CNBC headline this morning, “How Ukraine’s mud became a secret weapon in its defense against Russia,” was reminiscent of the Providence of God in the affairs of men as recorded in multiple Old Testament books. Generals who should have known better took orders to execute Putin’s offensive as the mud season in Ukraine began. Oh, how the arrogant fumble the ball under the Providence of God!
Another such example was Hitler at Dunkirk. Historians agree that without Hitler’s halt order to his lauded Panzer tanks, the beaches of Dunkirk would have become a giant POW camp. Why did Hitler issue the halt order? No one knows for sure, and that knowledge died with Hitler. However, he had fought in France in WWI and had personal knowledge of the potential mud quagmire and likely decided he had time for the infantry to catch up with the mechanical offense and finish the job. Or, Gorging may have convinced him that the Luftwaffe could pulverize the remaining resistance. Let’s assume the mud theory is correct, and he made a wise choice. Ultimately history writers have generally agreed that this was the Providence of God. An arrogant man who thought more highly of himself than his being deserved proved to be a fool. And God proved to be God moving in the affairs of men.
In Second Kings chapter four, we can learn five lessons about the Providence of God that help us learn to watch for God’s hand in the affairs of men.
Lesson One: Providence and Timing 4:1-7
The record of chapter three suggests that Elisha could have been as much as seven days journey from this woman. It can be observed in the previous chapters that there were several locations of the school of the prophets that formed a circuit for Elisha to visit. Elisha could have been at any of these locations or on a mission with the King some seven days away. With this in mind, we can see the hand of Providence in this fourth chapter in two ways.
1. Elisha was at the right place for this incident to occur. He could have been multiple days’ journey from her.
2. Her husband died, her creditors’ deadline for payment had expired, and the visit of Elisha all HAPPENED in a cluster or were all coordinated. Providence teaches us that the Living God coordinated all.
Let me illustrate from a life-or-death contemporary situation. A pastor had a cardiac arrest as he finished the Sunday morning sermon. He dropped! The doctor and the nurse who saved his life were in the congregation. It later became known that circumstances that morning had almost caused their absence. However, God providentially had them there. After ten days in an induced coma, he emerged with all his faculties. That was five years ago last April. He continues to be a vibrant Pastor of a thriving congregation.
Lesson Two: Providence initiates faith 4:8-17
1. Elisha’s circuit to oversee the schools of the prophets provides an opportunity for this lesson. He apparently traveled regularly from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho, Jordan 2:1-7. The Lord stirs a woman’s heart as she recognizes that he was a man of God and engaged in good works. She decided to support his physical needs. She was well off. Perhaps considerably younger than her husband. She had no needs.
2. The Lord stirs the heart of Elisha to desire to honor her service and seeks out how he can do so.
3. Having an heir in Israel was of supreme importance in ancient Israel. The Lord stirs the heart of Elisha with the plan to give her what she could not have since her husband was too old. We are not told if the miracle of pregnancy came from renewing her womb (like Sarai) or restoring her husband’s capacity to provide the semen. Exactly how the miracle was executed is not essential. The fact is.
4. Perhaps 8 to ten years later, and we can assume Elisha has been using her room and consuming her provisions all this time, her son had what we would likely diagnose today as a brain aneurism.
5. Her response:
a. Lays her son on the prophet’s bed
b. Likely does not inform her husband that their son died
c. Intensely travels the 15-18 miles to the prophet
d. As he miraculously gave her the son, so she expected he could give him back to her. How did she get here?
Lesson three: God providentially builds her faith 4:18-37
1. Recognizing the reality of God through the life of Elisha
2. Experiencing the miracle of her son’s birth
3. Believing that all will be well (23) to all is well even when all is not well (26), as demonstrated in her tenacity (27, 30)
4. Recognizing her need that can only be met by God (note, eight times Elijah is referred to as the “man of God”)—he represents God
She exemplifies in flesh and blood what James declares as a New Testament principle of Christian living, “But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting James 1:5-6.
Lesson four: God providentially demonstrates that it is He and not Elisha that is powerful
1. Does not reveal the situation to Elisha, who humbly admits this (27)
2. God providentially prevented the delegation of his usual power (31-32)
3. Elisha, who normally acts and accomplishes, must stop and pray (33)
4. Delayed recovery took additional prayer (34-35)
Consider Dunkirk again but from the side of the allies. The BBC summarized operation Dynamo at Dunkirk, saying, “Cloud cover between 28th and 30th May obscured the beaches, preventing the Luftwaffe from bombing the Allied forces and their rescuers as they sailed across the Channel. Above the clouds, the Royal Air Force could engage the Luftwaffe in the skies.” The Providentially provided weather conditions ensured the success of the allied withdrawal with a rag-tag flotilla.
Lesson Five: God providentially over-rules ignorance and teaches His sufficiency 38-44
Read the narrative text, and the following two points virtually jump off the page.
1. Again, the providence is in the timing—Elisha is on the scene (38-41).
2. Providence in the expansion (42-44)
Perhaps George Muller was a cousin to Elisha. People brought gifts to the orphanage, and there always seemed to be enough to eat. Here is one instance.
“The children are dressed and ready for school. But there is no food for them to eat,” the housemother of the orphanage informed George Mueller. George asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He thanked God for the food and waited. George knew God would provide food for the children as he always did. Within minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “last night, I could not sleep. Somehow, I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.”
Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. The milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed. He asked George if he could use some free milk. George smiled as the milkman brought in ten large cans of milk. It was just enough for the 300 thirsty children.”
The point here is not to suggest that you or I should become an Elisha or a George Muller. The point is that you and I should embrace the doctrine of the Providence of God. Sometimes it will be apparent, and sometimes, it will not be as obvious. Allow me to give you two obvious occasions from our own lives, therefore, encouraging our trusting and expecting God to be providentially operating in our personal lives. But first, remember these realities. Providence should generate fear, for it reminds us that we live in the environment of God. It should generate comfort since God promises to “have our backs”. It often is a means of providing guidance, especially in our decision-making.
First, last fall, we were on our way to church for the 8 a.m. service. Traffic around our home is sparse on Sunday mornings. We pulled up to the red light at HW 150 and Ross Bridge Parkway. I am a rather intense driver, so I usually jump when the light snaps green. That morning I did not. I did not think about it. God delayed me. I did not jump when the light turned green. If I had, I would not be here because a pickup truck ran the red light at 80 mph or better. He would have T-boned us without a doubt.
Second. On another occasion, Pam was traveling with two small children in the car. She had mapped out her route for the next food, drink, and potty break (necessary with children or older folks). It was a rainy, dreary day resulting in her taking the wrong exit off the highway into a small town. Right at the exit was a gas station. She had a blowout as she pulled in to refuel. The service station handled it, and they were on their way. No coincidence! Providential care!