In natural thinking it would be entirely appropriate to think that God is only concerned with great leaders of the past,1 but it is entirely inappropriate to think so of God as a Christian. The Bible grants us an inside look into the heart of God for people whom the world thinks of little to no account, people like “the sons of the prophets” (2 Kings 6:1). The “sons of the prophets” were disciples of the prophets during the exile. They were of little to no account to the world. Yet, in this account we see they are greatly cared for by Elisha, a type of Jesus.
These disciples (sons) matured in their respect to their teacher Elisha. In 2 Kings 2:15–18 they treated Elisha not so well, yet he still provided for them. This point of history shows a mature group of disciples, now respecting their teacher, and learning something further.2
Let us be reminded that the book of Second Kings is a book compiled for the encouragement of the exiles to prepare them for their return to their land. It would be entirely appropriate to consider “the sons of the prophets” as the possible authors of the books of the Kings, since they had experienced so much of the encouragement that we read about here.
The sons of the prophets experience the everyday practical, providential, and powerful care of the prophet who is a type of Christ. So, we may say clearly here that the care of Jesus is great in its practicality, its providence, and its power.
Jesus’ Care is Great in Practicality
Foremost, the care of Jesus is great in its practicality.
"Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See, the place where we dwell under your charge is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan and each of us get there a log, and let us make a place for us to dwell there.” And he answered, “Go.”" (2 Kings 6:1–2 ESV)
Again, one must remember Elisha is a type of Jesus. So, Elisha the embodiment of God’s Word is here caring for a basic need of the sonf o the prophets. The basic need is that of running out of room. This of course says something about the growth of God’s kingdom in difficult times.3 While the world appeared to be conquering God’s people (and indeed in one way it was) due to judgment, the kingdom of God was actually growing. The result of this kingdom growth was an everyday need for space. Thus, a proposal was set forth and accepted to go to the Jordan to build.
When people think of the greatness of God’s care, they may be prone to wander into simply the big things like salvation, healing of otherwise deadly diseases, and the conquering of world forces. However, that is not where anyone begins, nor should it be where anyone ends. Yahweh is a God who cares for everyday basic needs in our lives. Do you realize this today? Do you understand that Jesus is not there for simply great emergencies, but for everyday needs? Do you see Christ as one who cares about your anxieties and your counter space?
The week that I was preparing this study I actually was dealing with a need for a small tree to come down near a septic line in the yard. I had but a small gas powered pole saw, but needed a full size chainsaw along with the man-power to take the tree down and move it. The Lord cared about this need, and brought me into touch with a friend who provided his tools and services, including an axe. I did not merely borrow the axe, but the help. I was glad I had a willing person and the tools to get the job done.
I can imagine from that experience what the sons of the prophets may have felt when Elisha agreed that they go and build. It was a time of accomplishment for them in a time when the world seemed to be prevailing. The world thought little of those men doing the Lord’s work and learning under the Lord, but Elisha (whose name means God is Salvation) cared about their basic needs that day. He was not merely concerned about their learning what it took to do their job of what likely involved compiling the records that we are reading today. In fact, I hope you see that there was no competition between the two. The everyday needs of the sons of the prophets being met played a role under the inspiration of God to their main work. Do you know the Lord in such a way that while the world thinks little of you, that you know that the Lord’s caring eye is constantly upon you? Because it is. Jesus said,
"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29–31 ESV)
There is something of Christ’s care of us that makes it so great because it is so practical. Imagine if the care of Jesus merely looked after only salvation in heaven, or simply spiritual needs on earth as if separated gnosticly from the physical, and not a salvation that only proves that he will also with Him give us all things? But we have Savior who saves, but also cares about borrowed axe heads. That’s truly great. And before we begin with our version of greatness, let’s always go to Scripture to find out the definition. It begins with its practicality here.
Jesus’ Care is Great in Providence/Presence4
The second matter that makes the care of Jesus so great is that of His providence/presence.
"Then one of them said, “Be pleased to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water, and he cried out, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.”" (2 Kings 6:3–5 ESV)
It takes a careful eye to see this, but the matter is not such much the disciples here going about the work, as much as it is what happened before they went about it. It was foreseen they would need Elisha with them because in the midst of their work they would be presented with a great crisis. One of the disciples would lose his borrowed axe in the water. Now, this would seem to be of little account except the fact that axe heads weren’t cheap. Iron is quite plentiful today, but then it seemed that gold and silver was of greater plenty that iron (cf. Solomon’s Temple project in 1 Kings). Today, a good axe costs somewhere between $200-300. Someone who regularly uses such a tool isn’t going and finding a cheap axe to fell trees with, he needs something reliable and sharp. Moreover, not everyone can afford such tools that does not make a living at such things. To lose this axe-head would have caused a great “Alas!”5 But it would not be an “Alas!” that would be into the air, but one met with the prophets presence among them due to providence.
The same could be said of Israel’s exile. It was quite without hope in the world. Israel’s kingdom appeared to be no more than a stump left from a cut down tree, and there appeared to be no hope within sight of rebuilding apart from God’s presence and promises. But that is the point, God’s presence was promised to them. He said in covenant with Himself that He would go long ago! And he predicted that
"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit." (Isaiah 11:1 ESV)
Indeed, there would be no hope for God’s people then or today, had not Jesus gone with them, but Jesus has gone with us. Just like the exiles in times when it seems the world is conquering, yet God’s kingdom is still growing, and there are needs therein, God’s people have asked Jesus to be with them. And with them He is! And being with His people, there is no need that cannot be met with His presence by His providential care. Jesus has ensured He would be with us through His providence.
"Now all this took place in order that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”" (Matthew 1:22–23 LSB emphasis mine)
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." (Isaiah 9:6–7 ESV)
Moreover, Jesus ensures that the fruit that is meant to be produced by God’s people would come about by His own presence. Israel was the iron in the furnace of affliction, but the iron would come out sharp and fruitful able to take down the kingdoms of this world by God’s own power, and all this due to God’s providential presence.
Jesus’ Care is Great in Power
The final matter that makes the care of Jesus so great is that of His power.
"Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float. And he said, “Take it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it." (2 Kings 6:6–7 ESV)
God can and will restore what is otherwise impossible. That is another message the exiles and we need to hear. The iron was made to float in a miraculous way.6 In Jesus we have one who is not bound by physical laws, but may work without and against them! (Hodge) The exiles who would be looking for great help in their situation, are much like any of us in the midst of a troublesome world, facing everyday problems. And here Yahweh not only knows about them, foresees them, but does something about the matter (even over and against the matter), so that his care is unceasing, and beyond our imagination of the greatness of his care.
This is why we read things like the apostle saying,
"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:14–21 ESV)
God’s salvation was meant to make us see the wonder of God’s care for us in the everyday things.7 God’s care is great for us in power through Jesus Christ. He is to get the glory for the ability to meet our everyday needs, not just salvation. But salvation was meant to make men gladly give God glory for everything. We needed to be saved from the idea that we are sufficient in ourselves to reliance on the Creator who practically, providentially, and powerfully meets our everyday needs in Christ, that we might be forever dependent on Him for His Glory.
How does this take place practically speaking. We don’t need a miracle. In fact, miracles like this were only given at points of special revelation (E.g. Moses, Elijah & other prophets, the apostles). We don’t need nor should we expect a miracle to produce the growth in our lives as disciples, but we need the Bible which is the result of this miracle and others verified that what we have is indeed the Word of God.
I end with this great statement by Matthew Henry giving glory to God’s grace:
"God’s grace can thus raise the stony iron heart which has sunk into the mud of this world, and raise up affections naturally earthly, to things above."8
Think Naaman’s conversion here, who went from a bad vision of greatness to a true one.
Also, in context the account follows that of the failure of Gehazi in 2 Kings 5.
This matter shows up later in the chapter when it is shown to eyes to see that there are more with us than against us.
Providence is the idea, but it is in a way that he is present to work. One cannot be a deist according to this text. God is actually present and acting in this world, especially among his needy people.
The “Alas” may be due to the shame it would bring to not be able to repay what was borrowed. The exiles in some way would identify with their honor that was lost in their exile.
God is often pleased to use very insignificant things available like a stick here, or a couple of fish and loaves later.
This sermon is not about salvation in the converting sense, but about what salvation produces, matures in. It is important to keep this in mind. One could say that it is about salvation, but not in the initial sense of conversion. It is more about the growth of salvation leading to the end goal of more glory to Jesus. Biblical salvation leads the people whom are saved to a daily reliance on the God who has always graciously provided for them, but from whom they were at one time blinded from seeing that He clearly cares for us everyday, practically, providentially with his presence, powerfully; and His care is great!
Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Unabridged), Accordance electronic ed. 6 vols.; (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2004), paragraph 9583.