Beyond Healing

11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.

When I restore the fortunes of my people,

1 when I would heal Israel,

    the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed,
    and the evil deeds of Samaria,
for they deal falsely;
    the thief breaks in,
    and the bandits raid outside.
But they do not consider
    that I remember all their evil.
Now their deeds surround them;
    they are before my face.
By their evil they make the king glad,
    and the princes by their treachery.
They are all adulterers;
    they are like a heated oven
whose baker ceases to stir the fire,
    from the kneading of the dough
    until it is leavened.
On the day of our king, the princes
    became sick with the heat of wine;
    he stretched out his hand with mockers.
For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue;
    all night their anger smolders;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven,
    and they devour their rulers.
All their kings have fallen,
    and none of them calls upon me. Hosea 6:11-7:7 ESV

Not all of God’s condemnation was reserved for the ten northern tribes of Israel. He also had more than enough reasons to appoint a “harvest” for the southern kingdom of Judah. In essence, God is warning both nations that they will one day reap what they have sown. Their iniquity will produce a bounty of God’s righteous judgment, and they will end up eating the fruit of their labors. Their years of feasting on faithlessness will be followed by a time of spiritual drought and famine. They will experience leanness of soul.

But even as God reveals His pending judgment, He offers His assurances of future blessing. He speaks of restoring the fortunes of people. That is the desire of His heart, and He will end up doing so for the southern kingdom of Judah. While He will eventually punish them for their sins, sending them into captivity in Babylon, He will also restore them to the land. Because He has plans for them that include the sending of His Son as a descendant of David, born of the tribe of Judah. For that to happen, the tribe of Judah will have to be in existence and living in the land of promise. God will redeem and restore Judah from their exile in Babylon, but not because they deserve it. He will do so because His plan of redemption requires that the Messiah be born of the tribe of Judah and of the seed of David. God would eventually restore the fortunes of rebellious Judah so that He could reconcile sinful mankind to Himself through the Lion of Judah, the Messiah of Israel.

But even as God hints at the hope of restoration for Judah, He confesses that He is unable to offer the same outcome for Israel. While He longs to heal them, He can’t look past the egregious nature of their sin. Everywhere He turns, He is confronted by their wickedness and immorality. From the largest tribe of Ephraim to the capital city of Samaria, the entire nation is filled with iniquity and infected by sin. Their rejection of God had resulted in moral decay and social injustices of all kinds. They were dishonest, uncaring, deceitful, cruel, and completely driven by self-centered motives. In fact, they seem to illustrate the very kind of people Paul warned Timothy about.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

And the worst part about Israel’s sinful behavior was that they failed to recognize that could see everything they were doing.

Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all. – Hosea 7:2 NLT

They had lived without God for so long that they were no longer aware of His presence or feared His punishment. He was completely out of sight, out of mind. But He was watching. And He was appalled at and incensed by their behavior. But, unlike God, the king of Israel derived a perverse sense of joy in it all.

The people entertain the king with their wickedness,
    and the princes laugh at their lies. – Hosea 7:3 NLT

Those who should have been concerned by the growing wickedness in the land were actually pleased with it. When there is chaos among the people, it provides the government with justification for increasing its power and asserting its authority. A peaceful and well-behaved populace does not require the heavy hand of government. But civil unrest and a breakdown in the moral fabric of society create the perfect environment for the growth of dictatorial rule. Anarchy tends to breed tyranny.

God describes a society that is completely out of control. From the prince in the palace to the peasant in the street, everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. It was a moral free-for-all, with no one adhering to any sort of standard for justice and righteousness. The signs of ungodliness were everywhere. But that shouldn’t be surprising. When they abandoned God, they also left behind His law. There was nothing to regulate and guide their behavior. They were each operating according to their own moral compass and the outcome was not a pretty picture.

The nation of Israel was marked by literal and spiritual adultery. The upper echelons of society were known for their drunken parties and immoral behavior. God describes their sinful actions like a baker’s oven that is maintained at a constant high temperature, with its fire never going out. Their sinful lifestyle could be “cooked up” at any time, day or night.

Their hearts are like an oven
    blazing with intrigue.
Their plot smolders through the night,
    and in the morning it breaks out like a raging fire. – Hosea 7:6 NLT

They never gave their sin a rest. And a lifestyle of unrepentant sin has a habit of escalating in intensity. It becomes like a fire raging out of control. With no godly means of regulating its sin-prone behavior, mankind is destined to endure a steady downward spiral of moral and spiritual decay. It is exactly what happened after Adam and Eve sinned. Their decision to disobey God led to an immediate collapse in the social fabric of society. One of their sons ending up killing his brother. And before long, the descendants of the first couple had polluted the earth with their wicked and ungodly behavior. So much so, that God decided to destroy all that He had made.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the LORD said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 NLT

And the state of affairs in Israel was no better. The extent of human wickedness in Israel was beyond belief. Everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. And God points out that their spiritual decline had reached such a low point that the nation had become self-destructive. They were literally annihilating themselves.

Burning like an oven,
    they consume their leaders.
They kill their kings one after another,
    and no one cries to me for help. – Hosea 7:7 NLT

And that last line says it all. In the midst of all the chaos, confusion, societal decay, and moral decadence, no one was bothering to seek God’s help. There was no godly remnant within the society calling out to God in repentance and begging for His intervention. The cancer of sin had spread so deeply that it had left no one free from its influence. The spiritual health of the nation had been completely compromised. They were beyond healing and in need of complete purging.

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

Robbing God of Glory

12 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. 13 And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. 14 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” 15 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”

20 The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 21 And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 20:12-21 ESV

Hezekiah shows the Babylonian messengers his treasures (2 Kings 20, 13). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

For whatever reason, the author of 2 Kings provides no details concerning Hezekiah’s reaction to his miraculous healing or to God’s gracious gift of 15 more years of life. This man had been near death and had been told by the prophet of God that his days were numbered. He was deathly sick and helpless to do anything about his situation, so he cried out to God. And Yahweh responded by restoring his health and promising to extend his reign by 15 years. Yet, the author simply skips to the next story without providing any insight into Hezekiah’s response to this wonderful gift from God. But if we turn to 2 Chronicles 32, we discover that the newly healed king did not respond with humble gratitude, but with pride.

Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 32:25 NLT

Perhaps Hezekiah’s new lease on life had gone to his head. He had narrowly escaped the clutches of death and was back to full health. On top of that, the Assyrian menace had all but disappeared. His kingdom was secure and he was enjoying an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. But he failed to remember the one who had made it all possible. He neglected to offer any form of sacrifice to express his thanks to Yahweh. And this arrogant display of ingratitude brought God’s anger against the king, his capital, and the nation of Judah.

Once again, we’re given little in the way of details. The author does not tell us what form God’s judgment took. But it had its intended effect.

Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:26 NLT

God’s wrath was abated but it seems that Hezekiah’s pride was not. It seems that Merodach-baladan, the king of Babylon, had heard of Hezekiah’s illness and sent emissaries to visit him. By the time these men had made the long trek from Babylon to Jerusalem, Hezekiah had been healed. So, when they arrived, the newly revived king decided to impress his guests by giving them the grand tour of the royal capital. And he showed them everything.

Hezekiah received the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 NLT

But to better understand what is going on here, we need to turn back to 2 Chronicles 32 for context. It would appear that King Hezekiah not only enjoying renewed health but a revitalized kingdom with a reinvigorated economy. Things were booming in Judah.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Hezekiah had it all: Health, wealth, and prosperity. And he was more than happy to display the full extent of his power and possessions to his foreign guests. But the author 2 Chronicles reveals an important detail that must not be overlooked. The visiting Babylonian emissaries wanted to know “about the sign that had been done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV). Evidently, upon their arrival, they had been told how the king had been healed by God. Someone had shared with them about the miracle of the shadow reversing itself on the steps of Ahaz. And they were intrigued and eager to hear more. In other words, Hezekiah was being given a chance to brag about his God. But the passage tells us that “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV).

