The axe that the man lost

Chapter 6

The axe that the man lost

v1 The group of the *prophets spoke to Elisha. ‘The place where we meet with you is too small for us. v2 Let us go to the River Jordan. There we can each cut down a tree. And we can build a place for us to live.’

Elisha said, ‘Go.’

v3 One *prophet in the group said, ‘Will you please come with us?’

Elisha replied, ‘I will come.’ v4 He went with them. They went to the Jordan and they began to cut down trees.

v5 One man in the group was cutting down a tree. Then the head of his axe fell into the river. It was iron. ‘Oh sir,’ he cried out. ‘It was not my axe. Somebody allowed me to use it. I intended to give it back afterwards.’

v6 Elisha asked, ‘Where did it fall?’ The man showed the place to him. Elisha cut a stick and he threw it there. That caused the iron to float. (The head of the axe was iron.) v7 ‘Lift it out,’ Elisha said. Then the man reached out his hand and he took it.

The groups of *prophets were groups of men who were loyal to the *prophets’ message about God. They were probably not all *prophets, but there were *prophets among them. They lived and worked together. And their families lived with them.

Elisha’s work for God had impressed many people in *Israel greatly. The result was that more people joined the groups of *prophets. So the place where this particular group lived was too small. They asked Elisha if they could build a larger place. When he agreed to that, they asked him to go with them. They were pleased that he could be present with them. And perhaps he helped to carry out the construction of the new building. Elisha was not a proud man – he would be willing to help.

During the construction, there was a slight accident. The head fell off one man’s axe. It landed in the river and nobody could see it. The man was very worried. Somebody had allowed him to use it. He intended to give it back afterwards. The man was loyal to God, so he cared about his responsibilities. He did not want to disappoint the lender.

By a *miracle, God caused the head of the axe to float. Of course, it is impossible for iron to float. But God can do things that people cannot do (Matthew 19:26). The story teaches us this lesson. God supplies what his people need. And God does not only supply great things. He even cares about the small things that his people worry about each day (Matthew 6:28-34).

In Matthew 17:24-27, Peter had no money to pay the tax for the *temple. Jesus ordered him to catch a fish. There was a coin in its mouth. That was enough to pay the tax for them both. That is another example of how God supplies things to his people.

Elisha and the army from Syria

v8 The king of Syria was in a war against *Israel. He asked his officers what to do. And so he chose a place to camp.

v9 Elisha warned the king of *Israel not to go near that place. ‘The soldiers from Syria are there,’ he said. v10 So the king of *Israel sent someone to check the place that Elisha had mentioned. Several times Elisha warned the king. So the king of *Israel was very careful.

v11 The king of Syria was angry. He spoke to his officers. ‘Who is on the side of *Israel’s king?’

v12 ‘Nobody among us is on his side, sir,’ said one officer. ‘Elisha the *prophet tells the king of *Israel what you say in secret. He even tells him what you say in your own bedroom.’

v13 ‘Go! Discover where Elisha is,’ said Syria’s king. ‘Then I can send men and they can *capture him.’ The king of Syria heard that Elisha was in Dothan. v14 So the king sent a large army with horses and *chariots. They went during the night and they surrounded the city.

v15 The next morning, Elisha’s servant got up early. Then he saw an army with horses and *chariots. It surrounded the city. ‘Oh master! What shall we do?’ the servant asked.

v16 ‘Do not be afraid,’ said Elisha. ‘We have a great army on our side. It is much greater than the army that opposes us.’

Although the kings of *Israel were not loyal to God, God still helped them. He gave them many opportunities to change their attitudes. God still considered that the people in *Israel were his people. He had made promises to them and he had a special relationship with them.

There was a war between Syria and *Israel. The army from Syria made secret plans to attack the king of *Israel. But they could not succeed. It became clear that the king of *Israel was avoiding the groups of soldiers from Syria. But only the king of Syria and his officers knew where those soldiers were camping. So it was clear that, somehow, the king of *Israel had secret knowledge about the soldiers from Syria.

At that time, Elisha’s work as a *prophet was well-known across the whole region. The officer who replied to the king of Syria knew about Elisha. That officer believed that Elisha had extraordinary powers. Perhaps that officer believed in Elisha’s God. Or perhaps the officer merely thought that Elisha used magic. The officer was sure that Elisha was using special knowledge to warn the king of *Israel.

We know that Elisha’s knowledge was not human knowledge. Nobody told Elisha about the king of Syria’s plans. The officer’s reply makes that clear. Elisha did not only know the plans that the officers in Syria knew. Elisha even knew the plans that the king spoke about in his own bedroom. So Elisha’s knowledge could only come from God.

The king of Syria thought that he could *capture Elisha. That is strange, because he had been unable to *capture the king of *Israel. The king of Syria should have realised that God was on Elisha’s side. God would protect his loyal *prophet. It is a foolish man who decides to oppose God.

At this time, Elisha was staying at Dothan. This was at an important cross-roads. The king of Syria sent a large army to surround the city. He wanted his soldiers to *capture Elisha.

Elisha’s servant got up early and he saw the soldiers from Syria. They were completely surrounding the city. The servant was very afraid. But Elisha told him not to be afraid, because there was a bigger army on their side. It was bigger than the army that was against them.

