2 Kings 6:1-7 NLTse One day the group of prophets came to Elisha and told him, “As you can see, this place where we meet with you is too small. (2) Let’s go down to the Jordan River, where there a
re plenty of logs. There we can build a new place for us to meet.” “All right,” he told them, “go ahead.” (3) “Please come with us,” someone suggested. “I will,” he said. (4) So he went with them. When they arrived at the Jordan, they began cutting down trees. (5) But as one of them was cutting a tree, his ax head fell into the river. “Oh, sir!” he cried. “It was a borrowed ax!” (6) “Where did it fall?” the man of God asked. When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the ax head floated to the surface. (7) “Grab it,” Elisha said. And the man reached out and grabbed it.
I have to admit, I looked at this one and wondered how it fit into the type of study the Bible has been leading us to in this series. Is this a transition into a new series of lessons, or is this a story that does not coincide with events recorded in the Gospels? There is another general rule of Bible study to review. When an event defies the natural laws of nature, it must have a spiritual meaning and fulfillment. A quick look at keys words shows us a connection in the Gospels will be found through the words, ax and water. Since an ax head does not float, it must be a symbol pointing to a far greater fulfillment.
Matthew 3:5-10 NLTse People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. (6) And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. (7) But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? (8) Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. (9) Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. (10) Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
Two gospels contain this story, Matthew and Luke. You can look at Luke to understand why Matthew appears to be an easier chapter to work with and a better match when comparing summations for the two chapters. First we need to compare details between the two parallel texts and introductions. In 2 Kings 6:1-7 a group pf prophets ask Elisha if they should build a larger place to meet. What does this represent? Growth of course. Notice who the prophets contract for labor. Themselves. They put their backs to work. While they provide the labor, the author points out an important detail – the ax is borrowed. Seems like a strange detail – but no stranger then a floating iron ax head – or the fact the prophet was cutting a tree close enough to a river to loose the ax head which had to travel far enough to reach deeper water.
Matthew 3:5-10 tells about John baptizing in the Jordan River, which happens to be the same river the ax head fell into. Matthew tells us about growth. “People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John.” But there’s trouble. When John saw the Pharisees and Sadducees watching him, he denounced them. On one hand we see growth, on the other we see a group with little or no need to confess their sins – at least to John and in front of a crowd. But wait — isn’t that what they were in the business of – buying and sacrifices so people could confess their sins over them before they were offered? We can see two things occurring here. First is a conflict of interests. John was cutting into profits. Secondly – and most people can relate to this – John is introducing something new — which is referred to as change. Most people know – change inside a religious group can be like moving a mountain. It didn’t help matters when John called the religious leaders a, “brood of snakes!” Of course John names the instrument of their destruction, an ax. Checking previous texts, which in this case is the introduction to Matthew chapter 3, will lead us to other symbols explaining the spiritual meaning of the ax.
Matthew 3:1-4 NLTse In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, (2) “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (3) The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming! Clear the road for him!'” (4) John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.
The most important point we see in the introduction is a quote from Isiah, which brings up one of the most important rules of Bible study. Whenever Old Testament scripture is quoted in the New Testament – LOOK IT UP!!!! Never rely on memory. Jesus quoted scripture dozens of times. He sent them back in the hopes they would learn something. The most important thing was to let God’s Spirit guide their minds and open their hearts. They ignored all the chances Jesus gave them. Then they killed Him. We don’t want to repeat the same mistake. We have to look at the texts Matthew quoted.
Isaiah 40:1-5 NLTse “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. (2) “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the LORD has punished her twice over for all her sins.” (3) Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! (4) Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. (5) Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken!”
The answer is obvious when we compare the introduction of Matthew 3 to texts quoted in Isaiah 40. Look at the sequence of similar words. Preaching, message, speaking, voice, shouting, comfort, speak, tell, listen, voice, shouting, revealed, and spoken. An overwhelming amount of words all tied together. What are they pointing to? John’s message – he is announcing the Messiah! Jesus’ message is the ax that will take bad trees down at the roots. Why is Jesus cutting bad trees at the roots? To comfort His people. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the LORD has punished her twice over for all her sins.” There are important details to pay attention to here. John is announcing an important event in God’s plan of salvation. Jesus is about to begin His ministry. When we compare this to 1 Kings 6, we see they are also building a new place to meet. Can you see the spiritual connection? Words reflecting on a message are continually repeated. Isaiah sums up the message. “Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken!” When we look at contrasts there are two groups of people. One group comes to John to listen to the message and are baptized, the sign of a new beginning. The second group receives a warning from John. We see additional contrasts to this message in the summations of the two chapters.
2 Kings 6:24-33 NLTse Some time later, however, King Ben-hadad of Aram mustered his entire army and besieged Samaria. (25) As a result, there was a great famine in the city. The siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty pieces of silver, and a cup of dove’s dung sold for five pieces of silver. (26) One day as the king of Israel was walking along the wall of the city, a woman called to him, “Please help me, my lord the king!” (27) He answered, “If the LORD doesn’t help you, what can I do? I have neither food from the threshing floor nor wine from the press to give you.” (28) But then the king asked, “What is the matter?” She replied, “This woman said to me: ‘Come on, let’s eat your son today, then we will eat my son tomorrow.’ (29) So we cooked my son and ate him. Then the next day I said to her, ‘Kill your son so we can eat him,’ but she has hidden her son.” (30) When the king heard this, he tore his clothes in despair. And as the king walked along the wall, the people could see that he was wearing burlap under his robe next to his skin. (31) “May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t separate Elisha’s head from his shoulders this very day,” the king vowed. (32) Elisha was sitting in his house with the elders of Israel when the king sent a messenger to summon him. But before the messenger arrived, Elisha said to the elders, “A murderer has sent a man to cut off my head. When he arrives, shut the door and keep him out. We will soon hear his master’s steps following him.” (33) While Elisha was still saying this, the messenger arrived. And the king said, “All this misery is from the LORD! Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?”
Once again we’re faced with a new lesson taught by God’s Spirit as we progress through this series of studies. Looking back at the previous study about Naaman the leper, we see an obvious connection. The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the LORD had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy. (2 Kings 5:1 NLTse). In chapter 5, the king of Aram sends his army’s commander to Israel’s king to be healed. Elisha tells Naaman to: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:10 NLTse). We have a connection. Naaman is sent to bath in the Jordan River. The prophet looses the ax head in the Jordan River. John baptized people in the Jordan River. The river didn’t make the ax head float. Neither did the river heal Naaman. The river certainly did not remove sins when John baptized people. The Jordan River is a symbol pointing to a greater fulfillment. God’s Spirit is introducing symbolism. At this point God’s Spirit is teaching us how to recognize symbolism, which is different than interpreting symbols. So far we have seen how God’s Word and Spirit establish a line of details to consider, but not how to interpret symbols. There are a number of lessons we need to be comfortable with before we are ready to jump to the next level. We first have to become familiar with how God’s Spirit leads to parallel texts. We have to become fluent with using and recognizing context. If we do not master these lessons, any future use of God’s Word in an attempt to interpret symbols will most likely fail.
Its strange to see one chapter with a king and his subject obtain a blessing beyond belief, then see them invade the land that played a part in that blessing and cause so much pain, suffering, and death. One of the key thoughts in the summation for 2 Kings 6 is the sacrifice and cannibalism of children in Samaria, Israel’s capital. When we look back we see, Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the LORD, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel. He cast metal images for the worship of Baal. He offered sacrifices in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, even sacrificing his own sons in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. (2 Chronicles 28:1-3 NLTse). Their sacrifices moved from one form to another until it reached a point God had to step in and say that’s enough. We also see Israel’s king placing the blame on Elisha. We can begin to see the spiritual application of such a gruesome story once we compare it to the summation of Matthew 3 and look at it through Jesus’ eyes.
Matthew 3:11-17 NLTse “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am–so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (12) He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” (13) Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. (14) But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” (15) But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him. (16) After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. (17) And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
Once we put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes to look at the summation of 2 Kings 6 and compare it to what we’ve seen while comparing the two chapters, we can understand what these stories meant to Jesus as He began His ministry.
The prophets asked Elisha about building a larger place to assemble. This marked a new, greater beginning. John announced the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Along with the announcement of Jesus’ ministry, John also warned about the end of the established religious order. One must fall for the other to grow. Aram’s king surrounded Samaria and starved the city into submission. It appears as if that marked the end of Israel. Of course God came and saved the day by sending the army around Samaria fleeing for their lives. Israel was starving, but God’s grace provided them with an abundance of food. When Jesus read this story, He could see how His ministry would eventually end the reign of Israel’s priests in Jerusalem. Spiritually they were starving. Their lack of a spiritual connection with God was sacrificing the lives of all the children in their control. Jesus came to end this form of spiritual bondage and starvation. Jesus was also reminded it was His role to give the religious leaders another chance. Some how the religious leaders had to see, food was available from the One they considered an enemy. Once again God used contrasts to teach a spiritual lesson far deeper than ever expected. Jerusalem’s religious leaders had to put away their prejudice so God’s Spirit could equip them to preach God’s plan of salvation. To do that, God used Samaria as a symbol – one of the subjects Jesus preached during His ministry. God also used the Jordan River in a series of lessons to point to another beginning. Israel crossed the Jordan River into the promised land — another new beginning. Jesus is the path taking us from this world into the promised land. A journey that begins once our sins are confessed and forgiven. You have to wonder – why God saved Samaria after its king tried to place blame on Elisha instead of taking responsibility for driving the city and country to ruin. With this particular chapter, our study would not be complete without looking at the lessons between the introduction and summation for 2 Kings chapter 6.
