Our Sovereign God

1 Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.” So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God. She went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years. And at the end of the seven years, when the woman returned from the land of the Philistines, she went 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.” And while he was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life appealed to the king for her house and her land. And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, “Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.”

Now Elisha came to Damascus. Ben-hadad the king of Syria was sick. And 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, and inquire of the Lord through him, saying, ‘Shall I recover from this sickness?’” So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, all kinds of goods of Damascus, forty camels’ loads. When he came and stood before him, he said, “Your son Ben-hadad king of Syria has sent me to you, saying, ‘Shall I recover from this sickness?’” 10 And Elisha said to him, “Go, say to him, ‘You shall certainly recover,’ but the Lord has shown me that he shall certainly die.” 11 And he fixed his gaze and stared at him, until he was embarrassed. And the man of God wept. 12 And Hazael said, “Why does my lord weep?” He answered, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.” 13 And Hazael said, “What is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?” Elisha answered, “The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.” 14 Then he departed from Elisha and came to his master, who said to him, “What did Elisha say to you?” And he answered, “He told me that you would certainly recover.” 15 But the next day he took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place. 2 Kings 8:1-15 ESV

Hazael meets prophet Elisha and asks for healing for his master, King Ben Hadad of Syria (2 Kings 8). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

It’s difficult to determine exactly when the two stories that open up chapter eight took place. But the author’s decision to include them at this point in his narrative doesn’t appear to have been based on a desire for chronological accuracy. He was trying to make a point about the spiritual conditions in and around Israel, and so he used the stories of two very different characters as illustrations. One we have met before. The Shunammite woman was first introduced to us in chapter four. She was a faithful follower of Yahweh who had shown gracious hospitality to Elisha and his servant, providing them with shelter and food every time they passed through her town. And God had rewarded her generosity to His servant by allowing her to conceive and bear a son, something she had never been able to do. But sometime in his early childhood, her son became ill and died. Her joy turned to sorrow. But the prophet of God intervened and restored the child to life. And now, in chapter eight, the author decides to pick up the story where he left off.

Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.” – 2 Kings 8:1 ESV

The prophet informed the Shunammite woman about a famine that God was about to bring upon the land because of Israel’s ongoing apostasy. He gave this faithful servant of Yahweh the opportunity to escape and find shelter until the seven years of famine had passed. And she took the prophet’s advice and fled with her family to the land of the Philistines. But seven years later, when the famine was over and she returned to Shunem, she was homeless and landless. It could be that she sold her husband’s inheritance before she left seven years earlier. But it could be that the crown had confiscated her land in her absence. But in either case, the Mosaic law required that she be given the right to reclaim her land at any time (Leviticus 25:23-28). It would have been part of her husband’s inheritance and protected by law.

So, upon her return, she headed straight to the palace to make an appeal to the king. It seems likely that her husband had died. We know from chapter four that he was more advanced in years (2 Kings 4:14). Yet it could be that he was alive but physically incapable of presenting his case before the king, so his wife acted on his behalf.

This is where the story gets interesting. In a display of divinely inspired timing, the woman arrived at the palace at the exact moment when Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, was having a conversation with King Jehoram. The fact that Gehazi was standing before the king would indicate that this story took place before he had been stricken with leprosy (2 Kings 5:20-27). The author doesn’t reveal the purpose behind Gehazi’s appointment with the king, but he does let us know what they discussed.

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.” – 2 Kings 8:4 ESV

Jehoram’s relationship with Elisha had been anything but cordial. Like all the kings of Israel, he had a love-hate relationship with God’s prophet. Jehoram was the son of Jezebel and, like his wicked mother, he had continued to lead the people of Israel in the practice of idolatry. So, it seems a bit out of character for him to ask Gehazi to regale him with all the exploits of the prophet of God. But, once again, this reveals the divine timing and providential planning behind all that is taking place in the story. God was orchestrating everything, down to the last detail.

