Case in Point

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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Benny baby, you have no right to the truth (2 Kings 6)

2 Kings 6: 13, 18-19. “’Go, find out where Elisha is,’ the king of Syria ordered, ‘so I can send men and capture him.’ The report came back, ‘He is in Dothan.’ Then the king sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. . . . . As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, ‘Strike these people with blindness.’ So He struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. Elisha told them, ‘This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.’ And he led them to Samaria.”

Exegesis and Application

The statement of Elisha to the army of Syria appears to be a lie (vs. 19).

There are two ways of looking at this episode:

1) This is not a lie but rather a clever response on the part of the prophet to the army of the enemy. This point takes a bit of contortion but it finds an advocate in the great John Murray. Murray argues that since Elisha was outside the city of Dothan (vs. 15), technically, Elisha’s response “this is not the city” was correct.  Also, since the army was blind they could not find Elisha on their own so the only “way” they could find Elisha would be to regain their sight so Elisha’s response, “this is not the way” was also technically correct. Finally, Elisha’s response, “Follow me and I will bring you to the man you are looking for,” was also true because only when the army regained its sight would it see “the man who it was looking for” – Elisha. After all, he was doing them a favor by leading them into the enemy city of Samaria where their sight would be regained and they would then see Elisha, the man they were looking for.  Otherwise, they would just wander around in their blindness. Furthermore, Elisha was not responsible for what the Syrians understood by Elisha’s words. Elisha was responsible to speak the truth of the facts as he understood them and not try and divine what the recipients of his words understood. As Murray states, “The meaning of our language is dictated by the facts which come within the purview of the person making the statement and not by the limited conception of these factors entertained by others. If another person is temporarily deceived by inadequate understanding, this is not deception springing from lies on the part of the speaker.” Murray’s take requires the speaker to be more clever than most of us and seems to be ambiguous and veiled beyond the normal ability. It might be a defense of Elisha’s actions but I think there is a better explanation.

2) Elisha lied with complete justification and no divine reprobation.
Elisha was under no obligation to inform them that he was the man whom they sought. David Clyde Jones makes the point that speech has been designed by God for inter-human communication. The radical disruption of human relationships in this instance, i.e., Syrian king Ben-hadad is out to kill Elisha, vitiates the biblical insistence on truth and is “manifestly against the purposes for which God has given us speech.” The Syrians had no legitimate expectation of receiving the truth from Elisha. The fact is, he was far more truthful than he need be and was warranted under the extreme circumstances. We need not contort ourselves to explain away Elisha’s lies to the Syrians. He lied, and good for him (cf, Bonhoeffer, Ethics). There is the issue of “blindness.” Was the Syrian army really blind? After all, Elisha said, “Follow me” (vs. 19). Pretty difficult if one is blinded, without sight. The Hebrew word is “sanwerim” and can mean “confusion of sight.” The term is used only here and in Genesis 19:11 with the men of Sodom and Gomorra. Elisha could have led them by the halter of the lead horses or they could have just been really confused and deceived by the Holy Spirit.

1) Christian journalist, this report illustrates the biblical teaching of the circumstantial aspect of truth-telling and the acceptability of veiled speech.

2) Christian journalist, the biblical form of narrative of creation, fall and redemption can be applied thusly: Creation = Elisha’s assistance to Jehoram, king of Israel, about the activities of its enemy Syria (vs. 9); Fall = the planned attack of Syria to kill Elisha (vs. 13); Redemption = the blinding of the Syrians and their subsequent captive march into the Israelite city of Samaria (vs. 20-23).

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