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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Miracle of the Floating Axehead
Text:2 Kings 6:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-12-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 84:1,6                                                                                 Mount Nasura – 29 December 2019

Ps 42:3,4                                                                                                        

Reading – 2 Kings 6:1-23

Ps 57:1,3,5

Sermon – 2 Kings 6:1-7

Ps 86:1,2

Hy 65:1,3,4

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


Beloved in Christ, what is a miracle? Sometimes we say that the birth of a baby is a miracle. Or when a sports team comes from behind to win the championship with a last-minute goal, people might call it a miracle. It’s a word that we use loosely, but what is a miracle? As believers in the living God, we’d say that a miracle is when the Lord intervenes in the regular course of nature—He sets aside what is normally expected—to bring about some extraordinary result. 

If you read the stories of the ministry of Elisha here in 2 Kings, you’ll see the prophet to be a man of miracles. He says little, and does much: healing Jericho’s polluted waters, multiplying the widow’s oil, raising her son, salvaging some bad stew, healing leprosy, and more. Each of these miraculous events defy natural explanation, acts of power that cannot be controlled or predicted.

Elisha has said little, yet each of his miracles carries a message. He’s a prophet, after all, a spokesman for God. So every miracle is saying something about the LORD he represents: that God is merciful to sinners, for instance, that God cares for the lowly, that He holds power over death and disease, that Gentiles matter to him. God intervenes to show something about himself.

So what about the story of the floating axe head? Here God intervenes yet again, sets aside the laws of nature so that Elisha can recover someone’s hand-tool from the river. But what’s the point? It certainly demonstrates God’s power again, yet the whole story seems trivial. Does an axe head really matter?

When people aren’t sure what to do with Bible stories like this one, they sometimes turn to allegory. They try find a hidden meaning in each of the various details of the text. So the axe stands for a man’s soul, and the Jordan River stands for judgment. Because of sin, man’s soul is lost beneath the waters of judgment. And Elisha’s stick stands for the cross of Jesus, because it’s through the wooden cross that sinners are saved, pulled from judgment and given new life.

It’s a good effort, but I don’t think we have permission to find allegory in Scripture wherever we please. For then you can make any text say almost anything you like. Far better is just to take a text at face value: it means what it says, and says what it means. Let’s then listen carefully to the Word of God from 2 Kings 6:1-7,

God shows mercy in the miracle of the floating axe head:

  1. what was lost
  2. is found

 

1) what was lost: Over the last several chapters, Elisha has been the main character in most of these stories. Now and again Gehazi has been mentioned in a supporting role, until he was removed for his coveting spirit. Besides Gehazi, the sons of the prophets have also made an appearance here and there.

The “sons of the prophets” were groups of faithful believers in Israel, men who were devoted to learning from the true messengers of the LORD. In an age of widespread idolatry, these small bands of men were determined to hold onto the ways of the LORD. They’d first gathered around Elijah when he ministered in places in like Jericho and Bethel, and then after he was taken up to heaven the sons of the prophets had flocked to Elisha. It sounds as if they looked to him not only for good teaching but also for some of the daily necessities of life; remember how they pleaded with him to do something about the bad stew. 

Now again in our text, we hear the sons of the prophets ask their headmaster for some practical help, “See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us” (v 1). From the sounds of it, Elisha and his students were living together in a kind of community. Maybe you could picture a collection of modest buildings, like a central meeting room and some dorms around it. At any rate, the sons of the prophets are facing something that the school society has to deal with from time to time: overcrowded facilities. Their meeting place is becoming cramped, and it’s time for an expansion project.

We could actually take this as a positive sign for God’s faithful ones in Israel. If their dwelling place is getting too small, then it must mean that the community is growing. Through the ongoing ministry of Elisha, the sons of the prophets are increasing in number. And so they need a bigger and improved place to meet.

It’s a small but hopeful sign for Israel’s future, and it’s a reminder that Christ is always busy with his church. There will certainly be times when the numbers of his people seem to be dwindling. But we shouldn’t despair when numbers decline, and we should also give thanks to the Lord when numbers grow, for Christ will always have a people for himself.

In Israel, the faithful need more space. So they propose to Elisha, “Let us go to the Jordan, and let every man take a beam from there, and let us make there a place where we may dwell” (v 2). At that time, the area around the Jordan must’ve been a good place for finding timbers to work on their project.

Elisha agrees that they should do this work, but one of the men has a request: “Please consent to go with your servants” (v 3). Every work crew needs supervision! And Elisha is willing, so he accompanies them down to the Jordan. So far it all seems pretty mundane, but as we’ll see a bit later, this invitation is an important detail. For it means that Elisha will be present when the axe head is lost.

You can see that God is already making preparations for the miracle that is about to unfold. From a human point of view, the LORD is always several steps ahead of us—He’s thinking of things in our life long before they’re even close to happening. And from a divine point of view, the LORD is more than several steps ahead of us: God is already there, in the future, for He’s not limited by time and space.

