2 Kings 6:8-23
How many of us wear glasses or contacts? Seems like most people do anymore. I started wearing glasses when I was in elementary school, so it’s been a long time, but I can still vividly remember the feeling when I put on my first pair of glasses. I had no idea how much I couldn’t see! Everything came alive for me. Things I didn’t know were blurry were now in sharp focus. And then when I took my glasses off, I could tell how blurry my natural vision had gotten.
For most of us, our vision getting worse, whether it’s because of an issue with our eyes or just the natural process of aging, it takes place slowly over time, doesn’t it. And it usually happens so slowly that we really aren’t aware of it until we miss a traffic sign when we’re driving or we have bad headaches from eye strain, and we don’t even realize that we’re straining to see!
I had that same sense of sudden, really clear vision quite a few times when I was a kid, because each year I’d go back in for an eye exam, and each year my prescription would need to be strengthened a little. And I never realized how bad my vision was until I put on my new glasses, or eventually, popped in a new pair of contacts. Today, without my glasses or contacts, I really can’t see anything. Everything is blurry. If I look down at my belly button without my contacts in, its blurry.
Reminds me of the time Jesus healed a blind man recorded in Mark 8. Some friends or family members of this blind guy brought him to Jesus to be healed. And for some reason Jesus spit on his eyes and then laid his hands on him. And the blind man’s completely dark world started to brighten. Jesus asked him, “Do you see anything?” and the man answered, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Today we might say, “I can see, but everything is blurry. That’s my world.
And then I realize that were it not for glasses and contacts, if I had lived back then, I could be that guy, because I would be considered blind. And then of course Jesus laid his hands on the guy again and he could see everything clearly. That’s what happens to me when I put on glasses or slip in my contacts. I can see again.
We as followers of Christ have the same problem. But our blindness isn’t physical, it’s spiritual. As time goes on, our vision of Christ, our sense of what God can and will do, dims and things become blurry, but it happens so gradually that we just become accustomed to it. Most of us are barely hanging on to something that kind of resembles biblical faith, which is really just trust in God. But in reality we’re just kind of hanging on in life hoping for the best. Most of us never expect to see God do anything on a given day.
My prayer for us today is that our eyes will be opened, that as we encounter this passage in 2 Kings 6, that our spiritual blindness will be corrected and we’ll see clearly and KNOW that God can, will, and IS at work all around us. Turn with me to 2 Kings 6. Let’s walk through this story together, starting in V. 8.
But let’s set the stage first. The books of 1 and 2 Kings were written during the time of the Jewish exile, likely to help the Jews in exile or living in their homeland that had been laid to waste to understand how these things had come to be, how the chosen people of God had been sent into exile, how their nation had fallen. It was originally one book, “Kings,” and was later divided for easier use. It records the historical background for virtually all of the events that happened during the time of the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and the others.
But it was also designed to help the people see God at work in their past, even when things weren’t going well. It was a reminder that even here, in exile, they were in the hands of a loving God. And the exile itself was certainly a punishment of sorts, but it is also evidence that the victorious, overcoming life of a Christ-follower involves fare more than comfort and physical security, health and wealth, in this life. It’s a reminder that even when things don’t look good, in fact even when things aren’t good, God is still in control. When age and sickness and disease overtake us, when life throws us curve balls that we miss wildly, when we aren’t healthy and wealthy and prosperous, even then God is in control.
And at this point in Israel’s history, the nation is divided. The northern tribes, Israel, have their capital at Samaria, while the southern tribes, Judah, have their capital at Jerusalem, each with their own king. Neither has yet been taken into exile. Both would eventually become vassal states to Babylon, with their kings still ruling but paying a heavy tribute, and then both would eventually rebel and be soundly defeated and taken into exile. The people of the northern tribes, Israel, completely assimilated into other cultures, among them the “half-breed” Samaritans, despised by the Jews. The southern tribes maintained their national identity as Jews. Read Vv. 8-10.
The “man of God” here is the great and powerful prophet Elisha, successor to Elijah. Like his predecessor, he not only speaks God’s truth to the people, but he also performs miracles in the name of God, including raising the dead. This particular episode involves Israel, the northern tribes, and their capital city of Samaria. And at this point they have turned their backs on God. So the king of Syria, which is just north an slightly east of Israel, just as it is today, is harassing Israel. Basically border skirmishes. The problem for the king of Syria is that SOMEONE keeps telling the king of Israel about his movements with his troops. Several times this happened. The Syrian king moves his troops to a certain place to attack, but the Israelites have vanished every time. There’s no one to attack. And he’s getting really frustrated.
So understand what’s happening here. Israel has turned her back on God. She’s had a succession of several wicked kings who have led the people away from the worship of God and into the worship of the false gods of the nations surrounding her. Something else had taken God’s place in the hearts of the people. They were greedy. They were corrupt. They took advantage of the weak and the powerless. Over and over again in the prophets the words “the fatherless and the widow” or “orphans and widows” appear, and the people of God are chastised for taking advantage of them instead of taking care of them. Any who tried to remain faithful to God were persecuted and killed. The vulnerable are abused. In the hearts of the people sin and injustice reigned. Spiritually speaking, Israel had fallen off a cliff.
BUT GOD IS STILL TAKING CARE OF THEM. God is still using Elisha to protect the people and the armies and the evil king of an evil people who have turned their backs on him. God is faithful, even when his people are not! In the New Testament book of Romans, St. Paul says “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS.” While we still had our backs turned to God. While we still refused to acknowledge his power, his might, his lordship, his love, maybe even his existence, “Christ died for us.” It was for a world that had spiritually fallen off a cliff that Christ died.
You will never meet a person whom God has given up on. You will never meet a person whom God has stopped calling out to. You will never, ever meet a person, read a news story about a person whom God does not love, over whom God does not shed tears as they persist in their unbelief and rebellion, even the person you meet in the mirror ever morning when you wake up. And that’s incredible. God continues to be faithful, even when we are not. God is always at work, even in times of apostacy, and political upheaval, and suffering.
Now, look at Vv. 11-14. So the king of Syria calls another war council and asks his advisors, “How in the world does the king of Israel know our every move before we make it?” He thinks Israel has a spy among his advisors. But they don’t. So one of his advisors, who apparently knew exactly what was happening but for some reason hadn’t told his king about it – not a very good advisor if you ask me – says “hey, there’s a prophet of Israel’s God living in Dothan, and from there he can hear everything you say in your bedroom. And he’s keeping their king informed.”
Now, I want you to notice, just for a second, the arrogance and unbelief of the king of Syria. Elisha is no where near him, but he knows every plan the king makes. Today, that doesn’t seem all that strange. We live in a world of spy satellites and GPS tracking devices and wiretaps and the internet. They didn’t. They had no electronic technology at all. But Elisha knew every move the king made before he made it. How? God is omnipotent and omnipresent, all powerful and fully present everywhere. The New Testament book of Hebrews says, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Absolutely nothing is hidden from God’s sight, not even the plans of his enemies. And he’s passing that information on through his prophet Elisha. Sounds like a pretty incredible, powerful God, doesn’t it? And that God is clearly protecting Israel.
But does this king think, “Hmmm, maybe we should just lay off Israel.”? Nope. His dumb plan is to go take out the prophet. Because he looks at his armies, and he looks at Dothan, and he knows that the armies of Israel can’t get there in time. And so off he marches to surround Dothan, to capture Elisha.
Let’s pick it back up with Vv. 15-16. So Elisha’s servant steps outside to pick up the morning paper, and he looks outside the city and the entire city is completely surrounded by the Syrian army. Horses and chariots, their version of tanks. This wasn’t just some guerilla warfare party. This was an incredibly well-armed military. And they had the city surrounded. And, like every one of us would do, he panics and runs to Elisha. “They’ve got us surrounded. We’re screwed. What are we going to do?”
And Elisha gives kind of a weird answer. “Eh, don’t be afraid, we’ve got ‘em outnumbered.” At this point, I’m sure this poor guy is looking around thinking to himself, “Really? How?” And I’m sure a few more villagers have noticed that they’re surrounded by the chariots of the army of Syria. This isn’t going to end well. Elisha is going to be dragged off and killed. Probably his servant too. And then for kicks they’ll level Dothan, just to be sure. So why isn’t Elisha afraid?
Look at V. 17. A simple prayer, really. The most effective prayers usually are. “Lord, help him to see what I can see.” And the servant’s eyes were opened. Now, he could already see. He could see the armies of Syria really well. Didn’t need glasses. He could see just fine. Only he couldn’t. He couldn’t see the whole battlefield. Human eyes usually can’t. Human perception usually can’t. And human minds can’t conceive what human eyes can’t perceive. Or can they? But the kid’s eyes were opened, and he saw the whole picture. The mountain completely covered with horses and chariots of fire. The armies of heaven, and they were surrounding Elisha. Nothing was getting through.
