Saturday, August 13, 2011

Freak Show: The mysterious floating ax head! The only one of its kind. Part 1

Ax heads don't float.  It's against the laws of physics.

Okay.  I don't actually know any laws of physics, but I know ax heads don't float.  They sink to the bottom of whatever body of water they're in, whether it's a lake or an ocean or a sink.

But when God gets involved in things, natural laws don't seem to make that much difference.  And that brings us to the story of Elisha and his band or prophets.

Israel isn't doing so well after David dies.  I mean, Solomon starts out serving the Lord, but after a while, he gets distracted by all his wives and other female companions.  I don't know why, but he really wants to keep them all happy and so he lets them set up idols and altars to those idols and sometimes he even goes to the altars with them.  After Solomon dies, the kingdom of Israel splits up, and about every other king is worse than the one before him.

When kings start worshiping other gods, so do the people.  Along with worshiping other gods, they begin all kinds of totally evil practices, like sacrificing babies to idols.  It's not good.

Now, God's people have a cyclical history that goes something like this:  God calls them and blesses them.  They get distracted because everything's going so good and they begin thinking they earned those blessings because they're so fabulous.  At this point, they start doing things their own way.  They put money and riches first and start taking advantage of those who are less fortunate.  They start sleeping around.  They worship other gods and do things that totally go against God's laws.  At this point, God lifts his blessing, and surrounding kingdoms start attacking.  Without God's blessings, they start losing.  Eventually they call to God out for help and then God rescues them.  They serve God, he blesses them, and they get distracted because everything's going so good.  And so on.

At this point in our story, God's people are in the "doing things their own way" part of the cycle.  God wants to get their attention, and he raises up prophets.  You may have heard of Elijah.  He's one of the most well known prophets, and he spoke out against Ahab and Jezebel.  To this day, the name Jezebel has a pretty bad connotation.

Elijah starts raising up a band of prophets, men who are faithful to God's word, who aren't afraid to speak out against evil kings and ungodly practices.  Elisha was part of that band of prophets and before Elijah takes off in the fantastic flaming chariot (another freak show curiosity), he sets up Elisha as leader.

At any rate, Elisha's band of prophets grows so much that the place where they meet gets crowded.  So the prophets tell Elisha, "I think we need a bigger place.  Let's go down to the Jordan River and stake out some land.  If we all work together, we can build a new place, and it'll be awesome."

Elisha thinks it's a good idea, and he tells the guys to go ahead and start work without him.  The thing is, they really are hoping Elijah will come with them.  Elisha thinks about it and agrees.  Together they set out for the Jordan River.  The prophets are all hard at work, cutting down trees and laying out plans for the new building.   Lenny (not his real name) starts cutting down trees and is making awesome time when suddenly the ax head breaks off the ax and falls into the Jordan River.  Lenny totally freaks out.  Not only does the loss of the ax slow down the project, but it's not actually Lenny's ax.  He borrowed that ax head from a neighbor, and he really doesn't have the money to get a new one.  The whole evil king thing without God's blessing has really messed with the economy.  Plus, being a prophet isn't actually a lucrative endeavor.

And so Lenny starts wailing.  Okay, the Bible doesn't actually say he was wailing, but it does say he cries out. Clearly this lost ax head is a problem.  The Bible doesn't tell us what the river's like, if the ax head fell into rapids or still water.  It also doesn't tell us how deep the water is.  But we do know that Lenny's not jumping into the river to rescue the ax head.

Anyway, Elisha hears him screaming, comes to find out what's wrong, and calmly asks, "So where did it fall?" Lenny points to the place, Elisha cuts a little stick and throws it at the water, and lo and behold, the ax head floats to the top of the water and Lenny grabs it.  And that's the end of the story.

Clearly this doesn't happen everyday.

I read this story, and I wonder: Why does the author include this story? What does he want us to know?  To think?  To do?  What does it tell us about God?  What does it tell us about the role of God in our lives?

Does it even matter?

I think it does, but this blog post is already super long.  Tomorrow--hopefully--I'll start exploring those questions.

This story--and the sermon from Pastor Darrel--spoke to me pretty specifically, and I want to remember what God showed me.  It helps me if I wrote these ideas down.  Otherwise I usually forget what God has shown me.  I think most of us tend to have amnesia.*

*  Someday I want to write a book about that.  Unless I forget.

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