We're continuing with our study in the lives of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings. It's a crucial period of Biblical history. One of the few points in Biblical history where God intervenes in miraculous ways. The Bible is not - as populalry believed - FULL of miracles. Miracles are clustered at key points in salvation history when God is defending or progressing his kingdom. So this is a key point of the Bible where we can expect to learn much about God’s work in his world to restore humanity and all creation to himself.
Here we have an episode of war avoided. Of clememcy (mercy, forebearance) that leads to an armistice (a ceasing of hostilities)
And the great theme that runs through this episode is the theme of blindness and sight. God sees, Elisha sees, The servant is blind and sees, The enemy are blind and they see.
Seeing, sight and blindness. I can remember when i began to lose the clarity of my sight. I kept complaining about the overhead projector (OHP) being out of focus! It was only when borrowing my sister's glasses at an art gallery that i discovered that i was the one with the sight problem!
None of us sees clearly, spiritually. Only God sees perfectly. We on the other hand are blind and need to receive the gift of sight and even when we have been given the gift of spiritual sight we need to go on daily having our sight clarified, properly focussed; the eyes of our hearts opened.
Let’s look at the passage
Scene 1 vv8-13 is a split screen between the enemy king of Aram (Syria) and his advisors and the hometeam King of Israel and Israel’s prophet Elisha. And the scene is rich in comedy.
v8 The King of Aram was at war with Israel
Of course war is never a laughing matter, as we remember today those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. War is tragic and often inexpicable. This war no less than any other because the chapter that immediately precedes this one - we looked at it over the last two weeks - tells the story of how the commmander of the army of Aram, a man called Naaman received extraordinary grace from the God of Israel. Healed from his leprosy, Naaman had come to know the God of grace for himself. Maybe the obscuring of grace perpetrated by Gehazi, Elisha’s assistant, going after Naaman to take payment from him (last week’s passage) had stumbled Naaman and he was no longer a Christian. Maybe this episode happened many years after Naaman’s day, (Elisha seems older - the King calls him Father). We don’t know. All we know is that the King of Aram was at war with Israel. And in his war rooms in a bunker in his palace in damascus he is building a military strategy with his senior advisors. moving models of chariots and horsemen and foot soldiers around a great map of Israel and then sending out coded orders to his officers in the field to make camp in such and such a place. But back in Israel Elisha the man of God is also taking strategy to his commander in chief - the Arameans are there and there.. now there …Time and again Elisha warned the King so that he was on guard in such places.
And the King of Aram is pulling his hair out. Outfoxed every time. And he demands to know who is the spy in his senior ranks leaking top secret intelligence!!?? But his advisors somehow know about Elisha v12. “Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the King of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
Some commentators conclude that Elisha must have had an informant among the executive office of the King of Aram. A senior staff that would have consisted of the Kings most trusted confidants - family members and the like (let the reader understand). But the passage is deliberately pointing us in the direction that Elisha has prophetic sight, miraculous sight given by the God who sees and (hears) all.
Many times the Bible affirms that God, of course, sees everthing. Nothing escapes his gaze. It’s one of the reasons why he is qualified to judge perfectly because he sees perfectly. He even sees the thoughts and attutudes of our hearts.
Is this a discomforting thought? In a way yes of course. We don’t want someone to see us do we? That’s what makes this time of year so terrifying as Christmas approaches and Santa’s arrival in town is imminent. “he sees us when we’re sleeping, he knows when we’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!” It’s sinister isn’t it. A young Jean Paul Sartre upon realising that God sees him was so disturbed that he rejected the whole idea of God.
Of course whether the omniscience of God is a cause of discomfort or fear very much depends on the character of the God who sees us.
At a time of great uncertainty th ereality that a God of abundant grace, compassion and goodness sees all and cares for all is a source of great hope and great strength.
Scene 2 vv14-18 The siege of Dothan
The King of Aram resolves to capture Israel’s secret weapon - Elisha. Intelligence reveals that Elisha a is in the small hill station of Dothan. Aram sends a strong task force of horsemen and chariots by night to surrround the city v15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” The servant is understandably alarmed by the turn of events. Dothan has no defences to repeal this sort of attack. Surrounded and hopeless. But Elisha is calm and assured and utters these enigmatic words v16 “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
And Elisha prays his first prayer for sight. “O Lord open his eyes that he might see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
Elisha’s servant was not blind and yet Elisha prays for him to see. And God answers that prayer.
