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Second Kings - Chapter 6
Iron Afloat! Verses 1-7
Which of the schools of the prophets Elisha was working with at the time of this occurrence is not related, but it seems probable to have been that at Gilgal That Elisha was at that time in residence with the young prophets is apparent from the words to him of the one proposing a new campus. The place there had become too crowded, and they needed to construct a larger one. The proposal was to move to the Jordan valley and rebuild, and Elisha agreed with the proposal and to accompanying them in the project.
So they came to the Jordan and began to fell timbers and fashion beams for the new building. One diligent young fellow had no ax, but had borrowed one. But he had attached the ax carelessly to the handle, so that it came off while he was chopping with it and fell into the river. The young man was distraught, for he had borrowed the ax, and would be required to make restitution for it, as the law prescribed. But it was worth far more than the young prophet could find, and he cried out to Elisha in distress.
Elisha inquired of the place where the ax had fallen, cut down a stick, and cast it into the water. Upon this the ax floated to the top, and the prophet said to his young protégé, "Take it up to thee." And he took it back to him, doubtless to exercise more care in keeping it this time.
There are analogies applied to this story. The ax represented the cutting edge of the young minister. Through careless handling in his zeal to fell trees it was lost, irrevocably it seemed. However he appealed to one, Elisha, who had power to do something about it, and by whom the unusual was made to occur. The young man then reached out and recovered his ax. Many young ministers get so carried away in their zeal, and through their careless zeal something occurs that threatens to put an end to their ministry. There is only one place to seek help, the Lord. He can give them another opportunity, perhaps in a new place, and thus recover their cutting edge of zealous preaching. They need only reach out and take it up to them. Then they may return to their cutting with greater caution this time.
Israelite Informer - Verses 8-14
After his victory at Ramoth-gilead, when Ahab was slain, the king of Syria continued to press the Israelites, invading their borders in raids on the cities and towns, taking spoil and captives almost at will. He planned his attacks in counsel with his servants, to strike inside Israel at some unexpected place, then quickly withdraw. However his plans began to be revealed by the Lord through Elisha, who then would inform the king of Israel. The Israelite king would then be ready for him at the place and the Syrian king would lose his strategic advantage. It came about that the Israelites were able to save themselves from the Syrians every time.
Eventually the king of Syria decided someone was disloyal among his Counselors and was revealing to the Israelites his careful plans. When he called them together to try to find out who the traitor was, one of them told him what was happening. Everything he planned was known by Elisha, the man of God, who was in turn making it known to the king of Israel. Even his most secret plans were well known by Elisha.
Hearing this the king of Syria sent a spy to find out where Elisha was, that he might send and take him captive. The chief object, of course, was to prevent the prophet from revealing the Syrian secrets. However, the king may have felt he could get Elisha in his hands and use his unusual abilities in his own behalf. It was certainly to his advantage to have such a man put to silence. Like unbelievers in all ages the king had little understanding of the power of God (Psalms 33:13-16).
Elisha was found at Dothan, twenty or so miles north of Samaria. The Syrian sent a great host of horses and chariots and surrounded the place by night, expecting to take Elisha the next morning. This maneuver illustrates the weakness of the northern kingdom under the son of Ahab, that the Syrians could come so far into the interior of the land at will.
Blind Eyes - Verses 15-23
Elisha’s servant arose early, probably to go about the service of his master, and looking up into the mountains discovered them full of horses and chariots surrounding the city. Very alarmed he reported to the prophet, saying, "What shall we do?" Evidently they had some premonition of their purpose. Once again Elisha displayed that quality of calmness so characteristic of him and commendable of all true children of God (1 John 4:18). When believers fear they need to remember the Lord, to open their eyes and see in His word how He protects His own (Psalms 91:4). Thus Elisha prayed that God would open the eyes of the servant, that he might have the spiritual insight into the Lord’s particular care of them. Thus he could see into the unseen, and uplifting his eyes, now open, he saw another circle of horses and chariots, the host of heaven in their fiery splendor surrounding Elisha. These host are real, though they are not seen; they are present to protect those who rely on the Lord (Hebrews 1:14).
When the Syrians came down to take Elisha the prophet prayed to the Lord to smite them with blindness, which he did. The word translated "blindness" here is sanwerim, which means "confusion of sight," not awar, which signifies literal blindness. The blindness was a form of disorientation, whereby everything appears wrong. The servant’s blind eyes were opened to see spiritual things, but the Syrian soldiers’ eyes were blinded to actuality, so that they were-persuaded to follow Elisha.
