The message of the prophet - 2 Kings 6:24 - 7:3
I wonder what you think is our society's greatest problem at the moment? Many in the press this last week have been talking about increasing lawlessness on our streets. Others have said our public services are so seriously under resourced that though we are very rich we have a 1st class economy being the 4th biggest in the world, we have only 3rd class transport, education & health services.
Perhaps more perceptively another writer has said that in the Western world one of our greatest problems is "instantitis"! Whatever we want, we want it now! We believe we have a right to be happy now! We want our fulfilment to come as fast as a Big Mac!
This attitude, so rife, in the world around us can influence us as Christians. Popular Christian culture is typified by expectations of good things now that the Bible promises for heaven.
This kind of triumphalism has a flip side; disillusionment. There are many Christians brought up on exaggerated claims that aren't fulfilled & so later feel under great temptation to give up.
We can easily contract a Christian form of instantitis & when we don't see what we expect or hope for quickly we become despondent, our hearts grow cold.
There is a Challenge faced by God's people in all ages: Will we live in the light of God's promises or will we let circumstances shape our thinking & behaviour? Will we walk by patient faith in God's word or will we slip into to unbelief through hard-heartedness or disillusionment?
As we continue learning from the life of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings we've reached ch6 (p375). What we see is largely a negative eg of God's people failing to live by patient trust in Him but also an encouraging pointer to God's graciousness through his special rescuer.
If you've been here in previous weeks you'll know Elisha has succeeded Elijah & is carrying on the work of bringing God's word to his rebellious people in the Northern Kingdom of Israel some 8-900 years before Jesus.
Last time we saw how God used Elisha to be the agent of rescue & deliverance from the hands of the attacking Arameans from Syria. And the result? 6:23 "the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel's territory". The immediate threat of invasion waned.
But on another occasion there was a further offensive. The old enemy attacked the capital City; v24Some time later, Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria. This new assault brought about a dire & devastating situation for Israel.
There are 2 specific egs which show how bad things had got;
i) Famine (v25)
You may have heard something of the economic chaos in Argentina a few weeks ago people's savings became virtually valueless, professional people were reduced to bartering previously valuable possessions for food. Well that was nothing compared to the desperation of God's people in Samaria in the time of Elisha!
v25There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey's head sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels.
The economy had collapsed! It was forbidden in the Law of Moses to eat Donkey's heads (Lev11:3) but things were so bad people were prepared to pay exorbitant prices to get one for food. An 1/8th of a pint of carob seeds was selling for 55g of silver a months wages for a labourer what's that? in our terms?
But there was something even worse;
ii) Cannibalism (v26-29). 26As the king of Israel (Joram) was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, "Help me, my lord the king!"
27The king replied, "If the LORD does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?" [He knows he cannot help her, himself.] 28Then he asked her, "What's the matter?"
She answered, "This woman said to me, `Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we'll eat my son.' 29So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, `Give up your son so we may eat him,' but she had hidden him."
This is a very low point. Here we have a famine in the promised land! There is hardly any food in a land meant to be flowing with milk & honey. And what could be worse than God's people reduced to eating their own children, children given to them by God Himself?
It's an appalling & grotesque situation but this is even worse than it 1st appears, for this is not just a human being who is eaten, whom a mother would be deeply attached to as her son, but also he would be her & her families pension scheme & insurance policy. Without a Son there would be no future.
In famine situations today you know things are very bad when people have to eat next seasons seed corn there's no future if you eat the seed there's no future whatsoever if you eat your son!!
Well, when the king hears about the Cannibalism he is horrified. But how does he react? 30When the king heard the woman's words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and there, underneath, he had sackcloth on his body.
There seems to be a show of repentance (wearing the sackcloth) but later actions show this is simply a sham. The King was simply not prepared to listen to God's word in the Law of Moses or through Elisha. -The King (as one who sums up & represents God's people) reacts wrongly to the situation he could have seen how low things had sunk & turned to the LORD who had so graciously delivered them before he could have turned to the promises of God regarding the covenant. That way he would have known why they were in such a mess & how they could get out of it.
Let me read some words from Deut 28 that make clear God's covenant agreement with his people;
Dt 28: 1 "If you fully obey the LORD your God & carefully follow all his commands ..the LORD your God will set you high above all the nationsthe fruit of your womb will be blessed, & the crops of your land
However v15 "if you do not obey the LORD your God & do not carefully follow all his commands..v52 "your enemy will inflict on you ..[a] siege, you will eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of the sons & daughters the LORD has given you".
Rejection of God's Rescuer & Unbelief
The King, had he followed God's word could have seen they were in their predicament because they had turned away from their loving covenant God the consequences they were experiencing were exactly what God had warned. The King could have called for true repentance, turning back to the LORD God & found him willing & able to restore them. But what does he do?
He takes the name of the true God on his lips to curse the one who was God's agent of rescue & blessing to them: 31He said, "May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!"
So, the King representing his people turns in unbelief on Elisha God's rescuer there's the tragic irony that the one who could deliver is the one blamed for the mess the people are in!
There is a failure to accept God's message & God's rescuer.
Sound familiar? As we recall that 1st Easter at this time of the year do you remember a King & his people who wanted rid of God's ultimate rescuer?
A saviour who was plotted against by his own people & eventually executed? As the Apostle Peter put it to the crowd in Jerusalem in Acts 3 "You handed him over to be killeddisowned the holy & righteous one.. you killed the author of life.." (3:13,15). The only one who could deliver, Jesus, became the object of rejection by his own people.
We see this attitude to God's rescuer today, don't we? So we have the tragic irony that even those who carry the name of Jesus as "Christians" can reject him & want him out of the way this may come in the guise of accepting the teachings of other faiths or the condoning of immorality but it is effectively a rejection of the Son of God.
-We can do it in more subtle ways too.
We see it in our culture too. Jesus has had more influence for good on Europe than anyone else, but we seem in our unbelief to be increasingly determined to air brush him out of today's world. (p)
-There is more of this unbelief later in the story with the King's officer; When Elisha tells him things will change for the better he refuses to accept God's word through God's rescuer; 7 v2The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, "Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?" He's bitingly sarcastic: Oh sure YHWH is even now making windows in heaven to pour out flour & grain that's preposterous!"
Elisha responds end v2: "You will see it with your own eyes," "but you will not eat any of it!" Faithless incredulity about God's word through God's man would cause him to miss God's generous grace towards his people the next chapter shows this is exactly what happens (7:20).
Do you se the see the problems? The people showed their unbelief by failing to take notice of God's word & by rejecting God's rescuer.
Failure to wait in faith
What we go onto to see helps us realise why they responded with unbelief rather than patient faith;
As God's prophet, Elisha is given divine insight into the situation he knows the King is out to get him & so he is prepared when the King's messenger turns up. The relayed words of the King show the characteristic of the unbelief;
33While he was still talking to them, the messenger came down to him. And the king said, "This disaster is from the LORD. Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?"
He rightly understands that the sovereign Lord is ultimately behind the famine "This disaster is from the LORD." God is control, but then his disillusionment & failure to believe God's word sets in "Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?"
He's fed up with the mess & God hasn't done anything about it "That's it! why wait for him any longer? Why put your hope in him, he doesn't seem to help?"
It's so easy to get into this situation as Christians; we struggle with issues in our personal lives; health, work problems, an uncertain future, midlife crisis, concerns about our children, pain of not having children when we would like to, tensions in our marriage, the internal ache because we're not married & we'd like to be. And then we see the spiritual decline in our nation & we're disappointed with the response of the Church.
In our own Christian walk we easily get discouraged by our weakness & failure & it's all compounded by the promises of the latest popular Christian speaker promising revival & exciting things now but they don't seem to materialize.
This is the challenge of living in the "already" of God's Kingdom & yet anticipating the "not yet". We live now in the day of God's grace in Jesus, but the full fulfillment is still to come when Jesus returns. The Christian life involves patient waiting faith that trusts that God knows what he is doing & is one day going to bring about the completion of his promises.
The great Church reformer Martin Luther's words are an encouragement to all of us who wait through life:
"This life therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it."
The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified." We can apply that to our individual lives as Christians & our church.
