(I was recently asked by my church to give a message to our local congregation. This is what I shared, a message for the current times.)
A man was walking in the woods. It was very foggy and it was getting dark so visibility was poor. Because he cannot see, he walked straight off into a cliff. Luckily as he was falling he was able to grab a bush that was growing at the side of the cliff. He then looked up and he cannot see where he fell off. He looked down, and he cannot see the bottom of the cliff for it was dark and foggy. So there he was clinging on a bush, hanging for dear life.
He then started shouting for help. “Help! Is there anybody out there, help!”
Unbeknownst to him, the bottom of the cliff was less than 6 feet from where he was hanging and it was a sandy floor. But he cannot see that. So he continued hanging and shouting for help.
Then a voice came to him, “I can help you.” He was startled but relieved. He asked, “Who are you?” The voice answered back, “I am God.” Then he pleads, “Please God help me!” The voice told him, “Let go of the bush.” The man heard it, but he again pleads, “Lord help me!” Then the voice came again, this time more firmly, “Let go of the bush.”
The man thought intently for a few seconds, then shouted back, “Is there anybody else out there?”
Many times we only listen to what we wanted to hear. I pray that as we receive God’s message to us this morning, that we listen, even if it’s not what we wanted to hear.
We are living in an alarming and troubled times. So we will study for today a story that happened during an alarming and troubled times as well.
The story we have for this morning is found in 2 Kings 6: 8-23
8 Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel; and he consulted with his servants, saying, “My camp will be in such and such a place.” 9 And 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.” 10 Then the king of Israel sent someone to the place of which the man of God had told him. Thus he warned him, and he was watchful there, not just once or twice.
The king of Syria, Ben-Hadad II, was at war with the king of Israel, Jehoram, son of Ahab and Jezebel. It was not an all out war, but more of guerrilla tactics. He wanted to ambush the King of Israel. But every time he would make a plan or move his army to one place, the king of Israel would learn about it and would avoid to go to that place and the plan of the king of Syria was foiled. This happened several times. How did Israel get their intel? Israel had a secret weapon. Elisha the prophet, who was like a radar, would give warning to the king of Israel.
11 Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was greatly troubled by this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”
So the king of Syria was frustrated. He thought there was a mole in his court. Then somebody told him that there was a prophet in Israel that can know whatever he says or plans even in his bedroom. The walls have ears! It’s like having the phone wire-tapped or the rooms having secret surveillance video cameras.
You now what? That’s the same way for us. God knows what’s going on in our day to day living. Whatever actions and thoughts we have, whether good or bad, God knows.
13 So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and get him.” And it was told him, saying, “Surely he is in Dothan.”
So the king of Syria wanted to capture the prophet. Was that a foolish move? If Elisha knows what he’s planning against the king of Israel, surely he would also know what is being planned against him?
So he sent spies to know where Elisha was, and he got a report that Elisha was in a small town, named Dothan.
Dothan is a small shepherd town. It is not a fortified city. One other time this place was mentioned in the Bible was when Joseph, son of Jacob, was looking for his brothers who were tending the sheep, and he found them in Dothan, meaning “two wells,” which is a famous pasture land. This is the place where Joseph was thrown into a well, and his colorful coat was torn, and where he was sold to merchants going to Egypt. So this is the place where Joseph’s misery began. But what was meant to do him evil, after several years turned into a blessing, as we all know his story. For that’s the God we serve, He can turn curses into blessings.
14 Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
The the king of Syria sent an army of horses and chariots (tanks and Black Hawk helicopters), and under the cloak of darkness, in stealth mode, they surrounded the town of Dothan, and blocked every gates and passageways. For the residents inside the town there was no way out.
15 And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”
Picture this, the young servant of Elisha was just waking up. Perhaps he wanted to start the day early. He probably went to the well to get water, then he noticed that there was a different glimmer around the town. As the rays of the rising sun was hitting the pasture land he saw something shining around the town. He squinted and he saw that it was the shiny metal armors of a big army. There were soldiers, war horses, and chariots. He squinted some more and he noticed that that was not the army of Israel, but that was the army of Syria! He looked not just in one direction, but all around him, and realized that the whole town was fully surrounded. This is bad!
