The Gospel of the Axhead

If we “search the Scriptures,” we will find passages in the Old Testament that typify the saving message of Jesus Christ (see John 5:39). In II Kings 6, we read about something that was lost, and how it was found:

And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us. “Please, let us go to the Jordan, and let every man take a beam from there, and let us make there a place where we may dwell.” So he answered, “Go.” Then one said, “Please consent to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, master! For it was borrowed.” So the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And he showed him the place. So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float. Therefore he said, “Pick it up for yourself.” So he reached out his hand and took it. II Kings 6:1-7, NKJV 

The recovery of the lost iron axehead illustrates the gospel of Christ in at least three ways:

First, the lost are found. One of students in the “school of the prophets” had explained to Elisha that the number of pupils had increased to the point they needed more dormitory space. It is proposed that they build the additional space using modest materials, such as trees they would hew themselves from a nearby significant area along the Jordan River. While they were working, the student who had asked Elisha’s approval for the project lost the iron head to an axe. This would not have been inexpensive. And he also would have difficulty returning it – he had to beg a neighbor to borrow it. In the moment of despair, Elisha miraculously retrieves the axhead. In a similar way, the gospel contains divine power to save the lost (Rom. 1:16; read also Luke 15).

Second, the fallen are raised. The iron piece dropped like an anchor to the bottom of the fast-flowing river. Elisha tosses a small tree into the water and it instantly changes the elements of the axehead and it rises and is retrieved. Similarly, those who come to Christ are changed, and raised up to a new life (John 3:3-5; Rom. 6:3-5; Col 3:1-7).

Third, servants are used. When the iron piece floated to the surface, Elisha directed the student to reach in and pick it up. The passage would seem to abruptly end, unless we focus on the significance of this instruction: God called the prophet-in-training to do for himself what he was capable of doing. Instead of the axehead levitating from the bottom of the river, to the surface and into the servant’s hands, he is told to take it himself. This is a principle that runs throughout Scripture, that is sometimes referred to as the “Law of Divine Parsimony,” which means that God will not do supernaturally what is capable of being done through non-supernatural (that is, natural) means (see II Kings 4:3-4; 5:10; John 9:7; 11:39).