(In handwriting of Adam Oliver, Hawick (who died 18-11-1907) probably notes of reading with a visitor).
In 2 Kings 2 Elisha, in intercourse with the sons of the prophets, tried to lead them to the moral elevation in which he was walking. He was not a prophet's son, just as Hazael and Jehu were not kings' sons either. Elijah anointed three men out of nature's order! Elisha was to be in Elijah's room, sent not only as a servant but as himself. The double portion was to be his! (Deut. 21:17). Hence "the beginning of his strength" must be seen in and through him! "He that has seen Me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9), also "If ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is not of Him" (Rom. 8:9). As Elisha came forth they said, "the spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha." It was not partly Elisha partly Elijah, but altogether Elijah! Thus those in Christ's room came forth having the Spirit of glory and of God resting on them (1 Peter 4:14). They are here in the name of the absent Lord. All that comes forth from them is to be Christ. The prophet's quick eye saw true hearts among the sons of external religiousness! "Behold now there be with thy servants 50 strong men," shows nature's energy unbroken; yet there was desire after Elijah. Elisha allowed them persisting in nature's course to see the end of their efforts. He acted similarly to his master who said to himself, "Go back again for what I have done to thee" (1 Kings 19). In this critical time even an Elisha must often look on and trust the Lord for many true-hearted who though warned persist in using empty nature as a power in service. Years may elapse ere the "strong seekers" give up. If they continue true in heart they will! After reproving these sons, there is a moral in each of the following incidents, showing how the Lord deals with the soul he is leading on to the line of power.
In 2 Kings 3, they were in a strait wanting a difficulty removed, but not to rise above sense and sight; yet grace met the want and the needy were helped, although they went once more in their own wills. In 2 Kings 4:1-7, the incident rose higher than in 3. The widow was in distress and in debt, grace was realised more abundantly, because the need was deeper. Then the great woman at Shunem had a greater heart for Elisha than the widow had. Not pressure of circumstances but the greatness of his person made her cry. She saw more in Elisha than even abounding grace. Still she had to reach further through sorrow! Elisha kept Gehazi between himself and her (2 Kings 4:11-17). She only stood in the door! The power of the servant hindered not the one in bitterness of soul from reaching the feet of the prophet; the weakness of the servant was exposed in seeking to raise the dead! She used the words Elisha once uttered ere he got the glory-mantle, "as the Lord liveth, etc.," (2 Kings 4, 30). But to have consecrated power, she had to have a deeper lesson although the basis was laid there, in life out of death. We find the sons of the prophets once more in the incident of the great pot. Previously Elisha had come with his master as he learned his weakness from Gilgal to Bethel, Jericho and Jordan. Then he returned in power to the place where Egypt's reproach was rolled away in Israel's palmy days. He sought to maintain the pristine principles thereof. Death and corruption came out of the great pot. What man calls life in this world wherein he seeks enjoyment is the vessel bringing forth death! Nature may have great capacity for whatever is put into it, but the principles of Gilgal demand its full exposure. Elisha put in meal and evil was banished from the pot. The man from Baal-Shalisha brought bread for the man of God which he shared with the people. In spite of its apparent insufficiency there was a residue according to the word of the Lord! "The bread of the first fruits" we thus enjoy sustains us in the place where life abides. Elisha fed "the sons of the prophets" at Jericho on similar food to the "old corn of the land" which was also eaten there (Joshua 5.). Gehazi had no eye for such food. He did not demur preparing food in the great pot; but nature has no vision when new Creation sustenance appears! All our supplies come from the first fruits.
THE MINISTRY OF ELISHA. 2.
There was another interval ere the "sons" appeared again and the moral lessons typified in the great pot were taught in the succeeding chapters. The history was not of a great woman and a little chamber, but a great man and a little maid. All man's valour comes to nought. The mighty man was a leper, corruption was there, but the bit of first fruits in the little captive worked wonders! She knew that power was vested in Elisha. What grace was there. "Would God my Lord were, etc." There was no effort to depreciate the position of the haughty Syrian. It was not a rod of iron smiting in divine righteousness; but in Naaman's house there was a feeble instrument through which blessing (life and incorruptibility) would come. Neither affection for Elisha nor the lesson taught by the pot of oil was in evidence. Naaman was healed on his first journey from Samaria to Jordan. But no gifts could be 'received, by the prophet; nature must die. In 2 Kings 6, when the master who leaned on Naaman's hand besieged Samaria, it is likely the captain of his host, was there also and it would be humbling to his dignity to see all fleeing for their lives and leaving their possessions in such disorderly fashion. Thus life in this world is made nothing of when death and corruption is learned. Naaman obeyed, (for grace ever accomplishes its end), but he did so in a rage.The mighty man of valour was healed through the recommendation of a little maid! The hidden power of divine righteousness quietly effected its purpose. There may be much activity for Christ when grace acts in our souls, but the next step is that the affections are drawn after Him, while nature seen in its sentimentality may be very ensnaring. The third step is the conscious entrance into the sphere of incorruption involving exercise which brings a total crash to all our hopes. That is promoted by the taste of the first fruits. The great pot often detains the truehearted and its power of professed sustainment may be hidden for long. But when the food of new creation is partaken, the soul passes on to other tests. Love must be in incorrptibility (See Eph. 6:24). Nature cannot be mingled with grace nor with love either. The process is intensely inindividual. Then we can come forth and say "I know it" (2 Kings 2:3), and be sustained in power of what we have learned.
In 2 Kings 6, pressure came upon the sons of the prophets and was brought into view through new creation principles. The sons of the prophets said unto Elisha "behold now the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us." He wished to have them up to his own line (see also John 13:8). But such a place was too strait. Nature could not maintain it and so the effort failed. The man of power condescended to show the weakness of their resources. They would fain dwell at Jordan and urged Elisha to go with them. He had consecrated power for that and could go. He seemed almost "loose" in his action, but he was really never more "exclusive." It is often wise to go as far as possible with those who would insist in bringing in the rudiments of the world to their service. But if the Spirit's power is in action, the condescension will expose the true nature of the activities of those who refuse the line of the Spirit. When they came to Jordan they "clave" wood. The human element was at work but "he that cleaveth wood shall be in danger thereby" (Ecc. 10:9). Hence we behold the borrowed tool lost and the man of God quietly triumphant. They showed him the place where it fell. He "shaved off" wood and cast it in and the iron did swim. That chip of wood scraped off as from the bark of the tree spoke volumes to the sons. The user of the axe might have been on the way to a city of refuge a short time after he began work (Deut. 19:5). (If we insist on taking lower ground than where divine righteousness displays its power, our work will be stopped. The mind and ways of the Lord must be observed. Up to the Cross, nature was not displaced by grace, nor was death nor corruption manifested. Now life and incorruptibility are brought to light through the gospel!
THE MINISTRY OF ELISHA. 3.
Until the Shunamite's child died, Elisha's ministry seemed to typify Christ before the Cross. (In Luke, Christ was leading those "whose names are written in heaven" to their full blessings. Nature was still owned as a servant). Although holiness might be felt and desired, divine righteousness could not be revealed while Gehazi was the medium between, so the sympathy of Christ is felt as the Spirit leads the soul through the gospel of Luke now. Then as to doctrine there follows the Living One in John! Thus it would seem that Elisha sought to lead "the sons of the prophets" up to his position. However, the place where he dwelt was too "strait" for them. He would not have them mere servers at their own will when they owned him as gracious. There are few in the "strait" place now. There are multitudes of believers who remain all their days like Martha of Luke 10; zealous, active, learning truth intellectually, no pressure till all falls in a crash! In the "strait" place love is the great thought as in Philadelphia, while in Laodicea it is light as the prominent feature. In the former, devotedness; in the latter, friendship is evinced. A Martha may be too occupied with her zeal and service to dream of such a region. Elisha was faithful and exhibited grace as in 2 Kings 3, without giving up his place of separation. He could accept the constraining of the Shunamite with all the beauty of true consecration. She preferred making him a little chamber so that he might be comfortable. Bye and bye, the little chamber became a sepulchre, and death brought her as a devotee to his feet! Such a servant knew when to refuse Naaman's presents, before the latter was healed. A second journey to the place of death may be requisite till the man whose flesh became as the flesh of a little child, is a little child himself; nay, the man altogether gone. The little maid may not be able to sweep away aught of his glory without the cross, but her presence in his household as a grain of the first fruits worked wonders. Then Gehazi's want of power when death came in led to the exhibition of his want of faith, as the "great pot" shewed his activities. He may have wanted the Shunamite's riches, although lodged with the "holy man" under her roof. He got to know the truth from Elisha as he professedly served, then he was seen with the apostate king telling all "the great things" he had learned from the truth in Elisha. That is very much like Christendom! Nature becomes religious in leprosy, yet will not cry "unclean," but actually boasts of its acquisitions. As Elisha passed with Elijah from Gilgal to Bethel he might have remained to testify against it, but the person of the Heavenly One could not be there. Many do not own the external ruin of the House of God, being more occupied with usefulness than following Christ to the place where He is! The Spirit is with them, but Christ's presence is never realised, although they may seek to know Him after the flesh. They often mistake the actings of the spirit of grace for the presence of the Living One. Some may follow to Jericho (typical of the world lying in the wicked one). They will find false aid all around, but if the mantle of 1. Kings 19. has touched them, Jericho will not ensnare them. At Jordan, nature in themselves is exposed in all its destitution. What they owned as a truth long before is found merely a shell. Nothing is too great to ask the Lord now (Eph. 3:19, 20). The Lord's resources are tested by longing hearts. It is from the Holiest, the "double portion" comes. The great snare nowadays is turning to what is external, before the unseen is known and the Living One reached in power. We may gaze on the Heavenly One as he walked in Luke. But we should leave John the Baptist (i.e., grace in connection with man in Adam) for John the Apostle (i.e., grace in connection with the Living One in new creation). This we do as we ask Him "where dwellest thou?" Thus we pass from Luke's to John's ministry in figure.
