Messages and Miracles
A 5-part Bible Action Plan based on 2 Kings 5-8
by Neil Prott
- The Importance of Humility
- The Intervention of the Lord
- Seeing the Invisible
- Trust in God
- The Man of God Weeps
The key figure in 2 Kings 5-8 is the prophet Elisha. His vital work followed that of Elijah and spanned more than fifty years.
His understanding of God’s ways, and his predictions of important events were spectacular. He was God’s agent in a series of miracles that should have drawn faith and obedience from all who witnessed them. But this was not the case. The testimony of the Bible is consistent on this point: in itself, miracle-working does not bring forth a response of repentance and faith.
Although Elisha is only once mentioned in the New Testament, his ministry anticipates the miraculous ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. In both cases, word-revelation is inseparably connected with miracle. The miracles are not designed to tickle human curiosity or provide subjects for discussion. Rather, they remind us of unseen reality and divine power.
Far more significant than any physical healing or provision is the miracle of new birth (Jn.3). Even more wonderful than the creation of the world is the new creation in a person’s heart. In the ministry of Elisha we see the signals of what would happen when Jesus came into the world.
The account of Elisha’s ministry is invaluable for Christians today. It reminds us that miracle is inherent in the Christian gospel. C.S. Lewis has put it like this (“Miracles”):
“All the essentials of Hinduism would, I think, remain unimpaired if you subtracted the miraculous, and the same is true of Muhammadenism, but you cannot do that with Christianity. It is precisely the story of a great Miracle. A naturalistic Christianity leaves out all that is specifically Christian.”
2 Kings 5:1-14 – Naaman the Leper
Serious illness can produce such change in a person’s life and outlook that a radical reappraisal is called for. Someone who has been an achiever, and ambitious about wealth and fame can be reduced to hopelessness. Unless there is the insight of faith, physical illness is likely to be viewed only as a setback. In such a case, the individual might want a “miracle cure” without wanting to meet the conditions of the God of miracle.
Q.1 In v.1 we are introduced to a man impressive in several respects. List the reasons his peers would have held him in high regard.
How might he have thought about himself ?
Q.2 The victory mentioned was a moral problem for the people of God because they assumed that God was always and exclusively on their side. In this case He had given the victory to their longtime enemy. Is there a lesson here for us ?
Q.3 What was Naaman’s pressing personal problem ?
And the answer given by Elisha ?
How does it strike you ?
Summarise Naaman’s reaction:
Q.4 Naaman had a serious disease. The prophet proposed a simple remedy. The general’s first reaction was to reject it. Why ? (vv.11-12)
Q.5 Human nature is still the same. There is an important parallel between the message of the prophet and the gospel which we carry to those who are lost. How do they think of it, and respond to it ? (cf.1 Cor. 1:20-23 Acts 17:32).
How would you apply the logic of the v.13 to someone today ?
REMEMBER: Jesus leaves us in no doubt about the importance of humility.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)
“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” – C.S. Lewis
2 Kings 6:1-7 – The Miracle of the Axe
Read through the passage, then answer the following questions.
Q.1 For a moment, imagine you are not a Christian.
(a) At what point in this passage might you have a problem* accepting what it says ?
(b) Why might you have a problem* ?
(c) Can you think of three other events reported in the Bible which might evoke a similar reaction of non-acceptance ?
- _____________ ii. _____________
Q.2 Now assume your proper role as a Christian.
(a) How do you explain the widespread tendency to reject some of the unusual happenings stated in Scripture ?
(b) How did you come to believe in those things as true ?
(c) How might you help someone who has the problem* to come nearer to accepting what the Bible says as true ?
Q.3 Elisha had taken over prophetic leadership in Israel from Elijah. This incident began with an ordinary need – the prophet’s disciples needed a roof over their head (vv.1-2). At their request, he accompanied them to the Jordan where “they cut down trees.”
