Three perspectives

The four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John contain a great deal of information about what went on during Jesus’ three year ministry on Earth. Each of these accounts focuses on a particular aspect of Jesus’ ministry that stood out to the authors. For instance, Matthew, one of the original twelve apostles, saw Jesus as the Messiah of the Jews and wrote his gospel from the perspective of Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Luke, a companion of the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), wrote his gospel message to a specific person named Theophilus who was likely a Roman official that had become a Christian during Paul’s ministry. Mark, a member of the Apostle Peter’s church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), probably wrote his gospel based on details that came from Peter’s messages to his congregation.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic gospels because they are noticeably similar, while John is quite different. Although much of their content is the same, Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote from different perspectives and each included details that the others may have missed. One incident in particular, the healing of the blind man Bartimeus stands out as a situation in which these three men viewed the outcome as being distinctly different. Matthew focused on the physical restoration of Bartimeus’ sight (Matthew 20:34), whereas Luke said Bartimeus was saved (Luke 18:42) and Mark recorded that Jesus had made the blind man whole (Mark 10:52). The reason these accounts differ could be because Jesus’ miracle was perceived to be motivated by different objectives.

Matthew’s view of Bartimeus’ healing seemed to be focused on his being restored to a normal life. Matthew said of Bartimeus and his companion, “Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him” (Matthew 20:34). The Greek word translated compassion, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid´-zom-ahee) means to feel sympathy or to pity someone that is suffering (G4697). Matthew may have viewed Bartimeus’ condition as a disadvantage that Jesus’ wanted to eliminate. It seems likely that Matthew thought Bartimeus would prefer to be like everyone else and his request to have his eyes opened (Matthew 20:33) was directly related to his physical eyesight being restored.

Mark’s account of Bartimeus’ healing showed that the blind man was interested in more than just having his eyesight restored. As Jesus passed by, Bartimeus called out to him repeatedly trying to get Jesus’ attention (Mark 10:48). Mark recorded, “And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus” (Mark 10:49-50). Bartimeus’ response showed he was eager to meet Jesus. Even though he couldn’t see where Jesus was standing, Bartimeus may have walked (or perhaps even ran) directly toward him. Although, Luke’s gospel states Jesus commanded that Bartimeus to be brought to him (Luke 18:40). After he requested to have his sight restored, Jesus told Bartimeus, “Go thy way; they faith hath made thee whole” (Mark 10:52).

.The Greek word that is translated faith in Mark 10:52 and Luke 18:42 is pistis. Pistis is “related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ” (G4102). The Greek word pistis is derived from the word peitho (pi´-tho), which in the active voice, signifies “to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over, to persuade,” bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations (G3982). Apparently, God granted Bartimeus eternal salvation immediately because he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ (G4982). Luke’s account of the incident verifies this. He recorded, “Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee” (Luke 18:42). Afterward, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agreed that Bartimeus followed Jesus to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:34, Mark 10:52, Luke 18:43), and as a result of having his eyesight restored, probably saw Jesus die on the cross.

Lazarus

Lazarus was the only man outside of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples that was referred to as his friend. Because of their personal relationship, it says in John 11:3, “Therefore his sisters sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” The Greek word translated lovest, phileo (fil-eh´-o) means to “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)” (G5368). Jesus’ attachment to Lazarus may have been a result of them spending a lot of time together, but it could also be that Jesus’ feelings stemmed from his compassion toward this man’s unfortunate circumstances. Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem where the cost of living was likely very high. There is no indication that Lazarus was married or had any other family members besides his two sisters Martha and Mary, who also appeared to be unmarried. It is possible Lazarus was about the same age as Jesus and had never been married because he was too poor to support a family.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The Greek terms translated glory and glorified have to do with the reputation Jesus gained through his self-manifestation (G1391/1392). In other words, how people interpreted his actions. It says in John 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus’ reaction to the situation showed that he was in complete control of his behavior in spite of his feelings about what was going on. Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead (John 11:14), therefore, he refrained from going to Jerusalem because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there right away. The problem was that Jesus’ presence in the city would have ignited the wrath of the Jews that had already tried to stone him (John 10:31). He may have avoided this by waiting to go to Bethany until after Lazarus’ burial.

