7 Surprised People in the Bible, Part 5

Surprised Couple

 

In this study, there are a couple of surprised people, but if we can learn from their example, we ourselves will be spared a terrible surprise in the hereafter.  In the letter to the Hebrews, we read a truly chilling verse that each one of us should memorize and think about every day of our lives.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  (Hebrews 4:13 | TNIV)

See what I mean?  Chilling!  Can you imagine standing before God knowing that He’s seen every thought you ever had?  Even the stray ones?  He’s seen everything you’ve ever done, even the things you did in secret?  A verse like that puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?  There isn’t a thing about you that God isn’t aware of.  He knows your wants and desires; good or bad He knows them.  He knows your ambitions and how you are planning on accomplishing them.  He knows what you’re afraid of and He knows what you’ll do before you do it.  This is true on a personal, micro scale, but it’s also true on the worldwide, macro scale.  What do you do with this information?  Hopefully it will lead you to think twice about doing something you’d be embarrassed about when having to give an account before God.  

Our surprised person is a person by the name of Hazael. Just who was this man?  Here’s what we know about him:

•He succeeded Ben Hadad as king of Syria, or Aram;

•We find him in a piece of extra Biblical history known as the Assyrian Annals, where he is called “the son of a nobody,” meaning he was a commoner.

•He was attacked often by the Assyrians.

•He often attacked Israel, the Northern Kingdom, usually after an Assyrian attack.

He was a shifty character who caused no end of trouble for the Israelites.  But how he came to the throne is surprising.  

The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  (1 Kings 19:15 | TNIV)

It sounds like a cake walk; a simple task.  All the prophet Elijah had to do was walk “from here to there” and anoint some fellow by the name of Hazael as king over Syria.  Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that.  The Desert of Damascus was enemy territory.  And for that matter, what did God have to do with a pagan country and their politics?  Apparently everything if you believe the Bible.

It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.  (Psalm 75:7 | TNIV)

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.  He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.  (Daniel 2:20, 21 | TNIV)

Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”  Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”  (John 19:10, 11 | TNIV)

There’s no denying the sovereignty of God in the politics of the world.  We may not like it, but there it is.  

Even though Elijah was tasked with the job of “anointing” Hazael king of Syria, it would be up to his successor, Elisha, to do it.  We don’t have a record of God directing Elisha to go into Syrian territory.  It sounds like a coincidence; that he just happened to have found himself suddenly across the border.  But with God, of course, there are no coincidences.  Elisha was simply being obedient to the will of God.  Clearly, he thought obeying God was more important that fearing the enemy.  Like his mentor, Elisha had a “heavenly perspective.”  That is, he lived with eternity always in view.  Do you live like that?  Is heaven that real to you?  Does your eternal destination dictate how you live on earth, your temporary home?  C.S. Lewis once wrote:

If you read history, you will discover that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.… They all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you get neither.

It may well be that one of the reasons why so many believers today live such spiritually anemic lives is because their aim is at earth, not heaven.  

Elisha went to Damascus, and Ben-Hadad king of Aram was ill. When the king was told, “The man of God has come all the way up here,” he said to Hazael, “Take a gift with you and go to meet the man of God. Consult the Lord through him; ask him, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’ ”  (2 Kings 8:7, 8 | TNIV)

There was no earthly reason for the prophet Elisha to cross the border into Aram, or Syria, so obviously he is there for a heavenly reason.  Since Elijah didn’t have a chance to anoint Hazael as king, the duty fell on Elisha, and Elisha was up to the task.  The “anointing” probably wasn’t a ceremony where oil was poured over the candidate, but rather it was a way to show Hazael that it was God who was ultimately in charge; that he would sit on the throne because God was going to allow it to happen.  In non-Biblcal historical accounts of this time, Hazael is known, in addition to being the “son of a nobody,” as being a usurper; someone who rose to power by very devious means.  How he attained the throne is irrelevant.  God knew he would be sitting on that throne and He wanted him to know that He knew what was going to happen.

Ben Hadad was sick enough that he thought he was going to die – that whatever his illness was, it was terminal.  When a man thinks he’s going to die, he’ll do what it takes to either avoid it or prepare for the day when it finally happens.  The fact that he was willing to take Elisha at his word shows just how “famous” this prophet was.  Even the pagan Ben Hadad would take the prophet’s word as truth.  

Hazael went to meet Elisha, taking with him as a gift forty camel-loads of all the finest wares of Damascus. He went in and stood before him, and said, “Your son Ben-Hadad king of Aram has sent me to ask, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’ ”  (1 Kings 8:9 | TNIV)

Ben Hadad’s over-the-top gifts to Elisha showed the tremendous respect this Syrian king had for the prophet of God.  Not only that, the fact that he would go to such trouble suggests that he had been very impressed with the power of Israel’s God over the years.  Some scholars have suggested that Ben Hadad had actually been converted to Yahweh.  Is that possible?  Maybe, but at the very least, at this occasion he was willing to take a chance on God – the true God, instead of on his nation’s deity, Baal.  That old saw, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” rings true most of the time.