So he woke up Elisha and blurted, “Alas my master! What shall we do?”
Let’s pause for a moment here. We know the end of the story but let’s dwell for minute in this particular stage of the story of “Alas my master, what shall we do?”
Have we experienced something similar? Maybe not as dire as this, or maybe it was more dire than this. Maybe you were a soldier and you were in a foxhole and bullets were flying all around you. Maybe it was not that dramatic, you were sitting in a doctor’s office, and the doctor told you, “Sorry, it is cancer and it is advanced.” Or you were at work, and your employer told you, “Sorry, but we are letting you go.” Or you were in an attorney’s office signing the final paper work of your divorce. Or other more situations that the problem was overwhelming you, and you blurted out, “Alas my master, what shall we do?”
Chariots of Fire
But Elisha was not afraid. Why? Let’s read.
16 So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
With God on our side we always have the advantage. Even if it’s just you against the world if God is with you, you are already the majority.
1 John 4:4 – The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
Yet perhaps the young servant was not convinced with Elisha’s words of reassurance. Perhaps he was still shaking in his sandals. He cannot come to grips of the sight of the large Syrian army surrounding them. So Elisha prayed to God, a prayer not for himself, for he already knew of his deliverance, but he offered a prayer for this young servant.
17 And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
God lifted the veil between the earthly realm and the spiritual realm and allowed this young man to see that the mountains around Dothan was full of army of angels riding fiery chariots. Suddenly the Syrian army became insignificant. Suddenly the enemy’s army looked so puny compared to the heavenly army.
Are we like the servant of Elisha? Do we lack the eyes of faith? I pray that God will open our eyes that we may see that there is a host of angels around us, even right now as I speak. May God open our eyes to realize that He never leaves us. May God open our eyes to remember that He is always in control no matter what the circumstances may be. Yes, there’s social and political unrest. Yes, there’s financial crunch. Yes, there’s a raging pandemic. But God is still in control.
Procession of the Blind
Then when the Syrian army tried to advance, Elisha prayed once more, he asked to release the horses and chariots of fire and scorch the Syrian army! No? That’s not what your Bible version says?
18 So when the Syrians came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, “Strike this people, I pray, with blindness.” And He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.
Elisha did not pray to kill the Syrian army, for God has a better plan. He prayed that the Syrians be blinded. In one prayer he asked for his young servant to have his eyes open, and in one prayer he asked for the soldiers to have their eyes be blinded. God can open eyes and He can shut the eyes.
In the Bible, there were other people that were blinded by God. Remember Saul who became Paul? When he became blind, he was able to listen more to what God was calling him to do. He was blinded so he can see. What a contradiction. Do we need to be blinded so we could be free of the world’s distractions? Do we need to be blinded so we can listen more intently to what God was calling us for? Do we need to be blinded for us to realize that we are really helpless so that we rely solely in God?
The term used in this verse that was translated as blindness is not the same term used for the illness of being blind that is the lack of sight, but rather the term used meant to dazzle or confuse. Maybe like a deer in the headlights.
19 Now Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” But he led them to Samaria.
Elisha then told the army that they are in the wrong place and their GPS was set wrong and they are looking for the wrong person. So he led them to Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel, which is a fortified city.
Dothan is 12 miles away from Samaria. That’s almost a half-marathon away. I have run several half-marathons before, and it took me more than 2 hours to finish that course. I am sure this Syrian army was not running and was traveling more slowly as they were blind and being led. So I surmise that most likely it took them 4 hours or more to cover that distance. If you’re blind and you are being led to cross an unfamiliar street, that maybe hard. But being led and walking for more than 4 hours not knowing where you are going, must be like an eternity.
