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The Gospel in the Axe Head

Read 2 Kings 6:1-7

... And Elisha the man of God asked, "Where did it fall in?", and the man showed him the place. Then Elisha cut down a stick, and threw it there,  and the  iron axe head  rose to the surface . (2 Kings 6:6)

The above-mentioned passage recounts the story of Elisha causing an iron axe head to float. Some readers may find this story perplexing.  Certainly this story demonstrates God's power, God's provision, and God's care for those who serve Him. But this miracle seems uncharacteristic in its gratuitous showiness.   Why should God provide in such a spectacular way, when typically  He works  much more subtly (though no less effectively)?

The key to understanding God's actions may be found in Jesus'  comprehensive characterization of the Old Testament in  John 5:39: "Search  the  Scriptures ; for in them you think you have eternal life: and these very Scriptures testify of Me." The Old Testament Scriptures are illuminated when they are considered in the light of the coming Savior and Redeemer.

But what does a floating axe head have to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  At first sight, nothing -- but upon closer inspection, many  significant points of contact emerge.

In many respects, the prophet is representative of Everyman.  The prophet's situation graphically illustrates our own  fallen state. He was working and sweating to build a place for himself (and others) to live.  Now as a result of the curse of Adam, we all must provide for ourselves through hard labor by the sweat of our brow.   We perform our work through the strength of  bodies and minds whose corrupted nature  was passed down to us from Adam our forbear.

As we live under the effects of the curse, performing the onerous labor which falls to our lot as a result of Adam's sin, we unavoidably commit sin.  Even if we admit the Law of God is good, even if we commit ourselves to obeying God and keeping His commandments, still because of the weakness of our fleshly nature we cannot avoid slipping (Romans 7:14-24).   Just as the prophet's axe handle could not keep hold on the axe head, so the Law, weakened by the flesh, is unable  to keep us from falling.  And just as the axe head  was wrought of heavy, hardened iron, so our heavy sinful natures are hardened and absolutely impervious to the grace of God.

When the prophet's axe head fell in the water, what was the result?  The axe head was irretrievably lost.  What's more, the prophet incurred a crushing debt beyond his ability to repay.  Now when we sin, what is the result?  It is spiritual death , meaning that we are lost and consigned to eternal separation from the light and presence of God. Furthermore, the sins we commit confirms our hopeless indebtedness to the Lord of Death, namely the Devil.   For when we sin, the Devil has a valid accusation to lodge against us, and so he can justifiably lay claim to our souls.  Not only  our souls, but our bodies are also condemned to die.  We toil, we grow old, and we die,  for the Devil can rightfully lay claim to our bodies, corrupted as they are by sin.  Our bodies, like the axe head, are destined to be buried and lost without hope of recovery.

But wait!  Who can save us from this body of sin and death? The Apostle Paul's triumphant cry echos through the ages, bursting from the lips of the redeemed: "Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! " (Romans 7:25)  It is truly remarkable, and certainly beyond coincidence, that this same redemption is reflected in the account of 2 Kings.  The axe head was resurrected when Elisha  threw a stick into the water. This recalls many instances when Moses used a stick or staff to work miracles, especially the instance in Exodus chapter 15 where Moses cast a stick into the bitter springs of Marah, making the water drinkable.  It may be perceived upon reflection that the stick or staff in all of these cases is consistently representative of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The thrown stick proceeded from the right hand of the Elisha, just as the Lord Jesus proceeded from the right hand of the Father.  The stick or staff is a symbol of power and authority, just as all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the Lord Jesus.  The wooden stick reminds us of the means by which the Lord Jesus gained His authority, namely, through His death  on  the wooden Cross (interestingly, the Hebrew word for "stick"  is the same word translated "gallows" in the book of Esther, e.g. Esther 5:14). Finally, the wooden stick was thrown into the water, just as Jesus tasted death for us, in order that we might be resurrected to new life. The resurrection provided for us through Jesus Christ has both spiritual and physical aspects -- for just as spiritually we are resurrected from sin and rescued from darkness into light, so our bodies will be resurrected as transformed, spiritual bodies, like unto the resurrection body of Jesus Christ.

In summary, this is yet another instance where the essence of the Gospel has been embedded within an Old Testament account.  May Christians everywhere recognize with new clarity and focus that THIS is God's fundamental purpose for the Old Testament, namely  to bear witness to the Gospel of Christ in its many aspects.  Certainly this was the New Testament view:  for whenever the word "scripture" or "scriptures" is used in the New Testament, it refers to an instance or episode where the Old Testament  confirms that Jesus is the Christ.  And there are many, many more such instances than are commonly acknowledged in modern Biblical exegesis:  the apostle Paul for one often spent entire days showing  through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.  Finally, we must go even further and realize that God continues to place within our lives circumstances and incidents which bear exactly the same witness.

Prayer: Lord, open our eyes to see wonderful things in your Law (Psalm 119:18).  Quicken us by Your Spirit, and reveal to our hearts the multitude of  analogies and illustrations which bear witness to Your Son who heals us and saves us.  And Lord, grant that we not only recognize these, but that we will be instructed and strengthened in faith, and that we may share them with others that they too may be brought closer to You.

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Last Revised: September 2000

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