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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Our sovereign God saves by opening and closing eyes
Text:2 Kings 6:15-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-12-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 115:1,2,5,6

Hymn 25:4 (after the law)

Psalm 36

Psalm 121

Hymn 35

Scripture reading:  2 Kings 6:8-23

Text:  2 Kings 6:15-23

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

The evangelist was on his way home after an evening of spreading the gospel.  It had been a good meeting – there was a good turnout and he had a great opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  As he walked home through the dark city streets, he quietly reflected on the evening.  After a good walk, he arrived safely home and went to bed soon afterwards.

Some time later, a man wanted to meet with him.  The man told the evangelist that he had been at the meeting that night.  He heard the message about his own sinfulness and his need for a Saviour and it burned him up.  The man was consumed with anger towards the evangelist.  In fact, he was so angry about the message that he decided to ambush the evangelist on his way home and murder him on some dark quiet street.  That would shut up the evangelist forever.  The man knew the perfect spot and he waited with his knife in hand.  However, as the evangelist turned the corner, the would-be murderer saw that he wasn’t alone.  He had two companions, one on either side, walking alongside him.  They were big men and that changed the equation.  Killing one man by yourself is one thing, but three are impossible.  The would-be murderer changed his mind and went home.  But somehow the message he had heard that evening wouldn’t let go of him.  He couldn’t stop thinking about it and it was the beginning of his becoming a Christian.  He wanted to let the evangelist know. 

Of course, the evangelist was overjoyed to hear that this man had been converted.  He was glad that he could have been a part of it.  But there was one thing he didn’t understand.  He was sure that he had walked home alone that evening.  The evangelist didn’t know anything about two men walking alongside him, one on either side.  The would-be murderer saw them, but the evangelist didn’t and he couldn’t explain it.  He could only conclude that the Lord had protected him that night with his angels. 

It happened in the Netherlands some years ago and I heard it second or third-hand.  There’s no reason to doubt it.  Others have had similar experiences.  The Lord allows someone’s eyes to be opened to realities that others cannot see.  He does it for the sake of his people, to deliver them.  It’s there in our text too.  You can’t miss the opening and closing of eyes in these verses.  Eyes are opened, eyes are closed, eyes are opened again.  The one who does this in each instance is the LORD, it’s Yahweh, our Sovereign God.  Because he loves his people in Jesus Christ, he delivers them through these miraculous happenings.  Let’s listen to the Word as we see how our Sovereign God saves by opening and closing eyes.

We’ll consider:

  1. How he delivered his prophet
  2. How he delivered his people

Our text finds us in the days of the divided kingdom, long after the glory days of David and Solomon.  There is a southern kingdom of Judah and a northern kingdom of Israel.  Our text is concerned with that northern kingdom, which had its capital in Samaria. 

On the throne of that northern kingdom was Jehoram.  Jehoram was a son of Ahab.  You may remember that Ahab was one of the most wicked kings Israel had ever known.  Ahab’s wife was Jezebel and she was Jehoram’s mother.  Now sometimes in the period of the kings you get a situation where you have a wicked king, and then a son who succeeds him who loves the LORD.  You get that with Amon in Judah, for example.  He was a wicked king, but his son Josiah became one of the most godly kings in the Davidic line.  However, that was not the situation with Ahab and his son Jehoram.  Second Kings 3 tells us that Jehoram “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.”  He was not as wicked as Ahab and Jezebel, but there is no way that he can be described as a godly king.  This is important to remember as we look at our text. 

Jehoram and the northern kingdom of Israel had enemies.  One of the worst of those enemies was Ben-Hadad II, king of Syria.  Syria is to the north of Israel.  The Syrians were a plague to the Israelites.  They would make raids into Israel, attacking, killing and plundering what they could.

Enter Elisha.  Elisha seems to have the inside scoop on Ben-Hadad’s military planning.  Somehow all the secret plans that Ben-Hadad makes for attacks on Israel end up not being so secret after all.  The Israelites seem to anticipate his every move.  At first he suspects treason from within.  But then one of his servants informs him about a prophet named Elisha.  Elisha is the problem. 

