2 Kings 6:1–23 (NIVUK)✞: An axe-head floats, Elisha traps blinded Arameans
Note: I’m switching from the usual NIV to the NIVUK, to get ‘proper’ spelling for some of these words; e.g. in the American NIV it’s ‘axhead’ while in the NIVUK it’s ‘axe-head.’ It’s not a perfect solution, unfortunately, because the British way of doing double and single quotation marks is the opposite of the American and Canadian way of doing things. e.g. in North America it would be, “this is a quote, and an ‘inner quote,’” while in the U.K. it would be ‘this is a quote, and an “inner quote.”’ Unfortunately there isn’t a Canadian NIV, so the NIVUK will have to do…
Additional Note: I really need to learn to look ahead as I’m blogging through the book—any book—to get an idea as to what’s coming next. I wrote a lot in Chapter 4 about the miracles Elisha was performing, and the pivot point in that chapter from Elijah to Elisha and then from Elisha to Jesus, but what I didn’t realize is that that chapter was just the start of a series of passages about Elisha’s miracles. In Chapter 5 he healed Naaman, and now there are more miracles. Not that it changes anything I wrote before, I’m still seeing Chapter 4 in the same light, it’s just there’s a chance I might have added more nuance if I was keeping the whole book in mind for each individual piece of it…
I’m combining two sections together here, mostly because the first one is so short and I have so little to say about it.
In verses 1–7✞ Elisha and his company of prophets decide the place where they’ve been meeting is too small so they’re going to build a new building for themselves. Unfortunately, the axe-head of one of the men accidentally falls into the Jordan river and sinks. ‘“Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”’ (v. 5✞). Elisha asks the man to point out the spot where it fell into the water then cuts a stick and throws it there, which makes the iron float so that the man can pull it out.
The Blinded Arameans
A longer story is told in verses 8–23✞, but let me see if I can get through it quickly.
The nations of Israel and Aram are at war—something tells me this has been mentioned in a previous passage but I don’t remember where—but it turns out Elisha is a spy for Israel. Sort of. Time and again, as the king of Aram is making plans, God tells Elisha what’s happening behind closed doors and Elisha passes the information to the king of Israel so that Israel is always one step head of the Arameans.
This greatly angers the king of Aram, but he eventually gets to the bottom of it and comes up with a plan:
11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, ‘Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?’
12 ‘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.’
13 ‘Go, find out where he is,’ the king ordered, ‘so that I can send men and capture him.’ The report came back: ‘He is in Dothan.’ 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
We then get something that I classify as a miracle, though others might not classify it that way: Elisha’s servant wakes up the next morning and sees that the city is surrounded by the Arameans, and this happens:
15 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 no, my lord! What shall we do?’ the servant asked.
16 ‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’
17 And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, LORD, so that 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 round Elisha.
I call this a miracle because Elisha’s servant was given a glimpse of something that most of us don’t usually get to see with our human eyes, but, as I say, if others don’t want to call this a miracle I wouldn’t quibble with them about it.
Regardless, the next part I think we can agree on as being miraculous: the army comes against Elisha but he prays that the LORD would strike them with blindness, which He does.
While the men are blind Elisha tells them that actually, they’re on the wrong road to the wrong city, and if they’ll just follow him he’ll lead them to where they’re really supposed to go. He then leads them to the capital of Israel, Samaria1. He then prays that the LORD would re-open their eyes (which He does), and I presume they realize where they are.
The king of Israel—again, I notice the author doesn’t name the king, which has happened in previous passages as well—wants to know if God has handed the Arameans into his hand in order to kill them, but Elisha says no:
21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, ‘Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?’
22 ‘Do not kill them,’ he answered. ‘Would you kill those 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.’ 23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.
So all’s well that ends well! Not only do the Arameans not die, but they stop raiding Israel as well, presumably out of gratitude?
Spoiler alert: This won’t last long. In the very next passage the Arameans will be coming against Israel in force again.
I don’t have much to say about Elisha making the axe-head float except that it is a miracle. There isn’t a scientific basis for throwing a stick onto water and that stick causing an iron implement to float up to meet it.
I have a bit more, however, to say about the incident whereby God strikes the Arameans blind and then restores their sight. I’m guessing that modern-day readers might enjoy reading about these events more than some other events in the Old Testament because they seem more… er2… playful? He doesn’t strike them blind and then kill them, or cause the earth to open up to swallow them, or strike them down with fire, He just takes away their sight long enough to demonstrate that they are powerless before Him, and then lets them go!
I should mention, by the way, that the ESV Study Bible is wondering whether this is actual blindness or just a fuzzy mental state:
2 Kings 6:18 blindness. Probably not a loss of physical sight (since the Syrians would not doubt their location just because they could no longer physically see it), but rather a dazed mental condition in which they are open to suggestion and manipulation but still able to follow the prophet to Samaria. The Syrians are “bedazzled” and do not “see” things clearly, whereas Elisha’s servant has been given perfect clarity of “sight” about reality.
ESV Study Bible
Regardless, I don’t think the point of this passage is to show God’s mercy. (There are lots of other passages that demonstrate that!) I think this is demonstrating God’s power. A mighty nation’s fighting men can’t even keep control of their own sight and/or mental faculties, if He so chooses to take those things away from them. There are many, many ways in which God demonstrates His power in the Bible, and this is only one of them, but I think He is intentionally demonstrating His power in many and varied ways. I think He does so, at least in part, because different people react to different things; people who might not be swayed by mighty acts of army-vanquishing miracles might be swayed by the fact that humans can’t even control their own eyesight, and vice versa.
That being said, I also think the ESV Study Bible is onto something when they mention that, ‘The Syrians are “bedazzled” and do not “see” things clearly, whereas Elisha’s servant has been given perfect clarity of “sight” about reality.’ It is an interesting reversal! Elisha’s servant gets a glimpse of something humans don’t usually get to see, whereas God takes away from the Arameans the sight of things that humans normally see all the time.
- I think Samaria is the capital of Israel. Regardless, it’s typically where we find the kings of Israel… ↩
- People in North America don’t usually say ‘er,’ they usually say ‘uh’ or ‘um.’ ‘Er’ is more of a British thing. It is, however, something that I myself do say commonly, it’s not just a British-ism I’m importing because of the NIVUK thing. ↩
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