Article: When You Have Lost Your Cutting Edge! | Jacob Varghese
2 Kings 6:1-7 is relatively an unexplored passage and it teaches us some extraordinarily practical life lessons. The said passage says, the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us. Please, let us go to the Jordan, and let every man take a beam from there, and let us make there a place where we may dwell.” So he answered, “Go.” Then one said, “Please consent to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron axe head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, master! For it was borrowed.” So the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And he showed him the place. So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float. Therefore he said, “Pick it up for yourself.” So he reached out his hand and took it. It is a story we rarely give much thought to; and yet, the lessons it has to teach us about our walk with Jesus Christ are among the most practical and important that we could learn. Now this rarely heard story is so important and practical, because it is a story about a ‘crisis’. Something had happened to one of the “sons of the prophets” that had placed him in a real fix.
2 Kings Chapters 6 through 8 continues the story of the ministry of Elisha. Elisha is seen as a great blessing from God to both God’s people and to the nation. As we continue in our study, we must remember that these historical accounts of Elisha and Israel are not only true, but being a part of God breathed record, they are also profitable for doctrine, teaching, for reproof, exposure, for correction, restoration, and for training in righteousness that God’s people may be equipped for every good work in a hurting world as mentioned in 2 Tim. 3:16-17. This means these stories illustrate eternal truths that are relevant for today or any time in history. It’s a story that is told to us about a miracle that God performed through one of His greatest Old Testament prophets, Elisha. Elisha was the prophetic successor of another great Old Testament prophet named Elijah. God had raised Elijah to be His spokesman during the very difficult and wicked times of the kings of Israel. Elijah had served his people faithfully; but the time finally came when God called His prophet to Himself taking him up to heaven in “a chariot of fire”. But before Elijah departed from this earth, God had called and commissioned his successor Elisha.
Now before Elijah was taken away, a community of students had gathered around him. They are often referred to collectively in the Bible as “the sons of the prophets”. The term Sons of Prophets ‘’occurs eleven times, all during the period of Elijah and especially Elisha, and only in the books of 1 and 2 Kings. The term is a technical one referring to the members of a prophetic order and has no reference to physical descent from a prophet. It appears that they constituted something like a ‘seminary for prophets’; where young men were taught to walk a holy walk before God, and were trained to speak forth God’s message to His people during dark times. And after Elijah was taken up to glory, his successor Elisha to whom God had given a “double portion” of the prophetic spirit of Elijah was looked upon as the new head of this “school of the prophets”.
In that time, the number of these “sons of the prophets” who had gathered around their mentor Elisha had apparently grown so large that they needed more room. And that is when we read this remarkable story. In their request for Elisha’s presence to accompany them, we see their wisdom and humility. Though they too were prophets, they realized their need of the wisdom and support of their mentor and teacher. Not only did Elisha give his permission for the project, but he was also willing to accompany them in order to lend his support and encouragement.
In the anxiety of the man over the loss of his axe head, we see a refreshing picture of honesty, respect for the property of others, and trust worthiness. The lost axe head could have been ignored or blamed on chance or covered up in some way, but the words of the prophet, “Alas, my master! For it was borrowed,” not only shows his deep concern, but it demonstrates his integrity. Integrity is one of the spiritual characters that is needed to authenticate our message. It shows that the message has impacted the messenger. Not only did Elisha show interest and concern for the project as a whole, but he demonstrated his involvement even in the smallest of matters as in the loss of the axe head. Of course this incident was no small matter to the man who lost it. Rather than write it off as trivial matter, Elisha reached out to this simple need. When Elisha stepped forward, inquired concerning the place where the axe head went into the water, and made the iron swim with the stick he cut, he was giving this entire group of prophets a wonderful illustration of the sovereign care and providence of God. God is interested and cares about even the small and trivial incidents in our lives.
The miracle of the axe head illustrates how God uses our everyday circumstances to teach us about Himself and His providential purpose to work all things for our growth. The primary lesson in the lost axe head that was made to float is its message concerning God’s relationship to us, especially as His people. Even in the small things of life God knows us intimately, He cares about us and He is gracious to us. When it came to building a meeting place for their school, those students had to build it themselves. And this particular student was so poor that he had to borrow an axe. It may seem strange to us today; but an iron axe head was an extremely precious and valuable commodity in those days. And when he was swinging the axe, and the axe head slipped off the handle and flew into the water and completely out of reach, it created a real crisis! The Old Testament law taught that whenever a man lost or damaged something that he had borrowed, he had to replace it and make the loss good to the lender. And this poor man training as he was to be a godly servant to his people had no financial means of replacing this valuable item. It could mean that, as a poor man, he would no longer be able to continue his training in the school. It might even have placed him in a serious condition of indebtedness.