The solution is a snatch and grab mission.  Ben-Hadad first sends out a small reconnaissance team and they track down Elisha – he’s in Dothan.  Dothan was a fortified city, about 95 Km north of Jerusalem.  It was strategically located in a valley just to the north of Samaria.  Dothan was an ancient city – by the time of our text it had already been in existence for well over a thousand years.  It had been attacked, destroyed and rebuilt several times.  When that happened with a city in the Ancient Near East, they would simply rebuild on top of the ruins.  In time, the city would end up on top of a large hill of ruins.  Today archaeologists call that a “tell,” after the Hebrew and Arab word for it.  Today you could go to Israel and you can still see Tell-Dothan, where the ancient city of Dothan stood.  There’s a big hill there.  But already in the days of Elisha, Dothan was built up on a tell.  That meant it would not be easy to attack – there was a strategic advantage to being in a city on a tell.  The only way to successfully carry out a snatch and grab mission with Elisha in Dothan would be a massive amount of military force.  If the city could not be intimidated into giving up Elisha, then this massive military force would attack en masse and grab him.

That’s the plan that Ben-Hadad executes.  Under cover of darkness, a Syrian force descends upon Dothan and surrounds it.  In this force were elements of cavalry, armour, and infantry.  The Syrian force had a strategic mixture of horses, chariotry and foot-soldiers.  This would have been an intimidating sight to the people of Dothan when they woke up that morning.

It certainly was to the servant of Elisha.  He wakes up early and he looks out and he sees a vast military camp surrounding Dothan.  There’s no way of escape.  He’s alarmed and it shows with the words that he speaks to Elisha, “Alas, my master, what shall we do?”  In Hebrew, these words reflect intense anxiety and when we read them we have to read them that way.  He’s filled with fright, scared for his life.  He’s probably having a panic attack, as would anybody in a situation like this.  How could there be any way out?  Realistically, it’s time for making sure the will is in order and you’ve tied up all the loose ends with your loved ones.  There is no way out alive.  The only question is whether you’re doing to die slowly or quickly, relatively painlessly or tortured.  The Syrian were butchers when it came to their enemies.       

Now contrast the anxiety of the servant with the tranquility of the man of God, with Elisha the prophet.  Notice how Elisha responds.  Here we find again the most frequent command in the Bible, “Do not fear.”  Those are the first words that Elisha speaks.  Remember he is a prophet of God, he brings God’s Word to bear on the lives of God’s people.  The mouth and tongue are Elisha’s, but the words come from God.  “Do not be afraid,” is the Word of God to this servant.  God knows this man’s fear and anxiety and he speaks to it.  He addresses it.

He not only tells him to let his fear go, but he also gives the reason why.  Elisha says in verse 16, “…for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  You can let go of your fear, because we are not outnumbered and outgunned.  You can turn to God in trust, because he is on your side and he has more power than anything any enemy can throw at you.

In verse 17, Elisha turns to God in prayer.  He asks Yahweh to open the eyes of his servant so that he can see the way things really are.  Elisha himself can see it.  How?  He sees by faith.  He believes what the Psalmist says in Psalm 27:3, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.”  Elisha believes that.  Like Paul would say later on in Romans 8:31, he believes that “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  Through faith, he sees the way things really are.  But that servant of his…not so much.  Therefore, Elisha prays for him and asks God to give him eyes to see the truth. 

God hears his prayer and does what Elisha asks for.  The young man’s eyes are opened by God – and he sees the way things really are.  He sees with his physical eyes what Elisha could see by faith.  All around Elisha were God’s cavalry and God’s armour, horses and chariots of fire.  God’s armies were surrounding Elisha and protecting the man of God.

