Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
FOURTEENTH MIRACLE—SIGHTLESS EYES
First, the Connection of the Miracle
That Which Engaged Our Attention in the last chapter grew out of the determination of Ben-hadad to again wage war on Israel. After taking counsel with his servants, the Syrian laid an ambush for the king of Israel, but they had reckoned without Jehovah. God revealed to His servant, the prophet, the danger menacing his royal master, and accordingly he went and told the king, who, attending to the warning, was delivered from the trap set for him. The heart of the king of Syria was troubled at this thwarting of his design, and, suspecting a traitor in his own camp, made inquiry. Whereupon one of his attendants informed him that nothing could be concealed from the prophet that was in Israel, and that he had put the intended victim on his guard. After sending out spies to discover the whereabouts of Elisha and learning that he was in Dothan, the king of Syria sent a formidable force, consisting of "horses and chariots" and a "great host" of footmen to take him captive, determining to remove this obstacle from his path.
The miracle we are about to consider is a double one and, strictly speaking, comprises the fourteenth and fifteenth of the series connected with our prophet. But the record is so brief and the two miracles are so closely related that they scarcely warrant separate treatment. Therefore instead of taking them singly we propose to consider them jointly, viewing the second as the counterpart or complement of the former. It is a miracle which stands out from the last one which occupied our notice. That one concerned the opening of eyes; this the closing of them. There, only one person was involved; here a great host of men is concerned. In the one it was the prophet’s own servant who was the subject; here it is the soldiers who had been sent to take him captive. In the former, he responded to an urgent appeal from his attendant; here he acts without any solicitation. Both miracles occurred at the same place. They were both wrought in answer to Elisha’s prayer. They are both recorded for our learning and comfort.
In connection with the preceding miracle, Elisha had prayed to his Master for Him to open the eyes of his servant, and we are told, "And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17). That the prophet himself already saw this celestial convoy is clear; it was his own vision of them which moved him to ask that his servitor might also behold them. We may deduce the same from the immediate sequel. Far from being in a panic at the great host of Syrians which had come to take him captive, Elisha calmly stood his ground. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion" (Prov. 28:1), for since God is for them, who can be against them? There was no need for him to cry to the Lord for deliverance, for divine protection was present to his view. Therefore he quietly waited till the enemy actually reached him before he acted.
Before passing on, let us offer a further remark about this celestial guard which was round about Elisha. That it was composed of personal beings is clear from the pronoun "they that be with us are more than they that be with them." That they were angelic beings is evident from several passages: "Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire" (Ps. 104:4). At His second advent, we are told, "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. 1:7-8). The ministry of angels is admittedly a mysterious subject, one about which we know nothing except what it has pleased God to reveal to us. Yet it is a subject which holds by no means an inconspicuous place in Holy Writ. It would be outside our present scope to explore it at large; rather must we confine ourselves to that aspect of it which is here presented unto us.
Angels are not only God’s messengers sent on missions of mercy, but they are also His soldiers, commissioned both to guard His people, and execute judgment on His enemies. They are designated "the host of heaven" (1 Kings 22:19; Luke 2:13)—the Greek word meaning "soldiers" or, as we would term them, "men of war," the militia of heaven. In full accord with that concept we find the Savior reminding His disciples that "more than twelve legions of angels" (Matthew 26:53) were at His disposal, should He but ask the Father for protection against the armed rabble that had come to arrest Him. It was a host of them, in the form of fiery horses and chariots (cf. Psalm 68:17) which here encamped around Elisha, ready to fight for him. How mighty the angels are we know. One, called "the destroyer" (Ex. 12:23 and cf. 2 Samuel 24:16) slew all the firstborn of the Egyptians, while another slew 185,000 Assyrians in a night (2 Kings 19:35). That their operations continue in this Christian era is plain from such passages as Acts 12:7-10; Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 7:1, 15:1; Matthew 24:31.
"And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the LORD, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness" (2 Kings 6:18). The "they" looks back to the armed host mentioned in 2 Kings 6:14. Formidable as was the force sent to slay him, or at least take him captive, the prophet stood his ground and calmly waited their approach. And well he might. Could he not say, "I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about" (Ps. 3:6); and again, "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear" (Ps. 27:3)! And should not the same confidence and courage be the Christian’s? "The clearer sight we have of the sovereignty and power of heaven, the less shall we fear the calamities of this earth" (Henry). Perhaps the reader says, If I were favored with an actual view of protecting angels round about me, I would not fear physical danger or human enemies. Ah my friend, is that not tantamount to a confession that you are walking by sight? And may we not apply to you those words, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29)?
