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2 Kings 13:1-25
REIGNS OF JEHOAHAZ, SON OF JEHU, AND JOASH, SON OF JEHOAHAZ, OVER ISRAEL. NOTICES OF ELISHA. WAR OF ISRAEL WITH SYRIA.
2 Kings 13:1-9
THE REIGN OF JEHOAHAZ. The writer returns in this chapter to the history of the Israelite kingdom, taking it up from the death of Jehu, which was recorded in the closing verses of 2 Kings 10:1-36. He sketches briefly the reign of Jehu's son and successor, Jehoahaz, in the present section, after which he passes to that of John's grandson, Jehoash or Joash. The Syrian oppression was the great event of Jehoahaz's reign.
2 Kings 13:1
In the three and twentieth year of Joash; rather, as in Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.8. § 5), in the one and twentieth year. This is a correction required by 2 Kings 13:10 and also by 2 Kings 12:1. The proof is given at somewhat tedious length by Keil and Bahr. It seems unnecessary to enter into a lengthy discussion of the point, since all the synchronisms of the later kings of Israel and Judah are in confusion, and appear to be the work of a later hand. The son of Ahaziah King of Judah, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu began to reign over Israel; literally, reigned over Israel. The "later hand," which inserted the synchronism, neglected to bring the two portions of the verse into agreement. Our translators have sought to cover up his omission by translating malak "began to reign," and then supplying "and reigned" in the next clause. And reigned seventeen years (so also Josephus, l.s.c.).
2 Kings 13:2
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. There is no reason to believe that Jehoahaz re-introduced the Baal-worship, or sinned in any other flagrant way than by maintaining the calf-worship at Dan and Bethel. Jehu had done the same (2 Kings 10:29), as had all previous kings of Israel from the time of Jeroboam. The honor of God, however, required that idolatry of whatever kind should be punished, and the Samaritan kingdom could not otherwise be saved from destruction than by, "casting away all the works of darkness" and returning to the pure worship of Jehovah. Hence Jehu himself, notwithstanding the good service that he had done in crushing the Baal-worship, was chastised by God (2 Kings 10:32, 2 Kings 10:33) on account of his continuance in the "sin of Jeroboam;" and now Jehoahaz was even more signally punished. As Keil remarks, "The longer and the more obstinately the sin was continued, the more severe did the punishment become." And followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom. This is emphatic. Jehoahaz kept up the worship to the full, and in no way suffered it to decline.
2 Kings 13:3
And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. We know so much less of the nature of the calf-worship and of the rites which accompanied it, that we cannot to the same extent justify the Divine severity in connection with it as in connection with the Baal and Astarte cult. Still, we must remember the coarse, lewd dancing which accompanied the first calf-worship (Exodus 32:19), for which death was not thought too heavy a penalty (Exodus 32:27), and the almost universal combination of unchastity with idolatrous ceremonies, which raises a suspicion that those who frequented the shrines at Dan and Bethel were not wholly innocent of impurity. And he delivered them into the hand of Hazel King of Syria. The national sins of Israel were mostly punished in this way, by the sword of some foreign foe. Hazael had been already made an instrument for the chastisement of Jehu (2 Kings 10:32, 2 Kings 10:33). Now he was to chastise Jehoahaz still more severely. And into the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael, all their days; literally, all the days. Not certainly all the days of the two kings Hazael and Benhadad, for Benhadad was entirely worsted in his war with Joash (2 Kings 13:24, 2 Kings 13:25), but either all the days of Jehoahaz, or all the days that God had appointed for the duration of the calamity. It is perhaps against the former interpretation that Hazael appears to have outlived Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:22-24); but Ben-hadad may have warred against him as his father's general (2 Kings 13:25) during his father's lifetime.
2 Kings 13:4
And Jehoahaz besought the Lord; literally, besought the face of the Lord. Jehoahaz, as Josephus says, "betook him-serf to prayer and supplication of God, entreating that he would deliver him out of the hands of Hazael, and not suffer him to continue subject" ('Ant. Jud.,' 2 Kings 9:8. § 5). He did not turn from his sin of idolatry, perhaps did not suspect that it was this sin which had provoked God's anger; but in a general way he repented, humbled himself, and besought God's mercy and assistance. And the Lord hearkened unto him. God accepted his repentance, all imperfect as it was, so far as to save the people from the entire destruction with which it was threatened by the severe measures of Hazael (2 Kings 13:7), to continue the national existence (2 Kings 13:23), and ultimately to restore the national prosperity (2 Kings 13:25 and 2 Kings 14:25-27). But he did not remove the oppression, as Josephus imagines, in Jehoahaz's time. 2 Kings 13:22 makes this fact absolutely certain. For he saw the oppression of Israel, because the King of Syria oppressed them. Oppression is always hateful to God, even when he is using it as his instrument for chastising or punishing a guilty people. He "sees" it, notes it, lays it up in his remembrance for future retribution (camp. Exodus 3:7; Isaiah 10:5-12, etc.). (On the nature and extent of the oppression of this period, see 2 Kings 13:7, and the comment ad loc.)
2 Kings 13:5
And the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they went out from under the hand of the Syrians. A "savior'" means a deliverer from the hand of the Syrians (comp. Judges 3:9, Judges 3:15; Nehemiah 9:27, where in the Hebrew the word used is the same). The special "deliverer" was probably in the mind of the writer, Jeroboam II; by whom he says, in 2 Kings 14:27, that God "saved" Israel; but Joash, who began the deliverance (2 Kings 14:25), may also be glanced at, And the children of Israel dwelt in their tents. Here, as so often elsewhere (1 Kings 8:66; 1Ki 12:16; 2 Kings 14:12; Zechariah 12:7), the word "tents" is a mere archaism for "abodes, houses." Israel had dwelt in tents until the going down into Egypt, and again from the time of quitting Egypt to the entrance into Canaan; and thus the word ohel had acquired a secondary meaning of "abode," "dwelling-place." In the time which followed on the deliverance from the Syrian yoke, the Israelites of the ten tribes were no longer engaged in marches and countermarches, in battles, skirmishes, or sieges, but quietly abode in their several houses. As beforetime; i.e. as in the peaceful time before the attacks of Hazael began.
2 Kings 13:6
Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, who made Israel sin. "The house of Jeroboam" is an unusual expression in this connection, and is scarcely appropriate, since every "house" had acted in the same way, Some manuscripts omit the word, and it is wanting in the Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic versions. Thenius would cancel it. But walked therein; literally, he walked. But here again a corruption may be suspected. Instead of הָלָךְ we should read צָלְכוּ, which lost its final letter in consequence of the vau that immediately followed it. And there remained the grove also in Samaria. "The grove in Samaria" was that idolatrous emblem which Ahab had set up at Jezebel's suggestion (1 Kings 16:33), the nature of which has been much disputed. Some think that it was "an image of Astarte"; but more probably it was a mere emblem, analogous to the Assyrian "sacred tree." Its material may sometimes have been wood, but was perhaps more usually metal. The mistranslation "grove" originated with the Septuagint translators, who uniformly rendered אֲשֵׂרָה by ἄλσος. It is surprising that Jehu did not destroy the asherah together with the other idolatrous erections of Ahab in Samaria (2 Kings 10:26-28); but, for some reason or other, it seems to have been spared, and to have been still standing. So long as it stood, even if it did not attract the religious regards of any, it would be a standing dishonor to God, and would so increase the sin of the nation. Hence its mention in this passage.
2 Kings 13:7
Neither did he leave of the people to Jehoahaz but fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen. This verse seems to be an exegetical note on 2 Kings 13:4, which perhaps it once followed immediately, the parenthetic section (2 Kings 13:5 and 2 Kings 13:6) having been added later, as an afterthought, either by the original writer, or perhaps by a later hand. The meaning seems to be that Hazael limited the standing army of Jehoahaz to fifty horsemen, ton chariots, and ten thousand footmen, not that he slew the entire military population except this small remnant. The policy of limiting the forces to be maintained by a subject-king was one known to the Romans, and has often been adopted in the East. It is still a part of our own policy in the government of India. The limitation left the country at the mercy of all its neighbors (see verse 20). For the king of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing. Possibly this means no more than an utter destruction—a trampling in the dust, as we phrase it (see Jeremiah 51:33; Micah 4:12, Micah 4:13; and perhaps Isaiah 21:10). But it may be an allusion to that destruction of prisoners by means of a threshing instrument, which was certainly sometimes practiced (2 Samuel 12:31; Proverbs 20:26), and which is made a special charge against Damascus.
