Posts Tagged 'Elisha'

Heaven

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What is heaven? Is it a place? Is it an idea? Is it “up there”? Or is it “out there”? Lots of people have lots of ideas about this place known as heaven. All religions speak of a place where “true believers” go to after death. Depending on what religion you are a part of, heaven may be full of angels, clouds, virgins, harps, saints, flowers, and rolling hills. What Christians know about heaven comes from the Bible. But that doesn’t stop them from coming up with sentimental visions of a place that bears little resemblance to Biblical reality.

There’s an old joke about heaven that goes something like this:

Once upon a time, a Christian man died and went up to heaven. Upon arriving at the Pearly Gates, he was ushered into his eternal destination. An angel came up to him and took him on a walking tour around heaven. He was very impressed with the streets of gold and marveled at all the magnificent mansions he passed by. On and on they walked and the man was wondering where his mansion was. The angel told him his home was located on the outskirts of town. As they walked out of town, the angel stopped just in front of a small cabin. Pointing to the very humble structure, he informed the man, “And here is your place.”

The man was taken aback. Why wasn’t his eternal home a palatial palace like all the buildings he passed by. The angel grinned and said, “The engineers did the best they could with all the stuff you sent up before you arrived.”

Of course, this is only a joke. Or is some of it actually true? Let’s put our sentiment aside for a while and consider what the Bible has to say about heaven.

2 Kings 2:9 – 12

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart. (2 Kings 2:11-12 | NIV84)

This is an incident involving Elijah and Elisha. There is a lot of speculation as to precisely what happened to the great prophet Elijah, but one this is certain: he didn’t die. What happened to him? Elijah was a man, but he was a man who walked in the presence of God. That fact is demonstrated by the appearance of a “fiery chariot.” Elijah was transported bodily upward away from the surface of the earth. But where did the prophet go? Jesus gives us a clue:

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. (John 3:13a | NIV84)

According to Jesus, who should know, there is no way that Elijah went to the place He, Jesus, came from. So what did the Chronicler mean when he used the word “heaven”? In the Bible, the word “heaven” can describe any one of three places:

(1) God’s throne room. This is the “third heaven.” See 2 Corinthians 12:2, 3.

(2) The physical universe where the stars and planets and galaxies are. This is the “second heaven.”

(3) Earth’s atmosphere – the sky. This is the “first heaven.”

Elijah could not have gone bodily into the “third heaven,” as Jesus Himself indicated. It’s highly unlikely he was beamed up into the universe someplace since Elisha watched him ascend. Elijah, then, was taken up into our atmosphere, the so-called “first heaven.” Many Bible readers simply assume that at this point, the prophet was somehow made immoral and taken INTO heaven (the “third heaven”), the place where God resides. We know this didn’t happen because Jesus said it didn’t, and the Sons of the Prophets knew it didn’t, too. They knew that Elijah had simply been moved from one place to another.

“Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.”“No,” Elisha replied, “do not send them.” (2 Kings 2:16 | NIV84)

Fifty men searched for days and couldn’t find Elijah, but that doesn’t mean he had vanished. In fact, Elijah was alive and still active long after the fiery chariot took him away. He actually wrote a letter to King Jehoram years after the events recorded here in 2 Kings 2:16. The text of the letter is found in 2 Chronicles 21:12 – 15, and begins like this:

Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet, which said: “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: ‘You have not walked in the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah.’ (2 Chronicles 21:12 | NIV84)

Like a chess piece, the Lord simply plucked Elijah up and moved him to another location in Israel where he lived out the remainder of his years. The Lord graciously moved him out of the way and out of the limelight so that his successor, Elisha, could do the work to which he was called.

So the first thing we learn about heaven is that one must die to get there.

