Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
ELIJAH, THE MAN OF GOD. 2 Kings 1:1-16
Ahaziah, the son of a wicked father, meets with an accident, and is sick, then he desires to inquire of the God of Ekron. His fall might have been a great blessing to him as it made him feel the need of divine assistance; but, instead of calling upon the God of Heaven, he chose to inquire of the God of flies, and thus ignore the Lord God of Israel. But God is not mocked; He thrusts His servant Elijah right in front of the king's messengers with the sentence of death. The prophet appears before us here as a "man of God," and as such let us consider him.
I. He was Commissioned. "The angel of the Lord said unto Elijah, Arise, go... and say unto them, Is it because there is no God in Israel that you go to inquire of Baal-zebub?" (v. 3, R.V.). As a man of God, he was called upon to speak on God's behalf. Is there not a great need for definite testimony along this line today, when multitudes are forsaking God, the Fountain of Living Water, and hewing out for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:11-13). Is it because Christ has failed that men seek after the pleasures of sin? Is it because the Gospel of God has lost its power that men go after another gospel? Oh, man of God, be true to your calling, and preach Christ.
II. He was Believed. The turning back of the messengers proved that they were convinced that this man spoke with more than human authority, then, after describing his appearance to the king, he said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite" (v. 8). The manner of the "man of God" cannot be the same as ordinary mortals. If Elijah had addressed them in the fashion in which many preach the Gospel, they would have smiled and went on after their "lying vanities" to the forsaking of their own mercy. (Jonah 2:8). Although they knew not the name of the man, they felt that there was a supernatural ring about his message. "It is Elijah!" It is just like that man who is constantly doing wonders in the name of his God, in turning sinners from the error of their ways.
III. He was Mocked. Ahaziah did not blame his servants from turning back, but that man for predicting his death. So a captain with his fifty men were ordered to apprehend him. They found Elijah on the top of a hill (perhaps Carmel), and, in a tone of contempt and insolence, they said: "You man of God, the king has said, Come down" (v. 9), as if the saying of the king was of greater weight than the message of God. He demanded him to come down. The captain of the second fifty was even more insolent in saying, "Come down quickly." They seemed utterly helpless of themselves to bring him down. There is a hill-top from which no power on earth can bring down a "man of God"—that is the hill-top of peaceful communion in the divine presence. It is the delight of the enemy to get a man of God down. (See Nehemiah 6:2, 3).
IV. He was Vindicated. "Elijah said, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from Heaven," etc. (vv. 10-12). There are those who labor to justify Elijah here, as if Elijah had manufactured the avenging fire, or had prevailed on God to do something derogatory to his holy character. It was the Holy Name of God these captains were sneering at when they spoke so contemptuously of the man of God. The devouring fire was God's vindication of His own Name as represented by His servant Elijah. Our God is a consuming fire, and He will not hold them guiltless who takes His Name in vain. Elijah did not need to vindicate himself, but His God, who is ever jealous of His Holy Name, did it in a most convincing and overwhelming fashion. It is God that justifies. "Take heed, that you despise not one of these little (humble) ones which believe in Me" (Matthew 18:10).
V. He was Feared. The third captain, who came with his fifty, came in a different spirit. He had learned, through the terrible doom of his predecessors, that this seemingly meek and helpless "man of God" was not to be spoken against with impunity. He was a man for whom the Almighty fought, and who had all the forces of Heaven on his side. "He came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him for his life and the life of the fifty." He had discovered that it was not only with the man he had to do, but with the God who was for the man.
VI. He was Obedient. "The angel of the Lord said unto Elijah, Go down with him, and he arose and went" (v. 15). The third captain prevailed, not by commanding the man of God to "come down," but by casting himself down at the prophet's feet. God had respect unto this man's prayer. It was just like a man of God to be ready to render immediate obedience to the Lord whenever His will is made known, whether the call is to go up or go down. "Anywhere with Jesus," says the Christian heart.
VII. He was Faithful. He went down to Samaria, not as a prisoner, but as a prince surrounded with his bodyguard, and fearlessly delivered his unwelcome message to the guilty king (v. 16). He would surely die, because he had sought help from the dead God of Ekron, and had despised the living God of Israel. Every soul that so sins shall surely die. Oh, man, fallen by your sin, and sick unto death, hear His voice of mercy saying, "Look unto Me, and be you saved,... for I am God, and there is none else" -who can deliver. "There is none other Name under Heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Acts 6:12).
ELISHA; Or, EQUIPPED FOR SERVICE. 2 Kings 2:1-15.
While at the plough "Elijah cast his mantle upon him" (1 Kings 19:19). Having been overshadowed with the prophetic mantle, is the sure evidence of being "Called of God." Elisha did not preach as a candidate. The "Call" of God is always accompanied with the needed fitness (see Leviticus 8. vv. 1, 6, 13, 24, 30; Isaiah 6). Let us look at Elisha as a type of the faithful servant of Christ. He—
I. Follows his Master's Footsteps. "As your soul lives, I will not leave you" (vv. 2-6). He followed his master from Bethel—the House of God—to Jordan, the place of Death and Separation. Personal devotion ought to keep us walking closely with the Master (Ruth 1:16). Peter followed afar off, and we know the consequence.
II. Shares his Master's Victory. "The waters were divided, and they two went over on dry ground" (v. 8). As with Elijah, so with Christ, the dark waters of death (Jordan) rolled between him and his ascension into Heaven, but he went through them. We, His followers, now share His victory (Romans 6:4; Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
III. Seeks his Master's Spirit. "Let a double portion of your spirit be upon me" (v. 9). He loved to be with his master, now he seeks to be like him. This is always the outcome of knowing Jesus—the desire to be made conformable (Philippians 3:10). Every Christian has the common portion of the spirit (Romans 8:9). How few seem to have the double portion (Acts 19:2; 1 John 2:27). Covet earnestly the best gifts.
IV. Witnesses his Master's Glory. "Behold there appeared a chariot of fire, and Elijah went up into Heaven. And Elisha saw it" (vv. 11, 12). Having followed Christ unto death and burial by faith, we become eye-witnesses of His Resurrection Glory (Romans 6:11; 2 Peter 1:16, 17). Elisha must follow his master over Jordan to see him taken up. Before Christ lives in us we die with Him (Galatians 2:20). It was such a sight as made him rend his own clothes in pieces (Genesis 37:29).
V. Receives his Master's Gifts. "He took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him" (v. 13). The mantle falling from the ascending master seems emblematic of the Holy Spirit's coming after Jesus was glorified. This holy mantle may be accepted or left unused. To Elisha it was the token of his receiving a double portion of his master's spirit. Without this gift we can never, as we ought beseech men in Christ's stead (2 Corinthians 5:20).
VI. Overcomes in his Master's Name. "He took the mantle and smote the waters, and they parted hither and thither" (v. 14). He overcame by the gift from above. In the name of our Risen Lord, and with the anointing from above, great and mighty things are to be done (Ephesians 3:20). See what Peter accomplished after the mantle of power fell upon him (Acts 2:14).
VII. Manifests his Master's Likeness. "When the sons of the prophets saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah does rest on Elisha" (v. 15). He did his master's works, and so reflected his master's image. Does our life and testimony call forth such a confession (Acts 4:13). Let us rend our own clothes (self-will) in pieces and take up the mantle (Spirit) of our glorified Lord and Master, that we may show forth the power of His resurrection by doing His works (John 14:12-13).
ELIJAH AND CHRIST. 2 Kings 2:1-15.
Arise, the whole course of the Christian life is one grand ascension out of darkness into His marvelous light: out of the self life into the life of God; a forgetting of the things that are behind, and a pressing onward and upward after those things that are above. A resurrected life implies resurrected affections. The manner of Elijah's departure forcibly reminds us of our Lord Jesus Christ, and leads us to think of some other points of resemblance between them. He was like Christ—
I. In the Character of his Ministry. Like our Savior, Elijah was very much alone in the fulfillment of his mission. Both had a definite message from God, both had power to close or open the heavens. Elijah, like our Lord, was reckoned an enemy by those whom he came specially to help. Both were despised, while yet they were dreaded. Elijah's ministry, like Christ's, began by the showing of himself as one whose character had hitherto been unknown (1 Kings 17:1), and ended with a translation.
II. In his Glorious Prospect. Elijah evidently knew that he was to be suddenly taken into Heaven by a whirlwind (vv. 1, 2). He had the blessed hope of passing, in bodily form, into the Kingdom above. So was it also with Jesus Christ after He had passed through the Jordan of death. He said unto Mary, "Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended unto My Father" (John 20:17). Is this not the hope that is set before us? "We shall not all sleep (die), but we must all be changed. In a moment, at the last trumpet, this mortal shall put on immortality." He who "has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).
III. In his Victory over Jordan. The deep, dark waters of Jordan rolled between him and the place of his glorious ascent to the heavenly mansion. They were divided hither and thither when smitten by his mantle. The mantle was the symbol of the prophetic office turned into a weapon of divine power. Jesus Christ overcame the Jordan of death by smiting it with the mantle of His sacred body. "The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You; they were afraid: the depths also were troubled" (Psalm 77:16). By His death on the Cross the waters of sin fled, and the depths of Hell were troubled.
IV. In his Relation to his Followers. "So that they two went over on dry ground." Elijah and his successor were undivided in Jordan, Elisha went down with his master, and, for the time, became buried together with him in this new-made grave. If he had stopped short of this he would have, missed the "double portion." We must be planted together in the likeness of Christ's death if we would be also in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:5, 6). Self must go down into death with Christ if we would rise in newness of life, clothed with His mantle of divine authority (Galatians 2:20,21).
V. In his Gracious Offer. "Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for you before I be taken from you" (v. 9). His loving master is about to vanish out of his sight, but before he goes he, as it were, throws the door of Heaven open, and gives his servant a glimpse of its treasures and the opportunity of "asking what he will." This Christ did when He promised the Holy Spirit to His disciples before He was taken away from them. As Elijah had to go before he could send down the mantle, so Christ had to depart before the Spirit could be given (John 16:7). In promising the Holy Spirit, Christ was like Elijah, putting within the reach of His followers the possibility of "asking what you will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7).