God stood back and watched to see how Hezekiah would respond to this opportunity. But rather than declare the glory and the goodness of Yahweh to his pagan guests, Hezekiah bragged about himself. He said nothing about his miraculous healing or of God’s promise to extend his reign an additional 15 years. And he fails to even mention the miraculous sign. His entire exchange with these men was centered upon himself. Look closely at how the author describes Hezekiah’s actions:

…he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 ESV

It was all about him. And when Hezekiah is confronted by the prophet Isaiah, he further confirms the self-centered nature of his interaction with the envoys.

“They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.” – 2 Kings 20:15 ESV

Not once does Hezekiah mention Yahweh. He doesn’t even acknowledge God as the source behind all his possession, including his very life. And with this incredible display of self-adulation, Hezekiah failed the test and revealed exactly what was in his heart. So, Isaiah delivered what should have been a devastating bit of bad news:

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” – 2 Kings 20:17 ESV

And, as if that was not bad enough, Isaiah adds another element to God’s divine judgment against Hezekiah and Judah.

“…some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” – 2 Kings 20:18 ESV

And to our shock and surprise, Hezekiah responds favorably to the prophet’s words. He isn’t even fazed by the news that his sons will be taken as captives and forced to become eunuchs to the king of Babylon. He hears all of this as good news. Why? Because all Hezekiah really cared about was himself. Look closely at his response to Isaiah.

“At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – 2 Kings 20:19 NLT

According to 2 Chronicles 32:27, “Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored.” He enjoyed great prestige, power, and a time of unprecedented peace. And as long as he was able to keep what he had, he was willing to sacrifice the future, even if it meant that his sons would suffer so that he could prosper.

What makes this story even more disheartening is the fact that, at one time, Hezekiah had penned a poem to Yahweh, expressing his gratitude for his healing. Immediately after receiving the news that God would graciously deliver him from death, Hezekiah had taken the time to put his thoughts in writing. Look closely at what he said:

Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live!
Yes, this anguish was good for me,
    for you have rescued me from death
    and forgiven all my sins.
For the dead cannot praise you;
    they cannot raise their voices in praise.
Those who go down to the grave
    can no longer hope in your faithfulness.
Only the living can praise you as I do today.
    Each generation tells of your faithfulness to the next.
Think of it—the Lord is ready to heal me!
    I will sing his praises with instruments
every day of my life
    in the Temple of the Lord. – Isaiah 38:16-20 NLT

They say time heals all wounds. But in Hezekiah’s case, time became his enemy. The further he got away from his near-death experience and his miraculous healing by God, the more forgetful and ungrateful he became. His focus shifted from the goodness and greatness of God to his own power and possessions. He became self-obsessed and myopic in his outlook and, as a result, he lost sight of the glory and grandeur of God. And it would be the prophet Isaiah who would write his own poem concerning Yahweh, that should have served as a wake-up call to the pride-filled and self-possessed king of Judah.

The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT

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

Sickness, Shadows, and Signs

1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” And Isaiah said, “Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover.”

And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?” And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” 10 And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” 11 And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz. 2 Kings 20:1-11 ESV

Hezekiah was a good man who remained faithful to Yahweh throughout his tenure as king of Judah. This made him a rather rare commodity among the other kings Judah and Israel. Most of these men displayed a passion for idols and a propensity for godless behavior that brought upon them God’s judgment. So many of Hezekiah’s peers and predecessors had been nothing more than apostate idol worshipers. Yet, the author of 2 Kings saved his most glowing assessment for King Hezekiah.

He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. – 2 Kings 18:5 ESV

Hezekiah had instituted a series of religious reforms in Judah that were meant to restore the peoples’ devotion to and confidence in Yahweh. He cleansed the temple of God that had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. He reinstituted temple worship by recommissioning the priests and Levites. He also called for the reinstatement of the feast of unleavened bread and the celebration of Passover,  which both had long been neglected. These annual celebrations had been commissioned by God and were intended to be reminders of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. But when Hezekiah issued a royal decree that the nation of Judah gather in Jerusalem to re-commemorate these two God-ordained festivals, some of the people responded with derision and refused to attend. Many of those who did come to Jerusalem had failed to follow God’s requirements concerning purification.

Most of those who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not purified themselves. But King Hezekiah prayed for them, and they were allowed to eat the Passover meal anyway, even though this was contrary to the requirements of the Law. For Hezekiah said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon those who decide to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors, even though they are not properly cleansed for the ceremony.” And the Lord listened to Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people. – 2 Chronicles 30:18-20 NLT

Yet all of Hezekiah’s reforms and his determination to restore the nation’s dedication to Yahweh did not prevent him from encountering difficulties during his reign. His faithfulness to God did not innoculate his reign from potential trials or keep his kingdom trouble-free. In fact, even this godly and faithful king found himself having to deal with the threat of destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. But when the enemy showed up outside the gates of Jerusalem, Hezekiah didn’t rail against God, accusing the Almighty of having abandoned His people. The king didn’t waste time listing all of his reforms or recounting all his efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh to Judah. No, he simply prayed that God would intervene on their behalf – and He did. God had not prevented the enemy from showing up, but He did miraculously cause them to go away. In the midst of their greatest trial, when all looked hopeless and they found themselves helpless, Hezekiah and the people of Judah had their faith reinvigorated by the power and presence of God.

And while God miraculously delivered His people from the threat of annihilation by the Assyrians, that was not the only difficulty that Hezekiah faced. The author states that “in those days” or around the same time that the Assyrian threat was taking place, the king of Judah became deathly ill. Just when the kingdom was facing its most difficult trial, Hezekiah was given a devasting bit of bad news from the prophet of God: “Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness” (2 Kings 20:1 NLT).

But once again, Hezekiah didn’t respond in anger or resentment. He didn’t lash out at God in disappointment or hurl accusations of divine dereliction of duty. He simply prayed. He turned his face to the wall and called out to his God: “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you” (2 Kings 20:3 NLT). Then he simply wept. 

Hezekiah wasn’t bragging or boasting. He wasn’t insinuating that God was somehow obligated to heal him. He was simply asking that God not forget his efforts to remain faithful. Hezekiah did not ask to be restored. He begged to be remembered. And he probably had his eternal state in mind at the time. He was hoping that he had done enough to earn God’s favor and to secure entrance into His Kingdom. And God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and provided him with an immediate response.

“I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.” – 2 Kings 20:5-6 NLT

God gave Hezekiah an additional 15 years to lead the people of Judah. And, on top of that, God assured Hezekiah that He would protect the city of Jerusalem from the Assyrian threat. God was going to eliminate the enemy outside the gates of the city and the illness inside the body of Hezekiah. And when the king asked Isaiah if he could provide any proof that these things would actually take place, God graciously obliged by providing a miracle.

he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz. – 2 Kings 20:11 ESV

Evidently, right before the eyes of the king and all those in his royal bedroom, the sun appeared to reverse itself. The shadow that had advanced ten steps suddenly went in the opposite direction, in direct violation of natural order. God’s particular choice of a sign was intended to prove to Hezekiah that He could do the impossible. If He could cause the shadow to reverse its course, He could also reverse the effects of Hezekiah’s illness and the outcome of the Assyrian siege.

Nothing was too difficult for God. The one who gave the sun its light could control its shadow. The one who gave Hezekiah his life could prolong it. And the one who gave men the ability to conceive and implement plans could easily redirect or reverse those plans to suit His sovereign will. The shadow reversed. The king was healed. The Assyrians gave up their siege of Jerusalem. God graciously displayed His power over sickness, nature, and the nations of the world. And Hezekiah was given 15 more years to prove his faithfulness to Yahweh. But as we will see, his new lease on life will not produce the most glowing results. The glory of his former faithfulness will see its shadow reversed as the king struggles with pride and the seductive influence of success.

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

When God Is Not Enough

16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi. 24 And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed. 25 He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow. 2 Kings 5:16-27 ESV

Naaman’s miraculous healing by God made a profound impact on him. His lifelong battle with leprosy had come to an end thanks to the healing power of the God of Israel. Naaman was blown away by the fact that a deity he didn’t even worship had been willing to cleanse him from his disease. And this gracious act and dramatic demonstration of power convinced Naaman that there were no gods but Yahweh. He recognized the God of Israel as the one true God and vowed that he would give up his worship of the gods of Syria.

From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

Naaman was overjoyed and attempted to express his appreciation to Elisha by offering him gifts. But the prophet politely refused to take any kind of compensation for his role in Naaman’s healing. This led Naaman to make a rather strange request of Elisha.

“…please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

It appears that Naaman desired to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Syria so that he could worship Yahweh. It was a common belief among the pagans that the gods were geographically bound and ruled over specific regions of the earth. If you recall, when Ben-hadad, the king of Syria had lost a decisive battle against Israel, his advisors convinced him that their defeat had been because they had fought on Yahweh’s home turf.

“The Israelite gods are gods of the hills; that is why they won. But we can beat them easily on the plains.” – 1 Kings 20:23 NLT

The pagans believed that the gods were restricted to certain geographic areas, so Naaman hoped to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Damascus. This would give Yahweh a foothold in Syria and provide Naaman a place to worship Him. Elijah made no attempt to correct Naama’s well-intentioned but misguided understanding of Yahweh. He allowed Naaman to load up his donkeys with dirt and then absolved him of any guilt for those times when he would have to join King Ben-hadad in the worship of the false god Rimmon.

At this point, the story takes a dramatic turn. As Naaman turns to leave, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, decides to take advantage of the situation. Seeking an opportunity to profit personally from Naaman’s generosity, Gehazi approached the Syrian general and told him a completely fabricated story.

“…my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.”  – 2 Kings 5:22 NLT

Gehazi had been frustrated by the prophet’s rejection of Naaman’s generous offer. So, he concocted a plausible plan that would allow him to enrich himself at Naaman’s expense and without his master’s approval. To Gehazi’s surprise, Naaman doubled the size of his request, providing him with twice as much silver and two additional sets of clothes. And ecstatic over his apparent good fortune, Gehazi promptly hid the ill-gotten gain in his house.

But when Elisha confronted Gehazi about his recent whereabouts, the servant lied yet again. He attempted to deceive the prophet of God but was shocked and dismayed to discover that Elisha knew exactly what had taken place.

But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants? – 2 Kings 5:26 NLT

Poor Gehazi had failed to consider that Elisha, as the prophet of God, might be able to see through his little ruse. God had given Elisha a vision of Gehazi’s entire conversation with Naaman. He had seen and heard it all. And he knew all about the gifts hidden in Gehazi’s home. Elisha even revealed that he knew what had motivated Gehazi’s actions. The silver was only a means to an end. He had ambitious plans to become a prosperous landowner, complete with groves, vineyards, livestock, and a household full of slaves to serve his every need. Gehazi was not content to remain the servant of Elisha. He wanted more from life. But his discontent revealed that he had no desire to follow in Elisha’s footsteps. At one time, Elisha had been the servant to Elijah. But when God decided to bring Elijah’s prophetic ministry to an end, He chose Elisha to be his replacement. But it seems that Gehazi had no desire to be the next prophet of God. He had his own plans and they did not include taking up Elisha’s mantel of leadership.

But Gehazi’s dreams of possessions, power, and prominence were about to become a living nightmare. Elisha delivered the devastating news that the gifts he received from Naaman would be accompanied by another unexpected surprise: Naaman’s leprosy.

“Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.” When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow. – 2 Kings 5:27 NLT

Gehazi still had the silver and fine clothes that Naaman had given him. But his greed and blatant disregard for God had earned him a permanent reminder of God’s disfavor and judgment. Naaman returned home healed, whole, and ready to worship the God of Israel. But Gehazi would spend the rest of his life bearing the mark of God’s divine judgment. And his ill-fated decision to profit from God’s power would have long-lasting implications that would impact his family for generations to come.

There is another powerful lesson to be learned from this story and it comes from the lips of Jesus. Luke records it in his gospel account. Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth where He visited the local synagogue on the Sabbath. While there, He was invited to do the daily reading from the scroll. On this occasion, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Having finished His reading, Jesus sat down and declared to those in the synagogue, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). This statement surprised them because He seemed to be claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the long-awaited Messiah. They found that hard to imagine because they knew Jesus as the son of Joseph. He had grown up in their town and there was no way that He could be the Messiah. And Jesus sensed their doubt and disbelief. He knew that they would never accept Him as the Messiah unless He agreed to perform miracles that proved who He claimed to be. That’s when He told them, “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:24 NLT). Then Jesus reached back into the history of Israel and used Elijah and Elisha as evidence against His neighbors’ stubborn refusal to believe in Him. 

“But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” – Luke 4:24-27 NLT

Jesus reminds His Jewish audience that, back in their day, both Elijah and Elisha were used by God to minister to non-Jews. Elijah rescued the widow of Zarephath, a Sidonian who was suffering from the effects of a famine brought on by the disobedience of the people of Israel. And Elisha had healed a pagan, unbelieving Syrian general, cleansing him from leprosy and restoring him to full health. But it had been Gehazi, the Jewish servant of the prophet of God, who had found himself judged by God and condemned to suffer from leprosy for the rest of his life.

Jesus’ words made an impact on His listeners. They were offended by His inference that they were somehow undeserving of God’s mercy. He seemed to be saying that God would rather show mercy on Gentiles than waste His time with disbelieving Jews. And they were so upset that they attempted to throw Jesus off a nearby cliff. The story that Jesus related concerning Elijah and Elisha had shamed them. They had never made that connection before, and they didn’t like it. In the midst of Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh, the prophets of God had been sent to the Gentiles. And now, Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, but His fellow Jews were rejecting His message and ministry. Hundreds of years later, the nation of Israel remained just as stubborn and disobedient as they had been in the days of Elijah and Elisha. So, once again, God would take His offer of salvation and redemption to the Gentiles.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

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

There is No Other God

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 2 Kings 5:1-15 ESV

Elisha appears to have been a prophet to the people. At this point in the narrative, his interactions with the kings of Israel have been few and far between. Yet, we have seen him provide the widow of Zarephath with a miraculous supply of oil that allowed her and her two young sons to escape poverty and avoid possible enslavement. Next, he rewarded the Shunammite woman’s hospitality by replacing the sorrow of her barrenness with the joy of motherhood. But years later, when that young son unexpectedly died, the prophet intervened again, raising him back to life and restoring the joy of his mother. And then there’s the story of the poisoned stew. A young prophet had inadvertently and innocently added wild gourds to a stew that Elisha’s servant had prepared, not knowing that they were poisonous. This deadly concoction could have resulted in the deaths of all the prophets who ate it, but Elisha had intervened, purifying the contents and protecting the lives of God’s messengers.

All of these stories are meant to reveal God’s interest in and interactions with His people. The average Israelite had to live in a land permeated by idolatry and under the judgment of God. On two separate occasions, God had brought famine on the land because of the apostasy of its godless kings. Yet, the stories of Elijah and Elisha reveal how God stepped into the lives of his people, graciously providing them with sustenance in the midst of His divine judgment. These stories are meant to showcase the mercy and love of God. Despite the ongoing unfaithfulness of Israel’s kings, the God of Israel remained committed to the covenant promises He had made to His people.

