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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Last Message, A Last Miracle
Text:2 Kings 13:14-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 124:1,2,3                                                                                     

Ps 86:2,4

Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Ps 21:1,3,4,7

Sermon – 2 Kings 13:14-21

Hy 16:1,3,4

Hy 68:1,5,7,8   

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

Beloved in Christ, today we see the end of the ministry of Elisha the prophet. Over the last number of chapters in 2 Kings, God has repeatedly showed wonderful and miraculous power through his chosen prophet.

Through Elisha, God restored drinking water to Jericho and He judged the wickedness of Bethel. Through Elisha, God defeated the Moabites, defeated the Syrians—and then defeated them again. He multiplied the widow’s oil and he fed a hundred prophets. Elisha made someone’s axe-head float and he made Naaman’s skin like that of young child. And most recently he appointed new kings for Syria and Israel. Elisha has been empowered to do much, but now his ministry is almost over.

Try to imagine how the faithful in Israel would’ve felt fear and uncertainty about this. For something like fifty or sixty years, Elisha has been a living link to the Almighty LORD. His miracles and words were a constant testimony to God’s mercy and God’s truth.

This was a precious witness in a land where the kings were so often wicked—men like Ahab and Jehoram—and where the general population was always being drawn towards the fun and festivities of Baal worship. Take away Elisha’s good influence in the land, and what will happen? You’d worry where Israel ends up.

But God’s work is always far bigger than one man. The well-being of his church never depends on one or more persons to lead it wisely or courageously. God will use his human instruments, but it’s never up to them alone. After all, it’s God’s people—it’s the church of Christ—and He’s promised to take good care of it. We can trust in his care. And the two closing episodes of Elisha’s ministry show this in a most remarkable way. I preach God’s Word to you from 2 Kings 13:14-21, 

            God brings Elisha’s ministry to a hopeful end:

                        1) a final message for a weak king

                        2) a final miracle for a struggling nation


1) a final message for a weak king: That Elisha is almost done his earthly work is clear from verse 14, “Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die.” It doesn’t give any more detail than this, but from his condition it must’ve been obvious to everyone: the prophet’s time was now near its close.

And hearing this, Joash the king of Israel comes to visit the old prophet. Joash was the grandson of Jehu, the king whom Elisha had appointed some years before. In our text we see that there was a close connection between Israel’s kings and God’s prophets—at least, there was supposed to be. For God intended that his kings be guided by their wisdom.

Joash comes to him, and he’s upset. He’s anxious about losing a man who was a true prophet in Israel. But his lament for Elisha sounds strange to our ears, “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” (13:14).

What’s the king going on about? He is remembering past stories of God’s strength, his great power shown through Elisha. There was, of course, the moment years ago when Elijah had been taken up to glory, escorted to heaven by horses and chariots of fire. There was also the time that God’s glorious army showed up at Dothan when the city was besieged by the Syrians. God’s horses and chariots meant protection for Israel, deliverance and victory. It was like having a secret weapon, an invincible back-up army always held in reserve.

More than once during Elisha’s ministry God had used the prophet to help his people in a dramatic way. In fact, Elisha was more of an asset to Israel than Israel’s own army. So Joash fears the future. How will they face off against their enemies now? Without Elisha and God’s army, their chances don’t look good. 

So Elisha seeks to encourage the king, to give parting reassurance. He says to the king, “Take a bow and some arrows” (v 15). It’s going to be a message acted out. Then the king and the prophet both place their hands on the bow, and they set an arrow on the string. Putting his hands on the king’s hands show that there’s a unity between them. The king can know that the prophet is standing with him—that God is standing with him and the people.

And together they fire an arrow out of a window facing the east. The eastward direction is important, for it was to the east of Israel that the Syrians had already spread their control. We can read in chapter 10 that they’d recently taken the lands just across the Jordan, including parts of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh (10:32-33). King Hazael of Syria was doing exactly what God intended—he was bringing judgment on the stubborn Israelites.

Yet God, who is rich in mercy, hasn’t given up on his sinful people. For there’s a message carried in the fired arrow. Elisha interprets it as the LORD’s promise of victory over Syria: “The arrow of the LORD’s deliverance and the arrow of deliverance from Syria; for you must strike the Syrians at Aphek till you have destroyed them” (v 17). 

With the Syrians getting ever closer to Samaria, that would’ve been a deeply encouraging message for King Joash. The LORD God was still on their side and fighting for them! Even when Elisha has long since departed, the Almighty God will be present for the good of his people. That’s a truth which is as ancient as the Bible itself: God stands on the side of his covenant people, and He protects them.

Just one example will do, from Deuteronomy 20. This is a chapter in the law where God gives instructions to Israel about how they should go to war. And together with his guidelines for warfare, God gives this reminder: “The LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory” (Deut 20:4). Underline that: God will fight for you and give you victory! Success isn’t dependent on the strength of the army. It’s also not dependent on the presence of the prophet or anyone else: “The LORD your God is the one who goes with you.” The message of the arrow shot from the window was clear. God is a warrior, and He’ll powerfully strengthen Israel’s hands for battle.

