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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Majority Support
Text:2 Kings 6:8-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 34:2,3                                                                                        

Ps 119:6,7                                                                                                      

Reading – 2 Kings 6:8-23; 1 John 4:1-6

Ps 91:3,4,5

Sermon – 2 Kings 6:8-23

Ps 68:7,8

Hy 5:1,2,3,4

* 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, there’s more to life than meets the eye. Appearances can be deceiving, and you rarely get the whole story. These are truths that we accept, yet we still let ourselves be fooled by what we see. We often focus on the outward, while the visual has become so important that it defines reality. So they say that seeing is believing. Or if something wasn’t recorded on video, then it didn’t happen.

But there’s more to life than meets the eye—much more. Nowhere is this more evident than in the things of God. The LORD our God is invisible, dwelling in unapproachable light. We don’t see the Father’s hand, or the real presence of Christ, or the foundations of his Kingdom. We also don’t see the realm of the spirits, the good angels or the fallen.

Yet Scripture tells us that there’s unseen reality all around us—far more than we can take in with our eyes. For much of what we see is only a façade, a shiny veneer on top of deep ugliness. And at times, it can certainly look like Satan’s kingdom is winning the day, like it’s not worth it to follow Christ. But God helps us to see more, to see reality as it really is.

Such is the theme of our text. It’s a story about vision, seeing beyond the intimidating appearance of earthly strength. For when God opens the eyes of our heart, we are enabled to behold the LORD in his glory, his power, and grace. I preach God’s Word to you from 2 Kings 6:8-23 on this theme,

           God reveals that He is the great and gracious King, in a story about:

                        1) a spying prophet

                        2) a startling display

                        3) a surprising mercy


1) a spying prophet: Throughout Elisha’s ministry, times in Israel were politically unsettled. Because of where the nation was situated—at the crossroads of the Middle East—Israel had a lot of neighbours. And many of these neighbours had an aggressive streak. Not long ago in 2 Kings, the Moabites had gone to war against Israel. Before that, the Syrians had invaded from the north, while Egypt was always a threat to the south. And quietly growing in strength were the Assyrians. Surrounded by hostile peoples, Israel could be attacked at any moment.     

And let’s just put that in a covenant context. The LORD had warned his people that this would happen if they rejected him as God and disobeyed his law; He said that one of the covenant curses was the suffering inflicted by other nations. As instruments of God’s judgment, they would come and make life miserable for the Israelites. Just think of how this happened throughout the period of the Judges.

Israel was a thoroughly idolatrous nation at Elisha’s time, so verse 8 isn’t really a surprise: “Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel.” This king was possibly Ben-Hadad II, a man who made a career out of winning wars and imposing heavy burdens on other nations. He was experienced in warfare, and we can hear him plotting his next incursion into Israel, “My camp will be in such and such a place” (v 8). 

As the Syrian army marched into Israelite territory, the question of where to stop each night was important. It was from these temporary bases that they would launch their attacks, so they’d probably aim to camp near Israel’s key settlements, or where they knew Israelite troops were patrolling. It sounds like the Syrian army is free to move around the land without much trouble, so before long you’d expect there to be a decisive battle, with the Syrians crushing the Israelites and seizing some of their towns.

But the Israelites have a secret weapon—his name is Elisha. For this is what happens, “The man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, ‘Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are coming down there.’” (v 9). Somehow Elisha has gained inside knowledge of where the Syrian army will be moving, and he passes this information on to Israel’s king (who is unnamed here but is probably Jehoram).

Elisha tells the king, who then tells his army commander: “This is where the enemy will be encamped—avoid that area, or be on high alert so that you can defend the cities.” And so every time the Syrians prepared to launch their attack, they found that the Israelite troops were ready and waiting for them, and it wasn’t advisable to continue with their plans. I like how it’s put in verse 10, “Thus he warned him, and he was watchful there, not just once or twice.” This kept happening, until it drove the Syrian king to total exasperation.

