2 Kings 6

Even though Elisha the prophet had been a blessing to one of the most powerful men in Syria (Naaman, see chapter 5), that nation was a constant threat and aggravation to Israel. This chapter and the next tell about two occasions when the king of Syria attacked Israel, and both times the Lord worked through Elisha to defend His people.

Elisha the prophet was a national figure who was known by kings, but he also maintained a personal ministry to a small group of younger prophets. He apparently spent a great deal of time with these men, teaching and mentoring them so that future generations of Israelites would have men of God to serve them. Apparently the “school of the prophets” was growing because they found it necessary to build a new place to live and meet (a new dormitory?). As they were cutting timber on the banks of the Jordan River for the new construction, one of the students lost the head of a borrowed axe in the deep, murky river water. In an amazing display of the power of God, Elisha made the axe head float! The student was able to recover it, save face with the owner of the axe, and continue his work.

The next section of this chapter records a bigger, grander display of divine power, but this more private, smaller-scale miracle of floating iron is here to remind us that God cares about the details of our daily lives. He is certainly capable of great and mighty things, but He is concerned about the little things that concern us. God is in control of kings and nations and armies, but He delights in reversing our failures and fixing our messes.

The king of Syria and his army were attempting to conduct raids in Israel, but they could not get any traction in their operations. The king of Israel knew their every move! The Syrian king reasoned that one of his men must be a spy, feeding information to the enemy. But the truth was that God told Elisha his every move, and Elisha passed the word along to his king. When the Syrians figured this out, the entire army went to capture the prophet, surrounding the city where he was staying during the night. Early the next morning Elisha’s young servant went outside and was understandably alarmed to see that the Syrian army, with its intimidating horses and charioteers, had them trapped. The servant told Elisha, and the prophet’s reply is classic: “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v.16). The servant was unaware that the Lord had sent a vast angelic army to protect Elisha. Not until the Lord “opened his eyes” (spiritually) did the young man see the fiery chariots of heaven’s forces. Through the eyes of faith, we can see that God is working in ways that go beyond reason. Ask Him to open your eyes to see past the circumstances of your life and into the spiritual realm where He is fighting for you and providing for you.

In a scene that is quite humorous to me, the Lord blinded the entire Syrian army as they began to attack and allowed Elisha to lead them into Samaria (capital of Israel’s northern kingdom). When their blindness was lifted, they looked around to find themselves standing before the king of Israel! The Lord had defeated the enemy; Israel didn’t even need to fight.

That same God will fight your battles, too. Put your trust in Him today, open your eyes, and watch Him work in unexpected ways to protect you and lead you to victory. Don’t be afraid, for those who are with you are more than those who are against you! As Chris Tomlin sings:

I know Who goes before me
I know Who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side!
The One who reigns forever
He is a Friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side!

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2 Kings 5

Leprosy was the AIDS of the ancient world. In most cases it was incurable, and at the very least it would stigmatize a person, cut them off from society, and shorten their life. Somehow the commander of the army of Syria, a man named Naaman, had contracted leprosy. (Note: if you are reading from NIV or NLT versions, Syria is called Aram.) The little captive Israelite girl who served Naaman’s wife is one of the unnamed, unsung heroines of the Bible. Instead of being hateful and vindictive, she wanted her master to be cured. Her comment about “the prophet of Samaria” (Elisha) led to Naaman’s miraculous healing and his saving faith in the one true God of Israel. The little slave girl is proof that you don’t have to be big to make a big difference for the Lord. Don’t underestimate the power of your simple witness!

When Naaman heard Elisha’s prescription for his healing he didn’t understand; in fact, he was offended. He wanted instantaneous healing, and he was prepared to pay a fortune to get it (v.5, 11). Swimming in the muddy Jordan River seemed to be beneath the dignity of a powerful general — besides, he had better rivers back home! Naaman was not inclined to go through the seemingly silly exercise, but he missed the significance of what Elisha told him to do and where he told him to do it.