Imagine this, Elisha was guiding the lead horse and the rest of the horses, chariots and the army were following – like a parade. When they approached Samaria the watchmen at the wall probably saw them from afar. They gave the signal “Enemy approaching!” And they prepared for battle. But as they came closer, Israel’s army noted – wait a minute, this Syrian army was not ready for combat, they were just having a procession, and they were being led by Elisha of all people!
Elisha called out to open the gates. Then he led the army of Syria inside the city walls and then the gates were closed. Elisha prayed again.
20 So it was, when they had come to Samaria, that Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and there they were, inside Samaria!
Again a prayer to open the eyes. And what did the Syrian soldiers see when they came into their senses? They were in the middle of Israel’s territory. They looked around and saw that Israelites soldiers up on the the walls have their arrows and spears aimed at them. The Israelite army was surrounding them with their swords drawn out ready to strike them. What a surprising sight for the Syrian army.
The circumstance had changed! Before they were the hunter surrounding the prey. Or so they thought. But now they were the prey and they were cornered. God can turn around our circumstances. He will fight our battle. We only need to trust in Him.
If Your Enemy Is Hungry
21 Now when the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” 22 But he answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those whom you have taken captive with your sword and your bow? Set food and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.”
The king of Israel was excited like a child inside a candy store. Shall I kill them all? Shall I give the command “open fire!” But Elisha said, no! These are really not captives, these are my guests. Don’t kill them, give them food and drink. After all they were tired from walking 12 long miles.
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22)
There is something more of this giving food and drink. In the Eastern cultures there is a custom that if you eat together or share a meal together, that is like a covenant that you are at peace with each other and are now united as one.
23 Then he prepared a great feast for them; and after they ate and drank, he sent them away and they went to their master. So the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel.
This story gave us a lesson of how to deal with our enemies – Kill them with kindness. It should not always be an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” kind-of-justice. Mahatma Gandhi said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
I believe that there are more eyes being opened here that was not directly mentioned in the story. Yes there was the young servant’s eyes opened to see the chariots of fire, and the eyes of the Syrian army that were blinded and then opened to see that they were inside the walls of Samaria. I believe that Elisha was also trying to open the eyes of the king of Israel and the Israelites to the truth that we should repay good for evil. Just like what Jesus says:
Matthew 5:43- 48 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
For us today, I pray that our eyes be opened to see that this world is already full of hate. That people don’t like each other. People don’t trust each other. Not just in the opposite sides of the political fence, or opposite sides of any social movement, or whatever race, creed, religion or beliefs we belong to – there is already so much hate and anger in this world. May God open our eyes that what this world needs is that we love those who hates us, pray for those who curse us, and that we do good to those who do us evil. That the world may know that we are His children and He is our God.
I would like to end with a story from the post-apartheid era in South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was meeting and was gathered to reach a verdict on a particularly brutal case involving an elderly woman. A group of white police officers, led by a Mr. van de Broek, admitted their personal responsibility in the death of the woman’s eighteen-year old son. They acknowledged shooting him, setting his body on fire, and partying around the fire until the body was reduced to ashes. Eight years later, the same officers took the woman’s husband into captivity. The woman was forced to watch while the officers doused her husband with gasoline and then ignited him in fire. The last words her husband spoke to her, in the midst of the blaze were ‘Forgive them.’
Now the time had come for justice to be served. Those involved had confessed their guilt, and the Commission turned to the woman for a final statement regarding her desire for an appropriate punishment.
“I want three things”, the woman said calmly. “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.
“Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can be a mother to him.
“Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. And, I would like someone to come and lead me by the hand to where Mr. van de Broek is, so that I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real.”
As the elderly woman made her way across the silent courtroom, van de Broek reportedly fainted, overcome by emotion. And then the silence was broken when someone began singing, ‘Amazing Grace.’ Soon others joined in singing the familiar hymn, that the entire courtroom was filled with singing.
Lord, open our eyes that we may do good rather than evil, that we may sow love instead of hate, that we might sought forgiveness rather than revenge. This is my prayer.
(*photo from israelmyglory.org)