I remember visiting my son and daughter at Union University one weekend that first Spring when they were both students. I was not prepared for two things. First it was cold. We were going to attend some intramural sports in the evening but not before a run to Sam’s Club to purchase a new jacket in order to keep warm. The other thing was noticing a young man snooping around shopping for a wife just outside my daughter’s dorm room. I knew what he was doing, and I knew he would be invited inside. The kid’s name was Bob Sparks, my future son in law. My antennas automatically rose out of the top of my head and I picked up on the vibes. I am so glad that he was hanging around that day waiting for spring.
Janine said to me this morning as I was lamenting April’s cold advent, “Be patient, Spring is in a battle with Winter. Spring will surely win this time too.” This statement drew my thoughts to a springtime a very longtime ago.
You could see the battle raging on two fronts. First Elisha, that mighty prophet was about to die. But in death — in the grace that cannot be closed off to sunlight — something unusual happened. Israel had a new king named Jehoash who was optimistic with the hope of a new season for the floundering northern kingdom. The nation would not survive the reign of many more kings.
The new king admired the prophet, Elisha. Elisha had an illness that would soon end his sixty years of ministry to the nation. The king visited him and wept, exclaiming that the prophet was responsible for the security Israel was enjoying (2 Kings 13:14). History had shown that Elisha’s “prayers were better than horses and chariots” (The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Kings, 13:14-19). Then Elisha asked the king to get a bow and arrows. When the king raised the bow loaded with an arrow, the prophet put his hands on the king’s hands as he held the bow. They opened the shutters that held back the sunlight. The warmth filled the room with the glare of bright glory when the eastern window was opened.
Elisha directed Jehoash, “Shoot the arrows into the ground.” Elisha then predicted that Israel would defeat its enemy, but the victory would be limited. The king was a mixed quiver of strength and weakness. There was a battle within him that ultimately would shorten his success. The symbolic gesture of shooting a limited number of arrows was the way Elisha predicted this. Next, Elisha sub-comes to his illness and dies. He is placed in a winter tomb.
Spring was having its patient victory over winter. Enemy raiders were on the prowl as they were apt to do. As springtime brought invigoration to plants and flowers, it also brought warmth suitable for ancient wartime. This is the defining attribute of the unbroken skirmish between Spring and Winter. Some men happened to be about the grim task of the burial of a comrade when the invaders interrupted the graveside ceremony. They hurriedly put the body of their friend in the nearest tomb. It happened to be Elisha’s tomb and the body of their fellow in arms fell onto the bones of Elisha. Then there was a stirring which must have been like the scattering of a flock of cardinals fluttering away, and this corpse of early spring sprang to life again and marched out of that tomb resurrected with the fresh breath of new life.
God continues to grant new life by gracing his power over death every season from winter to spring and back again. He never stops. There is no mixture of weakness and strength in God. There is no surprise about Winter’s demise. This April first, we are waiting with chilled limb for the warmth of sun rays bright. No one but a fool would question that spring is here — even though it be cool. I am chilled to the bones; but this wind lies like a fool. If you look around, anyone can see that resurrection surrounds us with red, lavender, yellow, and green. It is Winter that is sighing its last breath. God wins in the end.
Donald Wiseman writes in his commentary on First and Second Kings that this story is “…perhaps a symbol of the need for God’s people to come to life again.” I expect so. The winter is waning, and new life is snooping around the door. Jesus is portrayed in an artist’s rendering I have upstairs in my office as standing outside a door knocking. There is no doorknob on the outside of the door where Jesus is waiting. Open the door so Spring can come in. It’s too cold outside. Wait not one more minute.