So will the king accept this message with enthusiasm? Will he show that he believes it? Elisha tells Joash to take some more arrows, and this time to strike the ground with them. You can see the king’s puzzled looks, his questioning glance: “Hit the ground with the arrows? That’s not how to use this particular weapon of war; it’s more of a projectile than a blunt instrument. But OK, I’ll do it—if you say so.”

Joash strikes the ground three times, then he stops. And Elisha isn’t happy. He says to the king, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck Syria till you had destroyed it! But now you will strike Syria only three times” (v 19). The king’s response has been half-hearted, when it should’ve been vigorous. The prophet had just shown him that he had the LORD’s promise of victory, and he should’ve grasped it with both hands. But Joash isn’t sure. He’s less than enthusiastic, probably because it seems like a flimsy display of God’s power, and maybe even foolish. Joash probably would’ve like to see something more, something more convincing. So he holds back.

For children of God, isn’t this always the vital issue? It’s the question of faith, the question of trust. How do we respond to God’s spoken Word? How do we work with his promises? If God says that He’ll fight for us and give us the victory, do we believe that? Do we work with that enthusiastically? For Joash—as for any future king—this was the key issue, more than anything they accomplished in their reign. Do they trust God’s Word?

And in this final message for a weak king, there’s a message for us too. God doesn’t promise us military victories like He did to Joash. But He does promise his spiritual protection. And He promises the sure gift of wisdom. He promises us enough strength to fight against the devil’s temptations. He promises that we’ll have our daily bread, all the things we need to maintain our life. God promises that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love. And think of all that God promises us in our baptism! God promises much—do we believe much?

When we hear God’s promises, it’s easy to react like King Joash: half-hearted, a bit dubious—we might go through the motions of accepting God’s Word, but we don’t really show that we believe it with all our heart.

How do we show that? Perhaps we still worry and stress endlessly, as if God hasn’t really promised to care for us. We have no peace in our circumstances, because we don’t fully trust his Word. And we still work on our back-up plan, as if God hasn’t promised us his steadfast love. We try to predict and manage every outcome ourselves, instead of leaving all the many unknowns to God. We have a whole bundle of God’s promises in hand, but we hold them loosely, with a bit of uncertainty. We’re still not ready to commit. We don’t want to look foolish, so we first want to make sure that it’s safe to trust, that it’s wise to trust.

Beloved, God our Father wants us to trust in him, to trust him wholeheartedly. His Word is sure. His hands rest on our hands. He has promised to fight for us, against all our enemies, against the tempting devil, and the constant pressure of this world, and even against the weakness and doubt of our own sinful flesh. God promises much—do we believe much?

Like for Joash, we probably limit God’s blessings on our life by failing to trust him, we diminish his goodness by holding back. There are surely more victories we could have, there is more peace we could enjoy, more heavenly gifts we could receive, if we would dare to trust God more. “Try me in this,” God says somewhere in Scripture, “trust me, and obey me—and see the great things that I will do for you.”


2) a final miracle for a struggling nation: Elisha was sick, and after his last message for Joash we’re told that “Elisha died, and they buried him” (v 20). Following his long ministry in Israel, he died at a good old age. And burial is the last you’d expect to hear of Elisha, except for the marvelous thing that happens next.

We learn that “raiding bands from Moab invaded the land in the spring of the year” (v 20). Just like the Syrians were, the Moabites were a tool in God’s hand for judgment. Lately they’d been increasing in strength again, becoming bolder in their attacks. They’d enter the land at will, murdering and plundering wherever they went.

And on this day, their unwelcome raid interrupts a sombre occasion: the funeral of a man of Israel: “So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha” (v 21). Carrying the body, then seeing the Moabites approach from a distance, it’s understandable that these men want to be free of their burden as soon as possible. So this is what they do: they deposit the corpse in the next convenient place.

To better understand this scene, it’s good to know that Israelite graves were not pits dug into the ground like ours: six feet deep, then filled in with soil. Rather, Israelite graves were caves or cells dug into rock, with the opening blocked by a heavy stone. Probably the men had already pried open the tomb when they hear the cries of the onrushing Moabites. In their panic, they quickly lay down the body of their friend.

But through their haste something amazing happens: “When the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet” (v 21). Again, just a word of Middle Eastern background: corpses weren’t carried to the grave in sealed wooden coffins, but were simply wrapped in cloth.

So after being dropped into the cave and suddenly reviving, the man is able to stand up at once, walk out of the tomb, and rejoin his friends. Just think of it: going to the funeral of a loved one, even being a pall-bearer and carrying the coffin with your hands—but then God reveals his power and glory, and you end up walking home with the very person you were about to bury!

This story is just a few lines long, but it’s a miracle that is unlike any other in Scripture. There are other resurrections recounted, but nowhere else do we find this: that the bones of someone who is dead seem to possess a power, even a resurrecting power. For note what it says, “when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived.”

