Elisha and the Chariots of Fire

Chariot Sculpture, Tel Megiddo, Northern Israel

It is a bit presumptuous of me to suggest to anyone how to pray about the current world situation and the seeming chaos in Kabul.  However, in this instance, since I know that we are all working to see a more peaceful outcome in Afghanistan with as few American and allied losses as possible, I thought I would venture sharing some of the concepts that have come to me.

As I think about our courageous U.S. military personnel and diplomats surrounded by hostile forces in Kabul – and consider in particular the plight of American civilians, our allies, and Afghani interpreters and advisers cut off from this relatively confined U.S. contingent – I keep returning to the story of Elisha and his young servant surrounded by Aramaean forces in Dothan – as related in II Kings 6. 

The Bible is not specific as to the name of the vengeful Aramaean king in this story. However, by triangulating this episode in the prophet’s career with other accounts in II Kings and non-biblical sources, the most likely culprit was either Ben-Hadad of Damascus or his son Hazael, the latter who erected the monument known as the Tel Dan Stele sometime after 843 B.C.E, a facsimile of which we have on display at Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. The fragments of this monument are significant, for they represent the earliest reference from a non-biblical source suggesting an Israelite king named David as a real historical figure.

The Tel Dan Stele is a typical Iron Age battlefield “war trophy” erected by a victor to boast of his defeat of an enemy, and it was installed in the extreme northern settlement of Dan (near the current Lebanese border) a little less than 100 years after David’s realm split into two kingdoms, following the reign of his son Solomon. The Prophet Elisha’s career probably took place during this turbulent period, when hostile neighbors, such as the Aramaeans, began encroaching upon the more fertile lands of the Galilee and Samaria, the bread-basket of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The King of Aram-Damascus was incensed with anger against Elisha and wanted him silenced one way or another, because this Aramaean monarch held the Israelite prophet responsible for thwarting his efforts to capture and kill the king of the northern Kingdom of Israel. 

This foreign ruler dispatched a contingent of chariots – the most terrifying shock-and-awe weapon of the Iron Age – to compel the surrender of the lightly fortified hilltop town of Dothan and capture this meddlesome man of God.

The Bible tells us what happened next; and I’ll let the Bible speak for itself in describing the dramatic scene that unfolded (II Kings 6: 15-17, from the King James Bible):

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots.  And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master!  how shall we do?
And he answered, Fear not:  for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.  And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw:  and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

The Bible goes on to say that, through prayer, Elisha asked the Lord to temporarily blind the Aramaeans, allowing not only Elisha and his servant to escape from Dothan, but even to lead the now confounded enemy into Samaria, where it would be captured and then treated humanely as POWs.  The Aramaean force never knew what hit it.

In a sense, this episode in the life of the prophet teaches us about “vision” and “revelation.”

The Bible doesn’t provide any more specifics about how Elisha prayed or how this resulted in God sending in the relief force of the “chariots of fire.”  One thing was clear from Elisha’s calm response to his fearful servant’s exclamation, however.  The prophet had complete confidence that God would come through for them.  Elisha was simply unphased by the existential threat that the Aramaean force posed.

This tells me several things:  First, Elisha refused to put limits on what God could do in this and any other situation.  He didn’t outline what course God ought to take; and he had complete faith that God would reveal to both of them the right result – at the right time.

Second, I’d like to think that Elisha refused to give much countenance to the menacing physical evidence arrayed before him.  He was not alarmed by the overwhelming force that the angry King from Damascus had sent to dispatch him.  Elisha simply but firmly knew that spiritual power always triumphs over the physical obstacles that the world sometimes places before us.

Last, the story seems to suggest that Elisha either saw the relief force that God had provided before his servant did, or he knew that it had always been there.

The result – really a revelation from God – was that the “chariots of fire” appeared at the decisive moment.

During the siege of Dothan, Elisha never stopped to advise God which type of relief force to send in.   He didn’t pray for infantry armed with spears and slings. . . for archers. . . even for chariots.   It never occurred to him to release a carrier pigeon back to the capital in Samaria asking for authorization to negotiate with the enemy or for “rules of engagement” should the town’s security perimeter be breached. 

Elisha simply prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes and accept the principle of God’s permanent protective presence – a truth that Elisha knew had been with them all along. 

* * * * *

Dear friends: I’ll leave this discussion for now with one of my favorite passages about God’s enduring protection:

Psalm 139
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

May God bless each of you and our fellow Americans, friends, and allies currently serving in harm’s way.

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One thought on “Elisha and the Chariots of Fire

  1. Great words here, Bruce. Thanks for sharing this with me. You clearly have great insight into the Word and good application to daily living.

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