I. The historical setting shows rampant sin in verses 1-13.
In verses 10-13, we get a summation of what the state of the nation of Israel is. This summation reflects a period of steady national decline. Israel’s enemies, the Syrians were pressing in around them and King Jehoahaz was powerless to resist them or drive them back. Verse 7 says that the soldiers of Israel were so powerless that they were dust to be trampled. Things were so bad because no one was bowing down to the Lord as the one true God. Although the people spoke the name of the Lord, the people were not submitting to God. And so when Jehoash comes on the scene, things are pretty much the way they were before. The people of Israel say they are God’s people, but they are showing disdain for God.
II. But there is an even greater problem for in verses 14-19, we see the peoples’ lack of faith.
Jehoash goes down to Elisha when he heard that Elisha, now likely 85-90 years old, was dying. When Jehoash sees Elisha, he cries out, “My father! My father!” He calls Elisha his “father” recognizing that Elisha was a true prophet of the Lord. It reflects the close relationship that should have existed between prophet and king all along. The king then says, “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” This may have been the king’s realization that Elisha was truly the protection of Israel. What had kept them from being destroyed was the grace of God shown through Elisha. Now that Elisha is dying, where will their security be?
Then Elisha gives the first of two symbolic actions in verses15-17. He tells the king to take his bow and then places his own hands on those of the king. This use of his hands is showing the king that Elisha is giving his support to the king. Ultimately it was a symbol of God’s being willing to help the people in battle. He tells the king to open an east window and shoot an arrow toward the direction of Syria. Elisha says, “The arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha’s hands indicate that it will be the Lord’s victory, not anyone else’s.
Then Elisha gives the second symbolic action which ends up being a test of faith for Jehoash. He tells the king to shoot arrows into the ground, which the king did but only three times. This showed that he was not committed to the idea of God giving him the victory. Elisha sternly rebukes the king for the lack of faith and tells him that if he had struck the ground many times, God would have completely destroyed the Arameans. As it is, the Israelites will only defeat them 3 times because of the king’s lack of faith. It is likely that Jehoash didn’t really believe that God would defeat the Arameans for them.
With that Elisha dies and is buried, but even in his death marvelous things happen. This must have happened some time later for now all that is left of Elisha’s body are the bones. Realize that in those days, bodies were buried in a chamber or cave in the rock. Every spring, raiders from Moab would come and terrorize the area where Elisha was buried. This happened again one time just as some men were burying the body of another man. When these men saw the raiders, they tossed the body in the burial chamber and took off. Now here’s the amazing part: as soon as the dead body touched the bones of Elisha, the dead man came to life and stood up on his feet. What is the point of this rather bizarre little episode? This may have occurred to give hope to God’s people. It is a symbol that Israel, like this dead man’s body, will rise again. But they must look to the prophets of the Lord who are teaching the Word of the Lord.
The last part of the chapter is easily overlooked but I believe it is perhaps the most important part. Listen again to verses 22-23: “Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.” Here we have a picture of the covenant relationship God has with his people. Hazael, the king of Aram, continues to harass and oppress Israel because the people refuse to give themselves over fully to the Lord and yet the Lord was compassionate to them.
Why? Because of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In this one statement, we pull together the past 1300 years of history. It wasn’t just that God felt sorry for his people. God remains faithful to his covenant even when His people do not. In spite of the broken covenant, there will be forgiveness and restoration if they repent. The people of Israel were unfaithful, rebellious, unbelieving and as such were undeserving of God’s faithfulness and care... and yet, God showed compassion on them.
IV. That should help us as we strive to show compassion to the undeserving.
One of the things we see here is another example of God’s grace and compassion. Over and over we can see how God continues to try to bring his people back to Him. Sometimes He did it very powerfully by saving them in miraculous ways. Often it was through strong discipline with the hope that they would return to Him. But it was always motivated by God’s tender love, compassion and grace. That is still true today. Sometimes God powerfully saves us; sometimes He strongly disciplines us. No matter what we do or how we have messed up or what God may be doing to get our attention, the goal is the same: He wants us to be living in close relationship with Him.
Moreover, we see God’s compassion in Elisha who anticipates Jesus. While the man raised to life anticipates a nation restored for the Old Testament, it powerfully points to the new resurrected life we have in Jesus. Through Jesus’ resurrection, we who believe in Him can have new and resurrected life. We read this story of this man’s resurrection and we think, how amazing! People don’t just rise from the dead when they touch some dead bones. People don’t just rise from the dead..., except when Jesus is around. Whenever Jesus is around, people are raised from the dead all over the place! Jesus brings not only spiritual life, but physical resurrection life. We need not fear death for Jesus has won that victory over sin and death completely when He died and rose again. Jesus’ resurrection displays both God’s amazing power and his amazing compassion for us who are not deserving.
So how do we show compassion? First, we pray for those who are in trouble. Let’s ask God to give us compassionate hearts and attitudes for those whom many others would want to simply forget or write off. Second, we can try to envision ourselves as being in that situation. Those middle class do-gooders in that soup kitchen realized when they looked at the face of that young mother that given just a few bad choices or bad breaks, that could be them. At the very least, they could begin to envision what they it might be like to be in that situation. To have compassion, we have to take on and imagine the pain and suffering of others. Third, we must treat those who are suffering with respect. They are created in God’s image as we are and we don’t deserve God’s compassion either. Let’s think about how we might want to be treated if we were in that same position in life.
God is a God of compassion and he has shown us amazing compassion in Jesus. Now wear the clothes of compassion to those others who are also image-bearers as well.