Kraybill: An ill wind, or good?

Jun 19, 2017 by

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The whirlwind appeared so quickly and came so swiftly toward us on the dusty road at Tel Dothan that I scarcely had time to take the lens cap off my camera. Then the little twister was upon us, blinding our view and rattling the car.

Was the spirit of Elisha, who once lodged at Dothan, getting playful with us? After all, Elisha’s prophetic career began when a whirlwind swooped his mentor Elijah to heaven (2 Kings 2).

Beyond the whirlwind are hills surrounding Dothan that Elisha saw filled with the army of the Lord. — J. Nelson Kraybill

Beyond the whirlwind are hills surrounding Dothan that Elisha saw filled with the army of the Lord. — J. Nelson Kraybill

Two fellow pilgrims and I had approached Dothan with an Israeli driver we hired to take us to biblical sites in parts of the West Bank that were ancient Samaria. Dothan today is a sizable tel — an archaeological mound where multiple cities layered on top of each other.

Betrayal happened here when the lad Joseph, sent 60 miles from Hebron by his father, Jacob, found his brothers tending sheep at Dothan (Genesis 37). Jealous of Joseph’s favored spot in their parents’ hearts, the brothers contemplated killing Joseph. Instead, they sold him to slave traders bound for Egypt.

Dothan appears again in the Bible in a peacemaking story. Israel is at war with Aram (Syria), and the Israelites repeatedly scoop Aramaean military intelligence. Assuming there is an informer in his ranks, the king of Aram angrily demands, “Who among us [is the traitor who] sides with the king of Israel?” (2 Kings 6:11).

One of his officers explains what is happening: Elisha of Israel has prophetic gifts that grant him foreknowledge of Aramaean troop movements. Determined to capture the pesky prophet, the king of Aram sends an army at night to surround the city of Dothan where Elisha is staying. In the morning Elisha’s servant sees that the city is besieged, and is terrified.

“O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see,” Elisha prays. Suddenly the servant has spiritual sight to see that surrounding hills are full of Yahweh’s horses and chariots of fire. The army of the Lord will protect Elisha and his servant!

Elisha asks God to strike the Arameans blind. When the enemy no longer can see, Elisha goes out and mischievously offers to “bring you to the man whom you seek.” The blind Arameans follow Elisha 10 miles to Samaria, capital of Israel, where their eyes are opened and they see they are trapped. “Shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” cries the king of Israel.

“No!” answers Elisha. “Set food and water before them . . . and let them go to their master.” So the king of Israel prepares a great feast for the enemy, then sends them packing — and the Aramaeans “no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.”

In the biblical narrative, betrayal and reconciliation swirl around Tel Dothan like a whirlwind. This storied spot could use some of this reconciliation today. A much-contested Jewish settlement nearby, deemed illegal by Palestinians and much of the international community, announced plans in 2016 to double in size. Houses surrounding the historic tel now stand empty because of the continuing tension.

Our Palestinian driver, fearing we could be mistaken as “the other” either by Palestinians or by Jewish settlers, did not want to linger at Tel Dothan. The whirlwind that swooped down as we left Dothan seemed an apt metaphor of continuing conflict. God grant this beautiful land something of Elisha’s reconciling imagination!

J. Nelson Kraybill is a pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more of his reflections at

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