VI. In his Glorious Home-going. "Elijah went up into Heaven,... and he saw him no more" (vv. 11, 12). "The time was coming that He (Christ) should be received up" (Luke 9:51); "and while they beheld," like Elijah, "He was taken up, and received out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). Like Enoch, he walked with God, and he was not, for God took Him. Blessed are all they who are so firmly assured of the glorification of their Master: "Eye-witnesses of His Majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).
VII. In his Special Gift. "Elisha took up the mantle that fell from Elijah, and went back, and smote the waters" (vv. 13-15). Like the disciples in the upper room, he tarried until he had received his master's gift from above—that gift, in the power of which wonders were to be wrought in His name. His master was gone, but now "greater works" were to be done through this heavenly gift, which was to be to him a "double portion." Have we so eagerly appropriated that mantle that has fallen for us in His gift of the Holy Spirit, that the works of our ascended Master may be reproduced by us? Elijah wrought seven miracles, but Elisha with the "double portion of his spirit" was able to perform fourteen (John 14:12). "Have you received the Holy Spirit?" (Acts 19:2).
THE HEALING OF THE WATERS. 2 Kings 2:19-22.
Jericho had come under the blight of the divine curse. Like this sin-ruined world, it could only be restored by the sacrifice of a first-born (Joshua 6:26; Colossians 1:14, 15). All the wealth and wisdom in Jericho could not remove its plague of "bitter waters," neither can the power or wisdom of men stop the outflow, or change the nature, of the bitter waters of sin. The power of the Lord alone is sufficient for all this (v. 21). The need of this city represents the need of every sin-polluted life—divine healing.
I. Its Condition. This is viewed in two different aspects—
1.—Its Situation was Pleasant (v. 9). As far as outward privileges were concerned, everything was favorable. The soil was rich in possibilities, the climate was the finest, the site of the city was delightful. What a picture of a sinner in the midst of favorable circumstances! What possibilities lie within the reach of the soul of man! "The situation is pleasant" of all who are surrounded with Gospel privileges. But these in themselves are not enough.
2.—Its Ground was Barren. Labor as they may, their toil did not bring satisfaction. Those "brackish" waters continually failed to yield them the desire of their hearts. Such is the state of those whose hearts have not been healed by the Word of God. The figs of true satisfaction and the grapes of holy joy cannot grow on the thistle and thorns of man's unrenewed nature. Out of the heart are the issues of life (James 3:11). An evil heart will always send out bitter waters in the sight of God (Matthew 15:19, 20). Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
II. The Remedy.
1.—Its Nature. "A new cruse with salt therein" (v. 20). This "new cruse" may be a fit emblem of the New Testament, with Christ as the salt of salvation therein. The prophet here signifies that the salt represents the healing virtue of Jehovah (v. 21). This salt has never lost its savor. "There is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
2.—Its Application. "He cast the salt into the spring" (v. 21). He did not attempt to heal the streams apart from the fountain. He went straight to the source of the evil at once. The salt could work no healing miracle on the spring until it got into contact with it. Those who go about to establish their own righteousness are trying to purify the stream while the spring remains unhealed. It is not Christ in the Bible that saves, but Christ in the heart. Our Lord cast the salt into the spring of life when He said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again!" "Have salt in yourselves" (Mark 9:50). "Christ in you the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
III. The Results.
1.—There was Healing. "So the waters were healed" (v. 22). The streams were healed, because the fountain head was regenerated. Make the tree good and the fruit will be good. If the heart springs are pure, the streams of action will be pure and healthful. The waters may not be more copious than they were, but they will be much more welcome and beneficial. So will it be with the outcome of the life when Christ comes into the spring of the heart and renews the waters of actions. The healed waters may abide in the same channel, but oh, how different the results! It is a passing from death unto life.
2.—There was Fruitfulness. "There shall not be from thence any more death or barren land" (v. 21). Death and barrenness are turned into life and fruitfulness when the power of the divine transformer gets into the being. It is easy to bring forth good fruits when the disease of sin and impurity have been taken out of the life. Fruit is the outcome of what we are more than of what we do (John 15:4). A polluted heart makes a barren heart. These poisonous waters were changed suddenly, they did not gradually grow better. It was the expulsive power of a new infection. If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His.
FLOODS OF BLESSING IN NEW-MADE DITCHES. 2 Kings 3:6-25.
After the death of Ahab the king of Moab refused to pay his tax of 100,000 lambs and 100,000 rams, with the wool, to Jehoram, the son of Ahab. This led to the union of the three kings and a declaration of war against Moab. Several singular things happened which may be full of significance for us.
I. A Great Need. "There was no water for the host" (v.9). The number of the host was great, and thoroughly equipped with all the implements of warfare, but they were powerless because perishing of thirst. A picture of a Church, thoroughly organized and fully equipped with all the means of warfare, but utterly helpless because the refreshing stream of God's saving power is not among them (Acts 1:8).
II. An Urgent Inquiry. "Is there not a prophet of the Lord, that we inquire of the Lord by him?" (vv. 11-14). What a scene—three kings begging a favor from a man who had but lately left the plough. If the water had been plentiful they would have acted quite independently either of God or Elisha. It was when the prodigal "began to be in want" that he thought of his father's house. The faithful man of God does not fail to remind the king of Israel of his hypocrisy in serving other gods in the day of his prosperity, and then seeking the help of Jehovah when the wells were dry (v. 13). It is the old story of man's pride and poverty. The Lord and His servants are often ignored until the day of affliction comes.
III. A Strange Demand. "But now bring me a minstrel" (v. 15). The prophet respects the presence of Jehoshaphat, and is willing to hear what God the Lord will speak to them through him. His spirit is perhaps somewhat troubled at this unexpected turn of events in the attitude of these kings, and he knows that to hear the "still small voice" of God there must be perfect calmness of soul in His presence. The minstrel might help him to be still that he might know the mind of the Lord (see 1 Samuel 16:23). Music has its place in the service of God, but the mischief in our days is that the people get more interested in the minstrels than in the message of God. In fact, the minstrel is now sometimes found taking the place of the prophet. But the great need of the people is the Word of God.
IV. A Definite Message. "Make this valley full of ditches;... that valley shall be filled with water" (vv. 16, 17). Ditch-making is a very humble work; but the deeper they dig the larger the blessing. Room must be made for the fulfillment of the promise of God. It is but a "light thing in His sight" to send floods of blessing in an unexpected way. The digging of the ditches was an evidence of their faith in God's Word, and that their expectation was from Him. They believed, and therefore prepared the way for the promised waters. Are we making any ditches in the valleys of our Christian experience, where the river of God might enter and remain as an abiding blessing? Prepare you the way. Make room for God.
V. An Abundant Supply. "In the morning, when the meat-offering was offered, . . . the country was filled with water" (v. 20). This labor of faith was abundantly rewarded, for every man's ditch became a well of water. The blessing of God, it made them rich. Of His fullness did they all receive. There was no excuse for their continuing in a state of paralyzing thirst after God had given them this great gift. They would not be such fools as to refuse to accept the gift until they could understand its source, and course, and character. It was the river of life to them; it was near even in their own ditches, and there was all-sufficiency for all. God's answer to the prayer of faith will always be to the full. Give to Him, and it shall be given unto you again "full measure, pressed down, and running over" (Luke 6:38).
VI. A Twofold Result. The Moabites deluded, and the Israelites saved (vv. 21 -25). That which was the means of bringing deliverance to the one brought destruction to the other. The same Gospel, which is a savor of life to the believer, is a savor of death to the doubter. These waters, which brought salvation to the host, appeared to the Moabites only as the blood of the slain. There are those still who can see nothing in God's great provision, as revealed in Calvary's Cross, but the blood of the martyr. Because of their sin God had sent these Moabites a strong delusion, so that they all believed a lie, that they all might be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12). For if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4). This stream of salvation, like the pillar of cloud, was not what it seemed to be in the eyes of the ungodly. So with the preaching of the Cross; to them that perish it is foolishness, but to the saved it is the power of God. "Now, therefore, Moab to the spoil" was their cry, as soon as they believed that the host had been "smiting one another." Whenever the Lord's people take to smiting one another the enemy will hasten to the spoil. But in this case they walked by sight, and were deluded and defeated. The leaders of the host believed the message of God at the lips of Elisha, prepared the ditches, and in answer to the cry of these empty channels the gift of God came, and was received; then, in the strength of that gift, they overcame. "Thanks be unto God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57).
THE WIDOW'S OIL; Or, GRACE SUFFICIENT. 2 Kings 4:1-7.
Seasons of affliction are common to all, but only the children of God have wonders wrought for them in such experiences. It is on the cloudy day that the rainbow of His promise is most easily seen. There is always a fruitful "afterwards" to those whose souls are exercised in the day of trouble (Hebrews 12:11). It was while the Israelites were in the desert that they saw the glory of God's goodness in giving them bread from Heaven and water from the flinty rock. This widow of one of the sons of the prophets has been brought into deep water, but see how God in His infinite grace and power was able to supply all her need. Observe the order—
I. Destitution Confessed. "She cried, saying, The creditor is come to take my two sons to be bondsmen" (v. 1). Her husband is dead, and being hopelessly in debt, her sons, who are her only hope for the future, are about to be sold. What a sorrowful plight! Yet she honestly confesses the whole truth. Such were some of us when the law as a merciless creditor came suddenly upon us, saying, "Pay me that you owe" (Matthew 18:28), and when we discovered that we had "nothing with which to pay" (Luke 7:42), that we were already "sold under sin." Being shut up to faith, what else could we do but cry unto Him who is the true Elisha, "the mighty to save?"
II. Grace Offered. "What shall I do for you?" (v. 2). Elisha, as God's representative, flings back, as it were, the door of heavenly privilege that she might ask what she will. It was the offer of grace sufficient for all her need. So poor was she that she had nothing in the house "save a pot of oil." But poverty is no obstacle in the presence of Almighty grace and fullness (Luke 18:41). It is those who think that they have need of nothing who shut the Savior outside of their lives (Rev. 3:20). What shall I do for you? "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it" (Psalm 81:10).
