Futility of Fear, 7

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2 Kings 6:16

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16 NIV84)

This “don’t be a afraid” is for anybody who feels overwhelmed by any forces arrayed against them. Maybe this describes you sometimes. Have you ever felt stymied by some bureaucracy when all you wanted to do was make a few extra dollars? Or maybe you tried to do something recently that was a breeze a few years ago but now it hurts so much you have to stop. Or maybe your situation is far more serious. God’s Word to anybody facing any “enemy” is simply, “don’t be afraid.”

The incident in 2 Kings where God told Elisha’s servant to not be afraid follows the case of the floating axe head.

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. “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it. (2 Kings 6:6-7 NIV84)

Miracles followed Elisha around like a lost puppy. This man of God walked and worked in the power of God. It may seem almost impossible to believe that an iron axe head can float, but with God, nothing is impossible.

This particular miracle has never been repeated, but the incident that follows it is as up-to-date as tomorrow’s headlines.

An age-old conflict

Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.” (2 Kings 6:8 NIV84)

Aram, or Syria, had been harassing Israel with intermittent warfare and guerrilla raids. Yes, they’ve been going at it for a long time over there. Even during this period of Hebrew history, this conflict was a very old one. What we see happening in the Middle East today – the tension between Israel and the Arab world – can be traced back to the dim days of the Old Testament.

Time and time again the Israelite king and his armies were delivered from these ambushes because of Elisha’s intervention. By divine revelation, Elisha always knew when and where the Aramean army was and what they were planning.

The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places. (2 Kings 6:9-10 NIV84)

These constant defeats really frustrated the Aramean king and he came to, what was for him, the obvious conclusion: there just had to be a spy in his camp.

This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” (2 Kings 6:11 NIV84)

Unbelievers will never come to the correct conclusion concerning the work of God. They will always try to find “the logical answer” to God’s miraculous ways, and the logical answer is almost always the wrong answer when it comes to God’s miraculous ways.

Danger for Elisha

“None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” (2 Kings 6:12 NIV84)

How about that Elisha! He even had the king’s bedroom bugged! That’s the “logical answer,” but of course we know the truth: God was revealing the king’s plans to His prophet. We’re not told how or why this officer knew the truth, but it may well be that Elisha’s aid to Israelite king Jehoram was not exactly the best kept secret at this time.

What’s the king to do? He’ll eliminate the problem.

“Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” (2 Kings 6:13 NIV84)

Elisha was staying in Dothan, a strategic town located some dozen miles north of Samaria, and about 60 miles north of Jerusalem. This town was the prophet’s headquarters, so it’s not like he was hiding out. The Aramean king took action and his forces surrounded Dothan. He took Elisha’s ongoing threat seriously, deploying the whole army to get this one man.

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:15-16 NIV84)

And who wouldn’t be afraid after seeing the great Aramean army? Elisha and his servant were just two men, by themselves, facing the host of the Arameans. That makes Elisha’s epic answer all the more powerful – the servant had absolutely nothing to fear because, in the prophet’s words, “those who were with them were more than those who were against them.” The question is an obvious: just who was with them?  Who’s my boss talking about?  Can you imagine the servant looking around for those whom Elisha referred to? Of course, there was nobody there.

That’s what it looked like, anyway. But Christians can’t always believe their eyes!

We live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV84)

Elisha’s servant was about to learn how true Paul’s statement is!

And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17 NIV84)

What passed through this servant’s mind when he saw the hosts of God all around them? For a moment he was given a glimpse into the spirit world. The Aramean king had planned an ambush but God had planned his own! Again, Paul puts this in perspective for us:

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31 NIV84)

Indeed. Only the most arrogant, ignorant of people would dare stand in the way of a believer doing the work of God! No wonder Elisha told his servant to not to be afraid. Why fear any man when God has surrounded you with the army of heaven?

Standard operating procedure?

When we read stories like this, we naturally wonder: Is this how God always works? You’ve probably met Christians that claim remarkable deliverances like this one in 2 Kings. These Christians experience deliverances from things like poverty when they receive an anonymous check in the mail, or deliverances from an empty gas tank when a stranger offers to fill it up for them, or deliverances from sickness by a miracle. You get the idea. The rest of us who never had these experiences wonder, Are we that out of touch with God? How do we explain the miraculous leadings and deliverances some believers claim to have experienced? The answer lies in Dothan.

Dothan is mentioned only two times in Scripture. The other time is in Genesis 37–

“They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’ ”So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. (Genesis 37:17-18 NIV84)

It was in Dothan that Joseph was sold into slavery – a fate worse than death. Dr. McGee comments:

It was a living hell to be sold into slavery, yet that is what is happening to this boy of 17.

Seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it? Joseph, a young man, blessed by God with dreams and visions, trapped by his scurrilous, no account brothers and sold into slavery. Where were the chariots of fire for Joseph? Where was God’s army?

Remember, we can’t always believe our eyes. Just because it didn’t look like they were around Joseph didn’t mean they weren’t. When we study the life of Joseph from this point on, we can see the hand of God on it. In fact, in some ways, you can see God working more in the life of Joseph than in Elisha’s! Certainly in terms of the flash and sizzle, Elisha had it all over Joseph. But God did remarkable things in and through Joseph without the flash and sizzle. So much so Joseph was able to say this to his brothers:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20 NIV84)

No miraculous deliverance for Joseph, yet he kept on keeping on – he stayed faithful to his God despite his sometimes awful circumstances. In the end, though, he prevailed and was blessed mightily.  And because he did, so did the nation of Israel.

So you see, at Dothan God was there with Joseph just as He was with Elisha, just in a different way.

Blinded by the Light

It wasn’t over yet. Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened, and now he prayed for the reverse to happen to the Arameans:

As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike these people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. (2 Kings 6:18 NIV84)

We don’t usually think of praying things like that, but Elisha did, and God answered it. He blinded – temporarily – these soldiers and led them in the wrong direction!

After they entered the city, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria. (2 Kings 6:20 NIV84)

God certainly has a sense of humor, doesn’t he? But His ways are not our ways, either. Instead of killing them, as surely as they would have killed Elisha, his servant, and any other Israelite they happened upon, mercy was shown:

“Do not kill them,” [Elisha] answered. “Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” (2 Kings 6:22 NIV84)

There may be several reasons why these soldiers’ lives were spared. For one thing, Israel didn’t kill prisoners of war, so that’s how Elisha may have seen these men. Or it could be that Elisha was gently reminding the king that it was unlawful to kill soldiers not captured in battle. Or it may be that Elisha saw these men as being under God’s protection for the time being.

Whatever the reason, Elisha made sure these soldiers were well-fed and sent home safely. The result was nothing less than stunning:

…he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. (2 Kings 6:23b NIV84)

Elisha ended this plague of skirmishes with kindness.

Even though Elisha was Israel’s prophet, he nonetheless showed that he was aware of and able to actually influence events on an international level by actually controlling what people saw.  He controlled their perspective.  His servant was paralyzed with fear until, through Elisha’s prayer, he was able to see God’s army all around them. The soldiers were a deadly threat until, again through Elisha’s prayer, they were blinded and rendered helpless. When, through Elisha’s prayer, they regained their sight, it led to peace.

Fear was a bad thing as far as Elisha’s servant was concerned because it was unfounded – there was absolutely no reason for him to fear. However, fear was a good thing for the soldiers to experience because it led to peace.

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