I’ve heard several great sermons in the last couple of months about trusting God when it doesn’t make sense. On Sunday it was about a poor widow who went to the prophet Elisha because she needed desperately to pay her bills. Elisha told her to start pouring her little bit of oil out into a bunch of empty containers. As I read through this story in 2 Kings, I realized that there’s a whole bunch of stories of miracles grouped right together in chapters 3 – 6. I’ve learned that whenever there’s a group of something in the Bible it’s because there’s a common theme. At first glance, these don’t seem to have a whole lot in common.
3:4-27 – 3 kings are facing a losing battle in the middle of a draught. God tells them to dig a bunch of trenches all over the valley, even though there’s no water. “Make this valley full of trenches” (3:16). God flooded the valley, but it wasn’t the flood that won the battle. The reflection of the sun on the water made the enemy think it was blood; when they went down to investigate they were caught off their guard and slaughtered. Random!
4:1-7 – A poor woman needs money desperately and is down to her last bit of oil. Elisha tells her, “Go, borrow vessels at large for yourself from all your neighbors . . . do not get a few.” Then she pours that little bit of oil into all those containers and it just keeps coming until she has enough to sell and pay her debts. Who’d a thunk it?
4:8-37 – The son of a woman dies, and she puts his dead body in bed and travels a really long way to go find Elisha. Together they ride all the way back; the kid had to have been dead more than a day. So Elisha prays and then he lays down nose-to-nose on top of the boy long enough for the body to get warm again (that’s awhile). Nothing happens, so Elisha goes for a walk and does it again; this time the kid sneezes 7 times and wakes up. So bizarre.
4:38-41 – Elisha’s whole class of student prophets gets food poisoning from some bad gourds they made a stew out of. Elisha comes and throws some flour (meal) in the pot, stirs it up, and the food was okay to eat. Hmm. Stew with flour stirred in . . . sounds kind of gross.
4:42-44 – Kind of like the lady with the oil, there wasn’t enough food to go around. But they passed it around to 100 men and had leftovers. That’s pretty cool.
5:1-27 – Naaman had a seriously bad case of leprosy. He went on a really long trip to visit Elisha because someone said Elisha might be able to heal him. The cure? Wash your open infection-prone sores SEVEN times in the nastiest, dirtiest, germiest river around. It worked. Wow.
6:1-7 – All the prophets-in-training were building a new town and one guys’ axe-head fell into the river. I love what he says to Elisha: “Alas, my master! For it was borrowed!” (Axe-heads were expensive back then.) Elisha threw a stick in the water where it fell in, and the hunk of iron floated up. Seriously?
I realized that I don’t know a whole lot about Elisha other than the fact that he was Elijah’s assistant and took over after Elijah took the chariot up to Heaven. But really, Elisha was a pretty cool guy to come up with all these interesting solutions that I sure never would have thought of. I went back to investigate Elisha’s story.
Elijah, fresh out of a pity-party, wandered along and “found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with 12 pairs of oxen before him, and he with the 12th. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, ‘Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.’” (1 Kings 19:19-20)
I don’t know a whole lot about farming or plowing, but I’ve watched my share of “settle the west” drama and I never saw any pioneers driving 12 pair of oxen. I certainly never saw a farmer pairing with one. I mean, what kind of farming are you doing that TWENTY-THREE brute beasts are not enough to get the job done? Even Santa Clause only needs half that many relatively dainty reindeer to fly a sleigh with enough toys to satisfy all the children of the world! And what kind of a man are you that you can fill in for a missing ox? Elisha was either really serious about his job, or a little off his rocker. So this big tough brute of a farmer follows Elijah around for years, watching Elijah teach and lead and council kings through lots of war and victory and defeat.
Then it’s time for Elijah to go to Bethel to catch his seat on the Fiery Chariot to Heaven (2 Kings 2). Elijah tells Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha won’t. The two must have been really close, because Elisha is told not once but five times to stay behind. Apparently it’s common knowledge at the prophet school that Elijah’s going, because the students keep coming up to Elisha to make sure he knows God’s taking his master away in a little bit. I love Elisha’s answer, every time: “yes, I know; be still.” Elijah asked him three times to “Please stay here;” each time Elisha pretty much just says, “Yeah . . . nope.” It’s very amusing to me, Elijah’s gentle begging, the students’ incredulous reminding, Elisha’s firm rebellion.
I wonder if everyone around him thought of Elisha as I have most of my life: Elijah’s tag-along. Tough as an ox, gentle enough to want to kiss his dad goodbye, loyal enough to pad along behind his master on a journey that he will return from alone. I wonder if everyone thought Elisha thought he could just tag along right up to Heaven. Elisha was just plain ridiculous. But Elisha had a plan. When Elijah was about to board the chariot he asked Elisha what he wanted. Elisha’s answer is simple: “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” He got it. Wow.
Next thing you know, Elisha’s doing all those random miracles. He makes random prophesies, like flour and barley being sold really cheap. I believe in prophecy, but I’m not sure that I’d buy into that one; but there was a royal officer who died because he didn’t believe it.
As of about 3 hours ago, Elisha is suddenly one of my favorite Bible characters. Elisha was EXTREME. Elisha was patient. Elisha was quiet. Elisha believed that the ridiculous was possible. Elisha was greatly blessed because he asked for the unbelievable. Elisha was the tool for great miracles because he put no boundaries on God.
I love some of the random stuff that Elisha does and says. Really, who in their right mind throws a stick in a river to make a hunk of metal float? I see him standing there, staring down at the water thinking, “Oh, snap. Stick. Hmm. Wonder if that would work? Let’s try it . . . whadya know? Cool. Nice going, God.” I picture this because I think it’s exactly how I imagine it would go if it was me. I’m a person of impulse; people of impulse operate largely on intuition. Intuition doesn’t always make sense. In fact, a lot of the time it doesn’t. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t set much importance on “gut.” A lot of times I don’t act on my intuition because it feels ridiculous. Random words or thoughts that pop into my head, things I should do for people, places I should go, how I should prioritize my time. A lot of people think I’m a little ridiculous, I think.
The Bible is a ridiculous book. Man is created from dirt, cities turn to salt, ancient infertile women have kids, floods cover Mount Vesuvius, young men chill in fiery furnaces, mud makes people see, waves heal people . . . on and on it goes. I marvel at a God who puts so much love into creating a universe that functions with order and rhythm, and then proves that love by breaking all the rules. Not only that, but He asks me to prove my love to Him by believing that He can break them.
I want to have a ridiculous faith like Elisha. I want to be extreme. I want to do my daily work with such enthusiasm that 23 oxen just isn’t enough. I want to follow my Master blindly to the very end, paying no attention to all the voices that tell me how silly I am. I want to ask for the unattainable and expect the unexpected and believe the unbelievable. I want to believe without a shadow of a doubt that . . .
- The mere reflection of His power in my life is enough to defeat my enemies
- That the very little bit I have to offer can be miraculously extended to be more than enough
- That life can come out of death simply by my persistent and stubborn demands
- That the nastiness I always seem to be wallowing in will ultimately be my saving grace
- That trusting my instincts, even when it doesn’t make sense, will keep me in the center of God’s protection
What ridiculousness do you cling to?