GOD BOTH JUDGES AND WEEPS — THE SEVERE JUDGMENT OF GOD DISPLAYS ITSELF IN TENSION AGAINST HIS WEEPING FOR THE SINS NECESSITATING SUCH JUDGMENT
Our minds find it difficult to hold two contrasting attributes or actions in a state of tension. Usually we come down hard on one side or the other; we emphasize one attribute and avoid the other; we over-emphasize one action and minimize the other. This story shows Elisha as the man of God reflecting the heart of God in prophesying the way Hazael will be used as an instrument of YHWH’s judgment against Israel; while at the same time we see Elisha weeping at the same prospect. God is not some vengeful despot taking great joy in exacting pain and suffering as He pours out His wrath.
He is the compassionate Lord we see lamenting the blindness of His elect nation in Luke 19:41:42:
“When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If
you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But
now they have been hidden from your eyes . . . you did not recognize the time
of your visitation.”
He is the disappointed Lord who weeps over the lack of faith in Mary and Martha evidenced at the death of Lazarus who had just been laid to rest in a tomb:
“Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His
feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have
died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her
also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where
have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.”
Dale Ralph Davis: This moment marks a turning-point in the ministry of Elisha. As one eavesdrops here on his conversation with Hazael, one can’t help but remember what Yahweh had told Elijah at Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:15–17). Elijah was to anoint three instruments of judgment to scourge unfaithful Israel: Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha. He did claim Elisha for Yahweh’s service (1 Kings 19:19–21) but we hear nothing of Hazael and Jehu. Whatever we make of this, it appears the writer intends us to see Elisha now setting apart Hazael as Yahweh’s instrument to bring judgment on Israel (see v. 12). In chapters 2–7 Elisha had served primarily as a minister of the grace of God, but in chapters 8–10 he will appear as a minister of the judgment of God. Israel is sinning away her day of grace.
I. (:7-10) MAN OF GOD EXECUTES HIS MISSION – DELIVERING THE CRYPTIC MESSAGE
A. (:7-8) Background for the Mission = Setting up a Strategic Encounter
1. (:7a) Mission Into Enemy Territory
“Then Elisha came to Damascus.”
MacArthur: It was unusual for a prophet to visit foreign capitals, but not unknown (cf. Jon 3:3). Elisha went to Damascus, the capital of Syria, to carry out one of the 3 commands God had given to Elijah at Horeb (1Ki 19:15, 16).
Wiersbe: It took faith and courage for Elisha to travel to Damascus. . . The fact that Ben Hadad the Syrian king was very ill and wanted help from the Lord made Elisha’s arrival more significant. This was a pagan Gentile king seeking the help of a prophet of Jehovah, but perhaps the conversion of Naaman had something to do with it.
2. (:7b) Mission Raising Expectations
“Now Ben-hadad king of Aram was sick, and it was told him, saying, ‘The man of God has come here.’”
3. (:8) Mission Focusing on Strategic Encounter with Hazael
“And the king said to Hazael, ‘Take a gift in your hand and go to meet the man of God, and inquire of the LORD by him, saying, Will I recover from this sickness?’”
MacArthur: His name means “God sees” or “whom God beholds.” Hazael was a servant of Ben-hadad and not a member of the royal family. Assyrian records called Hazael the “son of a nobody” and his lineage was not recorded because he was a commoner.
Bob Deffinbaugh: I think this king had been very closely associated with Naaman in his healing from leprosy at the hand (or, more accurately, at the command) of Elisha, and in his turning to faith in the God of Israel (see 2 Kings 5:1-27). This king was probably the one who allowed Naaman to travel to Israel to seek healing at the hand of the prophet. This king of Syria may have provided the gifts that Naaman took with him to pay for his healing. He would then also be the one who wrote the letter to the king of Israel, asking him to see to it that his servant was healed. He would have been the king who leaned on Naaman’s arm as he worshipped his pagan deities (see 2 Kings 5:15-19). It is my personal opinion that Naaman openly shared his new-found faith with Ben Hadad, and when his life was at risk, he went to the only God he knew he could trust—the God of Israel. How amazing!
William Barnes: “audience gift” similar to that of Naaman
B. (:9) Basis for the Mission = Serious Sickness Raises Questions about the Future
1. Impressive Gift to Solicit a Favorable Prophecy
“So Hazael went to meet him and took a gift in his hand,
even every kind of good thing of Damascus, forty camels’ loads;”
MacArthur: The city of Damascus was a trade center between Egypt, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia. It had within it the finest merchandise of the ancient Near East. Ben-hadad evidently thought that an impressive gift would influence Elisha’s prediction.
2. Desperate Inquiry in Seeking a Favorable Outcome
“and he came and stood before him and said, ‘Your son Ben-hadad king of Aram has sent me to you, saying, Will I recover from this sickness?’”
C. (:10) Boldness of the Mission = Speaking the Truth of God
“Then Elisha said to him, ‘Go, say to him, You shall surely recover,’ but the LORD has shown me that he will certainly die.”
You will recover from the illness but die from another means.
II. (:11-13) MAN OF GOD MAINTAINS HIS FOCUS – DETECTING THE HIDDEN AGENDA
A. (:11) Reflecting the Righteous Heart of God – Passion for Lost Souls
1. Firm on Judgment – Convicting Hazael with His Stare-down
“And he fixed his gaze steadily on him until he was ashamed,”
Mordechai Cogan: He kept his face motionless for a long while. Heb. heʿĕmîd (“to set, make stand”), together with pānîm, can only mean “to make the face stop, keep motionless, expressionless.”
Commentators are divided as to the subject of this clause; though most favor Elisha, it is puzzling to have “the man of God” specified at the end of v. 11 as the one who burst into tears if he was the subject of the preceding verbs. Josephus’s exposition of the scene recommends itself: “And while the king’s servant (i.e., Hazael) was grieving at what he had heard, Elisha began to cry …” (Antiquities ix. 90). (Note that Vulg. et conturbatus est, “he was appalled” [Heb. wayyiššōm]—adopted by Klostermann, Benzinger, Kittel, Šanda, Montgomery-Gehman, Gray—may reflect this same tradition.) Hazael was overcome by the implications of the duplicity suggested by Elisha; his stupor was only broken by the prophet’s weeping.
MacArthur: With a fixed gaze, Elisha stared at Hazael because it had been revealed to him what Hazael would do, including the murder of Ben-hadad (v. 15). Hazael was embarrassed, knowing that Elisha knew of his plan to assassinate the Syrian king.
Donald Wiseman: This verse is also not clear, since the subject is not specified. Heb. ‘He set his face until he was ashamed’ (cf. neb ‘the man of God stood there like a man stunned until he could bear it no longer’), assuming that Hazael found the meeting with an ecstatic prophet uncomfortable, takes him to be the subject throughout, while niv (He [Elisha] stared at him … until Hazael felt ashamed) allows a change of subject. This may be the best solution.
2. Tender on Compassion – Feeling the Future Suffering of Israel
“and the man of God wept.”
Bob Deffinbaugh: Elisha must proclaim the bad news to Israel, as he has been doing all along. Now, he must announce that an even greater judgment is coming upon Israel, and for a longer period. But we must carefully note his spirit in all of this. He is not angry or bitter with Israel, or with God. He proclaims the future, but with tears in his eyes, and looking Hazael squarely in the eyes, he also reveals the wickedness of Hazael’s heart and plans. We cannot avoid the doctrine of God’s righteousness and of man’s sinfulness, and the judgment that must come on sinners. It is an essential part of the gospel, and a truth to which the Holy Spirit bears witness.
Dale Ralph Davis: we need to stay a moment and watch Elisha weeping. For in Elisha’s attitude in verses 11–12 we see Yahweh’s attitude (Ezek. 33:11) and Jesus’ attitude (Luke 19:41–44). Yahweh is just and righteous and so will and must judge an apostate people, but he is so slow to anger and full of mercy that there is an element of divine sadness in his judgment. Andrew Bonar captured this point in his own vivid way: ‘I think He will weep over the lost as He did over Jerusalem. It will be something to be said for ever in heaven, “Jesus wept as He said, Depart, ye cursed.” But then it was absolutely necessary to say it.’ Or, again, vintage Bonar: ‘I think that the shower of fire and brimstone was wet with the tears of God as it fell, for God has “no pleasure in the death of him that dieth”.’
Hazael is enthusiastic over the fine future before him, a future in which he will batter and crush Israel. But Elisha is depressed. He knows there must be a Hazael as Yahweh’s instrument to judge his faithless people. But, for Elisha, judgment is both necessary and sad. Elisha’s tears are sent from above, for that is how Yahweh views it. There is no fiendish delight in Yahweh’s judgment. Here is your God and you should prize him for his nature, the God who mingles his tears with the fire and brimstone.
You may think this is not the most spellbinding narrative in the Bible, but it is instructive nonetheless. In one kindness the woman received you see a kindness that should hearten you; in the truth the king received you see a responsibility that should alarm you; in the tears the prophet shed you see a judgment that should sadden you. You have seen here the Lord who revives and now slays.
B. (:12) Revealing (Exposing) the Wicked Plans of the Enemy – God Knows
“And Hazael said, ‘Why does my lord weep?’
Then he answered, ‘Because I know the evil that you will do to the sons of Israel: their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young men you will kill with the sword, and their little ones you will dash in pieces, and their women with child you will rip up.’”
John Schultz: Not only would he assassinate his king, but he would also brutally attack Israel and commit war crimes in Elisha’s country. In making war against Israel he would not only kill the young men who were serving in the army, but murder little children in a most gruesome way and kill pregnant women by ripping open their bellies.
C. (:13) Refuting the Lame Excuses of the Culpable
1. Denial = I am a Nobody
“Then Hazael said, ‘But what is your servant, who is but a dog,
that he should do this great thing?’”
Bob Deffinbaugh: Hazael is a cruel and violent man. Elisha’s prophecy is not a shockingly evil possibility to Hazael; it is a description of greatness and success. He does not say, “How could I do such a wicked thing?” He asks rather, “Who am I to be able to accomplish such a great thing?” Elisha explains that he will be able to do these things because he is going to become the king of Syria.
2. Dominion = Pin the Tail on the Donkey
“And Elisha answered, ‘The LORD has shown me
that you will be king over Aram.’”
David Guzik: As it turned out, God knew the actions of Hazael, but He did not make Hazael do it.
“It was absolutely foretold that Hazael would be king of Syria. The prophet knew the fact right well, and he clearly descried the means; else, why should he look into Hazael’s face, and weep? God foreknew the mischief that he would do when he came to the throne; yet that foreknowledge did not in the least degree interfere with his free agency.” (Spurgeon)
“The predestination of God does not destroy the free agency of man, or lighten the responsibility of the sinner. It is true, in the matter of salvation, when God comes to save, his free grace prevails over our free agency, and leads the will in glorious captivity to the obedience of faith. But in sinning, man is free, – free in the widest sense of the term, never being compelled to do any evil deed, but being left to follow the turbulent passions of his own corrupt heart, and carry out the prevailing tendencies of his own depraved nature.” (Spurgeon)
III. (:14-15) MAN OF GOD PROVEN TO BE A RELIABLE PREDICTOR OF FUTURE EVENTS
A. (:14) Deceptive Communication – Hazael Tells the King only Half the Story
1. Desperate Response
“So he departed from Elisha and returned to his master,
who said to him, ‘What did Elisha say to you?’”
2. Disingenuous Report
“And he answered, ‘He told me that you would surely recover.’”
B. (:15) Treacherous Coup – Hazael Kills the King and Seizes the Throne
1. Killing the King
“And it came about on the morrow, that he took the cover
and dipped it in water and spread it on his face, so that he died.”
MacArthur: His cold-blooded murder of Ben-hadad demonstrated that a new scourge in the hand of God was now ready (in spite of Hazael’s mock humility – II Kings 8:13) for the chastening of His stubborn people.
John Schultz: he murdered his king by smothering him with a wet blanket. This kind of murder would leave no trace of violence. It would appear as if the king had died a natural death.
2. Seizing the Throne
“And Hazael became king in his place.”
Paul House: Hazael rules from about 842 to 806 B.C. and, despite some setbacks at the hands of Assyria, manages to wield serious military influence in his region.78 Israel is forced to yield to him throughout his reign.
Peter Pett: As Elisha foresaw Hazael was a constant aggressor against Israel (2 Kings 8:28; 2 Kings 9:15; 2 Kings 10:32; 2 Kings 13:3; 2 Kings 13:22; see also Amos 1:3-5), and also against Judah from whom at one stage he stripped all its treasures, being ‘bought off’ when he planned to besiege Jerusalem (2 Kings 12:18).