Why, think you my reader, has God chronicled here that which assured the heart of His servant of old? Is this nothing more than a registering of a remarkable incident in ancient history? Is that how you read and understand the sacred Scriptures? May we not adopt the language used by the apostle in connection with a yet earlier incident and say, "Now it was not written for his sake alone . . . But for us also" (Rom. 4:23-24)? Most certainly we may, for later on in that very epistle we are expressly informed, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). God has recorded that sight of those protecting angels for our faith to lay hold of. But remember that if faith is to stand us in good stead in the hour of emergency, it must be regularly nourished by the Word; if it is not, then the terrors of earth will be real to us and the comforts of heaven unreal. Unless faith appropriates that grand truth, "If God be for us, who can be against us," we shall neither have peace ourselves nor be qualified to quiet the fears of others.
Second, the Means of the Miracle
"And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the LORD" (2 Kings 6:18). That needs to be pondered and interpreted in the light of the previous verse, or we are likely to miss its beauty and draw a false inference. Very lovely was the prophet’s conduct on this occasion. The presence of those horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha was virtually a sign that God had delivered these Syrians into his hands; he had only to speak the word and the angels would have destroyed them. But he bore his enemies no ill will. Had our present verse stood by itself, we might have concluded that the prophet was asking in self-defense, begging the Lord to protect him from his foes, but it opens with the word "And"; and in the light of the one preceding, we are obliged to revise our thought. It is quite clear that Elisha was in no personal danger, so it could not have been out of any concern for his own personal safety that he now sought God. Yet, though he calmly awaited their approach, he did not meet his enemies in his own strength, for prayer is an acknowledgment of insufficiency.
"Elisha prayed unto the LORD, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness." At first glance it seems strange that he is referred to here by his personal name rather than as "the man of God," which the Holy Spirit generally uses when he was about to work a miracle; yet the variation in this place is neither fortuitous nor meaningless. It points to a blessed lesson for us, showing as it does the readiness of the Lord to hearken to the requests of His people. Though we do not possess the extraordinary powers of a prophet, yet it is our privilege to ask God to confuse and confound those of our natural enemies who seek our harm, and to subdue our spiritual ones. This incident has been recorded for our instruction and comfort, and one of the things we are to learn from it is that prayer avails to render our enemies impotent. Another preceding lesson, wherein we see another of Elisha’s requests granted: success in prayer should encourage and embolden us to ask further favors from God.
Go back again for a moment to Elisha’s situation. This petition of his was neither because he felt he was in any personal danger, nor did it proceed from any spirit of malice which he bore his enemies. Then what prompted it? Does not the miraculous healing of Naaman supply the answer to our question? When the king of Israel had rent his clothes in dismay, the man of God assured him that the king of Syria "shall know there is a prophet in Israel" (2 Kings 5:7-8), and when Naaman was recovered of his leprosy he sought unto the man of God and, before all his own retinue, testified, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel" (2 Kings 5:15). And now this heathen monarch had sent his forces to take the prophet prisoner! Very well, then, if he were not yet convinced that it was the true and living God whom Elisha served, he would receive further proof. It was Jehovah’s glory which prompted Elisha’s request. Weigh that well my reader. Everything depends upon the motive which inspires our petitions, determining whether or not we shall receive an answer. True and acceptable prayer rises above a sense of personal need, having in view the honor of God’s name. Keep before you 1 Corinthians 10:31.
"And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha" (2 Kings 6:18). That was an exact reversal of what took place under the foregoing miracle: there the prophet’s servant was enabled to see what was invisible to others (2 Kings 6:17), but here the Syrian soldiers were rendered incapable of seeing what was visible to others. But let us behold in this miracle the willingness of our God to respond to the cries of His own, that He is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. If we self-distrustfully refuse to encounter foes in our own strength, if we confidently ask God to render their efforts impotent, and if we do so with His glory in view, we may be assured of His gracious intervention. No matter what may be our need, how drastic the situation, how urgent our case, how formidable our adversary, while simple faith is exercised and the honor of God is our aim, we may count upon His showing Himself strong on our behalf. "For I am the LORD, I change not" (Mal. 3:6). He is the same now as He was in Elisha’s day.
Third, the Mercy of the Miracle
"And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way, neither is this the city: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. But he led them to Samaria" (2 Kings 6:19). He did not abandon them in their blindness and leave them to themselves. Contrast Genesis 19:11, where God was dealing in wrath. Had they not been blinded, probably they would have identified the prophet by his attire; but being strangers to him, they would be unable to recognize him by his voice. Spiritually that illustrates a fundamental difference between the goats and the sheep: the former are incapable of distinguishing between teachers of truth and of error; not so the latter, for they "know not the voice of strangers" but "will flee from him" (John 10:5). But exactly what did Elisha signify by those statements? It is lamentable to find one commentator, in whose notes there is generally that which is sound and good, saying, "The prophet intended to deceive the Syrians, and this might lawfully be done, even if he had meant to treat them as enemies, in order to his own preservation; but he designed them no harm by such deception."
