A Strange Scripture…

There is a very strange passage of the Bible found in 2 Kings 8:7-15 in which are hidden some very important lessons. The king of Syria sent his messenger, Hazael, with abundant gifts—40 camel loads of gifts and instructed Hazael to ask the prophet Elisha a very important question. Hazael was the servant of Ben Hadad, the king of Syria- not an Israelite or worshiper of Yahweh, but one who respected the prophet of God. He wanted to know “Will I recover from this sickness?” It is Elisha’s strange answer to that question that perplexes some readers.

He told Hazael. “Go and tell him (King Ben Hadad), ‘You will surely recover,’ but the LORD has revealed to me that he will surely die” (verse 10). Here is the first issue: Was Elijah guilty of lying? Why, then, did he send the King of Syria the message that he would recover, while he went on to tell Hazael that the king would die? Sounds like a lie to me. But wait; the king’s question was very specific: “Will I recover from this sickness?” Elisha’s answer was specific as well: “Yes!” As you read on you will see that Ben Hadad did not die of his present malady, but was murdered by that very servant, Hazael, who suffocated him. (Sounds like an Alfred Hitchcock episode.)  Thus Elisha’s words were completely true; he did not lie to the king, but neither did he inform the king concerning all that was going to happen.

This brings up another issue. Did Elisha put the idea of murdering the king into the mind of Hazael? As we already mentioned, Elisha gave Hazael a very specific answer to convey to the king and he also informed Hazael that the king was going to die. However (and this is important), Elisha did not reveal to Hazael how that would happen. He did not say, “And Hazael, you are going to suffocate him with a wet towel.” Instead the text says that Elisha stared into the eyes of Hazael until he could no longer look at the prophet. That must have been an amazing scene- what was going on here? We are not told the specifics, but I think it is safe to say that Hazael felt that Elisha was looking deep into his soul. I think he recognized that Elisha knew that he had already decided to kill the king. The secret thoughts of Hazael’s heart were surely known to God, and I believe to Elisha as well. No wonder he could no longer look at the prophet. As a number of translations render it, he was too ashamed to do so. 

What an unusual experience this must have been for Hazael! To know that he had a secret and then to realize that in the prophet’s gaze someone else knew that secret. He must have felt like Judas in the upper room, when Jesus made it clear to him that He knew what he was about to do. And then, at the very moment when Hazael probably wanted to run from the presence of the prophet, Elisha began to cry. Hazael was mystified. “Why are you weeping?” Elisha told Hazael that he knew the terrible things he would do to the people of Israel. He would not only prevail over Israel in battle, but he would destroy places and people with savagery. He would burn down fortresses, kill men with the sword, smash children to bits, and rip open pregnant women (verse 12).

This prophet greatly agonizes over the suffering that was to come upon the people of Israel, because of their sins. There was no question in the prophet’s mind that Israel deserved what was coming after all of God’s warnings and discipline. However, the realization that the time for judgment had come caused Elisha great sorrow. Hazael responded to Elisha’s prophecy by saying, “How could your servant — a mere dog (an unimportant man), accomplish such a great feat?” And Elisha answered, “The LORD has shown me that you will become king over Syria”

Next week… some principles gleaned from this passage.

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