God doesn’t often give us this kind of vision. To see what he is doing in its entirety with our physical eyes. Maybe Elisha could see it. Maybe he just knew that fiery, heavenly army was there. He’d seen a lot when he was Elijah’s servant. He didn’t give this kind of vision to the angry and confused Jews in exile either. But he gave them this reminder from their past, from history. A reminder that someone HAD seen with his physical eyes exactly what God was doing. And we, as 21st Century followers of Christ have been grafted into that heritage. It is our heritage too. And this we can KNOW, even if we can’t SEE it – that God is at work all around us. That the armies of God are living, and active, and at work on our behalf.
Now look at how the story ends. Elisha starts messing with them. But Israel gets a lesson too. Look at Vv. 18-21. So Syria attacks, just as they had planned. And Elisha again prays a simple prayer, and God acts. Elisha prays, “Blind them Lord” and that’s exactly what God does. The words used here aren’t used of permanent, can’t see anything ever blindness.
They describe the temporary blindness associated with suddenly seeing a bright light, like what happens if you’re in a dark room and a camera flash goes off. Only this was an eternal, star-breathing, universe creating, fiery army commanding God-sized flash, and its effects lasted longer. And Elisha, still messing with them, says, “We’ll, this isn’t the city you want, but follow me and I’ll take you to the guy.” See, they can follow him. They can see a little. But they can’t make out details. Kind of like when you walk out of the eye doctor after having your pupils dilated. And they didn’t have sunglasses back then. And even with sunglasses, you can’t really see details for a while.
So flash-blinded armies of Syria follow Elisha right into Samaria, the capital of Israel. Elisha takes them right to the King of Israel, to the home of the armies of Israel. And then Elisha prays that the eyes of the Syrian army would be opened again. And they looked around, and they’re in Samaria, surrounded by Israel’s army. And the God who had blinded a ways back in Dothan had now allowed them to see again. CLEARLY he was fighting on Israel’s side. They were in trouble.
Now, imagine that you’re the king of Israel, and you look out your palace window, and here comes your spy, Elisha, leading the chariots and armies of your nemesis Syria. And it looks like they can’t see very well.
They’ve got their arms on the shoulders of the soldier in front of them, they’re telling each other where rocks and holes and horse poop in the road are. And remember, the king hadn’t fought the Syrian armies. He’d hidden from them. God told him through Elisha where they would be, and he and his armies and people avoided those places. He was so shocked he went running outside to Elisha and actually asked him what he should do. He assumes he’s supposed to destroy them right here, right now. The Syrian soldiers assume they’re about to be killed right here, right now. That’s what God did, right? He handed Israel’s enemies over to her to destroy. Well, not so fast. This weird story gets even weirder. Look at Vv. 22-23.
Israel’s armies could have destroyed them, but God, through Elisha, told them not to. Instead, they were fed. And given drink. And sent back home. When they expected to be destroyed, they were shown hospitality. When Israel expected to do some destroying, kicking butt in Jesus’ name, they instead were asked to become hosts for those who had been seeking to destroy them.
Friends, that’s the heart of God. That’s grace. That’s the heart of a God who would go to the cross and die to save us while we were still sinners. You have never met someone God doesn’t love, no matter where they’re from. We are so quick to seek to destroy others, but we have to remember that we serve a God who doesn’t take the destruction of human life lightly. There are times when it must happen. Israel had experienced her fair share of incredible victories on the battlefield. But not on this day. Oh, the battle was still won. The border skirmishes with Syria came to an end. And this is a literal picture of the Proverb, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (25:21-22).
I wonder how many of those Syrian soldiers and their families wound up giving up their false gods for to serve the living God of Israel? The Bible doesn’t say. But we do know that God’s heart is always, ALWAYS with and for people, and that God is always, ALWAYS seeking to draw them to himself, even those we would consider our enemies. The life of the Christ-follower, the overcoming life, isn’t always about winning through might.
It isn’t always about victory over circumstance. In fact, it’s often about victory in the midst of circumstances that we’d just as soon change, but can’t. But it IS about realizing that God is always at work on our behalf, even if we can’t see it, just as he was for Elisha. And he is faithful, even when we are not and don’t deserve it. To most of us, the overcoming life is God giving ME, or US victory. In reality, the overcoming life starts in the heart of God beating with and for people, drawing and winning them to himself.