III. Preparation Needed. "Go, borrow you vessels, empty vessels, not a few" (v. 3). As yet, she had no room for the great blessing God was about to give her. It is wonderful how even our neighbors, by their kindness or otherwise, may supply us with that which will enrich us with heavenly blessing. The borrowing of empty vessels was an exercise of faith. She believed that she might see. It was so with the Israelites when they made the "valley full of ditches" (2 Kings 3:16-20). The relative value of each vessel to her was according to its capacity for receiving. This is also God's manner of dealing with His vessels of grace (2 Corinthians 12:10).
IV. Faith Rewarded. "She poured out, and the vessels were filled" (vv. 5, 6). It was a great crisis in this woman's life when she "shut the door upon her and her sons," and ventured, as in the presence of God alone, to claim the promise by faith. When one has made up his or her mind to "shut the door" and definitely prove God, there will surely be a marvelous outpouring of the oil of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 6:6). She could not make the oil, any more than we can manufacture the saving grace of God, but she could hold the vessel and trust God to cause the outflow. Her faith was rewarded to the very uttermost, for every empty vessel was filled.
V. Blessing Hindered. "There was not a vessel more; and the oil stayed" (v. 6). As long as there was an empty vessel, and faith to use the gift of God, there was no lack. His grace was made sufficient. We are never straitened in God, but always in ourselves, when the flow of His blessing is stayed. Whenever our conscious weakness gives place to self-satisfaction, then the oil of His Spirit's power is hindered and arrested (Micah 2:7). The blessings of His grace, although in Him there is infinite fullness, yet are they too precious to be poured out and spilt where there is not the empty vessel of a needy heart. Grace can only be given to meet a real need (2 Corinthians 12:9). There are those who talk joyfully of the times past, when the God-given oil flowed freely. But why is it stayed now? (Judges 16:20). No more emptiness!
VI. Deliverance Accomplished. "Go, sell the oil, and pay your debt" (v. 7). Having received the gift of God, she is able now to meet all the claims of the creditor. She and her sons were saved by grace alone. The claims of a broken law can only be fully met by us through the infinite grace of God brought to us by Jesus Christ; by that love of God which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and which is the "fulfilling of the law." If these sons were asked how they were saved from bondage, they could truly say, by the "gift of God." It is not otherwise with us (John 3:16).
VII. Provision Made. "Live you and your children of the rest" (v. 7). The oil, which saved them from debt and slavery, was also to sustain them day by day. The children of Israel were not only saved by the blood of the lamb, but sustained by feasting on it (Exod. 12:8). Christ came not only to redeem us from the curse of the law, but also to satisfy us daily, as the "bread of God" which came down from Heaven. Live you and your children by faith upon the Son of God, who paid all your debt upon Calvary's Cross. What is still left, through His grace for you and your, is sufficient for all your needs, both for time and eternity.
THE GREAT SHUNAMMITE; Or, FEATURES OF A CHRISTIAN WOMAN. 2 Kings 4:8-37.
Shunem lay on the road between Samaria and Carmel, where was a school of the prophets. How refreshing would the little chamber and the Shunammite's care be after a weary tramp of thirty miles in the heat and over the warm dust of an eastern road. The Lord has many a way of digging wells of refreshing for heavenly pilgrims. Those who give even a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, like this good Shunammite, they shall not lose their reward. This woman was great in the sight of the Lord. Observe wherein her greatness consisted. She was:
I. Benevolent. "She constrained him to eat bread" (v. 8). The love of God is not in our heart if our charity acts only like an echo. The love of Christ did not wait to be solicited (Romans 5:8).
II. Discerning. "I perceive that this is a holy man of God" (v. 9). Being herself pure in heart, she could see God in the prophet (Matthew 5:8). Pride and self-conceit so blind the minds of some that they cannot distinguish between a prophet and a profligate. Devotion is branded as cant (John 10:20).
III. Contented. "What is to be done for you?" she answered, "I dwell among mine own people" (v. 13). A grumbling wife makes a cloudy home. Godliness, with contentment, is great gain. The divine recipe for discontent is given in Hebrews 13:5, 6.
IV. Sober-minded. She said, "You man of God, do not lie unto your handmaid" (v. 16). The promise of a son seemed too much for her to expect. So she reminded Elisha that he was a man of God, and as such he should not flatter for favor. In her soul she hated unreality, and loved the truth. She would have been poor company for clamoring gossips.
V. Submissive. She said, "It shall be well" (v. 23). Although her beloved child had died, with impressive resignation she said, "It shall be well." The greatest of all Sufferers, when in the flood of affliction, "opened not His mouth," knowing that "It shall be well." You have heard of the patience of Job.
VI. Believing. When asked, "Is it well with the child?" she answered, "It is well." It is easy saying, "It is well," while the tide of prosperity continues to flow. It takes faith to say it amidst the gloom of death (Job 13:15). Doubtless this is one of the women we read of in Hebrews 11:35. Faith is always rewarded.
VII. Persevering. "I will not leave you" (v. 30). She had faith in the prophet, and would not go without a blessing. Think of the effect of Jacob's faith (Genesis 32:26). We have no unjust judge to deal with; then why do we prevail so seldom? (Luke 18).
VIII. Successful. He said, "Take up your son. She went in and fell at his feet" (v. 37). She was not so taken up with the blessing as to forget the blesser. Mother, beware lest you be more concerned about the prosperity of your family than the honor of your Lord and Master (Matthew 6:33).
LIFE THROUGH THE LIVING; Or, HOW TO WIN SOULS. 2 Kings 4:18-35.
That was a dark and cloudy day for this woman of Shunem, when her only son died suddenly on her knees "at noon" (v. 20). In her distress she hastens to him through whom she had been blessed, whose promise she had already tested. "Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." This far-seeing woman would neither trust the prophet's servant nor the staff on which he leaned, her faith was in himself (v. 30). It would be good for every troubled one to learn the same lesson. Christ Himself is the source of blessing, not His servant, nor even the staff of His Word. Without the Spirit of Life, even the Word on which He leaned as on a staff will be powerless to waken the dead in sin (2 Corinthians 3:6). It was undoubtedly the will of God that this child of promise should be raised and restored. We have here two efforts made to do this—the one a complete failure, the other a perfect success.
I. Gehazi, or the Failure of Formalism. This man seems to be typical of a class of Christian workers that are not uncommon in our own days. He was—
1. Obedient. He was ready to run at any moment at his master's bidding. He has a powerful conviction that he ought to obey (v. 26). No man is more important than he is when about his master's business. He is faithful to the letter of the word, "saluting no man by the way" (v. 29). He will magnify his office if he should never be the means of helping a soul out of the darkness of death into the light of life.
2. Unsympathetic. He had no word of encouragement for this sorrowful woman, but would have "thrust her away," had not his gracious master said, "Let her alone" (v. 27). He had no eye to see a "vexed soul," but was quick to discern anything irregular or disorderly in her manner. He would stick up for rule and order, even when burdened souls are agonizing for the Spirit of Life. He is the brother of those who are destitute of spiritual discernment, and who work for the master because they are paid for it.
3. Prayerless. "Go your way, and lay my staff upon the face of the child" (v. 29). It would appear that Elisha sent his servant with his staff, either to test the woman's faith, to humble the servant's pride, or perhaps just to get rid of him for the time being. At any rate, Gehazi went off with the staff, and was evidently so full of self-importance and conceit that he felt no need of crying to God for His mighty power to accompany his effort in trying to awaken the dead. Self-confidence is inconsistent with the prayer of faith.
4. Powerless. "The child is not awaked" (v. 31) It was the prophet's staff right enough, but the prophet was lacking. It is not enough that you preach the truth, the mere letter of the Word will not raise the dead any more than the staff of the prophet. It is the Spirit that quickens. We may lay the very Word of Christ, like a staff, upon the face of a congregation fifty times a year, but none will be "awaked" unless there is the prayer of faith and the laying on of ourselves for the salvation of men. Those who think that they are doing their duty by going through the form of religious service are not likely to see the dead raised by their instrumentality.
II. Elisha, or the Victory of Faith. The manner of this man of God is in sharp contrast to the formalism of his heartless servant. There was—
1. Real Sympathy. His heart was deeply stirred on behalf of the sorrowing woman (v. 27). He felt keenly the great importance of the occasion, although the Lord had hid the secret of it from him. Until the heart of the servant of God is moved with compassion by that cry of need, so often raised at our own feet through sin and death, there is little hope of that servant ever accomplishing any great deliverance in the Name of God.
2. Believing Prayer. "He went in and shut the door, and prayed unto the Lord" (v. 33). Human sympathy is good, but not enough to meet the needs of the case. Brotherly love is sweet, but brotherly love will not raise the dead. It is the man in whose heart the love of God is who is most deeply conscious of his own weakness, and of the need of the forth-putting of the power of God. We can say our prayers when we don't expect anything special to be done; but if we would see souls delivered from the dominion of death, there must be a definite dealing with the Living God for this one thing (Matthew 6:6).
3. Personal Consecration. "He went in and stretched himself upon the child" (v. 34). It was not his staff or anything else that he possessed, but himself that he gave for the carrying out of this great work. Was not the Lord Jesus Christ stretching Himself upon the face of this dead world's need when He submitted to be stretched upon the Cross? Christ gave Himself for us; Elisha gave himself for the child. There is no other way of winning souls but by believing prayer and personal consecration to the work. The spiritually dead need the embracing of the living (Acts 20:10). Embrace them in your heart's affections and in your prayer of faith before God. Give yourself to the work, and look to God for the life-giving power. Son of man, can these bones live? You know. Prophesy (Ezekiel 37:3, 4).
4. Good Success. "The child opened his eyes" (v. 35). He believed and labored to see the goodness of God in his revival, and he saw it. He went forth, as it were, weeping in sympathy, bearing the precious seed of believing prayer and self-sacrificing effort, and he comes back rejoicing, bringing the sheaf of victory with him. Believe, and you shall see the glory of God in raising the dead (John 11:40). Sometimes preachers are led to say, like the despairing Corinthians, "How are the dead raised up?" (1 Corinthians 15:35). Let us learn here that they are not raised up by the application of forms and ordinances and dead works, but by the power of the Living God, through a living, believing, consecrated life. All life has its source in the living. Spontaneous generation is unknown, both in nature and in grace.
