The Prophet's Apprentice (Elisha Reimagined)

Written by Peter Robert Flounders
(During The First Decade And A Half Of The Twenty-First Century)



(2 Kings 6: 1- 7)

Man Sharpens Man
(A Meditation)

Among the many wise sayings of King Solomon is one that often comes to mind when I am with my students. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.1 This was particularly true at Gilgal, a college that prospered in numbers under my care as I sought diligently to build on the foundational precepts laid by Elijah and Samuel. It is far easier to erect a structure on a sound foundation that is already in place, than it is to first lay the base. For it is on the bedrock of faith and trust that spiritual buildings will stand strong, or will fall. And my foundation was unshakeable, was and is rock, my God.

At Gilgal the numbers of prophets had sharply increased - some suggesting that this was due, in part at least, to the dismissal of Gehazi - to the extent that the prophets had suggested a new building. The spokesman came to me and said, 'Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a log; and let us build a place there for us to live.' In my mind I imagined the scene to come, each eager student with a beam of wood on his shoulder, each jostling and shoving brothers so that his pole might form part of the new foundation, and others might then build on him. A good ambition for a student of prophecy, but one that did not bode well for a building. But iron sharpens iron, and there was some serious honing to follow.

I replied, 'Go.'

He shuffled his feet, glanced up at me from under lowered eyebrows and asked, 'Won't you please come with your servants?'

Iron sharpens iron. Even in the relatively simple task of manual labour they wished me there - why? A cover of responsibility if things went wrong? A need for encouragement and praise if things went right? When would they stand sufficient in their own strength and reliance on the LORD, not on me?

'I will,' I said.

The Jordan valley close to Gilgal was covered with thick woodland so that material was plentiful, and with the expansion of the college so was the labour, rough, untrained and untried as it might be. They would need quiet supervision; perhaps only the knowledge their master was there, otherwise they would soon be sharpening one another.

I watched them work; occasionally one might burst into a hymn of praise, sometimes the burst of sound was less than praise as knuckles and shins were scraped and bruised. It did not matter, the work was good for each of them and it was pleasant to be with these, my children. Suddenly the crashing of trees and the chopping of wood was interrupted first by a splash and then by a more usual cry. A man came rushing towards me. 'O my lord,' he cried, 'it was borrowed.'

The iron axe head had fallen from the shaft as he was felling a tree. Eager to work as they were, keen students of Godly lore as they tried to be, they were not always as careful of more practical matters. Axe heads do not fall off. First they loosen, and as they loosen so the head moves slightly as it is used, and then more and more until eventually it drops off. This young man in his eagerness had delayed fixing it until the tree was felled - just one more slash, only one more tree. Now the axe was in the Jordan, and in a stretch of the river where the water was particularly fast-flowing and deep.

It was borrowed: or asked for, begged for. The anguished cry told the full story. He might mean that many hours of prayer, fasting and begging had gone into the acquiring of his axe.2 If so then it had been hard earned and was now greatly valued. Maybe a prophet should hold all things lightly, but he was a student and some habits were harder to learn. Or it might have been literally borrowed, in that case he would be a debtor for a very long time. In either case, the loss was devastating.

The axe head was precious to him, and the loss was keenly felt. Even now, centuries after the first conquest of Philistine and Israel's first encounter with the terrible superiority of iron weapons against our armies' bronze, iron had assumed an almost mystical quality. It was through God alone that we had been able to overcome the iron chariots and weaponry of our enemies, by His strong arm and nothing else. Then our soft bronze tools for ploughing, digging, cutting and carving were replaced by the hard wearing tools of iron. And for a while we were dependent on the skills of the Philistines who in their victories over the Israelites removed the smiths from our midst, and made Israelites dependent on heathens for the simplest task. How far had God's chosen fallen. Soon we were without knowledge, lacking even the skills for sharpening the few tools we owned, needing therefore to travel to the land of Philistia for simple tool maintenance.3 Israel had to wait until the reigns of King David and his son King Solomon for the stranglehold of the Philistines to be broken and once more develop its own smiths and iron forgers. Too long had the threat of iron chariots and weapons held Israel in thrall.

When I think of these great kings I inevitably draw a comparison between father and son. King David, flawed as all men are flawed, but with a heart for God unmatched by any since Moses. He spent all his life fighting for his life, his crown, his kingdom and his God until his dying breath. And Solomon, given so much and achieving so much. Yet he was never sharpened by men; rather he was softened by the trappings of wealth, wisdom, countless wives and concubines and the adulation, sincere and sycophantic, of thousands. He built God's temple in all its magnificence and glory, surpassing the dreams of mere men - then the desires and pride of man took over and Solomon spent a longer time building his own palace. Like the iron that was so precious to Israel, the iron in the spirit and will that forged his father was sadly missing in this blessed and anointed king of Israel.

As for me, I was sharpened by Elijah, and the prophets and sons of prophets continually hone me.

I went with the distraught man to the riverside where the axe had fallen. Nothing could be seen in the swirling depths. 'Where did it fall?' I asked him. He pointed to the place.

Not knowing why, but obeying the command in my spirit, I cut a stick and threw it in the same place. For an instant the stick remained still why the rushing waters swept around it. Then its hold was broken and it too rushed away. But in the place it had occupied, the iron axe head now floated.

The prophet stood frozen to the spot, gaping at the sight of the iron floating on the water, unmoving, while the Jordan strived unsuccessfully to either tear from its place or confine it once more to the depths. 'Lift it out,' I said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.

I retraced my steps through the noisy crowd of my students. Used as they were to the workings of God, each new sign of His power took them by surprise. Surely they sharpened me as iron sharpens iron.





Alphagramma home page About Alphagramma First Writing A Layman's Mark The Prophet's Apprentice The Holy Spirit Contact Alphagramma