Matthew 6:19 – 21

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 | NIV84)

Jesus is not telling us not to save for our retirement or not to acquire things during our lifetime on earth. For Him, as it should be for us, it was all about keeping life in the proper perspective. It’s fine to be prudent in our investments, but obsessing over them is wrong. It’s nice to have nice things if we can afford them, but to chase after material things at the expense of caring for our spiritual side creates a terrible imbalance. The most important aspect of our lives should be – yet seldom is – the spiritual aspect.

What did Jesus mean when He referred to “treasures in heaven?” Broadly speaking, Jesus is referring to things like holiness of character, obedience to God’s Word, service to God, and to our fellow man. In other words, spiritually speaking, we are preparing for our eternal life in heaven by living right (or righteously) while here on earth.

The life we live here in the flesh should be lived with an eye to our eternal life. Keeping a “heavenly perspective” will serve to keep our lives in balance.

Luke 10:10 – 20

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20 | NIV84)

Jesus had appointed 72 “missionaries” to go and preach His Gospel. They did this and more:

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Luke 10:17 | NIV84)

They, of course, were thrilled with the work they had done in Christ’s Name, and our Lord shared their joy. Then however, He brought them back down to earth with another bit of perspective necessary for living life in balance. These missionaries, and Christians today, ought to rejoice primarily in God’s grace; namely, the fact of salvation by grace. Accomplishing any good work for God is cause to rejoice, but nothing compares to being saved by grace. We ought always to remember and rejoice over the simple fact that our names are written in heaven.

John 14:1 – 4

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

This advice was given to some very troubled disciples, and they had good reasons to be troubled. Jesus had just told them that He would be leaving them soon. He told them that a traitor was in their midst. And Jesus told Peter that he would fail Him before all was said and done. What our Lord told His disciples, and what He is telling us through His Word, is His remedy for anxiety.

When we, like the disciples, feel anxious, according to Jesus we should: Continue in our belief in God and in Him. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in or how bleak the outlook may be, our hearts should never be troubled and our faith shouldn’t waver. Think about these disciples. Their leader was going to be leaving shortly. Trust in God is a sure remedy for anxious feelings.

Furthermore, our Lord talked about the kind of life all believers may expect to enjoy. The future for followers of Jesus will be marked by a reunion (or a joining) with Jesus Christ. He will not forget those who belong to Him, and at the right time He will come back or take them to be with Him.

Jesus indicated to His disciples that there are “many rooms” in heaven. The idea is that there is an infinite number of “dwelling places” in heaven, each one specifically prepared by Jesus for individual believers. These “dwelling places,” or “mansions,” as some translations read, will be permanent; they will be our homes for all of eternity.

This aspect of heaven has both a future aspect but also a present aspect. In the midst of hurried and harried lives, we can think ahead to heaven and our heavenly home and that should calm our nerves and give us a sense serenity.

Acts 1:7 – 11

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7, 8 NIV)

While it is a good idea to pause periodically to think about heaven, Christians do have work to do in the here-and-now. Jesus told His disciples that nobody knows the future; nobody knows what’s going to happen in the days ahead, only God the Father does and He usually doesn’t let us in on His plans. While the disciples, past and present, wait for their Lord to return, their job is a simple one: to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. We are to take Christ’s message of forgiveness of sins and salvation by grace to as many places as we can get to and share it with as many people as will listen.

We know that our Lord will return someday. While we wait we are to busy ourselves with fulfilling the Great Commission. We don’t have the luxury of standing around, looking wistfully into heaven waiting for the Lord to step out on a cloud and call us home. No man knows when that will happen.

Hebrews 12:18 – 25

So see to it that you obey him who is speaking to you. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, how terrible our danger if we refuse to listen to God who speaks to us from heaven! (Hebrews 12:25 TLB)

Thoughts of our heavenly reward and of our heavenly home are useful for encouraging us when we may be tempted to become discouraged. But heaven may also be used as part of an overall admonition. The writer to the Hebrews does this.