DEATH IN THE POT. 2 Kings 4:38-41.
Elisha came back to Gilgal, from whence he started his memorable journey with Elijah (chapter 2:1). The sons of the prophets are "sitting before him," and although there was a "dearth in the land," there seemed to be no dearth in their souls. After Elisha had finished his lecture to the students he gave orders to his servant to "set on the great pot." Seeing that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine," we may surely look for some profitable doctrine in this miraculous healing of the poisoned food. We would not dare to say that the pot is a type of the "faith once delivered unto the saints," but it might be profitable for us to look at it as an illustration of it.
I. The Great Pot. Like the faith once delivered unto the saints—
1. It was Common Property. It belonged to no one in particular, but was the property of the whole school of prophets, and every one was bound to care for it. The Gospel ministry has not been committed to any individual or sect, but is the property of the whole Church of God.
2. It was the Center of a Common Interest. Especially at dinner time, they all received out of the one pot. In this time of famine there was no other source whereby their hunger could be appeased. What the great pot meant to their empty stomachs the Gospel of God should mean to our hungry souls. The Gospel is always a center of interest to those who are experiencing a dearth in their land.
II. The Startling Discovery. "O you man of God, there is death in the pot." The poison of death had got into the pot, although—
1. It was put in Unintentionally. The man who went out and gathered his lap full of wild gourds and shred them into the pot knew them not. They looked harmless, and so their pernicious character was not discovered. Seeing that these were new things and their nature unknown to them, surely they ought to have been tested before they were passed as wholesome food. Because a man claims to be a son of the Church, that is no reason why he should be allowed to empty the wild gourds of his "destructive criticism" into the Gospel pot. He may be doing it, like this son of the prophet, with an honorable purpose, but it is poisonous all the same. The man who put them in was not more blameworthy than those who consented to him doing it. They were all alike guilty, for we read that "they knew them not."
2. It Spoiled all that was in the Pot. There were, no doubt, many good and wholesome things in the pot, but when this new death-working element was introduced it vitiated the whole. The good things lost all their virtue in the presence of this powerful deadly thing. Do we wonder that the truths of the Gospel are being neutralized in our days, when so many new, unproven, and poisonous theories are being shred into the Gospel ministry. The general effect is just the same as the wild gourds in the pot—the whole is spoiled, and nobody is the better of it. The Gospel will never be helped by our putting into it things that we know not.
3. It Put an End to their Eating. As soon as they discovered that the contents were polluted at once they gave up taking it. They could not satisfy themselves with poisoned food. Who would blame them for refusing all that was in the pot when once they had found out that there was "harm" in it? Who shall ever be able to satisfy their conscience with a poisoned Gospel? As soon as men believe that the Word of God is untrustworthy they will cease to take it. The inevitable consequence of allowing the self-gathering and pernicious thoughts of men to mingle with the pure, soul-satisfying thoughts of God is to taint the whole with poison and make it an unpalatable mixture good for nothing.
4. It was Instantly Reported. They did not whisper to one another to say nothing about it, and that it would come all right in the end. Immediately they tasted it they cried out, "O man of God, there is death in the pot." They never thought of attempting to minimize the mischief wrought by praising the good qualities of the man who had gathered the "wild gourds." Actuated by common sense, they said the sooner this deadly thing is exposed and removed the better.
III. The Effectual Remedy. The prophet's answer was, "Then bring meal." The meal was cast into the pot, "and there was no harm in the pot." The—
1. Means Appointed. "Meal." That which was perfectly sound and wholesome. The emblem of a pure Gospel. But the meal had to be cast "into the pot." It could not save the pottage by remaining in the barrel. It must be brought into contact with those evils which it is meant to heal. Moreover, the meal must be accompanied with the power of God, for, of itself, it could never counteract the destructive influence of the deadly gourds. So it is with the pure, nutritious Gospel of Christ. It is not enough to cast it into the deadly pots of men's minds; unless it is accompanied with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the death-working power of error and sin will not be overcome. The sons of the prophets were not asked to make the meal, they had but to bring it.
2. Results Produced. "There was no harm in the pot." The evil had been overcome with the good. The meal, like the incorruptible seed of the Word in the heart, puts all right, and gives these hungry souls a satisfying feast. The Gospel of Christ is the power of God to every one that believes; for "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25).
NAAMAN, THE LEPER. 2 Kings 5:1-15.
"Man should be humble: you are very proud,
And God dethroned has doleful plagues for such!"—Browning.
Naaman, the leper, occupies pretty much the same place in the Old Testament as the "Prodigal Son" does in the New. The story is both well-known and well-worn, and has been the means of bringing the light of salvation into many a soul. These are wonderful words of life, let us tell them over again. See here a—
I. Blighted Life. Naaman had almost all that a man of the world could wish in the way of honor, and fame, and success, but there was a sore in his life that all the praise and wealth of the world could not heal—"he was a leper" (v. 9). Like the rich young ruler, there were many things which he did not lack, but he did lack "one thing"—purity. He was unclean. Wherever sin has dominion, it casts its withering blight over the whole character; but not until it becomes a conscious presence does it mar the false peace of the heart.
II. Faithful Testimony. This "little maid" had evidently profited by her godly upbringing. The God of "the prophet that was in Samaria" was to her an Almighty Savior. She had convictions that were both real and deep, and she was not afraid to speak them out. "Would God that my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria, for he would recover him of his leprosy" (v. 3). This was a simple, child-like testimony, but it is the kind of testimony that is everywhere needed, and that is sure to be blessed. It was the testimony of faith given at the right time and in the right spirit. "We speak that we do know." This "little maid" was the first "girl preacher."
III. False Interpretation. "The king of Syria said, Go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel." So Naaman departed. Sent by a king to a king, and taking with him the princely gift of something like the value of 12,000, seemed to them the proper way to go about the matter of salvation from the curse of leprosy (vv. 5, 6). Yes, this is that "worldly wisdom" which completely sets aside that Gospel of Grace preached by the little maid, and which is still preached through Jesus Christ. "It is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saves us" (Luke 18:13, 14). Those guided by mere natural wisdom make no allowance for the grace of God. They will not buy "without money" (Isaiah 55:1).
IV. Merciful Message. "Go and wash in Jordan seven times, . . . and you shall be clean" (vv. 8-10). Nothing but trouble and disappointment could come by going to the king instead of the prophet. There was none other Name given among men whereby he could be saved (Acts 4:12). The means was within easy reach. "Wash in Jordan." The promise was sure. "You shall be clean." The prophet kept himself out of sight that Naaman's faith might be in God and not in man. The true herald of the Gospel does not seek the honor of men, but he will have a definite message of certain salvation for every anxious inquirer. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved."
V. Rebellious Spirit. "Naaman was wroth, . . . and went away in a rage" (vv. 11, 12). Why did this God-sent message of salvation from the lips of the prophet come to his heart like a spear thrust instead of a healing balm? Because of his pride and false notions of the God of salvation. He said, "I thought he will surely come out to me," etc. No, that proud "I" and that haughty leprous "me" must be broken down before God's saving power can be enjoyed. The simple message of the Gospel of Christ cuts at the roots of all preconceived opinions and self-efforts of men. Naaman, or any other man, may wash as often as he likes in the "rivers of Damascus," but there is no regenerating virtue in them, because there God has not put his promise. All our own works are godless, therefore utterly powerless to save us.
VI. Surrendered Will. "Then went he down and dipped himself seven times in Jordan" (v. 14). Then! When? After he had been reasoned with by his sensible servants. These simple-minded men were quick to see that their master, the "mighty man in valor," was stumbling at the simplicity of the remedy. He was quite prepared to do "some great thing," but not this self-abasing foolish thing. But he changed his mind, and "then went down" with the definite purpose of putting the Word of God given to him through the prophet to the test. As soon as his mind "was made up to accept this new way of cleansing, the rest was easily and quickly done. His going down was the evidence that he had now believed the message of grace sent him. The faith that does not lead to a personal acceptance of Christ is a dead faith. "You will not come to Me that you might have life" (John 5:40).
VII. Changed Man. "His flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (v. 14). He became a new creature through the obedience of faith (Matthew 18:3). His faith was also evidenced by a cleansed life. "The flesh of a little child" signifies not only perfect cleansing from his foul disease, but the renewing of his youth. What a perfect illustration this is of the wonderworking power of the Gospel of Christ! "If any man be in Christ he is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." This great change was followed, as it ever should be, by an open confession. "Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel" (v. 15). Truly may those, who have been loosed from their sins by the Blood of Christ, say, like the king of old, "There is no other God that can deliver after this sort" (Daniel 3:29). "You shall be witnesses unto Me."
GEHAZI; Or, SIN FOUND OUT. 2 Kings 5:20-27.
"My very thoughts are selfish, always building
Mean castles in the air;
I use my love of others for a gilding
To make myself look fair.
Alas! no speed in life can snatch us wholly
Out of self's hateful sight."—Faber.
Every attempt to build a God-pleasing character on the foundation of self-interest is to build a "castle in the air." These castles only look substantial in the eyes of the foolish builders, they have actually no existence in the sight of God. Take heed where you build as well as what you build (Matthew 7:26, 27). Gehazi tried this kind of castle-building, but was doomed to a fearful disappointment. Mark his—
I. Special Privilege. He was "the servant of Elisha, the man of God" (v. 20). The name Gehazi means a "valley of vision," and very fitly represents his honorable position. Many a vision of the power and goodness of God did he get through the acts and words of his divinely-anointed master. Although he lived and moved in a spiritual atmosphere, yet it seemed to be with all the pride and self-importance of an unconverted beadle. Spiritual influences and opportunities have about as little effect on some souls as the sunshine has on a toad. They can sit for years under a Gospel ministry and yet be nothing the better of it in the end.
