Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
As we pointed out in our Introduction, the larger part of what is recorded of the life of this prophet is devoted to a description of the miracles performed by him and the circumstances or occasions which gave rise to them. Excepting that which occupied our attention in the first two or three chapters, when we contemplated the preparing and enduing of him for his work, very little indeed has been said about Elisha’s mission or ministry up to the point we have now reached in his history. Yet here and there brief hints have been given us about that which engaged most of his energies. Those hints center around the several brief mentions made of "the sons of the prophets" and the relation which Elisha sustained to them, a further reference to whom is found in the passage which is now before us. As we pointed out in a previous book on Elijah, Israel had fallen on bad times, and spirituality was at a low ebb. Idolatry was rampant and God’s judgments fell frequently upon them—in the form of letting the surrounding nations invade their land (1 Kings 20:1, 26; 22:1; 2 Kings 1:1; 5:2).
From the brief allusion made to them, it would seem that Elisha devoted much of his time and attention to the training of young preachers, who were formed into schools and designated "the sons of the prophets," which in the Hebrew language would emphasize the nature of their calling and contain no reference to their ancestry. There was one group of them at Bethel and another at Jericho (2 Kings 2:3, 5) and yet another at Gilgal (2 Kings 4:38). It is from the last reference we learn that Elisha was accustomed to sojourn with them for a time and preach or lecture to them, as their "sitting before him" signifies (Deut. 33:3; Luke 2:46; 10:39). From the repeated mention of "the people" in this connection (2 Kings 4:41-42), we gather that these seminaries also served as more general places of assembly where the pious in Israel gathered together for the worship of Jehovah and to receive edification through His servant. That Elisha acted as rector or superintendent of these schools is evident from the young prophets owning him as "thou man of God" (2 Kings 4:40) and "master" (2 Kings 6:5).
First, the Connection of the Miracle
"And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us" (2 Kings 6:1). By means of the opening "And," the Holy Spirit has linked together the miracle recorded at the end of chapter 5 and the one we are now to consider. As in previous instances it suggests both comparisons and contrasts. Each miracle concerned those who were intimately connected with Elisha—in the one case his personal attendant, in the other his students. Each occurred at the same place—in the immediate vicinity of the Jordan. Each was occasioned by dissatisfaction with the position its subjects occupied—the one reprehensible, the other commendable. But first it was the unfaithful Gehazi, while here it is the devoted sons of the prophets. In the one, Gehazi took matters into his own hands; in the other they deferentially ask permission of their master. In the former an act of theft was committed; in the latter a borrowed article was recovered. In one a curse descended upon the guilty one; in this, an article was retrieved from the place of judgment.
Second, the Occasion of the Miracle
"And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us" (2 Kings 6:1). There does not appear to us to be anything in this verse which justifies the conclusion that some have drawn from it, namely, that these young men were discontented with their quarters and requested something more congenial. Charity always requires us to place the best construction on the projects and actions of our fellows. The motives which prompt them lie beyond our understanding and therefore are outside of our province; and actions are to be condemned only when it is unmistakably clear that they are evil in their nature or tendency. Had these students given expression to a covetous desire, surely Elisha would have reproved them; certainly he would not have encouraged their plan, as the sequel shows he did.
We are not told which particular school of the prophets this one was, but from its proximity to the Jordan there can be little doubt that it was the one situated either at Jericho or Gilgal—most probably the latter, because the reference in 2 Kings 4:38 seems to indicate that it was there that Elisha made his principal headquarters. This appears to be confirmed by the language used by the students "where we dwell with thee"; they would have said "sojourn" had he been merely on a temporary visit to them. From their statement, we gather that under the superintendency of Elisha their school had flourished, that there had been such an increase of their numbers that the accommodation had become too cramped for them. Accordingly, they respectfully called the attention of their master to what seemed a real need. It is to be observed that they did not impudently take matters into their own hands and attempt to spring a surprise upon Elisha, but instead pointed out to him the exigency of the situation.
"Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell" (2 Kings 6:2). Had their desire for more spacious quarters proceeded from carnal ambition, they would have aspired to something more imposing than a wooden building. Nor is it at all likely that in such a case they would volunteer to do the work themselves. Instead they would have suggested going around soliciting gifts from the people, so that they might have the money to hire others to erect a more commodious seminary for them.
