Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 87. The Death Of Elisha

Prophets And Kings
Day 87
The Death Of Elisha

Yesterdays study ended wif the death of King Jehoahaz of Israel. Hims son Jehoash is king now and its during his reign that the prophet Elisha dies.

2 KINGS 13:10-25
"In the thirty-seventh year of Joash king of Judah, Jehoash son of Jehoahaz became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned sixteen years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit; he continued in them." (2 Kings 13:10-11) I will be lucky if I don't manage to get these kings confused with each other; their names are so similar. Jehoash is like his father and grandfather in that he allows the golden calves in Dan and Beersheba to remain, with the people going to these idols to sacrifice and make offerings. 

The author of 2nd Kings doesn't have much to say about King Jehoash but we will learn more about him when we study King Amaziah of Israel, for these two men will have some dealings with each other. The author of 2nd Kings simply says, "As for the other events of the reign of Jehoash, all he did and his achievements, including his war against Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the books of the annals of the kings of Israel? Jehoash rested with his ancestors, and Jeroboam succeeded him on the throne. Jehoash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel." (2 Kings 13:12-13) 

The author backs up just a bit now to tell us of the death of Elisha. "Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness of which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. 'My father! My father!' he cried. 'The chariots and horsemen of Israel!'" (2 Kings 13:14) Jehoash does not consider himself a sinful man, nor did his father or grandfather consider themselves sinful men. They are not idolaters in the same sense that the Baal worshipers were idolaters. These kings believe they are worshiping the one true God, the God of Israel, when they go to Dan or Beersheba with their sacrifices and offerings. But this is not the form of worship God set forth for His people. It is actually breaking one of the ten commandments, "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them." (Exodus 20:4-5a) When Jeroboam set up this system of worship, he was in denial that he was making an image. He was in denial that he was bowing down and worshiping an idol. He was able to convince himself and the nation that these calves symbolized God and that this did not constitute idolatry. So we see that King Jehoash weeps over the prophet Elisha because the king sees himself and Elisha as followers of the same God. But Elisha has held true to God's commandments while Jehoash and the kings before him adulterated the truth of God's word. 

The king repeats Elisha's own words back to him. Elisha spoke these words on the day the Lord took his mentor Elijah from him, "Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, 'My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!'" (2 Kings 2:11b-12a) I believe King Jehoash wants the prophet to know that his grief is as great over Elisha's impending departure as Elisha's grief was over Elijah's departure. Often we don't know what to say when we visit the sick. I don't know why we think we should know the right thing to say, as if our words have the power to take away any of the pain or grief. Usually the best thing we can do is express our sorrow and that's what King Jehoash does at Elisha's bedside. By repeating the prophet's own words back to him, Jehoash is communicating the depth of his sorrow in the best way he knows how.

Elisha is a very elderly man by now and has lived through the reign of many kings. But even on his deathbed there's still some fight left in this old soldier of God. "Elisha said, 'Get a bow and some arrows,' and he did so. 'Take the bow in your hands,' he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king's hands." (2 Kings 13:15-16) The king fears the favor of the Lord will depart from Israel at the death of this great prophet, so Elisha asks him to perform some simple but strange tasks. The king is to perform these tasks in faith. I picture these men, one old and one young, one ill and one healthy, one with wrinkled shaking hands and one with smooth strong hands, their eyes meeting over the bow they both hold. Then Elisha continues, "'Open the east window,' he said, and he opened it. 'Shoot!' Elisha said, and he shot. 'The Lord's arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!' Elisha declared. 'You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.'" (2 Kings 13:17) The prophet reminds the king that the strength of Israel is her God, not her prophets. The Lord is the One who gives victory. The Lord is Israel's arrow over her enemy.

The shooting of an arrow toward the land of the Arameans is a declaration of war, though Israel's enemy doesn't know it yet. The arrow symbolizes the intention of the Lord to give Israel victory in a coming battle with her enemy. It's the first shot fired of a future conflict, though no one sees it but the king, the prophet, and the Lord. 

