A “Twilight Zone” Episode from the Old Testament

Rod Serling narrates The Twilight Zone – Season 2, Episode 2 – “The Man in the Bottle”

2 Kings 8

7Now Elisha went to Damascus, the capital of Aram, where King Ben-hadad lay sick. Someone told the king that the man of God had come. 8When the king heard the news, he said to Hazael, “Take a gift to the man of God. Then tell him to ask the LORD if I will get well again.”

9So Hazael loaded down forty camels with the finest products of Damascus as a gift for Elisha. He went in to him and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad, the king of Aram, has sent me to ask you if he will recover.”

10And Elisha replied, “Go and tell him, ‘You will recover.’ But the LORD has shown me that he will actually die!” 11Elisha stared at Hazael* with a fixed gaze until Hazael became uneasy. Then the man of God started weeping.

12“What’s the matter, my lord?” Hazael asked him.

Elisha replied, “I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men, dash their children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!”

13Then Hazael replied, “How could a nobody like me ever accomplish such a great feat?”

But Elisha answered, “The LORD has shown me that you are going to be the king of Aram.”

14When Hazael went back, the king asked him, “What did Elisha tell you?”

And Hazael replied, “He told me that you will surely recover.”

15But the next day Hazael took a blanket, soaked it in water, and held it over the king’s face until he died. Then Hazael became the next king of Aram. (2 Kings 8:7-15)


The Daily DAVEotional

I grew up watching reruns of the classic TV series “The Twilight Zone”. Every black and white episode was introduced by series creator and narrator Rod Serling, who, in his classic opening line of “Imagine if you will…” posed a seemingly normal scenario that ultimately ended with an ironic twist of fate that often left the audience wondering if the next installment might be as paradoxical as the last.

This section of scripture from 2 Kings reads like an old Twilight Zone TV script.

Elisha goes to the King of Syria who lays in bed sick and is wondering if he’ll get better. The king tells his servant Hazael to take a gift to Elisha so that they might consult him regarding God’s outcome for his illness.

As Elisha interacts with Hazael, there is an awkward exchange where Elisha breaks down in tears. When asked about the reason for his sadness, Elisha reveals to Hazael that he’s weeping because he foresees the future, and in this future he sees all the evil things Hazael is going to do to the people of Israel.

Hazael doesn’t think too highly of himself as he refers to himself as a “nobody” but he seems to express some excitement at the prospect that he might actually accomplish these “great feats.” Still, he wonders how it’s possible.

Elisha tells him that God has informed him that he will become the king of Aram.

This revelation seems to set forces in motion for Hazael as he tells the king that he WILL recover from his illness but then promptly murders him the next day, replacing him as king of Aram and thus fulfilling Elisha’s prophetic vision.

The question is: did God simply foresee events that would happen and then tell Hazael what He saw, or was this revelation the seed that CAUSED Hazael to take the action that he did?

In the Twilight Zone, the viewer is often left to ponder for himself this very question. One could make an argument either way, which is one of the reasons there was wide appeal for the show, which, even more than 50 years later, are still running daily on local TV stations.

So which is it? Is it divine foreknowledge? Or did God cause the events? It’s the age-old debate: does Hazael freely choose his path or did God fore-ordain it?

It’s both. Clearly God sees everything. And clearly God is sovereign over everything and is able to orchestrate people and circumstances to accomplish His purposes.

What is interesting to know is that back in 1 Kings 19:15, Elijah was told by God that he was to anoint Jehu to be king of Israel, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram and anoint Elisha to be his successor.

Immediately after that passage, we see Elijah calling Elisha to be his successor, but we are not told what happened with Jehu and Hazael.

Now in 2 Kings 8, we see the rest of the story unfold. God’s plan was always for Hazael to be king; we just weren’t informed how and when it would come about.

From the story, it appears that Elisha’s revelation to Hazael plants the seed in Hazael’s mind that he can be someone of greater significance than he previously had imagined.

God, in His sovereignty is able to orchestrate events to fulfill His ultimate purposes, but at the same time, Hazael acted of his own free will when he decided to murder the king and take his place.

Like the Twilight Zone ending, we are left to ponder exactly how these two separate but equally true realities intersect: God knows all and yet is able to accomplish His purposes through people who are completely and fully responsible for their own actions which are made of their own free will.

Reflection

When is a time when you saw God orchestrate circumstances to accomplish a purpose? What are some examples in your own life of events unfolding that seem to coincidental to be anything other than God’s intervention?

God first told Elijah to anoint Hazael king in 1 Kings 19 but we don’t actually see him do it. We see the fulfillment of Hazael becoming king of Aram eleven chapters later. Why do you think there is a such a gap in this story? 

