Expository Sermon on 2 Kings 6
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 7/4/2020
©2020 by Maylan Schurch
(To watch the YouTube broadcast of this service, click the link below. The sermon starts at the 44:49 mark.)
Please open your Bibles to second Kings chapter 6.
Well, today is the Fourth of July, and like everything else for the past few months, the pandemic is affecting this national holiday as well. Shelley mentioned to me a couple of days back that we haven’t heard a whole lot of fireworks exploding so far. Last night there were a few explosions, but nowhere near what there usually are the night before the Fourth.
I would imagine that tonight there will be there usual gathering down at the end of our cul-de-sac, but the people will probably be masked and doing a lot of careful social distancing.
People are finally getting the point about wearing masks. A couple of weeks ago I stopped at a gas station about ½ mile south of the church. As I headed toward the station door, I was wrestling with my own mask to put the little elastic loops behind my ears, and when I got inside, the gas station attendant said mildlly, “Oh, you don’t have to worry about that.” But this week when I stopped there, he was tightly masked, just like everybody else.
You and I and pretty much every person all around the globe are in a kind of captivity. I think that God has built a great resilience into us. But I also I think that a knowledge of who He is, and what He has promised // to those who love Him and are interested in His plans, I think that this knowledge can help us be calmer captives than those who maybe don’t know Him as well.
And this is where the Bible can be such a powerful help. Not only does it give us all kinds of promises about God’s presence, God’s help, and God’s plans to create a new heavens and the new earth for those who want to be there, not only that, but the Bible tells us stories about people who faced various kinds of captivities, and came through them.
And one of the chapters that shows this powerfully is Second Kings chapter 6. And as I studied it, I discovered that one way of looking at it is to discover some of the captivities God can free us from. I found four such captivities the people in Second Kings 6 were experiencing. Let’s look at them, and at how God gave freedom.
First, a bit of background. The year is somewhere in the 850s BC, about 150 years after the time of David. Elisha is God’s major prophet at this time. As this chapter opens, we see that he is supervising an educational institution called the “school of the prophets,” which was founded by Samuel years before. Those who attended this school – probably something like a seminary – were called “sons of the prophets.”
Watch what happens.
2 Kings 6:1 [NKJV]: And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us.
Okay, here we have our first captivity. I don’t know what the school building, or dorm building, looked like, but it’s too small. Obviously, this is a popular and successful school. A lot of people have enrolled, and now they have maxed out their facility.
I don’t know what caused these gentlemen to raise the issue with Elisha. But there are probably other people trying to enroll, and the facility just isn’t big enough.
And this is where this group of students could have fallen into this chapter’s first captivity. This captivity could be called “limited dreams.” In our own news over the past few weeks we’ve heard about students who had their hearts set on going to this or that particular university, but the virus has made this very difficult or impossible. This has limited their dreams.
And I would imagine that these “sons of the prophets” were frustrated by how small the building or house or residence was. Maybe some of them had to sleep outside under the stars.
However, the captivity of limited dreams is one which the Bible’s major personalities did not allow to trap them.
This might be a time to think about the plans, goals, the dreams you might have at the moment. Is there a job you had been planning to take, but the virus has not allowed you to? Do you have some kind of goal which involves meeting with and speaking to groups of people?
The virus will not only make this tough – but it will also put you and the rest of the people behind masks, which will make it hard for your personality to shine through. This kind of captivity is real – as real as the ones faced by Elisha’s students.
So what are these students going to do? Are they going to complain? Are they going to expect Elisha to solve the problem for them?
No, they’re going to do what quite a few other Bible people did. Watch this.
Verses 1 – 2: And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us. Please, let us go to the Jordan, and let every man take a beam from there, and let us make there a place where we may dwell.”
This must’ve been a group of quality students, self-starters, do-it-now kind of people. Rather than saying, “Please, somebody fix this problem for us!” they said, “Hey. We’ve come up with a plan. Professor Elisha, you’ve taught us about the Bible heroes and how they stepped forward to do the work of the Lord. We’ve got this. All we need is your okay.”