But first, back to the story. The prophet and his band come to the Jordan where they set to work cutting down trees. And then the emergency: “As one was cutting down a tree, the iron axe head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, ‘Alas, master! For it was borrowed’” (v 5). Now to us, a lost hand tool is hardly a crisis. For example, many years ago when I was a landscaper we would break our shovels on a regular basis: handles would snap when prying rocks out of the ground or chopping through the roots of trees. A broken shovel was inconvenient, but it was easily replaced. Today we’d just head to the hardware store and buy a new one.

But try to relate to an Israelite in the eighth century Before Christ. An iron implement like an axe was most valuable. Just to make an axe like this would require many hours of intense labour: gathering wood for a blazing hot fire, then refining and melting the iron ore, then shaping and sharpening the axe head. And so a tool like this would’ve been quite expensive, and to lose it in the river was awful. One commentator suggests that losing a borrowed axe head was something like smashing the car that someone let you drive for the weekend.

Verse 5 is another reminder of the challenging times in which these people lived. The sons of the prophet didn’t have much, for this axe was borrowed. And now to replace it will take some doing. To earn enough to buy another one, this man (and maybe the rest of the community with him) is going to have work long and hard—months of labour just to replace something lost in an instant.

So maybe you can understand why the man cries out as the axe flies from his hands and into the river with a loud splash. Gone. The laws of nature mean that this axe head is now at the bottom of the Jordan, probably buried deep in mud and past all recovery.        

You can understand the man’s dismay, but is this really a problem for the prophet to handle? It’s the simple need of one man—God’s truth is not at stake here, no one is going to die, there’s not even an immediate danger of anyone going hungry. Is this really worth the LORD’s time?

Compare it for a moment to the two miracles that surround this one. In the last chapter was Elisha’s healing of Naaman the Syrian army commander. That was clearly a miracle with a headline message: God cares for the nations! Enemies and outsiders can receive his mercy! And then later in Chapter 6, there’s the amazing story of God’s heavenly army being revealed to Elisha and his servant when they’re stuck in city under siege, and they get a startling glimpse of the LORD’s true power.

Right in the middle of these headline stories there’s the tiny incident of an axe head lost in the Jordan. Sure, it was a big deal for this one man, but next to the dramatic stories of ministry to the Gentiles and a Syrian invasion, you’d think that the LORD God has far bigger things to be concerned with and to respond to.

Maybe you’ve thought something similar about your own life. Next to all the problems that are afflicting the world right now, is God really concerned with your little troubles? The LORD has hurricanes to manage, missionaries to bless, volcanoes to control, and the hearts of presidents to direct—does He really want to hear about our small lives?  

Does He want to hear about the worries we have over our falling business income, and about the hopes we cherish for the next school year? Is the living God who is enthroned in heaven above actually concerned about you getting your driver’s license, or your doctor’s appointment next week? Are we just flattering ourselves to think that Almighty God cares about his people’s sunken axe heads and broken arms and broken hearts?

But our God is faithful in little things and in great things. It’s a wondrous truth that your Father is not so occupied with the government of the world that He can’t be bothered with our small lives and their many needs. Remember the encouraging words of Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt 10:29-31). One aspect of our Father’s greatness is his deep concern for the small and ordinary affairs of the lives of his children. It’s God’s promise to always care for us because we are precious to him in Christ Jesus.

Of course we all know that’s true—we can all recite Lord’s Day 10, about God’s “almighty and ever-present power”—but so often we act as if it’s not true. Because we let the little problems, the small details and insignificant matters pile up in our hearts and minds, and we do not cast them onto the LORD in prayer. Maybe at some level we figure that He’s not really interested. Or maybe we reckon that we should solve it ourselves. At any rate, we hold onto our fears and worries, brooding over them, getting more anxious by the moment, because we do not bring them to God—because we do not really grapple with the truth that God cares for us.

But God does care about our lives, even in all their little details and insignificant moments. He’s a loving Father who has engraved the names of his children onto the palms of his hands, so He takes a close interest in what troubles us. He already knows, but He wants to hear it from us. He already knows, but God is pleased to answer our prayers in his kindness.

It’s true that we don’t always know what our true needs actually are. For the son of the prophet in 2 Kings 6, a sunken axe head was a genuine need. For you working in your garden tomorrow, a broken shovel may not be something you feel that you need to pray about—and that’s fine. But there are many other things that you do need to pray about, that you should pray about. And thankfully, God our Father understands our genuine needs, so we can lay our lives before him in humble expectation. He promises to provide for us in the most faithful way.

 

2) what was lost is found: The man in our text facing his own little crisis has called on Elisha for help, telling him about the axe head buried deep in the river. And at once Elisha gets involved. He asks, “‘Where did it fall?’ And he showed him the place. So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float” (vv 6-7).