Now, we never find out how Elisha got access to this information. Was he really a spy (as I’ve called him), physically listening in on conversations in the Syrian camp, or perhaps relying on informants, then putting together “top secret” intelligence reports for the king? Or is this another display of the prophet’s super-awareness, where he knows people’s thoughts and can see right through their deceptions? We’re not sure.

But it’s clear what God is doing. He is using his servant to frustrate the plans of his enemies and to protect his people from harm. God does that so often in the Scriptures, sometimes in incredible ways: using the weather or geography to defeat hostile armies, turning enemy troops against each other, even prolonging daylight so that a battle can be finished—and now this, using inside information to win the day. The LORD is a mighty warrior for the sake of his people, for God has given his Word that He’ll preserve and protect us.

The care that God shows is even more remarkable when you think about the covenant context. Apostate Israel deserved no such kindness. God should’ve left them to fight their own battles, and to lose, but the LORD is immensely gracious. He is so slow to give up on his people. Even when we insist on rebelling against him, God is patient and ever-faithful.

Let us never take that as a license to keep sinning. May we never allow the wicked thought in our minds, “God will take me back, even if I stray. He’ll show mercy—so I’ll just plunge ahead into evil.” Instead, let God’s deep compassion and his patience in Christ move you to love God more, to worship him for his greatness, and to strive for holiness that is pleasing to Him.     

Back to our story, as the Syrian king is getting riled up: “He called his servants and said to them, ‘Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?’” (v 11). No wonder he asks this, for if you keep planning troop movements, but every time your enemy makes exactly the right countermove, anyone would think there’s a spy in your midst.

But the king’s servants know what’s happening: “Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom” (v 12). That may be a colourful exaggeration, but word of Elisha’s abilities has spread far and wide. It’s the prophet of God who is single-handedly keeping the Syrian attacks from taking place.

The king sees they won’t win as long as Israel’s secret weapon is operational. So he resolves to go and capture the prophet. The Syrian army encamps around Dothan, the city where Elisha and his servant are living. By night the Syrians come, and the city is quickly surrounded by “horses and chariots and a great army” (v 14).

It doesn’t look good. This is the first time that Elisha’s life is threatened, unlike Elijah, who was often hounded by his enemies yet who always escaped. But from a human point of view, Elisha’s chances of survival here are poor. Being in a besieged city means that all avenues of escape are cut off—a siege is often a terrible waiting game: those trapped inside are just waiting for the inevitable attack, even as their food and water slowly run out, and the hope of rescue fades.

When I read our text, I wonder if Elisha knew that this was going to happen. Time after time, he had charted the next move of the Syrian army. So why would it have been any different this time, when the Syrians marched against Dothan? Why would his knowledge have suddenly failed, now that his own life was on the line? So did he know, and still choose to stay in the city? Did he have an idea about what God was going to do, how the LORD was about to make a startling revelation of his glory?


2) a startling display: Try to imagine the terror felt by the people in Dothan. At night they went to bed in peace and quiet, secure behind their city walls. In the morning they awake to see a vast army all around, enemies intent on breaking down the gates and wielding their swords. Elisha’s servant gives voice to the fear felt by all, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (v 15).

This is the same fear-filled cry so often sent up by God’s people. We take a look at our circumstances, and we despair. We’re not surrounded by an invading army, but we’re besieged by worries about our family, overwhelmed with guilt, and choked by cares: What shall we do? How can I get out of this? Where can I turn? There’s no hope.

We see our earthly circumstances, I said before, and it can be as if that’s all we see. This family tension. This impossible burden of sin. These hostile co-workers. Satan’s constant attacks and vile temptations. It’s hard to find any hope when you’re under siege, and that’s because we are spiritually short-sighted. We see the present difficulty, we see our limited resources, and we just can’t see past these things to rescue or release.

But God tells us that there’s much more to life than meets the eye. He tells us there is another reality behind the appearances—an entire dimension and spiritual world—and that’s what is truly real, and truly powerful. Only we need eyes to see the glory of our God, and we need a heart to believe that He is near and acting on our behalf.