Let’s lay down Sermon Point One.
When I feel captive by limited dreams, God can give me confidence.
Yesterday after breakfast I took a brisk mile-long walk in our neighborhood, and a few blocks from home, I saw a very heartwarming little scene. In a front yard stood a little group of people – a mom and a dad and two boys, maybe about five and seven. There was also an older man who might’ve been a grandpa.
When I first caught sight of them, I saw that the younger boy had a huge grin on his face. His dad had just helped him up onto the seat of a brand-new red bicycle. And then, while I watched, dad put one of his hands on the handlebars and gripped the seat of the bike with the other, and gently steered the boy out on to the sidewalk.
And that boy’s grin would simply not leave his face. Dad started walking behind him, guiding the bicycle forward, and when the boy’s feet started working the pedals, dad gave a little shove. And it must not have been the first time the little boy had ridden a bike, because he wobbled earnestly forward, and finally turned into a little trail entrance half block ahead before he staggered to a stop and jumped off.
I’ve reminded us from this pulpit many times that Jesus basically called God nothing else but “Father” in the four Gospels. I believe God is a lot like a human parent—after all, it was He who invented them! This dad was filled with joy over the new bicycle – which probably had been bought and brought by the grandpa – and this father was just as interested in the success in the safety of that young bike rider as the boy himself was.
And if God could speak to us directly here, I believe that He would repeat the kind of encouragement He sent down to the timid Gideon, the self-distrusting young Isaiah who knew that his lips were “unclean,” the stunned teenage Mary when she was told she would give birth to the Savior, the glory-blinded Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road.
God encouraged each of these people—and many other Bible heroes and heroines—and gave them confidence. And He can give this confidence to us, if we will step forward in faith. I could tell you stories of how this has happened for Shelley and me, and you have told me stories of how this has happened for you.
Now let’s take a look at the next captivity this chapter talks about. Like the first one, it’s serious. And a lot of people are feeling it today as we cower in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The students at that school of the prophets tell Elijah about their plan, and he gives them the go-ahead. But they insist that he himself go along with them.
And it’s a good thing he did, because of what happened next.
Verses 4 – 7: So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, master! For it was borrowed.” So the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And he showed him the place. So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float. Therefore he said, “Pick it up for yourself.” So he reached out his hand and took it.
Here comes Sermon Point Two:
When I feel captive to limited dreams, God can give me confidence. And when I feel captive to financial stress, God can work me a miracle.
You see, this young student was so anxious to help build this new school that he wasn’t going to let anything stop them. He himself didn’t happen to own an axe, but he knew somebody he could borrow it from. And they probably said, “Are you going to take good care of it?” And he probably promised, “Sure, no problem. It’ll be safe.”
And now there it was at the bottom of the river. And not close by, either. Because if you are a strong young seminary student, whacking away at a tree, when that ax head slips off, it’s not going to land meekly at your feet. No, it’s going to hurtle far away, far out into the river you’re cutting trees beside. And once out there, the blade probably sunk immediately into the riverbottom silt.
But God made that ax head float. Can you imagine the hoots and hollers and handclaps and foot stops as everybody watching from the shore saw that iron blade pop to the surface?
Do you know what that miracle said? It said, “God is in favor of this project. God wants this school to expand. And God wants this conscientious student to be able to take that ax head back to its owner, as proof that those who devote their lives to God treat other people’s property as sacred, and take good care of it.”
So, what if you or someone you know are facing financial difficulty right now? Well, go back and look at Bible stories like this one. Iron cannot float, on its own, just as a human being cannot walk on water, on his or her own. But God made that axe-head float.
During the years of my ministry, I have heard story after story about how God rescued people financially. Most of these stories were not quite as dramatic as a floating axe-head, but I’ve heard stories—and you’ve heard them too–about money arriving just in time so people can have something for the next meal. We’ve heard stories about God preserving an elderly vehicle so that it could continue to be transportation.
