If at first you don't suceed Try, try again... -Benjamin Franklin
Elisha, the prophet, had grown old in his work. Sixty years before he had been called into ministry and had served faithfully for twenty years, but throughout the entire reign of King Jehu of Israel-forty-five years-he had been on the shelf. Forty-five years! Whoever thought that anyone would have a shelf-life that long.
Then a new king emerged-Jehu's son and successor, Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:1), who "did evil in the sight of the Lord and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat" (13:2) (Jeroboam was the king who went down in history as the man who taught Israel to idolize calves.)
So God gave Israel into the hand of the Syrian kings, Hazael and Ben-hadad (13:3)-which is what God does when we insist on going our own way. "The punishment for sin is sin," Augustine said. Sin begets sin until it dominates us and makes us its slave.
Because of Jehoahaz' wickedness, Israel was plucked and pillaged by Hazael and Ben-hadad, the Syrian kings, and reduced to an impotent force of 10,000 foot soldiers, fifty horsemen and ten chariots. [Cp. Judah's 300,000 foot soldiers at this time (2 Chron. 25:5).]
In his desperation, Jehoahaz began to pray and the Lord listened and raised up a deliverer-his son, Jehoash: "The Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…, (and) Jehoash son of Jehoahaz recaptured from Ben-Hadad son of Hazael the towns he had taken in battle from his father Jehoahaz. Three times Jehoash defeated him, and so he recovered the Israelite towns" (13:23-25). But Jehohaz himself did not participate in the answer to his prayer. All of this came much later.
Despite God's deliverance, however, Israel "did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them. With great precision the text says: "Each man walked in it" (13:6).
Why then would God feel obliged to show mercy "The Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (13:23).
God had promised long before to bring salvation to Israel-a promise that was not based on their performance, but on his. When God first made his covenant with Abraham he put the old patriarch to sleep so he could not participate in it. That's why we can be assured of our salvation today. It's all God's doing not ours.
Jehoahaz died with very little fanfare and was followed by his son Jehoash, otherwise known as Joash. He was the promised deliverer.
However, every son gets to be like his father: Joash did evil in the sight of the Lord, in that he kept up Jeroboam's ancient idolatry and was, in fact, so enamored of the old idolater that he named his son Jeroboam II after him. Furthermore, he embroiled Israel in a bloody and costly civil war with her brothers to the south that resulted in years of heartache and loss.
In the midst of this depravity and confusion there is an incident reported about Joash in connection with a visit to Elisha (13:14-19). It explains how God used Joash to deliver Israel, why he used him, and why he couldn't use him to the extent that he desired. There's an important lesson for us here.
Elisha was taken ill and it was reported that he was dying. Joash went down to his house to seek his dying counsel. Joash "wept over his face," i.e., bent over the old prophet as he lay dying and mourned his departure: "My father! My father!" he cried, "The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" (2 Kings 13:14).
Israel had been reduced to fifty horsemen and ten chariots. They were powerless against the Syrian army, which was now backed by the super-power, Assyria. (According to Assyrian monuments of this period, Syria had become a province of Assyria.) Joash was well aware of Elisha's reputation and his apparent authority to summon up the hosts of God. With his death, Joash reckoned that the horsemen and chariots of God would also depart and he would be left alone.
Elisha responded graciously. He saw the king's deep distress. Despite the generational and the spiritual gap between the two, Elisha had great sympathy for the young king. "When we are out of sympathy with the young then our work in this life is over," says John Wooden.
In symbolic action, Elisha instructed the king to "Get a bow and some arrows," and he did so. "Take the bow in your hands," he said and when he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king's hands. "Open the east window (in the direction of the enemy)," he said, and he opened it. "Shoot!" Elisha said, and he shot. "The Lord's arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!" Elisha declared. "You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek." Shooting an arrow in the direction of an enemy was an ancient way of declaring war. This was Elisha's way of encouraging Joash to take action, to vigorously prosecute the war against Syria.
By placing his hands on the young king's hand's he assured him that strength of the shot came from the Lord, just as an adult might put his hands over a child's hands and pull a bow too powerful for him to draw and aim the shot for greatest effect.
