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IN THIS INCIDENT we see Elisha discharging a different line of duty. No longer do we see him engaged in ministering to the young prophets, but instead we find him faithfully rendering valuable assistance to his sovereign. Once more the lust of blood or booty moved the king of Syria to war against Israel. Following the advice of his military counselors, he decided to encamp in a certain place through which the king of Israel was apt to pass, expecting to catch him and his retainers. God acquainted Elisha with his master’s peril, and accordingly the prophet went and warned him.
By heeding him, the king was preserved from the snare set for him. It is required of us, as we have opportunity, to “do good unto all men” ( Galatians 6:10). True, the Christian is not endowed with the extraordinary gifts of Elisha; nevertheless he has a responsibility toward his king or ruler. Not only is he divinely commanded to “Honour the king” ( 1 Peter 2:17), but “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men: For kings, and for all that are in authority” ( 1 Timothy 2:1-2).
We come now to the thirteenth miracle.
Clearly, the opening “Then” bids us pay attention to the connection. From a literary viewpoint we regard our present incident as the sequel to what is mentioned in 2 Kings 5, taking 2 Kings 6:1-7 as a parenthesis, thereby emphasizing the base ingratitude of the Syrian monarch for the miraculous healing of his commander-in-chief in the land of Israel. There he had written a personal letter to Israel’s king ( 2 Kings 5:5-6) to recover Naaman from his leprosy; but here he has evil designs upon him.
That he should invade the land of Samaria so soon after such a remarkable favor had been rendered to him, made worse his offense and made more manifest his wicked character. It is wrong for us to return evil for evil, for vengeance belongeth alone unto the Lord; but to return evil for good is a sin of double enormity; yet how often have we treated God thus!
But there is another way in which this opening “Then” may be regarded, namely, by linking it unto the typical significance of what is recorded in 2 Kings 6:1-7. We suggested a threefold application of that miracle.
First , this miracle supplies a picture of the sinner’s redemption. Viewing it thus, what is the next thing he should expect to meet with? Why, the rage of the enemy, and this is illustrated by the attack of the king of Syria.
Second , this miracle may also be regarded as showing the Christian how a lost blessing is to be retrieved. And when the believer has peace, joy, and assurance restored to him, what is sure to follow? This, “Then the king of Syria warred against Israel.” Nothing so maddens Satan as the sight of a happy saint — blessed is it to see in what follows how his evil designs were thwarted.
Third , this miracle can also be viewed as portraying how the Christian may grow in grace — by mortifying his members which are upon the earth. And if he does, and enters into an enlarged spiritual experience, then he may expect to be an object of the enemy’s renewed assaults; yet he shall not be overcome by him. “Then the king of Syria warred against Israel.” Yes, my reader, there were wars in those days; human nature has been the same in each generation and in all countries. So far from war being a new thing, the history of nations — both ancient and modern, civilized and uncivilized — is little more than a record of animosities, intrigues, and fightings. “Their feet are swift to shed blood” ( Romans 3:15) is one of the solemn indictments which God has made against the whole human family. There is no hint anywhere that Ben-hadad had received any provocation from Israel; it was just his own wicked greed and bloodthirstiness which moved him. And this in spite of a serious defeat he had suffered on a previous occasion ( 1 Kings 20:1, 26-30). “The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” ( Ecclesiastics 8:11), and nothing but the restraining hand of God can stop them from executing their desires and devices. Neither solemn warnings nor kindly favors — as this man had recently received — will soften their hearts, unless the Lord is pleased to sanctify the same unto them. “Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants” ( 2 Kings 6:8).
He asked not counsel of the Lord, for He was a stranger to him. We are glad to see no mention is made here of Naaman. It was with his “servants” rather than “the captain of the host” ( 2 Kings 5:1) he now conferred.
We would hope that it was against the remonstrance of Naaman rather than with his approval that the king now acted. Yet what daring impiety to attack a people whose God wrought such marvels! If he had been impressed by the healing of his general, the impression speedily faded. “Saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp” ( 2 Kings 6:8).
From the sequel it would appear that this particular “place” was one through which the king of Israel had frequent occasion to pass; thus Benhadad evidently laid a careful ambush for him there.
Thus it is with the great enemy of our souls: he knows both our ways and our weaknesses, and where he is most likely to gain an advantage over us.
But as carefully as he made his plans, this king reckoned without the Most High.
Yes, the king of Syria had left the living God out of his calculations. God is fully acquainted with the thoughts and intents of His enemies and, with the utmost ease, can bring them to naught. The methods which He employs in providence are as varied as His works in creation. On this occasion He did not employ the forces of nature, as He did at the Red Sea when He overthrew Pharoah and his hosts. Nor did He bid the king of Israel engage Ben-hadad in battle and enable him to vanquish his enemy. Instead, He prompted His servant to give his royal master warning and made the king believe him. The lesson for us is important. God does not always use the same method in His interpositions on our behalf. The fact that He came to my relief for deliverance in a certain manner in the past is no guarantee that He will follow the same course or use the same means now. This is to lift our eyes above all secondary causes to the Lord Himself.