And during this pandemic time, I’ve heard story after story – and you’ve heard them too – about the generosity people are showing to others in need. One of our families called me up a few weeks back and said, “You know, we used to be in financial difficulty, but we are at a situation now where if you know of somebody who needs a little help, let us know.” Somebody else call me and said that if somebody needs help with food, he has a way of providing a little assistance.
And really, a generous human heart is the greatest miracle of all. God is the Creator, and He can manipulate gravity and electrons and time and space in ways which can amaze us, but the Holy Spirit softening the human heart is the greatest miracle of all.
Remember all those miracles the scribes and Pharisees saw with their own eyes, yet refused to believe in Jesus? But remember Nicodemus, who did. Remember Saul of Tarsus, who was thoroughly converted after three days of blindness? Those are the true miracles.
So what do you do when you have financial problems? If they happen because of your foolishness, you need to handle your resources in a better way. But you can call upon God, and if you resolve to be a faithful steward like that seminary student was, treating other people’s money and property – and God’s money and property – as sacred, the Lord will guide you toward sometimes breathtaking solutions.
Now let’s look at a third captivity, and how God can release us from it.
Verses 8 – 12: Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel; and he consulted with his servants, saying, “My camp will be in such and such a place.” And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are coming down there.” Then the king of Israel sent someone to the place of which the man of God had told him. Thus he warned him, and he was watchful there, not just once or twice. Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was greatly troubled by this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”
I have always loved this story. It’s almost humorous. Here this Syrian king is harassing Israel, but as soon as he and his troops show up somewhere to cause trouble, nobody’s there.
The captivity in this part of the story, of course, is the captivity of enemy oppression. So let’s lay down Sermon Point Three.
When I feel captive to limited dreams, God can give me confidence. When I feel captive to financial stress, God can work me a miracle. And when I feel captive to enemy oppression, God can send me justice.
If you’re as old as I am, you grew up under the “mushroom cloud,” the worry that at any moment, nuclear war could break out between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Decades ago I was visiting one of my uncles once at his farm. This was an uncle I hadn’t known really well until Shelley and I stopped in to see him. Shelley stayed in the living room talking to my aunt, and my uncle took me down into the basement and showed me a huge gun safe. He opened it up, and I saw an awesome collection of powerful rifles.
His jaw jutted grimly out, and he said, “When the Russians come over the hill toward the farm, I’ll be ready.” This man was living in fear. He kept up with the latest conspiracy theories, and he firmly believed that one day the Soviets would invade this country and get as far inland as the prairie where he lived, and try to capture him.
I don’t know if you’re feeling oppressed by an enemy of some kind. Once in awhile Shelley and I get notices from our neighborhood email group that people are breaking into mailboxes and even houses. We just heard that at our local Safeway store, a woman had her purse stolen from the passenger seat of her car, while she herself was loading groceries into her trunk.
To me, one of the thing that’s so fascinating about this particular Elisha story is that God cared enough about justice to tip Elisha off about the Syrian king’s plans.
This gives me courage – along with a lot of the Psalms, and a lot of other Bible stories – to believe that God cares about justice, and cares about our safety. Over and over we can hear His Old Testament growls about what will happen to those who oppress or exploit the disadvantaged.
And I believe that you and I can help bring justice to people who long for it. Our nation is finally focusing more seriously than I ever remember before on racial oppression. Statues of Confederate generals are being tipped over, in the same way that statues of powerful Soviet leaders were toppled when communism fell.
What can I do? I’m Caucasian. My ancestors were not slaves – unless you could call being serfs under Swiss and German nobility slavery, centuries ago. What can I do to help provide justice from oppression?
One thing I can do is to learn about real history. When I was a kid, the history books concealed a lot of what happened to races other than my own. The American occupation of Indian-held land was presented as a good thing.
We were taught about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, but very little else about what African-Americans have had to go through since then.
We were taught about how African countries were colonized, but again, that was presented as the march of progress. We didn’t realize about all the exploitation.
