Kings Lesson 28 - Of Axes and Angels
Do you think your problems are too small to be noticed by a God who rules over the vast affairs of nations? Do you think your concerns are flying under God's radar? Well this message will cause you to think again!
“OF AXES AND ANGELS”
II Kings 6:1-23
In his brilliant book, Nicholas and Alexandra, Robert K. Massie tells how the Tzar and Empress of Russia were misled by a miracle and thus brought their great empire down to dust. After many years of anxious waiting for an heir to the Russian throne, Tzar Nicholas II and his German wife, Federovna, were blessed with a son. However, their hopes for the future were cruelly crushed six weeks later when doctors discovered the infant had hemophilia, an incurable blood disease that could kill at any moment. All of his short life was to be lived in the shadow of terror, with death stalking every footstep. This tragedy introduced into the royal family one of the most evil men who ever lived. Several times the young tsarevich slipped close to death. Seeing him writhe in excruciating pain, his tormented parents would beg doctors to do something, but they were helpless. In those moments they turned to Gregory Rasputin, a religious mystic of questionable credentials, later known as the mad monk of Russia. Invariably, he would pray for the boy and there would be a marked improvement. Even today doctors are at a loss to explain how these healings took place, but history testifies to them. Always, Rasputin would warn the parents the boy would only live as long as they listened to him. Rasputin's power over the royal family became so great that he could, with a word, obtain the appointment or dismissal of any government official. He had men appointed or dismissed on the basis of their attitudes toward him rather than their abilities. Consequently, the whole Russian government reeled under the unwise counsel of this evil man. Seeds of revolution were planted and watered with discontent. It erupted into the murder of the royal family and a revolution. Alexander Kerensky, a key government figure during those trying times, later wrote, "Without Rasputin, there could never have been Lenin!"
There is an incredible power of counsel, good or bad that can move an individual's life or even the life of an entire nation. That’s one of the reasons, God’s wise sayings for believers in the book of Proverbs has so much to say about who we allow to counsel and influence us.
One of chief problems in the history of Israel’s divided kingdom has been the incorrect or ungodly counsel to it’s kings.
However, over the course of years, Elisha, unlike Elijah, had become a welcomed figure in the courts of Israel. His counsel was accepted and obeyed.
This morning we’re going to observe some of Elisha’s last recorded acts - including his last recorded miracle; and then we’re going to see his influence over the King of Israel.
And we’re also going to dig into the counsel he provides for the king of Israel - and the difference it made for the nation.
So, let’s rejoin our series of studies in the book of II Kings, 6:1. Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “Behold now, the place before you where we are living is too limited for us. 2. Please let us go to the Jordan, and each of us take fomr there a beam, and let us make a place there for ourselves where we may live.” So he said, “Go.” 3. Then one siad, “Please be willing to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I shall go.”
Before we go further, I don’t want you to miss the wonderful implications of there need - the sons of the prophets had outgrown their space - the work is prospering and growing - just a few years earlier, they had been hiding in caves in fear of Ahab and Jezebel - now their leader Elisha is welcomed in the Kings court as his confidant - other men are applying for the ministry - it’s time to build.
As we, a church family, experience the same problems with growth and crowded spaces - where the hallways lack sufficient oxygen and the parking lot is a weekly test of sanctification - we should take encouragement from this.
Listen as one author compares this Old Testament problem to the New Testament church; Elisha’s influence was evidently telling on the nation. The religious movement represented by the prophetic schools was growing in force and volume. Likewise, it is encouraging to hear of growth and progress in the Church. But note this; they did not stand still, and endeavor to accommodate their increased numbers with the old conditions. They showed a spirit of enterprise, of advance, in correspondence with their new needs. This was true wisdom. The Church must adapt herself to new needs, to altered circumstances, to the conditions of progress, if she is to hold her ground.
For your information, this was not written by some marketing consultant on church growth in America, this was written by a pastor in England, in 1888.
Let’s go on - 4. So Elisha went with them; and when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. 5. But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, my master! For it was borrowed.”
