Beyond the Lectionary Text: 2 Kings 6
by Lora Copley
What do we do with the people we can’t stand? The co-worker who daily makes you look stupid. The classmate who gets the glory for your hard work. The brother-in-law who always has to get his way.
Pick up a pop magazine in any grocery checkout lane and you’ll eventually get a “Life in the Real World” type article. Here’s a sampling of the wisdom: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world, so get on top,”“Don’t get mad, get manipulative!” and “Designer labels. Your frenemy will be infuriated when she sees you dressing better than she does.”
Scripture asks good questions of the ”Life in the Real World” article–in fact, of all wisdom that boasts knowledge about the “real world.” Are they talking about the real world or is there more than meets the eye?
When I was in first grade, I could not see the chalkboard. Everything Mrs. Zuidema wrote on the board looked fuzzy. I tried different ways to live in this reality. I purposely broke my pencil point so I could slooooowly walk by the chalkboard on my way to the sharpener. One time I snuck my older brother’s binoculars in, so I could use them to take a peek at the board.
I’ll never forget when I got my glasses. Trees weren’t just blobs of green– I could see leaves! And grass had blades on it! It was a new world for me–I saw things as they really were.
We all need special glasses—none of us sees things as they really are. Scripture testify that angels are part of this world. It testifies that we’re designed for a world where God is clearly in the picture, “walking in the cool of the day.” But the serpent whispers in Genesis 3:5 “Eve, if you disobey, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” Eve’s eyes were opened–opened to sin but shut to God. Since then, all of Eve’s children walk around, like the Nicole Kidman film, with “Eyes Wide Shut.”
But throughout history, God intervenes and, with scales falling, gives us a reality check. A big “Hello! I am God! This the real world!” Think of Hagar, Moses and Peter, the Bethlehem fields, the Emmaus Road, the Damascus Road and the Transfiguration Mount. This text from 2 Kings is among the most dramatic of all the “eye-opening” stories.
The king of Aramean raiders is frustrated with his surprise attacks being foiled time and again. He throw his hands in the air, bellowing “Who’s the traitor in the ranks?!” But he’s told Israel’s God has a prophet. And this prophet, Elisha, knows every scheme King Aram whispers up. Like a fly on his bedroom wall. And Elisha passes everything on to the Israelite king.
“Life in the Real World” is clear to the raiding King. To defeat Israel, take out the prophet. The king sends his strongest force to encircle “Behold, Dothan!” under the cover of the night. But unlike the earlier times, no Israelite army waits for them. It appears the Israelite prophet is already losing his powers.
In vs. 15, the story changes perspective, and we see the servant of Elisha rising early in the morning. He makes his way to the roof, and ack! Arameans! The servant runs across the roof– sure enough, the whole city is surrounded! “Life in the Real World” is clear for the servant. No escape, no hope.
But what says Elisha? Vs 16. “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them!” “Get real, Elisha!” The servant thinks. “Face the facts, man– snorting horses, glinting spears, iron chariots, WWF sized warriors– all enemies, right in your backyard!”
Elisha prays simply his servant might have a reality check. God opens the servant’s eyes. Bright light! The hills on fire, but no, not the hills. It’s an ocean of chariots and horses blazing, burning, fierce beyond telling, surrounding the army surrounding Elisha.
Now we see why Elisha is so calm. Elisha knows God’s protection. Seeing God’s REAL world, Elisha can take risks. One can defeat a thousand (as promised in Lev 26:8 and Josh 23:10).
“As the enemy charged, Elisha prayed to the Lord, ‘Strike these people with blindness.’ And the Lord struck them blind.” What a reversal of a “dog-eat-dog” real world. The mighty military is now blind prisoners. Toto’s got Fang in a corner.
That’s the first eye-opener of the story: the real world is that the Lord protects his people, even with chariots of fire.
Elisha leads the helpless men eleven miles up the road to the last place the enemy wants to be, Israel’s capital city, Samaria. And then, he prays for their eyes to be open.
Imagine this for an Aramean raider. The Israelite God has just opened your eyes. You look up the stone walls, and your heart sinks. “Behold, Samaria!” You see the King of Israel coming straight towards you. You go on your knees, begging for mercy. He yanks your neck back and puts the cold iron of his blade against your throat. You hear him say, “Shall I kill them, father? Shall I kill them?”
