Axe Heads and Chariots

There was a group of faithful men, known as the ‘Sons of the Prophets’, who appear throughout the work of Elijah and Elisha. They seem to have tried to be a positive influence, encouraging people into godly ways, when times were often difficult and sometimes dangerous for those who remained faithful to God.

One group had outgrown the place where they had been living and decided to move to Jordan, there to build a suitable place for them all to live. They were going to build the place themselves, and explained their plans to Elisha, and received his blessing. They also persuaded him to go with them, and they reached the place and began to fell trees for their building.

One of their number was cutting down a tree when the head came off his axe and it fell into the water. It would have been a problem at any time, as tools were highly prized and valuable, especially to people who seem to have had a simple lifestyle. It was made worse by the fact that the axe was borrowed: it could not now be returned.

Axe lumberjack on wooden background. Blade. Close-up.

The man who had lost the axe told Elisha about it. Elisha asked where the axe head had fallen. When the place was pointed out, Elisha cut a stick and threw it to the place. The Bible records simply but amazingly that he “made the iron float”. The man who had lost the axe head was able to pick it up and restore it to the handle, and presumably continue the work of building the new home for the sons of the prophets.

Elisha – the ‘Spy’

Later, at a time when again there was war between Syria and Israel, the king of Syria was consulting his counsellors, planning where he would camp for the battle. However Elisha was able to relay this to the king of Israel, so that Israel were able to avoid the place and ensure they could pass safely.

Not surprisingly, this troubled the king of Syria: he suspected that one of his servants was the traitor, and sought to find the offender:

Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel? (2 Kings 6:11).

His servants were able to reply that it was not any of them, but the real source of the information was something he would find more difficult to deal with:

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 (v12).

This was long before modern espionage techniques, and Elisha’s knowledge was inexplicable to normal people. The king of Syria was most unhappy about this. Obviously Elisha had to be removed in some way, so where was he? His servants knew that he was in Dothan. This was only a few miles from Samaria, the capital of Israel, so a great army was sent to surround Dothan and bring Elisha back to Syria.


They arrived by night, and surrounded Dothan so that no one would be able to get in or out. When Elisha’s servant awoke in the morning, Dothan was under siege. A vast number of horses and chariots were set out all around the city. He asked Elisha:

Alas, my master! What shall we do? (v15).

The answer he was to receive should be a great encouragement for all people who put their trust in God. Elisha remained calm and confident:

Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them (v16).

The Lord Jesus told a parable about kings going to battle, making careful calculations about whether they would be able to win.

What king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace (Luke 14:31–32).

Elisha was about to demonstrate the truth of that principle.

Fiery Chariots

Elisha began his day in prayer, asking the Lord God to help his servant, so that he could see the forces of God, which were ready to save His prophet.

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 (v17).

Presumably the servant was not in this case Gehazi, who we met previously, as he is not named. The miraculous intervention of the Lord God continued, and Elisha was able to escape safely.

The Syrians came into Dothan against Elisha, determined to silence this leak of information to the king of Israel. Elisha asked God to strike them with blindness, which happened, meaning that they were not able to find their way. Elisha met the blind soldiers and told them that this was not the way to the man they wanted:

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 (v19).

Instead of leading them into Dothan he took them to Samaria – so this Syrian army were right in the middle of Israel’s capital!

Elisha then asked the Lord God to reverse the blindness, to open the eyes of the Syrians. When they were able to see, they saw that they were in the middle of Samaria and they must have been frightened out of their minds!

All Are Saved

The king of Israel wanted to kill them, but Elisha did not allow him to. The king of Israel would not have killed captives taken in war, so these certainly should be spared. They were to be fed and sent on their way home.

We are not told, but presumably their armour and weapons were removed before they were sent home. It seemed to be an effective course of action, because it stopped further Syrian raids into Israel, at least for the time being.

So the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel (v23).

The Syrians had got the message, loud and clear, that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Those who have the Lord God on their side are always stronger than those who do not. This was a graphic demonstration of an eternal principle.

Mark Sheppard

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