The Prophet's Deathbed: Chapter 23

2 Kings 13:14‑19  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 5
When we lived in Jerusalem, we had an old Arab servant. She was very ignorant, and although she professed to be a member of the Greek Church, she had never heard the name of Jesus. She knew nothing of the ways and customs of the West. She had never seen a train or a ship of any kind. She had never even heard of gas. One day I received a present which amazed her very much. It was a sewing machine. She had never seen one before, and she stood with wide-eyed amazement as it ran. At first she would not believe that it could really sew, and when she found that it could, she cried out in tones of admiration, “You Europeans can do everything, except one thing — you cannot conquer death.”
She was right about death. We find graves in civilized London, just as we find graves in her little native town, Bethlehem. We see deathbeds and funerals throughout the world. Adam and Eve led the mournful processions of death. They dug the first grave; they buried the first dead body. Age after age has gone, and oh how many have followed them in death. Wonderful discoveries and marvelous inventions have been made, but no one has ever found out how to conquer death.
But, thank God, the Lord Jesus has triumphed over it, and, even now, He teaches us to sing, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” And soon, very soon, death will be one of those former things which have passed away. God’s day is coming when “there shall be no more death.”
Let us visit in thought a deathbed that we read of in Bible days. Where shall we go to find it? To a quiet little village in Palestine. We enter a small, flat-roofed house, and inside we find the dying man lying on the bed. He is an old man, more than ninety years old, with white hair and beard. Is he afraid to die? No, he is not afraid. Who is the old man? It is Elisha, the prophet of God.
We have traced him through all the changes of his changeful life. We saw him following the plough, the heir of Abel-meholah. We heard Elijah call him. We watched him going up and down with the homeless prophet, known by all as Elijah’s servant. Then we saw Elijah go up in a whirlwind to heaven. We saw Elisha made prophet in his place. We watched his marvelous miracles of love and mercy. We saw him live to be honored and respected. Today we see the close of that long and useful life. We stand in thought by Elisha’s deathbed.
Listen! There are footsteps in the courtyard. Some one enters the chamber of death. It is a young man, glowing with health and strength, very handsomely dressed. He is armed with a bow slung over his shoulder and a quiver of arrows hanging by his side.
Who is this young man? He is the king of Israel, the king who lives in the ivory palace in Samaria — not King Jehoram; he has been dead and buried long ago. God had borne long with him, but Jehoram would not come to Him, so the judgment came. The stroke of God fell on the guilty family. Jezebel was killed; Jehoram was dethroned and slain. All Ahab’s wicked race was swept away. A new man who was no relative whatever to Jehoram was placed on the throne. He was Jehu, captain in the army. This young king who stood by Elisha’s deathbed was Jehu’s grandson, Joash.
As he watches the dying old man, lying on his bed, weak and feeble, Joash weeps. Why is he so troubled? The prophet is not related to him, nor has Elisha been to him a dear friend. Why, then, this distress and tears? Because the young man was in trouble. His father had been a bad man, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, and God had once more given the country over to the Syrians. Hazael was king of Syria, and Hazael was doing the very things which he had refused to believe were possible for him to do, the very things about which he had cried in horror, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this?”
The Syrians were masters in the land when young Joash came to the throne, and since then his circumstances have become still more dismal and hopeless. His chief cities have been destroyed; his fortresses have been burnt; his people have been ground down to slavery, and the once-fine army of Israel has been reduced to a miserable little company of ten chariots and fifty horsemen.
At last, when his people are brought very low and all hope seems gone, his thoughts turn to Elisha, the prophet of God. Had all gone well with him and his kingdom had prospered, he might have left the prophet alone and unnoticed, but now that he is in difficulties he remembers him. He calls to mind all that he has heard of the wonders Elisha performed. He remembers how at one time he had smitten the Syrian host with blindness and how on another occasion the armies of Ben-hadad had been driven in panic from the very gate of Samaria.
If only he could persuade Elisha to help his nation once more! If only he would come and encourage the feeble army of Israel and then confound the Syrian hosts of Hazael! Joash feels that nothing short of a miracle can deliver him from his enemies. The young king determines that he will seek Elisha and see what he will do for him. He feels that it is his last hope. So he comes to Elisha only to find that he is sick and dying.
What a terrible disappointment! Elisha cannot come to help him; he is too weak, too ill. In distress at his bitter disappointment, the young king sobs aloud. And as he weeps he speaks, and the words are very strange ones: “My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.”