II. Selfish Purpose. "As the Lord lives, I will run after him and take somewhat off him" (v. 20). No doubt the temptation was exceptionally great to a covetous man. Here was an unprecedented opportunity of making himself rich without robbing his master just by inventing a simple plausible pretense. But this "I will" of his was an act of rebellion against the spirit and honor of his master and of his God. In a few moments, and within the domain of his own soul, was the battle between good and evil fought, which resulted in the surrender of his will to do the evil thing. In making such a decision he revealed a sinful distrust in God; a desire to usurp His providence. "The love of money is the root of all evil."
III. Deceitful Work. As soon as his mind was made up to do this dastardly deed he goes into it with all earnestness, so he runs after Naaman, and begins his lying tale with "My master has sent me," etc. (vv. 21, 22). After the poison had entered his heart, his first utterance is a lie against his master. No servant of Christ can act falsely without bringing grief to his Master's heart, even if it should not at the time cast any dishonor upon His Name in the eyes of men. As soon as the love of money strikes its roots into the heart, covetousness and falsehood must appear in the life as seen by God. Satan is an unchangeable adept in the black are of lying (Acts 5:3). Resist him.
IV. Seeming Success. His plan to get for himself the silver and the garments succeeded beyond his expectation. Instead" of getting one talent of silver he got two, and, moreover, two of Naaman's servants to carry the spoil back to his own house. How very fortunate (v. 23). What are his thoughts as he walks behind those servants carrying the bags and garments all for his own use? Does it pay to be a hypocrite? Are bags of silver and garments of beauty sufficient compensation for a violated conscience? To be clothed in purple robes and to fare sumptuously every day is not the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:19). "The Kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." Asaph said, "I was envious when I saw the prosperity of the wicked... Until I went into the sanctuary of God, then understood I their end" (Psalm 73:3-17). Will the eternal end justify the means? Will success atone for sin?
V. Unexpected Discovery. "He went in and stood before his master" as he had often done before, and as if nothing had happened to mar their fellowship or hinder his service. Have we never been guilty of the same thing in seeking to maintain our standing before our Master while there is unconfessed sin in the heart? Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Be sure your sin will find you out in rendering you unfit for service. Elisha said unto him, "Whence come you?" and Gehazi said, "Your servant went no where" (v. 25). Here is an attempt at self-justification, the fatal refuge of a backslider. He who covers his sins shall not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes his sins shall find mercy. Elisha's words must have come with a pride-withering effect when he said, "Went not mine heart with you?... Is it a time to receive money?" etc. (v. 26). His secret sin is naked and bare before the eyes of his master. Does not the heart of our Lord and Master always go with us? Must we not stand before Him too to give an account of the deeds done in the body? Shall our final appearing bring shame or reward? Is this a time to be seeking after selfish gain and honor when we ought to be seeking only the glory of God? "You are not your own" (1 Corinthians 6:19).
VI. Terrible Punishment. "He went out from his presence a leper as white as snow." His covetousness led him to err from the faith, and to pierce himself through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10). (1) There was the sorrow of a personal humiliation and shame. "He was a leper." (2) The sorrow of being alienated from his master. "He went out from his presence." (3) The sorrow of bringing his offspring into the same condemnation. "The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto you and unto your seed " (v. 27). No man lives unto himself. Gehazi, having loved this present world, and having denied God for greed of gain, seems to have become a castaway from the service of God, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?" What is a man profited in the end if he lays up treasures on earth and is not rich towards God? And what shall it profit his children though, if they inherit his earthly riches, they also inherit his earthly spirit?
THE BORROWED AXE; Or, LOST POWER. 2 Kings 6:1-7.
The hypocritical Gehazi had gone out smitten with the leprosy of Naaman; branded with a life-long shame and dishonor (vv. 5-27). Surely it is significant that in the very next verse we should read, "Behold, now the place wherein we dwell with you is too strait for us" (v. 1). The little meeting-house suddenly became too small when the false professor is excommunicated. The Church of God ought to be a growing concern, for it is the most important and best-established business on earth. The incoming of new members into the society of "the sons of the prophets" sets them all astir to seek the enlargement of their place. Fresh converts are sure to bring fresh blood and interest into a congregation. But how is the thing to be done? They propose not to have a bazaar or a sale of work, but to have a deal of work. "Let us go into Jordan, and take thence every man a beam." Every member of this Church was a worker, but some were wiser than others, for one said to Elisha, "Be content to go with us." The others seemingly would have been content to go without the master. Alas! that this class of worker should be so numerous. Interested in the "building fund," and in the general good of the Church, but indifferent about the presence and fellowship of Christ. This one who took to praying for the master's presence with them was the one who did most for the work. If the master had not been there when the head of one of their few axes fell in Jordan, their special effort would have been seriously hindered. Moses prayed, "If Your presence go not, carry us not up hence" (Exod. 23:15). They that wait on the Lord shall exchange strength. Except the Lord build the city they labor in vain that build it. Let us now see what lessons we may learn from the man who lost his axe. The vital point of interest in this incident finds its center here.
I. He Lost his Power for Service. As soon as the "axe-head fell into the water" he became helpless for effective work. Once he had power, now it is gone, and gone suddenly and quite unexpectedly. It is possible for a Christian worker to lose his or her power in service for God. There is a something that every servant of Christ ought to have which corresponds to the "axe-head," and without which our labor will only be a piece of useless formality—that something is the presence of the Spirit of God. Where the Spirit is grieved, there power for service is lost (Judges 16:20).
II. He Lost his Power while Working. It was while he was "felling a beam" that the axe-head fell off. His power was not lost through laziness or idleness. He had a mind to work, but had no mind to watch that the axe was not slowly slipping off the haft. It is good to be willing to work; it is safe to be willing to pray. It is possible to be so carried away with the desire for doing as to be forgetful of the spirit in which the thing should be done. Any uprising of pride and self-interest in the heart while doing service for God is a slackening of the axe-head of spiritual power, which may end in total separation if not attended to at once.
III. He Lost that which was not his Own. "Alas, master! for it was borrowed." This point is beautifully applicable to the Christian worker, because all his power for service is borrowed power, and he is accountable to his Lord for how it is used. The Lord Jesus Christ has given to His servants that with which they are to trade in His Name until He comes (Luke 19:13-22). The gift of the Holy Spirit is, as it were, a loan made over to every servant of Christ, by which they may accomplish great things for the honor of His Name. Have you borrowed and lost this wonder-working gift. In ourselves we have no power to lose. In me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. "All power is given unto Me" (Matthew 28:18), says the Risen One, therefore go you borrowing from Me.
IV. He was Painfully Conscious of his Loss. "Alas!" As soon as the axe-head disappeared he felt that further effort was useless, and, like a sensible man, he gave it up at once until things were put right again. Any amount of eloquence, earnestness, and good intentions will never make up for the loss of the keen-cutting edge of spiritual power. If the man had gone on swinging the headless handle as if nothing had happened he would have been looked upon by his brethren as one beside himself. Yet in reality he would not have been more silly than the preacher who continues the round of religious services destitute of the power of the Holy Spirit. Of course, those who go to this work, without borrowing this heavenly implement, will go on slaving away, beating the air, quite unconscious of the fact that they are attempting to fell trees with a headless haft. When will the servants of God learn to stop and examine themselves and their methods when they see their work fruitless? Tarry until you be endued with power from on high.
V. He Immediately Appealed to his Master. "Alas, master!" To whom else could he go? If the man of God cannot help him, who can? If you find that you have lost power to make headway in the work of the Lord, do not sit down and try to content yourself with the thought that it cannot be helped. It can be helped. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Tell Him plainly that you have lost your power to win souls, and that you can do nothing until this power is restored. What a dishonor it would be to God if Elisha was not able to restore! Shall your Master fail to make good that which you ought to have for the glory of His own Name if you so commit your case into His hands?
VI. He had it Miraculously Restored. "The man of God said, Where fell it? and he showed him the place. He cut a stick and cast it in,... and the iron did swim,... and he put out his hand and took it" (vv. 6, 7).
1. He Got it where he Lost it. There was no other place where he could find it. There is no use of seeking for lost power in longer prayers and better sermons when it has been lost through worldliness and self-seeking. If power for God has been lost through the worry and excitement of much serving, it can never be regained by an increase of that worry and excitement. You will find your lost power for service back at that place where you failed to reckon on the Holy Spirit, and went on in your own wisdom and strength.
2. He Got it through a Miracle. Elisha made the "iron to swim." Every enduement of power is a miracle of grace wrought through the casting in of that stick called the Cross. If is the gift of God, and always comes in a supernatural way. If God has made this gift of power to swim before your eyes as a great possibility brought within your reach, then, like this man, "put out your hand and take it."
A BLIND SERVANT. 2 Kings 6:8-17
The weapons of a "man of God" are not carnal, tat spiritual. Elisha was able through his wonderful spiritual insight to save the king of Israel, "not once nor twice" from the trap set for him by the king of Syria (vv. 9, 10). They go to spy the prophet out, and come back, saying, "Behold he is in Dothan." Therefore a great host is sent by night to compass the city and capture the man of vision. This praying man is a mightier obstacle to the king of Syria than the army of Israel. Oh, what power lies within the reach of that one who is in favorable contact with God! Elisha was a man whose eyes God had opened to see invisible things, but he had a servant who was spiritually blind. A "young man" (v. 17) who had just lately come into office after the deceitful Gehazi had gone out a leper. There are some lessons of vital importance here. We may learn that—
I. There are Unseen Realities. Elisha said, "They that be with us are more than they that be with them" (v. 16). This man of God lived by faith and endured, like Moses, as seeing the forces that are invisible. We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen and eternal. To have this vision that discerns spiritual things is to be saved from the fear of man", and to be always confident of victory in the Name of God. "Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world." "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). These spiritual things are not created by faith, but revealed to faith, as light does any earthly object. Did not our Lord believe that there were more than twelve legions of angels ready at His bidding to defend Him? (Matthew 26:53).