In order to receive his healing, Naaman had to do what you and I must do to receive salvation: humbly accept God’s plan and God’s mercy by faith. Yes, there were more appealing rivers than the Jordan in the region, but the Jordan was special. The Israelites had to pass through it to claim the Promised Land, Elisha had to pass through it to take up the mantle of Elijah (see 2:13-14), and Naaman would have to pass through it to be healed. Many years later John the Baptist would call on sinners to be baptized in the Jordan, symbolically washing their sins away and preparing their hearts for Messiah. If Naaman was going to have his leprosy washed away, he would have to do the same. (Note: thank God for the servants of Naaman in verse 13 who encouraged him to follow through with God’s plan! I want to be like that — an encourager to those who are struggling with the demands of the gospel.)

Naaman finally relented, and wading into the Jordan’s current, he “dipped himself seven times” (v.14; seven is the Bible’s number of completion — Naaman had completely humbled himself to believe God). When he walked up onto the riverbank, dripping wet, his skin was healed! In place of the sores and scales of leprosy there was the clean, clear skin of a baby. What an amazing miracle! But his skin was not the only thing that was changed. Naaman had a change of heart in the water, and he came up confessing that Jehovah, the God of Israel, was the one true God — his one true God. Standing before Elisha, he made the commitment that while he had to continue serving an idol-worshiping king in a pagan nation, his heart belonged to the Lord. He even took some of the soil of Israel to build his own altar of worship back in Syria.

Naaman had one more lesson to learn. The prophet had refused any payment from him, for the grace of God cannot be bought. This is one of the great truths of the gospel, that “by grace you have been saved through faith…it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). The account of Gehazi’s greed highlights this truth in a tragically memorable way. For the rest of his life Gehazi would bear in his body the consequences of convoluting God’s plan.

2 Kings 4

This chapter highlights the miracle ministry of Elisha. As a prophet, the Lord used him to pronounce judgment on the wicked — but that was not all he did. Much of Elisha’s recorded ministry involved bringing the miraculous, merciful power of God to those who were faithful.

The first of four such miracles of mercy in this chapter involved the widow of a man who was part of the prophetic guild founded by Elijah. Without the help of her husband she had fallen on hard times and was in danger of losing her children to a creditor. Using what she already had, a flask of olive oil (used for cooking and fuel for light), Elisha told her to borrow empty vessels from her neighbors and to pour the oil out of her flask into them. The miraculous multiplication of the oil she poured out was enough to pay her debts and save her children! If she had known what God was going to do, I wonder if the widow would have borrowed a few barrels! Notice that the oil stopped flowing only when she ran out of containers. God’s provision was only as big as her faith and her willingness to obey.

The second miracle centered on a woman remembered simply by where she was from, “the Shunammite” (from the town of Shunem, v.8). In contrast to the widow of the first miracle, this woman was plenty wealthy. She and her elderly husband loved the Lord and believed in the ministry of His prophet, so they had a special room built for Elisha on the roof of their home. The Shunammite’s special investment in the man of God has inspired countless “prophet’s chambers”, special rooms or apartments provided by faithful people for visiting preachers.

God rewarded the woman’s kindness by giving her a son who would presumably care for her when her husband died. But instead, her little son died in her arms (possibly of a brain aneurism, v.19). Instead of mourning or preparing a funeral, the Shunammite lay her son on Elisha’s bed and made a beeline for the prophet. I think her actions indicated that she believed God was not finished with her son — what faith! The touching scene of the boy’s resurrection (with seven sneezes!) reveals the mercy of a loving God who cares for hurting people. Like Elisha, we should be willing to get personally involved in caring for the hurting. Sometimes writing a check or saying a prayer is not enough; God calls us to get eye to eye and hand to hand with people (v.34), entering into their pain and allowing God to work through us to show His mercy.

The third and fourth miracles in this chapter involve the miraculous provision of food for the prophets under Elisha’s care. God worked a miracle to make the inedible edible and to multiply provisions for His servants. When we invest our lives in ministry, God makes sure we have what we need to continue the work He has called us to do. And you can count on that.

2 Kings 2

Elijah had been a faithful servant of the Lord through a very dark time in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Sometimes it seemed as if his bold obedience to Jehovah, his miracles of mercy and judgment, and his startling manner of prophesying offered the only sources of spiritual light in the nation. In the beginning of his ministry he had been a solitary voice crying in the wilderness, but over time he had influenced others and established a sort of prophetic guild with organized groups in Bethel and Jericho. The most notable of Elijah’s trainees was the man with the similar-sounding name, Elisha, who would soon take over as Israel’s lead prophet.

