The Miracle of the Floating Axhead

The company of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to live.” And he said, “Go.”

Then one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?” “I will,” Elisha replied. And he went with them.

They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. “Oh, my lord,” he cried out, “it was borrowed!”

The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.

2 Kings 6:1-7 (NIV)

By Justin Rossow

It sounds like something from The National Enquirer, not the Bible! At first blush, this Miracle of the Floating Axhead seems to behave less like a miracle and more like a fairy tale, and a bad one at that! Take the borrowed axhead and add a prince or a pot of gold and then you could be on to something. But throwing a stick onto a river lacks the Copperfield heroics our Hollywood mindset expects.

We tend to think of supernatural wonders as being reserved for special people and special occasions. Miracles have something of fairy dust and leprechauns about them in our modern mind. What’s so spectacular about gardening equipment? This miracle seems so mundane, so droll, so blue collar.

And yet … and yet, it made the cut.  It survived the final draft. The Miracle of the Floating Axhead has been preserved across centuries because God would speak to us precisely here: precisely in this nine-to-five, rank and file, working stiff miracle.

As we take a closer look at this bizarre miracle, we find it isn’t all that out of place.  If you’ve read 2 Kings recently (and come on, who has…) then you know this section of the Bible is full of miracles. 

In the opening verses of chapter four, Elisha multiplies cooking oil for a widow of the company of prophets. Then he brings a dead boy back to life by stretching out on top of him. Another time, when the company of prophets were over for a potluck, they discover poison gourds had been added to the stew. Elisha adds some flour and miraculously the “death in the pot” is cured. Chapter four closes with the miraculous feeding of a hundred men while chapter five gives the detailed account of the healing of a prominent foreign army officer: Naaman’s leprosy is cured when he obeys Elisha’s command and bathes seven times in the Jordan River.

For two whole chapters we have seen time and time again how God intervenes miraculously to protect or help God’s own special people. And then we get to the beginning of chapter six—The Miracle of the Floating Axhead—and we can expect more of the same.

Suddenly it doesn’t seem so odd that God would care about the loss of an axhead.  The man was a part of the company of prophets, sort of like a vicar or a pastor on internship. Besides, when all your friends and relatives are still in the Bronze Age, an iron axhead is certainly valuable. And don’t forget, the thing was borrowed; the prophet in training would owe someone big bucks if he lost it, on top of the student loans he was already paying. This guy was in deep trouble!  But he knew where to turn for help. Perhaps it’s not so strange that the man of God would take an interest in his predicament. 

No more strange, then, is the mundane methodology of this mid-sized miracle; a simple stick thrown in the water is no less dramatic than any of the miracles preceding it. A jar of oil for a widow, a handful of flour for the stew, a hug for a dead boy, some bread for a hundred hungry, some water for a leper—all of these are common, everyday, ordinary means. 

No glitz. No glitter. No dry ice machine or pulsing spotlights. Just God acting for ordinary people, letting them know again and again Who is in charge, Who has control, Who is able to do miraculous things—letting these people know again and again how much God cares for them.

This odd miracle, then, doesn’t seem so odd after all. In fact, it’s just like our God to do something like that. It’s just like our God to break into the lives of ordinary people to bless and deliver and save. That’s kind of how our God works.

Just think of Jesus—his whole life is God breaking into our existence in order to save. When, like Elisha, Jesus heals the sick or raises the dead, his message is the same: God is at work for these ordinary people. 

Elisha shows God at work, but Jesus does Elisha one better. Jesus raises the dead without full-body calisthenics; he simply speaks or takes a little hand in his. Jesus heals lepers by a word, not a river. Jesus feeds five thousand men. Jesus shows by his miracles that he is like the prophets of old, only better. Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophets’ promise. Jesus is the feast of God acting for ordinary people; Elisha was part of the appetizer.

But the two belong to the same meal: the same God is at work. The same procedure is often followed. The same message is proclaimed. 

If you look closely, the methods Jesus uses to show God’s power breaking into the daily grind of human busyness seem strangely ordinary; strangely familiar, in fact. A jar of water, a handful of mud, a word, some bread, some wine—all of these common, ordinary means.

No glitz. No glitter. No dry ice machine or pulsing spotlights. Just God acting for ordinary people, letting them know again and again Who is in charge—letting these people know again and again how much God cares for them.

If you look closely around the sanctuary on any given Sunday morning or Wednesday night, you’ll see that our God still at it—Jesus is still acting for ordinary people to let them know how much he cares. 

If you look around the sanctuary, you will see some rather ordinary things: a handful of water, a word, some bread, some wine. Through these ordinary means, Jesus is still working miracles in the ordinary, busy lives of his people. Here Jesus comes and gives us himself and makes us his own.  Here we “touch and handle things unseen.” 

As you take the wafer in your mouth, as you touch the chalice to your lips, Jesus is there for you. God is miraculously touching your life. You are forgiven. I can’t promise you every sinking axhead will float again, but your debt has been paid; your sin is forgiven. God is acting for ordinary people—what a miracle!

And, wonder of wonders, it doesn’t stop there. Jesus outdid Elisha, but he’s not done yet. Jesus is even going to outdo himself. No matter how wonderful the Lord’s Supper is—and it is a miracle! Here Christ Himself is present for us. Here our sins are forgiven. Here we are shaped into the body of Christ—no matter how tightly our faith grasps this foretaste of the feast to come, it is only a foretaste of the feast to come

A time is coming soon when we will no longer walk by faith, but by sight. A time is coming soon when Christ will cease to act in humble, hidden means and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. A time is coming soon when—like the widow’s son—all the dead will be raised, when—like Naaman’s leprosy—all illness will be healed, when—like those who walked and ate with Jesus of Nazareth—you will see God in your own flesh. No one will miss the Son of God when he comes in blazing glory and terrible judgement. 

For you, it will be a day of victory. All because here and now, God is acting for ordinary people. Jesus is forgiving their sins and making them his own. He is showing them all—Jesus is showing you—how much he cares.

Author’s Note: I wrote this sermon for a Hom 2 class taught by my Great Uncle “Rev” Rossow. I was reminded of it recently when I mistakenly listed 2 Kings 6 as one of our weekly readings instead of 2 Kings 5 (the story of Naaman). Today I accidentally found this same sermon buried in my computer file directory while I was looking for something completely different. It made me smile to read it again, so I thought I would share it with you.

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