2 Kings 13:15-19
And Elisha said to him, Take bow and arrows. And he took to him bow and arrows.…
A beautiful verse higher up the chapter tells us that "the Lord gave Israel a saviour" in answer to a repentant king's prayer. A study of the history reveals the fact that the deliverer was the grandson of the praying man. The text explains why the Divine mercy skipped a generation. The son of the royal penitent was tried and found wanting; therefore deliverance had to wait until his son, in turn, sat on the throne.
I. THE DIVINE PURPOSE SYMBOLISED. The shooting of an arrow, or the flinging of a dart into an enemy's country was anciently a declaration of war. It signified that the archer and those he represented claimed the territory into which the missile was flung, and unless their challenge was successfully resisted would occupy it. Now eastwards from Samaria, the scene of this interview, was the district which the Syrians had taken from Israel. It was the direction from which their predatory bands came. To the north-east lay Syria itself. The shooting, of the arrow was plainly a declaration of war against Syria. That the prophet's hands were upon the monarch's when it was discharged, signified that it was God who flung down the challenge. Now a challenge to combat by the Almighty is, of course, a prophecy of victory for Him. Here then, by vivid symbolism, we have the Divine purpose to deliver Israel from Syrian oppression declared. God's purposes in the spiritual realm are revealed with equal clearness to us. It is His will that the world shall be evangelised and every Christian perfected. He has shot His arrow over the world. The incubus of devilry that now oppresses it is to be annihilated. The shadow of the Cross is upon every land. Every Christian, too, is to be perfected. We are saved rom hell: we are to be saved from sin. Our spirits are the Lord's: our bodies arid minds are to become His also. All our spiritual enemies are to be conquered, and each wandering thought brought "into captivity to the obedience of Christ." Over the entire life of the believer the Saviour's arrow has been discharged. But these glorious purposes are to be accomplished through human instrumentality. Although the prophet's hands were upon his, it was King Joash who shot the arrow. God intends to conquer the world and our own bad hearts by our agency. In His might, we are to take possession of the world for our Redeemer. Further, as God's agents we should use the wisest means to fulfil His purposes. Joash had to take and use bow and arrow. One might say that only a bow and arrow were used that all the glory might be given to God! But that would be a wrong inference. Bows and arrows in the hands of Chinese troops to-day excite the derision of Europeans. But in the days of Joash, they comprised the most formidable artillery that could be employed in warfare. The symbolic lesson was that Joash was to use the wisest means — to employ all his military might — to effect the deliverance God had planned. We, also, are to do our best for God. We are to plan wisely: we are to labour diligently. We are to make the most of ourselves. Our powers should be trained to their utmost degree of efficiency. Not only for winning others, but also for saving our own souls we should use the best means.
II. A HUMAN RESPONSE INVITED. The King of Israel has been, as it were, in the council-chamber of the Eternal. He has been shown, figuratively but clearly, the Divine will. He is now taken back to the region of practical, everyday life. That is God's purpose, says his mentor. Now show your acceptance of it and responsiveness to it. Take the remaining arrows. "And he took them." "Smite upon the ground" — that is, Smite the ground with the arrows; in other words, Shoot them into the earth. "And he smote" — or shot — "thrice, and stayed." Now here is a mystery. In the seventeenth verse we read, "Thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them": here, "Thou shalt smite Syria but thrice." In the one place we have the Divine purpose; in the other, that purpose as limited by the degree of human responsiveness to it. We are surely taught that God's plans depend for their fulfilment upon our acceptance of them and co-operation in them. This I say, is a mystery. Nothing happens apart from God. His will is surely done. That is most certain. Yet we may refuse to co-operate with Him, and so hinder, if not frustrate, His purpose. That also is undeniable. God's elect will be saved, yet the blood of souls may cling to the skirts of a faithless watchman. God's will shall be done, but we may be condemned for hindering it. God's sovereignty does not lessen our responsibility. How to harmonise these apparently incongruous truths, we do not know. Let us be content to accept them both, although for the present we do not see the relation between them. Joash is an example of low content. He had no ambition to be a David or a Solomon. A comfortable, easy-going life was all he desired. He wanted to be free from the yoke of Syria, but did not aspire to play the role of national hero. We are all too like him in his ignoble satisfaction. In the world we are ambitions. We long for wealth; we thirst for fame. The higher we can