Several things may be observed here,
I. Concerning the sons of the prophets, and their condition and character. The college here spoken of seems to be that at Gilgal, for there Elisha was (2 Kgs. 4:38), and it was near Jordan; and, probably, wherever Elisha resided as many as could of the sons of the prophets flocked to him for the advantage of his instructions, counsels, and prayers. Every one would covet to dwell with him and be near him. Those that would be teachers should lay out themselves to get the best advantages for learning. Now observe,
1. Their number increased so that they wanted room: The place is too strait for us (2 Kgs. 6:1)-- a good hearing, for it is a sign many are added to them. Elisha’s miracles doubtless drew in many. Perhaps they increased the more now that Gehazi was cashiered, and, it is likely, an honester man put in his room, to take care of their provisions; for it should seem (by that instance, 2 Kgs. 4:43) that Naaman’s case was not the only one in which he grudged his master’s generosity.
2. They were humble men and did not affect that which was gay or great. When they wanted room they did not speak of sending for cedars, and marble stones, and curious artificers, but only of getting every man a beam, to run up a plain hut or cottage with. It becomes the sons of the prophets, who profess to look for great things in the other world, to be content with mean things in this.
3. They were poor men, and men that had no interest in great ones It was a sign that Joram was king, and Jezebel ruled too, or the sons of the prophets, when they wanted room, would have needed only to apply to the government, not to consult among themselves about the enlargement of their buildings. God’s prophets have seldom been the world’s favourites. Nay, so poor were they that they had not wherewithal to hire workmen (but must leave their studies, and work for themselves), no, nor to buy tools, but must borrow of their neighbours. Poverty then is no bar to prophecy.
4. They were industrious men, and willing to take pains. They desired not to live, like idle drones (idle monks, I might have said), upon the labours of others, but only desired leave of their president to work for themselves. As the sons of the prophets must not be so taken up with contemplation as to render themselves unfit for action, so much less must they so indulge themselves in their ease as to be averse to labour. He that must eat or die must work or starve, 2 Thess. 3:8, 10. Let no man think an honest employment either a burden or disparagement.
5. They were men that had a great value and veneration for Elisha; though they were themselves prophets, they paid much deference to him. (1.) They would not go about to build at all without his leave, 2 Kgs. 6:2. It is good for us all to be suspicious of our own judgment, even when we think we have most reason for it, and to be desirous of the advice of those who are wiser and more experienced; and it is especially commendable in the sons of the prophets to take their fathers along with them, and to act in all things of moment under their direction, permissu superiorum—by permission of their superiors. (2.) They would not willingly go to fell timber without his company: “Go with thy servants (2 Kgs. 6:3), not only to advise us in any exigence, but to keep good order among us, that, being under they eye, we may behave as becomes us.” Good disciples desire to be always under good discipline.
6. They were honest men, and men that were in care to give all men their own. When one of them, accidentally fetching too fierce a stroke (as those that work seldom are apt to be violent), threw off his axe-head into the water, he did not say, “It was a mischance, and who can help it? It was the fault of the helve, and the owner deserved to stand to the loss.” No, he cries out with deep concern, Alas, master! For it was borrowed, 2 Kgs. 6:5. Had the axe been his own, it would only have troubled him that he could not be further serviceable to his brethren; but now, besides that, it troubles him that he cannot be just to the owner, to whom he ought to be not only just but grateful. Note, We ought to be as careful of that which is borrowed as of that which is our own, that it receives no damage, because we must love our neighbour as ourselves and do as we would be done by. It is likely this prophet was poor, and had not wherewithal to pay for the axe, which made the loss of it so much the greater trouble. To those that have an honest mind the sorest grievance of poverty is not so much their own want or disgrace as their being by it rendered unable to pay their just debts.
II. Concerning the father of the prophets, Elisha. 1. That he was a man of great condescension and compassion; he went with the sons of the prophets to the woods, when they desired his company, 2 Kgs. 6:3. Let no man, especially no minister, think himself too great to stoop to do good, but be tender to all. 2. That he was a man of great power; he could make iron to swim, contrary to its nature (2 Kgs. 6:6), for the God of nature is not tied up to its laws. He did not throw the helve after the hatchet, but cut down a new stick, and cast it into the river. We need not double the miracle by supposing that the stick sunk to fetch up the iron, it was enough that it was a signal of the divine summons to the iron to rise. God’s grace can thus raise the stony iron heart which has sunk into the mud of this world, and raise up affections naturally earthly, to things above.