They were humble men who did not affect that which was gay or great. They did not speak of sending for cedars, and marble stones and curious artificers, but only of getting every man a beam, to run up a plain hut or cottage with. It becomes the sons of the prophets, who profess to look for the great in the other world to be content with mean things in this (Henry).
Alas that Protestants have so often aped the heathen in making a show before the world.
"And he answered, Go ye" (2 Kings 6:2), which he surely would not have done if they were seeking something more agreeable to the flesh. That reply of Elisha’s was something more than a bare assent to their proposal or permission for them to execute the same; it was also a real testing of their hearts. Those who are accustomed to judge others harshly might infer that these young men had grown tired of the strict discipline which Elisha must have enforced, and had found irksome the pious and devotional type of life he required from them, and that this idea of making for the Jordan was but a cover for their determination to get away from the man of God. In such a case they promptly would have availed themselves of his grant, bidden him farewell, and taken their departure.
But we may learn something more from this answer, "Go ye"; it gives us a sidelight on the prophet’s own character, manifesting as it does his humility. He at once perceived the reasonableness of their request and concurred with them therein. A proud and haughty man would quickly resent any suggestion coming from those under his charge or care. Thus an important practical lesson is here taught: superiors ought not to consider themselves above receiving and weighing ideas from their underlings; and when discerning the wisdom of the same and recognizing they could be carded out to advantage, they should not hesitate to adopt them. It is the mark of a little mind, and not of a great one, which considers it has a monopoly of intelligence and is independent of help from others. Many a man has paid dearly for disdaining the counsel of his wife or employees.
"And one said, Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants" (2 Kings 6:3). Very blessed is this, revealing as it does the happy relations which existed between them and of the veneration and love these students had for their master. Such meekness and graciousness on the part of superiors as we have alluded to above is not unappreciated by their subordinates. Nobly did they respond to the test contained in Elisha’s "Go ye," by begging him to accompany them on their expedition. And how such a request on their part refutes the evil inference which some might draw from their original proposal—jumping to the conclusion that they were tired of Elisha’s company and merely devised this plan as a pretext to get away from him. It is a warning to us not to surmize evil of our fellows, giving point to Christ’s admonition, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
Third, the Location of the Miracle
"And he answered, I will go. So he went with them to the Jordan." And a good thing it was that he did so, as the sequel shows. "And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood" (2 Kings 6:4). Very commendable was this. But how unlike some of the young people of our generation, who have been encouraged to expect that someone else will do everything for them, that they should be waited on hand and foot by their seniors. These young men were willing and ready to put their own shoulder to the work. They did not seek to shelter behind a false conception of their sacred calling and indulge in foolish pride over their office by concluding that such a thing was beneath their dignity. No, instead of hiring others to do it, they performed the task themselves.
"But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed" (2 Kings 6:5). An accident now happened. In one sense it is perfectly true that there are no accidents in a world that is presided over by the living God; but in another sense it is equally true that accidents do occur in the human realm.
This calls for a defining of our term. What is an accident? It is when some effect is produced or some consequence issues from an action undesigned by its performer. From the divine side of things, nothing occurs in this world but what God has ordained; but from the human side, many things result from our actions which were not intended by us. It was no design of this man that he should lose the head of his ax; that he did so was accidental on his part.
Fourth, the Objective of the Miracle
"And he cried and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed." The objective, then, was to recover the borrowed article now lost. How strange that such a thing should happen while in the performance of duty! Yet the Lord had a wise and good reason for permitting it, and mercifully prevented the death of another (Deut. 19:5). It is to be noted that the student did not regard Elisha as being too great a man to be troubled about such a trifling matter, but rather as an honest person deeply concerned over the loss; and assured of his master’s sympathy, he at once informed him. His "alas" seems to denote that he regarded his loss as final and had no expectation it would be retrieved by a miracle. The lesson for us is plain: even though (to our shame) we have no faith of His showing Himself strong on our behalf, it is ever our duty and privilege to spread before our Master everything that troubles us.
Not one concern of ours is small
If we belong to Him,
To teach us this, the Lord of all
Once made the iron to swim.
