Kings Lesson 23 - When Your Hands Are Tied
Though tough times are by their nature unpleasant, they are designed by God to develop trust. We see in the life of Elisha that those who are willing to trust eventually see God's power revealed. Just because our hands are tied doesn't mean our hearts have to be.
“When Your Hands Are Tied”
(II Kings 2:19-25; 4:1-44)
A gentleman I read about some time ago had taken a trip to Russia. He and several other pastors had taken a trip to silently assess the need for Christian radio. These were the days before the Soviet’s iron curtain came down. One of their stops along the tour was a visit to a collective farm in Siberia. The local commissar met these American tourists said that his city was actually very proud of their church. He even invited them to walk with him to see it. While the Commisar didn’t know they were all pastors, he evidently wanted to deliver a message to these Americans. As they neared the church, they were surprised by the sight of a beautiful white building with its typical onion-shaped turrets. As they drew closer they could see Communist slogans painted on the church walls and signs posted on the red picket fence surrounding the building. As they stepped inside, they saw that the vestibule was similar to any church vestibule, but when they stepped into the sanctuary they were shocked. It had lost all semblance to its original purpose as a place of worship. From floor to ceiling there was row after row of chicken coops filled with cackling hens. The commissar gestured proudly, "Our church is a chicken hatchery, the finest hatchery in Siberia!" He then turned to his American guests, smiled broadly and announced, "God isn’t real, chickens are real!"
The biography of Elisha opens with a flurry of events - 6 stories that you could read in less than five minutes - brief sketches that do nothing less than communicate to them and to us that God is real.
That God is involved in the believer's everyday real-life struggles, and trials and victories and accomplishments. God is alive and well.
And I am bold enough to say that every single believer here can testify in some way to the power and intervention and timing of God - through some impossible situation - in some unplanned event - through a broken relationship or a some difficult assignment - perhaps a doctors alarming report.
A testimony to the wonderful fact that His hands were at work, even when our hands were tied.
While I usually give you, at the end of our study, some of the primary truths to tuck away in your mind as you face another week, I want to suggest some of them at the outset of our study on the life of Elisha.
When facing impossible situations . . . when your hands are tied
1) Remember, when God is in charge, plans should not degenerate into panic.
You’ve heard the old adage, “Don’t just stand there, do something - sometimes the memo from heaven is, “Don’t do anything, just stand there...just wait. In other words, depending on the Lord, means trusting in His timing.
2) Remember, when God’s in control, trust should not dissolve into blame.
The Apostle Paul wrote that the story of the Old Testament, and, in particular, the history of the Israelite nation was written for our instruction, so that we not repeat their sin of unbelief.
And if the truth were known, when we are faced with a situation where our hands are tied; some difficulty, tragedy, or impossibility, our most common responses mirror exactly the nation Isarel.
Let me show you an example - turn to the Book of Exodus 14. Would you believe that a chapter in the Book of Exodus would be written for your benefit and instruction - God said it was.
Here the Israelites have left Egypt - Pharoah has a change of heart and sends his army to wipe them out; or, if they’re willing, return them to slavery.
The Israelites are standing at the bank of the deep red sea - here comes Pharoah’s army - verse 10. And as Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened. (that’s response #1 - panic!)
Now, too be honest with each other, had we been in that company of people who has nowhere to run - the mountains beside them, the sea in front of them, on of the mightiest armies coming to get them . . . as my boys would say, “We’re toast!” “We’re history!”
This is the time to be afraid.
The second response builds on the first one - it’s blame. Look at verse 11. Then they said to Moses, “Is it becuase there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?”
Then, the third resonse is the verdict - the comittee decision is despair!
verse 12b. Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians. For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.
This is classic - the fact finding committee on human affairs put all the data into the program and it spit out two options - live in Egypt as slaves or die.
Moses, our analysis is that we only have two options! Slavery or death.
It never crossed their minds that God might have a third option - how about the waters parting and you walk across on dry land and then the Egyptian army drowns behind you. Anybody like the sound of that option?
Are your hands tied my friend - are you alternating between fear and blame and despair. Have you given God one or two optional ways around or out - now, granted, the Lord might want you to swim across your Red sea - learn the backstroke - build a raft - but He has guaranteed that when you arrive home, He won’t have to apologize to you about something that kinda caught Him by surprise.
Our trouble is, when our hands are tied, we say, “Lord, I’ve figured this thing out and here is is the only way You could ever fix my situation.”
While this is much easier to say than to become, there is something in our lives as believers that displaces fear with confidence. There is something that dissolves blame and as we grow older, we don’t grow bitter against God and other - here’s what it is - It is in coming to know and love and rest in our sovereign, gracious, wise God.
Be still and know that I am God.
As far as God is concerned, there is something stilling about knowing.
Studying and worshipping Him turns panic into quiet trust. So rather than come up with 5 ways God is disappointing you - come up with 5 ways to get to know your powerful God better.
Now, let’s return to the story of Elisha - 2 Kings.
We left our series hanging in chapter 2 - Elisha has just picked up the mantle of Elijah as Elijah is swept to heaven in chariots of fire - and no sooner does he slip into the role of God’s chief spokesman, is he confronted with an impossible situation. . .from a human perspective, his hands were tied - let’s see how God moves in his behalf.
IMPOSSIBILITY #1: 2:19. Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold now, the situation of this city (Jericho) is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20. And he said, “Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21. And he went out to the spring of water, and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, “I have purified these waters; thee shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.” 22. So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.
Most biblical writers want to the only spring near ancient Jericho as the site of this miracle. It begins near the foot of the mound of the old city and still, to this day spreads its waters out over the plain of Jericho.
Now the miracle was not in the salt - it wasn’t some chemical reaction - the salt was merely a symbol of preservation in the midst of corruption and decay.
Elisha preached a sermon in that miracle of the need for divine cleansing - the people of Jericho and of the nation needed cleansing and it would only be through divine intervention that they would be preserved.
It’s interesting that in 2 Chron. 13 we’re informed that the throne of David was established forever by a covenant of salt - salt therefore could have been used symbolically here as a reminder that the nation not only needed cleansing from God and that it was still under the covenant responsibilities of God who was in control of the divided kingdom.
By the way, the only spring in Jericho still flows to this day. And its waters, I have read, are described as pleasant tasting and fresh - the spring has been aptly named, “The Spring of Elisha.”
IMPOSSIBILITY #2: emphasizes the rebellion of the nation in spite of the word of God.
verse 23. Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” 24. When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up 42 lads of their number.”
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about this passage I really like.
It just warms my heart! And it’s really obvious to me that this passage is teaching that if you make fun of bald headed prophets, watch out for bears.
I can’t remember who it was, but a man was in the office kidding me about this passage - he said, “Stephen you ought to preach your whole sermon on this passage - and entitle your sermon, “The bear truth!”
I told him to get lost.
Well, obviously, this passage is more serious than I’m making it - let me point out some clues that help explain just how serious it was.
First of all it’s important to recognize that this event occurs outside the city of Bethel - during Elijah’s and Elisha’s ministry, Bethel was the chief center of Baal worship.
Secondly, these “lads” were actually young men - the Hebrew word “naar” is used in the O.T. of married young men. These young men were old enough to be responsible for their actions before God
Their reference to Elisha was, in their vernacular nothing less than an insult - not so much in the way he might of looked - but in relation to his office. Look again at the first part of their insult in verse 23. the words, “Go up. . .go up.”
Most I’ve researched believe this was a reference to the up going of Elijah - as Elijah had, supposedly gone up - and good riddance to the Baalites, now they are telling Elisha to go up - to leave - to get out.
But I believe it was more serious than some idle jeer - You notice in verse 24 that the two bears “tore up” 42 of their number. In other words, there were many more than 42. What you have is as many as 100 young men who’ve come out in masse to insult the prophet of God. Their following him - perhaps moving closer - screaming louder - this was a mob whose end action may have very well meant harm to the prophet.
As one man I read suggested - it would take the bears to rescue Elisha from a lynching. The Bible tells us that tgwo female bears came and, literally, “mauled” 42 of them - it doesn’t say that any of them were actually killed - but you can be sure there were 42 conversions to Judaism that afternoon.
While the salt in the water solidified Elisha’s leadership over the faithful, it would be the bears who would announce to the unbelieving idolaters that Elisha was God’s prophet for that hour.
Chapter 4 opens with yet another impossible situation. Beginning with verse 1 - Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord; and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.”
Now stop here for a moment - imagine being Elisha - you don’t have any money either - and the way the system operates in Israel - children and wives of indebted estates become indentured servants for as many as 7 years to the one they owed money to.
Bye the way, the prophets usually lived together or near one another and helped each other with farming, clothing, etc. They were all dirt poor - especially living during a time when the prophets of God were an ignored minority. Even the other prophets couldn’t help this woman.
Also - this woman, according to the Targum - Aramaic scrolls dated before the time of Christ, she was the wife of Obadiah - you know, the author of the book of Obadiah.
Josephus, the first century Jewish historian records that she was the wife of Obadiah and that Obadiah had, before he died, borrowed money in order to feed the prophets he had hidden from Jezebel. We studied that event in I Kings.
So, here’s a godly woman of a godly prophet who’s unexpectedly died - it had happened so suddenly that their financial affairs were not put in order - they didn’t have mortgage insurance back then - and now her sons were in danger of being taken into slavery until the debt was paid.
She gushes out her story to Elisha . . . I would have expected Elisha to say, “I’m sorry, ma’am, there’s no way out; this is an impossibility.”
I want to toss into our discussion two thoughts before we look further:
1) Even the most committed Christians are sometimes exposed to the most trying times.
One of the accusations of the underworld is - if you were a better Christian, this wouldn’t have happened to you; if you were closer to God, this embarrassing, painful situation which threatens your life and home, like it did hers, would never have occurred.
The individual who thinks that or speaks that joins ranks with Jobs counselors - just make sure dear friends that you don’t become a Jobs counselor for yourself.
2) Most often, the answers from God do not arrive until the darkest moments are experienced.
God is a very present help in time of trouble. Not before trouble occurs, but in trouble.
Can you feel the urgency of this story - look again at verse 1b. Climb into this scene and notice every detail - “Your servant my husband is dead and you know that your servant feared the Lord; and the creditor HAS COME to take my two children to be his slaves.”
You get the idea that the creditor is standing in the doorway - the children are crying - she’s beside herself - Elisha, do you have a answer from God?!!!!!!!!
v. 2. And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell, me what do you have in the house?”
APPLICATION: “Though Hands are Tied, Hearts can Triumph!”
1) Predicaments are designed to develop trust.
2) Those willing to trust eventually see God’s power revealed.
3) When God’s solution is revealed, our ultimate response is praise.
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