Alphagramma
Alphagramma
 

The Prophet's Apprentice (Elisha Reimagined)

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

   

 

CHAPTER 9
(2 Kings 8: 7-15)

Prophetic Tears

In the days of Abram - exalted father, before the LORD renamed him Abraham, father of multitudes - many cities and city-states had their own kings; men who had clawed their individual paths to the various thrones. The kingdoms varied in size, and usually none would be large enough to become a principal power by relying entirely on its own resources. Inevitably, however, one king would rise to prominence - however temporary - by sheer brute force, intelligence, superior equipment, bribery or a combination of all or some of these factors. Then he would remain in power by using the resources and armies of each subject state to control any errant individual. King Kedorlaomer of Elam was such a man. Many of the minor kings in his surrounding areas were allied to him for mutual advantage. Others were subject to him and, as always, eventually they rebelled as the mutual advantage worked out to be not quite so equitable, or the yoke of serfdom became too heavy.

And so after twelve long years of reluctant servitude, Bera, king of Sodom, had gained enough support from other subject kings to warrant a direct challenge to Kedorlaomer. So one fine morning, King Bera, full of hope and dreams of freedom, proudly marched out to face his conqueror, and in the Valley of Siddim he drew up his battle lines.1 It was not the best tactical decision of his life.

He should have looked more carefully at the choice of battlefield, and wondered why his opponent was pleased to meet him there. For the valley was full of tar pits (perhaps explaining why Kedorlaomer had achieved such prominence; fighting in an area where he knew the pitfalls and the traps). Very soon Bera's unsuspecting troops and supporting allies were advancing into the thick tar bogs; within minutes animals and men were helpless in the giving but unforgiving grip of the tar. The rebel kings were soon helpless and at the mercy of King Kedorlaomer. They were quickly defeated and to the victor went the spoils. All their goods, food and even some of their people were carried off as the plunder of war.
Among these captives was a man named Lot.

Although he was Abram's nephew, Lot was also a chief of his own clan when he chose to follow Abram on his wanderings after the LORD called his uncle to pack up all his belongings and step out in faith. In time, however, the two clans became too large to co-exist comfortably and herdsmen were frequently quarrelling over pastures, Abram suggested a parting of the ways, a suggestion to which Lot readily agreed. The patriarch's faith in his LORD, the same faith that made him leave everything at God's command was once more demonstrated. Without hesitation, he allowed Lot the choice of direction, and of course land. Lot, also without hesitation, chose the well-watered fertile valleys of the Jordan that stretched as far Sodom, the capital of all horror and abomination. Abram, prophetically, chose the highlands that were to become the Land of Promise, promised and given to his descendants. The contrast between the men was apparent from the choices they made. Lot's move to Sodom brought nothing but horror into the life of his family resulting in the death of his wife and a lineage grown out of incest: two tribes that would bring war and constant trouble to Israel; two countries that would be constant thorns in her flesh - the Ammonites and the Moabites.2 No deed, good or bad, is without consequences, and the evil of Lot lived long in the history of Israel.

In effect the families parted on that day, until eventually blood ties were also severed, and a serving man initially replaced Lot's descendants as the sole heir to Abram.

Nevertheless, at the time of Bera's abortive attempt at freedom, he was still Abram's family and when the patriarch learned of his fate from a refugee who had escaped capture, then he offered himself no choice other than to rescue his nephew. He wasted no time in planning or wondering about options but set off in full pursuit of Lot's captors. During the night he divided his meagre force, only three hundred and twelve trained men, then attacked and routed the allied kings. He pursued those that escaped as far as Hobah, north of Damascus, the home of his servant, Eliezer, Abram's only heir.3

Damascus, my destination for a purpose I did not yet perceive.
Later, during the reign of King David, Damascus was a powerful and influential city and many coalitions were born there, treaties that ebbed and flowed around its rivers Abana and Parphor, and lived and died as new alliances were formed and reformed. That period of intrigue and prosperity came to an end during Israel's golden times. The Arameans in Damascus lost twenty thousand men when they made the mistake of helping King Hadadezer of Zobah in his war against King David. Soon Damascus belonged to King David and Israel, and Israelite troops formed a garrison there.4 Later, in the ups and downs, the victories and the defeats, of Israel's turbulent history, it was once more lost to God's chosen when Rezon son of Eliada escaped there with a band of rebels. He was a hater of Israel and a severe adversary of King Solomon all the days of his life 5 and, with one exception, nothing good has come from the city since. The exception being Namaan, a righteous man in Damascus.

Damascus, capital of Aram, home of Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, defeated twice by Elisha, and now a hater of Elisha, God's prophet in Israel. I wondered why I was going there.

And kept on walking.

..........