It just so happened that as Gehazi was telling Jehoram how Elisha had restored the woman’s son to life, she walked in the door. Gehazi, shocked at seeing the woman show up at just that moment, exclaimed, “My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life” (2 Kings 8:5 ESV). This wasn’t a case of kismet, karma, fate, or good luck. It was the sovereign will of God Almighty on display. He had pre-ordained and orchestrated it all. And the result was that the king ordered the immediate restoration of the woman’s land, “including the value of any crops that had been harvested during her absence” (2 Kings 8:6 NLT). He richly rewarded her for her faithfulness.

And this sets up the second story. In this one, the location shifts from Samaria, the capital city of Israel, to Damascus, the capital city of Syria. In verses 1-6, the author presented the story of a faithful servant and a curious king. But in verses 7-15, he tells a strikingly different story about an unfaithful servant and a critically ill king. These stories are arranged as they are for a reason. They are meant to stand in stark contrast to one another. But they are also intended to demonstrate the sovereign hand of God over all that takes place. From the palace of the king of Israel to the royal court of the pagan king of Syria, God is in full control of all things. There is nothing that escapes His notice or falls outside His divine jurisdiction.

In another display of divine timing, Elisha has arrived in Damascus at the very same time that Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, has become ill. Upon hearing of Elisha’s presence in his capital, Ben-hadad determines to take advantage of this fortunate opportunity. He sends Hazael, the governor of Damascus, to ask Elisha whether he will recover from his illness. And, in a not-so-subtle attempt to garner a favorable response from the prophet, Ben-hadad includes a lucrative welcome gift. And when Hazael delivers the king’s gift and message to Elisha, the prophet responds with a rather cryptic answer.

“Go and tell him, ‘You will surely recover.’ But actually the Lord has shown me that he will surely die!” – 2 Kings 8:10 NLT

What followed this exchange was a long and awkward staredown between Elisha and Hazael. The prophet knew exactly what was going on in Hazael’s heart. God had revealed to Elisha exactly what the governor was planning to do. So, he locked eyes with Hazael, perhaps hoping that the awkward silence would lead the governor to have second thoughts about his evil plan. But there was no confession from Hazael. Instead, Elisha began to weep. He knew exactly what was going to happen and the long-term ramifications for the people of Israel.

“I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!” – 2 Kings 8:12 NLT

God had given Elisha a glimpse into all that was going to take place. Ben-hadad would recover from his illness but would die at the hands of Hazael. And when Hazael ascended to the throne of Syria, he would wreak havoc and destruction upon the nation of Israel. He would become God’s chosen instrument of judgment upon His unfaithful people. And this had always been part of God’s sovereign plan.

All the way back in chapter 19 of 1 Kings, we have the story of Elijah running from the threat of Jezebel’s revenge. He escaped to the wilderness where he sought shelter in a cave. But while there, he received a visit and a message from God.

And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.” – 1 Kings 19:15-16 ESV

Don’t miss the significance of what is going on here. Years earlier, God had commanded Elijah to anoint Hazael to be the next king of Syria. And Elijah had obeyed that command. This means that long before Elisha showed up in Damascus and had his face-to-face encounter with Hazael, this man already had God’s divine seal of approval to be the next king of Syria. He had already been anointed by Elijah but had not yet assumed the throne. But it was just a matter of time. It was inevitable and unavoidable because it had been ordained by God.

And God had made it clear to Elijah that He would one day use Hazael as His instrument of judgment upon the rebellious people of Israel.

And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” – 1 Kings 19:17-18 ESV

Now, that prophecy was about to be fulfilled. God had shown Elisha what was about to happen and the thought of it brought him to tears.

“The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.” – 2 Kings 8:13 ESV

The judgment of God was about to come upon the people of Israel. And while He had rewarded the Shunammite woman for her faithfulness, He was about to bring death and destruction upon unfaithful Israel. And the author closes his story with the fateful words: “the next day he [Hazael] took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place” (2 Kings 8:15 ESV).

The man whom God had ordered Elijah to anoint years earlier, was now the king. The sovereign will of God had been fulfilled. And the next phase of His plan for the rebellious people of Israel was about to begin.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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