2 Kings 6:1-23: Elisha Defended
Elisha was once with one of the companies of prophets. They lived in companies in several towns. The home of this company of prophets was too small. They did not have room and needed to build a larger home to live in. They would go to the Jordan where many trees were growing by the river and cut beams to build a larger house. Elisha was with them. As one was cutting, the axe head slipped from the handle and fell into the water. He cried to Elisha, “Alas, my master, for it was borrowed.” What did Elisha do? For the Lord showed him how to help. Read verses 6 and 7.
Another story about Elisha. There was often war in those days between Israel and the people of Syria and Damascus. From time to time, bands of Syrian soldiers made their way into the land of Israel, bands like the one that had once carried away the little maid who waited on Naaman’s wife. But in some way, the places where the Syrians hid themselves to make an attack were known, not only once or twice, but many times. Was some one of the Syrians telling the king’s secrets to the king of Israel? The king thought so, but no, it was Elisha the prophet who showed the king of Israel the secrets of the Syrians. The king of Syria learned where Elisha was and sent horses and chariots and an army of soldiers to take him. They came by night, and in the morning when Elisha and his servant had risen early what did they see? And what happened? Read verses 15-17. What does the Psalm say that we are learning? “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” (Ps. 91:11) Another Psalm says, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.” (Ps. 34:7)
And what did Elisha do? There came no fire from heaven that day, as once when soldiers were sent to take Elijah. Read how the Syrian soldiers were stricken with blindness, how they were led to Samaria, given food, and sent home to their master. (Verses 18-23)
We have heard of companies of prophets living in several towns of Canaan, who were visited from time to time by Elijah and Elisha. What had once happened when Elisha visited the prophets at Gilgal? One of these companies, we are not told which, or where they were living, found its quarters too small and wished to build larger quarters. Elisha was with them, and they went to the Jordan to cut beams for the new building. The Jordan runs in a sunken channel that winds through broad meadows. In many parts of this sunken channel, there is a heavy growth of trees, often standing at the very water’s edge so that the overhanging branches are swept by the stream. Read verses 1-7, about the trouble one of the men was in as he was cutting wood, and the miracle that was done by Elisha.
The king of Syria warred against Israel. There had been war between Syria and Israel off and on for many years. Later in the chapter, we find that Ben-hadad was still king of Syria and that he gathered all his host and besieged Samaria. (Verse 24) No doubt the same king is meant in our story, and the king of Israel was Jehoram, Ahab’s son. The warfare at this time was not between great armies, but small bands of Syrians were making inroads and plundering the land. (2 Kings 5:2; 6:23)
The Syrians found, time after time, that their plans were discovered and that the king of Israel was told where they were lying in wait. It was Elisha who knew from the Lord, and who told the king of Israel. The king of Syria sent men to take Elisha. They found him at Dothan and surrounded the hill on which the town stood, by night, with armed men and horses and chariots. Do you remember the name Dothan in the story of Joseph? And can you find it on the map, some ten miles north of Samaria?
We can imagine the fear of Elisha's servant when in the morning he saw the city surrounded by the Syrians. “Alas, my master!” he cried. “how shall we do?” Elisha was not afraid: and at his prayer, “the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” This reminds us of the chariot of fire and horses of fire that Elisha saw when Elijah was taken up into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11) When we are faithful to the Lord and trying to do our duty, if our spiritual eyes should be opened we would always see that angels are with us, protecting and helping us. We do not see them with us, but if we are trying to do right, it is always true, as Elisha said to his servant, that “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” We need not fear, for all heaven is on our side. We are reminded, too, of the promise in Ps. 91, and in Ps. 34:7, that angels are our strong helpers.
Do you remember what had happened to companies of men who had been sent to take Elijah: how fire came down from heaven and destroyed them? (2 Kings 1:9-15) They had been sent by Ahaziah king of Israel. The Syrians were less to blame who tried to take Elisha, and they were not so severely treated. At Elisha's prayer, they were smitten with blindness. He led them to Samaria, and when their eyes again were opened, they were in the midst of Samaria, in the power of Israel. The king of Israel was eager to smite and kill the Syrians. But read Elisha's answer to him, and what he told the king to do. (Verses 18-23)
1. Tell me the story of the axe head.
2. Why did the king of Syria send men to take Elisha? Where did they find him?
3. How was Elisha defended? Have we any such protection?
4. What came upon the Syrians? Where were they led? How were they treated?
Cutting with an axe or other tool represents the work of shaping something in the mind, and often with pride in one's own intellectual power. Read again I Kings 6:7, how the temple “was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building.” Stones represent sure, fixed truth, and we must take truth as it is, as the Lord gives it to us, and not shape it to suit ourselves. Wood is warmer and softer than stone, and it represents goodness of life which grows with experience year by year. Cutting wood with an axe represents reasoning about goodness, often with the thought that we are good and deserving in our own strength. The axe head is the keen intellect which is engaged in such reasoning, and the handle of the axe is the purpose of use and kindness which should guide the thought. It may happen in our thinking, especially in argument with another, that the thought forgets its purpose of use and kindness. The axe head slips from the handle. It may then do harm to another by its sharpness and hardness. Read Deut. 19:5, and full and interesting explanations of the passage in A. 9011, where it is clearly shown that the slipping of the axe head from its handle represents a separation of intellectual power from a controlling motive of use and kindness. Then all real intelligence is gone. The piece of wood which Elisha threw into the water, which was the means of recovering the axe head, would seem to represent a new purpose of use and kindness, which is the means of restoring the power of thought and making it effective. (E. 61S, 1145; R. 411)
Horses, the noblest animals of travel, represent the power of spiritual understanding, and chariots represent forms of truth, or doctrines, by which the understanding is effective. The horses and chariots of fire associated with the prophets Elijah and Elisha represent the understanding of spiritual truth of the Lord's Word, giving power and glory to its letter. Recall especially the horses and chariot of fire which carried Elijah into heaven while he dropped his rough mantle to the earth. Notice the peculiar name applied both to Elijah and Elisha: “The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.” (2 Kings 2:11-12; 13:14) It was because Elijah and Elisha stood for the Lord's Word and the power of its Divine truth and doctrine.
There is strength and comfort in the Lord’s Word for us. That is why it is so necessary to read it and to learn some parts of it by heart. It is also by the Word, more than by any other means, that angels are brought near with their protecting presence. (A. 2762: E. 355)
We have learned that the Syrians represent a natural understanding according to standards of the world. The ignorance and falseness of this understanding when it sets itself against the Lord and His Word is represented by the blindness which came upon the Syrians who tried to take Elisha. The enlightenment of the understanding by instruction from the Lord’s Word is represented by their following Elisha to Samaria and their receiving their sight. The kind treatment of the Syrians means that the natural understanding and all natural faculties when instructed from the Lord's Word may receive new strength and satisfaction and take their right place in relation to the spiritual life. (A. 4720)