Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament2 KINGS 6
MORE MIRACLES PERFORMED THROUGH ELISHA;
MAKING THE IRON TO FLOAT
And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell before thee is too strait for us. Let us go, we pray thee, unto the Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell. And he answered, Go ye. And one said, Be pleased, I pray thee, to go with thy servants. And he answered, I will go. So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down wood. But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water; and he cried, and said, Alas, my master! for it was borrowed. And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither, and made the iron to swim. And he said, Take it up to thee. So he put out his hand, and took it.
Dentan alleged that this event is "the most trivial of the stories told of Elisha."F1 On the other hand, it is actually one of the most important miracles performed by that remarkable prophet. Why? It emphasizes God's concern for the problems pressing upon the hearts of the poor. It was no trivial matter at all that confronted this young man!
He did not have the money to purchase an axe, so he borrowed one. And, if he had not been able to recover it, he would have been unable to replace it. After the brutal custom of the times, he could have been sold into slavery for such a trivial debt. Oh yes! Amos mentioned those who "sold the poor for a pair of shoes" (Amos 2:6). God's honoring the willingness of Elisha to recover that axe-head demonstrates God's care for the concerns of the poor. As Jesus said, "Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven" (Luke 6:20).
The mercy and tenderness of the love of God for his own shines in such a wonder as this. Christians today have the privilege of asking through their prayers for God's help, no matter how "trivial" their requests may seem to others.
The whole situation of this paragraph was that of one of the schools of the prophets, most probably the one at Jericho, having outgrown their cramped quarters, and having no money to buy or build a larger place, they proposed to build them a shelter near the Jordan River, where there was plenty of timber available.
When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620, they built such shelters as what the sons of the prophets decided to build for themselves.
Several important deductions from what is written here are justified: (1) Elisha's work had been successful. More and more people were believing in the One God, and the sons of the prophets were increasing in number. (2) Their love for Elisha is evident in their desire that he should accompany them. (3) The sons of the prophets were entitled to be praised for their creative energy and industry.
ELISHA REVEALED THE MANEUVERS OF THE SYRIANS TO JORAM
Now the king of Syria was warring against Israel; and he took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp. And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are coming down. And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of; and he saved himself there, not once nor twice. And the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not show me which of us is for the king of Israel? And one of his servants said, Nay, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber. And he said, Go and see where he is, that I may send and fetch him. And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan.
The war mentioned here was not an all-out operation, but a kind of guerilla attack carried out by bands of soldiers making sudden forays into Israel, striking first in one place and then in another. This is evident from 2 Kings 6:23.
He saved himself there, not once, nor twice
(2 Kings 6:10). These words indicate that there were multiple occasions (a half dozen or more), upon which the band of Syrians had laid a careful ambush against Israel, only to have it completely frustrated by the Israelites' prior knowledge of it. This became so obvious that the king of the Syrians believed that a traitor in his own staff was a secret spy for Israel. However, when he mentioned this possibility in a staff meeting, he was told that his real problem was the prophet Elisha. He then ordered them to find and capture the prophet.
HOW THAT ORDER TO CAPTURE ELISHA TURNED OUT
Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about. And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not; for they that are with us are more than they that are with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Jehovah, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And Jehovah opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto Jehovah, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way, neither is this the city: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. And he led them to Samaria.
A host with horses and chariots
(2 Kings 6:15). This is not a reference to a whole army but to a band of Syrians somewhat larger than usual. After all, Dothan was only a village.
Open his eyes, that he may see
(2 Kings 6:17). This must be rated as one of the most inspiring texts in the O.T. Those whose hearts are attuned to realize and appreciate spiritual realities may find infinite encouragement and confidence in the omnipotence of God and his ultimate victory that will be achieved over all enemies of truth and righteousness. The threatened or discouraged should always remember that, We are more than conquerors through him that loved us (Romans 8:37).
Smite this people with blindness
(2 Kings 6:18). Some scholars view this as actual physical blindness, but the fact of the band being able, later in the narrative, to return to their own nation makes it evident that they were merely DECEIVED. Such a usage of the word blindness is often found in Scripture. Jesus called the Pharisees the blind leaders of the blind, but he was speaking of deception and the deceived, not of actual literal blindness.
Apparently, the leader of the raiding party happened to ask a man, who turned out to be Elisha himself, where the prophet was; and Elisha promptly responded: "You are on the wrong road; he doesn't even live in this city (and of course, he didn't live there). Follow me, and I will take you to where he really lives (which is exactly what he did)!
And he led them to Samaria
(2 Kings 6:19). That was the place where Elisha lived, and thus Elisha had done exactly as he promised. He brought them to himself in Samaria, but the king of Israel and all his armies were there also!
THE BAND OF MARAUDERS HAD A BANQUET AND WERE SENT HOME
And it came to pass, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, Jehovah, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And Jehovah opened their eyes, and they saw; and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. And the king of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them? shall I smite them? And he answered, Thou shalt not smite them: wouldest thou smite those whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master. And he prepared great provision for them; and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel.
The last sentence here is a reference to the type of warfare by roving bands of marauders; and following the utter failure of such raids to give Syria any advantage over Israel, they abandoned for some considerable time altogether that type of warfare. The next time they attacked Israel it was upon a much larger scale.
BENHADAD AND HIS HOST BESIEGED SAMARIA
And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore [pieces] of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove's dung for five [pieces] of silver. And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. And he said, If Jehovah do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the threshing-floor, or out of the winepress? And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to-day, and we will eat my son to-morrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him; and she hath hid her son. And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes (now he was passing by upon the wall); and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh. Then he said, God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.
We pass over this awful paragraph with a minimum of comment. What a horrible thing, really is warfare, not merely in ancient days, but in our own as well. The famine in Samaria was entirely the result of the siege by the Syrians, their purpose being simple and brutal enough. They would starve the inhabitants into submission!
If Israel had remained united, Damascus would have been their dependent, but the sins of Solomon and his brutal slave-state had laid the ground for the division of the chosen people, whose conceited and ambitions kings walked in their own godless ways, bringing continued sorrows upon the people. "Causing Israel to sin" is the oft-repeated phrase in the record of their shameful reigns.
The horrors of this particular siege of Samaria had been prophesied by the great Lawgiver (Moses) himself.
"And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters ... in the siege and in the distress wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee ... if thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 28:53-58).
Thus, the terrible calamities that came upon God's people were directly due to their sins and were the consequences of their rebellion against God. However, that in no way diminishes the sorrow and shame of such extremities as those mentioned here.
But, look at the reaction of the king of Israel! Fool that he was, he decided to kill God's prophet instead of deciding to get rid of his paganism and return to the worship of God in Jerusalem. Of course, he would be no more successful in that intention than Benhadad had been.
THE ORDER WENT FORTH TO KILL ELISHA
Verses 32, 33
But Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him; and [the king] sent a man from before him: but ere the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, See ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away my head? look, when the messenger cometh, shut the door, and hold the door fast against him: is not the sound of his master's feet behind him? And while he was yet talking with them, behold, the messenger came down unto him: and he said, Behold, this evil is of Jehovah; why should I wait for Jehovah any longer?
As Montgomery noted, we must read "The king of Israel as the speaker in that last sentence."F2 We get the clue to this in the previous verse, where Elisha revealed that the king himself would appear shortly after the arrival of the messenger. The king, of course, was ready to execute Elisha, but Elisha's bold word, "THUS SAITH JEHOVAH," frustrated the king's evil intention. This narrative will be concluded in 2 Kings 7.
Footnotes for 2 Kings 6
1: The Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 83.
2: International Critical Commentary, Kings, p. 386.