Do you remember? We have heard those very words before! Joash was not the first man who had uttered them. Sixty years before this, those words had been spoken by a young man, by the very man who is now lying upon that bed, Elisha, who had cried out the very words which now fall upon his ears: “My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.”
When had he said these words? When he stood on the other side of Jordan with Elijah and saw appear a chariot and horses of fire, which parted him from his master. “And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” It was as if he said, “My father, you are going, and I must bid you farewell, for here comes the chariot which is to take you away from me. My father, my father, you and I must part.”
Now, Elisha is dying, and the same chariot has come for him. The angels of God have come into that room of death to receive Elisha, as before they had received Elijah. And as the young king sees this, he cries in dismay, “My father, my father, you cannot help me; you will never be able to give me the assistance I so urgently need, for here is the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.”
But the old prophet looks up and bids the king do a strange thing. He tells him to take his bow and arrows and to go to the window. Then he bids him throw open the window and shoot.
The king opens the window and looks eastward towards the very part of his country which had been seized by the Syrians. “Now,” says Elisha, “put thine hand upon the bow.” Joash obeys. He lays his hand on the bow, ready to shoot.
When Alexander the Great landed on the shores of Asia Minor, he took a dart in his hand and, looking in the direction of Persia, he threw the dart, as a sign that he intended to subdue that land towards which the dart pointed. Just so, the old prophet bids Joash shoot the arrow of victory and deliverance against the Syrian forts on the east of Jordan.
Joash stands at the window; the bow is in his hands, but before he uses it the prophet rises and lays his hands on the young king’s hands, while Joash pulls out the bow with the arrow ready fixed on the string. An old man, ninety years of age, weak and dying: Of what use will his assistance be? Surely he will rather hinder than help the strong young soldier! Surely Joash will feel that he can shoot an arrow without the help of an old, sick man who is dying.
But Elisha wants to teach him a lesson. If Joash is ever to conquer the Syrians, it must be by other power than his own. Without help, divine help, he can do nothing, but if God is with him, helping him and fighting for him, he will indeed be more than conqueror.
Oh! to learn Joash’s lesson! Oh, to sit down in God’s school and with God’s lesson book in our hand to learn this one truth: “Without Me ye can do nothing”! How often we forget the lesson, even if we have once learned it! We think that we can help ourselves. We will keep clear of our old temptation. We will cease to be led by one who has an evil influence over us. We will resist manfully the world, the flesh and the devil.
But we quickly find out our mistake. We are weak as a reed, helpless as a newborn babe. We are no match for our mighty foes; we can do nothing; we have no power at all. Do you say, “If that is the case, we may as well give up the fight at once. If we can do nothing, it is no use attempting to do anything.”
Listen to the voice of Jesus. “Without Me ye can do nothing.” But with Me — ah, what can you do with Me? The Apostle Paul cries, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
What is our besetting sin? Whatever it be, we can be sure that we cannot tackle it alone. It will master us again and again. Only Christ can make us strong to resist it. If His hands are laid upon our hands, victory must follow. There, and there alone, is the secret of our success.
Broken vows, unanswered prayer,
Vain endeavors, sad despair,
Weary working, useless toil,
Fruitless sowing in earth’s soil,
Plans o’erturned and wishes crossed,
Souls unsaved and labor lost:
Such, O Lord, my lot must be
If I work apart from Thee.
Help, each step upon the way,
Strength, sufficient for the day,
All things easy in Thy might,
Work for Thee a felt delight;
Courage, patience, grace supplied,
All things needful at Thy side,
Such, my happy lot will be,
Working, dearest Lord, with Thee.
The arrows are shot. Elisha called them, “The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria.” Then Elisha bids the young king to go outside, collect them and return. He has another lesson to teach him. The king obeys. He gathers the arrows and returns again to Elisha’s bedside.
And now, what is he to do? “Smite upon the ground,” says the prophet. Joash smites the ground three times and stops. Elisha is angry with him and says, “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it: whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.”
Elisha had shown Joash that the arrows spoke of the Lord’s deliverance over their enemy Syria. But Joash shows that his heart and faith in the Lord were slight, for he only strikes three times. And Elisha was angry with him.
Too often we are like Joash. We know we cannot conquer the enemy on our own and we turn to the Lord for help. But then we don’t trust him fully. We, like Joash, only count upon him to deliver us the three times and not the five or six times. We should count upon Him to deliver every time. May we be more like Paul when he said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”