Sermon preached on 2 Kings 6:8-23 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Lord’s Day Online Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 05/31/2020.
We see a reminder in this passage that if God is for you, it doesn’t matter who is against you! But is that the hope that Israel as a nation had been living by? Is that the hope that you have been living by?
We begin our passage by seeing God again saving Israel from its enemies. This time it is again God saving them from the Syrians. We see this in verses 8-12. There we find that the Syrian King, presumably King Ben-hadad, had been leading bands of soldiers into various parts of Israel and setting up ambushes. It seems these ambushes were especially set to try to capture the king of Israel – presumably King Jehoram. But the plans of the Syrian King kept getting foiled. Elisha would keep warning the Israelite King of where the Syrians were camped in Israel. And so, King of Israel would investigate it and then be on guard against that threat. The text in verse 11 tells us that this happen on a number of occasions.
Realize what this is. It is the miraculous help of God to Israel. Unbelievers always try to explain away the miracles of God. They try to say that since Elisha presumably traveled around Israel a lot, he had lots of informants who could give him information on the Syrian military movements. But such reducing of Elisha’s role to that of a military intelligence officer is not what this passage about. No, the Bible claims that Elisha had a knowledge beyond what any man could have. This is even reported to the Syrian King by his own servants. When he realizes that his ambush plans keep getting foiled, he gets upset. He begins to wonder if he has a spy in his ranks. But that’s when his servants inform him that the problem is Elisha, the prophet in Israel. In verse 12 they even go as far to say that Elisha knows the very words that the Syrian king says in his own bedroom!
We have a word for this. It’s called omniscience. That’s what we are really talking about here. We are talking about the omniscience of God. That God sees all things and hears all things and knows all things. Nothing can be hidden from God. God is all knowing. That’s what is behind Elisha’s knowledge of the Syrian troop movements. Elisha is not all-knowing. It is the God of Israel who is all-knowing and gave this information to his prophet. The Syrian King had not seen the God of Israel as the all-seeing God, and so his secret plans kept getting exposed. How many today, even Christians too often, live without the recognition that God sees everything we do, everything we say, even everything we think!
A question we might ask here is why is God even yet saving Israel like this? Israel who had been so wayward under the kings of the house of Omri. More to the point, we might remember that God had told Elijah that he would raise up a Syrian king named Hazael to bring judgment upon Israel and the house of Omri. Yet, Hazael hasn’t even came to power yet in Syria. That will happen in two chapters from now. But that means that God had already declared that Syria would bring a mighty judgment on Israel – yet here he spares them from Syria. This is God’s mercy. It is his longsuffering with Israel, that they would yet see their God for who he is. That they would yet see that their relationship with God is their only hope for salvation and for a blessed life. That they would yet see this and repent. Unfortunately, they will not sufficiently see that before Hazael of Syria is raised up to judge Israel. But God’s longsuffering toward Israel means that he gives them many chances to see this. We see that right here alone with these many times that Elisha informs the Israelite King of the Syrian King’s ambushes.
Let’s turn next to consider the response of the Syrian King when he learns that Elisha had been informing the King of Israel. This is verses 13-20 where the Syrian King sends horses, and chariots, and a great army to go seize Elisha in his home. Apparently, the Syrian King still does not see clearly on this matter. Because while he recognizes a greatness of knowledge that Elisha possessed, he apparently thought he could yet overpower Elisha. Even in terms of knowledge, the King of Syria still was underestimating Elisha, because you notice that he sends his forces at night – as if that would keep Elisha from knowing about it!
So then, the next morning, Elisha’s servant wakes up and finds the Syrian forces surrounding them. I’m sure it seemed like an overwhelming force to him when surely his home there with Elisha was relatively small and unimposing. To his servants’ eyes, they were grossly outnumbered and without any hope. He comes into to Elisha with he words there of verse 15, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” We can appreciate that reaction. It’s an understandable reaction of fear. But it is fear that Elisha responds to in a wonderful way.
First, Elisha encourages him. He says to his servant, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Now, at that moment, such words would require faith by Elisha’s servant. At that moment, he only has the word of Elisha. Yet, if you’ve seen the power of Elisha’s word, you would have great reason to trust such a word. For Elisha is the prophet of the LORD who brings the word of the one true God. That word alone could rightly bring comfort here to Elisha’s servant. That word is a word that calls Elisha’s servant to walk by faith and not by sight. That’s a word we know we’ve been given too. We as Christians today are called to walk by faith and not by sight. The enemies to our faith look strong and powerful. But greater is he who is in us that he who is the world!
But Elisha didn’t leave his servant with only that word which called for faith. Elisha then prayed for his servant. He prayed that his servant would have his eyes opened that he may see the reality of the situation – verse 17. God answered that prayer. He is allowed to see that the mountain was filled with horses and chariots of fire all around them. That’s surely a perspective changing vision! I’m reminded of how Balaam’s donkey was allowed to see the angel of the LORD ready to strike Balaam. Balaam was upset at his donkey for his repeated laying down, until Balaam’s eyes were opened to see the threat of the angel. Then Balaam’s perspective changed too. Sight gives clarity! Elisha’s servant was then blessed to have this great sight of these horses and chariots of fire standing ready to defend Elisha.
