Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
2 Kings 13:1-13, with 2 Kings 13:22-25
I. THE PERPETUITY OF EVIL. How sad it is to read of one king after another, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord"! And then the statement is usually made, "He departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin." A bad man does harm to others besides himself. "None of us liveth to himself." Not merely while we live, but after we are gone, our lives and words and deeds will influence others. We may think ourselves very obscure and insignificant, so insignificant that we may argue it does not matter to others how we live. But who can measure the circle of his influence? In ways that we know not, influence may reach other hearts and other lives. Oh! how dangerous is one evil influence in a community! It takes a long time to do away with its effects.
"The evil that men do lives after them; II. THE MERCY OF GOD. God punished Jehoahaz and his people for their sins. "He delivered them into the hand of Hazael King of Syria, and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael, all their days." When suffering or troubles come, let us see whether the cause of them is not within our own hearts and lives. But he mingled mercy with judgment. God is ever on the watch for signs of the prodigal's return. His ear is ever open for the cry of penitence, for the faintest' prayer for forgiveness and help. Jehoahaz besought the Lord, and the Lord hearkened unto him; for he saw the oppression of Israel, because the King of Syria oppressed them" (ver. 4; see also ver. 23). Come, let us to the Lord our God "His voice commands the tempest forth, III. HUMAN INGRATITUDE. Though God delivered them from their difficulty and distress, and gave them peace from their enemies, yet, when the difficulty was over, they forgot all about God's mercy. They went back to their old sins. "Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat... but walked therein" (ver. 6). How prone the human heart is to forsake God! The Books of Judges and Kings are full of illustrations of this painful fact. By forsaking God the Israelites brought themselves into misery and bondage. Time after time God raised up judges and kings and prophets to be the means of their deliverance. But when these were dead, or when the immediate danger had passed away, once again the people forsook God. It is the same in the history of the individual. How ungrateful we are for God's unceasing and unfailing goodness! How forgetful of his commandments and his promises! "The way of man is not in himself; and it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." We need all the influence of Divine grace to keep us in the way that is right. IV. A HUMBLED NATION. To what a low level sin reduces a nation! How shamefully Israel was humiliated before Syria! The King of Syria only left to Jehoahaz fifty horsemen, ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; "for the King of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing." The fate of Israel, the fate of other mighty nations of the past, are a great national lesson to be remembered so long as the world shall last. Ought we not earnestly to pray that this great British empire, which has been built up by God-fearing men, and which God has blessed and honored so highly, may not forsake God for secularism or gross corruption, and thus fall into the fate of the fallen nations of the past? Knowing how great are the forces of evil, it becomes every true Christian to be more valiant for the truth, to be more active in everything that will extend the kingdom of Christ in this and other lands. - C.H.I.
II. THE MERCY OF GOD. God punished Jehoahaz and his people for their sins. "He delivered them into the hand of Hazael King of Syria, and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael, all their days." When suffering or troubles come, let us see whether the cause of them is not within our own hearts and lives. But he mingled mercy with judgment. God is ever on the watch for signs of the prodigal's return. His ear is ever open for the cry of penitence, for the faintest' prayer for forgiveness and help. Jehoahaz besought the Lord, and the Lord hearkened unto him; for he saw the oppression of Israel, because the King of Syria oppressed them" (ver. 4; see also ver. 23).
Come, let us to the Lord our God "His voice commands the tempest forth, III. HUMAN INGRATITUDE. Though God delivered them from their difficulty and distress, and gave them peace from their enemies, yet, when the difficulty was over, they forgot all about God's mercy. They went back to their old sins. "Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat... but walked therein" (ver. 6). How prone the human heart is to forsake God! The Books of Judges and Kings are full of illustrations of this painful fact. By forsaking God the Israelites brought themselves into misery and bondage. Time after time God raised up judges and kings and prophets to be the means of their deliverance. But when these were dead, or when the immediate danger had passed away, once again the people forsook God. It is the same in the history of the individual. How ungrateful we are for God's unceasing and unfailing goodness! How forgetful of his commandments and his promises! "The way of man is not in himself; and it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." We need all the influence of Divine grace to keep us in the way that is right. IV. A HUMBLED NATION. To what a low level sin reduces a nation! How shamefully Israel was humiliated before Syria! The King of Syria only left to Jehoahaz fifty horsemen, ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; "for the King of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing." The fate of Israel, the fate of other mighty nations of the past, are a great national lesson to be remembered so long as the world shall last. Ought we not earnestly to pray that this great British empire, which has been built up by God-fearing men, and which God has blessed and honored so highly, may not forsake God for secularism or gross corruption, and thus fall into the fate of the fallen nations of the past? Knowing how great are the forces of evil, it becomes every true Christian to be more valiant for the truth, to be more active in everything that will extend the kingdom of Christ in this and other lands. - C.H.I.
