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When Ax Heads Float

It is certainly true that without miracles there can be no Christian Church, no saving faith, no redemption, no life. Foundational are the miracles of incarnation, resurrection and sanctification. Following these are a host of other miracles—all meant to be purposeful and instructive.

The miracles done by Jesus are described as “signs and wonders.” They were done to establish His doctrine and His person: the Son of God with awesome divine power, yet showing compassion and mercy to save, help, and strengthen faith. Except for the cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:13-21), all the Savior’s miracles were mighty deeds of blessing. Attention was focused on Himself, but never with selfish designs or for entertainment value.

Some of our Lord’s miracles had symbolic significance. The healing of the blind man—Jesus, the Light of the world. The feeding of the five thousand—Jesus, the Bread from heaven. The raising of Lazarus from the dead—Jesus the Resurrection and the Life. Again, all were done to instruct and accomplish His good and gracious will.

So we consider a little gem of a miracle done by Elisha, the Lord’s Old Testament prophet. It also shows the
Lord’s power, even through His servants. And it is instructive, as always.

2 Kings 6:1-7 relates a building project. The Old Testament seminary for prophets (preachers) was just too small and cramped for space, so the “sons of the prophets,” Elisha with them, went down to the Jordan River valley to cut down trees for building material. During the chopping, an ax head came off its handle and splashed into the water. Consternation followed, for the ax was borrowed. Elisha threw a stick to the place where it lay, and the iron ax head floated to the surface and was recovered.

Was this just a case of inattention and carelessness, or did someone else “fly off the handle” that day? Was there pride involved, disobedience, doubt? Here we can only wonder, but we know that in other cases and places God, at least temporarily, withheld His blessing because of these factors (the battle of Ai, Jonah in the storm, and Zacharias).

On the positive side, the ax head was recovered and the building project proceeded on course. Can we not learn that by this miracle, God was blessing this project?

On a church building project in South Dakota some years ago, it was discovered, with great dismay, that the rafters had been sawn incorrectly. Through carelessness, ignorance or pride, a single template had not been used, which led to a multi-inch deviation from one end of the roof to the other. Alas, what to do? The problem was addressed by a wind-storm that blew down the faulty rafters that very night.
In my mind, it was an intervention of corrective blessing and approval.

Surely, it is God’s will that building projects in and for His kingdom proceed, with our Savior not only the Master Builder, but also the Chief Cornerstone. Drowning “human ax heads” are raised to spiritual life. The saving Gospel is to be preached in all the world. Churches are built for the preaching and the hearing of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, crucified and arisen for the redemption and justification of all sinners. Colleges and seminaries are established to train and equip the preachers and teachers. These kingdom projects are successful and God-pleasing when done to His honor and glory.

But there can be human carelessness—even pride, jealousy, and flying off the handle. Satan and overt enemies of the Gospel always try to muddy the water and so prevent or slow down the project. Preachers can preach chaff; work can turn out to be self-glorifying. Truly, it is only by God’s continuous miracle of grace and blessing that kingdom building continues and prospers according to His will. For “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). A floating ax head so testifies.

David Fuerstenau is pastor of Holy Truth Lutheran Church in Ketchikan, Alaska.