Frequently Asked Questions About Christianity, Answered Honestly!
The Miracle of Elisha and the Floating Axe Head
by Tony Warren
he question is often asked of me, "what is the significance of the floating axe head?" Was it just to show that Elisha did great miracles by the power of God? Was it to demonstrate that God cares about His people being in debt? Was it a caution to us that we must make sure we return all tools and equipment we borrow? Or perhaps it was just to make a display of the awesome power of God? All of these questions can be categorized as true of course, but is that the point of this miracle performed by Elisha? Why were these logs being cut near the Jordan River that has an obvious spiritual connotation? Why did the prophet Elisha throw in a new piece of wood or branch cut from a tree to retrieve the iron? Why was it an axe head that was lost in the river Jordan? Why did God choose a miracle of making the iron axe head swim or flow to the surface? What part did the branch play in the iron floating? Indeed, why would Elisha do such a miracle at all, since God could have just moved it out of the water with a word, or simply have the axe replaced for the student. The fact is, this sign or miracle is God breathed in all its elements because God wants us to consider it as a token or signification of something far more important than literal iron floating on water. The floating axe head, and indeed the pattern of all God’s miracles recorded in Scripture, always have some deeper spiritual meaning to them. From the creation of the world in seven days, to the clean and unclean animals in the flood by twos and sevens in Noah's day, to the parting of the red sea, to the five loaves of bread feeding five thousand. They all point to some deeper spiritual truth concerning the gospel of Christ toward His people. In understanding this we know that the primary lesson for the church in the lost axe head that did swim, is its message concerning God’s relationship to His people. So let's briefly look at seven verses that immediately speak to this question:
2nd Kings 6:1
The name "Elisha means" [God is Savior] and is from the Hebrew elements [el] meaning "God" and [yasha] meaning "help" or Savior. The title "God is Savior" is very appropriate for the miracles Elisha does, since Elisha is a type of Christ (2nd Kings 4:33-35) and his miracles are to signify some particular aspect of the gospel message of salvation.
The sons of the prophets refer to his spiritual children the prophets who are characteristic of Christian workers. In the historical narrative they were the assemblage and community of prophets who had flocked to him for the advantage of learning and wise counsel. Their place was more like a school for the prophets of God, and they sat to learn both under Elijah and Elisha (2nd Kings 2:3) to be educated on Godly matters.
- "And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us."
The story and context of this event actually begins earlier as the work and miracles done by the Lord through His prophet Elisha had brought great accessions of pupils to him eager to learn of the glory of God. Clearly their numbers had increased so that the laborers needed more space (Luke 10:2). Thus they made it known to Elisha that the place (common habitation of meeting) where they "sat" down to hear Elisha speak had became too strait (meaning too narrow or confining) for their growing numbers, and they wanted his approval of their solution, which was to go and build a bigger place where they could dwell together comfortably.
2nd Kings 6:2
Obviously the prophets were austere men that took great value in the assent of Elisha to their plan, and paid much reverence to Him in asking his approval to go and do this thing. They were a community of saints who labored together and held Elisha in great esteem in their service of God. Their prayer and plan was that they could go to Jordan, where there would be sufficient wood along its banks for building. The decision was made that every man of them should take from there a beam, or a piece of wood fit to build with, and construct a new house to dwell there. So Elisha, under inspiration of God, gives these young servants his blessing to take their leave that they may enlarge their dwelling place.
- "Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell. And he answered, Go ye."
2nd Kings 6:3
Not only did the prophets seek out the permission of Elisha to build this house, but they also desired the presence of man of God with them. There was no pre-plan that Elijah would go with them, but one of his disciples respectfully asked if he would be content (pleased) to go with them. Let's not lose sight of fact that Elisha was an important prophet, a busy man, a man of teachings and obligations and responsibilities. And yet we are struck by his humility that He answers the request with, "I will go [with you]." In the historical narrative they asked no doubt because of their great love, reverence and respect for him personally, and with an eye toward his sage advise and wisdom. But make no mistake about it, his assent was because it was always God's divine purpose and sovereign good will that Elisha accompany them. Elisha had to be there in order to demonstrate God's miraculous power in the miracle he performed as a model or figure for so great salvation in the work of Christ Jesus. So we read in this verse that Elisha gives his assent to the young prophet that he indeed will also accompany them as they journey to build the dwelling place for God's servants.
- "And one said, Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants. And he answered, I will go."
2nd Kings 6:4
Thus Elisha went with his disciples to the Jordan river where they found great trees on its banks to build their new dwelling place, and they began to cut wood from the trees for the construction of this building. The Jordan River in Scripture represents death, that which separates the children of God from the promised land that lies on the other side of it. It is a symbol representing a type of hell or separation from God. Indeed the very topography of Israel and requirement of its children needing to cross this river in order to enjoy that land, bore witness to its type or representation of the kingdom of heaven, which is the true promised land. The Lord God in this miraculous event is intent on demonstrating to us who would come after that there is a fundamental problem (Psalms 127:1) with the building of this house. Namely, that God's prophet has a debt to pay, and that debt can only be satisfied by the miraculous work and power of Christ to redeem or make compensation for that which was lost, the fault of the builder. We can see this illustrated in the following passages of this chapter:
- So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood."
