Chariots of Fire
The Enemy is a powerful foe. But God can protect His servants in amazing ways, even in the worst situations.
WAR. The very word conjures up horrific images of mass destruction, fleeing innocents, pain, and suffering. But another dimension of warfare exists beyond what we can see. Tommie Titcombe was serving the Lord in Nigeria with the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) when he saw it.
Titcombe ministered to the Yagba people in the early 1900s. According to at least one account, Tommie was meeting for prayer with 12 believers when 500 people appeared outside:
All in war paint—calling for his blood and saying they were going to kill and eat the group inside. The believers stayed in the house for 11 days. All they had was a little water and a little corn tied to the rafters up above on the ceiling of the house. So these men stayed just waiting on the Lord. [Afterward they asked why didn’t you kill us? Why didn’t you burn the house? ‘Oh no, we couldn’t do that. Those figures in white with their drawn swords wouldn’t let us get anywhere near your house.’]1
The apostle Paul spoke of the invisible war when he told believers at Ephesus, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
In 2 Kings 6, the prophet Elisha faced war as his enemies physically surrounded him. But he wasn’t afraid because he knew where his protection came from: the spiritual realm and God’s chariots of fire.
He Knows What You Say in Your Bedroom
The Syrian king (king of Aram), at war with the northern kingdom of Israel, was covertly deploying troops to strike and raid Israel. Alerted by God, Elisha warned the king: “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are coming down there” (2 Ki. 6:9).
Though the Israelite king neither trusted nor feared nor respected God, he did act on the prophet’s advice and “sent someone to the place of which the man of God had told him. Thus he [Elisha] warned him, and he [the king] was watchful there, not just once or twice” (v. 10).
Consequently, the king of Syria was “greatly troubled” (v. 11). How could Israel know exactly what he was planning? Was there a spy in his camp? He asked his servants, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” (v. 11). His servants assured him of their loyalty and pointed the king to Elisha: “Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom” (v. 12).
The Arameans knew about Elisha but didn’t understand that the prophet knew their king’s every move because the God of Israel—who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—was telling him. God knows every thought that every person on Earth entertains at this very moment and in the future.
So the king of Syria decided to capture Elisha: “Go and see where he [Elisha] is that I may send and get [capture] him” (v. 13). Immediately, “horses and chariots and a great army. . . came by night and surrounded the city” (v. 14). Elisha was in Dothan, about 12 miles north of Samaria, Israel’s capital. Dothan is where Joseph found his brothers tending their flocks and where they sold him into slavery to the Ishmaelite-Midianite traders (Gen. 37:17–28).
Early in the morning, when Elisha’s servant went outside, he discovered a vast number of horses and chariots had surrounded the city (2 Ki. 6:15). Imagine how he felt, looking at that fearsome sight. Imagine yourself waking up early to fetch the newspaper and suddenly realizing your town is completely hemmed in by hostile troops and weapons of war. He was terrified. When he saw Elisha, he wailed, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (v. 15).
Elisha’s response appears utterly contrary to the situation unfolding outside. While his servant was petrified, the man of God was calm. “Do not fear,” he said, “for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16).
Despite what their eyes told them—that they were severely outnumbered and about to be captured or killed—Elisha knew a larger, stronger army surrounded their enemies. So Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes that he may see” (v. 17). Then the servant looked up, and what he saw must have been astonishing: “The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v. 17).
Bible commentator Thomas Constable explained,
He [the Lord] gave the servant the ability to see the normally unseen world of invisible spirits (angels) that are constantly ready to do God’s bidding (cf. Gen. 28:12). The hills around Dothan were filled with superior horses and chariots. These appeared as fiery agents of God suggesting to the servant their superterrestrial origin (cf. 2 Kings 2:11). The Lord had surrounded the armies of Aram and was in control.2
As with Tommie Titcombe, the situation looked hopeless. But we must never assess situations as unbelievers do. God has resources at His disposal beyond our imaginations. Sometimes He chooses to use them to rescue us, and sometimes He does not. Regardless, we know He is always sovereign and never makes a mistake; and we should take great courage in that eternal truth.
John G. Paton was a 19th-century Scottish missionary to cannibals in the South Sea Islands. When forced to leave the island of Tanna because “the natives had redoubled their attacks,” he penned the following:
My heart rose up to the Lord Jesus; I saw Him watching all the scene. My peace came back to me like a wave from God. I realized that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done. The assurance came to me, as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leave the bow, or a killing stone the fingers, without the permission of Jesus Christ, whose is all power in Heaven and on Earth. He rules all Nature, animate and inanimate, and restrains even the Savage of the South Seas.3
Whatever God does is best for us and will bring glory to Him. In this case, the Lord struck the Syrians with blindness, and they unwittingly followed the Israelites right into Samaria. Then the Lord opened the Syrians’ eyes (6:19–20); He had rescued Elisha and the northern kingdom.
Know the Enemy
The invisible world is undetectable by human senses. In fact, many people scoff at the idea of angels and demons. But the spiritual world is as real as the physical realm in which we exist. The prophet Daniel understood this fact when he learned his prayer was heard and answered immediately, but he failed to receive the answer for weeks because of demonic opposition:
The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me [the angel Gabriel is probably speaking] twenty-one days; and behold, Michael [the archangel], one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia . . . . And now I must return to fight the prince of Persia; and when I have gone forth, indeed the prince of Greece will come (Dan. 10:13, 20).
Satan and his demons are at war with those whom God loves, which includes Israel and true believers in Jesus Christ. But his is a losing battle. We need to understand three vital facts:
→ Satan wants to be God and rule in God’s place: “I will be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14).
→ Satan already has lost because God says, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion” (Ps. 2:6). Victory belongs to the Lord.
→ Satan attacks believers regularly; but we are instructed, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
Just as the invisible chariots of fire surrounded Elisha, God can protect us today. Tommie Titcombe died in 1968 after seeing thousands of Yagba people come to Christ. His story has been preserved by SIM missionary Sophie de la Haye in her book Tread Upon the Lion: The Story of Tommie Titcombe.
We need to be mindful of the spiritual warfare around us, but we also need to remember that God has already won the war.
- “Tommy Titcombe story,” sermonindex.net (tinyurl.com/y3mqpgfq).
- Thomas L. Constable, “2 Kings,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 1:550.
- McKenna, “John G. Paton: Working Among the Cannibals,” Bethany Global University, April 23, 2019, bethanygu.edu (tinyurl.com/BETHANYpaton).