II. Some Men are Blind to these Realities. When Elisha's servant saw that host of Syrians compassing the city he said, "Alas, master! how shall we do?" (v. 15). Like the unbelieving spies, this young man could only see with those carnal unanointed eyes which can never see God's way of deliverance. The heavenly host was also there, but the servant had no eyes to see it. To him their condition was hopeless. "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Spiritual blindness, if it does not lead to fear and despair, will certainly lead to pride and self-confidence. "How shall we do?" Shall we surrender to these forces of evil that are round about us, or shall we make a desperate effort to escape? Shall we allow ourselves to become captive to the power of this world, or shall we fight them in our own strength? Uttered or unuttered, this is all the salvation that the unenlightened know.
III. The Lord Alone can Give this New Vision.
"Lord, I pray You, open his eyes that he may see" (v. 17). Elisha did not argue with his servant; he knew that spiritual things could only be seen through spiritual eyes. "Things which eye saw not...God has revealed unto us through the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:10, R.V.). Secret things belong to God Those hidden treasures of spiritual strength—mountain full of horses and chariots of fire— can only be seen and trusted by those who have received the holy eye-salve of Him who has all power in Heaven and on earth (Rev. 3:18). No amount of learning or scholarship will ever be able to do the work of this eye-salve, which is the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that quickens.
IV. Spiritual Sight Might be Given in Answer to Prayer. "Elisha prayed, and said: Lord, I pray You, open his eyes." How confidently that man can pray who lives and moves with opened eyes, as in the presence of God, and among the realities of eternity. It is easy for the man of God to pray the prayer of faith (James 5:17). Blessed is that servant who has such a Master. Is it not your heavenly Master's will that your eyes should be so opened that you might see clearly those unfailing forces that are for you, that you might be more than conquerors? To pray a servant's eyes open, that he may see that cloud of witnesses, with which he also is compassed about, is to bring him into newness of life. If this is "the second blessing" it is a great one.
V. Opened Eyes Brings Rest and Satisfaction. "The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." Before he could only see the enemy round about the city. The host of God was there, not to preserve the city, but the man of faith. You are the salt of the earth. What a revelation this was to that young man trembling with fear, and what a cure it would be for all his doubts and alarms! He could now truly say, "God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid" (Isaiah 12:2). This great saving vision now centers round the Cross of Christ. It is there on Mount Calvary, the opened eyes can see the hell-conquering chariots of God's mercy, grace, and power. This is the vision that delivers from the fear of death and the fear of man, that brings peace and rest to the soul, that inspires to praise and service, and with the hope of eternal victory. "Believe, and you shall see!"
THE LEPERS' DISCOVERY. 2 Kings 7:1-16.
The famine was so great in Samaria that the almost fleshless head of an donkey was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and some women went the length of boiling and eating their own offspring (Chapter 6:25-29). The whole city was overshadowed with a dismal death-cloud, when suddenly a message of hope and salvation is heard from the lips of the man of God. "Tomorrow a measure of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel" (v. 1). This was God's Gospel to a perishing people. How the tidings would fly among the famishing inhabitants! But who would believe the report? How could this thing be? This message was not revealed to reason, but to faith. So it is with the Gospel of salvation. Believe, and you shall see! We shall view this incident in connection with these four lepers. Note their—
I. Miserable Condition. "There were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate" (v. 3). According to Jewish tradition these men were Gehazi and his three sons. If so, it is a terrible sequel to the sin of deceit and greed of gain (vv. 5-20). Their state, like every one outside the Kingdom of God's saving grace, is pitiful in the extreme. They were unclean; they were outcasts; they were helpless and hopeless; they were ready to perish as they sat by the gate of a famine-stricken city. This is not an overdrawn picture of the man who is, by personal impurity, guilty before God, and who sits waiting for help at the gate of a world that is famishing for lack of that knowledge of God, which is the "Bread of Life."
II. Intense Anxiety. "Why sit we here until we die?" They are now fully awakened to a sense of their terrible plight. They used to be quite content to sit still and take things as they came, but now they realize that to continue in this indifference means for them certain death. They are now ready to do anything, if so be that they might be saved. Although they were unclean, they were not now unreasonable, for they were quite prepared to accept the only hope of salvation set before them (v. 4). Their only possible way of escape was to "fall unto the host of Syrians," and they decide to do it. Salvation from sin, and from that death which is the wages of sin, is never afar off from those who, in like manner, seek for it. "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30) is the language of one who was prepared to do anything, or go anywhere, to get salvation.
III. Joyful Discovery. "They went to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, and behold, there was no man there" (vv. 5-7). It must have been with great fear and trembling that they made their way to the first tent. But the Lord had wrought a wonderful deliverance. Everything was there that they needed, and nothing and nobody to stand in their way. They found a full and free salvation. "The Lord had made the Syrians to hear the noise of a great host"—perhaps that host which Elisha saw at Dothan (vv. 6-17). It is easy for God to smite His enemies with the fear of death, and make them to flee when no man pursues. This is the terrible fear with which God may smite the finally unrepentant sinner. When we, like these lepers, enter in at the only door of hope set before us, we shall find, like them, that we are saved by the judgment and mercy of God. Our salvation has come through a divinely-wrought victory. The silent Cross of Christ, like the silent camp of Syria, speaks to us, does it not, of judgment, of victory, and of mercy? Have you made this soul-satisfying discovery? Whoever will, let him take.
IV. Selfish Behavior. The conduct of these lepers, immediately after they had discovered God's great provision for famishing souls, was most blameworthy. They ate and drank, and took to hiding treasure for themselves (v. 8). For the time being they were utterly indifferent about the salvation of others. This great and merciful salvation of God had not yet got beyond their own personal needs and selfish aggrandizement, as if this Heaven-sent deliverance was exclusively for themselves. This conduct was indeed Gehazi-like. Alas! that there should be so many Christians who never seem to get beyond this first experience of eating, drinking, and hiding. All for self, nothing for others. So busy looking after their own ease and comfort that they forgot the perishing multitude, and neglected to publish abroad the tidings of salvation. Eat the "Bread of Life," drink the "Water of Life," and hide the treasures of God's Word in your heart; "but mischief will come upon you" if that is the end of your faith (1 Peter 1:9, leaving out the word your).
V. Merciful Consideration. "They said one to another, We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace... Come, that we may go and tell" (v. 9). These lepers had two different awakenings within the space of a few hours. The first was to a sense of their own need, the second was to a sense of the need of others. It takes some of the Lord's people a very long time to get from this one experience to the other, although, with some others, these experiences are almost simultaneous. The counterpart of eating and drinking is going and telling. To "hold our peace" in this "day of good tidings" is to be guilty of the blood of souls. As in Samaria, so round about us, there are many perishing for lack of that knowledge which we possess. Here is bread enough and to spare, yet they perish with hunger. Go and tell (Mark 16:15).
VI. Successful Testimony. "So they came and told them (v. 10),... and the people went out" (v. 16). They simply told what great things had been done for them, and, although the king at first doubted the statement, thinking it too good news to be true, yet afterwards the multitude rushed out and claimed every one a portion. The gospel that these leprous men preached, like the Gospel of Christ, is exactly suited to the needs and conditions of the people. It was the news of ample provision, without money and without price. Oh, that men were half as anxious to go out by faith and take those blessings, brought within their reach through that great deliverance which God has wrought for us on Calvary's Cross, where the enemy of our souls has been routed, and where the spoils of salvation are lying for the lifting!
LESSONS FROM THE DEATH OF ELISHA. 2 Kings 13:14-24.
Elisha was now about ninety years of age. Forty-five years have gone since he performed his last public act in connection with the anointing of Jehu. There are some practical lessons we may learn from this portion. That—
I. The Most Useful Life Must Come to a Close. "Now Elisha had fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died" (v. 14). It is appointed unto men once to die; there is a second death, but this is within the realm of man's own appointment. Elisha's master passed away without tasting death, but he must go the way of all the earth. No matter how great our gifts and privileges are, the solemn end is never far out of sight. Lives of great men do remind us of the tremendous possibilities of a single lifetime. Redeem the time.
II. The Past Achievements of the Aged should Encourage the Young. "Joash the (young) king... came and wept, and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof" (v. 14). This was a timely reminder of a great event in the life of Elisha, fifty-seven years ago (2 Kings 2:12). The young king's heart was melted at the thought of it, as he gazed on the pale face of him who once had such power with God that he became a terror to royal evil-doers. There is hope for a young man who respects the wisdom and experiences of an aged saint, and who is conscious of the fact that the mightiest weapon on earth is faith in God (Mark. 9:23).
III. Confession of Need is the Way into a Life of Success. The dying prophet fully understood the deeper meaning of the king's confession. He desired victory over his enemies. "Take bow and arrows," said Elisha, "and Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands, and said, Open the window—shoot; and he shot" (vv. 15-17). That arrow was the symbol of the "Lord's deliverance." The hand of Elisha may have been weak and trembling, but it was a hand not to be despised by the young and the strong who sought victory in the Name of God. The hand of youthful vigor is powerless in the work of God without the hand of faith. The hand of the man of God is truly an "helping hand."
IV. It is Dishonoring to God to be Satisfied with Partial Success. "The man of God was wroth with him, and said, You should have smitten five or six times" (vv. 18, 19). What an opportunity the king got, when he was assured that for every time he smote the ground with an arrow he would have a deliverance. Yet he only "smote thrice and stayed." He got according to his faith (v. 25). But why did he stop short of all that God was prepared to do for him? Was it pity for the enemy, or a self-satisfying confidence that three victories would be quite enough to serve his purpose? Why do we stop short of the fullness of the blessing when we might be more than conquerors? Are there not many like Joash, that are perfectly content with just as much of the grace and power of Christ in their lives as enable them to get along with some honor and credit to themselves. Every arrow of believing prayer means a deliverance by the power of God. "Men ought always so pray and mot to faint" (Luke 18:1).
