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In 2 Kings 13:14–17 we find that Joash, the king of Israel, took a bow and some arrows as Elisha told him.

And the 17th verse:

Elisha said, “Open the east window,” and he did so. Elisha said, “Shoot!” and he did so. Elisha said, “This arrow symbolizes the victory the Lord will give you over Syria. You will annihilate Syria in Aphek!” [NET]

However, later, in verses 18 and 19 we find the second part of this episode:

Then Elisha said, “Take the arrows,” and he did so. He told the king of Israel, “Strike the ground!” He struck the ground three times and stopped.

The prophet got angry at him and said, “If you had struck the ground five or six times, you would have annihilated Syria! But now, you will defeat Syria only three times.”

What's the meaning of this story? Where should the king know from that he must strike the ground five or six times?

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Before anything, though, I must say that no, king Joash would not know that he must strike the ground five or six times. But, he really should have did that. All verse emphasis mine.

First of all, we would have to look at the reason why Elisha would be angry at an answer to a seemingly minuscule command,

2 Kings 13:14 (NKJV)

14 Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die. Then Joash the king of Israel came down to him, and wept over his face, and said, “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!”

Joash was grieved and he has acknowledged his loss to his country. At this, Elisha's strength seemed to have returned and the prophet starts to give commands about bow and arrows.

While researching, I came across:

(1) THE TASK TO WHICH JOASH WAS CALLED

Look at (13:14-17) Now what is this business with the arrows all about? Well, lets remember that in Eastern Lands, instruction by means of symbolic actions was common. Do you recall that when Samuel told the self-willed Saul that "the Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day", he "laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle and it rent". (1 Sam 15:27 Acts 21:10) You see, this was a symbolic action. Elisha was symbolically urging God's people to victory over God's enemies. Elisha was being removed from the scene of battle but the fight would still go on. Through this symbolical action, Joash was being called to execute a specific task.

Joash was a young king who continued the sinful traditions of his lineage. However, he still worshipped the Lord outwardly.

2 Kings 13:4-6 (NKJV)

4 So Jehoahaz pleaded with the Lord, and the Lord listened to him; for He saw the oppression of Israel, because the king of Syria oppressed them. 5 Then the Lord gave Israel a deliverer, so that they escaped from under the hand of the Syrians; and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents as before. 6 Nevertheless they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin, but walked in them; and the wooden image also remained in Samaria.

Elisha then, rendered to the nation of Israel his last sermon in hopes that the threat of Syria may be contained. The prophet tried to rouse the king to act decisively and offensively, instead of being on the defense from Syria. The king, having given up hope, only strikes the ground three times. This three military victories is then fulfilled in 2 Kings 13:25.

This could be symbolic to the many instances when the Lord renders help to believers or kings in the Bible time and time again. But most of the effort were not met with the faith that God expects. King Joash had given up, though he was obedient.

Biography of Joash

Elisha was angry at his halfhearted compliance, telling Joash that since he had shot only three arrows, he would have only three victories over the army of Syria, rather than destroying their war-making power completely, as the LORD had intended.

The story of Jonah is also an interesting look at God's efforts VS response. But if I expound on that, it would not be quite on topic.

Please do tell me if I need to improve my answer. This question is actually very difficult to expound on (due to it being a short chapter) without being too speculative :)