It was a long walk from Samaria to Damascus, but a journey that I might have enjoyed under other circumstances. For no matter where I placed my foot, my forefathers had already trod the earth or the sand. Along the banks of the Jordan, where I walked for many days, the changing moods and sounds of the river told many tales. And when I crossed the brook Cherith, my heart leapt back in time to the years I spent with my father, Elijah. As I sat by a small fire to eat a sparse evening meal, I imagined that He once more sat opposite me and I heard again of the time he lived there, fed by crows who brought him meat and bread; gaining strength and courage, and waiting on the LORD.

Them my journey took me to Hazor, to Kedesh and to Dan, cities with countless stories to tell of Israel's fame and infamy. When King Jabin ruled Hazor, he formed an immense alliance with tribes to the east and west of him; Canaanites to Hivites. The army he commanded was huge, but when he marched against Joshua he was vanquished. The LORD cares nothing for numbers.6 A descendent, again named Jabin, tried again. He was defeated by Israel's first and only woman judge, Deborah.7 Hazor remained as part of Israel's possessions until the Assyrian King, Tiglath-Pilser forcibly claimed it, along with Kedesh and other towns, from King Pekah of Israel.8 Prior to the conquest by Tiglath-Pilser, Kedesh had been one of the cities of refuge created by Joshua.9 At the northern boundary is Dan, the source of the Jordan. As the saying states, from Dan to Beer-Sheba, the whole of Israel. A city with a proud history yet, unfortunately, it will be mainly remembered for its blasphemy. Remembered in history as the city where King Jeroboam set up the shrine of golden calves.10 There is no end to fame in the history of Israel, and there is equally no end to its infamy.

But as I crossed the lower foothills of Mount Hermon, my thoughts cleared and I began wonder, then to suspect, and finally to know why I took this journey: why I walked into the lion's den. My father had left two commissions from the LORD uncompleted by himself, two commissions that were delegated to me. The first was the anointing of a man named Hazael,11 for Hazael, whoever he was, would become the next king of Aram. Jehu would be the second commission I needed to complete.

..........

Drawing closer to the capital of Aram, I was met by some of my disciples. They rushed to meet me and to tell me why I need not fear the lion in his lair. King Ben-Hadad was ill and severely afraid. He had come to realise that the reason for his defeats was not a man named Elisha but God, Himself. This full knowledge of whom he had been fighting was enough to drive the king to his bed with an illness that had no physical cause.12 And he knew that two successive defeats against what appeared to be inferior armies, was not the way to retain the loyalty of his troops, or his subjects. But he had no possible answer, other than a quiet death, to his problems - until he heard that I was in his land.

Day after day he had lain there in his bed, unable to rise, not wanting to leave his bed, realising far too late in his confident life the futility of challenging the Lord God Almighty. Until the day a courtier told him, 'The man of God has come all the way up here,' and the king said to Hazael, the most faithful of his servants,13 'Take a gift with you and go to meet the man of God. Consult the LORD through him; ask him, "Will I recover from this illness?"'

It appeared that Ben-Hadad in Damascus had at last recognised the one true God, and now he both recognised and required the services of God's prophet in Israel. Or Ben-Hadad was desperate and had no other avenue to tread. Many a person had turned to the LORD when in such straits. And if sincere then that person would always be welcomed.

………….

The camel train, the gift that Ben-Hadad had ordered Hazael to bring to me, breasted the brow of a low dune. It seemed endless as the animals plodded towards me, each one briefly silhouetted against the darkening sky before their sandy coats blended in again with the sands of the desert. They walked at the same slow pace that appeared a crawl yet effortlessly covered the miles across seas of sand where other, faster animals would have perished.

I stayed on the outskirts of the city near an oasis, a place ideally suited for both men and beasts. As the drovers carried on with their duties of caring for their charges, Hazael carefully supervised the work while adjusting and checking the packs on the backs of the camels. Gifts for me. Certainly the packs were not large, but if each pack contained but one gift (and it was certain they contained more, and that each gift would represent the finest wares Damascus had to offer) then the wealth of the train was immense. Even if forty camels were not necessary for the load that was carried, but merely an indication of the king's wealth and a king's largesse, it was more wealth than I had ever seen, more even than Naaman's offering. But the gift would, must, be refused, even as Naaman's gift was refused. And his gift was a righteous gift from a grateful, righteous man. Not the desperate attempt to buy his life that Ben-Hadad's gift represented, or his valuation on an oracle from the LORD. For what need had I of material wealth, I who served the LORD? None. I could not profit from the gift that had been given me.

Hazael finished his unnecessary tinkering: the words of the king were now firmly set on his lips waiting to be released. Who was this man? Where had he come from? Why was he so trusted by the king? Considered by his peers to be the son of a nobody, his name meant 'God sees.14 He was a commoner risen from the ranks, and only God could yet see where his ascendancy would end. For now Hazael was not a nobody, and very soon he would be the most powerful man in Aram.

He came in and stood before me. 'Your son Ben-Hadad king of Aram has sent me to ask, "Will I recover from this illness?"'

