Open Our Eyes!
Reflections on 2 Kings 6:8-23
One family vacation we visited Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs. To
a nine year old flat-lander, a mountain cave was an exciting experience. The
most memorable part of the tour, however, was not the beautiful rock
formations. Deep inside the cave, the tour leader turned out all the lights
to show how dark the cave could be. I was uneasy enough myself. It didn’t
help any to hear a loud gasp and then the sustained soft moan of a woman’s
voice close by in the dark. When the lights came back on a frightened and
embarrassed young nun was tightly gripping my dad’s arm with both hands!
It is a scary sensation, even for an adult, to have your eyes wide open
and yet not be able to see even a faint glimmer of light. That experience
has remained a graphic illustration for me of the biblical judgment: "They
have eyes but they do not see" (Jeremiah 5:21). Most cultures of the world
use physical sight as a metaphor for understanding and discernment. In this
story, the narrator uses the metaphor of seeing as the focal point for a
message about God and his presence in our world.
1. Unperceiving opposition
8 Once when the king of Syria was
warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, "At
such and such a place shall be my camp." 9 But the man of God sent word to
the king of Israel, "Beware that you do not pass this place, for the
Syrians are going down there." 10 And the king of Israel sent to the place
of which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he
saved himself there more than once or twice.
11 And the mind of the king of Syria was
greatly troubled because of this; and he called his servants and said to
them, "Will you not show me who 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 bedchamber." 13 And he said, "Go and see where he is, that I may send
and seize him." It was told him, "Behold, he is in Dothan."
The Israelites remembered Elisha as an extraordinary man of God. Elisha
committed his life to bringing the wayward Israelite leaders and people back
to their covenant with God. He served the Northern kingdom of Israel during
Jehu’s bloody revolution against the house of Ahab and Baal worship (2 Kings
9-10). Israel was so weakened by internal turmoil that its northern neighbor
Syria (Aram) began making raids into Israelite territory. Elisha remained at
the center of events swirling around his nation.
Two important details emerge in these verses. First, we see that Elisha’s
efforts for his people put him in personal danger (v.11). Sadly, it seems
that in almost any sphere of life people who are active and involved create
enemies. This is true especially in matters relating to the church, because
people are generally more sensitive in this area. Too often, efforts at
spiritual renewal, growth, or ministry, whether led by a pastor or a lay
person, cause murmuring, dissent or outright hostility. Whatever the exact
cause, such opposition causes us grief and can even lead to spiritual
Some people speak of "spiritual warfare" in such situations. They
interpret any antagonism directed against them as a spiritual attack from satan or demons. The Bible does not interpret circumstances in this way.
Scripture is very realistic in portraying people’s folly, selfishness, and
sin as the source of most conflict in the world. In our story the opposition
is simply from one who stands to lose, or at least not gain, because of
The Gospels record Jesus’ personal temptation. Yet they never connect
satan or demons with his crucifixion. Jesus’ opposition was from religious
people who didn’t like his teachings or his style of ministry. Perhaps we
would prefer to believe that hostility directed against us is demonic, than
believe that people around us can be so insensitive to spiritual concerns,
and to each other.
The second point that emerges from these verses is more subtle, but
equally important. The King of Syria had made plans that Elisha continually
foiled. So he boldly issued orders to capture the prophet. The irony of this
order reveals something about the king. His officers had told him that
Elisha could learn about his most secret plans. Yet he made a move against
the prophet as if they could sneak up and carry Elisha away before he knew
it. The king was not very wise! He did not really understand with whom he
was dealing. It was not only Elisha that his armies would confront!
There will be opposition any time we truly respond to God and serve Him.
That is the point of the New Testament sayings about taking up our cross and
following Jesus. In the face of conflict we can remain steadfast, assured
that our opposition does not really understand. They are not opposing us,
but God (note 1 Samuel 8:7). And God can handle them!