So take a new grip with your tired hands, stand firm on your shaky legs, and mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves but become strong. (Hebrews 12:12, 13 TLB)

Christians need to remain strong in their faith, especially in light of the facts of who God is, what He has done, and where He comes from. Previous generations dealt with God, for example, at Mount Sinai, which was all well and good for them at that time, but that’s in the past.

But you have come right up into Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the gathering of countless happy angels; and to the church, composed of all those registered in heaven; and to God who is Judge of all; and to the spirits of the redeemed in heaven, already made perfect (Hebrews 12:22, 23 TLB)

No longer do believers deal with God, symbolically speaking, at Mount Sinai with all its attendant laws and regulations. That old order of things has passed away. Now we are able to approach God on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, where the Temple was built and Jesus crucified. From the hill of that city He ascended to heaven. The “city of the living God” on earth was a mere reflection of the heavenly Jerusalem, the place where saints who have been made perfect and angels dwell. It is also the place from where God judges.

Jesus is the reason why the old order has wasted away. The blood of Jesus, which provided atonement and forgiveness for sins, made this entrance into heaven possible.

So see to it that you obey him who is speaking to you. (Hebrews 12:25 TLB)

Considering, then, what Jesus’ shed blood has wrought, we Christians need to pay attention to what He says and do what He tells us to do. Our eternity in heaven depends upon it, in once sense.

When he spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but, “Next time,” he says, “I will not only shake the earth but the heavens too.” By this he means that he will sift out everything without solid foundations so that only unshakable things will be left. (Hebrews 12:26, 27 TLB)

When God spoke to previous generations of believers at Mount Sinai, the earth moved. But, as Haggai 2:6 says, the next time earth hears His voice, all creation will shake and a sifting – a sorting and reshuffling – of the universe will take place. God as Judge will review the material and spiritual worlds He Himself created, and His creation will either be destroyed or reformed. Anything that can be moved (“shaken”) will be destroyed. This refers to the things made for this present world order. But there are things that cannot be shaken, and these things will remain for all eternity; things like God, Christ, the Church, love and holiness.

It’s a powerful admonition to live right and live righteously. It’s also a powerful reason to not get too attached to the things of this world. They are so temporary in every sense of the word. It’s also a powerful reminder of something else. We are living in a “post-Christian” world where vast numbers of people live as though they have no soul. It would do us well to remember that when men and nations rage against God and seek to take His place on earth, God’s reaction is surprising:

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… (Psalm 2:4 NIV)

In God’s eyes, nothing is more ridiculous than a frail, puny man living in defiance of Him, His people, and His Word. William Arthur Tell wrote, There is a heaven to gain and hell to shun, and it is the Bible that tells us how to do just that. The Bible also tells us something else worth remembering. The Church of Jesus Christ, comprised of God’s saints from all generations, will emerge from the ashes of the old order intact, redeemed, and victorious. It may seem to you as though the Church in America today is weak or impotent and as carnal as can be. But we are not yet what we will be. In the end, as Jesus Himself indicated, the gates of shall not prevail against the true Church (Matthew 16:18).

Elisha and God’s Call

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Here’s a shocking bit of news, courtesy of Forbes:

Right Management ran the online survey between April 16 and May 15, and culled responses from 411 workers in the U.S. and Canada. Only 19% said they were satisfied with their jobs. Another 16% said they were “somewhat satisfied.” But the rest, nearly two-thirds of respondents, said they were not happy at work. Twenty-one percent said they were “somewhat unsatisfied” and 44% said they were “unsatisfied.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/05/18/new-survey-majority-of-employees-dissatisfied/)

That’s a whole lot of dissatisfied employees! No wonder we get stress headaches. No wonder so many of us dream of the day we can retire and do what we enjoy rather than what we have to. Most of these dissatisfied employees will tell you they can’t quit the job they hate so much because of the money. But what if you could quit the job you hate and start the job you dream about having? What would that dream job be? Some of you would love to “work from home.” Others would love to be able to turn your hobby into your occupation. Still others hold onto some childhood ambition that’s just unpractical as an adult; like being an astronaut or a deep sea diver or a stewardess or a famous actor. There are probably as many “dream jobs” as there are people. That’s because we all have different interests, talents, and ambitions. God in His wisdom created us as individuals; all different from each other. And, ideally, as we grow and mature in the Lord, we discover what our interests and talents are and we find a way to use what God has given us to not only glorify Him but benefit ourselves as well.