2 Kings 13:8
Now the rest of the acts of Jehoahaz, and all that he did, and his might; rather, his prowess, or his valor. Though defeated and reduced to subjection by the Syrians, yet Jehoahaz had distinguished himself, and shown his own personal courage, in the course of the war. Are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?. The regular use of the phrase is one of the indications that the two Books of the Kings are by one author, and form one book.
2 Kings 13:9
And Jehoahaz slept with his fathers; and they buried him in Samaria. The kings of Israel from the time of Omri were buried in the capital, Samaria, as those of Judah were in Jerusalem. It is uncertain whether they had one common mausoleum, like the kings of Judah (2 Chronicles 28:27), but it is most probable that they had. To rest with their fathers in the same royal sepulcher was to be duly honored at their death; to be excluded from it was a disgrace. And Joash his son reigned in his stead.
2 Kings 13:10-25
THE REIGN OF JOASH. The writer passes from the reign of Jehoahaz, Jehu's son, to that of Joash, Jehu's grandson, which he seems to have intended at first to dispatch in the short space of four verses (2 Kings 13:10-13). He afterwards, however, saw reason to add to his narrative, first, an account of an interview between Joash and Elisha, shortly Before the death of the latter (2 Kings 13:14-19); secondly, an account of a miracle wrought soon afterwards by means of Elisha's corpse (2 Kings 13:20, 2 Kings 13:21); and thirdly, a brief notice of Joash's Syrian war (2 Kings 13:22-25).
2 Kings 13:10
In the thirty and seventh year of Joash King of Judah. Three years before his death, since he reigned forty years (2 Kings 12:1). The two Joashes were thus contemporary monarchs for the space of three years. Began Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz to reign ever Israel in Samaria, and reigned sixteen years. The construction is the same as that of 2 Kings 13:1, and is equally ungrammatical. Our translators again amend the faulty phrase by introducing the words "and reigned" The "sixteen years" of the reign of Joash are confirmed by Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.8. § 6), but still present some difficulty (see the comment on 2 Kings 14:23).
2 Kings 13:11
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord; he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin; but he walked therein. Josephus says that Joash was a good king, and quite unlike his father in disposition ('Ant. Jud.,' l.s.c.); but he is not likely to have had any independent data for judging of his character. Our author seems to include both son and father in the same category. The narrative contained in 2 Kings 13:14 is probably the foundation of the historian's favorable judgment.
2 Kings 13:12
And the rest of the acts of Joash, and all that he did, and his might wherewith he fought against Amaziah King of Judah (see 2 Kings 14:11-14), are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? Either this and the next verses have been displaced from their rightful position by some accident, or the author at one time intended to terminate his account of Joash at this point. The formula used is one, which regularly closes the reign of each king. The proper place for it would have been after 2 Kings 13:25.
2 Kings 13:13
And Joash slept with his fathers; and Jeroboam sat upon his throne. That Joash should call his eldest son Jeroboam, after the founder of the kingdom, indicated a thorough approval of that founder's policy and conduct, and perhaps a hope that he would be to the apparently decaying kingdom a sort of second founder. The name means, "he whose people is many," and was thus anticipative of that great enlargement of the Israelite kingdom, which took place under him (see 2 Kings 14:25-28). And Joash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel (see the comment on 2 Kings 13:9).
2 Kings 13:14
Now Elisha, was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. Elisha, who was grown to manhood before the death of Ahab (l Kings 2 Kings 19:19), must have been at least eighty years old at the accession of Joash: His illness was therefore probably the result of mere natural decay. And Joash the King of Israel came down unto him. The visit of a king to a prophet, in the way of sympathy and compliment, would be a very unusual occurrence at any period of the world's history. In the East, and at the period of which the historian is treating, it was probably unprecedented. Prophets waited upon kings, not kings upon prophets: If a king came to a prophet's house, it was likely to be on an errand of vengeance (2 Kings 6:32), not on one of kindness and sympathy. The act of Joash certainly implies a degree of tenderness and consideration on tits part very uncommon at the time, and is a fact to which much weight should be attached in any estimate that we form of his character. He was, at any rate, a prince of an amiable disposition. And wept over his face—i.e; leant over the sick man as he lay on his bed, and shed tears, some of which fell on him—and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. As Elisha had addressed Elijah, when he was quitting the earth (2 Kings 2:12), so Joash now addressed the dying Elisha, using exactly the same words, not (certainly) by a mere coincidence. Joash must have known the circumstances of Elijah's departure, which had probably been entered before this in the 'Book of the Kings,' and intended pointedly to allude to them. "O my father, my father," he meant to say, "when Elijah was taken from the earth, thou didst exclaim that the defense of Israel was gone" (see the comment on 2 Kings 2:12): "how much more must it be true that it is gone now, when thou art on the point of departure! He left thee as his successor; thou leavest no one!"
2 Kings 13:15
And Elisha said unto him, Take bow and arrows. The prophet was moved, no doubt, by a sudden inspiration tie was bidden to assure the weeping king of victory—speedy victory-over Syria. The defense of Israel would not fail because he—a mere weak instrument by whom God had been pleased to work—was taken from the earth. God would bless the king's own efforts. "Take bow and arrows," he exclaims under the prophetic afflatus. "Take them at once into thine hands, and do my bidding." Words would not have been enough; greater assurance and conviction was produced when prophecy took the shape of a symbolical action. So the Spirit of the Lord moved the prophet to the performance of a symbolical act, or set of acts, which the historian now proceeds to describe. And he took unto him how and arrows. Joash would take these from the hands of his attendants, who might be carrying his own special weapons after him, as was the practice in Persia, or who would at any rate have arms of their own, since they would wait upon him not merely as attendants, but as guards.
2 Kings 13:16
And he said to the King of Israel, Put thine hand upon the bow—literally, let thine hand ride upon the bow; i.e. "Take it into active use—place thine hands as thou dost commonly for shooting—and he put his hand upon it—he did as Elisha commanded—and Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands. Elisha, it would seem, rose from his bed, and took the attitude of an archer, covering the king's two hands with his own hands, and making as if he too was pulling the bow, so that the shooting should be, or at least appear to be, the joint act of himself and the king. The intention was, no doubt, as Keil says, "to show that the power which was to be given to the bow-shot" was not the king's own power, but "came from the Lord through the mediation of his prophet."
2 Kings 13:17
And he said, Open the window. Though glass was unknown, or at any rate not applied to windows, yet the windows of sitting-rooms, and still more of bedrooms, had latticed shutters, which partially excluded the light and the air, and could be opened and closed at pleasure (see the comment on 2 Kings 1:2). The prophet ordered the shutter to be opened, that the king might shoot from the window. He addressed, not the king, whose hands were both engaged, but his own servant, or one of the royal attendants. Eastward. Not so much in the direction of Syria, which was north-east of the Israelite territory, as in the direction of Gilead and Bashan, which had been the scene of Hazael's victories (2 Kings 10:33), and was now to be the scene of his reverses. Aphek lay almost duo east of Shunem, where it is probable that Elisha was. And he opened it; or, and one opened it, or they opened it. The Hebrew idiom allows of this indefinite use of the third person singular. Then Elisha said, Shoot. And he shot. And he—i.e. Elisha—said, The arrow of the Lord's deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria; rather, an arrow. "This is," the prophet meant to say, "an arrow symbolical of deliverance about to come from Jehovah, of deliverance from the cruel oppression of the Syrians"—and not merely of deliverance, but of victory. For thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek. The Aphek intended is probably that which lay east of the Sea of Galilee, at the distance of about three miles, in lat. 32° 49' nearly. This place was on the direct route between Samaria and Damascus, and had already been the scene of one great victory gained by Israel over Syria (1 Kings 20:26-30). The site is marked by the modern village of Fik. Till thou have consumed them; literally, till consuming—i.e; till the army which thou shalt defeat at that place is destroyed utterly. We have no account of the fulfillment of this prophecy, but may regard the defeat as one of those touched on in 2 Kings 13:25.