And in chapter five, we’re given another story that illustrates God’s sovereign hand over not only Israel but all the nations. While the kings of Israel continued to abuse their power by leading the people into idolatry and apostasy, God operated behind the scenes, demonstrating His unparalleled sovereignty over faithless kings, false gods, and even those outside the flock of Israel.

Suddenly, in chapter five, the author expands the scope of his narrative by including the plight of a Syrian general who suffered from the debilitating and potentially deadly disease known as leprosy. This story’s inclusion was meant to shock and surprise the Jewish audience to whom the author originally wrote. Their attention would have been piqued as soon as they read, “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV). Why in the world would the God of Israel have given this pagan idol-worshiper a victory of any kind? This would have made no sense. And to make matters worse, this non-Hebrew is described as “a mighty man of valor” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV) who had led raids into Israel and captured and enslaved a young Jewish girl. To the Jewish reader, the only positive aspect of this story would have been that Naaman had leprosy.

Over the centuries, the Syrians had enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the nation of Israel. And ever since God had divided the nation in two, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Syrians had made a habit of playing one against the other. Treaties had been signed and then broken. Alliances had been made, only to have been reneged upon. Syria had repeatedly taken advantage of the discord between Israel and Judah, choosing to align itself with one or the other based on what could be gained from the arrangement.

The Syrians were not to be trusted. They were self-promoting opportunists who regularly switch sides and deftly manipulated the strained relationship between Israel and Judah to their advantage. And yet, here we have the unexpected and shocking story about a Syrian general who receives healing from the prophet of God.

Everything about this story is intended to reveal God’s sovereign hand. He is described as the source behind Syria’s victory, and that victory was over the nation of Israel. Not only that, the victory included the capture of a young Jewish girl. But providentially, that same young girl ended up as a servant to Naaman’s wife. Like Moses being adopted into Pharaoh’s family or Joseph ending up serving in Pharaoh’s court, this young, unidentified Jewish girl found herself serving in the home of one of the most powerful men in Syria. Her plight, while difficult, had been God-ordained.

Because of her providential presence in Naaman’s household, she had become aware of his leprosy and was able to tell her mistress about a possible solution to his problem.

“I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:3 NLT

Despite her predicament, she was still a faithful follower of Yahweh, and she believed that her God had the power to provide healing, even to the pagan commander who had enslaved her. Not only does this young girl display an amazing amount of faith, but she reveals a kind and compassionate heart. Rather than rejoicing over her captor’s plight, she expresses her desire that he be healed, even declaring her wish that he could meet the prophet of God.

Once again, God’s sovereignty is revealed through the rather strange chain of events that ensue. Naaman goes to Ben-Hadad II, the king of Syria, and received permission to visit Samaria. The king even provides Naaman with a letter of introduction to Jehoram, the king of Israel. And in an attempt to guarantee Jehoram’s assistance, Ben-Hadad II sends 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and 10 changes of royal apparel. Don’t miss the irony in all of this. At the suggestion of a young Israelite slave girl, a pagan Syrian general has made an appeal to his pagan Syrian king. And that idol-worshiping Syrian king has sent a sizeable tribute to an apostate Israelite king begging that he help his leprosy-stricken general get healing from the God of Israel. You can’t make this stuff up.

When Naaman presented his letter of introduction and the generous gifts from King King Ben-hadad, he was met with both surprise and suspicion. Jehoram thinks the whole thing is a set-up.

“Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.” – 2 Kings 5:7 NLT

It never seems to cross Jehoram’s mind to seek the aid of Yahweh or His prophet. He simply panics, assuming the whole thing is a clever ploy by Ben-Hadad to justify military action in the guise of revenge. But while Jehoram decided to leave God out of the equation, Elisha got wind of what was happening and contacted the king.

“Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.” – 2 Kings 5:8 NLT

Once again, God’s prophet came to the rescue. But what happens next is almost humorous. The famous general from Syria had to get in his chariot and, along with his retinue, make his way to Elisha’s humble home. But before Naaman could get there, the prophet sent a messenger to meet him with a rather strange set of instructions.

“Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:10 NLT

But the proud military commander, who was used to having all his subordinates report to him, was offended that Elisha didn’t bother to meet him. And it’s clear that he had expected something a bit showier when it came to how he would be healed.

“I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! – 2 Kings 5:11 NLT

But to Naaman’s disappointment, Elisha’s only instructions had been to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. This sounded ridiculous to the general, and he let his frustration be known in no uncertain terms.

Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” – 2 Kings 5:12 NLT

But as Naaman was preparing to walk away in a huff, one of his own servants convinced him to do what the prophet had said. After all, what did he have to lose? Yes, the whole bathing-in-the-Jordan thing would be a blow to his pride, but it might very well be worth it. So, Naaman took the advice of his servant and obeyed the command of the prophet. And when he came up out of the water the seventh time, he was completely cleansed of his leprosy. In fact, the author describes the condition of his skin as that of a young child – no scars, scabs, or lesions of any kind. Naaman the Syrian had experienced a miracle, and he clearly recognized that it had been the work of Yahweh, the God of Israel.

“Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. – 2 Kings 5:15 NLT

That’s an amazing admission to come from the lips of a pagan Syrian general. He had spent his entire life worshiping Baal, and it’s likely that he had often petitioned his god for healing from his condition. But his requests had remained unheeded because they had gone unheard. His leprosy had been real, but his god was not. Yet, here was Naaman standing before Yahweh’s prophet, healed and whole, and declaring his belief in the one true God of Israel.

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

The Greater Story

25 When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. 26 Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” 27 And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28 Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” 29 He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her. 31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out. 2 Kings 4:25b-37 ESV

Oftentimes, when reading the stories contained in the Scriptures, we find ourselves trying to ascertain their meaning or attempting to discover some helpful point of application. We desperately search for some relevant truth that we might apply to our own lives. And while this is a worthy goal, our relentless quest for a personalized point of application can leave us missing the primary message of the passage. This can be especially true when we lift these stories out of their surrounding context. When we turn the stories of the Bible into Bible stories, we tend to rob them of their Scriptural context and meaning.

In reading the story of the Shunammite woman, it would be easy to focus our attention on the loss of her child and the faith she exhibited by seeking out the prophet. And while there are lessons to be learned from her actions, the author seems to have a far greater and more important point of emphasis. This entire story takes place in the context of Israel’s ongoing apostasy. It is a time of spiritual darkness and moral apathy. The kings of Israel have consistently led the nation away from the worship of Yahweh by promoting their own replacement deities. From the golden calves erected by Jeroboam to the Canaanite gods, Baal and Asherah, the people of Israel have had a host of idols from which to choose. But through it all, Yahweh has remained faithful and all-powerful. And He has chosen to reveal Himself through His prophets. First, He spoke and exhibited His power through Elijah. Then, upon Elijah’s death, God continued to reveal Himself through Elijah’s former servant, Elisha.

But the stories involving Elijah and Elisha are not intended to focus our attention on these two men, as much as they are to draw our eye to the God who worked through them. They were messengers of Yahweh and human conduits of His grace, mercy, power, and, at times, His judgment. They are the human representatives of God Almighty, speaking and acting on His behalf, and displaying before the people His divine attributes.

So, when the Shunammite woman discovers her son is dead and seeks out the prophet of God, it is less a statement about her faith than it is about God’s invasion of the darkness of Israel. All that takes place in this story is intended to point to Yahweh, not the woman, Gehazi the servant, or Elisha the prophet. But because we’re human, we tend to focus all our attention on the human actors in the drama and, in doing so, we run the risk of minimizing the role of the leading actor in the play: God Himself.