2. Unseen resources
14 So he sent there horses and
chariots and a great army; and they came by night, and surrounded the
city. 15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and
went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was round about the
city. And the servant said, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" 16 He
said, "Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are
with them." 17 Then Elisha prayed, and said, "O LORD, I pray thee, open
his eyes that he may see." So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man,
and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of
fire round about Elisha.
The story moves to a different level in these verses. The opening section
focused on the historical setting of the ministry of Elisha. Here the story
turns to spiritual realities. The details of the story are not at the center
here. What the story intends to teach us about God and how we should respond
to Him is the central element.
Elisha’s assistant, understandably upset when he awoke and found the
Israelite city surrounded, cried out: "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" This
is a question most of us have asked, or will ask, at some point in our
lives. We probably will ask it more than once! There is nothing wrong with
asking such a question in the face of overwhelming opposition. The answer is
important for us, though.
When faced with opposition to our ideas, our programs, our efforts to be
involved, our attempts to minister or serve God, our first instinct is to
fight back. We want to do something. Of course, there are circumstances
where we must take action. However, when our first reaction is to strike
back, we probably need to stop and evaluate our motives carefully. It is
easy to vent our very human, and often sinful, frustrations and anger at
other people. It is even easier to do it under the cover of speaking or
acting in the name of God.
Elisha’s answer is not a call to fight but a calm response of "Don’t
worry." This is not the superficial "Don’t worry, be happy" cliché of
tourist ads and tee-shirts. It is a profound faith that understands the
resources that God can bring to bear in our lives as we face opposition and
Elisha’s prayer that God might open the eyes of his servant was a prayer
for spiritual discernment. As noted earlier, physical sight was an often
used biblical metaphor for understanding. And for faith. When Abraham bound
Isaac as an offering to God, he did not see the ram caught in a thicket. But
God saw it. When Abraham finally saw the ram, he understood that God would
provide resources (the Hebrew reads "see") for him (Genesis 22).
The blindness of Eli was symbolic of his lack of spiritual understanding
that showed up in his wayward sons (1 Samuel 2). Jeremiah accused the people
of his day of spiritual blindness. Jesus quoted from Jeremiah to chide his
disciples for their lack of spiritual awareness: "You have eyes but you do
not see." (Jeremiah 5:21; Mark 8:14-21).
Spiritual discernment is not automatic. Mature faith in God, faith that
allows us to remain steadfast amid all the turmoil of life, comes because
people seek it. In this instance, it came through prayer. There are other
ways that we can gain spiritual sight. None of them come easily or cheaply.
Spiritual maturity, and mature faith, come because we have deliberately
sought to see, and to grow. We cannot see until we decide to open our eyes.
Even then, God grants spiritual sight as a gracious gift.
3. Understanding compassion
18 And when the Syrians came
down against him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, and said, "Strike this
people, I pray thee, with blindness." So he struck them with blindness in
accordance with the prayer of Elisha. 19 And Elisha said to them, "This is
not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to
the man whom you seek." And he led them to Samaria.
20 As soon as they entered
Samaria, Elisha said, "O LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may
see." So the LORD opened their eyes, and they saw; and lo, they were in
the midst of Samaria. 21 When the king of Israel saw them he said to
Elisha, "My father, shall I slay them? Shall I slay them?" 22 He answered,
"You shall not slay them. Would you slay those whom you have taken captive
with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that
they may eat and drink and go to their master." 23 So he prepared for them
a great feast; and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and
they went to their master. And the Syrians came no more on raids into the
land of Israel.
As the Aramean army marched toward Elisha, he turned to God and His
resources. The story again uses the metaphor of sight as a key element. The
imagery here is more subtle than it appears in English. God struck the
Aramean army with "blindness." The Hebrew word translated "blindness" is not
the normal word for lack of physical sight. It means "to dazzle",
with the implication of confusion. It could describe a night animal
"dazzled" or confused by a bright light. The intent here is not that God
physically blinded the Arameans, but that God prevented the army sent to
capture Elisha from recognizing him when they met him.