2nd Kings 6:5
When one of the prophets was swinging the axe, the axe head slipped off of the stick handle, as they would sometimes do (Deuteronomy 19:5) in those days, and the iron axehead was lost as it sank to the bottom of the Jordan river. This caused consternation to this prophet because he was acutely aware that borrowed items should be used with care so that once the task is completed, it can be returned unbroken to its rightful owner. If not, there is a debt that is owed. Thus the good servant was terribly distressed, because in anguish he exclaimed, "Alas, master, for it was borrowed!" In other words, it was with great dismay the prophet said this over the loss of this axe head incurring debt. This is because an axe of iron in those days was no small purchase. Even in our day a Axe big enough to chop down trees is minimum $70.00. Think what the cost would be in those days when $70 would be over a month's wages. This prophet was fully aware that he was now indebted and would have to make good on the cost of the axe (Exodus 22:14-15). The text within this passage also suggests that the prophet is distressed because he did not have the means to purchase a new one, nor to replace the one lost. i.e., this poor man was now in debt to the owner, who the law required restitution.
- "But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed."
The law requires justice in compensation. Moreover, the axe head in Scripture represents judgment, which is the penalty one must pay for the debt that he owes. In this instance, because the prophet lost the axe head, he lawfully owed a debt because the axe was borrowed. The judgment of law is that now He had to pay that debt he owes. The axe itself can easily be shown to be used of God as the representation of God's tool of judgment.
The servant of God losing the axe head in the river Jordan signifies the man owe a great debt, and are under the judgment of the law for it. This truth characterized by it falling into the river that separates the people of God from the promised land. The axe head lost causing debt, and the law requiring that debt must be paid. Thus Elisha is divinely inspired to cut a stick from a tree, that through the power of God it would bring up the axe head, removing the judgment by removing the debt. When the axe head is restored, the servant is now free from debt. It signifies that debt is no longer owed and God's servant is no longer under judgment of the law concerning it. This is why Elisha, the great man of God and type of Christ, had compassion on Him and through divine intervention took action to release (Deuteronomy 15:1-2) him from this debt, and as a type of Christ these Scriptures point to our deliverer from Debt, Christ our Saviors. As we continue, we see that Elisha spoke to the saddened prophet and asked to be shown specifically where the axe fell.
"And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." -Matthew 3:10
"And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." -Luke 3:9
2nd Kings 6:6
Elisha (God is Savior<), having come with them by divine and sovereign providence of God, is right there where he should be, representing Christ, our ever present help in time of trouble. We also note that He pointedly asks the servant exactly where in the water the iron had fallen, and the prophet shows him the place. In other words, the implication is, did you recognize exactly where you lost it, or where the debt was incurred that you need to be redeemed from. The servant knew where and he showed Elisha the place. I believe the Spiritual message here is that Salvation is for those who know where their debt is, and for those who desire Christ's help that they can be set free of it. Indeed, the only way to be free of it is to recognize where and how you have lost it, and that you are in need of help.
- "And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim."
Like the Pharisees here, if we say we have no sin or we have no debt, then Christ the a physician cannot relieve you of what you claim not to have. He came for debtors, and we need to confess that place of debt to Him (Psalms 51:17) that we are redeemed from the law. We must be broken in order to recognize our place of debt to that law.
When the prophet shows Elisha the place where the axe was lost, Elisha then went and cut a piece of wood or stick from a tree and he cast it into the water at the place the prophet confessed the axe head fell. That stick represents the work of Christ on the cross to remove the curse of the law, the debt that requires judgment. That Hebrew word in 2nd Kings 2:6 [ets] that is translated stick, is the exact same word that is translated "gallows" (Esther 5:14), representing the tree, a tool of hanging. Likewise it is the same word translated tree in Deuteronomy chapter 21:
"But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.|
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Matthew 9:12-13
This is precisely why Christ was hung and crucified on a tree, that he would redeem His people from the debt that the law required them to pay. It shows that it is Christ that by means of a stick or tree has rescued us from the consequences of our debt, the curse of the law. In other words, y being made a curse for us, He has removed all our obligations to the law. Indeed this very passage in Deuteronomy is referenced in Galatians when it speaks about the redeeming work of jesus Christ.
"And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:|
His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance." -Deuteronomy 21:22-23
The stick or tree (translated both) represents the power or work of Christ in the redemption of the debt. It was for this reason that Christ died on the tree. It was by this methodology that we are redeemed from the law which was a curse to us because no one could keep it sufficiently to be saved. It is the law which threatens us because of the debt we owe. Note that Elisha did not use the old wood helve (handle) of the axe head to throw into the water to retrieve that which was lost. Instead he cut a entirely new stick to cast into the Jordan river. This was because the stick represents the work of Christ, and it had to be untainted illustrating a new and living way of redemption. When Elisha cut off and cast "this" stick into the place of debt, it was only then that the iron did miraculously swim or flow to the surface of the water to be reclaimed.