You need to understand that this was no small matter to this young prophet.
To us it is the loss of an axe-head . . . big deal! But to this man it was a big deal . . . why?
For starters, he reacted so strongly was the fact that he had borrowed the axe. The word borrowed is literally “begged”.
We need to slip back into this culture and understand, an iron axe-head was state of the art equipment - it was expensive - not only did he have to beg someone to be able to use this expensive tool, as far as this poor prophet was concerned, the axe-head was irreplaceable. There would be no way he could pay for another one.
Perhaps it would help us to compare the value of this axe-head with some contemporary piece of equipment. This was more like, borrowing from your neighbor a brand new chain saw - along with the pick-up truck to carry it in. Your on the edge of a lake clearing some trees when you turn around and discover, to your horror, that you left the truck in neutral and before you can react it rolls down the embankment and slowly sinks in the water; you stand there with your heart racing as the roof of that brand new pick-up truck slips out of view - leaving only little air bubbles popping on the surface of the murky water.
Now you know how he felt.
6. Then the man of God said “Where did it fall?” And when he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float. 7. And he said, “Take it up for yourself.” So he put out his hand and took it.
A couple of the liberal authors suggested that the stick that Elisha threw into the water was actually poked into the water and it was the stick that retrieved the iron axe-head. That’s great - so God included this account in the Bible just so we’d know that Elisha was coordinated enough to retrieve the axe-head with a stick?
I don’t believe so - the iron, the text said, floated. The stick was merely a symbol of what Elisha wanted the iron to do. And like a piece of wood, this miracle of God’s power, perhaps, by the hand of a unseen angel, or through the reversal of iron properties - it floated to the surface.
It was as breathtaking to the sons of the prophets as it would be for you to see that pick-up truck slowly rolling back up the hill and shifting into park.
Now, the scene of chapter 6 changes from an enjoyable building project to a national crisis - the Arameans are continuing their raids in Israel - they have become more than an irritation - they have created a debilitating way of life for the Israelites living in villages terrorized by their raids.
Elisha begins to help by telling the Israelite King ahead of time, where the Arameans planned their next attack. This was obviously transmitted by God to his prophet. So, troops would be sent in before the Arameans arrived and the raid would be routed.
The King of Aram thought a traitor/spy was at work - he ordered an investigation - notice vs. 11. Now the heart of the King of Aram was enraged over this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you tell me which of us is for the King of Isarel? (in other words, “Okay, who’s the traitor). 12. And one of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” Who knows, maybe this servant was Naaman, who had first hand knowledge of Elisha’s ability through the enabling of his God, to read the hearts of people.
So the king of Aram dispatches an army to Dothan, Elisha’s hometown and plans to capture and probably kill Elisha.
Verse 14. And he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
Now understand, this was an unexpected attack. There aren’t any forces within the city to defend against a strong army. Now observe the fact that they didn’t attack the city. Elisha was the only one they wanted - surely the citizens of Dothan would gladly surrender the prophet to ensure their safety.
At least that’s what the Aramean army thought.
v. 15. Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master? What shall we do?” 16. So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
I can just see that servant - looking around - perhaps thinking that the school of the prophets should require a course in mathematics.
There’s an army out there - I’m coming up with only two of us! Is Elisha just trying to act brave?
I can remember as a kid having to go out to the garage and climb up into the dark attic overhead to get something my parents needed at the time. There wasn’t a light up there - just a light below - and it was scary - so I’d talk out loud to myself, sometimes I’d whistle. It didn’t mean, that at that moment, I loved music - it meant I was covering up.
Was Elisha whistling in the dark?
You grow older - and learn the proper Christian thing to do when facing a crisis is say - “No problem here” and sing, God is so good . . . which He is - but sometimes we use spiritual jargon to cover fear, anxiety, need.
I like the fact that this servant actually said, “Alas, my master, what shall we do?” If he hadn’t he’d have missed the sight of a lifetime!
Here it comes - v. 17. Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
Both men were faced with a crisis - one man knew God was aware and available - the other had yet to learn.
