Raising the Dead Back to Life

10 In the thirty-seventh year of Joash king of Judah, Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned sixteen years. 11 He also did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin, but he walked in them. 12 Now the rest of the acts of Joash and all that he did, and the might with which he fought against Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 13 So Joash slept with his fathers, and Jeroboam sat on his throne. And Joash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel.

14 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” 15 And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. 16 Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it. And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. 17 And he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “The Lord‘s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 18 And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”

20 So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. 21 And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.

22 Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. 23 But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now.

24 When Hazael king of Syria died, Ben-hadad his son became king in his place. 25 Then Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again from Ben-hadad the son of Hazael the cities that he had taken from Jehoahaz his father in war. Three times Joash defeated him and recovered the cities of Israel. 2 Kings 13:10-25 ESV

Keeping up with the revolving door of kings who reigned over Israel and Judah is hard enough as it is, but it becomes even more difficult when two kings with the same name end up ruling at the same time. That’s the case in this particular passage. Jehoash ascends to the throne of Israel after the death of his father, Jehoahaz. And it just so happens that the king of Judah bears the same name. It seems only fitting and a bit ironic that these two nations that shared the same predilection for idolatry and apostasy would end up with rulers who shared the same name. And while their reigns would only intersect for a period of about two years, they shared far more than a common name. In the end, both men proved to be ungodly leaders who failed to lead their people back to the worship of Yahweh.

When Jehoash the king of Judah had received a less-than-encouraging message from God, he ordered the stoning of the messenger. It just so happened that the man he executed was Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest. This was the same Jehoiada who had saved Jehoash from the hands of Queen Athaliah by providing him with sanctuary in the temple for six years. On Jehoash’s seventh birthday, Jehoiada had anointed him the king of Judah. But years later, when Jehoiada had died, Jehoash began to listen to the counsel of his ungodly advisors. He ended up forsaking Yahweh and, as a result, suffered defeat at the hands of a much smaller Syrian force. He was wounded in the battle and while recuperating from his injuries, he was assassinated by two of his own officials.

And the king of Israel, who bore the same name, shared a similar story of unfaithfulness and rebellion. The author sums up his 16-year reign with the words: “he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had led Israel to commit” (2 Kings 13:11 NLT). He too forsook the Lord and led the people to continue their love affair with false gods. And it’s interesting to note that the heir to his throne was his son, Jeroboam II, whom he had named after the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. His admiration for Jeroboam seems obvious but undeserved. After all, Jeroboam had been responsible for leading the Israelites into idolatry. When God had split the nation of Israel in two after the reign of Solomon, He had given the ten northern ten tribes to Jeroboam as his kingdom. But Jeroboam had responded to this gracious gift from God by erecting two golden calves and encouraging his people to forsake the worship of Yahweh. Yet, Jehoash thought enough of this man that he named his own son after him.

But sometime during his reign, Jehoash of Israel received word that the prophet Elisha was on his deathbed. Surprisingly, the king was grieved over this news and made a personal visit to see the dying prophet. While Jehoash was anything but a faithful worshiper of Yahweh, he knew that Elisha had great power and influence. This elderly prophet had proven time and time again that he spoke on behalf of God and was backed by the power of God. That’s why Jehoash greeted him with the somewhat cryptic statement: “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” (2 Kings 13:14 ESV). Evidently, Jehoash had heard the story of Elijah’s miraculous departure and Elisha’s role in it. Perhaps Elisha had shared with the king the details of that fateful day when God had used a whirlwind to  Elijah from the earth.

…as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. – 2 Kings 2:11-12 ESV

This event had followed Elisha’s request for Elijah to provide him with a double portion of his spirit. He was to be Elijah’s replacement and he felt ill-equipped for the task. It could be that King Jehoash was hoping that Elisha would pour out his spirit on him as well. He understood that Elisha possessed power and had direct access to Yahweh. With the prophet’s death, all of that might be lost.

But rather than pour out his spirit on the apostate king, Elisha commanded him to take his bow and shoot an arrow out the window.

Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “The Lord‘s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” – 2 Kings 13:17 ESV

Next, the prophet told the king to take his remaining arrows and shoot them into the ground. Jehoash dutifully obeyed, but when he stopped after the third arrow, Elisha responded in anger.

“You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.” – 2 Kings 13:19 ESV

In a sense, Elisha had poured out his spirit on King Jehoash. He had placed his hands on those of the king and, together, they had shot the first arrow out the window. He then assured the king of his victory over the Syrians. But the extent of that victory would be based on the faith of Jehoash. By limiting the number of arrows he shot into the ground, Jehoash was unwittingly revealing his lack of faith. The first arrow had symbolized the Lord’s victory over the Syrians. When Elisha had commanded Jehoash to shoot additional arrows, he should have understood that the symbolism remained the same. Each arrow was to have represented the Lord’s victory. But Jehoash had chosen to leave some of his arrows in the quiver. In doing so, he had inadvertently limited his chances of success over his enemy.

Having pronounced his last prophetic message, Elisha died. But the author relates a story that reveals one last miracle associated with the prophet of God. Sometime later, the body of a recently deceased man was inadvertently thrown into the cave containing Elisha’s bones. When the body of the dead man came into contact with Elisha’s remains, he was immediately restored to life. Amazingly, the author provides no further details to the story. We have no idea what happened to this newly resurrected man or how the story became known. But it was meant to reveal that, though Elisha was dead,  Yahweh was alive and well. Elisha’s departure was not meant to be mistaken as the abandonment of Israel by God. He was still fully capable of restoring life to the lifeless. The all-powerful God of Israel used the bones of a dead prophet to restore life to a dead Israelite, a clear symbol of His desire to renew those among His chosen people who were marked by spiritual death.

And the author reminds his readers that God remained faithful to His disobedient people, refusing to abandon them despite their constant rejection of Him.

…the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now. – 2 Kings 13:23 ESV

The author also reveals that God kept His word concerning the fate of the Syrians. Jehoash experienced three separate victories over his enemy, matching the exact number of arrows he had shot into the ground. No more, no less. God gave allowed Jehoash to recover some of the territory stolen by the Syrians, but the fighting would continue throughout the rest of his reign. The sad reality is that the same God who raised a dead man back to life was fully capable of restoring a spiritually dead nation. But their continued stubbornness and lack of faithfulness would prevent them from experiencing the life-transformative power of Yahweh.

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