Such was the case with a man named Elisha. Most of us seem to be familiar with the prophet Elijah, but in some ways his successor, Elisha, had an even greater ministry. Elijah was a great prophet, but God sent him to prepare and anoint Elisha to also be a prophet. We can learn some things from Elisha’s great life and ministry that help us to follow God’s will for our lives.

1 Kings 19:19 – 21

In this brief incident, we read about the call of Elisha to the prophetic ministry.

The Lord said, “Return to the wilderness near Damascus, then enter the city and anoint Hazael as king of Syria; anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. (1 Kings 19:15, 16 GNB)

That’s God giving His busy prophet Elijah a laundry list of things to do, including anointing Elisha to be his successor. We don’t know a lot about Elisha, but he was apparently a man of some means, as he was working next to the twelfth pair of oxen. Elijah approached this man and did a curious thing:

Elijah took off his cloak and put it on Elisha. (1 Kings 19:19b GNB)

Putting one’s cloak or mantle on another was a highly symbolic act of transferring leadership. That symbolic act was Elijah’s way of doing what God told him to do: anoint Elisha to be his successor. Elisha, for his part, did what most of us would do:

“Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and then I will go with you.” (1 Kings 19:20b GNB)

In other words, Elisha wanted to set his affairs in order and provide for a proper farewell. Elijah’s response to Elisha has been translated in various ways, but this one seems to fit his character:

“All right, go back. I’m not stopping you!” (1 Kings 19:20c GNB)

That single statement is important. It shows us Elijah hadn’t called Elisha to be his successor; God had done that. And it also shows us that answering God’s call was something only Elisha himself could do. It was his decision to make.

And that’s the way God works in the lives of His people. He may call, but we must answer. God has a will for our lives, but we must be co-operative participants. God doesn’t force anybody to do anything. He calls, creates the conditions whereby we are able to respond, but ultimately the choice is ours. A lot of times we may be hesitant to step up and answer God’s call. We may be fearful or unsure or too busy, we think. Following the call of God very often entails sacrifice. It always means aligning our wills to His; it requires a new set of priorities. Recall what Jesus said when He called a young man to follow Him:

And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61, 62 NKJV)

If you want to follow the call of God, you can’t be distracted by other things. Following the call of God requires single-minded devotion. Elijah’s response to Elisha seemed to be a little more charitable than that of Jesus. But Elisha’s actions showed that he was ready to follow the call.

Elisha then returned to his oxen, killed them, and used wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the other plowmen, and they all had a great feast. Then he went with Elijah, as his assistant. (1 Kings 19:21 TLB)

2 Kings 2:1 – 15

The historian who wrote 1 and 2 Kings takes a break in his account of the kings to return to the subject of Elisha. It’s been a number of chapters since we last saw Elijah’s successor. By now, Elijah is an old man, beginning the last leg of his journey in this life.

Now the time came for the Lord to take Elijah to heaven—by means of a whirlwind! Elijah said to Elisha as they left Gilgal, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.” (2 Kings 2:1 TLB)

We’re not told why Elijah repeatedly tried to leave his successor behind, but Elisha was determined to stick close to his mentor. Some have suggested it was difficult for Elijah to retreat from public ministry and he just wanted to be alone. Or it could be Elijah was subtly testing his student. Whatever the reason, Elisha’s true character and commitment shone through. He was completely loyal to Elijah and he seemed determined to fulfill his God-given destiny to be there when Elijah was gone. As we look at where the two of them traveled – Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, the Jordan – we can’t help but think of another mentor-student relationship: that of Moses and Joshua. In fact, the similarities don’t stop with their itinerary. Consider this:

Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it; and the river divided and they went across on dry ground! (2 Kings 2:8 TLB)

Not only had Moses parted a body of water before, but Elijah’s destination (the other side of the Jordan River) was also where Moses’ life came to its end.

