the axehead that was made to swim


(2 Kings 6:1-7)

There are many parallels in this account about Elisha and the sons of the prophets that are instructive about the work of Jesus and the saints in the age to come.

Israel sank in the waters

The word translated “axe” in 2Kings 6:5 in the AV is the same Hebrew “barzel” word used elsewhere in Scripture for iron. The cutting head was therefore made of iron as is confirmed by verse 6.

Israel sank symbolically, like the axe head, in the water due to faithlessness. They were a stiff necked people who were scattered according to the word of the LORD (Jeremiah 30:10; 31:10). The Romans scattered them through out the nations (Deut.28:25). Like the iron axe head they sank in the waters of the Jordan, submerged among the nations, flowing from “Galilee of the nations” (Isa.9:1) to the Dead Sea. Some have returned (typified by Judah, e.g. Zechariah 12.) in unbelief to the land of promise.

When Jesus appears to the world the saints will be with him to begin the work of setting up the Kingdom of God. The work of the saints will be to prepare the nations for the Kingdom of God. The everlasting gospel will be preached (Rev.14:6). The thickets and forest of the nations will be cut down in judgement, like the Assyrian oppressor, and subject to rule of the Lord Jesus Christ (Isa.10:24-34). Then, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness, by the LORD’s judgements (Isa.26:9).

Israel rises from the waters

The axe head (Israel) was caused to swim to be united (resurrected) with the shaft on which it should be firmly fixed (Jesus) and with its user (the Saints). Elisha caused the axe head to swim from the depths of the river Jordan.

Israel passed through the waters of the Jordan to rise from them to a new life in the land of promise (Joshua 4:18-19). This is typical of the time yet future when God’s people will be gathered for a period of time in the wilderness of the people. The rebels will be purged, before the remnant are permitted to enter the land (Ezek.20:35-38).

One of the sons of the prophets said, “Alas master! for it (the axe) was borrowed” (2Kings 6:5). Similarly, Israel will be brought into service in the hands of the master and the saints, to judge the nations. They will carry out this work using Israel, “the rod of his inheritance…my battleaxe and weapons of war” (Jeremiah 51:19-21). However, at that time the battleaxe (Israel) will be attached to its shaft (stem) the Lord Jesus Christ. Faithlessness on Israel’s part caused it to become detached from the LORD’s work.

The prophet Elisha cut a stick (‘ets’ meaning, wood, tree or stick) and cast it in the water. The iron head swam and was lifted from the water on the piece of wood. Israel could only be saved by the work of Jesus who died on a tree. The New Testament Greek equivalent word is “Xulon” used in Acts 5:30 and 1Peter 2:24 of the hanging of our Lord Jesus Christ upon a tree.

Why should an iron axe head represent Israel? Iron was included in the metals given willingly for the service of the Temple by the chief fathers, princes and captains. They gave, gold silver, brass and iron (1Chron.29:6-7). Iron was used for nails for the doors and gates (1Chron.22:3). Each metal is also symbolic of the kingdom of man which will be subject to the rule of our God (Dan.2:32,33,44).

In the Kingdom age Israel will be restored to the stem of the rod of Jesse. Israel will then be the LORD’s battleaxe, which will be wielded against the nation that opposes the will of the LORD. The power of the inhabitants of Zion is described as a horn of iron and hoofs of brass (Micah 4:11-13). The cutting down of the thickets and forest of the nations is described as being with iron (Isa.10:34).

This miracle was therefore for the instruction of the sons of the prophets and for us as saints. Israel will be restored to the head of the nations when the Lord returns (Deut.28:13). Once purged of rebels Israel will be the LORD’s battleaxe but only when they recognise Christ as their saviour. “Who his own self bare our sins in his body on the tree…” (1Peter 2:24).

Peter Moore