Go the distance! — 2 Kings 13:4-6, 14-19, 24-25
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 21, 2018
During an elementary school track meet a young boy ran three of the laps in a race very fast and was out among the leaders. But on the last lap, instead of staying on the track and rounding the end to get to the finish line, he left the track, cut across the football field to the track on the other side, and then finished. Someone asked him why he cut across, he simply said, “I got tired.” Though he ran well, he did not finish well and was disqualified. He failed to go the distance.
There is a definite need in America today for God’s people to serve the Lord with all one’s heart. Some of Northern Israel’s kings rendered admirable service to the Lord for a while, but in time their obedience was well rather incomplete. They sinned and did what they wanted rather than following the Lord. Their examples illustrate the importance of serving God with wholehearted consistency and persistence. Today we will take a look at why it is so important for believers to go the distance…
Why do some Christians start well in their relationship with God but then do not serve with wholehearted consistency and persistence? Why don’t they go the distance? We can blame it on a lot of things but whatever the reason God calls his people to go the distance! We discover that…
I. To go the distance we need to look at our spiritual shortcomings! (Vv. 4-6)
Then Jehoahaz sought the LORD’s favor, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. The LORD provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram. So the Israelites lived in their own homes as they had before. But they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them. Also, the Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria.
1. When Jehoahaz became king of Israel, he continued his predecessors’ practices. He approved of and took part in the worship of the golden calves set up by Jeroboam at Dan and Bethel. Because the people followed their leader’s example and as punishment for their sins, God kept Israel under the oppressive power of the Aramean kings Hazael and Ben-hadad. This condition continued during Jehoahaz’s 17-year reign. “Then Jehoahaz sought the LORD’s favor, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel.” While we are not always faithful, God always is. The word “sought” carries the idea of turning to God in weakness or helplessness. God heard Jehoahaz because God saw the oppression Hazael, king of Aram, inflicted on Israel. The Hebrew word translated “heard” means not only that God listened to the prayer of Jehoahaz but also that He answered his prayer: “The LORD provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram. So the Israelites lived in their own homes as they had before.” Just like in the Book of Judges God once again sent someone to deliver his people. He acted to deliver the Israelites and restore them to a time of peace. They were able to live in their own tents or homes as before. Sometimes, people never learn from their mistakes. This can be true of a nation as well. “But they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them. Also, the Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria.” God’s deliverance did not motivate the Northern Kingdom Israel to turn back completely from idolatry and worship him only. Israel continued to practice the sins that Jeroboam, Israel’s first king, initiated when he set up calf worship in Israel. The nation also kept the Asherah pole standing as a symbol and place for the worship of the female goddess Asherah. An Asherah pole was a wooden pole erected to the Canaanite goddess of fertility. May poles that some dance around nowadays are the remnants of this paganism. To go the distance we need to look at our spiritual shortcomings!
EXAMPLE: I enjoy being in the company of people who have a sense of humor. Lighthearted conversation sprinkled with laughter is always enjoyable. I also like serious discussions about important spiritual, moral, and political issues, especially when the participants express different points of view with intensity and feeling. I must confess however that I don’t enjoy conversations when I am being rebuked. It’s hard to face my failings. As I look back on my life, however, I must confess that some of the reprimands have brought me moral and spiritual benefit. I remember my uncle who was “disappointed” in me because I took a shortcut in weeding my grandmother’s garden. I remember a coworker telling me he wasn’t satisfied with the job I did. Both made me a better person. Rebukes hurt, but they are helpful. To go the distance we need to look at our spiritual shortcomings!
Jehoahaz was wise to go to God in prayer for help. The worship of Baal and Asherah had not brought his nation deliverance from Aram. When God delivered the Hebrew people, they should have turned to him in gratitude and served him with all their hearts. However, they fell short spiritually. They accepted God’s favor but continued in their evil ways. We discover that…
II. Persistence pays off in going the distance for God! (Vv. 14-17)
Now Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” Elisha said, “Get a bow and some arrows,” and he did so. “Take the bow in your hands,” he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. “Open the east window,” he said, and he opened it. “Shoot!” Elisha said, and he shot. “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha declared. “You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.”