Apart from such a view giving the worst possible interpretation to the prophet’s language, such an observation as the above is most reprehensible. It is never right to do wrong, and, no matter what may be our circumstances, for us to deliberately lie is to sin both against God and our fellowmen. Such an explanation as the above is also absurd on the face of it. Elisha was in no personal danger at all; and now that these Syrians were blinded, he could have walked away unmolested by them, had he so pleased. "This is not the way." What way? He could not mean to Dothan, for they were already there and must have known it. "I will bring you to the man whom ye seek." And who was that? Why, ultimately and absolutely, the king of Israel, for whom their master had laid an ambush (see 2 Kings 6:11), Elisha being merely an obstacle, who had hindered him. One who had just obtained from God such an answer to prayer, and who was now showing mercy to his enemies, would scarcely lie to them!
Fourth, the Counterpart of the Miracle
"And it came to pass, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And the LORD opened their eyes, and they saw; and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria" (2 Kings 6:20). Here was still further proof that Elisha harbored no malice against these Syrians and that he intended them no harm. Though they had hostile designs against him, yet he now uses his interest with the Lord on their behalf. Most gracious was that. What an example for every servant of God: "In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (2 Tim. 2:25). Instead of cherishing ill will against those who are unfriendly to us, we should seek their good and pray to the Lord on their behalf. How this incident reminds us of a yet more blessed example when the Lord of glory in the midst of His sufferings made intercession for His crucifiers (Isa. 53:12; Luke 23:34).
A further miracle was now wrought in answer to Elisha’s intercession, showing us once more the mighty power of God and His willingness to employ it in answer to the petitions of His people. Note how Elisha made good his promise: he led them to the man they really sought, for the next person mentioned is "the king of Israel"!
Fifth, the Accompaniment of the Miracle
"And the king of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them?" (2 Kings 6:21). Very solemn is this: and in full accord with the king’s character: the Lord did not open his eyes; consequently he was blind to the working of His goodness and incapable of appreciating the magnanimous spirit which had been displayed by the prophet. Here we see what man is by nature: fierce, cruel, vindictive. Such are we and all of our fellowmen as the result of the fall: "living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another" (Titus 3:3). Only the restraining hand of God prevents our enemies from falling upon us. Were that hand completely withdrawn, we should be no safer in a "civilized’’ country than if we were surrounded by savages or cast into a den of wild beasts. We do not sufficiently realize that God’s restraining power is upon those who hate us: "I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee" (Acts 18:10).
"And he answered, Thou shalt not smite them: wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master" (2 Kings 6:22). Observe how Elisha kept full control of the situation, even though he was now in the royal quarters—something which every servant of God needs to heed, exercising the authority which Christ has given him. Note too how this verse teaches that mercy is to be shown to prisoners of war; or taking it in its wider application, how kindness is to be extended to our enemies. And this, mark it well, occurred under the Old Testament economy! The divine law commanded its subjects, "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink" (Prov. 25:21, and see also Ex. 23:4-5); much more so under the dispensation of grace are we required to "overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21).
Sixth, the Sequel of the Miracle
Elisha had his way, and the king "prepared great provision for them: and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master" (2 Kings 6:23), that he might learn anew that our times, the success or failure of our plans, our health and our lives, are in the hand of the living God, and that He is not only infinite in power but plenteous in mercy. The sequel was, "So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel" (2 Kings 6:23). God honored the magnanimity of His prophet and rewarded the obedience of his royal master by exempting the land from any further depredations from these savage bands.
Seventh, the Meaning of the Miracle
May we not see in the above incident another lovely gospel picture, viewing the graciousness of Elisha to those who had gone to take him captive as a shadowing forth of God’s mercy to elect sinners? First, we are shown that they are by nature—at enmity with His servant. Second, we behold them as the subjects of His servant’s prayers, that they may be granted a sense of their wretched condition. Third, in answer thereto they are duly brought to realize their impotency; who are so consciously helpless as the blind? Fourth, they were moved to follow the instructions and guidance of God’s servant. Fifth, in due course their eyes were opened. Sixth, they were feasted with "great provision" at the king’s own table! Seventh, the picture is completed by our beholding them as changed creatures—coming no more on an evil errand into Israel’s land.
But is there not also an important spiritual meaning and lesson here for Christians? How are we to deal with those who seek to injure us, should Providence deliver them into our hands? We are to ask the Lord to nullify their efforts and render them powerless to injure us. But more. We are also to pray that God will open their eyes, and treat them kindly and generously (see Matthew 5:44).