Lectures on 2 Kings 3-9

2 Kings 3-9
2 Kings 3-9
However, the next chapter (3) brings us at once into earthly circumstances. “Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah.” There was no doubt a painful state of things most offensive to God. Not that the king of Judah was not pious, but that his testimony was ruined by his alliance with the kingdom of Israel. Accordingly, then, we find there is great weakness here, though God deals in nothing but tender mercy and goodness. The king of Moab provokes a rebellion against the king of Israel, and Jehoram goes to put it down. He calls upon Jehoshaphat to fulfill his treaty obligations, and, with the king of Edom, goes against the refractory king of Moab. But they come into difficulties. They are in danger of being themselves overthrown.
“Alas!” said the king of Moab, after they had been for some time without water and food for the cattle— “alas! that Jehovah hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” Jehoshaphat knew better. “Is there not here a prophet of Jehovah,” says he, “that we may inquire of Jehovah by him?” And one of them tells him of Elisha. Jehoshaphat at once recognized him. He knows that the word of Jehovah is with him. So they go down to him; and Elisha says to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with thee? Get thee to the prophets of thy father and to the prophets of thy mother. And the king of Israel said unto him, Nay; for Jehovah hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” False confidence soon yields to real despair, but faith can be calm and wait upon God. “And Elisha said, As Jehovah liveth before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee.”
There is no doubt in this a rebuke, and a stern one, but we shall find that the action of the prophet is full of grace. “But now bring me a minstrel.” He felt, as it were, that he was out of tune with his proper ministry. The presence of the wicked king had disturbed the heavenly tone of his soul. “Bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of Jehovah came upon him. And he said, Thus saith Jehovah, Make this valley full of ditches. For thus saith Jehovah, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye and your cattle and your beasts. And this is but a light thing in the sight of Jehovah; he will deliver the Moabites also into your hand.” Thus an answer of mercy comes instead of judgment. “And it came to pass in the morning, when the meat offering was offered, that behold there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water.” This very thing misleads the Moabites, for they fancy it is blood. “And they rose up early in the morning and the sun shone upon the waters, and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood” —for God was pleased that so it should appear. “And they said, “This is blood: the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another; now therefore Moab to the spoil.” They were caught in their own trap. “But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rode up and smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them; but they went forward smiting the Moabites even but they went forward smiting the Moabites even in their country. And they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land cast every man his stone, and filled it; and they stopped all the wells of water, and felled all the good trees: only in Kirharaseth left they the stones thereof; howbeit the slingers went about and smote it. And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew swords, to break through even unto the king of Edom; but they could not.” The defeat not only was immediate but hopeless, so much so that the king was guilty of an act that filled the people of Edom with indignation against Israel."For he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there was great indignation against Israel, and they departed from him.” This then was another signal manifestation of the mercy that God had caused to shine through Elisha.
But we find further in the next chapter (4), and in a very beautiful way — not in these outward events that the world calls great, but in that which in my judgment is a still more blessed pledge, a witness of the real greatness of God. The greatness of God is far more shown in His care for souls, for individuals and in his ability to think of the least want and of the least necessity of His people. “Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear Jehovah; and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons as bondmen.”
Elisha asked her what she wished him to do, and what she had in the house. “And she said, Thine handmaid hath not anything in the house, save a pot of oil.” Now it is according to what we can receive that God loves to bless us.
“Go, borrow thee,” says he, “vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few. And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full. So she went from him and shut the door upon her and upon her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out.
And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.” It is only so that the blessing stays. There never can be a stay to the blessing as long as there is a heart ready to receive it. What a remarkable illustration! “Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt.”
But this is not all. There is no doubt the rich supply of that which is the well-known type too, of what is essential — of the Spirit. But further, “it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman” — that is, a person of consequence — “and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread” — for Elisha was not as Elijah. Elijah was more after the pattern of John the Baptist — who repelled the advances of men; who rebuked, if he came across those who were in exalted station but living to dishonor God. Elisha, on the contrary, was a witness of grace, and he therefore does not turn away from the habitations of men into the desert, but could, as we see, pass in to eat bread with this Shunammite.
“And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick; and it shall be when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.”
So on one day that he was there, he bethought him of a return of love for the love that was shown to him. And he called the Shunammite, and when she stood before him, he said unto her, “Behold thou hast been careful for us with all this care — what is to be done for thee? Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the host?” We can hardly conceive such an inquiry from Elijah; it was perfectly in keeping with Elisha; and I am anxious to bring out strongly the contrast between this twofold ministry. “And she answered, I dwell among mine own people"; she was right, she was content; and godliness with contentment is great gain. “He said to Gehazi, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child and her husband is old. And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door. And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid” —but so it was according to the word of the prophet.