V. God can Make His Servants a Blessing to Others even when Dead. "And when the man... touched the bones of Elisha he revived, and stood up on his feet" (v. 21). This nameless man, buried in a hurry, was born anew in the grave of the prophet. He being dead, yet speaks life into the dead. The posthumous influence of a holy man is in the hands of God. He who blessed the handkerchiefs and aprons that were brought into contact with the body of Paul (Acts 19:12) will see that the memory of His justified ones is blessed. The glory of some lives is scarcely realized until they are gone. The prodigal son, who, on returning home, found his mother dead and buried, and who went and flung himself on her new-made grave, confessing his sin, knew by experience the power of this influence. What we know not now we shall know hereafter. All who come into contact with the death of the Lord Jesus Christ are made alive again by the miraculous power of God. "You has He quickened who were dead." Every true servant of Christ, as well as their Master, shall see of the travail of their soul, and shall be satisfied.
HEZEKIAH; Or, DARE TO DO RIGHT. 2 Kings 18:1-8.
Mazzini uttered a great truth when he said, "God created us not to contemplate but to act. He created us in His own image, and He is thought and action, or rather in Him there is no thought without simultaneous action." The wise man is he who does the will of God. Such was Hezekiah. Theorists are plentiful, but men of action are rare. His mother's name is given (Abi, or Abijah, possessor of Jehovah, 2 Chronicles 29:1) because, perhaps, through her influence he was what he was. The reformation in Judah may be traceable to the God-fearing mother of the king. The cause of God has always owed much to mothers. As for Hezekiah, he—
I. Chose the Right Motive. "That which was right in the sight of God" (v. 3). He was not so foolish as to trust in his own heart, or to be guided by the light of his own eyes. It takes some daring to square one's life with that which is right in the sight of God. Any dead or sickly fish can go with the stream. Joshua made the same choice when he said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).
II. Put, Things in their Right Place. "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves" (v. 4). He also caused "all impurity to be cast out of the temple," and all the vessels to be restored (2 Chronicles 29:16-18). The things which dishonored God were broken down and cast out; while those things which were honoring to Him were set up. The hindrances to the service of God must be removed, as well as the helps received. Are there no "places" or "images" in our own hearts or homes that occupy a higher position in our esteem than the things of God. Put things in their right place by putting first things first, as Moses did (Hebrews 11:25, 26). "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things shall be added" (Matthew 6:33).
III. Called Things by their Right Name. "He broke in pieces the brazen serpent,... and called it Nehustan"—a piece of brass (v. 4). Some had been calling it a piece of God, and burning incense to it. Idolatry is a blind and stupid minister that would exalt every useless relic to the place of God. A silver cross is not a whit better than a brazen serpent as an object of worship. Call brass, brass; and sin, sin. The worshipers of money, pleasure, or worldly honor are as much idolaters as those who adored the brazen serpent, the golden calf, or the symbol of the cross. These be your gods which control the affections of the heart.
IV. Put his Confidence in the Right Person. "He trusted in the Lord God of Israel" (v. 5). All great reformers have found the spring of their strength in the same source—Savonarola, Luther, Knox. Hezekiah's reformation was social as well as religious, for the turning of the hearts of the people to God implied their deliverance from social oppression and degradation (see vv. 11, 12). He that trusts in his own heart is a fool.
V. Walked in the Right Path. "He cleave to the Lord, and departed not from following Him" (v. 6). There can be no cleaving unto Him without following Him, for His presence means progress. If we would abide in Him and with Him, then we must be prepared to obey Him. "If any man," says our Lord, "would come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). It is always safe to follow where He leads. He leads beside the still waters.
VI. Enjoyed the Right Kind of Success. "The Lord was with him, and he prospered wherever he went forth" (v. 7). There can be no failure when He is with us. Defeat means self-confidence (Numbers 14:44, 45). All godless prosperity is after the "wood, hay, and stubble" sort; it will end in eye-blinding smoke and eternal disappointment. The success that succeeds is that gained through faith in Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. If we are with Him, He will be with us, "working with, and confirming the Word, with signs following" (Mark 16:20). True success is always in the line of the will of God. To delight in His will is to see of the travail of the soul, and be satisfied.
VII. Showed the Right Kind of Independence. "He rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not" (v. 7). The man who is most dependent on God is the man that is most independent of man. Let the time past suffice for the service of the flesh and that enemy the Devil. We can easily afford to rebel against all the principalities and powers that are opposed to the progress of the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, for greater is He who is with us than all that can be against us. "His servants you are to whom you obey," therefore "yield yourselves unto God," and say to every other master, as the three Hebrew youths said to the king of Babylon, "Be it known unto you, we will not serve your gods" (Daniel 3:18).
HEZEKIAH; Or, PREVAILING PRAYER. 2 Kings 19.
Hezekiah began his reign in a noble fashion. He expected much from God, and attempted much for God. Through faith he "rebelled against the king of Assyria," and "prospered wherever he went" (chapter 18:7). But thirteen years after, through fear of the Assyrian monarch, he cowardly recanted, and now we see him stripping the "House of the Lord" of its silver and gold to atone for the offence of his independence (chapter 18:14, 15). A backslider in faith becomes a weakling in testimony. Now, three years after this attempt to satisfy his enemy with silver and gold, he returns with a "great host," demanding the surrender of all (chapter 18:17-25). Give the world and the flesh an inch, and they will seek a yard. To compromise with evil on one point is to endanger the citadel of our strength for God. However, Rab-shakeh's blasphemous letter seems to have brought Hezekiah back to a sense of his need of divine wisdom and power (vv. 9-14). Only one of two courses is open for him: either submit himself to Sennacherib or submit himself to God. He cannot serve two masters; no more can you. He chose the better part, and spread out his case before the Lord. We shall now look at his prayer. It was—
I. Urgent. The issues at stake were vital and tremendous—national liberty or bondage. Hezekiah was now fully awake to the question of the crisis that had come upon him. "This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy" (v. 3). Have we, as the servants of Christ, as clearly grasped the situation of today? Is this not the day of the trouble of indifference, the rebuke of worldly enthusiasm, and the blasphemy of infidelity?
II. Unreserved. When Hezekiah received the letter "he went up into the House of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord" (v. 14). This was better than attempting to write a reply. Some letters are like torpedoes, they are sent for the purpose of destruction—the destruction of your peace, happiness, usefulness, or confidence in God. Like the king of Judah, "spread them before the Lord;" allow Him to see and read all that has been said against both you and Him. Commit your way unto God, and He shall direct your steps. But there are some who have not the courage to write, but would whisper a slanderous story against you. Deal with all evil reports as Hezekiah dealt with the sneering letter.
III. God-honoring. He looks on the language of Rab-shakeh as a "reproach to the living God" (v. 16), and pleads for deliverance, "that the kingdoms of earth may know that You are the Lord God" (v. 19). When our personal interests are so vitally linked together with those things which belong to the honor and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, then may we confidently expect God to do great things for us. "If you ask anything in My Name," for My glory, "I will do it" (John 14:14). This is the strong, unfailing basis of all prevailing prayer. All purely selfish purposes must be crucified if His glory is to be the motive of the life and the argument in prayer.
IV. Heard. While Hezekiah was praying, the Lord spoke to Isaiah, who sent this message of comfort to the pleading king: "Thus says the Lord God of Israel, That which you have prayed to Me... I have heard" (v. 20). Not only Hezekiah's prayer, but the "rage" of his enemy had come up before God (v. 27). His "I have heard" is sure to be followed with His "I will do" (v. 28). "If we know that he hears us, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him" (John 5:15).
V. Answered. "That night the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians, and in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses" (v. 35). At the rebuke of God "the stout-hearted are spoiled, they slept their sleep" (Psalm 76:5). When they said peace and safety, then sudden destruction came upon them. When the Israelites arose in the morning, behold, their formidable enemy had become an army of pale-faced corpses. Who shall be able to stand when He appears with the flaming sword of judgment in His hand? Thus the prayer of the man of God proved more powerful than Sennacherib's host. It was such an answer to prayer as would vindicate the Name and power of God, in all coming ages, as the Great Deliverer in the day of His people's trouble and trust. Whatever be the means used, God is always ready to work, so that it may be clearly seen that the work is of God, and that we may glorify Him. Prayer is the mightiest weapon ever put within the reach of man.
A SUDDEN CALL. 2 Kings 20:1-11.
I. A Solemn Announcement. "Set your house in order, for you shall die" (v. 1). This solemn declaration must have come with startling suddenness to the young king, after such a marvelous victory as that recorded in the previous chapter. Great prosperity is no guarantee of a long life. Some of the most useful and brilliant lives have been short ones. One of the most urgent duties of life is to set the house of the heart, or the home, in order for that great change which may come as unexpectedly to us as to Hezekiah. His house was the house of the kingdom. Having no son to succeed him, there was need for this timely warning to set it in order. It is hot enough for us that we live and die, there are responsibilities resting on us in connection with those who shall succeed us. Our deeds are not buried with our bones.
II. An Earnest Prayer. "Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed,... and wept sore" (vv. 2, 3). The tidings he had received were most unwelcome. He had only reigned fifteen years, and was still a young man of but thirty-nine years old. He felt that as yet he was quite unprepared to submit willingly to this command of God. In turning his face to the wall he was turning his back to all human help and hope, and casting himself as a bewildered and peevish servant at the feet of his Lord. There is a selfish, petulant tone in his petition so very different from his last recorded prayer (chapter 19:15). There he pleads in the Name of God; here he pleads in his own name. "I have walked before You in truth with a perfect heart" (2 Kings 20:3), he groans, as if, because of this, his life should be prolonged. Although Hezekiah struggled against this revelation of the will of God concerning him (which we think was his sin), yet, at the same time, his prayer shows a familiarity with the Lord, which is in itself refreshing.
III. An Abundant Answer. Before Isaiah had got outside the royal court the answer came, an answer that was exceedingly abundant beyond all that the dying king had asked. He was to be healed, and fifteen years added to his life; and the city defended "for His own Name's sake, and His servant David's sake;" but, notice, not for Hezekiah's sake (vv. 5, 6). Even this is not all. A miraculous work is wrought in the "dial of Ahaz" to reassure his doubting heart (vv. 8-11). We may be wrong, but we cannot resist the feeling that there is a measure of irony in all this, a holy and divine sarcasm that might teach us to be content with the will of God, even when it does seem unkind and unfair, cutting at the roots of all our future plans and prospects. A peevish, fretful child may cry for sugar until the mother is compelled just to give it the bowl and let it sip until it sickens at it. Hezekiah's life has evidently become self-centered (2 Chronicles 32:25). He is quite ready to say, "Good is the Word of the Lord," as long as there is to be "peace and truth in his day" (v. 19). But look at the results!