Such a vision should remind us of the horses and chariots of fire that were present when Elijah was taken up into heaven. That’s when Elisha had called Elijah himself as the chariots of Israel and its horsemen. That’s because back then Elisha himself was able to see that when Elijah was there on earth, then God’s mighty power and heavenly hosts was there with him. Now that was still the case, but now there with Elisha. Where Elisha was, God’s might and power was there as well. Elisha’s servant was granted the ability to see the reality of this power.
We also have a word for this power. It’s called omnipotence. That’s what we are really talking about here. We are talking about the omnipotence of God. That God’s strength and might is greater than any earthly force. Nothing can overtake God. God is all powerful. That’s what is behind these horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha. Elisha is not all-power. It is the God of Israel who is all-powerful and supplied this protection to his prophet. The Syrian King had not appreciated the God of Israel as the all-powerful God, and so his effort here to subdue Elisha was doomed to fail. How many today, even Christians too often, live without sufficiently acknowledging the infinite power of God.
So then, verse 18 shows these Syrian forces pressing in on Elisha. Interestingly, Elisha doesn’t even both employing any of these angelic forces at his disposal. Instead, he gives another prayer, and again about sight. Well, this time, the Syrians would lose their sight. So, while Elisha’s servant is encouraged by giving spiritual sight, the Syrians lose even their physical sight. They are left instantly blinded when God answers Elisha’s prayer. Elisha then calls out to them in verse 19. He instructs them you like might instruct a blind person. He directs them along. He leads them all the way to the Israelite capital of Samaria where of course the Israelite army with the king is there.
Notice then Elisha gives one more prayer. In verse 20 as they enter Samaria, Elisha prays that they Syrian would regain their sight. God answers that prayer and now they see themselves surrounded by the Israelite forces in the capital of Samaria. Now they should see that the tables are turned and their lives are threatened. Now they should be afraid!
That brings us to our third point for today, to see how God saves the Syrians! That’s verses 21-23. The King of Israel sees all the Syrian forces delivered unto them by Elisha. He commendably inquires with Elisha if he should strike them down. You’ll note he calls Elisha “My father.” That was the right and honorable way for the king to address this prophet. We can also see the zeal of the king to strike the Syrians in the fact that he asks Elisha twice in a row, “Shall I strike them down?” Elisha responds in the negative. Elisha demands that they are not to strike them down. Elisha explains by asking them a rhetorical question. He says, “Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow?” Basically, Elisha is seeing them as prisoners of war who have been captured. He won’t allow for any harm to be done to them. And so God, through Elisha, shows mercy to these Syrians. He spares their lives from otherwise death at the hand of the Israelite army. He saves them from destruction.
God’s merciful saving of the Syrians doesn’t stop at just sparing their lives. He also blesses them with a feast. Elisha’s initial order is to give them bread and water and then to release them so they could go back to their master – surely a reference to their king who apparently wasn’t with these forces. So then in verse 23, we see that they are apparently give more than just some meager portions of bread and water. Rather, it says that Elisha prepares a great feast for them before he sends them on their way.
Now we can appreciate this sort of thing. We can think of how Jesus told us to love our enemies and that by doing so it is like heaping burning coals on their head. Underserved kindness toward an enemy can go a long way toward changing their hostile attitude toward you. In fact, we see that there is some noteworthy result that takes place because of this. Verse 23 ends by saying that the Syrians no longer came again on such raids into the land of Israel. I want to let that positive result sink in for a moment. There was some positive effect on the Syrians that resulted in at least some change in their hostile behavior. That being said, I have to then mention the next passage. Next week’s passage will show that the Syrian army eventually returns in full scale war to besiege Samaria. So, both of these things are true. Elisha’s mercy toward these Syrians has some positive result in which these ambush raids stop. But the enmity with Syria has not been ultimately resolved, and they will yet attack Israel again in the future. In some divine irony, there will be famished Israelites in Samaria with no bread to eat, while Syrian besiege the city.
Given that future, this mercy God shows the Syrians here is interesting. It is also interesting, given the past. This passage brings to my mind a somewhat similar situation with King Ahab where he mercifully spares and releases the Syrian King and is greatly rebuked by God for doing that. That was back in 1 Kings 20. There, the King of Syria had repeatedly been attacking Israel and trying to treat Israel very harshly. God gave two victories to Ahab and Israel over Syria in that chapter. The last one involved Ahab’s forces surrounding the Syrian King. It looked all over for the Syrian King. Finally, they decide to beg for mercy. They put on sackcloth and the ask that their lives be spared. Ahab decides to give mercy. The Syrian king promises to return all the cities they’ve taken and to be at peace with Israel. They make a covenant together to that end, and Ahab lets the Syrian King go free. But God was not happy and has a prophet rebuke Ahab, saying that he let go the man whom God had devoted for destruction.