It was Elijah’s time to go, and everyone knew it. Crossing the Jordan River with a strike of his cloak (his final miracle), he promised Elisha the “double portion of his spirit” that he had asked for. I believe the request reflected Elisha’s desire to bring glory to God like Elijah had, and even more so.

As the two men talked, suddenly an other-worldly transport arrived — flaming horse-drawn chariots that swept up Elijah and rushed him to heaven in a supernatural, tornadic updraft. What a way to go! Elijah actually bypassed death on his way to heaven! I believe God granted him this glorious non-death for two reasons: He was honoring His faithful prophet and He was leaving the conclusion of Elijah’s ministry open. According to Malachi 4:5-6, Luke 1:13-17, and Matthew 17:12, John the Baptist would serve out a continuation of Elijah’s ministry (John even dressed like Elijah; compare 2 Kings 1:8 and Matthew 3:4). After his flight to heaven Elijah made one more appearance in Israel, alongside Moses at the Transfiguration of Jesus (see Matthew 17:3).

Elisha was left alone and grieving (v.12), but he had the mantle of Elijah, the symbol of prophetic authority. God immediately confirmed Elisha’s ministry with a trio of miracles: the parting of the Jordan that duplicated Elijah’s last miracle, the miracle of purifying the contaminated water, and the unusual miracle of judgment in which God punished the insolent boys of Bethel with horrific bear attacks (seems awfully harsh, but to insult the prophet of God was to insult the God of the prophet).

Let us live like Elijah, with unwavering boldness for God, and when it is our time to leave this world, may hell be glad to see us go and may heaven be happy to see us coming!

Please enjoy this classic by the late Rich Mullins…

2 Kings 1

For many years the prophet Elijah had been the voice of God to a sinful nation. His last official act was to predict the death of Israel’s King Ahaziah. The closing words of the book of First Kings summarize Ahaziah’s life, who was just as wicked and ungodly as his father had been. As evidence of his wickedness, this chapter records to whom he turned when he was in trouble. Ahaziah had been injured in a fall “through the lattice in his upper chamber” (v.2). Perhaps because of internal injuries, he was in serious condition and wondered if he would ever recover. He sent his messengers to the temple of the false god Baal-zebub in Ekron to find out if he would get better. This showed the king’s disrespect for the one true God of Israel.

While the messengers were on their way to Ekron, they met Elijah, who appeared on the scene with characteristic abruptness. Elijah asked a reasonable question: “Israel already has a God — Jehovah, the one true God — so why are you going to Ekron to consult the false god of the pagans?” (v.3, paraphrased; for emphasis, this question is repeated three times in this chapter). Without waiting for an answer, he pronounced the word of the Lord: Ahaziah would die because he had forsaken the the one true God of Israel and worshiped idols.

When the messengers told the king what they had heard and described who had said it, he knew immediately that it was Elijah and sent a platoon of soldiers to bring the prophet to the palace. My opinion, based on the wording of verse 15, is that Ahaziah intended to execute Elijah for his unfavorable prophecy. He had learned from his father, Ahab, to accept from the Lord only what suited him (see 1 Kings 22:8).

The first and second platoons suffered deadly consequences for trying to capture and harm the man of God. When the captain of the third platoon humbled himself before Elijah, God released him to go to the palace. Standing before the ailing king, the prophet’s message did not change. Ahaziah was still an idolater who persisted in his open rebellion against a holy God, and as such, deserved death.

The message of Scripture is clear: if you want to know what lies at the end of a life that dishonors God and disregards His Word, look at the shameful death of Ahaziah. But if you wonder about the destiny of those who love the Lord and faithfully obey His Word, read on tomorrow about the glorious non-death of Elijah.

1 Kings 19

Queen Jezebel was furious. While the rest of the nation rejoiced that the rain had come and the drought was over, she had killing on her mind. She missed the point of Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel and she was unwilling to join the others in admitting that her gods were false and Elijah’s God was true (see 18:39). Elijah, as the human agent of God’s judgment, had executed Jezebel’s prophets, and she wanted revenge. She sent word to Elijah that she was going to kill him — and he knew that it was no idle threat.

