2 Kings 13:19
And the man of God was wroth with him, and said, Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it: whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(19) The man of God was wroth with him.—Because his present want of zeal augured a like deficiency in prosecuting the war hereafter. The natural irritability of the sick man may also have had something to do with it. Thenius well remarks on the manifestly historical character of the entire scene. It may be added that, to appreciate it fully, we must remember that βελομαυτεία, or soothsaying by means of arrows, was a practice of unknown antiquity in the Semitic world. Shooting an arrow, and observing where and how it fell, was one method of trying to fathom the secrets of that Power which overrules events and foreknows the future. The proceedings of David and Jonathan, recorded in 1Samuel 20:35, seq., appear to have been an instance of this sort of divination, which in principle is quite analogous to casting lots, a practice so familiar to readers of the Bible. The second process—that described in 2Kings 13:18—seems equally to have depended upon chance, according to modern ideas. The prophet left it to the spontaneous impulse of the king to determine the number of strokes; because he believed that the result, whatever it was, would betoken the purpose of Jehovah. “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). Elisha’s anger was the natural anger of the man and the patriot, disappointed at the result of a divination from which he had hoped greater things. In conclusion, it cannot be too often or too forcibly urged upon students of the true religion that the essential differences which isolate it from all imperfect or retrograde systems are to be found not so much in matters of outward organisation, form, and ritual, such as priesthoods and sacrifices, prophets and modes of divination, which were pretty much the same everywhere in Semitic antiquity; but in the inward spirit and substance of its teaching, in the vital truths which it handed on through successive ages, and, above all, in its steady progress from lower to higher conceptions of the Divine character and purposes, and of the right relations of man to God and his fellow-creatures.

13:10-19 Jehoash, the king, came to Elisha, to receive his dying counsel and blessing. It may turn much to our spiritual advantage, to attend the sick-beds and death-beds of good men, that we may be encouraged in religion by the living comforts they have from it in a dying hour. Elisha assured the king of his success; yet he must look up to God for direction and strength; must reckon his own hands not enough, but go on, in dependence upon Divine aid. The trembling hands of the dying prophet, as they signified the power of God, gave this arrow more force than the hands of the king in his full strength. By contemning the sign, the king lost the thing signified, to the grief of the dying prophet. It is a trouble to good men, to see those to whom they wish well, forsake their own mercies, and to see them lose advantages against spiritual enemies.The unfaithfulness of man limits the goodness of God. Though Joash did the prophet's bidding, it was without any zeal or fervour; and probably without any earnest belief in the efficacy of what he was doing. Compare Mark 6:5-6. God had been willing to give the Israelites complete victory over Syria 2 Kings 13:17; but Joash by his non-acceptance of the divine promise in its fulness had checked the outflow of mercy; and the result was that the original promise could not be fulfilled. 15-18. Take bow and arrows—Hostilities were usually proclaimed by a herald, sometimes by a king or general making a public and formal discharge of an arrow into the enemy's country. Elisha directed Joash to do this, as a symbolical act, designed to intimate more fully and significantly the victories promised to the king of Israel over the Syrians. His laying his hands upon the king's hands was to represent the power imparted to the bow shot as coming from the Lord through the medium of the prophet. His shooting the first arrow eastward—to that part of his kingdom which the Syrians had taken and which was east of Samaria—was a declaration of war against them for the invasion. His shooting the other arrows into the ground was in token of the number of victories he was taken to gain; but his stopping at the third betrayed the weakness of his faith; for, as the discharged arrow signified a victory over the Syrians, it is evident that the more arrows he shot the more victories he would gain. As he stopped so soon, his conquests would be incomplete. Quest. Wherein was Jehoash’s fault, or why was the prophet angry with him?

