He Won’t Let You Sink
What’s with the floating axe head in 2 Kings 6?
God once helped Elisha recover an iron implement from the depths of the Jordan River. Impressive, but does an axe head really matter? Does God care about what’s in our tool sheds?
The story begins with the “sons of the prophets” asking Elisha for some practical help. These were groups of faithful believers in a time of Israelite apostasy, devoted to learning from the LORD’s true messengers. They say, “See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us” (6:1). Elisha’s students were living together in a community, but their meeting place is becoming cramped, so it’s time for an expansion project.
These aspiring lumberjacks propose, “Let us go to the Jordan, and let every man take a beam from there, and let us make a place where we may dwell” (v. 2). And so they set to work. Then the crisis: “As one was cutting down a tree, the iron axe head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, ‘Alas, master! For it was borrowed’” (v. 5).
To us, a lost hand-tool is hardly an emergency. Many years ago when I was a landscaper, we would break shovels on a fairly regular basis. Wooden handles would snap when prying rocks out of the ground or chopping through the roots of trees. A broken shovel (or a lost hammer) was inconvenient, but easily replaced.
But for a person in the eighth century B.C., an iron implement was valuable. To make an axe required many hours of intense labour: gathering wood for a hot fire, melting and refining the iron ore, shaping and sharpening the tool. Such a tool was quite expensive, so to lose it in the river was distressing. One commentator suggests that losing a borrowed axe was something like wrecking the car that someone let you drive for the weekend.
To replace this tool will take some doing. To earn enough to buy another, he’s going to have to work hard: months of labour to replace something that was lost in an instant.
You can understand the man’s dismay, but is this really a problem for the prophet to handle? It looks like the simple need of one unfortunate man.
Just compare it to the two surrounding miracles. In the previous chapter was Elisha’s healing of Naaman the Syrian army commander, a miracle with a headline message: Enemies and Outsiders Receive God’s Mercy! Later in 2 Kings 6, God unveils his heavenly army to Elisha and his servant when they’re in city under siege. Right between these epic moments is the incident of a sunken axe head. God must have far bigger things to be concerned with.
Maybe you’ve thought something similar. Next to all the problems afflicting the world, is God really concerned with your little troubles? The LORD has missionaries to protect, earthquakes to control, the hearts of presidents to direct—does He really want to hear about our small lives and issues?
Does God care about your worries over rising inflation, or the hopes you still cherish for this school year? Is the living God in heaven above concerned about you getting your driver’s license, or your doctor’s appointment next week? Are we flattering ourselves to think that the Almighty God cares about his people’s sunken axe heads, broken fingers, and broken hearts?
But our God is faithful in things great and little. It’s a wondrous truth that our Father is not so occupied with governing this world that He can’t be bothered with our small lives.
Remember Jesus’s words: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt 10:29-31).
We know it’s true, but so often we act as if it’s not. We let our little problems pile up because we do not cast them onto the LORD in prayer. Maybe at some unspoken level we figure that God is not that interested.
We brood over our fears, getting anxious because we do not seek God’s perspective on them. But He does care about our lives, even in all their little details.
The man facing his own little crisis has called Elisha for help. And at once the prophet gets involved. Asking where the axe head fell, cutting a branch and throwing it into the river on the right spot, he acts decisively. And the miracle is described in the plainest way:
He made the iron float.
God intervenes in the normal order of things, because unless it’s made of Styrofoam, an axe head has a higher density than water and it should not float. But this is my Father’s world, and He’s free to rewrite any so-called law of nature. And so the axe head pops to the river’s surface.
So what’s the point? There is no prophetic word fulfilled by this act, no judgment or mercy foreshadowed. Yet God never does miracles for their own sake. Like in Jesus’s earthly ministry, each miracle carries a message about God’s glory.
The miracle of the floating axe head shows that God takes thought for the small things of our life. Because for us, the small things can become big things. For this man, a lost axe head was a big deal. For you and me, a car repair bill can be a big deal, and so can a lingering headache, and a bully at school.
These things matter to us, and because they matter to us, they matter to God.
It doesn’t mean God will suddenly erase the money we owe or make our migraine disappear. But it does mean God is with us in the struggle. And He’ll supply what we truly need: “He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him for us all, how shall He not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).
There are times when God supplies our needs in surprising ways. But God also opens his hand to provide in ordinary ways: a regular income, sufficient strength for the day, the support of a friend. The point is, God supplies all our needs. For Jesus’s sake, God withholds no good thing from those who seek him.
So bring your big and small cares to him, and learn to rest in your Father’s faithfulness and love. He won’t let you sink.