Jehoram's kind act had passed away—that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host. A contrast is intended between the inroads of small bodies of plunderers and the invasion of the territory by the monarch himself at the head of his entire force. And went up. However Samaria was approached from Syria, there must always have been a final ascent, either from the Jordan valley or from the Plain of Esdraelon. And besieged Samaria. Josephus says that Jehoram was afraid to meet Benhadad in the open field, since his forces were no match for those of the Syrian king, and therefore at once shut himself up within his capital, without risking a battle. The walls of Samaria were very strong.
2 Kings 6:25
And there was a great famine in Samaria. It was Benhadad's design to capture the place, not by battering down its walls with military engines, but by blockading it, and cutting off all its supplies, as Josephus tells us (l.s.c.). And, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver. The ass, being an unclean animal (Le 2 Kings 11:4), would not be eaten at all except in the last extremity, and the head was the worst and so the cheapest part; yet it sold for "eighty pieces" (rather, shekels) of silver, or about £5 of our money; as in the Cadusian famine mentioned by Plutarch ('Wit. Artaxerx.,' § 24), where an ass's head was sold for sixty drachmas (about forty shillings). "Dove's dung" is thought by some to be the name of a plant; but it is better to understand the term literally. Both animal and human excrement have been eaten in sieges, when a city was in the last extremity.
2 Kings 6:26
And as the King of Israel was passing by upon the wall. The wall of Babylon is said to have been so broad at the top that a four-horse chariot could turn round on it (Herod; 1:179). All ancient cities had walls upon which a great part of the garrison stood, and from which they shot their arrows and worked their engines against the assailants. From time to time the commandant of the place—the king himself, in this instance—would mount upon the wall to visit the posts, and inspect the state of the garrison, or observe the movements of the enemy. There cried a woman unto him. Houses sometimes abutted on the wall of a town (see Jos 2:15; 1 Samuel 19:12, etc.), and women sometimes took part in their defense (Judges 9:53), so that in visiting the posts a commandant might be brought into contact with women. Saying, Help, my lord, O king; rather, save, i.e. "preserve me from perishing of hunger."
2 Kings 6:27
And he said, If the Lord do not help thee. This is probably the true mean-tug. The king is not so brutal as to "curse" the woman (ἐπηράσατο αὐτή τὸν Θεόν, Josephus, ' Ant. Jud.,' 9.4. § 4); neither does he take upon himself to tell her that God will not save her (Maurer). He merely refers her to God, as alone competent to do what she asks. Whence shall I help thee? Whence, i.e; dost thou suppose that I can save thee? Out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress? Dost thou suppose that I have stores of food at my disposal? An overflowing barnfloor, where abundant corn is garnered, or a winepress full of the juice of the grape? I have nothing of the kind; my stores are as much exhausted as those of the meanest of my subjects. I cannot save thee.
2 Kings 6:28
And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? Probably, as Bahr suggests, the woman explained to the king that she did not appear before him to beg food, but to claim his interposition as judge, in a case in which she considered herself to be wronged. Such an appeal the king was bound to hear; and he therefore asks," What aileth thee?" i.e. "What is thy ground of complaint?" Then she tells her story. And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow. Compare the prophecy in Deuteronomy, "The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil towards the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter, and toward her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates" (Deuteronomy 28:56, Deuteronomy 28:57). There is historical testimony that the prophecy was three times fulfilled; viz.
(1) in Samaria on the present occasion;
(2) in Jerusalem during the last siege by Nebuchadnezzar (Lamentations 4:10); and
(3) in Jerusalem during the last siege by Titus (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 6:3. § 4). In modern sieges surrender is made before the population is driven to such straits.
2 Kings 6:29
So we boiled my son (setup. Lamentations 4:10, "The hands of the pitiful woman have sodden their own children"), and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son. Some have supposed that the woman concealed her child in order to consume it alone; but it is more probable that, when the time came for carrying out her agreement, she found that she could not give it up, and hid it in order to save it.
2 Kings 6:30
And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes. In horror and consternation at the terrible state of things revealed by the woman's story. And he passed by upon the wall, and the people looked. It is better to translate, with our Revisers, (Now he yeas passing by upon the wall;) and the people looked; or, and, as he was passing by upon the wall, the people looked. And, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh. Jehoram had secretly assumed the penitential garment, not a mere sign of woe, but a constant chastisement of the flesh. He wore sackcloth next his skin, no one suspecting it, until, in the exasperation of his feelings at the woman's tale, he rent his robe, and exposed to view the sackcloth which underlay it. We are scarcely entitled to deny him any true penitential feeling, though no doubt he was far from possessing a chastened or humble spirit. Poor weak humanity has at one and the same time good and evil impulses, praiseworthy and culpable feelings, thoughts which come from the Holy Spirit of God, and thoughts which are inspired by the evil one.
2 Kings 6:31
Then he said, God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him—i.e. "continue on him"—this day. The form of oath was a common one (comp. Ruth 1:17; 1Sa 3:17; 1 Samuel 25:22; 2 Samuel 19:13; 1Ki 2:23; 1 Kings 19:2, etc.). It was an imprecation of evil on one's self, if one did, or if one failed to do, a certain thing. Why Jehoram should have considered Elisha as responsible for all the horrors of the siege is not apparent; but perhaps he supposed that it was in Elisha's power to work a miracle of any kind at any moment that he liked. If so, he misunderstood the nature of the miraculous gift. In threatening to behead Elisha, he is not making himself an executor of the Law, which nowhere sanctioned that mode of punishment, but assuming the arbitrary power of the other Oriental monarchs of his time, who regarded themselves as absolute masters of the lives and liberties of their subjects. Beheading was common in Egypt, in Babylonia, and in Assyria.
2 Kings 6:32
But Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him; and the king sent a man from before him. It is best to translate, Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him, when the king sent a man from before him. Elisha had a house in Samaria, where he ordinarily resided, and from which he made his circuits. He happened to be sitting there, and the elders of the city to be sitting with him, when Jehoram sent "a man from before him," i.e. one of the court officials, to put him to death. The "elders" had probably assembled at Elisha's house to consult with him on the critical situation of affairs, and (if possible) obtain from him some miraculous assistance. But ere the messenger came to him; he said to the elders, See ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head; Elisha was supernaturally warned of what was about to take place—that an executioner was coming almost immediately to take away his life, and that the king himself would arrive shortly after. He calls the king "this son of a murderer," or rather "this son of the murderer," with reference to Ahab, the great murderer of the time, who had sanctioned all Jezebel's cruelties-the general massacre of the prophets of Jehovah (1 Kings 18:13), the judicial murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21:9-13), the attempt to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:2)—and had, by a fierce and long continued persecution, reduced the worshippers of Jehovah in Israel to the scanty number of seven thousand (1 Kings 19:18). Jehoram had now shown that he inherited the bloodthirsty disposition of his father, and had justly earned the epithet which Elisha bestowed on him. Look, when the messenger cometh, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door. Keil renders the last clause, "force him back at the door;" the LXX. "press upon him in the doorway"—παραθλίψατε αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ θύρᾳ—they were not to allow him to enter the apartment. Is not the sound of his master's feet behind him? Elisha adds this as a reason why the elders should stop the messenger. He could not in a general way have expected them to resist the king's will as declared by his representative; but he might reasonably ask a short respite, if the king was just about to arrive at the house, to confirm the order that he had given, or to revoke it.
2 Kings 6:33
And while he yet talked with them—i.e; while Elisha yet talked with the elders, endeavoring probably to persuade them to stop the messenger—behold, the messenger came down unto him: and he said. The narrative is very compressed and elliptical. Some suppose words to have fallen out (as וצמלךְ אצריו after אליו); but this is unnecessary. The reader is expected to supply missing links, and to understand that all happened as Elisha had predicted and enjoined—that the messenger came, that the elders stopped him, and that the king shortly arrived. The king was, of course, admitted, and, being admitted, took the word, and said, Behold, this evil is of the Lord; what—rather, why—should I wait for the Lord any longer? Jehoram had, apparently, to some extent repented of his hasty message, and had hurried after his messenger, to give Elisha one further chance of life. We must understand that they had been in communication previously on the subject of the siege, and that Elisha had encouraged the king to "wait for" an interposition of Jehovah. The king now urges that the time for waiting is over; matters are at the last gasp; "this evil" this terrible suffering which can no longer be endured—"is of the Lord," has come from him, is continued by him, and is not relieved. What use is there in his "waiting" any longer? Why should he not break with Jehovah, behead the lying prophet, and surrender the town? What has Elisha to say in reply?
2 Kings 6:1-7
Mutual love and help the best bond of religious communities.
"Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down unto the beard, even unto Aaron's beard, and went down to the skirts of his clothing; like as the dew of Hermon, which fell upon the hill of Zion" (Psalms 133:1-3). In religious communities it has been too often the practice to govern by fear. An autocratic authority has been committed to, or assumed by, the head, who has exacted from all the other members an entire, absolute, and unreasoning obedience. Vows of obedience, of the most rigid character, have been taken; and it has been inculcated on all that the sum total of virtue lay in obeying, without a murmur or a question, every order issued by the superior. An iron rule has characterized such institutions, and a cold, unloving temper has prevailed in them. How different is the picture drawn in the beautiful passage before us! How sweet and pleasing is the community-life of Elisha and his prophet-disciples! Though bound by no vow of obedience, they undertake nothing without their master (2 Kings 6:2 and 2 Kings 6:3). They require an enlargement of their dwelling-place, but they will not commence it without his sanction. Even his sanction is not enough; they ask his presence, his superintending eye, his guiding mind. And he complies willingly, cheerfully. No trouble is too much for him. "Go ye," he says; but when they object and plead, "Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants," he at once consents, and says, "I will go." He goes, he looks on with sympathy, he guides, he aids. At the first touch of misfortune, his sympathy blossoms into help. How charming is the childlike confidence and communicativeness of the disciple, who, on losing his axe-head, immediately reveals his loss to the master, and tells him why it was so especially grievous to him—"And it a borrowed one!" And how admirable the kindness and fellow-feeling, which uttered no reproach, made no suggestion of carelessness or of stupidity in selecting a tree so near the stream, but thought only of finding a remedy. Natural means being unavailing, the prophet deems the occasion no unsuitable one for the exercise of his miraculous powers, which he is as willing to exert on behalf of a humble prophet-student as on that of a great Syrian general. The terms on which Elisha and his disciples live are evidently those of mutual confidence and affection, of protection and fatherly care on the one hand; of appeal, regard, and childlike love on the other; and the result is a community which it is delightful to contemplate, and which increases and flourishes, in spite of the contempt and persecution of the world-lover, so that its place is "too strait for it."
