“…he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron head float.” 2 Kings 6:6b
The story of the floating iron is one of those rather odd passages of Scripture that caught my attention when I first read it years ago. I mean, if you’ve ever tried to swing one of those things, you can testify to their non-buoyant nature. You’d more quickly sink an aired-up basketball than float the lighest of axe heads. Yet that’s exactly what happened for the prophet Elisha.
Now, here’s the thing about the written account that I’m pondering today. The floating axe head is delivered to us between two apparently far more significant passages of Scripture. In chapter 5 we have Naaman being healed and Gehazi being punished. Then later in chapter 6, we read of Elisha, the horses, and chariots of fire. Both selections display the power and might of God – over physical ailments such as leprosy, as well as physical threats, like raiding armies of great force. But positioned right in the midst, nestled between Naaman and chariots of fire, is this seemingly unimportant retrieval of a borrowed iron head.
Well then, what is the point? And why is the story squeezed into these seven verses between two far more epic experiences of God’s grace? For me to answer this with some kind of certainty, well, I would be out of line. I cannot speak for the Lord concerning His overall intent. Truth is, I’m not sure why He gives us this recorded miracle, nor why it is placed where it is in the second book of Kings. But I have a guess as to part of what we can take away from this story.
Is it possible that the Lord wants us to see His involvement in the smaller details of life, not just the obstacles that feel insurmountable? Granted the axe head situation probably felt like a big deal to the guy that lost it. The servant had borrowed the tool and was concerned about its recovery, especially since he was unable to run to Lowe’s or Home Depot to replace it. But through the prophet Elisha we witness God grant more grace. It was grace that healed Naaman. Go check the story and you will notice that there is plenty of grace and mercy to be found in chapter 5. It was also the abundant grace of God to not only protect Elisha from the Syrians, but to deliver this same group over to the Israelites (see 2 Kings 6:8-23). So when an axe head is plunged to the bottom of the Jordan, why would we expect anything less than for God (through the prophet) to make it float?
For me, the answer is this: I sometimes only look for God when I feel the need is bigger than me. To continue with the illustration we are given in Scripture, had I been the servant that lost the iron and handle, I would have probably attempted holding my breath and going in after the axe head. I would have gone fishing for it with a pole or taken some other kinds of radical matters. I wouldn’t have concerned the Lord with it unless I was feeling really desperate.
Occasionally, I also feel like God is too busy to spend time with such menial details of life. Isn’t He working on a cure for cancer or world peace or something like that? Surely He has better things to do than come to my assistance when I’ve been careless and feel the stress that accompanies my loss. However, if my responses to situations, equivalent to that of a drowning iron, are as I’ve described above, then they are wrong. I am wrong! For such a response is ignorant of who God is; it is prideful, and totally misguided.
For me to actually believe that there are certain instances that I can handle without God is naïve. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He has created me, gifted me, and placed me within a specified boundary for a determined season. How silly of me to think I’ve enjoyed success on my own! For what input does the clay have in how the Potter decides to shape and mold His workmanship? My abilities, talents, resources, and the like, none of these are my own. The Lord has graciously given us each.
That which causes us to remain silent when we’re in need is the ultimately the same underlying issue found in our boasting. It is a little disease we are all plagued with, something the Bible calls pride. When we’d rather try every possible option instead of asking for a hand to help, it is pride. Sure, it feels noble; it appears to be a praiseworthy characteristic; but it is rooted in a desire to not come across as needy. Problem is that we all are. It may look differently in each of us and it fleshes itself out uniquely from person-to-person, but we are all needy. And while pride is in abundance, what we need is God’s grace.
So the thing that is revealed about my heart as I question the placement of this passage is that my biggest failure is my mischaracterization God. For me to think that He couldn’t, wouldn’t, or shouldn’t help out with an axe head while there is leprosy to be healed, wars to be won, and lost to be saved, shows me that I have forgotten that which makes Him God. The fact that He can be everywhere at all times and is fully capable of doing anything He chooses is what makes Him God. He is all-knowing and fully aware of my humble condition. This is why He is God, how He rolls as God, and why He must be seen for who He is and praised for all He does.
Truth be told, God is not wearing a lab coat up in heaven, working on vaccines for all that’s ailing this fallen world. He's allowing cancer and AIDS and terrorism to torment for a while longer, but one day, O’ glorious day, He will bring eternal peace and healing. He will shut down the ruler of this world forever and we will no longer be wounded by his schemes. In God’s timing it will be so… But in the meantime know this: He is near to all His children. He is entirely present with you in your darkest of storms just as He is completely close to me as I march into another mundane Monday. But here’s the best part, it’s not like He’s contractually bound as the Great Divine that He must do this. No, because He’s God, He does what He pleases. He is with us by His choosing. He loves us, yes, but He likes us too! Oh that we might see God for who He is and realize the incredible truth of John 1:16, that “from Christ’s fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” And in our lives, when axe heads float, so to speak, may we see that we’re still receiving His sweet grace, even today.
Associate Pastor of Missions & Students