The World's Snappiest Comeback and the Power of the Arts

It was an ugly exchange on the battlefield. Joram, the king of Israel, was leading his army down to Moab to quash a rebellion. (Joram, or Jehoram, is introduced in 2 Kings 3 as the son of Ahab and Jezebel. The text says he was bad, but not quite as bad as his parents—which is kind of like saying a category 4 hurricane isn’t quite as bad as a cat-5. It’s not a huge compliment.)


Somehow, Joram roped Jehoshaphat, the good king of Judah, into the adventure. But with military planning as sharp and precise as a kid with suction-cup arrows, Joram led the coalition through a desert on the far side of the Dead Sea—which, if you think about it, should have been avoided for its name alone. After a few days, the army ran out of water.

Good Jehoshaphat’s response was to ask for a prophet to inquire of the Lord. Evil Joram’s response was to blame God for getting him into this mess. (It somehow eluded him that the idea to attack was his, the desert-route strategy was his, and the responsibility for bringing enough water was his.)

So Joram, a Baal-worshiper like his parents, demanded that the prophet Elisha ask God about the situation. Elisha asked Joram why he wasn’t barking up the wrong altar like he always did. Joram, ever so tactfully, insisted that the whole scheme must have been God’s idea to turn them over to the enemy.

Then Elisha glared at Joram and said, in effect, “You know, pal, if Jehoshaphat weren’t here, I wouldn’t even give you the time of day.” Then, in verse 15, he offered a rebuttal that no one in the history of the world has ever been able to counter: “Bring me a harpist!”

I’ve never actually tried that rebuttal, though I’m pretty sure it would have ended a lot of arguments between me and my sister while we were growing up. Any time she tried to boss me around, I could have just looked at her and said, “Bring me a harpist!” Yeah, that might have worked.

It certainly worked for Elisha. While the harpist played, Elisha heard from God. The Lord gave him a how-to-be-delivered-from-the-brutal-wilderness-in-one-crazy-step plan that seemed absurd on the surface and looked a lot like the soldiers’ own blood—blood that they should have had to spill out of their own veins but, because God is merciful, didn’t actually have to. Kind of like another plan for deliverance a few centuries later.

Not only do music and art calm the heart and prepare it to hear from God, they seem sometimes to express God’s thoughts more clearly and pointedly than words can. I don’t know what the harpist played when Elisha called for him on the battlefield, but it apparently aided a prayer request and an answer. The result was a word from God that fit the need exactly. Creative interaction led to a miracle.

I think modern Christianity has treated the arts as peripheral to “what’s really important,” not realizing that what’s really important is a real connection with God, which sometimes is expressed much better creatively than with plain, unimaginative words. Creative expression is the language of heaven, and it captures eternal truth far better than words do sometimes—hence the images and parables and poetry of scripture, which admittedly are written in words but convey much larger thoughts.

Things are beginning to change; arts are becoming more central in the faith. But not enough, at least not yet. When we finally realize that we serve a wildly creative God—and that we were made in his image to be wildly creative too—our connection with him will grow a lot deeper. And miracles might happen much more often.

[excerpted and adapted from Creative Prayer, Multnomah 2007]

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©2013-present by chris tiegreen