Fifth, the Means of the Miracle
"And the man of God said—"Observe the change in verse 6 of 2 Kings 6 from verse 1: not simply "Elisha" here, because he was about to act officially and work a miracle. "Where fell it?" This was designed to awaken hope. "And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim" (2 Kings 6:6). There was no proportion between the means and the end—to demonstrate that the power was of God! The Hebrew word for "stick" is a generic one. It is rendered "tree" 162 times, being the same word as in Deuteronomy 21:23—quoted in Galatians 3:13! It is also translated "wood" 103 times, as in Genesis 6:14, the shittim "wood" used in connection with the frame and furniture of the tabernacle, and in verse 4 of 2 Kings 6. Evidently it was a small tree or sapling Elisha cut down.
Sixth, the Meaning of the Miracle
The incident which has been before us may, we consider, be justly regarded as broadly illustrating what is portrayed by the law and the gospel. It serves to give us a typical picture of the sinner’s ruin and redemption. As the result of being dissatisfied with the position God originally assigned us—subjection to His authority—we (in Adam) appropriated what was not ours, and in consequence suffered a fearful fall. The inanimate iron falling into the Jordan—the place of "judgment"—is an apt figure of the elect in their natural state: dead in trespasses and sins, incapable of doing anything for their deliverance. The way and means which God took for our recovery was for Christ to come right down to where we were, and to be "cut off" (Dan. 9:26), yes, "cut off out of the land of the living" (Isa. 53:8), enduring judgment on our behalf, thereby recovering us to God (1 Pet. 3:18).
This incident may also be taken to inform the believer of how lost blessings may be restored to him. Are there not among our readers some who no longer enjoy the liberty they once had in prayer, or the satisfaction they formerly experienced in reading the Scriptures? Are there not some who have lost their peace and assurance, and are deeply concerned about being so deprived? If so, the devil will say the loss is irrecoverable and you must go mourning the rest of your days. But that is one of his many lies. This passage reveals how your situation may be retrieved. (1) Acquaint your Master with your grief (2 Kings 6:5); unbosom yourself freely and frankly unto Him. (2) Let His "where fell it?" (2 Kings 6:6) search you. Examine yourself: review the past, ascertain the place or point in your life where the blessing ceased, discover the personal cause of your spiritual loss, judge yourself for the failure and confess it, acknowledging the blame to be entirely yours. (3) Avail yourself and make use of the means for recovery: cast in the "stick" or "tree" (2 Kings 6:6): that is, plead the merits of Christ’s cross (1 Pet. 2:24). (4) Stretch forth the hand of faith (2 Kings 6:7); that is, count upon your Master’s infinite goodness and grace, expect His effectual intervention, and the lost blessing shall be restored to you.
This incident may also be viewed as making known to us how we may grow in grace. (1) There must be the desire and prayer for spiritual expansion (2 Kings 6:1)—a longing to enter into and possess the "large place" (Ps. 118:5) God has provided for us. (2) The recognition that to enter therein involves effort from us (2 Kings 6:2), labor on our part. (3) Seek the oversight of a servant of God in this (2 Kings 6:3), if one is available. (4) Observe very carefully the particular place to which we must take ourselves if such spiritual enlargement is to be ours. We are to be buried under the Jordan. We can only enter into an enriched spiritual experience by dying more and more unto the flesh, that is, by denying self, and mortifying our lusts (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5). (5) Expect to encounter difficulties (2 Kings 6:5). (6) Use the appointed means (2 Kings 6:6) for overcoming the obstacle of the flesh (Gal. 6:14). (7) Stretch forth the hand of faith (2 Kings 6:7) and appropriate what God has given us in Christ.
Seventh, the Lessons of the Miracle
(1) See the value of requesting our Master’s presence even when you are about to engage in manual labor. (2) Be conscientious about borrowed articles—books, for example! We should be more careful about things lent us than those which are our own. (3) Despise not those engaged in manual labor; Elisha did not. (4) Let not the servant of God disdain what may seem trifling opportunities to do good. (5) Remember your Father cares for His people in their minutest concerns. (6) Is anything too hard for Him who made the iron to swim? (7) What encouragement is here for us to heed (Phil. 4:6)!