Ready or not, here it comes
2Kings 11: Athaliah, oblivious to his existence, ruled the country.
Jehu’s purge nets both Joram, wicked king of Israel, and Ahaziah, the king of Judah who has become a partner with Joram in his sinful leadership. Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, takes her son’s place, not only on the throne but also as one committed to evil. Her first act is to kill anyone in her family who might contest her claim to the throne of Judah. It appears her plan has worked, and it would have, except for the bravery and quick action of Jehosheba who hides the infant Joash from his own grandmother’s murderous intention. Now, six years later, it’s time to act. Intrigue abounds as plans are made to dethrone the pretender Athaliah and elevate Joash to his rightful place as boy king. As this takes place we’re told that Athaliah is “oblivious” to it all. I think the Lord often works like this. Ordinary people and even the wicked pursue their goals, pressing on, thinking everything is working out as anticipated. Meanwhile, God is at work in the underground. Big things are coming and we’re “oblivious” to it all. For Athaliah it means that her hijacking of the throne of Judah is soon coming to a bloody end. For followers of the Lord, it means that we’d better keep our eyes on Jesus and be ready for — well, be ready for “whatever” comes next.
Take Away: Even when we can’t see it, the Lord is at work, preparing for the next big thing.
2Kings 10: God doing what, through Elijah, he said he’d do.
I don’t like reading the stories of uprisings, murders, and judgment found in the stories of Judah and Israel. Beheadings and assassinations somehow don’t make for good devotional reading! Still, there are some powerful themes in the story of Jehu’s uprising. God had judged Ahab’s sin years earlier, and even though he has, at times, blessed Israel with his help against her enemies, the Lord never overlooks what Ahab has continued doing. At the right time the Lord raises up Jehu to act in judgment on Ahab’s family. It’s bloody but it’s intended to give Israel a chance to return to the path that they left so long ago. Before Jehu’s finished Ahab’s family is destroyed and the altars of Baal are gone. In spite of all that, Jehu’s a disappointment. I see here that the Lord uses less than perfect vessels to accomplish his purposes. Also I’m reminded that no one has to fail. Jehu let a golden opportunity slip through his fingers.
Take Away: The Lord works in and through imperfect people to carry out his plans.
Run for your life
2Kings 9: Then open the door and get out of there as fast as you can.
The final chapter on the story of wicked Ahab and Jezebel is about to be written. Ahab is already dead, killed in battle, and now his son Joram sits on the throne of Israel. However, the Lord is about to keep his word that this family will not remain in power. Elisha sends a “junior prophet” to General Jehu. The prophet is to anoint him king and then he’s to run for his life. Apparently, Jehu doesn’t need much of a nudge to mount a coop and take over the country and almost immediately he moves decisively against Joram and his mother Jezebel. I’m interested in the order of Elisha that his representative name Jehu king and then get away from him as quickly as possible. Apparently, in spite of his being anointed king, Jehu remains a heartless, wicked man who’s going to be used of God but will never be a man of God. Elisha doesn’t want his associate to have any more contact with such a man than is necessary. If that’s correct, the lesson is that God’s people sometimes need to make alliances with those who are far from being righteous. We’re to work with them to accomplish some greater good but we’re also to be careful to remember who we are and not allow ourselves to be pulled into their lifestyles.
Take Away: While the Lord uses unlikely and unworthy people to accomplish his purposes, his people should be careful in their connections to them.
What are the chances?
2Kings 8: This is the woman! And this is her son whom Elisha brought back to life!
Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, is chatting with the king about Elisha. When the king asks to hear some of the stories of this spiritual giant’s life Gehazi begins recounting some of the high points of Elisha’s ministry. One of the stories he tells is that of a woman whose son died. When Elisha arrived, he prayed and the son came back to life. Even as the king considers such an amazing thing a woman and her son are brought in for an audience with the king. Her concern is property rights and such matters are a big deal for these descendants of Abraham. Gehazi can hardly believe his eyes. It’s the very woman and son that he’s just been talking about! Because of that, the king is quick to give the woman justice and maybe even a bit more. Is it happenstance that the servant of Elisha just happens to be visiting the king that day? Is it mere chance that when the king asked for some “Elisha stories” that Gehazi decides to talk about the resurrection of a certain woman’s son? Is it just coincidence that she shows up just as Gehazi finishes his story? I don’t think so. This has “God at work” written all over it. I don’t live out on the mystic edge of life about stuff like this. I do think that simple coincidences do happen. However, as I’ve heard somewhere, I’ve noticed that when I pray coincidences seem to happen more often. As I read this story today it’s nice to be reminded of that.
Take Away: The Lord has a way of creating happy coincidences for his people.
A tale of four lepers
2Kings 7: Let’s go tell the good news.
The capital city, Samaria, is under siege and the result is a terrible famine. Things can’t get much worse there and people are being driven to horrible acts of desperation. Four lepers decide they have nothing else to lose. They’ll throw themselves on the mercy of the invaders. If they’re executed, they’ll die a quicker death than they would die by starvation anyway. When they arrive at the camp they’re surprised to find that there’s no one there! God has moved bringing terror to their camp. The mighty army has fled in panic not even knowing why they were running. The lepers have the time of their lives, eating their fill and ransacking the place. It’s at that point that one of them says to his friends, “We aren’t doing right. Back in Samaria people are starving to death while we’re enjoying all this bounty.” This real life story is also a parable for Christians everywhere. Like the lepers we’ve discovered something wonderful. Meanwhile there’s a world that desperately needs to know what we know. Like those lepers, if we aren’t telling we aren’t doing the right thing.
Take Away: I found it, but I’m glad to share it with you.
Do you see what I see?
2Kings 6: Don’t worry about it — there are more on our side than on their side.
The Lord has been revealing to Elisha the military plans of nearby Aram and Elisha has, in turn, told those plans to the King of Israel. Because of that, Elisha has become a prime target. In fact, on this morning in the town of Dothan Elisha awakes to find the whole town surrounded by his enemies. To Elisha and his servant this is more than an inspirational Bible story: its life and death. His servant is mystified by Elisha’s calmness in the midst of his pending capture. That is, he’s mystified until Elisha prays that this young servant will see what he sees. Surrounding the army that surrounds them is a “whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire.” With God’s army escorting him Elisha has nothing to fear from the army of Aram or anywhere else for that matter. God didn’t send the army of Aram that day, but he was prepared for it to come. Had Elisha been captured, well, that would have been an unwelcome thing for Elisha and company, but it could only happen if God allowed it to happen. Elisha might have been more aware of it than I am, but the Lord’s army is escorting me too. That doesn’t mean that everything always works out just the way I want. Still, difficult days only come if he allows it, and in the end, I have the assurance that victory will be mine.
Take Away: The Lord walks through life with us, even when we aren’t aware of his presence.
Making it harder than it really is
2Kings 5: If the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it?
It’s one of our favorite stories from 2 Kings. Naaman is the General of the Army of Aram, a nation that has a long and contentious relationship with Israel. He’s a brave and capable warrior who’s well respected in his homeland. Yet there’s one terrible affliction that not only haunts him, but is probably killing him. Naaman has leprosy. When he hears that there’s a man of God in Israel who heals people of this terrible disease he travels there, prepared to pay handsomely to be cured. To his dismay, Elisha doesn’t even meet him in person, but instead sends a mere servant with what sounds like a silly command: take seven baths in the muddy Jordan to be healed. Furious and humiliated, he turns on his heel to leave, but an old family servant gives the great general the best advice of his life. If Elisha had told him to do some great thing (for instance, pay a king’s ransom) to be healed, he’s prepared to do that. Why not, then, do some simple thing like, “take a bath and be clean.” Naaman listens and the result is a miracle of God and a happy ending to the story. I think I need to pay careful attention to Naaman’s story in my dealings with God. I’m ready to do the great thing like following some demanding course of action or making some big sacrifice as I follow the Lord. While stuff like this is sometimes a part of being a disciple more often than not it’s much less spectacular. “If you want to be my disciple follow me,” the Lord says. I respond, “You’ve got it Lord – I’ll serve you to the ends of the earth, I’ll make great sacrifices for you, I’ll be an example of total surrender to God.” The Lord says, “Tell you what, if I want you to do that stuff, I’ll tell you. For now, how about just walking with me?”
