July 7, 2015.
Daily Reading: II Kings 1-5.
Background: I Kings 19-22. The book of II Kings picks up right were the book of I Kings left off, after the death of Ahab with his son Ahaziah reigning in his place.
Concepts and Connections.
Elijah and Ahaziah: We learn from the final chapter of I Kings that Ahaziah walked in the ways of his father, Ahab, and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, serving Baal. Here we find Ahaziah falling through a lattice, which seems to be a railing around the roof of his house, or a trap-door to the roof that gave way when he was standing on it. Regardless, the fall injured him to the point of death, and being a worshiper of Baal, he sent to inquire of this false god to see whether or not he would live. However, God sent an angel to Elijah to send word to Ahaziah, asking a rhetorical question as to why it was that he inquired of Baal, if it was because there were no prophets of the Lord in Israel; and that he was going to die. When the messengers came back so quickly, Ahaziah asked why they had returned, and they told him of the man that had sent them back, and Ahaziah asks what the man looked like. Elijah wore a hairy garment and a leathern belt, which is comparable to what John the baptizer wore, as he was the one to come in the spirit of Elijah (see Matthew 3:4 and Mark 1:6). When the king heard what he wore, he knew it was Elijah and he a captain and his 50 to bring Eljah to him. When they got to Elijah, however, he called down fire from heaven to consume them, showing that he was a man of God. This happens a second time, and on the third time it seems that the third captain had learned the lesson, as he pleads with Elijah to spare his life and the life of his men. The angel of the Lord told Elijah to go down with these men without fear, and Elijah appeared before the king and gave him the same message of his coming death. Thus Ahaziah died and Jehoram (his brother, see II Kings 3:1) reigned in his place since Ahaziah had no son.
1. Elijah taken to heaven: The first half of this chapter deals with Elijah being taken into heaven though a whirlwind. It seems that both Elijah and Elisha (along with many of the sons of the prophets) knew what was going to transpire on that day. Elijah’s course on this earth was about to end (though John the baptizer would return in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Christ, see Matthew 3:4 and Mark 1:6) and Elisha would be prophet in his stead. On two occasions, Elijah bids Elisha to stay where he is at, for the Lord had called him to a different place. Note Elisha’s loyalty to Elijah, as he was unwilling to leave his side, even when the sons of the prophets kept telling him that Elijah was going to be taken away. Eventually they come to the Jordan, where Elijah strikes the water with his mantel and splits the river so that he and Elisha are able to travel to the other side on dry ground (see Exodus 14:21-25 and Joshua 3:14-17 for similar stories). Just before he is taken up, he asks Elisha what he could do for him, and Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. This indeed was a difficult thing to ask for when we consider the awesome power in spirit that Elijah displayed throughout his lifetime. Nevertheless, after Elijah was taken up, Elisha saw it and knew that he had received the double portion. He then took up Elijah’s mantel, struck the Jordan and crossed over just as he and Elijah had done moments before.
2. Elisha succeeds Elijah: When Elisha came back across the Jordan, the sons of the prophets immediately recognized that the spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha. However, the insisted that they send 50 men to go look for Elijah, as it seems he had a habit of being called away by the Spirit of the Lord to some unknown place (see I Kings 18:7-16). Elisha told them not to send, for there was no point, but after they continued to insist, he allowed them to send. They looked in vain, as Elijah had been taken into heaven. After this, Elisha displays the Spirit that rested on him by healing the water of the town that was apparently making the people there infertile, and then calls a curse on 42 boys, who are subsequently killed by two she bears, because of their taunting. The double portion of Elijah’s spirit was being made quite apparent.
Moab and Israel: Since Ahaziah had no sons, his brother Jehoram, son of Ahab, reigned in his place. Here we see that Moab is rebelling against Israel, and Jehoram calls Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to his aid. Just as Jehoshaphat had helped Ahab go against Syria (see I Kings 22), he agrees to help Jehoram. When they decided how they were going to march against Moab (taken with them the king of Edom as well as an ally), they got to a point where they ran out of water, and Jehoram thought they were doomed. But Jehoshaphat looked for a prophet of the Lord, just as he did when Ahab wanted to go up against Syria, that they might inquire of the Lord and see what they should do. Elisha was in the area and the three kings went down to where he was in order to inquire of the Lord by him. When he saw Jehoram, he immediately said “What do I have to do with you?” noting that Jehoram was not one to worship the Lord, but rather the Baals and false gods of his father. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Jehoram is persistent in that the Lord of Israel was at work here and that he wanted to inquire of Him. If Jehoshaphat wasn’t there (for Elisha found favor in him because he served the Lord), then he would not have even listened to him, but since he was, he called for a musician. The hand of the Lord came upon the musician, and the word of the Lord came to Elisha saying that He was going to give the armies of Israel and Judah some water to drink, without wind or rain, and the streams would be filled. This was considered by a small thing for the Lord, and on top of this He was going to give the Moabites into their hands. The next morning, the streams of water were indeed filled, and the Lord caused the Moabites to see them as blood to make them think that the three kings, Edom, Israel and Judah, had fought against themselves and killed each other. The Moabites went out for the spoil, but when they did, Israel attacked and struck the Moabites so that they fled before them. They pushed them back and attacked the fortified cities. Then something interesting is said, that the king of Moab sacrificed his oldest son on the wall, and “great wrath” came upon Israel, probably meaning that Israel was dismayed at the vulgar sacrifice that had been made (and perhaps even afraid that they would have been held at fault for driving the king to make such a sacrifice), and they lifted their siege and returned home.
