We have here Jehoash, or Joash, the son of Jehoahaz and grandson of Jehu, upon the throne of Israel. Probably the house of Jehu intended some respect to the house of David when they gave this heir-apparent to the crown the same name with him that was then king of Judah.
I. The general account here given of him and his reign is much the same with what we have already met with, and has little in it remarkable, 2 Kgs. 13:10-13. He was none of the worst, and yet, because he kept up that ancient and politic idolatry of the house of Jeroboam, it is said, He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. That one evil was enough to leave an indelible mark of infamy upon his name; for, how little evil soever men saw in it, it was, in the sight of the Lord, a very wicked thing; and we are sure that his judgment is according to truth. It is observable how lightly the inspired penman passes over his acts, and his might wherewith he warred, leaving it to the common historians to record them, while he takes notice only of the respect he showed to Elisha. One good action shall make a better figure in God’s book than twenty great ones; and, in his account, it gains a man a much better reputation to honour a prophet than to conquer a king and his army.
II. The particular account of what passed between him and Elisha has several things in it remarkable.
1. Elisha fell sick, 2 Kgs. 13:14. Observe, (1.) He lived long; for it was now about sixty years since he was first called to be a prophet. It was a great mercy to Israel, and especially to the sons of the prophets, that he was continued so long a burning and shining light. Elijah finished his testimony in a fourth part of that time. God’s prophets have their day set them, some longer, others shorter, as Infinite Wisdom sees fit. (2.) All the latter part of his time, from the anointing of Jehu, which was forty-five years before Joash began his reign, we find no mention made of him, or of any thing he did, till we find him here upon his death-bed. He might be useful to the last, and yet not so famous as he had sometimes been. The time of his flourishing was less than the time of his living. Let not old people complain of obscurity, but rather be well pleased with retirement. (3.) The spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha, and yet he was not sent for to heaven in a fiery chariot, as Elijah was, but went the common road out of the world, and was visited with the visitation of all men. If God honour some above others, who yet are not inferior to them in gifts or graces, who shall find fault? May he not do what he will with his own?
2. King Joash visited him in his sickness, and wept over him, 2 Kgs. 13:14. This was an evidence of some good in him, that he had a value and affection for a faithful prophet; so far was he from hating and persecuting him as a troubler of Israel that he loved and honoured him as one of the greatest blessings of his kingdom, and lamented the loss of him. There have been those who would not be obedient to the word of God, and yet have the faithful ministers of it so manifested in their consciences that they could not but have an honour for them. Observe here, (1.) When the king heard of Elisha’s sickness he came to visit him, and to receive his dying counsel and blessing; and it was no disparagement to him, though a king, thus to honour one whom God honoured. Note, It may turn much to our spiritual advantage to attend the sick-beds and death-beds of good ministers and other good men, that we may learn to die, and may be encouraged in religion by the living comforts they have from it in a dying hour. (2.) Though Elisha was very old, had been a great while useful, and, in the course of nature, could not continue long, yet the king, when he saw him sick and likely to die, wept over him. The aged are most experienced and therefore can worst be spared. In many causes, one old witness is worth ten young ones. (3.) He lamented him in the same words with which Elisha had himself lamented the removal of Elijah: My father, my father. It is probable he had heard or read them in that famous story. Note, Those that give just honours to the generation that goes before them are often recompensed with the like from the generation that comes after them. He that watereth, that watereth with tears, shall be watered, shall be so watered, also himself, when it comes to his own turn, Prov. 11:25. (4.) This king was herein selfish; he lamented the loss of Elisha because he was as the chariot and horsemen of Israel, and therefore could be ill spared when Israel was so poor in chariots and horsemen, as we find they were (2 Kgs. 13:7), when they had in all but fifty horsemen and ten chariots. Those who consider how much good men contribute to the defence of a nation, and the keeping off of God’s judgments, will see cause to lament the removal of them.
3. Elisha gave the king great assurances of his success against the Syrians, Israel’s present oppressors, and encouraged him to prosecute the war against them with vigour. Elisha was aware that therefore he was loth to part with him because he looked upon him as the great bulwark of the kingdom against that common enemy, and depended much upon his blessings and prayers in his designs against them. “Well,” says Elisha, “if that be the cause of your grief, let not that trouble thee, for thou shalt be victorious over the Syrians when I am in my grave. I die, but God will surely visit you. He has the residue of the Spirit, and can raise up other prophets to pray for you.” God’s grace is not tied to one hand. He can bury his workmen and yet carry on his work. To animate the king against the Syrians he gives him a sign, orders him to take bow and arrows (2 Kgs. 13:15), to intimate to him that, in order to the deliverance of his kingdom from the Syrians, he must put himself into a military posture and resolve to undergo the perils and fatigues of war. God would be the agent, but he must be the instrument. And that he should be successful he gives him a token, by directing him,
(1.) To shoot an arrow towards Syria, 2 Kgs. 13:16, 17. The king, no doubt, knew how to manage a bow better than the prophet did, and yet, because the arrow now to be shot was to have its significancy from the divine institution, as if he were now to be disciplined, he received the words of command from the prophet: Put thy hand upon the bow—Open the window—Shoot. Nay, as if he had been a child that never drew a bow before, Elisha put his hands upon the king’s hands, to signify that in all his expeditions against the Syrians he must look up to God for direction and strength, must reckon his own hands not sufficient for him, but go on in a dependence upon divine aid. He teacheth my hands to war, Ps. 18:34; 144:1. The trembling hands of a dying prophet, as they signified the concurrence and communication of the power of God, gave this arrow more force than the hands of the king in his full strength. The Syrians had made themselves masters of the country that lay eastward, 2 Kgs. 10:33. Thitherward therefore the arrow was directed, and such an interpretation given by the prophet of the shooting of this arrow, though shot in one respect at random, as made it, [1.] A commission to the king to attack the Syrians, notwithstanding their power and possession. [2.] A promise of success therein. It is the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance, even the arrow of deliverance from Syria. It is God that commands deliverance; and, when he will effect it, who can hinder? The arrow of deliverance is his. He shoots out his arrows, and the work is done, Ps. 18:14. “Thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, where they are now encamped, or where they are to have a general rendezvous of their forces, till thou have consumed those of them that are vexatious and oppressive to thee and thy kingdom.”
(2.) To strike with the arrows, 2 Kgs. 13:18, 19. The prophet having in God’s name assured him of victory over the Syrians, he will now try him and see what improvement he will make of his victories, whether he will push them on with more zeal than Ahab did when Benhadad lay at his mercy. For the trial of this he bids him smite with the arrows on the ground: “Believe them brought to the ground by the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance, and laid at thy feet; and now show me what thou wilt do to them when thou hast them down, whether thou wilt do as David did when God gave him the necks of his enemies, beat them small as the dust before the wind,” Ps. 18:40, 42. The king showed not that eagerness and flame which one might have expected upon this occasion, but smote thrice, and no more. Either out of foolish tenderness to the Syrians, he smote as if he were afraid of hurting them, at least of ruining them, willing to show mercy to those that never did, nor ever would, show mercy to him or his people. Or, perhaps, he smote thrice, and very coldly, because he thought it but a silly thing, that it looked idle and childish for a king to beat the floor with his arrows; and thrice was often enough for him to play the fool merely to please the prophet. But, by contemning the sign, he lost the thing signified, sorely to the grief of the dying prophet, who was angry with him, and told him he should have smitten five or six times. Not being straitened in the power and promise of God, why should he be straitened in his own expectations and endeavours? Note, It cannot but be a trouble to good men to see those they wish well to stand in their own light and forsake their own mercies, to see them lose their advantages against their spiritual enemies, and to give them advantage.