Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, ‘Get up and go with your household, and settle wherever you can; for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come on the land for seven years.’ So the woman got up and did according to the word of the man of God; she went with her household and settled in the land of the Philistines for seven years. At the end of the seven years, when the woman returned from the land of the Philistines, she set out to appeal to the king for her house and her land. Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, ‘Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.’ While he was telling the king how Elisha had restored a dead person to life, the woman whose son he had restored to life appealed to the king for her house and her land. Gehazi said, ‘My lord king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life.’ When the king questioned the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, ‘Restore all that was hers, together with all the revenue of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.’
Elisha went to Damascus while King Ben-hadad of Aram was ill. When it was told him, ‘The man of God has come here’, the king said to Hazael, ‘Take a present with you and go to meet the man of God. Inquire of the Lord through him, whether I shall recover from this illness.’ So Hazael went to meet him, taking a present with him, all kinds of goods of Damascus, forty camel loads. When he entered and stood before him, he said, ‘Your son King Ben-hadad of Aram has sent me to you, saying, “Shall I recover from this illness?”’ Elisha said to him, ‘Go, say to him, “You shall certainly recover”; but the Lord has shown me that he shall certainly die.’ He fixed his gaze and stared at him, until he was ashamed. Then the man of God wept. Hazael asked, ‘Why does my lord weep?’ He answered, ‘Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel; you will set their fortresses on fire, you will kill their young men with the sword, dash in pieces their little ones, and rip up their pregnant women.’ Hazael said, ‘What is your servant, who is a mere dog, that he should do this great thing?’ Elisha answered, ‘The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Aram.’ Then he left Elisha, and went to his master Ben-hadad, who said to him, ‘What did Elisha say to you?’ And he answered, ‘He told me that you would certainly recover.’ But the next day he took the bed-cover and dipped it in water and spread it over the king’s face, until he died. And Hazael succeeded him.
Vv.1-6 refer back to 2 Kings 4:8-37, focussing on the woman whose son was restored and her property. Gehazi still serves Elisha (see 5:25-27). It’s the prophet’s reputation that prompts the king to act in the woman’s favour when she returns home after fleeing her land for seven years due to famine. The family inheritance is rightfully returned to her, plus the income it has earned during her absence. Her future is secured.
Elisha, meanwhile, is involved in issues surrounding regime change in Aram, which will subsequently bring about the same in Israel. The prophet has travelled into Aram. Hearing this, the king sends Hazael, his general, to Elisha to purchase an oracle from Israel’s God about his illness – will he recover? Elisha’s reply is ambiguously both ‘yes’ and ‘no’; and he gives Hazael a penetrating stare before weeping, because he has discerned the evil that Hazael will inflict on Israel in the future. Hazael rebuts this suggestion initially; then Elisha proclaims God’s word – Hazael will become Aram’s king. Hazael only reported back that the king would recover; but then he murdered him! Had Elisha foreseen this evil too?
This whole text is written with hindsight and it may exaggerate the extent of Elisha’s influence over kings and the politics of the time; but it expresses a belief that God’s concern encompasses all such matters.
It is important to note what the text doesn’t say: God neither instigates, nor condones, the predicted evil and murder. But nor does God intervene to prevent them. God has created us with freewill and we all have to choose how to use any position or power we have.
Are we prepared to speak out against our leaders, in the name of Christ, naming the evils that will follow if certain policies are pursued? We may not be able to prevent them; but let’s not remain silent.
Eternal God, in you past, present and future are held together, and your love encompasses all creation.
Enlarge our vision of your purposes and help us to interpret the signs of our own time accordingly.
Reveal to us the activity of the Spirit, working for good in the world.
Grant us the wisdom to discern potential evils; and the courage to do everything possible to prevent them, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.