Have you ever wondered why one of the miracles God chose to perform through His prophets was that of making an axe-head float?
If you are not familiar with this miracle, you should take a moment to read the account in 2 Kings 6:1-6. In short, the prophet Elisha, had occasion to help one of his disciples recover a lost iron axe-head which had fallen into the river. He did this by making the iron float to the surface, as if it were wood, after which it was easily recovered. It is a miracle somewhat noteworthy in its seemingly trivial nature, though it was, no doubt, of some significance to the man who had lost the tool, for it was borrowed, and he was a poor preacher.
It was a rather small sort of miracle, though still miraculous, and one might well wonder why God chose to include it in the sacred text.
Miracles were not, as some might suppose, common throughout the history of Israel. Biblically speaking, there were three primary periods of intense miraculous activity and in each case the miracles can be tied to one particular person and then to their immediate disciple or disciples. The first great period of miracles was in the days of Moses, and then the miracles continued through the time of Joshua, Moses’ disciple, after which they became relatively uncommon for a few hundred years. We then come to the second period of miracles which corresponded to the ministry of the prophet Elijah, considered by many to have been the greatest of the prophets. Elijah’s disciple was Elisha, he who made the axe-head float, and the miracles continued through Elisha’s work, after which they mostly ceased until we come to the ministry of Christ and then His apostles. Moses, Elisha and Jesus, marking the Law, the Prophets and the Gospel of Christ. It is not a coincidence that these were the three who were together on the Mount when Jesus was transfigured (cf. Matthew 17:1-3). Each represented a particular moment in God’s plan.
When we think of the miracles of the Bible, our minds tend to go to those which were worked on a grand scale, such as the parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the 5000, or Jesus calming the storm. And God certainly has the power to work on a such a large scale. He created the entire universe in six days, with the power of His words; there is nothing too big for God to accomplish through His power.
Yet God also cares for us on a very personal level. We understand this when we see the many healings which Jesus performed, miracles too numerous for the Gospel writers to record except by saying He healed many (cf. Matthew 8:16, 12:15, etc.). Each one of these healings affected a single individual, touching them on a personal level, removing a problem which was affecting them physically or mentally.
We can see this principle even more clearly in the floating of the iron axe-head. Here you had a single individual with an immediate need. He had borrowed an axe in order to do a good work for God’s servants, but the axe-head had fallen in the river and was lost. He was poor, repaying the friend for the axe would have been costly, and moreover its loss removed him from being as helpful as he could have been. Thus God, through His prophet, stepped in and removed the problem.
There are probably several lessons we can glean from the text, but let us focus on just one in particular. There is no problem too big for us to bring before God, but at the same time, God wants us to know that there are no problems too small for Him to help with as well. God can work in mighty ways to do grand things on a large scale, but He is just as willing to stoop down to help us in our small day-to-day personal problems. The same God who could part the waters so that Israel could walk through on dry land, was just as willing to bend the laws of the universe to make an axe-head float for one of His servants.
This is not a promise for daily miracles which will fix all your problems. We are reminded that miracles were never the normal way in which God dealt with His people, they were noteworthy events marking off distinct beginnings of God’s workings in the world. But the providence of God is no less powerful simply because God might choose to work in a non-miraculous way. Many a servant of God has prayed for help and had it come, through the workings of their friends and neighbors, or through some new circumstance manifested in their lives.
But the point remains that God wants us to know that His love and care is of such that He can and will help us in all of our difficulties, large or small, if we will just cast our cares upon Him in faith and obedience, putting ourselves in His hands as we attempt to do His will in our lives.
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Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.