2 Kings 6:8-23
Wicked men vainly attempt to outwit God.
Benhadad, after the miracle wrought upon his favorite Naaman, had abundant reason to know that Israel was the people of God, and enjoyed special Divine protection and superintendence. Had he been truly wise, he would have laid aside his hostile designs against the nation, and have made it his endeavor to cultivate friendly relations with them, and, if possible, secure their alliance. But true wisdom is a plant of rare growth, while its counterfeit, cunning, is a weed that grows rankly at all times and everywhere. Benhadad resolved to have recourse to craft against the Israelites, and thought perhaps that, while the protection of their God would not fail them in a pitched battle, he might be able in petty engagements, by means of ambushes and surprises, to snatch an occasional victory. But his plan failed egregiously. God enabled his prophet to foresee where each ambush would be placed; and each time he warned Jehoram of the snare, which was thereupon easily avoided. Craft and cunning were of no avail against the wisdom which is from on high—the Divine foreknowledge, of which the prophet was made in some measure partaker. Benhadad then bethought him of a new device. He would capture the prophet, and thenceforward his plans would be undetected, and the success which he had expected from them would follow. How simple and easy it must have seemed! The prophet moved about from city to city, teaching the faithful, and was now in one place, now in another. What could be easier than to make inquiry, and learn where he was residing at any particular time, and then to make a sudden inroad, surround the place, occupy it, and obtain possession of his person? Such seizures of individuals have been planned many hundreds of times, and have generally been successful. Had Benhadad had only human enemies to deal with, there can be little doubt that his plans would have prospered. He would have outwitted the prophet, and would have got him into his power; but it was necessary that he should also outwit God. Here was a difficulty which had not presented itself to his mind, and which yet surely ought to have done so. What had frustrated his efforts previously? Not human strength; not human wisdom or sagacity; but Divine omniscience. God had enabled Elisha to show the King of Israel the words which he spake in the secrecy of his bedchamber. Why should he not grant him a foreknowledge of the new design? Or why should he not enable the prophet in some other way to frustrate it? There are ten thousand ways in which God can bring the counsels of men to no effect, whenever he pleases. Benhadad ought to have known that it was God, not merely the prophet, against whom he was contending, and that it would be impossible to outwit the Source of wisdom, the Giver of all knowledge and understanding. But men in all ages have thought (and vainly thought) to hoodwink and outwit God.
1. The first dwellers upon the earth after the Flood were divinely commanded to spread themselves over its face and "replenish" it (Genesis 9:1). They disliked the idea, and thought to frustrate God's design by building themselves a city and a tower as a focus of union (Genesis 9:4). But God "came down," and confounded their language; and so "scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth" (Genesis 9:8).
2. Isaac sought to outwit God, and frustrate his preference of Jacob over Esau (Genesis 25:23), by giving his special blessing to his firstborn; but God blinded him, and caused him to be himself outwitted by Rebekah and Jacob, so that he gave the blessing where he had not intended to give it (Genesis 27:27-29).
3. Pharaoh King of Egypt at the time of the Exodus, thought to frustrate God's designs respecting his people by a long series of delays and impediments, and finally by shutting them up into a corner of the land, whence apparently they had no escape unless by an absolute surrender; but God gave them a way of escape across the Red Sea, which removed them wholly from his control.
4. Jonah thought to outwit God, when commanded to warn the Ninevites, by flying from Asia to the remotest corner of Europe, and there hiding himself; but God counteracted his schemes and made them of no avail.
5. Herod the Great thought to outwit God, to preserve his kingdom, and to make the advent of Christ upon earth unavailing, by a general massacre of all the young children to be found in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16); but the warning given by God to Joseph and Mary confounded his counsels, and made the massacre futile.
6. Men have, in all periods of the world's history, endeavored to hoodwink God by professing to serve him, while they offered him a formal, outward, and ceremonial observance, instead of giving him the true worship of the heart. But God has not been deceived; he "is not mocked;" he readily discerns the counterfeit from the genuine, and rejects with abhorrence all feigned and hypocritical religiousness. Every attempt of man to cheat his Maker recoils on his own head. "The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). We cannot deceive him. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do' (Hebrews 4:13).
2 Kings 6:16, 2 Kings 6:17
The spirit-world, and the power to discern it.
The little episode of the alarm felt by Elisha's servant, and the manner in which Elisha removed it, teaches us principally three things.
I. THE REALITY, AND PERPETUAL PRESENCE, AROUND US AND ABOUT US, OF THE SPIRIT-WORLD. The existence of an order of spirits intermediate between God and man, who are closely connected with man, and play an important part in the Divine government of the world wherein we live, is an essential part of the scheme of things set before us in the Scriptures. "The doctrine of angels," as it has been called, is this: "That there lives in the presence of God a vast assembly, myriads upon myriads of spiritual beings (Psalms 68:17; Daniel 7:10), higher than we, but infinitely removed from God, mighty in strength, doers of his word, who ceaselessly bless and praise God, wise also, to whom be gives charge to guard his own in all their ways, ascending and descending to and from heaven and earth (Genesis 28:12, Genesis 28:13; John 1:51), and who variously minister to men, most often invisibly. All these beings are interested in us and in our well-being. When our earth was created, ' all the sons of God burst forth into jubilee' (Job 38:7) in prospect of our birth, who were to be their care here, their fellow-citizens hereafter in bliss. At the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, they were present in myriads. When God vouchsafed his presence on Mount Zion, and the holy place became a new Sinai, 'twice ten thousand angels, yea, thousands many times repeated' (Psalms 68:17)were there. They are present with God, witnessing the trials of our race (Job 1:6; Job 2:1; 1 Kings 22:19). Their love for man is indicated by the charge given to them when they are set to destroy the guilty in Jerusalem, 'Let not your eye spare, neither have pity' (Ezekiel 10:5), as though they would have pity, only that they must needs be of the same mind with God. There is a distinction, or gradation of ranks, among the members of the heavenly host—Cherubim, seraphim, archangels, principalities, powers". It is irrational to explain away as embellishment or poetic imagery a representation of the actual condition of things in God's universe, which is so frequent, so all-pervading, so harmonious, and, it may be added, so consistent with what we should have naturally expected apart from revelation.
II. THE PERPETUAL REALIZATION OF THIS PRESENCE BY THOSE POSSESSED OF FAITH. There is no reason to believe that Elisha saw the angels that compassed him round, with his bodily eyes. But he knew that they were there. He was sure that God would not desert him in his peril, and had such a confident faith in "the doctrine of angels," that it was as if he could see them. And so it was with David. "The angel of the Lord," he says, "encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Psalms 34:7). So with Hezekiah, who, when Sennacherib invaded his land, "spake comfortably to the people, saying, Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the King of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him" (2 Chronicles 32:7). Judas Maccabaeus had probably the same faith when he uttered the words, "It is no hard matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few; and with the God of heaven it is all one, to deliver with a great multitude, or a small company: for the victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of an host; but strength cometh from heaven" (1 Macc. 3:18, 19). St. Paul realized the continual angelic presence when he declared, "We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (1 Corinthians 4:9). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews realized it when he told the Jewish converts, Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels" (Hebrews 12:22). St. John the divine realized it, when he gave the angels a large share in all the later judgments that should befall the earth, and made them dispensers of the blessings and of the wrath of God (Revelation 7:1-3). If the doctrine has been at any time obscured, it has been when faith wavered, and there was a tendency to confine the supernatural within the narrowest possible limits. It was easy to suggest that the expression, "the angels of God," was a periphrasis for God himself, and that he had no need to act, and therefore probably did not act, by intermediaries. But the faith of the Church has always been different. The festival of St. Michael and All Angels has been generally celebrated
from a very ancient date; and the Collect for that festival has borne witness to the perpetual ministration of angels, not only in heaven, but also upon earth, and to the part borne by them in the succor and defense of God's people.
III. THE POSSIBILITY OF A MANIFESTATION OF THE PRESENCE IN QUESTION TO THE BODILY SENSES OF THOSE WHOSE FAITH IS TOO WEAK TO APPREHEND IT. Elisha's servant did not see a vision. It was not his mind only that was impressed. His bodily eyes beheld an appearance as of chariots and horses of fire (verse 17), which was based on the objective reality of the actual presence of an angelic host upon the hill whereon Dothan was situated. The prophet prayed that his eyes should be opened, and his, prayer was granted. "The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. Physicists are probably right in saying that what is absolutely immaterial cannot be seen by the optic nerve. But we are nowhere told that angels are absolutely immaterial. It is the belief of many philosophers that all finite spirits are attached to bodies of some kind or other—bodies more or less volatile and ethereal. We can readily conceive that the optic nerve may, by an increase of its sensitiveness, be made to see these; and in this way we may account, not only for the wonderful sight beheld on this occasion by Elisha's servant, but for the many other appearances of angels to men and women recorded in Scripture (Genesis 3:1; Genesis 19:1-15; Genesis 32:24-30; Judges 6:11-22; 2 Samuel 24:16, 2Sa 24:17; 1 Kings 19:5-7; Isaiah 6:6; Daniel 6:22; Daniel 9:21; Daniel 10:16-21; Zechariah 1:11-19; Zechariah 4:1, etc.; Luke 1:11-19, Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:9-13; John 20:12; Acts 5:19; Acts 8:26; Acts 12:7-10; Revelation, passim). Miraculously, power is given to the optic nerve, which it does not ordinarily possess, and it is enabled to see beings actually present, who under ordinary circumstances are invisible to it.
2 Kings 6:24-33
Jehoram was altogether half-hearted in his religion. He "halted between two opinions." While he paid a certain amount of respect to Elisha, as the prophet of Jehovah, he nevertheless allowed the worship of Baal to continue in the capital (2 Kings 10:18-28), if not elsewhere, and maintained the calf-worship also at Dan and Bethel (2 Kings 3:3). He had suffered himself to be guided by Elisha in respect of the Syrian prisoners captured by the prophet (2 Kings 6:23), and had evidently been in communication with him on the subject of the present siege, had probably been exhorted by him to repentance, and promised that, if he would wait upon Jehovah, in due time there should be deliverance. The prophet's words had made some impression on him; he had to a certain extent turned to God, had put sackcloth upon his loins, not ostentatiously, but secretly (2 Kings 6:30), had borne the privations of the siege without murmuring, had refused to surrender the town, and looked to Jehovah to deliver it. But there was no depth in his penitence, no surrender of the heart and the will to God, no firm and rooted faith in God's truthfulness, and in the certain accomplishment of his promises. His repentance was but a half repentance. A single incident of the siege, a horrible one certainly, but yet not without a parallel in other sieges and in shipwrecks, shattered the whole fabric of his repentance and his resolution, turned him against the prophet and against Jehovah, caused him to threaten the prophet's life, and to make up his mind that he would follow his own course, and not wait for the Lord any longer (2 Kings 6:33). He thus revealed the true state of his heart and soul, showed his spiritual unsoundness, revealed himself as one whose character was rotten at the core, who had never turned to Jehovah in sincerity and truth. What wonder, then, that God had not granted the deliverance promised to true faith and true penitence, that a half-repentance had not availed with him? So it had been with Ahab (1 Kings 21:27; 1 Kings 22:34); so it would always be with all those who, after Jehoram's example, should be half-hearted in religion, should at once "fear the Lord, and serve their own gods" (2 Kings 17:33)—own for masters both God and mammon. A half-repentance is useless. Nothing avails but to turn to God with all the heart and all the soul and all the strength. God hates waverers. To such he says, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15, Revelation 3:16).
2 Kings 6:32
Princes may be resisted when they are bent upon wrong-doing.
There was a time when princes were flattered, by being told that they "could do no wrong;" that "a divinity hedged them in;" that their subjects were bound to render them, under all circumstances, an absolute and unqualified obedience. But this is certainly not scriptural teaching. The higher powers are to be obeyed in their lawful commands, but not in their unlawful ones. When Pharaoh, King of Egypt, commanded the midwives to put to death all the male children borne by the Hebrew women, "the midwives feared God, and did not as the King of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive" (Exodus 1:17); and God rewarded them for so acting: "Therefore God dealt well with the midwives … and because they feared God, he made them houses" (Exodus 1:20, Exodus 1:21). So now Elisha, the prophet of God, bids the elders resist the king's messenger—"hold him fast," and not let him execute the king's commands. Again, the higher powers, the great council of the Sanhedrin, commanded Peter and John, shortly after the Day of Pentecost, "not to speak at all nor preach in the Name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18); to whom the apostles replied, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19, Acts 4:20). Resistance to lawful authority, when it commands unlawful acts, is an important part of a Christian man's duty, and ought to be inculcated just as much as obedience to lawful authority when it commands lawful acts.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 6:1-7
An early theological college; its life and lessons.
Our theological colleges, where young men are trained for the office of the Christian ministry, do not receive from the Christian public that attention and sympathy, which they deserve, more interest ought to be taken in education generally. The Church should show more interest in Sunday-school work. If office-bearers and parents in every Christian land would visit the Sunday school occasionally, and hear the children repeat their lessons and sing their hymns, it would do themselves good, and it would be a great encouragement to those who are engaged in the important work of Sunday-school teaching. The work of our theological colleges is to a great extent different from that of other places of education. The very nature of the studies is such that the general public could not be expected to take much interest in them. But there are other ways of showing an interest in our colleges besides actually entering a college class-room, or listening to a professor's lecture. Occasionally, a rich member of the Church leaves a considerable sum to found a scholarship or a bursary; but how little is done by the members of the Church generally! Yet all the members of the Church are interested in having not only a godly, but also a well-educated ministry.
I. THERE WAS INDUSTRY IN THAT COLLEGE. These students in Elisha's college knew how to work, and they were not above doing their own work. They had not reached that high state of civilization when manual labor is considered a disgrace. Their house, which was college and students' residence all in one, had become too small for them. So they said to Elisha one day, "Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell." It was an enactment of the Jewish religion that every boy, no matter what his position, should be taught some handicraft. The Jewish Talmud says, "What is commanded of a father toward his son? To circumcise him, to teach him the Law, and to teach him a trade." Thus we find that the Apostle Paul, who had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, and was a distinguished scholar, was also a tentmaker. Even when a preacher of the gospel, he labored with his own hands for his support. It is not generally the custom now for ministers of the gospel to follow any other calling. It is found more convenient that they should devote themselves entirely to the work of the ministry, for all men have not the genius of the Apostle Paul. It is true that the missionaries of certain Missionary Societies all learn a trade, and most of them support themselves by their own exertions at farming or other work. But this also has been found very undesirable, and it has been under serious consideration to abandon the custom altogether. But whether they engage in manual labor or not, all ministers and all students for the ministry should be, as these students in Elisha's time were, industrious in their work. In whatever calling we are engaged, let us cultivate habits of industry. Let us remember the apostle's injunction to be "diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."
II. THERE WAS DISCIPLINE IN THAT COLLEGE. These young students, excellent and well-conducted as they no doubt were, did not think they might do as they liked or go where they liked. They came to Elisha, and asked his consent to their proposal. And so it should be in all the relationships of life. "Order is Heaven's first law." There should be discipline in the family, discipline in the Church, discipline in the Sunday school, discipline in the nation, and regard for constituted authority. Dr. Arnold of Rugby once said to his assembled scholars, when there had been some disorder in the school, and he had expelled several boys, "It is not necessary that this should be a school of three hundred, or of one hundred, or of fifty boys; but it is necessary that it should be a school of Christian gentlemen." No wonder there is disregard for authority in the nation when it is not properly taught or insisted on in the home. The Christian Church should be a model of order. Order should characterize its services, its management, its work. "Let all things be done decently and in order."
III. THERE WAS KINDNESS IN THAT COLLEGE. What pleasant and brotherly relations between the prophet and his pupils! He could be stern with the haughty Naaman; he could severely rebuke the covetous, lying Gehazi; but he knew how to unbend among his innocent-hearted students. He had evidently already won their affections. It was a good sign of both him and them they asked him to accompany them. And now he shows his kindly nature once more by going with them at their request. So it ought to be with all Christians. We hardly think enough of Christ's command that we should love one another. What friendly relations there should be between professors and students, between ministers and their people, between parents and children, between teachers and scholars, between employers and employed, between masters and servants! Authority is never weakened by kindness. Some employers, some teachers, seem to think it adds to their dignity and to their influence to be stern to those beneath them. They make a great mistake. The most respected professors are those who treat their students as brothers, and not as inferiors. The most respected employers are those who are kind and courteous and considerate to those in their employment. Kindness does not weaken influence; it increases it. Oh! to be filled with the spirit of Christ, who made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant. Kindness and humility are twin sisters.
IV. THERE WAS GROWTH IN THAT COLLEGE. Under the influence of such a teacher as Elisha, the number of students increased so much that the place became too small for them, and it was necessary for them to build a new school of the prophets. Let me see growth in a Church and I shall believe in its life. A stone does not grow, because it has no life. A tree grows, because there is life in it. If you see that a tree has ceased to grow, to put forth new leaves in the spring-time, you know that it is dead. A Church that is not growing must be a lifeless Church. If you are a living Christian, let the signs of it be manifest in the growth of your Christian graces.
V. THE PRESENCE OF GOD WAS THERE. This was shown in the miracle which Elisha wrought of causing the iron to swim. It was not by his own power, he was only the instrument in the hand of God, and God owned his efforts, for he was engaged in God's work. This last feature of that theological college was the best of all. God's presence was in the midst of it. Without that, of what use would have been their industry or their discipline? Without that, would there have been such bonds of kindness? Without that, would there have been such evidences of growth? "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." Without that, what a mockery it would have been for them to have looked forward to be the teachers of others in the truths of religion! What a mockery for any man to enter a pulpit and speak about the love of Jesus, who is himself a stranger to that love! What a mockery for any man to speak about the grace of God, who has never experienced it in his own heart and life! The late Rev. Dr. Cooke of Belfast once said that "an educated ministry is desirable, but a converted ministry is essential."—C.H.I.
2 Kings 6:8-16
God's presence with his people.
There has been a sudden change in the horizon of Elisha's life. From the quiet work of cutting down trees and budding a college, he is suddenly called upon to stand a siege from a Syrian army. These changes do come in the lives of most of us. Health suddenly changes into sickness. Friendship suddenly changes into hostility. Wealth suddenly changes into poverty. Such changes will come in the life of the believer and in the history of the Church of God. At one time all seems bright; the next moment the prospect seems dark and discouraging. It is well to be prepared for such changes when they come. The true servant of God will heed them very little. He lives not under, but above, the things of earth.
"As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway cleaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."
So it was with Elisha. Wherever you find him, he always seems the same. On the present occasion the circumstances were such as to strike terror to the stoutest heart. Elisha's servant trembled at the sight that met him when he rose that morning and looked forth from the city walls. A mighty host, with horses and chariots, encompassed the city round about. It was an unexpected attack. No forces were within the city to defend it against such a mighty host. Elisha was the only one whom the besieging army wanted. In the desire for self-preservation, it was not unlikely that the inhabitants of Dothan might give him up to the enemy, and thus turn away the invader from their gates. From a human point of view it was no wonder that Elisha's servant said, "Alas, my master! how shall we do?" There was no terror in Elisha's face, no panic in his heart, at this startling news. What calmness, what courage, what sublime confidence there is in that answer of his, "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them!" And what was the secret of his confidence? The one reason of Elisha's confidence and calm was that God's presence was with him. What a beautiful fulfillment of that promise, "Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man; thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues!" We learn from this story—
I. GOD'S PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE IS NOT GENERALLY REALIZED BY THEIR ENEMIES. It was so on the occasion before us. The King of Syria commenced another war against Israel. He held, as we should say, a council of war, and consulted with his generals concerning the arrangements for the campaign. He thought, by skilful strategy, to take the King of Israel unawares. But all his plans and maneuvers were thwarted in some mysterious way. The King of Israel seemed to know all his movements with more certainty than a clever player at a game of skill might anticipate the moves of his opponent. Several times in this way the King of Israel saved himself. At last the King of Syria began to be suspicious. There must be a traitor in the camp. Some of those enjoying the king's confidence must be revealing his plans to the enemy. And so he asks, "Will ye not show me which of us is for the King of Israel?" The King of Syria was an able general; but like another great general of modern times, Napoleon the Great, there were some forces that he did not take sufficient account of. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. There are other things than military skill and big battalions to be thought of in going forth to battle. When Edward, the English king, came forth to view the Scottish troops before the battle of Bannockburn, he was astonished at the small force waiting on foot to receive the attack of his mighty army. But they were putting their trust in the God of battles, and presently he saw the unusual sight of the whole Scottish army, as their custom was, kneeling down and offering a short prayer to God. "Believe me," said the general who rode by his side, "you men will win or die." Of that unseen Power, in whose hands are the issues of battle, the Syrian king took no account. He did not realize that God's presence was with his people. Is not this the mistake which the enemies of God's people have made in all ages? It was the mistake of the persecutors and oppressors of Israel. It was the mistake of those who persecuted the Reformers of England, Scotland, France, and Switzerland. It was the mistake which Pharaoh made when he refused to let the children of Israel go. It was the mistake, which Herod made when he thought to crush the new kingdom that was yet to arise, by slaughtering the helpless babes in Bethlehem and its neighborhood. It was the mistake, which Nero made in his persecutions of the Christians at Rome. It was the mistake which Louis XIV. of France made when he revoked the famous Edict of Nantes. It is the mistake, which the Roman Curia has made in all ages, in thinking to crush out civil and religious liberty by the tortures of the Inquisition, by the martyrdoms of the scaffold and the stake, by the massacres in the Waldensian valley, by the autos-da-fe of Spain. The same thing may be said of the unbeliever and the skeptic. They have not realized that the presence of the living God is with his Church and in the midst of her, and that he, in his own way and in his own time, can vindicate his own truth. How often, during these eighteen hundred years, has the unbeliever exulted in what he has called the overthrow of Christianity! and yet how vain and foolish the boast has proved to be! Voltaire boasted that with one hand he would overthrow the Christianity which it had required twelve apostles to build up. "At this day, the press which he employed at Ferney to print his blasphemies is actually employed at Geneva in printing the Holy Scriptures." May we not still say, as we think of the enemies of the truth, the enemies of virtue, the enemies of religion, and as we listen to their audacious boasts, "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision?"