This exchange between Elijah and Elisha serves to further show just how committed Elisha was and how seriously he took his calling.

When they arrived on the other side Elijah said to Elisha, “What wish shall I grant you before I am taken away?” And Elisha replied, “Please grant me twice as much prophetic power as you have had.” (2 Kings 2:9 TLB)

Elisha was determined to continue Elijah’s ministry, and he innately knew he would need something more than what he had. He needed to be able to lead, but he desired the power to succeed. He needed divine empowerment.

For his part, Elijah knew that what Elisha needed was beyond his ability to give. Elisha needed to see and experience something unquestioningly supernatural. He did.

As they were walking along, talking, suddenly a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire, appeared and drove between them, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11 TLB)

Elisha was understandably upset with what he had seen, but he did receive Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen during Elijah’s ascent. As the young prophet picked it up, it confirmed to him that he had indeed become his master’s successor. As if to prove it, he did a remarkable thing – he parted the waters just as Elijah had done.

When the young prophets of Jericho saw what had happened, they exclaimed, “The spirit of Elijah rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and greeted him respectfully. (2 Kings 2:15 TLB)

Elisha crossed over. He left his Moses behind, just as Joshua had done. The “young prophets of Jericho,” student prophets, witnessed the event and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God’s Spirit did in fact rest on Elisha and they accepted his leadership.

Some lessons

Just before Elisha parted the waters, he asked this question:

Where is the Lord God of Elijah? (2 Kings 2:14b TLB)

That’s not an unimportant question. And it’s one that Christians should be asking. Elisha had Elijah’s cloak, the symbol of the prophet’s office. But what Elisha really needed was the presence of God Himself. As Christians, we may have our confession, but we also need the presence of God. In looking back at the elder prophet’s life, we can see precisely where the Lord was and what He was dong:

* The Lord always cared, 1Kings 17

* The Lord answers in definite, unmistakable ways, 1Kings 18:1 – 40

* The Lord hears prayers, 1 Kings 18:41 – 46

* The Lord is still the Lord even at the “juniper tree,” 1 Kings 19:4 – 18

* The Lord still empowers those who serve Him, 2 Kings 2:9 – 12

In Malachi 3:6, we read this:

For I am the Lord—I do not change. (TLB)

The things that He did for Elijah and Elisha He will do for believers today. Of course, God works in different ways with different people in different dispensations. But He remains the same. What we need to serve Him effectively, He will give us.

 

Futility of Fear, 7

What's yours?

What’s yours?

2 Kings 6:16

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16 NIV84)

This “don’t be a afraid” is for anybody who feels overwhelmed by any forces arrayed against them. Maybe this describes you sometimes. Have you ever felt stymied by some bureaucracy when all you wanted to do was make a few extra dollars? Or maybe you tried to do something recently that was a breeze a few years ago but now it hurts so much you have to stop. Or maybe your situation is far more serious. God’s Word to anybody facing any “enemy” is simply, “don’t be afraid.”

The incident in 2 Kings where God told Elisha’s servant to not be afraid follows the case of the floating axe head.

The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it. (2 Kings 6:6-7 NIV84)

Miracles followed Elisha around like a lost puppy. This man of God walked and worked in the power of God. It may seem almost impossible to believe that an iron axe head can float, but with God, nothing is impossible.

This particular miracle has never been repeated, but the incident that follows it is as up-to-date as tomorrow’s headlines.