The key to understanding Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany in spite of the danger that awaited him was his determination to do the will of his Father. We know it was God’s will for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead because he stated “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4), but in order for him to do God’s will, Jesus had to put his own life at risk. Jesus’ motivation for doing what was expected of him was likely the love he felt for not only Lazarus, but also for his sisters Martha and Mary. When John stated that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5), he wasn’t talking about the same kind of love that Martha and Mary identified when they asked Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:2). John used the Greek word agapao (ag-ap-ah´-o)which is an expression of God’s love. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others seek the Giver” (G25).

Jesus’ disciples expected him to be killed when he returned to the area in and around Jerusalem (John 11:16). Their trip toward Jerusalem had already been filled with numerous warnings of Jesus’ imminent death (Matthew 20:18, Mark 10:33). When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he added, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11:15). Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was likely meant to be a preview of his own resurrection in order to demonstrate his power over the grave. Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone else to know that he had the ability to bring someone back to life that had been dead for several days.

Alive again

Jesus’ ability to raise someone from the dead was demonstrated three different times during his ministry. The first occasion is recorded in Luke 7:11-17. This miracle was performed by Jesus in the presence of many witnesses. Luke tells us, “And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her” (Luke 7:11-12). The circumstances of the situation were such that Jesus decided to act without any request or intervention from anyone that was involved. Jesus saw the dead man being carried out of the city and discerned within himself that his help was needed. Luke said, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not” (Luke 7:13).

The focus of Jesus’ attention was the mother of the dead man, who also happened to be a widow. Because her only son was dead, and she no longer had a husband to take care of her, the woman would have quickly become destitute after her son’s death, and likely would have herself died within a short period of time. Jesus’ command to the woman, “weep not” indicated that the woman was deeply distressed. The Greek word translated weep, klaio (klah´-yo) means to sob that is wail aloud (2799). It is evident from Luke’s account that the dead man himself had nothing to do with Jesus’ decision to raise him from the dead. In fact, it can be assumed from his command, that Jesus was invoking his will upon the dead man. Luke states, “And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:14).

The Greek word Jesus used egeiro (eg -i´-ro), which is translated “arise” (Luke 7:14), is the same word he used in John 5:21 where it says, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” It is possible that Jesus intended his action of bringing the dead man back to life to be an object lesson for his disciples of what he meant by rising from the dead or being alive again after death. Even though this was the first time Jesus had performed this type of miracle, it was not the first time such a thing had ever happened. In the Old Testament, prophets had the ability to raise people from the dead (2 Kings 4:34). What Jesus was demonstrating was his authority to raise from the dead anyone he chose to. It is likely that the woman’s dead son was not a believer. After Jesus spoke the command, “Arise” (Luke 7:14), Luke tells us, “And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother” (Luke 7:15).

The connection

After 400 years of waiting for their Messiah to arrive, the Jews may have wondered if God had forgotten about his chosen people. The last prophecy the Jews had received through the prophet Malachi was to look for the coming day of the LORD. In order for the Jews to make the connection when it happened, God told them, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6). A contingent fulfillment of this prophecy took place when the birth of John the Baptist was announced. His father, Zacharias received a visit from the angel Gabriel who said of his son, “he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb…And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Luke 1:15,17).

John the Baptist was not Elijah returning in the flesh, but he functioned like the Old Testament preacher of repentance (note on Luke 1:17). The connection made between these two men was meant to signal to the Jews that their Messiah was coming. In fact, it was only six months later that the birth of Jesus was announced. This time, the angel Gabriel made a connection between Jesus and the covenant God made with King David (2 Samuel 7:13,16). Gabriel said, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 32-33).

The back to back birth announcements of John the Baptist and Jesus were probably received with some measure of skepticism because it had been such a long time since there had been any communication from God to his chosen people. The connection Gabriel made to Old Testament prophecy was necessary to link Jesus with the Jews’ long awaited Messiah. Even though it was clearly evident that the time had finally come for God to fulfill his promise, things didn’t change immediately. John the Baptist and Jesus grew up under what you might say were normal conditions for children of that time period. There is no indication that people took any notice of Jesus during his childhood. It wasn’t until some thirty years later that Jesus’ ministry actually began. What is important to note about what was happening at that time was that the miraculous births of these two critical figures seemingly went unnoticed or were disregarded altogether by the Jews.

A miracle

The completion of the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15) was viewed by those outside the city as a miracle of God. It says in Nehemiah 6:16, “And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.” There is no evidence that God was actually involved in the rebuilding of the wall. The only mention of him was when Nehemiah said that God had put it in his heart to do the work (Nehemiah 2:12). What was more likely the cause of the Jews success was Nehemiah’s leadership and the collaboration of the people.

Nehemiah persevered in spite of all sorts of trouble and a concerted effort by three men; Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, to stop him. Perhaps, the greatest tribute to Nehemiah’s accomplishment was his determined conviction that it was God’s will for the wall to be rebuilt. The first Jews returned from captivity in 538 B.C. and Nehemiah recorded that the wall was completed on October 2, 444 B.C. (Nehemiah 6:15), so close to a hundred years had passed and little was accomplished in the way of securing the city of Jerusalem until Nehemiah came on the scene. What probably differentiated Nehemiah the most from the other men that had attempted the difficult task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall was his belief that it was possible if everyone did their part, including himself.

The fiery furnace

Nebuchadnezzar’ experience of having his dream interpreted by Daniel did little to change his opinion of himself or God. Even though Nebuchadnezzar identified Daniel’s God as a God of gods, and a Lord of kings (Daniel 2:47), Nebuchadnezzar did not believe in God, nor worship him. As a result of having his dream interpreted, Nebuchadnezzar actually became more conceited and arrogant in his behavior. It says in Daniel 3:1, “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits.” The identity of the 90 feet high image is not given, but it may very well have been a statue of Nebuchadnezzar himself. In his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel told the king, “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee a ruler over them all” (Daniel 2:37-38). And with regard to the image he saw in his dream, Nebuchadnezzar was told, “Thou art this head of gold” (Daniel 2:38).

After his golden image was erected, Nebuchadnezzar demanded that everyone in his kingdom bow down and worship it (Daniel 3:7), “And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:11). The fiery furnace may have been symbolic of hell or was a sadistic means of satisfaction to the king who had been given power over everyone on earth. When Nebuchadnezzar was told there were three men in his kingdom that did not bow down and worship the image, he went into a rage. It says in Daniel 3:19-20, “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heat. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace.”

In stark contrast to Nebuchadnezzar’s blatant disregard for God’s dominion over the earth, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were completely devoted to the one true God. When they were told they were about to be burned in the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego replied, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s miraculous deliverance from the fiery furnace was not only a tribute to their faith, but also a sign that God was with his people even during their captivity in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar himself testified to the appearance of a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. It says in Daniel 3:24-25:

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

A missed opportunity

The ambassadors of the princes of Babylon came to see Hezekiah king of Judah for a specific reason. They wanted “to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31). A wonder is a divine act or a special display of divine power” (4159). In Hezekiah’s case, it was the healing of a sickness that would eventually cause his death. In other words, Hezekiah had a terminal illness and God cured him of it. The men that came to visit heard of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery and brought an offering as an act of worship.

The visit from the ambassadors of Babylon, was an opportunity for Hezekiah to share his faith with them. Their awareness of Hezekiah’s healing and their act of worship demonstrated their belief that Hezekiah’s God was real and could do things that no other god was capable of. In this situation, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32:31 “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” God had shown Hezekiah mercy by responding when he prayed, “I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” (2 Kings 20:3). Hezekiah’s claim of having a perfect heart meant that he had been totally obedient to God’s word (8003).

