A Floating Axe, That’s Weird
January 7, 2018
If you did the Sunday School thing, or have been attending church most of your life then you probably know who I mean when I reference Elijah. If you didn’t do the Sunday School thing or you’re relatively new to the church thing then you might not know who Elijah was.
He was an Old Testament prophet who did some really cool things. And I’ve preached on a few of them. There was the time during a famine that he approached a widow looking for food and she responded that she only had enough to prepare one last meal for her and her son before they gave up and died. The prophet told her that if she shared her meal with him that her food wouldn’t run out until the famine was over. And she did and it didn’t. That’s cool.
Later the widow’s son dies and Elijah raises him from the dead. That’s cool.
One of my favourite stories was when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown. Maybe you remember that the challenge was that they would set up an altar with a sacrifice and then beseech their respective gods to send down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice.
Well, the prophets of Baal spent the day crying out to their god to send fire but to no avail. When it was Elijah’s turn he has the sacrifice and the altar soaked with water and then prays and fire from heaven consumes the sacrifice, the altar and the all the water. Go big or go home. That’s cool.
And there is no record of Elijah’s death. Have you ever heard the song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”? Probably, the first verse goes:
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
(Coming for to carry me home)
I saw a band of angels coming after me
(Coming for to carry me home)
That was inspired by this account of Elijah and his protégée Elisha, we read about it in,
2 Kings 2:9-11 When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.” “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.” As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven.
That’s cool. But this morning I’m not going to be speaking about Elijah, instead, we are going to be looking at a story about Elisha. You know, the other guy.
Have you ever been reading along in the bible and come to something and your first reaction is: That’s weird!?
Maybe you are more spiritual then I am, and that never happens to you, you don’t think anything in the bible is weird. And that’s weird. But if you were completely honest it probably has happened to you.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve mentioned to different people that I was thinking about preaching on this topic and often times they’d say “You mean stories like. . . ?” And they tell me about a particular Bible story that struck them as odd. And often time the story they mentioned was one of the stories that was already in the pipeline because it was weird.
I started this morning talking about Elijah but the story is actually about something that happened to Elisha who was Elijah’s student and successor. But Elisha tends to get overshadowed by his mentor, so I was just trying to get Elijah out of the way.
And while Elijah gets most of the press, Elisha was no slouch either.
After Elijah was taken up in the chariot Elisha parts the Jordan river and walks across on dry land to return to Jericho. That’s cool.
The leaders of the town of Jericho had heard that Elisha was a prophet and they came to him to tell him that the spring that the town used for its primary water supply was bad and unfit for drinking, Elisha went out to the spring and threw some salt in it invoked the power of God and the spring was made clean. That’s cool. The spring is still there and almost 3000 years later the water is still good.
And then we get one of those weird stories, although not the one I’m speaking about today. At the end of 2 Kings chapter 2 it says that Elisha was returning to Bethel from Jericho and a large group of teen boys comes out and start mocking him, and shouting stuff like, “Hey baldy go home”.
Well, Eli must have been having a bad day because he curses the teens and two bears come out and maul them. That seems weird and a little excessive, but hey I’m not bald, so who am I to judge?
It was Elisha who healed Naaman of leprosy. And like his mentor, he provided miraculous oil to a widow and her two sons and raised a boy from the dead. During a famine, we are told that Elisha once fed hundreds of people with just 20 loaves of bread. And those are cool things.
But the story that was read to us earlier is where we are going to park for the rest of the morning. And it’s a simple story, you probably picked up most of it when it was read.
Elisha has gathered a group of prophets in training around him and the number grew until they found themselves in need of a larger building. And so, they embark upon a building campaign of sorts. They go down to the edge of the Jordan River where the trees were plentiful and begin cutting the lumber they will need for the project.
In the process of chopping down the wood, the head flies off one of the axes and is lost in the river. Opps.
A fairly simple story and not all that strange, we’ve all lost or broken things before. But it’s after the axe head falls into the river that things start to get weird.