Notice a couple of details in verse 17.  The Syrian force encamped around Dothan was made up of infantry, cavalry, and armour.  In other words, they had foot-soldiers, horses, and chariots.  God’s army is made up only of cavalry and armour.  It may sound like an uneven match.  But even in ancient human armies, the horses and chariotry were always regarded as quicker, stronger and therefore far more valuable than the infantry.  Moreover, in God’s army, there are chariots of fire.  This is no ordinary army – because it is from God, it’s an army of unmatchable strength.

The other detail I want you to notice in verse 17 is that this heavenly army is said to surround Elisha.  There’s no direct mention of Dothan or the servant.  Dothan is indirectly referred to as “the mountain,”—remember, it’s built on a tell.  But the heavenly army surrounds the man of God.  There’s a reason for that – it’s because the Syrians are after him.  He’s the one in need of protection.  But because Elisha is surrounded by God’s army, the servant can be assured of safety and protection too.  Being close to the man of God will insure his well-being.  There’s no need for fear when God is on your side.  Now he can see it and believe it.  In his mercy, God has allowed him to see the reality. 

It doesn’t take long for the Syrians to make their move.  They’re eager to grab Elisha and get back to home base.  The Syrians begin their attack on Dothan.  Elisha responds with prayer.  He asks Yahweh to strike the enemy with blindness.  The servant’s eyes have been opened, and now Elisha asks for the enemy’s eyes to be closed.  The LORD again does the thing that Elisha asks. 

What is this blindness?  It doesn’t seem to be a literal blindness where people can no longer see with their physical eyes.  Instead, it seems to be an inability to perceive the reality of a situation.  The servant of Elisha had been blind in that sense.  His eyes were then opened.  Now, in parallel fashion, the Syrian military force is struck with the same kind of blindness.  They can’t perceive the reality that’s before them.  They have no sense of what’s really going on.  They’re in some sort of daze.

God struck them with this blindness.  But how did he do it?  Of course, he could do it without using means if he wished.  But there is something parallel to this situation in Genesis 19.  The angels come to Sodom to warn Lot.  The men of Sodom come at night to try and sleep with the (what they think are) two men visiting Lot.  Just as the door was about to be broken down, the angels pull Lot in the house and then they strike the men of Sodom with blindness.  The angels are the ones who do it.  So it seems a good conclusion here that God had his armies of angels in place surrounding Dothan and they were the ones that struck the Syrian force with this blindness.  God worked through his angels to deliver his prophet.

The end of verse 18 says that it was done in accordance with Elisha’s prayer.  Why did God hear and answer Elisha?  The simple answer is that Elisha’s prayer was heard because it pleased God.  It was a prayer offered to the one true God from the heart.   It was a humble prayer – Elisha knew that he needed the help of God.  Elisha’s prayer was offered in faith.  He believed God’s promises, those promises that would be fulfilled in Christ.  In his own way as an Old Testament believer, he looked to Christ in faith.  God heard Elisha because of Christ.  The prophet prayed in faith and God answered and sent deliverance through his angels.

Loved ones, this is the only way we will be delivered from our enemies.  We have strong enemies:  the devil, the world, and our own sinful desires.  We need to pray regularly about these enemies who encircle us and who threaten to destroy us.  Rather than fear them, we must pray that God will deliver.  And we must pray believing that God will certainly hear our prayer because Christ is our Saviour.  He will save us from the enemies who threaten to destroy us.  He will deliver when we call to him through Jesus and then say with the Psalmist, “I am yours, save me” (Ps. 119:94a).  He will save us and one of the ways he’ll do it is by opening our eyes more and more to the reality of his power.  As we grow as his children, he’ll help us to see that he is in control, he has armies of angels at his disposal and these armies are there to serve and protect us.  He will never fail to protect the children he loves.  This is all because of God’s grace in Christ, all because we have Jesus as our Saviour. 