And once I’ve learned about true history, I’m less likely to tolerate racial jokes, or racial slurs, or racial stereotypes. Some of you may have heard about how some of the young descendants of Frederick Douglass recorded a speech he once gave, which said that on the Fourth of July Americans glory in their freedom when a good portion of their population are slaves.
Our church website has a race issues page, which you can find if you go to our website and click on the “Links you’ll like” section on our homepage.
Because God is a God of justice. His wrath burns most hotly when the weak and marginalized and helpless are exploited.
Now let’s look at the final captivity I found in this chapter thus far. There are probably more we could have discovered and talked about. But this last one really speaks to me in the last few months.
Let’s continue the story here in Second Kings 6. We’ve watched as the Syrian king has gotten really frustrated that the king of Israel always knows where the battles have been planned. And once the king of Syria finds out that this intelligence-gathering is Elisha’s fault, he decides to retaliate.
Let’s pick up the story in verse 12.
Verses 12 – 15: And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and get him.” And it was told him, saying, “Surely he is in Dothan.” Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”
Do you see that word “Alas”? In the Hebrew, that’s exactly the same word for the “Alas” back in verse 5, where the conscientious seminary student said “Alas” when the axe-head ended up in the middle of the Jordan River.
But the “we’re surrounded by an army” “Alas” must have been filled with much greater horror than the axe-head “Alas.” This one is a life-or-death “Alas.” When an army is surrounding your town, and your master the prophet is their target, this is a deadly dilemma.
Yet notice how the servant phrased it. He didn’t say, “Alas, master—what are you going to do about this?” The servant wasn’t going to run away to safety and melt in among the townspeople. Instead, the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He’s still with Elisha, still on his side.
And Elisha promptly gives him courage. Elisha could have been so absorbed in his own crisis that he might have ignored his servant. And on the night of his capture, Jesus Himself didn’t ignore His disciples. He didn’t run from them—they ran from Him.
And Elisha does more than give his servant a pep talk.
Verses 16 – 17: So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
So what is Sermon Point Four? Here’s how I would put it:
When I feel captive to limited dreams, God can give me confidence. When I feel captive to financial stress, God can work me a miracle. When I feel captive to enemy oppression, God can send me justice. And when I feel captive to fear, God can reassure me in ways I understand.
Our Lord is wonderfully gracious. He could have had Elisha remind the servant about how it was not an entire heavenly army but only one angel who caused the plague in David’s time. But he knew—and the Lord knew—that this servant needed to see overwhelming numbers. So that’s what the servant saw when the Lord opened his eyes.
This is a time of fear—many different kinds of fear—for a lot of people. Quite a number of people walk the trail next to our neighborhood. Some of them wear masks, and some of them don’t. Shelley and I carry masks with us, and when we approach someone, we put on our masks.
But there’s one woman who masks up so thoroughly that we can’t see her face. She wears a hat with a wide brim that comes down around her head like a cone. And below that she wears some kind of hard-shell mask that has a slit for her eyes, another for her nose, and goes down beyond her chin. And she walks past us very quickly.
We’ve got to be cautious, and sensible, but the Lord doesn’t want us to be captive to fear. “Fear not,” Jesus told His disciples on many occasions. Psalm 23 says to God, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
So this week, if fear sweeps over us, we can say to the Lord, “Remember how you reassured Elisha’s servant? You cared enough for that servant that you opened his eyes and showed Him your presence and power. Can you please do the same for me, in ways that You know won’t be just a product of my imagination, but which will be a word which is truly from You?”
Now let’s read the end of this story—because it truly shows the compassionate heart not only of Elisha but of God, and how well things turn out when His plans are followed.
Verses 18 – 23: So when the Syrians came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, “Strike this people, I pray, with blindness.” And He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. Now Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” But he led them to Samaria. So it was, when they had come to Samaria, that Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and there they were, inside Samaria! Now when the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” But he answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those whom you have taken captive with your sword and your bow? Set food and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” Then he prepared a great feast for them; and after they ate and drank, he sent them away and they went to their master. So the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel.
And may all our captivities be as delightfully unshackled as this one.