Floating Axe-head, Listening Ears

There are two separate incidents in the life of the prophet Elisha recorded in the second book of Kings (chapter six) which may appear random, almost inconsequential, yet with further consideration may prove beneficial.

In one incident, the sons of the prophets decide to relocate and build near the River Jordan. While chopping down trees an axe head falls into the river, and is eventually retrieved after Elisha throws a stick into the river, at which point the iron axe head miraculously floats to the surface. (2 Kings 6:1-7)

The other incident is perhaps more familiar. It is when the king of Syria endeavours to make war against Israel, yet despite repeated attempts, he fails. He suspects a spy from within, but is told that the culprit is Elisha who lives some distance away, in Israel. Miraculously, the prophet of God (in Israel) is listening to the king's secret counsels (in Syria). The king sends an army of chariots to kidnap Elisha living in Dothan. They fail, again. The army is struck with blindness and then taken by Elisha to the city of Samaria, where they participate as guests of a great feast. The army is well-fed, released unharmed, to return to Syria in peace, and without Elisha. (2 Kings 6:8-23)

Both events are unusual to have been recorded because in the Scripture because neither would affect our faith in God if they were left out. We understand that God's servant can do the miraculous, and that God remains sovereign. Thus God continues to be exalted from our perspective. While miraculous, we are not surprised when Elisha causes the axe head to float, or that he is able to hear the secret plans of Israel's enemy. So why should these particular events be recorded? What instruction is there for the follower of God?

The life of a prophet was dedicated entirely to the service of the God of Israel. As a man of God, the prophet was the mouth and eyes of God for Israel. He would proclaim the path of God, for the people of Israel in any situation. The prophet would be sought to determine God's will, such as, whether or not the king should go to war. On the other hand, the prophet might seek out a king or anoint a future leader to proclaim God's will.

On some occasions the prophet would be required to act out or dramatize the revelation to king and common people alike. In this way the life of the prophet was a story book of time and history. Appreciably, the people of Israel would watch and listen to the prophet with great interest.

Consider, the prophets Elijah and Elisha. These prophets were especially significant because Elijah is understood to be the one to herald the Messiah, and since Elijah anointed Elisha as his successor, Elisha is a type of the Messiah. The Elijah-Elisha combination is a picture of how the Messiah would come, therefore, they are of utmost importance.

For this reason, the people of Israel are expecting the arrival of Elijah, who will then announce the coming of the Messiah. "Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, in whom you delight. Behold He is coming.' says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:1) Elijah is the messenger who "will prepare the way before Me". And "the Messenger of the Covenant", is the Messiah who is foreshadowed by Elisha, the successor to Elijah.

It is of great importance to note that Yeshua the Messiah pointed to Yochanan the Immerser (John the baptizer) as the promised messenger, and Himself as the Messenger of the Covenant. "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings' courts. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.' For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than Yochanan the Immerser, but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (Luke 7:24-28)

The lives of the prophets Elijah and Elisha foreshadow Yochanan the Immerser and Yeshua the Messiah, respectively.

With this in mind, let us return to the two incidents recorded in the sixth chapter of the second book of Kings.

In the account of the king of Syria sending an army to kidnap Elisha, we note that the event begins with "the king of Syria was making war against Israel" (2 Kings 6:8), while at the conclusion of the recorded incident "the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel." (2 Kings 6:23) Thus the event begins with hostilities towards Israel, and concludes with a time of peace.

The Syrian king making war against Israel is a historically true portrayal of the Gentile nations' attitude and behaviour toward Israel, during their many years of exile. The Syrian king, therefore, is a type or foreshadow.

Similiarly, the Syrian enemy ceasing to invade the land is a type or a foreshadow of a future time, when the Gentiles will no more trample and defile the holy land and holy people.

Let us note that Syria "was making war against" Israel. Israel was the vulnerable victim, with no visible army to fend off the invaders. At the time, the northern kingdom of Israel was estranged from God. Both aspects are typical of Israel's experience in the exile. The Gentile nations, who have hosted the Jewish people, during their exile, have acted like the king of Syria.

"Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel; and he consulted with his servants, saying, 'My camp will be in such and such a place.' And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, 'Beware that you do not pass this place for the Syrians are coming down there.'" (2 Kings 6:8-9)

Bless the LORD! Has not this also been true?! For during their centuries among the Gentiles, the people of Israel have avoided the many attempts to destroy them. In the same way that the king of Syria failed and Israel was able to elude the destructive plan, as is recorded, ". . . not just once or twice." (2 Kings 6:10), so too, Israel has experienced a great deliverance. Indeed it is true even today, the people of Israel will continue to survive because God is faithful and will not allow His people to be destroyed.