"His voice commands the tempest forth, III. HUMAN INGRATITUDE. Though God delivered them from their difficulty and distress, and gave them peace from their enemies, yet, when the difficulty was over, they forgot all about God's mercy. They went back to their old sins. "Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat... but walked therein" (ver. 6). How prone the human heart is to forsake God! The Books of Judges and Kings are full of illustrations of this painful fact. By forsaking God the Israelites brought themselves into misery and bondage. Time after time God raised up judges and kings and prophets to be the means of their deliverance. But when these were dead, or when the immediate danger had passed away, once again the people forsook God. It is the same in the history of the individual. How ungrateful we are for God's unceasing and unfailing goodness! How forgetful of his commandments and his promises! "The way of man is not in himself; and it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." We need all the influence of Divine grace to keep us in the way that is right. IV. A HUMBLED NATION. To what a low level sin reduces a nation! How shamefully Israel was humiliated before Syria! The King of Syria only left to Jehoahaz fifty horsemen, ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; "for the King of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing." The fate of Israel, the fate of other mighty nations of the past, are a great national lesson to be remembered so long as the world shall last. Ought we not earnestly to pray that this great British empire, which has been built up by God-fearing men, and which God has blessed and honored so highly, may not forsake God for secularism or gross corruption, and thus fall into the fate of the fallen nations of the past? Knowing how great are the forces of evil, it becomes every true Christian to be more valiant for the truth, to be more active in everything that will extend the kingdom of Christ in this and other lands. - C.H.I.
I. A GREAT MAN DYING. "Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died." The whole history of Elisha is not only the history of the marvelous, but the history of loyalty to Heaven and of devotion to the interests of the Israelite race. But here we find this great and good man dying. Elijah, his master, had escaped death and had been borne to heaven in a chariot of fire, but Elisha had to die in the ordinary way of mankind, through sickness. It is true he was an old man; threescore years had passed since he commenced his prophetic ministry. For a great many years we are told nothing about him, but no doubt he had been actively and usefully engaged. Even the most useful public men, and the most popular too, cease to attract great public attention as they pass into years. Often they become as "dead men out of sight," albeit they are useful. Though all men have to die, death is not the same to all men. It has a widely different significance to different men. To the good man it is life breaking through exuviae and taking wing to revel in a sunny universe. It is the "mortal putting on immortality."
II. A WICKED MAN REGRETTING THE EVENT. "And Joash the King of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face, and said, O my father, my father!" Why did he weep? Not because he had any sympathy with the character of the departing man. His moral sympathies were in antagonism to those of the prophet. Not because he felt that the prophet himself would suffer loss. He was not thinking of the prophet's gaining or losing by death. Not because he knew that the event would be a loss to the living in general. He cared nothing for his race, not he; but because he knew that the prophet was the "chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." His chariots and horsemen were gone, and Elisha was his only hope.
III. A GOOD MAN LEAVING THE WORLD INTERESTED IN POSTERITY. Elisha, though dying, stilt took an interest in the future of his country. "Elisha said unto him, Take bow and arrows. And he took unto him bow and arrows," etc. (vers. 15-19). Elisha seems to have been touched by the king's tears; and he held out the hope that he would yet become victorious over the Syrians. The symbolic action which the prophet recommended, putting his hand upon the bow, opening the window, shooting the arrow, smiting the ground, does not, I think, necessarily mean that the prophet approved of the future wars of the king, but merely indicated the fact. He foretold his success; for, in three campaigns against the Syrians, he recovered the cities which they had taken from his father. He was also successful in the war with Amaziah King of Judah. But the point worth notice is the interest felt in the future by the prophet in his dying hours. Had he not done with life? Would he not soon be in his grave? What would the world be to him in the future? An interest in posterity seems to be an instinct in humanity. There is a nerve in humanity that runs through all races and all generations, linking men together. No man liveth to himself;" all men are in one. The more moral goodness a man has in him the more sensitive this nerve becomes. Hence the best men in all ages have been the men who made provision for posterity.
IV. A DEAD MAN EXERTING A WONDERFUL INFLUENCE. "It came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulcher of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet." The incident which takes place in his grave is as strange as it is significant and suggestive. The bearers of a dead man, struck with terror at the approach of enemies, instead of carrying the remains to their appointed resting-place, pushed them into the sepulcher where slept the bones of the illustrious Elisha. No sooner did the corpse touch the sacred relics of the great seer than it quivered with life, and the dead man, to the astonishment of all, revived, and stood on his feet. This miraculous incident was desired and calculated to make a wholesome moral impression on the mind of the age. It had a tendency to demonstrate to all the Divinity of the prophet's mission, to show the honor with which the Eternal treats the holy dead, to prove the existence of a Power superior to death, and to foreshadow a future state. Whilst I would at all times studiously endeavor to avoid the mistake of what is called spiritualizing God's Word, I feel that it is lawful to use an incident like this as an illustration of spiritual realities. The incident which occurred in the grave of Elisha on this occasion, viz. the deriving of life by contact with the holy dead, is, in the material department of things to which it belongs, sublimely singular. Such an event as this, perhaps, will never occur again; but a thing analogous to this in the spiritual domain is, thank God, of frequent occurrence. The dead minds of earth are constantly deriving life from contact with the spiritual remains of the dead. - D.T.
I. JEHOAHAZ'S EVIL REIGN.
1. The downward movement in Israel. With the extinction of Ahab's house, the rooting out of Baal, and the establishment of Jehu's dynasty, Israel obtained a new chance of doing well. But Jehu's reforming zeal soon died out, and he fell back into godless ways. His son followed the worse, and not the better, traditions of his father's reign. Thus the downward movement again began, Of Jehoahaz also the old monotonous refrain has to be spoken, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord." This is the burden of the song regarding every king of Israel. In the whole line, from first to last, there is not one of whom a different report can be given.
2. The cardinal sin. The foremost sin of all these monarchs-that which fatally entangled them in other sins - was the perpetuation of the worship of the calves. Religion affects the springs of morality, and this idolatrous cultus sent poisonous streams through the whole life of the nation. It was the grand transgression which, amidst all temporary reforms, was never abandoned.
II. THE SYRIAN OPPRESSION.
1. Divine anger. "The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel" God had done so much for the people, had granted them so favor-able an opportunity for repentance, had counseled and warned them so long by great prophets like Elijah and Elisha, that he was justly wroth with them for their continued transgressions. God is jealous of his honor, and presumptuous transgressors must expect to find his hand laid heavily upon them. When God's anger is kindled against a people, things cannot go well. Troubles break out on every side, and calamities fall thick and fast.
2. Weighty chastisements. God delivered the people of Israel into the hands of the kings of Syria - Hazael and Benhadad. This time it was no passing invasion. The completeness of the conquest, and the severity of the oppression, recall the days of the judges, or the Philistine oppression of the reign of Saul (Judges 5:6, 7; 1 Samuel 13:19-22). Out of the hosts of Israel there was left to Jehoahaz but fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen. Elisha's foresight of the evils which Hazael would inflict on the nation was thus terribly verified. Again is the reflection forced on us - How bitter is the fruit of sin! The Bible is little else than a repeated enforcement of the truth, "Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him.... Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him" (Isaiah 3:10, 11).
III. JEHOAHAZ'S PRAYER, AND ITS ANSWER.
1. The king's prayer. The very existence of the kingdom seemed threatened. Happily, the desperate straits to which he was reduced led Jehoahaz to humble himself before God. He felt himself in the hands of a living God, and, rightly tracing the calamities which had befallen him to Jehovah's anger, he turned to Jehovah for his help. The chastisements with which God visits men for their sins are designed to break their pride and stubbornness, and lead them to repentance. They often have the effect of producing a temporary submission, though they cannot of themselves change the heart. We have examples in Pharaoh (Exodus 8:28) and in Ahab (1 Kings 21:27).