Of this miracle there are many (even professing Christians) who ridicule and scoff at it, but this is only illustrating either a terrible lack of understanding of the miraculous power of God, or the deeper spiritual truths such miracles signified. These stories aren't superficial exaggerations, the miracles illustrate eternal truths that were true historically, and are just as relevant for today for what they ultimately represented. Every miracle performed in Scripture is a allegory or parable that was specifically done for our Spiritual understanding of the gospel of Christ. It is truly sad that some professing Christians are so concerned about not taking historical events as representing a type or allegory, that they avoid seeing Christ in the miracles altogether. In truth, that is the whole point of miracles, the signs that we ought to notice some aspect of Christ in them. Otherwise we are left with simple demonstrations of power, historical events or examples of moral and life guidelines. As Bible-believing Christians we must remember that these historical accounts of Elisha's miracles are not only totally true, but are also "signs" or significations--tokens of some God-breathed and hidden (Proverbs 25:2) Spiritual truths about God's salvation economy. Just as His turning water to wine, healing the blind, raising the dead, or casting out Devils are examples of this same Biblical principle. They're not just stories about miracles, they are models illustrating the Spiritual work of Christ and are revealed by His Spirit (1st Corinthians 2:10). This could not have been a natural occurrence, as no man of Himself can cause iron to rise or flow to the top of water and float. Clearly this was a miraculous token of retrieving that which was lost, which the Lord performed through Elisha to demonstrate some aspect of His great and magnificent salvation program for His people.
"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:" -Galatians 3:13
Miracles are done to be a sign, indicator, a witness to so great a salvation that comes only in Christ our Savior. The ensign in this episode with Elisha is that it was the wood of a tree that was cut off (a representation of the work of Christ) that was the key to resurrecting the iron from the depths of the river Jordan. The same portrait of wood that we can see when the children of Israel thirsted in the wilderness, and the Lord told Moses to cast a tree (same word) into the poisoned water to make it sweet and drinkable (Exodus 15:25). The wood stick of the tree represents the efficacious power of Christ in the water whereby Christ redeems it making it clean. Elisha, a type of Christ, uses this same stick cut off so that the axe head can be redeemed from being lost. In other words, it was because of the stick cast into Jordan (representing death) that the iron did float and thus could be retrieved by God's servant.
"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;|
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" -Hebrews 2:3-4
2nd Kings 6:7
A portion of Scripture that exemplifies this command of Elisha to me is when Christ performed the miracle of healing the man that was lame (John 5:11). Christ made him whole and said "take up thy bed, and walk." It was the power of God that gave this man the ability to put out his hand and take up his bed. Likewise, Elisha through the power of the wood that was cut off, redeemed the axe head, making it possible for the prophet to do what he could never have done otherwise. Elisha said, "take it up to thee." And he put forth his hand and received that which was lost. The man who had suffered loss and thus owed a debt, could now put out his hand and that debt was taken away from him. By this miracle we once again see that all things are possible with God (Mark 2:23-24). Just as we who have lost all and are in debt to God by the sin of Adam, have through the power of this tree been returned to that image of God (Romans 8:29-30). The prophet through Elisha (God our Savior) has taken away this servants debt, pointing to our same redemption through Christ, God our Savior. Moreover, as we have had our debt expunged, so we should follow Christ and in that same way forgive our debtors.
- "Therefore said he, Take it up to thee. And he put out his hand, and took it."
This is the compassion of God, and we should be just as compassionate to those who are indebted to us. The compassion Elisha had on his disciple for his dept is a portrait of the compassion God has upon us for ours. This story of the miracle of Elisha raising the lost axe-head that is recorded in 2nd Kings 6:1-7, is the sign (miracle = sign) of the debtor's recovery and restoration through Christ Jesus. We see through this story that Elisha used the wood to remove this student's debt, and this redemption was made through the water of Jordan. This whole episode demonstrates to us the condescension of the Son of God in humbling himself that he might be nailed to a tree (become a curse for us) and come through the waters of death to provide solution for our debt. The miracle performed by the power of God through Elisha of retrieving the axe head by the tree is a spiritual portrait of the work of Christ in redemption through the spiritual water of the river Jordan. A river that we know must be passed over in order to reach the Promised Land. The miracle of the lost axe head teaches us of God's providential purpose in signs, that we might grow in grace in the revealed vision of His completed/satisfied work. This whole collection of seven passages is a powerful message to us that reveals the ultimate power in "God our Savior" and our help in times of need. Scripture is always, and has always been pointing us to the deliverer Christ, and has been speaking to us through the Spirit of truth. "Christ our Savior" is the miracle of the tree that remedies the problem of His prophet under law, by paying the debt that the law justly requires.
"The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.|
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt." -Matthew 18:26-27
May the Lord continue to bless us in the study and comprehension of His most holy word.
Copyright ©2017 Tony Warren
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