There is a deeper seeing than just physical sight; seeing the physical world. There is a seeing that none of us have by nature. The foreign enemy - we shall see - didn’t have it. But neither did the good and faithful servant. None of us have spiritual sight whether we’re nasty or nice, wicked or moral. All of us by nature have hearts that are darkened (Ephesians 4). We’re all insensitive to spiritual realities, we can’t see them, we actually suppress them, we’re blind.
And therefore Spiritual sight - has to be a gift. A miracle.
This means that becoming a Christian is not - as some think - an extension of a current way of living - turning over a new leaf, a resolution to live the way i ought to live. an extension: becoming morally better; religiously more active.
No - becoming a Christian is much more like receiving a new faculty; a sixth sense. Being ushered into a whole realm of reality you never knew existed! Its’ more radical than just becoming a good person!
Imagine a person born totally blind. they have no concept of colour or shade (light or darkness). And they’re talking to you and you’re talking about colours and they say, “So, Is red like the sound of a trumpet or the feel of wool?” and you want to be sensitive by the only answer is ‘No..” because sight is NOT an extension of hearing or feeling. It’s something utterly different. It enables you to perceive realities that hearing and touch cannot perceive and therefore there is no way for you to even imagine what colour or shade is like until you have that faculty.
Spiritual sight. “O Lord open his eyes, so that he might see” Then the Lord opened the servants eyes and he could see.. Spiritual sight is the begiining of faith. A whole new realm. Where ideas that were so abstract, even silly to you become compelling and real to you. So real that they change you permanently. That they begin to govern your priorities, your decisions, the whole way you live your life..
And we’ll see in a bit that that spiritual sight is always a process. It often comes gradually, sometimes it can be instant like with Elisha’s servant. But often it’s a gradual seeing. An dit needs to continue throughout the Christian life - clarifying your sight .. but we’ll come back to that.
Spiritual sight is a gift.
Third Episode vv19-23 Capture and Grace
In v18 the enemy forces of Aram begin to descend from the city walls to … take Elisha. Would they have been obstructed.. would there have been death, pillage, rape - the horrors of war? Would Elisha have called upon the fiery hosts of heaven to destroy the enemies of God?
Elisha prays his second prayer. This time for blindness. “Please strike this people with blindness.” So [the LORD] struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha.
Imagine the scene as these great warriors are suddenly completely disarmed by the loss of their sight. Plunged into darkness. How terrifying it must be to suddenly lose your sight. Murderers instantly become helpless, dependent, like little children. Perhaps some swung their swords around aimlessly in fear and desperation. But they are quickly disarmed and have no choice but to follow Elisha’s lead.. who marches them down the road and leads them to the astonishment of all that watched into Israel’s capital, Samaria. What an extraordinary scene it must have been. Presented to the King of Israel who says to Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father, shall i kill them?”
The physical blindness disarms the enemy. But in the Bible. God always strikes people with physical blindness inorder to open their eyes to their spiritual blindness. The classic example is the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus searching out Christians to have them arrested (Acts 9). He is blinded by the Jesus. God’s way of saying: Paul, you are spiritually blind.
What is it that we are spiritually blind to? What is the nature, the condition of our spiritual blindness.
Well, firstly we are blind to our sin
The Aramean soldiers, attacking, killing - they thought they were just following orders they didn’t know they were fighting God.
In the same way unless i am given spiritual sight I cannot see the depth of my own sin. I will see sin as breaking rules and regret sin only when it messes up my life. But when and as spiritual sight is given i will understand sin not just as breaking rules but as a pervasive attitude of heart. I am NOT a good person. Even the good i do, i see that i do for my own sake. CSlewis in his book Mere Christianity says, you know how you can tell when someone s not yet a Christian. They will never say consistently (might say it in a moment of self deprecation but not consistently) that they are self centred, self absorbed. Non Christians might say “I don't like to have to ask for forgiveness. I am good. I don't do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.”