Efisha told them that they were in the wrong city and place, but if they would follow him he would lead them to the man they were seeking. So saying he led them into the capital, Samaria, to the king of Israel. There Elisha prayed that the Lord would now open their eyes, and he did. They could suddenly perceive where they were, that they were in the city of their enemy king and at his mercy. Was Elisha guilty of sinful deceit in what he did? Surely not. These men were enemies of God and of God’s man. He was no more at fault here than when he called out the she bears on the mocking youths of Bethel (2 Kings 2:23-25). God judges all who tamper with His will and purposes. This occurrence showed the surpassing power of this God they were attempting to frustrate. What may appear to the modern mind deceitful in this incident is actually the merciful longsuffering of the Lord. He could have righteously struck them all dead, but instead He gave them an opportunity to see His power and to believe in Him.
The king of Israel was ready to kill the lot of them, but Elisha rebuked him for such a thought. They were like captives of war, and he was instructed to give them refreshment and allow them to return to their homes. So great provision was made for this captive army, kindness in payment for their intended ill-will. They went to their homes and evidently were ashamed to raid the land of Israel anymore. Elisha heaped coals of fire on their heads and it resulted in good for Israel (Proverbs 25:21-22; Romans 12:20).
Samaria Besieged - Verses 24-33
The verses, study of which begins here, rightfully should have been included with chapter 7, which is the sequel to what is contained here. Verse 24 indicated the passage of an indefinite time after Elisha’s frustration of the Syrian incursions into Israel in the first part of chapter 6. Ben-hadad, the Syrian king, evidently felt that he had sufficiently atoned for his previous violation of the land, and this time he brings his entire army to the Israelite capital, Samaria, and lays siege against it.
It should be remembered that when 0mri, the father of Ahab, chose the hill of Shomer for his new capital, he did so because of its strategic location and relative ease of defense. It was on a low mountain, isolated from the other hills around it, making accessibility of an invader to it very difficult. That quality has persisted through history. It was the seat of Herod Agrippa’s government during the time of Christ, when it was known by the name of Sebaste. A smaller, squalid, city exists there today, chiefly peopled by Palestinian Arabs. (See 1 Kings 16:23-24)
As the siege continued without abatement, the people of the city began to run out of food. The famine became very severe. A donkey’s head was going for food at the price of eighty pieces of silver (more than $500 in present values) and a fourth of a kab (about a pint) of dove’s droppings (ordinarily used for fertilizer) for five pieces of silver (about $35 in present values; these based on the supposition that the silver pieces were shekels). In this time of crisis the king was making the rounds of the people, walking upon the city wall. There he was observed and accosted by a woman crying to him.
The woman’s story would be almost incredible, even to the hardened feelings of ancient people. She told of an agreement with another woman by which they would eat their babies in their hunger. She had given up her own baby to be boiled and eaten on the previous day, and now when the other woman should have reciprocated, her baby had been hidden, so that it might not be eaten. She appealed to the king for help.
There was literally no more food to be had in the city. The king had expressed to her the emptiness of the barns and winepresses, but he was shocked at her story. It revealed the psychological pressure the people were under, that a mother would become so crazed with hunger as to kill her child, cook it and eat it. The king tore his clothing, and those near him could see that he was wearing sackcloth next to his skin, the sign of grief and repentance. However, the king seems somewhat hypocritical in that he hid his sackcloth underneath his robe. He was likely putting on a front, in attempt to bolster the people’s hope, though he saw little hope.
It has been seen how King Joram sought to blame God for his calamities, as in the stranding of the allied armies in the wilderness (2 Kings 3:10; 2 Kings 3:13).
In this case he seems to feel that Eiisha has called down the punishment from God for the sins of Israel, as Elijah had called for the drought in the days of Ahab, his father (1 Kings 17:1 ff). At that very moment a delegation of the elders were in Elisha’s house, probably imploring him to get God to alleviate the siege and famine. but Elisha did not, for he did not have the power except as the Lord gave it. So the king swore by that God, for whom he usually had no use, to take off Elisha’s head because of the famine. Evidently he felt he could punish God in this way.
Elisha was made to know from the Lord that Joram’s messenger was on his way to arrest him and take him to the king. The prophet gave instruction to the elders to shut and bolt the door that the king’s messenger might not enter. The messenger told them the evil which had befallen Samaria actually was of the Lord, and they should wait no longer to punish God’s servant, Elisha. But Elisha said, "Hold the door, his master is not far behind him." (cf. Acts 5:33).
Lessons from chapter 6: 1) zeal may be regained if one seeks it humbly; 2) by staying close to the Lord His children may frustrate the maneuvers of Satan; 3) God’s children are never without His protection; 4) to render good for evil is always right and will result in God’s favor; 5) sin results in terrible things, of which men should repent and regain blessing; 6) it is the way of the world to blame God for its suffering.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Kings 6". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany