By J.R. Miller
2 Kings 13:14-25
The story of Elisha has a fine charm about it. It contrasts with the story of Elijah. The men widely differed in their personal character, and the manner of their work differed quite as widely. We come now to the close of Elisha's ministry. The most useful life must come to an end. It is interesting while we stand beside this old prophet's deathbed, to think of all that he had been to the country in which he lived. We saw him first as a young farmer, plowing in the fields one day, when suddenly behind him came the prophet Elijah in shaggy garments and threw over his shoulders a sheepskin cloak. Thus the young farmer was called to the ministry, as we would say.
From that time on, his life was given up to God and God's service--for a while as the attendant and helper of Elijah--and then as the great prophet of Israel. He was a man of gentle mood and kindly spirit. His ministry was full of blessings. We have but a few incidents of it recorded--but these show us the spirit of the man. The friend of the poor and the oppressed, he was also the counselor and helper of kings.
There is no time when a man's life and work can be seen quite so truly--as from amid the shadows of his last hours. Then prejudices give way to honest appreciation, enmity dissolves in kindly sentiment, and criticism is changed to ungrudged commendation. We should live so that when the end of our life comes--the world may speak approvingly of us. In order to do this--we must live faithfully along the years--unselfishly, purely, thoughtfully.
The incident in one of Elisha's last days, recorded in our passage, is peculiarly interesting. The king came down to see the old minister. Joash knew well the value of the counsel of the old prophet. He was now in much trouble with enemies who were pressing upon him. He needed Elisha's wisdom. Perhaps this was why he came, rather than merely to pay tribute at the deathbed of the godly man. The prophet could not come to him any more--and the king came to him with his questions, his perplexities, his anxieties, to get advice. It is a great thing to be set apart as a counselor and friend, one to whom others may come with their needs, their sorrows, their sins, and their troubles.
The king's tribute to the prophet was very beautiful. He spoke of him as his father, and indeed Elisha had been a father to him. He was an affectionate man and, no doubt, had shown all of a father's interest in the king. He spoke of him also as "the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof." This was a tribute to the value of Elisha as a defender of the nation. It did not mean that the prophet had been a leader of victorious armies, for he never was so employed--he had not been a soldier--but that his wisdom, counsel, and love had been to the king of even greater value--than his armies had been. Besides, the prophet's power with God--had brought divine help to the nation in time of war. Godly men are always a blessing to a community and to a country. Indeed, the world does not know the value of the saints who live in it, ofttimes neglected, overlooked, unrecognized, and yet the real deliverers and defenders of the people.
Elisha improved the occasion of the king's coming to see him, to say some earnest words to him. He wished to teach him a lesson which might influence his course as a king. It was an ancient custom to throw a spear or shoot an arrow into a country which an army was about to invade. Thus it is said that Alexander the Great, arriving on the coasts of Iona, threw a spear into the country of the Persians which lay before him. This was a formal declaration of war against Persia. Marcus Aurelius, when leaving Rome to go on one of his campaigns, performed a final sacrifice, and then, dipping a spear point into the blood of the sacrifice, he hurled it in the direction of the enemy.
This was in token of the war he was about to begin. That this custom prevailed at the time of Elisha and the kings of Israel, this incident of the arrows would seem to indicate. The king was bidden to draw the bow with his own hand. This showed that he was to wage the war. The battle was to be fought by him. The prophet then put his hand upon the king's. This signified that the Lord, whose representative Elisha was--would fight with the king in the battle against his enemies.
We are beset with enemies. Whatever we may say about the barbarity of war, there is no question but that every Christian is called to be a soldier and must fight even until death. Every blessing has to be won in contest. This incident has its lesson for us in our spiritual warfare. We should cast the arrow of God toward every enemy that stands before us--there should be no peace made with sin, no truce even with wickedness. Our own hand must be upon the bow, for we must fight our own battles. Even God will not fight for us while we lie supinely at our ease. He does not fight for us--but He will fight with us. We are bidden to be strong in the Lord. We are assured that God will bruise Satan under our feet. While the Lord does the bruising, it must be under our tread.
The Lord wants strenuousness and thoroughness in our warfare against spiritual enemies. The prophet taught his lesson in dramatic way.
He bade the king to open the window eastward, toward Syria, and to shoot. "The Lord's arrow of victory," said the prophet. Then he bade the king gather up his arrows and smite upon the ground. The king obeyed--but smote only three times. Elisha was angry and chided the king with his lack of earnestness and enthusiasm. The war against the Syrians was not to be a partial one--but should be waged until the victory was complete and the enemies were entirely subdued. This was God's plan for the war, which Joash was commanded to begin. This was what God meant him to do.
The lesson is also for us. We should not fight any spiritual battle languidly. We should never make a compromise with sin in any form. We should smite our enemies until they are consumed. The trouble in the wars of God's people in Canaan, was that they did not utterly exterminate their enemies. They left little handfuls of them here and there, parts of tribes and families, sometimes making alliances with them. The result was that these enemies became the plague of God's people in after days. We must do thorough work in our battle with temptation and sin!
"You should have smitten five or six times," said the prophet. The incident of the arrows, was not a mere bit of play. Without knowing it, the king was being tested. The prophet's anger was not unreasonable. The test had not been an arbitrary one. By the way the king smote with the arrows--he showed the kind of man he was. He smote indolently, carelessly, only three times. He showed no enthusiasm, no energy. His act was the tell-tale of his character. He did everything in the same way: half-heartedly, and not thoroughly. If he had smitten with all his might and persistently, he would have shown himself to be a man of unconquerable spirit, doing his work with energy. As it was, he had proved himself to be unequal to the responsibility laid upon htm. Instead of smiting the Syrians until he had consumed them--he would gain only three slight victories over them and then let them go.
We are interested in this because it teaches us important lessons. Without being conscious of it--we are always revealing our character by little things in our conduct and behavior. Even in his play, a child shows the quality of his spirit and tells whether he is going to be a man of persistence and courage--or indolent, easily satisfied, half-hearted. Wellington said the battle of Waterloo was won at Eton. He meant that in the games and plays of his school days--he had learned the secret of the power which made him a general. Children cannot be too careful in forming their early habits. These habits will almost certainly control the whole life.