What does Elisha teach us about the kindness of Yahweh?
2 Kings 6:8-23
Do good to and bless your enemies when they are in your hands to do so. This will teach them of the kindness of God and bring back a blessing on yourself from the Most High.
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.”
Burning coals does not mean hellfire and brimstone that will cause them pain.
On the contrary, burning coals in that culture meant life. Fire was the means for cooking, cleaning, and staying warm, which are fundamental to survival. Fire was transported as burning coals in pots carried on the head and balanced with the arms.
Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:17-21,
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This is not a proof text for pacifism. Note verse 18 which encourages peace in so much as it is possible. Loving ones enemies does not mean allowing an assailant to harm you or those who are in your care. It does mean allowing your enemies to publicly shame you.
Paul also encourages us to never avenge ourselves. This is a personal command for every believer to let offense be taken up with God rather than to seek retribution. This does NOT apply to our responsibility to enact vengeance on behalf of those under our care and protection, for to neglect this duty would be to neglect justice and turn a deaf ear to the cry of the innocent.
Numbers 35:21 commands the nearest male kindred to be responsible for the bloodguilt of the murderer of the innocent. Psalm 9:12 reminds us that our God is a righteous avenger of blood who hears the cry of the afflicted.
Remember there is a justifiable time and season for killing and war as there is for healing and peace according to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
Paul’s encouragement to not take vengeance for ourselves is NOT a new thought. In fact this was a command found in Leviticus 19:18. It has ALWAYS been the case that vengeance is not for ourselves, but for the innocent and oppressed whose blood cries out for justice.
Yeshua tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Many people would define “neighbor” as anyone and everyone, but especially those who live close by. This is not what a neighbor is.
A neighbor, in the context of Hebrew thought, is a person who is joined into the covenant of the Most High. Being a “neighbor” in this sense is in no way determinant upon ones location or blood lineage, but solely upon ones faithfulness to loving Yahweh.
Leviticus 19:18 sets a precedence for a neighbor being one who is among the “sons of your people”. The commands for loving and showing mercy are to be extended, however, beyond the limitations of ones neighbor as we have seen.
When the lawyer asked Jesus, “but who is my neighbor” in Luke 10:25-37, He answered him with a story about the Samaritan who helped the Jewish man traveling from Jerusalem who was attacked by robbers. The priest was not his neighbor even though the priest was Jewish. The Levite was not his neighbor even though he was Jewish. The Samaritan, who would have been regarded as a “non-covenant”, “non-neighbor” in most eyes proved to truly be his neighbor because of his actions and how he demonstrated faithfulness to the character and teachings of the Most High.
The Samaritan helped the man in need, fulfilling the commands in scripture to show mercy and compassion to those whom God delivers into your hands. Thus he proved himself to be a neighbor to the injured man.
Now to those who would not be considered our “neighbor” but our “enemy” Yeshua gives us instructions in Luke 6:27-36. We will reap a blessing in lending love and mercy to those who persecute and seek us harm. But let not this be an occasion to neglect the other instructions of scripture which teach us to:
- Defend the cause of the needy and bring justice for the innocent (Jer 5:28, Psalm 82:3)
- Be as wise a serpents and innocent as doves (Matt 10:16)
- Do not willingly or purposefully seek martyrdom, but flee in the midst of danger (Matt 10:23)
- Take up arms to defend yourselves and your loved ones against mortal danger (Luke 22:35-38)
Now some will use Luke 22:47-53 as a text to say that it is wrong to defend ourselves. Yeshua did not rebuke them for defending themselves but for attempting to fulfill scripture on their own accord. In Matthew 26:51-54 he tells Peter to put away his sword and that if you live by the sword you will die by the sword. Living by the sword has nothing to do with defending oneself, but everything to do with attempting to take what is desired or fulfill scripture according to one’s own violent force. In verse 56 of Matthew He states that this has occurred in order to fulfill scripture.
Remember that in verses 35-38 of Luke (just before this incident) Jesus commanded His disciples to actually sell their cloaks in order to buy swords for their protection. He protested Peter’s action not because of his heart but because it was His time to fulfill prophecy.
Finally let’s go back to another example of God’s character that we can draw from the life of Elisha.
2 Kings 2:23-25
This occurs during a time when wickedness ran rampant in the land of Israel. We see that some boys were making fun of Elisha who was God’s chosen prophet. By extension these boys were directly profaning the name and character of the Most High. Suddenly two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty two of the boys. This passage bears a resemblance to Acts 5:1-11.
God is not mocked. He will repay the wicked for their wickedness and bring justice to the earth, BUT, He longs to show mercy and is full of lovingkindness. He desires for us to walk in His Spirit and nature as well.