In our text He grants a vision of this reality in a special way, for Elisha answers his servant, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v 16). First, underline that command which is found so often in Scripture—more than any other command: “Do not fear.” Those are words that anxious people like us need to hear.

Then, the prophet sets up a contrast between the visible army of the Syrians and the invisible army of the God: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” It may not look like it at the moment, but God’s people always have majority support. We are secure, even in those times when we appear most weak and our enemies appear so strong. Because God is for us and on our side!

Now, it’s one thing for Elisha’s servant to hear that we are protected and secure in the LORD, it’s quite another for him to see it and be vividly impressed by the reality. So “Elisha prayed, and said, ‘LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see’” (v 17). And the young man’s eyes are opened, and he sees. “And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v 17). Notice that it’s not just a vision, a dream, but it’s a glimpse of reality: there really is a protective barrier all around the city, a glorious heavenly army just waiting for orders from their King.

Take a closer look at this army. God’s army is made up of “horses and chariots,” like most armies in the Middle East at that time. As Psalm 68 says: “The chariots of God are tens of thousand, even thousands of thousands” (v 17). But these are horses and chariots “of fire.” So often in the Scriptures, fire signifies the presence of God, whether at the burning bush or on Mount Sinai. Our God is a consuming fire, and his army is a fiery host. These are the same horses and chariots of fire that Elisha saw before, on that day when Elijah was taken up.   

So it’s a great and invincible army that is being held in reserve as the enemy digs in around Dothan. Yes, the Syrians look scary, but they’re no match for God. They have many thousands of troops, but they’re completely outnumbered by the heavenly host. Elisha’s servant is getting a rich assurance that even the greatest political powers in the world are subject to the rule of Almighty God. Ben-Hadad isn’t in charge at Dothan, and neither is King Jehoram, but only God the LORD. And the LORD’s eyes are always on his covenant people.

Beloved, the good news is that this reality hasn’t changed. We still have God’s promise in Psalm 91:11, “He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” Every day we can enjoy the security of our Father’s care, for He commands his angels to shield us. We don’t see the angels, we might not even think of them, but they’re present—great in number, great in strength, and sent by our loving Father.

Think of Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even as enemies seized him, Jesus reassured his disciples, “Do you think that I cannot pray to my Father, and He will provide me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Things looked bad at that moment, it appeared as if God’s plan was crumbling, but in reality, 72,000 warrior-spirits were ready to come to his aid. If it wasn’t time for Jesus to go, God would’ve stopped the enemy in his tracks.

The cross had to happen, of course, and its blessed result was to make our position more secure than any earthly security you could ever find. In Christ, we are truly safe. The very worst that the devil can bring against us is nothing for our Lord to handle.

Ephesians 6 speaks about our present spiritual warfare. It tells us that behind all the evil we see in this world are the invisible forces of Satan and his demons, who are determined to destroy us. And it can look hopeless at times, like there’s no way to defy these temptations, to resist the pressures of the present age. But then the Spirit tells us to put on your spiritual armour—the unseen armour of God—through whose power you are able to stand. Be strong in the Lord and in his great strength!

Listen to what John writes in his first letter, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (4:4). Isn’t that essentially the same message that Elisha gave his servant? “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Christ is in us, and He is greater than Satan, and all his demons, and all the allies that he has in this world. Christ is greater than any trouble or guilt or temptation that we face, since He is the resurrected Lord and King. Christ lacks no resources, and He is willing to use them for your benefit.

The next time that you’re severely tempted or in grave trouble, God will not give a vision of horses and chariots of fire in order to encourage you. But you may yet depend on the beautiful truth of verse 16: “Those who are with us are greater than those who are with them.” For our King is greater, and his power is stronger. Pray for open eyes, like Elisha prayed. Ask God that the eyes of your heart would be enlightened, so that you will know and believe God’s truth.