Moreover, we ought always to remember that our Saviour is the commander of heaven’s armies.  In Scripture we see him revealed as the Lion of Judah, the Divine Warrior.  On the Mount of Transfiguration, the eyes of Peter, James and John were opened and they saw Jesus in all his glory.  In our passage we have these brilliant chariots of fire, on the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples saw the one who commands these chariots and all the heavenly army.  In Revelation 19, the apostle John writes of how he saw Jesus again as one riding on the white horse.  The armies of heaven follow behind him and they ride white horses too.  With them at his command, he executes judgment on his enemies.  He did that already in the days of Elisha, he still does so today, and he’ll keep on doing it till the last and final judgment.

Back to verse 19 in 1 Kings 6 and we see here the beginning of how God delivered his people from the Syrians.  They’re blinded, unable to perceive reality, and so Elisha waltzes up to them without their suspecting who he really is.  He tells them that they’re heading the wrong way and they’re in the wrong city.  They should follow him and he’ll bring them where they need to be.  Then he brings them straight to Samaria, the capital of Israel, about 19 km from Dothan. 

Elisha is said to be the man of God.  We would expect a man of his standing to have lots of integrity.  That brings up a question:  did Elisha lie to the Syrians?  Well, when he said that they were heading in the wrong direction and so on, from their perspective, yes, he wasn’t telling them the truth.  But in this situation, there was no wrong-doing on his part.  From God’s perspective, they were heading in the wrong direction and they were in the wrong city.  Elisha was going to bring them to the man they were seeking – they would see Elisha and realize it’s him -- in Samaria.  Besides all this, we have to recognize that there are some people who have no right to the truth, particularly when the truth will harm someone.  The classic example is that of believers hiding Jews from the Nazis in World War II.  The Nazis had no right to the truth of whether believers were hiding Jews in their homes and those who lied to the Nazis committed no sin in doing so.  Here too, Elisha committed no sin in what he said to the Syrians. 

So they’re in Samaria.  There Elisha prays again.  This time he asks Yahweh to open the eyes of the Syrians so that they can again perceive the way things really are.  And again, Yahweh responds to Elisha’s prayer and does what he asks.  The Syrians “wake up” so to speak, and, surprise, they’re in Samaria!  They’re in the capital of their enemy, surrounded by enemy forces. 

King Jehoram is there too and he can’t believe his eyes.  He’s like a little kid with a pile of Christmas presents with his name on them.  In verse 21, you see how he repeats the question to Elisha, “Shall I strike them down?  Shall I strike them down, my father?”  The repetition reflects his excitement at the moment.  That’s how Hebrew expresses that.  He’s just too eager to get the bloodshed going.  God’s people have been delivered from their enemy by Elisha bringing the enemy right into their hands. 

Now when you think about warfare in the Old Testament, Elisha’s response might be surprising.  Especially when you think about all the times that the Israelites had to kill everyone including women and children, you might expect that the same thing would happen here.  You might expect Elisha to be the first one to start the killing.  But instead Elisha restrains King Jehoram.  He says in verse 22, “You shall not strike them down.”  Was Elisha somehow contradicting the law of God on this?  No, not at all.  Deuteronomy 20 spoke of some of the laws regarding the way the Israelites were to wage war.  But this scenario was never envisioned.  A prophet leading a blinded enemy force into the Israelite capital was never covered by the law of God.  Moreover, the laws concerning total destruction of the enemy had to do with the peoples who were living in the Promised Land.  They didn’t pertain to the Syrians who lived way off to the north.  So the Law of God put no one under compulsion to engage in a massacre of radically disadvantaged soldiers, prisoners of war. 

In fact, Elisha made the case that mercy was in order for these prisoners of war, these POWs.  In verse 22, he says, “Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow?”  Technically, one might say that Jehoram didn’t take them captive, but they were certainly now being held captive by the Israelite soldiers.  Regardless, it’s obviously a rhetorical question, one where the answer is obvious.  Of course, you don’t just randomly slaughter POWs from Syria.  That would be outrageous and unjust.  So instead of a massacre, Elisha commands a banquet.  Let the POWs eat and drink first, and then send them back home to Syria.

Jehoram obeys Elisha’s command.  A great feast was made for the POWs.  They all ate and drank and then went back to Ben-hadad.  The remarkable result is right at the end of verse 23, “And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.”  Oh yes, I know that chapter 6 continues to speak of how Ben-hadad besieged Samaria.  Apparently that took place some time later and we’re not sure what might have provoked it.  But verse 23 is referring to minor excursions to attack, murder, and pillage throughout the land.  Verse 24 is speaking of a focussed major mission to besiege the capital of Israel.  But let’s not get stuck on that point and miss the big picture. 

The key thing to see is that the people of Israel were delivered by their gracious and sovereign God.  By asking God to close the eyes of the Syrians, Elisha was able to lead them straight into Samaria.  By asking God to open their eyes so that they could see their predicament and then the mercy of God’s people in sparing them and giving them a banquet, Elisha was able to give God’s people relief from the raids of their enemies.             

It’s important that we see this all in context.  God’s people were not known for their faithfulness to him in this period.  I mentioned Jehoram.  He was a wicked king.  He speaks respectfully to Elisha, and calls him “my father,” but that was just window-dressing.  Jehoram didn’t really love the LORD.  The people of God did not deserve the deliverance we read about in our text.  They were not worthy of it.  In fact, they had done everything to forfeit it.  By rights, Elisha should have lead the Syrian army into Samaria by night and turned them loose on the Israelites.  Instead, through his prophet, God brings them what they do not deserve, the opposite of what they deserve.  He graciously gives them deliverance from their enemy.              

In Christ, we have received the same, haven’t we?  We are not worthy of the deliverance we have in him.  We haven’t earned it in any way.  Yet, in his mercy God has sent our enemies packing.  The question is: how do we respond to that?

The books of 1 and 2 Kings are often thought of as being historical books.  They describe historical events that happened long ago amongst the Jews.  But did you know that in the Hebrew Old Testament, 1 and 2 Kings are described as prophetic books?  These books are part of what are called the “Former Prophets.”  We sometimes think of prophecy as some kind of divine fortune telling.  A prophet tells what will happen in the future.  Prophets sometimes did that.  But the most important part of being a prophet was challenging God’s people.  A prophet was to proclaim God’s Word so that God’s people would repent and believe and follow the LORD.  1 and 2 Kings is not just history then, it’s meant to challenge and confront God’s people, including us. 

The Israelites who received the grace of God in the days of Elisha – how did they respond to that amazing grace of God?  They kept going back to their sin like a dog to his vomit.  There was little to no gratitude for God’s mercy.  Things went from bad to worse, until finally God said “Enough!” and sent his people into exile in Babylon. 

Loved ones, these things were written down to teach us.  They were written to teach us about the grace of our God in times past.  They were written to teach us about Christ and his redemption.  But they were also written to encourage us to live out of love for God, to live thankful and godly lives in Jesus Christ.  The lesson to take away is simply this:  do not spurn the grace God showed you in protecting you and delivering you from your enemies.  You’ve seen it, now don’t take it for granted!  Live as a thankful child of God today and every day, following his good will for you.  

Brothers and sisters, our eyes have been opened to these spiritual realities.  That’s what the Word of God does – it opens our eyes.  May we all see the Lord’s grace to us, the way he protects us and the way he delivers us.  And then may our eyes also be open to following his will for our lives at all times and in every way.  AMEN.      

PRAYER:

Our Sovereign God,

We praise you for graciously protecting and delivering us from our enemies through Jesus Christ.  Thank you for your power in our lives.  Thank you for your holy angels who always surround us.  Please help us with your Spirit to trust your power.  Please help us so that whatever circumstances arise in our lives, we would trust you and not fear.  We also help for your help in never taking your work in our lives for granted.  We want to love and thank you every day as your children.  Please give us strength from your Holy Spirit so that we can do this.  Please deliver us and our children from the evil one and continue to show your power in our lives. 

                                        




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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