Little deals are sometimes big deals
2Kings 13: The king struck the ground three times and then quit.
The old prophet Elisha is nearing the end of life. Unlike his mentor, Elijah, he’ll not depart this world in a whirlwind. Instead, he’ll die from old age and illness. However, before he goes, he has good news for Jehoash, king of Israel. The king is instructed to fire an arrow in the direction of his enemies. Then Elisha instructs him to strike the ground with the remaining arrows. Obviously, this is supposed to be an action related to their struggle with Aram but the king only strikes the ground a few times and stops. Elisha tells him that what he does isn’t good enough and that his minimum cooperation is symbolic of the few times he’ll defeat Aram. Had he responded with enthusiasm and commitment things could have been different but his token response will result in only a token defeat of Aram. The wise man of Ecclesiastes says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10). Had Jehoash been ordered to actually go into battle he would have, no doubt, done it with “all his might” but since this was merely symbolic he just gave a token effort. With that, Elisha and, apparently God, is displeased. So as I read this story I’m reminded that things that appear to me to be a “little deal” are sometimes a “big deal” in God’s eyes.
Take Away: If the Lord says “do it” then do whatever it is with everything you’ve got.
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.
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?
Ditch digging for the Lord
2Kings 3: Dig ditches all over this valley.
An alliance of three armies has formed to take on the army of Moab. The armies of Edom, Israel, and Judah plan to circle around and attack from an unexpected direction. However, it all backfires. They find themselves a day out of Moab and in the desert having exhausted their supply of water. Jehoshaphat asks for a prophet of God and Elisha “just happens” to be nearby. God’s word through Elisha is that they’re to begin digging ditches in this desert plain because, without a single drop of rain falling on them, God will fill those ditches with water. Many years earlier Elisha’s predecessor had prayed for rain and, when a cloud “the size of a man’s hand” appeared on the horizon he stopped praying and started running in preparation for the rain storm that was coming. Now, Elisha promises water, but tells them that they need to start preparing for it before they see even the first drop. Obviously there’s a pattern here and in many other instances in God’s Word. God expects us to act in faith that he’ll keep his word to us. For Elijah that meant he needed to stop praying and start running. For this army it means that out in the arid, dusty desert they’re to prepare for flowing water. How does this principle apply to my life today?
Take Away: Our acts of faith really do have a bearing on what the Lord does for us and through us.
Better think twice before mocking bald men
2Kings 2: Elisha turned, took one look at them, and cursed them.
This story makes me uncomfortable. Some children mock Elisha, the man of God, so he curses them resulting in two bears coming out of the woods and killing 42 of them. What’s this all about anyway? Some Bible scholars I’ve read say that “children” is not the only meaning of the Hebrew word used. It can mean “servants” and can refer, not to 7-year-olds, but to young people and even young adults. However, reading that a group of 20-year-old servants mock Elisha and he curses them doesn’t do much to solve my discomfort with this incident. So what do I do with this passage? I think I have to just read it and go on, believing that there’s something happening here that I don’t get. I have to conclude that I’m missing some vital bit of information that would help me make sense of the passage. It isn’t unusual to have to deal with life issues that way. For instance, someone tells me that a person for whom I have great respect has done something totally out of character. I can’t defend what they’ve done but I can conclude that I don’t know the whole story. Perhaps, if I did, it would make sense to me. So, as I come to this passage I read something that doesn’t fit in with what I know about God: that “God is love,” holy and righteous. I can’t explain it, but instead of making me doubt God, it just reminds me that I don’t know the whole story about this or about another million or so issues of life.
Take Away: Sometimes I have to admit I don’t understand things and rely on the character of the Lord.