|RESTORING THE CUTTING EDGE|
"But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, ‘Alas, master! For it was borrowed.’" 2Kings 6:5 (NKJV)
At first this store seems to be only a perfunctory account of a miracle performed by Elisha. However, a closer analysis will reveal a deeper message applicable to all believers. Let us recall that the young prophets had outgrown their dwelling, and had asked Elisha if they could build themselves larger quarters.
"And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, ‘See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us. Please, let us go to the Jordan, and let every man take a beam from there, and let us make there a place where we may dwell.’ So he answered, ‘Go.’ Then one said, ‘Please consent to go with your servants.’ And he answered, ‘I will go.’ So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees." 2Kings 6:1-4 (NKJV)
The first thing we may note from this is that these young prophets were industrious. They did not ask to go throughout the country requesting donations, nor did they disdain physical work even though they were the top theologians of the day. Rather, they rolled up their sleeves, joined together, and performed the work. The rabbis had a saying, "He that does not teach his son a trade, makes him a thief." Surely there is nothing wrong with full-time ministers – it is a blessing if a society has the financial resources to support them. Nevertheless, those who work and also minister, as the Apostle Paul worked by making tents, should be admired for their resourcefulness and not demeaned and considered less spiritual because they participate in secular employment. In fact, ministers who are exposed to the workplace may find their preaching tempered by commonplace realities.
Elisha’s manner with this group is also instructive. Although a leader, he was not above getting directly involved in their work when asked. He could have said he was too busy with spiritual matters to help them, but he understood that helping them was a spiritual matter. Spiritual things are also manifest in physical activities, and this is applicable to those in leadership helping children, employees, students or others with projects that arise. It is through cooperation and working with them that leaders (or parents) may instill biblical values and also build friendships.
Nevertheless, pastors sometimes keep those they minister to at arm’s length. The reason is that many of them have been betrayed by the people in their congregation, and after this happens often enough, they do not wish to make themselves vulnerable again. But was not Christ betrayed in a similar manner? And if we are to serve Him, will we not surely feel the sting of human failure that He experienced? Christians who help others will always find some of their efforts rebuffed, or worse. However, let us not "grow weary of well-doing", but rather understand what is clearly requested of us in Proverbs 19:22, where we read, "What is desired in a man is kindness." Elisha demonstrated this principle of kindness not only in agreeing to accompany his students, but also in doing so quickly rather than hemming and hawing and making them wait for an answer, which some do to exaggerate their importance. Along the same line, we read in Proverbs 3:28 (NKJV), "Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it with you." Kindness does not make a leader weak – it makes a leader powerful, because a kind leader will not only have the authority vested by the position, he or she will also earn respect that wins loyalty and allegiance.
He Upbraideth Not
"But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, ‘Alas, master! For it was borrowed.’" 2Kings 6:5 (NKJV)
On the surface of this, one might conclude that this Biblical account is an admonition against borrowing things. However, while that may be true to some extent, there is clearly a deeper revelation for us here. First of all, let us note the way in which Elisha answers this young man, who is distressed over this matter.
"So the man of God said, ‘Where did it fall?’ And he showed him the place. So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float." 2Kings 6:6 (NKJV)
How many of us have felt the sting of rejection from someone in authority when an accident such as this has occurred? In a grocery story, a child slips and falls, and the mother, instead of showing compassion, says, "You stupid fool!" Another child drops a drink, and the mother yells in public, "Kids, I can’t stand them!" This is the type of rejection we see around us today, as the love of many grows cold. And perhaps some reading this have suffered through this type of humiliation. But Elisha was gentle and godlike in his response. Instead of saying, "Why didn’t you check to make certain the head was secure," or some such, he simply asked the young man where it fell, reminding us of God’s invitation when we need help:
"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." James 1:5 (KJS)
Is it not wonderful that when we ask God to help us, He doesn’t purse His lips and say "Haven’t I told you a thousand times!" but rather gives us wisdom generously, never making us feel foolish for asking?
Losing the Cutting Edge
Let us now consider the deeper spiritual meaning of this passage. In the Bible, iron symbolizes not only power, but absolute power. For example, in Revelation 19:15 we read of how Jesus will rule with a rod of iron. The absolute aspect of this power relates to its divine origin. We see then that this young prophet was using a tool provided by God, and without it, he could do nothing. Does this not remind us of the one who said, in John 15:5 (NKJV) "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."?
In other words, we have here a picture of a believer who has lost his "cutting edge". Those of us who have walked with Christ for any amount of time can readily relate to this. There are times when we have felt powerless, and distant from God, and we wonder what has happened. How can we get back to the place where we were before? How can we regain the sense of His presence in our lives, and the power which enables us to do His work with joy?
The answer begins with a question. "Where did it fall?" the Lord asks us. Similarly, in Revelation we read Christ’s advice for the church that has lost its first love:
"Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. ‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent.’" Revelation 2:4 –5 (NKJV)
Psychological Advice from the Lord
"Remember…where you have fallen." "Where did it fall?" The study of psychology is essentially the study of the mind and its relationship to mental processes and behavior – but today’s institutional psychology is mainly based on a godless worldview. Christians who resort to non-believing psychologists and psychiatrists, are relying on "Egypt," and we read in Isaiah:
"Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!" Isaiah 31:1 (NKJV)
The source of the solution to believer’s problems rests in the Scriptures, which not only contain ultimate spiritual truths, but also practical psychological advice for any situation we might encounter, as confirmed in Second Timothy:
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)
In this case of the incident in Second Kings, the specific advice to the young prophet is to go back to the place where he "lost it". And so we are also admonished to go back to where we were when our relationship with God first started to diminish. What happened that changed things? Did our circumstances change, or did we change in our circumstances? Did we stop praying and reading the Bible? Did we fail to forgive someone, until a root of bitterness sprang up and wrapped its tendrils around our heart? Did our relationship wane because we got busy at work and no longer had time for God, or did we begin to fantasize about someone or something and fail to rebuke the thoughts? Did our focus change from living a godly life to making more money, or was it ungodly entertainment, such as a licentious television show, that began the degeneration of our spiritual life?
