Part 2 of the talk I gave for our weekly women’s Bible study this week. (Read part 1 here.)
Yet to be honest it often does take a glimpse of God’s greater power to sustain you when life’s major storms hit. Enter part 2 – the enemies of God’s people are thwarted by one man.
Throughout this entire passage, I found it interesting that no other names are mentioned besides Elisha and the Lord. The kings are nameless as are the armies. That very fact highlights where the focus is for this passage. There are also many ironic reversals in this story:
- The Syrian king has to send his men to find out where Elisha is, but Elisha always knows where the Syrian army will be next. (Dillard’s commentary)
- When the Syrian king sends his army to surround and capture Elisha, Elisha ends up leading this very army to a place where they are surrounded and captured.
- And yet when the Syrian army realizes that they are in Israel’s capital and they expect certain death, they are given a banquet feast instead and sent back home.
- Elisha prays for his servant to see the Lord’s army that surrounds them, yet he prays for the Syrian army to be blinded (and they are).
The central part of this story surrounds the moment when Elisha seems to be on the brink of being captured by the enemy whose raids he has thwarted by God’s power. He is in Dothan, which builds up great suspense as the original audience of the Israelites would have associated this city as the very place where Joseph was captured and sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. The Syrian king sends “horses and chariots and a great army,” and there were so many that they surrounded the city. On top of this, they came at night. All for one man who was a threat to the king! Surely this would be the end of God’s prophet, and the enemies of Israel would no longer be held in check. It could mean disaster for the entire kingdom.
But the one person who should be most afraid seems impossibly calm. It’s his servant who tells him about the army surrounding them the next morning. And his reply is, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” His servant must have been baffled, which is why Elisha then prays that his eyes would be opened for him to see the otherwise-invisible heavenly army surrounding them and protecting them. At this point, some of the tension must be relieved. This heavenly army will surely put to flight in a powerful way the Syrian army. But, no. God had a different plan. He doesn’t use the heavenly army that seems to be at Elisha’s disposal. Instead, he answers Elisha’s prayer that they be struck with blindness and then uses Elisha to lead this army into the heart of the capital of their enemy (Israel). The very one they came to capture leads them away to be captured. Elisha prays that their eyes would be opened, and what they see is as frightening to them as the heavenly armies were courage-inspiring to Elisha’s servant.
And the plot twists again. Because now we expect for them to be massacred by Israel, since they are one of their arch-enemies at the time. But there is mercy shown. Even grace in abundance. Before they are released and allowed to go home, they are given “a great feast.” A feast instead of certain death! And everyone wins – for the story ends with “the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.” God restores peace to his people through his power and his mercy (at least temporarily).
Now in our place in history, we read this story and can see the way it points to one greater than Elisha, who did face certain death and expected defeat. He did not immediately lead out his enemies to be captured, but seemed to be captured by them. He died at their hands. But yet God’s surprising twist was that after all hope was lost, after three days of death, this man came back to life – resurrection power! And in his resurrection life, Jesus showed that our most powerful enemies of sin, death, and Satan will not disturb our peace again. They are forever vanquished. No power is left. But do I have eyes to see?
We have seen the way that 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 let’s be honest. What is it that you see in the midst of the hard things facing you – whether it be seemingly trivial everyday struggles like sick children, a busy schedule, financial hardship, sleepless nights or the bigger trials like whether you’ll lose your job, a break-up, a hopeless marriage, kids with disabilities, a husband who’s deployed, aging parents, a cancer diagnosis?
Too often, what I see is all skewed in the following four areas:
(1) my troubles feel encompassing and eclipse anything else – any hope of relief or rescue or an end in sight. What I do with this is either succumb to despair, hopelessness, anger & resentment or I try to minimize them in my own power. Thinking “someone else has it worse.” Neither offers real relief.
(2) I see my idols as too powerful, thinking that they are really going to come through for me this time. This time, getting angry at my kids will magically make them stop getting in the way of what I want. This time, Target will offer me some happiness. This relationship won’t disappoint. This friendship will be truly fulfilling and she’ll understand me perfectly. Working out, eating healthy, buying organic will save me from my distress.
(3) What underlies this belief about my idols of choice and their power to save me is that ultimately, I have a skewed view of myself. I think that me being in control will make it better and I’d rather trust my own efforts, resources, and self-sufficiency than have to ask for help. Or worse yet, admit that I need outside rescue because I’m too blind to ask for what I really need.
(4) And so this all stems from a view of God and his victory as small, pie in the sky, nonexistent, confined to the pages of a book full of stories that are irrelevant to my life.
What will make the difference? How can you begin to see clearly? The answer is simple but not easy, like so many things in our life of faith in the unseen Kingdom.
Ask to see.
Admit your fear.
Anticipate unexpected courage and grace.
For we in this story are like Elisha’s servant quaking with fear as he sees the army surrounding him. And we have one greater than Elisha leading the way and interceding (praying) for us to see. Jesus opens our eyes to the battle waging around us (Ephesians 6) but instead of inspiring fear we are given courage for the victory has already been won. He has gone before us. And in those moments when we feel enslaved by our own sin – captured by the enemy, as it were – we are promised a feast and a forever Home. Unexpected grace because of Jesus who claims all who believe in his life, death, and resurrection as his very own children. We are hidden with Christ in God, and so in seeing through the eyes of Christ – as he opens our eyes to the true state of things, our perspective changes:
(1) my troubles are now “light and momentary, achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
(2) my idols are weak and powerless – “eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear” (Isaiah)
(3) I am strong when I am weak (2 Cor. 12:9-10) – needy and yet given grace that’s all sufficient for every need, big or little; sinful yet forgiven – not beaten down by sin. Romans 8 – “In all these things, we are more than conquerors.”
(4) God and his victory looms larger than the trials, is more sure than my idols, and is where I can find true refuge. Romans 8 – “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
In summary, 1 John 4:4 is true for you and I: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
Pray to have eyes to see God as bigger than your troubles, your idols, and yourself; and spend time looking. Help others to see – enter their troubles with them and point them to Jesus.
On my very bad, horrible, no good evening when all seemed against me, God showed up. He showed up through a friend who offered to come home with me and help put the twins to bed. I could barely utter a prayer, but I did speak to her of my distress and she answered – reminding me of the God who is for me, in the little and the big things. And this began to change the way I was seeing life. Let us be ones who help one another to see God’s involvement in big and little troubles as we together open our eyes to God’s sure victory and real presence with us.