The Adventure of the Floating Axehead

Day1681 KINGS 6:1- 7

Elisha was a powerful prophet and a true happy warrior for God. His mentor was Elijah, and in some ways Elisha’s ministry has been overshadowed by that of Elijah. Elijah’s ministry was very public, while that of Elisha was much more private in nature. Elijah is known for some really spectacular miracles and Elisha is not. Here in 1 Kings 6, we have recorded for us a miracle under Elisha’s ministry. It is not spectacular, like calling for fire to rain down from heaven. But it is a miracle and it reveals something of this prophet’s character and that of the men he was mentoring. It’s the Adventure of the Floating Axehead, and it’s a miracle because, generally speaking, chunks of iron don’t float.

Setting the scene

One day the seminary students came to Elisha and told him, “As you can see, our dormitory is too small. Tell us, as our president, whether we can build a new one down beside the Jordan River, where there are plenty of logs.”

All right,” he told them, “go ahead.” (2 Kings 6:1-3 TLB)

The hypocritical Gehazi had been sternly dealt with and branded with a life-long shame and dishonor because he lied to the prophet Elisha, his employer.

Because you have done this, Naaman’s leprosy shall be upon you and upon your children and your children’s children forever.” And Gehazi walked from the room a leper, his skin as white as snow. (2 Kings 5:27 TLB)

Gehazi was Elisha’s long-time servant, and had seen the prophet minister in great power. Still, he thought he could lie to this man of God! Gehazi was hypocrite, yes, but he was worse than that: he was stupid. It’s significant that immediately following the punishment of one of Elisah’s “inner circle,” we read about an entire school of men who were undeniably faithful to the prophet.

What a clear picture of the state of the church of Jesus Christ today. There are many faithful members – members who live for and work for the cause of Christ not only in their churches but out in the community. These people take their faith seriously and they respect leaders in the faith. And yet, among these faithful, you will always find people like Gehazi; people who have sat under the same good teaching, enjoyed the presence of God, and maybe even done work for the Kingdom, but when push comes to shove, they come down the same side of the equation as Gehazi. We, the faithful, may be tempted to become discouraged or cynical as we look at how the Gehazi’s have infested the church, but our Lord has already anticipated this condition and given some good advice:

Let both (true believers and the Gehazi’s) grow together until the harvest, and I will tell the reapers to sort out the thistles (Gehazi-like people) and burn them, and put the wheat (true believers) in the barn. (Matthew 13:30 TLB)

These “seminary students” were young prophets being taught by Elisha. Apparently this “school of prophets” started small and grew quickly under the teaching of Elisha. But it was more than just his teaching; there were the miracles. Under the ministry of Elijah and Elisha, God worked wonders to authenticate the sermons the preached. The purpose behind the miracles was primarily to show the people of Israel that Yahweh was real and Baal was not.

The fact that they ran out of room at the school shows that there were many genuine true believers in the land that felt the burden to get God’s Word out to the people. A lot of people mistakenly assume that when a church grows like this prophet’s seminary grew, that’s a good thing. This isn’t necessarily so. Commenting on the “church growth theology” so prevalent today, Bill Hull, discipleship guru, sees two flaws in its premise:

First, numbers themselves do not indicate greatness. Large groups can gather for any number of events, such as lynchings, mob riots, or Tupperware parties. The more accurate observation concerning a large church gathering might be “the number of people gathered here indicates that those leading the church–pastor and the music leader–must be highly talented.” That would be a good and generally true judgment.

The second flaw of such a superficial measure is that you have asked the wrong question. “How many people are present?” The right question is “What are these people like?” What kind of families do they have, are they honest in business, are they trained to witness, do they know the Bible, are they penetrating their workplaces, their neighborhoods, reaching friends and associates for Christ?

We’ll see that the young seminary students in this story were men of exemplary character, just like their mentor. Notice they were ready to build their own residence hall! They didn’t think twice about it. They were basically broke (they had to borrow an axe!), but they had spunk and they had a plan. They were workers – no job was beneath these “preachers in training.”

A true leader with students of great character

Please, sir, come with us,” someone suggested. “I will,” he said. (2 Kings 6:3 TLB)

This is a refreshing verse. We have here a glimpse into Elisha’s character, and that of his students. First, it shows that Elisha wasn’t above doing a job far below his calling and capabilities. Here he was, Elijah’s successor and a great prophet in his own right, going out with some students to build a house. Second, he was obviously respected and loved by his students.

But we see something else. All these men wanted was a place to live, not a palace. They knew where some logs where and that was good enough for them. Elisha didn’t tell them go and send for some cedars of Lebanon or marble or oak paneling or anything like that. They were content to use the resources around them.

And they didn’t let their inexperience and lack of resources stop them. Many pastors and church boards would LOVE to have people like this as members of their congregations! They are they exact opposite of the kind of people this little saw describes:

Once upon a time there were four men named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. But Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it. But Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about it, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, and Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody and Nobody did the job that Anybody could have done in the first place.