Yet, in contrast, King Jehoram here is subtly admonished for suggesting that they not show mercy to these Syrians. The contrast between the two stories is interesting. Unfortunately, there is no explicit divine commentary that compares and contrasts this passage with the matter in 1 Kings 20 with Ahab and Syria. But the similarities and differences does seem to warrant some thoughtful consideration of why God wanted Ahab to bring judgment back in 1 Kings 20 but here calls for mercy.
We might note then some of the differences that may be behind this passage’s call for mercy to these Syrians. One difference is that in today’s passage the mercy is clearly shown to the soldiers of Syria and not to the King of Syria. In the passage with Ahab, the concern was specifically for the release of the Syrian king. But in this passage, it is clear that the Syrian king was not among those captured, as they are being released so they can return to him. Likewise, we could think of how today in wartime, captured POWs might be sent back safely after the hostilities are over, with the exception that certain POWs might be tried and sentenced for certain war crimes, if found guilty. In our passage for today, these soldiers were just men following the orders of their king. But it was the Syrian king who ultimately would have to answer for the morality of his various orders.
A second difference between this passage and the one with Ahab back in 1 Kings 20 is that the mercy shown here was the decision of God not the Israelite King. That’s important to note because back in the matter with Ahab God says that he gave the Syrian King into Ahab’s hand specifically for the purpose of his being devoted to destruction. Whereas here, it is God who specifically declares that these are prisoners or war to be released now that the battle is over. God, as the ultimate authority in Israel, had the final say. Here, Jehoram acts in submission to God’s decision, whereas back in 1 Kings 20 Ahab’s release of the Syrian King directly violated God’s wishes.
That of course brings us to recognize a third difference. In this passage, Jehoram inquires of the LORD by asking Elisha if he should strike the Syrians down. Jerhoram asked God before he acted. On the contrast, Ahab in 1 Kings 20 clearly acted without any inquiring of the LORD. That is why Ahab didn’t know God’s declaration to have the Syrian king devoted to destruction. That is why Jehoram did know God’s wishes here.
So those are some differences between the two passages which otherwise share some superficial similarities. I wanted to point out the differences because it shows that important decisions must be made with discernment and that details must be considered. Nuance is important. Ultimately, the Word of God must be a guide as we assess the specific details that are before us.
To conclude this third point, however, we must note that here again we see in this section of Scripture God showing kindness to Gentiles. We’ve been talking about that dynamic in this portion of Scripture. In this case, he shows kindness to Syrians when it will be in the very next passage when yet God will use Syrians in a chastening of Israel. Yet, we should not miss the fact that this passage is not simply God saving and blessing Syrians. Rather, we saw how the passage started out with God saving and blessing Israel. And even in the next passage, God will yet save Israel again from the besieging Syrian army. And so, while there is in part this dynamic of God blessing Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy, there is also an even greater salvation that God brings Israel here. The question becomes will Israel see that? Will they see and understand what they should about God and their relationship with him? Will they recognize with Elisha and his servant that if the God of Israel is on their side, then greater is the one who is with them than those who are against them? The fact that God gives salvation and mercy in this passage to both Syria and Israel is a call for Israel to recognize where their hope must be. They must repent of the ways that they’ve forsaken the LORD. They must recognize the help and salvation that is in God. Unfortunately, we’ll see in the next passage that this is still a struggle that the Israelite king has. When things get difficult, he is quick to blame the LORD instead of calling out to him for help. But God, in his longsuffering, would yet deliver Israel even then.
In conclusion, will we today see the omniscient and omnipotent God that we have in Jesus Christ? There is a spiritual war going on. Israel needed to see the help they could find in the LORD. Will we see that same help we have in Jesus? I love how we see the omniscience and omnipotence of God in Jesus and the cross. Remember what happened. Judas Iscariot and the religious leaders plotted against Jesus. They didn’t see Jesus for who he really was. But Jesus knew their secret plotting and that Judas would betray him. He declared that at the Last Supper. That was divine omniscience at work in Jesus. And when they finally came to arrest Jesus, he reminds his disciples that he had at his disposal more than twelve legions of angels that he could have called upon. That acknowledged the divine omnipotence he possessed. Yet, he did not choose to wield that. Instead, he allowed the blindness of his aggressors to arrest him and put him to death. They thought they defeated him. But actually, Jesus won.
Our faith still sees that today. Our faith knows that victory and the kingdom belong to Jesus, our everlasting father and the prince of peace. Is this what you have been seeing and knowing? If you’ve been acting a little too much like Israel, straying from the Lord and his Word, see a call today to repent and return to Christ. If you have been seeking to live for the LORD but find you are experiencing many troubles and afflictions and maybe even persecution, remember what we see here. Greater is he who is for us than those who are against us. See again today that we are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.