Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
FIFTEENTH MIRACLE—THE WRATH OF MAN
"Then He Said, God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat stand on him this day" (2 Kings 6:31). This was the language of hatred and fury. Refusing to admit that it was his own impenitence and stubbornness which was the procuring cause of the terrible straits to which his kingdom was now reduced, Jehoram turned an evil eye on the prophet and determined to make a scapegoat of him. As though the man of God was responsible for the famine, Israel’s apostate king took a horrible oath that he should be promptly slain. He was well acquainted with what had happened in the reign of his parents, when in answer to the words of Elijah there had been no rain on Samaria (1 Kings 17:1), and he probably considered that his own desperate situation was due to Elisha’s prayers. Though just as Ahab declined to recognize that the protracted drought was a divine judgment upon his own idolatry, so his son now ignored the fact that it was his personal sins that had called down the present expression of divine wrath.
This solemn and awful incident should be viewed in the light of that divine indictment, "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7), and that my reader, is true of your mind and of my mind by nature. You may not believe it, but He before whose omniscient eye your heart is open, declares it to be so. You may be quite unconscious of your awful condition, but that does not alter the fact. If you were better acquainted with the true God, were aware of His ineffable holiness and inexorable justice, and realized that it is His hand that smites you when your body suffers acute pain or when your circumstances are most distressing, you might find it easier to discover how your heart really beats toward Him and the ill will you bear Him. True, that fearful "enmity" does not always manifest itself in the same way or to the same degree, for in His mercy God often places His restraining hand upon the wicked and prevents the full outbursts of their hostility and madness. But when that restraining hand is removed, their case is like that described in Revelation 16:10-11: "They gnawed their tongues for pain, And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds."
And why do we say that Jehoram’s conduct on this occasion made manifest the enmity of the carnal mind against God? Because, while he was unable to do Jehovah any injury directly, he determined to visit his spite upon Him indirectly, by maltreating His servant. Ah my reader, there is important if solemn instruction for us in that. Few people realize the source from which proceeds the bitterness, the opposition made against, the cruel treatment meted out to many of the ministers of the gospel. As the representatives of the holy One, they are a thorn in the side of the ungodly. Though they do them no harm, but instead desire and seek their highest good, yet are they detested by those who want to be left alone in their sins. Nothing recorded in human history more plainly and fearfully displays the depravity of fallen man and his alienation from God than his behavior toward the most faithful of His servants—supremely manifested when the Lord of glory took upon Him the form of a servant and tabernacled among men. It was just because He made known and revealed the character of God as none else ever did, that man’s hatred of and enmity against Him was so inveterately and fiercely exhibited.
"But Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him" (2 Kings 6:32). This verse also needs to be pondered in the light of other Scriptures. For example: "Whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil" (Prov. 1:33). The one who truly fears the Lord, fears not man; and his heart is preserved from those trepidations which so much disturb the rest and so often torment the wicked. No, "he shall not be afraid of evil tidings"; he shall neither have alarming anticipations of such, nor be dismayed when they actually arrive. And why not? Because "his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD" (Ps. 112:7). Rumors do not shake him, nor does he quake when they are authenticated, for he is assured that his "times" are in the hand of the Lord (Ps. 31:15). And therefore is he kept in peace. In the light of all that is recorded of him, who can doubt that Elisha and his companions had been on their knees before the throne of grace, and now calmly awaited events. That is the holy privilege of the saints in times of acutest stress and distress: to "rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him" (Ps. 37:7).
"And the king sent a man from before him." This man was dispatched quickly ahead of Jehoram, either to announce his awful decision or to put it into actual execution. Had the king paused to reflect, he should have realized that it was one thing to form such a determination, but quite another to carry it out. Had not Ben-hadad, only a short time previously, sent a "great host" not only of footmen, but of "horses and chariots" against this servant of the Lord (2 Kings 6:14) only for them to discover their impotence against him! But when a soul (or a people) has abandoned the Lord, he is given up to a spirit of madness, so that not only does God have no place in his thoughts, but he is no longer capable of acting rationally—rationality and spirituality are closely connected. "But ere the messenger came to him, he [Elisha] said to the elders, See ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head? look, when the messenger cometh, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door: is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?" (2 Kings 6:32).
"And while he yet talked with them, behold, the messenger came down unto him: and he said, Behold, this evil is of the LORD: what should I wait for the LORD any longer?" (2 Kings 6:33). We confess we do not find it easy to ascertain the precise force of this verse, not even its grammatical meaning. The first sentence is clear, for the "while he yet talked" evidently refers to what Elisha was saying to the elders. The difficulty is to discover the antecedent of the "And he said." The nearest is the "him" or Elisha, yet certainly he would not say his proposed murder ("this evil") was "of the Lord," ordered by Him. The next is "the messenger," but the prophet had given definite orders that he was not to be admitted, nor would this agree with what follows in 2 Kings 7:1-2. We therefore regard the second sentence as recording the words of the king himself, who had followed immediately on the heels of his messenger, thus the more remote but principal antecedent of 2 Kings 6:30-31; just as we understood "the man whom ye seek" as meaning Jehoram rather than Elisha (2 Kings 6:19).
But what did the king signify by "this evil is of the LORD?" We certainly do not concur with Henry and Scott that he referred to the siege and famine, for not only is the grammar of the passage against such a view, but it is in direct opposition to everything else which is recorded of this son of Jezebel. He did not believe in Jehovah at all, and therefore his language must be regarded as that of derision and blasphemy. The context shows he was in a towering rage, that he regarded Elisha as being in some way responsible for the present calamity, and that he was determined to put a sudden end to his life. Fully intending to execute his murderous design, he now burst in on the prophet and said, "This evil is of the LORD." Those were the words of contemptuous mockery: you profess to be a servant of an all-powerful Jehovah; let’s see what He can do for you now—behold me as His executioner if you please. "What should I wait for the LORD any longer?" Jehovah has no place in my thoughts or plan; the situation is hopeless, so I shall waste no more time, but slay you and surrender to Ben-hadad and take my chance.
"Then Elisha said—" The "Then" looks back to all that has been before us in the last ten verses of 2 Kings 6. "Then" when "all the hosts of Syria" were besieging Samaria; "then" when there was a great famine and things had come to such an extreme pass that the people were paying immense prices for the vilest of offals, and mothers were consuming their own infants. "Then" when the king of Israel had sworn that the prophet should be beheaded this very day; "then" when the king in a white heat of passion entered Elisha’s abode to carry out his murderous intention. "Then"—what? Did the prophet give way to abject despair and break forth into bitter lamentations of murmuring rebellion? No indeed. Then what? Did Elisha fling himself at the king’s feet and plead with him to spare his life? Very far from it; such is not the way the ambassadors of the King of kings conduct themselves in a crisis. Instead, "then Elisha said [calmly and quietly], Hear ye the word of the Lord." To what import? That His patience is exhausted, that He will now pour out His wrath and utterly consume you? No, the very reverse; the last thing they could have expected him to say.
"Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for [as little as] a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria" (2 Kings 7:1). This brings us to the third area of consideration.
Third, the Announcement of the Miracle
In view of the next verse, it is quite clear that the prophet addressed himself to the king and those who had accompanied him. It was as though he said, I have listened to the derisive and insulting words which you have spoken of my Master; now hear what He has to say! And what was His message on this occasion? This: He is about to have mercy upon your kingdom. He is on the point of working a miracle within the next twenty-four hours which will entirely reverse the present situation, so that not only will the Syrians depart, but there shall be provided an abundant supply of food, which will fully meet the needs of your people, and that, without a blow being struck or your royal coffers being any the poorer.
Admire here the remarkable faith of Elisha. "Then." When things were at their lowest possible ebb, when the situation was desperate beyond words, when the outlook appeared to be utterly hopeless. Mark the implicit confidence of the prophet in that dark hour. He had received a message of good tidings from his Master, and he hesitated not to announce it. Ah, but put yourself in his place, my reader, and remember that he was "a man of like passions" with us, and therefore liable to be cast down by an evil heart of unbelief. It is a great mistake for us to look upon the prophets as superhuman characters. In this case, as in all parallel ones, God was pleased to place His treasure in an "earthen vessel," that the glory might be His. Elisha was just as liable to the attacks of Satan as we are. For all we know to the contrary and reasoning from the law of analogy, it is quite likely that the enemy of souls came to him at that time with his evil suggestions and said, May you not be mistaken in concluding that you have received such a word as this from the Lord? Nay, you are mistaken—your own wish is father to the thought. You are deluded into imagining that such a thing can be.
Those who are experimentally acquainted with the conflict between faith and unbelief, who are frequently made to cry out, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief," will have little difficulty in following what has just been said. They who know something from firsthand acquaintance of the tactics of the devil and the methods of his assaults, will not consider our remarks farfetched. Rather will they concur that it is more than likely Elisha was hotly assailed by the adversary at this very time. Would he not pose too as an angel of light, and preach a little sermon to the prophet, saying, A holy God is now acting in judgment, righteously scourging the idolatrous Jehoram, and therefore you must certainly be mistaken in supposing He is about to act in a way of mercy. At any rate, exercise prudence, wait awhile longer lest you make a fool of yourself; it would be cruel to raise false hopes in the starving people! But if so, Elisha heeded him not, but being strong in faith, he gave glory to God. It was just such cases as this that the apostle had in mind when he mentioned the faith of "the prophets" in Hebrews 11:32.
Ah, my reader, Elisha was assured that what he had received was "the Word" of Him "that cannot lie," and no matter how much opposed it was to common sense and to all outward appearances, he firmly took his stand upon it. The "faith of God’s elect" (Titus 1:1) is no fiction but a glorious reality. It is something more than a beautiful ideal to talk about and sing of. It is a divine gift, a supernatural principle, which not only overcomes the world but survives the "fiery trial," yes, issues therefrom refined. Elisha was not put to confusion. That divine "word," though perhaps quite unexpected and contrary to his own anticipations, was faithfully and literally fulfilled; and remember that this is recorded for our learning and consolation. We too have in our hands the Word of truth, but do we have it in our hearts? Are we really relying upon its promises, no matter how unlikely their accomplishment may seem to carnal reason? If so, we are resting upon a sure foundation, and we too shall have our faith vindicated, and God will be glorified through and by us.
But let us look higher now than Elisha’s faith in that divine word to the One who gave it to him. It was the Lord manifesting Himself as the God of all grace to those who were utterly unworthy. In their dire extremity the Lord had mercy upon them and remembered they were the seed of Abraham, and therefore He would not entirely destroy them. He turned an eye of pity on the starving city and promised them speedy relief from the awful famine. How truly wonderful is His mercy! He was saying, "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together" (Hos. 11:8). But that mercy rested on a righteous basis; there was a "handful of salt" in Samaria which preserved it from destruction—the prophet and the elders. Rightly was Elisha styled by a later king "the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof" (2 Kings 13:14), for his presence in their midst was a better defense than a multitude of infantry and cavalry; a British queen feared the prayers of Knox far more than any arm of flesh.
And may not what has just been pointed out provide a ray of hope for us in this, spiritually speaking, dark night? Of old Israel was reminded, "For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?" (Deut. 4:7).
Has not that been true of Britain the past four centuries as of no other people? God has shown us favors, granted us privileges, such as no other nation in the world has enjoyed. And we, like Israel of old, have evilly required Him and abused His great benefits. For years past His judgments have been upon us, and like Israel again, we have sadly failed to bow to His rod and turn from our sins. If God was so reluctant to abandon Israel, may He not continue to show us mercy, and for the sake of the little "salt" still left in our midst, spare us from destruction? Time will tell, but we are not left without hope.
"Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?" (2 Kings 7:2). There was the response that was made to Jehovah’s word through His prophet. Instead of being received with thanksgiving and tears of gratitude, it met with a contemptuous sneer. The courtier’s language expressed the skepticism of carnal reason. Unbelief dared to question the divine promise—illustrative of the unregenerate’s rejection of the gospel. This man argued from what he could see: as no possible relief was visible, he scorned its probability, or rather certainty. "And he [Elisha] said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof" (2 Kings 7:2). Let it be noted that the prophet wasted no breath in reasoning with this skeptic. It is not only useless, but most unbecoming for a servant of the Lord to descend to the level of such objectors. Instead, he simply affirmed that this man would witness the miracle but be unable to share in its benefits. God Himself will yet answer the skeptics of this age, as He did that one, with appropriate judgment. Such will be the doom of unbelievers: they shall see the redeemed feasting at the marriage of the Lamb, yet not partake thereof (Matthew 8:11-12).