Sunday, April 17, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 70. Chariots Of FIre

Prophets And Kings
Day 70
Chariots Of Fire

Ben-Hadad, the ruthless king of Aram, brings sends raiding parties into Israel. And him gives one party of raiders a particular duty: to find and kill Elisha.

2 KINGS 6:8-23
"Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, 'I will set up my camp in such and such a place.' The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: 'Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.' So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and time again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places." (2 Kings 6:8-10) Elisha always knows what's going on in the nation. In some cases I think it's because he keeps on top of everything happening around him. In other cases, like this one, I think the Lord warns him about the enemy. Elisha and King Joram aren't friends but the last thing Elisha wants is for his country to be defeated by its enemy. Some people in the USA like our current president; some don't. Some will like the president who's elected this year; some won't. But if any of us had information about a threat to our national security, we'd want the president to know. And that's what Elisha is doing today: warning King Joram about a threat to Israel's security. We have to give Joram credit for taking heed to this warning. He's less stubborn than his brother and his father who sat on the throne before him. Joram sends scouts out every time Elisha gives him a warning and the scouts find it to be true that soldiers are lying in wait in those areas. 

The king of Aram can't believe Israel seems to know his strategy the minute he tells it to his commanders. He thinks there's a traitor in his army. "This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, 'Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?'" 

"'None of us, my lord the king,' said one of his officers, 'but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.'" (2 Kings 6:12) This officer is wise enough to recognize what's happening. Nothing can be hidden from the prophet Elisha because nothing is hidden from Almighty God, and He is the One who is counseling Elisha.

"'Go, find out where he is,' the king ordered, 'so I can send men and capture him.' The report came back: 'He is in Dothan.' Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city." (2 Kings 6:13-14) An ambush is set against Elisha during the night, ready to attack him in the morning.

I have a very strong suspicion that Elisha knows about the ambush but sleeps all night like a baby. Because the Lord has been faithful to warn him of plots against Israel, I have no doubt the Lord was faithful to warn him of plots against his own life. I picture Elisha in his room, knowing all about the soldiers surrounding the city, finishing his bedtime prayers and curling up to sleep in peace, knowing the Lord is on guard twenty-four hours a day. I think he drifted off to sleep with the same thought in his head that King David once had, "In peace I will lie down and sleep, for You alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Psalm 4:8) I've mentioned before in previous Bible studies that some of the best sleep I've ever had was during some of the worst circumstances I've ever had. And this says nothing about me but it says a whole lot about my God. There was nothing I could do with my circumstances but turn them over to Him anyway, and in return He granted sweet peace and healthful sleep. There were many nights when, by worldly standards, I should have been walking the floors and weeping over my lot in life but instead the Lord faithfully caused drowsiness to steal over me night after night, like a comforting friend, and He made me sleep like a baby til morning. This is the grace of God and nothing else. He cares about our spiritual needs but He also cares about our physical needs. He knows what a toll anxiety and troubles take on our mortal bodies. The best thing He could do for me at those times was to give me rest. And in our passage today I think He does the same thing for Elisha. There's no point in Elisha walking the floors in distress all night, going from window to window trying to spot the enemy, trembling with fear. The God who has been with him up til now will be with him when morning breaks, when the enemy shows up, and in this knowledge Elisha sleeps.

I don't think anyone else among the company of the prophets has been told what's going on because Elisha's servant is shocked when he gets up. "When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. 'Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?' the servant asked." (2 Kings 6:15) Previously the man known as Elisha's servant was Gehazi. I don't know if this is the same man or not. Gehazi was struck with a non-contagious and non-terminal form of leprosy for his sins and his stubborn refusal to repent. We will see Gehazi again in Chapter 8 and there he will still be called Elisha's servant, so it's possible Elisha's servant in today's study is the same man, but the Bible doesn't say so. Some scholars think that, when compiling the events of Elisha's life, the author didn't necessarily put them in exact chronological order, but we can't be certain of that either. The author was able to list the kings of Judah and Israel in chronological order and so I can't imagine why he would not also do so with the events of Elisha's life. 

