A Strange Funeral: Chapter 24

2 Kings 13:20-21  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 5
In the little churchyard of Lydd near Dungeness in England there is a nameless grave. A stone stands at the head of the small mound, and on the stone is an inscription. Only two words are engraved on that little headstone, and the words are these: “GOD KNOWS.” How did that happen? Some years ago there was a shipwreck in the English Channel. The great ship, Northfleet, went down, and all on board were drowned. Only one body washed ashore, and it was the body of a little child. No one knew or could discover that child’s name. The village carpenter asked what name he should put on the coffin. “God knows” was his answer, and the man, taking him at his word, put those two words on the coffin lid. Later the same two words were carved on the child’s little gravestone.
Now attend with me in thought a funeral - a nameless one. Here is the mournful funeral procession, making its way out of the village with the body wrapped in grave-clothes but not enclosed in a coffin. It is laid on a wooden platform, carried on the shoulders of the villagers. Let us join the procession and attend the funeral, a most unusual one.
Who is being buried? I do not know; we shall never know in this world. It is the funeral of a man, but who he was, we cannot know.
The men who are carrying the body walk hastily and look about them anxiously, as if they expect to hear footsteps. The mourners not only look sad, but afraid as well.
Of what are they afraid? To the east in full view of their village is a line of blue mountains, standing like a wall against the sky. In those mountains lives a race of men called the Moabites. They are descendants of Lot, cousins of the Israelites, but they have always proved themselves most unfriendly relatives. There is certainly no love between the two branches of the family.
David’s great-grandmother, Ruth the Moabitess, was of that nation. When David was being pursued by Saul, he sent his father and mother across the Jordan to those blue mountains that they might be out of reach of Saul’s anger and might find a resting-place with his great-grandmother’s family (1 Sam. 22:34).
For a long time there had been bad feeling between Israel and Moab. We saw King Jehoram going forth against Mesha, king of Moab, and we noticed how Elisha helped him to win a glorious victory at the south end of the Dead Sea (2 Kings 3:2425). But after that the tide turned, and Mesha, as he tells us on the Moabite Stone, began to get the upper hand. From the days of Jehoram onwards, whenever Israel was weak, the Moabites invaded their land and harassed the people.
Around the time of our funeral, King Hazael of Syria attacked Israel on the north. The Moabites then took the opportunity of rushing into the country, robbing and murdering. Bands of marauding Moabites have been seen in the neighborhood not long before the funeral, so the mourners go quickly, keeping their eyes open for trouble.
The village is left behind and the burial ground is reached safely. It is not at all like an English or American cemetery. The graves are not holes dug in the ground; they are caves hewn out of the solid rock of a hillside. Some have a large stone placed at the entrance of the cave. The entry to some is so low that you have to creep inside on hands and knees. Then you find yourself in a chamber, with shelves on each side, on which the bodies were placed. Sometimes a cave has several chambers of bodies in it.
Suddenly a cry of horror is raised by one of the mourners. Glancing up to the top of the rocky valley, he spies men, armed men, the feared Moabites!
What is to be done? There is no time to take the body to its assigned cave. The Moabites will be upon them. “Put him in anywhere,” cries one of the mourners. “Any cave will do.”
So hastily and fearfully they run into the nearest cave on the hillside. They lay down the body and rush out, down into the valley towards their homes in the village.
But they are followed; someone is behind them. They look back, fully expecting to see a Moabite soldier. But it is none other than the dead man, the man whom they had just buried. And he is not dead, but alive.
Put yourself in their place. Which would startle you more? The sight of a Moabite soldier or the man you had just buried?
Can you guess what happened? In their great haste, those carrying the dead body had not stopped to select a place for it, but they had put it into the first available cave and that was the cave where Elisha was buried. In fact, they had laid the body down in such haste that it touched the bones of Elisha, the prophet who had raised the Shunamite’s son from the dead.
It was only his body. His soul was already with his Lord. Remember the beggar we read about in Luke’s Gospel who sat at the gate of the rich man. He “died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” In spirit Elisha was with the Lord, enjoying the rest and the glory of the Lord’s presence, while his body rested quietly in the cave in the valley.
But what happened that spring day at that strange funeral? No sooner did the dead body of the man touch the bones of Elisha than that very touch resulted in a wonderful miracle. Out of death there came life; the dead man was raised to life and stood on his feet.
Elisha, being dead, yet spoke. When he closed his eyes in that little chamber where King Joash visited him, he may have thought that nothing more would come from his life. But what a person is and has done often speaks long after they are dead. What was the sermon that Elisha’s bones preached? They said, as plainly as possible, God lives.
The poor Israelites were in terrible straits. The Syrians were oppressing them; the Moabites were worrying them. Over and over again they may have sighed, “If only Elisha were still living and here to help us. But he is dead. There is no help, no hope.” But Elisha’s bones said to them, “I, Elisha, am dead, but God lives. He is your refuge and strength. It is His power, not mine, that helps you. Look to Him, trust in Him, and all will yet be well.”
It seems to me that the Israelites listened to that unusual sermon and learned their lesson from God that day, for we read, “The Lord was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them  .  .  .  because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast He them from His presence as yet.”
We may die before the Lord comes for us. And if we do, we might think that our lives will not matter anymore. But consider what it says in Revelation 14:1313And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them. (Revelation 14:13): “Their works do follow them.” What does it mean? Here is a broad, smooth pond. You stand beside it, and, taking up a stone, you throw it into the center of it. The stone disappears. Where is it? It is gone; it has sunk to the bottom; you will not see it again. But its works do follow it; circles are starting on the smooth surface of the water - rippling circles, which will go on spreading and widening until they reach the very margin of the pond.
Think of the lives of Adam and Cain and Moses and Peter and Paul and countless others. Do not their lives still speak to us? Think of those we have known in our family or at school or work who have died. Is not the influence of their lives still with us? Some of those lives are to encourage us; others are to be a warning to us. All of them should speak to us. We are to think about the faith of believers who have died and are to imitate not their failings but their faith.
Often God uses one life to be a stepping-stone in his work of grace in the lives that follow. The results of one life often spread and one after another benefit or are affected by it. Long after they have died the circle of blessing, which by God’s grace they were permitted to start, widens and spreads.
A certain peddler sold Richard Baxter’s father a religious book. Through it he was converted. He later wrote a book entitled, The Saints’ Rest. Many, including the great Doddridge, were saved through it. He, in turn, wrote a book named, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, and reading that book was the turning point in the life of William Wilberforce, the statesman through whose influence slavery was abolished. Wilberforce was also an author, and his book, The Practical View, was used by God to bring Legh Richmond to Himself. Legh wrote The Dairyman’s Daughter, a book which, fifty years ago, was the means of the conversion of hundreds. These, in their turn, brought souls to the Savior. So the circle of blessing still widens, and we shall never know, till we reach eternity, what have been the grand and glorious results of that one act of the Christian peddler. Truly his works do follow him.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
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