2 Kings 13:18
And he said, Take the arrows. And he took them. Elisha bade the king take into his band the remainder of the arrows which the quiver contained. This the king did, and held them in a bunch, as archers do when they have no quiver. And he said unto the King of Israel, Smite upon the ground. It is disputed what this means The LXX. translate Πάταξον εἰς τὴν γῆν "Strike upon the ground;" and so Ewald, De Wette, and Thenius, who regard the order as one to strike with the arrows against the ground (i.e. the floor) or in the direction of the ground. Keil and Bahr, on the contrary, think that the order was to shoot the arrows down from the window and hit the earth with them. But some contrast seems to be intended between the "shoot" (יְרַה) of 2 Kings 13:19 and the "strike" (צַךְ) of the present passage. Ewald's explanation is thus to be preferred. And he smote thrice, and stayed. Joash struck with the arrows against the floor three times, and then paused, thinking he had done enough. He did not enter into the spirit of the symbolical act, which represented the smiting and slaying of enemies. Perhaps he had not much faith in the virtue of the symbolism, which he may even, with the arrogance of a proud and worldly minded man, have thought childish.
2 Kings 13:19
And the man of God was wroth with him. Elisha was angered at the lukewarmness of Joash, and his lack of faith and zeal. He himself, from his higher standpoint, saw the greatness of the opportunity, the abundance of favor which God was ready to grant, and the way in which God's favor was stinted and narrowed by Joash's want of receptiveness. Had the king been equal to the occasion, a full end might at once have been made of Syria, and Israel might have been enabled to brace herself for the still more perilous struggle with Assyria, in which she ultimately succumbed. And said, Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it. It has been suggested that Joash associated the number throe with the notion of completeness, and "thought that what was done thrice was done perfectly" (Bahr); but in this case the prophet would scarcely have been angered. It is far more consonant with the entire narrative to suppose that he stopped from mere weariness, and want of strong faith and zeal. If he had been earnestly desirous of victory, and had had faith in the symbolical action as divinely directed, he would have kept on smiting till the prophet told him it was enough, or at any rate would have smitten the ground five or six times instead of three. The idea that he abstained from modesty or from prudence, "lest too extravagant demands might deprive him of all" (Von Gerlach), finds no support in the text of the narrative. He abstained (as Keil says) because "he was wanting in the proper zeal for obtaining the full promises of God." Had it been otherwise, the complete success obtained by Jeroboam II. (2 Kings 4:25-28) might have been anticipated by the space of fifteen or twenty years. Whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.
2 Kings 13:20
And Elisha died, and they buried him. There had been no burial of Elijah, who" went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:11). All the more anxious, therefore, would the Israelites be to bury their second great prophet with due honor. They prepared him, no doubt, one of those excavated sepulchers which were usual at the time and in the country—a squared or vaulted chamber cut in the native rock. St. Jerome says that the place of his sepulture was near Samaria ('Epitaph. Paulae'), and this is sufficiently probable; but in the Middle Ages his grave was shown at Ruma, in Galilee. According to Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 2 Kings 9:8. § 6), his funeral was magnificent. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. It seems to be implied that this was a usual occurrence. Just as the Syrians in the days of Naaman made marauding raids into the land from time to time (2 Kings 5:2), so now the Moabites each spring made an incursion. The weakness of Israel is strongly marked by this fact, and still more by the penetration of the Moabites so deep into their country. Amos 2:1 perhaps glances at these incursions of Moab.
2 Kings 13:21
And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that. "They" is used indefinitely of some unnamed Israelites, like the French on. Certain persons, it does not matter who, were burying a man, i.e. about to bury him, and were carrying the corpse to the grave, when an interruption occurred. Behold, they spied a band of men—rather, the band, i.e. the band of that year—and they cast the man into the sepulcher of Elisha. There was no time for ceremony. Hastily, and somewhat roughly, it may be, the bearers of the body thrust it into Elisha's tomb, which happened to be at hand, and from the mouth of which they were able to remove the closing stone. They did not "throw" the body in, but pushed it in. And when the man was let down. The man was not "let down." Our translators seem to have been unacquainted with the Jewish mode of burial. They imagine that Elisha's tomb is a pit dug in the ground from the surface downwards, like a modern grave, and the man has therefore to be "let down," or to "go down" (marginal translation) into it. The Revised Version avoids the mistranslation, but weakens the force of the original. Translate, and when the man came, etc. And touched the bones of Elisha, he revived. The violent push given to the corpse imparted to it a movement which brought it in contact with the bones, i.e. the body (1 Kings 13:31) of Elisha, as it lay, wound in its grave-clothes, but uncoffined, on the floor of the sepulchral chamber. At the moment of contact the dead man came to life—"revived." And stood up on his feet. In many Jewish tombs the sepulchral chamber would allow of this.
2 Kings 13:22
But Hazael King of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz; rather, now Hazael King of Syria had oppressed Israel, etc. The author, having parenthetically related the extraordinary miracle wrought by the instrumentality of Elisha's corpse, returns to the subject of the Syrian oppression. He had, in 2 Kings 13:14-19, dwelt upon the promises of victory given by the prophet to Joash. He is now bent on relating their fulfillment. But before doing so he recapitulates. 2 Kings 13:22 refers back to 2 Kings 13:3, and 2 Kings 13:23 to 2 Kings 13:4 and 2 Kings 13:5.
2 Kings 13:23
And the Lord was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them. Even in his wrath God, thinketh upon mercy." While he was still punishing Israel by the sword of Hazael, he was yet careful not to make a full end, not to allow the affliction to proceed too far. He still preserved the nation, and kept it in being. And had respect unto them—i.e. "considered them—kept them in his mind—did not permit them to slip out of his recollection"—because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a covenant of mercy. By it he had pledged himself to multiply their seed, to be their God, and the God of their seed after them, and to give to their seed the whole land of Canaan for an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:4-8, etc.). This covenant bound him to extend his protection over the people of Israel so long as they had not utterly and entirely cast off their allegiance. And would not destroy them. They were "persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:9). The national life might seem to hang by a thread, but the thread had not snapped. Neither east he them from his presence as yet. The writer has it in his mind that ultimately they were cast away, rejected, removed out of God's sight (2 Kings 17:18, 2 Kings 17:20, 2 Kings 17:23); but it was not "as yet"—there was still an interval of a century, or a little more, before the blow fell, and the nation of the ten tribes ceased to exist.
2 Kings 13:24
So Hazael King of Syria died; rather, and Hazael … died. His death is a new fact, not involved in anything that has been previously stated. It appears by 2 Kings 13:22 that he outlived Jehoahaz. And Benhadad his son reigned in his stead. Hazael, the usurper, gave his eldest son the name of the monarch whom he had murdered. It was an old royal name in Syria (1 Kings 15:18), having been borne by at least two of Hazael's predecessors. The meaning which has been assigned to it ("Son of the sun") is doubtful.
2 Kings 13:25
And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again out of the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael the cities, which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by war. The capture of these cities by Ben-hadad had not been previously mentioned. It appears by the present passage, compared with 2 Kings 13:22, that, during the lifetime of his father, Benhadad had led expeditions into the land of Israel, acting as his father's representative and general, and had made himself master of several Israelite towns. These were now recovered by Jehoash. They lay probably in the Cis-Jordanic territory. Three times did Joash beat him; and recovered the cities of Israel. Thrice defeated, Hazael was forced to abandon his conquests in Western Samaria. He retained, however, the trans-Jordanic territory, which was not recovered by the Israelites till the reign of Jeroboam II. (see 2 Kings 14:25).
2 Kings 13:1-7
God's severity and God's goodness alike shown in the history of Israel under Jehoahaz.
I. GOD'S SEVERITY. Two sins only are noted as existing among the people at this time—the calf-worship, and the maintenance of the "grove" or asherah (2 Kings 13:6). One of these, the worship of the calves, was ancestral. It had been an established usage for a hundred and twenty years, and had been upheld by every king from the date of its institution. Even the prophets, with one exception (1 Kings 13:2, 1 Kings 13:3), had not denounced it. The people at this time accepted it without question, and were probably quite unconscious that it was a sin at all, The other sin, the maintenance of the asherah, was negative rather than positive-the emblem still stood erect; it had not been removed—but it is not said that it was worshipped. Yet God, in his severity, visited the people for these two sins heavily, terribly (2 Kings 13:4 and 2 Kings 13:7). He did not accept thoughtlessness, unconsciousness, absence of any evil intention, as an excuse. His honor was impugned by both practices, and he is very jealous of his honor. To leave the asherah standing, not to break it down, was to show a want of zeal for the purity of religion, for the honor of God, for the true faith, for virtue, for decency. To be indifferent to the calf-worship, to tolerate it, to continue it, was to live in constant violation of the second commandment. God could not, would not, tolerate this. If the conscience of the nation had gone to sleep, he must rouse it. By sharp pains, by severe afflictions, by actual agonies, if necessary, he must stir them from their self-satisfaction, awake them to self-examination and keen searchings of heart, and so bring them to a sense of their sinfulness, if not to a distinct recognition of their special sins.
