Elisha is with Israel for six kings. Some have come closer to the Lord but none have forsaken the golden calves. His time is over; Elisha dies.
Before we go any further I want to look at the first half of the first verse in our reading. “Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die” (verse 14a). Even Elisha, with all his faith, became sick and died. It was not the result of sin. It wasn’t a punishment. It was simply that he lived in a fallen world and death was a part of it.
Elisha’s work was done. No. Israel had not repented of its sin and removed the idols. No. The king was not walking according to the will of the Lord. But Elisha only had a finite number of days on this earth and limited tasks to undertake for the Lord. He was nearly done and it was time to go home. There remained yet one more task. The task of setting up Jehoash as the savior that was promised to Jehoahaz. Let’s join in our story today and watch this take place.
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King Jehoash is sitting in his throne room when a messenger comes to him. The messenger’s face is flushed as if he has been running very fast or over a long distance. The messenger waits until the king acknowledges his presence to speak. He tries to wait patiently but the news he bears is bursting to be let out.
“What news do you bring us today?”
“My king, the prophet Elisha has fallen ill. It is said he will not recover!”
This news brings Jehoash to the edge of his seat. “How long has he been ill?”
“Three days my king. Today he told his servants to prepare for his departure from this earth.”
Jehoash’s face loses all its color at these words. “If Elijah is preparing his servants for his death then it must surely be soon” thinks Jehoash.
“Have my chariot made ready. I will go to him at once.”
Elisha has been a constant in Jehoash’s life from the moment of his birth. He grew up with the prophet’s words ringing in his ears. His father and grandfather spoke of him. They spoke of his nearness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They spoke of how he despised the golden calves of Jeroboam. His hatred for Baal and Asherash were legendary. And his counsel was without equal. Jehoash feared what would become of Israel when he died?
Jehoash was ready before his chariot arrived. He paced the steps of the threshold as he anxiously waited. It was only moments before his chariot stood ready but if felt like an eternity. “He better not die before I get there or these men will pay with their lives” he thinks to himself as he impatiently waits.
Safely aboard, Jehoash is rushed to the home of Elisha. He gathers the hem of his garments and steps out even as the chariot grinds to a halt. Still holding fast to his clothing he rushes to the door of Elisha’s home. His arrival was apparently anticipated as the door flies open before his feet hit the stone supporting it.
Elisha’s humble servant greets the king with a bow and asks for him to follow. The two arrive at the chambers of Elisha mere seconds after Jehoash’s hasty dismount. Jehoash rushes to the side of the bed where Elisha lies. He falls to his knees and begins to weep. His own eyes now see the state of the man. His white hair frames a face nearly the same color. His eyes are closed but only in rest.
“My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” (verse 14c) cries Jehoash.
Elisha opens his eyes and a smile plays upon his lips.
“So you have come to visit me after all this time. It is usually I who does the visiting.”
“It is my father. But I heard you were ill and preparing your servants for your departure. Prepare me also father.”
“There is much still ahead for the Lord’s people. I would that they would have listened. As for you, ‘take a bow and arrows’ (verse 15).”
Jehoash does not carry such weapons upon his person. He quickly asks one of his servants to fetch a bow and quiver from one of the guards. One appears at his right hand so quickly it is as if it must have always been there. Jehoash grasps them and shows them to Elisha.
“Draw the bow” (verse 16b).
Jehoash does so without question. Elisha reached up with both his hands and laid them atop the king’s hands. His touch is firm and remains in place for just a moment. Elisha returns his hands to his bed coverings and then speaks his next directions for Jehoash.
“Open the window eastward” (verse 17a).
Jehoash rises from his knees and quickly steps to the east window. He opens the shutters with ease and waits. He doesn’t have long to wait.
“Shoot” (verse 17b) calls out Elisha.
Jehoash notches an arrow and pulls back on the bowstring with all his might. He ensures that his arrow’s flight path is clear before releasing it. A twang sound rings out in the room as the arrow is propelled from the bow.
Elisha calls out, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them” (verse 17c).
Jehoash is excited by the words of Elisha. The Syrians have been systematically dismantling Israel since his father’s reign. The Lord had promised a savior to the people. Could he be it?
Elisha speaks again before Jehoash can run too far afield in his imaginings.
“Take the arrows” (verse 18a).
Jehoash tells his guard to retrieve the arrow. If this was the arrow of victory over Syria he wanted it to be among the arrows Elisha told him to take. It takes a little bit for the guard to return with the arrow as it had good force behind it. Once Jehoash has the arrow of victory in hand he also removes the remaining arrows from the quiver he holds.
“Strike the ground with them” (verse 18b) commands Elisha.
Jehoash immediately complies. He strikes the ground once, twice, and then a third time. He then returns his focus back to Elisha.
Elisha’s face flushes with anger. “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times” (verse 19b).
Jehoash’s cheeks burn with shame. “How was I to know how many times to strike the ground?” Rather than voice this though he bows to Elisha in acceptance of his word.
Elisha closes his eyes again indicating that this meeting has come to an end. Jehoash, determined to give Elisha’s words much more thought, makes his way back through the house and to his chariot. He turns to his most trusted guard.
“Stand here and if they require anything, see to it that it is provided. Bring me word when he passes.”
The guard salutes and Jehoash mounts his chariot for the return ride. Once inside his own throne room Jehoash begins to weigh the words of Elisha. “Am I to be the savior of the people promised to my father?” wonders Jehoash. “I am but an instrument” Jehoash reminds himself. “The battle belongs to the Lord.”
Next morning the guard Jehoash had left at the home of Elisha stands before him. As soon as Jehoash saw the man approaching he knew that Elisha was dead. He servant would not have left his post otherwise. But he will hear his report.
“What news do you bring?”
“The prophet Elisha has died this previous hour.”
“Take word to his followers that I will prepare a place for him among the kings of Israel.”
The guard bows and leaves to bring the words of the king to Elisha’s servants. Within minutes though he once again stands before the king.
Jehoash has a puzzled look on his face as he addresses his faithful guard.
“Is there some urgent matter that brings you back so soon?”
“There is my king.”
“Then speak it.”
The guard tamps down the tendrils of fear trying to root in him before he speaks. He does not know how the king will take the news he has for him.
“O king, the servants of Elisha tell of the prophet’s own wishes for his burial. He has a place already prepared outside the city. It was a place of his own choosing and they will not dismiss his final instructions, not even for the king.”
Jehoash doesn’t quite know how to take this news. He could be offended at their refusal of his offer to honor Elisha. Or he could accept that, even in death, the prophet did as he saw fit. He decides to opt for the second option.
“Am I at least allowed to attend him as they lay him to rest?”
The guard breathes a sigh of relief. He had asked that same question of Elisha’s servants and they had agreed to this before knowing how the king would respond.
“Yes my king. The man’s servants say they will await your presence before closing the tomb.”
Israel’s customs required the dead to be buried before sundown on the day of their death. Jehoash knew he needed to put together an acceptable gift for the prophet’s servants. He had no doubt they would feel the absence of their master even more deeply than he. “This is the way I can honor the man who impacted my own life and that of all of Israel.”
Jehoash learned of the time and place for Elisha’s burial and arrived with carts loaded with food. There was enough food to feed Elisha’s disciples for several months. These he would present to Elisha’s chief disciple after the stone had been rolled in front of the entrance of his grave.
There was no need to hire mourners as much of Samaria and the surrounding towns turned out to see him buried. Weeping went on late into the night as the great man was remembered by all. After many hours his chief disciples called for the people to return to their homes and to take Elisha’s lessons with them.
“If you do nothing else, think deeply the next time you bow down to one of your foreign gods or to the calves that Jeroboam set before you. Think of how Elisha warned you about such things. May his words finally take root in your hearts. Even after his death, those words still hold the power of life for Israel.”
Jehoash’s cheeks burn with shame as he hears his own heart being spoken of this night.
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Can you imagine being part of the next story in our reading? Trying to bury your friend when you see trouble quickly approaching. In fear and haste you find the closest tomb, open it, and throw your friend’s remains inside. Before the stone can even be returned to the mouth of the cave the friend cries out from within the tomb. He is ALIVE!
I wonder if they forgot about the marauders and focused instead on the resurrected man or if they ALL ran for their lives. Did they know of the occupant of the tomb they opened at the time? Did they figure it out afterwards? What a story they had to share!
Elisha was so in tune with God that even his dead bones carried His life in them. Illness ended his breath on this earth but not because he disappointed God or broke fellowship. God continued to work through him even after death.
Jehoash would be the savior God promised to his father but he could have been even greater if he had persisted in the presence of Elisha. He could have been MUCH greater if he would have removed the idols Jeroboam had set up. As it was, Jehoash fulfilled both promises of God. He delivered Israel from Syrian rule and did so in three battles. Syria would crop up again because they had not been fully destroyed.
When Jehoash was told to strike the ground with the arrows he had already been told that the arrow he shot was the “victory arrow” against Syria. Was his stopping after three times a testament to his ‘maintaining some dignity’, not enough conviction, uncertainty, or lack of anger? When I think of symbolically ‘striking an enemy’ the act that comes to mind is trying to grind that enemy to dust beneath your feet. I see it as Jehoash’s chance to vent all his anger and frustration. But he fell far short of what Elisha judged he should have. “Why didn’t you strike more? This was your chance to show how much you hated what was happening to you and to the people.”
Father God, help me ‘get angry’ at the right things. I don’t want to get angry and hurtful to people but to the spirit behind the sin. Help me ‘love the sinner and hate the sin.’ There are some sins that have built a stronghold in my family and I want them DESTROYED! I need to ‘pound on them’ in prayer. I need to strike them until they are completely destroyed instead of just beaten into submission for a time.
I need to do this in my own life with a few issues too! Help me Lord to do just that. Thank You Holy Spirit for reminding me of this.