Can you imagine how impressive 40 camel-loads “of every good thing of Damascus” must have been?  It’s speculation, of course, but it’s likely the camels were carrying such goods as apricots and dates, other foods, arms, some furniture and probably some kind of wine.  

That curious designation, “your son, Ben Hadad,” sounds strange to our Western ears, but it’s really proper spiritual protocol.  The king is showing the prophet all the respect he is due; like that of a son for his father.  Ben Hadad, sworn enemy of Israel, had been backed into a corner by his fear of death that he saw Yahweh and His prophet as his only hope.  

Elisha answered, “Go and say to him, ‘You will certainly recover.’ Nevertheless, the Lord has revealed to me that he will in fact die.”  He stared at him with a fixed gaze until Hazael was embarrassed. Then the man of God began to weep.  (2 Kings 8:10, 11 | TNIV)

Had Elisha stopped at verse 10, Ben Hadad would have been one happy pagan king.  As it turned out, whatever malady he was suffering from wasn’t terminal at all.  Eventually, nature would take its course and he would get better.  But the prophet added that God had shown him that Ben Hadad would, in fact, die.  The king’s time on earth was short, but it wouldn’t be the illness that would be the cause of his death.

Why did Elisha begin to cry at the revelation God had shown him?  As he stared at Hazael, we can conclude that God had revealed to him that the servant would ruthlessly assassinate his king, Ben Hadad.  Is that what made him cry?  Partly.  There was no love between Israel and Syria and certainly Elisha had no love for Hazael.  The problem was – what made the prophet cry – was that as bad as Ben Hadad was, Hazael would prove to be much worse.  He would be the scourge of Israel for many years.  

Why is my lord weeping?” asked Hazael. “Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,” he answered. “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.”  Hazael said, “How could your servant, a mere dog, accomplish such a feat?” “The Lord has shown me that you will become king of Aram,” answered Elisha.  (2 Kings 8:12, 13 | TNIV)

The result of Hazel’s battles against Israel and even Judah was disastrous to say the least.  King Joram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah once fought the forces of Hazael at Romath-gilead, where they were soundly defeated.  After the murder of Joram by Jehu, again Israel had to defend itself against the forces of Damascus, and again without success.  Eventually, he would invade Judah and cart off the treasures of the Judean palace and temple.  Israel had largely been rendered helpless by the mighty forces of Hazael and probably reduced to vassalage.

For now though, Hazael in genuine surprise must have wondered how this man could read his mind.  But this was no parlor trick; this was the work of the Lord whereby His prophet was given a supernatural insight into the inner workings of deceitful Hazael’s mind.  

Then Hazael left Elisha and returned to his master. When Ben-Hadad asked, “What did Elisha say to you?” Hazael replied, “He told me that you would certainly recover.”  But the next day he took a thick cloth, soaked it in water and spread it over the king’s face, so that he died. Then Hazael succeeded him as king.  (2 Kings 8:14, 15 | TNIV)

And once again, Elisha the prophet’s word came to pass.  Certainly Ben Hadad was surprised by this turn of events.  And Hazael was also surprised that a mere man could know the what was in his mind and his immediate future.

There are some fascinating things about this story.  First, the actions of Ben Hadad.  This was not a good man.  He was evil and did a lot of harm to Israel and God’s people.  In fact, he tried to have Elisha killed. Yet here he was, afraid that he was facing his own death, he reached out to the one man from whom he know he’d hear the truth.  As a Christian, you may annoy people with your faith.  Non-believers may mock you and tease you on account of your faith,  But when disaster strikes, the Christian is one those people will turn to.  Will you be up to it?

Second, Elisha knew Israel was doomed; he knew the future was bleak.  The Israelites had routinely abandoned Yahweh in favor of worshiping the idols of surrounding nations.  Idolatry with all of its attendant perversities seemed to fascinate the Israelites to the point where they just couldn’t stop their sin.  And yet, Elisha wept for his people.  In spite of their hopeless addiction to sin and rebellion, his heart ached for them.  This is a revealing look at the heart of God’s man.  And this is the kind of person God is looking to use today.  There’s nothing more frustrating than dealing with God’s people who know better, yet who continue to do things they shouldn’t be doing.  Are you like Elisha?  Do you weep over the state of God’s people, or is your attitude more like that of Elijah, Elisha’s mentor, who was so discouraged he just wanted to curl up and die?  

The prophet Elisha was able, somehow, to focus on that “still, small voice” and he kept on keeping on in spite of the fact that his people were seldom in his corner and weren’t all that interested in hearing what he had to say.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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