An age-old conflict

Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.” (2 Kings 6:8 NIV84)

Aram, or Syria, had been harassing Israel with intermittent warfare and guerrilla raids. Yes, they’ve been going at it for a long time over there. Even during this period of Hebrew history, this conflict was a very old one. What we see happening in the Middle East today – the tension between Israel and the Arab world – can be traced back to the dim days of the Old Testament.

Time and time again the Israelite king and his armies were delivered from these ambushes because of Elisha’s intervention. By divine revelation, Elisha always knew when and where the Aramean army was and what they were planning.

The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places. (2 Kings 6:9-10 NIV84)

These constant defeats really frustrated the Aramean king and he came to, what was for him, the obvious conclusion: there just had to be a spy in his camp.

This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” (2 Kings 6:11 NIV84)

Unbelievers will never come to the correct conclusion concerning the work of God. They will always try to find “the logical answer” to God’s miraculous ways, and the logical answer is almost always the wrong answer when it comes to God’s miraculous ways.

Danger for Elisha

“None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” (2 Kings 6:12 NIV84)

How about that Elisha! He even had the king’s bedroom bugged! That’s the “logical answer,” but of course we know the truth: God was revealing the king’s plans to His prophet. We’re not told how or why this officer knew the truth, but it may well be that Elisha’s aid to Israelite king Jehoram was not exactly the best kept secret at this time.

What’s the king to do? He’ll eliminate the problem.

“Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” (2 Kings 6:13 NIV84)

Elisha was staying in Dothan, a strategic town located some dozen miles north of Samaria, and about 60 miles north of Jerusalem. This town was the prophet’s headquarters, so it’s not like he was hiding out. The Aramean king took action and his forces surrounded Dothan. He took Elisha’s ongoing threat seriously, deploying the whole army to get this one man.

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:15-16 NIV84)

And who wouldn’t be afraid after seeing the great Aramean army? Elisha and his servant were just two men, by themselves, facing the host of the Arameans. That makes Elisha’s epic answer all the more powerful – the servant had absolutely nothing to fear because, in the prophet’s words, “those who were with them were more than those who were against them.” The question is an obvious: just who was with them?  Who’s my boss talking about?  Can you imagine the servant looking around for those whom Elisha referred to? Of course, there was nobody there.

That’s what it looked like, anyway. But Christians can’t always believe their eyes!

We live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV84)

Elisha’s servant was about to learn how true Paul’s statement is!

And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17 NIV84)

What passed through this servant’s mind when he saw the hosts of God all around them? For a moment he was given a glimpse into the spirit world. The Aramean king had planned an ambush but God had planned his own! Again, Paul puts this in perspective for us:

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31 NIV84)

Indeed. Only the most arrogant, ignorant of people would dare stand in the way of a believer doing the work of God! No wonder Elisha told his servant to not to be afraid. Why fear any man when God has surrounded you with the army of heaven?

Standard operating procedure?

When we read stories like this, we naturally wonder: Is this how God always works? You’ve probably met Christians that claim remarkable deliverances like this one in 2 Kings. These Christians experience deliverances from things like poverty when they receive an anonymous check in the mail, or deliverances from an empty gas tank when a stranger offers to fill it up for them, or deliverances from sickness by a miracle. You get the idea. The rest of us who never had these experiences wonder, Are we that out of touch with God? How do we explain the miraculous leadings and deliverances some believers claim to have experienced? The answer lies in Dothan.

Dothan is mentioned only two times in Scripture. The other time is in Genesis 37–

“They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’ ”So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. (Genesis 37:17-18 NIV84)

It was in Dothan that Joseph was sold into slavery – a fate worse than death. Dr. McGee comments:

It was a living hell to be sold into slavery, yet that is what is happening to this boy of 17.

Seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it? Joseph, a young man, blessed by God with dreams and visions, trapped by his scurrilous, no account brothers and sold into slavery. Where were the chariots of fire for Joseph? Where was God’s army?