King Joram of Israel had been helped so much by God through Elisha we saw last week how he was repeatedly warned about attacks & was therefore able to be rescued (6:9,10.) God had given through his word to Elisha a period of peace (6:23). But this was so quickly forgotton. In fact, as we shall see, God's rescue from famine was just around the corner it was 7:1 "this time tomorrow" yet the King is faithless rather than faithful.
This is a Challenge to us in our desire to want everything now in our church & in our lives; Will we patiently wait in faith for God's promises or let circs shape our thinking & behaviour?
The writer Robert Schuller asks, 'What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?' The question is designed to break us out of our mental ruts and to think of the possibilities of our lives. Perhaps we could change it slightly and ask, 'What great thing would you wait for if you knew God would not fail you - if you knew that even your sins and failures would not destroy God's faithfulness to you?' The answer to that question can fill us with hope and tenacity as we wait for God's promises to be fulfilled.
It's similar with Church too. At Riverside Church we have benefited from the wisdom of others establishing new churches in this country in similar cultures the need to be relational & long term in our vision. We're seeing this here at St John's too contacts made years ago through friendships, community involvement are now leading people to find out more, come to Church or Christianity Explained.
Time is so often needed & we shouldn't become disillusioned. The 19th C preacher Philip Brookes was renowned for his gentleness & great patience. One day a friend walked into his study & found him pacing back & forth, terribly agitated. He was shocked. "Dr Brookes! What on earth is the matter?" he asked. "I'm in a hurry" he said, "But God is not!"
Things were bad in 9th BC Israel, there had been a failure to trust God patiently. The people deserved nothing, in fact only continued punishment. But when things are low, when his people merit nothing God brings his word through his rescuer Elisha;
71Elisha said, "Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria."
In other words food will be available at a more normal price. The famine will be over! Somehow God was to gong to deliver them. It certainly couldn't be anything of the people's own making for there was not time for crops to grow in such time.
As they say on a Question of Sport; "What happened next?"
Well the siege was lifted. 7:6 "for the LORD had caused the Aramenas to hear the sound of chariots & horses & a great armySo the Arameans fled. The King is still doubtful that they have been rescued (v12) but Elisha's promise from God is completely fulfilled v 16: "Then the people went out & plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of flour sold for a shekel, & 2 seahs of barley sold for a shekel as the LORD had said".
God thorough his rescuer is wonderfully generous. The people deserved only punishment for breaking the covenant as we have seen, but God is so gracious. The theologian Karl Barth was right when he spoke of God's grace as his great 'nevertheless'. "You have turned away from me" says God, "you have responded to me in unbelief & failed to trust my promises 'nevertheless', I offer you deliverance & rescue."
This is the pattern of God's working with his people & we see it supremely in the one Elisha (whose name means "God is salvation") foreshadowed the one who is the centre of Easter so Titus 3:3 "At one time we were foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslavedwhen the kindness & love of God our saviour appeared [in Jesus] he saved us not because of the righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy...so having been justified by his grace we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life"
We should ask ourselves; Will we let circumstances shape our thinking & behaviour, will we accept the instantitis of our age as we consider our lives & our church, or will we patiently live in the light of God's promises, promises centered on Jesus that come to us from a generous, gracious heavenly father?
Robert Louis Stevenson the novelist who penned Treasure Island & Jekyll & Hyde, once wrote about a ship.
Waves crashed over the ship as it laboured along a rocky coastline. The danger in the air was palpable. One sailor toiling below the water line could contain himself no longer.
In a panic he stumbled up the stairs to the control room where he stood frozen in terror. He watched the captain grapple with the controls as he fought to steer the huge ship through the rocks to the open water.
The Capt looked over his shoulder at the scared sailor & smiled. The sailor smiled back & went back down below deck to tell the crew that everything was going to be alright. When they asked him how he knew, he said "I have seen the captain, & he smiled at me."
In Jesus as he is revealed in the bible we see God's reassuring smile. As we steer along life's sometimes rocky coast, waiting for help or good things in our lives or our church & ultimately waiting for the fulfillment of all God's promises when Jesus returns, we can trust in our gracious, good, smiling heavenly Father.
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