And that speaks very much to the kinds of situations that often fall upon you and me in the course of life; isn’t it? Through no intentional fault of our own without our seeing its coming we may suddenly find ourselves in a situation of crisis like that of the poor “son of the prophets”. Something very valuable entrusted to us is lost or broken and we become somehow responsible to a financial obligation that is far beyond our means of paying. We may become guilty of something that was never intended by us to cause anyone harm. Or something may suddenly come upon us such as an accident or an illness or something happened to someone we love that completely upsets our whole world and leaves us wondering what we will be able to do. Such crisis times will come upon us but that is what makes this story so valuable to us. In this we learn some important spiritual principles about how to trust God’s faithfulness to us in those times of crisis.
Look at this passage a little closer with me; and notice, first, how it teaches us that we best prepare for a crisis that may come later when we invite God’s presence in our lives now. The best time to start preparing our heart to trust God in crisis is not right when the crisis strikes. It is certainly a good thing when someone finally turns to God in a time of crisis; but that’s not the best time to do so. Trusting God effectively in a crisis is the byproduct of making it a regular habit to seek God’s involvement in every area of our life long before the crisis comes. Elisha was God’s representative spokesman to His people at that time. He was as it says in verse six “the man of God”. It was through Him that God was conveying His message to His people. It was through Him that God was performing His mighty works. It’s different for us in this age, of course. Each one of us who are in Christ by faith has full access to God the Father directly. But at that time, for this man to ask God’s representative to consent to go with them was as much as asking God Himself to go with them. They didn’t want to go away to the banks of the Jordan River, or begin the work of building a place for themselves, without the blessings of the presence of God with them through the presence of His representative prophet. And Elisha, the “man of God”, graciously consented for their request. “And he answered, ‘I will go.’ And he went with them”. It turned out to be a good thing that he was there. And because he had been invited at the very beginning, he was able to be the instrument of God’s faithfulness in a time of crisis later on.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I don’t think I can stress the importance of this principle enough! When we habitually disregard the Lord in the daily matters of our life or even deliberately choose to exclude Him, we set ourselves up for terrible disaster when crisis finally strikes. But when we make it our habit of life to pause at the beginning of each new day and in fact, as much as possible, at the beginning of each new task or project or circumstance or meeting and pray, we do the absolutely best thing we can possibly do to prepare ourselves for any crisis that may come along our way in the future. After all the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6 is just as true in a time of crisis as at any other; Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight
We are told, “And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron axe head fell into the water . . .” I am thinking that the place into which the axe head fell was too deep and perhaps the river bank too steep for the axe head to be retrieved. Otherwise, this man and his companions would have simply stepped in and gotten it. For this poor man and his companions, this precious, borrowed ax head was lost in the water and completely out of reach. Now I am speculating a bit, I suspect that he and his companions at least tried for a while. They walked along the river bank searching into the water as best they could. It may even be that he and some of his friends jumped in to the water and made an attempt to going for it. But it was of no use. Finally, the prophet Elisha walked by to see what all the commotion was. The poor man came to him; “. . . and he cried out and said, ‘Alas, master!
For it was borrowed’. And it is here that I would like to suggest a second principle we learn from this passage.
No crisis is ever hopeless so long as we cry out to God for help in the midst of our crisis. The poor man’s cry may have been desperate; and perhaps even offered up with a sense of hopelessness and frustration. It may have been little more than, “unfortunate!” But it is here that we can see why it is so important that we make it our habit of inviting God’s presence in all that we do; because even though it was a desperate cry, it was a cry that was sent in a God ward direction. The moment we turn to God in our crisis, even if it is with a less than perfect faith; even when it is with an attitude of desperation and fear and panic, our loving Father will hear our cry and come to our aid. We have His own promise on it! In Psalm 50:15, He Himself says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me”
Let us first make sure that we have invited the Lord’s involvement in our lives. And then, when crisis strikes, let us be sure that as the very first thing we do we cry out to Him. Let us not worry that our heart and attitude is all perfect. Let us just cry out to Him, imperfect as we are, and feeling as helpless as we may feel because no crisis is truly hopeless if we cry out to God in the midst of it. This poor man then cried out to Elisha. And we read; “So the man of God said, ‘Where did it fall?’ And he showed him the place”. Perhaps he pointed to the general spot in the water where it fell; and perhaps his companions even stood around and confirmed it. But look at what Elisha does. We are told, “So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float”. You would be truly amazed; by the way, at the silly things that some unbelieving people say with some natural explanation is that of course, they say that iron cannot float. Another explained that Elisha must have thrown this stick into the water like a spear so that it went right into the hole. That way, when the stick floated to the surface, it brought the axe head up along with it. No, dear brothers and sisters; the iron axe head floated. How did it happen? It was a miracle. It was not something that Elisha brought about. It was not even something that necessarily required a stick. It was something that God did. And this leads us to the third and a very remarkable principle about God’s work in our lives at times of crisis.
