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You should have struck the ground five or six times - Part 1

12th July 2014

At the end of his life, the prophet Elisha received a visit from King Jehoash. The war with Aram wasn't going well, and Jehoash wanted God's help. Many people ignore God until they need him.

2 Kings 13v14-20a
Now Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. "My father! My father!" he cried. "The chariots and horsemen of Israel!"
Elisha said, "Get a bow and some arrows," and he did so.
"Take the bow in your hands," he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the kingís hands. "Open the east window," he said, and he opened it. "Shoot!" Elisha said, and he shot. "The LORDís arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!" Elisha declared. "You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek." Then he said, "Take the arrows," and the king took them. Elisha told him, "Strike the ground." He struck it three times and stopped.
The man of God was angry with him and said, "You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times."
Elisha died and was buried.

Jehoash cried out, "My father! My father!" The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" because he was concerned that the Israelite army might be crushed by its enemies.

In response, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Elisha urged him to open the east window - the window that faced Aram - and shoot an arrow towards enemy territory. This was a symbolic act of war. Jehoash obeyed. But when Elisha then told him to strike the ground with a fistful of arrows, a symbolic act of defeating the enemy, Jehoash only did so three times, and Elisha was angry because he didn't do it enough.

This story may seem strange to some of us. Two important questions rise:

Firstly, What difference can hitting the ground with a bunch of arrows possibly make?

Many Christians, especially those brought up in a rationalist education system, can have difficulty grasping that God doesn't only work in our intellect, but in our whole being. As a result, they miss out on much of what God wants to do in and through the other aspects of their being.

I'm so glad God doesn't only love the rational, logical part of my mind. He loves all of me.

God uses actions and material things to communicate with us, and we benefit when we co-operate with Him in such things. For example:

  • God calls every Christian to be baptised. A rationalist might ask what difference it could possibly make for a new Christian to be immersed in water for a few seconds. We know that we're washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. We know that we've died with Christ and now live a new live. But God uses the ceremony of baptism to confirm these things to us; Many Christians will say that they "feel" cleaner because they've been baptised, and they're more aware of being dead to their sins, because they were buried with Christ in baptism. When we obey God by being baptised, the Holy Spirit uses the water to speak to more than our intellects. He communicates with our emotions, our memories and our subconscious minds. He wants to sanctify the whole person, not just the reason.

  • Similarly, God calls every Christian to celebrate the Lord's Supper regularly by breaking bread and sharing wine with his brothers and sisters in Christ. We know that Christ died for us, that His death pays for our sins and buys eternal life for us. But the Holy Spirit uses the bread and the wine to confirm these things to our hearts. Somehow, we know them more completely because we break bread together.

  • The Bible often speaks of raising our hands to God in prayer and worship. Somehow, we sometimes enter more completely into prayer and worship when we do this. Perhaps it's because we're praying with our bodies as well as our minds and our lips. And perhaps it's because raising our hands speaks of reaching our to God.

  • James tells church leaders to anoint the sick with oil as part of praying for their healing (James 5v14).

  • The Bible talks about laying our hands on people when we pray for them. A rational, cerebral Christian might ask why God needs us to do that. Can't he answer our prayers anyway? Of course God can do anything. He doesn't need our prayers at all, but He calls us to co-operate with Him, and sometimes He wants that co-operation to include our voices, our hands, and sometimes other things, too.

  • Sometimes, when Jesus healed people he used things as well as words. He spat in one man's eyes (Mark 8v23). He rubbed mud into another man's eyes (John 9v6).

In all these ways, and others, God calls us to use material things, because material things affect us in ways beyond the merely rational. That's why many people find it easier to pray in a garden than in a room, why some people like to hold a cross in their hand when they pray, and why I like to hold my palms upwards when I pray. God sometimes wants to communicate with parts of us beyond the merely logical (that's why God enables some of us to pray in tongues). Using bread, wine, water, hands, voices, oil, mud, saliva, flowers, or other things can help our non-logical components to receive God and co-operate with Him.

So why should we be surprised that God told Jehoash to use arrows in co-operating with Him?

And what might God want you to use in co-operating with Him?

And what breakthroughs might we experience if we stopped limiting God's activity to our logical minds, and allowed him free access to our whole beings?

The second question is: why does it matter how often Jehoash hit the ground? We'll look at that next time.