2 Kings 6:8-13 NLTse When the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he would confer with his officers and say, “We will mobilize our forces at such and such a place.” (9) But immediately Elisha, the man of God, would warn the king of Israel, “Do not go near that place, for the Arameans are planning to mobilize their troops there.” (10) So the king of Israel would send word to the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he would be on the alert there. (11) The king of Aram became very upset over this. He called his officers together and demanded, “Which of you is the traitor? Who has been informing the king of Israel of my plans?” (12) “It’s not us, my lord the king,” one of the officers replied. “Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in the privacy of your bedroom!” (13) “Go and find out where he is,” the king commanded, “so I can send troops to seize him.” And the report came back: “Elisha is at Dothan.”
The key words lead to the main thought in these texts. God is warning Israel through His prophet Elisha. Time after time God saved lives and protected Israel. No matter how far Israel drifted away, God was still looking over them. Imagine if Israel opened their hearts and ears directly to God. What messages did He have for each individual? God was willing, but like Aram’s king, consulted with their advisers instead of God. Worse yet – other gods. Elisha is in a tough spot. Not only doesn’t Israel’s king appreciate him, Aram sends troops to capture him. Jesus had the same problem. He was opposed and eventually turned in by one of His disciples. The spiritual lesson goes much deeper than that. The story in 2 Kings chapter 6 reveals far greater details.
2 Kings 6:14-18 NLTse So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city. (15) When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha. (16) “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” (17) Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. (18) As the Aramean army advanced toward him, Elisha prayed, “O LORD, please make them blind.” So the LORD struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked.
Fear was everywhere. It surrounded the little city of Dothan. There was no place to go. The end seemed eminent. Elijah knew God’s plan. All he had to do is look up to see God’s plan. Why could Elisha see God’s plan, but his servant couldn’t – until Elisha prayed for him? This shows the power of prayer. It also shows how a man of God is able to see beyond physical elements of this world into God’s domain. Can you imagine – when Jesus came up from the waters of Jordan – what He saw and how the sight of God’s army all around Him, comforted Him, and gave Jesus the confidence to begin His ministry. Prayer was a large part of Jesus’ ministry to open the eyes of both His followers and enemies alike. There were a few people who heard God’s voice and a few who looked up into the sky to see God’s army. Can you imagine the comfort and enthusiasm they received. That sight, comfort and enthusiasm is available today. We can still see and believe God’s army is all around us, showing us, this battle involves much more than this world. Can we see – all of God’s creation is effected and involved in this struggle? Can we understand everything at stake in this conflict? Are we willing to open our eyes to the greater picture – the greater fulfillment of all the symbols God is using? Are we willing to accept our limitations, rely on God’s Spirit, seek help, knowledge, wisdom from above? Are you willing to ask forgiveness for your sins and begin the journey? Baptism is not the end of the journey. I know people preach – if you are baptized into their church, your sins are forgiven. They refer to baptism as saving souls. Naaman was baptized, cleansed of leprosy, then led an army against God’s people. Naaman and his king not only saw, but experienced God’s presence. It had little effect on them…. they soon turned their backs on God to consult with the same people who mislead them before the event. When are you going to be willing to learn from God and continue to live in God’s hands… to go directly to Him for advice, counsel, and guidance? We can see how God guided Elisha.
2 Kings 6:19-23 NLTse Then Elisha went out and told them, “You have come the wrong way! This isn’t the right city! Follow me, and I will take you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to the city of Samaria. (20) As soon as they had entered Samaria, Elisha prayed, “O LORD, now open their eyes and let them see.” So the LORD opened their eyes, and they discovered that they were in the middle of Samaria. (21) When the king of Israel saw them, he shouted to Elisha, “My father, should I kill them? Should I kill them?” (22) “Of course not!” Elisha replied. “Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master.” (23) So the king made a great feast for them and then sent them home to their master. After that, the Aramean raiders stayed away from the land of Israel.
Elisha had so much confidence in God, he went straight into the middle of the enemies camp and led them into the middle of their enemies city. Elisha had so much confidence in God, he faced off against Israel’s king, who wanted to kill them. Elisha told the king to “Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master.” We never know how a situation will work out until we learn to open our eyes and ears to God. We see how Elisha received a double blessing of Elijah’s power. Elisha had more confidence in God than Elijah was able to display. So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. (John 5:19-20 NLTse).