How should we handle our enemies? Handling our enemies is no easy task. We dread coming in contact with them. But Christ teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Considering how difficult it is to simply be around enemies, the call to love them is no easy command. It is even more difficult when we apply this to persecutors. We encounter opposition for being Christians. We endure ridicule for obeying what is commanded by God when it is unpopular. What should we do when we are attacked by others because of our faith in the Lord? How can we overcome our enemies through the Lord’s wisdom and comfort? Turn to 2 Kings 6 and we are going to consider Elisha’s encounter with the Syrians in light of our struggles with enemies.
Our Enemies’ Plans Are Known By the Lord (6:8-12)
The king of Syria was greatly troubled. It is about 845 BC and the king of Syria was at war with Israel. Though the Lord had given Syria success in the past, they were currently powerless to do anything. For the king of Syria, it felt like every time he made a move the king of Israel was ready for it. Israel seemed to know all his plans. They knew where his troops where and where they wanted to attack. How? How could Israel be prepared for every step he made?
This question haunted the king of Syria until he called a meeting with his officers. “Will you not tell me who among us is on Israel’s side?” Betrayal was the only logical explanation for Israel’s knowledge of his plans. But one of his officers piped up with the real explanation. “None of us are for Israel, my lord the king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” He’s the problem.
This Syrian was correct. In fact, this had been going on for a while. Elisha frequently warned the king of Israel about Syria’s plans. When the king of Israel received word from Elisha, he would plan accordingly to avoid Syria’s attacks. The Lord protected his people. How troubling this must have been for the king of Syria. How confining it must have felt to know that the very words he spoke in his bedroom could be made known to his enemy in Israel. But how comforting it must have been for the king of Israel to have this power on his side! God’s knowledge of our enemy’s plans is ourfirst comfort with respect to our enemies.
Hebrews 4:13 says, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This statement brings great fear to those whose actions are not aligned with the Lord. There is no thought, no word, and no action performed in secret that can be hidden from our God. The very words spoken in our bedroom are known by God. This thought alone could drain the blood from the faces of the mightiest men of this world.
But do you see how this same thought can bring so much comfort to those who are on the Lord’s side? Psalm 37:12–13 says, “The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.”David is comforted in this Psalm because God knows of the wicked’s plots against him. As we consider how the Lord’s omnipresence brings fear to some and comfort to others, this ought to motivate us. The Father in heaven protects those who belong to him. We do not want to be the ones who plot harmful words and actions against brothers and sisters in Christ for then it will be our secret thoughts and words exposed to the King of Kings. Though we may think we belong to God, the Lord’s vengeance will eventually be brought upon us for the sake of his children we harmed.
Brothers and sisters, we must keep our thoughts, words, and actions pure so we are the ones who the Lord is watching. At times we can feel so vulnerable. We are scared of what others might do to us. We are scared of what others might say against or about us. If we are of the Lord, we can have the comfort of knowing that none of our enemies’ actions or words against us pass by the eyes and ears of the Lord. No word spoken in secret is kept from the ears and eyes of the Lord. The Lord hears and remembers. Though we often feel alone and no one sees, we can take comfort in knowing that he is acutely aware of our pain and their sin. Consequently, we must cry out to the Father who knows the details of our situations even more than we do. Christians are people who do not handle their enemies alone. When Christians suffer at the hands of enemies, they call to the God who understands our needs before we even speak.
Our Enemies Are Outnumbered By God’s Forces (6:13-19)
Not many days later Elisha’s servant woke up in the morning to a startling sight. Upon hearing of Elisha’s “ability” to know all his plans against Israel, the king of Syria sent to find where Elisha was staying so Syria could seize him. He discovered that Elisha was staying in the city of Dothan within the tribe of Manasseh. Syria’s king sent an army and surrounded Dothan in the night. Elisha’s servant woke up to see Syria’s great army with horses and chariots surrounding the city. When Elisha’s servant saw this he exclaimed to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” There was no way out. Just imagine the fear he felt!
It is tough for us to comprehend this panic today. But we have to be real about our situation as God’s people. Mild ambivalence towards God’s people is transforming into hostility. More and more we are being surrounded by people who hate our works and words. God’s people are guaranteed by the apostle Paul that those in Christ will be persecuted (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12). Following the one who promises to bring us life may soon threaten to bring us harm at the hands of wicked people. This is quite frightening to consider. The words of this servant are fitting. “What should we do?”
But Elisha was not alarmed by their situation. “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” I can imagine the servant was puzzled by this. Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.”The Lord opened this young man’s eyes to another shocking sight. The Syrian army was not unmatched. Elisha and the servant were surrounded by an army of horses and chariots of fire that far outnumbered the Syrian army. Elisha and his servant were not alone. What a sight that must have been. What a relief it must have been for this young man to see the Lord’s army before his eyes. In fact, relief is the only thing this army provides. In the end, this army does not defeat Syria. The army is simply a sight that comforts Elisha’s servant.
God’s second comfort with respect to enemies is that his forces always outnumber our enemies. Elisha did not answer the servant’s question. There was nothing the servant could do. He simply needed to see the true reality to have comfort. Those who are with us are more than are with our enemies. The reality before our eyes can be admittedly frightening as we consider those who can harm us. But this story aptly reminds us of the realness of the unseen reality about us. Though what we see can frighten us, we are called to be defined by our faith in the unseen things. The unseen reality is that God has the power to win every single time. Those who are with the Lord far exceed those who are against the Lord. If we are with the Lord, our enemies are his enemies.