Most people do not have the luxury of having a prophet of God tell them their future. What are the voices you are listening to regarding your future and your destiny? Short of having a prophet visit you, what are some ways you can get God’s perspective on your life and future?

What do you think we can learn from studying the lives and decisions of these kings who lived over 2500 years ago? How can we apply these stories to our own lives and our own culture?

 

Screenshot from Dave Lowe

The Time God the Father Denied Jesus His Request

Mark 14

32And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. 34He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.”

35He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”

37Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. “Simon!” he said to Peter. “Are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? 38Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak.”

39Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

41When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Still sleeping? Still resting?* Enough! The time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Up, let’s be going. See, my betrayer is here!” (Mark 14:32-42, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few years ago I was counseling with a student who was having major doubts about God. Not only was this young man from a strong Christian home, but he was a missionary kid, so his family’s commitment to church and to ministry was greater than most. Given his background and family, it was a bit surprising to hear that he was doubting whether God actually existed.

As I probed further, asking questions to determine the source of his doubt, I learned that the seeds were planted way back in high school when he was part of an overseas youth group.

The group was planning to take a missions trip to a neighboring country during a scheduled school break but the trip ended up being canceled due to civil unrest in the other country.

The leaders and the youth were all aware of the dangers and they knew the possibility existed that their trip would not be allowed by the government because of political tensions. So the whole group began praying, EARNESTLY, that God would allow the trip to happen. They prayed that He would work out the circumstances and arrange events so that their small group would be able to take their trip and complete their planned ministry events.

When the event didn’t happen, this student began to question whether God existed. It didn’t make sense to him why God would not allow the trip. After all, wasn’t God concerned about these people who did not know Him? Wouldn’t He WANT them to take the gospel to those who have never heard? We’ve been commanded to GO, and they were planning and preparing to follow God’s command, so it only made sense to them that God would miraculously orchestrate events to make it happen.

But He didn’t. So this student made the conclusion that because God didn’t act in a way that made sense to him, then perhaps God doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning is more common than we might think and it underscores a major misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer.

In Mark 14, after the Passover meal but before Jesus is arrested, He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus is in distress and His soul is in anguish as He thinks about what is about to transpire. Verse 35 says that,

“He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by.”

In the very next verse, Jesus tells the Father that He knows that “everything is possible with you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me.”

Jesus goes back to the disciples, only to find them sleeping. Verse 39 says that He went back and repeated His pleadings with the Father. Jesus repeats the cycle a 3rd time, each time finding the disciples sleeping before returning and praying and pleading with God the Father regarding His impending suffering.

Jesus is clearly troubled. He said, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” Jesus clearly pleads for a way to avoid this suffering and He appeals to the Father’s ability to do the impossible. Jesus KNOWS that God can do anything, yet Jesus’ request, is not fulfilled. We know how the story ends and Jesus does not escape the suffering that was so distressing to Him.

So why didn’t the Father honor Jesus’ request? Why does Jesus not get saved from His suffering?

The key to this whole passage is in the words that follow Jesus’ request. Jesus does ask for the suffering to pass Him by, but He follows that up with the words “Yet I want your will, not mine.”

Jesus, in His humanity, was looking for a way to escape what He was about to endure. But in His divinity, He humbly submits to the will of the Father.

The point of prayer is not to get what we want. God is not a genie who is bound to grant our wishes and requests. The purpose of prayer then is for us to align ourselves with God’s will, just as Jesus demonstrates. Sometimes this is difficult because we may not be entirely sure what God’s will is in some situations. But this just provides us with a greater opportunity to trust God for the outcome.

My student friend thought he understood God. He determined that God should act in a certain way in a certain situation. He (and others) even prayed diligently that God would respond in the way that made sense to them. When He didn’t, instead of determining that God must have other plans, or God is bigger than we are and we cannot see and understand all the details as He can, this student made the determination that God must not exist.

I want to be clear that I think it’s ok to ask God to respond to our needs and our requests. There was nothing wrong with the students praying earnestly that God would arrange circumstances so that their trip would happen. The error, at least for my student friend, was in assuming that God was obligated to act in the way he desired. He is not. These students, or at least this one student, failed to understand that while God invites me to be honest and to share my needs and preferences with Him, He is not required to give me what I want. Instead, He invites each of us to trust Him and to align ourselves with His purposes and His plans.

Reflection

When have you viewed prayer as an activity in which you try to convince God to give you what you want?

What do you think is the root reason why people approach prayer as if God is a genie who just emerged from a lamp, or as if He’s a gentlemanly Santa Claus, who desires to make us happy by giving us our most desired gift?

How does this passage where Jesus prays to the Father give you insight and instruction on how we should be approaching and thinking about prayer?

What are some other passages and Scriptures that inform your understanding of prayer and your understanding of the nature of God?

 

Photo by Arina Krasnikova from Pexels