So the great prophet, the rugged man of God who had boldly stood against the majority and gone toe-to-toe with evil, “ran for his life” (v.3). Really? After what Elijah had experienced, why would he run away like a frightened child? What a contrast: the prophet standing on the mountain praying down fire from heaven and the fearful man curled up under a tree praying to die. What happened?

My opinion is that Elijah was tired and discouraged. The physical and emotional fatigue of Mount Carmel had left him vulnerable to depression. I love the fact that the Lord did not rebuke Elijah for that, but rather understood it and helped him through it by giving him four things he would need to recover and continue with his ministry.

First, the Lord gave Elijah rest (sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap and eat a good meal). He even sent an angel to cook for him! Second, the Lord gave Elijah a fresh encounter with Him. At Horeb (a.k.a. Mount Sinai), a place where He had historically spoken to His people, the Lord led Elijah through a process of verbalizing the grief, loneliness, and discouragement he was feeling (twice, v.10, 14). Then He spoke to the man — not in a fire like He had on Mount Carmel, but in a low whisper, the gentle, comforting voice of the Holy Spirit that can only be heard in the quietness of a humbled heart.

Third, the Lord gave Elijah a plan (v.15-18): he was to anoint two kings who would be the human instruments of divine judgment. Elijah was not going to be alone in God’s sovereign plan. Fourth, the Lord gave Elijah an assistant, a man named Elisha who would be his successor. Elijah learned quickly that Elisha was the kind of man who was willing to make a strong commitment of faith; killing his oxen meant that he was following Elijah with no option of turning back. When Elijah was down and out, God gave him just what he needed. What a good, good God!

1 Kings 18

Three years of drought and famine had made King Ahab desperate for relief. He summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace, to join him in scouring the countryside for a water source. Ahab had already conducted a thorough search for Elijah, the prophet who had pronounced the drought, making his neighbor nations swear that they were not giving him asylum.

While looking for water, Obadiah found Elijah, the missing prophet! He was reasonably afraid that Ahab would find the coincidence suspicious, but Elijah insisted that he arrange a meeting. The exchange between the prophet and the king was brief and tense (v.17-19). Ahab spoke first, accusing Elijah of causing the drought: “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” The prophet threw his words back in his face: “I have not troubled Israel, but you have…because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals (idols, false gods).” Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel — one of the most wicked people, and definitely the most wicked woman, in the Bible — not only worshiped Baal and the goddess Asherah, but they had brought these pagan beliefs into the palace and instituted them as the state religion! Elijah demanded a meeting on Mount Carmel (1,800 ft.), a mountain in northern Israel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, where there was an altar to the Lord that had been abandoned. He told Ahab to bring the prophets of Baal and Asherah, all 850 of them, for a showdown.

On the appointed day, Elijah stood before Ahab, the false prophets, and a crowd of Israelites. In his characteristic bluntness and boldness, he challenged the people to make a choice, to decide once and for all if they would serve the false gods or the one true God. When the people did not answer, Elijah called for a contest to reveal which God was real. He proposed that the God who could send fire to consume an offering would be the one who was true and worthy of worship.

The prophets of Baal went first, and as Elijah mocked them they prayed, begged, shouted, and even cut themselves, but “no one answered; no one paid attention” (v.29). Then Elijah carefully rebuilt the abandoned altar of the one true Lord, the God of Israel. He dug a trench around it and had it drenched with water, and then he prayed (v.36-37). His prayer was simple: “Answer me, O Lord, that these people may know that You are God.” Immediately “the fire of the Lord fell” and consumed not only the offering on the altar, but the altar itself! In response, the people fell down on their faces, confessing their faith in the Lord.

Elijah, as the messenger of God’s wrath, executed the false prophets, ensuring that they could no longer spread their lies. Afterward he bowed down and prayed for rain, and the Lord sent it. The drought was over, the prophet was vindicated, and the truth had won the day.

I am inspired by the courage of Elijah, who stood alone for the Lord. Isn’t it amazing what God did with just one person who was willing to put their faith into action? Just imagine what He can do through you today! Be bold, be strong, and the God who flashed fire from heaven will show Himself to be powerful in your life.