II. GOD'S GOODNESS. As soon as any relenting is shown, as soon as the king acknowledges God's hand in his punishment, and turns to him and entreats his aid, even although he does not put a stop to the practices by which God's anger has been provoked (2 Kings 13:6), yet the Divine compassion is stirred. "The Lord hearkened unto him" (2 Kings 13:4). A savior is given, in the Divine counsels, if not at once in fact. The nation's fall is arrested, its life prolonged. "O faithful Christian, if God heard Jehoahaz, how much more will he hear thee, if thou callest upon him! The Lord gave Israel a deliverer, but Jehoahaz did not live to see him. God hears the cry of those who earnestly call upon him, and helps them; but the time, and place, and manner of his aid are retained in his own discretion. Do not despair if thy prayer does not seem to be heard, and the Lord delays his assistance. He knows that fitting season as well as he knows what is useful to us" (Starke).
2 Kings 13:6
The persistency of evil.
"There remained the grove." One would have thought that, in such a reformation as that of Jehu (2 Kings 10:15-28), there would have been a clean sweep, or, at any rate, that Ahab's pot idolatries (1 Kings 16:33) would have gone. But no! evil is terribly persistent. "The evil that men do lives after them," and not in men's recollections only, but in fact. No reformation ever sweeps away at once all that it was intended to sweep away. "The grove remains." How many heathen superstitious survived the supersession of heathenism by Christianity! How many iniquitous laws continue in all countries after every attempt that is made to reform the laws! How many abuses remain after each removal of abuses I The result is partly through the fault of the reformers, who are careless about doing their work thoroughly, and cease their efforts while much still remains to be done; but it is also caused in part by the tenacity of life which the things that need to be swept away possess in themselves. And, as evil is thus persistent in communities, so is it also in the character of individuals. Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. A man makes a great effort at self-reformation, changes his rules of conduct, his habits, the whole method of his life, as he thinks; but in some corner there still lurks a remnant of the old leaven, which shortly reasserts itself, and too often leavens the whole mass with its corrupting influence. The lesson to be learnt is watchfulness and perseverance. By care, by consideration, and by constant effort, the persistency of evil may be met and counteracted. God's Holy Spirit is always ready to assist our endeavors; and, whether in a community or in an individual, continued effort, divinely aided, will prevail at last.
2 Kings 13:14-19
The closing scene of Elisha's life.
The time had come to Elisha which comes to all the sons of men, however great, however holy, at the last. He had exceeded man's ordinary term of three score years and ten—nay, he had exceeded the extended term of those who are exceptionally "strong" men, four score years (Psalms 90:10)—but now at length he was overtaken by sickness, he was manifestly drawing near to death. What lessons does his departure teach us? It may teach us—
I. A LESSON OF CONSOLATION. It is a good thing so to have lived that our departure is felt as a loss, not merely to our family or to our own narrow circle of friends, but to our king and country. Not many persons can do the sort of service which Elisha did for Israel; but all may do some service. All may seek their country's good, labor for it, strive for it, pray for it. All may use the powers and talents committed to them by God in such a way that not themselves alone, but their country also, may derive advantage from them. Honest endeavors of this kind will at any rate bring to us "the answer of a good conscience" at the last—they may bring to us something more, viz. praise and acknowledgment on the part of those who represent the nation an d have a right to speak on its behalf. Due acknowledgment is seldom grudged, when the end has come or approaches; and, though man's judgment is a "small thing" compared with God's, it is not altogether to be despised—we may feel in such acknowledgment a legitimate satisfaction.
II. A LESSON OF FORTITUDE. Elisha makes no moan, expresses no complaint. It is extraordinary how many men, even men who profess to believe in a future life of infinitely greater happiness than the present one, are discontented, and murmur, or even passionately cry out, when a mortal disease attacks them. And this although they have lived the full term of average human life in this world. Very few quit the scene gracefully, placidly, bravely. Almost all seem to regard the summons to set their house in order as untimely, and themselves as hardly used by the call being made upon them. There is always something for which they think they might as well have been allowed to wait—
"Half the cows to calve, and Barnaby Holmes to plough."
III. A LESSON OF PERSEVERANCE AND EFFORT TO THE VERY END. Elisha, though stricken with a mortal disease, does not give himself up to inaction, or cease to take an interest in the affairs of this life. On the contrary, he has his country's welfare most deeply at heart, and initiates and carries through a scene, in which his physical powers must have been severely tasked, for encouraging king and people in their death-struggle with Syria, and assuring them of final victory. The confidence inspired may have been a serious factor in the result. Elisha, at his age, might have been excused, had he remained wholly passive, and received the king's visit as the compliment which it was intended to be; but he could not be content without utilizing the visit to the utmost. He rouses the king from his despair (2 Kings 13:14); inspires in him hope, courage, energy; promises him success, actively participates in the symbolic drama, which at once indicates and helps forward the result aimed at. We may learn from this that, while we live, we have active duties to perform; we are not exauctorati till the last summons comes; on our sick-bed, on our death-bed, we may still be agents for good—we may advise, exhort, incite, rebuke evil (2 Kings 13:19), and be active ministers of good, impressing men more than we ever did before, when we speak from the verge of the grave, and having our "strength made perfect in weakness."
2 Kings 13:20, 2 Kings 13:21
Life in death.
The miracle wrought by the instrumentality of Elisha's bones would seem to have been designed for three main ends or purposes.
I. FOR THE HONOR OF THE PROPHET; that so he might have in his death (as Elijah had had in the method of his departure) a testimony from God that he was approved by him, and that he would have him respected and honored by his countrymen. Worship of relics was not a Jewish superstition; and thus there was no danger of those ill results which followed on the alleged miracles wrought by the bodies of Christian martyrs. Those who witnessed or heard of the miracle in Elisha's tomb were led to venerate the memory of the prophet, to whom so great a testimony had been given; and might thence be moved to pay greater attention and stricter obedience to what they knew of his teaching.
II. FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE NATION. The death of Elisha was no doubt felt as a national calamity. Many, besides the king, must have seen in it the loss to the nation of one who was more to it than "chariots and horsemen" (2 Kings 13:14). Despondency, we may be sure, weighed down the spirits of numbers who might think that God, in withdrawing his prophet, had forsaken his people. It was a great thing to such persons that they should have a clear manifestation that, though the prophet was gone, God still continued present with his people, was still among them, ready to help, potent to save. The more spiritually minded might view the miracle as symbolical, and interpret it to mean that, as the dead man had sprung to life again on contact with Elisha's bones, so the dead nation should, as it were, rise out of his tomb and recover itself, once more standing on its feet, in full possession of all its energies.
III. FOR THE HONOR OF GOD, AND THE SHOWING FORTH OF HIS TRANSCENDENT POWER. To give life is among the highest of the Divine attributes. It is God's special privilege, one that he cannot communicate to a creature. Even modern scientists bow their heads before the mysterious, inconceivable act, and confess that they find it impossible to present it distinctly to their consciousness. But to give life to that which is held by death, in which decay is begun, which is under the law of dissolution and corruption, is a still more incomprehensible thing, stranger, more astonishing. And to crown all by bringing the new life out of death, making a dead corpse the source out of which vitality shall leap forth to fresh energy, is to surpass all that the most lively fancy could imagine of wonderful, and almost to reconcile contradictions. God willed at this time to show that he could effect even this marvelous thing—make death give life to that which was recently dead—educe from one dead in him the vital power that should resuscitate and reanimate another also dead, and make a tomb—the place of death—the scene of the transformation! "O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy Name; for thou hast done wonderful things" (Isaiah 25:1); truly "wonderful art thou in thy doing towards the children of men" (Psalms 66:4). The miracle of Elisha's bones is no argument for relic-worship. Relic-worship implies a belief that a virtue exists in the remnants of a deceased saint's body, which enables them of themselves to exercise a miraculous power. Elisha's bones were never thought to possess any such property. They were not exhumed, placed in cases, or exhibited to the faithful to be touched with the hand or kissed by the lips. It was understood that God had been pleased to work one miracle by them; it was never supposed that they might be expected to work any more. They were therefore suffered to remain in the tomb wherein they had been from the first deposited. It was not till the time of Julian that any importance was attached to them; though then we must conclude that they had become objects of reverential regard, since the Apostate took the trouble to burn them.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 13:1-13, with 22-25
The reigns of Jehoahaz and Joash, kings of Israel. Observe here
I. THE PERPETUITY OF EVIL. How sad it is to read of one king after another, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord"! And then the statement is usually made, "He departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin." A bad man does harm to others besides himself. "None of us liveth to himself." Not merely while we live, but after we are gone, our lives and words and deeds will influence others. We may think ourselves very obscure and insignificant, so insignificant that we may argue it does not matter to others how we live. But who can measure the circle of his influence? In ways that we know not, influence may reach other hearts and other lives. Oh! how dangerous is one evil influence in a community! It takes a long time to do away with its effects.
