Bring Me a Minstrel

by Glenn Conjurske

“And the king of Israel said, Alas! that the Lord hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab! But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him? And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah. And Jehoshaphat said, The word of the Lord is with him. So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. And Elisha said unto the king of Israel, What have I to do with thee? Get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother. And the king of Israel said unto him, Nay: for the Lord hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab. And Elisha said, As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee. But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him.” (II Kings 3:10-15).

This is one of the most interesting episodes in the life of the great Elisha, and it is full of instruction for us, both doctrinal and practical. Elisha was a man of God. He was a great man of God—-a man of renown. The fame of his doings had spread his name abroad, and he was well known, not only in his own kingdom of Israel, but also in the southern kingdom of Judah. Jehoshaphat knew who he was, and at the mention of his name immediately affirms, “The word of the Lord is with him.”

But this day the word of the Lord was not with him. His spirit was grieved and shackled, and he could not prophesy—-no, not when called upon to do so by three kings. Elsewhere we see the great prophet going in and out among the people, and acting always freely and spontaneously. When Elijah was about to be taken up from him, and asked him, “What shall I do for thee?” there was no hesitation on Elisha’s part. He knew exactly what to speak, and immediately responded with, “Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” When he saw his great master carried away to heaven by a whirlwind, he knew exactly what to do, and acted without a moment’s hesitation. He took up the mantle of Elijah, smote the waters, and passed over dry shod.

Likewise throughout all of his life. When he is told of the waters and the situation of Jericho, he does not hesitate, but says, “Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein,” and he walked forth to the spring of waters, cast in the salt, and said, “Thus saith the Lord: I have healed these waters.” When he was told there was death in the pot, he said, “Then bring meal,” and he cast it into the pot and healed the pottage. So when the axe was lost in the water. So when the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to him, when the creditor was about to take away her two sons. So when the Shunammite’s son was dead. So always and everywhere. He acted spontaneously for God, and spoke for God without hesitation or restraint. He even went out of his way to do so. When Naaman went to the king to be healed of his leprosy, Elisha sent for him, saying, “Let him now come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” But on this day his spirit is under a cloud of gloom, and he cannot say, “Thus saith the Lord.” On this day he is as it were no prophet. The word of the Lord is not with him. He cannot act. He cannot speak.

But understand, Elisha was no backslider on this occasion. Far from that. He was the same faithful prophet of the Lord that he always was. Where does his faithfulness ever shine brighter than on this day, when he stands before the king of Israel and rebukes him to his face, in the presence of two kings? “What have I to do with thee?” he says. “Get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother.” Get thee, that is, to the false prophets whom thou hast honored hitherto. But the king of Israel is in sore straits today, and false prophets will not do. They may content him on a smooth sea, but in the storm he feels instinctively that he must have a prophet of God. “Nay,” he says, “for the Lord hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab”—-as if to say, What good could the prophets of my father and my mother do me in such a case? Now that dishonor, defeat, and death stare him in the face, he must have a prophet of God.

But this probably serves only the more deeply to provoke the spirit of the prophet of God. Shall this ungodly king despise the God of heaven all his days, and then expect that God to come to his deliverance when he is in distress? Here Elisha can speak for God, and that without the slightest hesitation. “Were it not,” he says, “that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee.” What word is this to speak to a king, in the presence of other kings? Surely Elisha’s faithful spirit never shone brighter than this.

Still, he cannot prophesy. Why not? Is he not a man of God? Is not the word of the Lord with him? True indeed, but today his spirit is shackled. Mark now, what was wanted was a direct revelation from God. When he did speak to this occasion, it was with a direct revelation from God. Why could not God give to him that revelation? Was the omnipotent God dependent upon the moods of Elisha? Was the Spirit of God shackled because the spirit of Elisha was? Was the Spirit of God dependent upon the music of a minstrel? Yes. So he is. The Spirit of God is not overbearing. He does not push his prophets, nor overrule their spirits. The Lord is not in the great and strong wind which rends the mountains, and breaks the rocks in pieces. The Lord is not in the earthquake, nor in the fire. He is in the still, small voice. The spirit of his prophet must therefore be warmed—-soothed—-stirred—-refreshed—-that the still, small voice may be heard.