No matter who this servant is, Elisha tries to soothe his fears. "'Don't be afraid,' the prophet answered. 'Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.'" (2 Kings 6:16) This statement must have made no sense to the servant. The company of the prophets is indeed growing all the time but they are no match for an army. We learned yesterday that at least one of their axes was borrowed because they couldn't afford iron tools, so it's likely they have no weapons either and even if they do, they are not skilled in fighting. 

Seeing that his servant does not feel comforted, Elisha realizes it's going to take more than his assurances to ease the man's panic. "And Elisha prayed, 'Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.' Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." (2 Kings 6:17) In 2 Kings 2 we saw one chariot of fire with horses on the day when the Lord took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. The chariot didn't take Elijah to heaven but ran between him and his protege Elisha. Today, as he is surrounded by the army of Aram, the army of Aram is surrounded by the army of heaven, though the enemy doesn't know it yet. But Elisha knew it and that's why he slept like a baby. That's why he isn't afraid. These chariots of fire and horses of fire represent God's power on behalf of His people.

How many times have chariots of fire and horses of fire surrounded us in our troubles? How many times has the Lord fought the battle on our behalf? I think we would be amazed to the point of falling speechless to our knees if we only knew.

The company of the prophets have no weapon but the Lord and so Elisha appeals to Him. "And Elisha prayed to the Lord, 'Strike this army with blindness.' So He struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked." (2 Kings 6:18) We see a poetic justice in how this works. The eyes of Elisha's servant are opened to see the spiritual army on their side while the eyes of Elisha's enemy are blinded so they can't attack.

Some scholars believe the temporary blindness is not total because the men are still able to follow Elisha to the wrong city instead of stumbling around all over the hillsides. It could be a severe form of near-sightedness or blurriness that they experience. But it's enough to keep them from recognizing the city of Dothan or the prophet Elisha. What happens next is even a little bit comical. "Elisha told them, 'This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.' And he led them to Samaria." (2 Kings 6:19) Elisha's words remind me of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars when he said, "These are not the droids you are looking for," and used the Force to deceive the enemy. I wonder if the Star Wars author was influenced a bit by Elisha's words today. The Aramean army is so confused it doesn't occur to them to wonder how they ended up at the wrong city the night before or how this man knows what city and what prophet they are looking for. They feel disoriented and unable to think clearly and so they follow him.

"After they entered the city, Elisha said, 'Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.' Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria." (2 Kings 6:20) Elisha has led them to the capitol city of Israel and to King Joram.

"When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, 'Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?'" (2 Kings 6:21) Joram shows respect for Elisha as a prophet and an elder by calling him "my father", but we will find in tomorrow's passage that this respect is short-lived. 

"'Do not kill them,' he answered. 'Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.'" (2 Kings 6:22) The Aramean soldiers are just as much prisoners of war as if they had been captured with weapons and as such it's not right to kill them. 

"So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel's territory." (2 Kings 6:23) What a puzzling day these men have had. They were struck supernaturally with blindness and led straight to the palace, at which time their sight is restored and instead of being made slaves to the Israeli king, a banquet is thrown for them and then they are released to go home. I don't know what these men make of all these strange events but they dare not continue their raids on Israel. This doesn't mean there is peace between Aram and Israel because tomorrow we find the entire army of Aram laying siege to Samaria, causing a famine in the city because no food can be brought in. At that time King Joram will proclaim a death sentence on Elisha, blaming him for King Ben-Hadad's anger against the nation. But the Lord will deliver Elisha once again and will also deliver Israel from her enemy. The Arameans won't see the great army of chariots of fire and horses of fire, but they will hear them and tremble.

Our own mortal weaknesses often tell us there is too much against us. Satan often tells us there is too much against us. But in Christ we are surrounded by the army of God, chariots of fire and horses of fire, Those who are with us are more than those who are with the enemy. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4) 

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