The power of Elisha through the Lord: In this chapter, we are given four more examples of the power of the Spirit of Elisha to do many great works. First, a widow comes to Elisha telling him that her husband (who had been one of the sons of the prophets) had died and the creditor had come to take away her sons as slaves due to her debt that she couldn’t pay. Elisha asks her what she has, and then tells her to go borrow a great many vessels from her neighbors and shut the door behind her. Then she was to pour out the oil she had into the vessels until all were full, and then go and sale them to pay off her debt and live on what was left over. This has some shadows of the feeding of the five thousand and four thousand by Jesus (see Matthew 14:13-21, 15:32-39, respectively).
The second example of Elisha’s spirit came about by a wealthy woman who convinced her husband to built a guest room for the prophet for whenever he came by they he might turn aside and rest. The woman showed great hospitality to the prophet, for she knew that he was a man of God, and for her hospitality, he asked his servant what he should do for the woman. When he finds out that she has no son and her husband is old, he calls her and tells her that she is going to have a son, a statement that she does not believe. Nevertheless, she does conceive and bear a son, just as Elisha said. However, when the child grew up a bit and was working with his father among the reapers, his head started to hurt and his father told them to take him to his mother. The child sat in the lap of his mother until noon, and died. She laid him on the bed in the guest room and bid her husband to send her to find Elisha, and when she did, she was in great distress, though the Lord had hidden the reason from Elisha. When he understood, he told his servant to go on ahead and lay his staff on the boy and he would follow. Eventually, he gets to the house and raises the child from the dead in a very similar manner that Elijah had done with the widow’s son (see I Kings 17:17-24).
Finally, Elisha goes to Gilgal when there is a famine in the land, and sits with the sons of the prophets. He tells them to boil a large pot of stew for the sons of the prophets. However, when one went out into the wilderness to pick some herbs for the stew, he didn’t know what he was picking and accidentally picked something that was apparently poisonous (or at least something they perceived as deadly), and they cried out to Elisha when they realized. Elisha called for some flour to be put in the pot, and thereby purified the stew so that it was no longer harmful. Then a present is brought to Elisha, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain, and Elisha tells the man to give it to the sons of the prophets to eat. The man is perplexed because he doesn’t have enough for them, but Elisha tells Him that the Lord has said that they will eat and even have some left over, which is exactly what happens, according to the word of the Lord.
Lessons from Naaman and Elisha:
What is interesting about this story’s characters is that Syria, where Naaman was from, did not have a good relationship with Israel. They were often fighting in war, as they would be in the next few chapters. The fact that Naaman has a servant girl from Israel would imply that she had been taken captive in war, and the king of Israel’s reaction to Naaman’s message shows the tension that was present between the two nations as the king supposes that the king of Syria is just looking for a fight. Nevertheless, Naaman does indeed find Elisha and a very interesting story follows (this story is referenced in Luke 4:27). Let’s break the story down into some of the lessons that we can take from it.
1.When you are wanting to be healed by the Lord, don’t go to the wrong place.
The first thing we notice about this story is that Naaman was told by (a very courageous) servant girl that there was a prophet in Israel that could heal him of his leprosy. It is obvious that his disease had not stopped him from gaining glory and fame with his people, as he was highly esteemed among the Syrians. But when he heard that his leprosy could be healed, I’m sure he was more than willing to give it a shot. So what does he do? Go find Elisha? No. He sends a letter to the king of Israel. What’s more is that he doesn’t even mention Elisha in the letter so it would seem (see v. 5-7).
Naaman sends a letter to the king saying that he expected the king to heal him! The king was distraught because he knew that he couldn’t heal him. This also shows the place where the king and the people were at spiritually because the king doesn’t think to call Elisha there to heal Naaman. He is just worried that he’s going to have to go to war with Syria now. Thus, neither Naaman nor the king of Israel went to the right place, even through the servant girl told Naaman that there was a prophet in Israel that could heal him, not a king. There could be cultural relevance to the reason that Naaman went to the king instead of Elisha, but it is still perplexing that he wouldn’t at least mention him in his letter.
When we need to inquire of the Lord, we cannot go to the wrong place. We need to be sure that we go to the people who are going to give us biblical advice, not just the advice we want to hear at the time. We need to go to the right place for spiritual growth.
