This is part 1 of a two part series.
The period covered in 2 Kings is a period of around 300 years. The first half of the book is largely taken up with the account of Elisha’s ministry, a ministry that lasted for sixty-six years, a ministry made up almost entirely of miracles. The book records sixteen miracles that Elisha performed, and, interestingly, Elijah performed only eight. We may remember what Elisha asked for when Elijah was taken up, ‘And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so’, 2 Kgs. 2. 9, 10.
The second half of the book is taken up with events leading up to the captivity and the fall of Jerusalem. Israel had nineteen kings and not one of them was good and Judah had nineteen kings and one queen, eight of them were good.
There are many key words/phrases that can be found in the book. The phrase ‘the man of God’ is found thirty-six times, more than any other book in the Bible. We note that even in these dark times God still had His witnesses. Perhaps one of the saddest phrases that appears in the scriptures is found in this book, ‘he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord’, and that appears some twenty-one times. We do, though, have the reverse of the statement, they ‘did that which was right in the sight of the Lord’, but that only appears eight times in the book. ‘The word of the Lord’ and its equivalent is found twenty-four times. Even against the dark background we have mentioned, the word of the Lord was heard and its truth was available.
Whilst Elisha continued in the footsteps of Elijah, there are differences between the two. Elijah was a solitary figure; he went about in a similar fashion to John the Baptist. He lived a life that was largely spent in a struggle against the evils of the day. In the life of Elijah, which is worthy of a passing note, he went against the prophets of Baal, he went against Ahab and Jezebel, and was ‘taken up’ not seeing death. Elisha, on the other hand, was a man who led a triumphant life. He was one who was found amongst his fellow men. You will note in 2 Kings chapter 6 that he was with the sons of the prophets. He spent time with the people in the cities. He was a man who never complained about his lot and a man who never fled from his enemies.
We might divide 2 Kings chapter 7 into three sections:
Chapter 6 ends in such a tragic way. The king passes by two women in the wall and hears the harrowing story of cannibalism that has taken place. The situation had got so desperate for the people that they had resorted to killing and eating the son. It was against that background and that plight that God acts in chapter 7.
Similarly, we need to remember also that Elisha was being blamed for the situation that the nation was in and, indeed, had a price upon his head, ‘Then he said, God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day’, 2 Kgs. 6. 31. It is interesting to note that the king was trying to make a scapegoat of Elisha. I am sure that we can identify with this situation for whenever anything goes wrong mankind is very quick to blame God. Jehoram was well aware of the power of prayer. He had seen that evidenced during the reign of his parents when it had not rained. Here he thought the same of Elisha, that he had prayed and the siege and famine had occurred. Yet, he ignored the fact that his sin had brought them into the situation. Paul wrote, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God’, Rom. 8. 7, 8.
Jehoram failed to see himself as God saw him and that was as a depraved sinner. There had been kings in the past that had started out badly and turned their lives around and were forgiven, but this king failed to recognize his need. We need to be guarded that this same spirit does not mark us. There are times when we think that everyone else is the problem and fail to see that it is, in fact, we that are the issue. May we challenge our own hearts in the sight of God to ensure that we are not marked by the same spirit that we see here.
Where was Elisha whilst this was going on? We see that he sat in his house. There was a price on his head, but he still sat in his house and the elders with him. It is the wise man in the Proverbs who says, ‘But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil’, Prov. 1. 33. Here was a man who truly feared the Lord and, therefore, feared no man. This is so amply witnessed in chapter 6 with the Syrian army that gathered to destroy Elisha. Whilst the Bible tells us clearly that evil men will wax worse and worse, we need to remember the promise here that those that hearken shall dwell safely.
When we come into chapter 7, the prophet speaks and declares to the people that the steep food prices that they had known and the suffering that they had gone through will come to an end. Admire, here, the remarkable faith of Elisha. ‘Then’ – when things were at their lowest possible ebb, when the situation was desperate beyond words, when the outlook appeared to be utterly hopeless, ‘Then’! Mark the implicit confidence of the prophet in that dark hour. He had received a message of good tidings from his Master, and he did not hesitate to announce it.
In relation to the faith that Elisha had to present the message, one who received the word and spoke, are we as fearless? How often are we marked by speaking the word to our friends and neighbours? We can see similarly desperate situations around us and yet we either ignore or walk past them not willing to speak the word that we have.
There was nothing special about Elisha. He was not some super-human character. Fellow believers sometimes say that they do not have the same faith as these men. Yet Elisha was a man just like us. Remember that it was said of Elijah, that he ‘was a man subject to like passions as we are’ or ‘with a nature like ours’, Jas. 5. 17 ESV. He was liable to the attacks of the evil one just as we are. He faced opposition to his message just like we do. The difference, perhaps, is that he acted and did not put off his responsibilities.
Elisha had received a word from He who cannot lie, and he spoke it. The limited and expensive diet that they had known was about to change.1 They were about to have better than they had experienced for a long time. The price of food was going to drop and provision would be available to them.
We come now to the unnamed lord on whose hand the king leaned. Instead of being marked by gratitude to God for what he was going to provide, he was marked by unbelief and contempt. He argued from the basis of what he could see and to his eyes the situation was desperate with no visible way out
Can we not see here the sinner in relation to the gospel? They are seeking something visible and the message of the gospel is a message based on faith and not sight. Peter reminds us, ‘Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation’, 2 Pet. 3. 3, 4.
Today’s mockers display their unbelief very seriously; they reason. For them, the word of God is null and void, just as it was to Jehoram’s captain, and, having no confidence in it, they trust in the stability of visible things, affirming that they will never come to an end. They are willingly ignorant – and that is the character of their mockery – of that which God has revealed to them in His word. Their judgement is at the door.
Elisha wastes no time with the sceptic and says that he will see but will not eat.
God will answer the scoffers of this age. He answered this one with judgement and so, in a future day, will scoffers suffer under the judgmental hand of God once again. Matthew records the words of the Lord, ‘And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth’, Matt. 8. 11, 12.