Joash, King of Israel, and the Arrows

2 Kings 13:1‑19  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 8
We now return out of Judah into the land of the ten tribes, and after an interval, the reign of Jehoahaz the son of Jehu, we get a sight of our prophet again.
Joash had succeeded his father Jehoahaz on the throne of Israel, and still did evil in the sight of the Lord, as Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and the rest of the kings before him. In his days, Elisha had fallen sick of his sickness whereof he afterward died.
The longest day has its evening, it has been said, and so, too, of the ministry of this prophet. He was called by Elijah in the days of Ahab, and had gone through the reigns of Ahaziah and Jehoram the sons of Ahab; then, of Jehu, Jehoahaz, and now of Joash. Thus, he had been a prophet of God for some sixty years. But the evening of his day was now come; his sun sets in brightest tints, and with a glow which was worthy of its meridian hour.
Joash, we read, came down unto him and wept over his face, and said, “O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” This may surprise us. But it is clear that there was no pretense, or mockery, or insincerity in all this. It was nature. Perhaps Elisha had been hitherto much neglected by this king of the house of Jehu. And in the prospect of his being taken away, there was, as was very natural, a quickening of conscience in him, and he accordingly seeks the dying prophet. Even Herod, a worse man than Joash, could do many things, and yet tremble at the thought of John’s being alive, as Joash here could at the thought of Elisha’s dying.
This was nature. Joash valued Elisha’s presence in his kingdom. The prophet’s sanctity, the power that had so often been manifested in him, the name and place he filled, were all enforced on his soul at such a moment as the present; and thus, not in mockery or pretense, but under this strong current of natural feelings, the king visits the dying prophet, uttering the very same words with which our prophet himself had hailed the ascending Elijah.
But nature is not up to the elevation of the Spirit of God. So, however promising things may be at the beginning of this scene, nature in Joash is not up to the occasion. He could not follow Elisha in the power of the Spirit. The motions of nature may carry one for a season apparently in that track, but they will not bear him to the end with those who are in the track of the Spirit. And so, though Elisha and Joash begin with the same language on their lips, Joash soon fails in this path.
But let me say in connection with this admonition, we must not question the goodness of God, though we may know the weakness and deceit of our own hearts. We are prone to suspect the sources of light, or joy, or strength that may be in us at times. Our reasoning may tell us that it is from simple nature, and not the Spirit of God. But this should not be. The heart is deceitful indeed; but, in simplicity of faith, we should accustom ourselves to trace our light, or joy, or strength of soul to His Spirit, without the dark reasonings of our own hearts.
There is warning against nature here, truly, but consolation for us in God. But there is something besides.
At the bidding of the prophet, the king takes bow and arrows and does with them according to the word of the prophet: the prophet interpreting the action to him. Then the king, taking the arrows by themselves, as Elisha bids him, smites with them upon the ground—but only three times. The man of God is wroth, and rebukes him: for he is grieved and disappointed. But why this heat in the soul of Elisha? The reason is beautiful. He had just told the king that “the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance, and the arrows of deliverance from Syria,” were in his hand: had his soul been in unison with the prophet, had it glowed with thoughts of that glory which was thus brought so nigh to him, and had his heart sparkled at the sight of the Lord’s own quiver then in his hand, how lustily he would have smitten the ground at the bidding of the prophet. Had Joash but valued the Lord’s arrow as Elisha had valued his master’s mantle, all would have been harmony of soul between them. But the king had not in spirit fallen into that current which was then bearing the prophet along, and with slack hand he smote the ground but thrice. And, oh, how much of this we know! Where is the fine, rich fervency of heart, the glow of soul, and power of utterance which were known among our tried and suffering brethren in other days? What smiting on the ground again and again was there, in company, as it were, with the soul of Elisha! But our hand is slack. The unction, the zeal, the earnests of the Spirit express themselves in feebler lines with us. Elisha had cried out as Elijah was leaving him, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof”—but he also took up the mantle of the prophet and smote the waters as the prophet had smitten them, dividing them hither and thither. The king comes to Elisha as he is leaving him, and utters the same words, but there is no kindred smiting. The king’s heart is cold, and his hand is slack, where Elisha’s had been fervent and bold. “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known.”
We stand but little, nowadays, in the rich and fervent power of the Spirit of God. At least one feels this for oneself too sensibly. There may be extension in the field of vision, or multiplied truths dwelling in the thoughts, but the deep, unctuous virtue of the truth itself is less felt. Again I say, one speaks this at least of oneself, of the coldness and narrowness of one’s own affections. May we still say, “Lord, revive Thy work!”