Arrows, God’s Word and a Faith-full response

21 04 2010

My daily readings have recently been taking me through the book of 2 Kings. It is largely a sorry tale of the kings of Israel and Judah – Israel is in a degenerate state of imminent collapse and impending captivity to the Assyrians. Judah is also in decline and although threatened with the same fate is spared for the time being because of the faithfulness of a few ‘good’ men.  (May the Lord raise up ‘a few good men’ in our day and in our nation that we too might be spared.)

I met Jehoash in 2 Kings 13:14-19 in a room with Elisha who is on his deathbed.  Jehoash was king of Israel during a time when the Syrians (Aram) have been raiding and pillaging the northern tribes of Israel.  The prospect of Elisha’s death is threatening to the king because it will mean the departure of the Word of God from the nation leaving them defensless, helpless and lost.  Jehoash does not however stand out in the history of Israel – his reign of sixteen years is accounted for in four verses (v10-13) with a formulaic disinterest – but the incident with Elisha and Jehoash’s response to God’s word is set out in some detail to teach us an important lesson.

Elisha embarks on a session of ‘show and tell’ to reinforce the lesson he wants to pass on to Jehoash and us.  Jehoash is anxious to know what the future will be like, how the people of God will fare in the face of their enemy and whether victory will be assured.  He wants to hear a word from the prophet of God before he departs.  And God’s word graciously is given to him.  The word comes through the visual aid of the bow and arrows which he carries.  The narrative explains the instructions from the prophet to the king and pointedly details the required obedience of the king at each point along the way: “‘Get a bow and some arrows,’ and he did so. ‘Take the bow in your hands,’… When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. ‘Open the east window,’ …and he opened it. ‘Shoot!’ …and he shot.”  The kings attention to the word of the prophet, the instruction of the Lord is commendable to this point but there was nothing here that he could not do himself.  Furthermore, He seems to be enabled even by a sick and weak prophet’s hand – perhaps a sign of divine presence and assistance, but thus far it had been easy.  After the king’s patient attention to the prophet, Elisha offers the declaration of victory Jehoash had come to seek, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram (Syria)!”

With the promise of victory before him, Jehoash is brought to a further test of character, and faith.  Elisha leads him on in obedience – “‘Take the arrows,’ and the king took them.” Then comes the command to, ‘Strike (probably ‘shoot’) on(to) the ground.’  Clearly, the king had a quiver full of arrows and until now, only one had been used.  He fires three arrows and stops.  The way the narrator recounts the story makes it clear that this is an issue – why stop!?  Why not finish the quiver? Why not strike [with] the arrows five or six times?  Why only three?  Elisha immediately reprimands the king for his hesitancy, for his lack of perseverance in the face of God’s promised victory.  He is angry over the king’s lack of grit and determination, his failure to make a ‘faith’-full response to the revealed word of God.

D. Ralph Davis calls this an account of Jehoash’s most crucial moment – standing before the word of Yahweh.  In light of brief biography which certainly painted Jehoash as another of the wicked kings of Israel the cameo of his response to God’s word through the prophet is a clear indicator of a faithless response.  Here is a king who hears the word of God and in the face of the prophet is prepared to follow that word, but when required to act upon it in an expression of his own persevering faith falls short of all that the Lord had held out to him.  As Davis says, ‘He had Yahweh’s promise (v17) and he should have grasped it with both hands.’

What is our own ‘standing before the word of the LORD’?  How do we measure up in our faithful and gritty determination to take God at his word? May the Lord help us by faith to hold firmly to his promises, to be people who persevere in them and who ‘shoot our arrows’ continuously in the assurance of the victory he offers us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

‘For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you… was not “Yes” and “No”, but in him it has always been “Yes”.  For no matter howe many promises God has made, they are all “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God’ (2 Corinthians 1:19,20).


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One response

22 04 2010
John Thomson

Great post.

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