Even without a read-through-the-Bible plan I spend a lot of time in the Old Testament. It’s kind of a big part of my day job. But like a lot of people, I tend to go back to the same passages – or at least the same kinds of passages – over and over.
Comforting Psalms, the creation narratives, the Exodus, prophesies of Jesus, the promises of God. It’s not exactly O.T. lite, but it is O.T. soft. That’s why a reading plan is so good for us. It compels us to read or re-read the scriptures we might otherwise avoid. And it reminds us of why we tend to avoid some parts of the Bible. For one thing – the violence.
Look, I like a shoot ‘em up as much as the next guy. But for mercy’s sake, the Old Testament makes some modern slasher movies look more like a Disney production. Kings rendered thumb-less, heads on stakes, disembowelments and disaffected eunuchs who toss a wicked queen out a second story window whereupon she is trampled by horses and eaten by dogs. If you are looking for some gentle bed-time reading material for the littles, skip 1st and 2nd Kings.
But then, right in the middle of all that carnage, we get a couple of glimpses of grace. In 2nd Kings 5, the prophet of Israel, Elisha, heals a five-star Aramean general who is suffering from the terrible disease of leprosy. The healing does nothing to improve international relations, but the general becomes a believer and pledges loyalty to God. It’s a story in chapter six, though, that offers the most surprising moment of grace.
The king of Aram was at war with Israel. And he was frustrated. Every time he tried to kill or capture Israel’s king, someone leaked details of the assault and his enemy escaped. When he accused his officers of treason, they replied, “King, it’s not us. It’s Israel’s prophet. You say something in your bedroom and he tells the king of Israel!”
Apparently, Aram’s intelligence agency was pretty good. They found Elisha in the city of Dothan. The king sent a “strong force” to surround the city by night and bring in Elisha. Dead or alive. Early the next morning, Elisha’s servant stepped outside and froze; enemy soldiers were everywhere. In a panic, he ran back inside and alerted the prophet.
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Elisha prayed for God to open the eyes of his servant. The Lord did and when the servant looked up, he saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire! (Cue theme music).
The Aramean hit squad, of course, was blind to those heavenly reinforcements, so they charged in to capture the troublesome prophet. That’s when Elisha prayed again. “Strike these people with blindness.” Again, God answered Elisha’s prayer and the Arameans were suddenly stricken with a crippling lack of vision.
Elisha, mangling an Obi Wan Kenobi quote, said, “This is the not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.”
And he led them right into the hands of Israel’s king. The king, of course, wanted to kill them then and there. That’s what you do, right? Kill your enemy. Elisha had a better idea.
“Do not kill them. Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” The king, apparently, inspired by Elisha’s magnanimity, did better than that. He prepared a great feast for the enemy. After desert, he let them return home.
Now here’s the kicker: The bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. That act of grace did improve international relations. It eliminated an enemy.
“Do not be overcome by evil,” Paul said in Romans 12, “but overcome evil with good.” Paul certainly saw that in the life of Jesus. But he knew it even before he became a Christian. Proverbs 25:21, which Paul quotes, says, If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat. If he is thirsty, give him water to drink. Solomon, who wrote the proverb, probably learned that from Elisha.
Going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing you do not have any enemies who are looking for a way to kill you. But I bet there are some people who wouldn’t mind seeing you fail, watching you squirm or witnessing your fall. Perhaps it is a colleague at work. A neighbor with whom you have had some un-neighborly experiences. An ex-spouse. Maybe even a spouse who isn’t yet an ex but it sure looks like things are headed in that direction.
What might happen if, instead of trying to hurt them, you actively sought to serve them? Especially if they, like the Arameans, are suddenly delivered into your hands! What a shock it would be if you set the table of grace instead of settling for a taste of revenge.
As you think about whether to pull the pin on a grenade of vengeance or set the table of grace for those who are out to get you, it might be a good idea to remember what God did for you and for me. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Every Sunday, when we gather around the Lord ’s Table, he is giving us the food and drink of grace. Sitting at his table, we are reminded that instead of eliminating his enemies, God died for them.