When I was going through school I remember hearing on more than one occasion stories of angels protecting God’s people. One of the more memorable stories I heard was one that Billy Graham had recorded in a book about angels. In this book he told the story of a pastor named John G. Paton who was doing mission work in the New Hebrides Islands, east of Australia, back in the 1800s. Paton told the story of how one night hostile natives came and surrounded the mission headquarters where he and his wife were staying. They planned to burn the Patons out and then kill them. All through the night the Patons prayed for God’s deliverance… and in the morning they were amazed to see that the native tribe had disappeared. They were very thankful that God had preserved them obviously… A year later though the chief of the native tribe was converted to Christianity, and John Paton asked him about that night when his tribe came to kill them… asking him why they didn’t follow through? The chief apparently was surprised… and asked him who all the men were who had been guarding the mission headquarters that night. Paton told him that there had been no one there except for him and his wife. The chief told him that when they came up to the house they saw hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands… he told Paton that these men seemed to circle the entire mission and the natives were afraid to attack… Paton then understood that God had sent his angels to protect him… (Account taken from the book “Angels” by Billy Graham).
I’ve heard many other stories of angelic protection both from books and people I know. And while we maybe cannot always be certain about what happened if we weren’t there ourselves, we know that these stories are not impossible… after all, just look at the pages of Scripture where we see many accounts of God sending angels to protect his people when danger was near. Our sermon text today from 2 Kings is a great example of that. God’s prophet Elisha and his servant are surrounded by an enemy army and God allows this servant to see the angelic army that he has sent to protect them.
The image you see on the screen today is a modern artist’s attempt to capture the scene from our text.
If you are sitting further back maybe it’s hard to make out every little detail… but you have Elisha and his servant – those two tiny specks in the middle; and surrounding them you see this black mass of soldiers with swords; and then of course you see above them the fiery angelic army that God allowed Elisha’s servant to see that day.
There is an added detail in this image that the artist explained which I think is a good reminder for us when we consider the work of God’s angels. If you zoom in on just the center of the image you see that surrounding Elisha and his servant are two nail-scarred hands, the hands of Christ Jesus, protectively enclosing them. The artist, Chris Powers, said this about that added detail:
I always struggle a bit how to present angels. They have a mystique about them in much of our culture and – unfortunately – can seem more “unique” or “special” than Christ Himself! So, whenever presenting angels, I want to be manifestly clear that they are not our hope but rather are means, tools, and ministers who apply the hope that we have IN CHRIST. Any wonder we have at an angel should pass through the angel and find its end in Christ.
Because of that, in this image I presented Christ as the central defense and the angels as the “back up.” Elisha tells his servant that they do not need to fear because the number with them is greater than the number of the enemy….but we know that in Christ the one in us is greater than any who could be against us.
And that is such a great reminder… We have a powerful God… a God who saves… a God who is with us when enemies surround us and will remind us of his promises when we don’t know what to do… Jesus put it well in the Gospel today when he told his disciples:
“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23).” As Christians we have God the Father and God the Son living in our hearts… and not just Father and Son… Jesus went on to tell them:
“…the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:26-27).”
“Don’t be afraid.” Jesus said it here. Elisha says it to his servant in our sermon text. You’ve probably heard Christian pastors, friends or family tell you this too… “Don’t be afraid.” Easier said than done right? When you’re surrounded by enemies… plagued by problems… battling temptations from without and within… “Don’t be afraid” can seem like an impossible task. We find ourselves crying out, like Elisha’s servant, “What shall we do!?” But it is at those very times when our restless and anxious hearts cry out to God that he answers us with his Word… saying, “Don’t be afraid… those who are with you are more than those who are not…” And when we remember that… when we remember God’s promises… then our hearts can be at peace.
Let’s take a little closer look at our sermon text and explore this truth a bit more… The prophet Elisha really was a living example of God’s desire to remind his people of his promises, his power, and the peace we can have because of them. Elisha’s name means “My God saves.” And on many occasions in the ministry of Elisha this truth was on full display. Elisha lived in the northern kingdom of Israel at a time when the kings had forsaken the Lord and most of the people had followed. Elisha spent much of his ministry doing what his predecessor Elijah had done – calling the kings and the people to repent of their sins and to remember what their gracious God had done for them.
In our sermon text we get just a small section of a larger story about how God allowed Elisha to miraculously foil attacks on Israel by the Aramean army which was at war with Israel at the time. We read earlier in this chapter:
8 Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.”
9 The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places. (2 Kings 6:8-10).
After a while we’re told the king of Aram got upset and figured there must be a spy in their midst. But his advisors told him that was not the case… they had heard about this prophet Elisha being able to predict the movements of Aram’s army. So the king decides he better capture Elisha and get rid of Israel’s secret weapon. And when he finds out that he is in the city of Dothan he sends a force to surround the city at night and capture Elisha at daybreak. That’s when we get to our text:
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked.
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
17 And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17).
The account continues with Elisha praying again that the Aramean army would be blinded, which God answered, followed by Elisha leading this blind army into the capital city of Israel where they are surrounded by the Israelite army… the tables had turned…
But let’s think again about what happened in Dothan for a second… if you were in the shoes of Elisha’s servant do you think you would have reacted any differently? I’ve faced much less and found myself wondering, “What shall we do!?” And I’m sure you’ve all been in situations where you’ve felt that way too. But Elisha’s response is just perfect isn’t it? “Don’t be afraid… those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” It’s as if Elisha is telling his servant, “Dear brother… if only you remembered God’s promises… then your heart would be at peace.”
We’re not told anywhere in this text that Elisha could see the angel army that surrounded them. And yet he was confident it was there. Why? Because he remembered God’s promises. The Lord says in his Word:
[God] ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me (Psalm 55:18).
