He had been attempting to fell the tree. It was going to be a beam in their new building. He had swung the axe back to prepare for the next blow when he felt it lighten unexpectedly. His head spun over his shoulder just in time to see the axe head splash into the depths of the river. Gone.
"What am I going to do?", he wondered. It was a borrowed axe. Borrowed because he lacked the funds to buy his own — or a replacement! He cried out again and struck the tree with the now-headless handle. He stopped and sighed. "Yeah, some prophet I am," he muttered to himself.
He knew Elisha was working nearby so he ran to him, crying out his name. Elisha paused in his own work to listen. After the situation was explained, Elisha simply asked: "Where did it fall in?"
The man lead him to his half-felled tree and pointed. He watched as Elisha took his own axe, sheared a branch from the tree, and threw it into the water where he had indicated. The axe head bobbed to the surface! He watched as it began to spin and float downstream.
He felt Elisha prod him gently in the ribs with the butt of an axe handle. "Go lift it out", Elisha told him before returning work.
Elisha's life is relayed to us in episodes or vignettes rather than a longer, continuous narrative. In this particular passage, the prophets are undertaking a building program. Elisha is enlisted to join a work party on the banks of the Jordan hewing beams for the new structure. When the loss of a borrowed axe head causes quite a bit of commotion for one of the young prophets, Elisha calmly retrieves it for him from the bottom of the river.
Neither the brevity of the story nor Elisha's casual manner should take away from the miracle of what transpired. A deep and fundamental transformation was accomplished: iron was made to float. This is, of course, un-natural. The nature of a metal axe head is such that it should sink to the bottom of the river as a valuable item irrecoverably lost. Yet, by joining the axe head in the water, Elisha's stick imparts it's wooden nature to the iron. The axe head is transformed. It floats. It is recovered and restored.
A similar transformation happens in the life of a believer. We are being pulled down by a force that we are powerless to counteract. Left unaided, we will be something of value that will be irrecoverably lost. Yet, by joining us in our sin and our death, Jesus too can effect a great transformation. We receive His nature and His standing before a holy God, and we no longer need to fear the inevitable outcome of our fallen natures. We are raised up and lifted out.