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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Unbelief and the Floodgates of Heaven - I
Text:2 Kings 6:24-7:2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2017/04/16
Added:2017-05-02
Updated:2017-05-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 

Unbelief and the Floodgates of Heaven - I”
2 Kings 6:24-7:2
 
This passage begins with three words: some time later. We don’t know how much time has passed, but we do know that King Ben Hadad of Syria (Aram) had certainly witnessed the power of God and the kindness of his servant, Elisha.
 
From verse 8 through verse 23 we read about a complete reversal. It seemed as though the Syrian army had successfully surrounded Elisha and his servant in the city of Dothan. You recall how his servant was terrified. He was certain that their end had come. But Elisha had prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” And when the servant opened his eyes he saw that the army of the Lord was on all the hills, and that the forces of the Lord were far greater than the forces of Syria.
 
We went on to read about how the Lord struck the Syrian Army with blindness and Elisha led them into Samaria, into the presence of King Joram (Jehoram). When the Syrian soldiers received their sight there they were, inside Samaria, captive to the king of Israel.
 
King Joram was eager to take their lives and put them to the sword. But Elisha had shown great mercy. Instead of killing the soldiers they set food and water before them and then prepared a great feast for them. After the Syrian troops had finished eating and drinking they were sent on their way and they returned to King Ben Hadad.
 
Do you think that the account of what happened was well known? Do you think those soldiers described to the people in Damascus how kind Elisha, the servant of the living God of Israel, had been to them? They undoubtedly had, and for a season of time the raiding bands from Syria ceased from their raids into Israel.
 
Fast forward a period of time, again we don’t know the exact amount of time but probably not extensively long, and we read how quickly the Syrians had forgotten both the power of God and the kindness of Elisha.
    
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the Syrians who forgot the power of God and the kindness that he bestows. It is part of our human frailty, and part of our sinful nature, that even as believers we can quickly forget just how powerful God is. And, when God allows circumstances to seemingly go against us, how quickly we can forget how kind, compassionate and loving he is.
 
This chapter should reinforce upon us the importance of remembering God’s power and his kindness, no matter what happens in our lives.
 
The Cruelty of Fallen Humanity
 
However, the passage not only teaches about the power and kindness of God; it also reveals the cruelty of fallen humanity. As the Syrian army surrounded Samaria we see cruelty on their part, as they forgot how merciful God had been to them through Elisha. We see their cruelty in that they certainly realized that by surrounding the city they were causing everyone in Samaria to face an inhumane, agonizing death by starvation.
 
But not only do we read of the cruelty outside the walls of Samaria by the Syrians, we also see cruelty within the walls of Samaria, as merchants used the famine to take advantage of the people. Verse 25 tells how there was a great famine in the city and the siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for 80 shekels of silver. That’s about 2 pounds of silver. In today’s valuations, with silver at close to $20 an ounce, it would cost $640 or so to buy a donkey’s head.
 
Donkeys were unclean animals, so it wasn’t even something that people would eat under normal circumstances. And even if you were to eat the meat of the donkey, you certainly wouldn’t look for meat on the donkey’s head! Yet precisely because people were starving, the price even for something relatively worthless, was raised to an exorbitant level.
 
In a similar way, a small portion of seed pods, as the NIV translates verse 25, sold for five shekels which would be about $40 in today’s evaluation. You may have noticed the NIV footnote says that it may have been dove’s dung. Commentators are divided on whether it was indeed dove’s dung or an unusual plant that was known to grow in that area. They are also divided on whether the people actually were so desperate as to eat dove’s dung, or whether it was used instead to build a small fire to cook whatever scraps of food could be found.
 
In 1992 we lived in North Central Florida when Hurricane Andrew devastated the Miami area, some 300 miles southeast of us. We were amazed at how beautiful our weather was. There was not a cloud in the sky and even the humidity was low. We learned that the circular motion of the hurricane draws clouds from the surrounding area to the storm, and that is why we had the clear blue skies even though the southern part of the state was demolished by the hurricane.
 
But we were also amazed at how prices escalated so quickly and so outrageously. Because people from South Florida were driving north seeking refuge from the storm the price of gas almost doubled. After all, the people had no choice but pay. The price of everything increased in the span of less than one day. Milk, eggs, meat, flour, bottled water, all those things that we normally take for granted became incredibly expensive.
 
Because of that, legislation was enacted after Hurricane Andrew, making it illegal for merchants to boost the prices in order to take advantage of people who are caught in a natural disaster. We see the greed of people today in times of adversity, just as people were so greedy back in the day when Samaria was surrounded by the Syrians and a donkey’s head would sell for 80 shekels of silver.
 
