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Open Our Eyes!
Reflections on 2 Kings 6:8-23

Dennis Bratcher

Introduction

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.

The Text

1. Unperceiving opposition (6:8-13)

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 crisis.

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 Elisha’s actions.

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 (6:14-17)

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 crisis.

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 (6:18-23)

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 them.

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 forgave them.

Conclusion

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 spiritual insight?

7. What is the balance between our actively seeking spiritual sight and realizing that it only comes as a gift from God?

-Dennis R. Bratcher, Copyright © 2013, Dennis R. Bratcher, All Rights Reserved
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