God’s testing of Hezekiah’s heart was intended to show whether he believed God’s mercy was responsible for all the prosperity of his kingdom or whether Hezekiah believed he had earned everything God had given him through his good behavior. When 2 Chronicles 32:31 said, God left Hezekiah, it was saying that God let him handle the situation on his own (5800). God didn’t tell Hezekiah what to do. When the men from Babylon came to visit, “Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed them all the house of his precious things” (2 Kings 20:13). The Hebrew word translated hearkened, shama means that he gave the men his undivided attention (8085). Hezekiah was listening to what the men had to say, following their directions, rather than the other way around.

A clue to Hezekiah’s motivation is found in 2 Chronicles 32:25. It says, “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up.” Seeing all of Hezekiah’s riches was not the purpose of the visit from the men from Babylon. They came because they had heard about the miracle God had done for him. Instead of taking them on a tour of his grand palace, Hezekiah should have been inviting the men to convert to Judaism.

Hezekiah didn’t understand that these men were not on his side. They were idolaters that needed to know how they could be saved. Hezekiah made it seem as if everything he had could be shared with the men from Babylon, but that wasn’t true. Only God’s people were under his protection and could share in the wealth of his kingdom. Because Hezekiah didn’t honor God and testify to his mercy toward his people, the men went away thinking God’s riches consisted only of silver and gold and it was theirs for the taking.

The power of prayer

You may wonder, Can one person make a difference in the world? Is it possible to change the course of history? Hezekiah, king of Judah reigned from 715 B.C. to 686 B.C. during a critical time period when the Assyrian empire was spreading rapidly throughout the middle east. In 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Sargon II, king of Assyria and its people were taken into captivity. In 701 B.C., Sennacherib, king of Assyria attacked Jerusalem, the capital of the nation of Judah. Shortly before this, Sennacherib led a campaign against the strongholds of Judah and took them (2 Kings 18:14).

It says in 2 Kings 20:1 that “in those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die and not live.” Isaiah’s use of the words “thus saith the LORD” indicated that God had sovereignly ordained Hezekiah’s death. In response to the news, Hezekiah cried out to the LORD. It says in 2 Kings 20:2-3, “Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”

In the early years of his reign, Hezekiah had instituted many reforms in Jerusalem in order to counteract the evil behavior of his father, king Ahaz (2 Kings 18:4). Much to his credit, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:5, “He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.” Hezekiah’s relationship with the LORD gave him the confidence he needed to ask God to change his mind. It says in 2 Kings 20:4-6:

And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the  God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears:  behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.

Based on the LORD’s message to Hezekiah, “I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 20:6), it appears that the  LORD intended to give Sennacherib victory over Jerusalem after Hezekiah’s death. It could be that the LORD planned Hezekiah’s death in order to spare him from going into captivity in Assyria. Whatever his intent, the LORD saw Hezekiah’s sincerity and decided to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian army instead.

An interesting aspect of Hezekiah’s situation was that he asked for a sign that the LORD would actually do what he said he would. “‘Signs’ are attestations of the validity of a prophetic message” (226). In essence, Hezekiah’s request for a sign meant that he doubted what Isaiah said was true. Perhaps, because he knew he could not defeat the Assyrian army. Isaiah gave Hezekiah two options. “And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?” (2 Kings 20:9).

The only miracle recorded in the Bible comparable to what Isaiah suggested the LORD would do for a sign to Hezekiah was when the sun stood still while Joshua and his army fought the Amorites. In that instance, it says, “the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13). Since we know now that the sun does not revolve around the earth, but the earth around the sun, what actually happened was the earth stopped spinning for about 24 hours.

