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

Alone and Forgotten

Genesis 40

1Some time later, Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and chief baker offended him. 2Pharaoh became very angry with these officials, 3and he put them in the prison where Joseph was, in the palace of Potiphar, the captain of the guard. 4They remained in prison for quite some time, and Potiphar assigned Joseph to take care of them.

5One night the cup-bearer and the baker each had a dream, and each dream had its own meaning. 6The next morning Joseph noticed the dejected look on their faces. 7“Why do you look so worried today?” he asked.

8And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but there is no one here to tell us what they mean.”

“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Tell me what you saw.”

9The cup-bearer told his dream first. “In my dream,” he said, “I saw a vine in front of me. 10It had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon there were clusters of ripe grapes. 11I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took the grapes and squeezed the juice into it. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

12“I know what the dream means,” Joseph said. “The three branches mean three days. 13Within three days Pharaoh will take you out of prison and return you to your position as his chief cup-bearer. 14And please have some pity on me when you are back in his favor. Mention me to Pharaoh, and ask him to let me out of here. 15For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in jail, but I did nothing to deserve it.”

16When the chief baker saw that the first dream had such a good meaning, he told his dream to Joseph, too. “In my dream,” he said, “there were three baskets of pastries on my head. 17In the top basket were all kinds of bakery goods for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them.”

18“I’ll tell you what it means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets mean three days. 19Three days from now Pharaoh will cut off your head and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.”

20Pharaoh’s birthday came three days later, and he gave a banquet for all his officials and household staff. He sent for his chief cup-bearer and chief baker, and they were brought to him from the prison. 21He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, 22but he sentenced the chief baker to be impaled on a pole, just as Joseph had predicted. 23Pharaoh’s cup-bearer, however, promptly forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought. (Genesis 40:1-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Joseph ends up in prison through no fault of his own, yet God continues to bless him. He finds himself overseeing the whole prison, making life very easy for the chief jailer.

In chapter 40, two important officials in Pharaoh’s service find themselves in prison after offending Pharaoh. It just so happens that both of them have dreams on the same night that Joseph is able to interpret.

The first thing of note is that Joseph understands that his ability to understand and interpret the dreams comes from God, not some supernatural or psychic ability. There is no doubt that the reason Joseph is blessed wherever he goes and whatever circumstance he finds himself in is because of his unique relationship with the Lord.

Secondly, after Joseph interprets the dream of the cup-bearer, which turns out to be a favorable outcome, Joseph appeals to the cup-bearer to remember him when he’s back in a position of influence. The text says that after the cup-bearer was reinstated to his former position, exactly as Joseph had communicated from the dream, the cup-bearer “promptly forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.”

Doesn’t it seem odd that the cup-bearer completely forgets about Joseph? After all, it’s not everyday that someone interprets your dream and the events of the interpretation unfold EXACTLY as communicated. In addition, the chief baker also had his dream interpreted and though the outcome was not favorable to him, the events of his dream interpretation ALSO unfold exactly as communicated.

Wouldn’t you think this would make a profound impact on the cup-bearer? But apparently, it doesn’t, at least not yet.

I think there are two things going on here. First, I think it’s in our nature to forget the role others play in the blessings we experience. Most of us, at our core are selfish and we like to think that we alone are responsible for our successes. The reality is that often there are a host of others who play pivotal roles in our accomplishments, no matter how minor they may seem. As we revel in our own achievements, we can easily become self-absorbed and “believe our own press clippings”.

Secondly, God’s sovereignty is also displayed in this story. Though the cup-bearer forgot all about Joseph, God orchestrates events in the coming chapters that reminds the cup-bearer of Joseph’s unique ability. This new information comes at just the right time and elevates Joseph to a position of prominence he likely couldn’t have imagined when he was initially appealing to the cup-bearer to remember him.

The lesson here is that God’s timing is perfect and we don’t have access to all the information. While it may appear that my circumstances aren’t working out the way I want, it’s also possible that God is creating a greater opportunity that is beyond the horizon of my vision.

Reflection

Who are some of the people who have contributed to your successes and achievements? Who are some of the people who have played key roles in the person you are today? What can you do to acknowledge and express your appreciation to those people?

When have you experienced circumstances like Joseph, where you were in a situation that is no fault of your own and yet you felt forgotten?

How has God used a past negative circumstances for a greater purpose that you couldn’t see at the time?

 

Photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash