And Elisha said to him, Take bow and arrows. And he took bow and arrows. And he said to the king of Israel, Put your hand upon the bow. And he put his hand upon it, and Elisha put his hands upon the king’s hands. And he said, Open the window to the east. And he opened it. Then Elisha said, Shoot. And he shot. And he said, The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria. For you shall smite the Syrians in Aphek till you have destroyed them. Then he said, Take the arrows. And he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, Strike on the ground. And he struck three times and stopped. And the man of God was angry with him and said, You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had destroyed it. But now you shall strike Syria down only three times. —2 Kings 13:15-19
It’s easy to say, “I believe,” but the true test comes when we have to act on what we believe. In this story, the king came to Elisha the prophet to seek his help in obtaining deliverance from the Syrians. The prophet told him to strike arrows on the ground as a symbol of Israel’s attacks against their enemy, but the king stopped after shooting only three arrows onto the ground.
Unbelief is disobedience. Period. Had the king believed, he would have struck arrows on the ground many times. Because of his unbelief, he stopped before he’d even gotten a good start. It is not surprising that Elisha became frustrated and angry with him.
Incidents of unbelief are recorded throughout the Old and New Testaments. Unbelief seems to be at work in nearly every direction we turn. Matthew 17:14-20 records the story of a man who brought his epileptic son to Jesus for healing. He said, And I brought him to Your disciples, and they were not able to cure him (v. 16).
This boy’s father was hurt and disappointed in the disciples’ lack of ability to emulate their Leader. We might have agreed with him had we been in his place that day. After all, Jesus had been traveling with these twelve men for several months. They had repeatedly observed as He performed miracles wherever they went. In Luke 10, we learn that Jesus sent out other followers, and they performed a number of miracles and healings. Why couldn’t the disciples do them in this instance? Jesus had constantly encouraged them to heal the sick and do the things that He did.
Yet they were unable to heal the boy, and Jesus said: O you unbelieving (warped, wayward, rebellious) and thoroughly perverse generation! How long am I to remain with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to Me (v. 17). Jesus cast out the demon, and the boy was cured. Unbelief leads to disobedience.
But here’s the end of the story. When the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t heal the boy, Jesus’ answer was clear: Because of the littleness of your faith [that is, your lack of firmly relying trust] . . . (v. 20).
I feel sure that Jesus’ answer caused the disciples to examine their hearts and to ask what held them back. Why didn’t they believe? Perhaps they had allowed negative thinking to enter their minds. Perhaps they weren’t able to grasp the fact that Jesus wanted to use them and empower them to perform miracles.
Of course, we know from reading the book of Acts that once they were filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples demonstrated God’s supernatural power at work—but not in this story. He said to them, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, if anyone steadfastly believes in Me, he will himself be able to do the things that I do; and he will do even greater things than these, because I go to the Father (John 14:12).
The promise remains valid to this day. Unbelief will keep us from doing what God has called and anointed us to accomplish in life. It will also hinder us from experiencing the sense of peace He wants us to enjoy as we find rest for our souls in Him (see Matthew 11:28,29 KJV).
When God tells us we can do something, we must believe that we can. It is not by our power or our might that we are able to do what He tells us to, but by His Spirit working on the inside of us that we win in the battle of unbelief.
Lord Jesus, forgive my lack of faith. I know that when I don’t believe, I am disobeying You. In Your name, I ask You to help me push away every bit of unbelief so that I may focus on faithfully following You. Amen.
From the book Battlefield of the Mind Devotional by Joyce Meyer.