2 Kings 13:10-25

Joash, King of Israel, and Elisha

Joash, the son of Jehoahaz and grandson of Jehu, reigned sixteen years, the first three years simultaneously with Joash, king of Judah, whose reign lasted forty years. Not only did he not turn aside from any of the sins of Jeroboam, but "he walked therein" (v. 11), the Word here indicating to us that he took them as his rule of conduct. These kings of Israel who one after another followed the same path had very powerful and readily discerned motives for acting thus. Indeed, their authority and the possession of their kingdom were, humanly speaking, bound to a religion which separated them from Judah's worship with its temple and Jerusalem as its center. To return to the worship of Jehovah would have been to abandon their dominion, to submit themselves to the family of David, and to renounce their own royal prerogatives. Their thoughts naturally had no connection with those of God. The Lord's judgment had separated the ten tribes from the house of David. Had they remained faithful to the Lord, He would doubtless have taught them the way to combine His worship with their being deprived of the temple. But rather than that, though separating them in practical respects from Judah, He could have kept them in relationship religiously with the temple at Jerusalem. This is all the more striking in Joash of Israel's case, in that later God delivered into his hand the king of Judah and Jerusalem. If he had had any concern for Jehovah whatever, occasion was thus offered him to renew the religious bond with the temple of God that had been broken by Jeroboam. Much later still, Josiah, this faithful king of Judah, furnishes us with another example. Without pretending to recover his royal prerogatives over Ephraim, by his zeal he becomes the restorer of the worship of Jehovah among those of the ten tribes who had escaped the captivity (2 Kings 23: 15‑20).

As for the power of Joash of Israel, it was great. His reign was important, and he accomplished many things. But he lived without God, and what is left of him? As with so many other rulers over men, nothing remains as to him but this word: "This man was born there" (Ps. 87: 4).

There was however a bright spot in the life of Joash of Israel (vv. 14‑21), as in that of Jehoahaz. The latter, at a time of oppression and misery, besought the Lord, who answered him. Joash went to visit Elisha when Elisha was dying, and wept over his face. At this time circumstances were still as difficult for him as they had been for his father. Hazael, and after him his son Ben‑Hadad, were making their yoke weigh heavily upon Israel. The "savior of Israel" had not yet been manifested in the person of Joash. Only God's grace could consecrate him for this work; but meanwhile the prophet, dispenser of this grace, was about to die. With him the last means of deliverance for the people would disappear. What would become of Israel without him? The king laments, weeps over the face of Elisha, crying out: "My father, my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!" Remembering the prophet's word at Elijah's rapture, he thus expresses his sorrow at losing him. Was not he, Elisha, the prophet of grace, who was about to die, as worthy of going up to heaven as Elijah? At the same time the king was bearing witness by these words that Elisha had the same value to him that Elijah had had to Elisha. If the only agent of blessing between God and Israel must die, all blessing was then lost to this oppressed people. Joash's heart is torn. Perhaps this was merely a superficial feeling, in any case it was not very long‑lasting, but it was one that drew the sympathy of the heart of God to this votary of idols. He had promised a savior to Israel; Joash would be this savior. Had he not gone down to Elisha, deliverance would have been hindered, and victory impossible.

Let us notice an interesting fact: We have here two histories of Joash, each one ending in a summary which repeats the same words (vv. 12‑13; 2 Kings 14: 15‑16). The first history contains the king's general character; the second, his victories over Syria and over Judah. Between these two portions we find the end of Elisha's career, and what was able to make of this evil king an instrument of deliverance for his people. This was grace. God shows grace whenever and as long as He is able to do so. Grace delights in a soul in which even a flash of repentance appears, or in the mere sigh of an oppressed heart. With his last breath the prophet's moments, now numbered, are yet used to rekindle, be it but for an instant, the little spark of life still remaining in the heart of the king, this blackened firebrand.

Moreover, let us notice that the word spoken to Elijah: "Him that escapeth the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay," is only fulfilled, and that prophetically, in these last mo­ments of the prophet's life. So little is he a prophet of judg­ment that he does not exercise judgment except in figure, and even this judgment is nothing other than the salva­tion of Israel and its deliverance from the yoke of Syria. Thus, as we have seen all though his history, Elisha never loses his character of grace, but in order to communicate grace to his people, he must die, and this is what we shall find in the passage now occupying us.

If Joash is to become a savior for Israel, it will in no wise be because he merits this title by or in himself. His heart is unchanged, his ungodliness remains, but God will use him as instrument of a salvation whose starting‑point is the death of the man of God. "And Elisha said to him, Take bow and arrows. And he took a bow and arrows. And he said to the king of Israel, Put thy hand upon the bow. And he put his hand upon it; and Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands, and said, Open the window eastward" (vv. 15‑17). The king was only to follow Elisha's word and must not take any initiative, but more than that, it is Elisha's hands that direct the hand of the king, that identify them­selves with the judgment of Ben‑Hadad, but at the same time with the salvation that this judgment would bring about for Israel. Elisha's hands are those of the savior of the people; without them there would not be any deliver­ance. Here the prophet is the representative of the Lord; it must be demonstrated that everything comes from Him.