Again we humorously discover that Elisha’s opposition is not very
insightful. They are ready to attack someone they know nothing about and
unwittingly follow Elisha into the middle of the enemy’s capital city! The
story has already portrayed the Arameans as not understanding the situation
they are trying to control. By this time, we have begun to sympathize with
the hapless Syrians. They intend to do harm. Yet, as they heedlessly march
toward certain doom, their "blindness" evokes a feeling of compassion.
The story is obviously poking fun at the Arameans. There was a long
history of animosity between the Israelites and their northern neighbors.
Yet there is an important message here: Don’t take your enemy too seriously.
It is important to recall that the "enemy" in this story is not the devil or
demons. It is just other human beings who do not understand what serving God
is really all about.
How much easier would it be for us to live in a sinful world, surrounded
by sinful people who act in sinful ways, if we could see them through the
eyes of this story. Perhaps we take our human opposition too seriously, and
do not take God’s resources seriously enough. There are people who cause us
grief, deliberately. There are people even in the church who oppose us, on
purpose. Interpersonal relationships are never easy. Sometimes other people
are simply a pain. Yet, if we could learn to see that they cannot see,
perhaps we would learn to love them anyway.
The Israelite king was eager to rid himself of the Syrians who had so
easily fallen into his grasp. That would be our normal reaction. But Elisha
responded with compassion. Because of this, the Syrians would stop raiding
the Israelites. For a time. Soon they would be back to their old tricks.
Elisha probably knew they would return and cause more grief. Yet he spared
To have your worst enemy helpless in your hands! Then to prepare for him
a great feast. One of the real tests of being Christian comes when you have
the opportunity to nail your enemy, and don’t. We will never be in Elisha’s
circumstances. Yet, we will face the same issue in milder forms.
There is no better example of a compassionate response to enemies than
Jesus’ words from the cross: "Father, forgive them for they do not
understand what they are doing." (Luke 23:34). But Jesus understood. And he
Wesley was a student in my Hebrew class a few years ago. He worked harder
than other students. He had to. Wesley was blind. Yet he learned to read and
translate the Bible in both Greek and Hebrew from a Braille text! Wesley had
committed himself to the ministry and determined to prepare as well as he
could to serve God. His humble spirit, sense of mission, and dedication to
his calling were an inspiration to everyone who knew him. Wesley was only
blind physically. Spiritually, he saw better than most.
How often do we have eyes, and yet do not see? We see the problems, the
opposition, the people who oppose us clearly. Yet we sometimes have trouble
seeing beyond our adversity to the resources God can provide to us.
Sometimes God’s resources will enable us to emerge on top. Often God will
just enable us to survive the onslaught. Sometimes God will simply give us
strength to maintain a Christlike spirit in the midst of abuse and
ill-treatment at the hands of others. Yet, the resources of God are there,
even if we can’t always see them. Trusting God even
when we cannot see the chariots of fire on the mountain is spiritual sight.
We call it faith!
O Lord, forgive me for the evil thoughts that
I hold against those who have caused me pain. Forgive me for my
shortsightedness, for my failure to perceive the power of your presence in
my life. By your strength, help me love those who hate me, as your Son
loved those who hated Him. As I grope in the darkness of my childish
faith, open my eyes that I may see!
Questions for Discussion
1. What are some of the reasons why people tend to oppose those who are
active and involved in the community or the church? Why would involvement
generate friction and opposition?
2. Why are some people so eager to attribute any problem in the world
to satan, devil, or demonic influences?
3. Since there was no battle between God’s armies and the Arameans,
what is the purpose in the story of the chariots of fire on the mountain?
4. What direct role does God play in this story? If the "bedazzlement"
of the Arameans was a poetic way of describing their lack of
understanding, exactly what did God do in the story?
5. If we cannot always count on chariots of fire appearing in times of
crisis, what resources from God can we count on to help us in a crisis?
6. What are some other ways besides prayer by which we can gain
7. What is the balance between our actively seeking spiritual sight and
realizing that it only comes as a gift from God?