The more Christians grow the more they will say, ‘I am not good. I am self centred’.[extended training course for ministers, lovely old couple retired missionaries, most godly woman, tears in her eyes, ‘i’m so proud’ You’re not proud at all!.. She saw that she was..] seeing the depths of your sin.
And when and as spiritual sight is given i will regret sin not just when it gets me into trouble (which means that when trouble goes i’ll go back to it).. I’ll regret sin because it grieves the God I love and who loves me. And because that never goes away i really might not go back to my sin so easily. Spiritual sight can bring change that lasts.
blind to our sin - that’s the first part of our condition
but the second is that we are blind to our own blindness
In John chapter 9 when Jesus heals a man born blind on the sabbath the religious leaders are incensed and Jesus says to them. ‘for judgement i have come into the world so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind. And the religious leaders say, “What? are we blind too?” And Jesus says since you say you can see, you’re doubly blind!!”
One of the ways that you know you’re blind is that you don’t think you are.. If you don’t think you are blind today - You are
And the third thing that we are tragically by nature blind to is the beauty of grace.. But of course here also is the way out of our blindness.
The Aramean soldiers had no idea that Elisha -public enemy number one - was actually the greatest friend they ever had. Elisha - on all the wanted posters of Aram, hated would be the instrument of amazing grace
The Aramean army, the enemy who had been ravaging Israel is led helplesly into the lions den - Samaria. The King of Israel bounces with excitement, Shall i kill them? Shall I kill them? And Elisha answers NO .. give them a feast. Elisha prays for the third time v20 “LORD open the eyes of these men so that they can see.” This army that deserved to die by every rule of war instead are given a feast.. A radical shocking act of clemency that stops the War
This is the gospel.
We deserve to die for our utter rejection of God. We’ve abused his glory. Made him our enemy.
We deserve to die by every rule of war and instead we are given a Feast
Because there was another prophet. Hundreds of years after Elijah who too was surrounded by an army in a garden. And when his followers resisted he stopped them saying, Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’ (Matthew 26:53-54)
All recipients of grace receive grace beacuse their sin was put on Jesus Christ.
Jesus was executed so that we will never be
He was executed for our war crimes that we might receive a feast
He was plunged into deepest darkness that we might be brought into the light
Oh that the Lord would open our eyes again - or maybe for the first time - to the beauty of his grace.
How can God offer spiritual sight to blind people? - because of Jesus.
How do we receive that sight?
We just ask. Like Elisha did. “LORD open his eyes so he can see, her eyes so she can see. My eyes that i might see.
And it’s a process.. For all of us.. The process of coming to believe; seeing who Jesus is ...Is an ongoing process of having our eyes opened to the glory of God
Elisha’s servant - he was already a believer.. he would have known God, known a lot about God, a lot of right theology and doctrines. He panics when he sees that Dothan is surrounded by the enemy..He knew the promise that God is always with his people but he didn’t see it. And because he knew it just in his head and not with the eyes of his heart it didn’t deeply affect him. But when he had his eyes opened… When he saw it ..he knew it not just with his head but with his heart. He saw the reality of an idea that previously was just an abstraction. And when he saw it - it gripped his heart and changed him
See it’s possible to believe in a God if forgiveness and yet still be wracked with guilt. It's possible to believe that God says don’t commit adultery but then get embroiled in an affair
You believe something but you don’t SEE it
Cos if you saw it … it would change you
We need God’s ongoing help to clarify our vision. to be people who are constantly saying - i've heard this before but now i see it!
That’s why the great apostle Paul prays in Ephesians 1 for christians that the eyes of your hearts will go on being enlightened that you might see Jesus, know Jesus.
If you’re a Christian you’ve been wonderfully given the gift of sight to overcome your blindness, so that you might see the depth of your sin and the beauty of God’s grace.. but your sight needs to be constantly clarified (cleaning my glasses) and constantly improving. We slip back into spiritual short sightedness and so Everyday we need to pray as we look at Jesus in the Scriptures. every day ..”Open my eyes Lord so that I may see.”