Israel is at war with Syria (or Aram in some translations), the Syrian army is making raids in the land of Israel, and Elisha is the prophet of God at this time. In chapters four and five of 2 Kings, Elisha is performing miracles in the name of Yahweh and by the power of God. However, when we get to chapter six, the narrative changes. The writer of 2 Kings begins to tell the story of a time when Yahweh providentially sustained His people, and not only His people, but also the enemy of His people.
So often we want to look at the Old Testament stories centering their theme around God’s justice, wrath, and biased protection on the Israelites. Yet when we come to this story (and so many other stories in the Old Testament) God reveals Himself truly and contrary to how some of us Americans were raised to see the God of the Old Testament. God is love, mercy, justice, wrath, life, infinite and absolute in every way. He never changes in His being or essence.
War Strategies Fail Against God
Immediately, we learn that the king of Syria is not named, and neither is the king of Israel. This is not because the writer forgot or did not know, but so that the readers might focus on the true intent and plain meaning of the text: God’s mercy and providence. At the beginning of this passage, God is saving His chosen nation from the hand of the Syrian army by using His prophet to warn the king of Israel (2 Kings 6:9). The Syrian king seeks to ambush the Israelites in their own land but cannot seem to find any success.
His plans are private and only the top-secret officials are aware (vs. 12). He assumes he has a spy and a traitor in his midst, but learns from a servant (how did a servant get this information?) that Elisha has been publicly sharing with the king of Israel the private plans of the king of Syria. As expected, the king of Syria calls his military force to arms and they surround Dothan, where the prophet of God’s resides (vs. 14).
We Are Surrounded and Blind
Again, a main character is not named, Elisha’s attendant. He sees the Syrian army and responds how any of us would have responded: fear. Our first thought would be that if we are with a prophet of Yahweh and we have seen the miracles that the attendant has seen then of course we would not fear but hold fast to the faith in our great and mighty God. But that is not what this attendant does. In fact, he mirrors what we do when faced with the enemy that seeks to destroy and end us in our flesh, we want to run and figure out how we can retreat. “‘What shall we do?’ So he answered, ‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them’” (vs. 15-16). The attendant is dumbfounded, speechless, and probably confused.
However, what Elisha does is not typical for one who is threatened by a vast army of trained soldiers. He prays. Not only does he pray, but he prays for his servant’s eyes to be opened so that he may see the truth and the reality of the situation at hand. Then behold, the Lord’s army of horses and chariots of fire all around (vs. 17). Fire, signifying God’s absolute and sovereign presence, showed Elisha and the servant that God is was, not only present but also, in complete control as the Creator that He is. May we pray fervently that our eyes would be opened to the presence of God and His mighty works that surround our lives wherever we are. And may we pray that God would open the eyes of the lost, that they may see and know Him truly.
Due to our sin nature, we can be blind to the truth that lays in front of our faces. Ultimately, before Christ, we are completely blind of our sin and misery only to believe wholeheartedly that we are God and that God is not. Moreover, even in Christ, we can quench the Spirit and not see the amazing work of providence God is doing in our lives to keep us from evil, to meet our needs, and to guard us from Satan (2 Thess. 3:3). We know from the New Testament that our true enemies are not of this world but “against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
As an Army soldier I begin to place myself in the shoes of the prophets attendant, and once the Syrian army begins to advance down the hill, I would have thought that fireworks were about to start flying. That I was going to get to witness what the power of God can really do, that is defeat His enemies like He has done several times in the past with wrath and justice for their wickedness (Gen. 18-19; Num. 21:2-3; Deut. 20:17; Joshua 6:17, 21; 1 Sam. 15).
However, that is not what happens in the text. Elisha prays again, but not for God to smite His enemies, he prays for the army to become blind and takes them to the one who they truly are after, the king of Israel in Samaria (v. 19). Surely Elisha led them there to be killed by the hand of God’s people for their wicked ways, right? No. They were still not struck down, but their eyes were opened, and they were fed a great feast and sent back home (v. 23).
Why? Why would God send a great army of horses and chariots of fire if not to fight and kill His enemies? Why would God lead the enemy of His people into their hands and command the Israelites to not kill them? I thought God was just. This is not the God of the Old Testament that I remember as a kid. This does not sound like the God that massacred Sodom and Gomorrah, brought the flood on the earth, or eliminated the Canaanites. No. This is the One true God, the same God of the New Testament and the rest of the Old. A God of love and mercy, yet still just. A God that sent His one and only Son to live a perfect life, suffer, die on the cross for our sin, resurrect from the dead after three days, and ascend to heaven where He rules as the eternal King. A God that sent His One and only Son to save His people from their sin. To redeem us in love.
So why did God spare the Syrians? That all would see the sovereign providence of Yahweh. Not only Israel can benefit from God’s mercy and protection. He is not partial. He is eternally good when He pours justice and wrath on evil, and He is also good in His mercy toward those who are even outside of His covenant. All this to reveal to the world that God is in control and ought to be worshipped as the Creator of all.
This text initially reminds us that God’s providence is perfect and absolute in His nature, and that His works in creation and providence are not always what we expect. How could we expect God to work like us? He is Creator and we are creature. Who are we to question Him on who He saves and who He condemns? (Job 38:4; Rom. 9). He provides and protects for those He is in covenant with. Moreover, God provides for those whom He loves, the sinners undeserving of even His attention (Rom. 8:28). His mercy reaches beyond the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants.
We conclude by asking, how are we to respond when we find ourselves blind to reality and truth? How do we respond when we struggle with sin and suffer wrong and we cannot see the providence of God at work in our lives? God’s Word is clear: “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways,” (Ps. 119:15). God has blessed us by condescending to human language and gave us a special revelation of Himself and of our relation to Him. May we take full advantage to study, meditate, and saturate our hearts, minds, and lives with the infallible Word of God. No matter the trial or circumstance, God is sovereign, and we are not. God is Creator, we are creature. Trust and obey God according to His Word. Worship the merciful and just Creator who reigns supreme. Amen.
“Oh, how I love Your law! All day long it is my meditation,” (Ps. 119:97).