But an even more tragic example of the cruelty of fallen humanity is in verse 28 and 29. A woman approached the king and asked for help. She was obviously extremely agitated. She explained that another woman had said to her, “Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we will eat my son.’ She said, “So 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 in him.”
 
That is beyond our ability to grasp. I don’t know about you, but I have trouble imagining how horrible that would be. But, unfortunately, that has happened at various times in history. In the biblical record the same scenario was played out when Nebuchadnezzar surrounded Jerusalem. Lamentations 4:9-10 describe how it was better to be killed by the sword then to die by hunger. Jeremiah wrote: Better are those slain with the sword than those slain with hunger; For they pine away, being stricken for lack of the fruits of the field. The hands of compassionate women boiled their own children; they became food for them because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.
 
This great tragedy was brought on because of the people’s wickedness. The Lord had warned his people not to turn from his ways so that calamity would not come upon them. In Deuteronomy chapter 28 the Lord clearly warned his people not to be disobedient to him. He warned them that if they were disobedient other nations would surround them and deprive them of their food, causing them to become so desperate that they would cannibalize their own children. Deuteronomy 28:53, And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.
 
The siege that brought this great tragedy on Samaria was brought about by the wickedness of the people as most all of them had rejected the Lord. It was only a small minority, Elisha and the company of prophets, and perhaps some of the 7000 that the Lord had told Elijah about (1 Kings 19:18), who had never bowed their knee to Baal. The rest of the people had turned their backs to the Lord and rejected his word.
 
Hatred for God and His People
 
And as we see the cruelty of fallen humanity we also see the hatred of the world for God and His people. When King Joram heard the account of the woman who had eaten her son, he immediately blamed the Lord and his servant Elisha. In verse 31 he said “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!” And in verse 33 the king said, “This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?
 
The view of Joram, that God is to be blamed for our hardships, is hardly a unique view. It is the view held by every insurance company in North America, as well as the media and the general public. Proverbs 19:3 serves as an incisive commentary on the wicked blaming the Lord as it declares, A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.
 
This portion of Scripture is among the saddest portions of Scripture in the Bible. We know that all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable and useful for instruction and training in righteousness. And we see where this passage, as gruesome and tragic as it is, is yet so very practical as it instructs us in a number of areas, including that repentance means nothing unless it is from the heart.
 
True Repentance and Worldly Sorrow
 
King Joram surprised the people by wearing sackcloth beneath his royal robe. We read in verse 30, after hearing how the woman had eaten her own son, that he tore his robes and as he went along the wall, the people looked, and there, underneath, he had sackcloth on his body.
 
To wear sackcloth in the Old Testament time was highly significant. It not only denoted great sorrow; it also implied repentance for sin. That is why we read on more than one occasion how the people repented in sackcloth and ashes.
 
However an outward appearance of repentance means nothing if that repentance isn’t sincere within a person’s heart. In King Joram’s case we see that his repentance was insincere. In verse 31, immediately after revealing that he was clothed in sackcloth, he described how he planned to kill Elisha that very day.
 
It is easy to say that we are sorry. Perhaps you have known people who are quick to apologize, but then they go back to doing the same thing that they apologized for. A genuine apology – and true repentance – requires a change in conduct.
 
In fact, that is the meaning of the word repentance. It means to turn. To repent is not just to say to the Lord, “I’m sorry for my sin,” but it involves turning from that sin. All of our life involves repentance, and unfortunately, because of the sinful nature within us, we never completely turn from sin, but rather until the day we die are tripped up by it. But in the life of every true believer, repentance from the heart is so crucial. 2 Corinthians 7:10: For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
 
Him Who Is Able
 
Another application is one of great comfort. As we hear Elisha say, with great confidence, in chapter 7:1 “Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: about this time tomorrow, a seah flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria” we should be greatly encouraged.
 
Elisha had no doubt that God was able to do above what anyone could ask or imagine. After all, it was God who had caused the axe head to float. It was God who had delivered them from the army around Dothan. It was God who had brought about the healing of Naaman’s leprosy. It was God who had fed them faithfully even when there was death in the pot of stew. It was God who caused the widow’s oil to continue to flow. And it was God who raised the Shunammite’s son back to life. So considering both God’s power and his faithfulness, Elisha had no problem believing that the Lord would bring an end to this famine.
 
Although everyone around him was so fearful, Elisha was encouraged, trusting that God would do above what anyone could ask or imagine. And we should have that same attitude as we prayerfully bring to the Lord our concerns, whether for daily bread for those who suffer severely from famine around the globe, healing from sickness, help with financial calamities, along with every other need.
    