God is able to use the circumstances of the crisis itself in order to bring about a solution to it. This is something that if you will think about it for a moment our sovereign God seems fond of doing in times of crisis. Think back to the time when the apostle Peter came to Jesus at a time when the temple tax was due. Apparently Peter did not have the money for it. But Jesus did not tell Peter to go look under a rock somewhere and find that the required money would be under it. Peter was a fisherman. He did not have money, but had hooks and could catch fish. And so, He sent Peter out to the sea, told him to cast in a hook and open the mouth of the first fish that comes up. And in it, he would find the required money (Matthew 17:24-28). Or do you remember the feeding of the multitudes? Our Lord did not just make food appear out of the sky. Instead, Jesus asked what they had; and when the disciples told Him that all they had for 5,000 men were five loaves and two fish, He said, “Bring them here to me”. And once they brought their woefully inadequate supply to Him, the problem was solved. Everyone ate until they were full.
I believe the greatest example of this is our salvation. As human beings, we are fallen before God. Our first father Adam sinned; and in his sin, he brought the whole human race into a state of alienation from God along with him. But how did God solve our “crisis”? He sent His Son to become a member of the very same fallen human race taking our own sin upon Him and dying in our place. God used the very material of the crisis of our condition in order to solve it. Let us never worry in a time of crisis. Our mighty, sovereign God is able to use the very circumstances of our crisis itself in order to bring about a solution to it and all to His glory! In fact, it seems that it is even a way that He loves to work! There is one more lesson for us to learn from this passage about God’s faithful work in our lives in a time of crisis. And it is the fourth principle.
God will only meet our needs in a crisis as far as it is necessary for us to do our part. I am sure you will agree with me that the very same mighty God who could make iron float in water could also make it float in air. He could have made the axe head float up to the river bank within easy reach. In fact, if God had wanted to, He could have even had Elisha throw the axe handle itself into the water, have it marvelously join itself to the axe head, and have both of them rise out of the water and into the air, and caused them to rest on dry land. If He had wanted to, don’t you think God could have even made the axe do some chopping all on its own? No one else would have had to do a thing if that had been what God wanted to. But that is apparently not what God wanted. Instead, after Elisha threw the stick in, and the iron floated to the surface of the water in the sight of the poor man who had lost it, we read, “Therefore he said, ‘Pick it up for yourself.’ So he reached out his hand and took it”. He made the man who was in the midst of the crisis to do some of the work of getting it.
This was a matter of God helping a man who could not help himself. He could not bring the axe head up from the bottom of the river. Only God could do that. But that is all God did for him. And once that was done, the man had to take it from there. Have you ever noticed how, when the Lord Jesus healed paralyzed men, He followed it up by telling them, “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (see Matthew 9:6; John 5:8). We never read that Jesus carried their beds for them. We never read that He did for them what they could justifiably do for themselves. He only made it possible for them to do what they should do by first doing for them what they could not do for themselves. Similarly, God did not make the axe head float up into the man’s hand. Instead, He put it within the man’s reach; so that the prophet could say, “Pick it up for yourself.” I believe that in a time of crisis, our loving heavenly Father does not want us to be passive spectators. Instead, He graciously allows us to partner with Him in what He does to solve our problems and meet our needs. What is the cutting edge of your life? For most of us, it is at the bottom of the river, totally beyond our reach and beyond our ability to recover. Can we get it back? Yes! If we will take the first step of inviting God’s presence in to our life, in the midst of our crisis, then God is able to bring about a solution in the circumstances of crisis and God will meet our needs. Are you willing? That is the first step. The second is in getting before the Lord and dealing with the problem His way! So an important lesson we learn in this story is that there is a divine approval and value for God’s people to work hard and do things for themselves when they can. We always need to work in the strength which He supplies, but we must put our hands to axe and even reach into the water to pull out the floating axe head when
God does work above the natural order of creation.