If we isolate this story from its context, we will miss out on all that the author has been trying to reveal about God. Earlier, in chapter 17 of 1 Kings, the author told the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. After his decisive victory over the 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah had been threatened with death by Queen Jezebel. So, he had run for his life. But God had intercepted His fearful prophet and sent him to the town of Zarephath in Sidon. There Elijah met a poor widow who was gathering wood in order to cook a final meal for her and her son. But Elijah had performed a miracle, providing the woman with a seemingly never-ending supply of flour that would sustain their lives for a long time to come. Sound familiar? It should. Because a very similar scene took place when Elisha encountered the prophet’s widow in 2 Kings 18. This woman was about to lose her boys to slavery because of an unpaid debt. She was destitute and down to her last jar of oil. But Elisha intervened and miraculously multiplied her oil so that she had enough to satisfy her debt and sustain her boys for years to come.

But the similarities don’t stop there. The feel-good story of the widow of Zarephath also contains a less-than-happy plot twist. Her young son dies unexpectedly, and she confronts Elijah about this devastating turn of events.

“O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?” – 1 Kings 17:18 NLT

Even Elijah was at a loss as to why this tragedy had taken place, and he expressed his exasperation to Yahweh.

“O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” – 1 Kings 17:20 NLT

But the point of the passage is not the woman’s anger or Elijah’s disappointment with God. It is the divine intervention of Yahweh.

And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him.” The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived! – 1 Kings 17:21-22 NLT

Remember, both Elijah and Elisha had been chosen by God to be the human vessels through whom He revealed Himself to the people of Israel. They were nothing more than men, but God had set them apart for His use. He spoke and acted through them and, oftentimes, in spite of them.

But don’t miss the significant parallels found in all of these stories. The Shunammite woman, like the widow of Zarephath, suddenly finds her joy interrupted by the death of her child. So, she seeks out the prophet of God. This time, it’s Elisha. And she confronts him about this devastating turn of events. Her worst nightmare has come true.

“Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?” – 2 Kings 4:28 NLT

She was angry and justifiably so. And Elijah was caught off guard, having been given no prior insight from God concerning the death of her child. God had not revealed the nature of her distress or given the prophet a solution to remedy it. But once Elisha discovered what had happened, he acted promptly. At one time, Elisha had been the servant of Elijah, and he would have been intimately familiar with the story of the widow of Zarephath. Most likely, he had been there to witness the miraculous death-to-life transformation that had taken place.

So, fully trusting that God would intervene yet again, he commanded his servant to take his staff and lay it on the body of the dead child. But this “remedy” proved ineffective. That was not the way God was going to restore the boy’s life. He wanted Elisha to be personally and physically involved in the miracle. It was not that God could not or would not operate through a staff. He had done so before and could do so again – if He so chose. Consider all the miracles God had performed through the staff of Moses. But on this occasion, God was going to require that Elisha be intimately involved in the delivery of the miracle. And just as Elijah had “stretched himself out over the child” (1 Kings 17:21 NLT), so Elisha “lay down on the child’s body” (2 Kings 4:34 NLT). In both cases, these men acted as God’s hands-on representatives, illustrating His intimate concern for His people through their own physical touch and personal involvement.

In a sense, the God of the universe had required both Elijah and Elisha to have some skin in the game. They became active agents in the delivery of God’s miracle. But neither of these men was meant to be the focus of the story or seen as the source behind the miracle. They were simply instruments in the hand of God. But their personal touch made the transcendent God more knowable and relatable. Through their intimate involvement, they made the care and concern of God tangible and visible. God chose to revive the lives of these two boys through the personal touch of His chosen prophets.

And, once again, let’s not miss the overall context of Scripture. These two stories point to an even greater display of God’s love and intimacy that was to come. Centuries later, God would send His own Son as His anointed messenger, delivering a message of repentance and renewal to the rebellious people of Israel. Jesus would become the final prophet of God, who would make the power and presence of God known through His incarnation. He would become God in human flesh, delivering the divine message of redemption and spiritual rejuvenation. Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus would be required to personally engage with the nation of Israel. But His involvement in the restoration of life to the spiritually dead nation would require a far greater price than either Elijah or Elisha had paid. Jesus would end up sacrificing His own life so that many might live. He would stretch out His hands on a cruel Roman cross, paying the penalty for mankind’s sin by offering His own sinless life as a substitute. He would die so that we might live. He would pay the ultimate price so that those who were dead in their trespasses and sins might experience new life and enjoy a new relationship with God.

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

To God Be the Glory

27 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Mark 11:27-33 ESV

For the disciples, it probably didn’t take long before the image of the withered fig tree was replaced with the thought of being able to wield power that could cast mountains into the sea. These men had a habit of hearing only what they wanted to hear when Jesus spoke. The true meanings behind most of His lessons tended to escape them. And this one had been no different. When they had heard Jesus say, “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours” (Mark 11:24 NLT), they were probably thrilled. The very thought of having their every wish fulfilled, only by asking God, would have been a dream come true. And it’s fair to assume that the initial ideas that filled their heads were not what Jesus had in mind.

So, as they left the withered tree behind and continued their trip into the city of Jerusalem, the disciples were probably deep in thought about all the incredible implications behind what Jesus had just told them. But soon, they found themselves back in the temple courtyard, standing in the very place where Jesus had staged a one-man riot the day before. Less than 24-hours earlier, Jesus had ransacked the booths of the vendors selling overpriced sacrificial animals. He had overturned the tables of the moneychangers who were charging high fees to the thousands of foreign pilgrims who needed temple currency to purchase their sacrificial offerings. Driven by righteous indignation and motivated by zeal for the holiness of His Father’s house, Jesus had turned the carnival-like atmosphere of the temple courtyard into chaos and confusion.

Now, He had returned, and the first people to greet Him were “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” (Mark 11:27 ESV). These were the representatives of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews. This august body was comprised of some of the most wealthy and influential men in the city of Jerusalem. They also happened to be members of the primary religious sects within Judaism: The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. Some were experts in the Mosaic Law. And all were knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were powerful men who wielded great authority and saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life. And His little escapade the day before had been a public attack on the entire system of greed and graft for which they were responsible.

So, when they saw Jesus, they immediately confronted Him, demanding to know the reasons for His unacceptable and costly actions the day before.

“By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” – Mark 11:28 ESV

By this time, the damage Jesus had done the previous afternoon had been repaired, and things had returned to normal. These men were probably there to protect their investments and to ensure that there would be no repeat performance of the previous day’s disruptive and costly episode.

Their question to Jesus revolved around authority. In essence, they were asking Jesus to explain why He thought He had the right to do what He did. And they seem to fear that He might try to do it again. The actions of Jesus had been a direct assault on their authority as the religious leaders of Israel. In their minds, Jesus had invaded their territory and begun a war on their way of life. And as the supreme rulers over the nation, they saw His actions as nothing less than insurrection. He was attacking their right to rule, and they wanted to know what possessed Him to do such a thing.

Jesus could have answered their question by declaring Himself to be the Son of God. He could have told them that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He was “the anointed one” (Hebrew – mashiyach). But He knew they would refuse to accept those answers. In their minds, they had already determined that Jesus had no authority. He was a loose cannon, operating on His own initiative and in direct opposition to their authority. And nothing Jesus could say would change their minds.

So, Jesus made them a proposition. He offered to answer their question, but only if they could answer one He had for them.

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” – Mark 11:30 ESV

Jesus subtly changes the focus from Himself to John the Baptist. But notice that He kept the emphasis of His question on the topic of authority. By shifting their attention to John the Baptist, Jesus was forcing them to consider the true source of all authority.