"Then he said, 'Take the arrows,' and the king took them. Elisha told him, 'Strike the ground.' He struck it three times and stopped. The man of God was angry with him and said, 'You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.'" (2 Kings 13:18-19) When Elisha tells the king to strike the ground, the original text indicates he is telling the king to shoot arrows at the ground. The king shoots three arrows, one by one, at the ground and then stops. The arrows symbolize Israel's victory over Aram and the prophet expects the king to understand this and shoot as many arrows as he can. But the king, like all of us at one time or another, fails to ask enough of God. He fails to ask big things from a big God, a God who "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine." (Ephesians 3:20) 

I wonder what great victories we would already have experienced if we just had the faith to shoot as many arrows into the ground as we can, spiritually speaking. Why do we ask so little of God? Why do we limit Him in our imagination? Intelligent as humans are, capable of abstract thought and creativity, the Lord is able to do far more than will ever enter our minds. The Lord's brother James said (and I'm quoting the familiar KJV version here), "Ye have not, because ye ask not." (James 4:2b) Won't it be a shame to stand before God someday, beholding His infinite power and glory, and know we could have had so much more? I am guilty of this in so many ways: not daring to believe more of Him, not boldly asking more of Him. We may not be granted all that we ask but I think we will be granted more of what we ask. 

Elisha is angry when the king displays a mediocre faith. He is angry for the king's sake and for the sake of Israel. The king could have so much more victory in his life if he just had more faith. The nation itself could enjoy peace from her enemies if her citizens just had more faith. Over the years they have become lukewarm toward God and have made Him small in their eyes. Elisha, great prophet of God, has lived his life on the principle of asking big things of a big God. He wants to pass this on to the king but the king lacks the faith to receive it.

We will find later on that Elisha's words come true. Jehoash will only defeat the Arameans three times. The Arameans will remain a force to be reckoned with. But if he had only asked more of God in faith, he could have defeated this enemy so thoroughly that they would never have come against Israel again. 

"Elisha died and was buried." (2 Kings 13:20a) This is all the author says about the prophet's death. We are given no last words, no eulogy, no funeral details. All we get is, "Elisha died and was buried." I want to know more about the final days of this great prophet because it's hard to say goodbye to him. I was disappointed that the author didn't tell us more. But then I realized these simple words are a perfect eulogy for a man like Elisha. He spent his entire life lifting up the name of the Lord, making much of God and making little of himself. If Elisha had lived in our times and someone had asked him what he wanted in his obituary, I can picture the old prophet dismissively waving one thin age-spotted hand and saying something like, "I don't want an obituary. I don't want anything said about me. I'm going to be with my Redeemer and it's the job of the rest of you to get on with His work. The best way to remember me is to honor the God I served." Elisha wasn't the type of man to want a fuss made over him. He couldn't have cared less whether he got a big write-up in the paper or a lavish funeral or an expensive gravestone. His work here was done and he was going home to be with the Lord he loved so much. What more could a man ask for? What more can any of us ask for? Only what we've done for the Lord matters and when our time here is up, let people say what they will. Our works done for the Lord speak for themselves. We will be in His presence and no rich ceremonies or words spoken in our honor will compare with the joy we will have in our Lord. 

Elisha died and was buried. That's all he wanted said. If we are to honor his memory in any way I believe he would have us honor it by speaking highly of the Lord our Redeemer. 

So we thank You, Lord, for Your holy word. We thank You for your prophets of old who had the courage to stand for what was right. We thank You for Elisha and the example he set for us. May we walk worthy of our calling in Christ, as Elisha walked. May we have a faith like his, a faith that boldly asks big things of a big God. We ask these things for the honor and glory of Your holy name. Amen.

Below is a link to a song that goes perfectly with today's passage of Scripture.

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