II. GOD'S PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE IS NOT REALIZED BY MANY AMONGST THEMSELVES. Elisha's servant, no doubt, believed in God. If any one had denied God's presence with his people, he would doubtless have firmly asserted it as his belief. Yet when the time came to put his belief to a practical test, we see how slight a hold it had taken of him. When he went forth in the morning and saw the horses and chariots and the mighty host encompassing the city round about, he said to Elisha, "Alas, my master I how shall we do?" Do you never feel a sensation like Elisha's servant? You believe you are a child of God, you believe that God takes care of his people, yet perhaps there are times when you are unduly anxious about your business, and allow yourself to be weighed down by foolish and causeless fears. How many are alarmed by the thought of sickness in themselves or in their families, and nervously ask, "What shall we do?" Oh that we would learn to realize God's presence with us! "My times are in thy hand." In the same way, how many professing Christians are there who do not sufficiently realize God's presence in his Church! How much more active we should be, how much more earnest in Christian work, if we realized that God is working with us! With what power a minister ought to preach if he could only remember to say with John the Baptist, "There cometh One mightier than I after me"! Then how many are easily discouraged by difficulties. Some are always saying when they see a difficulty in the way, "What shall we do?" "Who will roll us away the stone?" Some are always imagining difficulties and foreseeing them at the very beginning of a work. This spirit of timidity, of fear, is a great hindrance in Christian work. Half-belief is almost as bad as no belief, in this respect. Half-hearted-ness in religious work is one of the greatest hindrances to its success. In this, as in everything else, the maxim holds good, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." The boll-hearted ten out of the twelve spies sent to view the promised land frightened the Israelites from going up, and nearly caused God, in his righteous anger at their unbelief, to disinherit them altogether. The half-hearted inhabitants of Galilee prevented the blessing of the Savior of men resting upon them, for we read that "he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." The half-hearted followers of Christopher Columbus nearly prevented him from discovering America. There is no room for half-heartedness in religion. There is a loud call for decision and firmness both in belief and in conduct.
III. GOD'S PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE IS ALWAYS REALIZED BY HIS TRUE SERVANTS. The King of Syria did not realize that God's presence was with his people, and he was at his wits' end to know how to circumvent them. Elisha's servant did not realize that God's presence was with himself and his master; and how panic-stricken he was at the danger that seemed to threaten them! But there was one man for whom the armies of the King of Syria had no terror, to whom difficulties brought no dismay, and that was the man who lived near to God, and realized that God was near to him. Hence it is that we find Elisha saying, "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." So it has been with God's true servants in all ages. They have realized that God's presence was with them, and in the strength of that one idea they have surmounted the greatest difficulties, braved the most terrible dangers, met fearlessly the most overwhelming opposition, and accomplished tasks that to the worldly eye seemed almost incredible. Look at Abraham. He went forth from his native land, "not knowing whither he went." And why? Because he knew that God was with him. Look at Nehemiah. An exile from his native land, he undertook the wonderful enterprise of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He had plenty of opposition. But he went on with his work in spite of the ridicule and attacks of Sanballat and his companions. And what was the secret of his determination and perseverance? You have it in his answer to Sanballat, "The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build." This year is the anniversary of two great events in British history—two great deliverances which illustrate in a marvelous way God's presence with his people. It is the three hundredth anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, which took place in 1588. Yet it was not English ships or English power that really turned away that invasion from our shores; but the winds and waves of him who holdeth the sea in the hollow of his hand. It is also the two hundredth anniversary of the revolution of 1688. And while we should never use such anniversaries as the occasion of displaying a vindictive or unchristian spirit towards those who differ from us, yet in the interests of truth, in the interests of true Anglicanism, in the interests of civil and religious liberty, it is most desirable that these two great events should be rightly and piously commemorated. One thing they illustrate very clearly, and that is, that however dark the prospects of God's people seem to be, and however overwhelming seem the forces arrayed against them, he is able to banish every cloud and to give them the victory over all their enemies.
"God is our Refuge and our Strength,
In straits a present Aid;
Therefore, although the earth remove,
We will not be afraid."
One or two practical applications.
1. It is well to be on God's side. In a time of danger or of trouble, a great many people expect God to be on their side, who have never taken any pains to show themselves on his side. If you want to have the unspeakable advantage of God's presence with you in your time of difficulty or danger, the most important question you could now ask yourself is, "Am I on God's side?"
2. A word to those who are God's people. Undertake great things for God. Remember that you have unlimited resources at your command. We should be ashamed of how little we are attempting to do for God, when we have the inexhaustible treasury of Divine grace to help us.
3. Never suffer yourself to be daunted or depressed by difficulties. The greater the difficulties, the greater should be the determination of the Christian. "Let courage rise with danger." Luther sang his most stirring songs of praise and hope and courage in the darkest moments of his life. Those who have God with them can afford to sing amid the darkness.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 6:17-23
Eyes closed, and eyes opened.
I. EYES CLOSED.
1. The young man's eyes were closed. Me did not see the horses and chariots of fire that were round about Elisha. He did not realize that deliverance was at hand. How many like him are blind to the power of God, to the providences of God! How many are quick to see anything that concerns their temporal advantage, but slow to see that which concerns their immortal souls! How many see no beauty in Christ!
2. The Syrians' eyes were closed. This was a judicial act of God in response to Elisha's prayer. So there is a spiritual judicial blindness. "Seeing they shall see, but not perceive; hearing they shall hear, but shall not understand." It is a spiritual law which has its analogies in the natural world. If we neglect to use any of our bodily powers, the power itself is soon lost. Similarly, mental or spiritual powers, if neglected, will soon become useless. Let us be careful that we use the privileges and opportunities and talents which God has given us, lest they be taken from us altogether. "To him that hath shall be given," that is, to him that hath made a good use of his talents; "and from him that hath not"—from him that has so neglected his talents that they are practically not hiss" shall be taken away even that which he hath,"
II. EYES OPENED.
1. The Syrians' eyes were opened to see their true condition. Instead of being a victorious army, with Elisha a captive in their hands, they find that he has them in his power, and has led them into the midst of Samaria and into the presence of the King of Israel. They then saw how defenseless and how helpless they were. That is the first step in the path of salvation. The first step for a sinner is to see his need. So with Bunyan's pilgrim. The first thought that led him to set out on his journey was the feeling of his utter helplessness. "Sir, I perceive by the book in my hand that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to judgment (Hebrews 9:27); and I find that I am not willing to do the first (Job 16:21), nor able to do the second (Ezekiel 22:14)." "Lord, show me myself."
2. The young man's eyes were opened to see that deliverance was at hand. "The Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." This is the second step in the sinner's salvation. Having seen his need, he next needs to see the Savior. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world? Have you seen your true condition, your spiritual need? Have you seen your need of Jesus as your Savior?
"When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see—
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Savior must be.
"My terrors all vanished before the sweet Name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free—
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me."
III. THE POWER OF PRAYER. Elisha's prayers prevailed three times in this short narrative. There may be some one known to us whose eyes are closed, who is spiritually blind. Have we brought the case to God in prayer? Is it a wandering son? "Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see." Is it a wayward daughter? a godless friend? We may not reach them by our words; but we can reach them by our prayers.
IV. THE POWER OF DIVINE GRACE. Elisha did not exult in his triumph over his enemies. He did not take advantage of their helplessness. They had come to take him captive, perhaps to take away his life; but he heaps coals of fire on their head. The King of Israel wanted to smite them. But Elisha reminds him (according to one view) that it was not customary to smite even captives taken in war: how much less should he smite those who had been put within his power, not by any exertions of his own, but by the miraculous interposition of God! On the contrary, Elisha recommends that they should be well treated and well fed. This was done. And what was the consequence? "So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel." This little act of kindness had turned away their wrath. What an example for us to imitate toward those who treat us ill! "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."—C.H.I.
2 Kings 6:24-33
I. A CITY IN DISTRESS. Once more the people of Samaria were in great straits. A besieging army was at their gates, and, most terrible of all, the horrors of famine were within their walls. They were reduced to the greatest extremities. The women were actually beginning to cook and eat their own children. Whichever way they looked, the prospect was dark. To open the gates to the Syrians meant death or captivity. And the longer they remained within their walls, the more certainly death and starvation stared them in the face. See here the evil result of forsaking God. To such extremities they had brought themselves by their own sins. They had forsaken the living God, and now their false gods were not able to help them in the day of their calamity. It is an evil day in a man's history when he turns his back upon God's Word, upon God's commandments, upon God's Son. As it often happens, their calamities had hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes. There was one man in their midst who had often before proved a wise counselor and friend. They had Elisha, the man of God, in their city—the man who, by counseling them to make the valley full of ditches, had delivered the Moabites into their hands; the man, too, who had revealed Benhadad's secrets, and smitten the Syrian army with blindness. But they had forgotten all that. Instead of locking to Elisha for guidance or help, they blame him for all their troubles. How often does it happen that, when people get into difficulties, they throw the blame upon others! When troubles and difficulties come upon us, our first business should be to search our own hearts and lives, and see whether the trouble may not be of our own causing.
II. A PROPHET IN DANGER. The king was a partaker in the wickedness of the people. He encouraged the prevailing idolatry. Now he shares their suffering. But he never thinks of looking to God for deliverance. He never thinks of humbling himself before God, and confessing his sins. On the contrary, he shows a disposition to cast the blame both on God and on his prophet. When the poor woman in her hunger and distress called to him for help, he answered, "If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress?" Though he wore sackcloth, the outward sign of mourning or penitence, there was no sign of inward penitence or humility in his heart. How blind and infatuated he is in his anger and defiance! He threatens to take away the prophet's life. Jezebel had once said to Elijah, "So let the gods do to me and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them [the prophets whom she had slain] by tomorrow about this time." So here Jehoram says, "God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day." Even Jezebel's threat had apparently more reason for it than Jehoram's. Elijah had undoubtedly slain the prophets of Baal. But in this case Elisha was innocent of any charge. Jehoram quite gratuitously holds him responsible for the famine in Samaria, and threatens to take away his life. But man proposes and God disposes. Although Elisha is in danger, he is never in dismay. When the king's messenger came to take off his head, Elisha bade the elders to hold the messenger fast at the door till the king himself, who was close behind, should arrive. Elisha had had dealings with Jehoram before. He would hear his sentence from the king himself, if at all. Well for those who, like Elisha, live near to God. "Serve the Lord in fear," said John Knox on his death-bed," and the flesh will not fear death." Dangers do not distress them; death brings no dismay. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 6:1-7
A Church-extension enterprise.
"And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us," etc. If there were a Church in Israel at all, the schools of the prophets undoubtedly constituted a part of that Church. They were a communion of godly men. The brief narrative, therefore, may fairly be regarded as a record of a Church-extension enterprise, and as such four things are observable—things that all who contemplate such enterprises should ponder and imitate.
I. This Church-extension enterprise was STIMULATED BY THE PRINCIPLE OF GROWTH. The old sphere had become too narrow for them, they had outgrown it. "And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us." The numbers who came to listen to Elisha and the increase of students required greater accommodation than the whole place could afford. This is a principle on which all Church-extension, should proceed; but in these modern times it is sometimes not only ignored, but outraged. Although statistics show that the churches and chapels in England fall miserably short of the accommodation necessary for the whole population, it is three times greater than is required for the number of attendants. On all sides empty churches and chapels abound, millions of money contributed for religious purposes lie as the "one talent," wrapped in a napkin, unused. And yet still, almost every religious denomination seems to feel that the building of new churches is its grand mission. The fact is that church-building has, in many cases, become a business speculation. One church should grow out of another; the grain of mustard seed will create its own organism, multiply its own branches, and propagate its vitality.
II. This Church-extension enterprise was CONDUCTED IN A MANLY MANNER.
1. The best counsel was sought before a step was taken. These sons of the prophets went to Elisha and said, "Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan." Though they were young, perhaps with all the stirring impulses of youth, they were conscious of their need of counsel, end they sought it. In these modern times in England—we speak from extensive experience—churches and chapels are often built from ignorant zeal and a spirit of rivalry. How unmanly is this!
2. Each man set to honest work in the matter. "Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell." Matthew Henry quaintly says, "When they wanted room they did not speak of sending for cedars, and marble stones, and curious artificers, but only of getting every man a beam, to run up a plain hut or cottage with." Each man, it would seem, felled his beam, carried and adjusted it. How right, manly, and honest all this! They never thought of putting up a grand place at other people's expense. Ah me! how far we are fallen in spirit from them l To erect modern churches and chapels, what means do we use? Fawning entreaties, addressed to moneyed ignorance and stupidity, bazaars with their questionable procedures, their displays, their raffles, and their flirtations.
III. This Church-extension enterprise ENCOUNTERED DIFFICULTIES UNEXPECTED. "And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood. But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed." Why this distress of the woodman? Was it because the axe was borrowed and he had not the wherewith to pay, or because he was checked in his operation? Perhaps both were reasons for his distress. The former I trow the greater. In all worthy enterprises on this earth difficulties crop up unawares. Perhaps the best enterprises encounter the greatest difficulties. "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong." But difficulties are in truth blessings in disguise. They challenge the courage and rouse the forces of the worker. They bring out his manhood. They are to the true worker what tempests are to young trees—they deepen the roots and strengthen the fibers. Besides, there is no consciousness of virtue in doing that which involves no struggle.
IV. This Church-extension enterprise OBTAINED SUPERNATURAL HELP WHEN NEEDED. When the man who had lost his axe was crying out in distress, Elisha, the "man of God said, Where fell it? And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim. Therefore said he, Take it up to thee. And he put out his hand, and took it." Elisha here, by raising the axe and making the iron swim, overcame a law of nature—the law of gravitation. Up to this point in this enterprise there does not seem to have been any supernatural interposition. They prosecuted their journeying, they cut down the timber, they carried their beams, all by their own natural skill and force. They did not require supernatural aid. But now one of them did, and it came. We must not expect any special power from heaven to do that which we have the natural force to accomplish ourselves. "As thy day, so thy strength shall be."—D.T.
2 Kings 6:8-23
The King of Syria and Elisha.
"Then the King of Syria warred against Israel," etc. In these sixteen verses we have four subjects worth looking into—wickedness thwarted, timidity dispelled, supernatural power manifested, and revenge overcome.
I. WICKEDNESS THWARTED. The King of Syria had determined on an enterprise of bloodshed and wickedness. He had made all arrangements, fixed on the place for his camp. "In such and such a place shall be my camp." Bat Elisha thwarted the bloody purpose of the Syrian king by informing the Israelitish monarch, Jehoram, of the very place where the Syrians had determined to encamp. His words are, "Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down." The king attended to the prophet's directions, "and saved himself there, not once nor twice." Terrible was the disappointment of the Syrian monarch. "The heart of the King of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not show me which of us is for the King of Israel? And one of his servants said, None my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the King of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber." Observe:
1. That wicked men are most secretive in their purposes. It would seem that the plans of the King of Syria's bloody enterprise were known only to his most confidential officers, and that they were revealed to them in his bedchamber. There, and perhaps there only, did he detain them, and perhaps with closed doors and soft whisperings. Wicked men, in order to get on in the world, are bound to be secretive. And the more wicked they are, the more necessary for them is this secretiveness. Were dishonest doctors, lawyers, tradesmen, merchants, statesmen, to be open and candid, revealing all that is nefarious in their aims, they would fall into poverty and universal contempt. The good alone can afford to be open and candid; the wicked are bound to be hypocrites if they would live.
2. That none of their purposes are so secret as to escape the notice of Almighty God. How came Elisha to know them? He was far away from the monarch's bedchamber—away in Israel. It was Elisha's God who made the communication to him. Solemn thought. There is One who knoweth what is in man—in every man. He reads all secrets; he "understandeth our thoughts afar off."
3. The revelations of a wicked man's secrets will frustrate his designs. It did so in the case of this king.
II. TIMIDITY DISPELLED. When the Syrian monarch learnt that Elisha was in Israel, he dispatched a spy to find him out; and when he discovered that he was in Dothan, "he sent thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about." All this struck a panic into the heart of Elisha's servant, and he cried out, "Alas, my master! how shall we do?" How did Elisha relieve his servant of this terrible fear? By assuring him that there were more on their side than on the side of their enemies. "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." This assurance he gave not merely with words, hut by ocular demonstration. "And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." It is generally supposed that the reference is here to angels "that excel in strength;" they are in truth the body-guard of the good. They are more in their number than our foes, superior in their power, in their invincible determination, in their authority too. But to see them we must have our spiritual eyes open as the prophet's eyes were now. Faith in the wonderful resources which Heaven has provided for the good will dispel all fear.
III. SUPERNATURAL POWER MANIFESTED. Supernatural power is here manifested:
1. In opening the eyes of the prophet's servant.
2. In bringing under his notice the mountain which was full of horses and chariots of fire.
3. In smiting with blindness the army of Syria. "And when they came down to him [that is, the Syrian army], Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.' These armed legions, whose eyes were glaring with vengeance before, were now in midnight darkness. In this state Elisha becomes their guide and conducts them to Samaria, and when they had come there another supernatural act was performed in the restoration of their sight, and then they beheld their terrible position. "Behold, they were in the midst of Samaria," in the hands of the King of Israel.
IV. REVENGE OVERCOME. The King of Syria, hearing that Elisha had revealed his murderous plan to the monarch of Israel, and had thus thwarted the purpose and the plan of his campaign, was fired with indignation, and sent to Dothan "horses, and chariots and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about." How furiously we may suppose revenge flamed in every member of the army as well as in the soul of their royal master, as they "compassed the city about!" And this feeling would no doubt be intensified when they found that Elisha had betrayed them into the hands of their enemies. They were in the midst of Samaria, within the very grasp of the King of Israel, and at his mercy. How would Elisha advise the King of Israel to treat these revengeful legions now? "And the King of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them?" What was the prophet's advice? Did he say, "Destroy them?" No. He answered, "Thou shalt not smite them." Did he say, "Spare their lives, but make them slaves, take them into captivity and make them beasts of burden?" Did he say, "Deprive them of all food, and starve them to death?" No; he said, "Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master. And he prepared great provision for them: and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master." What was the result of this generous treatment? Did they go away with the old passion of vengeance burning in them? Away to reorganize themselves in greater numbers and with greater force to make another attack? No. Here is the result: "So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel." The magnanimous kindness extinguished the flames and paralyzed the arms of revenge, so that they came no more into the land of Israel. This is the Divine way, nay, the only way, of conquering our enemies. Evil can only be overcome by good. The most glorious victory over an enemy is to turn him into a friend.—D.T.
2 Kings 6:15-17
Invincible helpers of the good.
"And when the servant of the man of God was risen," etc. The context illustrates two circumstances too frequently overlooked, but ever demanding the recognition and study of mankind.
1. The value of a good man to his country. The Syrian monarch makes war with Israel; his counsels are formed, his arrangements are complete, and sanguine are his hopes of victory. But there is a good man in Israel—Elisha—who reads the hidden purpose of the Syrian despot, sounds the alarm, puts his country on its guard, invokes Heaven, and thus confounds the wily stratagems and thwarts the murderous purposes of the foe. "So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel." True piety is the source of true patriotism; its prayers and prophecies are the sure "defenses" of nations. This idea is dawning on the world now; and in coming periods will blaze in broad daylight on mankind. We shall one day see that the victories of truth and prayer were the only victories that ever served the interest of any nation, and that many a pious man, who lived in obscurity and died under oppression, conferred greater blessings on the commonwealth than those statesmen and warriors whose patriotism has been emblazoned in history and sung in verse. The context illustrates:
2. The source of a wicked man's weakness. Why did not this Syrian tyrant succeed in his plans? The words which one of his servants addressed to him explain the cause: "Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the King of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber." His projects would not bear the light. As a principle, wicked men would seldom, if ever, realize their ends were there a prophet to unveil their hearts, and publish all the selfish, sensual, dishonest, and blasphemous thoughts that transpire in the hidden chamber of their souls. Wicked tradesmen, lawyers, statesmen, and others succeed only as they conceal their hearts from public view. Let some prophet, like Ezekiel of old, break open the barred door of their "chamber of imagery," and expose the hideous forms "portrayed upon the wall," the impious works that are wrought "in the dark, and forthwith they will lose all public sympathy, patronage, and support. O my soul, cherish thou thoughts that shall bear a prophet's fiery glance—principles that will glow, bloom, and look attractive in the daylight; and purposes that will commend thee to the Divine consciousness of brother spirits, and to the favor of the Everlasting. I proceed to state, with the utmost brevity, a few general truths suggested by the incident before us.