2. God's answer to the prayer. A prayer wrung from the king, not by the sense of his sin, but by the intolerable pressure of affliction, might have been thought undeserving of an answer. But the Lord is very pitiful, and welcomes the faintest approach of the sinner unto him. He does not thrust the suppliant away, but seeks, by giving him tokens of his grace, to ripen his imperfect desires into real repentance. Accordingly, the approaches of Jehoahaz to the throne of grace met with a gracious response. God promised a savior to the land, and ultimately raised one up in the person of Joash, who, but for his want of perseverance, would have completely delivered the nation from the Syrians. The work which he left undone was finished by his son, Jeroboam II. Thus God shows himself ready to hear the cries even of the worst of men. None need despair in calling on Heaven when Jehoahaz was listened to in such dire straits. Happy they who are led to call, though it be from the depths, to God (Psalm 130. l). He will not turn any away. His promise is, "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee" (Psalm 50:15).
3. Imperfect repentance. The imperfection of Jehoahaz's repentance is seen in the fact that the worship of the calves was still maintained; also there remained the symbol of Astarte in Samaria. God's promise having been given, was not revoked, and there were other reasons why he was willing to help the people (ver. 23). But these sins in high places wrought ruin afterwards. - J.O.
I. ACCESSION OF JOASH. The change of rulers was in some respects a gain for Israel. Joash was a man of better disposition than his father, and under his reign the kingdom, which has been so sorely broken down, was again partially built up. But he still adhered to the cardinal sin of the nation - the calf-worship-so that of him also the formula has to be employed, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord." That is, notwithstanding military successes, and some signs of respect for and attention to Elisha's monitions, things still remained on a fundamentally false basis in the kingdom. So Herod feared John the Baptist, and observed him, and, when he heard him, did many things, and heard him gladly, yet remained a bad man (Mark 6:20). God's judgment on men is not according to superficial characteristics, but according to the fundamental bent of their minds.
II. ELISHA ON HIS DEATHBED.
1. Elisha's sickness. Elisha by this time was a very old man. He was Elijah's attendant in the reign of Ahab; he was a prominent figure in the reigns of Ahaziah and Jehoram; he gave the commission to Jehu to overthrow the incurably corrupt dynasty of Ahab, and lived through the twenty-eight years of that king's reign; he witnessed the troubles of the reign of Jehoahaz, and was perhaps the means of that monarch being led to humble himself before God; now, in Joash's reign, he is still alive. From the time of Jehu's accession he seems to have taken little part in the political life of the nation; at least, no accounts of his activity remain to us. When the curtain again lifts he is lying on his deathbed. It was not to be with him as with Elijah. He must pay the common debt to nature, experience the infirmities of age, be smitten with sickness, and succumb to death. The longest and most useful life thus comes to its close. It is well when, on a deathbed, one can look back on a life which has been spent in the service of God.
2. The visit of Joash. To the bedside of the dying Elisha came the King of Israel, apparently drawn thereto by sincere reverence and respect for the aged prophet. He came to him, it is said, and wept, saying, "O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" This language speaks to former relations of intimacy and friendship between the king and prophet. Probably Elisha had been the counselor of his youth, and had guided and encouraged him in his duties as king. It is to be remembered also that the promised deliverance from the Syrians was not yet begun. The kingdom was still in humiliation and distress, and Joash may have felt as if, with the death of Elisha, the last spark of hope for the nation would be extinguished. We see how, in the hour of extremity, good men are felt, even by the ungodly, to be a tower of strength to the state. Their presence and prayers are its truest bulwark. The full extent of the loss sustained by their removal is only realized when they are taken away. We see also how possible it is to have great respect for God's servants, to appreciate their worth to the community, and to weep over and deeply regret their loss, and yet not do the things that they say. Joash shows fairly well in this narrative, but his conduct as a whole is stamped as "evil in the sight of the Lord."
III. THE ARROW OF DELIVERANCE. Once and again had mighty deliverances for Israel been announced through Elisha. The last was to be the greatest of all.
1. The pledge of deliverance. Raising himself up on his bed, prophetic fire gleaming in his eye, Elisha bade the young and stalwart king take his bow and arrows. Joash did as the prophet required, not yet understanding his meaning, but no doubt forecasting some encouraging message. Elisha then bade him put his hand upon his bow, and placing his own hands on the king's, told him further to open the window eastward, and shoot. This was done. Then the symbolic action was explained. That arrow he had shot into the air was the arrow of the Lord's deliverance, an arrow pledging deliverance from the yoke of Syria. It was shot eastwards, because the Syrian ravages were com-inertly from that quarter (2 Kings 10:32, 33). The action declares:
(1) That deliverance in trouble is from God only. As he alone can give it, so he is the true Source from which to seek it.