And then Elisha sealed the symbol with the prediction that the king and his army would defeat Syria in battle at Aphek. But there was more: Elisha said to the king, "Take the (remaining) arrows," and the king took the the arrows from his quiver. Elisha then told him to "Strike the ground (shoot an arrow into the ground)" which he did-"three times and then he stopped."
Elisha was indignant (the word is frequently used in the Old Testament of the holy indignation of God). "You should have struck the ground five or six times (shot all the arrows)," he fumed, "Then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times."
And so it was: "Jehoash son of Jehoahaz recaptured from Ben-Hadad son of Hazael the towns he had taken in battle from his father Jehoahaz. Three times Jehoash defeated him" (13:25).
Though Joash won three battles he lost the war. Aram continued to intimidate and menace Israel until Israel finally made peace with them, entering into a treaty that eventually led to the treacherous assault on their own brothers in Judah (Cf. 2 Kings 15:37ff and Isaiah 7:1, 2).
Imbedded in this slice of life is a profound principle: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
You'll probably never be called to do battle with Syrian soldiers, but I'm certain that you're presently engaged in battle with some personal enemy-what Peter calls, "the passions of the flesh at war with your soul" (1 Pet. 2:11): an uncontrolled temper, an alcohol addiction, a sexual perversion, some other form of deep-seated wickedness-sloth, greed, malice, bitterness and sullen pride.
The first step is to declare war against the enemy. Unceasing warfare is to be maintained. Determine that you will never make peace with the flesh. To do so is to invite disaster. There can be no neutrality in the Christian life. We will eithjer master sin or we will be mastered by it!
The second step is to remind ourselves that God's hands are on our hands. He is a "hands-on" God. His hands had once conquered Canaan for Israel: "With your hand," the psalmist wrote, "you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. You are my king and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame" (Ps. 44:1-7).
Yet the poet himself acknowledges that we won't win them all (44: 9-16). Therefore… If at first you don't succeed in your struggle against sin, try, try, try again! Keep drawing the bow; keep striking a blow! It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises. It may be that the battle will continue until death or until the Lord comes. Certainly there will be times when we will get discouraged, but we must never give up!
After one horrible defeat in which lost thousands of his men General Ulyssus S. Grant was seen going into tent and crying uncontrollably for hour. He had made a tactical error and was solely responsible for the losses. Next day his men saw him emerge with the determined look of a general, mount his horse and continue on with the campaign. And so must we.
John White writes.
"It is the man or woman who gets up and fights again that is the true warrior. What would you think of a soldier who in the midst of battle sat down and said, `I'm no good. It's no use trying any more. Nothing seems to work'? There is no place for giving up. The warfare is so much bigger than our personal humiliations. Top feel sorry for oneself is totally inappropriate. Over such a soldier I would pour a bucket of icy water. I would drag him to his feet, kick him in the rear end put a sword in his hand and shout, `Now fight!' In some circumstances must be cruel to be kind. What if you have fallen for a tempting ruse of the Enemy? What if you're not the most brilliant swordsman in the army? You hold Excaliber in your hand! Get behind the lines for a break if you're too weak to go on, strengthen yourself with a powerful draught of the wine of Romans 8:1-4. Then get back into the fight before your muscles get stiff!"Obedience means never giving up, even through repeated failure, because we know that is what God has asked us to do. "It's required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2). Not successful. Just faithful.
What's required of us is dogged endurance, keeping at the task of obedience through the ebbs and flows, ups and downs, victories and losses, trying and knowing that God is working in us to accomplish his good purpose"-staunchly, steadfastly, persistently doing God's will until we stand before him, perfect in every way and the work is finally done. God is dogged in his endurance too, and wonderfully persistent: He never gives up on us.
"No amount of falls can really undo us," C. S. Lewis wrote, "if we keep picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course, be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home…. The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give up."
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, When the road you're trudging seems all uphill, When care is pressing you down a bit Rest if you must, but don't quit. Many a failure turns about, When he might have won had he stuck it out; Don't give up when the pace seems slow, You may succeed with another blow. You never can tell how close you are, It may be near when it seems so far; So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit, It's when things seem worse, that you must not quit. -author unknown