I. THAT THE GOOD ARE OFTEN PLACED IN CIRCUMSTANCES TO REQUIRE SUPERHUMAN HELP. Elisha and his servant were, at this time, at Dothan. The Syrian king, enraged with the prophet for frustrating his military designs on Israel, sends "horses, and chariots, and a great host" in pursuit of him. The mighty army "came by night, and compassed the city about." Early in the morning the prophet's servant beheld the armed and ruthless multitude drawn up around the city. Here were enemies, which the prophet himself could not subdue, perils from which his unaided power could not extricate himself. Faint symbol this of the spiritual enemies that surround our dwellings! True, in these days, the antagonists of the good are not so outwardly visible as they were in times that are past. The great enemy does not send forth his host now garbed in the attire of the persecutors. They appear not amongst us in the grim and savage forms of the Julians and the Neros, the Maximins and the Diocletians; they assume an habiliment more consonant with the tastes of this civilized era. Their forms fascinate rather than terrify. They seek to draw rather than to drive. But still, are they any less deadly in their aim, or formidable in their power, because they change their garb, drop the sword, and stretch out the hand of false friendship? It is not the plundering of our property nor the wounding of our bodies that injures us most, but the corrupting of our souls. The awakening within our spiritual natures of an impure suggestion may work a far more fearful ruin than incarcerating us in dungeons, or sending us to the martyr's stake and flames. I call those forces mine enemies that are unfavorable to my spiritual interests. Whatever dims my inner vision, and tends to veil from me the sublimities of the "unseen;" whatever deadens my sensibility to duty, and interferes with the free and vigorous play of my faculties; whatever draws me from the eternal future, and links me to the transient present; whatever cools, materializes, and contracts my sympathies, and keeps me more in connection with the contingent than the absolute; whatever depresses me in my struggles to reach that ideal of perfection dimly portrayed in my soul, but drawn out in abiding loveliness in the life of Jesus; whatever forces act thus, I call, with emphasis, my foes. And do not such foes surround us? Tell me of a period when "sinful lusts," which "war against the soul," were more potent and active than now? Our civilization is little more than a perfection in those arts that minister to the senses, pander to the appetites, and gratify the desires of the flesh. When did worldliness ever wield a more wide and mighty sway? When were the votaries of mammon so numerous and enthusiastic in their devotions? The deepest cry of the age seems to be, "My soul thirsteth for gold." When did corrupt literature scatter over the social soil the seeds of error, impiety, and licentiousness to such an extent as now? We are as truly hemmed in by antagonistic forces as was Elisha by the horses and chariots and hosts than encompassed him at Dothan. As we glance at them, the impression of the prophet's servant comes to us, "Alas, master! what shall we do?" We require the help that Elisha had—help from without—from Heaven.
II. THAT HEAVEN HAS PROVIDED HELPERS FOR MEN SUPERIOR TO ALL ANTAGONISTS. "And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them" It is generally supposed that the reference is here to the angels "that excel in strength," and that they were the horses and chariots of fire that came to the prophet's help. Angels are the hosts of God, and "the body-guard of the good"—"ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto the heirs of salvation." This doctrine is so antecedently probable, so clearly revealed in Scripture, and so generally believed, as to require no evidence. It is to their superiority that our attention is now called.
1. They are "more" in number than the foe. If we confine our attention to merely what we see in this world, we shall conclude that the agents of evil are the mere numerous. A wider survey of the general realm of spiritual being, as suggested by philosophy, and as revealed in the Bible, presents an opposite view. As malformations in nature are few compared with symmetrically organized existences, so evil spirits are few compared with the good. The great cities, principalities, and hierarchies of the universe are loyal subjects of the great King, and zealous agents in promoting his will; it is but a little province that has here and there thrown off its allegiance. Hell is but a withered leaf in the waving forest of life—a flickering meteor in the starry vault of being. It is our happiness to know that evil is the exception in the universe; good is the rule. Thus evil exists as a contingency—it might or might not be; but good exists by an absolute necessity—it is and must be, because God is and must be.
2. They are "more" in the instrumentalities they wield. The agents of evil are not only fewer in number, but inferior also in their armor. Falsehood, selfishness, wrong,—these are their miserable weapons; and are they not weakness compared with truth, love, right, the weapons of the good? Ay; they can no more stand before them than "dry stubble" before the raging fire—the gloom of the night-heavens before the rising sun. The history of the world gives many instances of one man, with truth and right on his side, subduing countries under the reign of falsehood and wrong.
3. They are "more" in their invincible determination. The power of a moral intelligence in any operation will not be entirely or chiefly determined by the instruments he employs, but by the strength of the purpose under which he acts. A man with a weak purpose, however great his advantages, will not do much. Now, the agents of evil can have no invincible purpose, for the obvious reason that their consciences—whose sanctions can alone give invincibility—are not on their side. Just as far as any being is under the influence of evil, he must be fickle and fearful. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion."
4. They are "more" in the authority under which they act. The Bible teaches that the angels of evil are under the control of one master-spirit of darkness—"the prince of the power of the air;" but those of the good are under the authority of the Infinite. His Spirit inspires them, his will they obey, his energy is their strength. Satan, the master of the evil spirits, is himself the creature and slave of God. The moral usurper cannot move or breathe but by the permission of him who "maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire." Truly, then, my pious friend, however great the spiritual foes, thy helpers are greater. To the eye of sense, indeed, thou seemest to wrestle against fearful odds. Wealth, fashion, customs, influence, worldly maxims, habits, and even numbers, seem against thee; but "fear not: for they that be with us are mere than they that be with them." Open the eye of faith, and look beyond the boundary-line of sense, and thou shalt see that the great "mountain" of universal being is "full of horses and chariots of fire round about" thee.
III. THAT THE SUPERIOR HELPERS OF THE GOOD ARE ONLY SEEN BY SOME. Elisha saw the celestial helpers, but his servant saw them not—saw nothing but the enemy. The one, consequently, stood calm amidst the gleaming and rattling weapons of the Syrian army, the other was all perturbation and alarm. Thus men under similar circumstances receive different impressions. The event which overwhelms one with alarm inspires another with hope and heroism. The reason of this is that some have eyes to see only the evil in things, others to see the good as well. Why is this? Why is it that all men cannot see the spiritual helpers that surround them? Several reasons might be assigned.
1. There is the tendency to judge after the senses. The majority of men, like the servant of the prophet, see only with the physical eye. Although true philosophy shows that all things that come within the cognizance of the senses are shadows, not substances—semblance, not essence, they reversely consider the visible and tangible only as real Spirits, therefore, which lie beyond the line of sense, and which are the living creatures in all the "wheels" of human events, and in all the forms of matter, are never practically realized, and often theoretically ignored.
2. There is the habit of referring everything to secondary causes. This habit allows no room for God, nor for spiritual interpositions, but in a miracle. What is regular it calls natural; what is miraculous alone is Divine. It sees God in holding the sun over Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, but sees nothing of him in rolling these stupendous bodies, age after age, in their spheres, with an undeviating regularity, and a swiftness incalculable. I say nothing of the irrationality of this habit, nor of its prevalence, of which there can be no question. All I say is that, since God helps us by natural laws, this habit manifestly prevents men from seeing the helpers he sends.
3. There is also a gloominess of disposition. This is sometimes a cause. There are men who will not see good. They hear no music in the harp of love; they see no brightness in the unclouded sky of noon. On this earth, even when robed in its summer beauty or laden with autumnal wealth, they sing, or rather groan—
"Lord, what a wretched land is this,
That yields us no supply!"
The horses and chariots of mercy may move around them as celestial guards, yet they cry, "All these things are against me."
4. There is want of sympathy with God. Strong and earnest sympathy with a being always induces the mind to bring that Being near—near to the inner eye and heart. By this law we bring the distant near—cross oceans and continents. Yes; from worlds beyond the grave the imagination wafts the loved one home to our inmost breasts; and we see the form and hear the voice again. Had we this sympathy with God and holy spirits, we should set them always before us. Jesus had it, and he said, "Ye leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me."
IV. THAT TO SEE THESE SUPERHUMAN HELPERS ONLY REQUIRES THE OPENING OF THE EYES. "Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes." The outward world is to us according to bur five senses. Had we fewer, it would be less than it is; or, if more, it would be greater. There are, probably, properties in the material system which we have at present no sense to discover; or, peradventure, there may be senses closed up within, that will one day be developed, and make this old world a new thing to us. But, likely as this may be, the existence of a sense in the soul for seeing spiritual existences is more probable. I am not disposed to pronounce all who have stated that they have seen such beings to be either fanatics or impostors. The a priori wonder is, not that they should be seen, but that they are not more generally perceived. We are related to the material world, and we have senses to discern material existences. We are, confessedly, more intimately and solemnly related to the spiritual; and is it not natural to expect that we should have a sense to see spiritual beings? Were such a sense to be opened within us, as the eye of the prophet's servant was now opened, what visions would burst upon us! The microscope gives to us a new world of wonders; but were God to open the spiritual eye, what a multitude of worlds would be revealed! Ah, my skeptic brother! deniest thou a spiritual world? Where is thy reason? Wilt thou plead the fact that thou hast never seen a spiritual existence? This, assuredly, will not serve thee. Wilt thou permit a deaf man to deny that a thunderstorm ever rent our cloudy atmosphere, because he has never heard the terrific rear; or a blind man to deny that a rainbow has ever spanned these skies, because he, forsooth, has never seen the beauteous arch? Why, then, shouldest thou deny a spiritual world? Before the eyes of the prophet's servant were opened, he might have denied the existence of these helpers. When his master spoke to him of them, he might have said within himself, "Has my master lost his reason, or is he dreaming? I see nothing on the mountain but the Syrian host." All at once, however, his eyes were opened, and what a scene burst upon him! "The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." Even so it will be with thee, my friend: ere many days shall pass, God will open thine eyes; and that spiritual world in which thou art now living, and whose existence thou deniest, will burst in awful sublimity upon thine astonished soul!—D.T.
2 Kings 6:24-33
Subjects worth considering.
"And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria," etc. These verses, brimful of the wicked and the horrible, press the following subjects on our attention.