Remember, we can’t always believe our eyes. Just because it didn’t look like they were around Joseph didn’t mean they weren’t. When we study the life of Joseph from this point on, we can see the hand of God on it. In fact, in some ways, you can see God working more in the life of Joseph than in Elisha’s! Certainly in terms of the flash and sizzle, Elisha had it all over Joseph. But God did remarkable things in and through Joseph without the flash and sizzle. So much so Joseph was able to say this to his brothers:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20 NIV84)

No miraculous deliverance for Joseph, yet he kept on keeping on – he stayed faithful to his God despite his sometimes awful circumstances. In the end, though, he prevailed and was blessed mightily.  And because he did, so did the nation of Israel.

So you see, at Dothan God was there with Joseph just as He was with Elisha, just in a different way.

Blinded by the Light

It wasn’t over yet. Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened, and now he prayed for the reverse to happen to the Arameans:

As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike these people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. (2 Kings 6:18 NIV84)

We don’t usually think of praying things like that, but Elisha did, and God answered it. He blinded – temporarily – these soldiers and led them in the wrong direction!

After they entered the city, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria. (2 Kings 6:20 NIV84)

God certainly has a sense of humor, doesn’t he? But His ways are not our ways, either. Instead of killing them, as surely as they would have killed Elisha, his servant, and any other Israelite they happened upon, mercy was shown:

“Do not kill them,” [Elisha] answered. “Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” (2 Kings 6:22 NIV84)

There may be several reasons why these soldiers’ lives were spared. For one thing, Israel didn’t kill prisoners of war, so that’s how Elisha may have seen these men. Or it could be that Elisha was gently reminding the king that it was unlawful to kill soldiers not captured in battle. Or it may be that Elisha saw these men as being under God’s protection for the time being.

Whatever the reason, Elisha made sure these soldiers were well-fed and sent home safely. The result was nothing less than stunning:

…he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. (2 Kings 6:23b NIV84)

Elisha ended this plague of skirmishes with kindness.

Even though Elisha was Israel’s prophet, he nonetheless showed that he was aware of and able to actually influence events on an international level by actually controlling what people saw.  He controlled their perspective.  His servant was paralyzed with fear until, through Elisha’s prayer, he was able to see God’s army all around them. The soldiers were a deadly threat until, again through Elisha’s prayer, they were blinded and rendered helpless. When, through Elisha’s prayer, they regained their sight, it led to peace.

Fear was a bad thing as far as Elisha’s servant was concerned because it was unfounded – there was absolutely no reason for him to fear. However, fear was a good thing for the soldiers to experience because it led to peace.

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.

HEALING OF THE WATER

2 Kings 2:19—22

As we begin a look at this miracle, we need to understand why the water was bad in the first place. To do that, we need to understand that at this time in Hebrew history, the city of Jericho had been living under a divine judgment since the days of Joshua.

At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the LORD is anyone who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: “At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates.” (Joshua 6:26)

Just like our sin-cursed world, Jericho’s curse could only be lifted by the sacrifice of a first-born. All the wealth and collected wisdom of the town fathers could not remove this “plague of bitter waters.” The same is true of the sinful condition of mankind: all the wisdom, wealth, and schemes of man cannot change his sinful state one iota. The nature of sin is what it is and there is nothing any human being can do about it apart from Jesus Christ.

The desperate need of Jericho represents the desperate need of every life lived apart from Jesus Christ: divine healing.

1. The sad condition

The state of Jericho can be viewed in two different aspects:

(a) It was pleasant, verse 9a.

Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see…”

Looking at Jericho from the outside, from a distance, everything looked good. The town was in a good location. The soil was rich in possibilities. The climate was perfect. The city was well-built and beautiful to look at.