The most familiar aspect in the account is when the king of Syria is told that Elisha is listening to his plans. Immediately, the king of Syria sends an army to kidnap the prophet. Aware that the prophet already knows, the king sends a formidable force. Yet, the man of God does not flee. When the army arrives the entire town is surrounded. Elisha's servant sees the strong enemy forces and proclaims, "'Alas, my master! What shall we do?' So he answered, 'Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' And Elisha prayed and said, 'LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." (2 Kings 6:15-17)

Elisha, the servant of God, was vulnerable, yet He was protected by unseen forces, so too, the people of Israel. The king of Syria could not comprehend how his plans were thwarted, so too, the Gentiles who "make war against Israel" do not comprehend that they oppose God. The king of Syria did not see, neither can the Gentiles see the hand of God protecting His servant, Israel. Even the young man, who lived in close proximity to the servant of God, required his eyes opened to see that " . . . those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

Likewise, the people of Israel, today, are preserved and protected by the unseen forces who are greater than and more in number than those with their enemies. Moreover, it is not through Israel's association with powerful allies, or from international accords, that they are where they are today. They remain a nation today because the God of Israel continues to protect them and fulfils the covenant which He made with Abraham, Isaac and Israel.

The nations do not understand, neither do they seek to comprehend, that those who are with Israel are greater. Bless the LORD all you who fear His Name!

Note, the significant difference between Syria and Israel. The Syrian was making war against Israel, but when the shoe was on the other foot, when the king of Israel had the power and capacity to kill the enemy, Israel prepares a feast, no, "a great feast for them", for the enemy. (2 Kings 6:22) This is typical of Israel's general demeanour throughout the centuries of dispersion and living among the Gentiles. Despite the Gentiles making war, scheming Israel's destruction, Israel have endeavoured to live peaceably with their host.

Hear God's instruction given those who went into captivity in Babylon, through the prophet Jeremiah, " . . . seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace." (Jeremiah 29:7)

And so, in the exile Israel has sought peace, and to live peaceably. However, when an evil leader arose, or when a country's leaders looked for a scapegoat -- some group to blame for their country's sad predicament -- it was the Jewish community which came under their evil gaze and tirade of hate. And so they plotted and schemed, and made war against Israel.

God revealed even to the exiles His plans. "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

"Then you will call upon Me and find Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you, when you search for Me with all your heart.

"I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive." (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

Here is another striking similarity revealed in the incident involving Elisha which parallels the exile. Consider, the king of Syria sent an army to carry Elisha away captive, but God protected and preserved His servant. In the same way, the Jewish people had been carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar's army, yet God promised to preserve and protect them. The people of Israel have "a future and a hope."

Undoubtedly, the Messiah is the Hope of Israel. He is their Kinsman-Redeemer. He will deliver them from their enemies and restore them. "And it shall come to pass that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you, and you shall be a blessing." (Zechariah 8:13)

What picture is portrayed with the second incident with Elisha?

Notably, in this account "the sons of the prophets" are engaged in activities that are foreign to their calling, namely, the building of houses in which to live. "See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us. Please let us, go to the Jordan, and let every man take a beam from there, and let us make there a place where we may dwell." (2 Kings 6:1-2)

That is not to say that a prophet can not build or be active in any other activity, but when the main activity is not serving God then it is foreign to his calling. Indeed, Elisha disciplined his servant Gehazi for accepting items from Namaan, after Namaan had been healed. Hear Elisha when he said to Gehazi, "Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants?" (2 Kings 5:26)

The point is that just as a servant of a king is primarily active in the king's business, so also, the servant of God is not to be primarily concerned with personal achievement and assets.

In the incident recorded in 2 Kings chapter six, where the sons of the prophets are building homes, the picture painted is one of preoccupation. They are not engaged in their primary service to God, but rather in activity which is foreign to their calling. It is a picture of preoccupation.

Note, also, and adding weight (iron) to the concept of a foreign environment, is the equipment being used to chop the trees, namely, "the iron axe head . . . " (2 Kings 6:5) When the axe head falls into the river, the man who was using it proclaims to Elisha, "Alas, master! For it was borrowed." Thus, even the equipment was foreign (borrowed), alien to the sons of the prophets.

If the sons of the prophets were symbolic of the people of Israel, they would portray them as a people living in foreign lands; a people preoccupied with survival, rather than engaged in their holy calling.

This is the same image which is depicted when the king of Syria is making war with Israel. In both incidents Israel is portrayed as having to conduct a lifestyle of survival, amid a foreign Gentile environment.

Together, the two incidents appear random, yet after consideration portray an accurate and true picture of Israel's history, while dispersed among the nations. Their harsh treatment at the hands of the Gentiles, and their struggle to survive, the unseen forces protecting and preserving Israel, and the hand of God behind the scenes bringing to fulfilment His promises, despite the evil agenda of wicked men.

The concluding picture, however, is the most pleasant of all. For just as, in the days of Elisha, the enemy returned home and Israel was able to live in quiet, so too, in the coming days the people of Israel will live in peace and be at rest. Because the God of Israel is faithful, they have a hope and a future.

May the LORD open the eyes of many in our day that they may see the great things He has accomplished for Israel. May there be many who see His handiwork, and His Messiah.

Mark Warren