Take Away: What little thing is the Lord calling you to do today?
Apples or fish
2Kings 4: They not only ate, but had leftovers.
During our Lord’s ministry some of the people think Jesus is possibly one of the prophets of old, resurrected from the dead. It might be that they’re thinking of this incident. In fact, Luke’s report of the suggestion that Jesus is a resurrected prophet comes right after Jesus feeds the five thousand. In this case Elisha feeds, not thousands, but a hundred; and not with bread and fish but with bread and apples. It’s a different day in which a different man provides and different main course. But it’s the same God. Because of that the lessons are the same. One lesson is that “little is much when God is in it.” Another is that I can trust the Lord with my meager resources; he can make better use of them than I can anyway. Whether I’m thinking about Elisha or Jesus or apples or fish it’s good to be reminded that when I give my all to the Lord he does wonderful things.
Take Away: The Lord takes the little bit that’s our all and does more with it than we ever could.
2Kings 4: “She said, “Everything’s fine.”
This is a surprisingly powerful story. Elisha the man of God promises a woman from the town of Shunem that she’s going to have a son. The child is born the following year. A few years later the little boy becomes suddenly ill and dies. His grieving mother seeks out Elisha. As she’s coming she encounters the servant of Elisha first. Clearly something’s wrong, but when Gehazi asks her how things are, her reply is “Everything’s fine.” It’s only when she gets to Elisha that she pours out her heart. Elisha goes to the lifeless child and performs a miracle, raising him back to life. While I see that this is another story intended to show me how powerfully God is working in the life of the prophet, I’m drawn to the Shunammite woman. If there’s ever an example of desperate faith it’s here. Her heart is broken as she lays her dead son on the bed. The only thought on her mind is to get to the man of God, the miracle worker who promised the son in the first place. She desperately wants to believe he can make things right, but looking into the face of such loss it’s nearly impossible. Knowing that, she realizes she has to get to Elisha as quickly as possible, and, instinctively, she knows that even saying the words, “my son is dead” will destroy the mustard seed of faith to which she clings. How is it that “it is well” in her life? It’s because she’s holding on to God with her last ounce of spiritual strength. This is miracle-working territory. Without a cross or an empty tomb she believed the impossible. God can do a lot with faith like that.
Take Away: All it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed to see miracles take place.
Bring your vessels not a few
2Kings 4: He said, “That’s it. There are no more jugs.” Then the oil stopped.
Clearly the series of stories in the first part of 2 Kings are examples of what a powerful man of God Elisha is. Still, it seems that, like a symphony, each story is a variation on one theme: that when people have faith they act on that faith. These miracles all start with a need and the promise of God. Then, the person has to take action in preparation for God to move. In one story we see soldiers digging ditches in the desert in preparation for water to miraculously flow into them. Now we have a widow with just a little oil being told to go out and borrow jars from everyone she can. When she starts pouring oil out of her meager supply she fills all the jars she collected. It’s only when she runs out of jars that she runs out of oil. So often we take our needs to God and then stand back to watch what he does. However, in this, and the other stories, we see that God invites us to partner with him in what he does for us. No doubt, he does the greater work; after all, anyone can collect jars. Only God can fill them all from such a limited supply. Lord, help me to be a “jar collector.” Help me to be a person doing my part in working with you as you accomplish your purposes in my life and in this world.
Take Away: What does the Lord call you to today that will prepare for what he intends to do in your life tomorrow?