In the sixth chapter of II Kings there’s an Old Testament story about a floating ax head. Some prophets were cutting down trees near the Jordan River. They were building some better accommodations for themselves, and for Elisha, who was the top prophet at the time.
One of those fellows took a hearty swing. He sent an iron ax head sailing into the river. To make a bad matter worse, it wasn’t his ax. He had lost a valuable item that was borrowed and would have to be special ordered from the hardware store.
Elisha didn’t panic nor send for his diving gear. He asked the man to show him where the ax head plunged out of sight. He cut a stick and threw it in that same spot. That ax head floated right up to the top of the water.
In January of this year, I found an ax head that had surfaced unexpectedly. It wasn’t a miracle like God demonstrated through Elisha. This one was unknowingly rescued from a soggy grave by Chuck Coley’s backhoe operator.
Jane and I were taking one of our regular exercise walks. We were on the scenic route around the edge of the June Coley Farm, just down the road from where we live. Jane is usually the one that spots partially hidden things in the ground, but the ax head was right in my path.
It was caked in dirt and obviously had been there a long time. A small drainage ditch had recently been dug, apparently bringing the ax head to the surface. My first thought was that it would make a nice addition to Chuck’s scrap iron pile. But there was also an element of mystique as I wondered how it had been so badly misplaced.
I’m no expert on ax heads or antiques, but I think it was made by hand in a blacksmith shop. I cleaned off the dirt and rust and found that the metal sides were quite rough. Part of its textured surface is from taking a long nap in a wet bottom. But it doesn’t seem to have the uniformity of a mass-produced item. I believe it was hammered into shape by an artisan with a hot fire and a strong arm.
It’s larger and heavier than most modern ax heads. The curved blade measures almost five inches, a good half inch more than the one I have at home. Although the sides are imperfectly shaped, its cutting edge is symmetrical. A few good licks with a file or emery rock and it could be splitting firewood again.
I don’t know how long that ax head had been lost, but I’m sure it was once a valued part of someone’s household. It’s not the kind of thing that would have been intentionally left in the woods. Maybe the person using it got sick. Or maybe someone took a big swing like that prophet did, and the ax head took cover in mud or leaves or in a hole dug by a critter.
All of that is just speculation. Sometimes I see things as they are, but sometimes I see things as I want them to be. I don’t know how that ax head got there, but I have no doubt someone searched for a while trying to find it.
I’ve been thinking about those rough sides. They’re not perfectly formed like an assembly line product, but that doesn’t really matter. The important part of that ax head is its cutting edge, an edge that was hammered into a fine point, an edge that even today could be sharpened and made useful.
I don’t think that finding that ax head was a miracle, but it reminded me of something miraculous. It reminded me that God looks past the mud and rust, that He sees us not just as we are, but as we can be. It reminded me of what God told the prophet Samuel when He sent him to anoint a king: “The Lord doesn’t look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7b NIV)
I’m taking that old ax head to my good friend Chuck. It’s up to him whether to put it with his keepsakes or add it to his scrap pile. There’s a good case that could be made for either place. There’s no miracle in that metal. The miracle is in the message.