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    I was with you until it got prescriptive". Please read this meta post on 'preaching' and note that we prefer *descriptive language ("I believe...", "Christians believe...") rather than prescriptive ("You should..."). Note that your audience is not exclusively Christian. Also note in our site distinctives that "We stop short of application when answering questions about the Bible (which means we don't fully exegete the text in the religious sense of the practice)." – Dan Aug 13 '14 at 4:52
  • Specifically, you took a Hebrew Bible text and jumped to talking about Jesus without showing any work for making such a connection, and when it has no bearing on the answer. Check out this post on showing work, specifically the third paragraph. – Dan Aug 13 '14 at 4:57
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    @Daи Hi! Thanks for the advise. I have editted much of my ans, could you go through it again? Thank you. – Zoe Aug 13 '14 at 5:08
  • You mention Jonah at the end of your answer.I thought this may be of interest to you. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/7850/… – Bagpipes Aug 13 '14 at 9:44
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    @Zoe excellent! There are ways to expound a little by footnoting and whatnot, but the key thing is to describe your beliefs without prescribing them. Good job, +1 – Dan Aug 13 '14 at 14:18
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2 Kings 13:14-19 reintroduce King Joash after his own death, so at this stage the narrative is thematic rather than chronological. Rachelle Gilmour (Juxtaposition and the Elisha Cycle, pages 199-201) cites DeVries, who believes that 2 Kings 13:14-19 to be a later addition to this narrative. Gilmour says this episode was probably juxtaposed with 2 Kings 8:7-15 in the Aramean collection.

Gilmour sees at least two different ways of reading this story. She says that, read in isolation, the pericope portrays Joash positively and Elisha enigmatically. Elisha is described as a man of God when he burst out in anger against Joash, and we assume he has some enigmatic purpose of divine origin.

On the other hand the pericope can be read with 2 Kings 13:10-13, a Deuteronomic notice that summarises Joash's reign. This states unequivocally that Joash did evil in the eyes of the Lord, a negative assessment that alters our reading of verses 14-19. We are now ready to assume the worst of Joash, so that when he strikes the ground only three times, this is some kind of failure by Joash. Joash can now be characterised as a dying but unworthy king, to whom Elisha offers the arrow of victory, but he is not worthy of the full measure of God's mercy.

The king did not know that Elisha expected him to hit the ground five or six times. This can be read as an example of Elisha's use of deception by deliberately withholding information. The literary consequence of Joash's failure to understand this is to provide an explanation for the continuation of the Aramaean incursions after Joash had defeated them in three battles (2 Kings 13:25: "Three times did Joash beat him, and recovered the cities of Israel").

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I don't think that Elisha set out to 'teach Joash a lesson' through the striking of the arrows. Rather, the way that Joash responded to Elisha and carried out his instructions revealed that he was rather half-hearted and lacking in belief. Joash, having not followed the Lord's ways and 'done evil in the sight of the Lord', when he heard that Elisha was dying, came to seek Elijah's blessing at a time when the nation was threatened by enemies. Perhaps suddenly fearing what would happen to Israel if Elisha the man of God died and was no longer around. However, it seems that he treated the way that Elijah answered him in a rather disdainful manner, which revealed his continuing lack of trust and unbelief. Elijah had made it clear to Joash that the shooting of the arrow was a symbolic spiritual act, symbolising defeating the enemy, and so Joash would have known that the second instruction to strike the ground was carrying on the symbolic spiritual message. From the way he carried out the instruction, Elijah could see that Joash was not really believing and entering into the spirit of what were supposed to be powerful symbolic acts. That is why Elisha became angry with him and said that he would not receive the full blessing and victory which God would otherwise have given him.

Joash struck with the arrows against the floor three times, and then paused, thinking he had done enough. He did not enter into the spirit of the symbolical act, which represented the smiting and slaying of enemies. Perhaps he had not much faith in the virtue of the symbolism, which he may even, with the arrogance of a proud and worldly minded man, have thought childish. (Bible Hub, Pulpit Commentary).

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I see similarities in the way Joash responds to the Prophet with the way Naaman responded when he was told to go and dip himself in river Jordan 2 Kings 5.

The Prophet is very clear in his first instruction

And the 17th verse:

Elisha said, “Open the east window,” and he did so. Elisha said, “Shoot!” and he did so. Elisha said, “This arrow symbolizes the victory the Lord will give you over Syria. You will annihilate Syria in Aphek!”

Therefore, Joash should entered the spiritual realm and known that the subsequent instruction was directly related to defeating Syria.

Similarly, Naaman should have know that healing was conditional on him washing seven times in the river Jordan and Not Abanah or Pharpar

Both men lacked belief and faith and showed overzealous reluctance to follow the instructions given to them by the Prophet

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