I am a pastor in Idaho, a land labeled with a rather lame stereotype. Because when you think Idaho, what do you think? Yep. Potatoes. I too was once like you, thinking Idaho was nothing but the land of tater tots and fries, but I was oh so wrong. Idaho is the US’s best kept secret with crazy unexpected beauty. Mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, bears, elk, fish. Shhh! We want to keep out the crowds.
Now I am not an outdoorsman…our outdoorswoman as the case may be. But my husband Tommy, he’s like in outdoorsy heaven, particularly in the fish department. Tommy has these fancy polarized glasses that he uses when he fishes. Awhile back, we were at this lake and he kept pointing out all these fish that he could see, and me in my cheap but oh-so-trendy dollar tree glasses could see a whole lot of nothing but shiny water. So we traded and oh my word! My eyes were opened! Fish everywhere. It was magical. Apparently, the lens you’re looking through makes all the difference. They can utterly change our perspective.
In 2 Kings 8 we see this truth lived out, that perspective makes all the difference. Elisha is in deep weeds, having just been outed as the one letting Israel in on their enemy, King Aram’s plans. As a result, an entire army, chariots and all show up on his doorstep. And Elisha’s servant? Not thrilled at this new development. No one likes to wake up and find themselves surrounded by horses, chariots, and an army! That’s a bad start to the day. In a flash, this poor nameless servant’s heart is filled with fear. They are completely isolated, surrounded by enemies set on destroying them. The situation without a doubt would appear to be completely and utterly hopeless.
Do Not Be Afraid!
And Elisha’s reply? “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. And the servant’s is like, “Oh, ok. That’s all? Don’t be afraid? Why didn’t I think of that?! Problem solved.” Um, no.
But we know something that servant didn’t know, or least didn’t remember in his panicked fear. Whenever you hear that phrase, “Do not be afraid” in Scripture, we should know: something is up. We should just prepare ourselves because God is about to act. God is about to something very “salvation-y” if you know what I mean. (Official sounding phrase: “Salvation oracle”)
Where you hear “Do not be afraid,” salvation is right around the corner. God is about to unleash his saving action.
It’s the same deal here. Vs 16, Elisha replied, “‘Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.’ 17Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
It’s almost like Elisha handed a pair of polarized glasses over to the servant and said, “Here, check this out, check out all these fish, I mean, heavenly warriors. Now calm down, dude.” The servant did not have eyes to see what God was doing. He was completely blind to the fact that God was acting in salvific ways for him and Elisha at that very moment. But with eyes opened to truly see, everything changed. Fear, gone. Isolation, vanished. Hopelessness, evaporated. In their place came courage, a sense of protection, hope, even joy! God is with us! Who can stand against us?!
There was more going on than they could have possibly imagined. There’s common-sense sight: what we can see with our physical eyes, that which our logical brain tells us is the most likely outcome. And then there’s prophetic sight: eyes that have been opened by the Spirit to what God is really doing in the world.
It’s a bold claim, isn’t it? Particularly in our tumultuous world. To claim that God is at work when common-sense sight seems to declare the exact opposite. “Jesus is Lord, really! I’m serious! I know you can’t see it, but our King is coming and his Kingdom is breaking in!” And I can hear the cynical responses, can’t you? “You cannot be serious. How can say that God is at work when horrible things are happening all the time? When people are being murdered on the streets? When minorities disproportionately receive lethal treatment at the hands of some law enforcement, when policemen are gunned down while trying to serve and protect, when politicians are shot at baseball practice? When everything seems to point to chaos and violence, prejudice and injustice?
You’re right. Common-sense sight says I’m crazy. Common sense sight would say God’s not at work. God’s not even present. But prophetic sight has a different story to tell, a different claim to make. Prophetic sight, eyes that have been opened by the Spirit to God’s hand in the world, offers an entirely different perspective. With this perspective, transformed by the Spirit, we can see that we do not stand alone, that in fact the host of heaven stands alongside us, empowering us to live faithfully. We are given eyes to see that God is at work in the world to bring about restoration to all things.
But not everyone in the story gets to see with prophetic vision. In verse 18, it says, “When the Arameans came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Strike this people, please, with blindness.’ So he struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked. Elisha said to them, ‘This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.’ And he led them to Samaria.”
It was kind of a “These are not the drones you are looking for” moment…
The darkened eyes of the servant were opened to see God’s heavenly host standing in protection while the enemies’ eyes were darkened, leaving them powerless and weak. It’s a story of darkness and light, of God’s power to illuminate the path of the faithful and blind the eyes of the disobedient.
Sounds like a good ending to the story, right? With this prophetic declaration that God is at work even when we cannot see it! That God the Spirit can open our eyes to God’s power on the move all around us, to fill us with hope and courage! Not to mention, in this story, the bad guys totally get caught and led off to their doom. And that’s always nice, right? The bad guys getting what’s coming to them? If all the “bad guys” could just get carted away and dealt with so the rest of us wouldn’t have to deal with the pain and suffering they inflict? Perfect world.