Don’t look only at the things you can see. Look past what is visible and external, and fix the eyes of faith on the unseen Christ. That’s what faith is, after all: “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Do not fear, for the unseen Christ is with you and will not forsake you. He promises to clothe with his armour, and guard you with his angels, and fill you with his Spirit, so that you may stand fast.


3) a surprising mercy: Elisha has reassured his servant, so now it’s time to deal with the Syrian threat. He marshals the heavenly force available to him by praying to the LORD, “Strike this people, I pray, with blindness” (v 18). They will be struck, not with the sword, but with blindness. The word used here suggests that there was a bright flash of light causing a loss of vision, similar to what happened to the men of Sodom in Genesis 19.

If you’ve ever played a game where you had to walk around blindfolded, being led by a partner, you’ll understand how helpless these Syrians felt. They were completely vulnerable to whatever the Israelites wanted to do. So Elisha goes out to them, and offers to lead them to the place where they will find their man. Helpless and blind and ignorant, they go along with him. Except he leads them to Samaria, Israel’s capital, a city full of well-armed troops.

And once they’re all safely inside, Elisha prays again that the Syrians will regain their vision. It’s a nearly identical prayer to the one that he prayed for his servant, “LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see” (v 20). God opened their eyes, and what did they see? They see Elisha, the man they’ve been hunting. But they also see that they’ve walked right into a trap. You can hardly fault the king of Israel for being excited about what’s next, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” (v 21).

With the Syrians trapped, completely vulnerable in their shock, the Israelites have a great opportunity to take out one of their arch-rivals. A quick slaughter here, and the Syrians will be removed as a threat for coming years.

But then the surprise. Elisha refuses to give permission to the king to kill the Syrians, and orders something radically different instead: “Set food and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master” (v 22). The Syrian army will be spared, and not only spared, but treated well with food and drink!

It’s a strange twist of events, and puzzling. In it we see that Elisha is really on neither side of this war, for first he protects the Israelites, then he prevents the massacre of the Syrians. Elisha isn’t loyal to one side or the other, because his loyalty is to God above all. This is what God wanted him to do.

And why? Our text doesn’t tell us why God spared the Syrians. It just gives one result, in verse 23: “So the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel.” This act of mercy leads to an end of the border wars. For a while after this, Israel is allowed to enjoy peace.

But the peace is short-lived. After God’s surprising mercy, the Syrians go away, but they don’t go far. Read one verse further, and you get the account of how Ben-Hadad laid siege to this very city of Samaria, and how this siege went on and on in great misery. And so this might be another reason that God spares the Syrians in our text: He’ll still use them to judge his people. The Syrians will be instruments in his hand to discipline his children.

No, we don’t know exactly why God has mercy on the Syrians. But you wonder if it’s part of that ever-widening grace that God shows to the nations as the Old Testament keeps unfolding, and as the time of Christ draws near. Not only Israel, but also the nations can have a place under God’s love! In God’s mercy, even the Gentiles can be saved.

Think of Naaman, the army commander from Syria, healed and enlightened just in the last chapter. He was brought to a marvelous confession, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel” (5:15). God had compassion on Naaman so that He could draw him to Himself—might the act of mercy in Samaria have done something similar?

If the Syrians really had eyes to see, they would’ve beheld the goodness and grace of the true God, and how it was capped off that day by a great feast of eating and drinking. This was unexpected mercy! Undeserved kindness! Instead of dying, they live. Instead of going home defeated, they go home with full stomachs and happy hearts. God had showed them a little something of who He is.

In a way, we can see the surprising mercy at Samaria as a faint picture of the gospel of salvation. For this is what Christ does. He sets free the captives. He gives sight to the blind. He grants life to those who deserved death. Christ invites to his great feast all who trust in him, and He nourishes them with his own flesh and blood.

May God give us faith to trust in this loving Christ through every circumstance of life. May God give us eyes to behold his beauty, to see that Christ is greater than any earthly treasure, that He is stronger than any foe!  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 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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