The Ax Head That Swam: Chapter 16

2 Kings 6:17  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 5
A bucket is filled with water up to the very brim. But see, out of the large bucket we take one single drop, a tiny drop, as small as a drop of dew at the end of a blade of grass. And what does the drop represent? The men and women in this little world of ours. There are over five billion of them living today. They seem to us so many and so great. But to God, what are they? Only a tiny drop in the bucket of His great universe. Kings, emperors, politicians, men, women and children — all a drop in the bucket, nothing more, in the sight of the great God who rules all. So small, so few, so utterly insignificant are they, compared with the greatness of His universe.
“Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket.” Nay more, “All nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity.”
Then, to God, what am I? If the entire world is but a drop in the bucket, if all the nations put together are less than nothing, what am I? What can I be in God’s sight? And yet, oh, wonderful thought! He cares for me. He knows the very hairs of my head. He understands every detail of my life. He enters into my very smallest sorrow or care. Am I tempted to doubt it? If so, let me look at Elisha’s history and take comfort.
The prophet is at Jericho on his tour of inspection. He has come to the Jericho college. Here are the young men who were so curious to see Elijah go up to heaven and so slow to believe he had really left them. Jezebel and her wicked son could not prevent a large number of the people fearing and loving God, and so with an increasing number of students the college has become overcrowded.
Elisha takes his place in the classroom, but he finds it crowded to the door. After the lesson, the sons of the prophets pour out their trouble in the ears of Elisha. He is always kind and sympathizing. When the people of their city had told him their difficulty about the poisonous spring, had he not at once come to their help?
“And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us.”
There was much that was praiseworthy in the behavior of these students. They possessed what is a rare virtue in young men — humility. They were willing to ask advice and to take the advice when given. They respected Elisha; they felt he was older and wiser than they were, and they were anxious to have his opinion. They will not set to work without leave and without direction. In these headstrong days, how little we see of this teachable, humble spirit! Surely the independent, self-reliant spirit of the age is directly opposed to it. But the young prophets of Jericho are willing to submit their plan humbly to Elisha. “Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell.”
They were economical in their requirements and in their scheme. Their idea was to get what was useful; they did not hanker after what was grand and imposing. They did not talk of sending for cedars from Lebanon or marble from the quarries to build a grand and imposing mansion. No, they will bring every man a beam and build their house as plainly and as swiftly as may be.
They were all willing to help. They were not all born woodcutters or trained to be builders, but all had willing hearts and willing hands. We do not read that a single student said, “It is not my work; I engaged to come here to be trained to teach and preach. I did not come to be a woodcutter.”
When all the preparations are made, when the tools are collected, when the donkeys and mules are ready, and when the group is about to start out, one of them comes to Elisha, and, acting as spokesman for the rest, begs him to go with them to the Jordan. Yes, they cling to him now. Once, he had only been to them Elisha who poured water over the hands of Elijah, and they had been reluctant to see in him the successor to their great prophet, but now they know him well, and the more they know him, the more they love him. They are very anxious that he should form one of the party. It will make all the difference if he is there. Oh! If he would only go with them!
“Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants.” Again we see the lovely picture. Elisha, the type of Jesus, the ever-tender, ever-sympathizing Friend. Oh! Let us say to our Elisha just what these students said to the prophet, “I pray Thee ... go with Thy servants.” As we begin each day, not knowing what it may bring forth, or as we enter upon any fresh stage of life’s journey, what wonderful help we should find by lifting up our hearts and uttering this short prayer: “Lord Jesus, go with Thy servant!”
And Elisha said, “I will go.”
Where? Five miles down to the Jordan — five miles on one of the hottest of all hot roads — five miles downhill to the deep hole, at the bottom of which rushes the muddy Jordan, the very river in which Naaman had so lately washed and had been made clean.
There are high banks on either side, covered with trees and shrubs and flowers. Near the river is a perfect jungle of tamarisks and willows, and below flows the stream, which is about one hundred feet wide and six feet deep. On either side of the river are trees, dipping their branches into the water.