(2) God employs human agency in his deliverances. The bow and arrows were the symbols of the human instrumentality. Joash had to put his hands upon the bow. It was he who shot the arrow. It was he who was to smite the Syrians. Man has his part given him in all God's works of deliverance on earth.
(3) The human agent could only succeed as God strengthened him. Elisha put his hands upon Joash's, signifying that the power to gain the predicted victories came from God. His hands were to be "made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob" (Genesis 49:24). It is on God's power we must always rely for victory. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us," etc (Psalm 115:1).
2. The victories in detail. The symbol was not yet complete. Joash's quiver was yet full, minus that one arrow, and the prophet bade him shoot other arrows, this time to the ground, as if smiting something down to it. Joash took his arrows and began to smite. He shot once, and twice, and thrice, then stayed. The prophet was wroth at this, and told him he should have gone on smiting, then would the Syrians have been wholly consumed, whereas now he would only gain three victories over them. These successive smitings, therefore, represented the victories in detail which Joash would gain over the Syrians. One is at a loss at first to see why the prophet should have dealt so severely, with the king for what may have been a perfectly natural mistake. But the stopping with the third arrow no doubt brought to light a certain weak line in Joash's character - a want of perseverance, a tendency to be satisfied with partial results, to stop short of the ultimate goal of effort. And one can see how that may have hindered his complete success over the Syrians. We learn:
(1) Very trivial actions often reveal a great deal of character.
(2) We often have not from God because we ask not. These shootings of the arrows were at once prayers for victories from God, and pledges of victories. Joash, as it were, asked for only three victories, and he only got three. Had he asked for more, he would have got more. Had Abraham not ceased pleading for Sodom when he did, he might have got a yet further extension of grace for that doomed city (Genesis 18:32, 33). It is never in God we are straitened in our prayers; it is only in ourselves.
(3) It displeases God that we do not ask more from him. His controversy with us is not that we ask too much, but that we do not ask enough. Joash missed the full blessing by stopping in his asking. - J.O.
so, but he was able to give encouragement to others. When King Joash sees the prophet on his deathbed, he feels how great is the loss which Israel is about to sustain. Good men are a nation's strength. And so Joash, bending in tears over the dying prophet's couch, exclaims, "O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" But Elisha wants to keep up his heart. He wants to teach him that, though the prophet dies, the prophet's God remains. The workmen pass away, but the work of God goes on.- So the true Christian will ever look beyond his own death to the glory that awaits him, beyond the present hour of darkness or difficulty or delay to the ultimate triumph of the Church of Christ. It was in this spirit that the martyrs died. What a vision of the future lit up their suffering faces! What a prophetic instinct in such words as those which' Bishop Latimer spoke to his fellow-reformer Ridley, as they stood side by side, waiting for the faggots to be kindled: "Be of good cheer, brother Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as by God's grace shall never be put out." And here Elisha on his deathbed gives utterance to prophetic words. He told Joash that the arrow, which, in obedience to his directions, he had shot forth from the open window, signified the arrow of the Lord's deliverance. But Joash was slow to learn the double lesson of God's unlimited power and the necessity-for human effort which this simple illustration taught. Elisha had already told him that he should smite the Syrians till they were consumed, and then, to teach him furthermore the necessity for perseverance and patience, he commands him to smite upon the ground. Joash, seeing that the prophet had already revealed to him so much and encouraged him so greatly, might have continued until he was requested to cease. But instead of that, he only smote three times, and then gave up. Thus he illustrated his own want of faith in God's almighty power, his own want of patience and perseverance, and therefore how little he deserved God's interference on his behalf. The old proverb truly says, "God helps those that help themselves." The chief lesson of this incident is - Want of faith a hindrance to success in Christian work.
I. CHRISTIANS SHOW WANT OF FAITH, ALTHOUGH THEY HAVE DIVINE PROMISES. It was so here in the case of Joash. He had stood beside the bedside of Elisha in a state of utter dismay. It had seemed to him as if he already saw the downfall of his kingdom, as if all other resources were useless if the man of God, who had so often guided kings and people to victory, was taken away. But look at the encouragement which Elisha had given him. He had taken his thoughts away from human wisdom and human strength, and turned them upward to the almighty, unlimited power of God. "The arrow of the Lord's deliverance." What suggestions of power, of help, of victory, were in those simple words! The Lord's deliverance! That almighty power which delivered Israel out of the hand of Pharaoh; that almighty power which turned back the waves of the Red Sea, and brought the people over safely on dry land; that almighty power which, only a few years since, filled the dry valley with water and thus gave victory to Israel, and which, by smiting the Syrians with blindness, delivered Israel out of the hands of their enemies; - that almighty power, O Joash, will be with you, will deliver you. Oh, what a thrill of determination, of resolute, energetic purpose, should have been awakened in his mind! Might he not reasonably have felt, "Yes, the Lord is on my side. Victory is sure. I shall redouble my efforts against the enemies of Israel, against the workers of evil. Out of gratitude to God I shall serve the Lord only"? But Joash failed when put to the test. When Elisha gave him an opportunity of showing his faith by his own efforts, he only showed how little faith he had in the promises of God. If we believe that God's Word is true, that his promises are true, it is but reasonable that he should expect us to act on them. To every unsaved soul God says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." The promise is salvation. But there is a duty, a condition, a necessity, coupled with it. That duty is faith in Christ - taking him as our Savior, serving him as our King. How many act like Joash! They would like to get to heaven, but they are not willing to tread the narrow path. They would like to obtain salvation, but they are not willing to take God's way of obtaining it. They say, "If I'm to be saved, I shall be saved." To any one who has been thinking about eternity and the judgment to come, whose heart has been softened by sickness or bereavement, who has been impressed by any message from God's Word, but has not yet accepted Christ, we would say, "Stay not thine hand. Let not the good impressions pass away." "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." Arise today, and in the strength of God smite your unbelief, smite the tempter to the ground. Strive to enter in at the narrow door. Then shall that good impression, then shall that warning voice, prove to be to you the arrow of the Lord's deliverance. Take the step, fulfill the condition, if you would obtain the blessing. The same applies to Christian work. How many call themselves God's servants, how many expect the reward of the faithful servant, who are doing absolutely nothing for the Lord. Jesus has given one very precious promise to his people: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world;" but it is to those who in some way are seeking to fulfill that command, Go ye therefore, and preach the gospel to every creature." The truth is, the promise depends upon the work, and the work depends upon the promise. We cannot expect God's blessings if we are not doing his work. And we cannot do his work if we do not meditate much on his promises.
II. CHRISTIANS SHOW WANT OF FAITH, ALTHOUGH THEY HAVE PROOFS OF DIVINE POWER. In the history of his nation, even in the history of Elisha's life alone, Joash had many proofs of Divine power, yet still he showed a want of faith in God. In the whole history of God's kingdom in the world, in the whole history of the Christian Church, we have proofs of God's power, yet where is our faith at all proportionate to the strength of evidence on which it rests? There is no stronger testimony to the power of the gospel than the history of modern missions. It is just seventy years since the first missionaries landed in Madagascar; it is not thirty years since the terrible persecutions ceased there, by which the missionaries were driven out of the island, and the little companies of Christians who survived the-massacre met for worship in secret, in dens and caves of the mountains, and were in constant danger of their lives. Yet in that large island today there is a Christian population of nearly three hundred thousand, the idols have been publicly burned, and the Christian religion is publicly recognized by the state. What hath God wrought! Think of the work which Dr. Moffat accomplished among the degraded tribes of South Africa, not so many years ago. The conversion of Africaner, the Hottentot chief, under his ministry, is well known. Every one warned Moffat against him as a man who was a terror to the whole neighborhood. But Moffat thought he was just the man to go to with the gospel He went, and was the means of leading the savage chief to Christ, and "Africaner's changed life convinced many, who had never believed in them before, of the efficacy of Christian missions." Think of the progress of Christianity in Japan, in India, in China. The following testimony was recently borne to mission work in China in his report to the Foreign Office by the late British Consul at Newchwang. He says, "The labors of the missionaries indirectly benefit our merchants, manufacturers, and artisans. I further believe that, partly owing to the Christian principles disseminated by the missionaries, the tone of morality among the Chinese people has during the last twenty years perceptibly attained a higher platform." The Rev. William Swanson, a veteran missionary, and lately moderator of the English Presbyterian Church, states that when he went to China twenty-six years ago there were only five small churches at the treaty ports. Now, in going from Canton to Shanghai, and traveling twenty or twenty-five miles a day, he could sleep every night, with one or two exceptions, in a village having a Christian church. The first time Charles Darwin visited the island of Tierra del Fuego, he said that the people there were irreclaimable. He saw four Christian Fuegians at a meeting in England, and was so impressed by what he heard of the work of the missionaries that he became an annual subscriber to the funds of the Missionary Society, and said he should feel proud if the committee would think fit to elect him one of its honorary members. When we think of these things, of the wonderful work done in the South Sea Islands, and of the many nations where heathenism has yielded to the preaching of the cross, surely we may well say, "What hath God wrought!" Today, just as in St. Paul's day, the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." If we doubt the power of the gospel, our doubts are in the face of overwhelming and irresistible facts.
