The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
In the three and twentieth year of Joash the son of Ahaziah king of Judah Jehoahaz the son of Jehu began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned seventeen years.2 Kings 13
1. In the three and twentieth year of Joash the son of Ahaziah king of Judah Jehoahaz the son of Jehu began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned seventeen years.
2. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and followed [walked after] the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.
3. ¶ And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hand of Hazael [comp. chap. 2Kings 10:32, seq.] king of Syria, and into the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael, all their days [all the days. An indefinite designation of a long period of disaster],
4. And Jehoahaz besought [literally, stroked the face of. A metaphor which occurs in Exodus 32:11; 1Kings 13:6] the Lord, and the Lord hearkened unto him: for he saw the oppression [comp Exodus 3:7; Deuteronomy 26:7] of Israel, because the king of Syria oppressed them.
5. (And the Lord gave Israel a saviour [Jeroboam II., the grandson of Jehoahaz, a vigorous and successful sovereign, of whom it is said that Jehovah "saved" Israel by his hand, chap. 2Kings 14:27], so that they went out from under the hand [referring to the oppressive supremacy of Syria] of the Syrians: and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents [in the open country] as beforetime.
6. Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, who made Israel sin, but [he] walked therein [therein they walked. It is the conduct of the nation that is being described]: and there remained [stood] the grove also in Samaria.)
7. Neither did he leave of the people to Jehoahaz but fifty horsemen, and ten chariots [the destruction of these particular kinds of forces was equivalent to complete disarmament and rendered further resistance hopeless], and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing [Israel was down-trodden by the conqueror (comp. 2Samuel 22:43; Isaiah 10:6)].
8. ¶ Now the rest of the acts of Jehoahaz, and all that he did, and his might [prowess], are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?
9. And Jehoahaz slept with his fathers [or lay down (i.e., to sleep) like his fathers. The same phrase is used even of Amaziah, who came to a violent end (chap. 2Kings 14:22)]; and they buried him in Samaria: and Joash his son reigned in his stead.
10. ¶ In the thirty and seventh year of Joash king of Judah began Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned sixteen years.
11. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord; he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin: but he walked therein.
12. And the rest [this is repeated (chap. 2Kings 14:15-16)], of the acts of Joash, and all that he did, and his might wherewith he fought against Amaziah [see the account of chap. 2Kings 14:8, seq.] king of Judah, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?
13. And Joash slept with his fathers; and Jeroboam sat upon his throne: and Joash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel.
14. ¶ Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died [he was to die]. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him [to his house], and wept over his face [as he lay on the bed], and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.
15. And Elisha said unto him, Take bow and arrows. And he took unto him bow and arrows.
16. And he said to the king of Israel, Put thine hand upon the bow [Heb., make thine hand to ride]. And he put his hand upon it: and Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands [so as to invest the act of shooting with a prophetic character].
17. And he said, Open the window [lattice] eastward. And he opened it. Then Elisha said, Shoot And he shot And he said, The arrow of the Lord's deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria: for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek posh, 2Kings 13:4; 1Kings 20:26. The scene of former defeats was to become that of triumph], till thou have consumed them.
18. And he said, Take the arrows [i.e., the bundle of arrows]. And he took them. And he said unto the king of Israel, Smite upon the ground. And he smote thrice [three being a sacred number] and stayed.
19. And the man of God was wroth with him [because his present want of zeal augured a like deficiency in prosecuting a war hereafter. The natural irritability of a sick man may have also had something to do with it], 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.
20 ¶ And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.
21. And it came to pass, as they [a party of Israelites. The story is told with vivid definiteness] were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band [the troop] of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha [comp. Mark 16:3, Mark 16:4. In this case the tomb was more easily opened, as the action was obviously done in haste]: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.
22. ¶ But Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz.
23. And the Lord was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect [turned] unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet.
24. So Hazael king of Syria died; and Benhadad [Benhadad III. The name Benhadad, docs not, of course, signify any connection with the dynasty overthrown by Hazael. It was a divine title] his son reigned in his stead.
25. And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz [returned and] took again out of the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael the cities, which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by [in the] war. Three times did Joash beat [smite] him, and recovered the cities of Israel.
The Dying Prophet
This chapter opens with an account of the wicked reign of Jehoahaz the son of Jehu, who reigned seventeen years over Israel in Samaria. He was a weak-minded and a bad-hearted man. In this respect he was no exception to the kings of Israel. It is a remarkable thing, that whilst Judah had now end again a good king, Israel never had one after the division of the kingdom. How are we to account for this? Israel and Judah were practically one family, yet along the one line from the point of departure there is nothing but stubbornness, selfishness, idolatry, and love of evil. Along the other line there were occasional gleams of goodness, high quality of character, and some approach to patriotic statesmanship. This would be a marvel to us if the same thing were not happening every day in the year, within our own knowledge, and perhaps within our own families. The mystery is not to be accounted for, and certainly it is not to be lightly treated. All these things are for our instruction: they call upon us to halt, and think, and pray; they make us quiet, when otherwise we might be tumultuous and violent in the face of heaven. But is not the mystery deepened by the fact that every man is himself two selves—both Israel and Judah in his own personality? Look at him for days together, and say if ever sweeter man lived,—apt in religious thinking, gifted even in the power of prayer, carrying with him as it were the very key of heaven, and having boldest and broadest access to God at all hours. The same man shall descend from heaven like a star that has lost its centre, and shall plunge in darkness, and do wickedness with both hands. Instances of this kind are known to us, and may be too painfully known to us by reason of our own consciousness. Which will be uppermost at the last? Determining the personal life by a majority—for even personal lives are settled by majorities as well as the affairs of state—on which side will the majority be at the last? Let us hope the best, even of those who now seem to be the worst. The men whom we have seen farthest away from the throne of God and the cross of Christ and all spiritual loveliness, have come back again, and have almost claimed the very highest place known to Christ. Then when they have returned, we have said, After all, the good will get the upper hand: "Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last." There remains, however, this broad lesson in the history now before us, that whilst in Judah there were occasional kings worthy of the name, yet in Israel from the point of division there was one continual succession of bad men.
What was the Lord's action in relation to the city which had been ruined by the policy of this evil Jehoahaz? A very tender word supplies the answer:—"Jehoahaz besought the Lord,"—and the Lord is very pitiful and kind; a touch at his robe and he turns round as if a friend had greeted him; one look through blinding tears, and he comes back to the prodigal as if he himself had something to make up to the wayward man. The Lord heard even Jehoahaz—"And the Lord gave Israel a saviour" (2Kings 13:5). A beautiful word this! We have come to love it. It stands in our English Bible, however, in significant typography; it has not a capital initial; it has but a small letter, like the rest of the word. Still, coming back upon it from Christian associations, it reads like the New Testament in the midst of the Old. "A saviour,"—the very syllables have music in them; the word itself sounds like a gospel. There has always been in the world a man who especially represented God—not God's majesty only, but God's love and tenderness, pity and mercy. Here again is a great mystery—that one man should be different from another. A marvellous thing that one man should be as a saviour, and another should be as a saved one. Why this difference? This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is excellent in counsel, and wonderful in working. Have no fear of the cry about equality, because equality is impossible. There are kingships that come up out of eternity; there are rulerships which are ordained of God. In the highest sense, the powers that be are ordained of God, not in the case of the individual men, viewed within the limits of their own personality, but in the idea which they represent—an idea of righteousness, clemency, purity, progress. God has always had his Abel in the world, who offered the acceptable sacrifice; he has always had a Moses or a Joshua, or some brave judge in Israel who knew right from wrong, and who could not be bribed to do that which was corrupt; he has always had his Eli or Samuel, or mighty singer who turned righteousness into music;—evermore has God had his representative upon the earth. Why did not Israel create their own saviour? Why was not Jehoahaz made the saviour of his own people? Saviours are divine creations. Redeemers come from heaven. Great prophet-minds are creations of God, and they are as it were sent down here like lights to show us the road in darkness, and to reveal to us beauties which but for them would have been undiscovered. We know them when they come. If we do not give them instant welcome, we acknowledge the mystery of their personality, We say regarding each of them, "Whence hath this man this wisdom?" He is no scholar, he has not gone through the usual curriculum, certainly; yet when he speaks he seems to have a right to speak; when he gives his judgments we feel that the words which proceed out of his mouth are gracious and wise. In all these things Christ teaches us to recognise the hand of God, and we are thus trained towards Christ himself—the real Saviour, so mighty that he could humble himself; so majestic that he could take upon him the form of a servant; so infinite that he was first, last; the beginning, the end,—the unbeginning beginning, the unconcluding end. Thus early we come upon sweet names. They surprise us as flowers would amaze us in a wilderness.
What a tremendous hold sin gets upon the heart. "Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, who made Israel sin, but walked therein" (2Kings 13:6). Israel was punished, and still sinned; Israel had a saviour sent, and still sinned. Hazael, the cruel Syrian king, impoverished the army of Israel until there was nothing left to Jehoahaz "but fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing" (2Kings 13:7). He visited them with contempt. To leave them fifty horsemen and ten thousand footmen was to brand them with an insult. So has providence dealt with many men: they have been reduced to a minimum; they have had the barest field in the world; one inch more taken away, and down they would fall, and be irrecoverably lost. What is the meaning of this pruning, cutting, impoverishment,—this almost total depletion? Why this mental darkness, this social degradation, this loss of status and influence, this withdrawment from our companionship, this intolerable solitude! Instead of answering the question in words, let each ponder for himself the inquiry, and answer it according to his own knowledge.
How very little we know even of the men whose lives are written: "The rest of the acts of Jehoahaz, and all that he did, and his might, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?" No! Another hand there indeed endeavours to sketch the life, but how much is left out! No human chronicler can put down all things concerning the subject which he has undertaken to depict. But the rest of our lives is written. A diary is kept in heaven; the journal is not published for the perusal of others; but the whole life, day by day, is put down in the book of remembrance; and we shall be able to recognise the writing, and to confirm the accuracy of the minute. We cannot get away from it, there is the writing, and it abides—a perpetual witness for us or against us. What is the divine scribe now writing? The pen is going. We are obliged to use such figures to represent the spiritual reality. The writing is now proceeding: every thought registered, every deed chronicled, every day's work added up and carried over to the next page. It is a solemn thing to live! We are stewards, trustees, servants sent on messages, and entrusted with specified duties, and we are expected back with a definite answer and a complete report of our lives.
These introductory points bring us to the decease of Elisha. The account begins in the fourteenth verse and proceeds to the twenty-first, "Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died." He was supposed to be about a hundred years of age. We have seen that he was a domestic rather than a public prophet; he was unlike his great predecessor and father. The awful Elijah dwelt alone. He came upon society now and then; came down like a flood from the threatening clouds: shot out like a fire, and burned the men whom he approached. He needed no hospitality. He asked for no testimonial, pledge, or favour, certificate, introduction, or commendation. He was in very deed a son of thunder. Such a man is often wanted—a man who accepts no invitation; a man who stands back in religious solitude and speaks the judgments of God with an unfaltering voice. Elisha was exactly the contrary. He worked his miracles in the house. He often called upon people; he was quiet, serene, most sympathetic and tender-hearted; now and then he could stand bolt upright, and send away proud men from his door with disdain they could never forget; but in the usual process of his life he was a kind of mother-man in Israel. He went into people's houses, and asked them how they were. He consented to increase their oil and their flour, and to bless their family life with prophetic benedictions. He was most gentle to the young prophets, so much so that you could scarcely tell the old man from the young man: he was young in heart: his voice was musical to the end, and on the very last day there flashed out of him the old grand power. See in Elijah, John the Baptist, monastic, solitary, self-involved, haughty in a certain sense, disdainful and contemptuous of things valued by men who worship at base altars. Then see in Elisha the type of the Messiah, the gentle One, who wrought his miracles in houses, raised little children from the dead, healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, brake bread at eventide for those who had given him hospitality; yet even he could stand up sometimes and create a place for himself, and no man might venture within the circumference of his elevated majesty. Still, he came back again to the domestic life. "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." A domestic visitor, a domestic pastor, a family Saviour,—the God of the families of the earth: not only so, see what the line of progress means, look at the historical philosophy of the fact. First you have majesty, thunder, righteousness: all things significant of divine rule and authority; then you have grace and truth: "first that which is natural, afterward that which is spiritual:" the kingdom of heaven enclosed within a parable; the whole purpose of God set forth in beatitudes: the awful voices of Sinai displaced by the gentle Sermon on the Mount. Such is the line of development or progress, from the outward to the inward; from the natural to the spiritual; from the earthly to the celestial; and thus we proceed, being changed as it were from glory to glory, at last losing all carnality, fleshliness, worldliness, all sordidness and weight and sense of burden, and becoming finally angels bright with everlasting light, and strong with knowledge that never fails. Thus one life is shed off after another, until at last we are clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.
A very beautiful incident occurred near the close of Elisha's death. The king called upon him, "and wept over his face, and said, O my father, my father" (2Kings 13:14). There are times when the heart gets the better even of the worst men; there are hours in which even bad kings become almost good. In those hours it is the heart that speaks. This man described Elisha well, for, said he, "The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof:" an expression equal to: Thou art worthy of honour, for thou art greater than all the horses of Israel and all the chariots of the kingdom; thou art stronger, thou hast done more for Israel than the army ever did: O my father, my father, by thy removal Israel loses her defences and is exposed to the enemy. Tributes come at last, righteous eulogiums are pronounced sometimes by reluctant or unwilling lips. There are hours in which men are well rewarded for whole years of neglect and contempt. How true it is that Elisha was the security of Israel! It is ever so. The religious people of the country are its salvation. This is a proposition which would be met with contempt in many quarters, but religious people are accustomed to be contemned. They stand, however, on the foundations of history, and they recall the words—If ten righteous men can be found, the cities shall not be destroyed: ye are the salt of the earth; ye are the light of the world; a city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Realise your position and its corresponding responsibilities, and know that "righteousness exalteth a nation," and that the Church—the living Church, the spiritual Church—of any country is its best army—Christians are the most useful of all the restrictive and regulative influences of a social kind. The teacher, the sick-visitor, those who sympathise with the wronged and suffering, and the great prophets are the true army and the invincible defence of the land. What then? Spread the Bible; uphold all Christian influences; prize Christian instruction in the school, in the house, and in the church. Prayer is a battering-ram. Faith in God will save the land, even when it is most corrupt in its high places, when its kings have gone wrong, and its judges have accepted the bribe. All this will be acknowledged at the last, as it was acknowledged in the case of Elisha. Elisha then gave the king comfort. A beautiful transaction now took place:—
"And Elisha said unto him [Joash] take bow and arrows. And he said to the king of Israel, Put thine hand upon the bow. And he put his hand upon it: and Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands" (2Kings 13:15-16).
That is the point We cannot live without contact with higher lives. There must be a touch, a fellowship, an electric thrill, a unity that can hardly be expressed in verbal symbols. The king's hands were nothing but common fingers until Elisha touched them and infused into them divine energy. And Elisha said, "Open the window eastward. And he opened it. Then Elisha said, Shoot. And he shot." In many nations, notably in ancient Rome, the challenge to war was this: the party intending to conquer a nation took bow and arrow, and shot the arrow into the country which he intended to subdue. That was accepted as a challenge, or, if not accepted, possession was immediately taken of the land. Have we shot preliminary arrows into the lands we ought to take for Christ? What arrow have we shot into the land of ignorance, the land of oppression, the land of spiritual darkness, the land of heathenism? We should find the Lord's arrows in every land, and they should mean: There is going to be a battle to-day—a great fight; and the Lord will conquer. The Church should always be addressing its challenges to the world. When the world has some new plan of pleasing, entertaining, or satisfying the people, the Church should invent something infinitely superior. This is the duty to which we are called in Christ Jesus. We should have nobler feasts, larger charities, medicines that can heal more diseases; we should be enabled to say to the world, You need not go away from the Church for anything; is any man sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church; is any among you merry? Let him sing and dance and be glad. The Church has an answer to every condition and every class of circumstances. If not—if it is mumbling its obsolete dogmas, if it is talking sentences the world cannot understand, if it is overshooting the mark by high references, literary allusions, and learned things that are inapplicable and jejune, the world will go away and leave the Church in its own society. Let us, then, take lessons, and so live that even our dead bones shall have virtue in them. We see that when a body was let down into the grave and touched the bones of Elisha, the dead man stood up on his feet and lived. Herein is a mystery we cannot explain, but a parable the meaning of which is evident. We get our life out of the dead Christ, and the Christ that rose again. We have life out of death; we have deliverance out of the grave; we have heaven out of the tomb in which the Saviour lay. These are mysteries. We acknowledge their impenetrableness and their solemnity, and if we cannot explain them in words, yet there are solemn occasions in life in which every one of them comes in like an angel, and says, I am waiting, I am ministering, I am still of use in the upbuilding of the world's best life. Let not history be lost upon us. The history of evil is written in plain letters. No man, wayfarer though he be, need misunderstand the solemn suggestion with which the history of evil is fraught. "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." They have a sad fate who have challenged God to battle. If they are not yet crushed, it is because his mercy endureth for ever. On the other hand, let the Elishas of society work on, suffer on, visit sick folk in their sickness, and give the message of God to those who are far away from the father's house as to thought and purpose and sacrifice. There is a quiet ministry, as well a grand public one: there is an opening for Elisha as certainly as there was for Elijah; nay, the world could not tolerate Elijah long. Who could live always amid thunder and lightning and a great tempest of judgment? We live under Christ, who has a word in season to him that is weary, a balm for every wound, an answer to every desire that is pure. Blessed Saviour, we are under thy government, under thy benediction; it is good to be there; it is like resting on high hills on summer days, when the very sun is a friend, and the great heaven is a protection. As for those who wish to receive this Saviour, he stands ready. The reluctance is not on his side. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
Almighty God, thy voice is everywhere if we could but hear it Lord, anoint our ears that they may be able to hear. We would not only hear the broad commandments, the great words spoken in thunder; we would hear the undertones, the minor voices, the persuasive whispers and entreaties, which thou art always breathing upon the sons of men. We beseech thee that we may be enabled always, by the mighty energy of thy Holy Spirit, to say, Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. We bless thee for all the voices of providence, all the monitions of history, all the eloquence of events; may we hear, and consider, and understand, and apply our hearts unto wisdom. Thy purpose concerning us is always good: thy mercy endureth for ever; it is larger than our sin: where sin abounded grace did much more abound. Who can excel the Most High? Who can get in advance of God? Behold, thy love is our continual astonishment, and thy grace awakens within us ineffable surprise. How long-suffering thou art, how patient, how hopeful! Surely thou dost see more than we see, or thine anger would burn us, and utterly consume us: but thou dost look upon all things from eternity; thou knowest what time is—a flicker, a pulse, a flying shuttle, a shadow that is being chased away. Thou dwellest in the solemn unbeginning, unending eternity, and thou dost speak words from thine habitation worthy of its dignity; behold, thou dost publish gospels, and then judgments; and ere the judgments are uttered the gospels are resumed, and repeated in still tenderer tones. Oh, that we might hear these, lest at the last the Son of God should say, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee, but ye would not. May our reply to thy love be a glad consent; may we now say, The will of the Lord be done. We should have no confidence in our own prayers did we not breathe them at the cross: did we not, whilst praying, touch the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. He bare our sins, and carried our iniquities, and drank the cup of woe. We live in him; to him we commit our prayers. Amen.