John had burst onto the scene more than 33 years earlier. This strangely dressed man had suddenly shown up in the Judean wilderness, preaching a message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and calling the people of Israel to repentance. And a large part of his ministry involved the baptism of all who were willing to repent and confess their sins.

People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. – Matthew 3:5-6 NLT

John had attracted large crowds of people, who believed him to be a prophet of God. Even Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed puppet-king of Israel, had understood John’s reputation among the people.

Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot, because all the people believed John was a prophet. – Matthew 14:5 NLT

Herod ultimately put John to death, but even this did nothing to diminish John’s standing among the people. So, when Jesus asked the religious leaders to state the source of John’s authority to baptize, He knew they would refuse to answer. No matter what they said, they would find themselves in a no-win situation. These men had no love affair with John. After all, while he had been alive, he had treated them with disrespect and disdain. At one point, he had publicly humiliated them, calling them a “brood of snakes” and exposing them as spiritual frauds.

“Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:8-10 NLT

But if they gave the answer they wanted to give and said that John was operating on his own initiative, they faced the ire of the people. On the other hand, if they tried to placate the people by admitting that John’s authority was from heaven, it would reveal that their opposition to John had really been aimed at God.

After weighing all their options, the religious leaders decided that an admission of ignorance was the safest route to take. But when they failed to answer Jesus’ question, He refused to answer theirs. Their silence condemned them.

John had been a prophet sent by God. Everything he said and did was on behalf of God. His entire mission had been to herald the coming of the Messiah.

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:23 ESV

And yet, the religious leaders of Israel had rejected his mission and message. When John had announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV), the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes had refused to believe it. They attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. They condemned Him for His association with sinners. They accused Him of being a drunk. They spread rumors that He was illegitimate. They declared Him to be guilty of blasphemy for repeatedly claiming to be the Son of God. And this charge had led them to try and stone Him to death.

These men refused to accept Jesus because they could not bring themselves to believe that His power and authority were from God. While they were unable to explain how Jesus did all the things He did, they refused to even consider that He might actually be the Messiah. To do so would require that they relinquish their own authority, and their over-inflated egos wouldn’t allow them to do that.

Since they were unwilling to answer His question, Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Mark 11:33 ESV). He owed them no explanation. He had provided them with ample evidence that He was who He claimed to be. His miracles had spoken for themselves. And yet, time and time again, these stubbornly self-righteous men had refused to recognize and acknowledge the God-given authority of Jesus. And one of the greatest assessments of the sheer stupidity of their spiritual blindness came from the lips of a man who had been the undeserving recipient of Jesus’ divine authority.

“He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” – John 9:30-33 NLT

Now, back to the lesson of the withered fig tree. When the disciples had witnessed the remarkable power of Jesus to condemn the tree to death, they had been amazed. And when He had told them, “you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen” (Mark 11:23 NLT), they had been thrilled. He was offering them access to the same kind of authority He had. All they had to do was ask, and anything was possible. But there had been a caveat. Jesus had told them to “have faith in God” (Mark 11:22 ESV). This was not about their authority; it was about God’s. All that John had accomplished had been by God’s authority and for God’s glory. The same was true of Jesus. And the same was to be true of His disciples. The availability of God’s authority would be so they might accomplish God’s will and display His glory. The scribes and Pharisees were in it for their own glory. And Jesus was trying to help His disciples understand that faith in God was the key to bringing God glory, rather than self.

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

Can’t You See?

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:46-52 ESV

Jesus and the disciples continued their journey to Jerusalem. James and John must have been a bit demoralized because of the response they had received from Jesus. They had come to Him requesting that He grant them the right to sit on His right and His left in His new Kingdom. They were hoping for positions of power in His royal administration, but instead, they had received a lecture on servanthood. He had basically told them that the path to glory was through humility and sacrifice. Not exactly what they had hoped to hear.

The disciples were having a difficult time understanding all that Jesus was trying to tell them. They were suffering from spiritual blindness, an incapacity to comprehend all that was taking place around them. It seems that no matter what Jesus said or did, their spiritual eyesight remained darkened by doubt and false perceptions. And what happens next is meant to drive home their need for enlightenment.

As they continue they make their way through Jericho, Jesus and the 12 disciples encounter a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Both Matthew and Luke provide their versions of the same event, but with slightly different details. Mark is the only one of the three who makes note of the beggar’s name, even telling us who his father was. Matthew reports that there were two blind beggars, while Mark and Luke only mention one. But the common link between each of their versions of this story is that it took place not long after Jesus had revealed for the third time that He was going to Jerusalem to die.

“Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.” – Luke 18:31-33 NLT

And all three gospel authors make note that the disciples were having a difficult time comprehending the significance of Jesus’ announcement.

But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about. – Luke 18:34 NLT

This was not the first time the disciples had struggled to understand the words of Jesus. Back in chapter 8, Mark records when tried to warn them about the leaven of the Pharisees. But while Jesus was talking about the pervasive and dangerous nature of the Pharisees’ teaching, the disciples misunderstood and thought He was upset with them because they had failed to bring bread. Which led Jesus to rebuke them for their hardness of heart.

“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” –Mark 8:17-19 ESV

And on that occasion, Jesus had followed up their display of spiritual blindness with a miracle of healing. He just so happened to meet met a blind man in the town of Bethsaida, and Jesus healed him.

…he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. – Mark 8:25 ESV

Now, as Jesus entered Jericho, He has another “chance” encounter with yet another blind man. This is no mere coincidence. It is a divinely timed opportunity designed to provide the disciples with one more living object lesson. And almost as if to prove that this was a real story involving a real individual, Mark provides us with the man’s name: “Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus” (Mark 10:46 ESV). If any of Mark’s readers ever passed through Jericho, they could look the man up and hear his story firsthand.

But Bartimaeus, upon hearing that Jesus had come to Jericho, began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47 ESV). This physically blind man was able to “see” something about Jesus that many sighted individuals had failed to comprehend. He calls Jesus the Son of David, acknowledging His royal lineage and verifying His legal right to inherit the kingdom of His forefathers. The title “Son of David” was used to refer to the coming Messiah. This long-anticipated Savior of the nation of Israel was to be a descendant of King David, fulfilling the promise given to David by God.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.…And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16 ESV

While this prophecy was partially fulfilled with the reign of Solomon, his kingdom was far from everlasting. It ended in disappointment, as Solomon failed to remain faithful to God, worshiping the false gods of his many wives and concubines So, after Solomon’s death, God split the kingdom in two. And the vast majority of the kings who reigned over these two kingdoms would prove to be unfaithful as well. Eventually, God would punish both kingdoms by causing their defeat at the hands of their enemies and sending their people into exile.

But this blind man was able to see Jesus for who He really was. He understood Him to be the Messiah of Israel, the Son of David, and the rightful heir to the royal throne. And he cried out, begging that Jesus might show him mercy. But Mark records that “many rebuked him, telling him to be silent” (Mark 10:48 ESV). Luke indicates that it was “those who were in front” who tried to silence him, and it’s likely that this group included some of the disciples. I can imagine Peter being one of the first to try and muzzle this poor beggar. After all, Peter had been the one whom Jesus had blessed when He had rightfully confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Peter wasn’t about to share his glory with some disheveled and disabled beggar living in the middle of nowhere.

But Bartimaeus refused to be silenced. As they tried to stifle his cries, he simply called out all the louder. He would not allow this opportunity to pass him by. The Messiah was nearby and he longed to have his sight restored. So, when Jesus called for Bartimaeus, he responded as quickly as he could, despite his disability. Then Jesus asked the blind man appears to be a rather unnecessary question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51 ESV).