2 Kings 6:5 But as one of them was cutting a tree, his ax head fell into the river. . .
So let’s start with The Axe My first thought when I was preparing this message was God cares even about the little things in our lives, like a lost axe. If you lose an axe head you go to Canadian tire or Princess auto and replace it for 30 bucks.
But three thousand years ago, during the Iron Age, a metal tool was a thing of great value. It would have been handcrafted from a valuable resource. So this wasn’t just a nuisance, this was a disaster. And it wasn’t a matter of carelessness, this was obviously something that was a semi-regular occurrence with these axes. Must have been a design flaw.
There is actually a mention in the Jewish law that deals with this very thing.
In the book of Deuteronomy, there is a section that gives instructions about Cities of refuge and we read in Deuteronomy 19:4-5 “If someone kills another person unintentionally, without previous hostility, the slayer may flee to any of these cities to live in safety. For example, suppose someone goes into the forest with a neighbour to cut wood. And suppose one of them swings an axe to chop down a tree, and the axe head flies off the handle, killing the other person. In such cases, the slayer may flee to one of the cities of refuge to live in safety.
So, I asked Mr Google to show me pictures of 3000-year-old axes, and while there wasn’t a lot of pictures, a lot of them had the axe head simply lashed to the handle, so you can probably understand how the lashing might come loose and allowed the axe head to be lost.
And maybe the axe head was lost not because the student was careless but because he was careful. That he was standing and working in such a way that if the head came off his axe it would land in the river and wouldn’t hurt one of his friends. Maybe he simply misjudged how far it would fly.
We all lose things, I’ve lost keys and money, I’ve lost my car in parking lots and once I lost a kid.
Most of us can identify with the bumper sticker that says “Out of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.” Ozzy Osbourne is often credited with first saying that, but I’ve also seen it attributed to Mark Twain.
And not everything we lose is tangible. We lose years that we don’t spend well. We lose relationships when we don’t take care of them, we lose peace when we don’t trust. And it’s hard to put a price tag on those types of losses.
And we know that the axe didn’t belong to the person who lost it. If we keep reading we discover in 2 Kings 6:5 But as one of them was cutting a tree, his axe head fell into the river. “Oh, sir!” he cried. “It was a borrowed axe!”
Not only was there a sense of loss but the realization that he was extra responsible for the thing he lost. Have you ever had that sinking feeling when you realize that you’ve lost or broken something that you’d borrowed? Knowing that you will not only have to replace it, but that you are replacing it for someone else.
The reason that you borrowed it was because you didn’t have it and didn’t want to buy it. And now you have to buy it and you still don’t have it.
Maybe if we realized that all we have comes from God and we are only borrowing it we would be more careful with our years, our relationships and our stuff.
Which brings us from the axe to The Ask It is interesting that the man who lost the axe head doesn’t actually ask the prophet to do anything, he simply tells him what had happened, and explains that the axe wasn’t his to lose.
Now, I don’t know if he was just expressing his frustration or if he knew Elisha well enough to know if there was something that could be done that Elisha would do it.
But he knew that there wasn’t anything he could do, or presumably he would have done it.
If the axe head was lying in clear shallow water and could be seen then I would assume that the guy would have waded in and gotten it.
And I don’t think he was just whining, he had a problem and in his mind, Elisha was a man of God and if anyone could fix the problem Elisha could. So, he didn’t go begging Elisha to do something, he simply told Elisha what the problem was. And he didn’t try to tell Elisha how to fix it or what to do, he simply trusted that Elisha would do what was best.
In his first letter to the early church, Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. If we believe that, if we believe that God cares about us then we need to believe that when we give him our worries and cares that he will take care of them in a way that is ultimately best for us.
And that’s tough, how often do we try to tell God how he should fix the problem? In particular how often do we tell him how to correct the problem that we created?
Maybe we need to trust that God can fix or find what we broke or lost.