Yet in this world, even the mercies and the gifts of God are not without deep trial, and so it was that the Shunammite's son—for the more that he was loved and valued as the gift of God, most especially by his mother, sorrow was her portion —was taken sick, comes home to his mother and dies. “And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door upon him and went out. And she called unto her husband and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God and come again.” The husband little knowing what was the matter, wonders, but the point is yielded, and she sets out and comes in full haste to mount Carmel. And the man of God seeing her afar off, remarks upon it to his servant Gehazi. And when she came to him she caught him by the feet, so that the servant wished to repel her. But the prophet knew right well that there was some worthy cause for an action so peculiar. “Her soul is vexed within her,” said he most surely, “and Jehovah hath hid it from me” —even the one that was the witness of grace none the less. “Then she said, Did I desire a son, O my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?”
He understands. He says to Gehazi, “Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand and go thy way.” He was to go peremptorily, heeding no one, saluting no one. He had his mission to lay the prophet's staff upon the face of the child. This would not satisfy the faith of the mother. The staff would not do. The prophet, and nothing else than the prophet, must go. She said, “As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose and followed her.”
So here again was another test of faith, and she was right. “And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing. Yes, she was right. “Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him saying, The child is not awaked. And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto Jehovah. And he went up and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands, and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.”
All the world might have done it in vain. God was pleased so to draw out the mind and heart of the prophet. It was not merely to be a cold request or even an earnest one. It showed in the most vivid manner that God had an interest in the prophet and answers faith. “Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up and stretched himself upon him; and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son. Then she went in and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son and went out.”
Here then was not merely the gracious reply of what was good, but the power that was superior to evil, in its form most terrible to man upon the earth, superior to death. And this too in perfect grace. It was not that the Shunammite had asked him for the blessing, for it was he who had sought to give the blessing. But at the same time God wrought in her heart to expect another, and she was not disappointed.
Yet it was not merely in this way; for now we find a dearth in the land. And the sons of the prophets were there. “And as they were seething pottage, one of them put in some wild gourds, which were poisonous. So they poured out for the men to eat, and it came to pass as they were eating of the pottage that they cried out and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof. But he said, Then bring meal. And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot.” It is the same character of gracious power.
Further, another thing—it was unselfishly gracious; for when the prophet was presented with twenty loaves of barley and full ears of corn in the husks thereof, he says again, “Give unto the people that they may eat.” We remember the remarkable difference in the case of Elijah, who tested the faith of the poor widow by asking first for himself. Not but what he knew the power that would meet her need, but still he tested her after so severe a sort. But in this case, thoroughly characteristic of Elisha's ministry, what is sent to him, he gives to others. And his servant, astonished, asked him, “What, should I set this before an hundred men? He said again, Give the people that they may eat, for thus saith Jehovah, They shall eat and shall leave thereof. So he set it before them, and they did eat and left thereof, according to the word of Jehovah.” There is no stinting with God. But it is not merely in the midst of the distressed, and the mourning, and the needy, and the dying, or dead, of God's people. The grace of God, when once it begins to flow, breaks over all boundaries.
And this is what we learn in the chapter that now follows (5) and that we have authority from God to interpret it so, can be easily shown. Our Lord Himself shows that the very essence of the teaching of this chapter is the grace that went out sovereignly to visit the Gentiles. There were many lepers in Israel, but it was not there that grace worked. If grace works it will prove its own character, it will prove its own sovereignty, it will prove its own wisdom. God was looking for the neediest where He could be least expected—where there was evidently no claim upon Him. Naaman the Syrian, commander in chief of the most powerful Gentile army opposed to Israel, was the one that God was pleased to visit with His mercy and in a manner altogether peculiar, and most encouraging. A little maid of Israel, a little captive maid, becomes the instrument of making it known. But the king of Israel's own powerlessness comes out, for he knew right well that it was not in man to cure leprosy; it was one of the things that God kept in His own power. However, here was exactly the opportunity of the prophet.
I have already referred to the fact, and it is even more remarkable in Elisha's case than in Elijah's, that it is more indeed than in word that we find these two prophets manifesting God. Acts may be as prophetic as words, and their acts were so. We are entitled therefore to give them the fullest meaning they can bear—a meaning, of course, guided by scripture elsewhere; for we must bear in mind that symbolic language is just as precise as the ordinary language of every day, and I should say rather more so. It is not everyone that can understand it so easily, but when the heart gets accustomed to the language of the book of God, it is not found so very difficult. There must, of course, be the hearing ear and the attentive heart; but I say again that the symbols of scripture are as fixed in their meaning as the plain language of it.
