Let’s face it; at one point or another, just about all of us will face a situation in which it feels like the forces that are arrayed against us are overwhelming. (Who knows? Perhaps some of us are in one of those situations right now.) But into those challenges, today’s Old Testament lesson (2 Kings 6:1-23) speaks a word of encouragement, which — if embraced — provides both hope and direction.
The king of Aram is upset. He wants to raid the Israelites; but every time he moves against them, someone has tipped them off to his plans. He learns that the prophet Elisha is the source of this foreknowledge; and so, he sends his army by night to surround the city in which Elisha is staying. In the morning, Elisha’s servant awakes and sees that the city is surrounded; so he cries to his master: “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” But Elisha’s response is worth committing to memory:
Of course, Elisha then prays that the eyes of his servant will be opened. And when God answers that prayer, the servant sees that the surrounding enemy army is itself surrounded by horses and chariots of fire.
When you’re facing forces that seem overwhelming, how would it make you feel to be able to say (in the words of Chris Tomlin): “I know who goes before me. I know who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side”?
Of course, because it has been the inspiration for many songs and Sunday School lessons, this much of the story is at least somewhat well known. But what might be less well known is what happens next. Elisha prays that the LORD will strike the army of Aram with blindness. And when the LORD answers that prayer, Elisha leads them off and delivers them to the king of Israel. Not surprisingly, the king sees an opportunity to strike his enemy a crippling blow, and so he excitedly asks the prophet: “Shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” But Elisha’s response to this question is equally as important:
“Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” (2 Kings 6:22)
Precisely because we do have “the God of angel armies” on our side, we are released from the need to respond to our enemy as an enemy. Instead, we are given the opportunity to offer “unexpected grace” — to “love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us” (Matthew 5:44), which creates possibilities for reconciliation and blessing where none existed.
In the end, the king of Israel provides a great feast for the army that had come to destroy him. And after they ate and drank, they returned to their home country, and the king of Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.
Whatever we face today, may we know that we have “unseen armies” on our side. And may that allow us to respond with “unexpected grace,” so that we may be a blessing to others — even as we have been blessed.