THE MINISTRY OF ELISHA. 4. 2 Kings 7.
As we have seen, Elisha is a remarkable type of Christ. He did not come in the character of Elijah, but was marked by having a double portion of Elijah's spirit. Whereas the ministry of Elijah was largely connected with judgment, Elisha was the minister of grace. Israel constantly suffered greatly from the inroads of the Syrians who had come to be recognised as natural enemies. The children of Israel were as constantly seeking to relieve themselves from the persecution of the enemy by their own ingenuity. But they continually found that there was no benefit derived from the goodness of God, but through the word of Elisha. So deliverance was always accomplished through having recourse to the prophet's agency. They were quite ready to avail themselves of the deliverance, but they soon forgot the channel by which it came. That illustrates the principle of the advent of the gospel message. A little maid brought the glad tidings to Naaman. So in 2 Kings 7, four leprous men brought the intelligence that the enemy's power was, broken and that scarcity had given place to plenty. God will not put honour on His messengers in the line of the glory of men. The four lepers were in a desperate plight. Entrance to the city, sitting still, or falling to the Syrians had a common issue in death. So they chose the last mentioned course; but they found their enemies had gone, leaving abundance, and they proceeded to hide some of the spoil. But their conscience arrested further concealment, and they carried the good news to the city. All were sceptical, suspecting a Syrian ambush. They could not believe the goodness of God. In the sequel, a distinguished nobleman suffered death on account of his unbelief. There were two other instances in the ministry of Elisha of similar profanity:- (a) The children who mocked the prophet at Bethel and (b) Gehazi, whose greed belied the character of God. We cannot trifle with God! The gospel tells what God has done. To trifle with such grace entails a serious responsibility. The scarcity in Samaria was due to the Syrian without. Man's state is the same today! The enemy is without and there is spiritual starvation within. All are liable to fall under the power of the enemy. There are three elements in us which answer to the blandishments of the enemy:- viz., the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. The devil will assist people on the course of this world of which he is the god and prince and he blinds the vision of those who believe not. Satan will minister to us and give us great assistance if we seek self-gratification, but he will carry us much further than we ever intended to go. Many young people in the world have entered on a course of wrong-doing with the thought of restitution or making good the initial incident, if success should be achieved. But controlling forces of which they have no knowledge will cause the well-laid scheme to go awry, and disaster follows. If that is true of secular matters, what must be the issues of a similar course as to eternal matters. The broad road that leads to eternal loss is paved with good intentions! All that shows there is a concealed subtle power operating which is vastly greater than man can detect; let alone resist successfully. There is evil without and famine within, yet men try to live on chaff, feeding on the world's light literature (nevertheless, frequently pernicious). They live in unhealthy environment as to spiritual issues even with "one foot in the grave." These things cannot sustain the soul to meet sickness and death, and after that to meet God. The higher man is socially, the more he needs to be prayed for, as a rule he cannot be approached, so really he should be an object not of envy but of pity. Only the abundant mercy of God can reach and preserve such a man! But what a comfort to know that the power of the enemy has been broken for the Christian, and abundance of grace introduced to reign through the death and resurrection of Christ.