climb, and the sooner we can attain, the better we are pleased. But we have no sacred ambition to dare and to do greatly for God. How few pant after holiness or burn with desire to see the world won for Christ! And therefore we shoot but three arrows, when we ought to shoot five or six times. God forgive us our low content, and inspire us with loftier ideals! Let us not be satisfied with what may reasonably be considered all that could be expected — with the formal discharge of recognised duties. Let us form a high conception of what God expects from us, and dare greatly in the attempt to achieve it, Perhaps Joash. was indolent. He lacked energy and perseverance. He had no tenacity of purpose, nor measure of continuance in well-doing. Certainly that is the fault of most of us. We serve God by fits and starts. There are times when we live near Him, and give the devil trouble. We grow rapidly in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Oh, if we could only keep on that level, we should soon become holy! But we do not. Lassitude creeps over us. Reaction sets in. We relapse into indifference. But the real secret of Joash's remissness was, in all probability, unbelief. The Syrians were a powerful nation. Israel was weak through long oppression. And whether we acknowledge it or not, it is unbelief that stays our hands also. The cold fingers of unbelief, laid upon the arm that draws the bowstring, cause it to fall paralysed to the side. The world, the flesh, and thy devil are so real and powerful. There they were, rioting and ravaging, in the days of our fathers. There they are, ruining souls to-day. And there, surely, they will be to the end of the chapter! Is it conceivable that sin can lose its fascination for us, that all our inclinations towards it can be stamped out, and we, old sinners, be changed into the radiant image of the Christ of God? Is it credible that in the outside world drunkenness will be abolished, impurity exterminated, wars ended, and the world, hoary in wickedness, "bound by gold chains about the feet of God"? Hardly! So the arms that are stretched to shoot are palsied. We smite only two or three times. According to our faith is our effort, — and our success. All possibilities are in God. To convert them into actualities, we must believe and endeavour and persevere. We have the objective promise. There must now be the subjective appropriation of it. These two things together spell success. Man without God is impotent. God without man does not choose to work. "God and one man are a majority against the world."
III. A HUMAN FAILURE DEPLORED. "He smote thrice, and stayed. And the man of God was wroth with him." For Joash, by his want of faith and energy, had lost for ever the honour that might have been his. God's will will undoubtedly be done, but if we fail to rise to it and work for it, it will fling us from its triumphant path, and summon others to its side, while we are left to suffer incalculable and eternal loss. No doubt we shall become perfect in heaven, but eternity itself will not compensate for the lack of holy culture here. Christ will win, but we may be denied a place beside Him when, in His chariot of victory, He passes through the eternal gates and the everlasting doors. Erasmus might have been the leader of the reformation of the sixteenth century. He published the Greek New Testament, and also a Latin translation of it. He taught the importance of knowledge of the Scriptures. He gave the initial impulse to the mighty movement which resulted in Protestantism. But when he saw how great a matter a little fire was kindling, Erasmus, timid and fearful, shrank back. Luther and others stepped forward and covered themselves with immortal glory, while Erasmus left a name which is pronounced half with honour and ball with contempt, as that of a learned man who proved a moral weakling, one who saw the light but feared to walk in it. Let us have a holy ambition to excel in the kingdom of God. Let us patiently continue in well-doing, shooting not three arrows, hut five or six. Through Joash's failure, too, Israel suffered. The bondage to Syria continued. Oppression by the foreign invader went drearily on. How far the Christian Church is responsible for the fact that on the eve of the twentieth century the world is so far from God, we cannot tell. It is a question which one shudders to face. Still, it is undoubtedly true that the poverty of our response hinders the completion of God's gracious purposes. God was dishonoured by the monarch's laxity. The Syrians, who blasphemed His name, continued to rule in His land. And by our unspiritual lives and lax efforts God is dishonoured to-day. If we only rose to His purposes and became holy men and women and earnest and successful workers, how greatly He would be glorified! As it is, we don't remain at concert-pitch long enough for the music to rise to His praise. We so soon give in that we bring contempt on the power we profess to work by. Let us rouse ourselves from spiritual sluggishness. Let us shoot, not three arrows, but five or six, or a dozen.
(B. J. Gibbon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Elisha said unto him, Take bow and arrows. And he took unto him bow and arrows.