In Hezekiah’s case, what Isaiah was suggesting was that the LORD could make the earth rotate in the opposite direction, equivalent to 10 degrees of movement, so that the shadow would go backward instead of forward as it usually did. Based on what we know today, this was scientifically impossible. The amount of time that would have been gained or lost would have been about 20-40 minutes, a somewhat insignificant amount of time compared to the whole day that Joshua gained. Therefore, the evidence of the shadow made it possible to verify that is actually happened.

Hezekiah’s response indicated that he wanted God to do the impossible. “And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz” (2 Kings 20:10-11).

Time of death

Around the time when Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked Judah, king Hezekiah contracted a life-threatening disease. Hezekiah’s sickness may have been the result of spiritual circumstances connected with his removal of the high places and images used in idolatry (2 Kings 18:4). Isaiah the prophet came to Hezekiah, “and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live” (Isaiah 32:1).

Hezekiah’s response to Isaiah’s declaration indicated that Hezekiah was a man of faith. He believed that prayer could change the outcome of his situation. It says in Isaiah 38:2-3, “Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, and said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”

Hezekiah poured out his heart to the LORD in a very real and personal way. He didn’t ask the LORD for anything, Hezekiah merely wanted the LORD to know how he felt about the news he had just received. At the time Hezekiah was told he was going to die, he was about 37 or 38 years old, the prime of life for a man living in that time period.

Hezekiah’s prayer received a response, but the LORD didn’t speak to him directly. “Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years” (Isaiah 38;4-5). The specification of Hezekiah’s time of death meant that he was receiving a divinely appointed extension to his life span, an unusual blessing from the LORD.

It is likely that by changing the time of Hezekiah’s death, God allowed Hezekiah’s life to change the course of history. A connection was made between the extension of Hezekiah’s life and the deliverance of Jerusalem out of the hand of the king of Assyria (Isaiah 38:5-6). After Hezekiah recovered, he received a visit from the king of Babylon (Isaiah 39:1) to whom he revealed all his kingdom’s treasures (Isaiah 39:4). As a result of this mistake, It says in Isaiah 39:5-6:

Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days will come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.

The future

During Elisha’s ministry, the focus of God’s plan for the Israelites shifted from their past and present to their future. God used Elisha to manage the transition. Elisha’s reputation became a vehicle for him to minister to leaders inside and outside of Israel. Because people began to believe in God again, Elisha was able to direct everyone’s attention toward the change that was about to take place.

Israel’s relationship with Syria had become more and more of a problem as they fell into idolatry. King Ahab’s covenant with Ben-hadad had done little to ward off attacks. Ben-hadad II was not as ruthless as his father, but was still determined to keep the Israelites from breaking free from his control. In order to starve them to death, “Ben-hadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria” (2 Kings 6:24).

The word translated besieged, tswur (tsoor) means to cramp or confine (6696). Basically, what Ben-hadad did was surround Samaria with his army so the people couldn’t go out and get food. Eventually, the situation got so bad, “an ass’s head sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver” (2 Kings 6:25).

“Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria” (2 Kings 7:1). Elisha’s prediction indicated that the situation would be turned around overnight. For the most part, people were used to seeing Elisha perform miracles, but the dramatic change he described was beyond people’s comprehension.

“Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? (2 Kings 7:2). What he was referring to was God’s blessing flowing freely to his people. The people  of Israel were so steeped in sin that it was unimaginable that God would suddenly make everything right.

What the people of Israel still didn’t seem to understand was that God’s blessing wasn’t dependent on them being good. God didn’t bless the Israelites because they were good people. God blessed the Israelites because they were his people. “And it came to pass as the man of God had spoken” (2 Kings 7:18).

The Israelites unbelief was the real reason God kept punishing them. In spite of continual demonstrations of his miraculous power, the people of Israel would not give up their idolatry and worship God. Finally, God brought judgment on the people of Israel through Ben-hadad’s successor, Hazael. After seeing a vision of what Hazael would do to Israel, Elisha wept.

And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip  up their women with child. (2 Kings 8:12)