Suddenly we meet Elisha again here. The last thing we have heard of him is related to the anointing of Jehu (2Kgs 9:1-41Now Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins, and take this flask of oil in your hand and go to Ramoth-gilead.2When you arrive there, search out Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi, and go in and bid him arise from among his brothers, and bring him to an inner room.3Then take the flask of oil and pour it on his head and say, ‘Thus says the LORD, “I have anointed you king over Israel.”‘ Then open the door and flee and do not wait.”4So the young man, the servant of the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead.). That is at that moment almost forty-five years ago. All this time he has lived in secret. Elisha is now an old man and his end is approaching. He is sick and he will die of that illness.
By the way, we see here that the claim that a believer does not have to be ill is a lie. God can use a disease as a means in His hand to take a believer to Himself. He does that here with Elisha. There is no trace that he would be sick because of a sin or something like that. It is simply mentioned that he is sick because of the illness of which he will die.
Before he dies, a few remarkable things happen that are also characteristic of his whole life. His end is as remarkable as the beginning and the whole course of his history. We read that the LORD tells Elijah of Elisha that he will kill him who escapes the sword of Jehu (1Kgs 19:1717It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death.). This is going to happen here, by the hand of Jehoash.
Jehoash comes to visit Elisha. A young king comes to an old, dying prophet. In a way, this can be compared to the combination of the young Elisha and the departing Elijah. Jehoash also uses the words Elisha speaks when Elijah is taken from him (verse 1414When Elisha became sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash the king of Israel came down to him and wept over him and said, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”; 2Kgs 2:1212Elisha saw [it] and cried out, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.). Jehoash thus says the same as Elisha says about Elijah, that in this one man the whole power of Israel is concentrated and that the whole power is taken from Israel when Elisha dies. The latter is not the case with Elijah, because Elisha follows him while his spirit rests on him. But if Elisha dies, there is no successor who will continue in his power.
With Elisha, God’s power is present. Wicked Jehoash sees that well. He uses the same words as Elisha, but he does not have the same faith. That is clear from what follows. He is tested whether he wants to have the spiritual power of Elisha, as Elisha wanted from Elijah and has also gotten it.
The test consists of the way he will handle a bow and arrows. Jehoash has to get it for Elisha. When he has put his hand on the bow by order of Elisha, Elisha puts his hands on the hands of Jehoash. This action shows that Jehoash is the instrument to break the power of Hazael, but that he must realize that his power lies in the power of Elisha. Of course, this is not the physical strength, but the spiritual strength of this man of God. By placing his hands on the hands of Joash, what the LORD has said about Elisha and Hazael is fulfilled (1Kgs 19:1717It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death.).
Jehoash is then instructed to open the window to the east. The east speaks of a new day, of new hope. Through that open window Jehoash has to shoot an arrow. The order to do so sounds with force from the mouth of the weak, dying prophet. Elisha declares that this arrow is “the LORD’s arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Aram”. In this arrow the power of the LORD is present. Elisha adds: “for you will defeat the Arameans at Aphek until you have destroyed [them].” If he expects it from God’s power, he can bring about the deliverance of the enemy, Syria. From everything Elisha says, it becomes clear that all actions have a symbolic meaning.
After the education comes the test if he has understood. Elisha tells him to take the arrows in his hand and strike the ground. Jehoash does what Elisha says. From what he does becomes clear that he has understood something about it, but that the essential message has passed him by. He should have empathized with this symbol (cf. 1Kgs 22:1111Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made horns of iron for himself and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are consumed.’”) of victory. Then he would have struck many times. Now he strikes only three times. As a result, he was not able to completely destroy the enemy.
If we have little faith, little will come about. Just like with Jehoash, we often lack the energy of faith that God will do a great work. We often remain passive. Jehoash gets what he believes. He has struck three times, and will achieve three victories (verse 2525Then Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again from the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael the cities which he had taken in war from the hand of Jehoahaz his father. Three times Joash defeated him and recovered the cities of Israel.).