Thus it was in his official character that he went to the king with this divine message. Just previously he had used his extraordinary powers to help one of his students; here he befriended his sovereign. Whatever gift God has bestowed on his servants, it is to be used for the good of others. One of their principal duties is to employ the spiritual knowledge they have received in warning those in peril. How merciful God is in warning both sinners and saints of the place of danger! How thankful we should be when a man of God puts us on our guard against an evil which we suspected not!
How many disastrous experiences shall we be spared if we heed the cautions given us by the faithful messengers of Christ. It is at our peril and to our certain loss if, in our pride and self-will, we disregard their timely “beware that thou pass not such a place.”
The course which the Lord took in delivering the king of Israel from the ambush set for him may not have flattered his self-esteem, any more than Timothy’s was when Paul bade him “flee youthful lusts”; yet we may perceive the wisdom of it. God was enforcing the king’s responsibility. He gave him fair warning of his danger; if he disregarded it then his blood was on his own head. So it is with us. The particular locality of peril is not named. The Syrian had said, “In such and such a place shall be my camp,” and, “Beware that thou pass not such a place” was the prophet’s warning.
That the king would identify it in his mind is clear from the sequel. Yet since there is nothing meaningless in Scripture, there must be a lesson for us in its not being specifically named. We are plainly informed in the Word that our arch foe lies in wait to ensnare us. Sometimes a particular danger is definitely described; at others it is (as here) more generally mentioned — that we may ever be on our guard, pondering “the path of our feet” ( Proverbs 4:26).
Though Satan may propose, God will both oppose and dispose. Before passing on to the sequel, let us link up what has just been before us with the typical teaching of the previous miracle — as the opening “Then” of verse 8 of 2 Kings 6 and the connecting “And” of 2 Kings 6:9 require — and complete the line of thought set out in our third paragraph above. When a sinner has been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, he at once becomes the object of the devil’s enmity; but God has graciously made provision for his security and prevents the enemy from ever completely vanquishing him.
Likewise when a believer has been enabled to regain his peace and joy, Satan will renew his efforts to encompass his downfall; but his attempts will be foiled, for since the believer is now in communion with God, he has light on his path and clearly perceives the place to be avoided. So also when by means of mortification the Christian enjoys an enlarged spiritual experience, Satan will lay a fresh snare for him; but it will be in vain, for such a one will receive and heed divine warning. “And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God [not ‘Elisha’!] had told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice” ( 2 Kings 6:10).
Here we see the king’s skepticism (cf. 2 Kings 5:7). He had some respect for the prophet’s message or he would have disregarded it, yet he had not full confidence therein or he would not have “sent” to investigate.
It was well for him that he went to that trouble, for thereby he obtained definite corroboration and found the caution he had received was not groundless. Ah, my reader, the warnings of God’s servants are not idle ones, and it is our wisdom to pay the most serious heed to them. But alas, while most of our fellow men will pay attention to warnings against physical and temporal dangers, they are deaf concerning their spiritual and eternal perils. There is a real sense in which we are required to emulate Israel’s king here: we are to follow no preacher blindly, but we must test his warnings, investigating them in the light of Scripture: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:21) and thereby we shall obtain divine corroboration. “Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not show me which of us is for the king of Israel” ( 2 Kings 6:11).
It never crossed his mind that it was the Lord who was thwarting him.
Being a stranger to Him, he had no place in his thoughts for God; and therefore he sought a natural explanation. Instead of recognizing that God was on the side of Israel and blaming himself, he was chagrined at the failure of his plan. He suspected a traitor in his camp and sought a scapegoat. “And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber” ( 2 Kings 6:12).
Even the heathen are not in entire ignorance of God; they have sufficient light and knowledge of Him to render them “without excuse” ( Romans 1:19-20, 2:14-15). Much more so is this the case with unbelievers in Christendom. This verse also shows how the spirituality and power of a true servant of God is recognized even by his enemies. The spokesman here may have been one of those who formed the retinue of Naaman when he came to Elisha and was healed of his leprosy. Yet observe there was no recognition and owning of God here. There was no acknowledgment that He was the one who revealed such secrets to His servants, no terming of Elisha “the man of God,” but simply “the prophet that is in Israel.” He was regarded merely as a “seer,” possessing magical powers. Neither God nor His servant is accorded His rightful place by any but His own people.
THIRD, THE LOCATION OF THE MIRACLE This miracle occurred at Dothan, which was to the west of Jordan, in the northeast portion of Samaria. Significantly enough, Do-than means “double feast,” and from Genesis 37:16-17 we learn it was the place where the flocks were fed. “And he said, Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him. And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan” ( Kings 6:13). Even now, the Syrian monarch was unwilling to recognize that he was fighting against Jehovah, but determined to remove this obstacle in the way of a successful carrying out of his campaign, even though that obstacle was a prophet. God allowed him to have his own way up to this point, that he might discover he was vainly flinging himself against God’s “brick wall” and be made to feel his own impotency.
This verse illustrates the persistence of our great adversary, who will not readily accept defeat. As the Syrian now sought to secure the one who had come between him and his desired victim, so the devil makes special efforts to silence those who successfully warn the ones he would like to take captive. “Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host [of infantry]: and they came by night, and compassed the city about” ( 2 Kings 6:14).
That he had some realization of the power Elisha wielded is evident by the strength and size of the force he now sent forth to take him prisoner. Yet the fact that he did not deem him to be invincible is shown by the plan he put into operation. Though the wicked are rendered uneasy by the stirrings of conscience and their convictions that they are doing wrong and following a course of madness, yet they silence the one and treat the other as vain superstitions, and continue in their sinful career. The surrounding of Dothan “by night” illustrates the truth that the natural man prefers the darkness to the light, and signifies that our adversary follows a policy of stealth and secrecy, ever seeking to take us unawares, especially when we are asleep.
FOURTH, THE SUBJECT OF THE MIRACLE “And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?” ( 2 Kings 6:15).
Notice its subject is termed a servant, not of “Elisha” but of “the man of God.” It is in such small but perfect details that the devout student loves to see the handiwork of the Holy Spirit, evidencing as it does the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures — God guiding each penman in the selection of every word he employed. This man, the successor of Gehazi, was new in the prophet’s service, and therefore he was now being tested and taught.
When a young believer throws in his lot with the people of God he will soon discover they are hated by the world; but he is called upon to share their reproach. Let not his older brethren expect too much from him while he is young and inexperienced; not until he has learned to walk by faith will he be undaunted by the difficulties and perils of the way. “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” See here a picture of a young, weak, timid, distracted believer. Is not the picture true to life? Cannot all of us recall its exact replica in our own past experience? How often have we been nonplussed by the trials of the way and the opposition we have encountered. Quite likely this “young man” ( 2 Kings 6:17) thought he would have a smooth path in the company of the man of God, and yet here was a situation that frightened him. And did we never entertain a similar hope? And when our hope was not realized, did we never give utterance to an unbelieving “Alas!” How shall we act — shutting God completely out of our view, with no hope of deliverance, no expectation of His showing Himself strong on our behalf? If memory enables us to see here a past representation of ourself, then let compassion cause us to deal leniently and gently with others who are similarly weak and fearful.
It should be borne in mind that the young believer has become, constitutionally, more fearful than unbelievers. Why so? Because his selfconfidence and self-sufficience has been shattered. He has become as “a little child,” conscious of his own weakness. So far so good; the great thing now is for him to learn where his strength lies. It should also be pointed out that Christians are menaced by more numerous and more formidable foes than was Elisha’s servant, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” ( Ephesians 6:12).
Well might we tremble and be more distrustful of ourselves were we more conscious of the supernatural beings opposing us. “And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” ( 2 Kings 6:16).
A realization of that will dispel our doubts and quiet our fears. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” ( 1 John 4:4).
How blessed is this! “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” ( Isaiah 26:3).
There was no trepidation on the part of Elisha; perfect peace was his, and therefore could he say, “Fear not” to his trembling companion. Note there is no scolding of his servant, but instead a turning to the Lord on his behalf.
At first the writer was puzzled at the “Elisha prayed” rather than the “man of God”; but pondering this brought out a precious lesson. It was not in his official character that he prayed, but simply as a personal believer — to show us that God is ready to grant the petition of any child of His who asks in simple faith and unselfish concern for another.
Proof was this of his “they that be with us are more than they that be with them”: the invisible guard was now made visible to the eyes of his servant.
Blessed illustration is this that, “The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them” ( Psalm 34:7). “Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” ( Hebrews 1:14).
Doubtless the angels took the form of “horses and chariots” on this occasion because of the Syrian horses and chariots which “compassed Dothan” ( 2 Kings 6:14). What could horses of flesh and material chariots do against celestial ones of fire! That they were personal beings is clear from the “they” of 2 Kings 6:16; that they were angels may also be gathered from a comparison with Hebrews 1:7 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8.
Many of God’s little ones are living far below their privileges, failing to apprehend the wondrous provisions which God has made for them. They are walking far too much by sight, occupied with the difficulties of the way and those opposing them.
First , such are not to be browbeaten or upbraided; that will do no good, for unbelief is not removed by such a method.
Second , their alarm is to be quietened with calm and confident “Fear not,” backed up with, “For they that be with us are more than they that be with them,” and, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” ( Romans 8:31), showing their fears are needless.