III. THE EVIL RESULTS OF THIS WANT OF FAITH. This want of faith has ill results on life and practice and Christian work. Many who went part of the way with Christ turned back and walked no more with him because of their want of faith. It is so still. Want of faith leads to low expectations and feeble efforts. True faith in God's presence and power, instead of making us inactive and careless, is the greatest stimulus to activity. It rouses us to put forth all our energies. It makes us patient under difficulties. It causes us to persevere even when we see no immediate result. How many a good work has been begun, but given up, because of want of faith! This was nearly being the case at one time with what has since proved one of the most successful missions to the heathen. After twelve years' labor in the island of Tahiti, in the Pacific, the mission seemed to be an utter failure. All but one of the missionaries left the South Sea Islands. At home the directors of the London Missionary Society seriously discussed the abandoning of the mission. But two members of the committee, men of strong faith in God and the gospel, strenuously opposed this, and proposed a season of special prayer for a blessing on its work. This was agreed to; letters of encouragement were written to the missionaries; and while the ship that bore these letters was on her way to Tahiti, another ship was bearing to England the rejected idols of the people. How had this happened? Some of the missionaries who had left the island were led in some way to return. One morning one of them went out into the fields for meditation, when he heard, with a thrill of joy, the voice of a native raised in prayer to God - the first token that their teaching had been blessed in Tahiti. Soon they heard of others. A Christian Church was formed. The priests publicly burned their idols; and thus, after a night of toil of sixteen years, the dawn at last broke (see 'Outlines of Protestant Missions,' by Rev. John Robson, D.D.). What a rebuke to the weak faith of the directors who had proposed to abandon the mission! What a lesson to every minister and missionary, to every Sunday-school teacher, to every Christian worker, not to stay their hand, even where they see no results of their labor! "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Work done for God never dies. Stay not your hand in the matter of your own spiritual life. Persevere in the conflict with your besetting sins. Persevere in the cultivation of Christian graces. Use the arrow of the Lord's deliverance. Put on the whole armor of God. Persevere also in prayer for others, Never give up as hopeless a single soul. Stay not thine hand. You can't do much for them, perhaps, but God can. Lay the case of erring child or godless friend before God in prayer. Ask him to open their eyes. Ask the Lord Jesus to lay his hand upon them - to speak the word only, and they shall be made whole. Persevere also in Christian work. "Be not weary in well-doing" Leave no work unfinished for which God gives you the strength and the means. Perhaps we have been shooting too few arrows, making too little effort in God's cause. Seek the guidance of God's hand and the power which God's presence gives, and then go forth to win victories for him. - C.H.I.
I. GOD'S POWER TO RAISE THE DEAD. Here was something which their heathen gods could never do. Heathenism, agnosticism, - these systems bring no comfort to the bereaved and sorrowing spirit. Christ alone has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. None but he has ever dared to say, "I am the Resurrection and the Life."
II. THE UNDYING INFLUENCE OF GOOD MEN. "Non omnis moriar" was the saying of the old heathen poet. But the humblest Christian who is faithful to God may have confidence that his influence for good will continue long after he has passed away from earth.
1. Elisha's words were to continue. The prophet was dead, but his words still lived. His words were the words of God. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." We see in the twenty-fifth verse how Elisha's prediction to Joash was literally fulfilled. Three times Joash defeated the Syrians and recovered the cities of Israel. Elisha's words still remain, to be our consolation and comfort.
2. Elisha's work remained, fiche memory of his faithfulness to God, of the wonders he was able to do by God's presence with him, remained to be a help and stimulus to many faithful servants of God when Israel was growing worse and worse. A good man's influence - who can tell how long it may last, or what unexpected places and persons it may reach? - C.H.I.
I. THE GOOD MAN LAID IN HIS GRAVE. Elisha's sickness had proved to be indeed unto death, and his mortal remains had been reverently conveyed to a sepulcher. He who had been the means of restoring life to others, whose very bones were made the instrument of reviving the dead, was not able to protect himself from the universal law. He left the world by the same gate as ordinary mortals. It is pathetic to reflect that, however long and useful a life may be, this is always the end of it. The certainty of removal by death from the scene of their labors should animate those who are still in the vigor of their powers to work while it is today (John 9:4), and should lead those who enjoy the presence and services of good men to prize and honor these servants of God while they are here. From the side of the saint himself death is not a calamity, but a gain. "He rests from his labors, and his works follow him" (Revelation 14:13).
II. POWER ISSUING FROM THE GOOD MAN'S GRAVE. Though Elisha was not taken to heaven as Elijah was without tasting of death, he had yet great honor put upon him in his death. God set the seal on his prophetic work by making life-giving power to issue even from his grave. The miracle suggests to us the fact that from every good man's grave there issues in an important sense a life-giving power. The influence of men does not die with them. On the contrary, it is often greater after their deaths than during their lives.
1. Sometimes in a literal sense the grave is a source of new life to men. In the act of committing dust to dust, and ashes to ashes, holy impressions steal over men, new resolves take possession of their hearts. Many a man, e.g., has been brought to his senses at the graveside of a father or mother, whose counsels, perhaps, he disregarded in life.
2. Sometimes in a figurative sense souls are quickened by the bones of the dead. A man's actions, for instance, are things of the past when he is dead. But they may be written in a book, and become a source of life to countless generations who read them afterwards. It is but a few facts of any man's life which can Be thus rescued from oblivion - the mere bones of his history; but what a power is in them! So of a man's words. The fragments of a man's speech that can be preserved in any collection of his sayings are comparatively few. They are the mere bones of his speech. But they quicken souls through the ages. The words of David, of St. Paul, of the prophets, touch and work on souls to the present hour. The world is the living thing it is because of the influence of these dead men in it. They are
"The dead but sceptered sov'tans, 3. The highest life has come out of death. Jesus said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone," etc. (John 12:24). Elisha communicated resurrection-power without himself rising from the dead; Christ has himself risen, and is now the Principle of resurrection-life to others. - J.O.
3. The highest life has come out of death. Jesus said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone," etc. (John 12:24). Elisha communicated resurrection-power without himself rising from the dead; Christ has himself risen, and is now the Principle of resurrection-life to others. - J.O.
I. THE GROUND OF THESE VICTORIES. While God had respect to the prayer of Jehoahaz, there was a deeper ground for his interposition to save Israel. He was gracious to them, and had compassion on them, and had respect to them, we are told, because of his covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. More specifically, we have as grounds:
1. Love to the fathers. God remembered Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and would not hastily cast off their posterity (cf. Deuteronomy 4:37; Romans 11:28). Many of the blessings which sinners enjoy, the forbearance God shows them, etc., are due to the prayers of godly ancestors.
2. Regard for his own promise. God had made a covenant with the patriarchs, and had promised to be a God to them, and to their seed after them. That covenant was the main fact in the history of Israel. It underlies and governs all God's dealings with them, past, present, and prospective. It was the remembrance of this covenant which led to the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 2:24, 25); to the settlement in Canaan (Deuteronomy 9:3); and to God's patient dealings with the nation amidst their various rebellious, and under their constant provocations. God saved them, not for their righteousness' sake, but for his own Name's sake. He is the God of unchanging faithfulness.
3. Unwillingness to destroy the people. God casts off none hastily, for he has "no pleasure in the death of him that dieth" (Ezekiel 18:32). He bears long with men, if haply they will repent. Wherefore it is said, "He would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet." There is a limit, however, to Divine forbearance. The time came when, still remaining impenitent, they were cast away, though even then not forever.
II. THE EXTENT OF THESE VICTORIES. They amounted, as Elisha had predicted, only to three. Three times Joash beat the King of Syria, and recovered the cities of Israel from his hand. This was a great gain, but it might so easily have been greater, had Joash only fulfilled aright the conditions of success. How much blessing we often deprive ourselves of by our own unfaithfulness and shortcoming! It is reason for rejoicing that God does so much for us; but the joy must eternally be shaded by regret when we reflect that it is by our own doings that far more is not done. - J.O.