Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us.5. Elisha and the Syrians
1. The lost axe-head recovered (2Kings 6:1-7)
2. Elisha makes known Ben-hadad’s plans (2Kings 6:8-12)
3. Elisha’s arrest planned (2Kings 6:13-17)
4. The blinded Syrians led to Samaria (2Kings 6:18-23)
5. Samaria besieged (2Kings 6:24-30)
6. The king’s wrath against Elisha (2Kings 6:31-33)
It has been truly said that the miracle of the swimming axe-head reveals the condescension of divine power and the grace of benevolence. We see the great man of God in fellowship with the sons of the prophets. He goes with them and when they are in distress the power of God is manifested through him. Rationalistic critics have always ridiculed the miracle of the swimming iron. “The story is perhaps an imaginative reproduction of some unwonted incident,” saith Farrar, the higher critic. Then he adds, all the eternal laws of nature are here superseded at a word, as though it were an every day matter, without even any recorded invocation of Jehovah, to restore an axe-head, which could obviously have been recovered or resupplied in some less stupendous way than by making iron swim on the surface of a swift-flowing river” (Expositor’s Bible). And Ewald, the German critic, explains, “he threw on to the spot where it had sunk a piece of wood cut to fit it, which caught it up”! These men all aim at the denial of miracles of any kind. They delight in making an omnipotent God, in whom they profess to believe, a helpless slave to the laws of nature, a God who has neither power nor inclination to set aside these laws in behalf of His trusting people. We say it again, the rationalistic critic is an unbeliever of the worst type.
There is much comfort for God’s trusting children in the miracle of the swimming iron. The mighty power of God condescends to help those who trust even in the smallest things of life. Our Lord fills the throne in glory and is the upholder of all things, yet as the sympathizing priest, He enters into the lives of His people. His power answers faith, if we but learn to bring our little troubles to Him as the man came in distress to Elisha.
When war broke out between Ben-hadad and the King of Israel, Elisha made known the secret counsels of the King of Syria. The man of God, walking in constant fellowship with Jehovah, received this supernatural information, and thereby an additional evidence was given to apostate Israel that the Lord is for His people and a very present help in time of trouble. Then one of Ben-hadad’s servants suggested that it was Elisha’s work, and the king in his blindness sent a great host to capture Elisha. (Certainly not Naaman as some have surmised. Yet the knowledge that Elisha had been the instrument of healing the Syrian captain moved some unknown servant of Ben-hadad to suggest that Elisha was responsible for the revelation of the king’s plans.) What Ahaziah attempted with Elijah (chapter 1), Ben-hadad now undertakes with Elisha. But Elisha, who acts in grace, does not call down fire from heaven to devour the men who compassed Dothan. Elisha’s servant (not Gehazi) is terror stricken when he beheld the besieging host. Elisha knows no fear, for he knows “they that are with us are more than they that be with them.” He had seen the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof before (2:12). He knew that the Lord’s hosts compassed him about. He did not need to pray for himself, that he might see, for he saw, because he believed. He prayed for his servant that his eyes might be opened. Then the servant saw, “and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots round about Elisha.” Angelic ministry and protection may be termed one of the lost comforts which God’s people have. They are still “ministering spirits to minister unto the heirs of salvation.”
“I doubt not, a host or constellation of angels, those heavenly creatures, which, excelling in strength, stand in the presence of God, or go forth to minister on account of those who are heirs of salvation. For of them we read that ‘God maketh His angels spirits (winds) and His ministers a flame of fire’; and again, ‘The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels.’ At the divine behest, they get ready to serve in whatever the exigency of the saint, or the occasion under the throne of God, may require. They formed a travelling chariot to convey Elijah to heaven, and to carry Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom. They now form chariots of war, when Elisha is beleaguered by the hostile bands of Syria. Either singly or in company they visit the elect on earth, and either alone or in concert celebrate the joy of heaven in the audience of the earth. They have drawn the sword to smite a guilty city, or with the strong hand of love dragged the too reluctant one forth from the doomed city. They are either as winds or as fire. They are messengers of mercy, and executors of judgment, as ‘the Lord’ who ‘is among them’ may command. They attended on Mount Sinai when the law was published, and they hovered over the fields of Bethlehem when Jesus was born. And here, in their order and strength, they are as a wall of fire, a wall of salvation, round about the prophet.
Very blessed all this is. And still more blessed to know, that ere long, the hidden glories, which are now only known to such faith as Elisha’s, will become the manifested things; and the threatenings of the enemy, the noise and the din and clang of arms, which are the present apparent things, all of fears and sorrows for the heart, shall have rolled by, like the past thunder-storm, but to leave the sunshine the brighter (Meditations on Elisha).
Elisha then prayed that the besieging host should be smitten with blindness. The prayer was at once answered. He led on the Syrian forces into Samaria. But was it not deception when the man of God said to the blinded enemies, “I will bring you to the man whom ye seek,” leading them into Samaria? It was not. Samaria was the home of the prophet and he was then on his way there. His object was to demonstrate to the Syrians, as well as to the King of Israel, that Jehovah is the God and all-sufficient helper of His people. What mercy he then showed to his captives. Jehoram would have smitten them, but Elisha fed them and had them sent away in peace. In this he is a type of Him who taught, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).
Some time after Ben-hadad besieged Samaria and a great famine followed, and there was such a distress that women ate their own offspring. It was but a fulfilment of the threatened judgments upon an apostate people (Leviticus 26:29; Deuteronomy 28:53). The same horror occurred during the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (Lamentations 4:10) and also, according to Josephus, during the siege by Titus 70 A.D. The wicked nature of the king asserted itself in blaming Elisha for the misfortune which had fallen upon his kingdom. He seeks to slay the man of God. After all the mighty miracles God had wrought by the hands of Elisha, the representative of Israel, wants to kill the prophet. This also foreshadows our Lord, when they sought to kill Him after His gracious ministry. But Elisha knew the murderous purpose of the long ere the messengers came. He called the king by the right name “this son of a murderer,” for such Ahab was. And when the king appeared in person he said, “Behold this evil is of the LORD, what should I wait for the LORD any longer?” He realizes the impending judgment on account of Israel’s sin.