The donkeys are tied up in the shade of the trees. The tools are taken out, and soon the quiet banks of the Jordan are resounding with the sound of tools and the voices of men. On all sides there is hacking, chopping, sawing and the shouts of the workmen among the branches. Each man would do his own part of the work. Some would carefully choose and mark suitable trees. Others would be hard at work with the ax; others would collect fallen branches. In the midst of them, going about from one to another, would be the prophet Elisha with his smiles and cheering words of encouragement.
But what has happened? One of the young men is in trouble. A moment before he was standing upon a tree which overhung the river, busily at work with his ax. Suddenly he has stopped and come down from the tree, gazing dismally into the water. Elisha comes quickly to the place to see what is the cause of his distress. It is his ax, which has broken; the head has flown off and has sunk beneath the muddy waters of the Jordan.
The poor young man is troubled about it, for it is not his own ax. Not having one of his own, he had borrowed it from a friend. He says to Elisha, as he looks ruefully into the water, “Alas, master! for it was borrowed.”
That student was an honest young man. He did not say that it was a poorly made tool. He did not say that it was an accident and not his fault. He did not say, “The ax is not mine, happily, so I will not take it to heart.” No, his neighbor’s goods were of more value to this honest young student than his own were. Responsible people are more careful of the goods of others than of their own. Their master’s property and their neighbor’s belongings are more carefully handled than even the things they can call their own.
The young prophet’s lament is seldom heard in these days: “Alas, master! for it was borrowed.” There is a tendency to care too little for the things of others. But God actually worked a miracle to restore a borrowed ax. He so fully approved of the honest distress of the young prophet that by the hand of Elisha a reward for his right feeling was given to him.
“Where fell it?” said Elisha. The poor young man pointed to the place. Seizing the ax belonging to another student, Elisha cut a stick from the tree and threw it into the water. And then came the miracle. The common stick acted as a wondrous rod, for the iron hidden from sight appeared; the lost ax head was immediately found. The God of nature reversed a law of nature; the heavy iron became as cork. Instead of lying six feet down in the water, it swam on the surface.
What is impossible with man is possible — is easy — with God. Nothing is sunk too low for Him to raise, blessed be His name. Your heart, my heart, so hard and so heavy, sunk so low in the mud of this world, in all the earthly desires and all the sinful surroundings of this life, God can raise. One word from Him and the iron will swim. God’s mighty word can raise you and me and cause us to float on the stream of life and see the face of heaven.
Only an ax head, and yet the great God of the universe, to whom all the nations of the world are but as a drop in a bucket, did not count it a little thing. And this, I think, for two reasons.
First, it was a borrowed ax, and God will have borrowed things taken care of. His eye watches the tiniest details of our business transactions. He notices what we, in our blindness, are apt to call trivial matters, and He would have His children to be careful to glorify Him and to bring honor to His name, by being upright and trustworthy even in small matters.
But, chiefly, I think, God noticed the loss of that ax head because, small though it was, it was a real trouble to that young prophet. God beheld the sorrow of his heart and had compassion on his distress.
Nothing to Him is little,
Who is Himself so great;
His hand is large for every need,
His heart for every state.
Have you a trouble which is worrying you now? A little trouble, a small anxiety or care? You would not, perhaps, like to tell it to any friend, for it seems so small a thing. Your friend might smile and think you foolish for being distressed about it. And yet you know it; you feel it; it is a trouble. You think of it as you go about your work; you turn it over in your mind when you lie awake at night. It comes over you like a dark cloud when you wake in the morning. God has taken notice of your trouble, your worry. It is not too small to bring to Him.
Do you ask why God takes notice of small cares and troubles?
Look at that father, hard at work in his study, occupied with important business. A scream is heard from his little boy, playing in the garden. At once he leaves his work and hurries to the child.
What has happened? No great matter — a very trivial misfortune. The child has fallen, and there is a small bruise, which is causing him all this distress. “It is nothing,” say those who pass by. But not so the father. It may be a little thing in the eyes of others, but it is not a small thing to the child, and, therefore, the father’s heart is touched, and his sympathy and love come out to his little son.
“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” He has the Father’s heart, and, therefore, He has the Father’s sympathy. And “as one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” The Lord will be both father and mother to you, loving you with the parents’ love, being ready to sympathize with you in your smallest cares. He says, “Only come to Me and tell Me what your anxiety is. Leave it at My feet.”