There is an accident, and the axeman calls out with real alarm. What is the reason for his concern ?
Do we share that kind of concern today (v.5) ? Why is it an important issue ?
Q.4 It is amazing how people have tried to explain v.5 in naturalistic terms. They have made many attempts to avoid the supernatural. However, the plain and simple meaning is quite clear. The “laws of nature” were superseded.
If you were chopping down a tree by a river and the axehead flew off and sank, would you expect the same kind of thing to happen ? Give reasons.
Q.5 Is it essential to believe in miracles in order to be a Christian ? Explain.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9
2 Kings 6:8-23 – The Syrian Threat Removed
Q.1 Among other things, this passage is interesting because of the four descriptions of Elisha. What are they ?
- ____________ iii. ____________
- ____________ iv. ____________
One is used three times. Why do you think it is so significant ?
Could this title be used of anyone in our time ? If so, who ?
Q.2 For many years, the Syrians posed a serious threat to Israel. Ben-Hadad had been infuriated by Elisha’s warning to the king of Israel. How did B. Respond (vv.13-14) ?
What effect did it have on Elisha’s servant (vv.15-16) ?
Q.3 What does v.16 mean to you ? Compare Matt.26:53
Do we need the kind of reassurance given to Elisha’s servant ?
“Our education system has trained us to be sceptics. For this reason we find it difficult to think of spiritual reality as being just as important as physical reality.” Discuss.
Q.4 The affliction with blindness and the consequent confusion of the Syrian army amounted to a reversal of roles. The Israelites could have wiped them out. Why didn’t they ? cf. Rom.12:19-21
Q.5 Think of three ways in which Elisha shows himself to be “the man of God” in this passage ?
RECALL Isaiah 55:9
A WORD ABOUT PROPHETS
“The prophet is God’s spokesman. Speaking for God may involve foretelling the future, and in the Old Testament it normally does, but this is secondary, not primary.
While the foretelling of the true prophet may normally be expected to come to pass (Deut.18:21f), that does not necessarily establish his credentials (Deut.13:1ff). Ultimately, it is the spiritual quality of his message which shows whether a man is a prophet or not. In any case, the foretelling of the future is never merely to show that God knows the future, or to satisfy man’s idle curiosity; there is normally a revelation of God attached to it. We can know the character of God better now, if we know what He will do in the future. And as the future becomes present we can interpret God’s activity the better for its having been foretold.”
– H.L. Ellison “Men Spake From God” p.14 (Paternoster p/back edn.)
2 Kings 6:24 – 7:20 – Desperation and Deliverance in Samaria
Perhaps you have heard the saying: “The end justifies the means.” In other words, if the goal is a proper one, then it is alright to do whatever you have to do to reach it.
Are you happy with that idea ? Explain your views on this.
Q.1 Armchair philosophers have pondered many deep questions down the ages while ordinary people have gone about their daily routine. There have been many times in history when both groups have been taken by surprise.
Briefly describe the situation in Samaria in vv.24-29. Here we are faced with an ethical dilemma. The Syrians were ruthless enemies. There could have been little doubt about their intentions. On the other hand, the Samaritans were ready to take extreme action in order to survive for as long as they could. Try to imagine their predicament, and then give your opinion on the events recorded in vv.28-29
Q.2 Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This episode probably occurred in the reign of King Jehoram (852-841 BC). When he saw what was happening among his subjects he donned the attire of a penitent (v.30). However, when this achieved nothing, he took to cursing the prophet (v.31).
Perhaps you can think of another biblical example of this kind of thing, or explain similar attitudes and behaviour in our own community.
Consider the message of Joel 2:13a.
Q.3 Have you noticed how guilty people try to shift the blame off themselves and onto someone else? It begins in childhood.
When confronted about the wrong he has done, the small boy will often retort: “It wasn’t my fault, she . . .”
This was even more serious. The Jehoram and his mother Jezebel had continually provoked God by their wickedness. But instead of blaming himself and his mother for the famine (God’s righteous judgement), he blamed God (v.33) ! Can you believe it ?
He further blamed God for not bringing the famine to an end when he thought it had gone long enough. How did Elisha respond ?
Q.4 The “good news” of Samaria’s deliverance was delivered by four lepers (vv.3-15). The closing verses of Ch.7 bring out two main points. Explain their significance then, and now.
(a) The fulfilment of Elisha’s prophecy. Compare 7:1 with 7:16 & 18.
(b) The death of the king’s favourite courtier. 7:2, 19-20.
Jesus said: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.” Matthew 5:18
GOD EXPECTS REPENTANCE – NOT EXCUSES
Whenever the prophetic message of the Bible is laid on the consciences, we can expect people to find ‘reasons’ for excusing themselves from responsibility. Several are listed here. You may be able to add some more.
* Go through them carefully with a pencil and mark the ones that you know you have used.
* Think about them from God’s point of view.
* Then read Psalm 51 carefully and make it your own prayer to God.
Make this a top priority.
“I’m a special case.”
“I can’t help it: I’m just like that.”
“If you knew how bad my circumstances are, you wouldn’t expect me to be any different to what I am.”
“After what those people did to me, I could never forgive them.”
“The Devil made me do it.”
“I don’t intend to change. You’ll just have to take me as I am.”
“Anyway. Who do you think you are to be telling me what I should do ?”
“I’ve never said ‘Sorry’ to anyone and I’m not going to start now.”
“God is loving and kind and forgiving. He’s not going to condemn me if I have an affair with someone I love.”
“I haven’t got time to go into all that.”
“It’s just how I was brought up – that’s all.”
2 Kings 8:1-15 The Shunammite Enters into Prosperity
The Syrians Pose a New Threat to Israel
In the 1700’s it was fashionable for gentlemen to weep in public. Many cultivated the habit so that they could turn on the waterworks at will. How different is the situation in Australia today !
If a man were seen crying, what would his mates think ? Is a man’s ability to cry a weakness, or a strength?
In this passage we see Elisha weeping. In John 11, Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus. (There was nothing unmanly about Him). Perhaps we should rethink our ideas before we can expect others to do the same.
Q.1 Verses 1-6 continue the account of the woman whose son had been brought back to life by Elisha. What aspect of her life is an outstanding example to us ?
We are not surprised to learn that the Lord cared for her in a special way.
Q.2 After some hard lessons, ‘Big Ben’ had finally realized that Elisha had special insight. He wanted to know whether he would recover from his illness, so he sent Hazael to ask Elisha (vv.8-9). The prophet’s response was unnerving. What do you make of his answer (v.10) ?
Why do you think that Elisha’s penetrating gaze had such an impact on Hazael ?
Q.3 The prophet did not ‘turn on the tears’ like a 17th Century gentleman. How do you account for his weeping ? See vv.12-13
Q.4 In our community there are some people who don’t cry over anything. Others can cry with little provocation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are more sensitive to serious issues. Think of some of the various reasons people may shed tears . . . .
The Bible tells us that God and His servants are sorrowful, burdened and grieved, for one reason in particular. e.g. Gen.6:5-6 Lk.19:41
Q.5 The cruelty of the Syrians and the suffering of their victims, brought Elisha to tears. Why do you think we are so accepting of the evil that is so common in our world ?
What can we do to resensitize ourselves so that we are Godlike in our attitude ?
Behind Calvary is the throne of heaven. And if we have seen God acting at the Cross with power and great glory, if to that conquering grace we have yielded up our souls in absolute, irrevocable commitment, then every suffering is transmuted, every despair is pierced through with hope; and light against the dark background of the menace of the mystery of evil, we see the glory of the Kingdom that is to be.
– Prof. James Stewart
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The Study was written by Neil Prott. Copyright Neil Prott
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