Why has the following story been preserved for thousands of years? Are we being taught some ancient ritual to “magically” retrieve items from a river? Probably not. Stick with me though . . . there is actually a message in this story about how the people of God ought to live within society…
Now the company of prophets (think of a seminary) said to Elisha (the head prophet), “As you see, the place where we live under your charge is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, and let us collect logs there, one for each of us, and build a place there for us to live.”
He answered, “Do so.”
Then one of them said, “Please come with your servants.”
And he answered, “I will.”
So he went with them. When they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water; he cried out, “Alas, master! It was borrowed.”
Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?”
When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float.
He said, “Pick it up.”
So he reached out his hand and took it. (2Ki 6:1-7 NRSV)
The seminary had been located among the people of Israel where the seminarians could minister to the people as they learned. But someone got the idea into their head that the seminarians needed to be isolated so they could concentrate on their studies and not be bothered by the needs of the people who they lived among. This place near the River Jordan was where they were to relocate.
Elisha, the head prophet, was against moving the prophets to this isolated place. He wanted his students to speak into and work in society, not be isolated in an ivory tower. Elisha is still stewing about it when his students ask his permission to build a bigger dorm at the new location. Elisha replies with lechu, which above is translated “Do so”, but in real life, it literally means, “Go, and I’m not going with you.” However through a lot of repetitive words translated as “Please,” not capturing the tension in begging Elisha to come with them, the students earnestly begged him to come anyway. And he does.
The lost axe is meant to show the seminarians that this move to the Jordan was wrong. They are in big trouble because axes (made of iron) were particularly costly and precious back then. No way can they pay to replace it or buy one of their own. No way can they build a new dorm without it. Through the lost axe, God was speaking to the prophets telling them that they belonged in society, serving the people, not hidden away in an isolated area.
Despite that, Elisha shows mercy and retrieves the iron axe head.
So… does where you live speak to your values? Where should a follower of Jesus live?
Learn more about scripture through one of April’s Books. If you are interested in what scripture has to say about how the life of a follower of Jesus should be lived radically, you might like James in the Suburbs.