IV. A Sorrowful Consequence. If those fifteen years added to his life were given as a blessing, surely there would have been much blessing in them; but instead they were fruitful of the most terrible evils It would have been good for both Hezekiah and the nation if he had died of that sickness, meant as God's good messenger to take him away from the evil to come. In the very first year of his new lease of life he showed those wily spies from Babylon all that was in his house, which tempted them in later years to come and "carry all into Babylon" (v. 17). About three years after he was recovered there was born unto him a son, of a woman, who, judging by her name (Hephzi-bah, my delight is in her), was to him more than his God. This son (Manasseh) set himself to undo all the good that his father (Hezekiah) had done. "He built up again the high places which his father had destroyed,... and worshiped the host of Heaven, and served them;... and built altars in the House of the Lord... He used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards.... He wrought to provoke the Lord to anger;... and seduced them to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed.... Moreover, he shed innocent blood very much, until he filled Jerusalem from one end to the other" (chapter 21:1-16). If Hezekiah had been content to die of his sickness, Manasseh would never have been born, and these moral horrors might never have been committed. The story is told of a mother who cried to God to save her son (who was dying) at any cost. The son lived, but the mother had the unspeakable anguish of seeing him hanged as a criminal If Hezekiah could have seen all that was to happen as the result of his prolonged life as God saw it, surely he would have said, "Not my will, but Your be done" (Luke 22:42).
JOSIAH AND THE BOOK. 2 Kings 22.
"Woe to the man who wastes his wealth of mind,
And leaves no legacy to human-kind."—Coleridge.
Manasseh had a godly father, yet for about fifty years he lived a wicked life. Josiah had a wicked father, yet he proved to be one of the choicest of Old Testament saints. The true value of a human life depends on its relationship to God. All lasting virtue comes through our being in touch with the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the hem of His garment is full of power. Let us look at some of those features in this young man's character which have made his name great in Israel (vv. 23-25).
I. Chose a Good Example. "He walked in the way of David his father" (v. 2). "While he was yet young he began to seek after the God of David" (2 Chronicles 34:3). He did not seek after the gods of his father Amon, for what did they do for him? Nor did he seek after the God of Hezekiah, for even the good life of his grandfather was not a perfect model; but, in the truthfulness of his soul, he went back to him who was a "man after God's own heart." He desired a God like unto the God of David, and David's God was found by him; and the works that David did, he did also, in establishing the Kingdom in righteousness. In this Josiah is an example to us. Let us go back, not to our godly forefathers, but to Christ, the (perfect) Man after God's own heart, and if His God is our God, the works of Christ will be also manifest in our lives. He has left us an example that we should follow in His steps.
II. Revered the Word of God. "When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he rent his clothes" (v. 11). It was a great discovery Hilkiah, the priest, made while looking after the repairs in the temple. He found the book of the law written by Moses. The Word of God may be burned or buried, but, in some way or other, it will have a resurrection, and, in due time, manifest its authority and power. While the scribe read it to the king, it was to him as a message direct from the Court of Heaven (Deuteronomy 29:25-27). In token of his belief in it, "he rent his clothes." The Word of God has usually a self-humbling, self-stripping effect before it becomes the inspiring motive of the life. It is most significant that when Josiah began to seek after God, the written Word should be brought and read in his hearing. This is in perfect harmony with the teaching of Jesus Christ (Luke 16:31). Wherever there is faith in the Word of God, there will be a rending of the heart when it is read or preached in the energy of the Holy Spirit.
III. Sought to Know the Mind of God for Himself. "Go you, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people" (v. 13). As king of Judah he was anxious to know what God would have him and his people to do. He had learned from the book a lesson which this present generation sadly needs—that the "wrath of the Lord is kindled against those who will not hearken unto the words of this book" (v. 13). The words of Scripture and the God of the Scriptures are one (vv. 16-17). When Josiah met the book, he felt as really in the presence of God as Saul of Tarsus did when he cried out, "What will You have me to do?" (Acts 22:10). But it was not enough for him merely to believe the book, the tidings of the book constrained him to seek the God of the book, and to have his own life brought into conformity with His will. It was the complaint of Christ that the scribes and Pharisees of His day searched the Scriptures, but they would not come to Him for life. "They are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39), he said. Nor was the king disappointed; the answer came in a definite promise from the Lord (v. 20).
IV. Published Abroad the Tidings from God. "The king gathered unto him... all the men of Judah, . . . and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant" (chapter 23:1, 2). He was not ashamed of his faith in the book. Believing it to be God's message to all, he read it out in the ears of the nation. The book had moved him as no other book could, and it was able also to move others, and to so move them that their lives would be surrendered to its influence, and the whole nation saved thereby. The best way to defend the Bible is to read it and preach it as God's present-day message to the people. The best way to defend a caged lion from a pack of yelping dogs is to let it loose, and it will splendidly defend itself. Let the Bible loose in all its native and original majesty, and wonders will certainly be done. If you cannot preach the Word, you can read it. Hearers seldom sleep while the Word is being read. Ezra read out of the book "from morning until mid-day, and the ears of all the people were attentive" (Nehemiah 8:1-3). Our Lord will be ashamed of us if we are ashamed of Him and of His Word (Mark 8:38).
V. Consecrated Himself to do the Will of God. "The king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant with the Lord to walk after the Lord, . . . and with all his heart and soul to perform the words that were written in this book" (v. 3). He took a bold stand, and launched out into the deep of God's revealed will. It is one thing to believe the words; it is quite another to perform them. The faith that does not lead to action is a dead faith. The consecration of ourselves to the will and work of God is surely the logical and legitimate outcome of faith in His Word. It was manifestly so in the Apostolic times, why not now? The measure of the power of God's Word upon our hearts is seen in the measure of our personal surrender to the doing of that Word. It is not he who says, "Lord, Lord!" but he who does His will that enter into that Kingdom where the Christian life becomes a power, a glory, and a blessing. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but fearlessly carried on the work of God. He cleansed the temple of the Lord, put down idolatrous priests (vv. 4, 5), and re instituted the Passover of the Lord (v. 21). You are the temple of God! Are you cleansed from all your idols, and has the Passover Lamb got His true place in all your work for Him?
JEHOIACHIN; Or, SAVED BY GRACE. 2 Kings 25:27-30.
The divine threatenings in Leviticus 26 find their terrible fulfillment in the reign of Jehoiachin. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked." Sin brings to ruin every nation and individual that yields to its dark and foulsome dominion. The king of Babylon was Jehovah's sword of vengeance in the punishment of Judah for their rebellion against Him. Jehoiachin was taken captive and thrown into a Babylonian prison, where he remained for the long period of thirty-seven years. But Babylon's new king, Evil-merodach, had mercy on him, and in grace wrought a marvelous change for him, giving us an illustration of the wonder-working grace of God.
I. Delivered. "He did lift up Jehoiachin out of prison" (v. 27). This was his first necessity. He could in no wise lift himself up. The grace of God which brings salvation has a mighty uplifting power. "He brought me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay" (Psalm 40:2); and from the darkness and thraldom of Satan into the Kingdom of God's dear Son. As with the king of Judah so with us; there is no uplifting into liberty without the exercise of Royal Authority.
II. Comforted. "He spoke kindly to him." The law has no kind word of comfort to speak, but grace has. By grace are you saved. All those ransomed by the power of Christ are comforted by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The religion of man attempts to speak comfortably to men in the prison of sin; the religion of God first saves, then comforts. The blood of His victory goes before the water of His consolation. He knows how to speak a word to the weary. In all the coming ages God's people will show forth His kindness towards them through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).
III. Exalted. "He set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon." Jehoiachin had the pre-eminence among the other kings who were as captives in Babylon. The whole incident may be prophetic of Judah's future exaltation and glory, as it is suggestive of the spiritual uplifting enjoyed by those who are risen and exalted into heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Abounding sin and failure is conquered and overcome by the much more abounding grace of God. If man's fall through sin has been great, his uplifting through grace has been greater. He can make the homeless beggar of the dunghill meet to sit among the princes of Heaven. "Oh, to grace how great a debtor!"
IV. Clothed. "He changed his prison garments." The prison garments speak of guilt, defeat, shame, and bondage; but now they are gone, and garments of beauty take their place. So it is with those whom grace has saved. The old things which spoke of failure, degradation, and imprisonment, are put off, and those things have been put on which tell of glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life. A change will soon be evident when once a soul has been emancipated from the law of sin and death—the filthy rags of self-righteousness gives place to the righteousness of God, which is unto all and upon all them that believe (Zechariah 3:3).
V. Honored. "He did eat bread continually before him." He had the daily privilege of having fellowship with him who had delivered him from the house of bondage. The prisoner was now the constant companion of his Savior. The grace of God not only saves and transforms, but brings into abiding fellowship with Himself. The kindness of David wrought the same gracious work for Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:7). The door of our King's banqueting-house is always open for His own specially-invited guests. Eat, O friends!
VI. Supplied. "His allowance was a continual allowance given him of the king, a daily rate for every day, all the days of his life."
1. It was an allowance. It was not a reward, or something given as wages. It was something placed at the disposal of him whom the king delighted to honor. It was the provision of grace. How much has God placed at the disposal of those who have been saved by His grace? All the unsearchable riches of Christ.
2. It was a daily allowance. "A daily rate for every day." Take no thought for your life. "My grace is sufficient for you." To-morrow's allowance will come with to-morrow's need.
3. It was given him of the king; out of the king's fullness, and from his own gracious hand were all his wants supplied. "My God shall supply all your need" (Philippians 4:19).
4. It was an allowance for life. "All the days of his life." The royal promise covered his every need. All is yours, for you are Christ's.