Now, in this case, we have the Gentile coming to the prophet, and he comes as Gentiles will do, very full of their own thoughts and their own expectations. But the heart must prove its own utter ignorance and folly; it is only so that the full blessing may come. However, to Jordan he must go. His own rivers would not suit just because they were his own. The river of God—that is the river for the leper. And there he goes down into the waters of death, for such is the meaning of Jordan—not merely for the Jew to enter in, but for the Gentile by grace to receive the full blessing of God. And this, too, when Israel had utterly departed from the living God, and was under a cloud. This chapter puts it very strongly, for I have no doubt that guilty, covetous and unbelieving, is as rightly descriptive of the state of Israel now as then.
Naaman was of the Gentile race; but, alas! the Jew is accursed with the leprosy from which the Gentile is delivered. And such was the state, not merely without a blessing, but under a judicial curse from God. The Gentile then is delivered, and we see the beautiful picture of a man not only set free, but with conscience active because he was set free. I do not say that he was all right; it is in vain to expect that all at once, but he was on the right road. And beautiful it is, beloved friends, to learn the lesson—I think we all need it sometimes—not to hurry souls, and not to be anxious to form them according to our own mold or our own measure.
Thus we see, though the prophet could have answered at once as to the difficulty that Namaan presented, he leaves him in the hands of God. He had done that which ought well to awaken and exercise the conscience of the Gentile. He would rather leave him than give him premature knowledge. There is nothing that often more stifles the divine life. When people want to use their little well they should be disciplined in the right use of the little they know already. This was the case then with Naaman. Gehazi, alas! disappears: he has gone out from the presence of God as Israel is now, as it were, gone out from God's presence.
In the next scene (chapter 11) we have Elisha still in the same career of grace. The sons of the prophets find the place where they dwell is too strait for them, and they say, “Let us go to Jordan,” and there they take beams, and so on, for the construction of their large dwellings. “But as one was felling a beam, the ax head fell into the water. And he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed.”
Now here again we see the same thing. It is not reprimand. No doubt there was carelessness, but it is the grace that can meet every need, the little just as much as the great. And I do not hesitate to say that true greatness shows itself in its capacity to take in the little. “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. Therefore, said he, Take it up to thee; and he put out his hand and took it.”
In what follows we have what is on a totally different scale, that is, the deliverance that appears from the enemy. Elisha's servant was alarmed, but the prophet prays for him. The film is removed from his eyes, and he sees how true is the word that more were on their side than on that of their adversaries. Elisha's prayer then is answered by the Lord and the mountain was seen to be full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. “And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto Jehovah and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness.” But then there is all the difference even between this act and Elijah's. Where Elijah sends anything of the sort, he leaves them to it. When Elisha seems to depart for a season from grace, it is only to show the fuller grace in the end—just like our Lord, who, when appearing to be deaf to the Syro-Phenician's request, only meant to send her away with a greater blessing, and a deeper sense of the Lord's goodness.
So now, Elisha leads these very, blinded, men into Samaria, into the city which least of all they would have wished so to enter. They were helpless prisoners—so much so that the king of Israel wants to smite them; but the prophet stays his hand. “My father, shall I smite them?” “Thou shalt not smite them. Wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? Set bread and water before them that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” And what was the effect? “The bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel. To have smitten them would have only provoked another campaign. To have smitten them with blindness and to have restored their sight, and then to have fed them with bread and water in the very heart of the enemy's land, brought the immediate surrounding of the power of God so impressively before their eyes that the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel. It was no doubt a most effectual blow, but it was a blow of mercy and not of judgment.
What next follows I may be brief upon. We are all more or less familiar, no doubt, with the great famine in Samaria, and how the Lord changed everything, and changed so surprisingly, and by such simple means. The distress was excessive. The king of Israel was most helpless, and all was in confusion. “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 Jehovah do not help thee whence shall I help thee?” “And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son to-morrow. So we boiled my son 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.” No wonder that the king rent his clothes, and wore sackcloth; but there was no fear of God—on the contrary, there was a murderous intent against the prophet of God.
The blame was laid upon him. “But Elisha sat in his house and the elders sat with him; and the king sent a man from before him; but ere the messengers came to him, he said to the elders, See ye how this son of a murderer” (for indeed he was) “hath sent to take away mine head.” But there is no fire that comes down from heaven to consume him—quite the contrary. He said, “Behold this evil is of Jehovah; what should I wait for Jehovah any longer.” There was no fear of God before the king's eyes. There was no confidence in God; and the fear of, and confidence in, God go together.