The man who lost the axehead

When they arrived at the Jordan, they began cutting down trees; but as one of them was chopping, his axhead fell into the river. “Oh, sir,” he cried, “it was borrowed!” (2 Kings 6:4, 5 TLB)

Here are some things we can learn from the man who lost the axehead:

First, he lost his ability to work. The moment this man dropped the axe into the Jordan, he could no longer work; his effectiveness was gone. There’s a lesson here for all Christian workers. It is possible to lose your effectiveness for the Lord. There may be many reasons why God would allow this to happen, but we are reminded of Samson, who, on account of sin, lost his God-given strength:

Then she screamed, “The Philistines are here to capture you, Samson!” And he woke up and thought, “I will do as before; I’ll just shake myself free.” But he didn’t realize that the Lord had left him. (Judges 16:20 TLB)

Second, he lost his ability while he was working. He wasn’t lazy and he wasn’t engaged in a sinful activity, he was in the middle of cutting down a tree, like the other prophets. He was working hard, but he was working so hard he didn’t notice the axehead slipping off the handle. In other words, he wasn’t careful; he was careless. In his haste, or maybe zeal, to get the job done he didn’t notice he was losing his ability to work.

Third, he lost something that didn’t belong to him. The axe was borrowed. These student prophets were so poor, they had to borrow at least one axe and probably other tools as well. How applicable is this to Christian workers? Think about the gifts of the Spirit. They don’t belong to any Christian; they are “on loan” from the Holy Spirit, to be used in service to the Body of Christ. To help us all understand the relationship between the gifts of service God gives us and our using them properly, Jesus tells a brilliant parable in Luke 19. A king was going on a trip and he gave his fortune to three men to take of. Two of them invested the king’s fortune wisely and the king, when he came back, was happy that these men had increased his fortune and he rewarded them accordingly. The third man, though, played it safe and he didn’t do anything with his portion of the fortune. The king called him “wicked” and “vile” and he was punished – everything the king gave him was taken away and given to the man who did the best job.

Then turning to the others standing by he ordered, ‘Take the money away from him and give it to the man who earned the most.’

“ ‘But, sir,’ they said, ‘he has enough already!’

“ ‘Yes,’ the king replied, ‘but it is always true that those who have, get more, and those who have little, soon lose even that.’” (Luke 19:24 – 26 TLB)

In other words, when it comes to the gifts God gives us to serve Him, we had better use them or we’ll lose them.

To this man’s credit, though, the very moment he realized he lost the borrowed axehead into the Jordan River, he did something about it: he asked for help. He wasn’t above asking for help when he needed it. He asked the man of God to help him – not to pray, mind you – but to find the sunken axehead. A lot of us who are engaged in the work of the Lord; people like Sunday School teachers, church board members, and even pastors, seem afraid to ask for help when the task exceeds our abilities or when we hit an impasse. We’re often content to whine and complain about being “part of the 10% that does all the work” and “why doesn’t so-and-so do this so I don’t have to.” Becoming discouraged, frustrated and cynical IN the work of the Lord often leads to becoming discouraged, frustrated and cynical OF the work of the Lord. There is no shame or dishonor in asking a godly person for help, like this student did.

Well, when he asked Elisha for help, he was able to carry on.

Where did it fall?” the prophet asked. The youth showed him the place, and Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water; and the axhead rose to the surface and floated! “Grab it,” Elisha said to him; and he did. (2 Kings 6:6, 7 TLB)

Elisha was definitely a man of action here. Let’s pause for a moment and read a couple of verses found in Deuteronomy. They form part of the Law and have to do with…you won’t believe it…this very problem!

If a man goes into the forest with his neighbor to chop wood, and the axhead flies off the handle and kills the man’s neighbor, he may flee to one of those cities and be safe. Anyone seeking to avenge the death will not be able to. These cities must be scattered so that one of them will be reasonably close to everyone; otherwise the angry avenger might catch and kill the innocent slayer, even though he should not have died since he had not killed deliberately. (Deuteronomy 19:5 – 7 TLB)

This law had to do with the Cities of Refuge, places to which an innocent could flee to escape an avenging family member. The point is, the example Moses used was that of a loose axehad! In the days before government regulations, apparently this was a big problem. Elisha knew the Law and he knew this student should have been more careful in his use of the axe, but he didn’t lecture him and rake him over the coals. Instead, he raced to rescue.

A minor miracle took place this day: a hunk of iron floated on the water. It wasn’t spectacular, like fire coming down from the sky or a racing chariot of fire, but it did defy all physical laws on Earth! Of course, ships and boats made of iron float, but that’s no miracle. For an axehead to float; that’s a miracle! As far as we know, the only people who knew this miracle took place were Elisha and some of his students. The sunken axehead miraculously floated up to the surface of the Jordan, was scooped up and put back on its handle and, presumably, the young man was able to get back to work.

But take care to notice what Elisha did just before the axehead floated up from the murky depths of the Jordan: he threw a stick into the Jordan. There is a great spiritual lesson here: that stick is like the Cross of Christ. Did you know Christ went down into the waters of death for you? He did! The Work He did on the Cross accomplished your salvation – it freed you from your sins and the guilt of your sins.

He personally carried the load of our sins in his own body when he died on the cross so that we can be finished with sin and live a good life from now on. For his wounds have healed ours! (1 Peter 2:24 TLB)

But along with that stunning, ultimate miracle of miracles, there are other “minor” miracles. The Cross of Christ is effective for all eternity, and for today. If you are tired IN the ministry or even tired OF the ministry, His strength can rejuvenate you. Ask for help! Let others step in and share their strength with you. If you feel like that sunken axehead, stuck in the muck and mire of life, the power of Christ through the Cross can raise you up as surely as that axehead.

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