Elisha was not referring to any human army. He was talking about the great army of *angels who carry out God’s work. We cannot normally see those *angels. But they are active and they are powerful. And they are fighting real battles to bring about God’s purposes (Joshua 5:13-15; Daniel 10:13; Revelation 19:14).

Christians do not need to be afraid even if powerful groups oppose them. ‘If God is on our side, then nobody can succeed against us.’ (Romans 8:31). Of course, that does not mean that God will always protect us from the troubles in this world (Daniel 3:17-18). But even if we die, we shall be safe with God in heaven (Philippians 1:23).

v17 Elisha prayed, ‘*Lord, open my servant’s eyes. Let him see.’ The *Lord answered Elisha’s prayer. The servant looked up. All over the hills, he saw horses and *chariots of fire. They were all round Elisha.

v18 When the soldiers from Syria attacked, Elisha prayed to the *Lord. ‘Make these people blind.’ So God made them blind, as Elisha had asked.

v19 Elisha spoke to the soldiers. ‘This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me. I will lead you to the man for whom you are looking.’ He led the soldiers to Samaria.

v20 After they entered the city, Elisha prayed again. ‘Open their eyes, *Lord, so that they may see.’ So God gave the soldiers’ sight back to them. Then they saw that they were in Samaria.

v21 When the king of *Israel saw the soldiers, he spoke to Elisha. ‘Sir, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’

v22 ‘Do not kill them,’ Elisha answered. ‘You would not kill men that you had *captured in battle. Give food and water to those soldiers. Let them eat and drink. Then let them go back to their master.’ v23So the king of *Israel prepared a large meal for those soldiers. When they had finished their meal, he sent them away. They returned to their master.

So the groups of soldiers from Syria stopped their attacks against that country, *Israel.

Elisha first asked God to open his servant’s eyes. Of course, nothing was wrong with the servant’s eyes. He could see well. It was he who saw the army from Syria. But the servant still needed the prayer, because he was unable to see a much greater army.

God’s powerful army of *angels was also present. Those *angels were so powerful that they seemed like fire. There were very many of them. And they surrounded Elisha. They were protecting the *prophet.

God answered the prayer and the servant saw those *angels. There was no reason to be afraid. God was in control of the situation.

As the enemy soldiers came nearer to Elisha, he prayed again. He asked God to make the soldiers blind. Perhaps God used the army of *angels to carry out this. All the soldiers became blind suddenly. They were unable to fight. They realised that they needed a guide. And Elisha offered to take them to the right place.

After they entered Samaria, Elisha prayed for the soldiers to see again. We can only guess at their emotions. Great and powerful things had happened to them that day. Probably they realised that the God of *Israel had done those things. Perhaps, like their officer (verse 12), they had already heard about God’s power. Perhaps their *Israelite slaves had spoken about him (5:3). And perhaps they had heard what happened to Naaman. But now they had an experience of God’s power. And perhaps like Naaman in 5:17, they were starting to realise that there is no other real God.

The king’s reaction is interesting. He was a cruel man who normally would not hesitate to kill. But even he could see that God had brought about this situation. So the king asked Elisha what he should do. Elisha did not allow the king to kill the soldiers. Instead, he told the king to feed them. It was not right for the king even to kill soldiers whom he had *captured in war. But the king did not *capture these soldiers; instead, they were the king’s guests. So the king gave them a large meal and he sent them home. He dealt with them as friends instead of enemies. And this had an important effect on the relationship between *Israel and Syria. The groups of soldiers were not still willing to enter *Israel to take away possessions and slaves. They respected the *Israelites too much. They wanted to have peace. We do not know how long that peace lasted. Sadly, it was not permanent.

The Bible teaches us to love our enemies. ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat. If he does not have anything to drink, give him water. The most wonderful way to win against an enemy is to turn him into a friend’ (Romans 12:20).

King Benhadad’s army surrounds Samaria

v24 Some time later, King Benhadad of Syria gathered his entire army together. He surrounded Samaria so that people could not go into the city. And people could not leave it. v25 That lasted such a long time that there was very little food in the city. A *mule’s head cost about 2 pounds (about 1 kilo) of silver. Half a pint (0.3 litres) of seeds cost about 2 ounces (about 55 grams) of silver.

v26 The king of *Israel was walking on the city’s wall. A woman called out to him. ‘Help me, sir.’

v27 This is what he replied. ‘If the *Lord does not help you, I cannot help you. I do not have any wheat or wine. v28 What is your trouble?’

The woman said this to him. ‘This woman here suggested that we eat my son. Then we would eat her son the next day. v29 So we cooked my son and we ate him. The next day I told her that we would eat her son. Instead, she hid him.’

v30 When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his clothes because of his shock. As he went along the wall, people could see him. Underneath his clothes, he was wearing rough cloth. v31 The king said this. ‘Today, I will definitely kill Elisha, the son of Shaphat. I will cut off his head. Let God kill me if I do not carry out this promise!’

v32 Now Elisha was sitting in his house. Some leaders were sitting with him. The king sent a servant to get Elisha. Before the servant arrived, Elisha spoke to the leaders. ‘This murderer is sending someone to cut off my head. When that person comes, shut the door. Do not let him come in. His master is just a short distance behind him.’

v33 While Elisha was talking to the leaders, the servant arrived. The king said, ‘The *Lord has brought all this trouble to us. I cannot continue to wait for the *Lord to do something to help us.’