"Then Elisha said, Shoot. And he shot. And he said, An arrow of Jehovah's deliverance, even an arrow of deliver­ance from the Syrians; and thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou hast consumed them" (v. 17). The king shoots his arrow eastward; nothing is done without the word of God. Joash is unable to understand anything of this; the prophet must explain the matter to him. It is needful for Joash to know that he is an instrument devoid of ac­tion, having no worth in himself, when God condescends to employ him.

"An arrow of Jehovah's deliverance!" Such is the gener­al plan. Next we find the detail of the defeat of the Syri­ans. "And he said, Take the arrows. And he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, Smite upon the ground. And he smote thrice, and stayed" (v. 18). The destruction of Syria would depend upon the degree of faith, of zeal, of trust in God which Joash is about to display. It will be shown whether this instrument can become a means of complete deliverance for Israel by itself. Alas! When it is a matter of smiting upon the ground without having Elisha's hands over his hands, when, in a word, he is left to his own resources, the king strikes the ground with his arrows three times and stops. Before so much grace and condescension on God's part, the man shows himself to be not only insuffi­cient, but faithless. Before, when he was shooting his ar­rows eastward, he was ignorant of the significance of this act and was not responsible to know it. God explained it to him. Now that he could understand it in striking his ar­rows upon the ground, he stops. The wrath of the man of God, God's wrath, blazes against him: I would have com­pletely delivered this people; that depended upon you, and you were not willing to do so! You shall smite the enemy but thrice.

Just as does Elijah's end, so Elisha's speaks to us of Christ. It is with a dying Christ that we find grace and deliverance. A sigh sent up to Him is enough that one can be freed from the enemy who is oppressing us. This salvation is offered to the most wretched, to the most unworthy, who may thus become instrument of deliverance for others. What an honor and what a privilege! But the heart's natural unbelief paralyzes the action of the Spirit and reduces all God's good will towards man to nothing As long as we allow ourselves to be directed by the word in every movement we must make (this account is the evident confirmation of this), success is assured to us; once the least thing is left to our responsibility, we grind to a halt and thus thwart the Lord's plans of grace.

The scene that follows (vv. 20‑21) is as striking as that which we have just considered. The history of Elisha does not end with the prophet's wrath, but ends with death for himself and resurrection for others. During his lifetime, Elisha, like Elijah his master, had brought a dead person back to life. This event, which in itself alone demonstrated God's presence in a man in the midst of Israel-this event which later characterized the Son of God at the tomb of Lazarus-had even reached the ears of the king. But a scene marvelous in another way from that of the Shunammite's son unfolds before us now. It is in his death that Elisha becomes the means of life for one who is dead. It was reserved for Another, and for Him alone, to come forth from the tomb in the power of the life that was in Himself, and to be declared Son of God in power, Son of the living God, through His own resurrection. Here it is by the death of the prophet, in touching Elisha's bones, that one who had died finds life. This thing became much more real, even in a material way, at the death of our beloved Savior. It was at His death, when He had dismissed His spirit, that the bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised to enter into the holy city. From the moral and spiritual aspect it is by entering through faith into contact with a dead Christ that we have eternal life and resurrection in the last day (John 6: 54). In His death the power of death has been conquered for us, and the dominion of him who held this power is broken. He who was unable not to want to die, has died that He might give life.

However, let us not forget the prophetic character of this scene. The end of Israel's last great prophet, the herald of grace, is not linked up with chariots and horsemen which carry him to heaven; it is linked up with a tomb. "Elisha died, and they buried him." After his death the enemy's oppression is displayed in a Moabite incursion upon Israel's territory. The poor people do not even have leisure to bury their dead, but they find the sepulchre of Elisha just in the nick of time to cast in a dead body. From the moment that this dead body, typical of Israel, is laid among the dead and comes into actual contact with the dead prophet, from the moment that he "touched the bones of Elisha, and he revived, and stood upon his feet" (v. 21). So it will be with Israel in the last days; Israel will find national life again and come forth from among the dead from the moment they enter into relationship with Him whom they have pierced, and believe in Him. This will be the last miracle of grace worked for this people, when it will have been demonstrated that the nation's state is without resource and hopeless. The history of Elisha ends here.

In verses 22 to 25, the prophet's word to Joash is fulfilled. Hazael had taken the cities of Israel away from Jehoahaz; Joash retakes them from Ben‑Hadad, the son of Hazael, and "three times did Joash beat him."