This summer Lynda and I drove to Stonehenge. Well we didn’t actually mean to go there it just kind of happened while we were driving from point A to B. Along the way we saw this sign that said Stonehenge turn here and so we pulled off the highway and drove right up to it. I kid you not!
One moment we were enjoying our drive in Washington State and the next we were at Stonehenge.
Trust me we were surprised too! It is a bit of a mystery how those huge rocks got set up in Stonehenge. But how we got to see it on a drive this summer in Washington State, is not so much of mystery. Here it is from a different angle.
This mystery we can explain. Some fellow by the name of Samuel Hill commissioned it in the 1920’s as a memorial to those soldiers who died in WW1. And apparently he liked Stonehenge so much that he copied its design right down to the alter of sacrifice. It was built as a reminder that good men are still dying as a sacrifice of war.
Paul writes, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed…” 1 Corinthians 15:51 (NIV). And then he sets out to explain life after death as best he can. But even as an Apostle of the Most High, and a very learned man, Paul ran into things that were unexplainable.
I don’t know about you but I love a good mystery! I think I’ve mentioned before that both Lynda and I are CSI and philosophy show junkies for that reason. We like the “who done its” that you can’t explain after watching for five minutes or even the whole show. Cliff hangers that make you want to return and chew some more on the evidence are ok with us. “To be continued…” brings a groan but not despairingly for us. In fact, I like a mystery even more if after looking at it from every possible angle it remains a mystery. If it remains something that only God knows for sure how it happened, and can only be explained using words like miracle or mystery I love it. For it says that we serve a God who controls even the laws of nature as He so chooses and for His good pleasure.
And when I find a mystery that mocks science and philosophy equally I giggle inside as I watch people with very straight faces, some with many degrees added to their names, insist they know the correct answer to the mystery. Like the origin of the universe or the big bang theory… Personally, I think they should keep banging away on that one. But they should also admit that their pontification is really not fact but a faith position and accept that they are no closer to explaining the mystery than those who insist that the literal Biblical account is the whole story. Somethings God leaves as a mystery for us. Somethings can only be accepted with faith and held in tension with scientific evidentiary rules.
Take for example today’s passage in HIStory. It’s a real conundrum for those who must explain the meanings of the universe with scientific accuracy. If you are one of those ones: ok…so explain this one! (2 Kings 6:1-7).
I’m pretty sure you can prove at least the first six and half verses using observation and hypothesis but the rest of this passage shall forevermore remain a mystery. (2 Kings 6:1-7) Let’s dig into it and see what God would have us learn about Christ from it.
“(1) The company of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. (2) Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to live.” And he said, “Go.” (3) Then one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?” “I will,” Elisha replied. (4) And he went with them. They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. (5) As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. “Oh, my lord,” he cried out, “it was borrowed!” (6) The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. (7) “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.”
2 Kings 6:1-7 (NIV).
Elisha was a prophet whose miracles were often mysterious and powerful. He had studied under Elijah the prophet and when it was time for Elijah to be with the LORD, Elisha requested a double portion of Elijah’s spirit and it was granted to him. Let’s look at some of the things God did through him. 2 Kings 2:14 – Minutes after seeing Elijah ascend to heaven Elisha walked through the river on dry land.
A little while later in 2 Kings 2:21-22 – Elisha made a poison well clean drinking water. He went out to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.'” So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.
In 2 Kings 2:24 – Elisha cursed those who were cursing God’s anointed by calling him baldy. When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. Youch! Best not anger the prophet!
Next in 2 Kings 4:1-7 -Elisha performed a miracle of provision for a widow. Enough oil to pay her debts and to live on!
He followed that in 2 Kings 4:32-35 – Raising a widow’s only son from the dead.
Then in 2 Kings 5:10 Elisha healed Naaman from leprosy.
Which was quickly followed by a curse upon an unscrupulous colleague in 2 Kings 5:27 Gehazi and his descendants… got Naaman’s leprosy. More on that in a moment.
No Training Necessary!
Sometimes we think that these OT prophets came fully equipped, no training necessary, this was not the case with Elisha trained by Elijah nor the prophets in our passage today. Verse one tells us that the events of this day actually started off in school. And it was actually a popular school to go to. Given all the miraculous things that God did through Elisha for the last couple of chapters I can understand the draw to this particular school. The writer to 2 Kings said the school was suffering from growing pains. So many people had come to learn from the master that space became an issue. So one of the prophets in training approached Elisha with a solution.
“Look, the place where we meet with you is too small … Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place …”(2). It wasn’t an audacious plan. They didn’t want to build the Taj Mahal. They just wanted a little more space to meet, live and learn.
They had likely learned from Gehazi’s sudden case of leprosy that personal riches were not a student prophet’s goal. Unfortunately, the lure of easy money and a better lifestyle attracted Gehazi who snuck out and procured payment from Naaman against Elisha’s advice. His reward was leprosy. But these prophets were not looking for a life of ease they just wanted a little more space and were ready and willing to work for it.
“And Elisha said, “Go.” (2). He permitted them to go and build the new school. This was the news that they were looking for but clearly not entirely what they had hoped for. We can know this because “one of the prophets said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?” (3) Elisha being the big shot, head honcho prophet that he was said, “are you kidding me? You build it and I will come.” After all, would you expect the president of Harvard or Yale to get his hands dirty cutting down logs for a new dorm?
Yet that is not what we see in this passage. Just as Jesus came to serve and not be served and was found even on the night of his betrayal washing the disciple’s feet, we find in this foreshadow of Christ, Elisha a humble man.
His answer was basically, “I thought you would never ask!”
“I will,” Elisha replied” (3). And off he went with the class to the river Jordan to cut and haul logs.
The reason they went to the Jordan is obvious even from this passage. Around the river grew a forest of trees suitable for erecting buildings. It’s not that the logs were “spiritually purer there” just more plentiful.
And everything was kind of going to plan right up until verse 5.
The sound of axes hitting trees was suddenly a little quieter when one ax head flew off and landed in the river. The Jordan at its deepest point is 1322 feet deep where it empties into the Dead Sea but in places the river is more like a large creek. So there is no telling just how deep that ax head went. Clearly it was deep enough that the prophet didn’t feel he could just wade in and rescue it nor did he actually know the exact spot where the ax head laid. But he was clearly upset by it’s lost.
You see these prophets were not rich dudes who paid for the schooling from their bloated bank accounts. The passage again quite clearly tells us that the man who lost the ax was poor. So poor that he either had begged or borrowed the ax to do the work. The Hebrew can lean either way for the word NIV translated borrowed. And it is also clear that he has a conscience. He doesn’t sit on the shore and say “oh well, guess I don’t need to cut anymore trees” or “guess that God is punishing the owner of that ax!”
Instead we’re told that he cries out to the prophet Elisha, telling of his concerned for his neighbors’ ax. Jesus said that after loving God, the greatest command is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
We can learn a lesson there about how we ought to treat stuff we borrow from others. Treat it better than as if it was ours and return it at least as good as we received it.
If it had been the prophet’s own ax he could have decided to accept the loss and move on. But he was clearly upset and Elisha was moved by the humble and respectful attitude that he saw in this student prophet. And what happens next is a miracle! Or a mystery if you prefer.
You and I know that iron doesn’t float back up to the surface even if the current should pick up dramatically. Iron sinks. Even Iron ships that are carefully welded to make them float on water sink very quickly when water breeches the haul. And this was not boat, it was dead weight. It sank to the bottom of the river likely embedding in the mud.
Some of the commentaries you can find online try to explain the mystery away. ( http://biblehub.com/commentaries/2_kings/6-6.htm ) One suggested that the wooden rod that Elisha cut fit perfectly so that when he thrust it into the water it went right into the ax head hole and enabled it to float to the surface. Try throwing your ax in the river with the handle intact…I dare you. Another commentary suggested that it was a big pole that Elisha cut that enabled him to reach further than the man so the ax head could be dragged along the bottom to shore and be retrieved. Right…I suppose anything is possible…maybe it was really porous iron and just needed a little help floating!
It would seem that some people are so skeptical of God that they want to attribute what the scriptures clearly peg as a divine intervention as anything but.
Verse 6 tells a different story. It talks of God’s amazing compassion and attention even to minor issues in life. It says to us that He cares enough to do something simply because in our distress we asked for His help.
This verse also shows us that God is not constrained even by the laws of gravity. “…Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float” (6). There is no scientific explanation for why it floated. That’s why we call it a mystery or a miracle. It cannot be explained using scientific methods. It goes against scientific reason. And it shows us that God’s grace trumps man’s reasoning.
Now Elisha could have said to the prophet that’s your problem and walked away. But he didn’t. He could have sent the man to go and pray and see if the river would shrink enough to find it. After all Elisha has walked through raging rivers on dry land. But the prophet in training was double blessed for his humble request. He not only saw the power of God active in Elisha but he himself got to pick the ax head of the surface of the water according to verse 7.
God gave him a testimony to tell. He would tell of God’s grace in his moment of need. He would speak of the compassion that brought him peace and prevented him from suffering at the ax owners’ hands. The ax owner would receive his borrowed ax back and not suffer loss for having lent it out to a poor man. This shows us that God cares about our obligations and helps us to fulfill them when we approach him with humility.
Most of all God used a mystery to bring about more faith. And He still does that today.
Let’s dig deeper into HIStory
1. Do you like a good mystery? What makes a good mystery?
2. Has there been a time when something happened that you couldn’t explain how it happened? What would you call that?
3. Do you find that you must have a rational explanation for everything before you will believe it?
4. Read today’s portion in HIStory in several versions of the Bible: 2 Kings 6:1-7 (NIV,NASB,KJV)
5. Who were the people described in verse 1? Why were they there?
6. What was the issue in verse 1? (2 Kings 6:1)
7. Who is Elisha and what do we know about him? (1 Kings 19:16-19; 2 Kings 2:9, 21, 23; 2 Kings 3:9-20; 2 Kings 4:1-7, 18-37, 42-44; 2 Kings 5:8; 2 Kings 8:7-15, 2 Kings 9:1-10; 2 Kings 13:14-21)
8. What solution to the issue in verse 1 did the prophet suggest? (2-3)
9. How did Elisha respond? (2-4)
10. What happened to cause concern to the prophet in verse 5? How concerned was he?
11. What does the Bible say about borrowing? (Psalm 37:21; Ex 22:25; Deut. 23:19, 20; Lev 25:35-38; 2 Kings 4:7).
12. Does God care about things you have borrowed? (Eph. 3:8-11)
13. How did Elisha respond to the man’s cry for help? (6-7)
14. Can you explain how the ax head was retrieved? (7) (Hebrews 11:1,6; 1 Cor. 15:51-58).
15. What are the lessons we should learn from this passage?
2 Kings 6:1-7 OK…so explain this one!