So let’s go back to the story, 2 Kings 6:6 “Where did it fall?” the man of God asked. When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the axe head floated to the surface.
The Answer This is the weird part. The fact that Elisha had to ask where the axe had been lost was probably indicative of the visibility of the water. But it was also asking the man who lost the axe to be a partner in the solution and to own the problem.
And then Elisha cuts a stick and throws in the water where the man indicated the axe was lost. Huh? One commentator suggested this was to transfer the ability of the wood to float into the axe head. Seriously?
That seems a little bizarre. You can almost imagine the conversation. “What floats?” “Wood”, what else? “Bread, apples, good gravy, ducks” “So if we could make the axe head weigh the same as a duck it would float”. And then because they didn’t have a duck they threw in a piece of wood?
Sometimes it seems we overthink stuff. I wonder if Elisha asked “Where did you lose the axe?” And the student pointed and said “over there”. And so Elisha threw the stick in and said “About there?”
And when he knew the where, then Elisha made the iron axe head float back to the surface. That’s weird, I mean it’s not something that happens every day.
Although I Kind of prefer the King James version where we read; 2 Kings 6:6 And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim. As cool as a floating axe head is, a swimming axe head is even cooler.
But the prophet doesn’t do all the work. Sometimes when we pray it seems like we want the miraculous from start to finish.
I would suspect that if you are praying for a job that God would expect that you’ll put forth your very best efforts in your resume and interview. That if you have a toothache you might go to the dentist as well as praying.
I knew a lady once who stopped wearing her glasses because she was convinced that God would fix her vision, and I was kind of thinking that he already had with the glasses. And then she had to pray about the headaches she got from not wearing her glasses.
I would also suspect that if Elisha had seen that the axe head was visible and in shallow water, he would have told the guy to wade in and get it.
God gave us a great deal of ability and common sense and he expects us to use those things in partnership with what he does.
Elisha made the axe head float, he could have made it levitate and land at the student’s feet. Instead, we read in 2 Kings 6:7 “Grab it,” Elisha said. And the man reached out and grabbed it.
God, through Elisha, did what the student couldn’t do, he made the axe head float and brought it to the surface. But he certainly expected the student to do what he could do, to reach out and grab it.
And that’s it. We assume that he put the axe head back on the axe handle and went back to work, but that’s not the point of the story.
And maybe in your heart, you are thinking, “So the axe head floated, so what?” I could have called the last point “So what?” but that would have ruined the alteration, so let’s go with.
The Application: What do we learn from this strange little story? Well, I think we all realize that there are things in our lives that have been lost. Not just keys and change, but lost innocence and lost opportunities. Things that we look back upon and wish we could do it over. You know those words that too often get used: “If only”. Or “I wish I had of” or maybe more disheartening “I wish I hadn’t”
Author Leslie Marmon Silko writes, “What is it about us human beings that we can’t let go of lost things?” The things we can’t let go of are the things we’ve lost that we consider important, whether they are important or not remains to be seen but we consider them important.
There are some things that we need to let go of. Like our past sins. If you are a Christian than your sins have been forgiven. They are gone, you might even say they are lost.
The prophet Micah addressed these words to God in Micah 7:18-19 Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
If God has thrown your sins into the depths of the deepest ocean he doesn’t want you to go fishing for them.
But if you’ve lost your sense of Joy or your assurance of forgiveness. If you have lost your passion for God or your love for others. If you’ve lost you the trust in God, then he wants you to find those things.
And maybe He might have already made your axe head float and now he’s just waiting for you to reach out and pick it up.
Maybe today God is saying “There is your peace, just grab it.” There is your joy, just grab it, there is your forgiveness, just grab it.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” He should have added, then trust God to do the rest.
Let me close with a promise, Paul wrote to the early church in Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
And that same promise is for us today. Let’s personalize it, claim it and read it together: Philippians 4:6-7 I will be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, I will let my requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard my heart and mind through Christ Jesus.