I. THE INHUMANITY OF WAR. "And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver." The inhumanity of the Syrian king and his host in invading Samaria is [seen in the shameful disregard of the kindness which the Samaritans had previously shown them. In the preceding verses we read that the Samaritans had not only allowed them to escape entire destruction when they were at their mercy, but, at the interposition of Elisha, supplied them with abundant provisions to appease their hunger and to invigorate their frames. Notwithstanding this, they now came to work ruin on their very saviors. War has no gratitude, no sense of right, no sentiment of kindness; often it dehumanizes human nature, transforms the man into a fiend.
"How all minor cruelties of man
Are summed in war, conclusive of all crimes I"
II. THE TERRIBLENESS OF HUNGER. To such absolute destitution did these ruthless warriors reduce the inhabitants of Samaria, that not only did the ravenous hunger drive them to obtain food from the "ass's head" and from "dove's dung," but from human flesh—mothers from the children of their womb. "And as the King of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. And he said, If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress? And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow. So we killed my son, and did eat him," etc. Here is a tragic tale, a tale that makes the heart quail, and the nerves quiver with horror. Hunger in itself is a blessing, it implies health and stimulates to action; it is in truth the mainspring that keeps the human machinery of the world in action. But when it becomes intense and unappeasable, it sets all moral commandments at defiance, it will break through stone walls, shatter thrones, and break up empires. It is among the primary duties of rulers to keep the hunger of the people appeased. Alas! everywhere in England we hear its groans; may not these groanings be the mutterings of nature before the volcanic eruption?
III. THE MISDIRECTION OF PASSION. The tale of the famishing woman, and the revolting scenes he beheld, pierced the heart of the King of Israel. His feelings at first seem to have been those of great humiliation and deep sympathy. "And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes." But they soon became those of raging wrath against Elisha. "Then he said, God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day." If Elisha had, from a malign spirit, really brought all this distress upon the Samaritan people, this wrath might have been justified. Anger against wrong is right. But it was not Elisha that brought the calamities; it was themselves—their idolatries, their sins. Elisha was their greatest friend. The misdirection of human indignation is no uncommon evil. How often men are angry with one another without a cause! Passion misdirected put to death the Son of God himself.
IV. THE CALMNESS OF GOODNESS. Whilst all these revolting scenes were taking place, and the king burning with rage against Elisha, was resolving on his destruction, where was Elisha? "But Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him." With his disciples, fellow-citizens, and "elders" Elisha sat, without anxiety or alarm. Mark:
1. It was not the calmness of servile submission. Though he knew the threat of the king, he had no idea of making an apology or seeking to appease unreasonable indignation, or yield with stoicism to his fate. No. Whilst he sat calmly, the pulse of manhood throbbed stronger in every vein, and when he heard the king's messenger approach the door of his house, he said to the elders, "See ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head?" It is grand to hear men give others their proper title, even though they be kings. Were all men thus honest, many of those who are now called "right honorables" would be "right abominables."
2. It was not the calmness of irresolution. It was not a state of unnerved indifference; on the contrary, there was in it a resolute power. "Look, when the messenger cometh, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door." For the man's own sake hold him, do not let him contract crime by committing murder. Probably at this moment Elisha saw the king himself hurrying towards him, to revoke his murderous decree. Conscious goodness is always calm. He is "kept in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on the Lord."
3. It was the calmness that conquers. The king himself, it would seem, was soon at the door. He had relented, and hurried to prevent the execution of his murderous command. "And while he yet talked with them, behold, the messenger came down unto him: and he said, Behold, this evil is of the Lord; what should I wait for the Lord any longer?" This utterance is that of the king, and it would seem it was a response to the prophet's exhortation to "wait for the Lord." And he means to say, "This evil is not from thee, Elisha, but from the Lord, and it is hopeless; 'what should I wait for the Lord any longer?'" It is not likely that such a humiliating utterance as this would have fallen from the lips of the king, had he met Elisha in a state of furious excitement. No doubt it was the moral majesty of calmness that struck the heart of the monarch.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 6:1-7
The borrowed axe.
This is another of Elisha's miracles of aid. The story belongs to the same class of acts as those related in 2 Kings 2:19-22; 2 Kings 4:1-7, 2 Kings 4:38-44.
I. THE AXE-HEAD NEEDED. The first verses present us with a picture of expansion and extension. The place where "the sons of the prophets" dwelt or "sat" before Elisha, at Jericho, had become too strait for them. Elisha's influence was evidently telling on the nation. The religious movement represented by the prophetic schools was growing in force and volume. It is encouraging to hear of growth and progress in the Church. We note:
1. The prophets faced their situation. "Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us." They did not stand still, and endeavor to accommodate their increased numbers to the old conditions. They showed a spirit of enterprise, of advance, in correspondence with their altered needs. This was true wisdom. The Church must adapt herself to new needs, to altered circumstances, to the conditions of progress, if she is to hold her ground. "Enlarge the place of thy tent," etc. (Isaiah 54:2).
2. They were willing to put forth needful effort. "Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam," etc. They were prepared to do what was necessary to bring about the changes required. They had the two conditions of successful work—unity of spirit, and individual willingness. They were to work together for a common end, and each man was to do his separate part. The individual wood-cutter could accomplish little. Unitedly, they could easily make a place for their common accommodation.
3. They desired Elisha to go with them. "Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants." Elisha was the bond of their community. They desired neither to act without his sanction nor to go where he could not accompany them. The Church, in her changes, must abide by fundamental truth, and do nothing which would exclude the Master.
II. THE AXE-HEAD LOST. Elisha's sanction given, the baud of prophets was soon busy at Jordan, cutting down trees, and preparing for the new building. Then occurred the mishap and loss which gives its name to the story. As one was felling a beam, the axe-head flew off, and fell into the deep part of the river. It was a borrowed axe, and the man's lamentations were instant and sincere. Mishaps will occur in the best undertakings.
1. He had lost what a neighbor had lent him. The property was not his own. It had been lent him, probably at his own request, and in the spirit of neighborly good will. Such neighborly acts are pleasing to think of. But the more willingly the axe had been lent him, the more did the loser now regret the mishap which had befallen it. It is well that neighbors should be ready to lend; but the incident also shows the danger of borrowing. We should seek to be as independent of others as we can; then, if misfortune does befall us, what we lose is at least only our own.
2. He could not replace the loss. Had he been able to do so, he would not have required to borrow. The "sons of the prophets" were good men, but poor men. An axe-head was a small thing, but it meant much to the user, and perhaps not less to the original owner. It is a spirit of conscientiousness which speaks in the man's lament. He held the axe as a trust, and desired earnestly to return it. It is good to see men "faithful in that which is least" (Luke 16:10).
3. He could no longer do his part of the work. The axe-head was indispensable for the cutting down of his beam. He had the handle, but it was of no use without the iron. This also grieved him. Anything that incapacitates a man for bearing his part in the building work of God's kingdom will be a sorrow to him.
III. THE AXE-HEAD RECOVERED. The indirect appeal made to Elisha in the words, "Alas, master! for it was borrowed," was not in vain. It was a case in which Elisha might be expected to help, and he did so. In the miracle we see:
1. Human agency. There is a remarkable blending of the Divine and the human in the whole transaction. Elisha asked, "Where fell it?" It might have been thought that if he had the power to bring the iron to the surface, he would also be able to tell where it fell. But the man had to show him the place. Then, when the iron swam, Elisha said, "Take it to thee." And the man put out his hand and took it.
2. Expressive symbol. The miracle, as usual, was accompanied by a symbolical action. A stick was cut down, and thrown into the water. The act was only an expressive way of saying, "Let the iron swim as this stick does." Its sole function was to direct attention to the supernatural result.
3. Almighty power. "The iron did swim." There was here, not the alteration of the properties of iron (else it would be iron no longer), but the introduction of a new cause, which counteracted the natural effect of gravity, and raised the iron to the surface. Nature is but an instrument in the hand of God, and can be bent by him to his own purposes. The lesson of the incident is to trust God for help even in what we might be tempted to call the small things of life. The loss of an axe-head may seem a trivial circumstance to call for an interference with the laws of the universe. But with God there is no great and little. We can make known all our wants to him, with assurance of being helped.—J.O.
2 Kings 6:8-23
A bootless invasion.
The chronic hostility which subsisted between the Israelitish and the Syrian kingdoms soon broke out again in war. In this, as in other instances, Syria was the aggressor. The invaded kingdom was delivered, not through "the sword and the bow" (2 Kings 6:22) of its king, but once more through the interposition of Elisha.
I. FRUSTRATED PLANS.
1. Royal strategy. The war which the King of Syria commenced was intended to be carried on, not by battle in the open field, but by a series of surprises, caused by the planting of ambuscades at convenient spots. It was cunning more than strength that the king relied on. He "took counsel with his servants' as to the best method of carrying out his plans. Men are apt to overvalue cunning. It plays a large part in the conduct of worldly, especially of political and military, affairs.
2. The failure of plans. If the plotters were "profound to make slaughter" (Hosea 5:2), God was deeper than the plotters, "a rebutter of them all ' (Hosea 5:2). This was the element Benhadad left out of his calculations. Everything that passed in the king's council-chamber was revealed by God to Elisha, who told it to the King of Israel. What was spoken "in the ear" in Damascus was proclaimed "upon the housetops" in Samaria (Luke 12:3). Thus the King of Israel saved himself "not once or twice." The wicked greatly err when they say, "How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?" (Psalms 73:11). Not one of their plans but is "naked and opened" (Hebrews 4:13) to him. With a knowledge and skill infinitely beyond theirs, he can easily bring the cunningest of their schemes to naught. This is the comfort and safety of those who trust God, and are under his special care.
3. The secret discovered. The King of Syria's chagrin at the continual frustration of his schemes was great. He could account for it in no other way than that some of his own servants habitually betrayed his counsels. They who have God to fight with must lay their account for many disappointments and troubles. At last the real state of the case was made known to him by one who had learned the facts about Elisha. It was a startling discovery to make, that the things which he spoke in his bedchamber were accurately told by Elisha to his enemy, the King of Israel. None of us would like to be thus supervised in our secret doings by our fellow-men. How little we reflect that, in sober fact, we are being thus morally supervised by the living God! Elisha's name would be well known in Syria since the healing of the famous captain.
II. INVISIBLE DEFENSE. If Elisha was the medium of discovering his plans, the only practicable course for the King of Syria to pursue was to secure the person of the prophet, and so stop further communications with the King of Israel. Benhadad might have reflected that, if all his plans were known to Elisha, this plan would be known too, and Elisha could easily escape. But wicked men do not, as a rule, reflect on the folly of their opposition to God. The king, having ascertained that Elisha was at Dothan, sent an expedition to arrest him.