2. God’s message is often very simple.
When Elisha heard that the king had rent his clothes at the message of Naaman, he sends word to the king to have Naaman come to his house that he might be healed. In his letter Elisha says, in essence, “What are you doing? Why are you upset? Did you forget that I am a prophet of the Lord?” So Naaman indeed comes to the door of Elisha’s house all Elisha says is “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” That’s it. Yes, it would take some effort on Naaman’s part, but it was quite a simple task. There were no frills, no extraordinary things Naaman had to do (which we will get into in a minute) and no red tape. Just go wash in the Jordan seven times.
God’s message to us is often simple, sometimes so simple that we have a hard time believing it. It is possible that He makes things simple because He knows we need things to be simple (for we can even mess up the simple things if given the opportunity). As we will see in the next point, however, we don’t often like things to be simple. For some reason, simple things are just hard for us to accept.
3. God does not do things the way we think they should be done.
This part of the story sounds exactly like something we would say today. Times and cultures might have changed, but some things really do stay the same. Elisha’s message was simple- go wash seven times in the Jordan and you will be clean. But this answer didn’t please Naaman. After all, he was great in the eyes of the Syrians. He was commander over a great army. He expected a show, and he was angry because he did not get a show.
Oh how we haven’t changed a bit! When we want to see the power of God, what do we go out to see? What do we pay attention to? A show. We expect, quite literally, healers to come wave their hands over the sick and heal them through a vivid show and display of the power of God. It’s entertainment. The thing is, prophets and workers of miracles did not look like this in the bible. They did not often put on shows or do anything for entertainment, and when some did, they were rebuked for it. Paul has to write a section in his letter to the Corinthians about how they were being disorderly with the their spiritual gifts and they were missing the point (see I Corinthians 14). That’s why he says that the greatest thing to have is love, not the working of miracles or speaking in tongues. Simon the sorcerer was used to making money off of his tricks, and when he became a Christian, he tried to buy the power to pass on miracles through the laying on of hands, probably so as to make a profit from it. Peter rebuked him outright (see Acts 8:9-25).
The point of a miracle in the bible was never to be a show or highlight the worker of the miracle, save for the miracles that Christ did to confirm that He was the Son of God. But even Christ’s miracles were not often showy. In John 4:46-50, Jesus was asked to come to an official’s house to heal his son, but He simply said “Go; your son will live.” There was nothing showy (other than the fact that Jesus was able to heal at a distance). His other miracles follow suit. They are spectacular, yes. They confirm His word as truth, yes. But they were not showy.
We often expect things to be done according to the way we think they should be done. We say things like “God would have it done this way,” or “God wouldn’t care if we did this,” but we don’t often back that up with Scripture, and thus it turns into our opinions being projected as God’s opinions. I believe that this is a dangerous line of thinking. Naaman almost didn’t have his leprosy head because he didn’t like the way that Elisha said to be healed. Fortunately for him, he had some good servants with him who spoke logic to him. Sometimes we need the same logic. His servants said (in paraphrase) “If you had been asked to do some great thing, you would have done it, so why not just do what he said?” He does, and he is cleaned, just as Elisha had said. Sometimes we need to realize, “Oh, this is actually quite simple. Let’s just do what it says.” This would further Christian unity.
It should also be noted that Naaman wasn’t cleansed of his leprosy until he had completed the full message. He was to wash himself in the river seven times. When he came up the sixth time, he was still a leper. It was not until the seventh time, or until he obeyed the full word of God, that he was made clean. This has a wide application to our spiritual lives today, as many would have you believe that you do not need to meet the full message of the gospel to be saved. It was necessary for Naaman to adhere to the full message to be cleansed, as it is with us today.
4. One “little” sin can have dire consequences that last generations.
The story doesn’t stop here, unfortunately. When Naaman sees that he as been healed, he returns to Elisha with joy and tries to give him some money and gifts out of gratitude. Elisha refuses payment and sends him on his way back to Syria. But Elisha’s servant, Gahazi, a man who had been with Elisha for a long time and had seen many wondrous works by the hand of Elisha, sees an opportunity. He doesn’t think Elisha is right for sending Naaman on his way without accepting any of the gifts and he gets greedy as he comes up with a plan to take some of the gifts for himself. He runs after Naaman and tells a little lie about needing some money and clothes for two of the sons of the prophets that had allegedly come to stay with Elisha, so that he might take just a portion of the gift Naaman had brought to Elisha. Naaman happily gives two talents of silver and two changes of clothing to Gahazi. When he returns to Elisha, we read the fate of Gahazi (see v. 25-27).
What a consequence for his sin! One that would last for generations. But really, was what Gahazi did actually that bad? He just told a little lie and took some money that Naaman wanted to give to Elisha anyway. It’s not like he was hurting anyone. That’s how we rationalize sin. We say “Oh, but it really isn’t that bad,” “I’m not doing this out of bad intentions,” or “this is something that will help me or someone else.” Gahazi justified his actions. And then when he was confronted about it, he lied again to cover his tracks. (In paraphrase) “Where have you been, Gahazi?” “Um, nowhere…” But Elisha knew where he had been. He was a prophet, after all. So Gahazi was faced with dire consequences for his sin, even though he might have considered it to be a small thing.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 78-80.
Hope and peace.