"The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones."
Let us be careful how we are influencing others. For good or for evil we are exercising some influence, however unconsciously, on those around us. If we would influence men for good, we ourselves must live near to God.
II. THE MERCY OF GOD. God punished Jehoahaz and his people for their sins. "He delivered them into the hand of Hazael King of Syria, and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael, all their days." When suffering or troubles come, let us see whether the cause of them is not within our own hearts and lives. But he mingled mercy with judgment. God is ever on the watch for signs of the prodigal's return. His ear is ever open for the cry of penitence, for the faintest' prayer for forgiveness and help. Jehoahaz besought the Lord, and the Lord hearkened unto him; for he saw the oppression of Israel, because the King of Syria oppressed them" (2 Kings 13:4; see also 2 Kings 13:23).
Come, let us to the Lord our God
With contrite hearts return;
Our God is gracious, nor will leave
The desolate to mourn.
"His voice commands the tempest forth,
And stills the stormy wave;
And, though his arm be strong to smite,
'Tis also strong to save."
III. HUMAN INGRATITUDE. Though God delivered them from their difficulty and distress, and gave them peace from their enemies, yet, when the difficulty was over, they forgot all about God's mercy. They went back to their old sins. "Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat … but walked therein" (2 Kings 13:6). How prone the human heart is to forsake God! The Books of Judges and Kings are full of illustrations of this painful fact. By forsaking God the Israelites brought themselves into misery and bondage. Time after time God raised up judges and kings and prophets to be the means of their deliverance. But when these were dead, or when the immediate danger had passed away, once again the people forsook God. It is the same in the history of the individual. How ungrateful we are for God's unceasing and unfailing goodness! How forgetful of his commandments and his promises! "The way of man is not in himself; and it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." We need all the influence of Divine grace to keep us in the way that is right.
IV. A HUMBLED NATION. To what a low level sin reduces a nation! How shamefully Israel was humiliated before Syria! The King of Syria only left to Jehoahaz fifty horsemen, ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; "for the King of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing." The fate of Israel, the fate of other mighty nations of the past, are a great national lesson to be remembered so long as the world shall last. Ought we not earnestly to pray that this great British empire, which has been built up by God-fearing men, and which God has blessed and honored so highly, may not forsake God for secularism or gross corruption, and thus fall into the fate of the fallen nations of the past? Knowing how great are the forces of evil, it becomes every true Christian to be more valiant for the truth, to be more active in everything that will extend the kingdom of Christ in this and other lands.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 13:14-19
A royal visit to a dying prophet.
What a peaceful deathbed Elisha's was! He had long since made his choice. He had lived not for time, but for eternity; not under the fear of man, but under the fear of God; not for the favor of kings or their rewards, but so as to win the approval of his conscience and his Creator. And now, when death came, it brought him no terrors. Not only so, but he was able to give encouragement to others. When King Joash sees the prophet on his deathbed, he feels how great is the loss which Israel is about to sustain. Good men are a nation's strength. And so Joash, bending in tears over the dying prophet's couch, exclaims, "O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" But Elisha wants to keep up his heart. He wants to teach him that, though the prophet dies, the prophet's God remains. The workmen pass away, but the work of God goes on.- So the true Christian will ever look beyond his own death to the glory that awaits him, beyond the present hour of darkness or difficulty or delay to the ultimate triumph of the Church of Christ. It was in this spirit that the martyrs died. What a vision of the future lit up their suffering faces! What a prophetic instinct in such words as those which' Bishop Latimer spoke to his fellow-reformer Ridley, as they stood side by side, waiting for the faggots to be kindled: "Be of good cheer, brother Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as by God's grace shall never be put out." And here Elisha on his deathbed gives utterance to prophetic words. He told Joash that the arrow, which, in obedience to his directions, he had shot forth from the open window, signified the arrow of the Lord's deliverance. But Joash was slow to learn the double lesson of God's unlimited power and the necessity-for human effort which this simple illustration taught. Elisha had already told him that he should smite the Syrians till they were consumed, and then, to teach him furthermore the necessity for perseverance and patience, he commands him to smite upon the ground. Joash, seeing that the prophet had already revealed to him so much and encouraged him so greatly, might have continued until he was requested to cease. But instead of that, he only smote three times, and then gave up. Thus he illustrated his own want of faith in God's almighty power, his own want of patience and perseverance, and therefore how little he deserved God's interference on his behalf. The old proverb truly says, "God helps those that help themselves." The chief lesson of this incident is—Want of faith a hindrance to success in Christian work.
I. CHRISTIANS SHOW WANT OF FAITH, ALTHOUGH THEY HAVE DIVINE PROMISES. It was so here in the case of Joash. He had stood beside the bedside of Elisha in a state of utter dismay. It had seemed to him as if he already saw the downfall of his kingdom, as if all other resources were useless if the man of God, who had so often guided kings and people to victory, was taken away. But look at the encouragement which Elisha had given him. He had taken his thoughts away from human wisdom and human strength, and turned them upward to the almighty, unlimited power of God. "The arrow of the Lord's deliverance." What suggestions of power, of help, of victory, were in those simple words! The Lord's deliverance! That almighty power which delivered Israel out of the hand of Pharaoh; that almighty power which turned back the waves of the Red Sea, and brought the people over safely on dry land; that almighty power which, only a few years since, filled the dry valley with water and thus gave victory to Israel, and which, by smiting the Syrians with blindness, delivered Israel out of the hands of their enemies;—that almighty power, O Joash, will be with you, will deliver you. Oh, what a thrill of determination, of resolute, energetic purpose, should have been awakened in his mind! Might he not reasonably have felt, "Yes, the Lord is on my side. Victory is sure. I shall redouble my efforts against the enemies of Israel, against the workers of evil. Out of gratitude to God I shall serve the Lord only"? But Joash failed when put to the test. When Elisha gave him an opportunity of showing his faith by his own efforts, he only showed how little faith he had in the promises of God. If we believe that God's Word is true, that his promises are true, it is but reasonable that he should expect us to act on them. To every unsaved soul God says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." The promise is salvation. But there is a duty, a condition, a necessity, coupled with it. That duty is faith in Christ—taking him as our Savior, serving him as our King. How many act like Joash! They would like to get to heaven, but they are not willing to tread the narrow path. They would like to obtain salvation, but they are not willing to take God's way of obtaining it. They say, "If I'm to be saved, I shall be saved." To any one who has been thinking about eternity and the judgment to come, whose heart has been softened by sickness or bereavement, who has been impressed by any message from God's Word, but has not yet accepted Christ, we would say, "Stay not thine hand. Let not the good impressions pass away." "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." Arise today, and in the strength of God smite your unbelief, smite the tempter to the ground. Strive to enter in at the narrow door. Then shall that good impression, then shall that warning voice, prove to be to you the arrow of the Lord's deliverance. Take the step, fulfill the condition, if you would obtain the blessing. The same applies to Christian work. How many call themselves God's servants, how many expect the reward of the faithful servant, who are doing absolutely nothing for the Lord. Jesus has given one very precious promise to his people: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world;" but it is to those who in some way are seeking to fulfill that command, Go ye therefore, and preach the gospel to every creature." The truth is, the promise depends upon the work, and the work depends upon the promise. We cannot expect God's blessings if we are not doing his work. And we cannot do his work if we do not meditate much on his promises.