It is not easy to have this faith in the midst of those who would persecute us. They raise themselves against us with confident arrogance. Though they may mock our faith and seem full of power, it is they who are blind to the true reality and the true power that protects God’s people in this life or the next. They are the ones who are blind to their ultimate punishment. Whether God uses this power to protect and avenge us in this life or the next is often a worry. But this is not to be our concern. Rather, the thing to learn from these examples is that God always has the complete ability to take control of the situation. Though things around us may seem outside of God’s control, they are not. Take comfort in the knowledge that it is no small thing for God to act if he desires. No matter how powerful our enemies may seem, they are outnumbered and will be overcome in this life or the next.
Our Enemies Are Defeated By God’s Love (6:19-23)
When the Syrian army came down against Elisha, the surprising thing is that God’s army of horses and chariots of fire is not used to defeat the Syrians. Though this young man’s eyes had just been opened, Elisha asked the Lord to strike the Syrian army with blindness. In an instant the Syrian army was blind and helpless. Elisha said to them, “This is not the way or the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And so the blinded Syrian army followed Elisha. What a scene that must have been as the world power of the day was so vulnerable. How fearful these men must have been! Elisha led the Syrian army right into the midst of Samaria before Israel’s king. Elisha prayed again and asked the Lord to restore the sight of the Syrian army. Just imagine the panic in the Syrian army when they opened their eyes to see they were in the midst of Samaria.
They had every right to panic. When Israel’s king saw the Syrians he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” Though Israel’s king was prepared to annihilate the Syrians, Elisha had a surprising response to this question. “Do not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive by the sword? Give them bread and water to eat and drink and let them return to their master.” We aught not be harsh on Israel’s king. What would we want to do to the men who had pillaged our cities and harmed our people for years? But Elisha’s response teaches something. Though God protects Israel, allowing them to slaughter an army of defenseless men is inappropriate. God has another plan to conquer.
Elisha’s charge to Israel’s king is still surprising. “Set bread and water before them and let them go home.” This had to have been just as surprising to the Syrian army as it was to the king of Israel. Verse 23 continues tells us that Israel prepared a “great feast” for these Syrians. They bountifully fed their enemies. Probably humbled beyond belief, the Syrians returned to their master and stopped raiding Israel. How baffled these Syrians must have been! God had all those chariots of fire at his disposal, yet he conquered Israel’s enemies with food.
This is the most important of all our conclusions. Since our enemies are known and outnumbered by God, we do not need to exact vengeance upon our enemies. They can be overcome by God’s love. As we consider this feast for Syria, I cannot help but think of Romans 12:14–21, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil… 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.”Though Syria had harmed Israel’s families in the past and was planning more harm, the Lord told Israel to feed their enemies. They overcame Syria’s evil with good.
We must admit how counterintuitive it is for us to show good to those who mean us harm. When someone harms us, we want justice. They should hurt for what they have done. Notice how Paul teaches us to treat our enemies. Bless them and do not curse them. Do not repay them evil for evil. Never avenge yourselves. Feed them when they are hungry. Do not be overcome by evil. These are serious commands we are at danger of breaking. We are at danger of becoming exactly like our enemies by repaying their evil with evil. God’s followers are called to overcome enemies by showing them the love. As Israel did, we are called to even feed our enemies.
Notice what this accomplishes with Syria. They leave and stop launching attacks against Israel. It is so confusing to our enemies for us to show them love when they mean us harm. Showing our enemies love and generosity causes peace. Consider, what good ever comes from exacting vengeance? Has verbally or physically punishing your enemy ever caused peace? No! We have a blessed opportunity to become peacemakers in a world that multiplies war. This is the difference between man’s wisdom and God’s wisdom for handling enemies. God’s wisdom actually knows how to accomplish peace where enmity exists.
As we consider our enemies, here are two final applications to help out with these difficult situations.
- God Knows and Outnumbers. Consider those who you believe mean you harm. They can exist anywhere. They may be neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, past friends, family members, or simply other people we come in contact with in the world. If you are truly of God and they are plotting against you through actions and words, take comfort in God’s omniscience and omnipresence. He knows their secret plans and words. He has the power to protect you and punish them. Do not just take comfort in this knowledge, but pray with this knowledge. Since he knows and has the power to overcome, speak to him in prayer about your enemies. Tell him your fears. Ask him for wisdom without doubting. We can find peace and answers by seeking out God’s comfort and wisdom in dark times.
- God’s Love Overcomes. As you consider these enemies and those who bring strife to your life, use Israel’s example here to consider how you can turn the tables. How can you show love to those who you have strife with? Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. Paul tells us to feed them when they are hungry. We could write them a note. We could offer an act of service. It will stun them when we show them acts of love. They may respond by rejecting us no matter how many times we humble ourselves in pursuit of peace. That is a situation where it “does not depend on us.” But regardless, we are always called to display God’s love to our fellow man. We can display this love to our enemies, just like Christ did with us. Overcome your enemies by meditating on God’s comfort and displaying God’s love.