Saturday, March 27, 2010

2 Kings 4-6: There Can Be Miracles When You Obey

It's time for more stories about Elisha! One day Elisha meets a widow who is broke, and about to lose her sons to slavery, so Elisha makes her fill up a bunch of pots with oil, and all she has is a tiny little jar, but it fills every pot and jar and jug that she owns or could borrow from her neighbors, so she can pay off her debts and keep her sons. Now, what I find interesting is that when this woman came to Elisha, he didn't make a sack of gold drop from heaven, or the creditor drop dead. He made her do something. And the miracle only happened because she did what she was told. Sometimes when we look for miracles, I think we assume a miracle happens when we sit back and do nothing, when in reality, God is often calling us to do something that he will use in a miraculous way.

Now we meet another woman, and Elisha's always passing through her town of Shunem, so she invites him to dinner whenever he comes through, and then she convinces her husband to prepare a guest room for him so he'll have a place to stay. Elisha is so grateful that he asks her what he can give her as a thank-you, but she says she is perfectly fine. Elisha asks his servant what he should do, and his servant, Gehazi, points out that her husband is old and they don't have any kids. So Elisha tells her she'll have a son, and she does. Then when the son gets older, he gets sick and dies. She runs for Elisha and tells him what happened. First Elisha sends Gehazi off with his staff to see if that will cure the kid, while he follows the woman back. Gehazi is unable to resurrect the child with Elisha's staff, so when Elisha gets there, he goes into the room and prays and lies right on top of the kid, then stands up and walks around, then repeats, and the kid sneezes seven times and is fine. Talk about a funny resurrection story! Maybe he had a posthumous allergic reaction to Elisha's beard.

Next there's a famine, and some people make a stew, but it's poisonous. Elisha happens to be passing by and asks for meal, and he throws that into the stew and tells the people to eat it. Now, I don't know much about cooking, and I'm guessing these people didn't either since they made something poisonous, but I don't think that adding more ingredients typically cancels out a poisonous one, and I'm pretty sure the people knew that. So this was a very counter-intuitive move, and probably took a lot of faith in Elisha to obey. I mean, what if he was wrong? But they ate it, and sure enough, it was fine. Once again, in this case, obedience was required for a miracle to take place.

Another famous story happens in chapter 5. Remember that country Aram, that Israel's been fighting for the last several chapters? Well, there's a guy in the Aramean army who has leprosy, named Naaman. His wife has a little girl slave who's an Israelite, a captive from a raid. Now first of all, the fact that the Bible calls her a "little girl" tells me that she really is a little girl. Girls were women around 13 (and boys were men at the same age). Anyway, this little girl is so beautiful to me. She's been taken away from her mommy and daddy to be a slave to some pagan woman and her husband in a foreign land, and her master has a disease which, in her homeland, people got banished for, and yet she has compassion on him. Is that amazing or what? I love this little girl. She says she wishes that Naaman could be with the prophet in Israel (Elisha) because he could be healed. And Naaman, far from simply patting the girl on the head and saying "isn't that nice," actually goes to the king of Aram and tells him about it.

Now remember, Israel and Aram have been at war for the last several chapters, spanning a few generations at least. Yet for some reason the king says Naaman should go find this prophet guy – not only that, he volunteers to write a letter himself to the king of Israel, who, remember, is his enemy.

Now, the king of Israel isn't quite as cucumber-cool as the king of Aram. He sort of freaks out when he reads the letter because he thinks the king of Aram is demanding that he heal Naaman, or something like that I guess. He thinks it's another incitement to war. But Elisha hears about it – seems like word traveled fast in Israel, even without the Internet – and he sends a message to the king to invite Naaman over.

Anyway, you know the story. Naaman comes and Elisha sends a messenger to tell him to wash in the Jordan River seven times. Apparently the Jordan is really muddy and gross. Naaman gets angry because he wanted to see the real prophet and get a magic show. But one of his servants, who seems to be more sensible than Naaman, points out that if the prophet had asked Naaman to do something really hard, Naaman would have done it. So why can't he do something retardedly easy? So he does, and he gets healed! And a third time, the miracle was a result of obedience. And from what I can tell, Naaman wasn't 1/7 healed after his first dip, then 2/7, and so forth. He had to completely finish, and then he was completely healed – more than that, his skin became baby smooth! Seriously, it says his skin became like the "flesh of a little child."

Okay, so this is my favorite part. Naaman offers to give Elisha a present, but Elisha doesn't want anything. Naaman asks for some dirt, I guess to make an altar? Because from now on he is only going to sacrifice to the LORD and not to the pagan gods of Aram. Can you believe it?! Naaman didn't come here to be converted or to encounter God; he just wanted to get rid of his leprosy and go on with his life. But having been healed, Naaman has also been washed on the inside. He even goes on to explain that he helps the king into their temple to worship and he has to bow down for the king to lean on him, so he asks for God's pardon when that happens. I just can't believe the change in Naaman. He was angry before that Elisha didn't come out himself to see him and wave his hands and pull birds out of his hat. Now he seems really humble and grateful. I can see why he was well respected in Aram though; he's a dedicated guy.

Anyway, remember how I said Elisha doesn't want anything? Well, his servant Gehazi does. He goes out behind Elisha's back and asks for the gifts that Naaman had offered, lying and saying they're for somebody else (the sons of the prophets again, to be exact). Naaman gives him twice what he had offered to Elisha (also a very generous guy), and Gehazi takes it. But Elisha knows he took it, so he fires him, and more than that, he gives him Naaman's leprosy. Greed doesn't pay.

Then there's a short weird story about the sons of the prophets. They are building a new neighborhood, and while they're cutting down trees, somebody's axe head flies off the handle and sinks into the water, and he freaks out because it was borrowed. Have you ever lost something that you borrowed from somebody else? It is the worst feeling in the world. Especially when it was something important or valuable. But Elisha is a really nice guy and he makes the axe head float up to the top of the water so the guy can get it back. I wish that would happen to me when I lost something.

Okay, so now we go back to the Arameans. The king of Aram – Naaman's boss, the guy who sent him to Elisha – is at war with Israel already again. Israel is winning so badly that the king things there's a traitor among his servants. But his servants are like dude, that prophet in Israel, he can hear the things that you whisper in your bedroom and tell them to the king of Israel. Remember when Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah's spirit? I think this story confirms that he's got it. The king tries to capture Aram, but he can't because Elisha asks God to let them see all the angelic warriors who are surrounding Samaria, and then he makes them go blind and leads them right into the middle of the city so they can get captured. But he doesn't let the Israelites kill them. On the contrary, he feeds them and sends them home, and they never come back – at least, not the "marauding bands" of the Arameans. 

Once again, I'm going to stop early because this is just going to be too long. I think I've made the main point of my post clear: miracles are not just the result of believing something good can happen. Sometimes they are the result of doing what God tells you to do. Sometimes they require doing things that are illogical, like the woman with only enough food for her and her son, or downright stupid, like washing in a river that's dirtier than you are. I think the point is, if God asks you to do something, you should do it, because you never know what will happen. Sometimes God does miracles when we don't do anything, like the Shunamite woman who got a son just because she was nice to Elisha. Contrary to the popular belief that "there can be miracles when you believe," I think that there can be miracles regardless of whether you believe or not, because if God wants to do a miracle, I think he's just going to. However, it sure does seem to help if you believe, because belief leads to obedience, and God blesses obedience.

I think we have also learned that it's best not to borrow or lend something valuable to another person, unless you have a prophet handy to recover it when it gets lost.

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