Jesus did not ask this question because He was unaware of the nature of the man’s problem. He was providing Bartimaeus with an opportunity to express his desire and, by doing so, expose his faith. And Bartimaeus did not disappoint.

“Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” – Mark 10:51 ESV

Bartimaeus addressed Jesus as rhabbouni, which means “Lord and master.” He saw Jesus as the one who could restore his physical blindness. He longed to be able to see again and he knew that Jesus was his only hope. And Jesus did exactly what the man had hoped He would do. But before Jesus healed Bartimaeus, He gave him a command:

Go your way; your faith has made you well.” – Mark 10:52 ESV

The Greek word Mark uses is hypagō, and it means “to depart” or “to go away.” It is the same word Jesus used when speaking to Satan during His temptation in the wilderness. Jesus had told Sata to hypagō – “Be gone, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10 ESV).

Jesus had commanded Satan to leave, and Matthew records that “the devil left him” (Matthew 4:11 ESV). But when Jesus told Bartimaeus to “depart,” he did just the opposite. Mark reports that Bartimaeus “followed him on the way” (Mark 10:52 ESV). He had what he had longed for – the restoration of his sight. And at that point, he was able to go and do whatever he wanted to do. He could see. No longer hampered by blindness, Bartimaeus could have gone anywhere. But he chose to follow Jesus. Just imagine all the distractions that appeared before his eyes. For the first time in a long time, he could see the sun, the trees, and the long-forgotten faces of friends. And yet, when Jesus told him to go, Bartimaeus chose to follow.

Now, consider the disciples. They were also following Jesus to Jerusalem, but somewhat reluctantly. They were not thrilled by Jesus’ reports of what awaited Him in the royal city. They couldn’t see the benefit of going to Jerusalem if it meant that Jesus was to be arrested, tried, and killed. But Bartimaeus, his sight newly restored, got in line behind Jesus and gladly followed the one who had delivered his life from literal darkness.

And you can almost expect to turn to His disciples and ask them again, “Having eyes do you not see?” His journey to Jerusalem was necessary. It was part of God’s divine plan to bring healing to the nations. And in time, the disciples would have their eyes opened as well, allowing them to see the true nature of Jesus’ mission.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

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

All Things Are Possible

14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:14-29 ESV

The next day (Luke 9:37), when Jesus, Peter, James, and John rejoined the other disciples, they were greeted by a scene of chaos and confusion. There was a large crowd encircling the other nine disciples, who were in a heated argument with the scribes. But as soon as Jesus arrived on the scene, He became the focus of attention, drawing the crowds like moths to a flame.

Like a father who arrives home to find his children in an unexpected predicament, Jesus attempts to discern the cause of the trouble. And it doesn’t take Him long to discover that the conflict involves His disciples and one other man in the crowd. The rest of the crowd were like rubberneckers at an accident, drawn by the spectacle of it all and curious to see what was going to happen next.

When Jesus demanded to know the cause of the argument taking place, a father in the crowd spoke up.

“Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.” – Mark 9:17-18 NLT

This man had come expecting to find Jesus but instead, he had encountered the nine disciples whom Jesus had left behind. In his account of this event, Matthew describes the man as kneeling at the feet of Jesus. His actions reveal his high regard for Jesus and his belief that Jesus was capable of assisting him with his need. He had brought his son to Jesus for healing but when he had discovered Jesus to be gone, he had turned to the disciples for help.

“So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” – Mark 9:18 NLT

Disappointed by his failure to find Jesus, the anxious father had turned to the disciples for help. And it seems clear from the text that these men had made a valiant effort to cast the demon from the man’s son but with no success. What makes their failure so significant is that Jesus had given all of the disciples the authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:15). And they had successfully proven their possession of that authority when Jesus had sent them out in pairs to preach, teach, and heal. Mark reports that “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV).

And yet, on this occasion, their efforts had come up short. The argument that had ensued must have begun when the disciples started making excuses for their failed attempts at exorcising the demon. Perhaps they began to question whether this man or his son had broken a particular Mosaic law and this violation had resulted in the boy’s condition. They were obviously frustrated at their inability to exercise their authority over the demon, and were trying to figure out what was standing in their way. When all the dust had settled, they even asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (Mark 9:28 NLT).

The scribes may have been dragged into the argument in order to explain the Mosaic Law and to give their opinions on the boy’s condition and the demon’s persistent power over him. The whole scene had quickly devolved into a shouting match, with each side pointing fingers at the other. And all the while, the boy remained demon possessed.

Into this storm of confusion and chaos, entered the only one who could bring peace and calm. Jesus, disappointed at the sordid scene taking place in front of Him, declared His frustration.

“O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” – Mark 9:19 ESV

To fully appreciate Jesus’ words, one must recall the transfiguration that Jesus had just experienced on the mountain top. For a brief moment in time, Jesus had been transformed into His future, glorified state. He had been joined by Moses and Elijah, two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people, and the three of them had discussed His coming “exodus” or departure from this life. It had all been a much-needed reminder that His days on this earth were coming to a close and He would soon be returning to His Father’s side. But upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus had encountered a scene of faithlessness and spiritual apostasy.

This recalls a similar scene that took place hundreds of years earlier. Moses, the great deliverer of the Hebrew people, had just spent 40 days and nights on the top of Mount Sinai. He had enjoyed an intimate communion with God and had received the Ten Commandments from the hand of God. But when He descended from the mountain, he had found the people of Israel worshiping before a false god. He had returned to a scene of chaos and confusion prompted by the faithlessness of the people of God.

Jesus, having descended from the mountain of transfiguration, was being forced to look upon a scene where faith was in short supply and the enemy was having his way among the people of God. The disciples’ inability to cast out the demon had left the boy still possessed and persecuted. But even more important, their failure of faith had left the people in a state of doubt and uncertainty.

But Jesus stepped into the darkness of the moment and focused His full attention of the state of the boy. The father provided Jesus with a blow-by-blow description of his son’s condition, explaining in great detail how relentlessly the demon had tormented his child. And you can sense his growing state of desperation as he begs Jesus for help.

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” – Mark 9:22 ESV

At this point, he is not even sure if Jesus can do anything about his son’s condition. He is losing hope. But Jesus gently rebukes the man’s timid and half-hearted expression of faith, stating, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (MRK 9:23 ESV). Jesus seems to be telling the man that it is not so much a matter of if He can heal the boy, but if He will. This was less an indictment of the man’s faith, so much as it was an exposure of his lack of understanding of who Jesus was.

The father, anxious to see his son healed, cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV). He desperately wanted to believe that Jesus could heal his son, but he had seen the disciples try and fail. He still harbored doubts and asked Jesus to remove any and all doubts by casting the demon from his son. And Jesus did just as the man wished. He addressed the demon directly, commanding it to leave the boy and to never return.

“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” – Mark 9:25 ESV

And the demon obeyed, convulsing the boy one last time and leaving him in a catatonic state that made it appear as if he was dead. But Jesus raised the boy up, revealing him to be fully restored to health.

This entire scene had been a demonstration of faith. But the focus was not on the faith of the father. Jesus was exposing the faithlessness of His disciples. Matthew records that after Jesus had exorcised the demon and the disciples had asked why they had been unsuccessful, He had responded, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 ESV).

Remember, Jesus had told the man, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The emphasis was on His own faith, not that of the father. Jesus fully believed He had the power and authority to cast out the demon, and He proved it by doing so. He knew who He was and what He was capable of accomplishing with the power He had been given by God. But the disciples were another matter. Their belief had proven insufficient. But it was not the amount of their faith that was the problem. It was their inability to understand the true source of their power. According to Jesus, all they needed was the smallest portion of faith but in the full power of God, and they could literally “move mountains.”

