This is the manuscript for a talk I gave at my church’s weekly women’s Bible study this morning in our study of Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings. It’s been such a rich semester. It’s a privilege to teach alongside so many other gifted teachers as well. I always learn so much, both in listening and in preparing my own talks.
It was the perfect storm, and everything felt like it was against me. I was outnumbered by my two-year-old twin daughters by 2:1. It was another evening meeting that my husband the associate pastor was helping with, meaning that we had not seen him all day AND that I would have to get the girls ready and bring them to this church event solo. Which started about 30 minutes before their bedtime, and so I was already dreading having to do the bedtime task solo with two cranky, overtired toddlers after the event was over. It was during a busy week with a lot on our calendars and on my mind. Then, like the proverbial “icing on the cake,” while I was getting Alethia ready upstairs, Lucia was unusually quiet. I came down to discover that she had gotten a magic marker out of a plastic bag on top of a bookshelf (that I didn’t know she could reach), and was applying the bright green marker to her mouth as if it were lipstick. Yes, BRIGHT GREEN. And sweet girl doesn’t have much experience with lipstick application (of course), which meant that it was also inside her mouth all over her teeth and tongue. I wish I had laughed. But instead I yelled at her and her sister while I attempted to scrub out the green marker from her mouth. Then we rushed out the door. And I felt utterly defeated, both by the circumstances and then my sinful response to them. A feeling that meant I was less than warm to the visitor sitting next to me who kindly asked me where my husband was. I gruffly replied I didn’t know. (You see, it was naturally Seth’s fault that my day/evening had been hard and so I felt resentful towards him and implicated him as one of the many forces working against me, too.)
Is this scene familiar to you? The details are different, but have you had a day or week, or year, or decade, when everything felt like it was against you? Maybe you feel like that today. Where do you turn? What did you do to survive? Where did you feel like God was in your picture? Truth be told, God felt pretty absent that evening. In fact, although the irony is that I was going to a meeting at church, I didn’t really think about him at all other than to mutter some angry complaints in God’s direction.
These two stories in 2 Kings 6:1-23 offer to you and me a powerful reminder of what and who is for us, even when everything else feels like it is against us. But do you have eyes to see God as bigger than what faces you? What kind of picture of God do these stories give us and how can that give you trust in either small or big matters that feel overwhelming? God addresses both the trivial, seemingly insignificant problems of one individual in distress and the larger matters of entire kingdoms warring against one another. What do you find it harder to trust God with – your everyday trials or the big life crises? No matter where you find yourself struggling today, God has a message for you in these stories as he shows his strong, powerful presence in both little and big things.
Part 1: An axe head floats, rescuing a prophet from impossible debt
To fully understand the significance of this seemingly insignificant story, we have to do a little background work into the culture of the day. Most importantly, we need to know the value of the lost iron axe head. One commentator (“Faith in the Face of Apostasy” by Ray Dillard) said that because of the high value of iron during this time, it would be the modern equivalent of wrecking a borrowed car. We get a hint of this prophet’s distress as he cries out to Elisha, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.” The Israelite hearer would have known immediately that this was no small loss, and that the only way a prophet could hope to repay such a debt would be to become an indentured servant. (Dillard) With the loss of the axe head, the prophet also saw his life drowning away with unlimited debt as well. Enter Elisha’s miracle, and the immense restoration it was for this prophet when he was able to make the iron float. As the prophet takes up the lost axe head now found, we can breathe a sigh of relief along with him as we see disaster and debt averted. God is immensely personal, intimately involved in what seems the smallest details of our lives. Do you pray about “the small stuff”? Or where do you turn when frustrated with life’s daily struggles?
This story shows God as the one more powerful than the popular gods of that day who could not stand up to “Judge River and Prince Sea,” but threatened to destroy Baal (the most popular god of that day). In this story, God is not threatened by the waters but proves once again his power over the waters, which do his bidding. And in this story we see the hope of future restoration pictured, when the forces of creation will join in our labor rather than resist it in futility. Even more, just as God rescued the prophet from certain debt, you and I can know that God has rescued us from our eternal debt of sin through Jesus Christ – he is the guarantee that all of our debts will be paid.
Can your idols or false refuges do this for you? Do they rescue you when you’re overwhelmed? Or do they add to the stress you feel? When I feel overwhelmed and turn to my favorite “popular idols of the day” for rescue (like retail therapy, Instagram, Facebook, gossip, complaint, chocolate, anger), these only give me more reason to feel overwhelmed. When was the last time that looking at Facebook, scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram actually made you feel more connected to others? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am suggesting it’s unlikely to do anything besides leave you feeling more hopeless and lonely and overwhelmed. Because those aren’t meant to save you. Only God can. And often I forget that God’s with me in the everyday stresses and frustrations of life which make me turn to these “little gods” to deal with my “little problems,” as I think and assume that my big God is too busy with bigger things to worry with what I’m facing in my little world. But this story confronts my unbelief and invites me to trust my big God with not only the big life crises but also my everyday trials. As a mostly stay-at-home mom of preschoolers, this is where I live my life right now. So if God can’t meet me here, or I don’t turn to him even in the small distresses, this will erode my trust of God for the bigger life events, too. Which means that the opposite is also true – I can bolster my trust of God for the big crises by turning to him in these small moments of life. If God is sovereign at all, he is sovereign over all … big and little.