In every area of life where we have need – and we do have need in every area of life – we are to be encouraged that nothing is impossible for our God, and he has promised to always meet the needs of his people.
 
Help for Unbelief
 
But although Elisha had no doubt that God would provide, and that the famine would be lifted and the exorbitant prices would fall, the officer on whose arm the king was leaning found such a statement to be preposterous. He said, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”
 
And in his response we see the natural response of humanity to God. We should not be surprised that this officer of the king expressed doubt that God could cause the famine to end. Unbelief is the natural reaction to every son and daughter of Adam, and each one of us are descended from Adam and Eve.
 
In the Garden of Eden, when the Lord told Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” did Adam believe the Lord?  By his action he showed disbelief.  Instead of believing the command of the Lord God Almighty he believed the lie of the serpent. And every child of Adam ever since has followed in his footsteps of unbelief.
 
It is only by God’s grace that any of us believe in Him. If God, in immeasurable grace and mercy, did not change your heart and my heart by the regenerating power of his Holy Spirit, we would be just as unbelieving as the servant who expressed his great doubt to Elisha.
 
In Luke 16 we read that tragic account of the rich man in the agony of hell speaking to Abraham who is in the glory of heaven. The rich man in hell begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house. He pleaded, in Luke 16:27, “I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’
 
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’
 
And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (28-31)
 
Unbelief is the natural response of all humanity. The human heart, apart from the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power, is so hard that even if someone would return from the dead, their warning of hell and the promise of heaven would not be heeded. There still would be no repentance and saving faith in Christ alone for salvation.
 
I heard a sermon once where the speaker repeatedly used the phrase “unbelievable unbelief.” The context was Lazarus being raised from the dead, and even though he had been raised from the dead, the Jewish leaders still would not believe in Jesus but sought all the harder to kill him.  And I think I know what the speaker meant. As believers, we may find it hard to understand why unbelievers reject the gospel when by God’s grace we joyfully accept the gift of faith that he has given to us.
 
But unbelief is the natural response of every child of Adam; it would be your response and mine if God had not graciously worked in our lives. If God in grace did not change your heart and mine we would be just as unbelieving as the king’s officer, saying, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”
   
And even as believers we need to recognize the weakness of our faith. I pray that by God’s grace you have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and have the assurance of salvation by grace through faith. But there is never a time when we can become apathetic or lackadaisical about the gift of faith God has given us. Instead we are to recognize the weakness of our faith. In Luke 17:5 the disciples pleaded with the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
 
That should also be our plea to the Lord that he would give us growth in grace and an increase in our faith. Every believer is still assailed with doubt, and must pray as the man whose child was healed exclaimed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
 
And we strengthen our faith by the use of the means of grace which includes hearing and reading God’s Word, prayer and the proper use of sacraments. These are means that God gives to us to strengthen our faith, and we are responsible to use those means. That is also why we meet together on Sunday and throughout the week. We seek to strengthen our faith and that of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Encourage one another daily, Hebrews 3:13 instructs us, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
 
* * *
 
Next week, the Lord willing, we will read how this amazing prophecy of Elisha’s became a reality. But as we consider the unbelief of the king’s servant, and the lack of true repentance by King Joram, may each of us examine our heart and life. By God’s grace may we see that his amazing grace has transformed us from unbelievers to joyful people of faith.
 
May we express deep gratitude in God’s amazing grace as expressed by John Newton:
 
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
 
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
 
      Through many dangers, toils and snares,
      I have already come;
     ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
      And grace will lead me home.
 
- bulletin outline -
 
 “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” - 2 Kings 7:2b
 
“Unbelief and the Floodgates of Heaven – I”
2 Kings 6:24-7:2
 
I.  This graphic passage reinforces:
     1) How quickly God’s power and grace are forgotten (2 Kings 6:8-24; 7:2)
 
 
 
               
     2) The cruelty of fallen humanity (25, 28, 29)
 
 
 
 
     3) The hatred of the world for God and His people (31, 33)
 
 
 
 
II. Applications:
     1) Repentance means nothing unless it is from the heart (30; 2 Corinthians 7:10)
 
 
 
 
     2) We are to be encouraged that God is able to do above what we can ask or imagine (7:1; Matthew 19:26; Ephesians 3:20)
 
 
 
 
     3) Unbelief is the natural response of humanity to God (7:2). It is only by God’s grace that any of us believe in Him (Eph. 2:8-9).  Even as believers
         we need to recognize the weakness of our faith (Luke 17:5), praying, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Ted Gray

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