Their ability to cast out demons did not reside in themselves. It was not some inherent power they possessed but it was meted out to them by God. That is why Jesus told them that “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). They had failed to understand that their earlier experience of casting out demons had been authorized by Jesus and made possible by God’s power, not their own. But they had somehow believed that they were in personal possession of that power. They had wrongly assumed that it had become permanently resident within them.

In trying to cast out the demon, they had put their faith in themselves. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the disciples had ended up worshiping a false god: Themselves. They thought they were the possessors of power, but Jesus reminded them that even the smallest of faith placed in the power of God could produce the greatest of miracles. Jesus believed He had authority over the demon because He believed He had the power and authority of God at His disposal. His life was living proof that “All things are possible for one who believes.”

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

Mercy for the Defiled

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:24-37 ESV

After His rather lengthy and heated debate with the religious leaders over the topic of ritual cleansing and defilement, Jesus took His disciples on an unexpected journey outside the confines of Israel. The Jewish Messiah, who had come “to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11),  took His message to the Gentiles. In a sense, Jesus was leaving behind the legalistic, self-righteous law-keepers and choosing to align Himself with the unclean and lawless pagans living in the land of Phoenicia.

The scribes and Pharisees had been appalled that Jesus and His disciples did not practice the traditional rite of hand-cleansing before eating bread. What would they think when they heard that Jesus had defiled Himself by traveling outside Galilee and associating with non-Jews?

But that seemed to be the point of Jesus’ excursion outside the land of Israel. God had promised Abraham, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 ESV). And the apostle Paul picked up on that theme in his letter to the churches in Galatia. These congregations would have been made up mostly of Gentiles who had become followers of Christ.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” – Galatians 3:7-8 ESV

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

In traveling to the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus was demonstrating the truth of the Father’s promise to Abraham. The “offspring” of Abraham was about to “bless” the nations.

Mark indicates that Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden” (Mark 7:24 ESV). This statement was meant to carry a lot of weight. According to Jewish law, by entering the house of a Gentile, Jesus defiled Himself and rendered Himself ceremonially unclean.

The strict Jew would not enter a Gentile’s house, nor sit on the same couch, nor eat or drink out of the same vessel. The very dust of a heathen city was defiling. – Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

A second-century text called The Book of Julilees contains the following warning against any association with Gentiles.

And you also, my son, Jacob, remember my words, and keep the commandments of Abraham, your father. Separate yourself from the Gentiles, and do not eat with them, and do not perform deeds like theirs. And do not become associates of theirs. Because their deeds are defiled, and all their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable. – Jubilees 22:16

So, Mark’s reference to Jesus entering a Gentile home was meant to shock and surprise his readers. Yet, the rumors concerning Jesus and His miraculous powers had made their way all the way to Phoenicia. And Mark indicates that “immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet” (Mark 7:25 ESV). Matthew refers to her as “a Canaanite woman” (Matthew 15:22 ESV). The term “Canaanite” was an all-inclusive term used to refer to any and all Gentiles who lived in the land that had originally been known as Canaan. This woman was a Gentile and yet she was willing to seek out the Jewish Messiah in the hopes that He could help her with a pressing problem. And it seems clear that Mark wants his readers to grasp the shocking nature of this encounter.

Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. – Mark 7:26 ESV

The woman was a non-Jew, so she was unclean and unholy. And to make matters worse, her daughter was possessed by a demon. Everything about this scenario is meant to stress her defilement and to place Jesus in a potentially compromising position. But in his account of this story, Matthew adds a very interesting and important detail. In begging Jesus to help her daughter, the woman reveals an uncharacteristic understanding of who Jesus really was.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” – Matthew 15:22 ESV

By addressing Jesus as “Son of David,” she acknowledged her belief that He was the Jew’s long-awaited Messiah, the promised descendant of King David. This was not necessarily an expression of saving faith, but a confession that she believed Jesus to be someone of great power and significance. And because she had heard of His many miracles, she begged this powerful man to show her mercy by helping her daughter.

Only Matthew provides any indication as to the reaction of the disciples to all of this. He reveals that these good Jews were appalled at the woman’s unmitigated gall and begged Jesus to get rid of her.

“Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” – Matthew 15:23 ESV

Everything about this trip must have had them shaking their heads in wonder. Why would Jesus drag them on a 30-mile journey to a place like Tyre. It’s likely that none of these men had ever ventured outside the borders of Israel, so they might have seen this trip as an adventure. But when Jesus began to interface with the local inhabitants, they must have been surprised and confused. And what Jesus says to the woman echoes the disciples’ sentiments.

“Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” – Mark 7:27 ESV

Dogs were considered unclean to the Jews. Rarely kept as pets, they were typically used as guard dogs, and the streets of most Israelite towns and villages were filled with strays that scavenged for food and could prove to be a threat to public safety. So, when Jesus referred to this woman as a “dog,” He was expressing the commonly held view of most Jews concerning Gentiles.

According to Matthew, Jesus had told the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 ESV). He had made it clear to her that His original mission had been to His own people. But she was not willing to give up that easily. Her need was great and Jesus was the only hope she had.

Unphased by Jesus’ comments, she simply responded, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 ESV). She didn’t debate His assessment of her social standing. She wasn’t offended by His seeming slight. She acknowledged her unworthiness and humbly begged for a “crumb” of His goodness and mercy. She knew she was undeserving of His mercy and she was willing to take anything He was willing to give her. And Jesus gladly obliged her request.

“For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” – Mark 7:29 ESV

And Matthew reveals that it was not the statement itself that produced her daughter’s miraculous healing, but it was the faith that had motivated it.

“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:28 ESV

She had believed in the power and authority of Jesus, and she was rewarded for that belief.

And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. – Mark 7:30 ESV

She went home to find her daughter completely whole and in her right mind. But Jesus and His disciples left Tyre and headed north to the city of Sidon, then back through Galilee and all the way to Decapolis, on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. This would have been a long and arduous trip that lasted anywhere from a few weeks to a month. And when they arrived in this predominantly Gentile region, Jesus once again found Himself confronted by a request for healing.

…they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. – Mark 7:32 ESV

Mark doesn’t reveal whether this man was a Jew or a Gentile, but like the Canaanite woman, he had a pressing problem that required the power of Jesus. And Mark’s description of the man’s condition is critical to understanding the meaning behind this miracle. This man suffered from a “speech impediment” and Mark uses a rare Greek word, mogilalos, to describe it. The only other time this word appears is the Greek Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 35:4-6.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute [mogilalos] sing for joy.

This Messianic passage prophecies the coming of the Messiah and portrays the amazing miracles He would perform on His arrival. And here was Jesus being provided with yet another opportunity to reveal His true identity through another supernatural display of His power.

The means by which this miracle was enacted is truly unique. Jesus took the man aside, “put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue” (Mark 7:33 NLT). None of this was necessary. Mark had just described Jesus healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter from a distance and with nothing more than a spoken word. But in this case, Jesus went out of His way to touch the man, and in doing so, He would have become ceremonially defiled. This man’s very condition made him unclean because it was a common belief among the Jews that disease and disabilities were the end result of sin. Yet, Jesus touched the man’s ears and even his tongue, then declared, “Be opened” (Mark 7:35 ESV). And they were. The man’s hearing and speech were immediately and fully restored, and the onlookers “were astonished beyond measure” (Mark 7:37 ESV). They couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed.

“Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.” – Mark 7:37 NLT

And while Jesus warned them to tell no one what they had seen, they couldn’t help themselves. The news of this miracle spread throughout the region. And these two miracles, the healing of the girl in Tyre and the healing of the man in Decapolis, created an interest in and a hunger for the Messiah among the Gentiles. And this is important, because after His resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). And when they arrived in those places like Phoenicia and Decapolis, they would find an audience ready to hear about the good news of Jesus, the Messiah.

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