The man who wanted me dead a short while ago; the king who hated the prophet who constantly thwarted his plans and schemes; the terrible ruler who suspected his own loyal commanders rather than a simple prophet, King Ben-Hadad, now lying on a bed he would never leave -considered me his father. 'Your son,' his message had began. No Ben-Hadad, you are no son of mine. I have no children except the children of Israel, and they are trial enough for me.

I answered, 'Go and say to him, "You will certainly recover"; but the LORD has revealed to me that he will in fact die.' And as I spoke the words the LORD did indeed reveal the horrors that would follow this terrible anointing. I stared at Hazael as the visions of his future filled my mind; I stared until he lowered his head in shame. His ambition was naked before me; hidden thoughts that he had driven deep where they should never be discovered by anyone, were exposed to me, and the thoughts and the knowledge of my discernment loomed large in front of his eyes.

I began to weep.

'Why is my lord weeping?' asked Hazael. His hypocrisy was blatant, I could nearly hear his thoughts. No, Elisha can't know my dreams, my ambitions, the goal I have set myself a long time ago. The vision I had when first I served Ben-Hadad as a lowly servant. And now Ben-Hadad is finished: there is no respect, no loyalty, no acknowledgment of kingship left in the country of Aram. It is time for a new king, a strong king who does not lie on his bed regretting defeats and crying for a prophet from Israel. And I, a nobody, will be that king.

'Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,' I answered. 'You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.'

My spirit cried out in anguish as the LORD filled me with the vision of what this man would do. I saw Joram, son of Ahab, king of Israel, join forces with Ahaziah, son of Jehoram, king of Judah, to fight King Hazael of Aram. I saw and heard the blood and noise of battle as the allied armies of the divided kingdom were beaten and savaged. And I saw a wounded Joram run to Jezreel to recover from his wounds and his defeat.15 For forty years Hazael would cause trouble against Israel. Making war against Joram and the other kings (including Jehu who offered no resistance16) and laying waste to the countryside and its people

Now the ambition was naked in his face. The vision I shared with him aroused no horror, or fear, only the certain realisation that there was but one way he could do such things. His downcast eyes never lifted, his false humility was almost more than I could bear. He whispered, 'How could your servant, a mere dog, accomplish such a feat?'

Dear God, he spoke the truth. He was a dog, a worthless cur, a nobody. But also a man that was anointed to rule the kingdom of Aram, and to bring God's punishment on God's errant child, Israel. I gave the man his anointing.

'The LORD has shown me that you will become king of Aram,' I replied.

Hazael left to return to his master. I would never know whether I planted the seed in his mind, or I merely brought to light the darkness already harboured in his soul. The fact was that Ben-Hadad was now the nobody. Every quality that made him a king, and helped him retain his throne was gone. His ruthlessness, cunning, even his courage, all lost when he fought with the LORD. In effect the throne was empty but Hazael would ensure that it would soon be filled.

..........

King Ben-Hadad waited impatiently for the return of his trusted servant. I imagined the thoughts running through his mind as he lay there helpless, impotent and frustrated. Would Hazael represent him faithfully; would he speak with conviction and persuasion? Were the gifts enough? Perhaps he should have fully loaded each camel. After all, what use was wealth to a man in Sheol. But Ben-Hadad, what use is wealth to a man who has the LORD?

What thoughts went through the mind of Hazael as he walked into his master's bedroom; when he saw the helplessness of this once powerful and feared king; when he beheld the wretch that lay before him eagerly waiting for news from Elisha? Waiting to hear my sentence - life or death.

His voice would have been hesitant, fearful, eager to know, yet dreading the answer. 'What did Elisha say to you?'

Then Hazael's answer, 'He told me that you would certainly recover.' Yes, Hazael, you knew, as I knew, that from his illness which was mainly self-imposed, he could recover; would certainly recover if he were allowed the time. The next day he would already be planning to rise again and take control of his slipping kingdom. My words given to Hazael and passed on to the king would be taken as the absolute truth; he had seen too much of God working through his prophet to doubt again. And particularly when he wanted so much this time to believe Elisha, God's prophet in Israel. But Ben-Hadad would not have the time he needed to recover.

Hazael took his leave. On the morrow he would return.

..........

Ben-Hadad's bed was surrounded by a blanket hung from poles.17 The cloth was in fact a net that was soaked many times a day. It served two purposes; one to keep the king cool, and the other to keep out the gadflies.

In the morning, while it was yet cool, Hazael came once more to see his king. Ben-Hadad was sitting up in his bed. The net was hanging to one side - unneeded. Without preamble, Hazael took the cloth and quickly and mercilessly smothered his king who, without his strength, was unable to resist. He was also unprepared for such treachery - to be murdered by his most trusted servant, a fate he never imagined in his weakest moments even though treachery was common currency in most courts.
The Arameans in Damascus and the country were glad when they heard the news. At last they had a strong leader again. A ruthless king was once more on the throne. And across the border, King Joram in Israel was also happy. He was pleased that the man he feared so much was dead.

He would soon learn that a greater evil had now befallen Israel.

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