2 Kings 13:16
And he said to the king of Israel, Put your hand on the bow. And he put his hand on it: and Elisha put his hands on the king's hands.
— This is part of one of the strangest narratives in the Old Testament. Elisha is on his death bed, "sick of the sickness" wherewith he "should die." A very different scene that close sick chamber from the open plain beyond Jordan, from which Elijah had gone up; a very different way of passing from life by fiery chariot than by wasting sickness! But God is as near His servant in the one place as in the other, and the slow wasting away is as much His messenger as the sudden apocalypse of the horsemen of fire. Here is a prophet dying; and his last words are not edifying moral and religious reflections, nor does he seem to be much concerned to leave with the king his final protest against Israel's sin, but his thoughts are all of warfare, and his last effort is to stir up the sluggish young monarch to some of his own enthusiasm in the conflict with the enemy. It does not sound like an edifying death-bed. People might have said, "Ah, secular and political affairs should be all out of a man's mind when he comes to his last moments." But this man thought that to stick to his life's work till the last breath was out of him, and to devote the last breath to stimulating successors who might catch up the torch that dropped from his failing hands, was no unworthy end of a prophet's life.
I. HERE WE HAVE POWER COMMUNICATED. We, too, if we are Christian men and women, have a Gospel of which the very kernel is that there is to us a communication of power. And the very name of that Divine Spirit whom it is Christ's greatest work to send flashing and flaming through the world, is the Spirit of Power. And so the old promise that ye shall be clothed with strength from on high is the standing prerogative of the Christian Church. There is not merely some partial communication, as when hand touched hand, but every organ is vitalised and quickened; as in the case of the other miracle of this prophet, when he stretched himself on the dead child, eye to eye, and mouth to mouth, and hand to hand; and each part received the vitalising influence. We have, if we are Christian people, a Spirit given to us, and are "strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man." Then, further, let me remind you that this power, which is bestowed on condition of contact, is given before duties are commanded. Further, this strength communicated is realised in the effort to obey Christ's great commands. Joash felt nothing when the hands were laid upon him, but, perhaps, some tingling. But when he got the bow in his hand, and drew the arrow to its head, the infused power stiffened his muscles and strengthened him to pull; and though he could not distinguish between his own natural corporeal ability and that which had been thus imparted to him, the two co-operated in the one act, and it was when he drew his bow that he felt the strength.
II. AND NOW, LOOK AT THE PERFECTED VICTORY THAT IS POSSIBLE. When the arrows, by God's strength operating through Joash's arm, had been shot, the prophet says, "The arrow of the Lord's victory... thou shalt smite... till thou have consumed." Yes, of course, if the arrow is the Lord's arrow, and the strength is His strength, then the only issue corresponding to the power is perfect victory. There is no reason as from any defect of the Divine gift to the weakest of us why our Christian lives should have ups and downs, why there should be interruptions in our devotion, fallings short in our consecration, contradictions in cur conduct, slidings backward in our progress. There is no reason why, in our Christian year, there should be summer and winter; but according to the symbolical saying of one of the old prophets, "The ploughman may overtake, the reaper, and he that treadeth out the grapes him that soweth the seed." In so far as our Christian life is concerned, the perfection of the power that is granted to us involves the possibility of perfection in the recipient. And the same thing is true in reference to a Christian man's work in the world; God's Church has ample resources to overcome the evil of the world. The fire is tremendous, but the Christian Church has posses. sion of the floods that can extinguish the fire.
III. THE PARTIAL VICTORY THAT IS ACTUALLY WON. "Thou shouldst have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten the Syrians till they were consumed. But now thou shalt conquer but thrice." All God's promises and prophecies are conditional. There is no such thing as an unconditional promise of victory or of defeat; there is always an "if." There is always man's freedom as a factor. It is strange; I suppose no thinking, metaphysical or theological, ever has solved, or ever will, that great paradox of the power of a finite will to lift itself up in the face of, and antagonism to an infinite will backed by infinite power, and to thwart its purposes. "How often would I have gathered... and ye would not." Here is all the power for a perfect victory, and the man that has it has to be contented with a very partial one. A low expectation limits the power. This man did not believe, did not expect that he would conquer utterly, and so he did not. You believe that you can do a thing, and in nine cases out of ten that goes nine-tenths of the way towards doing it. Small desires block the power. Where there is an iron-bound coast running in one straight line, the whole ocean may dash itself on the cliffs at the base, but it enters not into the land; but where the shore opens itself out into some deep gulf far inland, and broad across at the entrance, then the glad water rushes in and fills it all. Make room for God in your lives by your desires, and you will get him in the fulness of His power. The use of our power increases our power. Joash had an unused quiver full of arrows, and he only smote thrice.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said to the king of Israel, Put thine hand upon the bow. And he put his hand upon it: and Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands.