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Burning Questions

Twice the king sent a captain and his 50 soldiers to bring the old man on the hill down from his perch. Twice the old man called down fire from heaven to incinerate the captain and his men. The third captain and his 50 took a different approach…humility. (II Kings 1)

As I read this story I imagine an old and haggard man with a withered staff in his hand and ragged clothes, disheveled and grungy sitting cross legged high upon a hill under a little sprig of a tree just waiting for a response from the king. The king was angry about the message the old man had sent and wanted him to come down and answer for his words. The first two groups of soldiers were sent to drag the old man down, by force if necessary. I can see the old man staring off into the distance as the captains and crew came up to make the king’s demand and then with a few words wipe them all out as one would swat an annoying fly buzzing around your ear…then going back to his thoughts.

This must have infuriated the king – the complete disregard of his authority and position moved him to send a third cadre with the same command, “bring the old man down to me!” This third captain had just witnessed the previous two literally snuffed out and thought there must be a better way to approach this old man…he humbled himself. Rather than marching up with his army behind and demanding obedience to the king’s command, he came in recognition of the old man’s authority, wisdom, and power and respectfully requested he come down to the king’s chamber. The old man obliged and delivered to the king’s face the very same message he had spoken to the king’s messengers the first time, “you will surely die!”

This story has been running around my head for the last week or so. Why such a drastic response as calling down fire from heaven and destroying 102 soldiers who were following orders? Why did the old man not just go straight down to the king and deliver his message in the first place? The answer to these questions lies at the very beginning of the story that I have not mentioned yet. You see, the king had fallen through the roof of his house and been injured and became very ill. He was worried that he may be near death and sent messengers out to inquire from seers and sorcerers if he would live or die. The old man on the hill met the messengers on their way and gave them a message to bring back to the king: “Is there not a God in your own realm that you need to seek wisdom from other gods in other kingdoms?”

The story is about giving honor where honor is due. It is about seeking the Good Lord for answers to our questions and for help in our need. It is about understanding that God is the giver of all good things and is willing and able to provide for all our needs if we will just look to him. All too often when faced with troubles we will run all around asking those around us what they think, what will happen, what should we do. We ask them to pray for us as we search for answers to our questions and search for faith through our fears. We go around seeking wisdom from those who cannot see the end from the beginning, and keep asking till we hear the answer we want – then call it a word from the Lord.

Would the king have received a different answer had he gone to the old man in the first place? I do not know, but there would not have been 102 soldiers burnt to a crisp and the Lord I know is one of mercy and grace, willing to heal and wanting to help…

…if we will just look to him first.

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