Perhaps it instead entailed circumstances beyond our control. Was everything fine until we lost our job, or began having trouble with a boss, or with some pestering physical problem? Did someone let us down – perhaps someone we thought was a good friend? There are countless possibilities, but the way to discover the problem is to go back to where it started, and take an inventory of our lives to find out what changed with us. This is the sound psychological advice God gives us.
Making an Eternal Difference
"Therefore he said, ‘Pick it up for yourself.’ So he reached out his hand and took it."
After he made the iron head float on the water, Elisha told the prophet to pick it up himself, and his command is significant. The way some preach today, we would expect God to do everything for us, to the exclusion of our even lifting a finger. But the fact is that through our free-will decisions to obey Him, God advances His spiritual Kingdom – not because He must use us, but because He has ordained it to be so. Our obedient actions mixed with God’s will are like the two chemicals one mixes together to make a hardened epoxy glue. Separated, the chemicals are dormant, but when they are mixed in the correct proportion, a chemical reaction occurs that brings forth a remarkable, measurable change that allows matter to stick together that would not do so naturally.
In the spiritual sense, what cannot occur naturally, but only supernaturally, comes forth when we mix our faith and obedience with God’s power. This means that what we do or what we neglect to do not only matters greatly in the world, it has eternal significance. The understanding of this is simultaneously frightening, challenging and gratifying. Insignificant as we are independently, with God as a catalyst, we may be part of something much greater than ourselves, something so gravely important, so wonderfully solemn and yet gloriously beautiful, that only in Heaven is it fully comprehended.
Not Good If Detached
Corrie Ten Boom, who protected Jews during the holocaust and ended up imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote a book entitled "Not Good If Detached." She was referring to the train tickets of a bygone era which had that statement printed on them. The ticket would be invalidated if it was not joined to its larger portion, and in the book she used this as an analogy to our relationship to Christ.
The detachment of the ax head speaks to us of the breech of this relationship. The word "stick," which is used to denote the ax handle, is ets in Hebrew, and it also means tree or gallows. That stick, then, ultimately speaks to us of our attachment to Christ’s cross, and we are "not good" if detached from it. Note also that the attachment is not only to our Lord – it is also to His cross. Even as the young prophet was unable to labor effectively without his attachment to the stick, we as believers are ineffective without our attachment to the symbol of victory through suffering upon which the Blood of God was shed.
The cross speaks clearly to us of self-sacrifice. It further speaks to us of putting the "old man," that is, the desires of the flesh, to death. The inescapable conclusion is that without the willingness to give up something for His kingdom, God’s work can never be accomplished by Christians on earth. This is why the Master told us so clearly:
"Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it." Luke 9:23 (NKJV)
Moreover, as we "pick up" the cross, we find that there must be reverence included in how we "handle" it. For the Hebrew used for the term "pick it up" is the word ruwm and it also means "to exalt, to be set on high, to be uplifted." Interestingly, as we are joined to that "stick" and exalt it, we ourselves are "held up" by it. Nevertheless it takes our desire to make this step, for God twists no one’s arm to serve Him. Everything in the Kingdom is voluntary. The young prophet was a good example for Christians, because he was concerned when he lost his effectiveness, and was quick to seek the solution. Are we?
It Was Borrowed!
Elisha also did not upbraid the young prophet for borrowing the ax head, and the reason becomes clear when as we understand what it represents. The iron speaks to us of the authority of God, and it is power that can never be usurped or controlled by man. No man can confound it, even as no man can open a door God shuts, or shut a door that God opens. Conversely, no man can wield this power without God’s sanction, for it is exclusively under divine dominion. Everything accomplished for God in this perishing world must hold the imprimatur of God; from the anointed sermon which takes a man’s heart and crushes the pride out of it, to the conversation in which a Christian is uplifted and inspired by his friend, to the miracle of blind eyes being opened. This power is never owned by a created human, but rather loaned to him or her to accomplish the work of God on earth. For God will not share His glory with another, nor will any man boast of his gifts before the Almighty. And when we read that the young prophet reached out his hand and "took it," let us not think that this was on his own initiative. Rather, the Hebrew word here is laqach, which also means "receive or get," implying that we do not actually take things from God, but rather they are granted to us, as we read:
"As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." 1Peter 4:10 (NKJV)
And should we become proud about what He has loaned to us for His work, we further read:
"…that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" 1Corinthians 4:6-7 (NKJV)
The Sharpest Iron
"As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." Proverbs 27:17
We see that the gifts are given by God, but let us further discern that He also gives us the means to sharpen them once they are "attached." And what are those means? They are, in fact, other Christians. Our cutting edge will be sharpened as we interact with other believers, and work together as a body. This may seem unpleasant to some, but one cannot avoid interaction with other believers if one wishes to stay on the "cutting edge" of spiritual knowledge and maturity. The truth is that the very essence of what God is attempting to do through us and to us is found in the sometimes strained interactions that are part and parcel of "assembling together."
The gifts are given by God to be lavishly poured out on others by us, His dispensers. But the honing of the talents He has blessed us with can only be accomplished when they are used. After setbacks and discouragements, He tells us to "pick it up for yourself," which might make us think that we are asked to do things ourselves. However, as we attempt this work, be it mundane or difficult, all the while He is supernaturally working beneath the surface, where human eyes cannot see, to make the iron float to the surface – that is, to put His insuperable power into our feeble hands to accomplish His will on earth.