Go in Peace

Sending forth into the whole inhabited earth

A Bible study on 2 Kings 6:8-23


Vagueness of the reference to the historical circumstances, the focus of the interest on the prophet and the element of the miracle in this narrative are to be noted as these elements are important for interpretation.

The wider background is provided by the Aramaean wars, but no precise historical information is provided. Both kings, of Aram and of Israel, are not mentioned by name. The author does not seem to be much interested to present the narrative in a historical perspective; rather he seeks to exemplify the supernatural abilities of the man of God, Elisha.

It appears that a former narrative around Elisha was enlarged with the addition of vv. 15b-17 in which the theme of the mighty divinity fighting on the side of Israel is underlined. The specific type of war seems to be this: with a numerically small group of soldiers one inimical king falls on the other nation stealing and plundering the villages and towns without giving the impression of a full-fledged war. Such actions are not meant to defeat the enemy but to weaken it.

Here as well as in chapter 5 Aramaean king is not mentioned and therefore accurate dating is impossible. Bands in v. 23 may suggest not full scale war but border raids, as indicated also in 5,2 (an Israelite girl being taken away). They may have been undertaken not by the army of Aram but by semi-nomad Aramaeans loosely federated with Damascus. Their frequency and regular repulse (v. 10) suggests raids on this scale rather than regular war, which otherwise would surely have left its impression on Sacred Scriptures.

Raids and ambushes across the border are likely to have characterized the two nations’ relations all through 9th century. Unlike the previous stories now Elisha’s ministry is in the arena of international politics during a time of war between Aram and Israel. There is suspicion of treason (v. 11). The Syrian king is presented as dispatching a large force (v. 14).

Scope of the Narrative

The point of attraction in the narrative is the capacity of the man of God to see beyond the senses on account of which Elisha can warn the king of Israel. The king of Aram is enraged by this action of the prophet of Israel. But he has been told by his own people that the prophet possesses supernatural powers. Even though the Syrian king commands him to be taken prisoner, the commandos sent for the purpose have themselves been taken prisoner.

The blinding of the men sent for the purpose stands in contrast to the vision of the man of God. With his powers the prophet succeeds to lead the whole army sent to capture him into the hands of the Israelite king. 

The Plot Development

Central problem – incursion of Aramaen raiding parties (seen also at the start of the Naaman stories in 5,2). As in chapter 5 Elisha is now known in the Syrian court circles.

vv. 8-10 - Introduction of the main characters - king of Syria (v. 8), Elisha (v. 9), and king of Israel (v. 10). It also introduces the motive of the Syrian King’s action against the prophet.

vv. 11-14 - The complicating problem of the army being sent. The advisors use the logic of arguing from greater to lesser: if Elisha knows the words in the bedchamber, how much more what passes in the council of war. ‘Go and see’ – of he king has ironic implications.

vv. 15-17 - The development of the story plot is put on hold in vv. 15-17 which is a narrative aside foreshadowing what will come. When the lad sees that God’s victory over the Syrian is really inevitable he is no more afraid.

Syria’s horse (collective sing.) and chariots (Ps 69,17) surrounds Elisha (vv. 15.16). V. 17 is a proleptic climax anticipating the true climax of v. 20b with the repeated ‘opened the eyes’ and saw.

vv. 18-20 - In these verses there is much humour and irony as the story proceeds from the servant’s seeing to the blindness of the army and its seeing. Syrian troops are literally dazzled. Elisha is aware of their orders and offers to help them to find the one they seek. He fulfills their mission to ‘go and see’ by causing them to go (3 times) and see (2times).

vv. 21-23 - Consequences and reactions: the pardon and sending away of the prisoners. Elisha is in charge even in royal city. King is anxious to kill, but not Elisha. Here there is no holy war ban as in 1 Kgs 2031-42 and the rules of the civilized war are maintained. Elisha controls here policy by offering a banquet instead of execution. The central problem of raids is solved in v. 23.


v. 8 - At such and such a place. Indefinite pronoun is used here in Hebrew. The narrator avoids naming the place and may by abstracting, or generalizing certain specific facts. The reader/hearer need not know the place of the ambush site, also because there was more than one such attack.

