In 2 Kings 8, God reveals his heart through the prophet Elisha. Elisha is quickly becoming one of my favorite Bible characters. He’s really cool. Not simply because God empowered him to do and know so many things supernaturally, but because Elisha seems so confident and unshakable, since his trust and confidence is grounded in the unshakable God and what this God reveals to him. So I’ve enjoyed reading about God and Elisha, but 2 Kings 8 revealed something about Elisha (unlike previous chapters) and God that I wanted to meditate on.
Elisha is in Damascus where the king of Syria, Ben-hadad is sick. So Ben-hadad, the king, sends his servant Hazael to ask Elisha whether he will recover or not. Hazael meets Elisha and humbles himself before the prophet, the man of God. He speaks to Elisha as if both he and Ben-hadad are beneath Elisha. Hazael refers to the king as Elisha’s son (v. 9) and himself as Elisha’s servant and a dog (v. 13). Elisha tells Hazael to tell the king that he will recover, though Elisha tells Hazael he knows king Ben-hadad is going to die. Then before Hazael responds, Elisha fixes his eyes on Hazael and keeps staring at him, in awkward silence. Hazael is speechless because the prophet is staring at him with his eyes beginning to tear.Elisha breaks his gaze and begins to weep.
Now this is weird for me to read, because Elisha up until this point seems so confident, so unshakable, so untouchable. But then he weeps and up to this point we don’t know why. So Hazael asks him, “Why does my lord weep?” And Elisha answers, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.” Hazael doesn’t understand how he, a dog in comparison to Elisha, could do such a thing. Elisha reveals to Hazael that he will be the next king of Syria. So Hazael goes back to his master, king Ben-Hadad, and murders him in the morning and becomes king.
The Character of God Revealed in Elisha
Elisha weeps. But he could have prevented Hazael from being king. He could have killed Hazael. He could have not revealed the prophecy to Hazael. He could have done a number of things. But Elisha is obeying the Lord here. He is not preventing Hazael. He is not standing in the way of God’s plan. Israel at this point was an idolatrous and sinful people deserving judgment. Elisha knows that and knows God is just and so he continues with what God wants him to say and reveal. But he weeps. He is saddened by the judgment. It hurts for him to think about it. Yet he allows himself to be used to bring the judgment about, by faithfully speaking to Hazael. Elisha doesn’t want Israel to go through the suffering, but he also wants to be faithful to God and be used by God to carry out God’s plans.
How does this show us God? God weeps. God cares about those whom he judges. God cries. And yet, at the same time, God is just and carries through with his judgment for his greater purposes. He does delight in his greater purposes, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t hurt by what he ordains. Jesus shows us this in his weeping and desire for Jerusalem to believe in him and be delivered from God’s wrath. Here are two examples (see and feel Christ’s emotion in these words):
Luke 13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem! She who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her.How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
Luke 19:41-43 41 As He approached and saw the city, He wept over it, 42 saying, “If you knew this day what would bring peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you, surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
The lesson is that God knows the future, ordains the future, uses means to bring about his plans, yet at the same time grieves over the sin, evil, and suffering which he ordains as part of his plan. The sovereignty and plans of God are real and set. The pain and grief of God in particular moments and circumstances is also real. The danger for Christians is to overemphasize one or the other. We can neglect God’s sovereignty, knowledge, and power like the open theists who say God chooses not to know the future therefore his tears are real. Or we can neglect God’s grief and sorrow and regret and say God’s grief or regret in this text is not real sorrow or regret, just a way to communicate to humans something that is not really going on. To really bow the knee and humble oneself before God’s Word, we must believe both and submit our logic to his Word, and we will see that it is not illogical. In many cases it is demonstrably logical, and if not, then it is beyond human logic without being illogical (note that “beyond logic” is different from “illogical”).
For a great article on whether God regrets, see John Piper’s “God does not repent like a man.“