They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axe head fell into the water. “Oh no, my lord,” he cried out, “It was borrowed.” (2 Kings 6:4b-5)
The spiritual and physical are never far apart in the miracles of Elisha. Needy sinners. Hungry widows. Grieving mothers. Sickly generals. Even as Elisha’s work speaks to the mercy of God and points ahead to the great work of Christ on the cross, it does not bypass the physical and mundane. Real salvation involves real people with real needs. The work of salvation includes the very physical realities of our daily lives.
The floating axe head falls into the category of mundane miracles. A man has borrowed a valuable piece of equipment – an iron axe. In a world where iron was relatively rare, this axe was expensive. At its loss, this son of the prophets would have been liable for a significant debt. Yet, he is rescued by the compassionate work of the prophet, who returns the axe head from the abyss. Real people. Real needs.
Elisha, whose name means ‘my God is salvation,’ seems to see salvation worked out in the mundane, ordinary places of life. There is nothing abstract about God’s work. The salvation of our souls includes the redemption of our bodies. It includes both our redemption and rescue from the overwhelming debt of our sin and a widow being rescued from debt collectors through an abundance of oil. Salvation is the large story of Christ dying on the cross to rescue us from the abyss we had fallen into through Adam as well as the small story of a stick thrown into a river to rescue an iron axe head from the abyss of the river Jordan. The good news of mercy and compassion we see in the ministry of Elisha is holistic. Salvation is body and soul.
The challenge for many of us, I believe, is to live into this holistic gospel. We must believe that God cares about both everlasting destinies and immediate needs. We must believe that God cares about our status before God’s throne and the physical stuff of ordinary life.