II. CHRISTIANS SHOW WANT OF FAITH, ALTHOUGH THEY HAVE PROOFS OF DIVINE POWER. In the history of his nation, even in the history of Elisha's life alone, Joash had many proofs of Divine power, yet still he showed a want of faith in God. In the whole history of God's kingdom in the world, in the whole history of the Christian Church, we have proofs of God's power, yet where is our faith at all proportionate to the strength of evidence on which it rests? There is no stronger testimony to the power of the gospel than the history of modern missions. It is just seventy years since the first missionaries landed in Madagascar; it is not thirty years since the terrible persecutions ceased there, by which the missionaries were driven out of the island, and the little companies of Christians who survived the-massacre met for worship in secret, in dens and caves of the mountains, and were in constant danger of their lives. Yet in that large island today there is a Christian population of nearly three hundred thousand, the idols have been publicly burned, and the Christian religion is publicly recognized by the state. What hath God wrought! Think of the work which Dr. Moffat accomplished among the degraded tribes of South Africa, not so many years ago. The conversion of Africaner, the Hottentot chief, under his ministry, is well known. Every one warned Moffat against him as a man who was a terror to the whole neighborhood. But Moffat thought he was just the man to go to with the gospel He went, and was the means of leading the savage chief to Christ, and "Africaner's changed life convinced many, who had never believed in them before, of the efficacy of Christian missions." Think of the progress of Christianity in Japan, in India, in China. The following testimony was recently borne to mission work in China in his report to the Foreign Office by the late British Consul at Newchwang. He says, "The labors of the missionaries indirectly benefit our merchants, manufacturers, and artisans. I further believe that, partly owing to the Christian principles disseminated by the missionaries, the tone of morality among the Chinese people has during the last twenty years perceptibly attained a higher platform." The Rev. William Swanson, a veteran missionary, and lately moderator of the English Presbyterian Church, states that when he went to China twenty-six years ago there were only five small churches at the treaty ports. Now, in going from Canton to Shanghai, and traveling twenty or twenty-five miles a day, he could sleep every night, with one or two exceptions, in a village having a Christian church. The first time Charles Darwin visited the island of Tierra del Fuego, he said that the people there were irreclaimable. He saw four Christian Fuegians at a meeting in England, and was so impressed by what he heard of the work of the missionaries that he became an annual subscriber to the funds of the Missionary Society, and said he should feel proud if the committee would think fit to elect him one of its honorary members. When we think of these things, of the wonderful work done in the South Sea Islands, and of the many nations where heathenism has yielded to the preaching of the cross, surely we may well say, "What hath God wrought!" Today, just as in St. Paul's day, the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." If we doubt the power of the gospel, our doubts are in the face of overwhelming and irresistible facts.
III. THE EVIL RESULTS OF THIS WANT OF FAITH. This want of faith has ill results on life and practice and Christian work. Many who went part of the way with Christ turned back and walked no more with him because of their want of faith. It is so still. Want of faith leads to low expectations and feeble efforts. True faith in God's presence and power, instead of making us inactive and careless, is the greatest stimulus to activity. It rouses us to put forth all our energies. It makes us patient under difficulties. It causes us to persevere even when we see no immediate result. How many a good work has been begun, but given up, because of want of faith! This was nearly being the case at one time with what has since proved one of the most successful missions to the heathen. After twelve years' labor in the island of Tahiti, in the Pacific, the mission seemed to be an utter failure. All but one of the missionaries left the South Sea Islands. At home the directors of the London Missionary Society seriously discussed the abandoning of the mission. But two members of the committee, men of strong faith in God and the gospel, strenuously opposed this, and proposed a season of special prayer for a blessing on its work. This was agreed to; letters of encouragement were written to the missionaries; and while the ship that bore these letters was on her way to Tahiti, another ship was bearing to England the rejected idols of the people. How had this happened? Some of the missionaries who had left the island were led in some way to return. One morning one of them went out into the fields for meditation, when he heard, with a thrill of joy, the voice of a native raised in prayer to God—the first token that their teaching had been blessed in Tahiti. Soon they heard of others. A Christian Church was formed. The priests publicly burned their idols; and thus, after a night of toil of sixteen years, the dawn at last broke (see 'Outlines of Protestant Missions,' by Rev. John Robson, D.D.). What a rebuke to the weak faith of the directors who had proposed to abandon the mission! What a lesson to every minister and missionary, to every Sunday-school teacher, to every Christian worker, not to stay their hand, even where they see no results of their labor! "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Work done for God never dies. Stay not your hand in the matter of your own spiritual life. Persevere in the conflict with your besetting sins. Persevere in the cultivation of Christian graces. Use the arrow of the Lord's deliverance. Put on the whole armor of God. Persevere also in prayer for others, Never give up as hopeless a single soul. Stay not thine hand. You can't do much for them, perhaps, but God can. Lay the case of erring child or godless friend before God in prayer. Ask him to open their eyes. Ask the Lord Jesus to lay his hand upon them—to speak the word only, and they shall be made whole. Persevere also in Christian work. "Be not weary in well-doing" Leave no work unfinished for which God gives you the strength and the means. Perhaps we have been shooting too few arrows, making too little effort in God's cause. Seek the guidance of God's hand and the power which God's presence gives, and then go forth to win victories for him.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 13:20, 2 Kings 13:21
A resurrection and its lessons.
This miracle was wrought, in a time of prevailing unbelief, to teach a lesson to a faithless age. Strange sight indeed—for those who were engrossed with the sensual pleasures of the present world, thus unexpectedly to be brought face to face with the power of the Unseen!
I. GOD'S POWER TO RAISE THE DEAD. Here was something which their heathen gods could never do. Heathenism, agnosticism,—these systems bring no comfort to the bereaved and sorrowing spirit. Christ alone has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. None but he has ever dared to say, "I am the Resurrection and the Life."
II. THE UNDYING INFLUENCE OF GOOD MEN. "Non omnis moriar" was the saying of the old heathen poet. But the humblest Christian who is faithful to God may have confidence that his influence for good will continue long after he has passed away from earth.
1. Elisha's words were to continue. The prophet was dead, but his words still lived. His words were the words of God. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." We see in the twenty-fifth verse how Elisha's prediction to Joash was literally fulfilled. Three times Joash defeated the Syrians and recovered the cities of Israel. Elisha's words still remain, to be our consolation and comfort.
2. Elisha's work remained. The memory of his faithfulness to God, of the wonders he was able to do by God's presence with him, remained to be a help and stimulus to many faithful servants of God when Israel was growing worse and worse. A good man's influence—who can tell how long it may last, or what unexpected places and persons it may reach?—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 13:1-21
The death of Elisha.
"In the three and twentieth," etc. The Book of Kings is, to a large extent, a record of crime, and of crime of the most heinous and aggravated character. The terrible monstrosities recorded are, for the most part, ascribable, directly or indirectly, to kings. In this very chapter we have a sketch of two of those monarchs who have been among the greatest curses of their race. Jehoahaz, son and successor of Jehu King of Israel, whose reign was disastrous to the kingdom to such a degree that his army was all but utterly destroyed, and had become like the dust on the "threshing-floor;" and Jehoash, who for three years was associated with his father in the government, and who, when his father was swept away, was a curse to the world for sixteen years. The only portion of this chapter which requires notice is from 2 Kings 13:14 to 2 Kings 13:21. These verses present to us four subjects of thought—a great man dying; a good man leaving the world interested in posterity; a wicked man regretting the event; and a dead man exerting a wonderful influence.
I. A GREAT MAN DYING. "Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died." The whole history of Elisha is not only the history of the marvelous, but the history of loyalty to Heaven and of devotion to the interests of the Israelite race. But here we find this great and good man dying. Elijah, his master, had escaped death and had been borne to heaven in a chariot of fire, but Elisha had to die in the ordinary way of mankind, through sickness. It is true he was an old man; threescore years had passed since he commenced his prophetic ministry. For a great many years we are told nothing about him, but no doubt he had been actively and usefully engaged. Even the most useful public men, and the most popular too, cease to attract great public attention as they pass into years. Often they become as "dead men out of sight," albeit they are useful. Though all men have to die, death is not the same to all men. It has a widely different significance to different men. To the good man it is life breaking through exuviae and taking wing to revel in a sunny universe. It is the "mortal putting on immortality."
II. A WICKED MAN REGRETTING THE EVENT. "And Joash the King of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face, and said, O my father, my father!" Why did he weep? Not because he had any sympathy with the character of the departing man. His moral sympathies were in antagonism to those of the prophet. Not because he felt that the prophet himself would suffer loss. He was not thinking of the prophet's gaining or losing by death. Not because he knew that the event would be a loss to the living in general. He cared nothing for his race, not he; but because he knew that the prophet was the "chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." His chariots and horsemen were gone, and Elisha was his only hope.