Some Bible commentators have struggled with this. The whole thing just seems too strange, almost magical. It makes a person think of the relics kept in some churches—a toenail of this apostle, a skull from that church father—relics that are reputed to heal the sick and purify the sinful. And so some say that our text must be a fragment of old superstition, some Israelite folklore that has crept into the Bible, a tall tale.

We know that’s not true. But how should we understand this? By doing two things: thinking a bit more about Elisha, and also thinking about bones.

Elisha, like other prophets, was called to bring the Word of the LORD. But 2 Kings tells us very little of what Elisha said, and much more of what he did. And what he did was work miracles. When you look over the last chapters, it has been quite a collection of incredible deeds. And now this: another miracle, one “performed” after his death—a miracle that is more surprising than any he did while alive.

And keep in mind that when Elisha performed all those miracles, he did so as a prophet. For each and every one, the LORD God was speaking through him—God was speaking through those deeds in a way that words could never express. They were miracles with a message.

What was God saying through his prophet? What is the gospel that comes across in healings and feedings, in purifying and resurrecting and protecting? That God is Almighty. That God is merciful. That God is a saving God, who delights to deliver the people of his covenant. For his whole life long, Elisha was a walking billboard for the grace and power and justice of God. The message was clear.

So what about those bones? Why is it significant that they brought revival to a dead man? In Scripture, bones aren’t just the pieces of internal bodily structure we can see on an X-ray. The Bible speaks of bones as the essence of an individual. Think of how Adam described Eve as “bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh.” He was saying how unlike all the animals, this person is profoundly and essentially like him.

And as the last part of the body to decay, bones had to be treated with respect and dignity. It’s true that if you touched human bones, you’d be unclean. This is why the Israelites often whitewashed the outsides of graves, to keep others far away. Yet in our text these old bones don’t have a contaminating effect—rather, they have a resurrecting power!

On one level, these bones were just bones: decaying remnants of a corpse. Yet these were the remnants of God’s wonder-working prophet. And now God decided it was time for one last sermon. It was time for a message from the grave. To bring it, Elisha still had no need to speak! For what was the point of this miracle? It’d be the same message as ever, now amplified and underlined: that God is Almighty and merciful, the saving God.

This was the message that Israel needed to hear, for they were struggling. The people of God were straying, their land was being overrun by enemies, and their leaders were corrupt. Years before, Elisha had prophesied about a three-fold victory over their enemies, and that now seemed unbelievable.

But God confirms his Word in a stunning way. By this message, God tells his people, “The words of my prophet Elisha are true and certain. He might be silent now, but I haven’t taken back any of my promises. I’m still your God. I’m still the LORD who works signs and wonders among my people. If you’ll turn to me, if you’ll repent and trust my Word, I’m still the Saviour who can deliver you. I will rescue all who seek me. And to prove it, I’m going to do the impossible: I’ll bring life out of death.”

In the hand of the LORD, those old bones brought about an amazing revival. Think about how that message would’ve spread: from those men gathered at the tomb, to their villages that day, then to the surrounding countryside—even to all Israel. In every corner of the land, the bones of Elisha would announce the good news.

And this is what the bones would say: “The LORD still hasn’t given up on us, even in our sin and misery. We still have hope, even if our kings fail and our prophets die. For God is still moving among us, still willing to show his power and grace. If we’ll just listen to him, trust and obey him, his Word can bring us life and renewal.”

Just think about how that message points us to our greatest prophet and teacher, Jesus Christ. He was a worker of wonders, as Elisha had been before him. Jesus was busy his whole ministry: healing the sick, purifying the unclean, feeding the hungry, raising the dead. And think of how Jesus too lay in the grave, stuck behind a heavy stone. For a few days, it looked like there’d been a terrible defeat. It looked like death had the last word, that Satan had snatched the victory from the Kingdom of God.

But our God is ever a saving God. For through Jesus’ death, the LORD brings abundant life! Recall what happened already at the very moment of Jesus dying on the cross: “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised…and they went into Jerusalem” (Matt 27:52-53).

That amazing event is a picture of the gospel in action: dead people made alive through Jesus’ death! Because Christ died on the cross, we can be freed from our condemnation. Because Christ rose again on the third day, we sinners can be forgiven and renewed.

We celebrate this miracle every Sunday again: that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we receive a glorious life. We’ve been raised from our graves, and can go on our way rejoicing. By being united to Christ by true faith, we can live again, for we are restored by his blood and revived by his Spirit.

Maybe for some of us, the memory of other funerals and the death of other loved ones is still painfully fresh. We remember those who have been called home by the LORD. But whenever we’re confronted with death, or we’re saddened by what has been taken from us, we can hold onto this gospel. Be assured of the great power that our Saviour has, power to overcome even the final enemy, power to swallow up the grave in his victory, power to resurrect a people for himself.

For those who seek Christ, there is always hope. For those who are struggling, there is always help. So embrace this message with your whole heart. Pray that you would receive it in faith, that you’d place all your confidence in our glorious God and his glorious gospel. Having been set free from our graves and raised to life, let us walk in the light of Christ and in the joy of his salvation.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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