According to “Life in the Real World,” the king is right to put the blade to the neck. These raiders have been terrorizing his people. An eye for an eye. A punishment that fits the crime.
But what says Elisha? “Do not kill them. Your bow did not capture them, the Lord did. Let me show you how the Lord treats those he captures.” Do not kill them. Feed them instead.
What happens next is even more shocking than heavenly chariots. Vs 23 says the king did not just provide those enemies with bread and water, he “prepared a great feast for them.” The king goes all out. The Arameans eat to their hearts’ content and the King of Israel lets them go.
That’s the second eye-opener of this story: God’s real world–that is true reality–is a reality of forgiveness. First revelation, we see the chariots. Second revelation, we see a party, a meal. In the Middle East to eat with a person is to call them family. Meals are events of reconciliation. Even though these raiders were anti-God’s prophet and anti-God, God feeds them, forgives them, and festoons them with total, scandalous grace.
Why can God do this? Because of One who is like Elisha but better. Elisha prayed for open eyes, but this one opens eyes Himself. Elisha trusted in God’s reality, but this One is the reality of God himself.
Jesus comes in our history to reverse the trouble that Eve bought, to strip the blinders off. In John 9:39, Jesus is clear on this. “I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
In Elisha’s story, the blind see God’s protection in the chariots and His mercy in the meal. In Jesus, our blind eyes are opened even more to God’s protection, for he promises, “I — more than heavenly horses or fiery chariots–but I, whose eyes blaze like burning fire and whose mouth holds a double-edged sword– lo, I am with you always!” This is protection!
And in Jesus, our blind eyes are opened to God’s mercy and just like in this story, the mercy is in a meal. For Jesus has thrown a party for his enemy —While we were still sinners, Christ makes a meal for us– a meal of his own body and his own blood. This is mercy!
Any “coping system” that doesn’t take this reality into account is fuzzy and incomplete–like my first grade world- with strategies akin to breaking pencil points and smuggling binoculars. How will the reality check of Jesus’ protection and mercy make a difference in our dealings with the person we have a conflict with? (Perhaps that person is someone you’d never dare call an enemy. Someone in the church-family or in our own family. A spouse, child, parent.) This person has really hurt and there is justifiable anger.
When the call for forgiveness or throwing a party is given, there’s automatic recoil. “Get real! You don’t know this person like I do! It’d kill me to forgive him. What if he does not even acknowledge there is a problem? What if he just walks all over me? I’ve got to stand up for my rights on this. You don’t see the situation clearly. Reality is reality–this can’t change.” And you grip the Life in the Real World article tighter.
What if we took our eyes of our offender? Took our eyes off our self? See the chariots. See the nail-scarred one who has made you a meal. We can throw parties for our enemy, because he protects us and he has thrown a party for us.
P.S. If we need to start on the road of forgiveness, the idea of food or a meal (or at least going out for coffee) may get us going. Many have been struck by the connection of meals and forgiveness in Scripture–in our text, Jacob and Laban, the Passover/ Lord’s Supper, Jesus and Peter, in the meal Ananias served Paul after praying for Paul’s blind eyes to open. In this vein, it’s worth exploring the Arabic/Jewish practice of sulha.
Garrison Keillor tells of a conflict between two church members- Brother Johnson and Brother Miller. A mutual friend, Uncle Al, tries to make peace by inviting them both to dinner.
Tension is thick as they gather around the dining room table, so Al suggests a silent prayer before the meal. Everyone bows their head, closes their eyes and “a long time passes; the old clock ticks on the bureau, a cat meows and leaves, there are dry sniffs and throat clearings; soon it is clear neither side wants to stop before the other; they are seeing who could pray the longest.”
This goes on for minutes, even after Uncle Al tries to break the deadlock with saying Amen…twice. Finally, Al’s wife Flo, pushes her chair back and brings out the food “that they were competing to see who could be more thankful for.” She put down the platters under the men’s noses, and through their eyes, still clamped shut, tears began to trickle.
That smell unlocked a memory. It was years ago, just boys they were -and fighting, and a mother’s voice from on high said, “You two stop it and get in here and have your dinners. I mean it.” The blessed cornmeal crust and rapturous gravy brought the memory to mind and the stony hearts melted; they raised their heads and filled their plates and slowly, peace was made over that glorious chicken.”
Lora A. Copley is ordained by the CRCNA. She is a teacher for Classis Red Mesa’s Leadership Development Network and preaches by invitation.