III. A GOOD MAN LEAVING THE WORLD INTERESTED IN POSTERITY. Elisha, though dying, stilt took an interest in the future of his country. "Elisha said unto him, Take bow and arrows. And he took unto him bow and arrows," etc. (2 Kings 13:15-19). Elisha seems to have been touched by the king's tears; and he held out the hope that he would yet become victorious over the Syrians. The symbolic action which the prophet recommended, putting his hand upon the bow, opening the window, shooting the arrow, smiting the ground, does not, I think, necessarily mean that the prophet approved of the future wars of the king, but merely indicated the fact. He foretold his success; for, in three campaigns against the Syrians, he recovered the cities which they had taken from his father. He was also successful in the war with Amaziah King of Judah. But the point worth notice is the interest felt in the future by the prophet in his dying hours. Had he not done with life? Would he not soon be in his grave? What would the world be to him in the future? An interest in posterity seems to be an instinct in humanity. There is a nerve in humanity that runs through all races and all generations, linking men together. No man liveth to himself;" all men are in one. The more moral goodness a man has in him the more sensitive this nerve becomes. Hence the best men in all ages have been the men who made provision for posterity.
IV. A DEAD MAN EXERTING A WONDERFUL INFLUENCE. "It came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulcher of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet." The incident which takes place in his grave is as strange as it is significant and suggestive. The bearers of a dead man, struck with terror at the approach of enemies, instead of carrying the remains to their appointed resting-place, pushed them into the sepulcher where slept the bones of the illustrious Elisha. No sooner did the corpse touch the sacred relics of the great seer than it quivered with life, and the dead man, to the astonishment of all, revived, and stood on his feet. This miraculous incident was desired and calculated to make a wholesome moral impression on the mind of the age. It had a tendency to demonstrate to all the Divinity of the prophet's mission, to show the honor with which the Eternal treats the holy dead, to prove the existence of a Power superior to death, and to foreshadow a future state. Whilst I would at all times studiously endeavor to avoid the mistake of what is called spiritualizing God's Word, I feel that it is lawful to use an incident like this as an illustration of spiritual realities. The incident which occurred in the grave of Elisha on this occasion, viz. the deriving of life by contact with the holy dead, is, in the material department of things to which it belongs, sublimely singular. Such an event as this, perhaps, will never occur again; but a thing analogous to this in the spiritual domain is, thank God, of frequent occurrence. The dead minds of earth are constantly deriving life from contact with the spiritual remains of the dead.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 13:1-7
Israel's humiliation under Jehoahaz.
The story of the reign of Jehoahaz, Jehu's son, is a story of unmitigated misfortune. We note—
I. JEHOAHAZ'S EVIL REIGN.
1. The downward movement in Israel. With the extinction of Ahab's house, the rooting out of Baal, and the establishment of Jehu's dynasty, Israel obtained a new chance of doing well. But Jehu's reforming zeal soon died out, and he fell back into godless ways. His son followed the worse, and not the better, traditions of his father's reign. Thus the downward movement again began, Of Jehoahaz also the old monotonous refrain has to be spoken, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord." This is the burden of the song regarding every king of Israel. In the whole line, from first to last, there is not one of whom a different report can be given.
2. The cardinal sin. The foremost sin of all these monarchs-that which fatally entangled them in other sins—was the perpetuation of the worship of the calves. Religion affects the springs of morality, and this idolatrous cultus sent poisonous streams through the whole life of the nation. It was the grand transgression which, amidst all temporary reforms, was never abandoned.
II. THE SYRIAN OPPRESSION.
1. Divine anger. "The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel" God had done so much for the people, had granted them so favor-able an opportunity for repentance, had counseled and warned them so long by great prophets like Elijah and Elisha, that he was justly wroth with them for their continued transgressions. God is jealous of his honor, and presumptuous transgressors must expect to find his hand laid heavily upon them. When God's anger is kindled against a people, things cannot go well. Troubles break out on every side, and calamities fall thick and fast.
2. Weighty chastisements. God delivered the people of Israel into the hands of the kings of Syria—Hazael and Benhadad. This time it was no passing invasion. The completeness of the conquest, and the severity of the oppression, recall the days of the judges, or the Philistine oppression of the reign of Saul (Judges 5:6, Judges 5:7; 1 Samuel 13:19-22). Out of the hosts of Israel there was left to Jehoahaz but fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen. Elisha's foresight of the evils which Hazael would inflict on the nation was thus terribly verified. Again is the reflection forced on us—How bitter is the fruit of sin! The Bible is little else than a repeated enforcement of the truth, "Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him …. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him" (Isaiah 3:10, Isaiah 3:11).
III. JEHOAHAZ'S PRAYER, AND ITS ANSWER.
1. The king's prayer. The very existence of the kingdom seemed threatened. Happily, the desperate straits to which he was reduced led Jehoahaz to humble himself before God. He felt himself in the hands of a living God, and, rightly tracing the calamities which had befallen him to Jehovah's anger, he turned to Jehovah for his help. The chastisements with which God visits men for their sins are designed to break their pride and stubbornness, and lead them to repentance. They often have the effect of producing a temporary submission, though they cannot of themselves change the heart. We have examples in Pharaoh (Exodus 8:28) and in Ahab (1 Kings 21:27).
2. God's answer to the prayer. A prayer wrung from the king, not by the sense of his sin, but by the intolerable pressure of affliction, might have been thought undeserving of an answer. But the Lord is very pitiful, and welcomes the faintest approach of the sinner unto him. He does not thrust the suppliant away, but seeks, by giving him tokens of his grace, to ripen his imperfect desires into real repentance. Accordingly, the approaches of Jehoahaz to the throne of grace met with a gracious response. God promised a savior to the land, and ultimately raised one up in the person of Joash, who, but for his want of perseverance, would have completely delivered the nation from the Syrians. The work which he left undone was finished by his son, Jeroboam II. Thus God shows himself ready to hear the cries even of the worst of men. None need despair in calling on Heaven when Jehoahaz was listened to in such dire straits. Happy they who are led to call, though it be from the depths, to God (Psalms 130:1-8. l). He will not turn any away. His promise is, "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee" (Psalms 50:15).
3. Imperfect repentance. The imperfection of Jehoahaz's repentance is seen in the fact that the worship of the calves was still maintained; also there remained the symbol of Astarte in Samaria. God's promise having been given, was not revoked, and there were other reasons why he was willing to help the people (2 Kings 13:23). But these sins in high places wrought ruin afterwards.—J.O.
2 Kings 13:8-19
Joash and Elisha.
Jehoahaz reigned for seventeen years, and was succeeded by his son Jehoash, or Joash. In this reign, after a long interval, Elisha again appears.
I. ACCESSION OF JOASH. The change of rulers was in some respects a gain for Israel. Joash was a man of better disposition than his father, and under his reign the kingdom, which has been so sorely broken down, was again partially built up. But he still adhered to the cardinal sin of the nation—the calf-worship-so that of him also the formula has to be employed, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord." That is, notwithstanding military successes, and some signs of respect for and attention to Elisha's monitions, things still remained on a fundamentally false basis in the kingdom. So Herod feared John the Baptist, and observed him, and, when he heard him, did many things, and heard him gladly, yet remained a bad man (Mark 6:20). God's judgment on men is not according to superficial characteristics, but according to the fundamental bent of their minds.
II. ELISHA ON HIS DEATHBED.
1. Elisha's sickness. Elisha by this time was a very old man. He was Elijah's attendant in the reign of Ahab; he was a prominent figure in the reigns of Ahaziah and Jehoram; he gave the commission to Jehu to overthrow the incurably corrupt dynasty of Ahab, and lived through the twenty-eight years of that king's reign; he witnessed the troubles of the reign of Jehoahaz, and was perhaps the means of that monarch being led to humble himself before God; now, in Joash's reign, he is still alive. From the time of Jehu's accession he seems to have taken little part in the political life of the nation; at least, no accounts of his activity remain to us. When the curtain again lifts he is lying on his deathbed. It was not to be with him as with Elijah. He must pay the common debt to nature, experience the infirmities of age, be smitten with sickness, and succumb to death. The longest and most useful life thus comes to its close. It is well when, on a deathbed, one can look back on a life which has been spent in the service of God.
2. The visit of Joash. To the bedside of the dying Elisha came the King of Israel, apparently drawn thereto by sincere reverence and respect for the aged prophet. He came to him, it is said, and wept, saying, "O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" This language speaks to former relations of intimacy and friendship between the king and prophet. Probably Elisha had been the counselor of his youth, and had guided and encouraged him in his duties as king. It is to be remembered also that the promised deliverance from the Syrians was not yet begun. The kingdom was still in humiliation and distress, and Joash may have felt as if, with the death of Elisha, the last spark of hope for the nation would be extinguished. We see how, in the hour of extremity, good men are felt, even by the ungodly, to be a tower of strength to the state. Their presence and prayers are its truest bulwark. The full extent of the loss sustained by their removal is only realized when they are taken away. We see also how possible it is to have great respect for God's servants, to appreciate their worth to the community, and to weep over and deeply regret their loss, and yet not do the things that they say. Joash shows fairly well in this narrative, but his conduct as a whole is stamped as "evil in the sight of the Lord."
III. THE ARROW OF DELIVERANCE. Once and again had mighty deliverances for Israel been announced through Elisha. The last was to be the greatest of all.
1. The pledge of deliverance. Raising himself up on his bed, prophetic fire gleaming in his eye, Elisha bade the young and stalwart king take his bow and arrows. Joash did as the prophet required, not yet understanding his meaning, but no doubt forecasting some encouraging message. Elisha then bade him put his hand upon his bow, and placing his own hands on the king's, told him further to open the window eastward, and shoot. This was done. Then the symbolic action was explained. That arrow he had shot into the air was the arrow of the Lord's deliverance, an arrow pledging deliverance from the yoke of Syria. It was shot eastwards, because the Syrian ravages were com-inertly from that quarter (2 Kings 10:32, 2 Kings 10:33). The action declares:
(1) That deliverance in trouble is from God only. As he alone can give it, so he is the true Source from which to seek it.
(2) God employs human agency in his deliverances. The bow and arrows were the symbols of the human instrumentality. Joash had to put his hands upon the bow. It was he who shot the arrow. It was he who was to smite the Syrians. Man has his part given him in all God's works of deliverance on earth.
(3) The human agent could only succeed as God strengthened him. Elisha put his hands upon Joash's, signifying that the power to gain the predicted victories came from God. His hands were to be "made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob" (Genesis 49:24). It is on God's power we must always rely for victory. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us," etc (Psalms 115:1).
2. The victories in detail. The symbol was not yet complete. Joash's quiver was yet full, minus that one arrow, and the prophet bade him shoot other arrows, this time to the ground, as if smiting something down to it. Joash took his arrows and began to smite. He shot once, and twice, and thrice, then stayed. The prophet was wroth at this, and told him he should have gone on smiting, then would the Syrians have been wholly consumed, whereas now he would only gain three victories over them. These successive smitings, therefore, represented the victories in detail which Joash would gain over the Syrians. One is at a loss at first to see why the prophet should have dealt so severely, with the king for what may have been a perfectly natural mistake. But the stopping with the third arrow no doubt brought to light a certain weak line in Joash's character—a want of perseverance, a tendency to be satisfied with partial results, to stop short of the ultimate goal of effort. And one can see how that may have hindered his complete success over the Syrians. We learn:
(1) Very trivial actions often reveal a great deal of character.
(2) We often have not from God because we ask not. These shootings of the arrows were at once prayers for victories from God, and pledges of victories. Joash, as it were, asked for only three victories, and he only got three. Had he asked for more, he would have got more. Had Abraham not ceased pleading for Sodom when he did, he might have got a yet further extension of grace for that doomed city (Genesis 18:32, Genesis 18:33). It is never in God we are straitened in our prayers; it is only in ourselves.
(3) It displeases God that we do not ask more from him. His controversy with us is not that we ask too much, but that we do not ask enough. Joash missed the full blessing by stopping in his asking.—J.O.
2 Kings 13:20, 2 Kings 13:21
Power in dead bones.
These verses contain a circumstantial notice of a singular miracle that was wrought at Elisha's sepulcher by contact with his bones. Bands of Moabites were ravaging the country, and one of these bands came upon the scene during a funeral. The mourners were terrified, and hastily thrust the corpse into Elisha's sepulcher, which was hard by; whereupon the dead man, having touched the bones of Elisha, revived and stood upon his feet. We notice—
I. THE GOOD MAN LAID IN HIS GRAVE. Elisha's sickness had proved to be indeed unto death, and his mortal remains had been reverently conveyed to a sepulcher. He who had been the means of restoring life to others, whose very bones were made the instrument of reviving the dead, was not able to protect himself from the universal law. He left the world by the same gate as ordinary mortals. It is pathetic to reflect that, however long and useful a life may be, this is always the end of it. The certainty of removal by death from the scene of their labors should animate those who are still in the vigor of their powers to work while it is today (John 9:4), and should lead those who enjoy the presence and services of good men to prize and honor these servants of God while they are here. From the side of the saint himself death is not a calamity, but a gain. "He rests from his labors, and his works follow him" (Revelation 14:13).
II. POWER ISSUING FROM THE GOOD MAN'S GRAVE. Though Elisha was not taken to heaven as Elijah was without tasting of death, he had yet great honor put upon him in his death. God set the seal on his prophetic work by making life-giving power to issue even from his grave. The miracle suggests to us the fact that from every good man's grave there issues in an important sense a life-giving power. The influence of men does not die with them. On the contrary, it is often greater after their deaths than during their lives.
1. Sometimes in a literal sense the grave is a source of new life to men. In the act of committing dust to dust, and ashes to ashes, holy impressions steal over men, new resolves take possession of their hearts. Many a man, e.g; has been brought to his senses at the graveside of a father or mother, whose counsels, perhaps, he disregarded in life.
2. Sometimes in a figurative sense souls are quickened by the bones of the dead. A man's actions, for instance, are things of the past when he is dead. But they may be written in a book, and become a source of life to countless generations who read them afterwards. It is but a few facts of any man's life which can Be thus rescued from oblivion—the mere bones of his history; but what a power is in them! So of a man's words. The fragments of a man's speech that can be preserved in any collection of his sayings are comparatively few. They are the mere bones of his speech. But they quicken souls through the ages. The words of David, of St. Paul, of the prophets, touch and work on souls to the present hour. The world is the living thing it is because of the influence of these dead men in it. They are
"The dead but sceptered sov'tans,
Who rule our spirits from their urns."
3. The highest life has come out of death. Jesus said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone," etc. (John 12:24). Elisha communicated resurrection-power without himself rising from the dead; Christ has himself risen, and is now the Principle of resurrection-life to others.—J.O.
2 Kings 13:22-25
We have in the closing verses a record of the fulfillment of the promise given through Elisha. Notice—
I. THE GROUND OF THESE VICTORIES. While God had respect to the prayer of Jehoahaz, there was a deeper ground for his interposition to save Israel. He was gracious to them, and had compassion on them, and had respect to them, we are told, because of his covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. More specifically, we have as grounds:
1. Love to the fathers. God remembered Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and would not hastily cast off their posterity (cf. Deuteronomy 4:37; Romans 11:28). Many of the blessings which sinners enjoy, the forbearance God shows them, etc; are due to the prayers of godly ancestors.
2. Regard for his own promise. God had made a covenant with the patriarchs, and had promised to be a God to them, and to their seed after them. That covenant was the main fact in the history of Israel. It underlies and governs all God's dealings with them, past, present, and prospective. It was the remembrance of this covenant which led to the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 2:24, Exodus 2:25); to the settlement in Canaan (Deuteronomy 9:3); and to God's patient dealings with the nation amidst their various rebellious, and under their constant provocations. God saved them, not for their righteousness' sake, but for his own Name's sake. He is the God of unchanging faithfulness.
3. Unwillingness to destroy the people. God casts off none hastily, for he has "no pleasure in the death of him that dieth" (Ezekiel 18:32). He bears long with men, if haply they will repent. Wherefore it is said, "He would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet." There is a limit, however, to Divine forbearance. The time came when, still remaining impenitent, they were cast away, though even then not forever.
II. THE EXTENT OF THESE VICTORIES. They amounted, as Elisha had predicted, only to three. Three times Joash beat the King of Syria, and recovered the cities of Israel from his hand. This was a great gain, but it might so easily have been greater, had Joash only fulfilled aright the conditions of success. How much blessing we often deprive ourselves of by our own unfaithfulness and shortcoming! It is reason for rejoicing that God does so much for us; but the joy must eternally be shaded by regret when we reflect that it is by our own doings that far more is not done.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent