Elijah and Elisha 27
Elijah and Elisha 27.
Most of you have been coming along each week here; for the past year I have been doing a series on Elisha. Now it’s test time! What have I said that every story of Elisha is about? – Salvation! [P] And salvation is GOOD NEWS. [P]We call it the “Gospel” – the good news of how we can be saved from sin and its inevitable consequence: death. And the passage today is, yet again, a story of salvation. Salvation from a dire situation. Turn to 2 Kings 6:24 [P] It is a long passage; so, I will only pick out a few points. You may recall that last time: the king of Aram sent his army to capture Elisha, but he led the blinded army into Samaria where their eyes were opened and they were fed instead of being slaughtered. It then said: [2 Kings 6:23 When they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.] But what do we have in the very next verse?!: [2 Kings 6:24–7:20 Now it came about after this, that Ben-hadad king of Aram gathered all his army [P] and went up and besieged Samaria. (it didn’t take long for his good-will to wear off!) [P] There was a great famine in Samaria; [P] and behold, they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, [P] (it depends whether it was a bronze, silver or gold shekel; but it was probably silver and worth about NZ$10, so $800 for a donkey’s head – big, but not the choicest of eating!) and a fourth of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver ($50 for 250mls of poo!). [P] As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall a woman cried out to him, [P] saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” (she was crying out for salvation, but to the wrong source: man, and we often do the same) He said, “If יהוה does not help you, from where shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the wine press?” (a sarcastic remark) And the king said to her, “What is the matter with you?” And she answered, [P] “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ [P] “So we boiled my son and ate him; and I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.” (it was a really severe famine, people had resorted to absolutely desperate measures!) When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body. (he was distressed about the situation but he had not turned back to God in repentance) Then he said, [P] “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on him today.” (rather, he wanted to kill God’s messenger) [P] Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. [P] And the king sent a man from his presence; but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent to take away my head? [P] (He knew exactly what was happening and what the king was intending to do) Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door shut against him. [P] Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” While he was still talking with them, behold, the messenger came down to him and he said, [P] “Behold, this evil is from יהוה; why should I wait for יהוה any longer?” Then Elisha said, [P] “Listen to the word of יהוה; (good advice) thus says יהוה, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour will be sold for a shekel (4.5 litres for $10), and two measures of barley for a shekel (about $1/litre), in the gate of Samaria.’” [P] The royal officer on whose hand the king was leaning answered the man of God and said, [P] “Behold, if יהוה should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” (mocking, unbelieving, cynical) Then he said, “Behold, you will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat of it.” [P] Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; [P] and they said to one another, “Why do we sit here until we die? [P] “If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ then the famine is in the city and we will die there; and if we sit here, we die also. [P] Now therefore come, and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, we will but die.” (death was inevitable anyway) [P] They arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Arameans; when they came to the outskirts of the camp of the Arameans, behold, there was no one there! [P] For the Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a sound of chariots and a sound of horses, even the sound of a great army, [P] so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.” Therefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents and their horses and their donkeys, even the camp just as it was, [P] and fled for their life. When these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they entered one tent and ate and drank, and carried from there silver and gold and clothes, and went and hid them; [P] and they returned and entered another tent and carried from there also, and went and hid them. Then they said to one another, [P] “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” (Good news has to be told) So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city, and they told them, saying, “We came to the camp of the Arameans, and behold, there was no one there, nor the voice of man, only the horses tied and the donkeys tied, and the tents just as they were.” (they simply testified to what they had seen and experienced) The gatekeepers called and told it within the king’s household. [P] Then the king arose in the night and said to his servants, [P] “I will now tell you what the Arameans have done to us. They know that we are hungry; therefore they have gone from the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, ‘When they come out of the city, we will capture them alive and get into the city.’ (cynical, suspicious, unprepared to accept good news, unbelieving of straightforward testimony)” One of his servants said, [P] “Please, let some men take five of the horses which remain, which are left in the city. Behold, they will be in any case like all the multitude of Israel who are left in it; behold, they will be in any case like all the multitude of Israel who have already perished, so let us send and see.” (at least check it out! For not the first time, we see wisdom coming from a servant’s mouth) They took therefore two chariots with horses, and the king sent after the army of the Arameans, [P] saying, “Go and see.” They went after them to the Jordan, and behold, all the way was full of clothes and equipment which the Arameans had thrown away in their haste. Then the messengers returned and told the king. So the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. [P] Then a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel and two measures of barley for a shekel, [P] according to the word of יהוה. Now the king appointed the royal officer on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate; [P] but