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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

March 24, 2017

The last word

Filed under Sabbath Thoughts

What do we learn about a person's relationship to God when he goes through difficult times? Persecution, financial problems, sickness – and even death? For centuries some people have tended to view such things as evidence of a disturbed relationship to God. Either the person was lacking zeal for God and His way, or God needed to punish the person for his sins.

We find an example of the latter in Jesus' ministry. The apostle John gives us the details in his gospel: "Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth" (John 9:1). His disciples asked Him: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (verse 2). Many Jews viewed a disability like this as a curse for sins committed, as evidenced by the behaviour of the Pharisees toward the blind man after he had been healed by Jesus: "You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?" (verse 34).

What would the Jews of Jesus' day have thought of the prophet Elisha? The Bible tells us that "Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die" (2 Kings 13:14). The Bible doesn't tell us what illness it was; some think it may have been cancer.

Elisha had lived a long life, for it was now about sixty years since he was first called to be a prophet. By contrast his predecessor, the prophet Elijah, had completed his service as prophet in a fourth part of that time. It is God who determines in His infinite wisdom how long His prophets serve Him. The Bible describes Elisha's miracles in the early years of His ministry, but during all the latter part of his life, from the anointing of Jehu, which was forty-five years before Joash began his reign, we find no mention made of him, nor of anything he did, until the Bible tells us that he was sick and would die of the illness.

God did not heal him, but just let him die. Now we must all die, but illness as the cause of Elisha's death would have led some Jews during Jesus' time to conclude that God was not pleased with Elisha. However, the opposite was true, because God worked Elisha's greatest miracle after his death:

"Then Elisha died, and they buried him. And the raiding bands from Moab invaded the land in the spring of the year. So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet" (2 Kings 13:20-21). This miracle was a confirmation of Elisha's prophetic ministry and a clear indication from God, that Elisha's relationship to Him was in good order.

None of us can discern the heart of our fellow man. Only God can do that. Things that we might interpret to be an indication of God's displeasure toward someone might not be that at all. God is our judge, and when it comes to the final verdict about anyone's life, it is God who has the last word.

With these thoughts I wish everyone a rewarding Sabbath!

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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