The prophet Elisha had quite a lot of interaction with the kings of Syria that resulted in a number of dramatic events. Actually the Ben-Hadad noted in the Bible as king of Syria, but not distinguished as such, was both father and son. Because Elisha performed his many deeds for about 60 years, he would have interacted with both these individuals. It was probably the father, Ben-Hadad I, who was king when Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, was healed of leprosy, since Scripture seems to indicate that the king was old (2 Kings 5:18). We can’t determine for certain whether it was father or son who ruled when Syria warred against Israel and the Lord blinded the army at the behest of Elisha (2 Kings 6:18). We are told that following this incident the Syrians didn’t come against Israel again for some time. That period might have been a transitional one from father to son.
What is interesting in the account of the Syrian army coming against Israel at that point is how Elisha instructed the ungodly king Jehoram to respond. The Lord had struck the Syrians with blindness when they had come to seize Elisha. He led them to Samaria right into the hands of their enemy. When Jehoram – who sometimes listened to Elisha and didn’t at other times – did as Elisha instructed, the Syrian king must have been befuddled, leading to his leaving Israel alone.
Elisha told Jehoram to treat their enemy well, to feed the army, and allow them to return home intact. This was unheard of in those days. It appears to be a foreshadowing of what Proverbs 25:21-22 says:
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.
Paul then echoes this teaching in Romans 12:19-21:
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.
Here in this Old Testament account with Elisha, we see the mercy of the Lord. His intent is always to show that “there is a God in Israel” and to demonstrate how Israel was to be a blessing to other nations.
If Ben-Hadad I, the father, learned this lesson, particularly after having had his own commander, Naaman, become a follower of Yahweh, the son didn’t study well. He came against Israel and brought it under siege. It resulted in such famine that the people resorted to cannibalism (2 Kings 6:29). In this situation Elisha was again instrumental in bringing the Word of God. An amazing turn of events took place and the Syrian army routed itself after Yahweh supernaturally confused them. They thought Israel had hired other armies to help them. Their fear of this – no doubt placed in their hearts by God – was so great that they fled and left everything behind. It enabled the Israelites to recover from the famine and once more see the Lord’s goodness toward them despite their ungodly behavior.
Ben-Hadad II, the son, became sick. He knew of Elisha, and that he was a man of God, so he inquired of him if he would recover. Where was his god? Regardless, he had regard for Elisha and for Yahweh, probably in the aftermath of their massive defeat.
Some years prior, God had told Elijah, the prophet before Elisha, that Hazael would become king over Syria, although this doesn’t appear to have been made known to Hazael at the time. In 1 Kings 19:15 we saw this:
And the Lord said to him [Elijah], “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.
When this anointing happened is unclear in Scripture. There appears to be no textual reference to it. When we next encounter Hazael it is through the eyes of Elisha when the king asked through this man if he would recover from his illness. Elisha tells him that Ben-Hadad Ii would recover, but he actually won’t; that is, the king would surely die.
There is then an intriguing interchange between Elisha and Hazael in 2 Kings 8:11-13:
And he [Elisha] fixed his gaze and stared at him [Hazael], until he [Hazael] was embarrassed. And the man of God wept. And Hazael said, “Why does my lord weep?” He answered, “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.” And Hazael said, “What is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?” Elisha answered, “The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.”
Hazael doesn’t seem aware of his destiny, but he accepts it after the stare-down by Elisha. The very next day Hazael acts on this. He returns to the king to inform him that he would recover, then murders him. Elisha wept for Israel and the mayhem that would soon come upon her.
God used Hazael as an instrument of vengeance against Israel for a number of years, just as He often used other ungodly people to accomplish His purposes.
This is of interest to us today. We must understand that certain events that happen at the hands of the ungodly are not without their use to God. In fact, He orchestrates them through wicked people. Once the necessary things have been done, God will then execute His judgment and vengeance upon these vessels of unrighteousness.
The lesson for us is that though we may see evil increasing all around us, we need not fear. God is in control. He has a plan. When wickedness seems to flourish, it’s only because the end of God’s plan is nearing its conclusion.
So, let’s not despair at the rise of evil. Let us rejoice. God is in heaven and He is about to do amazing things in this earth!