Where do you think Elisha learned that the heavens were filled with the invisible hosts of God’s angels? In chapter 2 - when Elijah was transported to heaven in a fiery chariots and horses!
If we had the ability to see into the spiritual dimension we would see the air above us, filled with the hosts of heaven.
Imagine, physical evidence of the spiritual world.
There isn’t any doubt that our society, at large is enamored by the world of angels. According to a recent report in Time magazine, 69% of those polled believe in the existence of angels. 46% believe they have a guardian angel. Gallup polls reveal that teen belief in angels has increased steadily from 64% in 19789 to 76% by 1992.
There is an infatuation today for angels - angels are politically correct.
Listen to what Dr. David Jeremiah records in his recent book as he introduces the subject of angels.
We are living in an age of Angel Mania. In mid-1994, ABC aired a two-hour prime-time special entitled Angels: The Mysterious Messengers, hosted by Patty Duke. Both Time and Newsweek carried feature articles on angels in the December 1993 issues. From January 1994 to February 1995, 32 books on angels were released in the secular book market. There is an angel-watch network in Mountainside, New Jersey. It monitors angelic comings and goings in it bi-monthly journal. There are 2,000 subscribers to the journal. The 1600 members of “The Angel Collector’s Club of America exchange information on everything from angel cookie jars and postage stams to, of course, angel food recipes. They hold a national convention every two years. Across the country, boutiques have opened that sell nothing but angel collectibles - calendars, perfume, napkin rings, place mats, stationery , postcards, T-shirts and even angel sunglasses. In many places, people are sending angel collectibles in lieu of flowers to funerals. Angel seminars are packed in cities and rural retreats all over the country. In some, participants simply share experiences. Others promise that “getting in touch with your inner angel” will help solve your problems. Harvard Divinity School teaches an entire course on angels and Boston College now teaches two courses.
The trouble is, much of what is going on today, with regards to angels is outside the standard of God’s word. While angels are mysterious, and powerful and involved in the arrangement of God’s plan, much of what is attributed to angels in the secular world doesn’t match up with the word.
Let me break down this caution into three thoughts.
-while angels are sent to minister for us, they can never minister in us.
Only God can do that. Just because angels are from the sprit world, don’t ever mistake their role for the role of the Holy Spirit. Angels don’t transform souls; the Spirit does that. Angels don’t enlighten the mind and comfort the broken hearted - the Comforter, the One called alongside us does that - the Holy Spirit of God.
But here-in lies the subtle threat to a secular society that is infatuated with angels. One man wrote it this way, “With angels around, people feel they don’t have to bother an Almighty God in order to get help.” Another wrote, “Angels too easily provide a temptation for those who want a “fix” of spirituality without bothering with God himself.”
-while angels are involved in spiritual work, they are never to receive worship or adulation.
If the possibility of that sounds far fetched to you - if you think I’m overly dramatic in believing that somehow people could acutally worship angels - consider Pauls warning to the Colosse church in 2:18 as he warnes; I’ll read from Eugenes’ paraphrase of that verse, “Don’t tolerate people who insist that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions.”
By the way, in the Bible, angels always appear in the masculine - not most of the time - every time. And they don’t spend time earning their wings or helping the world at large.
In fact when they appear in the word, they are so intimidating and frightening and awesome that they most often have to say first, before they say anything at all, “Fear not”.
We are never told to “ask our angel” something - we are never told to pray to angels or for our gaurdian angel. We are never told to pray for more angels.
Angels are the messengers of God, sent to do any number of things for the ultimate purpose of bringing the will and glory of God to pass.
While the angelic order is involved in physical protection, only God can ultimately provide spiritual protection.
That involves here and now - in the Book of Ephesians we’re given the armour that allows us to withstand the evil one and his fallen angels. There is the full description of everything we need - Paul does not come to the end of his list and say - now that your dressed for battle, make sure your gaurdian angel is standing by - there is no mention of angelic help - instead we are told to be dressed for battle and then to pray with all prayer and supplication, in the Spirit.
Spiritual protection includes the hereafter as well.
I fear that many people who’ve had some sort of mystical experience or angelic vision have been decieived into believing they are children of God.
The infatuation with angels and their, ever available readiness to help anybody simply ignores the Biblical truth that angels minister for the benefit of believers only.
Hebrews 1:14 says that they are ministering agents to those who’ve inherited eternal life.
David wrote in Psalm 34, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”
Angels rejoice at the conversion of sinners to Christ - Luke 15:10. Angels have dramatically delivered believers from the threat of death - “Acts 5:19; 12:6-11. I’ve read numerous accounts from the journals and books of missionaries who testify to dramatic deliverances). Paul wrote in I Corinthians and I Timothy that the angels are uniquely interested and even somewhat curious about the Christians life.
The truth is, when the unbelieving world comes into contact with the hosts of heaven, it will not be a pretty sight. Angels are the agents of God in the final earthly judgments. Matthew records that the angels will separate the true believers from the false. The book of revelation records that angels will not only throw Satan into the abyss, in the first part of chapter 20, but then later on in the chapter as all unbelievers are cast into lake of fire, the implication follows that it is the angelic host who cast them in.
What American people are so warmly attracted to may in the end be the very agents of terror who seal their doom.
The point is, the distraction needs to be removed - our eyes and hearts should yearn for the power and protection and illumination and guidance from God alone.
Well, back to our story - the next miracle Elisha requested involved blindness - he asks God, in verse 18b. “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. 19. Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.’ And he brought them to Samaria. 20. And it came about when they had come into Samaria, that Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.
Now imagine, the enemy army is taken into the capital city of Samaria - now they are surrounded by soldiers - the gates of the city are shut - there’s no way out.
21. Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them? (he’s like an excited kid - repeating, “Can I have it, can I, can I”) 22. And he answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water befroe them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 23. So he prepared a great feast for them, and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.
I guess not - they learned that their strategy could never win against a God so powerful, nor an enemy so gracious as to feed them instead of execute them.
The hero of these stories is not a group of angels - not even a courageous prophet - the hero is Almighty God.
From this chapter we can cultivate several wonderful truths about our wonderful Lord.
1) God not only intervenes in issues of national importance, He intervenes in isuues of personal concern.
You could draw a line between v. 5 and v. 15 of chapter 6 - they include the exact same words, although spoken by two different men - two different situations. Both men, faced with a crisis cried out to Elisha, “Alas, my master”.
I don’t believe these two stories were coincidentally placed side by side - God intervenes in great concerns of national importance and the personal crisis of even just one individual.
Your concerns are His concerns. Peter could write, under the inspiritation of the Holy Spirit, with great confidence - “Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.” (I Peter 5:7). The word for cares, is the word anxieties. One of my Greek dictionaries defines the word, “Whatever monopolizes the heart.” Isn’t that good - whatever it is that fills your heart with anxiety and concern - cast it on Christ.
That word, “casting” was the word that referred to someone putting something onto something or someone else. It’s used only one other time in the New Testament - in Luke 19:35 where the disciples went to find the young donkey for Jesus to ride upon - and they “cast” their clothing upon the donkey” for make a comfortable saddle.
Imagine the humility in God’s love for us - “My son; my daughter” - I’ll will be your Sovereign bearer of burdens - I will carry your load.
God is never too big for your concerns - “He is an ever present help in time of trouble.”
2) God not only cares about great prophets who are in danger, He also cares about anonymous servants who are afraid.
Imagine, displaying the hosts of heaven. If I were God, I’d display my power to the mighty - the wealthy, the important.
But for whom did God peel back the blinders so as to see the splendor of his majestic host - for whom?!! An anonymous servant who’s heart was filled with fear!
The truth is, in the family of God, no one is insignificant - no one is overlooked - no one is unimportant.
One more thing - did you notice that Elisha never prayed for God to send help - he simply prayed that his servant be given the perspective that help was already there.
Maybe that’s the lesson we need to learn afresh.
Maybe that’s what David had in mind when he wrote, “Our God is an ever present help in time of trouble.”
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