1. The encompassing host. The force dispatched against Elisha was "a great host" far exceeding the captains of fifties with their fifties who were sent to arrest Elijah (2 Kings 1:1-18.). Benhadad put trust in chariots and horses (Psalms 20:7). Yet why so great a company to take one prisoner, if no supernatural arm was there to fight for him? And if God was Protector, what would even this great host avail? Another proof of the inward uncertainty with which this enterprise was entered upon is seen in the fact that the host surrounded the city "by night." Combined with the worldly man's belief that physical force is irresistible, there is the lurking fear that it may not prove irresistible after all.
2. The trembling servant. Awaking early the next morning, and going forth, the servant of Elisha saw, to his dismay, the city compassed about with both chariot and horse. His cry, as he rushed back to report the fact to his master, was, "Alas, my master! how shall we do?" Thus apt are men to judge of a situation purely by the standard of sense. The material factors are nearly the only ones looked at. Things are esteemed to go well or ill with us according as the natural situation looks favorable or the reverse. It is the constant aim of Bible-teaching to lift us above this point of view—to give us a higher one.
3. The invisible protectors. Elisha prayed that the young man's eyes might be opened, and then he saw the mistake he was committing. "The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." No wonder that, in this moment of apparent danger, Elisha was full of calm trust. Knowing Benhadad's designs, he might have escaped had he desired, but with the forces of the invisible King interposed between him and his enemies, he did not feel even this to be necessary. Not less confidently, in seasons of danger from ungodly men, may the believer commit his way unto the Lord. It may not be given him to see the symbols of invisible protection, but not the less surely can he depend that "the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Psalms 34:7). He can say with David, "I will not be afraid of ten thousand of people that have set themselves against me round about" (Psalms 3:6). They can do him no further harm than God sees meet to allow. They that are for him are more than they that be against him.
III. GOOD FOR EVIL.
1. The supernatural blindness. Descending from the neigh]souring heights, on which they had encamped during the night, the Syrians now approached to take Elisha. He, on his part, prayed the Lord, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness" The prayer was granted, though the word means rather confusion and dazedness of mind, than absolute deprivation of sight (Genesis 19:11). Their movements became aimless, and Elisha, going up to them, said, "This is not the way, neither is this the city: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye sock." There is the appearance of falsehood in this speech only if we forget that the men were in a mental maze, and probably were actually going aside both from the way and the city in their attempted search for it. Elisha, in promising to bring them to the man whom they wanted, undertook no more than he performed. Only when the Lord opened their eyes, they found they were, not in Dothan, but in Samaria. This is one way in which God frequently discomfits wicked men, pouring confusion into their counsels. They "grope for the wall, like the blind, and grope as if (they) had no eyes: (they) stumble at noonday as in the night; (they) are in desolate places as dead men (Isaiah 59:10). They are granted the desires of their hearts, but after a fashion of God's own; and in such a way as to lead to their final discomfiture" (2 Samuel 15:31).
2. The King of Israel's proposal. It seemed at first as if this great multitude of the Syrians had been led like sheep into the slaughter-house. They were now in the King of Israel's power, and for what end could Elisha have brought them there but that the king might smite them? The king himself was nothing loath. In eager tones, he urged Elisha to be permitted to destroy them. The policy of slaughter is always an easy one. It might seem sanctioned by Old Testament precedents. Probably, however, even in the Old Testament, there is no example of the divinely sanctioned extermination of a multitude who were not captives in lawful war. This is the point Elisha urges in reply. If the king smote this multitude, would he be smiting those whom he had taken with his sword and bow? He would not. God had delivered these captives into his hands, and with other ends than that he should destroy them.
3. Elisha's magnanimous counsel. Elisha showed the King of Israel "a more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31). Let him set bread and water before them, that they might eat and drink, and go to their master. Here, surely, in the Old Testament, breathes the spirit of the New. It is Christ's precept of doing good to enemies, of returning good for evil, of seeking to overcome evil with good. The King of Israel behaved more nobly in this way than if he had shed the blood of these captives. God has no pleasure in the unnecessary effusions of blood. An instance of similar clemency to captives took place in the reign of Pekah, at the instigation of the Prophet Oded (2 Chronicles 28:9-15). The King of Israel did as Elisha desired, and the captives were first entertained, then sent back. So generous a deed should have evoked a friendly spirit in Benhadad, but at most it only did so for a time. We are not, however, to be discouraged from acting rightly, because those to whom we show kindness do not appreciate our action—J.O.
2 Kings 6:24-33
The siege of Samaria.
Unwarned by the failure of previous attempts, Benhadad was soon engaged in a new war on Israel. The fresh invasion was made the occasion of a fresh deliverance, more wonderful than any of the preceding, but not before Samaria had been reduced to the most desperate straits.
I. THE HORRORS OF A SIEGE.
1. The city invested. The King of Syria advanced with his army, and struck a direct blow at the capital of the country. Samaria was the key of the situation. In it was the king, the court, the Prophet Elisha, the whole state of royalty. If it could be forced to capitulate, the entire land would be at the mercy of the invader. Benhadad, accordingly, surrounded the city, and, having cut off all supplies, waited till famine compelled it to surrender. The method of siege is common in warfare. Nothing could more awfully illustrate the helplessness of human beings when deprived of the use of the ordinary productions of nature. We depend on God for daily existence, and do not realize it.
2. The fearful famine. With no supplies coming in, the stock of food in Samaria was soon utterly exhausted. We are reminded of the terrible distress in such famous sieges as those of Londonderry in 1689, and Paris in 1870. What in ordinary circumstances would have been deemed unfit for human food, nay, loathed, was eagerly seized upon, and famine prices were gladly paid for it. "An ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver," etc. Hunger is one of the most commanding of appetites. "In every land and in every age the first and most interesting question the majority of men have to practically solve is, 'How are we to get bread?' Man's social, moral, and spiritual welfare turns to an incalculable extent on that question. Throughout all history, sacred and profane, this great want has been swaying and molding as a first power the nations of men. Hence the significance of the petition in the center of the Lord's prayer, 'Give us this day our daily bread.' It may seem at first sight a comparatively small petition, overshadowed and dwarfed by the great, spiritual petitions both before and after it; but he who knew what was in man, knew what a powerful influence the question of daily bread had upon his whole life and welfare; and when we ourselves consider what a power it is in the world, we see something of the reason for placing such a petition in the center of a model of prayer" (F. Ferguson).
3. Natural affection destroyed. The shocking episode narrated in 2 Kings 6:26-29 illustrates the previous remarks (cf. Deuteronomy 28:53-57). The king was stopped when passing by on the wall by a woman appealing to him for help. With not unnatural bitterness he replied, "If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee?" Was it out of the empty barnfloor, or the dry winepress? He then inquired into her complaint, and heard from her, her revolting tale. A woman had proposed to her that she should give her son for food to them both that day, and she would give her son next day. The complainant had fulfilled her part of the bargain, and now the second woman had hidden her son. One asks—Could human nature, in its direst extremity, ever descend to such revolting deeds? Alas! the instances in history are not few. We have reason to thank God for his goodness in preserving us from such extremity and such temptation.
II. GUILT LAID AT THE WRONG DOOR.
1. The token of humiliation. The woman's dreadful story, revealing such depths of horror in the city, stung the king to the heart. His first act was to rend his clothes, and, as the people looked, they saw that secretly he had been wearing sackcloth upon his flesh. The commentators, perhaps, hardly do justice to Jehoram in this act. The next verse shows that his religion did not go very deep; but various circumstances suggest that there was a measure of sincerity in his penitence. He had evidently thus far listened to the counsels of Elisha, and tried to "wait on the Lord" for deliverance, lie does not show badly in his sympathy with the people. The very secrecy of his wearing of sackcloth distinguishes it from the act of an ostentatious formalist. He probably, like his father Ahab, really "humbled" himself for a time, "and went softly" (1 Kings 21:27, 1 Kings 21:29). If, in his outburst of passion, he uttered a threat of death against Elisha, it appears to have been no sooner spoken than it was repented of, and he hastened after his messenger to counteract it. It is good when God's chastisements lead to humiliation of the soul. We can at least make Jehoram an example in the unostentatiousness of his exercises of penitence (Matthew 6:16-18).
2. The threat and its reception. Carried away by his anger and his feeling of the intolerableness of the situation, the king swore an oath that that very day the head of Elisha should be taken from him. It was a wicked and inexcusable utterance. The reasons of it may be thus assigned:
(1) Elisha had apparently urged him to patience and repentance, assuring him that help would come. That hope had been disappointed.
(2) He fixed the responsibility of the delay of help on Elisha, as one who had power with God, and had not exercised it.
(3) He was angry with God himself, and was moved to wreak his vengeance on God's ministers. Had he properly considered the matter, he would have reflected that Elisha, like himself, could but present his desires to God, and wait God's time; that the prophet had unweariedly been doing this, and was the one hope and savior of the people; and that, if guilt lay at any one's door, it was his own wickedness, and that of his associates, that was bringing these calamities upon the nation. Wicked men, however, are seldom willing, except in a very limited degree, to take home guilt to themselves. They will blame God, their fellows, their spiritual counselors, any one but themselves, for their miseries. It is a very different picture we have of Elisha. He sits composedly in his house, with the elders of Samaria around him, no doubt exhorting them and strengthening them to wait on God. By that prophetic clairvoyance of which we have so many instances, he knew of the king's threat as soon as it was uttered, and bade the elders shut the door against this messenger of "the son of a murderer," and detain him till the king himself came.
3. Why wait longer on the Lord? Jehoram soon arrived, and his first words to Elisha were, Behold, this evil is of the Lord; what should I wait for the Lord any longer?" That he had departed from his threat may be presumed from Elisha answering him as he did. But his words show his radical misconception of religion. To wait on the Lord was not a duty to be done from regard to its own rightness and propriety. It was, he thought, a means to an end. If benefits were to be gained from it, it was to be done; if not, it was to be set aside. Service of God which springs from this principle is not true service. It is disguised self-interest. It has no real spring of love, devotion, or worship. The spirit is kindred with that of the fetish-worshipper, who prays to his gods for rain, and beats them if he does not get it. But why blame Jehoram, as if he were specially impious? Does not the same spirit show itself in multitudes among ourselves? While the sun shines on them they are willing enough to be religious. If adversity comes, there is unbelief, murmuring, impatience, rebellion at the Divine ordering. "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). It is not enough to acknowledge that evil is from the Lord, we must humble ourselves under his hand, submit to him, own the justice of his dealings, and seek to profit by his chastisements. We must not faint, or grow unbelieving, but be assured that, in protracting the hour of deliverance, God is but waiting to make the deliverance more signal and glorious (Hebrews 12:5-11).—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany