Elisha is a man of God. This is reflected in each section of this chapter. He is the man of grace, although the aspect of judgment is not lacking. With Elijah, that is the other way round. This grace is not the result of a revolution in the people. It is a grace that God grants, when the condition of the people is dark. In this chapter and the following we see three examples of this.
1 - 3 A New Place to Live
1 Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “Behold now, the place before you where we are living is too limited for us. 2 Please let us go to the Jordan and each of us take from there a beam, and let us make a place there for ourselves where we may live.” So he said, “Go.” 3 Then one said, “Please be willing to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I shall go.”
Here we meet again the student prophets about whom we read a few times in 2 Kings 2. They are united in schools dating back to the time of Samuel. They are faithful men, whom we can see as a remnant among the people of God. They have learned lessons from 2 Kings 2. At first they have no illuminated eyes, nor have they seen Elijah’s ascension, even though they do have knowledge of the fact that he was taken up to heaven. Meanwhile they have seen who Elisha is, how the spirit of Elijah rests on him. They have seen some of his miracles.
Elisha is with them, possible to give them further education. Then they come to him with a wish. They want to build a new home, because a larger space is needed to live together. This will be due to an increase in the number of student prophets. The man of God is a point of attraction for those who want to know more about the LORD.
We can apply this to a local church. If there is a man of God in a place, there will be increase. In a man of God the Lord Jesus becomes visible. Wherever He becomes visible, those who seek Him will also want to be there. A man of God is not one above the local church, but is part of it. He is the power of the church. But if decisions are made, he will not make them as an individual. Decisions are taken by the entire church. Often a certain decision is made following his advice. He shows the way.
The student prophets propose to go to the Jordan. The Jordan is the river through which the Israelites had to pass to get into the promised land. For us, the Jordan is a picture of the death and the resurrection and the glorification of the Lord Jesus, through which we have entered the heavenly places, the heavenly land. God has “seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). That they propose to go to the Jordan can therefore be seen from a spiritual point of view as a proof of their spiritual growth. First they saw the Jordan from afar (2Kgs 2:7), they remained at a distance from it, but now they want to live there.
The proposal is that each of them will get a beam from the Jordan to build a new place to live together. They each have a personal share in the construction. Each of them makes a contribution to the best of their ability. So it is with building God’s house. For its construction, the Lord has given each of His own responsibilities. We all contribute to the construction of the church, each with his or her own gift. However, it is important to build with good materials.
If Elisha agrees to the request, the student prophets don’t immediately get on their way. They want Elisha to go with them. That is a good thing. Not only do they go on his way at his direction, they also want to ensure his presence on that way. Elisha not only shows the way, but is also with them the way he shows. The Spirit does the same with us. He indicates the way we should go and accompanies us on that way. We may walk through the Spirit (Gal 5:25). Not only do we need the Lord to show us the right way, we also need Him on the way itself.
4 - 7 The Accident and the Miracle
4 So he went with them; and when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. 5 But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, my master! For it was borrowed.” 6 Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And when he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw [it] in there, and made the iron float. 7 He said, “Take it up for yourself.” So he put out his hand and took it.
At the Jordan they go to work. While they are busy, an accident happens. When someone is cutting down a beam with an axe, the axe head fell into the water. He loses control of his tools. Fortunately the axe does not hit anyone (cf. Deu 19:5), but it does disappear into the water of the Jordan. The man has lost his tool. As he sees the iron disappear into the water, he cries out: “Alas, my master! For it was borrowed.”
Elisha must have been close to him, because the man addresses his cry of fear to the man of God. That is also the right address. Humanly we would say: ‘What a luck that they asked Elisha to come along.’ Elisha informs where the iron has fallen into the water. When the man has designated him the place, Elisha cuts off a stick and throws it to that place. The stick functions as a magnet, because the iron is made float. Elisha doesn’t take the iron out of the water herself, but tells the man to take it up for himself. Elisha does the miracle, the man must do what he can do himself.
The story as such shows how much the man of God is involved in an apparently small event, but which means a personal drama for someone. This history stands between two events that are of international magnitude. God’s attention goes out to the big and the small. He has interference with the peoples and with the individual.
The man’s need is that he has lost something that is not his. He borrowed the axe, because he himself has none. From his panic because of the loss we can perhaps deduce that he had no money to buy one. The outcome that Elisha offers also points to this. The prophet does no miracles without reason. If there is a real need, then we can count on God’s gracious and wonderful help.
Spiritually speaking, there is also something to learn. Here we see the Jordan as the river that, as it were, swallows up the tool of a student prophet, but also has to return it. When we think again of what the Jordan is a picture of – the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus – we learn that all our strength has been destroyed in the death of the Lord Jesus. We also learn that we have risen in a new life and that we may work in the power of the Holy Spirit on God’s house with the means He has for us.
The means we are given to serve the Lord are borrowed means. These are the gifts that have been made available to us. These gifts are no guarantee that the work will be done properly. We must learn that what we are and have can only be properly used if we receive it from the hands of the man of God (the Lord Jesus) who gets it from the Jordan (the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus).
Moses is also a man of God who once threw a wood into the water. In that case it is to make undrinkable water drinkable, so that the people can drink it (Exo 15:25a). Elisha does the same for a few. In the wood we can see a picture of the cross of the Lord Jesus. Paul brings “the wood”, the cross of Christ, into the church in Corinth (1Cor 2:1-5). Because the Corinthians misuse their gifts to their own glory, Paul reminds them of the foolishness of the cross. In the light of the cross the self-importance disappears and the Spirit is given the space to work what is to God’s glory.
The man has to take up his tool himself. Now the house is being built with a tool that came from the Jordan. The power of the stream is overcome by a piece of wood, so that what was hopelessly lost, is saved from it and can be used useful.
8 - 10 Elisha Warns the King of Israel
8 Now the king of Aram was warring against Israel; and he counseled with his servants saying, “In such and such a place shall be my camp.” 9 The man of God sent [word] to the king of Israel saying, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Arameans are coming down there.” 10 The king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God had told him; thus he warned him, so that he guarded himself there, more than once or twice.
God’s Spirit tells us the secret deliberations of the king of Aram, or Syria. The king may decide what he wants, but nothing is hidden from God. The Spirit communicates to Elisha what the king of Syria is up to. The man of God sends messengers to the king of Israel (possibly Jehoram) to warn him of the enemy’s plans. He does not do it for Jehoram (cf. 2Kgs 3:13-14), but for the poor people and even more as a sign for the king of Syria. It is a sign of God’s omnipotence for this king.
The man of God has a prophetic view. The king of Israel is so wise to listen to Elisha’s advice. This is repeated several times. It also shows that no one can do any harm to God’s people if their Protector does not allow it.
11 - 14 Command to Capture Elisha
11 Now the heart of the king of Aram was enraged over this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you tell me which of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 One of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” 13 So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and take him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” 14 He sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
The king of Aram, or Syria, gets severely frustrated by the fact that his plans are always known. There is nothing more frustrating for a culprit than the fact that all his well thought-out plans are known to others and his intention fails time and time again. The king calls his servants together and wants to know who the traitor is. As it happens more often, someone from the common people knows the answer. We are not told how he knows it, as we are told so much in this history without any explanatory information.
If the ‘traitor’ is known, the king commands the arrest of Elisha. He has no doubt that with the arrest of Elisha he has indeed caught the culprit. He sends a huge army to Elisha. He has heard something of the power of this man and does not want to underestimate it. It shows how afraid the king is of the man of God. At the same time, he underestimates God’s power by turning an army, however large, towards Elisha.
In the invisible world, the powers of darkness are also working in a common effort to eliminate every believer who is a man of God’s will. There are spiritual powers that are out to stop us in our work for the Lord. The devil does not under-estimate us. He is full of interest in us. He is not interested in slacking Christians, but in working Christians.
15 - 20 Open and Closed Eyes
15 Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. 19 Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he brought them to Samaria. 20 When they had come into Samaria, Elisha said, “O LORD, open the eyes of these [men], that they may see.” So the LORD opened their eyes and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.
The servant of Elisha is impressed by the power of the enemy. That’s because he can’t see well. He gets scared because he doesn’t see the unseen. He looks only with his natural eyes and counts only with visible powers.
Elisha sees well. He does not need to pray if his own eyes will be opened. What we see with our eyes is no more reliable than what we see with the eyes of our heart. Thus the Lord Jesus sees the many angels at His disposal when a multitude of people comes to capture Him (Mt 26:53). Faith knows: “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them” (Psa 34:7). Jacob also sees a host of angels when he is on his way to meet Esau (Gen 32:1-2).
On the prayer of Elisha the eyes of the servant open. The servant sees what Elisha saw when Elijah went to heaven (2Kgs 2:11). The power of God who brought Elijah to heaven is at our disposal against the enemy. It is the power that lifts us above the earthly stage of threat and danger and brings us in the spirit in the area of complete security, inaccessible and therefore untouchable to the enemy.
When the enemies come towards him, Elisha prays a new prayer, now not to open eyes, but to close eyes (cf. Gen 19:11). This is a physical blindness, a literal blindness. The result of the Lord Jesus’ service is spiritual blindness. He has come to make spiritually blind people seeing and those who believe to see, to make blind. This is not a literal blindness, but a blindness of insight, of understanding the situation.
The men walk with open eyes, but blind to where they are, after Elisha. In this way he brings the enemy into the lion’s den. This does not result in their destruction, but in a proof of unprecedented grace. When they are in the middle of Samaria, Elisha prays again, now again to open eyes. Then the enemies become aware of their position. They discover the power of Elisha.
21 - 23 Grace for Enemies
21 Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” 22 He answered, “You shall not kill [them]. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 23 So he prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.
Who also has open eyes is the king of Israel. Only he knows nothing of grace. That proves that he is seeing blind. This is clear from his question to Elisha whether he will be allowed to kill these enemies. Elisha’s answer is sober. He tells the king that he would not have killed them anyway if he had made them prisoners of war. Elisha does not even allow the king to allow the prisoners to simply return to their master. He orders him to do good to his enemies by setting bread and water before them. The LORD first protects the king of Israel and Elisha against the king of Syria, and now He protects the Syrians against the king of Israel.
By this action on the head of the enemy ‘burning coals’ are heaped (Rom 12:20: Pro 25:21-22). The word of the Lord Jesus is acted upon: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies” (Mt 5:43-44a). After the enemies are done well, they may return to their master. The consequence of the grace shown is that they (for the time being) do not return to the land of Israel to wage war against it.
24 - 30 Famine in Samaria
24 Now it came about after this, that Ben-hadad king of Aram gathered all his army and went up and besieged Samaria. 25 There was a great famine in Samaria; and behold, they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty [shekels] of silver, and a fourth of a kab of dove’s dung for five [shekels] of silver. 26 As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 He said, “If the LORD does not help you, from where shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the wine press?” 28 And the king said to her, “What is the matter with you?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him; and I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body.
A proof of mercy can quickly be forgotten. We see that when the king of Aram, or Syria, takes up arms again, goes up against Samaria and besieges the city. The siege is long and causes a great famine. The enemy has forgotten that in this city he himself has received a gracious treatment. A merciless siege takes place because he has forgotten what grace has been bestowed upon him (Mt 18:21-35). It becomes the cause of yet another great proof of grace by the service of Elisha and now for the people of God. It will be its last public service.
Food is becoming so scarce and hunger so great that an enormous price is being asked for unclean food. Only the richest can buy something. Instead of taking refuge in the LORD with confession and repentance for their unfaithfulness, the LORD is blamed for the misery.
This is made clear when a woman cries to the king. There is no question of crying to God. The king is bitter and slides the blame on the LORD. The LORD does not help and through this he cannot help. He does not realize that he owes the misery to himself. He asks the woman what she wants. Then it turns out that she wants him to speak justice. It is a question that recalls the first case law of Solomon (1Kgs 3:16-28). However, the cause for the judiciary here is a much greater depravity. It shows the depth of the misery caused by the unfaithfulness of the people.
While the rich may still be able to buy something, the common man and woman, driven by the enormous hunger, resort to one of the greatest horrors one can imagine: eating their own children. All natural feelings have disappeared. Even the fruit of the lap is sacrificed to the selfishness to survive. Whoever is tempted into such acts need not be surprised if an agreement is not kept. Everything bears witness to the great degeneration of God’s people. All norms and values have disappeared. This is the result of deviating from God (Lev 26:27-29; Deu 28:52-57; Col 2:20; 4:10).
When the king hears the woman’s words, he tears his clothes. The garment of mourning that becomes visible is nothing more than outward appearances. Externally he is dressed in mourning, but there is no inner repentance. On the contrary, he is full of murderousness against the prophet of God.
31 - 33 Elisha Gets the Blame
31 Then he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on him today.” 32 Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. And [the king] sent a man from his presence; but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent to take away my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door shut against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” 33 While he was still talking with them, behold, the messenger came down to him and he said, “Behold, this evil is from the LORD; why should I wait for the LORD any longer?”
The king seeks a scapegoat and finds it in Elisha. Just as Ahab attributed the misery to Elijah and thought he would get rid of it if he could kill Elijah, so does the king think he can put an end to the misery by killing Elisha. It is a foolish assumption that comes from a hardened heart. By nature, we blame people who tell us we will be judged. Disasters in an end time do not bring to submission to God. They do not lead to conversion, but to a slander of God (cf. Rev 16:10-11).
While hunger takes such terrible forms and leads to such terrible things, Elisha sits in his house. He will undoubtedly share in the famine. He suffers with the people of God. He has no hidden source of food. There are elders visiting him. They will be there to ask him for advice. It is always available when there is an emergency.
He is also aware of the death threat. He sees in his mind how Jehoram sent a murderer to him. He calls him a “murderer’s son”, for Jehoram himself is the son of a murderer, Ahab. Elisha takes his measures in view of the imminent arrival of the messenger of the king. He knows that Jehoram comes right after him to make sure that Elisha is indeed beheaded.
When the messenger has arrived at Elisha, the messenger speaks the language of his master. He again makes a fierce reproach to the LORD. Elisha must die. He justifies his unjust act by saying, as it were: ‘If God does not take me into account and help me out of my worries, I do not take God into account.’