Now there are places, occasions, situations, which bind and shackle the spirits of God’s prophets, so that they cannot act. I have preached in a church in which I could not weep—-and felt that, had I done so, the tears would have frozen on my cheeks. I have preached where I had to struggle to speak at all. Those who know nothing of this are no prophets of God. False prophets can prophesy alike on all occasions. So can presumptuous spirits, whom the Lord has not sent. Their own opinions, their own theology, their studied sermons, are as good as a message from God. What need have they of the still, small voice, or of a spirit free to move between God and man?

The Lord of all the prophets, with omnipotent power at his command, found his spirit shackled in his own country, and of him we read, “He could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.” (Mark 6:5). He could do no mighty work there. His spirit was not free to act.

So it was with Elisha on the occasion before us. The situation oppressed his spirit. The ungodly king of ten tribes of the Lord’s people, the ungodly king of a heathen nation, and the godly king of two of God’s tribes—-these three are united together in an ecumenical alliance, which leaves the spirit of Elisha shackled and bound. His spirit is free to rebuke, as we have seen, but to preach deliverance—-his spirit cannot rise to that.

Yet he regards the presence of good Jehoshaphat, and for his sake he will make an attempt. But he needs help. His spirit is enveloped in a chilling cloud of gloom. He is like the desert lizard in the cold, willing to run, but scarcely able to move his stiffened limbs. He needs to feel the warming sun. He needs something to raise his spirit above this unhallowed atmosphere, and he calls for a minstrel. The minstrel plays, not classical music or folk songs, but hymns and spiritual songs. One and another he plays, and the spirit of the man of God is soothed and refreshed. He begins to rise above the things which had so stifled his spirit. The chilling atmosphere begins to lose its grip upon him, and, like the lizard in the sun, he begins to feel his old freedom return. The minstrel continues to play, and lights, perchance, upon an old hymn which Elijah had loved. Elisha listens, and his spirit is warmed. He begins to feel the spirit of his master. The old fire begins to burn. His tears begin to flow. His spirit is unshackled, and he feels that he can prophesy. He lifts his face from his hands, and opens his eyes. He stands to his feet, and cries, “Thus saith the Lord!”

But who was this minstrel? Of that we know nothing, not so much as his name. When the work of the Lord had been dependent upon Moses, and yet Moses was unable to do it through weakness of the flesh, two men stood by him to hold up his hands. We know their names—-Aaron and Hur. But when the work depended upon Elisha, and he stood in need of a man to warm his spirit to the task, we know not so much as the name of the man who came to his aid. He was not a man of renown. He was no prophet. But if he could not prophesy, he could help the man of God to do so. And in this we see that “those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.” The foot cannot hear as the ear, but it can carry the ear within hearing range. The hand cannot see as the eye, but it can wipe the matter from the weary eye to help it see. This unknown man could not prophesy, but he could warm the spirit of the great Elisha, so that he could. The minstrel could not do what Elisha did, but then neither could Elisha have done it, but for the minstrel.

But alas, how many who could pour the sweet music into the ear of the burdened man of God, fail altogether to do so. For every minstrel, there are a hundred critics. “There sits the great Elisha,” they say, “unable to prophesy! Elisha thought he was a prophet of God, but now we see what he is worth! It may be he did have the power of God once, but now he has lost it!” So speak self-importance and ill-will. But not so speaks the dear minstrel of this passage. Though he was as much in need of water, and in as much danger of defeat, as the rest of the company, not a word of complaint or reproach flows from his lips, but sweet music from the strings of his instrument, warming, soothing, encouraging, dispelling gloom, and infusing life and power into the spirit of the man of God.

Now for all of this the day of recompense is yet coming. The roll of worthies will yet be called, and the rewards conferred for the exploits wrought for the Lord of hosts in that far distant past. A reward shall surely be given for the deliverance wrought on that day, and that reward shall go to Elisha and the unknown minstrel.

Glenn Conjurske