Now what does Elisha say? “Hear ye the word of Jehovah. Thus saith Jehovah, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.” There was to be then the utmost abundance, and that, too, the very next day, where there was this most excessive famine even to the eating of poor little children. We can understand how that unbelieving lord should challenge the word of the prophet and say, “Behold, if Jehovah would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” He did not expect that God was listening, and that God was answering, for his prophet instantly replies, “Thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.” And so it was.
Then we have details of the four lepers brought before us, and the fleeing away of the Syrians, and the abundance that was left behind, and the way in which they themselves had found the mercy of God meeting them in their distress. They became the heralds of it to others that were only less distressed than themselves. Thus was the word accomplished, and there was abundance of food for the people. The word was fulfilled to the letter, but not yet was the ministry of Elisha exhausted.
For in the next chapter (8)he goes and says to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and go thou and thy household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn.” What was he going to do? To inflict a famine upon the land? Nay. We do not hear that it was he that prayed for it, but we do hear that it was he that warned this Shunammite, so that she should be preserved from the bitter consequences of the famine. It was an intervention of grace and not an execution of judgment. The Shunammite woman is told to go where she can. “It shall come upon the land,” says he, “for seven years. And the woman arose and did after the saying of the man of God. And she went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years.” And when the full time of dearth was passed, this woman returned.
Can one doubt that as Gehazi represents Israel in their unbelief, and the solemn judgment of God upon them, because of it, and that too when the Gentile receives the blessing (for nothing more irritated Israel, as we see in the New Testament, than the Gentile receiving such a blessing of God), so here we find this woman is the sign of the return of Israel after the long period. The full term of famine has passed over the land once favored of God, but now given up to the miserable curse. She returns again, then, out of the land of the Philistines, and she comes and cries to the king for her house and land. And the king was talking at that very moment with Gehazi (or what remained of this miserable man) of the wonders he had once seen, but no longer had an active personal interest in. And this is all that poor Israel can do. This is all that Gehazi does in the courts of the king.
So the Jew may talk of his traditional glory, but he has got none now. All that he can have now is to his shame. He is a wanderer and a vagabond on the face of the earth. No matter what he may be, such is an Israelite now. He is under the very badge of shame. He carries on his brow his sentence as a wanderer and a leper before God. But there are bright hopes for Israel, and to Israel they will surely come. Not to this generation—the generation that cast out the Lord and has continued in its unbelief—it will still come under the desperate judgments of God. But there is a generation to come. I believe therefore that as Gehazi is the type of this generation, the woman now returning after the seven years is the type of the generation to come. And she has all restored to her, and the fruits of the field. She not merely enters upon her land intact, but all that she should have had during the long seven years is all given back; for the Lord will repay with interest all that is due to Israel. And what will He not count due when He is pleased to take up the cause of His ancient people? Thus, then, we have Elisha still in the activity of grace.
And he comes to Damascus, and there he acts more strictly as a prophet than we have usually seen him, though I do not doubt that all was prophetic. All his actions were prophetic, as have been endeavoring a little to show you here. And Elisha tells Hazael, in answer to the request of the king of Syria, that his master was to die, but that there was no necessity that he should die. Alas! he was to die by the treacherous hand of man; and the man was there. It was none other than this Hazael. Elisha said to him, “Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover; howbeit Jehovah hath showed me that he shall surely die.” This was a riddle. “And he settled his countenance steadfastly, until he was ashamed.” For deep thoughts passed in the prophet's mind as he looked upon the face of the murderer—the murderer in prospect. “And the man of God wept.” Well he might as he thought of such ways upon earth. “And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel. And Hazael said, But what! is thy servant a dog that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, Jehovah hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.” And so it came to pass. And the chapter pursues the public events of the kingdom, on which I need not dwell more than just to finish the story of Elisha.
But in the ninth chapter, Elisha again is found. “He called one of the children of the prophets and said unto him, Gird up thy loins and take this box of oil in thine hand and go to Ramoth Gilead. And when thou comest thither, look out there Jehu the son of Jehosophat the son of Nimshi and go in and make him arise up from among his brethren.” And so it was done. The young man went and anointed him for his work. He gives him his terrible commission, and Jehu does not fail of accomplishing it—the commission of destroying, cutting off from Ahab every male. “And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel,” —the portion of sin, of covetousness and blood. But here I must close for the present. [W. K.]