1. What was a king to do? His army had been reduced to 50 horsemen, 10 chariots, and only 10,000 foot soldiers. His nation was suffering from the incursions of the Arameans and was spiritually corrupt. Now, the Nation’s top prophet “Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died.” The names of the kings here might be confusing. “Joash” and “Jehoash” are two ways of spelling the same name. This confusion is complicated because Israel and Judah both had kings with this name and their reigns overlapped. In verse 10 the king of Judah is called Joash and the king of Israel is called Jehoash. For clarity’s sake, this is how the names will be used. So we find that the “Jehoash king of Israel went down to see (Elisha) and wept over him. ‘My father! My father!’ he cried.” He saw Elisha as his nation’s spiritual father. The word also implies a master, a protector, an advisor, or a governor. God had made Elisha a spiritual leader to Israel! Through the years, Israel had defeated its enemies by depending on Elisha, not by depending on the nation’s military strength. So now the king cries, “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” Though Elisha was very ill, he answered Jehoash’s request for help. Elisha tells him “Get a bow and some arrows,” and he did so. “When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands.” The prophet’s action symbolized that God would have his “hand” on the king in battle against Aram. Jehoash would have to face the Arameans, but God would guide him in the battle. The prophet’s next instructions were to open the east window. The Arameans were located in the area east of Israel, which included the area across the Jordan. Pointing the arrow out of the window toward the east, Elisha commanded Jehoash to Shoot! When the king shot the arrow, Elisha declared, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha promised Jehoash would receive victory over the Arameans at Aphek a city east of the Jordan and near the Sea of Galilee. What circumstances tempt believers to think ministry for the Lord is no longer possible? In what area will you continue to serve the Lord regardless the circumstances? Even while very ill Elisha continued to serve the Lord. Persistence pays off in going the distance for God!
EXAMPLE: A. J. Cronin a doctor who was forced by illness to take a leave of absence from his medical practice decided to write. He became discouraged when half done and threw his manuscript into the garbage. Later when Cronin was walking the Scottish Highlands he met a man digging in a bog, to drain it for use as a pasture. As Cronin talked with him, the man related, “My father dug at this bog and never made a pasture. But my father knew and I know that it’s only by digging you can make a pasture. So I keep on digging.” Feeling rebuked Cronin went home, picked his manuscript out of the garbage can, and finished it. That novel, Hatter’s Castle, sold three million copies! There are times we may feel trapped by circumstances that demand persistence. Are we willing to keep digging away at whatever “bog” God has assigned to us? Persistence pays off in going the distance for God!
Elisha rendered persistent service to the Lord, even when he was suffering from a terminal illness. Elisha’s actions remind us that the Lord wants believers to continue serving him as long as they are able, regardless of what they are experiencing. We learn that…
III. We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience! (Vv. 18-19, 24-25)
Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and the king took them. Elisha told him, “Strike the ground.” He struck it three times and stopped. The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.”… Hazael king of Aram died, and Ben-Hadad his son succeeded him as king. Then Jehoash son of Jehoahaz recaptured from Ben-Hadad son of Hazael the towns he had taken in battle from his father Jehoahaz. Three times Jehoash defeated him, and so he recovered the Israelite towns.
1. Elisha instructed the king to “Take the arrows,” and the king took them. Now here is the key to understanding what the king should have done, how he failed Elisha’s direction, and therefore failed to follow through with his trust in God! “Strike the ground” with the arrows Elisha told him but the king struck the ground three times and stopped. How many arrows did Jehoash have in his hand? We do not know but if he had followed through he would have been completely successful! Jehoash could have held all the arrows in his hand and struck the ground three times, or he could have shot three of the arrows into the ground. I believe he had a lot more arrows and he had failed to strike the ground the number of times the arrows represented. God desired to give him a complete victory but now he would only enjoy a partial one. How often does this occur in our lives when God asks us to trust him and we only partially follow through? Elisha became angry when Jehoash stopped after striking the ground only three times. The prophet said he should have struck five or six times. If he had, then he would have defeated Aram totally, until he put an end to them. But because he struck the ground only three times, he would strike down Aram only three times. The king’s actions reveal half-heartedness in accepting Elisha’s word from God. The king’s actions suggest a lack of faith and determination to be all he could be in the hands of Almighty God. We learn that after the king of Aram’s death Jehoash seized the opportunity to recapture from Hazael’s successor, Ben-hadad, the towns Hazael had taken from Jehoash’s father Jehoahaz. In the battles for those towns, Jehoash was able to defeat the Arameans under Ben-hadad but only three times, thus fulfilling Elisha’s prophecy. What task or challenge are you facing right now for the Lord in which you are tempted either to ignore or to face half-heartedly? What steps can you take to go the distance with God in this challenge? Jehoash was not limited in his success by the strength of the Arameans but by his own lack of wholehearted obedience. God had promised complete victory, but the king had not been committed to obeying and serving God obediently. God would have gone the distance and defeated the Arameans if only Jehoash had gone the distance with him. We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience!
EXAMPLE: After getting home from church a little boy’s mother asked what they had taught him in Sunday School. He sighed and responded, “Obedience… AGAIN!” We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience! Oswald Chambers wrote: “The Lord does not give me rules, but he makes his standard very clear. If my relationship to him is that of love, I will do what he says… If I hesitate, it is because I love someone I have placed in competition with Him, namely, myself.” Cindy Casper writes: “When we are obedient, we show God that we love him and have more faith in him than we do in ourselves. Arthur W. Pink said that love is ‘a principle of action, and it expresses itself . . . by deeds which please the object loved.’ To obey God means to relinquish what we want and to choose to do what he asks.” We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience!
To go the distance we need to look at our spiritual shortcomings! Persistence pays off in going the distance for God! We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience!
This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.