v. 10. waw with perfect in frequentative sense (repeated action in the past)

v. 12 - In view of the Israelite prisoners such as the maid of Namaan’s wife and others who perhaps became concubines of the king and his officers, there might well have been a leakage of secrets from the bedchamber, if not of the king, at least of the leaders of the raid. This could have been a regular source of information to the enemy in the wars.

v. 15 -  Naar (the term used for Elisha’s servant/companion) - could be a traditional title coming from pre-Israelite Canaan. Naar could refer to a man of rank, serving in various capacities: arms bearer (Judg 9,54; 1 Sam 14,1), steward and estate manager (2 Sam 19,18), personal attendant in non-military contexts (Exod 33,11; 1Kgs 18,43; Ruth 2,15).

v. 16 - Fear not – a formulaic opening of salvation prophecies found in all strata of biblical literature (Gen 15,1; 26,24; Isa 41,10; Jer 1,8).

v. 17 - fiery horses and chariots: Fire a regular feature of divine manifestation (Exod 3,2; 13,21; 19,18) and is of the divine essence (Deut 4,24). In 2 Kgs 2,1 the vehicle seen by Elisha is of the Lord.

The blindness is to be seen correctly: the troops are not completely blinded, for they were able to follow to Samaria. Blinding light, Hebrew sanwerim, found also in Gen 19,11, could be a Akkadian loan word from sunwarum meaning ‘to make radiant, to keep (eye) sharp’. One may distinguish between ordinary blindness and this numinous flash of light which temporarily disables.


 Elisha stands here in opposition to the murder wish of the king and presents himself as the protector of life and of rights precisely of the enemies. The Syrians who would be fed in a banquet would become the testimony to the supernatural powers of the Israelite man of God. Based on their own experience they would be able to proclaim that any further attempt against Israel would be failure due to the presence of the omniscient man of God there.

1. There is satire at the expense of the ruling elite class. All officials are powerless; YHWH is one who gives victory. Elisha provides vital military intelligence. Only when he sends word (v.9) can the king send to protect himself (v. 10). YHWH’s chariots neutralize those of the Syrians. It is he who helps them in the mission and also sets the royal policy about captives.

2. As the whole of Books of Kings this narrative part also shows that kings, of Israel, Judah, Assyria, or of Babylon, were never in control of history of God’s people, but God. God gives here victory to people. In the larger story depicted in 1-2 Kings the people were to experience total, humiliating defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, but again under the power and control of God.

3. Here again the prophet’s unique powers are at the centre stage and he shows himself to be the possessor of ‘second sight’. Has the ability to see hidden things: the ambush of the Aramaeans planned in the private quarters of the king (vv. 10-12), the fiery cavalry (v. 17). At his command the eyes of the enemies are closed and opened.

In the midst of general hostilities, Elisha stands out as adviser to the king and through his foresight Israel regularly avoids entrapment. Since the Syrians were not royal prisoners they had to be treated as invited guests and then sent home.

The paradoxical behaviour of the prophet is seen as ‘act o clemency’ and ‘general concern for the prisoners’, might have been refined later on (see the she bears story in 2,23-24).

Why there was no more hostility? V. 23 - due to an act of reciprocity to his graciousness or from respect for the powers he displayed: with such a prophet on their side, Israel could not be overcome?


1. The prophet is involved in international politics here working to thwart a naked aggression of the Arameans, on the one hand, and preventing violence on the part Israelites, on the other. Role of the people of God?

2. Against those who may be eager to annihilate their enemy, the narrator elevates a response of hospitality and kindness instead of violence. This passage offers a perspective that is different from the harsh demands of holy war ideology (1 Kgs 20,31-42).

3. The very prophet they were sent to capture tells them that they were going in the wrong direction. When he volunteers to lead them to the man they seek to capture, they blindly follow him. There may not be anything more humiliating for the big invading army than to be fed and then sent on its way.

4. State power, totalitarian or democratic, is nothing when compared to the horses and chariots of YHWH, operative through the word of God’s true spokesperson. The believing community proclaims: “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them”.

Bible study by Gervasis Karumathy.