But the text won’t let us end it there. The passage continues….The bad guys have been blinded and led off (by Elisha) to the king of Israel. Vs 20- “As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, ‘O Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they may see.’ The Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were inside Samaria. When the king of Israel saw them he said to Elisha, ‘Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’”
What a scene to encounter upon receiving your vision back! You’ve unknowingly been led by your intended target (Elisha) into the hands of your worst enemy, the king of Israel. And here stands the king, essentially rubbing his hands together with glee and then reaching for his sword, waiting for word to go ahead and lob off your head.
But let’s be brutally honest for a second. We’ve thought that too in some form or another. When you read the news in the morning and hear about the latest terrorist attack or when you hear about fatal injustice towards minorities, or when you hear about cops getting shot, a part of our heart asks, “Can we just kill all the bad guys?” (whoever the bad guys might be). Can we just get ‘em?
How does Elisha handle these killers? Does he respond to violence with violence as so often happens in the Old Testament? Does he give the go ahead to “kill ‘em all!?”
Vs. 22: “Elisha answered, ‘No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.’ So he prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way, and they went to their master. And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.”
Plot twist: Not violence and vengeance but feasting and food. Does this feel extreme to anyone else? To invite your sworn enemies, those who have raided your towns and killed your people, to come and eat with you at your table, and not just to eat, but to feast with you? Like it’s a party? Come on now. If a current political leader suggested this kind of response to our enemies, she or he would immediatley be brutalized on social media and thrown out of office soon after
But not Elisha. He acts out an extraordinary practice in Near/Middle Eastern culture known as Sulha, a process of reconciliation in which opposing parties gather around a table to eat together and find a way forward through forgiveness.
Our world is such an incredibly inhospitable place. Violence abounds. Physical violence with shooting and attacks and the like. But also relational violence. The verbal abuse we dish out to those who think differently than us? The nasty comments, the dismissive attitudes, the hatefulness, the way we demonize those who’s journey of faith looks different than our own.
Anyone else tired of the hashtag wars? You know what I’m talking about? There are some clear dividing lines, particularly that have emerged in the last year. #blacklivesmatter….no it’s #bluelivesmatter….no, it’s #alllivesmatter…..you get the point.
The thing is this: the second I “choose” a hashtag, I’ve alienated half of you. If I say, “Black lives matter” half of you assume I don’t support the police. But if I say, “blue lives matter” then I don’t care about oppressed and mistreated minorities! Or if I say “all lives matter”, everyone is just kind of annoyed with me because it feels like a cop-out to not address real problems and still sound like I care.
What if instead of hashtags and faux activism online, we exchanged our hashtags for hospitality? What if instead of building more walls between us and allowing these crazy lines to divide us, we instead took our cue from the prophet Elisha and set a table for our enemies. Like a literal table. With food on it. And preferably some coffee at some point.
What if we, in our own daily world, in our own sphere of influence, in our own neighborhood and town, made it our mission to connect with people who are drastically (and maybe even offensively) different from us? Different race, difference religion, different politics, different toothpaste preference, whatever.
What if we quit firing up the rhetoric and the hate and instead fired up the grill….hamburgers, not hashtags!
Now hear me, I’m not suggesting that we should ignore systemic problems, whether it’s terrorism, or murder of civil servants or the mistreatment of minorities. None of that is acceptable and should not be ignored. What I am suggesting is this: it’s better to learn to love each other at the dinner table than to duke it out on social media with our hashtag of choice. It’s more effective to deal with these issues face to face over a nicely prepared dinner than it is to debate and verbally abuse people online.
Great. Awesome. Hamburgers not hashtags, but honestly…what difference is that going to make? In the big scheme of things, what difference does it make?
And so with our common sense vision, we join with Elisha’s servant and declare, “Alas! Lord! What are we to do?” Evil is so big. We’re totally surrounded. Our common sense vision tells us that we are in deep weeds with no chance of escape.
But, with eyes from the Spirit to see with prophetic vision, the perspective is so different. No fear, no rage, no vengeance. Instead, a promise. “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.” Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Evil is big but God is bigger. Do we believe it? Are we willing to look at this big scary world with it’s terrorist attacks and shootings and pain, not with common sense vision that cowers in fear and shuts out the Other in self-defense, but rather to look at this big scary world with prophetic vision as the Holy Spirit enables us and trust that God is at work. Evil will not win. And we are called to be a part of the solution by ending the cycles of brokenness, of violence, of vengeance. To be a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom of God.
What could be if we leaned into this prophetic vision of God, trusting that God will do and is doing all he has promised to do?
So let’s do it. Maybe over a table. With food. And coffee. With the Other, the enemy even. Hamburgers, not hashtags.
It’s oh so small, but our God is oh so big.