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them (Psalm 34:7).
[God] will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:11).
Elisha knew that God promised to be with his people… and if the Lord wanted to he could send angelic protection to keep him safe. If Elisha’s servant had remembered those promises then his heart would have been at peace even without seeing the angels with his own eyes.
But what about us? Maybe you hear this story and are thinking… “That’s all well and good for Elisha and his servant… but c’mon pastor… there’s no angel army looking out for me.” And I guess I’d say… “Are you sure about that?” Those passages from the Psalms we just looked at were not only for God’s people a long time ago in a country far, far away… they are for you too. In fact angels are mentioned over 1,000 times in the Bible and when we see how God uses them we are always reminded of the truth that God himself states in his Word: Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14).
How many times have you been spared from heartache… health problems… disasters… because God sent his invisible servants to protect you? Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. But maybe you’d say, “Well… okay… that may be, but if that’s true then what about all the horrible things that I have suffered through? What about all the enemies that surround me but don’t disappear? Are angels like NHL goalies? Really, really good at protecting the net… but hey, even the best let one through every now and then?” No. God doesn’t give us imperfect protectors… There is no chink in his armor.
So how do we explain the problems then? Maybe you’ve been through some really hard times… maybe you’ve faced some pretty nasty opposition… maybe you’re dealing with it right now. Does that mean God’s failing to keep his promises to give protection and peace to his people? Well… maybe let me try to answer that with a quick geography lesson…
That city where Elisha and his servant were protected by angels and rescued by God’s miraculous deliverance was called Dothan. This small city was located about ten miles north of Samaria, the capital city of Israel.
This small city is only mentioned twice in the Bible. Once, here in our sermon text, and once about 1,000 years prior to the time Elisha. In Genesis chapter 37 we hear an account of a family of shepherds who were grazing their sheep near the city of Dothan…ten shepherds in fact, all brothers, who had wandered far from their home in the south where their father lived in order to find pasture land for their herds of animals.
The Lord had been very gracious to this particular family. They were wealthy and powerful and despite some pretty dicey situations in their family history, they’d known relative peace and prosperity… but things were about to change for this family in Dothan.
The second youngest brother… a teenager named Joseph was sent by his father Jacob to check on his brothers… see how they were – after all leading such a large flock to good pasture meant his sons were gone from home for long stretches…
And so Joseph – daddy’s favorite who got to stay home while his brothers were out with the flock – Joseph finally finds his brothers… but he doesn’t find a warm welcome… we’re told:
Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him (Genesis 37:17-18).
His brothers were sick of him… sick of his father’s favoritism… and they figured this was the perfect time and perfect place – here in Dothan, far from home – to be rid of this bother of a brother once and for all…
Maybe some of you recognize this story… Joseph’s brothers, “lovingly” decide not to kill Joseph… but instead they sell him as a slave to some traders heading down to Egypt. They throw Joseph in a pit and wait for the slave traders to pass their way. And in that pit guess what Joseph sees? An angel army ready to rescue him? No. He sees the hatred of his brothers and the indifference of the slave traders as they drag him off to Egypt and sell him… and as if that wasn’t bad enough, once in Egypt he gets framed for a crime of passion he never committed and is thrown into prison where he rots for years.
You see sometimes God’s promises and protection don’t take the form of angel armies keeping us from trouble… instead his promises are:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you (Isaiah 43:2)… and We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
God certainly can, and often does protect us from dangers in this life. But he does not tell us that we will always be free from danger and trial in this life, in fact sometimes God sends difficult burdens into our lives in order to work spiritual protection and eternal blessings for you and God’s people.
Do you know what ended up happening to Joseph? Well he eventually gets out of prison, earns the King’s favor, becomes a ruler in Egypt, saves the lives of countless people in the region when a famine hits – including his no good brothers who come to get food for their starving families from the brother who they thought was long gone… maybe dead. And amazingly Joseph got it… maybe he didn’t see it in the moment… but by the end he understood. He told his brothers:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid (Genesis 50:20-21).
One of those brothers by the way… whose life was saved? His name was Judah… and he was a direct ancestor of Jesus himself…
Do you see? Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. In times of trouble remember all the promises God makes and find your peace… Say a prayer – maybe God will allow you to see the angel armies he has sent to protect you… maybe he won’t… but the promise of protection and peace is real either way… and you can be absolutely certain of this because you have a God who saves…
A God who sent his Son into this world to do what angels could never do… to put himself between you and your most deadly enemies – Satan, sin, and the hell you deserve. And on the cross Jesus took the full weight of our sin… every failure… every moment of doubt… every hour of worry… every day we wasted in blindness – refusing to believe that God really has a plan for us… a purpose for us… peace for us… all because we couldn’t see past the chariots and horses of our enemies. Yes Jesus paid the debt of our sin, took our punishment, closed the gates of hell and opened heaven forever for us – for us! – his struggling servants to whom he gives eyes of faith.
And remember how he opened the eyes of our hearts to his grace and goodness… through his gospel proclaimed in the Bible… his gospel used with water in baptism… his gospel spoken at the Lord’s altar where we taste and touch the Savior’s sacrifice for us. Yes remember the gospel… where God’s promises and the eternal protection of his Son cause us to see our present problems in a whole new light.
So the next time you find yourself wondering, “What am I gonna do?” “How are we gonna get ourselves out of this?” Stop wondering… and start worshiping… Because those who are with us are more than those who are with our enemy. And above all – we have the God who saves on our side. As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32).
Don’t be afraid dear Christian… God is with you… and he’ll bring you safely through this life to the day where your faith will be replaced by sight. Why? Because of Jesus. Remember his promise. And enjoy his peace. Amen.