My Frame was Not Hidden from You

I. Less than a Sparrow 6:1-7

A. New quarters were needed because of growth in the number of disciples. This move required both physical labor and spiritual encouragement. Perhaps the departure of Gehazi gave impetus for an increase in the number of the disciples. More likely, the reputation of Elisha for both courage and divine favor had brought a large number of true followers of the Lord to learn the truth and resist paganism. Elisha has a theological seminary in which he held all the administrative and teaching posts. Having outgrown their present quarters, the students suggested a move and a building program to enlarge the facilities for living and for instruction. One of the students had borrowed a tool, an ax, to facilitate gathering the building materials. The ax head came off and fell into the Jordan River. A generous person would lose a valuable tool and a student would seem to be untrustworthy.

B. God intervenes to rescue a borrowed tool and salvage a man’s trustworthiness. The student called out to Elisha. After inquiring the place where the tool fell into the water, Elisha threw a stick into the water and the ax-head came to the surface. If God clothes sparrows, then he will vindicate his followers.

II. A Spy in the Heart 6:8-13

A. The King of Aram plotted against the king of Israel and set an ambush in a place where he knew he could make a fatal attack against the king (8).

B. The prophet of God knew of the planned attack and of the place where it was to occur and warned the king on more than one occasion about the danger. The king was able to avoid the danger.

C. The king of Aram was greatly disturbed about the failure of his plans and sought to discover who among his counselors was serving as a spy for Israel. Perhaps he suspected Naaman or one of Naaman’s servants who had been with him when the soldier was healed of leprosy. When he inquired about a possible traitor, he discovered that the king was being informed by Elisha the prophet. Those familiar with Naaman’s encounter with the prophet may also have become aware of his knowledge of Gehazi’s deceitful cupidity and surmised that Elisha was the one warning the king.

D. If he is to be successful against his enemy in battles, the king of Aram knows that he must destroy the prophet. He has no sense of the divine purpose and thus no fear of God, He looked at things only from the standpoint of human clashes and dismissed the reality of divine intervention. “There is no fear of God before their eyes. … He devises wickedness on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good” (Psalm 36:2, 4).

III. Invincible Warrior Protecting his Messenger 6:14-19

A. The King of Aram seeks the death of Elisha for spoiling his ambush. Having learned that he lived in Dothan, where he had moved from Gilgal, he sent an army to surround the city and capture the prophet.

B. While the city is surrounded by an army with horses and chariots, God has the prophet surrounded with great protective power. God opened the eyes of Elisha’s servant so that he could see the distribution of God’s power in protection of the prophet. He can open eyes to see the greatness of his might and the certainty of the accomplishment of his purpose. “We have been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). We have the prophetic assurance from the revelation of Scripture that God protects us (Hebrews 11:5-8) and works all things together for good to those who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

C. God makes the invading army utterly helpless by removing a gift with which he had endowed them from. As God opened the spiritual eyes of the servant to see the invincibility of God’s protection of his people, so he blinded the eyes of the army (18) so they could not see physically, a perfect parallel to their spiritual blindness. They could not see him as a prophet, inspired by the one true God. They did not see him when they were there to do harm. Elisha went and guided them away from Dothan to Samaria.

IV. Surprising Mercy 6:20-23

A. They are led into the very stronghold of the one they have sought to ambush. The Lord opened their eyes to see that they were at the mercy of the Israelite king in Samaria.

B. The king excitedly inquired of Elisha if he should kill them. They had been brought into captivity without the drawing of a bow or the use of a sword. They were now prisoners of war.

C. Elisha told the king to give the army bread and water instead of death. Instead of death they receive their sight and food for a safe trip back to the king of Aram. After this no more marauding bands harassed Israel. “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Mathew 5:44)

V. Providential Judgment 6:24-30 – This kindness was met by the King of Aram, Ben-Hadad with renewed hostility toward Israel. Instead of stealth, which had been thwarted by knowledge from the prophet, he mounted a full scale attack on Israel and made his way to the capital city and laid siege to it. Cut off from any food supply, both people and livestock are dying. They were reduced to making food of a donkey’s head and dove dung. Perhaps the dung contained undigested seed which could be salvaged and roasted. At any rate, it was a small amount and a disgusting extreme to which the city was now subjected.

A. Famine leads to despair for both king and people. This siege was a precursor to a judgment to come later in the full captivity of the land by Assyria. Our sin always leaves us susceptible to God’s discipline or full judgment. The land had been idolatrous and tottering on the edge of divine intervention since the days of Jeroboam.

B. None can escape the ravages of divine judgment. An example of the extremity is seen in the writer’s selection of two mothers who have been reduced to the horror of boiling the sons for food. When one refuses to follow through and hides her son, the other makes an appeal to the king for intervention (26-30).

C. Human despair in such times reveals the justness of the judgment. That the women would bargain to save their lives through the sacrifice of their children for food, reveals how far the people had fallen from any standard of righteousness and testifies to the justness of God’s oppressive measure to lay bare the evil of the human heart.

VI. Blame the Prophet 6:31-33

A. Again, the one who speaks for God is blamed for the judgment. The king instinctively knows that this is divine judgment and so determines that he will kill God’s prophet. What an evil vanity, to seek revenge on God by killing God’s messengers. This is the driving impetus for martyrdom. God’s message of exclusive loyalty and the tenacity of God’s people to maintain their devotion to his truth stoke the fire of resentment.

B. The plan is foiled by human force, not any apparent divine intervention. Though Elisha knows from divine revelation that the king has sent a messenger to seek his head, he calls on his elders to hold the door against him until the king himself arrives (32). The king, probably having second thoughts followed quickly on the heels of the messenger to revoke his order for execution. Elisha stopped the messenger to wait for the king. He has a message to deliver of a coming merciful intervention, a temporary reprieve from the judgment.

C. Bad times produced loss of faith and confidence in God’s abundant mercy. The king knew that the siege was from the Lord but had now despaired of any deliverance. He seems to have been repentant from his wearing of sackcloth under his royal garments (6:30). Now his despair was mature; he did not believe that deliverance by God’s hand was coming: “Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?”

VII. Providential Mercy and ironic punishment 7:1-20

A. A promise of relief (1) – Elisha delivered a prophecy that seemed an impossibility—from a donkey’s head and dove dung at exorbitant cost to fine flour and barley at bargain prices in one day’s time.

B. Disbelief of the promise (2). When the king decided to go to Elisha’s house, he brought with him an official to help him move expeditiously. The official heard Elisha’s prediction for the immediate intervention of God to provide an abundance of food for the starving city. He expressed his disbelief in terms that questioned even God’s ability to reverse the desperation so rapidly: “Behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” Elisha assured that official that he would see it with his eyes but would not partake of it. He would have a vision of mercy while being trampled by justice.

C. God had brought the provisions for a whole army to the very gate of Samaria. Also, the booty that they had gathered in their trek toward Samaria. Divine provision for Samaria came through both nature and grace. The food for the army was there, plus riches and plenty of other things such as donkeys and horses. God drove the army away in fear with a sense of the necessity of immediate unhindered withdrawal. They laid aside every potential encumbrance in order to escape quickly. God caused them to hear what sounded like a massive army on the very brink of invading their camp (7:6, 7).

D. A message delivered by lepers. Four lepers discovered the evacuation. Needing some provision for themselves, they decided they would seek help from the invading army. If they did not, they would die of starvation; so, if they were killed they could but die. Going from tent to tent, they found that everyone had left and that massive amounts of food and riches and clothes had been abandoned. They decided that they should inform the king (9) of this good news of rich provision.

E. The king sent out a party to investigate the claim and make sure it was not a ruse designed to effect the destruction of Samaria without the need of attacking the walls of the city. He called for five horses, but it appears that only two were found fit enough for this task. They were chariot horses. Two chariots, therefore, were dispatched and the men saw the camp empty, followed the trail of the evacuation, and found more clothes and equipment along the way. The messengers returned and told the king all that they had seen. The report of the lepers was true, Elisha’s prophecy of plenty by the morrow, had come to pass.

F. When an announcement of this providential intervention was made known to the people, the gates were opened (16) and the people flooded into the camp. Elisha’s prediction of the price of fine flour and barley was fulfilled. The official who scoffed, saw the surge of the people into the camp but somehow fell in the midst of the rush and was literally trampled to death (17).

VIII. Meditation of God’s Mercies

A. We must be careful not to think that any request we make of God in light of a pressing need is too little or too much. He clothes the lilies of the field and has given to his people infinitely greater value.

B. We are reminded that God knows all the things spoken in secret and can reveal them to others when he sees fit. The revelation that God gives is true; it opens to us unchangeable realities and gracious blessings that can be known only through revelation. We must learn to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. With Peter we confess, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

C. Heavenly engagement with human society, though unseen, determines the course of history sometimes through miraculous intervention, sometimes through the progress of normal human activity and counsel, but always with specific divine purpose.

D. Though we are always susceptible to judgment God punctuates our lives with mercy, opens our eyes to our danger, and sets a banquet before us of Christ’s abundant provision.

E. When we see the horror our true plight, and the just punishment to which we constantly are subject, we must beware of rage against those who tell us the truth. We must not want smooth words in place of salutary warnings.

F. We must not despise a message of truth when clothed in leprous rags but evaluate the message on its own terms.

H. We should always hold the hope of the sudden intervention of divine grace and mercy to reverse what seemed to be hopeless and certain death into life and abundance. Paul was rescued by divine intervention from killing more Christians and instead was ushered into the assurance of eternal life.

I. The day of great mercy to some will be a day of great terror to others. The city was saved from starvation, but the king’s official saw it and never gained benefit from it.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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