Just like Elisha has done before, here he acts decisively but simply in order to show God’s power. Before it was a dash of salt thrown into a polluted spring, a handful of flour into a spoiled stew—now it’s a stick tossed into the river, right on the spot where the axe head dropped.

And the miracle is described in the plainest way: “He made the iron float.” It is a miracle, another intervention by God in the normal order of things. Because iron doesn’t float. Unless it’s made of Styrofoam, an axe head has a higher density than water and it will immediately sink. But this is my Father’s world, and He’s free to rewrite any so-called “law of nature.” And so He does, and the axe head pops to the surface of the river.

Now there’s always doubters among those who read the Bible. And so some will dismiss the event in our text as something less than a miracle. They say what Elisha actually did was take a stick and poke around in the water until he felt something hard on the riverbed. Then a bit of coaxing with his stick, and he was able to get the axe head out of the water and into the hands of his grateful student. So it’s not a miracle as such, but a good lesson in taking the time and effort to look to the interests of others. But the text is straightforward, isn’t it? Through God’s power, Elisha “made the iron float.”

And let’s think again about how God set all of this up. For the rescue of the axe head to take place that day, the presence of Elisha was essential. So now we understand the detail of why the one man invited him along to the Jordan. He didn’t know, of course, what was about to happen. But God did, so God made sure that Elisha came along on this errand.

That gives us a glimpse into the amazing workings of God’s government over all. His mighty providence is constantly at work, even when we don’t think of it or notice it, even when it’s not till much later that we do. There are circumstances that God is arranging long before we know that we’ll ever need them.

Isn’t that incredible to think about? Even the trivial events of today or tomorrow, the missed appointment, the passing conversation, a good book that we read over the holidays, a new relationship with our neighbour—God might be using these small things to become part of something that is far greater, like our own spiritual growth, or a new opportunity for service, or the conversion of someone who is lost.

Maybe you can think of stories from your own life when you’ve noticed this. Perhaps there have been small and ordinary occurrences that led to momentous events in your life. Or events which helped to prepare you for some trial or for some blessing. We have no idea where a “random” incident might lead, how even something like an invitation to come along on an errand can become an occasion for God to show his goodness and care.

We can’t predict these things, of course. But what we do know is that God is working out his good plan in our lives, each and every day. God our Father is bringing us somewhere, and we can rest in his leading. Beloved, may this move us to adore him! And may this move us to trust him ever more!

So let’s return again to the question we asked near the beginning of this sermon. What’s the point? Why was God pleased to perform a miracle by recovering a lost tool from the river? At one level, it’s simply an act of mercy. There is no prophetic word fulfilled, no judgment stated, no promise given.

Yet we know that God never does miracles for their own sake, but always for a purpose. Just like in Jesus’ ministry, each miracle carries a message. Each miracle is another revelation of God’s glory. That is what we’re meant to ask, after all, every time we read a passage of Scripture: What does this text reveal to us about the LORD?

The miracle of the floating axe head shows that God is indeed concerned for the small things of our life. Because for us, the small things can often become big things. For this one man, a lost axe head was a big deal. For you and me, a car repair bill can be a big thing, and so can a headache, and a bad school report, and a tough meeting at work. These things matter to us, and because they matter to us, they matter to God. He cares.

It doesn’t mean that God will suddenly erase the money we owe, or make our headache disappear, or give us a better report or a happier meeting. But it does mean God is with us in the struggle. And He’ll supply what we truly need. In power and goodness, He’ll come near to us. “He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him for us all, how shall He not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). Yes, He’ll give all things that we need.

So there are times when God supplies our needs in extraordinary ways. Think of when Jesus needs money to pay the temple tax. It sounds like He didn’t have any money to do so—not surprising, since He was homeless and unemployed. But He tells Peter to go the sea with his fishing rod, open the mouth of first fish that he catches, and there he’ll find enough money to pay the temple tax for both of them (Matt 17:24-27). A small need, met in a remarkable fashion.

Again, maybe you have a memory of God doing something similar for you: an unexpected pay raise, a sudden gift, finding a $20 bill on the ground—God providing in surprising ways. And surely you also have a memory of God providing in ordinary ways, because that’s from his hand too: a regular income, sufficient strength for another day, the support given by fellow saints. The point is, God supplies our needs.

The event in our text would’ve been a great encouragement for Elisha and the sons of the prophets. God saw their trouble and helped them. But consider how this story would also have been a testimony to the rest of the people of Israel. So many at this time were straying from him, relying on false gods and turning to other nations for help. But the aid of man is worthless. When unfaithful Israel heard this story, they would also be hearing God’s gracious appeal to them—an appeal once more to turn to him, to repent from their sin, and be willing to trust him completely.

That’s the unchanging gospel in our text. God’s grace and help are freely available for all who fear him. For Jesus’ sake, God withholds no good thing from those who seek him. So bring your cares to him. And let us learn to rest in our Father’s faithfulness and love!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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