Answ. The prophet himself did not yet know how many victories Jehoash should obtain against the Syrians, but God had signified to him that he should learn that by the number of the king’s strokes. And he was angry with him, not simply because he smote only thrice, but because by his unbelief and idolatry he provoked God so to overrule his heart and hand that he should smite but thrice, which was a token that God would assist him no further; although his smiting but thrice might proceed either from his unbelief or negligence. For by the former sign, and the prophet’s comment upon it, he might clearly perceive that this also was intended as a sign of his success against the Syrians, and therefore he ought to have done it frequently and vehemently.

And the man of God was wroth with him,.... Because he ceased smiting, and smote no oftener; for it was revealed to the prophet, by an impulse upon his mind, that by the number of times he smote on the ground, it would be known how often he should get the victory over his enemies; but this was to be left to the king's own will, how often he would smite, and thereby the prophet would know also with what spirit he would pursue his victories, and the advantages he would gain:

and said, thou shouldest have smitten five or six times, then hadst thou smitten Syria until thou hadst consumed it; as a nation, as well as routed their several armies:

whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice; beat them only three times in battle, according to the number of his smitings on the ground.

And the man of God was {k} wroth with him, and said, Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it: whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.

(k) Because he seemed content to have victory against the enemies of God two or three times but did not have the zeal to overcome them continually, and to destroy them completely.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
19. the man of God was wroth] We must think of sorrow as well as anger. We can see through all Elisha’s life, that the welfare of his country was very dear to him. Hence his desire that the king should accept God’s announcement of victory with eagerness, and his grief that he did not.

Verse 19. - And the man of God (comp. 2 Kings 4:7, 25; 2 Kings 6:6, 9; 2 Kings 8:4, etc.) was wroth with him. Elisha was angered at the lukewarmness of Joash, and his lack of faith and zeal. He himself, from his higher standpoint, saw the greatness of the opportunity, the abundance of favor which God was ready to grant, and the way in which God's favor was stinted and narrowed by Joash's want of receptiveness. Had the king been equal to the occasion, a full end might at once have been made of Syria, and Israel might have been enabled to brace herself for the still more perilous struggle with Assyria, in which she ultimately succumbed. And said, Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it. It has been suggested that Joash associated the number throe with the notion of completeness, and "thought that what was done thrice was done perfectly" (Bahr); but in this case the prophet would scarcely have been angered. It is far more consonant with the entire narrative to suppose that he stopped from mere weariness, and want of strong faith and zeal. If he had been earnestly desirous of victory, and had had faith in the symbolical action as divinely directed, he would have kept on smiting till the prophet told him it was enough, or at any rate would have smitten the ground five or six times instead of three. The idea that he abstained from modesty or from prudence, "lest too extravagant demands might deprive him of all" (Von Gerlach), finds no support in the text of the narrative. He abstained (as Keil says) because "he was wanting in the proper zeal for obtaining the full promises of God." Had it been otherwise, the complete success obtained by Jeroboam II. (2 Kings 4:25-28) might have been anticipated by the space of fifteen or twenty years. Whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice (comp. ver. 25, which declares that this prophecy was exactly accomplished). 2 Kings 13:19Elisha was angry at this, and said: "Thou shouldst shoot five or six times, thou wouldst then have smitten the Syrians to destruction; but now thou wilt smite them three times." להכּות: it was to shoot, i.e., thou shouldst shoot; compare Ewald, 237, c.; and for הכּית אז, then hadst thou smitten, vid., Ewald, 358, a. As the king was told that the arrow shot off signified a victory over the Syrians, he ought to have shot off all the arrows, to secure a complete victory over them. When, therefore, he left off after shooting only three times, this was a sign that he was wanting in the proper zeal for obtaining the divine promise, i.e., in true faith in the omnipotence of God to fulfil His promise.

(Note: "When the king reflected upon the power of the kings of Syria, since he had not implicit faith in Elisha, he thought that it was enough if he struck the earth three times, fearing that the prophecy might not be fulfilled if he should strike more blows upon the ground." - Clericus.)

Elisha was angry at this weakness of the king's faith, and told him that by leaving off so soon he had deprived himself of a perfect victory over the Syrians.

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