The Prophet in Tears: Chapter 22

2 Kings 8:7‑15  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Two ships meet on the wide ocean. They hail each other, they speak and for a short time they lie alongside. Then the wind rises and the ships part. One sails due east, the other due west, and they meet no more.
Sometimes our lives are like these two ships. We take a journey; we have a pleasant conversation with the person beside us on the bus or train. We enjoy getting to know them a little in the short time we are together. Then we part, often never again to see that person during this life. Perhaps we meet someone while on vacation. We pass a few days together, visiting, talking and sharing meals. But when our holiday time is over, like ships we part. We catch, while we are together, passing glimpses of their life, their feelings and their characters, and then we lose sight of them, and the rest of their history is unknown by us.
So it is with the men and women brought before us in the Bible. We get little glimpses of their lives; we grow deeply interested in their story; we long to know further details about them, but we get no more than a passing glimpse. We see our Lord healing Jairus’ daughter, raising the widow’s son, blessing the little children, giving sight to blind Bartimeus, and looking with loving, pitying eyes on the rich young man, and we long to know the later history of these people. God in perfect wisdom tells us nothing more about them. Someday, when we are all gathered together in God our Father’s home, we shall know the rest of the story.
One interesting character brought before us in the life of Elisha is Naaman, the army captain of Ben-hadad, king of Syria. We saw him come from Syria to the land of Israel to be cured of his leprosy. We heard him tell Elisha that from that time on he would serve no God but the God of Israel. We heard him wondering how he could be faithful to Elisha’s God when his master leaned on his arm and he was compelled to go with him to the house of the idol Rimmon, the god of his nation. We heard him say, “The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing,” and we noticed Elisha’s answer, “Go in peace.” He knew that God would be with him and provide for him that he might be faithful when he returned home to Syria.
We long to know more of Naaman’s history. What happened when he got home and spoke of what the God of Israel had done for him through His prophet Elisha? We cannot answer these questions, for God has not yet told us the rest of the story. But we do hear a great deal about King Ben-hadad. He comes again and again into the land of Israel. He besieges the city of Samaria, yet nowhere do we read of Naaman leading his armies.
Can it be that Naaman had refused to enter Rimmon’s temple and had, in consequence, lost the king’s favor? As we get further in Elisha’s story, we do know Ben-hadad now had a new favorite - a man who appears to hold the very position once held by Naaman.
When the poor Shunammite returned home, after seven years’ absence, she found no prophet of God to plead her cause. Elisha was at that very time many miles away. Old man though he was, he had crossed the Jordan traveling northwards. He passed by snowy Mount Lebanon and crossed the desert beyond. Then standing at the top of the hill, he could look down for the first time at the beautiful city of Damascus, the capital of Syria. There it lies by the two fine rivers, Abana and Pharpar, glittering in the sunlight.
The news of the arrival of Israel’s prophet quickly spreads from house to house. Many of them have heard of his mighty deeds. Some of them had been with Naaman when he went to be healed. Others had been with the soldiers who were sent to apprehend Elisha at Dothan and had been led blind and trembling into Samaria. Some of them had been among that great Syrian host which had fled in wild confusion at the strange sound of chariot wheels and trampling horses during that night of terror.
Let us enter one of those magnificent houses in Damascus and let us pass into a room opening out of the courtyard. We must enter quietly, for there is a sick person in that room. The lattices are carefully closed to keep the hot sun off the sick man. All is quiet, for there he lies dangerously ill. He is wealthy; he is powerful; he, Ben-hadad, is king, but sickness and death enter the palace as well as the cottage and are no respecters of persons. By his side sits his current favorite, the one who has stepped into Naaman’s place, the one on whose hand the king leans when he goes to the temple of Rimmon.
A servant enters the room with news from the city. A most unexpected visitor has entered their city-Elisha, the man of God, the prophet of Israel.
Ben-hadad is well acquainted with his wonder-working power. He had cured his general Naaman; there is no doubt of that. What if he could cure him? If he did not cure him, surely a man so wise as Elisha, who was always able to foretell the future, at least could tell him whether the illness from which he was suffering would prove fatal or not! He remembered how the prophet had, on multiple occasions, told the king of Israel what was about to happen when the Syrians had plotted in secret to attack the Israelites. Yes, Elisha’s God certainly revealed to him the future.
So he turns to his current favorite, Hazael, and bids him to go at once to seek for the man of God. Take him a present and ask this question: “Shall I recover of this disease?” At once Hazael rises to do his royal master’s bidding.
As soon as he meets the prophet, he delivers his message: “Thy son Ben-hadad king of Syria hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?”
The king of Israel once said to Elisha, “My father, my father!” Now the king of Syria addresses him in the same way: “Thy son Ben-hadad.” Does it not show what respect a godly life can win? Elisha, as a young man, follows the plow in his father’s little farm, but he lives to hear kings calling him father.
“Shall I recover of this disease?” A solemn question. Who can tell? We ask the doctor, but he tells us little; even he cannot tell. One knows - God knows; that is enough. Oh, how blessed at such a time to be able to say, “Lord, not my will, but Thine be done; living or dying I am Thine!”
Ben-hadad had no such comfort, for Rimmon the idol was his god. He had prayed to Rimmon, trusted Rimmon, given many offerings to Rimmon, and now Rimmon had failed him - failed him utterly. Rimmon might seem to be sufficient for the time of health, but he was a miserable failure in time of sickness.
Elisha’s answer to the question is a very curious one. He says to Hazael, “Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die.” That is to say, your disease is not fatal. There is no reason, as far as your illness is concerned, why you should not recover. You may certainly recover.
Then he pauses, and after the pause he says quietly, “Howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die.”
What did Elisha mean? Was he answering the sick man’s question by a lie? No, it was perfectly true. The illness was not fatal; recovery had set in, and he would be well again. But God had showed Elisha that Ben-hadad’s end was near, though not through illness, but from another cause quite separate from it. Death was coming, but it was death by murder, not by sickness.
Even as Elisha spoke those words, he fixed his eyes on Hazael. Long and steadily he gazed at him. Not a word was spoken while that long, steady gaze was fixed on the courtier. When Hazael could stand it no longer, but colored in confusion and shame, Elisha, the old prophet, burst into tears.
What did it all mean? What was the significance of this strange behavior on the part of the prophet? Elisha had read Hazael’s guilty secret, just as, long before, he had read Gehazi’s guilty secret. Hazael had, in his inmost heart, conceived a plot. He planned, when left alone with his master, to murder him secretly, and then he would easily manage to get himself made king.
Hazael may not have told this guilty secret to anyone. Only God knew it. God had made it known to Elisha, and therefore he said, “Howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die.”
But the tears: Why were they shed? Was it for Ben-hadad that Elisha wept? No. Ben-hadad was only reaping the harvest he had sown of a life devoted to the god Rimmon. Elisha, as he stood by evil Hazael’s side, was looking into the future. He saw the murder committed; he saw Hazael made king, and then he saw the mischief he would do in the land of Israel, the awful tribulation he would bring on the prophet’s native land. Elisha saw it all as in a terrible picture -fortresses destroyed, armies defeated, and children and mothers put to death. No wonder, when he saw such scenes with his mind’s eye, that Elisha wept!
“And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord?” And the prophet told him what he saw of the future, which God had given him. Hazael could not believe it. Treacherous though he was to his master, he could not believe himself capable of committing wholesale murder or allowing such terrible acts of cruelty. “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?” he indignantly exclaimed.
But when the foot is set on sin’s slide, who can say to what lengths that slide may lead? “Who knoweth what is in the heart of man?” The good John Bradford, when he saw a criminal led past his house on the way to the gallows, used to exclaim, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” And we have all need to cry earnestly, “Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”
Hazael goes back to the king and alters the message to his own liking. Elisha had said, “Thou mayest certainly recover.” He delivers the message thus: “He told me that thou shouldest surely recover.”
The very next day Hazael accomplished his wicked purpose. While watching alone by the sickbed, Hazael soaked a heavy white quilt in water and held it firmly over the sleeping man’s face until he was smothered. There was no mark of violence on his body, and he was doubtless thought to have died of the disease from which he had been suffering. Then Hazael became king in place of Ben-hadad.
Elisha weeps, not for himself, but for the punishment he saw coming upon his nation. Does not that remind us of another scene? Can we not see the morning light streaming on the beloved city of Jerusalem? Can we not see upon the hillside, gazing upon this city, Jesus weeping for the sorrow and destruction which He saw coming upon His nation as the fruit of their sins?
“And when [Jesus] was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”