the people trampled on him at the gate, and he died just as the man of God had said, [P] who spoke when the king came down to him. It happened just as the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, [P] (the word of God is true!), “Two measures of barley for a shekel and a measure of fine flour for a shekel, will be sold tomorrow about this time at the gate of Samaria.” [P] Then the royal officer answered the man of God and said, “Now behold, if יהוה should make windows in heaven, could such a thing be?” And he said, “Behold, you will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat of it.” And so it happened to him, for the people trampled on him at the gate and he died. [P] Here we have a dire situation! [P] The capital of Israel was besieged, no one could go in or out, food supplies were cut off. And the siege had begun to bite. The Bible says that it was a “great famine” – and it is not kidding! Prices had inflated beyond all belief. Food could not be got! Things had reached desperation point! People were killing and eating their own children! I have read about the siege of Leningrad in WWII; things got to the same stage there; and people resorted to cannibalism. I find it hard to conceive. I have also read of similar situations where parents have deliberately starved themselves in order that their children may live. I guess desperate situations reveal true character. Whatever, the situation was dire! It was awful! A terrible famine! Now, tell me this: is famine a blessing or curse? It ain’t no blessing! King Jehoram himself said: [2 Kings 6:33 “Behold, this evil is from יהוה; why should I wait for יהוה any longer?”] He recognized that this was judgement, judgement from יהוה. He knew God was punishing him and his people; yet, he did not turn back to יהוה. No, he was determined to persist in his rebellion. He was not going to wait for יהוה, he was going to take action himself, deal with the situation. What was his solution? To kill Elisha, the prophet, the man of God. Now, the judgement was from יהוה. If it is from יהוה, can you stop it? Would beheading Elisha solve anything? Now, tell me: was the judgement deserved? Jehoram was the son of Ahab, this dynasty had led Israel into the worst and most blatant idolatry thus far. Now, tell me, did they repent? Did they seek God? Did they cry out to Him? Pray? Beseech Him for mercy? Why then should יהוה withdraw His punishment? The king blamed God “This evil is from יהוה”– people do, when things go pear-shaped they blame God. The insurance companies have a term for it: “acts of God”!! We assume that God owes us something! Rather we owe something to God – we are in His debt! And we cannot pay! So much for what was going on in the city. Outside the city were some lepers. Now, tell me, what does leprosy symbolize? SIN! That is our debt that we owe! As the Anglican prayer book says: “We have left undone the things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done”. There is a debt that we owe God and we are utterly incapable of paying! Just as incapable as these lepers were of cleansing themselves. They were excluded, out-casts from the city because of their condition. The lepers/sinners are outside the city, excluded – in an utterly hopeless situation! That is us! The city, God’s people, were away from God, under judgement – their situation was desperate; but the lepers were even worse: they were not even in the city, without hope, facing inevitable death. This is what Ephesians says: [Ephesians 2:1–3 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. Ephesians 2:12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.] Look, we are all used to being fine Christians – but we must never lose sight of what we were, what we have been saved from! It was an utterly hopeless and desperate situation. I am not overplaying our plight! I tend to think that I am an OK type of bloke – no, no, no! Dead, excluded, without a chance, without a hope! We use the term “save” and “salvation” because that is absolutely what we need! It is not Christian rhetoric, jargon – we desperately need saving! It is not deciding to join a church, follow Jesus. No, we are in a desperate and hopeless plight without Christ. These lepers were in a hopeless situation – AND THEY KNEW IT! And that was their salvation! [P] They faced the fact that certain death faced them no matter which way they turned. There is a blessing in knowing that you are in deepest schtuck! Because you have come to face the truth! When you are at rock bottom, the only way is up. There is a blessing in being utterly humbled. John Bunyan wrote: “he that is down need fear no fall; he that is low, no pride. He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide.” And Jesus Himself said: [Matthew 5:3–5 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth.] The prerequisite for receiving the Good News is to be poor, that is who the Good News is for: [P] [Luke 4:18–19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me [P] to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favourable year of the Lord.”] The Good News is only good news to those who realise the bad news. The big trouble is that people do not face the bad news: their poverty, that their situation is hopeless, that they are utterly depraved, that they desperately need saving. The Good News is no good news to those who think that they are OK already. Look if I came with the “good news” that I was going to clear all your debts; if you owed $10 you would be pleased, if your debt was $400,000 you’d be ecstatic, but if you already had money in the bank, you would not even be bothered. Jesus said: [Mark 2:17 “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”] The lepers were excluded, outside the city – but the city was no good to them – death was there. They were caught between the city and the besieging army – between a rock and a hard place. Go either way, death was there. They were in a position where they had nothing to lose: DESPERATION! Absolute poverty! And, that is where salvation comes. A lifeguard saving a drowning man, waits until he stops struggling, otherwise he has to fight him. Where do you find God? At wits end! Who would approach the Syrians?! But they did, because death was inevitable any other way – but there was the tiniest possibility that they may be spared. So, with rational logic, they approached the Syrians. What did they find? God had done a miracle! He intervened! Hallelujah! Did they ask? Did they pray? Did they seek God? Did they repent? They didn’t expect anything from God – there was nothing spiritual about it – they were just trying to survive. Again, did they deserve it? Did God respond to their cry? No! It was prevenient grace. [P] Grace is what you don’t deserve; prevenient grace is grace that comes before you even seek it. God takes the initiative. Salvation is by grace alone! One of the watch cries of the reformation. By grace are you saved! [P] [Ephesians 2:8–9 For [P] by grace you have been saved [P] through faith; and that [P] not of yourselves, it is the [P] gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.] The lepers came to the Aramian camp and found food in abundance, clothes, riches. They took for themselves, hid some more, and still there was more! More than they could handle! Hallelujah! I delight in God, He is a God of abundance! It is autumn, when fruit ripens, the harvest is gathered. We live on the edge of the red zone and we indulge in the time-honoured practice of “scrumping” – picking the fruit that is growing wild there. No one tends it, it just grows. I don’t know why people go to the shop and pay $4/kilo for apples when we can just pick them off a tree! It cost nothing and there is more than we can handle! We eat them, we stew them, we freeze them, give them away. The freezer is full! We have run out of containers! There is an abundance! And it is free! יהוה is a God of abundance. [John 3:34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.] He doesn’t stint. He is a generous God! Bless His Name! Salvation is free! Hallelujah! We saw that in the story of Namaan – you cannot pay for it. [P] [Isaiah 55:1-2 “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk [P] without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.] You can spend a heap, and starve ($800 for a donkey head); or you can have an abundance, without cost – it all depends on whether you are in the blessing of God; whether you are receiving grace or trying to buy your own way. So, salvation comes to sinners – the lepers had an abundance, they stuffed themselves, hoarded – their motive was selfish. And, let’s be honest; when we came to the LORD, we did so out of pure self-interest. It says in [2 Corinthians 5:16 Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.] We came to Jesus from fleshly motives, for selfish reasons. But, now, having come to know Him, His grace, His love, His perfection; we now know Him spiritually, appreciate Him just for who He is. But initially, our only thought is of ourselves and our situation. So it was with these lepers; then it hit them! [P] [2 Kings 7:9 Then they said to one another, [P] “We are not doing right. This day is a day of [P] good news, but we are [P] keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”] They were “not doing right”! They were doing wrong! Here was all this abundance, and they were keeping it to themselves! Here was this Good News and they were keeping silent! It was not right, they were sinning. [P] They were committing the sin of silence! They were saved from starvation. They were facing death; but now there was an abundance, way more than they could eat. This was Good News! The enemy was gone! But news is only “news” if you tell someone! Otherwise it is just an interesting fact. Good News is meant to be TOLD! It is a sin to keep silent! That is the appropriate response to grace – we have good news, it is evil to keep it to ourselves! Look we have abundance! Nothing is withheld from us: [Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 1 Corinthians 3:21–22 For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you,] Paul repeats it, so that we get the message: “all things belong to you”! The enemy is defeated! We were dead in our trespasses and sins and God gave us eternal life – His free gift! Jesus said: [John 10:10 I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.] This is fantastic! This is great news! But we stand with our hands in our pockets and say: “How was the service on Sunday?” “I didn’t think much of the preacher this morning.” They always ask you at work, standard question: “What did you do in the weekend?” What do we say? “I did the garden.” “I went to the rugby.” Perhaps: “I went to church.” How about: “I met up with the Creator of the universe! Do you know? He loves me! I am His friend! He spoke to me! We spent time together! And do you know what? He’d love to meet you too! I was facing death right in the face and He Himself personally rescued me!” Great News to share! But I don’t do it. Yes, they know I went to church; but I am keeping silent about the Good News! We have all this abundance – and I am keeping it to myself! Jesus said: [Matthew 10:8 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. [P] Freely you received, freely give.] Jesus often told people not to tell about what He’d done; but this is what He said to Legion, who he had delivered from thousands of demons that were tormenting him: [P] [Mark 5:19 “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”] We are to tell; but not everyone will believe [P] The king’s aid was cynical, he doubted what Elisha had said, did not believe the word of יהוה. Elisha said that food would be abundant and affordable; and he gave the Tui-ad answer: “Yeah, right!” No way is that going to happen even if God opened the windows of heaven. It was inconceivable. Typical of many today, he was a sceptic! He saw but he missed out! He saw that God’s word was true but he did not enjoy the blessing. Instead of being saved, finding life; he died! Trampled to death! There is a serious warning for us here! The provision is there but you can miss out! Salvation is by grace alone, by Christ alone, by faith alone. The warning is: don’t miss out! Receive grace by faith! We all know the wonderful promise of salvation in John 3:16 to the one that believes; but it goes on to say: [John 3:17–18 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey (or does not believe) the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”] Look Israel deserved the famine, they deserved judgement; but God, of His own initiative saved them, had mercy upon them. Grace was poured out! But if you refuse grace, persist obdurately in your unbelief and cynicism and scepticism; there only remains the abiding wrath of God! A fearful prospect! Grace is wonderful but it is only appropriated by faith. The consequences of not believing are dire! [Hebrews 3:15–19 “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.” For who provoked Him when they had heard? And with whom was He angry? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So, we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.] May we have soft, responsive, believing hearts. May we fully appreciate our great salvation to such an extent that we cannot be quiet about what Jesus has done for us. [P] [Acts 4:20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.]
Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”