What a picture of a person without Jesus Christ who may have everything else going for them! A person without God in his life may have success, prosperity, a measure of joy and happiness, friends and all things this world may have to offer. Imagine that kind of life. We all know somebody who, at least as far as we can tell from the outside, from a distance, who “has it all.” Yet, “having it all” is not enough.

(b) The ground was barren, verse 9b.

…but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.”

The people of Jericho worked and worked that land but to no avail. No matter what they did, the land yielded exactly nothing. The problem, though, wasn’t the land or the growing conditions, it was the water; the water was bad. The people were treating the symptom but ignoring the source of the problem.

Here is another sad portrait of a person without Christ. They continually “kick against the goad,” trying to get what they cannot have with out God. These people may do all the right things by the reckoning of man, but their problem is not what they are doing, it’s what they have failed to do: seek the healing of their sin-sick hearts.  Those without Christ become experts at treating the symptoms; symptoms like a bad marriage, financial problems, family tension, job dissatisfaction, alcoholism, emotion distress, etc.  These same people have failed to see their real problem:  they need a relationship with Jesus Christ!

The fruit of joy and peace cannot grow in a patch of weeds and thistles; the state of the human heart without God.

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (James 3:11)

The answer to James’ question is, naturally, no. Bad water will always flow from a bad heart. Nothing clean can come from something unclean.

2. The cure

(a) Its nature, verse 20.

Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.

This new bowl is really a picture of the New Testament, with Jesus Christ as the Salt of salvation. In Elisha’s work or restoration, the salt represents the healing power of God. Praise God, to this very day, that salt has never lost its savor!

(b) Its application, verse 21.

Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the LORD says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’”

Elisha went right to source in order to heal the water. He did not try to heal the ground or heal the streams or the bodies of water around Jericho, he went right to source of the bad water. The salt could not work its miracle until it came in contact with the spring that fed the streams around the city. The salt in the bowl did nothing for anybody.  Elisha needed to exert an effort; he needed to find the source of the problem and he needed to throw the salt into it.

Nobody can make themselves righteous or holy by doing “good things.” Nobody can make their life right before man without letting God make their heart right before Him. Trying to work your way into heaven would be like Elisha trying to purify a stream while the spring was still spewing forth the bitter water! That would be a waste of time and effort.

It is not Jesus Christ in the Bible that saves, it is Jesus Christ in your heart that saves. Just as Elisha cast his salt into the spring, dealing with the source of the bitter water, so our Lord case salt into the spring of life when He told Nicodemus: You must be born again.

Mark 9:50 makes it plain:

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

3. The results

(a) The healing, verse 22.

And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.

The streams around Jericho, the streams that irrigated the land, were healed, and they remained healed. It the heart is healed, the life will be healed, also. Make the soul healthy, and the spirit will be healthy. Only the Good Physician can do that.

When Jesus Christ comes into a life, He heals it completely and forever. The presence of the Jesus Christ in a person’s life changes everything about that person.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The streams that surrounded Jericho still looked the same after they were healed, but they were as different as night is from day! Once they killed, now they brought life. A person who is born again may look the same, but once he was dead, now he is alive! For the first time in his life, he is fully alive.

(b) The land became fruitful, verse 21b.

…Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.

The the land that just a day before was poisonous and barren, the next day was perfect for growing crops in. The water that just one day earlier was bitter and unusable, the next day was cold and clean and pure. If this is what the power of God could do to a spring of water, imagine what He can do with a life that is turned over to Him! God can transform any life into something pure and useful. He can turn a sinner from one who is dead into a one who not only lives but is able to help others to live.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4)

When we are in Christ, we bear the best kind of fruit! Fruit is more than the result of what we do, though. A barren heart will make a barren heart. A life with Christ in it will produce other lives with Christ in them.

Salvation is contagious!  The power of God is explosive. When the spring changed, all the water changed. When your life is changed by the power of God, other lives will be changed, as you live in obedience to Him.

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. (John 7:38)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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